Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “Say I’m Careless, Bulletproof”

Hello from a hot summer night—wind lashing the trees in the darkness like a Hawaiian storm on the prairie. Order of operations: make dinner—enchiladas with green sauce. Miyoko’s cheese shreds spread in layers over (and in between and under) stacks of rolled-up tortillas (and inside each rolled-up tortilla—refried beans, diced cherry tomatoes [and tofu grilled first in butter and garlic]. Avocado, cilantro, slices of lime, and Tofutti sour cream put aside for the end.)

Casserole dish into the oven.

Set the timer: 45 minutes.

Throw open all the windows as you clean the kitchen; wishing for the short nights of winter.

Carry a stack of books to the writing table and set them on the floor by the chair (Dickens, Beckett, Rulfo, Aurelius, Cisneros, Erdrich).

Talk to the young siamese cat as he steps between your feet.

“Oh hello,” you say, “it’s the star of the show.”

He looks up at you; his back rising to an upside-down U shape. “Mmm-rrow,” he says.

“So good to see you, big man.”

Bend down to give him a rub, and he shuts his sky-blue eyes, pushing his cream-gray head into the palm of your hand.

In the library of the farmhouse—go through the stacks until you find Byron’s record that came out a month before his death. B’s. Bastard Noise, Beach Boys, Beatles, Black Dice, Bonnie “Prince Billy,” Bright Eyes … Byron.

Out of the slipcase, and the slipcase slid back into the B’s.

Record onto the turntable.

Power clicked on.

But pause too long before setting the needle, and you realize you can’t.

Go for Townes instead.

Think for a moment if Byron is the Townes of our group (and if Townes’ friends couldn’t listen to his records.)

Sit down at the writing table with your elbows on the glass tabletop and rest your chin (your face, your cheeks) in the V of both hands. (Resist the urge to sigh. Because, I mean, come on.)

Townes sings, “the name she gave/was Caroline/daughter of a miner/her ways were free/it seemed to me/that sunshine walked beside her”

-A writing table list for a hot summer night while you are locked deep in grief-

-Yellow Post-it note stuck on the gold gilt frame of a painting by my writing table. Written on it in my god-son Willy’s handwriting—one word: “Y E S.” I can’t throw it away because it is a magical thing. His “Y E S” is an answer to a forgotten question, but it digs into my heart with love.

-On my writing table—a jar of holy water no bigger than a perfume sample. Its label—gold, metallic red. Alison gave me this because it’s how you kill vampires. I tested it on myself first. (Not a vampire.)

-On my writing table—a Victorian nail I found in London. Flat like a tiny knight’s sword.

I’m jealous of my English friends because in Britain you have knights and castles as part of your narrative, your foundational history.

In America we have the Old West, gunslingers, cowboys, but my own mystification of the past tells me the Old West is intellectually inferior to the medieval.

And I realize how stupid that sounds.


The problem is I don’t want people to think I’m an idiot (because I’m worried that I am and I have always worried about that and nothing will stop me from worrying). Sometimes I don’t care. But on a bad day? On a bad day my ego is as fragile as a 90 year old eggshell. That’s a confession, okay? Don’t tell anyone. Lie to them on this hot summer night. Say I’m careless, bulletproof. The wind blowing my hair, I will sneer.

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