December 8, 2015
Excerpt: Sophia, by Michael Bible
by Melville House
Michael Bible’s Sophia—on sale today—is a kind of Southern Dream Song, or a gonzo Speedboat, that tells the story of the unholy Reverend Maloney and his best friend, a chess prodigy named Eli who plays a Sancho Panza to the Reverend’s Quixote, as the two make their way across the United States—on the run from the law and from a blind headhunter called Jack Cataract. They inhabit a world of kaleidoscopic ideologies, galaxies of uppers and downers; they lust after women with terrific legs who might blow up a restaurant or disappear to Bangkok. It’s very funny and very sexy (in a Nicholson Baker kind of way) and it’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever read—much less had the good fortune to publish. The best thing I can do for it is probably just to get out of the way. Below are the novel’s opening passages. —Terry Sperry
I’m a nautical man on my small filthy yacht since the bank took my house. I should cruise around the blue world gazing at the jumping fish but I’ve become transfixed by a praying mantis praying on a piece of toast. The Holy Ghost touches my shoulder to say hello.
Not now, I say. This mantis is praying his prayer.
I’m a holy fool on the hunt for something worthy. I chase the saints of all religions and long to join their team. They call me the Right Reverend Alvis T. Maloney but things are becoming unstable in the Goldilocks zone. Dusk is a bonfire of wild sunflowers and across the night an archer aims his bow. That which has been is that which shall be. It’s Sunday morning in America. Twenty-first century. Year of the Dragon.
Eli, Eli. You are my last friend. You live with your brother Boom on the edge of town. You know the day of the week everyone was born on, a calendar savant in suspenders and a black trucker hat. Eyes like blue marbles, a Marlboro dangles from your lip. Your father tried to beat smarts into you and that pedophile baptized you in the Mississippi River. Be my Sancho, Eli, my man Friday, my Robin, my Dr. Spock drunk on the job. Your hat says, Easy come, easy go. I light your smoke.
Everything is always better ten years ago. They say we were once the great Southern Bohemia, now it’s people eating shrimp cocktail and complaining about the AC in the juke joint. Eli, you’ve fallen for a teenage electric fiddle player on stage playing “Hard Day’s Night.”
John Lennon was born on a Thursday, you say. John Lennon was a good man.
I take my meals at the Starlight Diner in town, a greasy spoon near the harbor where I keep my boat. In a back booth a woman calls her lover Daddy. A drunk fat man cries with his drunk fat son. I’m waiting for the narcotics to rush in. I’m waiting to regain the good heat. Eli, you’ve soiled yourself in the bathroom due to an excess of cocaine and Budweiser. Your suspenders are falling off. There are a thousand more jobs at the bullet factory. Alabama is beating LSU.
I’m the lazy priest of this town’s worst church, nearly defrocked for lascivious behavior with female parishioners. I want to die for the King of Kings but can’t quite get it right. I long to lounge with Him in that upper room but I’m losing the desire. I council Tuesday, who I’m in love with, when her mind goes wrong. She wears a single dreadlock in her hair. In the confessional I undo my clerical collar and fire up a spliff.
My fantasy is to commit suicide on the moon, she says. I would open my helmet and explode.
I see, I say puffing smoke.
My daddy was like Jesus. A carpenter and a Jew, dead at thirty-three. Except my daddy had a Tasmanian devil tattoo and a drinking problem.
Interesting, I say.
Jesus was the first Christian saint. A martyr for the cause of himself. He was crucified, dead, and buried. The third day he rose from the dead to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He spoke in nonsense stories on earth—mustard seed, camel through the eye, buried talents. Wept in the garden like a wuss. He is Man and God and Word. Logos and Agape. Selah. He died, but he really didn’t. Amen?
Big blue awful day out there. A woman in a burqa texts outside the open chapel window, a little boy shoots her with a water gun.
At the end we’re all just numbers, you say, Eli. Height, weight, credit score, IQ, social.
Very simple machines, I say. But things can be so complex. For example, could Tuesday and I just take it to the bathtub? Get wet and see what happens?
The cotton is coming in huge bricks on flatbed trucks and the clouds are God’s hobby sculptures—a heart, a lion, a gun. The man on the phone keeps yelling, Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking! There’s a new girl working at the Starlight. Skin of an Aztec, long hair falling down her back like a braid of black smoke. Her eyes are sapphire. She keeps returning my gaze.
Get me another gimlet, Eli. Make it a double. My shoe’s got holes and a mailman’s pounding on my door. The letter says the farm’s been sold and my uncle’s gone to heaven. Last of my family. You’ve got rib sauce all over your face, looks like blood. Like you’ve been shot.
Church picnic. Tuesday says she’s Joan of Arc. Her sword is silver.
I am the Maid of Orleans, she says.
Get off the roof, I say. The sausages are burning.
I am rubbing God’s beard between my thighs.
If you don’t get down, I will burn you at the stake.
Behind the abandoned hospital on a peach tree hangs one rotten peach. Two black wizards approach dumpsters behind the church, black hoods and staffs. They are cosplay people maybe worshiping a comic book. They cast spells on each other, high five, chest bump. They pretend the peach is forbidden fruit. They wear jester’s shoes and speak Elizabethan. They try to light the Sunday sports section on fire with their eyes.
The Ole Miss Rebels botch the winning field goal on homecoming. Yellow leaves are falling and that’s all I have to say about that.
Eli, you are one of my flock, but now we drink gimlets and eat painkillers on the square. Your father looked like Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard. Your mother looked like that lady from Hee Haw. Your sister was a friend of mine back in high school. Me and Boom were drinking buddies in the late nineties. But now is now and then was then. The flag is always at half-mast.
St. James kneels and asks forgiveness and is stoned to death. Doves scatter as the rocks crack his bones. Their wings make the sound of gloved hands clapping. As a child he loved to fish at night. Alone with the stars and surf.
I like Elvis in Memphis, late period. Karate Elvis. Fat Elvis going through the drive-thru on his motorcycle. Letting the black girls touch his belt buckle after the show. TLC. Hawaii come back. The Jordanaires. The smell of the Jungle Room fills me—Quaaludes and sweat. Kung fu in the mornings and the evenings dying in the john.
Last century they drilled holes in heads. They gave the shock treatment to rid the voices. I tried to cure with gentle sermons. Things are different now. For instance, I robbed a blind man at a rest stop on the way to New Orleans. Then later a woman with her jaw wired shut on the streetcar hummed “Hey Jude.”
Eli, it has come to my attention that Tuesday is sleeping with the owner of the army/navy surplus store. An ex-quartermaster in the merchant marines. Goes by White Mike Johnny. He wears an eight ball pinky ring and cell phone holster. Tuesday is reading Soldier of Fortune magazine in her kitchen. Painting her toenails camo.
Talk to me, I say. What does he got that I ain’t got?
He allows me to fire automatic weapons on the weekends.
But I will perform constant cunnilingus.
He has a ski boat.
I play the piano in the dark.
That’s another reason I don’t love you.
St. Peter is crucified with his head down and his feet up. I’m unworthy to be crucified in the same form and manner as the Lord, he says. Over the crowd he can see a woman in the marketplace. The wind has blown up her robe and he can see her bare white bottom and the trees are moving in the distance. Olive trees dying in the shade.
Boom is in the hospital again. Eli, you call him and hand me the phone.
Boom, I say.
I’m in pain, he says. Some pain.
Sometimes I have pain. And then sometimes I don’t.
OK, I say.
OK, he says.
I’ve seen to the sick and studied sin. I’ve sailed my boat around the Cape of Good Hope. I’ve fly-fished in Chile dropped from a helicopter. I’ve played nine holes before lunch. I know the right way to drive a sports car, when to fold ’em. But now life is just people with their eyes begging for answers I don’t have. Each day seems an easier one to let go, but still on and on. The lights never go off at the neighbor’s and there is never anything good to eat on this boat.
Sophia by Michael Bible
On Sale Now!