With a cast of eccentrics that rivals “The Royal Tenenbaums”, ALONE IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS is about people and their treasured possessions—a running tape recorder, a collection of diplomas, an attic full of disfigured mannequins, or shelves and shelves of books in an all but abandoned public library—and the distinctive role that each of us plays as part of a group dynamic. The book questions where each of us essentially exists—within the singular, the plural, or both.
Alone in the Company of Others
by Kelly Huddleston
At first there were six, all of whom were related, but none of whom knew one another intimately: a man of plurality; his wife Wanda; his two sons Russell and Wilsie; his sister Connie; and me, his niece Camille. But then, as my cousin Russell put it, there was the “accident”—a single shot to his abdomen, the blood in the snow beside the flagless flagpole, the siren, and finally the ambulance. Most assumed it was an act of desperation. Others thought it was retaliatory. Whenever we asked her about it, Wanda immediately retreated to her bedroom. Always self-absorbed, Mother said he did it to advance the lives of those around him. Only one person—Russell—thought it was unintended. Whatever the reason, my uncle’s suicide brought us, the remaining five, together. “What happened after he brought us together is another matter,” said my mother Connie to her group of hitchhikers and Wanda’s three Certified Veterinary Technicians. “Drama,” said my aunt Wanda, who was also in the room. “A slugfest.” She walked into the kitchen. “You know, Wanda, your husband—” “Your brother!” called Wanda. “He didn’t always like to instigate drama,” Mother said to the hitchhikers and Wanda’s Certified Veterinary Technicians. She paused to make sure everyone paid attention to her. “One time, when we were children, he knocked the wind out of me. It was at the schoolyard, during summer break, and it was hot. I was on the monkey bars. He was swinging me. He didn’t want to, but I made him do it. Then I lost my grip, right after he’d given a good solid push, and wallop! I was flying in mid-air. I didn’t mind that so much. That felt wonderful, actually, but it lasted only seconds, and then I was falling like a stoned bird, and hit the gravel. God, I couldn’t breathe. Anyway, he felt terrible.” Wanda was back in the room. She stood tall as a giraffe, frowning, with an orange in her hand. Everyone felt intimidated by her, except Mother. “Did I know him as a child? No,” Wanda said, and sniffed. “He had horse teeth back then, and a cowlick,” my mother said. “He looked like Alfred E. Newmann with all those freckles.” Wanda peeled the orange. It looked like she wanted to change the subject. “I bet you skinned your knee when you hit the gravel,” she said. “I bet you started to bleed.” “I started to bleed from both knees,” Mother said. “Gravel got wedged underneath the skin. It was awful, like I’d been invaded by pebbles.” “Invaded? I know how that feels,” Wanda said flatly. “You’re not going to start that again, are you?” said Mother. “You know I love you both,” Wanda told my mother, “but when you first came it did feel like an invasion. It was probably your no-nonsense attitude that did it, or the fact that you said you came out of concern for me. You’ve always been obtuse like that, Connie. Like your brother, now that I think about it.” She placed the orange peel inside a paper napkin and wadded it tightly in her fist. “And then all this,” Wanda said, and eyed Mother’s group of hitchhikers. Click. That was the end of Wilsie’s tape, or at least one of Wilsie’s tapes, and one of the more lengthy ones at that, one on which there was no trace of Russell’s voice.
By the time I met my cousin Wilsie he’d stopped speaking to other human beings and was using a scratched blackboard to write messages and his little Fisher Price tape recorder to record our conversations. But that was before, as Aunt Wanda liked to call it, the “fall”. There are no new tapes now.
About Wilsie’s tapes (of which there are over four hundred): These days I only listen to them at night when I can’t sleep, and I never listen to them on his old Fisher Price tape recorder (which by a sheer act of God, I must report, still works), but instead on a black Teac recorder that I bought a few years ago at the same discount store where we used to buy Wilsie’s cassettes (he always insisted on the ninety-minute variety, in five packs). When listening to Wilsie’s tapes I try to avoid pressing any of the buttons. With my fumbling fingers, I don’t want to permanently damage any part of our recorded history. On my Teac, the record button is located next to the rewind button, so I very rarely press that key. I’m a flipper, anyway. On time I timed myself and found I could flip a cassette from side A to side B, or side B to side A, in four seconds flat, but that doesn’t include hitting the play key. The play key neighbors the fast-forward key, and if the fast-forward key is pressed when the play head is already engaged then all our voices sound scrambled together, which drives me crazy. I’ve taken the liberty of organizing Wilsie’s cassettes. I had to, really, the way they were left so haphazard. Now they’re all dated (I used stickers for that), and on each case there’s a color-coded list of which voices can be heard on the accompanying tape. This proves helpful when I do my statistics. Here’s something I worked out one night when I couldn’t sleep—an average of the number of statements made per day in our house recorded on Wilsie’s Fisher Price recorder: Mother: 886; 56 per hour; .9 per minute Aunt Wanda: 578; 36 per hour; .6 per minute Russell: 223; 14 per hour; .2 per minute Me: 212; 13 per hour; .2 per minute Certified Veterinarian Technicians: 104; 7 per hour; .1 per minute Hitchhikers: 98; 6 per hour; .1 per minute Others: 46; 3 per hour; .05 per minute Wilsie: .00001; 0 per hour; 0 per minute (Note: These numbers are not absolute. In this life it appears absolutely nothing is absolute.) Point nine per minute. That’s nearly one statement per minute made by one woman—my mother! I can see her now, simple-minded and sanctimonious, talking incessantly, nothing but a gear-grinding machine spitting out vowels and cranking out consonants. In truth, I’m as cynical as she, only more economy-minded, less dramatic. “You’re a major wimp and a closet pervert,” my cousin Russell once told me. (Thankfully Wilsie and his tape recorder were not in the room to record the statement.) But I’m getting off the track now. To get back to Wilsie: Of course Wilsie didn’t record all of our ramblings, especially when we were on the telephone, but Wilsie was crafty, not to mention determined, and he somehow managed to record, and therefore document, the delicate time just before we all came together in the small mountain town of Bucksnort, Colorado. Incidentally, it’s exactly four tapes worth—a nice, clean, even number. Tape one begins with the voice of Carl Worthington, a Denver lawyer who acted as executor of the will, and who returned my aunt Wanda’s call a week after her husband’s (Russell and Wilsie’s father, Connie’s brother, my uncle’s) funeral while she was performing a castration on a black Labrador puppy named Sprinkles at her veterinarian clinic in Applewood, Colorado. As the lawyer fumbled for words (on Wilsie’s tape he greets Wanda as Mrs. Turner, then thinks again and addresses her as Doctor), my aunt is heard calling out instructions to Stacey, one of her Certified Veterinary Technicians, who was probably still standing over Sprinkles, who in all likelihood was still under anesthesia and lay prone on his back on the steel table, his four big, black puppy paws sticking straight up in the air, his limp pink tongue temporarily jammed to one side of his snout to accommodate the green tube that went down into his windpipe. “Doctor Turner, are you still on the line?” “What?” said Wanda on Wilsie’s tape dated October 4, 1982. A dog howled. A cat, no doubt half-drugged and confined to a cage after a controversial de-claw surgery, screamed its head off. If you listen closely you can hear the distinctive popping sound of a microphone being tested to record conversations. “Are you recording this conversation?” said Carl Worthington. “That’s Wilsie. He’s on the line in my office. He doesn’t talk. He just listens.” “I’d prefer if we spoke privately.” “He’s only five year old.” “I’d prefer if we—” Wanda’s voice: “Fine. Wilsie, will you get off the line now?” Click. The tape recorder clicked off. Click. The tape recorder clicked on again. “Is he off now?” “I think so. Wilsie, are you still there?” “I thought you said he doesn’t talk.” “He doesn’t.” “Now, regarding the will, Doctor Turner. I don’t quite know how to put this―” “Wait a minute. I don’t think he’s off yet. Wilsie, I can hear you breathing.” Click. Click. “Good thing your husband never—” “Wilsie!” Click. Click. “―incorporated, which means it’s all yours now, of course. But I’m not sure he informed you of everything. We need to discuss the property.” “Property?” said Wanda. “You mean the house?” “No, the other property.” “What property?” “The Bucksnort property.” “What-snort?” “The ski resort.” “Hold on a minute, will you?” Wanda cleared her throat. In a calm, motherly voice, she said: “Wilson Turner III, I can hear you in my office. You’re sitting on my chair, the squeaky one, and sucking on a piece of—” Click. Click. “I tried to warn him against buying it, but he was adamant. He couldn’t stop talking about the chairlift. So against my better judgment he bought it—an abandoned ski resort in Bucksnort.” Click. “It’s really a lovely property,” Gladys York of York Realtors in Bucksnort told Wanda (and unwittingly to Wilsie’s tape recorder) over the telephone. This particular conversation, I’m guessing, took place a few hours after Wanda’s phone conversation with Carl Worthington, the lawyer. Knowing Wanda, she probably finished sewing up Sprinkles and then went outside the clinic to the alleyway for a cigarette before getting back to business, which on that day probably meant a few more surgeries: another de-claw, a lump removal, or perhaps a time-consuming canine dental cleaning (all that scraping). Then another break: more smoking; hearing the cheery ring of the cash register; watching Stacey in the back room stuff her mouth with cookies and marshmallows and animal crackers. Next would come the obligatory phone calls: “Hello, Mrs. Grabowski. This is Doctor Turner from the vet clinic. I’m calling to let you know that Sprinkles is out of surgery. The anesthesia is just beginning to wear off, which accounts for all the howling.” And, “No, Bob, the courier did not come at noon. This is the third time this month he’s been late. If you ask me, I think it’s because the kid is always doped out of his head. Listen, Bob, you’re going to have to speak up. It’s been a busy day and I can’t hear myself think. What did you say?” And, “Is this York Realtors? I need to speak with Gladys York. No, I cannot hold. I’m a doctor; I have patients. Yes, I realize it’s hard to hear me. I’m in the recovery room.” If Wanda sounds fed up on Wilsie’s tape, then Gladys York of York Realtors in Bucksnort sounds equally harassed—as well as strangely enthusiastic. Her voice sounds slippery, her message embellished by a surplus of italicized adjectives. Listen: “Yes, Doctor Turner, I certainly can hear you better since you went into your office. Now, to get back to where I left off: There’s a massive fireplace made out of gorgeous red bricks, not to mention a colossal kitchen. Though early this morning, I must tell you, three men from Pepsi came to collect the vending machines, and now the deep fryer is gone. Despicable, if you ask me, how you can’t trust anyone anymore. At least they didn’t touch the big copper pans. Now that would have been a real travesty.
“There are fourteen bedrooms in total,” Gladys continued, “all still furnished. There are two big bedrooms upstairs (what they used to call the master suites) and twelve smaller ones located on the ground floor, behind the fireplace.
“Now, let me run all this by you so there’s no confusion: the cook, the wait staff, and the maids are all long gone, finito. But there’s still the promo guy to consider. His name is Finn Green. Anyway, this fellow is claiming that your husband—oh, dear, I’m so sorry—agreed to keep him employed, not as a promotion consultant, but as a security guard. Now listen, hon: I’ve got a hunch about this Green fellow, and why he’s so adamant about this security business. He likes the digs, you know, where he lives on the property—the Lair Lodge, that’s what it’s called. It’s located at the top of the mountain, next to the chairlift. Hon, you still with me?”
Wanda didn’t answer.
“So we’re talking about two buildings here,” Gladys York continued. “There’s the ski resort itself and the Lair Lodge, where this Green fellow is currently camped out.” “Excuse me,” said Wanda, finally, “but where did you say the property is located?” “Bucksnort,” Gladys York told her. “It’s charming, really. And Carl Worthington says you’ve never been here? Oh dear! Let me tell you, it’s nice and quiet up here. But take some advice from me, hon: buy yourself a good snow blower.” Click. Tape two, side B, Wilsie’s final recording before we all came together at the abandoned ski resort in Bucksnort, Colorado, features a conversation between my mother Connie and Aunt Wanda. It is calmer than the flipside. By then a week had passed since Mrs. Grabowski had picked up her castrated Labrador puppy. Even in the absence of howling dogs, it’s still difficult to hear the voices on Wilsie’s tape. I’m guessing this was due to a bad phone connection from Applewood, Colorado, where Wanda’s house was located, and Old Town Chicago, where Mother and I were living at the time in a studio apartment that I can no longer remember except in pieces: stark bare rooms; a tattered couch; two windows with a view of a red brick wall; a brown dog puppet (mine) with jawbreaker-sized eyeballs and an open blood-red mouth on top of an Amana refrigerator. That’s it. Everything else is forgotten. But back then I didn’t have Wilsie, or his tapes, or my black Teac. “It doesn’t make any sense. He didn’t even like to ski, so what made him buy a ski resort?” Wanda said to my mother over the speakerphone. Next to her, I’m fairly certain, sat Wilsie with his tape recorder. Television noises—the sound of a gunshot, shattered glass and theme music followed by a brief pause and then a woman singing about detergent—can be heard in the background. “For the last time, Russell, turn it down!” Wanda shouted. “I think it makes perfect sense—the ski resort.” That was my mother, Connie. Note her emphasis on herself—one of the few things about her that remained constant. Wanda didn’t say anything. She must have been flabbergasted. “I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Toys’R’Us kid,” blared wobbly and muffled on the television. “He didn’t always have big ideas,” my mother said. “One time, when we were children—” “Just a second,” said Wanda. She probably couldn’t stand talking to my mother. It was the first time they had spoken in five years. They were not what one might consider close. Wanda shouted at Russell again, no doubt stalling. (He did not, for the record, shout back at her. If he had then his voice would have been recorded for decades to come. I could be sitting here right now, listening to his words over and over again.) “Do skiers still come to the resort?” my mother asked. She sounded hopeful. “No,” said Wanda. “It’s closed.” “But there’s a lot of space?” “It’s ridiculous, the amount of space. I don’t know what to do with it all. I can’t imagine what he thought he was going to do with it.” “But you’re going to move in?” “Yes,” said Wanda, sighing. “We move tomorrow. Russell says he likes the chairlift.” “How much space is there, exactly?” “The concept of the utopian society is elementally flawed,” a televised voice stated. Click went Wilsie’s tape recorder. Five days later Mother and I stood forlornly on a highway overpass, roughly six miles from the abandoned ski resort that was now Wanda’s house, our bags and a gold-plated bowling ball at our feet, watching the taxi driver that Mother had offended speed away. It was a big moment for us, I could tell Mother thought, as we looked at the snowy meadows on either side of the highway, and then above to the boulders the color of chalk, and at the hemorrhage of blue-black trees that spotted the smooth slopes of the stenciled peaks. Perched on top of one of the denuded, craggy crests, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus stood with arms outstretched, and my mother stood there staring at it with a look of pure exasperation on her face. Earlier that night, two and a half hours before we boarded the plane to Denver at a bookstore in O’Hare Airport, Mother had run her thumb along the spines of books, stating yet again to me the importance of coming in contact with ideas, only this time when she said it there was a deadness in her voice, unlike her usual upbeat, categorical way of speaking (Mother was big on emphasis), and it was only then, after we had left the bookstore and were walking past the international gates that I began to understand the depth of her disappointment—a feeling forever sealed inside her when, right before we boarded the plane to Denver, she’d emptied out the contents of her purse before a woman sitting between two big purple wastebaskets. Out came a thick wad of bills, then the thin blue booklets I knew were our passports, and finally two one-way tickets to Athens, Greece. Almost comically, it now seems, Mother gave our money, our identity, and our once envisioned future to an astonished, open-mouthed, homeless woman. In a soft yet definitive voice, Mother said to her, “Here. Try this.” About the author: Kelly Huddleston was born in Denver, Colorado on January 31, 1982. When she was nineteen, Kelly moved to the Island of Corfu in Greece where the literary heavyweights Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller once resided. The beauty of the island as well as the gregarious and colorful culture made up of Greeks and expatriates from all over the world continues to intrigue and inspire her to this day. Still living on Corfu, Kelly works for an online English-speaking magazine about the island. She is the author of The Perfect Pearl (Escape Media 2002). Alone in the Company of Others is her second novel, available in Amazon Kindle Edition at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/tags-on-product/B001WAKDJK/ref=tag_dpp_cust_edpp_sa
Moronic Ox Literary Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books
About the novel...
Camille Turner can't stop obsessing over her cousin and her mother Connie can't stop collecting people. After Connie's brother Wilson has 'the accident' (a single shot to the abdomen; the blood in the snow beside the flagpole; the siren and the ambulance), they move into an abandoned ski resort in Colorado with Wilson's widow Wanda, an agoraphobic veterinarian, and her two sons, Russell, who only wants to be normal, and Wilsie, who is anything but normal. Determined never to use his voice, Wilsie communicates on a blackboard and records other people's conversations on a Fisher Price tape recorder.
Camille's mother Connie makes sure there are many voices to record: Teresa, an ex opera singer; Helen, Stacey, and Winnie, three Certified Veterinary Technicians; Margie, a lonely, suicidal librarian; Finn Green, a PR man; and a group of disillusioned hitchhikers no one will pick up.
Wilsie records the progress of their lives, a world of sex, death, and white noise, but when Wilsie is finally forced to use his voice Camille is left with over four hundred cassette tapes documenting the rise and fall of a micro society with one unmistakable message: we are all alone, even in the company of others.
About The Perfect Pearl...
The storm was brewing. He could smell it in the air. She was not home yet. She was still out to sea, diving for oysters, searching for pearls. The Pacific had become her new lover. She let the water touch her in places he could no longer find. Still, he would not swim with her. He did not know how.
And then the rain came down very hard...
Someone was out there with her, kissing her salty skin as her naked body bobbed in and out of the waves, and she was kissing him, too
Now, Ben Heath travels along a ribbon of replenishment. But there is always a memory within a memory, and Ben's memories are as thick as desert dust. With an enigmatic companion at his side, a desert road rat who calls himself Truman, Ben is bound for Prayer Town, Texas - a mythic setting of light and darkness - to take up the role once played by his capricious twin brother Luke.
Prayer Town may indeed hold the elusive promise of common sanity and ideal love, but it also vaults an unexpected revelation - one which compels Ben to make a defining choice for the first time in his life.
About the author: Kelly Huddleston was born in Denver, Colorado on January 31, 1982. When she was nineteen, Kelly moved to the Island of Corfu in Greece where the literary heavyweights Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller once resided. The beauty of the island as well as the gregarious and colorful culture made up of Greeks and expatriates from all over the world continues to intrigue and inspire her to this day. Still living on Corfu, Kelly works for an online English-speaking magazine about the island. She is the author of The Perfect Pearl (Escape Media 2002). Alone in the Company of Others is her second novel, available in Amazon Kindle Edition at http://www.amazon.com/ Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books Advertise your book, CD, or cause in the 'Ox' Novel Excerpts, Short Stories, Poetry, Multimedia, Current Affairs, Book Reviews, Photo Essays, Visual Arts Submissions
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