‘The Bastard Died on Me’ by William L. Spencer


(In a major key)

Say you’re a writer, some kind of writer, and you come up with the perfect title for this thing you’ve been working on, and the next thing you know, someone steals it.

Well, of course they don’t steal it because no one but you knows what it is, and you can’t steal titles and ideas anyway because you can’t copyright them. If you could copyright ideas Homer’s descendants would be suing Clint Eastwood over Iwo Jima.

(Have you ever considered what a peculiar combination of sounds that is: Iwo Jima? You hear it, you see it, but not until you type it do you realize that it’s just damn weird. You know it’s some kind of a small jima—anything iwo has to be tiny tiny—but what’s a jima? Do you think, possibly, it might be a penis?)

That’s the kind of thing that bastard thought was really funny, stuff that was totally off the wall.

Anyway, I had hit on the title. It was just what I wanted. It spoke directly to my market, the twenty and thirty-somethings sitting around Starbucks with earbuds dangling down unplugged. The earbuds are out because this target demo of mine is listening to that particular music they play in Starbucks that, for me, characterizes their subculture. It usually features a female vocalist, mellow and creamy, no crescendo, no diminuendo, the melody a relaxed, featureless glissando. It’s kind of mesmerizing, it’s pleasant and it’s often beguiling. It’s what your psych prof might call affective flattening.

(Modulate to the minor)

I was putting together a book, not mine, pieces written by that bastard who’d died on me. I’d flown up to Seattle to talk to some people and when the gathering broke up coming on midnight I realized I hadn’t bothered with reservations. Rather than ask for a ride somewhere, I’d walked down the street to one of those aging fringe-of-the-inner-city cracked linoleum motels. The sheets were clean, not so clean and crisp they were stiff, like the ones you get at the Mandarin in Hong Kong or the Plaza in New York, but clean, I’m basically a blue collar type and that’s all I ask.

It wasn’t the sort of place where you sleep in, phone down to room service and spend a lazy morning sitting near a sunny window with a pot of coffee and the New York Times. I was back on the street at six and the only place open was the Starbucks on the next block (there’s a Starbucks on every next block in Seattle, I think it’s an ordinance or something).

I sat there with coffee and a bagel, making line edits to a manuscript that had been written by musician and composer I had admired, a person I had loved like a brother, who knew when he wrote it that he was dying. But you can’t hold all that in your mind and get much done. I sat in Starbucks and listened to the music, looking up from time to time, watching them come in for coffee, wondering.

Absence of affect. Was it a choice favoring simplicity versus the ornate, plainness rather than embellishment? Was it because they toked a bit the night before and now they wanted everything velvety and uninvolving? Or maybe if everything is everything and it’s all neither this nor that, you won’t be disappointed, because after all, what’s this is pretty much the same as what’s that over there, and, ho-hum, whatever.

(Transition back to the dominant)

It took a while before I hit on that title for the thing of mine I’d been writing, just right for a first-person narrative for those kids at Starbucks—simple, flat, blunted affect.

Then a few weeks later, waiting for the start of Woody Allen’s latest, the previews of coming attractions came up and there was my title, hijacked by Hollywood.

(Finish on a flatted fifth)

He died on me and left me here and I’m still pissed off about it. Now who’s around to make fun of me when I start feeling sorry for myself about something stupid, like that dumb title?

William L. Spencer has published fiction and non-fiction in the San Diego Reader and
West Coast Review (Simon Fraser University). His short story “In the System” (pen
name Carlos Dunning) was published by Uprising Review in 2017, and his short “What I
Done” is scheduled for the Spring 2018 issue of Furtive Dalliance Literary Review. He is
a winner of First Place for Fiction (twice) and First Place for Non-Fiction from the San
Diego Writers and Editors Guild, and winner of the Ursus Press Short Story Contest. He
edited “Across This Silent Canvas” by Hubbard Miller. On Scribophile.com he’s Carlos