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Stamps: Andrew Foster Altschul

29/11/2009

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from Lady Lazarus

By Andrew Foster Altschul

He was living in Morocco, sharing a mansion with William S. Burroughs, who’d once made a guest appearance at a Terrible Children concert (ostensibly to play the harmonica solo during “Shave Me, Shrieve Me,” though in the event he only stood in his three-piece suit and bowler, facing the microphone zombielike, before climbing down to the crowd and walking back to the stadium exit).

He was selling guns in Rwanda, as Rimbaud had done a hundred years earlier. Or heroin, my father buying vast quantities from smugglers in Eritrea, transporting them by camel caravan to Tangiers, from whence he and Burroughs supplied much of Spain and Italy.

He was a Bedouin, leading a slow parade of believers across the Sahara, founding a religion based on rock music and intravenous ecstasy.

He was in Bolivia, fomenting a civil war, leading general strikes against the government.

He was in a VA hospital in Brownsville, Texas, where the FBI kept watch over his vegetable form.

Or Paris, a mime in the Jardin des Tuileries, or Punta del Este, remarried to Colombian pop star Shakira, whom he’d met at the South by Southwest music conference years earlier, when she was only fifteen.

I knew these stories couldn’t be true (But what if they are…?, a voice said) – but somehow that wasn’t enough. With each outlandish sighting, it seemed there was more to my father than I’d known before; his story was larger than anyone had told me. Like the house on Azalea, there were unknown hallways, strange garrets, locked rooms – I was still a tiny, wandering child, lost within the walls of my own home.

The death certificate was always a point of contention – Exhibit A for the hungry prosecution. No agency ever identified it as having issued from their office; the San Diego coroner, the AMA, the IRC: all mystified, the document under none of their auspices.

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Andrew Foster Altschul is the author of the novel Lady Lazarus. His short fiction and essays have appeared in publications including Esquire, Ploughshares, McSweeney’s, Fence, One Story, StoryQuarterly, and anthologies such as Best New American Voices 2006 and O. Henry Prize Stories 2007. He is the Books Editor of The Rumpus.net and the director of the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University. His second novel, Deus Ex Machina, will be published in 2010.

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This excerpt from the novel Lady Lazarus is part of the Stamps project at The Owls site. Click here to learn more >>

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