The One Inside
They’ve murdered something far off. Fighting over it. Yes. Screaming. Doing their mad cackle as they tear into its softness. He’s awake—5:05 a.m. Pitch black. Distant coyotes. Must’ve been. He’s awake, in any case. Staring at rafters. Adjusting to “place.” Awake, even after a full Xanax, in anticipation of small demons—horses with human heads. All small, as though life-size were too big to fathom. His dogs are on the muscle, howling from the kitchen in feral imitation. Vicious cold again. Blue snow biting at the windowsills: glowing in what’s left of the full moon. He throws the blankets back with a bullfighter’s flourish and swings both bony knees out into the raw air. He comes, almost immediately, to a straight-backed sitting position, both hands flat on his thighs. He tries to take in the ever-changing landscape of his body—where he resides? Which part? He peers down at his very thick, blue, thermal hiking socks, pilfered from some movie set. Piece of some costume—some character, long forgotten. They’ve come and gone, these characters, like brief, violent love affairs: trailers—honey wagons—morning burritos—craft service tents—phony limousines—hot towels—4 a.m. calls. Forty-some years of it. Too big. Hard to believe. Too vast. How did I get in here? His aluminum trailer rocks and sways in the howling Chinooks. His young face staring back at him through a cheap 4 x 4 mirror, surrounded by bare light bulbs. Outside, they’re shooting film of grasshoppers, falling in great swirling cones from the belly of a rented helicopter. They actually are. In the background—winter wheat, as big around as your thumb, blows in rolling waves.
Now, perched on the very edge of his firm mattress, staring down at his thick blue socks, white puffs of breath vaporizing in the morning dark, he knows it’s all come true. He just sits like that for a while—straight-backed. A great blue heron waiting for a frog to rise.
The house doesn’t creak; it’s made of concrete. Outside, the aspens moan. He doesn’t feel the cold now. It crosses his mind that it’s been over two years since the very sudden breakup with his last wife. A woman he’d been with for almost thirty years. Crosses his mind. Pictures. The source? “Am I whining now?” he asks himself, in the voice of a small boy. A boy he remembers, but not him. Not this one, now, quaking in blue thermal socks.
6:00 a.m.: Wind just now quit after furious blowing out of the south, for three days straight. Air still and much warmer. House even feels hot. Thought—today I’m exactly one year older than my father was when he died. Weird thought, as though it were some kind of achievement rather than raw chance. Rather than happenstance. Pull off black silk long-handles. Female. Electric-blue crackles of static. I see sparks shooting from my chest. Electricity is in me. Take the many pills prescribed by acupuncturist. Line them all up. Colors. Shapes. Sizes. Don’t even know what they’re for. Just do what you’re told. Somebody must know something. Do what you’re told. First light cracks through the piñons. Dogs, dead asleep on the kitchen floor, splayed out like they were caught suspended in a gallop. Make coffee in old stained pot. Dump yesterday’s grounds. Mice rustling in heat vents, searching for warmth. Thinking about Nabokov’s answer to why he writes—“aesthetic bliss”—that’s all—“aesthetic bliss.” Yes. Whatever that means.
Early morning: They deliver my father’s corpse in the trunk of a ’49 Mercury coupe, dew still heavy on the taillights. His body is wrapped up tight in see-through plastic, head to toe. Flesh-colored rubber bands bind it at the neck, waist, and ankles—mummy style. He’s become very small in the course of things—maybe eight inches tall. In fact, I’m holding him now, in the palm of my hand. I ask them for permission to unwrap his tiny head, just to make sure he’s truly dead. They allow me to do this. They all stand aside, hands clasped behind their tailored backs, heads bowed in a kind of ashamed mourning but not something you would question them on. It’s smart to keep on their good side. Besides, they seem quite polite and stoic now.
The Mercury idles with a deep penetrating rumble I can feel through the soles of both shoes. I remove the rubber bands carefully and uncover his face, peeling the Saran Wrap away from his nose very slowly. It makes a sticky sound like linoleum coming free from its glue. His mouth opens involuntarily—some delayed response of the nervous system, no doubt, but I take it as a last gasp. I put my thumb inside and feel his rough gums. Little ripples where his teeth used to be. He had no teeth in life, either—the life I remember him in. I re-wrap his head in the plastic sheathing, replace the rubber bands, and hand him back over, thanking them all with a slight nod, trying to stay in keeping with the solemnity of things. They take him carefully from me and place him back in the dark trunk with the other miniatures. There are shrunken women wedged on either side of him retaining all their alluring features in perfect detail: high cheekbones, eyebrows plucked, lashes caked in blue mascara, hair washed and coifed, smelling like ripe cane sugar. His is the only tiny body that faces completely out toward a band of sunlight. When they close the trunk this band goes to black, as though a cloud has abruptly covered the sun.
They stand in a semicircle facing me now, hands clasped over their groins, casually yet formally. I can’t tell if they’re ex-Marines or mobsters. They seem a mixture of both. I salute each one, rotating counterclockwise. I have the impression that some even click their heels, fascist style, but I may be making this up. I don’t know if this rain just started or if it’s been going on for some time. I watch them drive off in a light drizzle.
That’s about all I can remember. Along with these smattered details is a strange morning grief, but of what, I can’t say.
In another language, in another time, her name meant “happiness,” I guess. “Felicity,” I think it was—“Felicity”—yes, that was it. I’d never heard that name before—like from an English novel. Very young. Freckle faced. Red hair. Slightly plump. Adolescent. Always wearing simple cotton one-piece dresses that looked homemade. She’d scream like a trapped rabbit when she sat backward on my father’s cock. I’d never heard such ecstasy and horror, all at once. I’d listen from the next room, staring at the ceiling. Something smelled like eucalyptus and Vaseline. They never talked. I’d listen. But they never talked. I’d dare myself to go in there, just go in and appear and don’t say a thing. Just stare like some zombie child—a child who just shows up from out of nowhere. What could they do? Stare back. Kick me out? Put on clothes and kick me out? I knew what they were doing, I knew it felt good. I knew it must feel good to be inside another person. Deep inside like that.
I went in and there she was. My father’s girlfriend sitting ramrod straight—naked almost—as though she were riding a pony backward. Neither of them noticed me. They never turned to see me. She just kept on riding him and screaming recklessly, working her way up and down in a frenzy. He was on his back on a table, staring at the ceiling, his arms folded behind his head, like he might be taking a siesta or listening to the radio. His lips were moving but nothing came out. I walked right up next to them but they never turned to see me. Her pink underwear were on the floor. They looked like they belonged to an older woman, maybe her mother.
There was a frantic knocking and banging at the door but neither of them paid any attention. Felicity just kept screaming and pumping away. Sometimes she would lean slightly forward, look down, and examine the penetration closely, without passion. Her mouth was open wide and her hair stuck to the sweat on her forehead. The knocking and banging went on. I went to the door and cracked it. I had my jockey shorts and T-shirt on. It was Mabel Hynes, the landlady, from down the hall. She stood there with a Mexican hairless in the folds of her flabby arms. The dog was silent but kept its ears pricked for each scream. When the scream came, the dog yapped.
“What’s going on in there? Sounds like someone’s getting murdered.”
“No, it’s just my dad.”
“Your dad? What’s he doing?”
“Just having fun. He’s got a friend with him.”
“Fun? Doesn’t sound like fun to me.”
“I’ve never seen her before, actually. This girl.”
“Yeah, well, tell him if he doesn’t find a way to keep the noise down, I’m calling the cops.”
Copyright © 2017 by Sam Shepard. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.