Carbine: Stories

Greg Mulcahy
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Inhabiting a world that offers no guarantee of any veracity, the characters in these peculiar stories are driven to and goaded by compulsive and perhaps pointless reflection. They are haunted by unrelenting consciousness and knowledge of failure, yet are, at best, ambivalent toward any conventional equation of success. Theirs is a world of broken relationships, futile memory, constant appetite, and the certain knowledge that they are winding down in a culture in which it is impossible to do—or know—the right thing. Frustrated and obsessed, they cannot articulate their lives and are entranced by the strangeness of the everyday. Written with keen intelligence and biting humor, Carbine is a book about the ridiculousness of contemporary life—a book about what cannot be said.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-031-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Hat
    (pp. 1-7)

    There was a theoretical problem, not that he thought it would go beyond theory, not in his case, in others’ cases, sure, for them the theoretical was real, but what was so odd about that, for after all, if one thought about it, was not every theoretical problem based in the real, or, to take it further, to get to what he was implying, to get to what he really thought but would not say aloud, wasn’t every theoretical problem a real problem for someone but usually not, and he hoped never, for him? He was in the Catholic cemetery...

  4. Doll
    (pp. 8-10)

    There was smoke and the fucking thing went off and he had to disconnect it and he broke it. Poor fucking design, that’s what kept them selling. The little plastic hooks the housing hung from got soft and failed as anyone could see they would. A fifteen-cent latch a far superior mechanism but then they would not break after four openings and few would be sold.

    He needed a working one. He needed to know a working one was downstairs though he reminded himself there was a time when such alarms did not exist. When he was a kid no...

  5. Jaune
    (pp. 11-17)

    Recalled to their purpose, he put his hand decisively on her breast.

    This was long ago. She wore those plastic shoes that were supposed to protect the feet from hazards on the beach.

    Or was this long ago and she wore a thin gold chain?

    It was said that at one time in China, yellow was the color associated with the emperor and only members of the imperial family were permitted to wear it.

    Maybe this was a long time ago and she was wearing a crisp, lemon-colored dress.

    Baby, he said, I need you.

    Baby, he said, I feel...

  6. Gallery
    (pp. 18-24)

    She had not done anything.

    He had expected her to. To do something. Every indication was she was going to do something.

    But there she was. Absent. Silent. Invisible in her inactivity.

    It was as though she has ceased to be.

    He thought he could recreate her.

    But he’d done that already. The idea made him weary. Would he have to do it again?

    He knew he could not stop himself. Yet he blamed her. There was only she to blame. She was the one who, for all her promise, had not, apparently, bothered to do a goddamned thing.


  7. My 40th Birthday Party
    (pp. 25-28)

    I am a big man, six feet two, 220 pounds, and while not the giant I aspired to be, big enough to be thankful for my height and girth. At work, people often greet me by calling mebig guyorchief.I leave it to you to decide if a smaller, neater man, a man who did not bump into things with his large feet and have to constantly re-tuck his shirt, would be similarly greeted. There is, I know, a certain clumsy menace in my movements that alarms people or puts them at ease, as appropriate.

    Even excess...

  8. Communication
    (pp. 29-30)

    Maybe if she would spare him the doxology. Start there he would tell her. Spare him and spoil what? Tell her he could not be more pleased if he had received a postcard that said Fuck You. Because there were some things she did not know. The social order and the end of privacy for example. At the end now—now at the end one was likely to be surrounded by strangers ending almost publicly. Not how anyone imagined it. Surrounded in some hellish room with the TV on God knows what. Intubated. How about that?

    What could she say...

  9. The Bottle Game
    (pp. 31-33)

    Jug, jug, she said.

    I was not inclined to reply. She raised her eyebrows as if to inquire did I take her meaning. I averted my eyes, which, as much as anything, answered her question.

    First I had been censured at work for looking at pornography on the web. Apparently, it was company time. Company time and a company machine and company electricity. As well, they told me there were ethical and liability issues.

    I had been in my office with my door locked locked locked.

    As part of the censure they took my office away and gave me a...

  10. Crow
    (pp. 34-35)

    One day he would throw his shoes away and they would be gone. That was one message. And a crow is black. And there are those healthy men who heartily eat big dinners and something sticks somewhere and cough, cough, cough, they’re dead. That fellow who retched, choked, vomited, and died.

    He did not want to beg for mercy, but he knew he might.

    He knew he would.

    He could not buy enough guns to save himself.

    The installer came to his house to install the new equipment. The installer was fanatically loyal to his employer. At the first suggestion...

  11. Film
    (pp. 36-38)

    She emailed him that she had chosen to participate in the great renunciation.

    Couldn’t she have simply told him at supper?

    He was, theoretically, all for giving things up.

    This was some time after the big game. During the big game, he had sat there drinking malt liquor and cheering while she and the children watched in confusion and disgust.

    —You’re going to find out, he told her, that your wonder machine causes brain cancer.

    But it was an empty threat, and both of them knew it although he was reluctant to believe it. The way she did things,...

  12. Catch and Release
    (pp. 39-43)

    It was the pin prick prick. Sometimes his knee, sometimes his side. Or his abdomen, though there not so sharply. He knew it was nothing, but he was afraid. He was afraid because he thought he had heard, or maybe read, somewhere, that there was a horrible neurological disease that usually began in middle age and initially manifested itself as the prickly sensation of random pin pricks. But he thought that if this were true, and he suspected that he had, as usual, got the details wrong, and it was not true, there would be a lot of pin pricks....

  13. Culture
    (pp. 44-45)

    One day everything in the world was based on a comic book.

    Clotilde wanted to see a movie, so he took her. A gangster movie. Even by gangster movie standards, the movie unreal. He remarked on it.

    It’s based on a graphic novel, Clotilde said.

    He was not surprised.

    Why not?

    He’d long ago surrendered his argument with the culture.

    Culture? Who believed that?

    The community college in his community was reading a common book. All the students and the teachers were supposed to read the same book and members of the community were encouraged to read it too, and...

  14. Science
    (pp. 46-48)

    To send an idea by way of wire he told Burkett was not to give the wire ideas.

    Burkett tongued his broken tooth and continued to read a stolen airline magazine.

    Would you, he asked Burkett, gorge on an animal whose flesh might destroy you?

    This one the meat killed him.

    This one the car wreck.

    The other down the flood it was said but he knew better.

    Knew a woman once, he said, and I wanted to tell her to have a little clarity. Clarity, it seemed had fallen out of the language at that time.

    Burkett styled himself...

  15. Shirt
    (pp. 49-55)

    Molly wanted him to take her to the museum.

    —Do you know what a museum is for? He said.

    —Of course I know what a museum is. Everybody knows what a museum is.

    —Is for, he said, not is.

    —This museum has Indians, she said.

    —Indians, he said.

    Jesus Christ, he thought.

    Of course he had always wanted to go out West, to drive through the West and see all of the West he had seen in movies and pictures and television programs, for he was, after all, an American, and it seemed, along with...

  16. Aperture
    (pp. 56-59)

    He had a picture of himself and his wife at Graceland. The staff photographed the tourists as the tourists went in. At the end of the tour, he’d had the option of buying the photograph. Photographs. There were, he thought, various packages.

    They were on vacation and though it seemed a little silly they’d taken the tour and he’d bought the picture.

    It was cheaper than a T-shirt, he thought.

    Once they’d snapped the picture, they had him. That’s why they took the picture up front. After all, how many times was he going to be there?

    You could not...

  17. Weather
    (pp. 60-61)

    He claimed someone at the office pushed the political button on him.

    The competing claim he’d pushed it on himself. And why would anyone do such a thing to himself but to clarify his continuing failure?

    Away, he was alone.

    Alone in his room, he feared God might not be protecting his home and his people as he wished God might. Outside his room, the hills and the trees. The forest and farther off, he believed, the water.

    As though he had been placed here in the middle of all this nothing. Or forest. Or land.

    Or water.

    The others...

  18. Thought
    (pp. 62-63)

    He thought he could not get over anything, and he knew successful people got over everything and moved forward, for if one could not get over things, one could not move forward and be successful.

    I can’t seem to get over anything, he said.

    You know, D said, people want some reassurance.

    I know, he said.

    People want, D said, that reassurance of meaning, of spirit. I’m not saying you have to be a darling.

    I know I’m no darling, he said.

    What I’m saying, D said, is you have to meet people somewhere. If people think you dislike them...

  19. Driver
    (pp. 64-68)

    Some said he never was a doctor. My brother, now this was my own brother, claimed one October to have seen him driving a truck—a flatbed, I believe it was, with wooden cattle corralling around the bed—a truck filled with ripe orange pumpkins.

    I do not see how such a thing could have happened. How, for that matter, my brother could have been sure. A truck passes, you look at the driver, see him for an instant and believe him to be an acquaintance. Surely everyone has had this experience.

    Most, of course, admit their mistakes to themselves....

  20. Suits
    (pp. 69-72)

    I am a man who wears three coats, although I only wear all three at the same time when it’s really cold. I have a hooded sweatshirt, a vest filled with some insulating material, and a shapeless cotton shell called, I believe, a chore coat. A chore coat they call it, as though I were a farmer, as though I spent a part of my day, say afternoon or early morning, doing chores.

    I sell things over the telephone for a job.

    I don’t know what that makes me. A salesman maybe. Maybe not.

    I was waiting outside the revival...

  21. Architecture of the French Novel
    (pp. 73-97)

    Sunday afternoon in September, rain and the wood piled in the yard black in the rain. Not far, in the center of the city, were several well-known pieces of public art, so many and so well known, the city was sometimes known as the City of Public Art although he was not persuaded the sobriquet was not the result of a civic campaign rather than spontaneous coinage. The statues were, no doubt, as wet as the wood and stood in the rain like other statuary—well known relics of civilizations that remained after the belief which had engendered them.


  22. Teepee
    (pp. 98-101)

    He had to tell himself something. He felt if he did not tell something to himself, he could not get up and go on and do the things he needed to do, the basic things he had to do, like get in his car and drive to work. She had gone, and when she had gone, she said she would never speak to him again. That, however, was not strictly true, because a few days after she left, there was some problem with a credit card, and she had called him up to get him to straighten it out. She...

  23. &
    (pp. 102-103)

    Big hunk of ice shelf broke off and fell in, some of it on TV, how big he did not know, big as a building or big as a city or big as half a small state, how would he know?

    That ice important the TV said.

    The ice necessary to our project.

    Afraid that ice somehow—not now—some time—involved with him—not directly—involved with him in some bad way.

    Maybe the TV said.

    The rest, they had nothing to do with him, those people on TV, the rich, the celebrities, the politicians, the writers, the painters,...

  24. Circle
    (pp. 104-107)

    It was not as though he had no education.

    Clearly he remembered once having watched an animated film. The film’s main character was a circle. The circle circled around and sang:

    Your head’s a bubble,

    Your head’s a bubble,

    Your looking at trouble,

    Cause your head’s a bubble.

    There had been a point to him seeing this film, he recalled, but he did not remember what the point was.

    Now the skin on his face was thick and coarse. Windburn, he believed, or age or drink and what difference did it make. Somebody said it could be a symptom of...

  25. Alphabet
    (pp. 108-110)

    I’ve wept tears of blood, he said.


    She did not believe him.

    Tears, anyway, he said. They felt like blood.

    What about the alternate life? What about his alternate life? She did not seem to consider that.

    His history.

    He recalled how fifteen years before a man belittled him and berated his project. Did she consider that? He was not sure she knew about that. The man who had bitched at him was dead now.

    Or that other one. That guy who’d betrayed him and tried to get his girlfriend at the time to drop him. She dropped him...

  26. The Hungarian Writer
    (pp. 111-111)

    —C’mon, he said, and do this for me. Like in the movie, he said, c’mon.

    She would not do it.

    He did not know if that meant she would not do it now or if that meant she would never do it. Not never, he hoped.

    She wanted to talk about a book she was reading.

    He was not against books. For them, really. Or, in a sense.

    The book was by a Hungarian writer.

    He thought that a bit much.

    What did he know about Hungary? He knew where it was. Maybe a little of its history in...

  27. Account
    (pp. 112-116)

    —Hey, you’re that guy, a guy said.

    In the lobby. Some kind of hanger-out and where was security or was there no security? Besides, Bill did not know what the guy was talking about. He stepped back. Sometimes he felt like he was going up in an elevator.

    The guy moved away from him.

    All Bill wanted was to take care of his errand. Minimal human contact would suffice. Though that maybe was new; now that everything could be done without human contact, was the hunger for isolation greater than ever before?

    The Japanese were rumored to have functioning...

  28. Fall
    (pp. 117-117)

    They—the he and the she of it—fell—and fell—and fell—and fell apart.

    He went his way. She went on with her life. These things happened as these things happened, and everyone understood.

    He met a woman and fell in love. He and the woman married. The woman had three children from a previous marriage.

    The man and his wife were happy.

    The children were happy.

    If there had been a dog, the dog would have been happy

    Years went by. And years.

    He quit smoking.

    He quit drinking anything but red wine.

    That, and water.


  29. The Descent of Value
    (pp. 118-120)

    He knew when he went in, when he got in, Selby wanted to talk to him, but he did not want to talk to Selby and never wanted to talk to Selby, yet he had to go in.

    Had to remind himself of his age.

    Other day, went through the drivethru, thought for a second of making the window girl, before he realized how far he was from all that.

    Now Selby—Jesus Christ—what did Selby think—that anyone—any sane person—would listen to anything Selby had to say if Selby did not have the authority to compel...

  30. Flight
    (pp. 121-124)

    It was not him. It was some other man. In his house, a clock had been a precious thing. Almost every thing was a precious thing. His blanket. A thin, worn blanket worn nearly through when it came to him. Often he’d read, in those days, of prisoners with their thin blankets. And he identified with them, with his.

    All imaginary of course. He was a boy safe and snug and not a prisoner at all. Yet he’d pull that thin blanket to his chin and pretend he was a prisoner. Unjustly imprisoned. He wondered why that fantasy, outside of...

  31. Verte
    (pp. 125-131)

    She wore a red dress that looked like it was made of silk, but he was sure the dress was not made of silk. The silky dress clung to her, and he noticed how she moved in it. Every movement seemed to him to hold a great significance, a heavy and beautiful sexual promise. He knew her, and he felt—really felt—that there was much he would learn from her and discover with her.

    Yet he understood nothing. He was aware that he did not know how to proceed with her and that she would have to show him....

  32. Faith
    (pp. 132-132)

    He and his wife at a social function. Public. Like church though he would never go to church. No church in him. No church for him.

    Everyone knew that.

    That other she there.

    With her husband and children

    The husband young with honey-colored hair. The children pretty and dark.

    He tried to avoid her, but she came over. With her family. Whole family came over together as families are said to do.

    Or are depicted as doing.

    They were pleasant. He and his wife were pleasant.

    Now he remembered she had always had that easy pleasantness.

    She was a pleasant...

  33. Picayune
    (pp. 133-136)

    He smoked the kind of cigarette that killed you—the strongest one in the world. How could this document, apparently entitled “How to Make a Martial Arts Porno Movie,” have come to him? It seemed more a polemic expressing the need for such a film than a guide to making it. On the cigarette box, unironically, there was a picture of a sailor. He would watch a movie like that. He would like to see a movie like that although he would never, ever, tell anyone that out loud. A shred of tobacco was lodged in his throat. This document...

  34. Museum Piece
    (pp. 137-138)

    They were to take the pledge first.

    The despair pledge, he believed. Not that the pledge embodied or contained despair, but the desperation around the constant marketing of the pledge. More noise as though there were not enough noise to make one despair.

    Then, at the museum, the display of the work of the celebrity photographer and on TV the special about the same celebrity photographer and in the paper the review of the same celebrity photographer’s books of photographs. Apparently something was going on or nothing was going on and someone was trying to make something go on or...

  35. Epistemology
    (pp. 139-139)

    He did not feel good.

    He had not felt good.

    He knew he would die.

    Not now.

    Not because of how he felt.

    He would die later when the time came.

    He knew each of us would die.

    It seemed unfair those he loved would or had.

    Not so much for him.

    There were others.

    He could have said something to the others.

    He should have.

    Not now.

    They were dead to him.

    They were not dead at all.

    The one of course he had loved her.

    We can not be happy. She said that.

    Then there was life. His...

  36. Balance
    (pp. 140-141)

    TV showed success, the programs, the commercials his rebuke. His failure which needed no reminder.

    He could quit watching. Or go straight to video.

    Success there as well. With the occasional failure. Or something in between.

    Nature maybe. Only nature videos. Or videos that depicted the natural. What was natural. What came, more or less, naturally.

    What was failure but an imbalance in power?

    Like this guy at work. This guy at work manically solicitous and entirely false yet apparently genuinely craving affection and approval. Though this guy would turn for the slightest advantage, real or perceived. He’d take your...

  37. One
    (pp. 142-144)

    All varieties though all variations of the one. He could not stand it. They walked streets dressed—each gaudy costume calling—a demand or invitation or a demand for invitation.

    And they talked.

    Earpieces wired and wireless as they went connected to whomever they spoke to about whatever they spoke about.

    Costumes, yes, for him, for anyone who looked, but the words, while not private—public was public—the words for someone else, someone specific.

    He was not worse than everyone.

    He was not better than everyone.

    Simply he was unattached.


    They apparently not though that was not certain...

  38. Furniture
    (pp. 145-147)

    Ankle went, worse this time. Urgent care doctor—a cheerful Pakistani—said, this does not look good. Ordered a splint and care at minimum after he’d refused crutches and the ominous, black-velcroed boot.

    Looked bad. Shin bone straight, foot twisted entirely away. Could not move it back.

    He did not want to go back to therapy.


    Ice. He iced. And splinted. Rested heavily on his cane. All as ordered as though this the beginning, the harbinger of a long cure.

    Worst the immobility. Elevated the swollen foot and sat in a chair.

    Sat there.

    Listened to the radio.


  39. Hook
    (pp. 148-148)

    He told people the rifle story because he enjoyed seeing how people reacted.

    Or had told it.

    He had not told it for years.

    At one time, he had kept dogs. House dogs, not outdoor dogs. Dogs that lived in his house and waited for him to come home.

    Near the holidays, he had the dogs photographed in Christmas hats and Christmas sweaters.

    If anyone said anything bad about the food, he could not eat it.

    If anyone said anything questionable about the food, he could not eat it.

    He was with what was right then and now was wrong...

  40. Reply
    (pp. 149-151)

    He’d heard that the flowers replied; he knew about the sad geraniums, and he was not thinking of them, nor the tree of light, nor that scene in the porn film that had so impressed him as a young man. None of those storied images seemed important or even relevant to his situation.

    He’d hurt his leg; that’s what he thought. Some knee, hip, ankle injury he could feel in his aching bone. He could not remember any traumatic event; he considered arthritis or some need for replacement joints. It was difficult to be certain, but it seemed his back...

  41. Sword
    (pp. 152-157)

    Somebody gave him a samurai sword. Not a real samurai sword, a replica.

    But with a real blade sharp. It was a gift. Something somebody thought he would like.

    He liked it.

    He would have liked to mount it on the wall above his desk.

    He could not.

    The company had a zero tolerance policy. No violence in the work place.

    No weapons on the work site. Of any kind. Not even pepper spray.

    And he did not have a desk. He had a work space. No, that was not right. He did not have an office; he had a...

  42. Picture Show
    (pp. 158-180)

    1) Notebook

    Used bookstore he picked up a paperbound copy of Camus’ notebooks. Volume 3. No. He could not. Not all that. Years ago, yes, yes, all that. Then. Now. Now? No. Not now.

    He read the 1st sentence. Knew. He bought it. He’d read it. Brought it on himself—years of doing nothing but bringing it on himself or more likely bringing himself to it.

    Looked at himself in the shop window why not. Slack puffy face, swollen body like some hulking movie monster. Him. The him he’d made himself. And why?

    Knew he could not bear to explain...

  43. Carbine
    (pp. 181-182)

    Maybe he had a sore that would not go away.

    He had a sore that would not go away.

    Anything could get in there. Remember that.

    He could seal it up, but not all the time. If it were always sealed, it would never go away.

    And open, anything could get in. If everything was potentially everywhere in the bacterial, in the viral, sense, everyone knew that these things traveled, if not how they traveled, then anything.

    He felt a deep desire bordering on compulsion to buy a carbine. Oh he’d kicked the idea around before. Idly. Now it was...

  44. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-184)