"The Nature of Luck" | Book Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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"The Nature of Luck"

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The following is the second of four "lost chapters" excised from the published version of Honeymooners, Chuck Kinder's 2002 novel based on his friendship with writer Raymond Carver. Pared down from an original 3,000 pages, Honeymooners depicts the literary exploits of Jim and Ralph -- fictional stand-ins for Kinder and Carver, respectively -- and their troubled relationships with the women in their lives: Lindsey and Alice Ann.

Two more chapters will follow in the weeks ahead.

Lindsey was pulled from one of her fearful father dreams, in which he had a face of fur, by the insistent sound of ringing. Half-asleep she picked up the phone on the table by the bed. It was not the phone. She felt for Jim, but he was not in bed. It was the goddamn doorbell, Lindsey realized.

Lindsey made her way toward the kitchen, where she could hear the television blaring. She found Jim asleep at the table, his head in his arms. She didn't have her contacts in but could discern a general blur of bottles, empty Chinese-food cartons, pizza boxes, the sink piled high with dishes, cups of coffee-soaked cigarette butts everywhere. A blur of a face peeked from behind the refrigerator.

Ralph? Lindsey said, squinting. Why are you hiding behind the refrigerator?

I dropped something. It rolled behind here.

Ralph, why didn't you answer the door?

It couldn't be anybody I'd know. The last pizza came hours ago.

Oh, forget it. I was having a bad dream anyway. Would you please come out from behind the refrigerator, Ralph?

Why answer it at all? Ralph said, and stepped out. -- Where does it say a person has to answer the door just because somebody rings the doorbell at some ungodly hour?

I am going to answer the door, Ralph. Why are you still so paranoid? Are the authorities after you again?

Nobody is looking for me that I know about. But you can never be too careful.

Mon, Shorty Ramos said to Jim and patted the sack of hair on the kitchen table, -- you shoulda seen your old lady's face, mon. Eet blew her mind, Shorty said, laughing and bongo-ing on the table.

Lindsey took a sip of her Bloody Mary and agreed about having her early-morning mind blown by having a man with a shaved head hand her a sack full of hair. Back from the dead, Jim had decided to whip up a good-old-boy breakfast. Ralph sat in a chair, sipping a glass of what he claimed was pure orange juice, glancing between the cartoons on television and Shorty's newly shaven head.

Jeem, I hand your old lady the sack and she look inside eet, and then she sheets, mon.

Yes, Lindsey said, -- it is quite true that I very nearly shit myself.

She goes eek and hops up in the air, mon.

Eek, Lindsey said, -- yes I did say eek. Followed by comments such as Goddamn motherfucker.

Whereupon Shorty launched into the lengthy story of the shorn hair. Lengthy because all of Shorty's stories began approximately with the birth of Hawaii. Shorty told about the fire goddess Pele, who had given birth to the Hawaiian Islands on the back of a great turtle. Pele was ugly and evil-looking, with pig eyes so bad a look from them could make birds fall from the trees. Pele looked kinda like Shorty's mother-in-law, who made soups of boiled stones and blind fish kept alive while they cooked slowly. Shorty's mother-in-law had laid her evil look on Shorty's brother soon before he was cornered by a rival gang who poked him with ice picks a hundred times and let him leak slowly to death. Night after night Shorty had cried on his brother's grave. Every time he popped a beer for himself he popped one for his brother and poured it onto the grave, so the beer could seep down to his dead brother's lips from the world of life. Until one night his brother's voice spoke to him.

Shorty, the voice said -- bug out, mon, for Pele is flying down the mountain. So Shorty stole money from his evil-eyed mother-in-law and took his pretty, pregnant, 14-year-old bride to L.A. Soon thereafter Shorty arrived at the point in the narrative where Jeem, the heaviest white dude Shorty ever knew, kicked in the car windows of this cat who had ripped them off in a two-key deal ... which explained why, when Shorty won another degree in his black belt and ceremonially shaved his head, Shorty decided to honor his blood brother Jeem with the hair, hair which was very lucky.

Shorty and Jim held up their scarred thumbs to prove they were blood brothers. After they embraced, Shorty said: Hey, mon, I got to use your can. I got to take a heavy sheet. Whereupon he hurried from the room.

Ralph picked up the sack of hair and opened it as though expecting something to leap out. -- Lucky old Jeem, Ralph snickered.

When Shorty returns, Jim said, as he ran cold water over a colander of cut-up potato cubes, -- I'll pass on your smirky comments.

I'm not making fun of Shorty, Ralph said, and took a big drink of his orange juice.

Right, Jim said and stepped over to the table. He picked up the glass of juice and drank it down. -- I don't see how anybody could drink vodka this early.

Hey, that was pure OJ. Call it a will of iron, Ralph said, -- but I never take a drink before 11 a.m.

Alice Ann swept into the room, dressed and made up for the day. She pointed at Lindsey's Bloody Mary. -- That looks like what the doctor ordered.

I'll stir you one up, Lindsey said. -- You look nice.

You're the hostess with the mostest, Alice Ann said. -- I've got to get the kids settled in with Ralph's mom.

Me too, Ralph said to Lindsey.

Before 11 a.m.? Jim said.

I'll make an exception to be sociable, Ralph said.

Alice Ann regarded the sack on the table, then reached out and touched it. -- Let me guess. Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?

It's a sack of luck for Jeem, Ralph said. -- Close your eyes, then stick your hand in there and see what Jeem's luck feels like.

Really, Ralph? Alice Ann said.

Sure, why not? Ralph said. -- Throw caution to the wind. You're good at that. Make a wish while you're at it.

Is that really what you want me to do, Ralph? Alice Ann said.

Don't you believe in luck? Ralph said. -- The story is that the sack is full of luck for Jeem and worth at least three wishes. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong.

That's the story, Jim said.

Trust me, Ralph said. -- Trust that karma of yours.

I trust you, Ralph, Alice Ann said. -- With the blind faith of fools and saints.

Sure. Saint Alice Ann, Ralph said and shrugged. He looked at the cartoons on the television. A mouse made its hole, barely. A cartoon cat crazy with anger and desire banged its head against a wall.

Here goes, Alice Ann said and closed her eyes. She opened the sack.

Jesus, Ralph said. -- Don't put your hand in that awful stuff. Please.

Three wishes? Alice Ann said and thrust her hand into the sack.

Alice Ann! Ralph said. -- You want to catch something, for God's sake?

I'll do anything for some luck, Alice Ann said with her eyes closed and her hand in the sack.

In my book, Ralph said, -- what you're doing is worse than touching a dead rat.

My luck, Ralph? Jim said. -- A dead rat? Thanks, pal.

It feels like my mother's hair, Alice Ann said. -- They shaved my mother's hair the day her brain exploded and they had to cut her head open. I still have her hair, you know.

Are you going crazy, Alice Ann? Ralph said. -- Please go wash your hand before it falls off.

I have one more wish to go, Alice Ann said.

What are your first two? Jim said.

That in our next lifetime I will be Ralph's father so he will love me unconditionally.

You shouldn't tell your wishes, Lindsey said. -- Or they may not come true.

And that, Alice said, -- in our next lifetime Lindsey will be married to Ralph for a fucking change. And my third wish, which just popped into my head, I will carry to my grave because it is so sad and it is too late to take back. All I can say is that I'm sorry I wished it on my husband.

What, Alice Ann? Ralph said. -- What did you wish? I don't believe in this stuff anyway.

I'm sorry, Ralph, Alice Ann said and removed her hand from the sack. -- I truly am.

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