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issue 18: may - june 2000 

spanish original | author's bio

Ned Flanders
by Javier Calvo
translated by Graham Thomson

The neon lights of the motel are reflected in old Flanders’ glasses. Inside the room, a cigarette slowly burns down between his thick yellow fingers. Behind him, Lisa is sitting on the bed. A sheet half covers the yellow nakedness of her child’s body. Flanders silently watches the cars flash past at speed on the interstate. Lisa is taking slow melancholy gulps from the neck of a bottle of Jack Daniels. All of a sudden old Flanders’ short-sighted eyes encounter the reflection in the dirty glass of the window of little Lisa’s round, alcohol-fuddled eyes. That moment encapsulates all of their lives. Their present, their past and their future. It is all there, inscribed in the deoxyribose-nucleic skein of the sweating night. The years of apprenticeship, the first job, marriage, the slow incursion of boredom, the kids and, in the end, the sudden discovery that neither work nor family can promise more than a resigned and unremarkable decline. And the embryo of what lies in store for them: Flanders’ old age, the final pangs of melancholy and the efforts to conceal his secret life, that false compartment where the last vestiges of his desire are concentrated. And Lisa leaving, going far away from little Springfield, to a brighter future of big cities, doctorates cum laude, academic seminars and a senior post in the administration that her parents will contemplate with tears and the blissful smile of irremediable ignorance. A future in which Ned will be no more than an escapade to be forgotten, exciting for the two or three weeks it takes to sate the little girl’s curiosity. It’s all there, exposed, beneath the revealing light of the neon sign. The past versus the future. The fag end in his yellow fingers. Ned Flanders.

      "Subversion is a type of violence reserved for the strong. All that is left for the rest of us mortals is perversion."
      Michel Foucault

      Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders meet in an old Ford parked under a streetlight. Flanders can’t let himself be seen in Moe's bar because it might get back to his wife or his friends in the church. Moe's bar is for those fevered late nights when the drugs have wiped out every remnant of caution. Flanders scans the street with his short-sighted eyes before opening the car door and getting into the passenger seat. Homer is behind the wheel, drinking from a large can of Budweiser and listening to an old Pete Seger tape. He greets Flanders with a belch and a dazed smile.
      "Hi, Flanders."
      "Hi, Homie."
      Homer hands him a brown envelope. Flanders takes it with a trembling hand and a feverish expression.
      "Are they as good as you promised me?"
      "They’re great. I took them in the bath-tub."
      "Oh." Flanders opens the envelope and gazes with reverence at the photos inside. "I’ll reward you, Homie!"
      Flanders rests his plump yellow hand on Homer’s crotch. Homer sighs and lets him massage the hot bulge.
      "You’ve got to bring her to me," Flanders whispers in his ear.
      "No, not that...," Homer murmurs.
      And the Springfield night is filled with a rhythmic soughing cadence.

      "Subversion is an abysmal regression. Once something is subverted, we convert it into a supplement of subversion itself. Thus the subversion becomes the object of a new subversion. And so on successively, to infinity."
      Jacques Derrida

      Bart Simpson crosses the living room, behind the sofa on which his family sit lost in contemplation of the television. The stroboscopic light of the TV is reflected in the yellow of their faces. He goes down the stairs to the garage. He darts a last backward glance to make sure no one has seen him and closes the door behind him carefully. Then he moves various boxes of tools strategically arranged on top of a table until he finds what he’s looking for: the long flat box of a pair of Sears pyjamas. His hands trembling with excitement, he carries the box into the gap between the car and the wall. He lifts off the top and lays it on the floor. Inside are half a dozen magazines with glossy pages. For a minute, Bart contemplates the photographs in the magazine, which invariably show muscular men masturbating and muscular men performing fellatio. His father’s most prized treasure. Although he is too young to understand his own sexuality, Bart realises he is destined to take after his father. That with time the boyish pranks are beginning to make way for other things. There is no sense in resisting. He knows what his father does with the man next door when they go fishing on Sundays. On occasion, while his family are sleeping, he has climbed out the bedroom window and shinned down the drainpipe just to look from a distance, hidden behind a trash can, at the dilapidated and fascinating effigy of Moe's bar. All night long there is the sound of laughter in the upstairs rooms, mixed with cries and with other kinds of exclamation Bart doesn’t yet know how to interpret. But now, as he looks at the muscular bodies in the magazine, he knows he will understand them soon. A jolt of excitement shoots through his pelvis. He opens his shorts.
      "Subversion is a productive function of what we know as desiring machine. The problem is that the desired is a germinal flow in which we search in vain for persons or even for discernible functions such as father, mother, son, sister, etc., since these names designate nothing more than intensive variations on the body determined as seed."
      Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

      Homer moves his big calloused hand over Apu’s naked and surprisingly smooth chest. They are lying on the floor in the back of the shop at Badulaque, among crates of beer and boxes of Pringles. Homer’s trousers are somewhere by the door, tangled up with his friend’s shirt. He has had a lot of lovers in his life, but no one excites him to the point of making him forget all caution as the beautiful Apu does. Homer contemplates his body with admiration. He loves his dark, fleshy lips. He loves his moustache and his greasy hair. But what he likes best is his skin. It isn’t yellow like the skin of the Springfielders . It’s a healthy shade of brown, and it gives off a faint aroma of sweat and Asian cigarettes. On the other side of the curtain that separates them from the shop, Homer’s two sisters-in-law are beating on the counter with fury in their faces.

      "Subversion is what we have worked for all our lives. Subversion should be not a means but an end in itself. Only in that way can we prevent the Revolution coming to a standstill."
      Daniel Cohn-Bendit

      Ned Flanders is sitting peacefully by the same bend of the river where he meets Homer every Sunday when he hears the familiar screech of the wheels of his neighbour’s old Ford. The car appears in the midst of a cloud of dust and stops after fender-ramming a number of trees. It seems that Homie is drunker than usual today. Flanders lays the fishing rod down, gets to his feet and slowly walks towards the car. As he gets nearer he hears the familiar chords of the Pete Seger music his neighbour always listens to. For a moment, as he watches Homer bang his head on the roof of the car and climb out, tottering to the rhythm of Seger’s guitar, it occurs to him that this unsteady and repulsive image represents the languid, fat-assed, silent debacle of his whole generation. The generation that was going to change the world. Homer drains a can of Budweiser and throws it at a tree. He belches and stands there looking at Flanders with an expression that is a mixture of annoyance, tiredness and hungry desire.
      "Have you brought her?" Flanders can’t keep the note of longing out of his voice.
      Homer doesn’t answer. Flanders looks in the back window of the car and even through the dirtiness of the glass he can see the crawling shape of little Maggie with her eternal dummy and her skin of the purest and healthiest shade of yellow you could imagine.
      "Oh, Homie," Flanders says with a catch in his voice. "This time I’ll give you more, much more. I’ll pay you back with interest..."
      Homer answers without looking at him, his gaze lost in some point of the river that flows squalidly past:
      "I want you to do it to me quick," he grunts. "Hurt me."

© 2000 Javier Calvo
translated by © Graham Thomson

spanish original

This story  may not be archived or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author's bio

Javier Calvo was born in Barcelona in 1973. He is a literary critic for El País and a translator. Among others, he has translated a Ezra Pound, W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Patrick McGrath y David Foster Wallace.
navigation:                         barcelona review #18                     may - june 2000
-Fiction Jess Mowry - One Way
Richard Weems - Curbside Mailboxes
Adam Blackwell - The Louis Agency
Deirdre Maultsaid - Puppy Dogs' Tails
Javier Calvo - Ned Flanders
-Poetry Dolors Miquel - Two Poems
-Article May and June in Barcelona
-Quiz William Faulkner
Answers to Jorge Luis Borges Quiz
-Regular Features Book Reviews
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