THIS IS NOT A BILL by Gary Lutz
I was either a bad reflection on my parents or their one true likeness. But my own kids? You promise them anything their little hearts desire, but how little their hearts always are, and how unethereal the desire.
The son wanted nothing so much as for everything to have been ever so long ago.
The kid was having none of himself.
He tried hiding behind his similarities to me—the oftenness of my earaches, the prickled miseries in every jot and tittle of my body, the timidities when it came time to leave the bed and dirty myself anew in daylight.
Ideally, this should be all about him, his personalisms and all the topics his second thoughts could hold. But I can’t get him magnified any larger. This is as big as his marvels will ever get: Men kept saying, “Put it there,” and he was supposed to know they were hankering for only a handshake?
As for the daughter: She was a dampered little dispatch already orderly in her dolors.
Things she learned in school she rubbed out in her sleep, because come morning she thought feldspar was a plant, larkspur a bird.
By some accounts, plenty of others had bunched about her when she was young, the mood of a morning only slowly premiering in her.
Sadness about what now?
In some fullness of time or another, she snapped out of her youth with a riffraff of hair on her arms and a filing cabinet that was mostly for show.
What she took away from college was something heard in a lecture about snakes or starfish or such, that the things could regenerate or grow to refreshedly full length and size from just a slice, a scrap, of their original selves, so why couldn’t that be true of people—that from the odd hair or scab or sheddings or savings you could get, if not the undivided human being, at least the excellence of an entire arm around you?
She looked packed but not yet thickened with what life had scooped into her so far.
She never let on from day to day who it was she would have slapping and swishing about in her heart.
Then again, not discussed nearly enough is the physical risk of sleeping with someone—the danger, I must mean, of being crushed by some dozing amoroso rolling over, though the prospect of bruises must have been what got her wooed into bed in the first place.
You had to envy any woman never once agitated by men.
But then a man began mattering unviolently in the main.
So, true: She was somewhere there in the physical hooey that went with being human. The love itself she could laugh off.
She had her life hanging over her but couldn’t reach for it any better than before.
She went through with a wedding, but the wedding didn’t put enough of a context around the two of them, her and the husband, and his arms still hung politely but ungivingly from himself, and when they had kids, the kids were girls, both of them athletic and unhaunted, but regretters early on.
It was a town in which the skies usually misled you about what was coming next.
Things later came down to a car that should have lasted her until well into her uppermost thirties but that was recalled first because of this, then because of that—transmission, starter, part after part repudiating its duty until loaners felt better than home to her now.
I was a father still, but with no clearings in my understanding.
I had to get along with what I gathered of myself, even when what I gathered was only that her mail was simply window envelope after window envelope bearing medical-treatment statements claiming, “THIS IS NOT A BILL.”
I have not mentioned her mother, if only because one part of her would refer you to another part, something more secluded, then along to where you were alone with maybe just the back of her knee, then farther along until you were off her body completely and at the feet of someone or another who had let himself in and was even more nubbed and wanting.
I go into a day saying,“I won’t let myself know.”
Gary Lutz is the the author of Stories in the Worst Way, I Looked Alive, Partial List of People to Bleach, and Divorcer.