this letter to Norman Court is a novella consisting of 22 sections (each between 1000 and 1250 words) I am releasing by way of the following experiment: I am trying to serialize the piece across blogs, by reader request. If you read and enjoy the section below and have a blog the readers of which you think would enjoy a selection, as well, please get in touch with me to be an upcoming host. A little hub site is set up at www.normancourt.wordpress.com that has a listing of the blogs that have featured or will feature sections—please give it a look, get yourself all caught up if the below piques your interest.
It is my simple hope to use this as a casual, unobtrusive way to release this material to parties interested. There is some suspense, in that if a new host does not appear after each posting, the train comes to a halt (back tracking to previous hosts is not an option in this game). So, if you enjoy what you read and would like to host an upcoming selection, please get in touch with me via email@example.com. I welcome not only invitations, but any and all comments on the piece (positive, negative, or ambivalent) or general correspondence about matters literary.
Train into Maryland takes day-and-a-half, two days for all intents and purposes, a little bit more expensive than a bus ticket, but I’d never been on a train before and I’d been on plenty of buses. Station was bleary and distracting, like I was stuck inside a dull cough wouldn’t go away. Something—the lighting, the speakers, the people—was an irritant, so I wasted too much on two drinks and when I boarded was pointlessly jittery from the semi-drunk I’d put on.
It took an hour to dwindle back down to sober, needed coffee so wound my way down to a kitchen car on the lower level by the toilets. I kept my bag with me, even while I opened cupboards, must’ve had a lost expression on my face, because some woman leaving the toilet started up the stairs, peeked back around, asked me was I alright.
-There’s coffee somewhere on this train?
She didn’t know, said I should try the lounge car, the sightseeing car, something. I nodded, let her go away before I went up the stairs, found the lounge, coffee, someplace to sit, looked out a window, sipping, duffle on my lap.
Bored with the passing landscape, I took out the envelope, pinched it, made a game of guessing how many pages. I decided I’d open it, could just tape it shut, after—I’d deliver it, taped shut or shut-shut didn’t see how this would alter a thing. So the guy Herman’d know I’d probably read it, so what? I justified the technical betrayal to the guy’d paid me to deliver the thing with a mumbled Caveat Emptor—this was a guy, it couldn’t be overlooked, was having the guy stole his wallet deliver a letter for dubious reasons to his brother, it should be expected by him I was opening it, our thing wasn’t exactly housed between the four corners of a contract.
The letter was long, paper thinner than I’d figured, very long. I sighed even before reading a word, felt my eyes start stinging, the pages soggy from the ink, words on the reverse side of a page almost legible overtop words on front. For the first page-and-a-half, though very well written—women always write great letters, I’d always remarked that—there was nothing to the thing, it was in-referenced prompts, Klia writing in generalities to Norman about her life, her image of herself, all of it, things people write in letters to darling old friends who’ll read them, make a point of finding time to respond to each question buried in the center of whichever paragraph.
I folded it shut in my bag, made my way back to the bar area I’d ordered my coffee, asked for a wine.
-White, red, blush?
I considered, then dully said Blush, regretted it right away but didn’t bother changing my order. The guy presented me with a miniature bottle, label and everything.
-How much is this running me?
-That’s six dollars.
I scoffed, getting the money from my pant pocket.
-I could buy a whole real bottle of wine six dollars.
The man seemed unimpressed and I got the feeling someone next to me was making a mocking face, got back to my seat and downed the thing, it really seemed hardly a glassful.
Back to the letter, I found it got quite lurid, all at once. This Norman, he wasn’t her lover, some fellow called Lawrence was, an almost pornographic rendering of one of their early, quite daring, encounters presented with some self-analytic remarks parenthesized throughout.
I skimmed through the remaining pages, found at least one more of these full out reminisces as well as some various remarks about less carnal aspects of her dealings with Lawrence, though steeped in the obvious sexuality she seemed it impossible to separate from the two of them.
Leafing to the end, mind made up I’d spring another twelve, eighteen bucks to get a proper amount of wine in me, I saw the letter was dated more than two years ago. I just sat, not realizing it, nibbling on the side of my finger, staring at the rim of the window, lost in meandering thoughts, Lawrence, Klia, Norman, the gentle rise of the mouthful of blush likely smoothing me out. But I shook off the reverie, none of it my business. So she’d taken her tumbles with Lawrence not Norman, didn’t make any difference, no difference to make.
Approaching the bar counter, the attendant smiling at me in an obviously particular way, I made an open, embracing gesture.
-I’ve changed my tune, entirely, you’ve made a convert out of me—stuff’s worth every last cent. Three more of those.
My wit didn’t seem to redeem me any, so I opted not to leave the two dollars tip, made my way back to my seat in the cheap compartments, but when I saw how vacant the place was moved to the seat furthest in back, the corner, propped myself in, bag pinned to the train side, downed my wine and fell easily to sleep.
Woke up middle of the night with a horrendous urgency to urinate and a two thirds erection, slogged my way down to the toilet and took a seat, not wanting to bother with aiming, the bowl a moving target, floor nudging up down under my feet more irregularly than I’d’ve imagined.
I recounted my money, disappointed, took out the letter and, rubbing my face, gave it another look through.
His whole name, Lawrence, her stallion, that was something—she wrote it’d impressed her, like something would impress a girl who didn’t know better, impressed her all the more she did know better, something pointless like a name making her thoughts for him more easy, permanent, centered.
Lawrence Stephanie Glass.
That middle name, I wondered had she meant Stephane, figured no, it was more impressive as Stephanie, more fitting to her lulling it around in her thoughts, going behind old Herman.
Name-to-name it was a lost cause, poor little guy, I thought.
What was Norman to Klia, though? This level of detail—I settled on a particular bit, not a blow-by-blow recap of a particular tryst, instead her mentioning how after one encounter where Lawrence’d finished up on her face, she’d just dry wiped it off, nothing more, all day, all night, home with her husband, to dinner, to bed, had wanted to just put make up on over it next day but finally broke down and washed—this was something I don’t know anyone someone writes so familiarly to. Not to her brother, nothing and Norman had either been a former lover or else must be a professional talk doctor. Except the salutation was Dear dear Norman and there was no closing Sincerely or With Love just her name, so obviously added out of rote, not necessity. I guess he could’ve been bent, but even that didn’t seem to account for things.
There was light out the window I left the stall, some guy having a cigarette in the kitchen car, reading a paperback. The smoke perked me up a bit. I set my duffle on the opposite end of the table from him, was casually reaching for the pack in my pant pocket, decided instead I’d beg one off this guy if he’d be willing, my mouth lousy from wine and sleep, no point being wasteful of a cigarette I’d not be able to taste even.
Pablo D’Stair is a writer of novels, shorts stories, and essays. Founder of Brown Paper Publishing (which is closing its doors in 2012) and co-founder of KUBOA (an independent press launching July 2011) he also conducts the book-length dialogue series Predicate. His four existential noir novellas (Kaspar Traulhaine, approximate; i poisoned you; twelve ELEVEN thirteen; man standing behind) will be re-issued through KUBOA as individual novella and in the collection they say the owl was a baker’s daughter: four existential noirs.