Fiction Kathleen Collins

…It’s a long improvisation, my life… I don’t know many musicians who could come up with the variations I have… like a poet with a third eye for the way that the wind blows… I put my token in the great subway train and went for a ride. I’m a moody son of a bitch. When I was a kid I used to hide in my closet and shit… keep the little buggers out of my room. I was never a pleasure to have around… too moody… an intimidating nuisance flyleafing his way across time on a whim, any old whim… appalled by the mirthless accommodation of adulthood… you loved me like a god and so accommodated yourself instantly to all my whims… fancifying them into significant escapades of the soul… while all along I was igniting myself at will… I’m moody, damn it, and restless… and life has so many tuneless days… I can’t apologize for loving you so little. Only dreams carry the sweet logic I respect… dreams… and a certain… insouciance… primevally inaccessible to your nature. You were born sincere, well-meaning, without duplicity… I was born a son of a bitch, an asshole, a self-accommodating sentimentalist slowing down any old chariot in sight… for a ride. I love everything too little except the journey, the way the wheels turn… I’m just a passenger on the train of life…. Of all the dreams I’ve satisfied, perhaps making money was the most… penetrating… it permitted me to find out once and for all the real shape of things, how to fit things to size… it was almost a physical pleasure, replacing the magic potion I used to find in my dick… it enabled me to take hold of life concretely and measure it… you always smell nice, lady… when I moved in with Ramona you had a minor stroke… you still can’t use two of your fingers… it was a whim, lady, don’t you understand that? It was a whim, just an idea, because she was so simpleminded she fascinated me… but you took it to heart and let it deal you a fatal blow… no woman living has ever been part of my dreams… you should have known that… the accommodation would be too brutal for so ill-equipped a soul… I’m too moody… I don’t make you happy… I never made anybody happy, not any of those women you have spent your life being jealous of… you’re a funny woman… you remember that surprise party you gave me when I turned forty… that’s still far and away the best party I’ve ever been to… you made this rum punch that you let sit in the freezer for days, and it was so potent people didn’t get drunk, they got disembodied, so that when Sam began to play all this Cuban music…. You remember that?… He started playing these long-ass Latin records where each song lasted about an hour and everybody was floating so high by that time they got caught inside the beat and couldn’t stop dancing… it was the weirdest thing I ever saw… a disembodied orgy… people would look at me with a positive glow in their eyes, like they were inside some kind of bubble and say… “great party, man… great fuckin’ party”… it was a gas… the shit I remember… I was out at Coney Island one time… with Ramona, and we were walking along the beach and suddenly she aborted… just like that… the baby dropped out of her onto the sand… she told me she could do that anytime she got pregnant… she just concentrated real hard and she could make her womb give it up… she was at that party, you know… you’d never seen her… it was weird… watching her watch you and you not knowing who she was… sometimes when I was dancing with her, it seemed to me that your eyes got a funny look, like they sensed something… but then you would smile… and throw me a birthday kiss… you were very beautiful that night… Ramona was jealous of you… that gave me a weird pleasure and I fell in love with you again… I felt toward you exactly like I had when we first lived together… it was incredible… you were the same person again, and I was the same person again, and you were walking into the apartment with that smile and that glow, heating up the place… and I loved you so much again I was crying… it was so fucking real, I could smell that sweet smell you had about you when you slept… and I would curl up under you just to smell you because it made me feel so peaceful and happy… I could touch it it was so real… and then it was gone, and I was dancing with Ramona at my birthday party… and watching you blow me a birthday kiss… you have made do with so little… sometimes I get the feeling that when I’m dead happiness is gonna rise up out of your soul and wreak havoc on life… I won’t apologize for loving you so little… life has so many tuneless days… what better posture to take than to become a whimsical motherfucker? Can you think of a better one? I never could. Be a husband? Or a father? In exchange for being a whimsical motherfucker? You got to be crazy… I have to have room to improvise, lady, some way to ignite myself into life. I have to have room to improvise… life has so many tuneless days…

…The first time my husband left me, I took a small cabin in the woods… to enjoy a benevolent solitude. I brought one suitcase with me, a photograph of myself looking serene and wistful, some drawings to hang on the wall, and my violin… I planned to go swimming every day in the stream behind the cabin, take long walks in the woods, and practice my violin. I was going to stay the whole summer. I stayed three days. During those three days I swam in the morning, practiced my violin until the noontime hour, ate lunch, and went for a walk in the woods. The walks left me hot and sweaty, so when I got back to the cabin, I heated water for a sponge bath, then made some tea. On the third day, when I came back from my walk, I was about to heat some water when the kerosene stove caught fire. I took a blanket to the flames, but they had already covered half the room. For a long while I stood there, trying to think of something to do. Then, in a flash, I realized I hadn’t a second to waste if I was to leave there alive. So I jumped through a screen, stark naked. Some farmers came along, puzzled by the sight of all this brown flesh against a backdrop of raging flames… the fire burned my hair, my clothes, my violin. Nature is beautiful that way… she leaves you with nothing to say…. I came back home, bought a large flower box for the kitchen window, and began to grow herbs… it was very hot and lonely… I took a job illustrating children’s stories and attended my herbs, planting and digging till my fingers dripped with earth and I had to brush stray hairs out of my eyes… streaking my face with sweat and dirt… pouring into my planting every image of a budding herbalist devouring her loneliness in sweat and dirt and straying hairs and labeling it thyme and rosemary and sage… the basil descended below into a neighbor’s window while the rosemary inverted itself and took root in the kitchen… the summer grew hotter and lonelier… I took to crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in the evenings between six and eight at the time the sun was setting, and in the glow of sunset I relieved the outer edges of my sadness, letting it blend with the surf-like monotony of the cars splashing below and the faint luminescent splendor of the New York skyline… then came a period when nothing soothed me… there was no balm in the festive herbal splendor of my kitchen, no balm in the exhaustive evening showers before and after the Brooklyn Bridge excursion… the waking hours weighted themselves between my legs, and there was no relief in sight… I took to the reading of memoirs… it was one of my finer moments when I discovered that no human life escapes the tribulation of solitude… to the Claudes and Johns and Marthas and Henrys of past lives I owe my first real penetration of life’s lamentations, passed on from father to son and then back again… I lay collapsed on a bed of sorrowful immersion and discovery from five thirty Friday evenings until eight thirty Monday mornings… other souls had suffered such extremes of separation and abandon, and in their wit and irony and quaint homiletic posturing I momentarily lifted myself out of myself and onto a plane of spiritual lamentation… the summer grew hotter and lonelier… a friend had a baby and my abandon incarnated itself in this lively, bubbly creature, causing the most extreme anguish I had yet experienced… I began to feel that I was drying out inside… that cold waves were shriveling my breasts and my limbs began to shriek and sputter… at night you surfaced in my sleep: unbuttoning yourself in front of a diverse sampling of salesgirls, waitresses, go-go dancers, and deaconesses… I thought I was turning into cardboard… you were filling someone else’s belly… a cold longing weighted itself between my legs… the pain dried me out… summer was almost over… I went to the nearest art supply store and purchased a piece of cardboard 9' x 12'… from an old junk shop I returned with armfuls of ancient magazines… I would create a massive collage to decorate the wall opposite my bed. The clutter and disarray created an illusion of warmth, of busy, cozy, fun-loving solitude… I snipped and pasted, snipped and pasted… pouring into my masterpiece the frenetic, absorbed posture of the woman artist at work… it encouraged me to consider a little light fucking… so on a frisky Sunday morning I went romping through the Botanic Garden… he turned out to be tall, fervently sincere behind thick bifocals… and with a penis about the size of a pea… I took it as an omen that I was not designed for light fucking… it was fall… you called long-distance collect… I asked you for a baby… you laughed and agreed to call me again this time next year… the summer came back hotter and lonelier. I met a jazz disc jockey and determined again on a little light fucking… he came home with me one night when the snipping and pasting had collaged itself onto the couch, onto the fireplace, onto the rug and the curtains and the bathroom mirror… and Duco Cement adhered to your soles upon entry… the jazz disc jockey found me… surprising… but not knowing what else to do slipped insipidly inside me out of embarrassment and came without the least bit of pleasure…. Fall came back for good… I began to sew… turning out an astonishing assortment of ill-fitting slacks, blouses, velvet dresses, and lounging pajamas… pouring into this meticulous work a host of images about the beauty of craftsmanship and the fulfillment of working with one’s hands…. Winter came… I rode the subway to Coney Island. The cold, lonely stretch of beach, the abandoned amusement park figured in a poem entitled “In the Winter of Our Love”… you surfaced again at midnight, while I sat before the fire… unbuttoning yourself in front of the woman of your dreams… more beautiful, more kind, more loving than me… I considered buying another violin… the last one got burned alive in a fire, in the woods, at the beginning of summer…

“Each new issue feels like a public report from many individual private spheres.” —Antoine Wilson

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Issue 23



Fall 2015


Kathleen Collins (1942-1988) was a civil-rights organizer, playwright, filmmaker, and professor at New York’s City College. Her second film, Losing Ground (1982), one of the very first features by an African-American woman, was not released theatrically. Last year, it was featured in Tell it like it is: Black Independents in New York, 1968-1986 (Film Society of Lincoln Center), and Milestone Films will release a DVD of the film later this year.


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