DicksonCover

Yazoo Clay
Schuyler Dickson

Tartt First Fiction Award
Synopsis:

 

 

Deep south stories that are character driven, often humorous, often thought provoking, and at the same time, often daring in their form.

 

 

 

 


ISBN: 978-1-60489-321-2, trade paper, $18.95

ISBN: 978-1-60489-322-9, Hard Cover, $29.95

Binding
 
About the Author:

Schuyler Dickson is a writer and regenerative farmer. He earned a BA in Southern Studies from Ole Miss and his MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern, where he won the Distinguished Thesis Award. His work has been long listed for the Dzanc Fiction Award, placed third in the Larry Brown Short Story Award, and won the Tartt First Fiction Award. His stories have appeared in JMWW, Split Lip Magazine, PANK, and New World Writing, among others. He lives with his wife and children in Houlka, MS, and can be found at schuylerdickson.com

 

  Exerpt:
  HAPPY BIRTHDAY
 

 

Before the rain came, Clyde drove to the bridge and fished. He cast three lines and leaned the poles up against the concrete railing and sat on the back of his tailgate, watching the lines and reading the graffiti and listening to the cows in the pasture nearby.
It had been raining almost every day, and each afternoon he’d come home with buckets full of catfish that he would clean and cut into filets and drop into gallon-sized plastic bags that he would store in the freezer in the kitchen. It got to where his freezer would hardly close it was so packed with fish.
On Sundays—after working all night at the furniture plant where he swept floors and emptied trashcans—Clyde fished all morning and slept all afternoon. He woke up in the evening and drank a beer and heated a couple of inches of oil in a big pan and he fried catfish and hush puppies and French fries. He and his daughter, Becca, ate and watched the rain fall in big drops and pool in the yard in puddles that rose and rose.
Becca was always on her phone unless she hit her data limit, and then she would sulk around the house or read a magazine and breathe out the loudest, boredest sigh anyone had ever heard. She was thirteen.
“I’ve got to get out of this house,” she said, lying sideways across the chair.
“Unless you got a boat,” Clyde said, “you ain’t going nowhere. The water’s up over the road. Almost up to the mailbox. Even if you’re a piece of mail you’re not going nowhere.”
“Ugh,” she said. “This is so stupid.”
His daughter was starting to become a mystery to him. Every month, she changed into a different being: new clothes that he hadn’t bought, shinier, smaller. She spent untold hours poking her lips out at her phone and taking pictures of herself, only to edit the picture so much that the picture looked like a stranger. He loved her, and the way he tried to express his love was by trying not to control her. By leaving her alone.
Outside, the wind began to bend the limbs of the tall trees, sweeping leaves and dust in clouds across the ground. The power flickered and went out. Clyde put on his raincoat and stepped out into the storm and got a small generator from the shed. He dragged the generator inside and started it with a little trouble and plugged the freezer and refrigerator in.
“Can’t I plug in my phone?” Becca said.
“You can’t eat your phone,” he said as the trailer swayed in the heavy wind. Keeping the freezer going meant he would always have food, and always having food meant that, no matter what, he would never be wholly subject to another man. Nothing could touch him. “Here.” He took his phone and propped it against a half-empty beer can on the coffee table. “We can watch the news if you want.”
“No one watches the news,” she said.
On his small screen, a meteorologist stood in his suit and his suspenders and pointed at a green mass as it swept across the area. Yellow circles swarmed and swirled around notches of the storm where wind speeds and cones stretched out among cartoon-like lightning bolts.
Clyde fell asleep watching. He woke at noon the next day and plugged the coffee maker into the generator and as the coffee dripped he looked out the window above the kitchen sink where, outside, the water had risen. The whole road was flooded. The pasture across the road, too. Cows stood huddled on a small hill.
“Becca,” he said, thinking to wake her up to show her the cows. She always got a kick out of the cows. “Becca,” he said again, but she wasn’t on the couch.
Her phone was sitting on the table.
He walked down the small, dark hallway and pushed open her cracked door. “Hey, Becca,” he said. “Check out them cows.”
But she wasn’t in her bed. He opened the curtains and gray light spilled in. The bed was empty.
The bathroom was empty, too.
He looked back out the window above the kitchen sink. His truck was there. She hadn’t stolen it. Water was over halfway up the tires.
He drank coffee with the windows open until the coffee was gone, and then he made another pot. By afternoon, the sun came out, and all Clyde could hear was the stillness of the wind rippling across the water. His heart thumped as he tried to imagine Becca swimming away. Where would she go? Where was there to go?
There, in the quiet, Clyde felt the roaring, gurgling flood of his insides. It was always there—something to be embarrassed about, like walking around with a bone protruding out of an arm or a hook sticking out of his mouth—and if he sat around too long without casting a line or running his floor sweeper, it would feel as if the current of rage and disappointment would consume not just him but his house and his life and all the known world.
To distract himself, he considered that Becca had been abducted by aliens. He had to admit that it was possible. And maybe as a way to distance himself from the dark images that popped up in his mind when he thought about where she might be, maybe as a way to deal with solitude, he did what he trained himself to do to keep the dark whirlpool from eating him whole: he constructed fantasies.

First, if she were to be abducted by aliens, he would be upset, worried about Becca’s safety. Was she terrified? Did the aliens administer something to her that made her freeze, emotionally and physically, and did the inability to feel pain or express terror somehow amplify the pain and terror by silencing their ability to be expressed? And after that had passed—the worry for her—what was he to do with the jealousy that aliens had chosen to take her and not him?
And, further, why was it that some beings abduct and some beings possess? And how often did beings get both abducted and possessed? Like for instance Clyde’s spirit: maybe his spirit was abducted and in its place the turning whirlpool of anger and rage had possessed him? But wasn’t the whole point of possession to whisper directives?
Not one directive had ever been whispered to Clyde. No direction, no order. No alien whispers or tracking devices. Only the swirling and the skin.
His phone rang. His manager, Mark, was calling.
“Yeah,” Clyde said.
“Clyde?” Mark said as if anyone else had ever answered Clyde’s phone but Clyde.
“Yeah.”
“You staying dry?”
Clyde looked at the window at the water. “Mostly.”
“Look, man. You been by the factory today?”
“There’s water up over my tires. There’s no going nowhere.”

“The factory’s flooded. All this rain, man. It’s everywhere.”
“You need me to come clean it.”
“I mean it’s flooded flooded. The machines, man. We haven’t gotten a damage assessment but the whole damn place is wet. Like wet wet.”
“Oh. Wow.”
“Yeah. I mean, we’ll know more I guess once the water recedes and all that. But there ain’t no making furniture in a flooded factory. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah. I know what you mean.”
“We’re not gonna be working for a while, I guess is what I’m trying to say. I’m not sure if it’s ever going to open back up. You get what I’m saying?”
“Yeah.”
“I’m sorry, man.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Hey, bud. You okay?”
He looked out at the water again. It was just sitting there. “Yeah, I’m fine. Are you fine?”
Mark laughed. “Don’t you worry about me, buddy. Look, I’ll holler at you later once we get more news. I’ve got a bunch more phone calls to make.”
“Yeah. Okay.”
“You go down to the bridge yesterday morning?”
“Yeah.”

“You catch anything?”
“I caught some, yeah. I’m running out of room in my freezer.”
Mark laughed again. “That a boy. Let me make these calls. I’ll holler at you later.”
“Okay.”
He hung up the phone and imagined the factory under water. How strange it must look, how beautiful.
Two contradictory emotions began to swirl in him. The first was freedom. Clyde was pretty sure that he didn’t have a job anymore. He liked having a job, liked having something to do, liked having a paycheck coming in, but he didn’t like the hierarchy of having someone over him. And now, without a job, he was without a hierarchy. That felt like freedom.
The second was dread. He needed money. Maybe he didn’t need gas, because nowhere was really worth going to. Beer was nice but he had done without it before. He could catch his own food from the creek. He heard the generator whirring. He needed money to keep the freezer running. He needed money to keep Becca’s phone on. That was important to her.
He picked up her dead phone and found a charger and plugged the phone and charger into the generator. He wished she were here. For some reason, he had the urge to take her to the factory so they could see what it looked like with all that water inside.
As her phone juiced, a hundred notifications flashed across the cracked screen. Messages, social media likes. He couldn’t read any of them, not unless he entered her password.
He didn’t know her password. It was important to him that he didn’t know her password. He could probably guess it, but that felt to him like a betrayal of trust.
God, the notifications kept coming in. They didn’t stop. They scrolled and scrolled. Name after name whisked by. And in each name, 69 and 420. 69. 420.
He imagined a great cloud of smoke being inhaled and exhaled, from one person’s body into another’s, the breathing in and out.
No, he wouldn’t guess her password.
He set the phone down to rumble on top of the generator. At some point, he said to himself, that generator’s going to run out of gas.
He should call Leah, Becca’s mom. Maybe Leah came by in the storm and picked Becca up. Maybe they were all sitting together eating pancakes.
He picked up his phone and the thought occurred to him: just because the furniture factory closed didn’t mean the building would close. Maybe another business would move in; maybe another business would be looking to keep somebody on who knew the building. Somebody like him. Maybe the other business wouldn’t give him a boss. They would just leave him alone and tell him to clean. It’d be the type of place that needed to be really clean. Scientists would work there. Partitions and doors would be installed on the factory floor. All of the doors would have electronic locks, and he’d have a keycard that opened each one.
There, Clyde would clean and pick up bits of information as he did. Inside the new factory, there would be one room, right in the center, and in that room would be a giant computer. Different colored lights would flash on its interface. One scientist would be in charge of that room, and that scientist would be the head scientist. He would have a pointy beard that he would constantly tug on. He would be frustrated because the computer wasn’t doing what the scientist wanted it to do.
Clyde would go into the room where the computer and the scientist were, and the scientist would be sitting against the far wall in the dark, staring at all the blinking lights. Clyde would squat down and pick up the trashcan that was filled with vending machine food wrappers and energy drinks and dump the small trashcan into the big rolling trashcan he dragged with him.
“I just want it to talk,” the scientist would say to him. “Why won’t it speak to me?”
Clyde would smile and say, “Maybe it don’t got much to say.”
Wanting to say, maybe it’s afraid because it has too much inside it, maybe like all the world with all its history and all its feelings is swirling in there. Like his daughter’s phone: buzzing, constantly.
He was worried for her. He picked up the phone and tried to guess the password. He tried her birthday first, 0918. Then he tried 1234.
Surely not, he thought, and then tried 6969, glad that the screen didn’t open.
0420. No.
1111.
The screen locked itself for five minutes.
Fuck it, he thought, and he called Leah, Becca’s mom.
She answered on the fourth ring. He had woken her up.
“Long night?” he asked.
“Kind of,” she said. “Rodney’s band was playing at the Blue Canoe.” Rodney was her new boyfriend. He played drums in a country metal band called The Grazers. He had long black hair and played with black lipstick and these long black drumsticks that seemed to Clyde—but only to Clyde for some reason—like he was trying too damn hard. “They were so fucking good. They were so fucking loud and everybody there was just out of their bodies and minds the whole damn time.” This, he could tell, was not meant for him. She was staring at Rodney while she said it, he knew. “What do you want?”
He swallowed. “Nothing. Is it flooding near you?”
“You called me to ask if it’s flooding.”
“I was just wondering about the flooding. It wasn’t the reason.”
“I ain’t opened the blinds yet.”
He heard another voice next to her. Rodney’s voice. Them sleeping in the same bed used to drive him crazy. Now, he didn’t care.

A person could get used to pretty much anything, he supposed.
“All right,” he said. “You don’t got to open them. I’ll let you get back to sleep.”
“How’s Becca doing?” she said.
“Good,” he lied. Her phone was lighting up. “She’s doing good. On her phone like always.”
“Let me talk to her.”
He froze. “Becca,” he called. “Hey Becca.” He held the phone against his chest. “She’s in the bathroom,” he said. “I’ll tell her to call you when she gets out.”
She paused. “Alright,” she said.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll let you get back to sleep.” He hung up.
He heard the silence of the water lapping against the trees. It was still, as if a great energy was waiting below to snatch down what floated by.
It was too quiet. The generator, he realized, had cut off. All he heard was the flies buzzing and tapping against his freezer. He opened the gas tank and peered inside, cutting the flashlight of his phone on to see down the tank. The gas tank was dry.
He didn’t know how long until the freezer would unfreeze.
He could suck out the gas from the tank in his truck, but then he wouldn’t be able to go anywhere once the water went away.
He might need to go somewhere. Like to work. Big, secret science companies would probably move pretty fast. Hell, they might even be at the factory now, figuring out how to get all of the furniture
and scrap wood out. Tearing the roof off with silent black helicopters, sucking out the water with vacuum tubes, lowering the computer in with straps. They would need him soon. Shit piled up fast.