NEA Literature Fellowships

William Luvaas

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(2006 - Prose)

From the short story "A Working Man's Apocrypha"

John bought "fresh" shells down at Delauroux Hardware in town. "It's one helluva big varmint I got to shoot," he told Angie Delauroux. "I ain't shot that thirty-eight in five years, don't trust leftover bullets none." He had washed his clothes and tidied up the trailer that morning, hung threadbare throw rugs out to dry. The little mobile spare as a monk's cell: ancient Sears & Roebuck table fan (John believed air conditioning weakened the spirit of a man who must work out in the sun), a twelve inch black and white TV, stacks of vintage Archie comics on bare plywood shelves, which might have brought a small fortune were they not so badly soiled, thumbed through again and again. While old pennies he collected and polished to gleaming in the evenings and lovingly displayed in glass-topped cases he'd fashioned by hand were nearly worthless.

Evrah man is got to have sumthing preshus to him no matter whut. Take you a meanspirted
man evrah tyme he aynt got nuthing preshus to his life that destroys a persun sure as a chyld
is spoilt by them whut dont holt him preshus.

He lay there for hours harboring misery, blood sugar perilously low (he had eaten no supper), under hypoglycemia's woozy spell. Although dead faint, he had the tremors, heart thumping against ribs, sleeveless t-shirt a sweaty rag clinging to his chest. John rose on stump feet and hobbled to his sugar stash to gobble down a bag of M&Ms. Enough to get him through what needed doing. Three A.M., late enough a gun shot would be swallowed unnoticed in the night, momentarily stunning neighborhood dogs quiet before they resumed their peripatetic braying, all at once.

He had long since picked the spot where he would do it. Laney regularly saw him steal off with the weed whacker to tidy up a seven by three foot oblong carved into sage, creosote bush, and chemise two-hundred feet behind the barn. She imagined it where he had buried his cat Rexall, not where he intended to spill his own blood, glucose rich, nourishment poor. Something changed his mind. Thers no shaym in a publik thing ony in whuts hidden. Imagining her finding his body swollen black in the sun, red ants feasting, John forsook the earlier plan and hobbled to the county road, .38 tucked inside layers of a woolen Army blanket, folded triangularly, flag fashion. He didn't cover the ground with the blanket as most would do, not wanting to soil it with his blood, but threw it over himself as best he could to shield the world from the obscenity of his act. His legs spasmed awfully. "This sensayshun whut I get in my knees, I cunnt explain it if I tried, all anxious and jittery, like they get jumping inside but outside is stone still. Like its aching to move, but when you try all they do is jerk and ache worst." He shot multiple doses of insulin subcutaneously in his belly. Queasy from the combination of forced sugar and too much insulin, he welcomed a crushing frontal headache--sure sign of the hypos, onset of a diabetic coma. Still, no guarantee it would kill him. There was the rub. He'd begun speaking, telling how sorry he grateful, staring up at the bruised moon through ragged olive branches, forbidding himself to bawl like a sentimental fool. The trees had shed their fruit, it felt like he lay on a bed of snails, bodies crushed and leaking beneath him, blood soaking in cold purple patches through his shirt, the vaguely sweet odor of their fermentation recalling his own: sugar rich beggar's blood. Another person might have succumbed to self-pity, not John Sylvio. He looked fiercely into the moon's scowling face and thought how damnably bright it had been these past nights, as if to mock his desolation. If there had been time, he might have scribbled a new entry in Rools and Regalashuns:

Dont trust brite moonlyt nun thatl mess you up evrah tyme you dont wach yoresef it cud make
a dam dum crippuled up dibettu-ck want to go dansing.

John snugged the barrel under his chin and pulled the trigger.

William Luvaas has published two novels The Seductions of Natalie Bach (Little Brown) and Going Under (Putnam). His stories, essays and articles have appeared in many publications, including: Antioch Review, The American Fiction Anthology (Vol. 9), American Literary Review, Blackbird, Confrontation, Cosmopolitan, Epiphany, Glimmer Train, North American Review, Open Spaces, Pretext, Short Story, The Sun, Thema,The Village Voice, and The Washington Post Book World. His story "The Firewood Wars" was co-winner of Fiction Network's 2nd National Fiction Competition. Luvaas teaches creative writing at San Diego State University.

Photo by Lucinda Luvaas

Author's Statement

What greater gift to a writer than the gift of time? This grant will allow me time away from teaching at San Diego State to devote solely to my fiction. I plan to write a number of short stories dealing with the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of disaster, loosely similar to "A Working Man's Apocrypha" and to complete a second collection. Also, it will give me time to finish revision of a novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Dead Weight, about how one bad decision made by a man at a moment of panic leads to another and another in a descending stumble of warped judgment, finally resulting in the breakdown of his character and sense of self. It is an allegorical tale about how our poor choices and ill-conceived attempts to protect ourselves can make monsters of us, individually and collectively.

Just as importantly, this fellowship offers a significant personal and professional boost to a writer whose career has not always been a smooth ride.