An Excerpt from “The White Album” by David Hadbawnik

from The White Album

The White Album project is a series of brief monologues from various speakers, three of which are reproduced below.


I was a big guy and we were making a movie and Svetlana and I would spend the night together in the apartment they gave us, me just holding her as she slept, and one night I felt a wet tightness inside her chest and it had been so long since I felt anything like that in another body that I must have been holding her too tight, because she woke up and said, “What are you doing.”

We got up and went to an all-night diner I liked and I ordered eggs and toast and Svetlana drank coffee, and a guy and his girl who’d been waiting for a table were standing behind us talking, till finally a table opened up and they sat down across from us and over, a knight’s move away, and something about the guy made me stare at him, hard, till Svetlana, noticing this, signaled the waitress for the check.

But too late, it had started, I couldn’t stop staring at the guy, who was dark and smallish and talking to his girl, and I got up and said, “You know him, don’t you, don’t lie,” and he looked at me and I knew that he knew him and I picked him up straight from the booth and took him to our booth and sat him down on my lap like a doll, You know my friend, don’t fucking lie about it.

And just as I was about to really get started one guy from a bunch of black guys who had sauntered in came over and leaned down and he had no eye and only a spider-web tattoo in place of it and he said, “I know what y’all are about to do here and I’ma tell ya right now why you’re not gonna do it, me and my crew here about to eat and we don’t wanna be disturbed by no cops or someone coming to take you to the loonybin, which’s where your ass belong,” and blah blah blah, I couldn’t hear the rest but stared at his face, because this, finally, was where it had all been headed and what I had wanted all along.

Svetlana drove home and we got back into bed and I lied there holding her, still unable to sleep but quieter now, breathing easy and not having to hold her so tight.

*   *   *

For some reason I got in the habit of saluting people this one day.

I’m basically in charge of all of Michigan.

I salute people and I expect them to salute me back.

Mostly they do. And sometimes I can’t help it, but I stand very erect, in that position, almost too erect, like my back is about to collapse into a circle and my forehead will roll back and touch my heels, but somehow it doesn’t, I don’t.

Until finally someone salutes me and I can relax.

*   *   *

I felt cold. It seemed I’d been feeling that way for a year. I mean it was cold outside but this went beyond that. Didn’t matter what I put on, what I ate or drank, I’d find myself shivering and shuffling in the hallway, and my cheek would feel cold to the touch.

I developed these cracks on the corners of my mouth. Dark circles under my eyes. I had always thought that was a thing that only happened in the movies. But when I dragged myself in front of a mirror, there they were.

I forgot how to spell. It was amusing at first, and I’d never really been very good at it, but my spelling kept getting worse and worse. I’d stare at a word like “seizure” or “accommodate” and the longer I stared at it, the stranger it looked to me, the less certain I was how to spell it.

This was a problem, because I was handling all the correspondence for the office of the vice president at R.P. Ryan’s Realtors, which owned and operated over a hundred properties in and around the city. And there was tons of it. E-mails, faxes, letters, reports, assessments… Of course there was spell-check, and I kept a Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary within easy reach on the shelf just above my computer. But I had to rely on it more and more; I developed this almost reflexive movement, my arm would shoot up for the dictionary even as I scanned a sentence.

Then I began forgetting whole words. Names.

The veep rushed by my desk muttering in the shorthand we’d developed, “Pull up a note to Martha,” meaning prepare an e-mail with the proper greeting and signature that he would quickly shoot me a mishmash of the contents of, and which it was my job to then work into a formal (or slightly less than formal, depending on the proper tone that he’d established with Martha, which I was expected to know as well) wording, and then run it by him before sending. But I had no idea who Martha was.

I sat staring at the computer screen, at the empty e-mail with all the boilerplate information that I’d pulled up, with the name “Martha” typed hopefully into the “To” bar.

Then I got up and put on my jacket and walked away from my cubicle. I navigated the maze of workstations, exited through the lobby, jammed the “down” button on the elevators, then took an abrupt right and found myself flying, practically falling, down the stairs.

Outside it was all sunlight and water. The building is by the piers. Along the canal that cuts in from the Bay. I had this image of my brain with tiny holes in it, holes I could almost feel, and I stood by the railing watching the million little suns ripple along the surface of water and thinking that it jibed with all the holes in my head.

I remembered a different canal in a different city. And the name of a friend there, which I hung onto, wildly, as though it were the last thing on earth holding me up. And I saw myself standing there from further and further away, just a dot getting smaller and smaller, from further and further up in the sky.

Profile: David Hadbawnik

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