|FABLES OF THE DECONSTRUCTION
(the bra story with Jacques Derrida)
Mark Anthony Jarman
Choose the life that is most useful,
and habit will make it the most agreeable.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
On their knees the paramedics bend to their brusque
Pulse in the neck yes or no!?
Is she coding?
A keening muscular ambulance smashes into Barbara,
smashes my neighbours sedan moments after the live power lines fell on her car roof.
The Region 3 ambulance lured out on a false alarm, hood shooting out under the overpass
like a train out of a tunnel, fender introduced to fender, metal slicing plastic, then
everybody and their dog pinned in a wreck or staggering and holding their head or turning
up to date firefighters at the accident scene.
How much of life is bad theatre? How much is lack
thereof? And I know exactly what they mean by
The paramedics bicker like bakers.
Still no pulse in the neck?
I think I would have told you if there was.
Is she coding?
Up here. Get up here. Nothing?
Shes gone, nothing I can do.
Rebeccas mother Barbara declared dead on Union
Street, a has-been with a good hairdo. Then a woman stirring, alive, Rebecccas
mother, asks directions back to us, Barbara travels back to her can-do laundry lists and
photography classes (yellow maple leaf on wet dark gravel), travels back to her ladylike
bottles of Gilbeys Lemon Gin secreted in the Vauxhall glovebox and musty garden
"Where am I," Barbara asks.
They slam the ambulance doors on the passenger, on her
prior world, and she starts anew.
The neighbours body now havering in the hospital
bed and I volunteer my services.
"Anything you need?" I ask.
"Rebecca," says her father at the massive
oak door, "could certainly use a ride to the hospital once a day or so, if
thats not too too inconvenient."
Her father, an older colleague who looks down his nose
at me; and Rebecca, his brooding daughter home from decoding things at an eastern college,
Rebecca back in the family world, a red-haired daughter bent like an absent astronaut into
honeybees and dripping trees and clutching tendrils of ivy full of green blood and the
lovely irritating sound of piano and family servants.
The mothers car stopped on Union at the stop
sign as youre supposed to.
"But why was my mother over there?" asks
Yes: Why was her mother hovering on the low-rent side
of town by the Glimpse Point Redemption Centre, said Redemption Centre recently robbed by
someone of no fixed address with a lighter that looked like a pistol. The same side of
town where they found a man shot dead in his pickup at 9 a.m. in the bay of the carwash
beside the ballet school, water on the carwash floor, his truck window shot out. High
winds rumbling up the river valley as if they have a tourist map and the high voltage
lines choose that moment to drop on Barbaras car legally stopped at the legal stop
Reb leaped and pranced at that same ballet school
years ago; now Reb in my car talks about the live wires, sparking snakes playing on her
mothers car, around her ears.
"I cant believe it," she says.
"Wild," I say.
Ive known Rebecca for years, but shes been
away a while, theres still that pilgrim distance. Her mother stuck in the wires, her
mother walked by strangers from the shattered butterfly of a windshield, her father a
grumpy Professor Emeritus in my field, Television Studies. But only black-and-white
television shows will suffice for Rebeccas father he is bitter that I have,
in my paltry articles and nervous grad courses, acknowledged colour television.
Rebeccas mother Barbara does not care for live
wires draped on her car; Barbara hits the gas to escape and smashes into another car (my
ex-insurance agent Sandy, it turns out thats how small our town can be). The
genius father fumes in his oak-lined study. My parents had no history of fuming so it
throws me. Everything somehow seems my fault whenever I see this man fuming.
"Thank you so much for driving Rebecca to the
hospital," her father says gruffly. "Im not up to it. As you can
see." Waving his arm around at I dont know what. "My hands are full,"
He fills a glass of something expensive and
eye-watering. Feel Im asking for her hand and not just being a chauffeur with a car.
We have a drink or three, a bottle or two.
"Alfred, old bean," he mutters before
kicking me out the giant arts and crafts door, "Youd be a hard dog to keep
under the porch." Then he laughs like Rumpelstiltskin freebasing single malts. A dog?
I am feeling pointedly less than wolf-like these days, I am hardly roaming the steppes.
Rebeccas unruly brothers stand on the wide
breezy porches with white teeth and wide cotton chinos and hands in pockets; they play
pocket pool and smile knowingly, posing in some Kennedy photo album in their head.
"My brothers got the looks," Rebecca
complains in the huge kitchen with the wood-panel fridge. Her lazy feline eyes, almost
lemon-yellow in sunlight, her formless Corn Sisters Gillian Welch dress, her hints towards
the continuation of drinking by other means.
So I am recruited as a driver for the troubled family.
The next day in boiling weather we hie to 7-11s asphalt paradise, an errand before
the hospital visit. Rebecca seeks a money machine that will honour her bank card, and she
wants to mail a letter to her dear aunt in a prison that trembles in the windy marshes
above the Bay of Fundy.
"Want me to get you something?" she asks.
I am happy to drive Rebecca past our spastic Potemkin
villages, past Hive Lake, The Gap, Chateau Chunder, Albertsons, Ebola Acres, Lens
Liquor Land in the chain-sawed white pines once valued by the British navy because they
did not rot.
Inhabit a HOT parking lot, to touch the cars
metal sears your bare skin, my car a malicious powder-blue Karmann Ghia, a car with less
power than your shopvac, a car that nickel-dimes me to death, but still bucket
seats and a cool chassis that speaks of gimlets or gamma rays or Buffalo Springfield 45s.
R.E.M. loud inside my small car. No air conditioning, no air, everyone boiling and
irritable in the heat. The equator has lifted its skirts this way and laid its moist black
line down the middle of this melting parking lot.
"Back in a flash," Rebecca says. She is both
inside and outside the glass 7-11.
What does her father mean a hard dog to keep under the
porch? What does he mean Im a right moody fucker? Kill one bottle and he produces
another lickety-split and then judging me.
Back inside my car, Rebecca is saying something
eye-glazing about Hitchcock and Derrida, something about semiotics and decentring, and
then she decentres the hell out of me (still in our brimstone parking lot) when she
reaches inside her mint-green T-shirt and undoes her skin-tone bra and, with some comely
contortions, pulls her bra out one tiny sleeve and scrunches it into her purse like a
magician hiding a scarf.
Ooh Thats Much Better, she doesnt actually
say, but I hear it for I am all ions.
You (me) can think, THOUGHT BALLOON #1:
Does taking off her bra mean anything? (So much depends upon which side of the bullhorn
youre standing on, which side of the willing wilful winsome ballerina you choose to
You can think, THOUGHT BALLOON #2:
Im so glad shes comfortable with me and knows I dont view her as
a sexual object even when she draws attention to her parts which surely are scholarly,
intelligent and presumably just slightly cooler now a degree or two, a fact Id like
to verify scientifically. I believe I wandered into THOUGHT BALLOON #3 there
I admit not looking. Here is my public sin. Her tiny
open sleeves, her open purse, public (the parking lot) versus private
(inside my tiny car, or is that still public?) sure versus unsure, dork versus
undork, lawsuit versus unlawsuit, the bride stripped bare in your powder-blue retro Nazi
"I guess youre pretty busy about now,"
Yes. Busy as a beaver. I take in the lurking world
like a scratched Leica, a security camera with duct tape on it, thoughts dark as porter.
"Im just getting nothing
accomplished," she says.
"What do you have to accomplish?"
"Well, something. Im such a fuckup
lately," she says. Rebecca waves her arm at the strip mall, asks me, "Do you
think theres a chance theyll look back at our time and admire cinder-block
7-11s the way we gaze at the Kremlin or Bloomsbury or the Valley of the Kings or even the
old brick post office?"
Middle of telling me something about Derrida and
Rebecca slips off her bra. Even money she has skin all over her body.
"Yes, what will history make of us all," I
Im phoning it in, trying to keep my mind off her
tiny sleeve, what is up (or down?) her sleeve, one less layer, and THOUGHT BALLOON
#3 (rearing its bad ugly head again): you are not allowed to dare imagine
Rebeccas rosy-tipped breasts with no elastic chaperones, no fabric cups and panels
and straps, flesh breathing freely as it should in my car, white orbs and rosy tips
swaying ever so slightly in the breeze of your bad male gaze oh please mr inner voice for
once please just shut the fuck up.
Think of starving Biafrans, Afghans, Anne Murray,
Preston Manning, Yoko Ono, Orestes, The Corrs. Repeat over and over: Theres no I
in Team, Theres no I in Team. There is a Me in Team though. Well then, there is
no I in beer. Thats a relief.
She says, "Derrida is so five minutes ago. You
ever read this stuff? If woman is truth she at least knows there is no truth. She
bestows the idea and the idea withdraws. The dream of death begins. But let us leave this
elytron to float between the masculine and the feminine. If Derrida didnt exist
wed have to invent him. And then beat him up at recess."
"Yes," I agree. Ha ha. She bestows the idea all right.
The blue 97-pound Nazi car awaits your command, your
foot. No power but power. Its completely stupid, but I actually think that in a
saner world (had I but world enough and time)
Rebecca and I could just slip away and run an organic paper clip factory by a lonesome
river, the two of us poor in a starlit peeled log cabin and fir-fed campfire offering up
ebb tides of sparks over sharply darkly romantic mountains. A good Adam and Eve in love
and sleeping like spoons, but without the back story, the serpent, regrets, legal
questions, teeth marks in fruit, missing ribs, finger-pointing Old Testament gods, etc.
I dream that Garden of Eden scenery, but cant
help but think at the exact same time, How many
harassment and paternity lawsuits does it take to change a light bulb?
Your (her) mother waltzing out in the dead of night
and The Car of the First Party smashes melodically into The Car of the Second Part-ay,
bursts into flames, into Dead Car Song. I dont know if the downed wires, the live
wires, influence this bonfire or not. Rebeccas mother marches into a windshield,
into a bloody nose and forehead and blood pooling in her chest cavity, firefighters
clomping about in big boots and big green gloves and glow-worm stripes on their yellow
slickers and women appear out of the woodwork wanting to "date" them. The free
market at work as if firemen dont pull enough action as it is.
At the seemingly irresistibly romantic accident scene,
Rebs mother Barbara dies, but deviates from her death and sends out a new pulse
after they gave up on her, and she wakes from her clotted bloody sleep to recover in the
Dave Clark Five Memorial Hospital, good as new, though shes shed a little weight and
about 25 years of memory.
"Why do you look so old?" she asks her
"My fish all drowned," her father said in
his study, his brown study.
"Can fish drown?" I asked.
An aquarium with cobwebs, the black-and-white TV on behind the aquarium, distorted
slightly, not unlike looking out the warped glass windows of my colonial house.
"Mine do," he said. "My fish
My mother was a fish, I sing to myself, high terse
voice ala Green On Red but no one knows the song.
"I love my daughter," Barbara says over and
over to strangers transporting her in the singing ambulance, "I love my
Region 3 paramedics yelled, Is she coding?!
but were all coding and decoding, were all coddled, minor codicils in the will
that has so many patches you cant see the tyre.
And nothing I can enact regarding Reb can match the
effect Reb has had on me. This hardly seems just, violates some Monroe Doctrine of
the heart. I cannot take off a bra and wow her the way she levelled me in a nanosecond as
if with a 2x4. What can I do? Take off my sock in a car? Wave my torn but comfy Everlast
boxers? Not the same effect. Is there an official government body where I can lodge an
official complaint? Is there a body.
From deep inside her mystery body Reb says, "Holy
jumping, Im so hungover I feel all Victorian. Like coming off a lengthy
illness," she says.
Reb stayed up drinking with her father and fashion-ad
brothers. Their family owns not one but two Hummers. Basic Hummer goes for what, 100 thou?
As we speak in our innocent city, doubtless resentful drunken locals are kicking down the
rare door-planks of their country cottage.
"Slightly wrecked," she says, "I just
threw on any old mismatch clothes, I look like some blind trailer trash Barbie." (You
get dressed in the dark? my mother used to ask.)
I look at Reb, cant look at Reb. What I need to
know: Is it a militant rejection of make-up or a relaxed disdain for make-up? Last night I
spied her in her Cat Woman boots at the arts and craft house. Rebs tiny red sneakers
now in the tiny blue canoe of my car, her blood full of chocolate, oxygen, salt, and that
amazing Cheddar that comes in the tiny red tub and is addictive as heroin, addictive as
those painkillers she is rumoured to have devoured like coloured Smarties one sad
afternoon listening to All Tomorrows Parties.
I must make a move toward her or Ill kick
myself later. My big talent: kicking myself later. Who invented panties? I have moral
"Are you always this quiet?" Reb asks.
Two of us leap the stairs (Rebs nervous about
elevators and contracts to the lowest bidder), two of us walk the wide modern halls, the
cheerful depressing colour schemes of hospital hours, hospital food, scrubs and gowns, and
that hard-wired itch in me to just get the hell out, to save myself from disease and
wither and weakness and gris-gris design flaws.
Mostly good news re your mother, they say.
Lacerations, contusions the comforting terminology and technology, our monied
intersection with the graphs and print-outs. But she hit her head and lost 25 years, lost
the ability to spell re.
"Who are you?" Barbara the puzzled mother
looks at her husband the puzzled genius. "Why does everyone look so old?" she
exclaims. The dorks are in the Winter Palace, shes gone back in time. Her husband
should be young, her daughter a child, or maybe shes gone back before she had a
From back there can she say When and Why her porcelain
daughter will turn to Percodan and Derrida? Will she drink too much when shes older?
Will I? Rebecca, do I want just you for you or simply because its possible? You
Say something, I think in the blue car. Say something
stupid. That should be easy.
POSSIBLE GAMBIT #1: Hot enough for you?
Or, POSSIBLE GAMBIT #2: I have some ice cubes I
can tenderly apply all over you to alleviate this ghastly heat. Oh oh, Im being
phallocentric, phallocentric and phallogocentric. I imagine her eyes close to my
eyes, me putting ice cubes in her shorts, my hand staying there briefly, ice down the
front and held in my hand and inside her very warm underwear, ice cubes losing shape
swiftly under her nippled shirt. Forgetting my errand, errant, not appropriate thoughts.
Shift gears, study the straight yellow line, try to
straighten up and fly, stay between the lines, your safe intersections (Accident Zone
POSSIBLE GAMBIT #3: My, look at the time! And
You look at conventional sign systems: stop, yield,
merge. You are pleased to offer an irony-free workplace. You want to say strip mall out
POSSIBLE GAMBIT #4: Did I tell you I met Jerry
Garcia in Oakland? (Why did I say that? Is that like Old Person Talk trying to sound hip?
How much older am I? She has degrees, years at school, worked in Danbury. Ten years
difference? Less? I have no clue.) Jerry Garcia, hefty, bearded, in shades, resembled a
POSSIBLE GAMBIT #5: Rehearse your new
(theoretical) laughing life together.
Are you by any chance familiar with that whipped cream
Tijuana Brass album cover? Any interest ever so slight in recreating the scenario that
haunted my hamster-like thoughts in Grade Seven?
Daughter, mother, mother night, haunting night music:
The Region 3 ambulance T-bones Barbaras red car after she drives hard into the
insurance agents bespectacled gaze, nights music spinning her, ambulance
lights wheeling like flung tulips, a wall of new sparks shed on the movie screen
windshield, electric snow falling and coloured flashes of underwater life gasp before her
like flashes of forbidden underwear and thus pristine cars become wrenched and wretched
floating kingdoms. Simply by putting a foot on the gas. All this rich world can be ours! But
you must act now.
Turns out the paramedics were lured out on a false
alarm oh those troublesome spoiled teens with their own phone! Where are the
parents today! The white steel body with red crosses didnt need to be roaring across
the northside road throwing its voice at that exact minute. A face at a car window becomes
faces at ambulance windows, our white bodies in blue beds jacking back those little red
Rebecca is enjoying her power over me. Or not. Or she
resents my fabled power as a privileged male (power I dont seem to notice or be able
to use), positioning herself vis-à-vis something profound. Or, worse, she is unaware of
her effect, or, absolute worse, she sees me as a wizened nobody, an ageing eunuch (kind of
a cool car though), so her magic trick, a skin-tone bra coming off, to her means nothing.
You wonder if Reb has a white dress she could lie down
in like a sail dipping into the cool ocean. If you could just see her, even for a minute.
Youd be good, you cant wait, though itll never happen. But why not? The
question you have the sense not to utter: Will I ever gaze upon your form draped only in
diaphanous undergarments? If I cant see Reb half-naked then the terrorists have
There is pressure to have instant gratification. Or
instant grief? What if she says, How could you! Pressure to seize the
day, yet at the same time equal pressure to defer, to not offend, to not be total geekboy
caution, be as careful as a historian.
Maybe Reb doesnt actually see me here, I
dont register on her radar screen, the way I fail to register on her great
fathers radar even though I unearthed those lost episodes of Rat Patrol. Ive
been on national radio, but not TV, so I dont really exist yet.
Or she simply likes me, shes making a pass by
slipping her bra off beside me, a signal. Im 39 outside a 7-11 on Route 69. No one
ever makes a pass at me. Ill never get this chance again in my life. That feeling
that youre still very much alive, but most of what we term life is completely over.
Wonder how long before I buy in.
The younger generation is more relaxed about stuff
like this. Bra on. Bra off. Nothing. Lie down in a meadow of poppies
nothing. To allow me in, get us both in a lather. Means nothing and nothing shall come of
nothing but any chance of driving one of the family Hummers sometime soon?
Am I welcome in her walled garden, deep inside her horti
conclusi? Why is nothing obvious and simple? A new planet, but the old world still
tucked inside with thumbtacks and needles. There must be microphones and cameras shadowing
us. Shes been hired by the medieval specialist who wants to destroy me.
Roll around in a meadow of poppies have I gone nuts?
This is forbidden. Relaxed? The younger generations are far from relaxed, theyre
judgmental, theyre into witch hunts, theyre ultra serious about stuff like
this (like with Dungeons & Dragons, Duke and Doom), they think anyone older is guilty
of something (of course we are). Are they more relaxed about casual sex? I think so, but
only with each other, with everyone but me.
I cant decide, veer between theorems, pylons,
possibilities, drive between legs, breasts, I mean, building, kerbs.
"Have you seen the last Bertolucci?" she
"Stunning," though I say I was unsure of the
ending with the husband out in the street while theyre in bed.
No one uses a word like stunning. Only the old. Or
maybe only the young. Im confused. In the Bertolucci film they hardly even talk (pass
the butter). No one fingers a bra from a sleeve.
Hows my driving? Drive
Alameda Avenue, The Taproom, fitness clubs and flaring charcoal grills, Victory Meat
Market, Doggy Style Pet Care, Early Bird Specials! (into your hands I commit myself),
drive neon and pink stucco ghettos with the understanding this cowboy cant ask her
anything, would rather be depressed than embarrassed.
Shift gears, get the wind in our throats, beg the
breeze to seek our skin. What route, say I, the scenic route by the dark blue water, the
golf course with the female ghost crossing the links at night, a native woman who drowned
here a century ago and now haunts the golf course, a ghost floating past sunflowers and
skin-pink roses and rented golf carts and granite erratics and the creosote wharf where
one fish boat burns in the heat.
"Pull over!" Rebecca calls.
One fish boat already started up. In my car watching
the fire spread, the attraction, the sudden beauty of destruction, a perverse need to
study it. Three salmon boats lashed together, tied wharfside.
"Why dont the other two boats take off?"
"They cant," says Rebecca. "Tides out. Theyre trapped,
Reb and I watch all three boats shake into orange and black flame, dabbed tar in the
boards melting and diesel tanks catching with some percussion, glass popping and wooden
ribs blackening to the waterline.
Some memory for Rebecca, some primal trigger. I can
tell. She doesnt know Im there watching her watch, studying her face,
were parked at the kerb, above the wharfs oily water. Rebecca and I stare at
the flames sharing the oval wooden boats despite the yellow hoses turned on them and all
this water to the horizon, a body of water, a cauldron of light with a bare midriff at its
Can you be blamed for what rests in your head? For
remembering a girlfriend driving, the back of your head down in her warm lap as she drove
and you relaxed, she drove murmuring to you resting in her lap, she was happy that your
head was pillowed there and happy that soon there were other possibilities, seminal
moments ahead, you both liked Joni Mitchell, you loved each other (I knew a woman
lovely in her bones), and drove around corners in California
and it was weird not to be able see ahead or around, to only look up through glass at
treetops and blue skies and crow-bitten wires roofing a now unfamiliar city while my
girlfriend manned the wheel, the world all odd angles wheeling my private tilt-a-whirl.
Once upon a time their eyes stayed on my eyes, once
the straps dropped for me. No more.
With her I could say anything, do anything, and
it wasnt wrong, anything I said was right, anything I wanted to try was fine,
including a bit of violence. I phoned her in the mountain passes and she was excited
describing the snow and the wooden avalanche tunnels. Our voices crossed elongated lines
of static, I was far across the continent in New York (the city so nice they attacked it
I just love you so much, we said to each other.
That wont come back. I didnt know that was
of such value and could evaporate. Nothing forbidden, to be able to whisper anything.
Thought our private vernacular would always exist like an aunts recipe or the hair
on your knuckle.
Then every e-mail starts with Sorry, then
nights your eyes wide open, no sleep until Hammersmith, someone doing a detailed
arc-welding job on the architecture of your tin-hat head. Some people grasp things right
away. Not me. First she leaves out a few details, then there are no details at all.
Forgets your birthday two years in a row. Im scum, she says of herself the first
No, not scum. Just gone, gone into the thrilling
mountain passes, the border avalanche zones. You drive by the army cannons alone, you come
into the world alone and you leave it alone. Rebs mother forgets Rebs father.
Why cant I just forget my woman in the mountains? If only you could bribe
your own head, influence it a little.
In the blue Karmann Ghia, Reb and I are as close as
birds in a bed, leg by leg, we are moral neighbours. This seems perfect, but may not be
I cannot tell. Trying to be relaxed is the worst.
Why cant this situation smoothly transform into
that situation I lived a lifetime back, a life where everything is not exactly tidy, but
is closer to right: no one under live wires, no hospitals, no Region 3 ambulance smashing
into you and yours, no false alarms, the red cross, big doors to the avenue opening.
Nothing compares to you, love letters in the sand, blah blah blah.
I want someones sheer blouse open under red
hair, want a body, a body of knowledge, wish the walls down, the border open to death and
truth (no I dont), to see official light thrown flashing on our skin.
At the accident scene the tow-truck driver has to
climb on top of Barbaras car the side of the car now the top hatch, as if
they clamber over a submarine. The human ribs also rearranged, the human brain held in its
buzzing concussion, Barbaras broken fingernails already repairing themselves. She
came back to life. Maybe my past can come back too, repair itself.
Just ask Reb the question! Suddenly Im older
than everyone but her father. My decoder ring is acting up.
Let us open old wounds. Let us remember the bozos she fled to after, my former
girlfriend gone to her handsome brown-eyed men and they haunt me Macbeth has
murdered sleep, mind racing and why cant I forget? Its my mind why
cant it take a simple order from me? The death of irony alleged; well, Im
waiting on the death of stupidity.
"She was on her way to a motel," Rebecca
says. "A motel!"
"Sorry?" I. "Who was?"
I say, even though you know she is talking of her mother.
The Rebel Motel across from our houses, over where the logging road sways down iron cliffs
with their red arteries and watery headlights spilling their images into the swift rivers
Im driving, not daring to look at her, keeping
my eyes at face level, I say only, "You okay, Reb? Anything you want to do?"
My refusal to ask a simple question, Rebeccas
rumoured OD, her episode, as she calls it, her tiny painkillers, mothers
little helpers, lights and big signs blurring like stars, my engine trembling, my slight
excuse for a car. The road opens up.
"Lets see what this baby can do."
Rebecca steers these words into my intimate open ear.
I put the gas down, Im a fossil glomming onto my
fair share of fossil fuel, my share of power. Car gears gnash like the small sturdy teeth
they are and the two of us zip like birds flung once more through tricky branches. Zip
"This is fun," Rebecca shouts over the noise
in a rich river of cars, our two bodies in a body among so many other bodies and my rich
dance moves that never come to fruition.