Five Questions for Thomas Pynchon
by Nathaniel Heely
The conspiracy was in. The first reaction from the literary public was one of impending death. Why else would a hermit break silence? For there was no new book coming out, no new tome that might define and brand an adolescent century. Thomas Pynchon was sick. Thomas Pynchon was dying. Finally being sent off to see what was beyond the zero, soul ready to investigate the deep web of religious afterlives.
It was even more peculiar whom he had chosen. The young writer/coffee barista had no prior familiarity, indeed had only published a handful of George Saunders knockoff stories, and was more famous for her voluminous output of book reviews on Goodreads. Her most notable contribution to the literary world was a Salon article roasting James Frey and a listicle on Electric Literature: “10 Underexposed Indie Press Female Works of Fiction 2016.” As far as anyone could tell she had never even mentioned Thomas Pynchon by name. Her lone review on Goodreads of his work was a brief paragraph on The Crying of Lot 49—seemingly the book Pynchon had most derided, saying of it years earlier, “I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up until then.”
Rochelle [J’est un] Autry’s full review of CoL49 to wit:
Funny story overall. Afraid much of it went over my head, or else I feel as though the feeling of much information going overhead is required reading for this novel based on reviews I’ve seen. Am told the unusual names (uh, Mike Fallopian? Oedipa Maas?) are kind of par for the course. Was a fan. This book about conspiracy invites us to conspire over its own bookness by use of several MacGuffins factual and counter-factual, real and imagined. It reads like a circus performance. At no point did I feel the crushing disappointment of mystery—of failed detecting—I think I was supposed to on Oedipa’s part. I felt like too much of a watcher.
Further hypotheses were postulated. Rochelle lived in Williamsburg, only a half hour’s drive from The Hermitage. Paths could be crossed, backroom deals long in process. A rumor was traced back to an editorial intern at Penguin that Rochelle had a novel-in-progress that Pynchon believed his interview would help elevate. A literary agent publicly pondered on Twitter whether Autry was a long-time mistress to Pynchon, perhaps inspiring—at least in part—the character of Maxine Tarnow. A white male blogger accused Autry of being a notorious bed-hopper, providing a list of authors and editors she had dated, and was then attacked viciously himself by the Internet horde over everything from his unprofessional and libelous conjecture to his white male blogger privilege.
It was Melanie that contacted Rochelle on Tom’s behalf. She acquired the email via Rochelle’s personal website and stated merely that she was Pynchon’s “agent” and nothing further, and that Tom was interested in exploring the “landscape of digital interviews.” His stipulations were that he not be asked why he was granting an interview, nothing on the nature of his reclusiveness and that all the questions remain literary in topic.
It had been over 40 years since Gravity’s Rainbow, his magnum opus. What does one do for forty years knowing their best work and days are behind them? She considered questioning him more upon this line but felt it would be disrespectful. Knew it would be disrespectful. Tom would come out a victim of this question. That was another thing she was doing nowadays. Thinking of him as Tom. It’s how Melanie always referred to him. Rochelle always wrote back referencing him as “Mr. Pynchon” but fully conscious of it, and feeling that one day she would boldly replace it with “Tom.”
There were so many ambiguities in the world. She could not read people’s sincerity. Everybody acted as though this were a big project, something ambitious that she had chosen to work on. She was all the more ashamed that she had no grand ambitions. She rode the subway every morning hoping to make it through the day with enough energy to ride back in the evening and maybe fall asleep amidst the noise and clamor and rude bumping. Now when she rode back into Brooklyn, she felt a needle in brain’s stem, pressing hard, keeping her awake, trying to re-engage with the active and creative side that would compose what several literary outlets were calling “the Millenials’ finest hour.” Written of course by Millenials themselves, proving no one loves torturing a generation as much as one of its disbelieving members. Not that a belief had anything to do with when you were born, but then what was a generation in the twenty-first century if not a pseudo-cult exclusive to birthdates?
As Flavorwire put it, “Autry and Pynchon are ostensibly two voices of a generation clashing: Tom with his tome-atic ecstasy of printed word, while Rochelle, in contrast, is a mere mendicant producing idle, uncollected thoughts in 140 characters.” n+1 made a vigorous extended metaphor about orphanage and absent fathers in regards to Pynchon’s noted silence and the constant prattling, neuroticism and triple-coated irony that came from Rochelle (or really a conflation of the entire ‘Blogging Generation’) and her perceived lifestyle.
Within a week of receiving the email, word got out, shocked, settled and was forgotten. Rochelle was getting invites to book launches, requests from magazines both large and ignored to write reviews, agents offering their services for her own book writing ventures. She was invited to a launch party for Jonathan Lethem’s latest book. Her boyfriend, Havik Tanner, an editorial assistant for the independent press, Albino Alligator, worked the room, handing out his business card while she hovered over the punch bowl, sipped complimentary champagne and followed the hashtag #LethemLaunch on Twitter and Instagram trying to identify people in the room by their various posts and deciding which ones she despised the most.
Coming home she received an email from a man who identified himself as Richard and as a former friend of Thomas Pynchon.
My name is Richard. Forgive me if this is too forward. The news of your upcoming interview with Mr. Pynchon has made quite a stir in our tiny literary community. If you are interested I would like to speak to you about your subject as I have some information that is very pertinent.
She emailed him back with some reserve—that reserve that any young person holds in her head when she feels she is being peddled a scam. Her place in the literary world was one of phantom power, receiving lots of correspondence and requests to meet the man, while she herself was only to have electronic correspondence. Her iPhone dinged at 1:01 AM with a reply:
What I’m about to say will seems an absolute fabrication, and you’ll likely regard me as the crazy hippy I am. Tom was not very close with many people and even less so with writers, but since we were friends before his genius was ever pronounced to the world, I was lucky to be in that close circle and I kept his silence along with him for many years. It’s very apparent to me, though, that something quite nefarious is going on and I believe that it would be Tom’s wish to communicate to you what I know.
The real Thomas Pynchon died, like the prophets of old, on his birthday, 8 May 2007. He was 70. I was at his funeral. Against the Day was his swan song, and a beautiful one at that. He died of congestive heart failure. Since then his literary trust has remained more secret than most government agencies. Tom was always very fascinated with technology and the modern world in his literature as well as his personal life, and in his last years he developed an early AI program that could compose its own literature. It was based upon the same kind outputs you’ll get from SPAM emails, often the ones that send out those fake prince from Nigeria schemes (sidenote: those programs are actually compelled to riddle their emails with typos and bad grammar to target people who are less intelligent, but think themselves smart that they realize it’s a person speaking in a second language). His family made a discovery of this and has since developed two books: Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge.
Sounds improbable, I know, but if you’ve read these books you’ll notice that they’re very similar to each other. Both involve private investigators, both rely on typical rehashed Pynchon tricks of the search for ambiguous entities (The Golden Fang and hashslingrz) and many critics have gone on to refer to these books (along with a book he wrote in his 20s) as “Pynchon-Lite.” The construction of the books is quite simple. It’s actually a basic 1000 monkey at 1000 typewriters type of scenario. Much of what The Typing Monkey produces is gibberish, but it creates a lot of gibberish. Volumes. Reams. Something like ten full length books a day. The Hermitage actually employs nearly a dozen readers simply to rifle through these manuscripts and select coherent passages, plots, characters etc. I’m giving you just the superficial tie-ins. I can give you more information, but my security in this matter is extremely delicate. I will provide further and substantial proof, but you must not tell anyone about me.
Again, I know I’m crazy, but this is not what Tom would have wanted: his life being exploited for this. It was contrary to everything he was. He was dirt poor for many of the years I knew him, living in squalor and just happy to write. Now everything that Tom created in his life is undermined with the publication of these two novels. At this point only the grave can keep me silent, and I’ve let that day crawl these eight years closer and closer, hoping and praying (to many manner of gods I didn’t believe in, perhaps they are all real, perhaps only some) that someone else would come forward. But I’ve heard nary a word. Perhaps they’ve tried and been silenced. Please contact me. Please take this seriously. Please believe me. I will provide everything you need to prove this. I promise.
PS. If you still need convincing look at this:
Rochelle’s first instinct was to be afraid. She was caught up in something she didn’t want to even be aware of. The link provided an eight question quiz to see if humans could decipher between human and computer produced writing. She got a 4 of 8. If there was such uncertainty between these simple sentences then of course there was an argument to be made that AI could already write books. Just a few years ago a man named Phillip M. Parker had revealed his own patented system for algorithmically compiling raw data into book form. Because of it, Amazon now had nearly 1,000,000 books for sale from his company. It was ridiculous to believe, but also ridiculous to not at least consider it.
She emailed him back in the dead of that night, hoping that he would still exist outside of it. He replied that it would take a little while to establish more secure communication and that he would write to her soon.
There were other considerations. In the 70s many people judged William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon to be the same person. Gaddis wrote The Recognitions in 1955 and promptly disappeared from the literary scene for twenty years, also never giving interviews. A man identified as William Gaddis would eventually consent to some interviews in the 80s, most notably with The Paris Review and Malcolm Bradbury. Up until Ted Kaczynski was arrested, the popular theory was that Pynchon was the Unabomber. There were those that believed he used the name Wanda Tinasky to write a series of letters to Mendocino Commentary and Anderson Valley Advertiser. He was Bob Dylan’s best man. He met Lee Harvey Oswald in Mexico City in 1963 over a meal of shredded chicken gorditas. He had crippling agoraphobia.
She was firing off all these theories one night to her boyfriend in bed. She rattled through them all off during sex and found herself unable to judge whether the sex was good or bad, only that it had happened. Havik held her quietly listening to the prattle and stroking her thin chestnut hair.
“And then there’s the Richard Farina theory,” he said passively inspecting the hair as though looking for a magisterial, almost angelic quality.
“Richard Fariña. Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me?”
“Never read it.”
“Oh, well he was friend of Pynchon’s. Some say they’re the same person.”
“Friend? Wait that…what was his name?”
By the last syllable of his last name she was already digging through her gmail. She confirmed what she believed to be true. “He emailed me! Holy Christ, Havik, he emailed me. I mean I’m not supposed to tell but frankly I didn’t believe it to be true and he told me not to tell anyone and promise you won’t tell anyone but he was telling me all this stuff that sounded insane but he wrote a book you’re saying?”
“Woah, calm down. Who emailed you?”
“Richard. Richard Fariña, look at this email address. RFarinaphobe at gmail, I was wondering what the hell a Farinaphobe was but—”
“Rochelle, Jesus. That can’t be Richard Fariña.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Richard Fariña died in 1966.”
Her blood ran not just cold, but felt like microscopic beetles composed of frozen nitrogen; disappointment, madness, claustrophobia. “What are you—?”
“They went to Cornell together, yeah. Pynchon wrote the Introduction—”
“But that can’t. He emailed…”
“Probably just someone being smart with you.” Her shoulders dragged down to her hips. “I didn’t mean to disappoint you. I’m sorry.”
She wept and buried her face in his bony neck. “What is going on with me? Who the hell…but he can’t…”
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Don’t say that you asshole.”
“Of course you should have said something. You shouldn’t have had to say anything. I’m just an idiot. I know nothing about what I’m wrapped up in.”
“You’re not an idiot.”
“For all I know someone did this just to show how clueless I was. God, Jesus, I’m so embarrassed. I’m so fucking stupid…”
Havik had a copy of the book, but she swatted it away, it being a scepter of her stupidity. He held her and told her he loved her as she struggled against him.
The five questions she sent to Melanie were composed in a flurry the next morning. She just wanted the thing behind her, to be completed. She abided by the stipulations and came up with:
1. What, in your opinion, is the greatest piece of American fiction of the past twenty-five years?
2. What is your writing schedule like?
3. Your name is brought up constantly as a Nobel hopeful, particularly in light of the fact that it has been more than twenty years since an American won it. How do you respond to this?
4. Some of your more recent books Bleeding Edge and Inherent Vice have been relegated, by some critics, as being genre or cross-genre fiction. How do you view genre fiction in the world and as it relates to your own work?
5. What did you think of P.T. Anderson’s adaptation of Inherent Vice?
A day later Melanie responded.
Please forgive me but I’m afraid I’m going to have to reject these questions. I realize how frustrating this must be! Mr. Pynchon is very peculiar in what he wants…or rather what he doesn’t want to answer. What am I saying? Perhaps that he knows it when he sees it. There’s no rush to this sort of thing. He told me to relay to you that it may take several attempts and to not be discouraged. He would never want to discourage you. In addition he gave some reasoning he thought might be helpful for why these questions seem inadequate:
1. This seems the type of insular question that I ought to avoid. There are a great dozen or two dozen books I could list but I don’t want to come across as a promotional advert. There are many authors I like, some books I’m rather fond of, and even a few I’ve felt necessary to blurb, all of which you can find with a cursory google search. But I don’t wish to single anyone out.
2. The only reason one might answer this question is because some people think I have access to an El Dorado of Writing. I assure you this is not the case. The best answer I could give, which I do not feel is an answer, is that I write enough to produce eight novels in fifty years.
3. Commenting on the Nobel seems to be a dangerous sort of thing. I’d rather the Nobel committee pretend I don’t exist and vice versa.
4 Nope. Sorry, try again.
5. Let Paul’s work have a chance to stand and resonate before I come in with some overbearing and completely unnecessary critique.
He requests you do not make this reasoning public.
She would have been insulted had another email from the Richard Fariña address not appeared just two minutes before. It simply stated to check her mailbox downstairs. With eyebrow twitching in her kitchen, Havik came strutting in, blinded by the morning glare.
“Can you see if the mail’s come yet?”
“Babe it’s just past 8:00 I don’t think…”
“Just check please,” she snapped. Havik stood there waiting for her to come to her senses, but she just stared with pupils the size of her iPhone. He walked silently pretending to be angry and not hurt. He came back with a single envelope, her name written in calligraphic grace, and no postage stamp.
“Friend of yours?”
It’s me. I told you this would be arriving. For my safety it’s best I don’t deal in specifics. Meet me at the place you and your boyfriend had dinner last Thursday. Tonight. 8 PM. Make sure you aren’t followed.
She was now thoroughly insulted and realized it was a massive prank. She and Havik had eaten in last Thursday and the letter was clearly a furthering of some perverse internet prank. She flicked it once toward the trash, brought it back, admired the calligraphy—she had always admired calligraphy and was even jealous of it despite its source—and flicked it again into the trash.
Havik was working late that night. In his text he termed it “babysitting an author.” She invited friend and coworker, Connie Quetzalcoatl, to her place for the evening for dinner, which ended up being white wine, pita chips and a tom-sized drum of hummus.
“I want to die,” Connie said opening a second box of pita chips and cramming one in her mouth on the final word.
“Mistakes were made,” Rochelle countered.
“Starting with my parents having sex.”
“We’re better than this.”
“To think I was one hump away from never existing.”
“If only one of us had learned self-control. It might have been enough.”
“I’m not of the mind that quantum physics leads to a multiple Universe theory.”
“But how else do you learn self-control without self-control?”
“It’s just this one. And most of the things, most of the people that could have existed. Just didn’t. And I was the one that existed. Man.”
“I mean if you’ve had no experience with it, how will you ever be able to withstand it?”
“Mistakes were made.”
“I’m out of wine.”
Connie said she ought to be going. They buoyed up off the vinyl couch like pregnant mothers and shuffled to the door. Connie ordered an Uber. At the apartment door they bid each other goodbye. Turning around, Rochelle saw a man in a tan trenchcoat, grey fedora, wayfarer sunglasses and hair so jet black it looked dyed with car grease.
“Rochelle,” he nodded.
She stood stunned. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s Richard. Can we talk?”
She looked about her. For what she couldn’t name. Cameras? Exits? Police? None of the Above? She ascended in a dreamlike manner, taking everything at face value. Sitting back on the vinyl couch the man sat down, looked nervously and began speaking without taking off his coat or hat and without Rochelle offering. He spoke the past to her: how until Tom had married Melanie he had considered himself retired from writing. She was the one who convinced him to release Slow Learner. Vineland actually started as an inside joke between he and Tom. Mason & Dixon had sputtered sometime around ’79 and its publication owed credit to at least three other ghost writers. This was why Tom had invented the Monkey Typewriter. To get out of writing once and for all. The goal was to publish a perfect mimicry of his writing mind…
“You’re supposed to be dead!” Rochelle said.
Richard stopped, straightened himself and said in a calm demeanor. “Yes. I am. It was a…dangerous time for me then. It was necessary to die and as far as the world is concerned I am Robert Feddlestein. I didn’t think I’d live this long.”
“But you’re supposed to be dead!”
“Shh. Be quiet, Jesus.”
“Out. I don’t know how you found out where I live but you need to leave.”
“No Rochelle, please. For my friend.”
“What proof do you have? How can I know you are who you say you are”
“You can’t.” He said coldly. “If I hadn’t destroyed any identifying evidence about myself you’d just assume it was a fake. If I showed you an old letter from Tom in the 60s, you’d assume I wrote it last night. Everything that is,” here he gestured to the apartment, the floors, the kitchen, “is taken on faith.”
Rochelle was on the border of hysterics. “Get out. Just get out I’m calling the police.”
“What you want. What I want is at the Hermitage on the 14th floor facing the street, third window from the right.”
“I don’t want anything! Nobody ever asked what I wanted!” She was shoving him toward the door, slapping his chest which was thin and frail, and it took little strength at all to move his elderly body.
“Shh. Quiet. Mother of Christ, I just need your help on one thing.” He brought her hands together as though in prayer.
“What? What could I possibly give you? Because I don’t have access to him. That’s why it’s an email inter…”
“Just tell Melanie that you’re having a little difficulty and that you’d like to meet her in person. That’s all I need. Her out of her office for a few hours.”
Rochelle stood mute, wounded, angry.
“That’s all I ask.”
“If you don’t leave right now I’m calling the cops.”
He turned, flinging the coat like a cape and whisking the door all but one inch to the jamb. “On the day you do it. Please. Just leave a note in your mailbox. It will get to me.” He closed the door and Rochelle went to cry on her couch.
In researching for her questions she found the sheer fanaticism of Pynchon fans even more frightening and lurid. There were vigils held every May 8th at his old Manhattan Beach house. Fans staked him out for days snapping pictures of old men fitting Pynchon’s description and comparing them on internet forums. Periodically “Missing” posters with his old Navy portrait appeared on the streets of Manhattan. It was obvious that Pynchon feared his fans. In 1989 an 1800 word autobiographical sketch for an application to the Ford Foundation was released to a few scholars. He quickly had them rescind this action, but not before Steven Weisenburger from the University of Kentucky published the article: “Thomas Pynchon at Twenty-Two: A Recovered Autobiographical Sketch” by Duke University Press. There was tale that in 1997 a drunken group at a Pynchon lookalike competition ran down a fellow doppelganger they suspected to be the author, only to trip him and flee when it was found not to be him. He bled on the sidewalk for the next two hours before a New Yorker finally offered to call him an ambulance.
And Rochelle rationalized that perhaps what she was up against was nothing more than a method actor, probably fanatical in his own right. Never mind how he got her address, the Internet existed. These things happened daily, even to those who take intense precaution. She took the criticism from the first email and wrote five new and fresh questions and sent them off to Melanie:
1. Paranoia is persistent in your work. For those of us coming of age in an increasingly Orwellian society where the government can ostensibly track us in real-time, how best do you think we can handle this?
2. For you, personally, is fiction an inherently moral art? What is the best way of going about creating art that is moral? And what does it mean?
3. What was your writing education at Cornell like?
4. Does the fact that your characters rarely, if ever, find meaning for the things they most seek indicate a reflection of your own beliefs?
5. Do you still keep in touch with Irwin Corey?
Melanie wrote back exuberantly that Tom had answered one of the questions and encouraged Rochelle not to despair that four others were rejected; that it was “great progress.” The notes sent to the questions:
1. You’re asking about something a little outside my work. I’d prefer if we could stick to that.
2. Nice try, but there are three questions here. Not that I would answer any of these, but I won’t accept multiple question marks in a “Question.”
4. See #1. I’d rather not talk about what I believe. I’m probably wrong as it is.
5. I’m sorry I’m afraid I don’t know who you’re talking about
3. It’s not so much the where I was educated, but when. 1958, to be sure, was another planet. You have to appreciate the extent of sexual repression on that campus at the time. Sure we wrote letters, rallied, demonstrated, marched, rocked, smoke bombed, egged, yet there was no sense of sanctuary there, or eternal youth. Maybe it was the times, maybe it was the brutal winter winds, but death always felt close to us in those days.
She took momentary solace in the one success she had. Perhaps progress existed. She worked her days at the coffee shop, giving old men an extra look, wondering if Pynchon was a coffee drinker himself, wondering if she might as well ask him this since nothing else worked. Havik remained increasingly busy. Their time together was blurry. They fell together at night sometimes for sex, more often in exhaustion.
They had a date night. Dinner at Isabella’s, short walk to Dive 75 where they met some friends and then plodded south to the Wine and Roses Bar. It was 11 PM and she was walking west on 72nd street toward the park babbling to Havik incoherently who was near sleepwalking himself when they passed the Hermitage, ominous and stretching beyond comprehension so that halfway across she was exhausted and they sat down. Here she could think up more questions while the moon burned a hole in the sky and The Ruggles himself lapsed into failed memory of old age. What she hoped was failed memory. Afraid it was more sinister. He toying with her precisely because she was a nobody, picking her at random, coming up with dubious responses to her questions to…to what? To prove a point? To produce an echo of bone-rattling paranoia from inside that mausoleum? To speak death to her as apparently his whole life had to him? To feed some inane desire for performance art? It was all a joke. Everything was a joke to him. He had hired Irwin Corey to accept the National Book Award on his behalf, never having met the man, seen the man, known the man, heard the man, discussed with the man what he ought to portray. And she was like that befuddled audience laughing only to show they were hip to the joke, but not getting the joke, terrified of not laughing, of a world full of silence and nervous coughs. Silence is the essence of meaninglessness. What was the point of asking questions? Of course he didn’t want to talk about the Nobel. Likely he just wanted to win so he could make a mockery of it too and not even show up. Respond, perhaps, by donating the money to a Waco Davidian cult that no longer existed. To answer the question would forewarn the Swedish Academy and permanently blacklist him from the nominations. And then he would no longer be practical joker Pynchon, but angry and bitter Pynchon. The Pynchon that excoriated his former love Lilian Landgraben in his first novel. The Pynchon who rescinded that 1800 word autobiographical sketch. The Pynchon who was so exasperated by the reading public that he escaped to Mexico, an entire country and language barrier separating him from his identity.
And she too began to scowl. There were now watchblogs commenting and updating on her daily internet activity: her Twitter updates, her Instagram photos, her Goodreads progress, all questioning why she hadn’t questioned. As though asking questions were easy work. A Facebook fan page of her popped up and people discussed in the open forum all the salacious rumors that surrounded her. Rumors that, of course, had no origin, came out of nothing, as did the whole Universe. She scaled back, deactivating her Facebook, taking down her Instagram, not posting to social media any longer, but only watching. She wanted to deprive the web of gossip—its oxygen.
Her silence was well noted. Her silences. People began wondering if she was in fact a Pynchonian hoax. One of the watchblogs aggregated data of increased sales of Pynchon’s books and pointed to it as nothing but a clever marketing scheme. But why would he need money? Again, fans feared the worst for the ex-sailor.
1. What is your next book about?
2. Is that really your voice in the Inherent Vice book trailer?
3. Did you ever end up writing those opera librettos proposed in your application to the Ford Foundation?
4. Do you think there will be a time when there are no humans to write books and that you are of the last generation to compose literature?
5. What do you think of the eventual heat-death of the Universe?
More non-answers. More “refer to note so-and-so in email so-and-so.” More and more and more and yet always less.
She finally got around to reading Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Or rather she read the Introduction and was heartbroken. The one answer she had received, the lone scrap of authenticity she held of Thomas Pynchon was actually a few extant sentences cobbled together from Tom’s most rare of autobiographical acknowledgements. She curled up on the vinyl couch crying, surprised she was still capable.
Thomas Pynchon was identity in full entropy. An equilibrium across all people where one never knew if their dinner date that night was actually Thomas Pynchon. In a manner, Rochelle could consider herself to be Thomas Pynchon.
She relented to Richard Fariña’s request and asked Melanie if she could possibly take her out to lunch and get a better idea of what he wanted to answer. To her surprise Melanie assented, even encouraged the visit. It was a Tuesday, and Rochelle and Connie worked the morning shift beginning at 4:00 AM working straight through until 11:00 AM. In the Uber on the way over Rochelle commented to Connie that she hadn’t seen Havik in three days and asked if she should be worried. Connie responded by asking if she had been sleeping regularly. Rochelle looked vacantly at the back of the driver’s balding head hoping it would speak for her instead.
They arrived early and informed the lady at the desk of their appointment. They stood in the lobby waiting.
“Y’know I was googling her today.”
“Melanie Jackson. The lady you’re here to—”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I just didn’t—”
“There aren’t any pictures of her either.”
“Yeah. That’s a bit weird don’t you think?”
“Considering who she’s married to, not really.” Rochelle ran fingers through her hair and stared at the elevator, the elevator’s lips, waiting for truth to emerge.
“But both of them. I mean, it’s like he’s got his whole family now in this sort of secret cult of privacy.”
“Is privacy a cult now?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No but,” she said directing eyes now at Connie, worried look on her face. “Is it?”
But there was no answer. At that moment a screaming came from the ceiling, childlike and full of terror. The whole building began to wobble and the two dashed to the exit and looked up. A plume of dust and orange claws leapt from a window near the top, hail of glass and a resonant pounding from the heart of the building resolute and final. People were running in no discernable direction: toward the building, away, some walking as though deaf or else too bothered to be afraid. A cascade of flimsy paper, some of it burning, eschewed from the floor and there were little children nearby trying to catch it on their tongues like snowflakes.
They went back to Rochelle’s place and lay on the couch emptying their eyes into the TV. MSNBC to CNN to FOX NEWS to ABC to MSNBC…Havik appeared only a few minutes later, kissing her and picking glass from her cheeks asking questions that got no answers. They sat like that for hours. When it was dark, Rochelle noticed there were bandages on her cheeks she did not remember being put on. Connie had left. She asked Havik if there was any mail and he said he would go check. She opened her laptop and typed the only thing she felt possible.
What happened at the Hermitage today at approximately 11:53 AM?
Do you have any reason to suspect that Richard Fariña is still alive?
Why me, Mr. Pynchon?
Are you there, Tom?
Are you alive?
Havik returned. “There’s no mail today.”
Nathaniel Heely is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University. He has published over two dozen stories, appearing in in Burrow Press Review, decomP, Identity Theory, the Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles, and many others. He is currently working on his first novel. For more visit nathanielheely.com