- Fiction, Reading, Writing

From Robert Coover’s Open House

 

Things are not happening as I thought they might. I enter the room, not the right one obviously, looking for the little bar (great selection, hard to know where to start), when—BAM!—something like a runaway train strikes me down and rumbles right over me. Foo! “If you need any pipe dreams, let me know. I’m the man to see,” someone calls out, and from the floor I raise my hand: “Count me in!”

I feel something left over from the impact like gas on the stomach, so I lie there a moment, happily thinking my own little thoughts, and working up a meditative fart or two. The farts pop out easily enough, but they don’t ease the pressure, so finally, to avoid being stepped on, I just pick myself up. It wasn’t very pleasant, getting run over, but such things happen at parties. Best to get numb enough not to feel anything, and I’m nearly there. Still farting, though—now that I’ve started, I can’t seem to stop. I find a redheaded lady too deep in her cups to notice the little poppety-pops, and ask her where the bar’s gone to. The good soul crosses her eyes and points back over my shoulder.

Turns out it’s in the room I was just walking out of. I must have missed it. Same little family bar, same noisy mob of impatient boozehounds, but no bartender. I take advantage of that, pushing into the melee to grab up a half-empty gin bottle on the bar, taking a couple of quick gulps straight from the neck. Hah. Needed that. Did anyone see me? If they did, they don’t seem to care. I pour the remaining gin into a water glass, fish some ice out of someone’s abandoned drink. I can still stand, just. Can’t hit the glass with the ice cubes, though. I screw the top off a fresh bottle, and wink at whomever, fart for the pleasure of it, and then again, more emphatically, opening a path out of the pack-up.

Powered by the chugging farts, I drift into the next room, the one I was heading for in the first place, hoping it might have a bed in it. It doesn’t. What it has is a grand piano. Something one could stretch out on, but there’s some guy with knotty pigtails using it as a noisemaker. Have I been in here before? Probably. The pigtailed piano pounder is joined by a sax player who’s bouncing about the room leaping on lightbulbs, while blowing annoyingly loud burping noises. He says the bulbs must be made of lead. Crazy. It’s that kind of party. There’s a shiny little stone doll in a corner, looking lonesome. I pocket her, planning to return her to her rightful owner, who’s probably forgotten where he or she put her, if I see them, and then stagger into the adjoining room, searching for someone to cast my fading smile upon.

What I find is another party guy like myself, a jolly good-hearted fellow, wearing a conviviality he was likely born with, a chunky little guy with slicked-down blond hair, thinning out on top, who agrees with everything I say. I feel better. “I’m here for the booze,” I say, laughing, and he laughs and says he is, too. We clink glasses, and he laughs at that as well. “All my life, I’ve worked hard at being a good guy,” I say, farting noisily. “It’s not fair.” For some reason, he thinks that’s pretty funny, though I don’t even know what I mean. “What’s fair?” he asks, guffawing. “What’s not fair,” I laugh. I’m farting merrily and we’re both whooping and slapping each other’s shoulders and pouring more drinks. I ask him how he found out about the party, and he says the little lady dragged him to it. I’m not sure if he’s talking about his wife or some other. He’s not sure either, he just snorts with laughter when I ask him. “She’s in there, bless her heart,” he howls, pointing toward some other room, maybe some other party, “tossing drinks down like sugared tea!” For some reason, that strikes me as hilarious—“Sugared tea!”—and I laugh so hard I risk falling over. When I’ve recovered my balance, I tell him this party is a rationalist’s fucking nightmare, and he says, “You know how you can always recognize a rationalist? They’re all drunks!” Then he breaks into a wheezing tears-in-his-eyes laugh, like he’s just said something unbelievably funny, so I laugh along with him because maybe he has. “I know what you mean,” I say, and he doubles up again with wild convulsions. I love this guy.

Whereupon, as though announced by my little fanfare, we are joined by a gorgeous woman who is also laughing, though less uproariously, wanting to know what’s so funny. I don’t know if it’s his little lady, but probably not, because he doesn’t seem to recognize her. He winks at me and gestures as though to suggest she’s a hot ticket. “Built like a brick bathroom!” he snorts, hiding his mouth behind a chubby hand. The brick bathroom is laughing generously, but there’s something dark about her laughter, as though she knows too much to be able to let herself go. I’m drawn to that and by now I’m making my moves. But it’s the little guy I’ve been talking with she’s after. She strokes his flushed face, giggles, pulls teasingly on his crotch as he twists away in wheezing embarrassment. He’s still laughing, but also peering around for help. I push him out of the way.

“I know what you mean,” I say, apropos of nothing. The guy is still whooping with tears in his eyes like it’s the biggest joke ever, but the woman has stopped laughing and is locking in on my gaze. I feel like one chosen. The farts are now coming, one after the other, purring like a little motor, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She hugs me tightly, pumping them out. We kiss. It’s very intense. My little fart-motor is cranked up full-throttle. We’re stumbling awkwardly in a weird sort of dance toward a bedroom door that says EXIT. A bedroom door shouldn’t say that. She’s trembling with excitement. “I’m terribly sorry! It’s just that I suddenly know what’s happening up here,” she whispers breathlessly in my ear. “There’s only one way out. It’s scary. I need company.” What—?

 

Note: This fiction is part of Big Other Folio: Robert Coover.

 

Robert Coover is widely regarded as a true revolutionary in contemporary American literature and language.

Coover's first novel, The Origin of the Brunists, won the William Faulkner Award in 1966. He is also the recipient of the Brandeis University, American Academy of Arts and Letters; National Endowment of the Arts, Rhode Island Governor's Arts, Pell, and Clifton Fadiman Awards; Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Lannan Foundation, and DAAD fellowships; and the Dugannon Foundation's REA award for his lifetime contribution to the short story.

He is the author of The Origin of the Brunists, A Political Fable, Pricksongs & Descants, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., The Public Burning, Spanking the Maid, In Bed One Night & Other Brief Encounters, Gerald's Party, Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears, A Night at the Movies, or, You Must Remember This, Pinocchio in Venice, Dr. Chen's Amazing Adventure, John's Wife, Briar Rose, Ghost Town, The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director's Cut, The Grand Hotels (of Joseph Cornell), Stepmother, A Child Again, Noir, The Brunist Day of Wrath, Huck Out West, The Cat in the Hat for President, and Going for a Beer: Selected Short Fictions.

Residing in Providence, Rhode Island, Coover is T.B. Stowell Professor Emeritus in Literary Arts at Brown University.

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