Archive for the ‘Project: The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions’ Category

h1

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions | Consorinvidia

12/12/2011

Consorinvidia

By Rob Ehle

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions has been conceived as a monthly random match of mortal sin with family member to create a helpful home reference, not unlike the Merck Manual or the DSM IV.

For whatever reason, she was not a pastor. In God’s inscrutable wisdom. She was a pastor’s wife. She did not have much of a knack for wifing, actually, but her husband’s voice had worked on her as it worked on the world, just much more powerfully and (in her more cynical moments) insidiously (she might say), for when she married him she’d thought she was marrying a kind of prophet or something, but he had turned out to be more of just a guy. He wasn’t a bad guy, or weak. He was just a man, was the thing. Which was disappointing. Given the hoopla. Once she had discovered this, she could see how he did it, though, which was a little maddening. “It’s all in the timing,” she said to him once. “Isn’t it?” And he’d chuckled.

It was people quoting him that got to her most, like Moses or Christ. Really? she wanted to ask every person who did it. You couldn’t have come up with that on your own? Maybe not the alliteration, but the gist? That’s when she became the wisecracker. “He’ll never get too big a head,” they said, chuckling. “Not with her at home.”

Always the chuckling.

It was a big church. You could go a year and not realize who she was. There were advantages. She sat beside a lady one time, chatting, and out of the blue the lady asked, “How do you like him?”

She had never been asked before! Goodness! What an opportunity! She thought a moment. “Well—”

“I love him,” the lady said, without waiting.

She looked at her. This lady loved him? She thought some more. Love was such an odd word for it. Almost all of the time it was the wrong word for what you were feeling.

*

This is the final entry in The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions.

Advertisements
h1

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions | Supersoritis

24/10/2011

Supersoritis

By Rob Ehle

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions has been conceived as a monthly random match of mortal sin with family member to create a helpful home reference, not unlike the Merck Manual or the DSM IV.

They live together wrinkling, the two sisters, in an oleandered condo, divorced and widowed, and widowed, respectively, the older one’s things in the younger one’s place. The older one has written and traveled, the younger collected spoons. Ten new presidents since they last shared a living room, you’d think the younger one might finally be choosing a channel now and then, but the opinions, the opinions! are the province of the eldest. They are swollen now like goiters. She was regarded for so many years, this formidablesse, and there is no one left now to regard her. She has nothing left but her commentary. Dressed by eight, sits at her sister’s table with her coffee and Virginia Slims, reading the Chronicle.

The younger one poaches an egg. She is as dependable and unnecessary as a cuckoo clock.

“This newspaper is being run by a student council,” the older one says. “And the world goes on burning.”

“I told Margaret her rhodies needed—”

“Margaret’s tuna casserole. They would flourish.”

How can you begrudge a person who has so obviously earned her arrogance? One does not just shrug off one’s lifelong accoutrements. Her head canted, a wisp of thin glass-blonde hair tucked up behind her ear as she has been tucking it since she was eight, always getting things out of her way.

San Mateo. Her Elba. Her San Clemente. The younger sister in her pale velour reaches for one of her little plastic bottles. Takes one, examines it, puts it back, takes another, examines it, puts it back, takes another . . .

The older one looks up. For a moment watches. She stares unnoticed for seconds and seconds at this addlement, this mildness, this mortality, and then, saying nothing, like a bored and sated lioness, turns away. It is the closest she can come to kindness.

*

Read more here from Rob Ehle’s project, The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions.

h1

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions | Luxofilia

12/09/2011

Luxofilia

By Rob Ehle

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions has been conceived as a monthly random match of mortal sin with family member to create a helpful home reference, not unlike the Merck Manual or the DSM IV.

Once upon a time there was a boy who could buy anything. He was so rich that he didn’t even look at ads or commercials, because he already had everything. If he wanted anything new, it had to be invented. He had commissioned a species of butterfly, and he also had a silent motorcycle, for spying. Because his resources were limitless, he became obsessed with impossible things. When his father had a skyscraper made to replace his bedroom, he was disappointed it didn’t hover. The two worst days of the year were Christmas and his birthday. Being a nice person was a constant struggle. He tried giving things away, but this only worked for awhile, because although his friends were grateful, they also fawned on him and it was obvious they only hung around to get stuff. Or sometimes it wasn’t obvious, which was even worse. He was never sure who honestly liked him, and who was just trying to use him. His parents had grown up very poor and had done everything to keep their son from want. They couldn’t understand how wealth could be the curse he told them it was. “A nice problem to have,” they always replied. The only time he didn’t feel bored or ornery was when a new project was in the works. For those few weeks he was a pleasant and engaging boy. He loved to be around other kids then, would joke with them, play some ball, go to his friends’ houses. He would do what he could to cheer up anybody who was having a bad day. Just knowing there was still something left to get was what made his life bearable and interesting. Once things stopped coming to him, it would mean the world had stopped turning. He was truly a miserable boy.

*

Read more here from Rob Ehle’s project, The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions. Rob will be reading from a new story on October 10 at The Lone Palm, in San Francisco.

h1

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions | Dottersglut

15/08/2011

Dottersglut

By Rob Ehle

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions has been conceived as a monthly random match of mortal sin with family member to create a helpful home reference, not unlike the Merck Manual or the DSM IV.

They were a little jet-lagged, it was 10:00 Cleveland time, and she tried not to think about how old they looked and just to enjoy their adorably Midwestern company, her mom, her pop, with their glasses and their shoes, their beiges and pinks. And maybe show them a little wow. Because she was 26 and on her own and had not eaten red meat for three years. And she had a lover. (He wasn’t married, but he was a secret.)

“They are tacos,” she said. “With quail.”

“They’re smaller than cookies,” her mom said.

“They’re sixteen dollars,” her pop said.

“They’re on me,” she said.

“How much do you make at that place?” her pop said, and she grinned a grown up grin.

(He was a secret because he was her boss.)

They had tacos con quail, they had something infused, her parents drank coffee as she sipped her bacon martini. Oh, what a city!

“Remember that coq au vin I made, and she wouldn’t touch it?” her mom said, twinkling. (She said cocoa van.) Pops just stared around. All the clamour, the sparkle. The tintinnabulation! When the waiter asked about entrées, he said, “What’s this?” pointing at another sixteen dollar thing.

“Daddy, you have to try the striped bass. You must!”

Her mother whispered “you must,” and smiled. So he had the striped bass. Her mom had the tuna poke, and she! She had the pistachio-encrusted surf perch on a bed of glazed lupine, served on a plate of eucalyptus bark. That martini had a kick like a motherfucker, didn’t it?

Mom was showing her pictures of the nieces when the check came. “Dad, got it!” she slurred, lunging, as he artfully snatched.

*

Read more here from Rob Ehle’s project, The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions.

h1

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions | Matrakedia

18/07/2011

Matrakedia

By Rob Ehle

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions has been conceived as a monthly random match of mortal sin with family member to create a helpful home reference, not unlike the Merck Manual or the DSM IV.

He is twenty-five and she is forty, and her little girl does not know about him. She goes to church with her family. There they lift their hands. She prays for her daughter, for the husband she loves, and an ill-favored friend wonders, Why does she pray at all? She is so pretty. She is already so happy. There are nineteen shoes in her closet. Sometimes when she has had too much wine, her husband can still get her to do the things they used to do. There is a dress she looks for and just her looking arouses him, her fingers along the linen and silk. She gave him away, that boy now ten years older than she was when she did it. As her parents put it, “ill-equipped.” If she does not pray for the twenty-five-year-old, does it mean she doesn’t love him? If her husband doesn’t know, is it some odd sort of adultery? Her daughter has left her mother’s sandal behind the toy box. This is what you don’t understand about love, both its focus and its failing, how like it is to despair, how easily one surrender becomes another. “Where is my other shoe?” The husband is buttering his toast. Her little girl is reading a box. There really is no God to pray to, but church for her is like two cupped hands. She nestles there and can so quickly forget she needs anything else. Can a mother forget a child? That isn’t the matter. There is a canoe. She paddles in front, her husband in back, and between them the girl reaching for the buckeye blooms. Don’t tip! Her finger just touches the torch of blossom, but when she closes her hand she is no longer touching, and then they have passed, and it is past, and that’s what’s the matter.

*

Rob Ehle’s project, The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions, is appearing monthly on The Owls site.

h1

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions | Irafrateris by Rob Ehle

20/06/2011

Irafrateris

By Rob Ehle

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions has been conceived as a monthly random match of mortal sin with family member to create a helpful home reference, not unlike the Merck Manual or the DSM IV.

It’s kind of funny that they’re related at all, how different they are, given the shared DNA, the identical cowlicks, the same stoop, making you think not so much of a litter as a pair of matched draft horses, since they’re big boys, but no two a worse match unless for single combat on a Greek plain, the only thing mutual about them their shared incomprehension at that mirror image and the feeling every time they look in each other’s face that there has been a theft, which, because they are brothers and gentlemen, embarrasses them, which they make little jokes about on holidays and other family meetings and must deprecate or dilute or disarm before it turns and there is the metal smell of indignation in the room, people wandering out for a glass of water or a magazine, or sitting still, casting glances, hunkering down for the coming fit, a wrath epileptic and helpless, as inevitable as an uncrashed wave, and despite the words they use, the stories they carry out like relics, there is nothing explicable by argument or reason but the insult of being one man walking the earth with another man’s face, two visages as uniform as prison garb and if not ridiculous in their identity at least remarkable, the fact of it brighter than either brother, as if God had bound their wrists and said, “Love each other or eat each other,” a marking for the world of the inadequacy of any one of us, but though they are twinned, neither is the other one, and it is a hard lesson.

*

Read more from The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions >>

h1

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions | Pateravaritia

23/05/2011

Pateravaritia

By Rob Ehle

The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions has been conceived as a monthly random match of mortal sin with family member to create a helpful home reference, not unlike the Merck Manual or the DSM IV.

There was a man once who loved his daughter so much he would lie awake at night. On a good night he would gaze no place in particular, maybe just at the backs of his eyelids, and think about what a gift she was to him, remembering some ridiculous delightful thing she had said that day. But often he was smothered by his love for her. There were so many things that could go wrong, so many ways her spring could turn to winter. To combat a helplessness that was really nothing more than his daughter’s existence in the world, he did everything he could to keep her close to him, to shield her from the gales of an indifferent world. His watchfulness was constant and bright. Wherever she went, whatever she did, he was there. Eventually he found happiness in nothing else. Friends tried to pass time with him, co-workers told him jokes, his wife took his face in her hands. Nothing existed for him but his beloved little girl and his duty to her. Even when she was not little any more. In her middle age, he was still taking her out to dinner like a husband, buying her dresses and truffle oils, now and then a new car. A mortgage once. No one could explain it, this greed for his daughter’s attention and dependence. Maybe he had been deprived of affection as a child. Maybe his marriage, the demands of a grown and equal bond, had taken him aback. But the truth is that he was not happy, his daughter wasn’t happy, and as a very old man he still lay in bed smothered by his love for her.

*

Rob Ehle’s project, The Family Handbook of Mortal Conditions, will appear monthly on The Owls site.