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

Not a Chance


Not a Chance: Fictions
by Jessica Treat

Paperback
2000
Price: $19.95

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Ranging in location from St.-Germain and Mexico City to a cold, bucolic New England, these individually-wrapped dreams record the struggle of contemporary consciousness for placement and connection. Treat's narrators - American, female, mostly single - are cultural refugees given to obsession and passionate longing. In the complex title story, a woman attempts to imagine her friend's love affair, succeeding with such vividness that woman and friend begin to merge. In "Radio Disturbance" a character gradually becomes so attached to her therapist's voice that she insinuates herself into the woman's home. These are haunting, intricately textured fictions that will lift you high above familiar ground.


"As she continues to blend dark humor with darker obsessions, Treat may find herself in a unique position among current women writers: lighter than A.M. Homes, darker than Lorrie Moore. Not a Chance shimmers with smart, poignant prose." —San Diego Union Tribune


"Not a Chance is a mesmerizing series of stories..." —Portland Mercury


"It would be easy to think of Treat's novella and the other stories here as fun to read because we readers like to think that we will never be as insane, confused, or pathetic as the characters in Not a Chance. Yet that's the beautiful danger of these stories and Treat's telling of them: How do we really know that we'll never cross that blurry line between sanity and insanity?" —Rain Taxi


Excerpt


ANTS


1.

My boyfriend used to eat ants. He told me that and I can see him: kneeling in a corner of their summer house (it is France) where the plaster wall crumbles. Ants are racing furiously below the window where the sun streaks through and Marc attacks them eagerly: one, then another, another one. He has four, now five in his mouth. They squirm on his tongue, tickling the roof of his mouth before he swallows them. It is this sensation that makes him eat them everyday in the summer, one summer after another. It is his secret activity, his secret pleasure, until his father finds him.

"Are you eating those things? Good God!" And he grabs his arm, pulls him away from the window, the sun, the ants who are now darting in all directions at once.

He is taken to a doctor. Marc sits on a chair, legs dangling, while the doctor (white coat, round glasses) faces him.

"How long have you been eating ants?"

Marc looks down at his hands. He twists his fingers together.

"You don't know?"

He shakes his head.

"How many did you eat?"

He is afraid to answer. He knows he can never count them.

"One? Two? Eight? Ten?"

"Five," he says. It is how old he is.

"Why did you eat them? Did you like how they tasted?"

He doesn't know the answer. He's never asked himself before. How they taste? They taste bitter; they almost sting him.

"Don't your parents feed you enough? Don't you like the food they give you?"

The questions continue and Marc nods his head to them, knowing only that his one pleasure has been stolen; he'll never have it again. Except … maybe if he's careful, while they're all playing gin rummy at the card table in the garden, when they're looking down at their hearts and spades; he could sneak away, into the house, the room…

The doctor is staring at him. Marc feels his face reddening. He wipes his nose with his sleeve. He'd like to cry now, but he won't, not in front of the doctor.

He is taken to a white room, told to lie down on a long bed with a machine over him. A light stares down at him, so hard and bright he wants to shut his eyes and never open them. He wonders what it's doing to him-is the machine changing him, making him never want to eat them again?

"You can sit up now," a voice tells him.

His mother and father are waiting for him. They look down, their eyes scanning his as they take him by the hand. He smiles hesitantly, his eyes full of doubt, as he looks up at them.



A few years later it happens. He feels it like the afternoon sun through the window. It warms him from his forehead to the soles of his feet, sits soft and glowing in his belly: something will happen to him. Something large, larger than himself, than his parents, than his sister even. It scares him some, but he knows he can do nothing to stop it. He won't try, but he won't encourage it either. It will happen anyway, no matter what he does.

He stores his secret. Even to think about it might hurry it somehow; he is in no hurry. He will wait as long as he needs to, even longer.

Sometimes he feels it in his stomach like things racing there. He remembers the ants he's eaten and wonders if any are still alive, squirming inside him. Is that what makes him feel funny? He eats something to stop the sensation, to slow the squirming; he chews on his shirt collar and bites his fingernails. He chews gum and then the wrapper; he eats his father's cough drops and searches the cupboard for chewable vitamins and aspirin. Most of all he likes the aspirin. He fumbles with the lid; his hands are shaking. Years later he will be looking through the spices in my cupboard for something to add to his omelet. He'll open the jar marked cardamom and the smell will remind him: it is the smell of children's aspirin. He'll put it in the omelet, the one he is making for me that I can't eat; the spices are overpowering. "But Caroline," he will say, "I made it for you," and the hurt in his voice, like that of a child's, will almost make me.



2.

He is sixteen when he meets Georges who is nine years older than he is. Georges is his tennis instructor. Marc hates his sculpted calves, his hard chin, the sand-colored hair in a V down his chest. He himself is thin, bony-kneed, a body like a bird's. And Georges is always picking on him. He corrects Marc more than anyone else, even though Frédéric has a serve that's much worse and Alain can't seem to hit the ball.

Once Marc sees Georges with his girlfriend coming out of a restaurant in St-Germain. He's dressed in a white sports jacket and his hair is slicked back. He nods at Marc, a sharp shake of his chin, but Marc pretends he hasn't seen him.

Sometimes on the court he feels Georges' eyes on him and everyone else disappears; there is only the space, a few feet, between them. Marc feels his heart beating too fast, trapped inside his rib cage. He fumbles for a cigarette.

"When are you going to give that up, Marc?" Georges asks and reaches for the pack, but Marc pulls back from him. There is a tennis ball at his foot; he picks it up and flings it at him. The ball catches Georges by surprise; it hits him on the chest where the cross hangs on its gold chain, but Marc doesn't see this; he's turned and started to run.

He hears his name being called but he won't look back. He leaves the lycée. He'll go home. But it's too early. He's still in his tennis clothes. He should go back to the gym. He doesn't want to run into anyone, doesn't want to be seen. He walks home, throwing stones as he goes.

"Fucked up asshole," he says to himself with each stone that hits the pavement. "Shit-face," as they skid under cars. He lights a cigarette, inhales deeply; his hands are shaking.

But the day comes when Georges dismisses the class, "Everyone can go now but Marc-Marc, I'd like to talk to you." Marc feels his face whiten, his heart thudding inside him. Surely the others know? What is Jean-Paul thinking when he looks back at him just as he's leaving the room? But they all leave. No one comes back to save him; no one tells him it doesn't have to happen.

"Marc…," Georges almost whispers his name. Georges, always so blunt and commanding, suddenly sounds gentle. But Marc can't look at him. He looks down at his feet instead. His legs are melting. There's nothing there to support him. He's falling, but Georges has stepped forward and catches him; Georges is holding onto him. Marc knows this is what he's both hated and wanted, but a larger sense of relief floods him, diluting his fear, as Georges hugs him harder.



Georges and Marc are inseparable after that. Georges has his own apartment and Marc spends evenings there and sometimes weekends, when Georges isn't with his girlfriend. His girlfriend must know about them, but she doesn't let on if she does.

They wake up together and drink coffee in bed and Marc introduces Georges to Lou Reed and cocaine and Georges says nothing about his constant smoking. They play tennis together. Vacations they go skiing in the Alps. The whole of St-Germain must know about them but Marc no longer cares. Georges does though. Maybe because he's older, maybe because he has a girlfriend. He gets angry at Marc when Marc takes his hand as they walk down the sidewalk, when Marc grabs his ass, when Marc makes a scene in a restaurant. Because Marc is always making scenes. A waiter who keeps removing plates before they've finished infuriates him.

"Why don't you take my underwear too while you're at it?" Marc says and then can't stop laughing.

Georges looks away from him. "You're such a child."

"Just how you like them," Marc says and Georges throws his napkin on the table and walks away. But Marc has no money. Georges comes back to pay for the dinner, walks out again.

"I don't give a shit," Marc says aloud. He eats slowly. He can't finish the veal. The waiter avoids him. He leaves the restaurant. He looks for Georges' sports car. It's not there of course. Marc decides to walk to his apartment. He'll apologize. But not again. He's sick of having to apologize. For what? It's not his fault Georges cares so much about appearances. Marc cares only about Georges and himself, and sometimes his sister Murielle, sometimes his mother.

He has a limited amount of caring. Later it will be only for me and himself, he'll tell me that: "You're the only one I care about, Caroline, the only one I love," and for a long time I'll believe him.



3.

It's his parents' 25th anniversary. His grandparents, all the relatives are there. He and Murielle have finished the punch bowl. They get high in her bedroom. "I'm gay," he tells her and she says, "I know."

"Do Mom and Dad know?"

"No, but I'm sure they're wondering."

"Well I don't want them wondering. I'm going to tell them. I'm telling them right now," he says, getting up off the bed, checking the mirror before he leaves the room.

"You can't do that! You're crazy-mais tu es fou!"

But Marc is already on his way to the living room.

"I have an announcement to make! Quiet everyone!" He sees his parents exchange glances.

"Well, let's hear it!" his uncle says, "I'm all for announcements."

Murielle is holding onto his arm, "Don't do it!" she whispers.

"Leave me alone," he says, shaking her off him. "Listen, everyone…"

"Well, out with it," his father says.

Marc takes a deep breath, "I'm a fag! " And then in a louder voice, a voice that screeches out of him, "Je suis pédéeee. I'm queeerrr!"

No one says anything for a moment and Marc goes to the punch bowl for a glass. His mother blocks him. "How can you say that? Apologize! I demand an apology! Here, in front of everyone!"

He tries to get around her and hears his grandfather's deep voice, "Well, so much for the family lineage…."

"How can you do this, and on our anniversary?" his mother continues, while his father, drunker than Marc, eyes him coldly.

"He was always a difficult child," his grandmother is saying, "and the only boy in the family…."

"I don't give a shit!" he shouts and feels the room reel, spinning under him.

That's all he remembers from the party. At some point he calls Georges and the phone seems as if it will never stop ringing. At last Georges answers.

"I told them, I told them about us."

"You what? You-to who?"

"I told my family I'm a fag!" Marc shouts into the phone, and Georges says, "Boy, you've really lost it," and hangs up on him.

It's never mentioned by his family. Sometimes Marc wonders if it really happened, but he can remember the room right before he spoke, how it felt to have everyone watching him, waiting for what he would tell them, how for a moment the whole world was under his spell. And Georges forgave him even if his parents never really did. He and Georges have laughed about it since. Even now they think it's the funniest thing he's ever done, wonder how he ever found the courage, though courage is also stupidity, Georges has said.



4.

Georges is going to get married. He hasn't said so, but his friend Pierre let it slip, on purpose probably. But Georges himself says nothing. Sometimes when they're alone together, eating in a restaurant, Marc can see Georges wants to tell him. He watches Georges clear his throat, fiddle with his napkin, and waits. He pours more wine for both of them. Georges brings the wineglass to his lips, puts it down again. It's coming now, Marc thinks.

"You know Marc, I was thinking, we could spend a weekend in Paris. We could go to a rock concert."

"Sure, when?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe next weekend…."

Georges is stalling. They go to Paris, buy more records, crash out in a friend's apartment. Marc snorts heroin at a party. He's sick the next day; he collapses on the sidewalk. Georges carries him upstairs to the apartment. He changes Marc's clothes and lies beside him while he sleeps. Every few hours he takes Marc's temperature and rubs his sweat-soaked body with alcohol.

"Marc, I was so scared. You could've died…," Georges says when Marc finally opens his eyes.

Marc smiles at him. "So what if I did?"

Georges stares at him.

"Georges, don't leave me," Marc says, and Georges buries his face in Marc's body.



Marc wonders if Georges hasn't changed his mind, if maybe Pierre didn't make it up after all.

One Sunday they're driving back from a tennis club. All day Georges hasn't said much of anything. He keeps his eyes on the road and only says "yes" or "no" to Marc's questions.

"It's really a thrill to be with you," Marc says finally. "You're so communicative, there's so much to talk about."

"There is something to talk about," Georges lets out in a tight voice. "There's something I have to tell you."

Marc waits and hears, "In August I'm getting married."

"I know," Marc says.

Georges stares at him, "You know? How long have you known?"

"About four months."

"Who told you?"

"Pierre did."

"So you've known all along, you've sat there knowing and knowing, just waiting for me to tell you-"

"More or less," Marc says.

Georges pulls off the road. He looks over at Marc who returns his gaze. Marc feels the old hatred surge up inside him and he wants to hit Georges, to pound him on the chest, to cry out at him.

Georges reaches past him to open the door. "Get out. I don't want to see you anymore."

"Whatever you say," Marc says, hesitating for only a second before stepping out of the car and onto the side of the road. Georges drives off, pulling the door shut as he goes.

Marc picks up a rock and hurls it. "Fucked-up asshole," he says. A car passes him before he thinks to stick out his thumb. And then he sees Georges' white sports car coming toward him. It makes a U-turn and pulls up beside him.

"C'mon, get in. I'll drive you home."

"No way."

"Marc … I'm sorry." Marc sees that his eyes are red. "Just get in the car, don't make it hard for me."

"I'd rather walk," he says. "Anyway, you're getting married, remember?" He slams the door which Georges has opened for him and walks away. He waits for the sound of Georges' car behind him and doesn't hear it for a long time, and when he sees it drive by, it's only a white blur disappearing.



He doesn't talk to Georges again. Once he is sitting on the balcony of a café with Murielle when they see him. They stand at the rail to watch him. He looks older, thinner.

"Why don't you talk to him?" Murielle asks.

"He's a jerk, you don't understand," he says. He lights a cigarette, smokes it quickly.

They sit down to eat but the sight of the soup makes Marc feel sick. Murielle is saying something to him. He lights another cigarette and chews on his thumbnail.

"Let's go now," he says.

"But I haven't finished. We haven't gotten our main course yet."

"I don't care. The food sucks. I'm getting out of here." He leaves her in the restaurant.

He walks as far as the field at the edge of St-Germain. He sits down to smoke a joint. He wonders why he's still living if everything he's waited all his life for has already happened.



5.

"How long have you been shooting heroin?" the doctor asks.

"What?" Marc says, "I've never shot myself up with anything."

"How many times?" the doctor insists.

Marc remembers a different doctor. "How many did you eat?" How many had he said? Five? Six? But there had been hundreds.

"You don't know? Too many to count? You can't remember?"

"I told you," he says. "I'm not an addict."

The doctor writes something down on his clipboard.

"What are you writing?"

The doctor doesn't answer him.

"I'm a queer, not an addict-why don't you write that? Why aren't you writing it? Write it down: first-class queer!"

The doctor is eyeing him.

"Go on! What are you waiting for?" Marc shouts at him. He sinks back into the pillow. He's breathing hard; his face is red. He closes his eyes. He thinks he hears the doctor scribbling madly on his clipboard, before sleep overcomes him.



He learns from Murielle that Georges also has it: Hepatitis, Type B-drug addicts and homosexuals. The only two cases in the history of St-Germain. Marc smiles to himself. "My wedding present to you, Georges," he thinks. In some way it marries Georges to him.

But the doctor insists Marc is an addict.

"I've never shot myself up with anything!" Marc tells his parents, but he can see they don't believe him. Even Murielle seems doubtful. Why? Because Georges is going to be married? Because they can't imagine men fucking? Who are they trying to save?

He gets lectures from his mother, "It's all those drugs, they've changed you, you're hardly like the son I've known, not my son…."

"Well, you're not like my mother," he says.

She ignores this. "God will forgive you. God will set you on the right path again." She takes his hand. "I'm praying for you," she says.



He gives up trying to defend himself. He's weak; he's lost twenty pounds already. He doesn't care anymore. "I hope I die," he says.

Murielle asks what she can bring him. He asks for books by William Burroughs and Yukio Mishima. She brings him a Walkman; he listens to Serge Gainsbourg and Lou Reed. The songs depress him. There is one, "My Friend George;" it was their song. I knew George since he was eight/ I always thought that he was great/ And everything that George would do/ You know that I would do it too…. He stops the song, buries his head in the pillow.



6.

He hears about Georges' marriage: Georges looking barely recovered, pale, too thin. His sister says she's seen him. He looks awful. Good, Marc thinks. But he can't stop remembering…. He feels confined in this house, this town; everything tastes bitter to him.

Murielle is going to marry her boyfriend. Marc refuses to go to the wedding, saying he isn't well enough. He gets another lecture from his mother. His father avoids him. He wants him out of the house, his mother has said.



He sees Georges once more. He's walking on the other side of the street in the opposite direction. He has a new haircut but his sweater is the one he always wore. He catches Marc's eye and crosses the street toward him. Marc waits, his heart beating up into his throat. He lights a cigarette, tells himself to keep on walking. But he doesn't move. He wants to hear him say it: it was all a mistake…. He wants to hear him say it, even though it's too late. A car passes between them and Georges steps back to let it go by. Coward, Marc thinks, and turns and walks away from him.

"Marc!" Georges calls out and Marc glances back, but he can see Georges has nothing to say to him. He walks faster, flinging his cigarette as he goes and Georges doesn't call out again. Someone told him that Georges' wife is pregnant. Well, now he's got everything.

He doesn't see Georges again. The baby is a boy. He'll tell me they name him Marc, but a moment later he'll deny it.



7.

It's a city no one knows him in. There's an ocean to separate him from France, Georges, his family. He has a room in a small hotel in the Centro, a place for prostitutes, he thinks. He can imagine Burroughs staying in such a room; it reminds him of the room where Lee of Queer lived. During the day he wanders around. He doesn't know Spanish. He eats in American-style restaurants, where he can look at the pictures and know what he's ordering. He learns some Spanish from studying the menus.

The Vips on the corner of Reforma and Florencia, he's noticed, is favored by gay men. He likes to watch them: Mexican men with skin the color of café au lait, neat moustaches, tight buttocks. They probably go home to wives and children. One of the men catches Marc staring at him, gives Marc a wink, but Marc looks away from him, feels his face burning. The faggot, he thinks.

In the Librairie Française he meets Valerie: tall, blue-eyed with short blond hair and just as new to Mexico; Marc falls in love with her. "You're like a brother," she tells him. "We're like family, why do you want to change that?" He wonders if it's because she's taller than he is, because she finds him feminine. He's not feminine; he's more a man than the rest of them. He wants desperately to make love to her. He's only done it once with a girl and that was when he was much younger. He has to know if he likes it. But Valerie refuses and Marc knows he'll lose her if he keeps asking. And then Valerie tells him her friend Etienne will be visiting on his way down to South America. Marc stops by the bookstore to meet him but Etienne hasn't shown up yet. In the evening Marc goes to Vips.

He orders what he always does; the waitress knows him now. He finishes his soup and looks up to see a man watching him. He's young, maybe thirty, with dark curly hair and a pair of glacier glasses on a string round his neck. He looks French. Marc picks apart a piece of bread and looks away from him. When he looks back the man still has his eyes on him. He knows, Marc thinks. But I'm not anymore, I'm not queer. His heart is beating too quickly. He feels sick; he can't finish the enchiladas the waitress has brought him. He puts some money on the table, takes his coat and leaves the restaurant.

He walks quickly down Reforma, takes a right on a side street, looking back once as he does. The man with the glacier glasses is there; he's following him. Marc walks faster. What does he want from him? Go away, he says as he walks, Get the hell away from me. He turns down a dark street; the street is lined with prostitutes. The man is still half a block behind him. Marc is afraid to go to his hotel; he doesn't want the man to know where he lives. But where else to go? A girl with big tits and a face with too much lipstick is staring at him. "¿Quieres?" she asks, leaning into him. He nods. She takes him by the arm, and Marc looks back once at the man to see him staring after him. He thinks he sees his mouth curling up in a grin.

Marc can't do it with the woman. Her mammoth breasts and her smell, pungent and salty, make him feel like vomiting. She jerks him off. He pays her; it's cheaper than dinner anyway.

In the night he wakes up sweating. He sees the man: his face was beautiful, dark and finely chiseled.

Valerie introduces him to Etienne the next day, a man with dark curly hair and glacier glasses. Marc takes one look at him and leaves the bookstore. Valerie runs after him.

"What's going on?" she asks.

Marc stares at her. Why couldn't she have loved him? "Just tell your friend to shove it up his homosexual ass," he says.



8.

If she knew his feelings for her, if he could tell her, it might be different between them. One night he decides to find her. He's wasted on coke and tequila and other things he can't remember. Valerie won't come to the door. Marc keeps on ringing. He leans against the bell so he doesn't have to keep on pressing it. At last she appears. She's in a red bathrobe. "You're beautiful," Marc says. He tries to kiss her. She draws back from him. He stumbles past her and slumps down on her couch. "Come here, mon amour," he says. She does at last but he's passed out by then.

She arranges his body so he can sleep and finds a flask of tequila in one pocket, a bottle of barbiturates in the other. She decides to make an appointment for him. She asks around; someone recommends a doctor in the south of the city. When he comes to, she drives him there. "His name is Dr. De Ovando," she says. "In 3F. Knock on the door, he's expecting you. I'll be waiting for you here."

Marc goes to the building she's pointed out to him. He climbs the stairs, stops at the apartment on the third floor. There's a plaque above the number. "Dr. De Ovando," he reads, "Psychiatrist. University of Mexico."

He takes the stairs down two at a time. "He's not a doctor-he's a fucking shrink!" He can't wait to give her a piece of his mind-he's ready to kick her car in. But the car isn't there.

He starts walking. He walks for blocks and blocks-where are the buses and taxis? There's dust and it swirls up with the wind. He feels it sting his eyes and settle on his clothes. Where is he? It was all a trick; she tricked him. He knows he won't forgive her. He walks blindly down streets he's never seen before. People are staring at him. He doesn't see them, doesn't see the group of children who stop to watch him as he swears in French, "The cunt, the little bitch…." He doesn't notice them but sees a rose at his foot, single and half-trampled-it's lost the stem-and he picks it up, fingering the petals absent-mindedly. A petal falls off and he puts it in his mouth and chews on it. "Is he going to swallow it?" one of the children asks and his brother nods, still staring at him, "Yes, he's eating it. He's eating a rose!" But Marc doesn't hear them. "In the end she's just like the rest of them," he says, crushing the rose in his hand as he does. They've all deserted him, every last one.



9.

He knows she's different from the rest of them. He decides this from the first, when he notices her at the Alliance where he gives French classes and then keeps running into her. He sees it when he invites her for coffee and learns that her birthday is the same as someone else's. "Who?" she asks, but he shakes his head. "Someone else I loved…." "Then you're saying you love me?" and he says it in French to her, "Oui, je t'aime." She smiles at him, "You're joking of course," she says, but her eyes tell him she believes him.

He sees it when he speaks to her, the way she listens to what he says: that his girlfriend has just left him, that he's living in Burroughs' old apartment.

"This is where he did a William Tell number on his wife, you know, with a glass of gin on her head," he says, when she first visits his room.

"It is…?" she asks, looking around at all the furnishings.

"Yes, he misses the glass-BAF! He shoots her instead."

"Are you sure?" she says, and if she believes it's true, it's because by now he himself does.

Later, after cigarettes and tequila (he drinks what she can't finish), they tumble onto the couch, their legs, arms, mouths entangled, all a tangle in the pillows and magazines and ashes from an ashtray that spilled. In the bedroom they turn away from each other to undress and then she's under him, belly white and expectant, and he watches her face to avoid looking at the rest of her, and when he comes, he does it shuddering down into darkness.



He opens his eyes to find her lying on her stomach, looking not at him, but at something small and black crawling near the bed. She takes it between her forefingers and squishes it dead.

"You have ants," she says.

He stares at her. "They weren't here before," he says.

"No?" she asks.

He's looking at her still and she returns his gaze, as if she knows he has something to say and she's waiting, and she isn't going to interrupt him when he does.