“The old man had a Buick” – Barry Hannah

by Nick

The old man had a Buick. He liked to wheel it up our brick drive, which was bordered by a dense cane patch. He was one of these magazine handsomes who was turning gray in the hair at forty-five; the gray strands were flames from a hot and ancient mental life, or so he thought. His mental life was always the great fake of the household. He had three years at L.S.U., makes sixty thousand a year, has the name of a bayou poet—Ode Elann Monroe—and has read a book or two over above what he was assigned as a sophomore. So he’s a snob, and goes about faking an abundant mental life. He always had this special kind of bewrenched and evaporated tiredness when he came home from the factory. ‘Show me a bed, Donna, [my mother] the old head’s been working overtime today,’ he sighs—and he’s demanding Quiet Hours outside his study after supper. His study, where, if my guess is right, he sits scrutinizing his latest hangnail and writing his own name over and over in different scripts until he bores himself into a coma. About midnight, he charges out of the study, ignoring Mother and me watching the national anthem on the television, every insipid show of which (TV was brand-new to us then) he adored better than breath, but denied himself for the mental life, and he is banging into the walls of the hall making toward his bed and sleep, so frightened by the mediocrity of his own thoughts that it’s truly sad. He always thought a college man such as he was entitled to life on a higher plane, and always endured the horror of knowing that his thoughts in the study were no different than the ones he had during the day when he added a random sum on the to-the-good book. I found his name, written in different, sometimes perversely ornate, scripts on the top of variously sized and colored note pads, on the desk of his study in the mornings. Perhaps he wanted to do an essay, or a poem, or an epitaph. I don’t know what he wanted to write on the blank lines. I remember once he was intending to write a letter to the editor of a New York paper, but never finished a copy he thought presentable enough. God knows, I’m on his side in this hustle about the mental life. I’ve inherited a major bit of the farce from him, by what I can tell. And both of us jump into sleep like it was a magic absolver. Both of us, I would imagine, yearn too much for the hollows of a woman, knowing from the first touch of sex to sex, it’s all a black dream leading into sleep

From Barry Hannah’s first novel Geronimo Rex.