a short story by Patrick O'Leary
So my wife is typing at the computer and I'm reading Vachss and she says, "How do you spell Wednesday?"
She's staring at the screen like it's talking Finnish.
I laugh cause I know what she means. "Wed-Nes-Day."
"That's what I wrote. That can't be right."
"It looks weird."
"Are you sure? That's how you spell it?"
"Yup. I know. I've felt exactly that way."
Beep. "Well, the spellcheck says that's right."
"It's right," I say. "You know what's really funny? What part of your mind is having a hard time with it? I mean, you must have read it, seen it, said it a million times."
"But that's not how we say it. We say--"
"Right. That's the problem. The verbal side of your brain is saying 'That's not the way I say it.'" I think about it. "It is seeing the opposite of what it says. The 'd' never comes before the 'n' when you say it. It's hearing it as backward."
"Hmmm. You're right."
I wonder if there are lots of things like that. Things we got backward which we don't even know.
Like the first time I kissed her. It was a dark and we were leaning against the cold concrete of a Catholic church. No, that was later. I mean, that was where I asked her to marry me. And then we went to a restaurant and had fish and chips and I knew the waitress and we were so giddy she knew something was going on and we had to tell her, had to share our joy. "We're engaged," we said, or she said, I said. I don't remember. But, later in the parking lot I kissed her. For the first time. I remember that. A good hour or so after I had asked her to marry me, I kissed her.
"You were virgins when you got married?" my friend asked.
"But you hadn't had sex."
"Not with each other. Not officially."
"What's that mean?"
"Use your goddamn imagination."
After a minute he said, "You fooled around...but you never...?"
"We were kinda religious," I explain.
"You got married before you had sex? That's pretty backwards."
I grunt a laugh and say, "You think that's backwards...Let me tell you about out first kiss."
Which has something to do with my idea of time. I think time is a mystery but in my clearer moments I believe time runs backwards. That's why we're not surprised by life. We've been there before.
Five years ago I was fooling with changing my middle name. God knows why. It's Gabriel. It remains Gabriel for reasons of lethargy more than anything. I don't think names are that important
But anyway I was thinking of changing my middle name to "Glynn", my mother's maiden name. Neat. Easy. Same middle initial. It seemed a good idea at the time. Keep my mom's name in the family. My dad was dead at this time. So I was having a cigarette with my mom and I told her my plan. She was tickled as they say pink. I was pleased.
Then in one of those weird backwards moments my body did one of those dizzy things. Like when you get up too fast and all the blood rushes to your toes and, for a second you reel. I'm standing there on a sunny fall afternoon, talking to my mom about middle names when I realize for the first time in my 43 years that I don't actually have a middle name.
See my middle name is my confirmation name. I was raised Catholic and it's sort of a right of passage like, Baptism, and Communion--when you're confirmed, the Bishop comes and lays two cold candles against your cheeks, blesses you with words I forget then he slaps you. I'm not making this up, he actually slaps you. I remember that even though I've never actually understood what confirmation is.
Anyway, when you're confirmed you get to choose a "confirmation name." I was in third grade. I chose "Fabian." He was a big star at the time and though he couldn't sing worth a damn he had a hit called "Like a Tiger" and he was handsome in that pre-Beatle Post-Elvis mode like Bobby Darin, and Bobby Rydell and Ricky Nelson and any number of squeaky clean rock stars before the Brits invaded and drugs. I think I saw him on TV and was struck by how the girls screamed. So my confirmation name was going to be "Fabian." But before I was confirmed we moved and I was spared that. A few years later I chose "Gabriel." The angel at the Annunciation of Mary. The one who tells her you're carrying a god fetus.
Back to my mom and me smoking in the warm autumn sunlight. I'm dizzy because I realize that I don't have a middle name. But everyone has one, don't they?
"Mom?" I ask, "How come you never gave middle names to us kids?"
"What are you talking about?"
I run through my sibling's names. "Michael John. Katherine Mary. Dennis James. Kerry Anne. Rachel Mary. Martin Dennis." I notice that none of their names are as odd as Gabriel. I start to feel a tingle in my throat as if I had just urped a seven up.
"They all got middle names," my Mom says, a mischievous look on her face.
"Why on earth?"
"Well," she exhales a long puff of smoke. "When you were born I wanted your middle name to be Glynn. Your father would have none of it. Absolutely refused. So I got real mad and said, "Fine then! He won't have any middle name!"
Did you get that? I had spontaneously decided to choose the middle name my mother wanted for me 43 years before. She had never told me about this until that day.
Those aren't even near the weirdest things that have happened to me. You know how I got to see the Grand Canyon? I got lost. Took a wrong turn and went hours out of my way and me and my friend are standing before the biggest damn hole in the ground. It gave me a whole new definition of "down."
This is the part where I type something neat and meaningful that ties all this together.
I hate those parts.
I'd rather type Wednesday. Or give someone my name. Or ask someone to marry me. And give them our first kiss.
Patrick G. O'Leary 5/26/00
Patrick O'Leary is the author
of two novels. Door Number Three ("One of the best SF novels of 1995"
Publisher's Weekly) and The Gift (finalist for the
1998 World Fantasy Award Best Novel). His stories have appeared in
Talebones magazine and his collection Other Voices, Other Doors
is published by Fairwood Press this year. His poetry has appeared in Literary
Magazines across North America. His non-fiction has appeared in Crawdaddy
and The New York Review of Science Fiction. He appears at Patrick
O'Leary's Home Page.
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