In that book of Qua’s, the book she wrote about her sister Linda, there are some puzzles. Did Linda Perdido really do all those bad things? Sometime I have my doubts, as I always do when the accused stands there in the full nakedness of total absence under the bright light of an accuser who is fully there, and therefore possesses an overwhelming advantage. Where has Linda gone to? Nobody knows for sure and nobody can therefore rightly say, if knowing and speaking come from a knowing that is based. Linda is lost, and that is all there is of it.
Everything has a hidden part; every person too, a hidden heart. Seems a truism, but what it is that’s hidden is never all that obvious because if it were everything would be open and visible, which is not the case because it is impossible. Take it from me, Spider Getuli. My people are from the fiery, anfractuous slopes of Mount Etna, a place enshrouded in mists and fires. Empedocles made his final leap there, they say. I don’t know, but I do know the fire flows from wherever it will, hidden underground, even here, in stable, lazily intact, predicable Set County. If you set your mind you can feel, you can even hear the molten rock flow underneath.
People around here.
People around here are more interesting than they think. The Getulis, the Layman crowd, and yes, the Perdidos, all of them. Work too hard, put our faith on display, smile a lot and get lost in a swirl of names, names local and legendary, archaic and for the nonce. My dad was a failed farmer up there, at the foot of Mount Mostly Normal, a place named that by folks from South Somewhere Else, folks somewhat impaired in the nominative faculty. Stones broke his plow, shovels, drivers, backhoes, and picks till he had to adapt, adapt and develop his forging skills in a modified Simmons Pot (imported from Central Europe by way of Malta, Pennsylvania—New Malta, Pennsylvania, I mean—the choppers come loose from time to time). Learned himself the fire-crafts and before long he was making things up like they were all part of a children’s game, only these things were real, of iron, or zinc, of the lighter and heavier alloys. Molybdenum, tin, and the rich red ore they mine in the upper peninsula just off Route Nine, what they call the Old Howling Dog Pike that runs clear to Lake Marsupial. I won’t say people like me liked him; he was a hard man, with burned fists the color of pitch. But people admire, or did back then admire, a man who can do something pertaining to the fire-arts with his own damned hands. He did, and his six brothers too, and their cousins from off in Missoura and New Model, New Moon, and New Diameter, where they grow those golden pears. Twenty-three in all. People didn’t like the Getulis because we invented and ordered into being the hard metallic facts that give shape to the face of the world, here, in Set County. They liked us because we made lots of money, and never gave it away or did much with the money, but put it back to hard use in the fire-crafts.
Then the bubble burst some time after, sometime long ago, and the Japanese and the Chinese and the Arabs, well, you know the rest. Global economy, and here I am with nothing to my name but a couple of low dive bars, and a collection of old cars under tarps, behind the feed lot off the Northway in Radiator Heights. Hell’s below, I know, but sometimes I just wonder wonder where it all went, and Lu Lu too. Lu Lu, my part-time, gap-tooth gal from North New Nickel, also a cousin of the Perdidos perhaps.
More on Lu Lu later.
So I come to run a couple of establishments, and become a mixologist: One called What What (last time I let Lu Lu name anything more significant than a cat, which reminds me); a place called Prehensile over in Domely Heights, near the State Penitentiary; and the one I guess I like the best, at least till now, and the bad events of recent days, The Toy World. One establishment is enough to keep a sane man fully occupied, unless he has some kind of fire in the belly. I keep my fire hidden, under wraps. I lie low and listen because I like to catch in the net what’s on people’s minds when there’s fire in their bellies and they start telling tales of what they don’t know they think and what they don’t think they know.
Like the Perdido sisters.
One so bad, one so good, excellent in the Groaner University sense of excellent. Perdidos used to be more, I don’t know, more community oriented. One was a veteran of the Civil War; one was a witness to an eruption of Mount Etna (which we Getulis never observed, strangely, being otherwise occupied underground); one was also a veteran of the War Between the States, but fought on the other side; one was a co-conspirator of Hugh “Phantom” Beauregard who caused that market crash; another worked for the Agency which brought our co-conspirator to justice seven years later on; one of them discovered some kind of parrot at the Research Institute up in, was it at Tuscarora? And the last one of any note was this country’s ambassador to Fantantistan, a land far off where they make all the things we used to make here in Set County before the events everyone knows all too well to be able to recount without recourse to another kind of fire in the belly which as a mixologist and proprietor of an establishment, or two, or three, I do my very best to encourage but only up to just before the point of falling down drunk and speaking in tongues (that you can leave to the brethren of the Proclamation Church). Amen.
In that book of Qua’s, the book she wrote about her sister Linda, there are some puzzles. Did Linda Perdido really do all those bad things? Sometime I have my doubts, as I always do when the accused stands there in the full nakedness of total absence under the bright light of an accuser who is fully there, and therefore possesses an overwhelming advantage. Where has Linda gone to? Nobody knows for sure and nobody can therefore rightly say, if knowing and speaking come from a knowing that is based. Linda is lost, and that Qua? Qua is the supposed link between this and that. Two fires become one and the same. When two fires become, or are, one, and are the same (and insane? Are not all fires, flames, signs of a consciousness gone awry?), you cannot henceforth, take them apart. Same with holes. No, you just cannot. Linda and Qua look pretty much the same, even if, as individuals, they do not do. Do the same. Two surprising girls, like that boy in the book by Bomb or whatever, about Funnyland or whatever and how the Wooden Boy could take himself apart by undoing a latch so that there was now two of him, so that he could do twice the amount of work. Work’s the thing—sometimes I wish I had a latch like that. Sometimes I feel like I already did and do, but lost it. What is needed, in the case of these two hoydenish spitfires, is to find somehow the latch.
Pops Perdido was normal enough, worked in the post office (or UPS, or did he collect postal stamps? Moses Aaron was the name), as was the mother, name of, skip it. Lost the first two names, but they were good, serious people in the Set County way. Now I see them in their secondhand Ford. Someone else sees me seeing them. Someone else sees that guy seeing all the rest. Set County, nestled within all these acts of observation, three theses of seeing.
I can see the uncle as well, Lucius Caligula, waving his crooked stick, over at Left Eye Hole Lake, while the girls run around in circles, trying to scare each other with bugs—Qua with a Red-Faced Zither Bug, found only in Set County; Linda, always the more ingenious, with a Double-Dreadful Horny Beetle, which I have never heard of outside of the Wicked Orient. Saw one once in the zoo in Milwalkety. Someone in the family kept a monkey, little thing but very intelligent, and the terror bird they named for the Führer which did not sit well in some parts. Good people like to recollect bad people as they see fit, not on the proverbial nose as they saying goes.
Qua quickly took to books. Reading hard ones too young, I suppose, did her injury. Linda just grew like a weed, normal at first, then not. Went wherever she wanted (apparently un-parented) and learned from that small ape the joys of nearly infinite manual satisfaction (come to think on the monkey, a capuchin named Manuel, I now recall, or something like that, and wore a little golden thimble for a hat). Even when she was a mere smidgen she had this ability to be several places at once and to take things over (and apart). She did. . . .
—Mac Wellman’s recent work includes a play, Two September; an opera (with David Lang), The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (also the title of a compilation of nine new plays by him); and a novel, Q’s Q. In 2003 he received his third Obie Award, for Lifetime Achievement. In 2004, he received an award from the Foundation for Contemporary Art. He is a professor of playwriting at Brooklyn College.
This issue of First Proof is sponsored in part by the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation.