Critical Mass

Preview 2008: Benjamin Taylor’s “The Book of Getting Even”


The following is excerpted with permission from Benjamin Taylor’s “The Book of Getting Even,” to be published in May 2008 by Steerforth Press.

Marghie called them both to her room next morning, drew back the curtain, pointed. Somebody had spelled out in gravel, on the driveway, a declaration.

  “Whoever wrote that,” said Danny, “is going to have to be clearer.”

  “It is,” said Gabriel, “a cry for help.”

    “Who wrote that on the driveway?” called Lilo from the kitchen.

  “Children, which of you has written this?” called Grisha from the living room.

    The theme of the day had emerged. “Don’t anyone rub it out. I, for one, am moved,” Lilo said. “Someone in obscure distress wrote that. Which of us was it?”

  “I, for one, am creeped out,” said Marghie. Had no one but herself grasped that the optimal vantage point for reading this cri de coeur in gravel was from her bedroom window? Clearly addressed to her, the lovesick public notice read as follows:


Oh, go fuck yourself, she’d been inclined to reply. Go fuck yourself, Peter Storrow. Where were the boys who knew how to get beyond first person singular? She could count on one hand, with digits to spare, the really worthwhile fellows, and they were entwined with each other, gasping and sighing. Yes, she had put an ear to the wall and listened. Then she had put a drinking glass to the wall and an ear to that and heard Gabriel’s pleas for reassurance, and her brother’s hedgings.

  This summer, Wisconsin was rifer than usual with love and lovesickness. A perfect circle of unrequited emotion announced itself. Peter, it seemed, loved her, she loved Gabriel, Gabriel loved Danny, and Danny loved whom, what? The empty air. Compact all of himself, all self-delighting, no wonder everybody needed him—he seemed to need none of them.

  What had lately occurred to Marghie was that love says ‘Satisfy! Satisfy!’ and that what people really meant when they say, ‘I love you’ is that they love the longed-for satisfaction of their need. People say Love! Love! and what they mean is Me! Me! If people loved each other the way they love themselves, people would love each other’s need. It was not so, and that it was not so was quite a lot for a twenty-three-year-old virgin to bear.

  It pleased her that without benefit of experience she’d thought her way in so deep. But she had to admit that Peter, also, seemed to have done some thinking. He’d suffered a wound to his free will. Well, that was a way of putting it, an interesting one. Could it be that for him too, gangrenous with desire though he was, sex had been thought about, not done? Could Peter Storrow be in like case? If she spelled out in gravel on the driveway, for all eyes but his heart only, something like


they might strike up a very revealing correspondence.

  Authoritative on affairs of the heart, despite having had none, she’d garnered what she knew from movies. From where else? Often enough, the television screen had sufficed despite crummy reception and commerical breaks. In The Letter or Mildred Pierce she had known pity and fear and purgation. Afterwards, she’d turn off the set and try out a line or two she’d admired: “With all my heart, I still love the man I killed!” Or: “I learned the restaurant business, I learned it the hard way.” This was what some called living vicariously. She called it living big, living at thirty-seven frames per second. What was so great about real life anyhow? She’d been Greta Garbo, Hedy Lamar, Paulette Goddard, Myrna Loy, Ava Gardner. She had been Loretta Young, for what that was worth. She’d been Norma Shearer, a very classy experience. Marghie Hundert didn’t so much watch movies as become them, didn’t so much remember a picture as see it playing again, frame for frame, on the mind’s eye. She had the conviction of the truly obsessed: none before her had felt so much. Now she drew another line from her storehouse and spoke it to herself: “Nothing between us but air, doll.” And knew as she said it that this was a lie.