Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

Hydroplane


Hydroplane: Fictions
by Susan Steinberg

Paperback
2006
Price: $15.95

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Hydroplane is a story collection filled with the urgency of erotic obsession. Its breathless voices, palpable in their desire, are propelled by monomania, rushing from one preoccupation into another: a garage, a painting class, a basketball game, boys. Their words take on kinetic force, an almost headlong momentum, as though, while reading, one were picking up speed, veering out of control. The past returns. Rumination are continuous. A stranger at a bus stop is indistinguishable from the narrator’s deceased grandfather; party guests turn ghoulish, festivities merge with nightmares.


Hydroplane reads like a nocturnal drive along a vapored highway, similar in its furious wanderlust to the novels of Beckett—Watt or Molloy. Much like those title characters, the speakers populating this collection are crippled by their loss, able only to rummage through recollections as buffers to the indistinct future. One story, “Static,” follows a few steps behind a teenage girl as she spends the summer at the home of her divorcee father. Squandering evenings behind the House of Mirrors, she discovers herself as a sexual entity, the object of a man’s desire.


Each of Steinberg’s stories builds as if telegraphed, relaying mere slivers of the past. One sentence glissades into the next as though in perpetual motion: “And I thought of trees. How they grow out of nothing. Dirt. How they grow into nothing. Air. How somehow there’s life. A spark. Until it gets crushed. That’s life you know. Screaming oneself awake.” That is, to awaken from a dream while behind the wheel and to realize that the past is not only alive and well, but thriving.


"Experimental but never opaque, Steinberg's stories seethe with real and imagined menace." —Publishers Weekly


"Reading Susan Steinberg's remarkable short-story collection, Hydroplane, is like being the sole eyewitness of a devastating car wreck on a lonely stretch of highway....It takes you on a mesmerizing, hypnotic journey into a strange, parallel universe of lost souls who live in a frenetic world that is always on the verge of running out of control."—San Francisco Chronicle


"Susan Steinberg needn't offer excuses for the darkness of her stories. When you tunnel down as emotionally deep as she does, very little light makes it through."—San Diego Union-Tribune


"Steinberg proved that she can play with form in her debut, The End of Free Love (2003), and she continues to scratch sparks against the predictable in her second collection, which is reminiscent of works by Mary Robison and Amy Hempel....Steinberg walks a delicate line here between real life and hidden association, sentiment and reality, and she does so with ease." —Booklist


"You don't just read Susan Steinberg's stories; you hold on tight to her words and go along for the ride."—Hartford Courant


Excerpt


It was him on my way to the market. There were things I needed. Milk. Bread. But he stood for the bus in a crowd. In rain. I stopped.

It was him I knew in the narrow nose. In the filmy cheeks and hair. Even the sweater looked his. The diamond shapes. And the fisherman’s cap. I knew it too well. Always kept with the others on the closet shelf. Over his ladyfriend’s Russian furs.

I swayed for a second. I wouldn’t say reeled but I felt as my legs gave way.

He was swaying too a bit it seemed. But no he wasn’t. Just it was windy turning more than a drizzle.

Others stood with umbrellas. They wore raincoats. They looked to me then to their shoes.

His jacket was shoddy. Last year’s outdated. It was strange to see his exhale. I wouldn’t say painful. Just the last time I saw him he had been gasping.

And when he turned to me now. Split second. Well I clutched the bus stop signpost tight from the curb. The others knew not to look at me. They watched for the bus.

I was a fool I knew it. I felt like one. But I hadn’t seen that posture in two plus years. I had near forgotten that diamond sweater. Those scuffed brown shoes. Thin clouds on the exhale.

He looked again.

And had he said word one to me. Even, what time do you have. Well I was trying my damnedest not to flat-out faint. I just needed to get to the market. It would close soon. There were things I wanted. Bread.

Plus the rain was falling harder. I should have driven. I turned to walk.

But I had so much to say. A lot had gone on.

For one small thing the bus fare. A whole new cost.

For another my plants had grown to this long.

And my car. Older but fine. Just one breakdown in the two plus years. A jumpstart and it worked good as new. And the wipers sometimes shut off. Unexpected. Almost always during a big storm go figure.

A good reason to walk or take the bus.

He would have laughed at this.

And my cat was still going. Twelve years and counting. He sleeps most days, I wanted to say.

There was my job.

Various places closed down in the city. Various opened.

And the Orioles still were no good lousy. We could all agree. Those slobs.

When he looked split second I thought to speak. Or to grab hold of his sweater.

His hair moved around his cap edge. He needed a shave. An umbrella. A raincoat. He needed the bus already. Where was it.

It’s funny. I never remembered him taking the bus. He owned a two-toned car the last year. Blue and light blue. Sporty, he said of it.

But you can’t take it with you is how it goes. The car was sold to a neighbor. A stranger. Mister so-and-so from two doors down. And the furniture too. And the other things I wanted. His paintings for instance. He was a painter. And the forks were sold off. All of the silver in fact. But the forks somehow stood out as significant. I wouldn’t say sacred. Just all those dinners at his house.

I tried to keep a fork but my father shook it from my hand.

They’re a set, he said. It clattered to the floor.

I wanted the two-toned car but I had a car.

For awhile we watched TV. Me and my father. It was something funny. Then it turned serious. He pulled the plug. He took the TV to the neighbor’s.

I sat in quiet.

So much to say and the bus was coming.

I was curious had he seen anyone else from the family. Or anyone famous. And where had he been anyway all this time. I wasn’t thinking foreign countries. I wasn’t thinking heaven or hell. I wasn’t like that. All that nonsense talk of clouds and fire. The rabbi’s words. And why not in a closet, I wanted to ask. Hiding in his ladyfriend’s battered furs. In a pocket with her scented lipsticks.

Or more absurd.

Like clinging to my father’s earlobe. Whispering, you’ll never amount.

You bum.

But he always said you die you rot.

I never believed it.

You evaporate.

No. Not true.

I knew it was him with that stubborn posture never swaying in the

downpour. I knew his downward look. His bitterness. That scowl knew it well.

It said, you never saved me you fool.

He wanted to live.

Well who doesn’t. It’s funny.

Everyone knew the doctors made a mistake. They shouldn’t have cut him open. He was getting old. Getting weak. But he wasn’t so sick. So they said. He could’ve recovered with no procedure. They said this to my father.

My father said, go for it.

When he flat-lined his ladyfriend said, someone goofed. She cursed in Russian.

It rained that day too. It always seems to when it should.

My father planned a service quick. The following day he spoke. There were rows of flowers. Bowls of bitter Russian candies. The rabbi talking of clouds. Of doves. The desert and fire. My father didn’t cry for his father. No one did.

And two plus years later I sure wasn’t crying. I was thinking of wearing his shoes in the rain. Strange as that was. I was thinking of feeling the hot leather insides. I used to wear them and clomp through his hallways. The brown ones looked more like girl’s shoes.

But I could fit both feet inside one if I wanted.

I sat in his chair in his shoes before dinner. I could fit my whole body in one corner of the chair. I slept in the corner and the shoes slipped off.

Then we ate.

When the line flattened the predictable tone followed. Like watching serious TV, said my father. And we’d seen so much TV we knew just how to act. Either courageous or sobbing.

We were courageous. Even laughing.

We even went to the gift shop to browse. We even went to the cafeteria. The game was on. My father managed a, go!

Those slobs.

Those fools, I said.

I never saw it coming.

Well no one did. Those showoff doctors. Someone goofed.

His ladyfriend cursed her head off in Russian. It was the damnedest time trying to shut her off.

It’s natural.

He’s still with us.

Eat your pie.

Good girl.

No one knew what my father was saying. I said not one word but whistled instead. Maybe for the first time ever. My father said, stop that lousy whistling.

But I couldn’t stop at first. Then I laughed so hard I had to leave. I wandered the hallways and stood in the stairwell. I laughed in the lousy stairwell lighting. There were echoes.

The Orioles would have won that day. But the rain.

I left without a word.

I sat in the breakdown lane when my wipers shut off. And I didn’t cry but it seemed I was. All those rainstreak shadows on my skin.

I at least felt sad I admit. Picture the cafeteria’s light green walls. The souvenirs they sell in gift shops. My father’s shoddy overcoat. Pie crumbs on a smear of lipstick.

The gasping before the solid line.

The filmy eyes saying, save me you fool.

But it wasn’t my job.

Funny how slow I drove when the wipers recovered. Thinking of nothing but gray and gray and gray.

At home was quiet. Then a mouse darted through the hallway and back. Then the cat.

I thought, go for it.

I wasn’t surprised by the chase. I almost expected the kill. It was a parallel.

And the mouse too didn’t die all the way. Not at first I mean. Picture it. And the cat was already sleeping. I left the mouse in the hallway and slept.

In my dreams I was chased. Not surprising.

I waked when my father called in the morning. He said, don’t be late.

Later he spoke. Nothing significant. And the rabbi said, one dies so one lives. I didn’t believe him.
Later I talked to my father. I told him of the cat. The parallel.

I said, one dies so another dies.

How the ladyfriend carried on. Her lipstick bleeding to her teeth. Russian candies puffing her face.

She mumbled, what the hell is she talking about.

My father scowled.

I said nothing.

It was odd staying where he had lived. I wouldn’t say scary. Just all his things going into boxes. A funny procedure. It went on for days and days.

At some point my father got the ashes. He dumped them in the damnedest place. He said, he deserved it.

Then he laughed.

Well I couldn’t tell this to the man at the bus stop. His stubborn posture would have bent. He would have screamed, that lousy bum! Your father’s a bum!

He would have told a story to the crowd.

Here’s how her father lost his job.

Here’s how her father wrecked his life.

Here’s how her father wrecked his kid.

The ashes blended right into the drive. All that gray. My father backed the two-toned car and drove it two doors down. He carried the furniture alone. The paintings.

His father would have said, you lousy showoff. You’ll wreck the paintings.

And after all that time. All that work.

I thought how he once showed me to paint. Outside. In fall. He wore a sweater that day too. A cap. I watched the exhale float from his face. And I wasn’t thinking life that day. Just cold. Gray. We painted a tree. The plants around it. He said to use black for the trunk. Green for the leaves.

I used green for the trunk. He scowled.

My father waved from the window. He laughed at my tree.

The ladyfriend brought us bitter candies.

She always kept his furniture polished and more. His silver.

He always said, she’s a keeper.

She said, I don’t want his things. She packed up hers and went to her son’s.

My father boxed the forks. Insignificant after all. He made me stand. He carried the chair on his back to the neighbor’s. It was black leather. It was his father’s most-liked chair. The one where I slept before dinner. His shoes slipped off when I slept. I no longer fit in a corner. Not surprising.

I took a spoon when my father wasn’t looking. I put it in my pocket. A souvenir.

So much to say as the rain fell harder. I had no umbrella.

It was only an old man you fool. A stranger.

And I needed to get to the market.

I noticed his shoes had come undone. I considered crouching. But he stood proud letting the laces hover and flop.

Stubborn. Just like him.

His ladyfriend sure would have crouched and tied them. She would have said, you stubborn man.

I wonder now why I stood in the downpour. It was cold out.

I wonder too how he kept his cap. His things. You’re not supposed to take it with you. Everyone knows.

It wasn’t him you fool.

I know.

When we finished putting things in boxes I didn’t look around. There was nothing but space besides. Boxes. I left his house for the last time ever. My car wouldn’t start. It was night. Raining again. The neighbor jumped my car with the two-toned car. Good as new.

Then in the breakdown lane I considered some things. Nothing significant now.

At home I remembered the mouse. It had crawled to a corner and died. I scooped it up with the spoon. I threw it to the street. Spoon and all. It disappeared into the downpour.

And now my hair was drenched.

I had no money for the bus. Just enough for the market.

My cat was old and slow.

My job.

And I was whistling again. He was withering there. I wouldn’t say evaporating. But the word came to me.

Then the bus.