A fantasy about a woman bequeathed an odd gift by a former lover who broke up with her, then died—his handwriting. Why did he do this and what does it mean? Find out in Jonathan Carroll's Played Your Eyes.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Jonathan Carroll's novel The Wooden Sea was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2001. He is the author of such acclaimed novels as White Apples, The Land of Laughs, The Marriage of Sticks, and Bones of the Moon. He lives in Vienna, Austria.
Read an Excerpt
Years before, their breakup had been ugly, drawn out, and at times brutal. Understandably, when she learned later that he had died, she felt very conflicted. Yes, the good times had been superb and there were many of them, for sure. But when things went bad between them, she literally felt like she was drowning in his cruelty, insensitivity, and rage every single day, right up till the end. Yet no matter how much she had tried to clear her thoughts of him afterward, he stayed in her mind and memory all these months later like one of those maddening translucent floaters in the eye that slide lazily around from corner to corner, blurring your vision. Eventually they move off to one side of the eye or other for a while, but never completely go away. In her honest moments she assumed he still felt bad things about her too, but now she would never know.
So it came as a complete surprise when she received a letter from a lawyer named Bellport saying she had been left something in his will. He was wealthy. In truth, part of her felt like he did owe her something for both their good and bad times over the years. She was eager to discover what it would be, although there was also a small queasy feeling in her gut in case it turned out to be something not so nice. He could be very generous, but equally vindictive or petty, depending on his mood. You never knew with him, especially at the end of their days together. Could this be delayed payback from beyond the grave?
* * *
His handwriting. He bequeathed his handwriting to her.
On hearing this, she blinked twice and gave a quick, short shake of her head as if to clear it of the something wrong that had just flown into her ear.
"What do you mean?"
The lawyer, a handsome man with a gleaming bald head and the supreme slick confidence of a Rolls-Royce salesman, smiled a little condescendingly at her before answering, "He left you his handwriting. When we were drawing up his will, he happened to mention you loved his handwriting. So — now it's yours." The tone of his voice said: Okay, that's that — the topic is finished.
In response, the tone of her voice was: Are you nuts? "How can someone will their handwriting to someone else? It's yours; it's something you develop over the years; it's ... personal, I don't know — physical — like fingerprints. It dies with you."
The lawyer spoke calmly to her — a little too calmly. The quiet tone one might use when reasoning with a bratty child having a tantrum. "It can be done. Suffice it to say he did so, and now it's yours." He clapped his hands gently together for emphasis. "But it doesn't mean you have to use it. You just own it. Think of it as a beautiful boat — you don't have to use that either. You can leave it at the dock and never think about it. But it's yours now."
* * *
When she got home from Bellport's office she made a cup of coffee and took it to her desk. Fittingly, she took out the gorgeous, carmine-red, Japanese lacquer fountain pen he had given her for her birthday many years before. The great irony was although she loved pens, notebooks, and everything to do with handwriting, hers was absolutely atrocious and had been all of her life. It was tiny and almost indecipherable to anyone but herself. He once said it looked like someone dipped a pigeon's feet in ink then let it walk across the page. He was right. It had always embarrassed her, and put side to side with his precise, singular, almost calligraphic script, it was like comparing gravel to a diamond.
But his gorgeous script was hers now, supposedly. She thought it was ridiculous, impossible, perhaps even just a bad last nasty joke he was playing on her. But what the hell — she had to make sure. She may have ended up hating him back then, sometimes even being afraid of what he might do, but she had to admit that what he did well in life was often unmatched, original, and sometimes even genius. Maybe he had found an amazing way to transfer his handwriting to her.
Uncapping the pen, she pulled a small pad of white paper from the corner of her desk and, thinking for a minute, grinned when she thought of one word for what she was sort of — in a kind of way — about to do: She wrote the word plagiarize.
What came out of the pen was her handwriting, her pigeon scrawl. Not a single one of the letters was in his lovely script. No surprises there.
Smirking now, she waited a bit and then tried it again. Only this time when she began to write the word — just to make sure it was only a stupid, macabre last joke on her — what flowed onto the page were three words:
played your eyes
instead of plagiarize. All three were instantly recognizable in his beautiful script.
Recapping the pen, she carefully placed it back on the desk, although her hand trembled so the pen rattled a little when it touched down on the wood surface.
"Why? What is this?" she asked herself in a whisper, she asked the empty room around her, she asked dead him knowing he would not reply. What had he done to her? Why had he done this?
She was not a brave woman but she did a brave thing now: Against all of her instincts, she picked up the pen, uncapped it again, and started to write. She did not want to do this. At that moment she only wanted to run out of the room and away from her life because she was petrified. She looked down at her moving hand like it was the enemy.
When they were together he used to call her a "fear bakery" because too frequently she used some ongoing — usually trivial — worries, concerns, or obsessions as ingredients to bake yet another fresh hot loaf of alarm which she then devoured, making herself semi-miserable. He believed she lived in a self-created world of what ifs?' that kept her almost constantly on edge. She had to check the stove three times to make sure it was off before she'd leave her apartment. She was the only person he'd ever known who washed or dry-cleaned clothes she'd just bought new before she'd wear them: "You never know who touched or tried them on before you." She would eat French fries only down to the last two or three centimeters and throw the rest away. He never once saw her eat the last bit and when he'd ask her about that quirk, she looked at him silently but the expression on her face said quite clearly, "Isn't it obvious?"
He didn't say anything.
Neither did she.
One time they even engaged in an intense thirty-second stare-off about her pommes frites peculiarity, the end of which came when she asked, "Do you think I'm weird?"
He pursed his lips and slowly answered, "You have your quirks."
For the third time she attempted to write the word plagiarize. And she did. It came out of the pen as she intended. Then a fourth and fifth time. But not the sixth:
played your eyes
His words, in his distinctive handwriting.
Capricious. In the days to come, she learned her inheritance from him was very capricious. It almost never interfered with her daily life — matters like writing a check or signing for packages. She had a habit of scribbling lots of notes to herself and sticking them up all over her apartment. Grocery lists, inspirational quotes, date reminders. He (and she began to refer to the event as he) almost never showed up there. She wanted to write down a line he once said when they were out to dinner. It read:
Fear is the intermission, not the play.
But when she put pen to paper what flowed out instead — in his handwriting — was:
My memory loves you; it asks about you all the time.
Was a dead man talking to her? He was, of course, but why, and what did he want?
* * *
She had never believed in life after death. Interestingly, he didn't either, the few times they had talked about it. Neither of them was interested in the subject. Both felt that when you're done you're done and the only question that needed answering beforehand was how you wanted your body disposed of afterward. He joked about having his flown to Nepal or Tibet, where he could have a "sky burial." There they lay your remains out on a rock and vultures feast on them. She didn't think this was funny but these days she wondered if he had actually done it and that was the cause of this ... thing happening to her right now.
There was obviously no one she could talk to about it without their thinking she was mad. So days went by and every time she needed to write something her stomach and lips tightened, not knowing what was about to happen.
One morning it came to her: She would try conversing with him, or it, or whatever was using his handwriting to disturb her life. She used a pencil because she thought it would be better, more neutral, than using his pen. On a yellow lined pad, she wrote at the top:
What do you want?
It came out in her familiar ugly scrawl, which was a positive sign. She waited, but both her hand and mind stayed still. Neither of them had anything to say. She tried again and wrote:
Please tell me what you want. This is driving me crazy.
Nothing. He would not answer. Her hand would not move no matter how much she willed it to.
* * *
Weeks passed and slowly she learned to accept his bequest. Truth be told, writing in his beautiful script became a daily joy. Whether it was her choice or not, eventually her handwriting morphed completely into his. Nevermore did any inked pigeon feet walk across her pages. If it was his gift then she chose to use it. If sometimes he sent little mysterious — usually cryptic — messages to her via that gift, the trade-off was more than fair.
She had to change a few things in her life to make it fit. Her bank, insurance, and credit card companies were all notified that she had changed her signature. At work a few people noticed the transformation because she was in the habit of hand-writing informal notes to colleagues rather than sending emails, especially now writing had become such a pleasure for her. When asked about this, she said she had been taking an online calligraphy course. To her delight, people complimented her, saying again and again how lovely her handwriting had become.
One summer night several months later, a violent thunderstorm swept through the city, scaring all the dogs and burning up the sky in what looked like almost continuous threads of mad lightning. Her father used to call such storms real rock and rollers, and this one certainly was. The phrase and the memory of her father saying it was the last thing she thought of before falling asleep while the storm rocked and rolled the night world outside her window.
An hour and a half later (at some point she glanced at the clock next to the bed), she woke after a particularly ferocious crack of thunder bit all the way down through her sleep. It took a while before she rose to full consciousness because when she slept, she slept deep, and people had always said rousing her was a real chore. When her eyes came into clear focus, the first thing she saw was a very strange sight. For long seconds it didn't really register: Her right arm was extended straight out in front of her toward the ceiling. As she blearily watched, her hand moved up and down, left and right, all on its own, in a familiar way she gradually recognized was as if it were writing.
"What the hell ..." Fully awake now, she snatched the arm back down to her chest and cradled it there as if she'd hurt it. The arm surrendered with no resistance. For dramatic emphasis, another great crack and boom of thunder rattled her world. She flinched, although thunder didn't normally bother her at all.
Raising her hand to her eyes, she looked at it as if it were something that didn't belong to her. Why was it up in the air doing a weird writing thing while she slept? Was it something to do with a dream she was having but couldn't remember now she was awake? Maybe it was. In the past, lovers had complained that she often spoke, moved around a lot, and even flailed her arms in her sleep when a dream was especially bad or vivid. She even slapped one guy, who took it to be a sign they were in trouble as a couple if she was smacking him in her sleep.
One cold fall day she took a nap on the couch under a thin blanket. When she woke, her arm was straight up in the air, her hand moving rapidly in a familiar way.
Again the next week. Then once again a few days after that. It didn't scare her but it disturbed her, for sure, as one would imagine such a thing would upset anyone. It seemed like her hand and arm had taken on a life of their own while she was asleep. What they were doing (or writing) in this other life was a mystery. It made her wonder if it might be a good idea to go see a neurologist.
* * *
She met a new man. How it happened was sort of magical: On a windy day, she was at an outdoor newsstand buying a magazine. She took a five- dollar bill out of her wallet to pay. The wind gusted and blew it out of her hand. Funnily enough, it flew through the air and landed flat on the face of a man who was walking by. Without a moment's hesitation and with absolute coolness, he nonchalantly peeled the bill off his cheek, stopped to hand it to her, ducked his head in a quick bow, smiled beautifully, and then kept moving. She couldn't believe what had just happened and burst out laughing. But still, she managed to call out, Wait! before he disappeared down the street. They talked. He was great. They kept talking until he asked her if she'd like to move out of the wind and get a coffee. The beginning. He wasn't a dreamboat, the man she had been waiting for her whole life, but he was pretty damn great. He seemed to be as excited about the relationship as she was, and that thrilled her even more.
To her great embarrassment, the first time they spent the night together, she did the writing thing in her sleep. She was awakened by something pulling gently on her arm. Opening her eyes, she looked up and saw he was pulling her arm from its skywriting position. The word she'd started thinking of it as whenever it happened — skywriting. She was mortified that he had seen her doing it. Especially tonight, when everything had been going perfectly right up till the moment they fell asleep in each other's arms. But now he'd think she did crazy things like write on the ceiling when she was fast asleep. Naturally, he would probably wonder what other kind of wacko behavior she had in her dark closet.
He thought it was very cool. Really — he did. When she tried to explain that she was helpless to stop the gesture, he shook his head and said he thought it was fascinating. Maybe her subconscious was writing a book while she slept — a novel or a memoir. "That's a book I'd want to read!" he joked, and she could tell it was not meant in any mean way.
She was rueful, and sort of whispered, "Or maybe it's a horror novel."
He wouldn't accept it. He must have talked for ten minutes in the dark in the middle of their first night together with great enthusiasm about what her skywriting might mean. As he spoke and smiled and spun his thoughts, she stared at him, at his nice, open face, and fell for him ten times more.
After that night, she almost never did skywriting again when they were together. She felt relieved, no matter how accepting he was about it. Who does such things in their sleep? She had already been told by her last lover that she had her "quirks," and this new one was a doozy no matter how you looked at it.
She assumed she didn't do it around the new man because he had some kind of calming effect on both her conscious and unconscious minds. It certainly felt like it. She slept better when they were together; she was much happier in general since meeting him. One afternoon they were watching an old Preston Sturges film on TV. During a commercial, he killed the sound and asked what was on her bucket list. What would she like to do or see or possess before she died? He was serious — she could tell he really wanted to know. It was one of his most endearing qualities — he wanted to know her better than any man she'd ever been with. He wanted to know about her past, her dreams, hopes, fears, the things about herself she felt pride in.
Without hesitating, which was normally not her way of doing things because she was careful and circumspect, she said immediately, "Nothing. I realized the other day there is nothing more I want in my life than what I have right now." She started to tear up. She turned her head to one side and wiped her eye with a thumb. He took her hand. She shook her head and smiled. "Part of it is because of you, part is because things are just good in my life right now. Not perfect and not Oz or anything, but good. Do you know what I mean? I don't think I've ever felt like this. Before, there was always something in the way of happiness, or something that needed correcting, or I felt that life would be better if it were just a little bit more this way or that. But I don't feel any of those things lately. It feels like life is my friend these days."
Excerpted from "Played Your Eyes"
Copyright © 2018 Jonathan Carroll.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author,