sleepingfish 12

Scott Bradfield : chapter 6 from THE HISTORY OF LUMINOUS MOTION


I thought when Mom saw what I had done to Pedro she might stop loving me, but from that night forward she may have started loving me even more. When she emerged expressionlessly from the master bedroom I was sitting on the living room sofa, gently stroking my wet clean hair with a brown towel, still stippled and muggy after my long mournful bath. She didn’t pause or speak to me. She just began packing our few belongings into pillowcases, and after a while I dressed and helped her carry everything out to the garage where our old Rambler had sat gathering dust these many months, sluggish and thick with its unstirred oils and rusty water. It started up on Mom’s first try. Then she held down the accelerator for a while and we sat there sleepily in the dark garage, staring out at the brighter and more opaque darkness beyond the roar of our Rambler’s V-8. We were lifting off. In a moment, we would be hurtling through space. Mom released the emergency brake and the V-8 subsided to a rough, hesitant idle. Then we glided down the long cement driveway while Pedro lay asleep in his calm and remorseless home, dreaming his dreams of barbiturates, beer and the soft biting blades of tools and things. God, I was filled with light that night. I was filled with Mom’s voice and the very light of her. We were moving again. We would never die. We would travel together forever in the world of inexplicit light, Mom and I.

“The history of motion is that luminous progress men and women make in the world alone,” Mom said. “We’re moving into sudden history now, baby. That life men lead and women disavow, the sure and certain sense that nothing is wrong, that life does not beat or pause, that the universe expands relentlessly. You can feel the source of all the world’s light in your beating heart, in the map of your blood, in the vast range and pace of your brain. That’s the light, baby. You don’t need any other. Just that light beating forever inside of you.” We were turning onto the freeway, which was filled with other, hurtling headlights, enormous menacing trucks and buses. “We are like astronauts, we are like wheeling planes and spaceships. We are like swaying birds with soft stroking wings like oars. We beat against the heavy air, and carry our silent and regenerate light with us wherever we go.”

It was nice Mom telling me that the light was mine too. But I knew the light was Mom’s and nobody else’s. For months I had seen nothing but my own interior darkness, and now, against the glare of Mom’s resumed motion, I could sense the entire world again as something far outside the reach of myself. No, all the light we gathered was Mom’s light, Mom’s progress into places I could only dream about. I was just a passenger, and like all passengers, unconcerned with landscape and plot, enveloped only by the simple movement, the cumulate graph of those coherent points along which we ate, slept, went to the bathroom, and awaited movement again. We could live together forever and ever, again and again, life after life. Mom didn’t have to lie anymore. She didn’t have to run or hide, she didn’t have to journey further away from me in order to remain with me as she did, deeper into her dreams of me and further away from my untrained arms. I didn’t know it then, but I was soon to learn that I couldn’t follow Mom everywhere.

THESE DAYS I was intent on immortality, because I knew Mom’s only hope of redemption lay in some expansion and unfolding of time that would swallow Mom and all her imaginings into one formless shape and sound, not a place or location so much as a dispersion of force. “Lowcholesterol diets, Mom,” I told her, browsing through a college nursing text entitled Health and Our World: 32nd Edition. “Then there’s the DNA, those complex looping signals beeping in our blood and lymph. Death’s a program, Mom. Like eating, sleeping, sex and hate. Our bodies generate death like fluids, waste, carbon dioxide, anticoagulants, marrow. DNA’s the beeping clock, unraveling time in our bodies like smoke from your cigarettes. It’s the tiniest force; it responds with information, not blood; it circulates raw and genetically contrived data, not life exactly. The heart–we’ll leave that to the regular scientists. There’s some oils in fish that cleanse the body of fatty tissue and keep the rich blood pumping. But down into the DNA is where I’ll go, Mom. When I grow up I’ll have a laboratory. I’ll invent lots of stupid consumer junk so I make lots of money. Then I’ll sink everything I’ve got into the DNA. I’ll climb down into its bristling helical nets like a spelunker. I’ll dig out every secret, and they’ll be our secrets, Mom, and we’ll live forever. We’ll buy a house overlooking the beach, and I’ll keep my laboratory in the basement. And we’ll live together without anyone bothering us for thousands and thousands of years.”

Most of the time Mom just drove without looking at me, wearing her tortoiseshell sunglasses and a floppy straw hat. She was listening, deep in her brain, but watching other roads now besides the 101. “This is King City,” she might say. “I think we’ve been to King City.” Mom’s face was very pale without makeup, but very beautiful as well. “Let’s try it anyway,” and pulled onto the next off-ramp. Soon we were winding down into a Burger King, a Wendy’s, a Motel 6, a King’s Bowl Bar and Grill. I always insisted on a salad bar in these days of Mom’s disaffection. I urged her to eat plenty of raw vegetables and fresh fish. We would pull into the parking lot and she would turn to me. “It’s got to be better than San Luis, doesn’t it? It’s got to be better than that hellhole.” Then she gave the fleshy thigh of my arm a squeeze and smiled. Only she wasn’t looking at me in a way. She was looking at me, but she wasn’t looking at me at the same time.

RATHER THAN DISAPPEARING into neon bars with her strange, unmanicured men, Mom took longer and longer looks at herself in the vanity mirrors of our motel rooms, drinking her Seagram’s and 7UP, her Scotch and Tab, her vodka and Sprite. She wore her laciest lingerie and just sat there alone. Perhaps she would paint her face with very bright makeup, or contrast her pale cheeks with soft blushes and eye shadows, leaning forward, one elbow braced against a dimpled knee, one brilliantly manicured hand splayed gently against the top of the dresser, her other hand producing various vials and Maybelline from her handbag, which bristled with crumpled Kleenex, tattered road maps, plastic cutlery and the various salt, ketchup and NutraSweet packets she had lifted from fast-food restaurants. Her breasts were fully outlined against the sheer fabric of her lingerie; her long, slightly pudgy thighs (of which she was curiously ashamed, and over which she generally wore pants or thick cotton “middie” skirts); her legs glistening with dark nylons. Sometimes, as she watched herself applying makeup, she might take a few long slow breaths. I could feel her breath in the air; I could taste its warmth against my skin and face. Sometimes her nipples grew more prominent and stiff. She removed her left hand from the table and placed it against the inside of her left thigh. Lying on my side of the bed I watched her, and my body filled with strange, smoky sensations. She wasn’t looking at me. But I was looking at her.

I began to feel a little out of breath, resting the open textbook against my thin, almost concave chest. Mom was a bird, a cloud, a car. Mom was something that breathed like me, that felt warm like me, that could move her legs like me. She wasn’t looking at me, but I was looking at her. Her face emblazoned with cosmetics, her body firm and distant and unbelievably warm. I was becoming her only man. No other men ever came around. I was watching Mom and, after a while, in the corner of my eye, Mom began watching me, her hand which held the lip gloss hovering against the edge of the dresser, her cool gaze directed at me now, as if she saw me and she didn’t see me, and I felt my entire body burning and pulsing with the light, the light, all the night’s darkness which was now turning into light, and all the sleepiness pulling at my face and filling my eyes with heat and softness and a sort of blurred and amorous detachment, and then I was falling asleep, and my body gave a sudden little kick. And as I slept I dreamed of Pedro. I dreamed of Pedro dreaming of me. Because Pedro and I understood one another perfectly now. We both loved Mom. And now we were all that remained of the strange and delusory world of Mom’s men.

MANY OF OUR surviving Visa and MasterCard cards were beginning to reach and overreach their expiration dates, and Mom and I grew stingier with our fund of invisible credit. We pulled “runners” at restaurants, coffee shops and motels. While Mom flirted in the office with mechanics and gasoline attendants, I jimmied open cash boxes on the service island with a screwdriver and pulled out the large bills from under the steel change tray. We lifted food from grocery stores and clothes from clothing stores. We took magazines, beer and cigarettes from 7-Elevens, Stop ‘N’ Shops, Liquor Barns and Walgreen’s drugstores. One afternoon at the Van Nuys Motel 6 I was returning to our room after playing one of my slow games with a sharp stick and a dead, forlorn blackbird, and found Mom carrying the color portable television from our motel room downstairs to the car. We sold it that night to a pair of diminutive, portly Mexicans—very pleasant and smiling men, as I recall—for twenty-five dollars in the parking of Serra Bowl in Encino. “Value’s generated by the world, not by consciousness,” Mom said that night as we drove south to La Jolla. “The trick is to take the world and its values and generate better worlds inside. You’ve got a choice, baby, and it’s the only choice you’ve got. Either remake the world, or allow the world to remake you. Did that sign say 101? Look for my glasses–there, on the dash. And keep an eye out for Highway 101.”

WE WERE DRIVING, always driving, and always it was night. Outside our hurtling car the darkness simmered with radio waves and the swirling, hot Santa Anas. Everything converged out there, even the heartbeats of other stars and galaxies. Pulsars, quasars, fissioning novas and supernovas, the radar of airplanes and control towers, the diminishing cries of crepuscular birds. I couldn’t look into that eternal night–and the oceans of static engulfing our AM radio every few miles or so–without thinking the question. The question surfaced like some underwater creature. It was learning to oxygenate. It was crawling from the sea’s burning muck. “Whatever happened to Dad?” I asked. I couldn’t help myself. The question was like force, blood pressure, chemistry, light. “Where is Dad now? Is he alive? At night like this, when the night is just like this, does Dad ever think about us? Is Dad a person in the world, Mom? Or does he just lie in his bed and dream? And if so, Mom, are we his dream, or is he ours?” But Mom had already grown quiet, as if the question were not mine at all, but rather part of some thin formless lapse within the continuity of Mom’s diminishing world. She never said anything for hours at a time. She was going very far away. I merely traveled. But Mom journeyed.


Born in California in 1955, Scott Bradfield has lived in London for thirty years. His most recent books include The People Who Watched Her Pass By, and an e-version reissue of Hot Animal Love. A revised edition, with a new afterword, of his first novel, The History of Luminous Motion, was recently re-issued by Calamari Press.

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