The Whole World Is Watching
    Jo Neace Krause
In October, with fallen leaves three feet deep over the town, Wiladean turned ninety. We gave her a nice birthday party with a flaming cake, expecting beyond expectation that perhaps this time she would finally say something pleasant to us. For she owned such a fortune. But alas, it was not to be. Once we were all seated and silent with our eyes on our little bird-like auntie, balanced in a large chair under her feathered hat, she said in a matter of fact voice that none of our lives meant anything. Not a thing. And that old age (if we really wanted to know) was something like eating shit with a splinter. Nobody knew us, so if the whole family had never been born what difference would it have made?

“It’s not supposed to make any difference. Not that I can see,” Bonnie Jean said, very carefully taking to her lips a spoonful of ice cream as if it were on a splinter. “Being famous, if that’s what you mean, Auntie, is a very abnormal condition. I’m just glad I’m normal, that’s all.”

“Normal?” the old dear said with her lipstick-red mouth turned down in a scoff. That’s the way she is, negative, negative. Everything negative. Being old has nothing to do with it. She’s always been that way, just snotty to the last breath. She goes down here to this Methodist church where she keeps them all mad and fighting each other half the time. Spreading stories about us to them. That our family burned books during the anti-German wave in l9l4. Or that an uncle who was crazy killed his dachshunds because they were German. As if it all happened just last week, too, and no one should speak to us. Its things like that! But what can you do?

Goes right on talking as if people didn’t come and tell us every word that falls out of her mouth. Not that she has to go anywhere to talk. She talks right now, openly, like we’re not even in the same room listening! About me, for example. Joanne. Her dead sister’s only daughter: That Joanne. Sandy’s daughter. I tell you when she walked into that church with her hair pulled back from her face like that, and those two little eyebrows painted on, well, I’ve never been so ashamed of another human being in my whole life. How can she just let herself go like that? You’d think she would know by now what being ugly will do for a woman. The whole world is watching us all. Even Bonnie knows that. She’s getting up there, too. Forty something. And she’ll never make it in real estate with that hair and those big ugly capped teeth. I know she’s been to college, but when you add up her other problems you’ll see she’ll have to go further than college to get herself a man.

So, that’s me. Now you know all about me. The one who will never make it, who’ll never get a man and I sure in hell don’t grieve over it. Although she’s got me trapped worse than any man might.. Sticking her big bank account under my nose as if I’m ready to take off with it in my mouth like a rat with a Master Card. So I take care of her. She never married either. But, oh, you should hear her talk about the men who wanted her! That’s what I’m here for, to listen to that.

We live together since my mother’s death, in her old house with the long drafty hallways laid with worn oriental rugs and rife with that Evening In Paris perfume she has kept since World War II. Cobalt blue bottle. She must have a little put on her clothes each evening, after I do her hair, part it in the middle, then do the braids and wrap them around her head.

We have dinner at seven, right after the news, which always disgusts her, and has her sneering right through desert and tea. After the meal and dishes we go in to the computer. That’s when it all changes, that’s when science does what God couldn’t, for it’s the only time any happiness descends. I knew she would love the computer, and it’s her money that bought it, but I dare not mention such a thing. I knew Wiladean must think of everything herself. She must never be told what she wants or needs. That’s for her to say. So one day I began to feel her shadow falling across the screen as I sat there on the chats.

“Its just typing.” she said. “If you can learn it I can learn it.”

I showed her a few things since she asked. How to begin, how to turn it off, and she was quick really, her mind has not changed much in twenty years. I knew she had been a whiz at typing. “I won the prize in speed,” she reminded me. “Boy, that burned certain jealous-hearted people to a crisp.” she laughed, showing her small natural teeth, which she cares for really well, brushing and polishing like priceless china. “But now my fingers are stiff.”

“Soak’em.” I said. ”Go in there to the sink and soak’em in hot water. Then we’ll cut the tips out of a pair of gloves. Put them on and that will keep them warm and limber.”

So each morning now she soaks her hands before she begins, confident and arrogant as a surgeon getting ready to cut something open. Once she discovered the chats she was fascinated to the bone and couldn’t get enough. And the message boards, on which a person can say exactly what one wants when one wants to say it, is a great thing for someone like Wiladean who can’t hold back a thought. So great that even a little light of gratitude has crept into her if... as if brilliant people knew exactly what she needed and invented it. Gave her the magic she had always been seeking. Pure magic. Neither of us had much respect for science before. Those builders of neutron bombs, atom smashers and the like. Not until the computer did we see what science could do for the human race. It silenced it. Never did we realize how irritating the human voice is. Ideas are great. It’s the sound of them we hated, we decided.

Now we are talking about a national hats-off day to these scientists. Never an idle moment for her now. The Gun Control Lounge is one of her favorites. There she uses her masculine screen name, BilliJack44. Who knows what they say to each other in there. Anyway, I am free to go as I please once again with her occupied this way. I go to lectures up at the university, just three blocks away.

There in the old theater I watch all the old-movie classics alone. The old Bette Davis and. Joan Crawford films, while Wiladean plays on the computer until she grows tired. The doctor has ordered special glasses, blue-blockers, for her to wear ,since she’s on there so much, and she wears them, like a creature from the depths of space. But hark! Last Wednesday I’m sitting in there, in the steep rows of seats of this little dingy theater, when I see someone I know--my heart takes a leap. Professor Roar of the English department.

English composition and poetry are his thing. His photograph was in the paper when he received a grant to built a web site for his e-zine, Mud Hill. Nice romantic name. Mud Hill. Probably stole it from someone. A long snooty face, carefully climbing among the crowd, nodding to no one. Arrogant but somehow handsome, waspy, melancholy, perhaps Hungarian, who can say? But still vaguely repelling. Still cruel. How would he know just an hour ago we, Wiladean and I, logged into his life? Right there in our living room stared at his ugly snooty face and studied him up close:_Dr. Roar received his advanced degrees in neo-expressionism and lead the movement in the arch conservative American Midwest, a challenge still in its development. Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard.

There he sat, his long naked neck just two seats in front of my eyes. Picks his nose nonchalantly, rolls something around in his fingers, cunningly rests his arm over the back of the seat, as if no one can see into the illumination that ramifies out from his important center. It would blind any small eye he imagines to watch him, digging into the center of life, the great knot of truth at the end of his finger.

We sent him in some poems for his Mud Hill. Sent him a dozen or more with “Please! Read the Submission!” but he always responds in the same testy way. After a few days comes a reply to the submission: “ I have read your poem with careful consideration and I will not keep it.”

He was joined in the old theater by three young men, who were late. Came leaping up the steps carrying raincoats over their arms, and talking wildly. Upper class look about them, the skin and hair and sweaters are upper class. They kept talking over each other, trying to get at Dr. Roar who apparently holds their destiny in contemptuous consideration. After the movie, one of them stood in the isle and did an imitation of Bette Davis from the movie, Bette smoking , dragging her fur, “I don’t care! I don’t care! Why in hell… shshshould… I care? Puff, puff, puff.” When I got home I did the same impression for Wiladean. Because it was stuck in my mind. “I never liked Bette Davis,” she said. “She’s got eyes like a decapitated fish, if you ask me.” Ol’ negative Wiladean!

Nothing to do then all day. That was last Sunday afternoon. “Why not,” she said, “send in some more poems to Mud Hill?” Wiladean typed one in. “How about this one: If You Are Bitten By A Snake, by Wiladean Hargis. Or Three Signs of Frost Bite?” Decided on the snake poem. (If you are bitten by a snake, turn off your radio. Don’t listen to another word from anyone. Remember the snake probably started out same as you, bored half out of his mind in the garden of Eden with no one to talk with except those two people walking around without their genital cover on. Think how the snake thinks. The most beautiful creature ever imagined. Think of Eve in its powers, under the great anaconda night, under the stars, the winds of Eden soft, soft in the moonlight then, sharp and wild where the deep fangs went in.) “ Why, auntie, I love it! It’s great. I bet he will take it. I just have a feeling he will be impressed. Its so unusual.” I gave her a hug and kiss. I love poetry.

You have mail! rang out the automated voice. . “I have read your poem, If You Are Bitten By A Snake, very carefully and I am not going to keep it.”

So it was over so suddenly. She replied to the message, rather white in the face, “That’s O.K. The poem has just been accepted elsewhere, so don’t worry.” We thought that would be it, since Roar was so laconic and dismissive but to our surprise the voice again announced, You have mail! We knew it must be Roar because no one else writes us. We were half afraid to log it up and sat there staring at the screen hugging each other.

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” began the message. “You didn’t tell me your Snake Poem was being looked out by other editors. I supposed I have saved half the editors in the continental United States a great disappointment.”

Her fingers did not hesitate now, they went flying like little fairy fingers over the keyboard. “Really, I don’t understand your last remark. It is a little confused. What does ‘looked out by editors’ mean ? Maybe you are overcome with anger. But to make multiple submissions is a common practice among the better publications.”

Now he wrote back. “ I’ll have you understand I am well enough aware of the better magazines, thank you. I have published in the most respected journals here and in Europe for the past twenty-five years. I have in fact just come back from a big committee meeting with some of the most highly regarded editors in the world. WE know that the world is watching us. One of our longest discussions was on policy, dealing with careless submissions that tend to overwhelm electronic publications, and what to do about them. I suggest you read my report.”

There followed an enormous amount of written material. It meant nothing to us. But we were laughing harder than we had done in years. I had to brush away the tears, especially when Wiladean wrote something she had heard on one of the chats: “Oh, wow, Professor Roar sounds hot enough to fuck.”

“Auntie, oh, my God!’ I screamed. Unfortunately, Roar wanted to continue the fight. Several pages now followed in which he wrote Wiladean’s name in capitals as if she should be ashamed of it.

“I just don’t think you cut it, Roar,” she wrote him. “Sounds like you woke up this morning with the cocksucker blues.”

“Auntie, my God All Mighty!”

“And if you send any more letters like this to me, “ she continued, “I’m coming over there, DR ROAR, and dragging your ass out in the road.”

No reply.

That was the end of their correspondence. For three days she was delighted but then the euphoria started to wear off. I know she hopes he’ll write back tonight. What better piece of cake than Dr. Roar. I think I can see her mouth watering, her fingers practicing. And if he does, I’m going to jump in on the fight with both hands myself. Going to tell him if wants to pick that big nose of his in this town, like he did in the theater the other night, he better think where he rolls his buggers and throws them. Because the whole world is watching.”

Jo Neace Krause lives in West Virginia. She has published in the Yale Review, University of Windsor Review, Exquisite Corpse, Other Voices, River City, University of South Carolina Review, George Washington University Review. There is a short story in the current issue of Witness Magazine (The Good In Men), by Ms Krause, and a short story (Hans and the American Father Town),up on Freelook E-Zine. Her poetry has appeared in Marvick, Dead Mule, Bon Fire, and others.


In Posse: Potentially, might be ...