NEA Literature Fellowships

David Searcy

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(2002 - Prose)

From Last Things

He takes a turn. The road reduces even further to a grassy, rutted lane between wire fences, open fields. The left side falls away to terraced ponds and pasture.


"Hold on."

They crest the rise. He stops and rolls the windows down the rest of the way, turns off the engine. Oh my god it is a date, she thinks; he's scared her really good and now she's ready. Just like highschool. Oh my god. He sighs, "Look yonder."


"Look yonder. Look over yonder."

She leans forward. He gets out. She sits a moment, opens the door, gets out and walks over to the fence. "Oh."

"Ain't they purty."


"Old Harley's got probably two or three hunderd."


"Yep, Charolais. Real nice ones too."

"They are."


"My." She folds her hands on top of the fence post. He goes back to reach in the car, returns with something. It's a bottle. He breaks the seal, unscrews the cap and hands it to her. She looks at him a moment. He's stepped back. He looks quite rumpled now. He produces a tin of snuff, withdraws a pinch, inserts it, smiles. How touching, almost - a prophylactic. As if the smell weren't quite enough, it serves to limit his intentions; serves to purify the offering. She looks at the flat pint bottle, rests it in both hands atop the post. When was the last time she had bourbon. Back in highschool, she imagines, when to refuse it meant dishonor and disgrace. Mixed with coke as she recalls. Or was that rum? Some sweetish, pungent sort of liquor. She leans above it, breathes it in. Oh that's it, yes. That wonderful sweetness like an apology; something medicinal like those cough drops, cherry-flavored - here, I'm sorry; you must take this with a little bit of sugar. It might hurt some going down but you'll feel better and you have been through a lot; and here's a vista - hard to come by in these parts - where all the bad thoughts can disperse; and cows. And cows, so pale, identical, gently scattered like a child's thoughts; like the room of a little child with cow-print wallpaper - cows to count and to believe in; in their passiveness and safety, their conduciveness to sleep.

Nothing very colorful - BFA in painting from SMU (69); some graduate school, a little teaching on a fellowship; much bad writing (poetry mostly, a lot of it published in Southwest Review); a few years writing for small newspapers in east Texas; nine years without drinking to produce impenetrable book-length essay (published obscurely in bits and pieces); novels (excerpts in Grand Street): Ordinary Horror, published by Viking last year and a new one, Last Things (from which my NEA submission), to be out with Viking in September. Currently working on A Water Telescope, a sort of techno-Proustian meditation.

Author's Statement

Pretty much everything I write (and am likely to write, I think) derives from ideas in a long and probably fairly muddled essay I wrote in the eighties, itself inspired by the Pogo character Howland Ow's determination to visit the sun equipped with space faring gear assembled from simple household odds and ends. This seems to be my essential fable - the idiotic exhilaration of that (the watering can for a space helmet especially nice, his having to peek out through the sprinkler's perforations). So, anyway, whatever I write, I'm afraid, can probably trace itself straight back to that. The fundamentally helter-skelter, pots-and-pans-like clatter of even the most exalted intuition.