Excerpt. Short story published in Salt Hill 36, Syracuse University https://salthilljournal.net/sh36
I am an American. I am a man. I am mostly indifferent to cops. I have two driving tickets on my record: speeding in a work zone in the late 1980s; speeding in a regular zone in the late 1990s. I am white. I still can’t grow a beard, though I try every fall. In October I am determined, and by Thanksgiving I accept the patchy letdown. I fear that somewhere in my genes a structure is weak. That as a caveman I would not have survived a bad winter. Only once in my life have I had a dream in which I was not a man, I was something else/in-between, possibly sexless but certainly wearing the kind of housedress/muumuu my grandmother used to wear on hot Southern Californian weekdays. I have a lot of acquaintances but few/no friends. You might observe: I don’t seem to care. I subscribe to the weekend edition of the newspaper because those are the days I have off. I don’t read the newspaper so much as look at the newspaper. Is my wife my friend? There looking at the newspaper beside me in bed, we role-play relaxation. Is a friend someone who makes you feel (by her mere presence and tangibility there beside you) constantly inadequate? Less-than, or other-than, what you should be? I exert a lot of mental energy trying to predict how to act/what to say with my wife around to see/hear. It’s amazing how long a person can keep up a performance. So long that he is living the performance, becomes lost in the role; his own real self a floating, migrating self inside this second, subsuming self, the self everyone will comment up, recapping history, when the man dies, while the primary self will die unmourned, unknown.
I am hesitant to admit this but I will: I don’t really know what my job is, and because I don’t really know what it is, I don’t really know how to do it. I print out data, brew more coffee, fake the software. When I was seven I feigned playing the flute in the music class—I just held it to my lips and blew lukewarm air, and the girls on my left and right made the sound, read the music, until one day Mr. Kemper moved his conducting hand above the class (this was in preparation for the big Christmas program—I believe the song was “We Three Kings” (of Orient far/ tried to smoke a rubber cigar)) and group by group, silenced the saxes, the trumpets, the clarinets, the oboes, the French horn. He bade the flutes play on with a gestural flutter; birdy hands, excited—my girls played beautifully—and then he stilled his right hand above flute one, lowered it down to silence; and lowered flute three to silence, too. I could feel his raised eyes burning down on me, trying to sort me out and kill me. I looked down, stared fixedly at the rectangle of exposed skin on the chubby lower back of the trumpeter in front of me, and blew my spittle over the hole in the mouthpiece, willing it to produce a clear note—it was like prayer, how hard I willed it, like trying to crack a walnut with your brain—and all that came back to me was the sound of my own fierce breath, the tiniest, toneless whistle, and the dead quiet backdrop of the band room.