I am very pleased and proud to announce the release of my book of short stories, Stack through Les Éditions du Zaporogue. It’s cheap as chips and available here.
This is a modest collection of ten short stories that clocks in at 113 pages I’ve written over the last couple of years. Some have been published in magazines, most have not.
Les Éditions du Zaporogue had this to say about the collection:
In this collection of short stories, Lisa Thatcher’s true-to-life characters prove to us that alienation is just another word for consciousness – and the other way around… A husband nagged by his wife, a little girl that takes care of her two younger brothers, a woman finding a shopping list in a bookstore are just a few examples of the unforgettable protagonists you will find in STACK, struggling to get a grip with the absurd yet meaningful world surrounding them.
A postmodern Katherine Mansfield, Lisa Thatcher manages to sketch a life out of her characters’ consciousness with scalpel-like precision that will make you smile with pain.
I thought that – in honour of promoting my book – that I would give you the table of contents here and the first couple of paragraphs of each story. That way if you’d like more, you can purchase my book, and if you think it is not your cup of tea, you can choose no.
I called the book Stack primarily to represent words on top of words and influences on top influences. Several of the stories in the collection are built on short stories written by others that inspired me greatly and I wanted to acknowledge that my writing stands on the shoulders of great writers who wrote before me.
WHAT’S PAST IS PROLOGUE
(Stacked on Zadie Smith’s White Teeth)
“All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the
understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”
John’s body sighed tension as the back door slammed. This set his upper buttocks free, returned his torso from pyramid-brick to housebrick, allowed his muscles to surrender their grip and embrace the small amount of release only the departure of his wife could solicit. A thin easily pierced calm settled over him. Temporary relief, imbued with a childish longing to escape from a moment without doing anything but wish for escape – as if the wish were hard and strong enough to move mountains.
He sank into his leather chair, its years of careful creasing engulfing him. With a resentment laced with unexplainable guilt, John carefully examined and rewrote the morning’s scenario, tweaking and organising it into a cautious explanatory web that clearly displayed him as the victim in the morning’s kerfuffle.
Illegal immigrants might or might not have thrown their children overboard to grab the attention of local authorities in an attempt to gain sympathy for their plight from the Australian people. Little did they know an act of this nature would never gain the sympathy of the Australian public, but it did gain the sympathy of John’s wife, a woman of the left, a red-under-the-bed for whom every person safe and happy in their comfortable home was wrong and every person living in unsafe, unhygienic or war-torn conditions was an automatic hero.
Janet was one of those women.
Her observations on the human condition burst with savant clarity into a timeless ocean of lost souls. Whatever she ‘felt’ had the precision of years of scientific research; whatever she ‘knew’ was not constructed from the mosaic of her life, but forged from fact.
EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT EVERYONE
None of us noticed at first because his behavior was normal Eric said to Carly; and this is why a doctor or therapist wasn’t recommended initially suggested Caroline, even though he was moving at such a frenetic speed. But he did talk to a medical student Anne remembered, which suggests some sort of awareness of his condition; that he wanted deep down to be in control or to gain some control said Steve. He told her, Anne went on that he expected to be exhausted (why does everyone expect to be sick when they give something up?) and therefore couldn’t afford that kind of interruption at this time – although he found to his surprise that he enjoyed the talk with the student and that it was helpful. An obvious sign of avoidance in itself said Eric. The first dry spell didn’t last long and it seemed everyone was in touch with everyone else talking about him, which is just what he wants observed Caroline. But don’t you think he ought to see a shrink Steve insisted, according to what Anne and Jane witnessed while out with him last night the behavior has gotten manic now. Do people still call them shrinks Carly wanted to know; as long as he sees one I don’t care what he calls it muttered Steve. He fears being alone declared Eric; people party with him out of pity Carly identified. The real problem was with his behavior at the office, Carly continued. Eric acknowledged he’d become thorny to work 20 with (as so many in his situation do) and said he’d seen him at the club the other night and was bowled over by inappropriate actions like jumping the bar and pouring Jaeger shots over everyone’s mouth in the crowd, although it didn’t prevent him from getting a new girlfriend that night Eric ironically observed. Later on when speaking to Ben, Anne told him what Eric had said and Ben agreed it represented a crucial moment and everything could be measured from that point, although he added it sounded like a lot of fun; which is the entire point Anne scolded.
THE PREVIOUS OWNER’S SHOPPING LIST
The dandelion spore of a woman placed a precarious foot to the road, having parked her car and turned toward the bookshop. Inside the shop, a man of considerable girth made his way past War Stories to True Crime, promising today of all days he would answer literature’s call, get his substantial carriage to the smaller aisles and take home a book that nourished his mind. Tonight both people visited the shop impulsively.
There existed between these two readers strange parallels that, despite the overwhelming differences, would bring them together at a crucial moment in time. Something superior to their knowledge and beyond the physical bonded them.
The woman walked as if the tilt of the earth could topple her. Clutching at her large prescription-filled handbag, conscious of the elements and their personal vendetta against her, she wondered at the reckless decision made under inspiration in a safer space. Her mappedout day didn’t allow for this kind of spontaneity, preferring instead to act as a buffer against the regularities of life that could mean the end for a woman this frail.
If her body provided no imperviousness against the elements, she had to use her mind to protect herself from them. She’d assented to this early in life, and the recognition grew into a love affair with the fact. In her mid-twenties, not sure if she’d see thirty, she fancied her sickly remains separated her from the healthy herded 28 masses of ordinary people preoccupied with instant gratification. With no real body to serve, no physical presence to mark her streak on the world, she felt forced to focus on the more delicate things of life. She fancied her immersion in frailty marked her as conscious; even superior.
Tonight, uncharacteristically, she’d left her work as a political archivist ten minutes ahead of time, shocking her colleagues into checking the batteries on the hall clock. She’d go to the large bookshop on King Street on the way home, alone.
THREE LITTLE DUCKS
The day the girl found out she was their mother was gray; the sky threatened storms with the kind of rain only a parent can save a child from.
Big fat rain. School bags are good for sitting on, waiting on, but not good for keeping out the torrent. Narcissistic children run on fat legs to Darwinian mothers, skipping dodging sky made water bombs.
The brothers walk with their sister sluggishly. They’ve learned to go slow, avoiding the gaze. They are glad to be out and relieved to be under her control. She doesn’t feel release when the school bell tolls. For her, little tiny mother, the bell is the dawn of the second part of the day. Her stomach twitches, her heart races, her skin oozes childish sweat. This part starts with the wait for father. This will take hours yet. And it will involve darkness.
Dawdling from the toilet the three children wander toward the gate, as the rain eases momentarily. Even the drips form the trees have a place to go. The last warm car closes its yellowish light on the school and drives toward a yellowish home. The children are alone in the blue-black air, clinging to their right to be at the school. The girl knows it’s only three-thirty and the father won’t come before six-thirty. She mentally stretches activities between now and then. They have to walk the half kilometre to the caravan park. This should take them fifteen minutes on childish legs, but she’ll drag it out to forty-five.
The brothers fight; they are petulant children. They demand she look at them, separate them, take control. Pushing her boundaries as if she was their mother. She is, isn’t she? Its good practice for her.
‘Okay you two! Stop that now. Behave.’ Her nine-year-old voice squeaks.
They comply with cheeky eyes. The games have begun. She’s not sure of the rules, but she can copy adults to work it out. The brothers know the rules. That’s all they know, and they want her as the opponent. They want her for kicking against with their little sharp studded boots. They’re safe if they make her mother. If they take her little flat breasts, her closed hole and her bloodless womb, they can make a mother of the raw materials. Then they will be safe. They can grow and be boy and then man and all is well with the world. Greedily, they offer her their helplessness, their childishness and their stiff wounds. They won’t be lost and stuck with her. She will do that alone.
They’ve reached the gate. She plonks her suitcase on the ground and sits on it, legs either side, arms folded across her chest. Closing her eyes she wills the father to come. The boys watch her carefully and do the same. The street is lined with cheery houses and smug snug smiles. The children play their innocent game of hope, eating up time while the light holds. God loves them. It looks like rain again. Cold rain.
A MOMENT IN TIME
There once was a woman who lived out the memories of an unremarkable year at school, every day of her adult life. She had a special kind of illness – the sort you only contract from a self-inflicted wound the doctor said – that prevented her from living in the here and now. By some seemingly effortless and yet enviable force of will, a diamond in the mine of her mind rendered the daily digging for life’s coal futile. She existed on repeat; circularity without velocity. She absorbed all of the inevitable accoutrements of the flow of time into her well, distilling, refining and crafting each day strictly according to operational schedules. Time gave her order, but only according to that which she could fathom. Life still surprised her, taught her, but existed in a perfect loop, a karmic ring with no beginning and no end. She lived in one year. A simple year she never left behind her.
Why this particular year? I can’t tell you, and neither could she. The chosen year, happened fresh only once at sixteen years old. When she made the subterranean decision to return to that time, she erased every year after it (actual), and every possibility of any year after it (actual) even though she expected future years (imagined). She didn’t step out of time exactly, for she embraced all but one of times burdens. She dutifully feared being late, she looked forward to her birthday (turning sixteen each time) and she set her video recorder for the right time to record her favourite television programs. The one burden she avoided was the fear all healthy teenagers avoid – mortality.
56 Her relationship to the current day existed for her as a fundamental structure of the universe, a dimension in which events occurred in sequence. And yet her choice to remove herself from her own future gave time neither the status of event or thing, but merely a measurement against which the human creature can scratch its existence; a (no)thing to prevent everything from happening at once. What this woman could not possibly know in her audacious selection of time laws obeyed, was the impact such hysteria would have on her family members. For her, accommodation of her illness became relatively easy; so deep her self-delusion, she found it simple to explain time away, its central fiducial epoch being her annual sixteenth birthday.
(Stacked on Forever Overhead by David Foster Wallace)
On a family swim on your birthday, it’s good to smell the chlorinated cleanliness of the pool and know that you feel it reaching inside you to clean you out. Even more than the shower it cleans deep, feeling its way in with its blueness, keeping soft pink dry. The sharp clean strength hits in your sinuses and you remember you always loved that smell and you think you can’t swim like this for too many more years. You glance over at the women sun bathing, browning lithe bodies with soft triangle cloth covered swells, and stare agog from the edge of the pool as everyone watches them sidling by. You’ll be one of them soon and yet they don’t swim to the end as you’ve just done.
Around the outside of this public pool is a chicken wire fence blocking free entry from the large green park. The water laps at your waist as you enjoy the tired rush your muscles spill into your body. The women in the sun are near a corner of the fence, their towels somehow more beautiful than your mothers. The fence has bikes chained to it. You’re glad the fence is there. The field beyond it is green and you remember there has been rain two weeks ago. Beyond the green grass is a busy road that you know extends out past the edges of the city, a grey track first carved with machetes by three men determined to cross a mountain range. The teacher reminded your class the men had no car and no compass. You wrote a story about trying to cross and failing and you won first place.
Ripples on the warm early afternoon water lap at the surface of your body, a mini cliff face, the edge of its own conquered island. The tides rhythm against your flesh, the suns 2PM warmth, the women, like the other images in your head, connect with a chemical inside you and the interior fog that sits thunder distance from stimuli softens the place where you end and the other begins. Thirteenth birthday. Your thirteenth birthday is important. Thirteen is when you first become aware of people becoming aware of you. You are seen. People see you and they can tell that things are happening to you.
THE OUTSIDER INSIDE
It’s the cracks you avoid. Try to square your foot on the middle of the smooth block. Weight shift the second it takes to be sure. Only sure in the weight shift; it’s the forward lean that is precarious. What if I hit a crack? I can’t lift my foot and move it back properly into the space allocated for foot. I may look like a madman. I am or am not, because I know we are all avoiding the cracks. My crack-step-avoidance is secret.
Relief from a sure landing is brief, for the next step is now upon me with the weight shift. Momentum from my sure placement carries my bones forward into the next space, anxiety rushing into the briefest of timeless moments, only to be replaced by relief at the renewed sureness of my foots step. I mask this exercise for your comfort, but I know you do it too.
I can’t tell you how many squares I step into or how many cracks I’ve swept my precariously sure foot over. There are so many I forget the number. I used to count them, but would be troubled by a different number on the return journey. I’m too busy with the listening for these sorts of numbers anyway. It’s not that I can’t count them and if mathematics concerned me I would make it my problem – I would search out the place in my mind where the endless takings of life have been stored safely – the documenting of the space between the space between the space. Alone I can find everything – but it would have to be everything, for if I decided to remember I would remember fully, I would remember the things around the memories and the things inside the memories and the memories of the things and the memories of memories. I already feel tired with the weight of this enormity. It is enough to be con(sume)cerned with the present – the sounds of the present. I only think of precious ones with love. Memories are killing. They’ll come and find you, no need to seek them out. They seep from the cracks little by little, so your thoughts must be of now and the smooth block.
Scraping of brick layered over silence. In the end it’s not avoiding the cracks that matters, it’s knowing I can. Remembering there is not so many, even if I don’t want to remember how many, and remembering I can remember if it becomes weighty in the now. If I hear the weight of it I can act. In the thinking crackle of the bubble, if I hear weight I will be ready for it. Even as a child I was hearing for weight (waiting for hear) and there were not as many weighty things then as there are now that I am overgrown into a man.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT I DO ON THE TRAIN.
I catch a train for one and a half hours to and from work each day and I don’t know what I do with my time when I am on the train. I know I don’t know, because my brother said to me at a dinner party at my house, “you are on the train for three hours every day. What do you do for those three hours?”
For my entire life I have been obsessed with what people think of me. You might laugh at this or think I am exaggerating for effect, but it’s true. I spend hours – days working on the impression I am going to leave on another’s mind. I don’t do this deliberately – oh, and sometimes I do. It happens in the internal chatter and in the post interaction reflection. At first I thought I did this out of fear of people not liking me, but there is more to it than that. I did very well at school, because I wanted to be seen to be the best; to have a medal, or an award to show people. Fear of not being the centre of attention drove me toward winning. It didn’t take long for me to realise winning only partially accomplished this goal. One gained the approbation of teachers, parents and other adults but peers required different plans if one was to solicit their good opinion. Dating James McCann gained the admiration of popular girls. Making them available for his friends won me a different set of hearts.
(Stacked on The Acrobats by Joshua Cohen)
My beard is itch, says Peter. My beard is itch, Peter says.
Peter whose lies won’t come to mind. Peter, who can’t lie to save me. Peter whose name isn’t Peter, can’t be Peter, because he is Peter by another name. Instant name to save instant face. The same thing without saving face. Delayed face saving without the same thing. Name changing to try to be Peter as best he could.
We tried not to and to introduce him as Peter but neither way worked even though that’s what I still call him.
My name stays the same.
We were writers together, both of us at the same time, Peter and I.
Lived and worked writing together for T.V. We toured all over, living in the back of an old tube, lamenting the loss of gone by time, dreaming of hopes of dreams of future hopes. We wrote for the T.V. stage. A T.V. neither of us watched. We did this for three years, or eight, or was it nine or one and a half? It was respectable time. Quantifiable time. We could have done that forever, sitting in our tube, sending the mannequined selves out to perform; sucking on each other, reaching for each other.
My beard is itch, says Peter.
We were in a hotel room. M. I think. M. For real. My beard is itchy Peter says. What do I do? I can’t have an itch, I love you. Itch grows on my skin and even my beard can’t hide it. Cant’ fight it. Where my pale skin was is red and angry with itch. What do I do? Beards hide nothing. Everyone knows about beards. Heaven help me. This itch will grow, the beard can’t stop it. Peter reaches out for me, both arms this time, reach and grope but I can’t help with the itch. It’s his itch not mine. The beard can’t hide it. Never does hide it, never refuses anything. His names not Peter and the beard can’t hide that and the itch comes from inside and I watch as though it has nothing to with me because it has nothing to do with me.
Where my beard was, is itch, Peter says. Itch is where my beard used to be. White fresh clean skin, slippery white under hair. My beard is itch Peter says. Itch is where my beard used to be.
Peter says this to me from the bed and I look away because he is right and even as I look the pulpy red spreads and I don’t want it on me even though I will follow him anywhere. Dear god not that I say. Not that. My beard is itch, Peter says. Itch is my beard, says Peter. I look at the beard, the swelling, the red the beard won’t hide. I look at the rest of his body. White and pure, skin over sinew – sinew stretched, kneaded and touched by me. The skeleton I kissed. It can’t be coming from in there. I look at his body that loves me, always loves me, and I think of sex. I think of eating as much of him as I can, using my mother-gift to take him back to a start. I climb over him and kiss everywhere, even the hot pulse of his itch and I cry as I feel his love mixed with his longing his desperate arms reaching for me and his need to scratch. Dear god not that I say. Anything but that. But from underneath my kisses he says my beard is itch, my beard is itch says he.
THE LOVE OF A GOOD WOMAN
Everywhere I look oppressed people are falling; pretty and public like blossoms of lust. They dribble down the mountainous dreams of their oppressors who don’t know who they are. These oppressed are tame – their anger less troublesome than their silence. We love their fruitless efforts. Where would factories be without workers? I don’t care because I’m making my way toward you.
Every morning that boisterous radio tipy-taps my brain ‘Wakeywakey! Wakey-wakey!’ and I scramble for the object of my affection. Buoyant, you keep me floating in this strange hot sea. You’re not here but the promise of you is and I wet-cling to the smile I make when I think of the me you make when I think of you. Animals make morning sounds (mourning sounds) and I slam the radio to shut that mouth right up now. My smile remains while I grope for my dirty precious belongings; desire hope and fear. It’s almost still dark – look how early I wake. So much better than you. Time is a flutter of feathered wings breezing gently by. Those workers have to work before they cannot work. Before they are paid off. T.V.-trick them with ownership. Pensioners need a pension. Workers need work. Eyes tight shut stumble in the almost dark. I’m reaching for you while they reach for well-wornwives.
I dwell in their midst. Jumbled. Future waiting. I don’t count; I’m not one of them. I move among them. I look like one. Not even a good wage will keep me happy as it does with you and them. I go and see children to teach them stuff and nonsense. I’m lovey-dovey angel-wingsweet sugar-petal pretty. Lumps of chocolate when you act like me, there’s a little dear. I’m almost ready for the new day; hold you scarfneck tight. Those workers will be splashing their bladder bag fill into toilets, missing, squirting all over – good! Those wives need something to do. I’m a sitter, a cave, a sheath. I want your hose inside my flaming hole. None of that spit and miss for us. You will hit my target, precision precise every time and I presence what isn’t in what is. Look, they could never have been in love, their kind. Bodies drip drip drip onto floor floor floor missing with piss-miss. Remnants of shelters of pre-wife dreams. Invisible chains gleam around tightly closed chests. Those little snakesticks soft behind flies – shoo fly, don’t you bother me! Dribble out that dark secret eye; it needs a hungry hole that eye. Must remember to make more babies. We’re all so busy now with the internet and all. Toilets carry so much away, so many sins. Tug and pull and tug and pull – she’s in the other room, she won’t know. Toilet carries everything away. Don’t forget to clean up after yourself now. Other people have to use that too you know.