I'm Not Sam, page 1
I’M NOT SAM
by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee
CEMETERY DANCE PUBLICATIONS
Copyright © 2011 by Dallas Mayr and Edward Lucky McKee
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cemetery Dance Publications
132-B Industry Lane, Unit #7
Forest Hill, MD 21050
First Digital Edition
Cover Artwork Copyright © 2012 by Neal McPheeters
Digital Design by DH Digital Editions
I’d like to thank Paula White, Alice Martell and Kristy Baptist on this one -- they each know why, perfectly well -- also Caroline, Ana, and Jodi at the bar, for their little-girl dress-up tips. -- Jack Ketchum
There are two names on the cover of this book, but no one would see those two names together if it weren’t for a third: Alice Martell. Thank you, Alice, for representing our work with Class. I think we make a fine trio, and here’s to more. Glad to be Your Client. -- Lucky McKee.
From Lucky McKee:
“The nicest thing in the world you can do for anybody is let them help you.” -- John Steinbeck, SWEET THURSDAY
From Jack Ketchum:
“Love is friendship caught on fire.” -- Bruce Lee
by Jack Ketchum
In everyday life there are no starts or stops. Even the most startling, life-altering events -- unless they’re fatal -- are buffered and buffeted by other events, constant and ongoing, so that the impact of any one of them is muted.
Not so in fiction. Fiction’s like music. It starts and stops in silence. First there’s no music and then there is and then it’s gone. And again like music -- if it’s any good -- that silence at the end should have a bit of resonance beyond itself. A loud or quiet buzzing in your ear that satisfies both you the reader and that particular story.
Because fiction wants to make a point. Sometimes many points. It wants to make you stop and think and feel at the end. So it needs its clear delineations, its exclamation points, its opening and closing curtain. Life has only one closing curtain. And it sucks.
I’M NOT SAM started out its life as the idea for a short story which Lucky and I planned to adapt into a short film.
Then the damn thing started growing.
The root premise, which was a simple one, kept sprouting new shoots and branches and leaves as we worked it through in our daily Instant Mail messages to one another. We got a little crazy. We fell in love with the characters. We had fun.
Pretty soon though, as we started writing the prose version, it became clear that what we had on our hands was going to be novella-length, not a short story -- and a fairly long novella at that. No problem. A novella’s just about a perfect length to adapt into a feature anyway. With a short story you have to expand and add on. With a novel you’ve got to compress and subtract.
The thing is, the rules and exigencies of prose are not the same as they are for film. Prose is a whole lot looser.
The modern film, most of the time, is divided into three clear acts. This -- as a lot of writers and directors will readily tell you -- is a pain-in-the -ass case of the tail wagging the dog. Because the acts are defined not by complexity of story or the director’s vision but by simple running-time. Distributors and movie houses want to turn their feature over every two hours or so to maximize showings, hence draw in the bucks. The days of SPARTACUS and BEN-HUR and magnificent overtures and slowly drawn curtains are over, folks.
The first act of a movie today is probably twenty to thirty minutes long. It sets the premise, introduces the characters and kicks off the action. The second is probably forty-five minutes to an hour. It complicates the situations suggested by the premise and enriches the characters. It tries to pull you in deep. Then along comes the third act. The third act hopefully ties up all the loose ends set in motion thus far, brings things to a head, makes you glad you’ve plunked down your hard-earned money instead of sitting home with a beer watching cable. It’s again about twenty to thirty minutes in length.
There are no such rules for prose. Sure, there’s a beginning, middle and an end in any prose worth reading or writing but there’s nobody standing over your shoulder with a stopwatch while you‘re doing it. The beginning can be a couple of paragraphs long if you want. The end can be a single punch to the gut.
So long as you adhere to the rule of silence.
A silence that has resonance and meaning.
When we finished I’M NOT SAM we felt we’d played our music pretty well. We were happy and satisfied with the piece. We felt it worked.
That it worked as a novella. But not as a movie. Not quite.
The end, in fact, was a single punch to the gut. Perfectly okay as far as we as prose-writers were concerned.
But as a film, it lacked a third act.
Lucky and I work pretty well together, though. So it didn’t take us long to agree on a solution.
SAM would remain as she was, a stand-alone novella. We weren’t going to try to expand her. But we’d go on to write another piece, a direct follow-up to the story, picking right up where SAM left off -- a story which would have a different kind of resonance altogether -- called WHERE’S LILY? So that’s what we did.
As a film, the two would run seamlessly together. But here, on the page, each would stand alone. Same characters, wholly different themes and tones.
So here’s where you come in.
We’d like to ask you a favor, Lucky and I. Hopefully you won’t find it too pushy of us to be doing so. We’re only asking because we think it might add to your experience of the thing, make it more fun for you and more fun for us thinking that you might just indulge us on this one.
If you like what you read in I’M NOT SAM, there could easily be a temptation to dive right into WHO’S LILY? immediately. As though it were simply another chapter in an ongoing tale. One blending into the other. Almost as though it were life, and not fiction. We’d like to ask you not to think of it that way.
We’d like to ask you to slow down. Take in the starts and stops.
To let SAM settle in a while.
A few minutes. A couple of hours. Maybe a day. Whatever.
We’d like to ask you to listen a while to the silence of the first tale before you draw open the curtain on the second. They’re playing quite separate tunes, I promise you.
Feel free to tell us to go to hell.
It’s your dime. You have every right.
But we’re trying to make a little music here, you know?
Couldn‘t hurt to listen.
-- April 27, 2012
I’M NOT SAM
I wake up in the morning to Zoey’s crying.
I’ve heard it before, many times. It’s familiar. It’s not the usual sounds cats make, it’s miles from a meeow. It’s more of a muted wail. As though she’s hurting. Though I know she’s not.
It sounds as though her heart is breaking.
I know what it is.
She’s got that toy again.
Zoey’s a tuxedo and so is her old stuffed toy. I don’t recall who gave it to her now, some friend of ours who likes cats I guess, but that was long, long ago -- and though there’s a tiny patch of stuffing leaking out over the back of its left ear, it’s miraculously still intact, after years between my nineteen-year-old cat’s not-always-so-tender jaws.
She protects that toy. She gentles it.
I glance over at Sam beside me and see that she’s awake too. She yawns.
“Again?” she says and smiles.
Zoey pre-dates Sam in my life by nearly nine years but she loves this cat as much as I do.
“Again,” I tell her.
I get up and shuffle across the chilly hardwood floor and there’s Zoey out in the hall looking at me with those big golden eyes, her toy face-up lying at her feet.
I lean down to stroke her and she raises her head to meet my hand. I use this opportunity, this distraction, to steal the toy with my free hand and tuck it back into the waistband of my pajamas.
I pet her head, her long bony back. She’s arthritic as hell so I’m very gentle with her. I know exactly how to touch her, the exact weight and pressure of my hands on her body that she likes.
I’ve always been able to do this. With animals and with people. I’ve always known how to touch.
And here comes the purr. Soft these days. When she was young you could hear it from rooms away.
“Hi, girl. Good morning, good girl. Hungry? Want some foodie?
Cats respond to an i-e sound. Damned if I know why, they just do.
She trots ahead of me into the kitchen, a little wobbly on her feet but always game for breakfast.
I pull her toy out of my waistband and give it a good toss into the living room. She’ll find it sooner or later but for now there are other things on her mind.
That toy. That tuxedo with roughly her own markings. There’s a mystery to that little stuffed animal. One I know I’ll never penetrate.
It’s the only toy she ever cries over. All the rest are passing fancies. She bats them around awhile and then loses interest. I find them gathering dust beneath the sofa, in a corner under my desk in the study and once, on the grate in the fireplace. How it got beyond the screen only Zoey knows.
Zoey came scratching at my door one cold March Saturday evening. She wanted in. I was drawing in the study when I heard her. I opened the door and there was this scrawny cat, probably six months old at the time the vet said, with mites in both ears, a sweet disposition, and obviously starving.
I always wondered where she came from.
We’re pretty much out in the middle of nowhere here.
She came to me spayed. So she had people somewhere. Somebody had cared for her.
Were there others out there? I wondered. Her mother, maybe? Was she part of a litter?
And at some point I started to ask myself, could there be a connection between toy and cat? Could this small inanimate object possibly remind her of something? Family? Was that maybe why this ordinary, no-catnip stuffed tuxedo kitten seemed to resonate for her, to stir something long and deep inside? It seemed possible to me. It still does.
If you heard the yearning in this sound she makes, you’d understand why.
It was years ago I got to considering that. I remember feeling at the time that I’d stepped into mystery, into the realm of the inexplicable. Into enigma.
I’ve never shaken it. It gets me to this day, every time.
In the kitchen I pick up her water and food bowls and put them in the sink and while she sits waiting patiently I open up a can of Friskies tuna and egg and flake it into another, fresh bowl, pour her fresh water and put them on the floor and watch her set-to.
I hear water running in the bathroom. Sam’s up. I hope she gets out of there fast. I’ve got to pee. By the time I’ve got the coffee brewing she’s standing behind me with her hand on my shoulder and we’re both of us staring out the window over the sink out onto the river.
It’s a lovely spring morning. Hardly a breath of wind in the trees. There’s a bald eagle gliding thermals over the water. He hits its surface and veers away toward the pastureland beyond the far bank and he’s made a catch. We can see the gold glint of fish scales in the sun.
Hardly a day goes by when you don’t see some sort of wildlife out here. We’ve got foxes, coyotes, wild pigs. Zoey stays inside. She’d never have made it to twenty if she didn’t.
I turn around, give Sam a peck on the cheek and head for the bathroom. She smells like sleep and fresh soap.
On Sam, not bad at all.
I’m not much for breakfast -- just a coffee and cigarette kind of guy. I figure food can wait on my break from the drafting table. But Sam is. The coffee’s ready and she’s already poured herself a cup with cream and sugar and I can smell the raisin bread in the toaster.
I pour a cup for myself and sit down at the big oak table. I like my table. Found it at an estate auction in Joplin. Hell, I like my entire house. We’re surrounded by five dense acres of woods and a river, like a surprise waiting to happen.
The living room is all stained wood with high oak hand-carved beams maybe a hundred years old. There’s an ancient stone fireplace. The room opens to the kitchen so I’m looking out at all this space in front of me.
It occurs to me -- watching my wife of eight years slather her toast with butter and strawberry jam -- that we’ve made love in practically every square inch of it. All over that hardwood floor. Couch and overstuffed chair.
Scorched her lovely ass one night on the fireplace. The memory of which makes me smile.
“What?” she says and swallows her toast.
“I was just thinking.”
She squints at me. “You’ve got that look, Patrick.”
“You do. And what I’ve got to do is finish my breakfast and pee, shower and drive forty-five minutes to Tulsa so I can autopsy Stephen Bachmann and decide whether it was pills, scotch, plain old Dutch stupidity or any combination of the three that put him in our drawer. I don’t have time for you.”
“Don’t, ‘Awww…,’ me, mister.”
“How’s Samantha coming?”
“She’s about to blow her brains out with a shotgun at the behest of her tormenters. By tomorrow I should have her resurrected. Tomorrow or Saturday.”
She takes a long, man-sized swig of coffee, gulps it down and smiles.
“I’m still not sure whether to be flattered or distrustful of the fact that she’s named after me. You splatter her brains all over the wall for godsakes.”
“Yes, but then she comes back. And I would never splatter you.”
I love it when she arches her right eyebrow that way. She gets up and steps over, leans over and kisses me. It lingers.
After all these years, it lingers.
She breaks it off.
“I know, I know,” I tell her. “Shower, pee, brush your teeth and off to your Dutchman. You want company? In the shower I mean. Not the Dutchman.”
“I don’t think so. Maybe tonight, after work. I’ll reek as usual. What are we doing for dinner?”
“Leftover teriyaki-beef bourguignon. From night before last. You liked it.”
“It was yummy,” she says and disappears around the corner into the bedroom.
I hear her Honda Accord pull out of the driveway a half hour later and think how lucky I am. I’m doing what I want to do, drawing my graphic novels -- and making a pretty decent living at it. I’ve got a home I love, a well-loved old cat, and this forensic pathologist person who’s crazy enough to love me.
I’d say I go to work but that would be a lie. I go play.
Play goes well.
When I hear the Honda pull back in again, the bloodsplatter pattern on the wall behind Samantha’s head is complete. I’ll have Sam check it for accuracy but I’ve learned a lot from her already and I think I’ve got it right.
Splash page indeed.
It’s nearly seven o’clock, getting on to dusk, her normal arrival time. I’ve fed the cat and the bourguignon is simmering on low. The garlic bread’s buttered and seasoned and awaiting the caress of the broiler. All I’ve got to do is boil the broad-noodles, pour the wine and dinner’s ready.
I cover the work, get up
I walk over and hug her and plant one on her cheek. She really doesn’t reek. She’s already showered at work. She always does. But sometimes, with the really bad ones, it’s a three-or-four-shower evening. Tonight, just a little tang of something in her hair. Just enough to let me wrinkle my nose at her.
“I know,” she says. “It wasn’t the Dutchman.”
“No? What did the guy in?”
“Booze, a Pontiac and an obstinate oak tree. He had a nice dinner before he died, though. Sauerbraten, red cabbage, potato pancakes and about a pint of vanilla raspberry-twirl ice cream. But the scent you detect belongs to somebody else.”
“Gentleman named Jennings. Turkey-farmer.”
“Ah, that lovely ammonia smell.”
“Right. He had all this turkey-shit piled up next to his barn. Looks like he was about to spread it out over his field when he had a heart attack instead. Fell right into the stuff. He was covered with it. We figure he was breathing in it for a good half-hour before he died too. The inside of him almost smelled worse than the outside. Did you say something about a shower this morning?”
“If you wash my hair you’re on.”
“I love to wash your hair.”
“You hungry yet?”
“Turn off the stove.”
She turns the shower on, letting it warm up and I watch her undress. As always she’s businesslike about it but to me she’s a Vegas stripper. At thirty-eight she looks twenty-eight, everything tight, the bones delicate. We’ve both felt sad from time to time that she’s infertile, that we won’t be having any children. Me a bit more than her I think -- I’ve got a brother for what he’s worth and a father and mother while she’s an only and both her parents are dead. So maybe I’m more used to family. But I shudder to think how far south her body might have gone were that not the case. It’s shallow of me I guess but as she is right now, she’s a joy to behold.
JACK KETCHUM SERIES:
Other author's books:
- The LostThe Secret Life of SoulsShe WakesThe Girl Next DoorBroken on the Wheel of SexI'm Not SamOffspringSheep Meadow Story
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