issue 34: january - february 2003 

 | author bio

You’re Stanley Now
G. K. Wuori

Oh Ann thought her husband would be pleased when she asked the one man about the ship’s registry, about the credentials of its captain, about the safekeeping place of its records and whether or not its broken things were even occasionally repaired. A story, that’s what Oh Ann had heard, was that when you contracted with Men Who Transport Very Fine you were sometimes treated like a midnight cat – kicked, sprayed with hoses, yelled at. It seemed only prudent to inquire as to what the ground rules of this tremendous new phase in their joint life would be.
      Oh Ann knew her husband would be proud of her astute questions, of her concern for their safety and comfort.
      The captain, though, a man who looked both kind and wise with his white beard and his windblown and shaggy white hair, had Oh Ann beaten by a small man whose tongue was never all the way in his mouth, one of those rascals who reminded her of early school where the very smallest boys would sometimes respond to the constant taunts and teasing by grabbing even the biggest offenders by the throat until the eyes looked like they would pop out through the back of the head. Such boys never "won," of course, but no water is ever sweeter than that which dampens humiliation.
      This little man, at the captain’s urging, used a plastic bottle filled with American soda pop. He broke one of Oh Ann’s ribs with it, and blackened both her eyes.
      That night, in the ship’s hold, a greasy place that had only recently held crude oil – not a good place for even the one kerosene lamp that hung over the turd bucket, although that was as good a spot as any for there to be at least some light – that night Oh Ann’s husband held his feet to the walls of the ship until they were icy cold and then he placed them against her swollen eyes. His feet burned from the chill after a while, and he was heavily exerted the way any chubby man would be contorting himself that way.
      Oh Ann kept thanking him until finally he put his fingers to her lips and said, "Listen."
      Oh Ann did listen as next to them two people made love with endearments and barely visible motions. Neither Oh Ann nor her husband had ever been so close to the passion of others, though they were not embarrassed by it, not ashamed since they knew that in the time ahead they would have their own moments in the softly-turned shadows, things that needed to be done while others shed their own awareness. The journey was said to be very long.
      "Are they men?" Oh Ann asked You’re Stanley Now (the hurry-up name given her husband by a clerk back home, men always advised not to use their real names).
      "Not two days out," You’re Stanley Now said, "yet loneliness rises faster than all the tides. In a week or two they will hate each other and fight."
      "Husband?" Oh Ann said.
      "Take your feet off my face. They are warm again."
      He laughed quietly then and told her that in the America a man was not allowed to put his feet on his wife’s face. He had heard that and said it was only one of all the strange laws they would have to get used to, like sleeping late on Sunday mornings and going to the church of your choice on Wednesday nights. Oh Ann said she didn’t think they’d have to go to church at all, that it was not required. Perplexed, You’re Stanley Now said he thought it might depend on what sort of job you had, then he said they ought to try to get some sleep, or at least look like they were getting some sleep so that the men next to them would feel alone when they were done, and could make the small talk that is such a vital part of lovemaking.
      By the time the group of them boarded the old DC-3 for the trip over some mountains in the South America, Oh Ann’s eyes had healed. Her rib still hurt but bones, she knew, were like that. They did all the hard work of the body with very little thanks, so it was understandable they would complain following actual abuse.
      Oh Ann sighed audibly over the word complain, since You’re Stanley Now had complained about her beating the very next day. One of the Men Who Transport Very Fine had said, that’s it, this ain’t no cruise ship, and You’re Stanley Now would have to go, that this was a perilous trip in perilous times and they could all be blown out of the water by even the smallest of governments seeking training exercises for new ship crews or fresh airplane pilots. "Perilous times," the man shouted at You’re Stanley Now, "require bravery and iron discipline. Those who cavil and whine are like a terrible rust eating out the innards of an old ship.
      "You seek new lives, yet you would do it with old laxities?" the man continued, actually shouting, screaming, the man clearly hysterical, Oh Ann could see.
      She could also see, for the first time, the gulls following the ship, ugly sea gulls the stuff of evil and spitefulness in every children’s story she’d grown up with. Sea gulls ate your eyes and pissed on your laundry and they’d lay eggs in the mouths of infants. It was even said the devil was in all the sea gulls, that he deceived sailors into thinking land was near so that day after day the screeching would drive them insane.
      Oh Ann stopped thinking of gulls just then as she saw a half dozen of the Men Who Transport Very Fine wrap her husband in a blue tarpaulin. She worried that they would beat him when he was helpless, or that they would make him lie in the sun that way, baking like meat in a stiff roll.
      "Woman!" they shouted at Oh Ann.
      "I will not have you hurt my man!" Oh Ann shouted back.
      "Then lead him to the bow of the ship," they said, "where his impudence will guide us over the never-ending sea."
      Oh Ann draped her arm across her wrapped husband’s shoulders and said, "You’re Stanley Now, I am afraid."
      Her husband gave her words of reassurance, though they were muffled by the heavy plastic wrap. He was asking her about the sky and what color it was, if it was cloudy or if there was a good sun that reminded her of the afternoons they’d spent grilling meat in the park and walking barefoot in the shallows of the Lake of Saving Heroes. She said yes, of course, to all of his memories, and she said when they got to the America they would do all those things again. Already, she said, she’d read about hot dogs and hamburgers and how to cook them on a portable fire. Then she remembered he’d asked about the sky and she said it was delightful, that the sea air was as crisp as pickles, the ocean filled with waves that looked like gently bobbing cushions.
      "Okay," one of the Men Who Transport Very Fine said, in English, too, unaccented as though he were reading drama on the CNN program, "here’s the deal."
      With that, You’re Stanley Now was pushed into the sea and Oh Ann could only think, one minute ago I was a wife and now I am a widow – or perhaps I will be wife to all these men, a sickened wretch whose idea of the future is one hour from now, one of those who was always called The Speechless Woman because any word was always evidence there could be other words, and with words there could be hope and The Speechless Women had no hope. They were tended like mushrooms that grew in mink dung; then they were eaten and forgotten.
      The Most Honorable Pirate himself, however, the captain of the ship, apologized to Oh Ann. He said things had gone too far, much too far, but what else could he say? He was forced to work with angry men in an angry business – "Steel cutting through water, my darling," he said to Oh Ann, "is a most savage and unnatural act. Those who do it, those who oversee it, know that the sea is a beast with no head and no tail, whose every inch, instead, can destroy, can devour."
      Then he invited her up to the bridge house of the ship where they watched as a single steel cable was wrapped around each neck of the six men who had made Oh Ann a widow. As the cable was tightened by a slow machine, the six angry widowmakers were quietly strangled. She would rather have seen them standing in the dock in a courtroom, their heads bowed, their voices filled with soft remorse. Perhaps they would have family people nearby so that the tragedy might have the depth afforded by many conversations.
      Oh Ann said thank you to the captain because she knew he expected it.
      That night, once again back in the oily hold in the middle of the ship, Oh Ann turned to the two men who had made love the night before and asked them if they would mind making love again, that she needed soft things, like sounds and slippery flesh, old words whose edges had been buffed by time and patience. The two men then, hardly more than a shadow in the company of shadows, barely visible in the kerosene light over the turd bucket so far away, smiled at her and removed their clothes – good clothes, still, not yet raggy, torn, bug-clotted, bloody, as would happen in the wear and tear of such a journey – one of them called, in English, Bill, the other Cookie, and neither of them clear anymore as to whether they, themselves, had been expelled from their homeland, or had fled, or had simply seen a new life far away as something an old life should always move toward.
      Oh Ann heard them kiss and could hear the sound of flesh sliding on flesh. She thought one of them was singing something, very softly, an old song that children often sang when a bird was found dead. Eventually, the smell of sex drifted over to Oh Ann, the smell of You’re Stanley Now (or perhaps his clothes and cosmetics in the small valise next to her), the smell of her father, the smell of little boys about to be terribly naughty.
      Silently, Oh Ann cried for her husband and for herself. In a day or so she would be strong and would try to remember all the widows she had known and the nature of their ways. She would have to mourn in travel clothes and that would be hurtful, though her undergarments were still white and white was always the color of those who were in a colorless place. For the moment, though, she was near soft people, and she let the softness overcome her as she rolled over onto her belly and wept, not a word being said, no objections or expressions of shock or impropriety, as she reached over with her hand and placed it softly on an ankle of one of the lovers.
      Oh Ann remembered that night, yet few of the nights that followed. They came to land and there was a truck, the first of many trucks, then the old DC-3 that rattled like a monster as it pushed and pulled and bruised them over the snowy mountains. A port followed the flight, along with day after day spent hidden in a warehouse. There were forbidden forays during those days, sneaky doings by some of the men and women. Bill and Cookie went out one time and brought Oh Ann cooked meat and chewing gum on their return, a part of the increasing watchfulness they slowly layered upon Oh Ann. Cookie liked to rub her back when she was weary, his cool fingers especially gentle in the vicinity of her healing rib.
      She told them her contract called for her to sell one kidney and one lung, perhaps some grafting skin and a few bones from her feet. "Research," she told them, "it is for one of the finest of all medical centers in the world."
      Bill and Cookie, however, told her that was a sham, a ruse, that those things were illegal in the America. More likely, Bill said, she was scheduled to become a Speechless Woman, either that or the wife of some church that would use her soul as though it were a wedding bed unoccupied since the time of Judas of Ischeus. She would end up cleaning benches and bells, her mind a soup of contradictory charms.
      "Come with us," they said to her. "We are to be foresters, artists of the arbor with all of nature our palette. Ten American dollars an hour."
      "I would climb trees?" Oh Ann said, "shave my legs with an ax, brush my teeth with a chainlink saw? Already, I am a legend – I peed on that captain’s floor as my husband’s executioners were strangled. How many more legends can I become? How many more times must I be a story before somebody says we need to leave her alone?"
      The truth was, she hadn’t believed the contractor herself when he’d said her organs could be removed for good money. Her future had been in her husband’s hands, those wonderful hands, those skillful hands. Now her future was at the bottom of the sea in a location she couldn’t name.
      At the end of two weeks the group was separated and put on two small boats for the trip to the American coastline, a place called New Orleans, Oh Ann thought it was. Unfortunately, Bill and Cookie were put on different boats with Cookie on the same boat as Oh Ann. Although they vowed to meet again in this New Orleans place, Cookie was miserable and inconsolable.
      "We’ve lost our men," he said to Oh Ann, "you and I. Shall we cleave unto one another?"
      "Your English is like an old book, Cookie," Oh Ann said, "and I don’t think we shall cleave. We brought love with us, both of us, that love that is like the child sprung from this ground, this true earth right in this certain spot. That love of the lover always has his father’s eyes, his mother’s nose, the snooty way of the sister, perhaps the drunken humor of the uncle. That is gone for us, Cookie, and we won’t love again. I may cleave in a shop chopping chickens, but I will have no more men."
      Cookie, she knew, was like a mouse on a clock, a gentle man but swift and he had no love of prisoners. "We will not argue," he said to her.
      Oh Ann was glad of that. The losses kept mounting up and she knew it. They left holes on you, small dents that sometimes filled with a winter’s snow or the dirt and sweat of work. They could be filled with sound, too, the sweet music of an always lonesome bird, the roaring fire of some grand symphony played to completion by distraught musicians. Those holes, though, the wind could sweep through them, deadly germs could be born there. They might itch or even be painful.
      She looked down and noticed that she was still carrying You’re Stanley Now’s small valise – a dead man’s underwear, his toothbrush, and, amazingly, a ring of keys. Why had he brought his keys? What locks, what doors had he thought might still be waiting for him? She dug deeper into the bag and found only handkerchiefs, worn socks, and a picture of a woman, a photograph of someone Oh Ann didn’t know. Very young, standing expectantly, her smile not quite finished, not quite polished by the seismic strain of disappointment. Dainty? She would look burdened holding a small kitty cat, though her nose was perfect, definitely that, a nose that could properly nasalize the languages of strangers. Had Your Stanley Now kissed that photographic nose? Or the real one? Oh Ann thought those young lips still lacking in shape, perhaps lacking mystery though clearly they were ready to tend anything that needed tending. Oh, my husband – were you pedophile or philanderer? I see jewelry, the subtle taste of a designer.
      Oh Ann looked up and saw that they were nearing a rickety-looking pier in a rural place – no houses, no shops, and many trees. Cookie noticed Oh Ann going through You’re Stanley Now’s bag and he said to her, "He was with you always?"
      "Yes, he was," she said. "We worked hard and we loved only each other. My God, there wasn’t time for anyone else. I mean, we’d make a meal, we’d read to each other, we’d sleep. Who is this girl?"
      She gave Cookie the photograph and Cookie said this was a beautiful woman. She had encouraging cheekbones and beneficent eyes. Her heart was at peace with the troubles of the world – she had negotiated a civil median, like children in a game who agree to be dead, but only for a certain time.
      "He wished for her," Oh Ann said, "perhaps he hoped he’d find her in our new life."
      "Come now," Cookie said, "we have to go. I will be your husband since you cannot do these new things alone."
      "Apparently, I was going to be doing them alone anyway."
      "Silly girl," Cookie said. "Don’t you see it? Didn’t you look closely? It was only a photo of a dream, of something he would have if only the clouds would rend properly or the clock bells strike in harmony. It was you, Oh Ann, who was always with him, but he carried the picture so that someday, if you had to part, you would still be there in his deepest being, youth and beauty that had never changed, even though you might have been old at that time, or stretched or scarred or twisted with execrable thoughts. Regardless, he wanted you to see always that he was with you as your man. You were with him as his dream."
      Oh Ann kissed Cookie then, not at all sure that he made enough sense so that she could ever tell this story to anyone else. But it was a good story, and as they all stood up to leave the boat, she took You’re Stanley Now’s keys and the photo and put them in her own bag. It was hardly heavy to begin with, but she thought it all right to leave the socks and the underwear of her only husband behind. She looked up at Cookie finally and said, "You have a photo of Bill?"
      "Yes, I do," Cookie said.
      "And he is beautiful?"
      "Very beautiful."
      Oh Ann felt hopeful then, and completely certain that she would never be one of The Speechless Women.

G.K. Wuori 2003

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author bio

gk wouriG.K. Wuori’s stories and poems have appeared in such journals as Prairie Schooner, The Gettysburg Review, Other Voices, The Missouri Review, New York Stories, Flaunt, Carve, and The Barcelona Review. A Pushcart Prize winner, he has also published a story collection, Nude In Tub, and a novel, An American Outrage, both by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. He lives in Sycamore, Illinois, in a house with eight gables. Website: www.gkwuori.com


 tbr 34           january - february 2003 

Short Fiction

Louise Erdrich: Naked Woman Playing Chopin
G.K. Wuori: You’re Stanley Now
Julie Orringer: Care
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