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13
Issue 13, October-December 2011
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Uncle Matty Doesn't Require Collapse
by Benjamin Buchholz
followed by Q&A
I’m very good at not answering questions, that’s what the mouth in the back of Adelaide’s head says as she turns away, the hair is thin there, thin and gossamer, the mouth beneath it, covered in hair, it frightens Lovely, bearded, like a backward eyeless Santa Claus, Lovely never noticed it before, why now?, the secret mouth, secret anatomy, not answering questions, dissembling as a form of flirtation,

Lovely follows Adelaide down the hallway, Adelaide turns a corner, Lovely pauses at the corner, listens for Adelaide’s footsteps to stop, they stop, the door opens, Adelaide’s door, three doors from the end, Lovely looks around the corner,

Adelaide’s hidden mouth says as the door closes on it, come have a cup of coffee with us one of these days, there are things we can share, secrets,

like the mayor?,

no, not him, goodbye now, over my dead body, I don’t share well, you see, that sort of thing, nothing personal, so I’d rather not play, that’s the easiest way to win sometimes, I’ll just sit here with the cat, we can talk about it, tell you secrets, that’s not sharing,

the door closes, Adelaide inside alone, Lovely waters the plants outside her room for a few minutes just to make sure no one has started arguing inside, no one putting on nice dresses, push-up bras, rummaging in makeup bins, what would Burgundy say about that?, premeditated, cold-blooded, disruption, wave-function collapse,

*

spooky action at a distance, isolated present, see Burgundy went to New York City once, several times, really, but only once that mattered in the entanglement, rode the subway to the end of its line, got out, looked around, walked to a café three blocks from the station, checked her watch, left a note on a napkin, I was here, where were you?, and just then Adelaide entered the café,

Adelaide!,

Burgundy!,

we'll play cards when we’re old, Parcheesi, watch the others choke on peanut shells, but golly, neighbor, we’re here now, why?, how’d it happen?, were you following me?,

it’s a random thing, it’s a mystery, 

have you been to this café before?, Adelaide asks,

no, no, no, Burgundy says, she means it, and she isn’t lying,

*

double-slit experiment, passing through two women at once there must be a prediction where he ends up, wave function dictates a single outcome, a localized event, but they scatter, coherence, rage, jealousy, in a single-world theory these could be accounted, perhaps the scene twice, seen through the keyhole of Adelaide’s room, she’s got the old projector out, the wheels of tape turning, showing it on the wall, collapse, the two outcomes, the multiple outcomes choosing a single state, a solid state, at least temporarily, relative to the observer, Lovely’s kneeling in the hallway, she’s got the mop, the bucket, the observer,

*

she hasn’t been to this café before, she hasn’t written anything on a café napkin before, no reminders, no love notes, no accusations, she folds the napkin, discreetly, I was here, where were you?, dabs the corner of her mouth with it, sets it in her lap, all very open, all right in front of Adelaide, Adelaide watches the napkin,

I’m thinking about dessert, join me?,

Adelaide looks at her watch, I was supposed to meet someone but he has forgotten, I think,

that's too bad, says Burgundy, I guess it’s just you and me,

it’s a nice café at least, Adelaide looks around, she’s been here awhile, in the café, Burgundy notices, in her booth, a newspaper, folded, unfolded, newspaper ink rubbed off the pages and onto Adelaide’s thumb, bits of comic,

I was thinking about dessert too, we might as well, you can tell me how you ended up here, and alone too!, we’ll treat ourselves, we deserve it,

alone, yes, thinks Burgundy, she glances at the door as Adelaide gathers her gear, leaving the newspaper, her gear just a small purse, a hat with a band around the rim, like a flapper, how passé, Adelaide you must have been something to behold when you were sixteen and innocent, Burgundy says to herself, 

they’re twenty-two, they’re rather innocent still, the innocence doesn’t reveal itself to them, of course, it never does, but they’re alone, waiting, hungry for dessert, alone in a café in New York City,

*

the reel on the old projector wobbles, the images move along the wall, over notches in brick, move as if underwater, sepia-toned, languorous, Adelaide’s sway, unchanged these 50 years, unchangeable, it’s the fish, heady with depth, meaning, certain of itself, I can swim it says, see mom, leaving home wasn’t so difficult, it’s the 50’s now, modern women doing modern things, the world isn’t innocent but it isn’t as scary as the stories you tell, I can swim in the deep end just fine, who needs the reef, crannies in the coral?, who’s afraid of that big bad shark?,

*

lovely day,

lovely,

you come alone?,

yes,

both of us, such coincidence, you waiting for someone?,

what’ll you have?, I’m thinking about the cheesecake, they say New York is the place,

maybe a flan, I’m a caramel girl,

is that the secret?, caramel?, (I’ll have to make something up,) my brother, 

your brother?,

the one with the limp, I haven’t told you about him?,

(there’s no brother, of course, like innocence, there isn’t, just more abyss, less shoal, 50 years of Burgundy’s brother, he’s become epic, the lies,)

funny we’ve lived across the street from each other for almost two years now, I haven’t heard you mention him,

he’s a little bit of a family secret,

Burgundy!,

I’m ashamed, yes, I’ll be candid about it, (the lie,)

I hope it’s not too bad,

what?,

whatever he has,

it’s not contagious,

oh, thank heavens, does he visit often?,

he’s in Africa,

I thought he was meeting you here?,

he's not in Africa, (damn it,) he’s supposed to fly in, he was in Africa, Mauritania to be exact,

with a limp,

from the war,

one of those, it’s a shame,

yes, yes it is,

*

this is Adelaide’s favorite part of the film, she rewinds it, watches it again, Africa!, she’s put call-out captions above their heads, they blink in and out, their turn to shine, Lovely can see the outlines of the little stickers, their depth, they aren’t one dimensional, more like a shadow on the film itself, the edge, cartoon stickers, a thumb with newspaper ink,

*

rewinding,

lovely day,

[she’s up to something, too much coincidence]

lovely,

[until you arrived]

you come alone?,

[I told him I’d rather he picked me up at the train station, but no, he said it was too big a surprise]

yes,

[I told him I’d rather we meet somewhere more public, a first meeting, don’t know the café, I’m just glad it’s got a few other people in it, he seemed nice enough but who knows?, mother always told me to watch out for myself in New York, I’m thrilling to it, though, the chance]

both of us, such coincidence, you waiting for someone?,

[too close to the bone, maybe that’s her trick, the directness, not answering is answer enough here, and I don’t want to answer, of course I am, what do you think I just wander in on any old café three-hundred miles from Boston?]

what’ll you have?, I’m thinking about the cheesecake, they say New York is the place,

[did I even hear her?]

maybe a flan, I’m a caramel girl,

[am I being a snob?]

is that the secret?, caramel?, I’ll have to make something up, my brother,

[can she hear this?, it’s quiet in here, I’ve got to smile a little extra to keep the sound from escaping my lips, do fish like caramel?, I’ve seen the boys look at her, her husband away at work late, boys at the grocery store, construction workers down the street drilling at the manhole cover, why does she live across from me?]

your brother?,

[jealousy is a bitch]

the one with the limp, I haven’t told you about him?,

[I knew a boy with a limp once, he caught a frog when we were eleven and chased me around the schoolyard]

(there’s no brother, of course, like innocence, there isn’t, just more abyss, less shoal, 50 years of Burgundy’s brother, he’s become epic, the lies,)

[sustainable, maybe multiverse, these worlds!, I’ve got an imagination, decoherent formulation doesn’t require collapse, it’s the simplest explanation, thus Ockham’s Razor will prove it, I’m just a simple girl, really]

funny we’ve lived across the street from each other for almost two years now, I haven’t heard you mention him,

[you talk too much]

he’s a little bit of a family secret,

[like my Uncle Matty who likes to masturbate under the table at dinner]

Burgundy!,

[did I say masturbate?]

I’m ashamed, yes, I’ll be candid about it,

[I masturbate, but only when no one is around]

I hope it’s not too bad,

[it’s good, better than a man]

what?,

[we were talking about something else]

whatever he has,

[syphilis, shit, I dunno, make something up]

it’s not contagious,

[the whole world is masturbating, I want dessert]

oh, thank heavens, does he visit often?,

[in the bathtub is the best, the prickling of Epsom salt, the heat, I like having the window open, my knees sticking through suds like two islands, risen, when I climax I lift myself up in the middle like I’ve got a string from my bellybutton to heaven, lift myself up like a whole continent appearing immaculately]

he’s in Africa,

[that’s a continent]

I thought he was meeting you here?,

[he hasn’t shown up, duh, that’s why I’m alone, this is awful]

he's not in Africa, (damn it,) he’s supposed to fly in, he was in Africa, Mauritania to be exact,

[Mauritania, I know nothing about Mauritania, is it even in Africa?]

with a limp,

[that’s good]

from the war,

[whew, an end, people don’t pry about that, the ones who didn’t come home to the tickertape]

one of those, it’s a shame,

[I’m free]

yes, yes it is,

[dessert?]

*

the reel doesn’t end but Adelaide puts it away, she stores the machine under her bed, she sits on the bed, takes off her shoes, slowly she reclines, but she on her side, curled up into something like a fetal position but looser, a ball of string unwound, on her side so that both mouths may breathe.

And Lovely goes away.




Benjamin Buchholz’s fiction has appeared widely and has been featured in two editions of Dzanc Press’s Best of the Web.  His first novel, One Hundred and One Nights, is forthcoming this December from Little, Brown.  He writes the Middle East culture blog “Not Quite Right.”  (not-quite-right.net)

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: Things jumble around. I'd been reading a little physics, Hawking's Brief History of Time. And then Saramago too, some magic realism. Seeing the elderly ladies through a keyhole that sort of combined their rivalry while separating it and then rehashing, several times over, a glossed conversation -- that's the structure of the piece. I think the structure tries to say a little something about relativity, although I didn't set out with that idea in mind. I just pictured the keyhole and everything else sprung forth from there.

Q: What have you been reading lately?  
A: I'm taking a masters degree in Near East Studies at Princeton and so I'm drowning in academic reading. Its good stuff, very mind-expanding to read about medieval Islamic scholars and trace their work through various commentaries and such (which is a big portion of one of my classes) and its a nice break from the real-life world.

Q: Where do you write? 
A: All over the place.  A lot of it at the kitchen table, which probably accounts for various mentions of food cropping up at strange and unanticipated times.

Q: Deciduous or coniferous?  
A: Deciduous.  Spring and Fall my favorite.  Without the deci there is no spring and no color in the autumn.

Q: What are you working on now?  
A: I've got a first book of fiction called One Hundred and One Nights coming out from Little, Brown this December and am working on, almost finished with, a second one. One Hundred and One Nights is set in the small Iraqi town where I worked for a year whereas the new book delves into and fictionalizes some experiences I had while traveling the middle east this last year.


Order One Hundred and One Nights from your favorite Indie Bookstore