October 4, 2016

Fiction by Richard Krause: "The Tension of Suspenders"

Richard Krause’s collection of fiction, Studies in Insignificance, was published by Livingston Press and his epigram collection, Optical Biases, was published by Eyecorner Press in Denmark. Propertius Press has accepted his second collection of epigrams, Eye Exams. His writing has more recently appeared in The Long Story, J Journal, Hotel Amerika, Scapegoat Review, Turk’s Head Review, Red Savina Review and Eastlit. Oddville Press and Brilliant Flash Fiction will publish his work this fall. He teaches at Somerset Community College in Kentucky. 





The Tension of Suspenders
The tension of suspenders stretches far beyond their elasticity and the pants they hold up.  It reaches all the way back to the old country and involves body size, those external pads of flesh that hide what is within by crossing oceans and leaping back in time the more body weight becomes a matter of gravity.
He studies his genealogy, his and his wife's ancestors.  He gives papers at the Historical Society in Ephrata.  He is trying to get in contact with the original strain, identify where it all started.  He has to overleap the suicide of both his parents and return to a time that only history can recapture.  
Once in Holland he bought a large heavy wool coat trying to get at the heart of Europe through its fabric.  He sent letters to friends commiserating when the Queen Mother of the Netherlands died.  Everything that took place on the continent involved him.  Anything Swiss German, any related people had an effect on him; his Amish roots were quickened by contact with the past.  
Perhaps he could find the original plant, the scion off which he developed.  Just what was it that made him what he was?  He overlooked the suicides and thought it was something larger on the continent, in the historical records of the German immigrants.  Who was it that first strayed?  Was it something that they had magically subdued, or a fabric they became enamored of suddenly unraveling, was it learned from animals?  For that reason he kept a dog and cat to learn their secrets, but as usual they gave only obtuse leads based mostly on their sense of smell.  
He sought in mathematics when he was younger for the world to add up, and he was the first to balance equations in chemistry class.  He thought Oskar's childhood might hold the secret in his tin drum, or Steinbeck in the crushing gentleness of his characters, but finally he was thrown on his own resources.  
Could it have been biology pure and simple, a gene that was passed on in the turbid pool of molecules?  He was the blatant recipient of one and to mollify it geared his whole life towards the past, towards the discovery that would uncover just who he was.
He ate through it daily and gained inordinate weight. In fact every meal was motivated by an astounding gluttony, despite his religious nature, to devour huge portions of food.  He'd be nervous and trembling almost beforehand that the food became visibly crucial.  A dessert not on time would have him anxious and salivating.  For the next moment there was the fear that he'd miss the dessert altogether, that the waitress had
forgotten, and who knows what that might lead to; low blood sugar, an appetite revealed before a whole roomful of diners, or even a close friend.  
“I didn't really know Cecil,” they'd say, and the game would be up.  
But not if he could have his toothsome desserts, his mash potatoes and gravy, his giblets, his meat, and his puddings and dumplings for dessert at lunch.  Once the heavy German midday meal was dispatched he could rest easy that that day at least he wouldn't reveal himself.  
And his pants when I saw him shocked me.  So large they were and suspended.  He was round like an Easter egg, curiously balanced by his tiny arms and legs, like an insect on its back at the mercy of his body so that only with breathless difficulty could he reach his shoelaces.  His hair was matted but at the back a cowlick stood up in defiance of a premature decrepitude.  He was round-cheeked and red-faced as if there was always about to be something embarrassing take place.
For every day he woke up he asked himself the question.  Is this the day that I am going to be found out?  Will it be shouted from the rooftops by this afternoon, will it be in the morning headlines, or on the evening news?  
Maybe that is one reason why he moved so often and to the city, to be among the deafening and impersonal roar of traffic, to drown out such publication.  All that bustle makes for an uncanny cleverness at dealing with people.  
But still there was always the sacrificial animal look in his eyes, as if the slaughterhouse was just around the corner.  Could that be why he devoured so many legs of lamb with mint sauce, so much pork with apple sauce, turkey with stuffing, or ham baked with sliced pineapples and cloves, and braised beef on rice, for where could be the complaint if the abattoirs were in business?  Nobody would come for him.  And the veal, the young animals too he dug into their bodies with added gusto, into the cutlets, the regular Thursday specials.  
And he was as polite as could be to everyone after demolishing another meal, staving off another day, staunching leaking queries with a full stomach, and even his own conscience was dulled by another day of indigestion, when the blood drains from the brain down to the agitated demands of the stomach. And by the time it returned, he was safely buried in research, digging unwittingly in the past, remaining late into the evening at the library, tracing once again the history from Europe in another family's lineage, another sea journey, through another ship's logbook that had tangential references to his own ancestors whose genes fanned out into Central Pennsylvania, looking for the missing gene that got lost, or though nobody knew buried in him.  
He took courses at Penn and went to watering holes in downtown Philadelphia to find out, but turned away in disgust.  He even romanticized about his own gene, through religion and a belief in his own spirituality felt the purity of it, but his interest was stained by a hysterical society ignorant of the good he did.
But something must have struck him, something fallen, that when he looked at himself in the mirror expressed itself in those apparently unrelated rages when he lost his temper in the too long intervals between meals and flailed and swung in the emptiness of the air.  
He took refuge in Franz Kline and Van Gogh, in the Lancaster artist, Demuth, himself trapped by so many watercolors of flowers and silos.  Something inside him was doubly bound for not having that creative outlet.  Instead, he uncovered every aspect of the artists’ lives with a fine-toothed comb and cherished them as if they held the secret of himself.  
And so when I saw him at the banquet, the meal was Chicken Cordon Bleu, with apologies on the menu for not having beef, I thought of his dilemma.  He looked like a nineteen twenties news reporter, a Mencken, a Clarence Darrow in suspenders, without their brilliance, but with a plodding kind of portly dignity in metal-rimmed glasses that in a moment could be excoriated by the community, beaten by the chairs everyone was politely sitting on.  
I saw the almost mechanical movements his weight and secret had placed on him.  His cherub-red face, his beady eyes--he always had them, unsympathetic looking under his eyeglasses--for the lifetime of hiding even from his wife and almost all his friends.     
The toll was taken and I thought he wrestled with more demons than the whole roomful of people combined.  Demons that any day threatened to mobilize into a telling knock on the door.  Demons of the past who were now adults, but whom he had entertained in the privacy of his apartment as angels that he would cherish a lifetime with strokes as deft and graceful as any of the great Renaissance painters like Botticelli, or Michelangelo.
~Richard Krause 

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