Monroe Had Read Books Her Entire Life
By Katie Manderfield.
She walked with the crook of a book spine at the tip of her nose, the world a blur of cracks and curbs and loose gravel. Often she was honked at, frequently bumped into, and very rarely talked to.
The homeless man who broke into my house was obviously homeless because he wore a suit that had been a great deal too short. He was a tall man and such a suit was made maybe for a boy. A man-boy even, but certainly someone of a smaller stature.
Also, he was brandishing a knife, cross-eyed, and clearly drunk.
My younger brother Armin is retarded. I mean that. He has an actual mental retardation, but sometimes I think perhaps he’s advanced. Maybe he’s more evolved than everyone else. That leaves the rest of us retarded and that’s alright because I’m always stoned. I feel like the change in your purse. Like the dirty penny that’s got a bit of gum wrapped around it. I feel like that, but on a bigger scale.
Monroe had once been a slut, once been a prude. Monroe used to really enjoy art. She liked Kandinsky (I know.) and scribbled lines on her jeans. In the off-chance that she was caught without a book, she’d start drawing on her hands. When her hands were full, she’d begin on her feet. Now, wait. If you’re starting to like Monroe, if you’re thinking “Wow, I bet she’s kind of cool. I think I might like to see some of her doodles, read some of her books.” Let me warn you, the books are boring and the scribbles are endless. She is not and has never been interesting – only interested in things that aren’t. Trust me?
My brother is being retarded. I can say that, you know. Because he actually is. Sometimes I say it more than necessary. In my head I often think, “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” While I say it, I want to turn my eyes to slits and make my Adam’s apple dance. I want my mouth to open like a cash register and swallow your future. Where did you come from? Anyway, I don’t actually think he is retarded. His being so actually does make people uncomfortable. I want to dig my pinky toe into the damp sand that shifts their gaze. That sand is their uncomfortability. What else would you (who?) call it?
Monroe, Monroe, Monroe. That’s all I think about sometimes. Why is she reading all the time? Why can’t she look up to cross the street. (That was a statement.) Why do I want to run her over in a car?
Oh. You’re wondering about the homeless man (you could’ve been). He’s still right here. Just standing at the tip-top of the stairs, kind of shaking his long limbs around. I can hear stitches popping. They’re making this sound like CHH! CHH! when he twists. Except now there isn’t a knife and I’m pretty sure there hadn’t ever been one. He’s drinking red Mountain Dew. Did you know there was such a flavor?
And naturally, I’m walking to Christian Band Camp and who do I bump into? Literally bump into? Of course, that damn Monroe! She was reading some horrible genre book – some kind of thing with rings and zombies and spaceships and hairy beasts on the cover. I bumped her, hard. I hate her book and I hate that I can’t see her nose. I bumped her and said “I hate you Monroe.” I said it through my nose, like I talked from a nostril and I squished my nose so the voice could jump out. My voice was snot when I said it. After, it was not.
Armin likes watching me at band practice. He says, “Oh Lord, Oh Lord, Oh LORD” so many times that it sounds like he’s saying toilet. It cracks everyone up. I bet maybe you thought a retarded person couldn’t be funny in that kind of way. After, Theodore and I snorted heroin off of a broken cross behind the rec-room stage. No, actually, we were fourteen. All high and full of Hey-Zeus, I saw Monroe walking back from where does she go? I was too high to hate. I liked that she didn’t care about things other than her book. I forget what I’m talking about. I mean, I already did.
Did I know Monroe when she was a sloot? Yesh. Kind of. It wasn’t any different than it is now. She’d be that way, but she’d still be reading. She’s still not interesting. Stop it. I know what’s going on. You want to be the one to pull the book away. Who do you think you are? I mean, who are you? But. Whoever you are, you cannot change Monroe. She is boring and will not talk to you because she likes books more than you.
The homeless man and I have something in common and it’s called heroin. I know because he said BA! five hundred billion times and then once, softly, he said h-h-heroin. It was a whisper confession and he said it like he’d been a ghost all his life but couldn’t tell anyone because everyone else was a live human, but he could tell me because I was a ghost too. Don’t worry, we’re not really ghosts. I wouldn’t do that to… Wait, you’re coming back, shoo. His eyes were like those of moose. He was like a moose that’d been killed and stuffed and sold at a discount without the eyes because they’d been stolen.
Monroe. Fuck. So she speaks to my brother. Yes, the retarded one. My only retarded brother she speaks to. He is the only person I’ve ever seen her talk to. No, no, he’s not ‘the one.’ She’s the kind of person who doesn’t have a ONE get it? It does make her more appealing, but only until you really realize you’re not the one. Only until you try to talk to her so many times and all you can see is the bridge of her nose and her irises like pendulums, like those horrible kitty clocks with tails that sway and scare.
My brother talks about Monroe all the time. We’re grown now. I mean, we are no longer 14 snorting H off of religious artifacts, not that Armin ever did that. I am 23 and I shoot heroin with a bit of plastic around my arm and a foot propped on the tub. I’m kidding, I just drink. I’m kidding. Armin’s always been 5 years younger than me. Except at my graduation when he started sobbing uncontrollably. He was infinitely younger than me then. Sometimes I think he just talks to me about Monroe to rub it in. It riles me up like a marching chipmunk with a heart of gears. When he talks about it, the sensation is opposite to that of dope.
Monroe went to the same school as me. Or I went to the same school as she. We are collegiate peers. One day, I spotted Monroe across the Center Sphere and she had, I swear, a boy walking alongside her, armed with a book into which his nose was shoved. I saw Monroe all the time, but this time! I stopped and watched, put a little kink in my knees so they wouldn’t notice my height. I watched them watching words. The way they watched the words was like a sentence composed of time. Together, they were like a sentence that would never end
Homeless guy will not keep it down. It seems as though this story is taking a long time to tell, to come together. But it’s only been five seconds in actual time. I can think at a speed that would make God blush. I have, since the Church Band Era, denounced God. Also, I’ve denounced heroin. Sometimes I think now (usually drunk or a bit high on grass) that maybe I am God’s blush. Also, I’m Irish. But the homeless man is actually me in the mirror because I’m tripping face on Acid. I figured that out a couple seconds ago, but I was so into the other stories I thought it ought to wait till I’m done to tell you that. See the apartment is black and the only light comes from a motion detector outside the door. The light behind me disoriented me. Anyway, I am the homeless guy. I don’t know how I got the Red Mountain Dew. And now I am a giraffe.
Fuck, wait. That whole last part wasn’t right. That was the tripping on acid part. There is an actual homeless guy, which is why I’m upset about it. But I’m not really in my house. I’m at Monroe’s house. Monroe is here with the book guy and my brother (how?). I am drinking Red Mountain Dew and yelling at myself in the mirror because I am on acid. I notice I’m wearing a very small suit.
Alright, alright. None of that last part happened. I am not tripping on acid, there really is a homeless man, but I can’t quite get to that yet. Listen, at this point, I just drank and smoked pot. Something’s pulling me back to Monroe and the book guy. I just have to explain it. And then on to the bum. I promise.
I have been stalking Monroe and book guy. Honestly, it was out of curiosity. Monroe talks to no one except my little brother. The whole thing was just so surreal. Monroe would find another creepy bookreader? Why hadn’t I found someone? These were questions I had inside and the answers to which, I decided, needed to be investigated externally. They frequented a great deal of cafes and bus-stops. The stalking part was boring. So boring, in fact, that most times I fell asleep. I would smoke a joint, swig at my flask. I’d bite my nails and spit the bits out like pew! pew! like I was five and a fighter jet pilot. I hummed songs to myself, I asked myself questions I didn’t know the answers to and then thought about the answers, tried to solve the questions with only the resources of my head. Trying to understand why you cannot understand is disorienting. Often times, Monroe and the guy had already left before I snapped out of it.
I started bringing books along (I know.) I began reading and looking up at page and a half intervals. One time, while I was reading Motorman, I looked up and saw Monroe say something to him. She said, “I know” I almost dropped my fucking book. I was so happy she said something to him, that I felt like this: !! !!! !!! I felt like I could scratch under my kneecaps and floss my thoughts. But then they looked over and I was just there, sitting there. Happy as a cheating chesser. They smiled periods, looked down, and found their sentence.
Then they began finding me. I mean, I stalked as usual (I had a lot of free time in between Ethics and Intro to Lit), but every time I found a good nook, they’d come over, sit down without a word, reading on both sides of me. We sat together in a reading chain. I stopped hiding because there was no use. And then it happened. Monroe passed me her book. She took mine as if I’d had hers and gave me mine as if it were just a misunderstanding. Not knowing what to do, I began at the top of the page. She was reading Dictee and nothing made sense. I followed the words to the spine, to the crevice of the book. And in it’s valley was crumbs. I pulled the book closer to my face and they were granules. There was powdered sugar in her book and I was so excited, I just couldn’t help it because what the?! I licked the middle of her book. I looked to both of them, Monroe on my right; book guy, on my left. They sat still, lifeless, eyes like rolling without circles. Obviously, it wasn’t powdered sugar. I sniffed the spine, burying my nose in its vaginal-like pages. I flipped the book to the cover. I was reading Inferno.
From then on, I didn’t talk for years. Realistically, it was weeks, but years describes the feeling. We went places and nowhere. I read books I can’t remember. I can remember books I hadn’t read. I snorted a lot of H. I’d thought I was over it.
The homeless man in my house hadn’t broken in. He came in because the door was unlocked because I don’t even know why locks matter anymore. A lock is a heavy thing that keeps me inside. He wanted a book. He was yelling and going on and drinking this Red Mountain Dew. He asked for Sexus. He wanted The Planetarium. But Monroe wasn’t there. How’d he know. He said I’d left The Unbearable Lightness of Being on the park bench around the corner (is that right?) He wanted another book. Armin was visiting me. Armin was in the house and this guy wanted Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Utz. Sonnets to Orpheus. He wanted all these books I didn’t have, did I? I told him about Monroe. I yelled Monroe! Monroe! I hate you Monroe! And at the sound of that, he left. He stepped aside from his great big scare. That scene that had taken up the whole fucking house. He stepped aside as if he’d just pissed himself and didn’t want me to notice. Actually, he did that and said sorry. He left and was gone. Looking up form the puddle, there was Armin crying like at my graduation. Armin was always crying, I hate you Armin! I hate Monroe! Behind him was Monroe and BookGuy. Behind him was what really happened. They were dead. Dead before the homeless man, before Armin. They had books in their hands with powder at their chins. No, wait that’s not right. They were tied up, there were needles. You can’t just snort it for that long because life isn’t like that. Armin cried and the homeless man, well what was he supposed to do but piss and leave, my stitches going CHH! CHH! on the way out.
*This actually happened…except Armin wasn’t retarded, only I was.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katie Manderfield was once a Republican, now an anarchist. Once a drug addict, now an experimental fiction junkie. And once upon a time, she used to write nice cute stories about families and their hardships, but now she writes about substance abuse, evil governments, and sociopaths. She even pierced her wrist to look tough (she isn’t.) She blames Michel Foucault, Henry Miller, Denis Johnson and, of course, Samuel Beckett for all the dark thoughts.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 9th, 2009.