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Previously in Unbound Fiction:

"Bluegrass Banjo," by Allison Amend (September 27, 2000)
"The fat musician picked wildly. He wore a pained expression, as though the music were getting away from him, and gradually he looked up from the instrument and into the audience with a wide-eyed helplessness."

"Travel Guide for Ameri-Students Touring Former Soviet Countries," by Anthony Doerr (August 23, 2000)
"Now that you have successfully deserted your sixteen classmates, three fat teachers, and one pompous Belorussian tour guide in Minsk by skulking past their rooms at dawn and through the empty hotel lobby, take the first train to Lithuania."

"Bienvenue à Dilbrith College, Marie-Claire Tremblay!!," by Simon Fanning (July 19, 2000)
"Marie-Claire is scheduled to arrive on the three o'clock train. And would Abélard himself not have relinquished his philosophical pursuits in order to accommodate his immaculate Héloïse?"

"The Limbo of Infants," by Sandra Riley (June 21, 2000)
"They like to go to Chi Chi's for cha-jitas, Claire and Tom, when they are off the island on an interstate, looking for a place to stop."

"Cicada," by Judy Wilson (May 24, 2000)
"These are things my son taught me to care about. Saturday nights he taught me to feel the thrill of the drag strip. 'The trick,' he said, 'is to not blink when the lights go green.'"

"Lyris," by Tom Drury (April 20, 2000)
"She climbed down the outside of the bridge and stood on a narrow ledge. It was not a far drop to the river; it might even be a pleasant jump in the summer."

More fiction from Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

October 26, 2000

Fat From Shame, by Clyde Edgerton

From "Families, Geography, and Hierarchical Structure in Certain Southern Counties and Parishes," by Lindsay D. Stem, found in Imagine: The Journal of Real and Imagined History, Spring 1969; reprinted in Alternative Endeavors, vol. 21, no. 2, Spring 1975.

The North Carolina Piedmont's 250-year history as a relatively isolated region of small family farms, a few plantations, and communities of horizontal rather than vertical social power structures has encouraged a kind of "familial-emotional inbreeding," a condition in which daughters and sons sometimes find it difficult to separate adequately, in a psychological and sometimes a physical sense, from a parent or parents. It all worked once, but now it can be a pain in the ass to outsiders, and like it or not outsiders are now in the 1960s a part of life in the South and will increasingly become a part of all life everywhere for the next few hundred years or so.

Family life in the North Carolina Piedmont, while similar to that of some Souths, has been markedly different from family life in Souths where sons of plantation owners, occasionally daughters, were expected to read books, attend universities, and travel abroad. Life in the Piedmont, on a comparative basis, has thus been "too stable." In fact, it has not been unusual to find elderly people living in their community of birth, or even home of birth, while being tended to by their children or by the perennial "daughter who stayed behind." Such arrangements were once a norm, and have been common in black families also, but the more psychologically problematic aspects of "familial-emotional inbreeding" are generally applicable to white families rather than black families, and will perhaps be less of a phenomenon related directly to the white families of the North Carolina Piedmont as outsiders move in, family farms gradually disappear, cities grow larger, and daily patterns of family behavior thus become more complex and less predictable -- an unstoppable trend in coming decades. But in the meantime:

If we glance ahead thirty or forty years into the lives of typical North Carolina Piedmont families we might find consequences of "familial-emotional inbreeding." Teenage sons and daughters will have problems separating from parents. The parents, you see, will have come from that South described above, a South where family harmony was apparently essential for survival and thus unconsciously mandatory. Not apparently essential for well-being, or happiness, or liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, but for survival, most clearly up to the time when today's grandparents were born, around the first of the twentieth century -- give or take ten or fifteen years.

Jump back to then: you work with family members every day -- eat, sleep, hunt -- and stay in the same little rooms without means to travel. Harmony is essential, self-imposed, recognized as mandatory. This pattern is not uncommon during much of the history of humankind.

Did I say family harmony? But fifty years from now -- 2020 -- what the hell is family harmony going to be worth? The forced movement of culture in America will be toward bodily harmony. As in: are bodily molecules functioning in such a way as to bring peace, bodily peace? Are the molecules of emotion functioning in such a way as to not be interrupted by the violence of the unpredictable germ or gene or even an anachronism?

Sadly, history will soon overtake itself, becoming finally and fatally not post-modern, but pissed-modern.

Now, in 1969, many North Carolina Piedmont children are raised by parents. Let's say a mythical son, Donnie, is raised by mythical parents, Daniel and Linda -- who didn't rebel against their parents. Daniel and Linda courted harmony, sentimentality, faithfulness, the potential vengeance of God, and obedience. To court Whatever Else would have meant death. So, at age eleven, 1957, Donnie is obedient, and here I say, ideally -- given his community's holding to family-farm norms up into, and maybe even past, the 1960s -- I say, ideally, time would pass as it always has, locally and slowly, plod, plod, plod, and ideally Donnie's son, dark-minded and not speaking, would have grown up almost the same way Daniel did -- except for maybe the tiniest tad of rebellion at say age sixteen or eighteen. But NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. Them little family farms and the culture they carried are suddenly dying fast. Donnie's son in 2000 will have experienced family life unlike any of his ancestors: he will not have needed it to survive, and he will sense this. Survival is guaranteed, you see.

Not only guaranteed, but bodily harmony is guaranteed through the molecules of emotion -- through the understanding and kind treatment of the molecules of emotion. Through science, the guaranteed infinite growing of new cells and the manufacture of artificial organs become possible in a way that eventually the question of survival, the problem of death itself, is to be extinguished.

Donnie's great-great-great grandson will live to see death die. It is now -- latter middle of the twentieth century -- clearly enevitible. And with the death of death comes the end of family, then the end of the individual.... Enter pissed-modern history, and that is:

1) The struggle, strangle, poof, thuppernong, last gasp of religion, art, language, memory, and the electricity of the heart.

2) The recovery of woods. The reign of apes in the dead cities of Africa and South America. The hairy hand throwing the slide-rule up into the blue cloudy sky.

3) Yes. In America sits the service station with kudzu growing up and over a gas pump (rather, a gas "dispenser": could we not have learned that with physical tools, when we can't touch and see and understand that which touches us, we're in deep trouble?) and kudzu up the side of the service station. The station is red and white in the daytime, colors to attract attention, and in the bright light of the moon reflecting shades but not color, were you there, you'd see a cat move in a trot across cracked asphalt, a rapid trot -- just short of a gallop -- across the cracked asphalt in front of the station and across the vacant and soundless highway, moving from woods to woods. She moves silently and rapidly, not loping, not walking, her legs like straight pencils, moving rapidly. She is colorless in the reflected light of the moon. She's looking to care for her offspring.

Onward and upward. Let's.

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More fiction from Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.

Clyde Edgerton is the author of
The Floatplane Notebooks (1988), In Memory of Junior (1992), and five other novels. He teaches in the Creative Writing Department at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and lives in Durham, North Carolina, near where he grew up.

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