Michael Grotsky is rumored to come from a long line of international agents and globe-trotting magicians. Following the family tradition, he has lived in many places, and travelled extensively for both work and pleasure - though he has still not found the difference between the two.
Michael Grotsky currently lives in Montreal where he has completed his first collection of short stories, Spinning the Sensualist. He has written fiction and non-fiction for various literary reviews, including the Berkeley Fiction Review, the Berkeley Poetry Review, Erotic Review Magazine, Griffel, Otoliths, and others.
He bought his white elephant from Doc the Hedgehog for a song and dance. Doc did the sales dance and Morrison sang with the money. It seemed like a deal to Morrison but Doc made out fine and they chummed up a bit, at least Doc tried to, figuring Morrison was good for more down the line. He invited Morrison and Dolores to his Thanksgiving party and they went, since they were new to small town Louisiana and didn’t know anyone in those parts. They’d come to settle Dolores’ estate. It wasn’t much – just a shotgun shack on a piece of land that flooded in the fall. Morrison hadn’t lived in the south in many years and while it had changed for the better, the adjustment was going to take some time. Houndsville, as they liked to call it, wasn’t so much malevolent as it was indifferent. You felt invisible; everyone was friendly but they looked right through you. So they went to Doc’s alleged party. That’s alleged in the sarcastic British sense, as in, “Let me introduce my, ahem, alleged son.” Doc’s house was new and faux from the faux marble counters to the faux flamingos on the faux lawn. There were enough Costco appetizers to poison a football team. Doc strutted like a cock around his party – of clients and shills. He tried to hook Morrison and Dolores up with true believers but there were technical problems, they remained invisible, the true believers looking for an opening they couldn’t find. Morrison’s arduous training in Mexico with don Wu was coming in handy. “In some situations the best action is to remain invisible and retain your vital forces,” Wu taught. The mountains of Veracruz had lent themselves well to this psychic camouflaging but now Morrison was going to apply his lessons in the heat of Louisiana. It was still the Gulf; maybe the transition wouldn’t be too great. Morrison fixed himself a plate of lunch meat and macaroni salad. Dolores found some grapes under the pepperoni. “Let’s get out of here,” she said, filling her glass with cheap California red. “We’re in the wrong place.” “Soon enough,” replied Morrison. “Try to be invisible. This is a great place to practice.” The true believers were replaced by shiny, bubbly paper-pushers who were nursing some kind of teal-coloured drinks. “Totally artificial,” one of them laughed. “Like me,” giggled the other. They were all glossy surface and pearl white teeth. They didn’t drink, they worked out, they hiked and recycled. They measured and counted. They consumed. They were never disturbed by introspection, nor were they ever disrobed by thought. The two young ladies looked forward to becoming certified members of the bureaucratic class, one in medical sales, the other specializing in catastrophic insurance. Their world was limited to a town full of cousins bounded by the interstate to the north and the Gulf to the south. Where those arteries ran was of little interest, other than as gossip. The past gave them their identity, Fox gave them the world, the radio gave them preachers and talk-ranters, the chemical plants gave them cancer. These women were the current model, the modernized version. After a few minutes they eased away politely, slightly puzzled at their inability to connect, but in a moment their minds were clear and sparkly again. They had stabilized like those rubber dolls that bounce right back up after you knock them down. Morrison and Dolores hadn’t made any impression at all. “You’re doing great,” Morrison said to Dolores as they slipped outside. On the back lawn a man was avidly stuffing cocktail wieners in his mouth with furtive gusto. He stuck out his hand, still manoeuvring the dogs around his mouth with his tongue. “Doctor Noh,” he said. “Best proctologist this side of Dallas.” “Is he wearing alligator cologne?” Irma whispered in Morrison’s ear. The man had a strange scent and through his energy-scan contact lenses, eyes half-closed, Morrison did indeed perceive the outline of something predatory, something vaguely reptilian. Noh was so full of himself, he was pale with self-desire. Cold, harsh, sharp, void of ethics, as snake as snake ever was. He could see them. Morrison imagined the point of view of night-vision goggles. An infra-red, impersonal gaze. He felt unclothed by the man’s handshake. Dolores caught her breath at his touch. With a rhetorical flourish about his sports car seating just two, Noh ordered them to come see his sculpture garden, so beautiful at sunset. “Resistance is futile,” he said. Morrison grinned and slipped away. Dolores rolled her eyes and became invisible. The whole show remained a stuttering of wax dummies programmed by the technologists of sales and promotion – a perverse American genius unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Doc’s people were relentless, smiling and selling with each breath. They were weaned in the black arts of marketing, using speed and repetition to distract and overwhelm their victim, a kind of shock and awe of glitz and glitter deployed against those who were already inclined to give in to any persistent command. The air was permeated with the cloying perfume of consumerist conformity. Doc’s wife, Tessa, approached with a young boy, around twenty, in tow. “This is Trey,” she said, “my stepson. Doc’s boy.” He didn’t appear to be a chip off the old block. His expression was dreamy, his eyes soft focus, unlike his father’s meth-like stare. He grinned sheepishly and nodded a hello. “Say,” said Tessa, “you guys look great! What’ve y’all been doing?” Dolores and Morrison shook their heads. They couldn’t think of what to say as mostly they’d been spending their time being invisible. “Well anyway,” resumed Tessa, “let’s all get together and go swimming or something. Doc’s always working but we don’t have to wait for him.” “What are you up to, Trey?” Morrison asked the boy. “Uh, well, just hanging out. Going out back, you know, smoke a bowl. Uh, want to join?” “Sure,” Morrison said, “why not.” Dolores and Tessa begged out so Trey and Morrison went outside to perform the ritual. The house was on the river and they found a spot by the water under the Live Oaks. Trey proudly brought out his hand-carved pipe and loaded it up. He was very serious. The river teemed with an even greater intensity after they smoked. It was boiling with life. Morrison suddenly wanted to eat the moss that hung in streamers from the trees. This was some kind of dope. “I grow it over at my place,” Trey said. “I’ve worked out a plant I like best. I bred this variety. I call it No Consequence. Turns on the intuitive. And it’s mellow.” “Impressive,” Morrison agreed. “Everything is shining with life. Imminent.” “You should come by my place. I’ll show you the plants. You can swim in the river there. It’s really a trip when you’re high.” They enjoyed the pulse of the river a while longer, then went back to the party. Doc was very drunk and was loudly effusive, falling all over his clients with a maudlin craven simulacrum of his idea of love. He was gushing with it, probably because he was aware of how much money he had made collectively from the people in the room. When Trey and Morrison came in he had his arm in a vice grip around Dolores’ shoulders. She was smiling bravely but Morrison could tell that she was holding back from biting him. Her elbow was cocked. “I really love you guys!” he was shouting at Dolores, looking at Morrison. “And I’m especially crazy for your husband. He’s one hell of a fucking great guy. I’m going to take him fishing. Out in the boat. Just me, him, and Jack Daniels! Haw Haw Haw!” Dolores squirmed out of his grasp. “Doc, you’re loaded. Give me some space,” she hissed. “But, honey,” Doc leered at her, “don’t be like that. I’m feeling so good!” After that Dolores was intent on leaving. On the drive home Morrison found out that she was mad at him too. She said it was because he’d smoked, a pet peeve of hers that she usually kept to herself. But eventually she admitted that she was pissed because she thought that Tessa had been flirting and that he’d been flirting back. “But when did this happen?” Morrison asked her. “It was so obvious, Morrison. You were all over each other!” “But when?” he asked again. “When she introduced Trey. She was just staring at you with those big dumb cow eyes. She wouldn’t even look at me.” “Oh, baby, I just can’t agree with you there. There was no eyeing going on. Or no other thing. We were friendly to each other. The boy was friendly too. Was he flirting?” “How would I know?” she snorted. “All I saw was Tessa and you looking each other up and down and licking your chops!” Morrison laughed. It was getting good. He’d seen her do this before. She would wind herself up, starting from a grain of something, truth occasionally, and she’d just keep on winding till a hurricane, a twister filled the room. It was best to unwind her. He laughed some more. “You’re pissed off because that big oaf got his paws onto you. You should’ve seen your face when he was drooling on you.” “No fucking help from you, thanks a lot! Where were you when I needed you to keep him off me? Out smoking dope with his kid, that’s where!” “I thought I was flirting with his wife, not his kid,” Morrison teased. “Anyway, you can handle that guy easy.” “That’s not the point, goddamn it! I don’t want to have to handle him. I want you to do that. And besides those people are creepy. That fucking doctor for Chrissakes! Mister Success. No wonder I’m pissed off nauseous. Get me home fast. I need a shower.” They got home, careful to stop at all the red lights and stop signs (although once or twice Morrison had a little trouble telling red from green), and he laid her down on the soft sheets till she let off some very tasty steam. Then they slept and dreamed their separate dreams till morning. During the summer Morrison met Trey at his place quite a few times. It was a good chill scene. Fine weed, the summer air, the place in the river to swim. Everything was very sensual and mellow. It was ironic because Dolores was becoming more tense. Looked like cabin fever. They lived out in the sticks at Toledo Bend and the humidity and the bugs were intense. The insect noise was almost unbearable some nights – you really noticed how loud it was when it all suddenly stopped and the whole bloody symphony went silent. A deafening silence. Dolores was feeling the pressure. “How long can it take to settle this damned estate?” she complained. “It’s Louisiana, darling. Napoleanic code. Devolution.” “It’s just a shotgun shack on a sliver of swamp!” “A shack or a mansion – it’s all the same to the county clerk. Worse for out-of-towners.” Dolores remained hostile to Doc the Hedgehog. Tessa, she was sure, was her rival. Doc seemed to be nursing some kind of suspicion too. Morrison wondered if he and Dolores weren’t putting out such publicly hostile vibes in order to camouflage a hidden lust. Still, things went along pretty much alright. Morrison was most relaxed with Trey, just grooving in the garden, the field of easiness, of spirit, of a place that was good to visit. Trey was increasingly fed up with his father. “The man has no soul. He’s just an empty jug of repressed emotions hiding behind money,” he said as Morrison watched him fly into the water on the rope swing, no concern about the venomous water moccasins in the river. Hell, Morrison thought, you had to maneuver the streets of everybody’s raw emotions, then you were supposed to stay in those streets and not even visit the garden. Slander, vitriol, poison, misinformation, distortion, manipulation – these were some of the most insidious tools. Sabotage, ultimatums, infiltration, psychological warfare, planting of evidence, destruction of reputation, inhuman bureaucracy and all the ensuing cruelties: violation of human rights, of ethical considerations, of respect for the mother, for the earth, for nature in all its forms including genetic integrity and fertility, of balance among living systems, of natural sense. For these atavistic forces to then pronounce upon the personal, consensual behavior of its citizens makes no sense and has no validity. By the river Morrison could have these thoughts, and then let them float away in harmless thought-bubbles, the river taking it all back down stream. One muggy day towards the end of August, Trey was home barbecuing with his father. Doc flipped over a bloody burger. “Job’s just waiting for you, boy. A place at the table with your pop.” “I’m not going into the used car biz,” Trey said. “You got something better to do? How long you going to sit around and smoke dope with that Yankee? You got a future in that?” Trey became very frustrated with the block-headedness of his father and made a comment designed to get under Doc’s thick hide. “Papa Doc,” he said to his father, “Morrison is more my father than you could ever be. And a brother. And a friend. And a teacher. Like you’ve never been and will never be.” Doc the Hedgehog turned pale. Then very quickly he turned red in the face and began to blow steam out of his nine holy holes. He flipped backwards away from his son in a pin-wheeling arc. He ran out the door. He kept running till he got to Morrison’s house. Unfortunately for Morrison he was home, doing the dishes. Doc busted through the kitchen door unable to speak, he was so angry. Morrison had never seen such an apoplectic face. He didn’t see it long however, as Doc let loose a rain of slaps and curses and punches before Morrison could even react. He knocked him around then jumped on him, feet first. Morrison crashed to the floor and wailed with pain as he landed on his wrists. “I’ll kill you!” lashed Doc. “What have you done to my son! You fucking freak!” After a long while he began to let up. He left Morrison on the floor, moaning about his hands. Dolores bandaged his wrists, took him for x-rays, then dutifully wiped his ass for the next three months. Dolores could see now that Tessa had been nothing to worry about, and she really didn’t care if he’d been hanging around with some kid. That was no skin off her back. Morrison hadn’t been wrong, but that had nothing to do with it; he hadn’t a clue what was going on when you really looked at it. Still, everything had worked out in a way she couldn’t have predicted. The Hedgehog was gone, Tessa was gone, and Morrison was all hers. Housebound because of his injuries, Morrison and Dolores had become intimate again. They were closer than ever in this god-forsaken place.