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Notes for a Novel I Never Managed to Write

[1997]

The Continual Feast

Characters:

Jeremiah Hezekiah Claiborne: Youngest of the Claiborne brothers (21, born in Nepal in 1976), resident of South Bend, WA, where he has lived since leaving college shortly after beginning his Junior year; sometime fishing boat worker, logger, bartender at the World’s End Tavern, artist, poet; lives in a studio apartment overlooking Willapa Harbor (the apartment is one of three apartments making up the second floor of a house, the first floor of which is occupied by the Mudds, the family of four who own the house; the other two apartments are inhabited by (1) Patrick Welt, an odd, (mildly autistic?) chess-playing Catholic lad who just purchased a cheap organ and is taking organ lessons and (2) Joe, a fireman who spends most of his time either at the fire station or at his girlfriend’s and so is rarely seen by Jeremiah. Jeremiah stands just under six foot, has an athletic build, black hair, sports a beard in winter which he shaves off each April Fool’s Day, suffers from Seasonal depression in the winter and tends to exist in a semi-hibernative state from late November through early February. He has been seeing Delia Swan since Sophomore year of college and is deeply in love and lust with her. They fornicate often and with abandon. Jeremiah writes erotic sonnets to her and paints images of her. He is building a treehouse in a secret place in the woods. Jeremiah vaguely believes in the God of his father (Luther, a Lutheran minister), but combines this with a kind of nature-boy zest for life, beatnik romanticism of the road, and a zen eschewing of definitions. He studies Karatedo at a dojo in Aberdeen and reads books about Zen and such. Occasionally he golfs with his uncle William Claiborne who was once a Hanford engineer and is now an Episcopalian priest in Aberdeen. Jeremiah’s mother, Elizabeth, died when he was 3 years old — of a wasp sting in Nepal, where she and Luther and were missionaries for five years. Of his two elder brothers, Jeremiah is closest to Calvin (the middle brother, with whom he occasionally gets into trouble). His eldest brother, George, is somewhat aloof, although they have occasions of connectedness and brotherly affection.

Delia Meria Swan. Attended college with Jeremiah in Walla Walla; is from Aberdeen, where her mother works in law enforcement. Her father is absent, in Seattle somewhere (has been since she was 5; she still has the book he was reading her when he left, marked where he left off). Delia is taking a year’s leave-of-absence from college (whereas Jeremiah simply dropped out and has no intention of returning), living in her old room in the basement, in constant semi-hysterical conflict with her mother and her mother’s alcoholic boyfriend, Hank; works as a waitress at the Red Apple, hacks around the Internet at night, often stays with Jeremiah for days at a time. Is embarrassed to be living in such a backwater; wants to live a comfortable, elegant life somewhere after the fashion of Beverly Hills 90210 (her favorite TV show); she is conflicted though: in love with Jeremiah but strong misgivings about whether he will provide the life she wants.

Calvin Coolidge Claiborne. The middle of the three brothers (26); English instructor at Snohomish River Community College; a tall, dark-haired, engagingly derisive fellow, his name is the result of his father’s whimsy and sense of family history (Luther the father of Calvin; but also Calvin Coolidge was his great great uncle). He has been at SRCC since completing his MA at the University of Washington at the early age of 20 (having entered college at 16, obtained a BA at 19 followed by one year of graduate study). He is married to but recently separated from Estelle Savoy, who once attended his College Writing 101 course. They have a five-year-old son named Sid who stays with Calvin on weekends. Calvin is an atheist but believes the coherence of Christianity and western civilization in general is superior to eastern murkiness. He understands and admires his father’s and elder brother’s beliefs, but doesnt believe. He is scandalized and chagrined over Estelle’s belief that Sid is the reincarnation of a Tibetan lama. He also has violent impulses towards Terrence, Estelle’s Buddhism-teacher with whom she is probably having an affair.

Estelle Louise Savoy Claiborne. Calvin’s estranged wife; 30 years old. Gave up a life of drugs and porn movies (her moniker was “Starr 69” and she still is sometimes called by the nickname “Star”), joined AA, turned her life around, moved to from L.A. to Seattle, ended up in Everett, enrolled in courses at SRCC where she met Calvin during his first year of teaching, got pregnant by Calvin whereupon Luther was called upon to perform a wedding ceremony. During the pregnancy she attended a lecture given by Terrence McBride, an Irishman Buddhist, on “Christianity as Buddhism” and was so taken with his Irish brogue and exotic ideas that she began to take private instruction in “breathing and meditation” from him. Became convinced, due to dreams and prophetic correspondences, that the child inside her wd be the reincarnation of a great Tibetan lama who had died earlier that year. Calvin’s intransigence on this point, his unwillingness to take it seriously, has led Estelle to leave him and even to consider an affair with Terrence (her pride and dignity, which are highly developed, have thus far prevented her from succumbing to Terrence’s advances, however). She is considering taking Sid to a monastery in Nepal, where he will receive training appropriate to his destiny as a lama. Coincidentally, the monastery is near the same village where Calvin spent part of his childhood.

Siddhartha Francis Claiborne. 5 year old son of Calvin and Estelle. Likes Power Rangers, Bill Nye the Science Guy, hot wheels and model rockets. Has an entrepreneurial sensibility, is always scheming how to make money; e.g. selling seeds, lemonade stand, selling rocks. Estelle is teaching him to recite mantras and be kind to insects. Calvin is teaching him to play baseball.

George Washington Claiborne. Eldest of the brothers (30). A monk at St. Albert’s, a Benedictine abbey Near White Bluffs, WA and the Hanford nuclear site. George and several other of the monks (some of them former Hanford scientists) have formed an apostolate whereby they subcontract themselves as information specialists for the other groups working on the Hanford clean-up (in effect, they are the librarians of the clean-up effort). The monastery also has a vineyard and a cherry orchard. The monks also operate a jet-boat tour of the Hanford Reach. There is a legend of gold buried somewhere on the abbey grounds from the days when the wagon train line brought in gold from Montana to ship by riverboat from White Bluffs to Portland.

Luther Paul Claiborne. The father of Jeremiah, Calvin and George, a 58 year old Lutheran minister and widower since 1979, when his wife Elizabeth died of a toxic reaction to a wasp sting during their fifth year of missionary work in Nepal. At that time, Luther returned to the states with his three young sons and took up residence in Coeur d’Alene, ID, where he has been a pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church since 1980. A gruffly humorous bear of a man who holds dear the memory of his wife but doesn’t let grief slow him down. The truth is he’s a bit frenetic and could stand to slow down. Lately he has been spearheading an effort to establish a “Human Rights” collection at the local library (focusing on holocaust information) and has been receiving threatening calls from the local neo-nazi contingent.

John Peregrine Smith. Mysterious resident of Coeur d’Alene, professor of Philosophy at Gonzaga University, Internet enthusiast, dialectition, Jew? Christian? He is secretly involved in the activities of a white militia group in North Idaho but it is unclear whether he is merely trying to stir up trouble or whether he earnestly espouses the anti-federal dogma of the group.

—————————

The Feast of Corpus Christi (May 29)

Jeremiah Claiborne lived upstairs from the Mudds. His was one of three studio apartments which occupied the upper floor of the house. Mr. Mudd was an electrician whose free time was devoted to the use of metal detector and shovel to hunt for buried treasures. Mrs. Mudd was a Mary Kay representative who drove a pink Honda Civic which she hoped someday to upgrade to a pink Cadillac.

One morning in May, Jeremiah looked out his window and saw Mrs. Mudd speeding away in her pink Honda. He had been stirred from his late-morning sleep by enraged shrieks which shaped themselves into a distinctly female hand with vivid pink fingernails clawing at the cerebral chalkboard of Jeremiah’s dream. When he sat up in his couch-bed and looked out the window, the pink Honda was halfway down the block and Mr. Mudd and the two young muddlings were standing in the yard looking sullen and stunned. Mr. Mudd was leaning on a shovel and had evidently been digging a hole in the middle of Mrs. Mudd’s rose garden, and the two children were astride their bicycles, helmets askew and looking like someone had just let the air out of their tires.

In the distance, down the hill towards the Willipa River and the harbor beyond, piles of oyster shells glistened in the sun under a sky so fair Jeremiah spontaneously entertained a vision of Aphrodite standing atop the shells, her long locks making cloudy wisps against the blue sky. Then he imagined her stubbing her toe on the sharp shells and looking up at Jeremiah, saying, “Get me off this damn pile of shells! I don’t want to play Aphrodite anymore.” The goddess had become his girlfriend Delia. Jeremiah thought perhaps he would paint her picture that way sometime. He had already painted Delia, or at least sketched her in his mind’s eye, as various and sundry goddesses, nymphs, whores, moviestars and

Comments

  1. Dust it off and get to work.

    Your character studies are very full, I can picture these people.

    I want to read more.

  2. Rufus McCain says

    Thanks for the encouragement, angelmeg. Maybe I will.

  3. Quin Finnegan says

    Keep at it, man. You’ve got something here.

  4. Big Jon, Bully says

    But where will you find the time, sleeping on Potter’s couch and all. Watching Holland in the morning and looking for work in the afternoon.

  5. Sleep is for wusses, and highly overrated as an way to spend quality time.

    especially when you are trying to do it on someone elses couch.

    I say give that up and get on with the writing process.

  6. Quin Finnegan says

    My dad always tells me, “You can sleep when you’re dead; right now you’ve got shit to do.”

  7. Rufus McCain says

    Someone once told me, “Sleep is for assholes,” just as I was about to turn in for the night on his wife’s couch.

  8. Rufus McCain says

    I seem to be reliving that experience here in the comments area.

  9. WHAT is more gentle than a wind in summer?
    What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
    That stays one moment in an open flower,
    And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
    What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing
    In a green island, far from all men’s knowing?
    More healthful than the leafiness of dales?
    More secret than a nest of nightingales?
    More serene than Cordelia’s countenance?
    More full of visions than a high romance?
    What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes!
    Low murmurer of tender lullabies!
    Light hoverer around our happy pillows!
    Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows!
    Silent entangler of a beauty’s tresses!
    Most happy listener! when the morning blesses
    Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes
    That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise.

  10. Quin Finnegan says

    “just as I was about to turn in for the night on his wife’s couch”

    You’re going to have to untangle this one a little more for me, Rufus.

  11. I have one made-up, weird word:

    Nanowrimo.

    OK, so it was November. Do it in December instead. I’ll buy the book; there’s your first sale.

  12. Rufus McCain says

    Right, and then you’ll give your copy to SIC and I won’t see a dime of that.

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