A Writer Writes: Not John — A short story by Mark Jacobs (Paraguay)

 

Not John

by Mark Jacobs

first published in The Critical Pass Review

Three minutes into his conversation with Weather Woman, Marco Slivovitz knew it was a test. It took two Bushmills and thirty more minutes of talk to be sure that the test had nothing to do with sexual conquest. An objective observer of Marco, looking down from a safe location, would have said it was about escaping. Marco knew better. He was being tested, all right, but the subject of the exam was his shifting self.

The Tangiers was the kind of bar Marco gravitated to any time he found himself in a new city. Small, one of a kind, protected from the hard-knocks crowd by high-priced drinks, it took up just enough space on the ground floor of a boutique hotel called The Craddock. The Craddock’s website used the word “cognoscenti” to describe its clientele. A bit much, that. But in the draggy tail end of an Albany winter the bar was an oasis of warmth and color and burbling possibility.

“I don’t meet many people who don’t know me,” said Weather Woman, expertly flipping her hair with a minimum of cranial disturbance.

It was not as outrageous a statement as it might sound. Her name was Portia Delante. She did weather for one of the local TV stations and evidently had quite a following. She was shut-your-mouth beautiful, a feather-haired brunette with a Barbie shape and a face that would launch at least five hundred ships. Marco could see how she might be marketably telegenic, one reassuring hand describing a warm front as she looked straight at you, not the generic television viewer, but you, the creature in your skin.

“I don’t watch much TV,” he admitted.

That surprised her. “What do you do?”

Here it came. The moment to tell her who he might be. He put it off.

“You’re the first woman I ever met who drank a Singapore Sling by choice.”

She nodded. “If that’s your way of asking, yes, I’ll have another one.”

They had another round, and Marco wound up telling her he was back in the States raising money for a community hospital in the dry wilds of northeast Brazil. The story emerged without calculation, but it did its job. She was impressed by his commitment to poor people in South America at the same time that her interest in him as a potential hook-up evaporated. She didn’t see herself with a do-gooder, never mind his charms. If she ever went to Brazil it would be Rio, it would be carnival and caipirinhas on the Ipanema sands.

Women of every variety were drawn to Marco. That was a constant. At forty he was still buff and broad-shouldered, radiating health and an aura of mystery difficult to pin down. He had learned to get serious mileage out of basic black. He shaved his head. His eyes were ice blue, and his earring looked essential right where it was. As a young man he had had no shame about trading on his attributes. Any more, the prospect bored him. As it happened, Portia was ready to say goodbye just about the time he decided to shove off. They shook hands knowing something electric had fizzled, and that was fine.

He drove cautiously back toward Troy, mindful of his snoutful. It had been a fool’s errand. The owner of the restaurant where Marco was head chef, Liam McCluney, had begged him to have a heart-to-heart with his son Billy. Billy had been acting up in boarding school and was in danger of being booted from the Flintwood Academy. The kid was spoiled and self-absorbed, and probably the best thing that could happen to him was getting kicked out of something, but Marco took on the mission in good faith. And accomplished nothing. Billy saw him as a stand-in for his angry, absent father and unloaded both barrels. Enough to drive a man to drink at the Tangiers.

At home, in the parking lot of the apartment complex, Marco sat for a moment behind the wheel of the Lexus listening to the March wind slam around right-angle corners. Something in its relentless targeting of enemies forced him to admit the truth. He was restless. It was time to move on. Leave Troy, leave New York State. Quit being a chef. Above all, quit being Marco Slivovitz. Four years as the same person was a tedious long damn time. Some days he felt age slithering up his leg like a snake to bite him in the ass. Forty was undeniably forty. But he wanted to believe he could still be anyone he chose.

With one exception. There was no way in hell he could go back to being plain John Jenkins of Double Fork, Nebraska. Six hundred acres of soybeans under a skyful of murderous red-tailed hawks. A momma with her spearmint smile forever binding the family’s psychic wounds, secretly hoping the work she secretly loved would never end. A muddy-boots dad with a spring in his step forever hollering Get your ass in gear, Jack, them beans ain’t gonna plant themselves. Marco had been born in the wrong place, to the wrong people. In a world as flawed as this one, such mistakes were bound to happen.

He blamed no one. Leaving home at fifteen was his first sovereign decision. To heighten the dramatic effect he went out his bedroom window at night, hung and swung on roped bedsheets until he dropped to the ground, which gave generously. He ran headlong into the velvet black Nebraska night breathing in the delicious air of the future.

Now, imagining where he might go next, the person he might become, he crossed the icy walk to his apartment. His home was upscale and minimalist. Chrome, black and white, mirrors. Hard angles and empty corners. The oddly generic adult space suited Marco perfectly, although Leigh was always on his case to make the place more . . . specific. That was her word. She wanted the décor to reveal something worth knowing about his personality. The problem was, he couldn’t say to her, Which personality?

He called her. “Hey. I’m back.”

“No luck. I can tell by your voice. I’m sorry, Marco. Well, you tried, didn’t you? Liam owes you. I’d say come over for some TLC, but I have an early deposition in the morning and I’m not prepped.”

Leigh Hunt was an attorney. She was also emotionally balanced, financially competent, secure in her sense of self, and efficient as the day was long. One evening at McCluney’s, she had loved what he did with the eggplant so much she insisted on meeting the chef. Romance ensued. It was the closest Marco ever came to domestic bliss. Lately she was inviting him to move into her place, which had enough personality on display for two people. The key to success at being more than one person was keeping your selves separate. As Marco Slivovitz, he owed Leigh not so much fidelity as constancy. Around her, even just thinking about her, he could not be anyone but Chef Marco. It was his cardinal rule of conduct, not to be disrespected.

“Okay,” he said. “Breakfast, then.”

“Murgatroyd’s.”

“Sounds good.”

Hanging up, Marco did not feel what he expected to feel, the warm surge of expectation that leaving a place, a life, a self usually generated in him. What came down on him was a sense of anxiety. There was something he was supposed to be doing, only he did not know what. He took the anxiety to bed with him, where a vexatious repetitive dream spoiled his rest.

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Leigh was already ensconced in a red leather booth at the diner when Marco walked into Murgatroyd’s at eight the next morning, waiting for him to butter her toast. She liked his professional address of the subject. She wore a lawyerly dark suit, on the lapel of which her grandmother’s cameo accentuated the air of solidity she projected. Marco’s age, she was filling out in the middle. There was a kind of permanent physical awkwardness about her that he loved. Her legs were sturdy. No storm of any description would blow down a woman like that. She was a rock. Seeing him, she closed her computer.

“Work if you need to,” he told her, sliding into the booth in the seat across from hers.

She shook her head. “Multitasking is the enemy of reason. I ordered you eggs over easy and some sausage links.”

“Perfect.”

As the waitress poured him a ceramic mug of coffee — old school, off white, no affectation — Leigh watched Marco appeal to the toast with soft butter.

When I was a kid I used to lie on my back in a field in Double Fork hating the goddamn hawks in the blue sky, hating my life. I used to wear invisible costumes, one for every mood and occasion. I had more voices than words, and nobody ever heard me speak any of them. I broke my mother’s tender heart and never went back to say I was sorry.

He had never said any of that to anybody, had never been tempted to. And he didn’t say it now to Leigh. But there was a part of him that wanted to, and the unfamiliar urge unnerved him. It was time, it was definitely time, to be moving on. There was a catch, though. Becoming somebody new meant unbecoming someone old, someone familiar. That never used to bother him. This time, there would be a cost. He did his best not to blame Leigh for holding him back.

“Liam brought up the partner thing again,” he told her.

One good thing about Leigh was she did not try to influence his decisions. The closest she came was playing devil’s advocate, once in a while, which he found helpful.

“So what did you tell him?”

“I put him off. Told him I’m better at cooking than running a business. Which happens to be true.”

“The man thinks the world of you, Marco. And he’s getting older. He won’t give up.”

“I know.”

“Something’s bothering you this morning.”

He shrugged. Explaining what was going on would require breaking his cardinal rule. To Leigh, he was Marco Slivovitz and always would be. For the first time, the identity chafed. Being Liam McCluney’s business partner sounded grim. Being Leigh Winters’ live-in lover, that was a possibility not so easy to dismiss. But the Nebraska kid who became a catalogue model in Denver who became a blackjack dealer in Reno who became an unofficial cultural historian of the street experience in New Orleans, none of those persons could imagine living and dying as Marco Slivovitz.

“I get restless, sometimes.”

She nodded, taking the comment at face value. Then here came eggs and sausage.

Marco didn’t have to be at McCluney’s until early afternoon. When Leigh left for her deposition, he drove around Troy for an aimless half hour, observing the slope-shouldered little city with a stranger’s eye.

He could bolt. It wouldn’t be the first time he made a clean break from one of his lives. He had money in the bank, and unencumbered title to the Lexus, which he was fond of. A couple of place names had come to him over the past day or two, popping into his consciousness like subliminal advertisements. Sarasota was one. After an upstate New York winter, Florida had its appeal. But so did Portsmouth. He had never lived in New England, and having no idea who he might be in New Hampshire exercised a powerful pull on his imagination.

 

By the time he headed for work he knew he wasn’t going to bolt. Before he left Troy and Chef Marco behind, he had to find an explanation for Leigh. It had to be something Marco himself would think, say, do. Something he would feel. Anything else would betray a woman he had grown to love. This was not a problem he had wrestled with before, or not much, and it irked him.

That evening one of the waitresses came into the kitchen to give him a heads up. Hard luck, most of it thanks to the men in her life, made Meg Whelan look older than her pink and cream Irish optimism wanted her to be. She was a good kid and wore her cynicism as a badge of honor.

“Your lady friend is here.”

“Leigh? Is she by herself?”

“She’s a lawyer, right? Looks like she brought a client. Some guy in a serious suit, anyway. He keeps looking at my legs.”

“Tell them the chef recommends the roast pork. And comp them some of the good sherry.”

“You got it, Chef.”

It felt strangely satisfying, four years into the job, to be in command of the big, bustling kitchen and all the people who had a reason to cross its threshold. McCluney’s had served mostly steakhouse fare before Marco arrived. With Liam’s blessing, he had branched out, in the process taking the place to new culinary heights. Now, the smells were familiar, but they were good smells. And the kitchen gleamed. A health inspector could eat off the floor. This was Marco’s pattern. Inhabit a life, suck it dry, move on.

Leigh was still in the dining room when Marco finished the shift, although her client was long gone. Marco brought a bottle of Hardy cognac to her table, and they sipped expensive.

She told him, “You’re still restless.”

“Does it show?”

She nodded, said slowly, “My dad had a Polish friend.”

“This would be in Syracuse, when you were growing up.”

“Yes. His last name was long and hard to pronounce, so Dad had me call him Mr. P. Any time Mr. P. came to the house, he brought along a bottle, and they had a conversational shot. Of slivovitz. I’ve known since I was nine years old, Marco, that slivovitz is plum brandy.”

Marco nodded. “I can’t argue with you there.”

“So, you have a story. I’ve known that for a while, too.”

Taking the name had been a whim. It came after a savage long night with a Serbian refugee, a morose woman with a menagerie of what she swore were invisible tattoos up and down her arms and legs. By the time the sun came up, Marco was seeing the animals, too. They appalled and thrilled him, and he would not trade the memory for anything he could think of.

“I don’t know what to say, Leigh.”

She shook her head. “That’s not acceptable. It doesn’t have to be now, tonight, I mean. But you owe me a history lesson.”

It was late, and she invited him to spend the night at her house. After languorous love they fell asleep side by side in Leigh’s wide, high bed. Waking in the problematic hours of middle night, Marco felt as though he were setting foot in a new country. There was no sense of north and south, up and down. No horizon and no map. He was discombobulated. As he lay listening to her breathe, regular and shallow, a trace of her scent mingled with her sex smell, charging his nostrils. When he rested a hand on her back, she did not stir. Her cat, an orange tabby with a crippled front foot, slept at the foot of the bed. He could no more be John Jenkins again than he could be the man in the moon. Which strangely enough made his sudden decision easy.

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The March wind was raw, the Nebraska sun was coarse-grained. Slug-butted clouds scudded along the sky in a parody of order. Marco parked the rental car on the berm of Nolansville Road and stood leaning against a fender, looking out at his father’s wintered-over fields stretching across the vast flatness. It was not as though he had never been away, but he felt himself adjusting instinctively to a place that was still familiar to him, a way of being. His feet felt heavy, the way they used to get on the way to the barn for chores. The idea of stopping was to think through what he might say to his parents. No luck.

He took the rental Ford slowly down the half mile of graveled drive and parked in front of an old-fashioned frame house, white with blue trim, built in the Thirties. It was slightly run down, which jarred with his memory of his father’s fastidious nature. The storm door stood half open at a bad angle, as though wind had taken it. A gray cat slept curled in the porch swing. A sun-bleached cross of palm fronds from an earlier Easter was tacked to the front door. Chickens fussed in the front yard the way they always had. No dog. His father believed they were more trouble than they were worth.

Wind touched the back of his neck, making him shiver a little.

With no clue what he would say he climbed the steps and knocked on the inner door. Heard slow steps coming to answer. And a woman who looked too old to be his mother at any age appeared in the doorway. She was bulky. His mother had been trim. Her expression was aggrieved. His mother’s had been implacably cheerful. She wore glasses with thick lenses behind which her eyes blinked hard and fast.

“Hello, Mother.”

She shrank back, running the back of her hand across her mouth as though his words had soiled her. Then she leaned forward and struck him across the mouth with the flat of the same hand.

“I don’t know you.”

Even now, he could not say the old name. Did not say It’s me, John. Instead he made the flat statement, “I’m your son.”

Shaking her head, she scuttled back into the foyer and slammed the door after her. He stood on the porch a moment thinking, Okay, leave. Go. Do not try, any more, to make amends. Trying will inflict more damage. No saying or doing on his part would appease her. But the sound of banging metal from the barn distracted him, and he made his way there with the heavy feet of a fifteen-year-old boy called to task.

In the indeterminate gloom of the barn his father was holding a wrench over the engine of a big orange tractor as though he would destroy rather than repair it. When Marco’s shadow crossed the plane of light at the open door he brought the wrench down lightly, laid it on the engine cover, and wiped his oily hands on a rag the way he always did when a stranger showed up. Stood planted.

Age had thickened his father, too, but he looked more like the man Marco remembered than his mother looked like the woman he had expected to see. He was ruddy, with weather-darkened forearms even after long winter. The hair under his International Harvester cap was a streaky mix of rust and gray, worn longer than he used to wear it. His eyes, Marco was disturbed to see, were the same ice blue as his own. How could he have forgotten such an essential thing?

He felt stupid saying the obvious, “Hello, Dad. It’s me.”

The man in the cap nodded. “I know who you are.”

Welland Jenkins waited to see what Marco would come up with by way of explanation.

Marco pointed at the tractor. “Kubota? You bought a Japanese tractor?”

His father shrugged. “Times have changed. What’d you come back for, Jack?”

“Mom slapped me in the face.”

Another shrug. “She’s within her rights, wouldn’t you say? You running away, you can imagine what that did to her.”

“It was a mistake, coming back.”

“Could be. That’s not for me to say, one way or the other.”

“She slammed the door in my face. I’ll leave. Will you tell her I said goodbye?”

“You haven’t changed a whit, Jack, not a danged whit. You’re still the most impulsive creature on the face of the earth. Only just got here and you’re ready to turn tail and run off again.”

They left the barn, walked the worn path to the back door of the house not quite side by side. On the back porch, his father kicked off his boots, and Marco unlaced his shoes. They went into a kitchen that felt smaller than it had used to be. The yellow walls were the same, though, the wood stove and chimney pipe, the plate rack running along the top of two walls showing off his mother’s collectibles. The only change was a dishwasher, which looked new.

“Sit down,” his father said.

Marco sat at the table, and his father poured coffee from a percolator on the stove.

“How do you take yours?”

“Black.”

“Black it is.” He brought Marco a cup. “I’ll go speak with Muriel.”

Not your mother. Abandoning the family, Marco had forfeited the right to intimacy so now had no right to complain. He wrapped his hands around the coffee cup.

His father was gone a long time. Marco sat at the old table, covered with the same oilcloth cover in a gingham pattern whose blurring squares he remembered tracing with a boy’s idle finger. It was turning out the opposite of what he had expected. He had believed his mother would forgive him, or want to, try to, and that his father would hold out, possibly forever. Now, whether and how they might forgive him seemed a trivial thing compared to the gap between him and them. He heard the ticking of the grandfather clock in the living room. Then he could hear nothing else.

“She doesn’t want to talk,” his father told him when he finally reappeared in the kitchen.

“Okay. I’ll go. Will you tell her I’m sorry I did this? It was thoughtless.”

His father looked at him the way he used to when he failed to do or to comprehend a simple chore that needed doing. From the silverware drawer next to the sink he took some teaspoons and a knife. He placed three spoons in an even row on the table. Next to it, the knife, and next to the knife another spoon. He tapped the first spoon in the row with the tip of his finger, the second, the third, and wound up on the knife.

“Muriel had three miscarriages before you came along.”

“You never told me that.”

“Not the kind of thing you tell a young boy, or it didn’t used to be.” He tapped the spoon to the right of the knife. “When you were two, or I guess maybe it was three, she lost another one. That was the end of the childbearing years for us.”

Hearing that stunned Marco. He did not know what to make of his father’s offhand manner. He said, “I thought I was coming back to apologize.”

“You want more coffee?”

Marco shook his head. “But what I did, it’s way past being sorry, isn’t it?”

“I’ll tell you what might do her some good.”

“What?”

“Understanding what happened.”

It was a challenge Marco could not ignore. He made his way up the stairs remembering which steps creaked, and on which side. From what used to be his room he took a straight-backed chair and placed it in front of his mother’s closed door. He sat there for a few moments, listening to her silence.

“The first place I went was Denver,” he told her, not expecting and not getting any response. “There’s a place called Cheesman Park, downtown. I saw a man on a bench, surrounded by young people, boys and girls both, all of them pretty. Hairless Phil. That was what people called him behind his back. He was smooth all over, shaved his head, and he dressed very particularly. Everything about the man was expensive, and perfectly arranged. Phil ran a prostitution ring catering to filthy old men who liked young people. He had this amazing power to draw you in, like he was hypnotizing you. It worked on me, I won’t deny it. I went over to the bench and talked to him for twenty minutes.”

He stopped, trying to gauge the silence. Impossible. He went on.

“There was no reason in the world for me not to become Hairless Phil’s latest attraction. But that didn’t happen, and I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I was just curious. I wanted to know what I would feel. When I walked away, a couple of his enforcer types got up from another bench and came after me, but he called them off. I think he knew he couldn’t hold me. I wound up getting a job washing dishes, until a woman with a son who was a heroin addict hired me to model clothes for catalogues she produced. Amanda was her name, and she was never anything but sad all the time I knew her, sad in the morning, sat at lunch, sad all day long.”

He heard his mother sweeping the floor now. That was good. After a while, the sweeping stopped. A dresser drawer was pulled open. She was putting away clean clothes.

“At one point I spent some time in Omaha,” he told her. “An old rich guy hired me to be his driver, and run errands, and generally look after the property. Raymond Pilsener-Haggerty the third. It was more name than he was man. Raymond had a soft voice and lived in a big house he inherited from his grandmother. It was practically a castle. There were seventeen oil paintings of the grandmother hanging there. I went around one day and counted. She had terrible eyes in all of them, and her nose was a beak. It was like Raymond couldn’t make a move in the place without her butting in.”

A drawer closed. A drawer opened.

“Who I am,” he said, “is a curious person. My problem is I get bored too fast.”

He told her some more stories, not editing them for suitability, just trying to select ones that would oblige and allow her to see things about him. The room was still again.

She did not appear for dinner. His father made chicken cutlets with mashed potatoes and stewed beets, and the two men ate facing each other at the kitchen table.

“Are you mad at me?” Marco asked him once.

Welland Jenkins stopped chewing, as if he had to think about it before answering.

“When it happened, when you ran off, it was like somebody reached in and scooped the life out of us, emptied out our hearts with a big spoon. I didn’t have what it took to be mad. By the time I had any strength back, I didn’t want to be mad. It takes a while, Jack, but eventually you figure out how to live with what you have.”

“I don’t think I ever did figure that out.”

His father nodded. “Your cousin Ralph has been pretty steady, helping us out when he can. Last year, I had my knee replaced. He took over the whole operation while I was laid up. We’re leaving the farm to him.”

“Good.”

That night, on his back in his childhood bed, Marco became an egg. He felt the thinnest of shells grow over the membrane of his consciousness, where the ancestors of feelings shook their naked swords and lightning flashed as horrific storms shook the trembling gelatinous mass. In the morning, his mother was at the stove when he came down.

“Welland had to run to town,” she told him. “One of the tractors needs a fuel pump.”

“Mother . . .”

She set a plate before him at the table, an omelet with bacon and toast and hash- brown potatoes. In the artful arrangement of foods he saw a mysterious link with Chef Marco, and a sense of manyheaded loss bore down on him in a rush.

“You won’t come back again,” she said.

He was not sure whether it was a command or a question or just a statement of fact.

“I wish,” he said but got hung up there, could not finish the sentence because he could not finish the thought.

She packed him lunch in a brown paper sack. She would not kiss him or be kissed, would not allow him to embrace her. But she shook his hand in straightforward fashion, and that seemed like enough. Maybe his father was right. You learned to live with what you had. She stood in the front yard watching as he drove back up the driveway. Before he turned onto Nolansville Road he looked into the rear-view mirror and saw her arm lifting in what he chose to believe was not a farewell wave but a salute.

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The scene with Liam McCluney was as bad as he knew it was going to be. Liam assumed he had gone beyond acceptable bounds, asking Marco to intervene with his messed up son. That was the only logical explanation for the abdication of his brilliant irreplaceable chef. Marco could not get the man past his wrongheaded conviction, and there were tears in the older man’s eyes when he walked out of the McCluney house feeling terrible and free.

That was in the morning, which had the feel and the smell of spring; the down payment on a traditional promise. After lunch, he called Goodwill and made arrangements for a truck to come take everything he owned from the apartment. When they understood the value of the donation, they rearranged their schedule to make it happen that same afternoon. Marco didn’t want to be there as they gutted the place, so he hung around just long enough to open the door for them and sign their papers. He had packed a bag. One was enough. The sense of forward motion he felt managed to be both familiar and alien.

Later, he could not recall exactly what he had done through the afternoon although he retained an impression of country roads, and Holstein cows imprinted in sunshine like fat exhibits. He did not knock on Leigh’s door until the sun went down. She was hostile and did not invite him in.

“Liam called. He told me you quit. He’s feeling desperate. I think he’ll close the restaurant.”

Marco nodded, unable to speak.

“I drove over to your apartment,” she said calmly.

“You did?”

“Think about it. Your lover leaves town without telling you where he’s going. Then he comes back and quits his job, also without happening to mention it to you. You figure, jeez, maybe we’d better talk. So you let yourself into his place, and lo and behold there’s nothing there, not a stick of furniture, no goodbye note, no nothing. Thanks a lot, Marco.”

“Can I come in?”

She shook her head.

“Please.”

She wasn’t being coy. She did not want to let him in. But after several difficult minutes she relented, and Marco sat like a penitent in her homey, well appointed living room.

“What am I supposed to call you?” she asked him, serving him a glass of merlot.

It was not an easy question to answer. He shrugged helplessly, and she came at it from another angle.

“I know you’re not Marco Slivovitz. Who are you?”

“That’s what I came here to tell you.”

“I see. Well, so far you’re not doing all that great a job at it.”

How he wound up in the bathtub with the water high and hot was as vague, in memory, as his expended afternoon. The light was low. The steamy water felt good on his body, which ached as though he had run ten miles. Leigh was sitting in a chair, not looking at him.

“The first thing I remember,” he said.

He stopped. She gave him the time he required.

“I was three, I think. We went to a church picnic.”

“Do you mind saying where this happened?”

“Nebraska.”

“I see.”

“Somehow I wandered off on my own and got turned around in a cornfield. The corn was high so it must have been full summer. The stalks were three times as tall as I was, four times. I was totally disoriented and totally scared. I could hear my mother calling my name, and then my father. John, they kept hollering. Where are you, John, John where are you? But I couldn’t answer.”

“Why not?”

“May I have another glass of wine, Leigh?”

“No.”

“Will you put on some music, maybe some jazz? Coltrane would be great.”

“Not now.”

He felt the answer to her question rising in him. It burned like the worst of gas pains, the one that locked onto your gut and would not go away. He was aware of tears on his cheeks. They were not tears of regret, they were the salt byproduct of recognition.

“All I wanted was for them to find me,” he said, aware of the self-pity in his voice and embarrassed by it. He was just as aware of the extraordinary quality of her listening. “But I couldn’t call out.”

“Why?”

“Because I knew – I was three years old, for God’s sake, and I knew it beyond the shadow of a doubt – who I was.”

There was ice in her voice, and curiosity. “And who was that?”

“If I had called back to them, if I had let them know where I was, it would have been a betrayal. Of myself, my unknown self. The real me. Do you see that, Leigh? Do you understand? Because even then I knew who I was.”

“Who, damn it? Who were you? Who are you?”

Forty years. After forty years here it finally came, strange and inexorable and sacred.

“Not John,” he told her. “That’s who I am, I am Not John.”

The water in the tub was cooling down. His skin had goose bumps. Leigh was still listening, as if to catch the echo of his words coming back around. In another minute, if he was lucky, she might bring him a glass of wine. She might put on some Coltrane, and he would begin to live another sort of life.

 

The End.

 

Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs

About Mark Jacobs
This  new story by Mark Jacobs (Paraguay 1978-80) appears in the current issue of  The Critical Pass Review. Mark was the winner of the 1998 Peace Corps Writers Maria Thomas Award for his novel Stone Cowboy. A former Foreign Service officer, he has published more than 100 stories in magazines including The Atlantic, The Southern Humanities Review, The Idaho Review, The Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. His story “How Birds Communicate” won the Iowa Review Fiction Prize in 1998. His five books include three novels and two collections of short stories.

 

About The Critical Pass Review
The Critical Pass Review is a semi-annual literary review, published in high-grade interactive eBook format, that was founded to bring exemplary works of poetry, fiction, visual artwork, and literary-related journalism to a broader readership throughout the nation. At the Critical Pass Review, we pride ourselves on bringing the most exceptional, diverse writing from a wide variety of poets and fiction writers together in vivid publications that exceed the limitations of traditional literary journals in print. The Critical Pass Review is also host to two, annual writing contests for exceptional poetry, the Critical Poet’s Award Contest and the Critical Junior Poet’s Award Contest.

 

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