From the award-winning short story A Vain and Terrible Thing, or Therapy, or Mr. Mitchell’s Cock Charade.
What if I told you that I don’t have any clue how to write? Well, don’t worry because I’m not telling you. I’m telling me. I just watched Annie Hall and it got to me because things like that get to me and I could sit here forever and forever trying to reflect upon it, but that sure wouldn’t do any of us a whole hell of a lot of good, now would it? I’m just as worthless as I’ve always been, but this time I’m not going to try to be so lewd about it. I’ll try to put into words what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, and when I come out on the other side maybe I won’t be so dripping wet as I was the last few thousand times around. I’m neurotic and self-absorbed, and am just as dying as I’ve always been, only this time there’s no one else around to feel so goddamned sorry for me.
This is what happens when you run out of drugs and the porn gets old. This is what happens when you’re too grown up to feel lonely, but are still just as alone. This is what happens when it’s too cold to go outside and the only people who ever call are your parents and they just did, as a matter of fact, from sunny California, where January can be warm, but the golf is still sub par. This is what happens when you’ve got all the time in the world and not a goddamned thing to say to it. This is what happens, this is what happens…
My name is Clayton Abbey Mitchell and I think I may have just shit my pants, but everybody calls me Cam. So I’ve got this life and if it were yours I’m sure you’d feel pretty goddamned good about things, because Lauren is a dream and my two daughters smile like you can’t even imagine. They’re like little golden rays of sun, who—if your protein contributed to their conception as much as mine has—would make you as proud as the Virgin Mary herself, all moist and gooey from the seed of the Lord.
I can’t write anything fiction. I’m too narcissistic for that. So this is what happens when masturbation becomes your only means of self expression and you’re fresh out of ways to grease the wheels: The axel turns like something in a vice grip, helplessly unmoving, and the only way to squeak by is to fall apart all over the place. This is what happens when you lead the life you’ve always dreamt, but still feel that you’re going crazy.
I’m thirty-three years old, all my hair is still in its right place, and my wife tells me that my jaw is chiseled, my eyes are dark and honest, and that I’m hung like something out of an interracial porno. I teach at the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and am an accomplished novelist, having made the New York Times Best Sellers list six times now—and having topped it twice. I’ve been presented with the Pen/Faulkner Award and my most recent novel is being optioned for a movie. The Annual Literary Review calls me, “a new and promising literary voice fueling the embers of a forgotten art.” I’ve appeared on the covers of Esquire and GQ magazines. My wife and I have kinky sex usually more than once a day. My stamina is unparalleled. It is infrequent that she’ll have less than three or four orgasms during intercourse.
Lauren, my wife, is sexually and emotionally fulfilled with me as her partner and is quite a bit younger than I, but at the age of twenty-eight has borne two beautiful daughters, is energetic and loving and fun, and quite an amazing lay. When we stand facing each other on an even surface my lips kiss her forehead. Her breasts amply fill her modest C-cup bra, although without one they don’t sag a bit. She’s tan, especially for Iowa—and without the use of a tanning salon. Her legs are shaped like two perfect Plaster of Paris vases; she’s got the stomach of an athlete, ass of a teenager and she rarely wears panties, although when she does it’s either little boy superhero underpants or dental floss g-strings. Once when wearing baggy sweatpants and a sweatshirt at a grocery store in Hollywood she was asked to be a toothpaste model. She blushed softly, then declined. That was several years ago. Her skin was then and is now softer than velvet, her eyes a deep green that, in direct sunlight, fade to a soft, soft blue. She only wears makeup on very special occasions. Her face alone could get you off.
Our oldest daughter, Josephine likes to paint abstract creatures in art class at school. She can read better than any thirteen year old I’ve ever met, though she is only six. She’s emotionally more mature than I am and a conversationalist to boot. The thought of her dating in ten years or less terrifies me because she has her mother’s light mahogany hair and beauty-queen face and when she looks out the window she tells me she wants to fly.
Our younger daughter, Juliet, is cuter than a bell, but a terror, nonetheless. She’s only that way because she’s two and has the most innocent face you’ve ever seen. She could get away with genocide. Her hair’s so blond, it’s almost white and her laughter erupts like a mountain of joy, her cries like an ocean of sadness. She trots about like she owns the galaxy, but is comical as hell. She makes all sorts of messes and funny faces and we love them both to inconsolable death. Their mother tells me now is the time to begin preparing for puberty. The fear is overwhelming.
I love my wife more than anything imaginable because I know she feels the same for me, plus the sex is great. The sex is always great.
I wake quickly this morning from a dream of aimless wandering, naked in a pasture, dandelion pixies floating on the softest wind. My waking is abrupt and I feel the air rush out of my lungs like I’ve just been dropped from a lifetime above. The first thing I see upon opening my eyes is the ceiling, vast, empty and a creamy shade of white. The only sound is my deep and panicked breathing. A late morning erection protrudes from my boxer briefs. Lauren had woken hours ago. The bedroom air is comforting, although, even now I still feel out of place.
I jump out of bed as though I’m late for a class, but at the same time am fully aware that it’s June and I don’t teach in summer sessions. My erection quickly subsides, coming to rest again in its usual place, twisting slightly to the left and only a few inches from where the fabric of my black boxer brief’s ends. Lauren measured it once. It is allegedly huge.
I struggle with the bed sheets for a bit because they refuse to let me go. I flail my arms about, grunting and, when I can’t escape their grasp ,yell out to them, “Fucking let me go.”
At that I hear Lauren walking up the hall to our bedroom. “You up, babe?” she calls from down the hall. A unspecified terror washes over me for fear that she will soon become aware of my erratic behavior when she finds me there, wrestling with the bed sheets, which tangle themselves around my legs and, as I struggle further, only force myself to the floor. My face thumps down on the dark, brown hardwood floor and just at that instant I hear Lauren chuckling at my burden.
“Those sheets can be complicated, can’t they?” she manages to jest in between her minor fits of laughter. She approaches as I roll myself over so I’m facing up but still wrapped in the sheets. They’re soft, but evil and a cool, almost bluish shade of white. She stands above me with her crippling half smile, half-sympathetic gaze.
“I’m hungry,” I say slowly, pathetically.
“Well, it’s almost eleven,” she lets me know, still holding that same look of hers. “You want breakfast or lunch ‘cause the girls already ate?” I remain conquered on the floor and am somewhat distraught by the question and the new awareness that I’ve slept through all the morning. These troubles must show upon my face because Lauren bends at the knees, then at the waist in her casual morning clothes to bring her face to mine. She kisses me and, for an instant as her inexplicably soft lips begin to open up to mine, I forget everything I’ve ever known.
“There’s left over pancake batter,” she tells me softly, sweetly when we’re eventually through with our lasting oral embrace. She’s looking through my still sleeping eyes. “How ‘bout I whip a few up for you just the way you like ‘em?”
“With whip cream and a smiley face?” I clarify before she kisses me once more, this time even softer, but on the forehead where I feel my brow furrowed from the lingering confusion that I am, in fact, awake. Lauren rises slowly like a movie, backing out of the room as if she wants to jump my bones right then and there in the dull, late morning sadness that I notice drifting about in heavy clouds across the half-benevolent sky, through the giant Victorian window that consumes almost entirely a wall of our bedroom as it all begins caving in, coming down on me like a universe imploding.
She backs through the bedroom door, turns, pulls her flannel pants down just enough to show me the top of her perfect ass and that she, like most days, isn’t wearing any panties. She looks over her left shoulder and wets her lips. She fades into the darkness of the never-ending hallway and now, with my erection blood-filled and robust again, I hide myself beneath what’s left of the bed sheets so that I’m not forced to endless terror as the walls close around me, making it impossible to breathe.
I’m still able to perceive the light through the white sheets, but all else remaining outside of them seems much more distant to me, like somehow I’m falling through the floor. I feel my eyes swell with inevitable tears, but as I take in another breath, congested slightly from the diminished space within my bed-sheet world, I come back into existence, dragging the fabric from my face to reveal my bedroom helplessly unchanged. Even the clouds outside have drifted from my view, making way for a promising, yet impossible blue; the blue of Midwestern summer days floating over oceans of homogeneous corn, open fields of prosperous grain atop over plowed soil, still miraculously able to produce the things it always has, season to dying season.
This is what happens when you feel like all the world is sitting on your face, rubbing its tight, pink button forever across your nose, but then you come to and realize that the whole time you’ve been sticking it to her from behind, barely able to make out even the back of her flailing, malignant head. So this is what happens when a summer day goes by entirely without notice, you look out the window to find the night already descended and then down at your world, your wife, who you’ve been plowing all the while. You’ve got no idea how the corn keeps on growing. Somehow it does.