…It was twenty-years ago today (as someone – I can’t think who – was known to say) at the ripe young age of nineteen, beguiled by my mis-reading of the rules to the Anvil Press 3-Day Novel Writing Contest, that I locked myself in the cheapest Econo Lodge money could buy for the purpose of conceiving and composing a novel in the span of seventy-two hours…
…I consider this the start of my literary career – though, as with all poor little scriveners, I had produced an (if not mountainous certainly a hill-ish) amount of work in my adolescence, some of which, I daresay, was maybe even halfway decent…
…It had been mostly poetry and plays/screenplays up until October People and surely the residuals of such efforts inform the overall feel of the book and the scenography of the vignettes it is constructed of…
…The offering is wholly singular in my oeuvre – in these two decades I have never written anything else remotely in its style – which made the task of revisiting it for preparation in the Collected Works so eye popping and pleasant for me…
…I had never retouched the work after those original three days – even the published volume of yesteryear (released through the infamous vanity mill Publish America) was doggedly insisted by me to stay ‘the exact words set down under the strictures of that contest” (again, strictures I by that time knew I had wildly exaggerated)…
…The impression of reading the text with a mind to edit was uncanny – not only did I recall everything (down to the taste of the dust motes sprung from the bedsheets in the room where I had typed) but I viscerally re-felt every microscopic qualm and thought of change I would have made had I allowed myself to pass through the raw manuscript even ONCE before moving on from it…
…And it was with that in mind I allowed myself another seventy-two hours (spread out over seven days, as it turned out) to finalize everything forever – no interest in informing the text with a more mature perspective or exploring its themes and content from even a slightly different tilt – I allowed myself (almost exactly nineteen years full past the nineteen-years-old I had been at the time of composing) under these slightly more reasonable obstructions to retouch the book and to make it what (I now without my angsty youthful hiss and insistence at some overblown ‘purity’ understand) I had intended it to be…
…Of all of the volumes prepared for these Collected Works, this was the one touched-up the most (most of the volumes hardly get a thing save for typographical corrections – and Lord knows a lot of those lovely bugs still make it through, as it wouldn’t be Pablo D’Stair without them!): a solid seven to eight thousand new words were inserted throughout, some phrases were permitted miniscule alteration, as were (minimally) punctuation styles, some superficial alterations to the textblock/structure were permitted and so on – and yet I am able to read it even now and to say with certainty ‘No, it still hasn’t changed from those three days twenty years ago’…
…If anything, I feel the novel now is an even more revelatory, impeccable, and inescapable expression of my original stab at ‘novelist’ – no longer able to hide behind the chicanery of ‘Well, it only took three days and I never edited it’ or any of the sweaty palms and butterfly bellies of my youngster self…
…Even for its utter uniqueness in craft, content, and stylization, I find in the pages of October People the germs over everything – everything – I have written since; and I find in it the one, unabashed and voluptuous stab at many things I would go on to abandon yet always kind of wish I wrote like still…
KEITH WAS SEATED AT THE end of the table, just touching to the stems of the flowers he had brought. They were arranged, now, in a vase in the table center. Natalie was at the refrigerator, pouring herself a drink.
She said ‘Do you want some grape juice?’
‘Oh – no, thanks’.
Keith rapped his fingers against the side of his pant leg. His one knee bounced. He calmed it when she turned. And he looked at her. Smiling, but with his brow furrowed. Natalie sat. Keith straightened. The silence kept for a long while, with Natalie taking only small swallows from her glass.
Then, Keith said ‘Have you thought about what I asked you?’
And Natalie said ‘Keith’ her hand moving from her glass to raise, a gesture of Let’s-not ‘Keith, let’s not’.
He paused. Then said ‘I love you’. And said, again ‘I love you’. And whispered, with tick-tock articulation ‘Natalie, I love you’.
She stood. ‘I shouldn’t have told you that’.
He softened his eyes to her while she took a pace, another, another, took them back, stopped. And he watched her, stopped. ‘Told me what, Natalie?’
‘That’. She paused. ‘That. My name’.
He stood from his chair. It sounded trashing as its legs dragged along the wood floor. ‘What do you mean?’ She made no movement. Let him come to her. Around her. ‘What do you mean, Natalie?’
‘Keith’ she said. Then, quieter, ‘Keith’. Rubbing her forehead against his shirt. ‘Keith. Keith. Keith’. Long pauses between each Keith. He traced the turn of each of her shoulder blades and hooked his hands just at the base of her back. She moved to look up at him ‘I love you’.
‘And I love you, too, Natalie’.
‘But this is – it is – it’s incorrect’.
‘Incorrect? I don’t …’
She broke from him. Sat to her drink. Reached to it, clumsy, unlooking, upsetting the liquid to the table. He tore a paper-towel from a roll and cleaned the spot. Natalie had drooped, sinking back in the chair.
She said ‘I’m married’.
He let his hand go from the paper towel ‘Married?’
‘Yes. I should have …’ but she did not continue what she should have.
He took her hand, putting it to his own face ‘I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry – I shouldn’t – I didn’t know – shouldn’t have done any of this’.
‘I didn’t know that’.
‘Natalie, I didn’t know that. I didn’t – don’t …’
She was, a moment, silent. She felt him let go of her hand. ‘I shouldn’t have told you my name’.
Keith moved closer to her. He caught the scent of her breath while he spoke. ‘I don’t understand what you mean when you say that to me, Natalie’. She turned her eyes down, head down, eyes away, head away, some hair loosened and covered her cheek. He said ‘What does it mean? That you shouldn’t have told me your name?’
She was silent. Then said ‘My husband’. Then went silent, again. Then said ‘My husband. I love him’.
He nodded. He clasped her hand and let his head come to hers. ‘I understand. Of course, I understand. I’ll leave, Natalie, and – I don’t – I’ll leave’.
He motioned to stand. She whispered ‘No’. He stayed. Half-standing. Trying to meet her eyes. She whispered ‘I don’t want you to go’.
‘I’ll stay, then’ he said. She tightened her touch to his hands. ‘I won’t go anywhere, then’ he said and then said ‘I love you’.
She said ‘I know that you do’ then ‘Keith, I know you do’ then released his hand, inched her seat back.
They both were silent, again.
After a moment, she said ‘I’m going to tell you something now, Keith’. He did not move. He did not respond. She continued ‘I’m just going to explain this thing to you. I’m going to tell you this’. He did not move. He did not respond. She said ‘I’ll tell you’ she sighed, almost a groan ‘I’ll tell you. My husband and I play a game. We – it’s what we do. Our life. How we live our lives. Our Life’. She paused. ‘We – after we met and after we had fallen in love and after we were married and that all happened very quickly – we started this game. And what it is’ she coughed ‘what it is: every month of the year, we live as different people, but as the same people in each particular month, every year’.
Keith blinked ‘I’m … Natalie, I’m not certain I …’
She motioned softly at him with one finger, her eyes wincing and looking off somewhere to a light fixture. ‘What I mean is: in September, I’m Clara, for example, I’m someone, but in March, I’m Nancy. Not just in name, not just I call myself it, but in everything, I am it, an entirely different person. I live as an entirely different person. But each person has only that month and then they’re gone until the next year in that month’. She paused and pinched at her nose. ‘It’s difficult to explain’.
Keith leaned in toward her. ‘No, I think …’ but he stopped without saying what.
She paused to wait out his and then said ‘When I’m Clara, for example, I don’t think about anything that happened to me when I was Jill. I live as though I don’t have those memory, that history, for the month, the months I’m Clara or Suzanne, someone, whoever. I’m not allowed. I don’t know whatever it is that Clara knows. About herself, that is. Right now, I don’t know what I did last month because I don’t have last month I only have this month, last year and whatever I want to say happened between’. She paused. ‘Only, of course I do. Know. What I did last month. Every month. Everything I know as everyone I am. But only because – because I’m not doing it correctly. Only because I’m …’ She paused. ‘I’m not …’ She paused.
Keith touched her leg. ‘Natalie. I think – I see what …’ He paused. ‘You play a game? You. Your husband’.
‘You live together as – you pretend to be different people. Like a game? Yes?’
‘No. No’ she swallowed purposefully several times ‘no, we don’t live together when we do this. We might end up together, of course, that’s entirely possible – wind up knowing each other, bumping into each other. Who I am in March could meet with who he is in March. And do – they do – they have – they can do whatever they want – We can do whatever we want. But, not as us’.
‘I – I see. I don’t think …’
‘We are only us. Only together and us. Only in October’.
‘So’ her breathing came sharper ‘so I – I can’t be saying this to you. I shouldn’t even know it. I shouldn’t even still know you. You see?’ Keith touched her to steady her from shuddering. She said ‘I’m betraying him’.
‘No, Natalie. Listen …’
‘I’m betraying him. Everything will end, now’.
‘No. Natalie, do you hear yourself? Do you see me here?’
She was gasping and touching her throat, rubbing her palms like she were smoothing the skin down. Keith took her to his body.
She said ‘I love you, though. Keith, I do love you.’
‘I know that’.
‘I love you’.
‘Natalie, I know that’.
‘I love you’.
And she repeated the phrase like burbling, over and over, shaking in his arms.
He waited until after she had quieted to tell her, again ‘I love you too, Natalie’.
Her eyes stung and she jerked her face back to see his. ‘No. You can’t. I love him. And – and it’s. In three days. Three days from now, I …’ She trembled, again. He held her.
He whispered, his mouth to the skin of her neck ‘Natalie, please listen to me’.
She said ‘Three days from now …’
‘Listen to me’.
‘I won’t be me. I – I won’t know you’.
‘Of course you will’.
‘I already shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be me. I shouldn’t know you’.
‘Goddamnit, you obviously do – you obviously are – you obviously will, right? And aren’t I right here?’
She calmed, all of a sudden, pushed back her hair, set her eyes stern at him, tapping her face back, chin toward her chest. ‘Yes – I know I will – yes, I know that.’ She paused. ‘But I won’t let myself know that. And I already shouldn’t have been here, shouldn’t be me here, still. And I never should have told you Natalie.’
‘I don’t understand why in Hell you’re speaking to me this way, Natalie – for Christ’s sake’.
‘I love my husband. I shouldn’t have said these things to you. It doesn’t matter that …’ but she stopped before saying what it didn’t matter that.
He waited for her to go on and when she did not he said ‘Doesn’t matter that what?’
‘I won’t be who I am, now. Soon. I will love you. But I won’t let myself know that I do’.
‘That’s ridiculous’. She went silent. He said ‘Listen to what you’re saying to me’. She kept silent. He said ‘You love me now, yes?’ She nodded. He said ‘So, in a day, in three days, in four days, love me still. Stay with me. Whatever you mean about your husband, we’ll talk about. Stay with me’.
She continued nodding, more distinctly, but said ‘I can’t’.
He shut his eyes. He had begun to perspire. ‘You can, Natalie, you certainly can. Do you …’ He paused, seemed almost to laugh. ‘You aren’t insane. Who in Hell is your husband? How does he care for you? How does he claim to be worth your loving him, this way? Natalie. I don’t believe a word of …’
‘Listen to me, Keith. I only love you, who I am now, because I met you when I – I met you – when I am who I am now’. She tensed, the joints at her shoulders popping. ‘And now, I’ve betrayed him. I’ve killed him. I’m killing him, saying this. Saying Natalie – I never should have said Natalie’.
‘You haven’t done a thing’. He laughed. Kept laughing. Not manic. As if at a punchline to some mild joke. ‘Natalie, honestly – honestly’ she was staring at him ‘you mean to say to me that if you see me in two months, you won’t love me?’ She stared. ‘But next December, you will? Next December Natalie will love me, but not until?’
She looked down. ‘I always will’. Her voice had broken.
‘So, just think what you’re saying …’
‘I will, though, just as with my husband …’
But here she stopped talking and would not meet Keith’s eyes. He stared at her forehead for several minutes, his eyes moving with calculations. Finally, he straightened and said ‘No. I don’t believe you’. He paused. ‘No. What are you even saying to me, Natalie? Do you love me? Do you love me, yes or no?’
She meekly said ‘Yes’ and her head limply turned to one side.
‘Yes? Then what are you saying this nonsense to me for? I don’t believe a word of it, Natalie, and I don’t know why you think I would, why anyone would. Now, listen to me’. She stayed silent. Listening. He repeated ‘Now, listen to me – will you?’ She closed her eyes. Nodded. ‘I don’t – I do not and will not – believe what you’re saying, right now. Have you listened to yourself? Why are you saying these things? Are you afraid of something? Are you afraid of your husband?’
‘Because – because’ he gestured out to either side, arbitrarily ‘because this is nonsense’.
Her features tightened. And she whispered ‘No’.
He nodded forcefully, standing to his full height ‘Yes – oh, yes Natalie – no’ he waved his hand in front of her, once ‘no, you’re not married. Or’ he waved his hand again, a breeze stirring to the skin of her down-turned face ‘or, if you are – yes, fine’ he paused ‘yes, fine – if you are, then you are. But do you expect me to – why do you tell me this? – honestly expect me to believe – about some nonsensical – about some game? I’m not a fool, Natalie, I’m not a child’. She had started to cry, weeping with no sound. ‘Why do you play this game?’ The table shook to him slapping his hand to it, the vase nearly upturned ‘Why? If – eh, Natalie? – you had any feelings, why?’ She stopped breathing. He paused to swallow. ‘What of the things you’ve said to me?’ She opened and closed her mouth, her lips suctioning, her jaw clicking each time. ‘Were they a game? Were they part of some game with your husband? You say I love you – are you playing a role – were you, when you told me that – playing for him?’
She caressed the edge of the table. She swallowed between each word. ‘No – I love you’.
Keith held her to his gaze, but stood and moved down to the end of the room. ‘You love me?’
He nodded. Sharp. ‘And next month you’ll not be’ he waved, his arm hitting the wall ‘you – is that it?’
‘And so you’ll …’ He stopped. Ran his hands over his face, rubbing at one eye for nearly a minute. ‘Natalie, I ask you: Will you love me, then?’ She went silent and stayed. Except for some slight swaying at indistinct moments, she was immobile. He forced himself to look at her. ‘There’ he said ‘okay, I understand. It’s a game. Are you playing your part well?’
‘No? It’s a game’ he paused ‘you’re not playing well. It’s a game, you mean, you aren’t winning?’
She took in a sudden breath which grated her throat, slipped from her chair to the floor, scurried to the wall, and propped herself up in its corner. Keith went to his knees to her. She had lacerated her elbow in the fall. He touched her foot at the end of where her one leg was outstretched.
She muttered ‘I love you’.
He moved his hand a bit forward and caressed her ankle ‘I love you, too’ stood and went for a towel, then knelt to her and pressed it to her elbow ‘Natalie, I love you, too. Listen to me …’
She tried to say ‘I love you’ but couldn’t, rolled her eyes as far back as she could while he sat, leaned to her, on the floor beside her and she put her head to him and wept until he said ‘Natalie’ and she wept and he said ‘Natalie, I want you to listen to me, now’ and looked off to the door in the corner of another room and said ‘Natalie, just listen …’ but said nothing for her to listen to and she wept.
October People is available for purchase at Amazon.
Pablo D’Stair was born in 1981. At the age of 19 he composed his first novel (October People) for the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest sponsored by Anvil Press. The novel did not win the competition but was published in the subsequent year – along with his second novel (Confidant) – by the infamous and now defunct vanity book-mill Publish America. In the mid-2000’s, D’Stair co-founded the art-house press Brown Paper Publishing with his colleague, the novelist, musician, and painter Goodloe Byron. Through this press and its literary journal Predicate, he released the work of more than fifty of his peers along with editions of two dozen of his own books. Eventually shuttering BPP, D’Stair founded (KUOBA) press, continuing to publish work by his contemporaries. During this era, his own literary output remained prolific but largely unreleased, though several works were made available as limited-edition print projects and in various electronic mediums. D’Stair spent several years as a cinema critic – primarily for the UK site Battle Royale with Cheese – and as an essayist/interviewer for the national newspaper of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer (through which periodical several of his novella and a story collection were serialized). Also during this period, D’Stair began working as an underground filmmaker in the capacities of writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and performer – the cinematography of his first feature (A Public Ransom) earned an award in international competition at the XIX Internacionlni TV Festival (Bar, Montenegro 2014). D’Stair has also written several volumes of poetry, more than four dozen pieces of theatre, written and directed music videos, written and illustrated graphic novels and comic-book series, and produced audio essays. His work across all mediums has often been released pseudonymously.