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The Silent Other Half by Billy McCoy


 

Overview: When the summer of heightened social tensions plunges the city into deep disarray, an African-American family struggles to come to terms with accusations against one of their own. A painfully beautiful novel of hope and transformation. 

 

The Silent Other Half by Billy McCoy Book Chapter One

 

The blow to Simon was great and soul shattering. His surreal vision of transforming minds wasn’t producing results; in fact, his rejection was the product of an unquiet spirit, an uneasy spirit that seethed beneath an artificial calm. He could not have known it but Matt had done him a favor, an unintentional kindness, in belittling him. If the reverse had happened, if by some bureaucratic aberration Simon had become a republican icon, the result might have been disastrous for his career. He had a distinctive voice in politics, and if he had stayed in the republican party, he might have been tempted, maybe without knowing it, to trim this distinctive voice, to a pattern favored by the republican party. He might have been seduced and flattered into lower taxes and small government conformity. Either way the republican party was calamitous for Simon.

Simon went back into solitude, withdrawing into himself and waiting like a sower who has scattered his seed. But his spirit was uneasy and full of impatience and longing to share his message: he felt that he still had much to share.  Weeks passed as he descended into solitary; but his wisdom increased and caused him pain by its abundance.

“My message is in danger, it’s as if weeds want to be called flowers! Enemies of my message have grown powerful and have distorted the meaning of my message, so that my wife and son are ashamed of the gifts I want to give them. My friends are lost to me; the hour has come to seek my lost ones!”

But Simon’s devotion to his wife and son did not contravene a painful recognition of an “immense chasm between him and his wife,” a chasm deepened by his wife’s disillusionment with his solitude. Part of this stemmed from Rachel’s disappointment with Simon’s seemingly lack of empathy and compassion. Once, in the midst of a business transaction, Rachel spoke of ‘that stupid Simon.’  Her client was amazed and shocked: ‘Stupid? But he’s the smartest man I’ve ever known!’—‘Of course he is,’ Rachel replied quietly, ‘but have you ever noticed how stupid he is?’ What she meant was that Simon, although not deprived of instinct and emotions, his feelings and empathy were small and cramped and he chose to see life and action through intellect alone. Other erstwhile friends, while acknowledging the radiance of Simon’s intellect, noted his lack of empathy with others. Rachel’s friends complained bitterly when Simon insulted them. Her friends found Simon morally “cramped” and in possession of “a sterile heart.”

 

So, when Rachel announced that several of her friends were stopping over for drinks Simon was astonished.

Filled with excitement and misgivings, Rachel fidgeted all day. Simon didn’t like her friends, and this worried her. She remembered that corrosive arguments between Simon and her friends could easily pop up. All afternoon, an inner conflict overwhelmed Rachel, but as the day wore on her feelings stabilized, and a sense of excitement swelled at the thought of being reinvigorated by friends.

“Doris Custard, that subaltern Avon peddler. That fool usually holds a tight rein on her tongue until it’s loosened by liquor. She thinks she is interesting, but she talks about the same things over and over again. Her mysterious gift for gossip does not imply any superiority in the other departments of the intellect. That woman is a creature of vulgarity, she admires the worst movies, the worst music, and the worst books; in Doris’ mind there is nothing but common ordinary nonsense. Doris and her husband are as dull as boiled water and as boring as a dead rat. Jerry likes his Bud Lite and college football and little else.” Simon complained.

 

Seeing that Rachel didn’t respond to his rants, Simon shouted, “Doris Custard!” His face was a frenzy of anxiety, which only subsided when Rachel explained, “Don’t worry! I’ll keep her away from you.”

“Ah, good, good,” Simon smiled condescendingly, mollified. Rachel felt stimulated. She lifted her head in a conscious show of bravery. The sunshine was invigorating. She walked to the sliding glass door. The sky was clear and blue and cloudless. High above, a hawk soared, gliding gracefully north. She remembered years back how she’d seen an eagle soar, the symmetry of the two bird seemed to guide her imagination.

 

In telling her husband that Doris would be coming over, Rachel alarmed Simon with the prospect of having to deal with a woman who perennially stood up to him.

“That woman is ill-educated and ill-informed and makes frequent mistakes in citing certain provable facts. That simpleton learns everything after the fact. And she can kiss her own ass by the way bents and flexes in proving the unprovable. Her worst traits are replying to emails, updating her Facebook status while talking, tweeting, texting, and looking at her cell phone screen, like a victim of a cyberspace Sisyphean curse. Sometimes, Doris purposefully speaks in a garbled manner, so as to confuse me. Damn fool believes that this way, I can’t correct her mistakes. She believes her errors will be buried in the surrounding hubbub,” Simon cried, flaring up again and letting a book fall from his lap. “Doris is kept distracted by a mindless job and philistine diversions so that transformative literature and art that would inform her of narrow mind is closed off to her by her servitude to things of useless value.”

Then, suddenly, Rachel had no words to say. A beam of sunlight struck her eyes. It was too bright; the brightness too piercing. It disturbed her. She wanted to pull the blinds to conceal the light.

“Simon, I beg you to be civil to Doris, please!” rejoined Rachel. “I’m just not up to it today. Please try to get along with my friends.”

“Honey, I’m always polite to that witch. All I’m saying is that Doris isn’t overly bright, that’s all!” Simon said flippantly with a twinkle in his eyes.

“She’s a decent woman and my friend,” Rachel commented tersely.

“Feminist enfant terrible,” he hastened, isolating the epithet in a conciliating, non-threatening tone. “A harmless fool trying to be someone! She has only a high school education but pretends otherwise.”

“We are not having this conversation,” Rachel retorted, throwing up both her hands vigorously.

“Season Five of the Doris show,” Simon said under his breath, adding, “It will be a tea party, like Alice in Wonderland.”

Feeling huge disgust and hopeless doom, he spun around and announced cryptically, “You and your friends sit around describing your deviations, usually sexual and seldom aesthetically. You voice your guilt at these cocktail parties, where it is accepted as an article of faith that all of you have a burden of guilt that can be exorcised if the malaise is promiscuously shared. But when all your private hells are gone, invariably the breach is filled with boredom, pills, or alcohol. See, I’m convinced that you will never enter the labyrinth of daring knowledge because you have to be completely ruthless with yourself and used to hardness.”

 

At that very moment, Doris called and said that she was outside in the driveway. She was a dark-skinned woman with sparkling brown eyes. She walked with confidence. Her exaggerated, extreme manner of dressing was matched by her bold behavior. On her head was a superstructure of black curls—her own hair and extensions. Her large head was equal to her large bust. She was the antithetic of Simon.  However, her favorite and invariable pursuit, when they happened to meet, consisted in making fun of Simon. She loved it when he looked down on her ‘low class ghetto ass’ or when she had the chance to interrupt his ‘it was I who took the decisive step in the direction of upward mobility and I want the same for my son.

 

Doris marveled when Simon puckered his lips, wiped his glasses, and condescendingly told her how she needed to become re-eroticized – whole, fulfilled and free, or how she needed to improve her vocabulary. Doris was correct in concluding that Simon despised all that she held sacred. Though they remained outwardly cordial the tension between them was palpable.

Released by a bottle of liquor, Doris slurred, “Girl, I almost ran over your neighbor’s dog. That mutt came chasing after my car. Wonder what it would do, if it caught it? Pee on it?” She slapped her leg, keeled over, and roared. Her double chin shook as she giggled.

“Doris,” Simon sighed, shifting uneasily in his chair. “Please consider using your indoor voice!”

She looked haughtily at him and kept talking in a loud booming voice, totally ignoring him.

“Honey child, I saw Melvin last night.”

“Please, Mrs. Custard: your inside voice,” Simon said very slowly and deliberately, as if talking to a small child.

“Easy, Great Refuser; I’ve been drinking,” Doris advised unequivocally, staring menacingly at him. “You’re in a bad way after the disaster at the republican rally. Meditate or have a drink or something, either way leave me alone.”

“Damn, you’re a tough rock to chisel!”

 After Doris mentioned Melvin, Rachel, reddening a little, broke into an embarrassing laugh. Melvin was an older man that she had been having an affair with for the last couple months. Rachel had at times tried to admonish her friend about the affair, but each time, her gentle admonishments fell on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, Simon sat shaking his head and muttering ‘fool’ under his breath.

“Damn, your indoor voice...,” he persisted, annoyed more by Doris’s presence than her voice.

Doris simply gave him a dismissive glance and continued talking about Melvin. Her attention was riveted on more immediate concerns.

“I can’t even hear myself think,” Simon mumbled heavily.

“Go sit in your B…M…W station wagon! Hey, you still got that Support Your Local Police sticker on your bumper? Support Your Local Police, ah-huh!”

“It’s a crossover, Einstein! My car is a BMW crossover, not a station wagon!” Simon responded boastfully. The pejorative idiom didn’t move headstrong Doris.

“You guys, please let it go,” Rachel begged.

“Honey, I ain’t thinking about Donald Trump today!” Doris said with perfect assurance. “

“Hottentot,” Simon muttered under his breath, and turned away bitterly. He resumed meditating but Doris had made him feel embarrassed and ungrateful. Given how his fellow republicans had treated him, and now Doris, the moral and spiritual damage in Simon was profound. He was learning that silence was better than being misunderstood.  He sat in his chair thinking and thinking. Armed with an almost religious vision of himself as Doris’ savor – no martyr to the Cross had ever been more certain in their faith – he could almost feel his mission as sat thinking and thinking. It was but within his grasp, that idealized future, casting its spell on him.

‘Why should Doris want to change the existing order of her life when she owns, or expects to own low-cost fashionable clothes, designer this and that, a 100-inch flat screen TV, and a used Audi? Liberation from hunger and misery does not necessarily mean liberation from servitude and degradation. Shopping is the new opiate of the masses.  Our advanced technology driven world has not only mass-produced useless devices but also mass-produced stifling conformity. Rapid changes in technology, consumption, culture, and thought has only produced an advanced state of rigid conformity. Doris, like most middle- and working-class people are too comfortable to revolt against anything. Yep, one dimensional Doris has found her soul in iPhones and Facebook. She has no ego, no id, and her soul is devoid of inner tension and dynamism: her simple ideas, her wants even her dreams are not her own: Doris’ inner life is totally administered and programmed to produce exactly those desires that the consumer culture can satisfy, i.e.  cheap, attractive clothing, and low-cost beauty products. I wish I could tell her that some diabolical genius has turned her pleasures into a tool of oppression, but she is fully integrated into a peaceful subordination to the consumer culture that makes her desire things that she doesn’t need. There is a symmetry with what has happened to Doris and Nazi propaganda: both the consumer culture and Nazi propaganda promoted conformist attitudes. Straitjacketed by conformity! A shopping kiss of death! That woman likes anything that excites or comforts, so there is no way to catalyze a revolution in her thinking! It is from unhappiness and discontent that change springs, and Doris has neither!”

 

“Great Refuser, is your hearing as bad as your eyesight,” Doris smiled viciously, shaking Simon’s shoulders. She had by now entered Southern Comfort paradise and was talking to Simon but he was inside his head.

Doris was on a roll. “I said, the only people who you like and admire are outcasts, fools, and rebels – people who disrupted the existing order. Outcasts and fools don’t provide a different way of life, instead they are freaks. And freaks can be cured with electrodes, jail or the University of Minnesota spankalogical therapy. All those freaks want to do is mess it up for everybody under the guise of changing the world!” Doris giggled mightily and took another sip.

 

Simon sensed that Doris didn’t like him, but he couldn’t imagine what it was about him that burned her up so much. But then he saw an opportunity to reform her.

 

Meanwhile, Rachel was angry and when she fixed Doris another drink, she banged the cupboards and the ice tray against the sink making a lot of noise.  Simon asked himself what he had done to make his wife act that way. He walked to the bookshelf and took out, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, LL. D. Mackay had a low opinion of all do-gooders and Crusaders. Simon read the passage out loud.

History in her solemn pages informs us that the crusaders were but ignorant and savage men, that their motives were those of bigotry unmitigated, and that their pathway was one of blood and tears.

And then Simon read this: Now what was the grand result of all these struggles? Europe expended millions of treasures, and the blood of two million of her people; and a handful of quarrelsome knights retained possession of Palestine for about one hundred years.

“Oh God,” Doris snickered deep in Southern Comfort paradise, “Professor Nihilo been digging through his collection of frumpish books! Good grief, and they smell like mothballs and Russian cabbage soup. You’re boring me, Simon! And everything you’re saying is a middle-class nightmare! Buddy, why are you at war with shopping, Facebook and iPhone?”

Doris was trying to re-invent herself and her vocabulary. She felt that she had spoken intelligently. She was baffled when she saw Rachel shake her head and roll her eyes. Doris knew from past experience what Rachel’s gestures meant: You’re being stupid.

“What was so stupid about what I said? What?”  Doris begged.

“It’s corner store philosophy, Doris! Kindergarten metaphysics that’s beneath a woman of your intelligence!”

Rachel had given up explaining to her friend. And on and on went the duet between Simon and Doris.

“Yeah,” Simon agreed quickly, adding, “You listen and read without understanding. Take those books on your coffee table, you’ve lost the knack of reading them with the deep attention they need. Old favorites are marooned on your coffee table looking like a spice shelf in a hoarder’s kitchen! You rarely sift their dust!”

 

 

“So, Great Refuser, Anguish Misfit, baleful Frankenstein monster, the truth can only be carried by revolutionaries like you? The rest of us are going to be liberated after being educated into the truth by you? And you want me to risk my security and comfort for an idea that didn’t work for you at that Trump rally? You do need some University of Minnesota spankology therapy!”

 

“Doris you are boring because you are extremely one dimensional. You can only talk about men and shopping. See, you haven’t been lucky at all. You’re about as interesting as boiled water.  Doris, the Greeks genius tolerated greed, revenge and envy. Those passions gave a certain urge for struggle and the infinite joy of victory. The Greeks understood that the real meaning of life lies within. You have to turn suffering ashes into a brighter flame that you can be proud of. It was that blockhead Paul who popularized suffering for suffering sake.”

Simon had emerged from his solitude, but now Doris, who he wanted to address, rejected him.

“Let me give you another example,” Simon promised, growing more and more determined to reform Doris but she was dozing.

“Let’s say some aliens made a serious study of Christianity, what they would learn is that before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. The flaw the aliens would find is that Christ was actually the son of the Most Powerful being ever imagined though he didn’t appear that way. So, when it came time for the crucifixion, Pontius Pilate and Caliphas thought oh, shit, we sure did pick the wrong bum to lynch this time.”

 The Southern Comfort finished Doris off.

 

When Simon went to the bathroom, Rachel shook Doris and told her, “If Simon starts being philosophical again, if he starts talking about reification, immanent, or metaphysical, interrupt him with something provocative and political. Girl, you need an ingenious strategy for concealing your ignorance. Ask him questions to make him think that you understand the crap he’s talking. Then watch his great vanity soar.”

 

Indeed, Rachel’s strategy worked its magic. Doris adjusted her approach to Simoon. He was suspicious at first but then his vanity got the better of him. He sat in amazement, then getting up and walking to Doris, he shook both of hands with genuine gratitude and said: “I had no idea you knew so much about consumer culture.” He smiled with tears almost forming in the corners of his eyes at Doris’ sudden change. She had no idea that the strategy would work so well. Simon started ranting again, “The fiasco at that republican rally imposed a ‘new categorical imperative’ on me and I’m trying to arrange my thoughts and actions so that disaster will not repeat itself, that nothing similar would happen to me again. That sort of thing has got to be stopped. Bad politicians are like slum landlords. It’s my job to put them out of business. See, Doris, I want to free the oppressed, suffering humanity from that trap, from a mindset that ensnared individuals in the pursuit of happiness rather than questioning why they sought such an end. I can never change the world, but only interpret it more profoundly and expose how we are endlessly cheated out of what is endlessly promised to us. My role is to reduce the consumer culture to rubble and thus help cure the faithful of their delusions. Insight like this, if it was to be attained at all, must be given to the adepts who can transcend popular modes of thinking. But even this insight only to come in flashes – constellations. These flashes of insight are always changing, flickering in and out of the beholders’ grasp. But such flashes of insight are the only way we could step outside what is otherwise a total system of delusion.”

 

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