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  • Creatinine
  • Olivia Clare (bio)

This is about tristan and not me. Tristan the grasshopper.

For dinner, he’s laying out raw amberjack with clumps of wasabi and rice. Finger bowls of soy sauce, ginger, and, for himself, flakes of seaweed.

His face, his movements, are as precise as a casino card dealer’s: he’s thinking, some small admission, now to himself, soon to be spoken. Pouring our drinks—wine for him, Japanese beer for me—he talks about the monotony of buying groceries, brushing his teeth, of the ways he writes and reads; he should be traveling, too, or improving someone’s book, some good book, he hopes; not that he’s bored, but he has too much to give, just stored away in him, and so he should be somewhere, helping someone, helping himself …

“Maybe that sounds awful,” he tells me. “Or spoiled? I think it’s a privilege to casually question privilege. But I’m not spoiled.”

He’s published a book of poems with a small press, and he’s started a second manuscript, even a third before the second one’s half-finished. I tell him to slow down. The first book’s dedicated to his father, who hasn’t contacted him in years.

“But that’s complicated,” I say. “You’ve never had to sit at a desk all day.”

“OK, but I’m here, and nothing really happens. I should do something, go on walks, walk in ‘nature.’ But in Los Angeles?” He pours tea and arranges sugar cubes in a pyramid on a plate, quick hands, like when he reads at night, turning pages with a reading writer’s confident anxiety. “I could drive to nature, maybe, in traffic. But when do we ever do that, Pixie?”

We have what we need without spending too much, living off the money I made those years I was a paralegal. When he can, Tristan teaches. We don’t have “normal jobs” … somehow, among his family, this crime is perceived to be his alone. But this story isn’t about me.

There’s a last piece of fish on my plate. Our queen stray cat chatters in the yard; later I’ll feed her in the tiny gap between our building and the next. No space or peace in our neighborhood, always a dog or car alarm. But we have two floors, a balcony—we own some large Pre-Raphaelite prints, one on almost every wall. Or [End Page 343] maybe they’re his. After six years it’s hard to know. I don’t like the look of sofas; we have chairs and good lamps, a table. Wood floors and almost no furniture.

He looks up from his food, and he’s about to say something I’ve heard before. We’ve stopped having enough new things to say at dinner. “Gretchen says that when she had kids, she stopped having time for meals. She just eats things out of a box, she says.” Gretchen is his half sister, forty-four, fifteen years older than Tristan and I. We used to see her more, before she had children. “She says when she eats, she eats …”

“Standing up,” I finish. “I know.”

“I tell her, ‘May we all have the nerve to sit down!’” He raises his glass. “Let the word burn out on the slope of being where we are stranded.” This year he’s reading Yves Bonnefoy.

“It won’t burn out,” I say. “To wet ink!”

“To wet ink in 2055!” Tristan jabs his fork at me. “I obscenity in the milk of thy ink, Pixie!”

“I obscenity in thy mother’s ink!” It’s one of our jokes, a curse from Hemingway, though I couldn’t tell you from where.

Tristan holds his glass over his head. “I obscenity in the cheapness of objects.” He looks at our table. “And Swedish furniture stores!”

On the balcony, the freeway makes enough noise that we don’t need steady talk. Opposite us, dusk turns the brick fronts of jigsaw houses to drab bronze. Neighbors, having a party outside, dance in headlights and awkward pairs. Our drinks are full. A palm frond taps...


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pp. 343-353
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