She’s been crying. She tells me I’m pathetic. I say, “I’m not pathetic but I’ll tell you a story that really is pathetic.” Then I tell her about a young man, we’ll call him Jackson since his father’s name was Jack, whose parents died when he was a little boy. To be more specific, when he was still an infant. To be more specific, his mother died in childbirth, and his father, who loved his mother more than anything else in the world and couldn’t bear the thought of living in a world without her, jumped off the roof of the hospital where little Jackson had just been born.
“That’s not pathetic,” she tells me. “That’s terrible.”
“Give it time,” I say.
So little Jackson went to live with his father’s sister, and all his parents’ effects were packed up into half a dozen cardboard boxes and stowed away in the attic. Jackson grew older, began school, made few friends. “You’re a miserable little grunt and your mother was a tramp,” his aunt would say, both for his part in the death of her brother whom she’d loved dearly and for being the son of his mother whom she’d always hated, and there was little besides this that Jackson learned from his aunt about his parents besides that he looked more and more like his mother every day.
One summer day when it was very hot or else one winter morning when it was very cold, Jackson climbed up into the attic in search of a box fan or an extra blanket, and while he didn’t find the box fan or extra blanket he did find half a dozen cardboard boxes, and inside one of the half a dozen cardboard boxes he found a black unmarked videocassette tape. Curious since he’d never known his aunt to especially be one for home movies, he brought it down to the living room and put it in the video player, turned on the television, pressed play.
At first he was horrified by what he saw. Of course he was horrified. But then the flushed skin moved, came into focus, and he saw on the screen a woman who was certainly not his aunt and certainly as beautiful as any woman he’d ever seen, and suddenly he wasn’t horrified anymore. He was twelve years old and it wasn’t any surprise what he was now.
Would it be crass to say it wasn’t long before he knew the tape like he knew the back of his hand? The line between studying the tape and studying himself grew faint, fainter, disappeared altogether. Not that he had any frame of reference, but the man and woman in the tape seemed to treat each other with more esteem than your typical blue movie. They whispered inaudibly to one another. It wasn’t long before he, Jackson, felt like it was really him with this woman, inside her, on top of her, making her wail and groan and yelp and coo and he loved her for it, and at the same time he loved the man just as much because the man was him. He was the both of them, having sex with himself.
“Why are you telling me this?” she says. “What are you trying to say?”
“Because you called me pathetic,” I say. “And all things relative, how pathetic can I really be after you’ve heard the end of this story?”
“Well go on, then,” she says and I do. I go on. The boy was a man. His body like the body of the man in the tape, and also what his aunt had said was true and he really was looking more and more like his mother every day. He went on dates and some of the girls were pretty and some not so much, but the pretty ones he brought home to meet his aunt whom they thought was his mother because he never got to know any of them long enough to tell them his real mother had died in childbirth, and even the pretty ones his aunt never much approved of and called them plain or else she thought they looked like tramps. One time Jackson even bought a prostitute. He asked her to whisper something inaudible into his ear, and when she did he asked, “What?” because he couldn’t hear her, so she said again a little louder this time, “When am I going to suck your cock?”
But then I go too far, say the C word even though I say it coming out of the mouth of a prostitute, and she hates the C word, I know she hates it and I only say it because it’s part of the story but now she turns away and she doesn’t even have to tell me I’m pathetic again because she’s already said it, though if she did say it she’d probably also say a couple other things she’s called me before. Vulgar. Crass. Coarse. Cruel. So I don’t go on with the story even though it’s the ending that’s the best part, because of course one day the realization came as our Jackson was watching the tape that maybe there was a reason he enjoyed the company of this tape over anyone else and maybe that reason was because these two people were actually in love, his mother and father, and then came the conjecture that maybe behind that orgasm more transcendent than a burning bush in the middle of a parted Red Sea was a summoning, a convocation, the conjuration of a fertilized egg, and that maybe it was his own conception that he’d been watching all this time. The thought came all at once and none too soon and then he wept.
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Portland Fiction Project
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