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Luke White

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1. Benzedrine [May. 7th, 2010|09:38 pm]
Luke White
My father's inheritance arrived in an aluminum urn, hollow in the center and heavy, dropped on the doorstep by the man in the brown uniform with a thick musky thud. Inside a teletype roll over a hundred feet long, dirty at the margins, covered with the ghost of words wrapped up on the inside, each following one another in the order he had planned on the paper and touching one another unexpectedly, incoherently as their orbits apposited within the paper's shortening circumferences.

The xxxx's, innumerable, crossed the circuit of the paper in constellations fading into the center of the roll and I remembered faintly the argument with the typewriter repairman who refused to sell me the three "x"-hammers my father had requested for his Underwood No. 5--Too rare, now, to sell in what passed for bulk in the typewriter world, and anyhow no one could ever have need for more than one replacement x--No one except my father, forever repentant of the last word written, striking out his errors with an anger that along with a misguidedly Marxist typewriter salesman necessitated the purchase and careful partial disassembly of three Underwoods, which now sit in a corner of my basement employed by three invisible monkeys to write stories that must never be set in Texas or deal in witches' hexes or invoke dominatrices who ever act alone.

His fingers (nine of them--the left fourth had been lost, to the dismay of my mother, shortly after their wedding and had joined the rogue crab-trap that claimed it in an unmarked Pacific grave) had never been of much use to him before his legs had stopped working. Thick and ropey and unsteady off the boat, he could outrun anyone off the ship but his strides were elliptical and snaked around a straight line like a swimmer in a cross-current, and when he played basketball against us as children his jump shot would list hard to starboard even as the ball steered straight to the hoop.

By the time the weakness became obvious he had long since given up the cage-hauling and unloading at the dock for the captain's chair and what he had called land sickness now left him reliant first upon two canes, then to a chair, and finally after his wife's numberless nights away from home and the numbered night when she did not return, to the nursing facility down the road from the factory processing plant where he had in better years sent crab and cockles and mackerel.

We visited them there in our last years at home when he was still himself, measuring the circumference of his legs and proudly showing us that for every inch of shrinking circumference in his legs he had gained it back in his massive arms. He began writing only in the last years as his mind left him along with his energy. The typewriter was a relic excavated from a recreation closet beneath strata of Scrabble and Risk and restored to function with the practice of a sailor accustomed to being stranded at sea.

I can estimate the hour he wrote any particular passage by the blackness of the letters--In his last years I would visit and sit as he sat speechless with the machine, typing furiously during the day amidst the noise of families the clatter of meals and softly at night, hammer barely glancing the ribbon before recoiling back as the weak and dying slept. My father was the end of rivers of coffee and as the tyrannical fatigue of his disease took over the better hours of his day he demanded more and more, downing wells of black thick espresso and popping aspirin for the withdrawal headaches when it wasn't available until one day during dinner he vomited bright red blood and the manichean balance was annihilated by his doctor's ban from either. I'm told that afterwards he somehow got a hold of a steady supply of benzedrine, and I can sometimes occupy a mile or so of my own sleepless nights by wondering whether he or his typewriter ate more paper.