Listen to a reading of the prologue of Off-Season by Mark DeCarteret by Jim Rioux.
An excerpt from Off-Season.
March. No calendar will claim it. A mess of a month that had never had the means to be cruel. This reign of frustrated desire. And what’s more an experiment as all stories worth telling must be. A month of feigned errands where we return to our houses finally ready to confess. But never to turn ourselves in. And while somewhere birds are donning their carnival masks, crying out from their diaphragms, here, our birds smear our windows with ash. And while their animals seem to be seeing to little but their throats, our animals sleep, waking only to score themselves more of it.
And yet there are those of us who will hold out, slipping into synthetics and hooking up the antibiotic drip. Routinely putting up plastic on the windows once having scraped these delirious glyphs into the rime. Restricting our movements to a mummy’s repertoire. And adding layers, yes, layers. While our bodies still fill up with flu and we bleed from our noses. Our bones groaning collectively like boats.
An anti-month or trance? This barely hissed transition? Ah, T.S., which of your many gods would even have us?
Someone’s gutted the sky. Its insides dropping like tiny ghostly presences. Some cling and some bounce. Some will never register. Blaise’s toes went through the motions while he passed the boarded up fried food stands and arcades. Wiggled his toes as if testing the gravel, the earth’s take on gravity. In front of the inadequate malls two tourists were rubbing their parkas together as if the dull spark would invoke the opening of its white trash boutiques. Dust swirling around them and everything. But mostly around Seatown, that settlement given over to the before mentioned month. And a settlement also minus a season. Or even a spell or a summoning. The town fathers barely able to scrape up a name. The name itself more a question, a starting point. Seatown? What else you got for me?
Seatown. Mostly transients who couldn’t make out the street signs. Drifters and riff raff. All stalled and played out. Their tires too bare to make the border and the less ambivalent mantra of Mainland (the way life would never be here in Seatown) with its blueberry preserves and lobster traps adorned with potpourri. A lighthouse gracing every cove. With a straw-hatted artist a-squat in its shade never gripping their palette knives and grappling with which body part to start with. Like they would here in Seatown. If their decades-long feud with beauty ever ended.
Here in Seatown, our small business loans went to meth labs. Our taxes (for those clear-minded enough to file) to landfills and detox centers. And our squatters (for even if you owned, had inherited this mess, you were still hunkered down and stooped over) spent their days grimacing in sweatpants. Ever-spackled and reeking of solvents. Spilling change on the counter for a scratch card or quart. Trying to rope in, snag a cigarette. While outside, a hundred cars were unable to start all at once. Anything of use long-sealed up in plastic and slipped inside socks, into the private stash. Because in Seatown somebody was always holding out.
Seatown. A generic name destined for an eternity of go-cart speedways and trailers stuffed with Skeeball prizes–sea shells implanted onto ashtray and tumbler, alarm clocks and lamps, pen desk sets and barometers. Mostly scallop and snail shells, mussels and clams, either mottled, drained dead of color, or reminiscent of cheap pottery dug up from the remains of a suspiciously burnt warehouse. Barbed and barnacled, razor-fine, and capable of relieving any throat’s puffing up. No fanciful swirls or sensual knobs. No cupped secrets or belly-curved elegance. No slow plunge of vermilion or Goddamn chartreuse. Place one of these babies to your ear and you’d hear not the wet lap of ocean but the grunt of some tugboat as it entered a vacated port or sand moaning in its sleep as a pearl forced its way into its dreams.
Seatown. Sometimes it would tear Blaise up just to say it. To let it slip from his lips. Seatown. Never mind repeat it.
And then there were those who could afford to remain through it all. That harsh broil of summer when the rents would quadruple and the population swelled to ten times its size. When Seatown would reacquaint itself with its inner idyll, its uniquely American dream life. A Hopper scene additionally tainted by barbecue fumes, RV traffic, and the stench of the marshes which the privileged would encourage into their lungs as if it exhaust from the Pope mobile. Before collapsing on their lounge chairs and watching as the sun would dissolve like a lozenge. Sucked into a translucent pall. Imagining their names entrusted in cautionary ink to the back of some barrel and sunk to the ocean floor, awaiting that apocryphal clean-up. And with that Blaise had this sense that he had taken it much too far. As he long had a habit of doing.
Mark DeCarteret’s prose has appeared in Quick Fiction and Brevity & Echo: Short Short Stories by Emerson College Alums (Rose Metal Press) and taken 3rd place in a Gulf Stream (Florida International University) Firsts Contest. His poetry has appeared in AGNI, Boston Review, Chicago Review and Thus Spake The Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader 1988-1998 (Black Sparrow Press).