“Cold Duck” – Fiction by Joseph Tomaras

 carverFor decades now, hundreds of short fiction writers have been regurgitating the esteemed Raymond Carver– but as far as we know, none of those writers has dared to do so the way Joseph Tomaras does in his story “Cold Duck,” from our Fall 2014 issue.

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– How drunk were you?

– I was getting to it. I was so drunk, the next morning I vomited up Raymond Carver.

– As in just one story, what we talk about when we talk about whatever, or the whole fucking Collected Works?

– No, not his stories or writings or whatever. I vomited up Raymond Carver.

– How the hell? He’s been dead for 25 years.

– How the fuck should I know? I was that fucking drunk. He was totally alive when he came out of my mouth.

– Was it, like, a tiny Raymond Carver, like that tiny Elvis character they used to have on SNL?

– Fuck, no, I wish. Full size.

– How the hell did he get out of you? How the hell did he get into you?

– I already told you, I have no fucking idea. It was just one of those nights. I didn’t really get any sleep, and when the sun was rising, I could tell I was going to yak. Couldn’t even get to the toilet, just had enough in me to roll onto my side and face the edge of the bed so I wouldn’t choke on whatever the hell was surging out of me. You know when you’re really vomiting so hard that you have to keep your eyes shut the whole time, and it feels like you’re giving birth out your mouth like, fucking, fucking, uh, Kronos vomiting up his kids, the Olympian gods, that’s what it was like, so I didn’t see what it looked like when he was coming out. It did kind of feel like I was getting jabbed with fingers, elbows and knees from the inside, though.

– Did you at least get any decent writing advice?

– Hell no. It wasn’t middle-aged, sober, AA-touting Carver, it was young, party hard, angry drunk Carver. Would have to be, he’d been marinating in red wine and tequila and cheap gin and whatever the fuck else I’d been drinking that night. He smelled like a fucking gin gimlet. Which reminds me, you done mixing those?

– Oh, yeah. Right here. So what did you talk about?

– At first it was exactly the kind of conversation you would expect, a lot like we just had, a lot of “Who the fuck are you?” “I’m Raymond-fucking-Carver, who the fuck are you?” “You’re in my bedroom, where the fuck did you come from, and aren’t you supposed to be dead?” Then he said, “I’m not sure about dead but I’ve definitely felt better” and we both cracked up and that broke the tension.

– Did anyone else come out?

– Thank god, no. But what you have to keep in mind is, I’ve just vomited out the biggest purge of my life, even if I haven’t gotten all the poison out of my system it’s mostly gone, so I’ve got the sudden clear head that comes after that, but he’s still fucking drunk. So I’ve got this angry drunk 20th century writer in my bedroom and I’m feeling like the designated driver, and he still wants some fucking champagne to keep his buzz going.

– So what did you do?

– Well we stumbled out to the living room but, after whatever party I’d had going on all that was left were some empties, and it’s Sunday morning so the blue laws were in effect. So I had a choice, either I could try and throw him out on his ass, or we could drive to New Hampshire.

– And?

– You’ve seen the pictures. He was a burly guy. Off to New Hampshire we went. Only I had no cash in my wallet and I was pretty sure the ATM was not going to help me out, just one credit card that wasn’t maxed out. So we couldn’t take the turnpike, I couldn’t pay the tolls, we had to inch down Route 1, hitting stoplights in every fucking tourist trap town on the coast, and it was winter so there were snow squalls. Two fucking hours it took. At least there was the Dunkin in South Portland, so we got a couple large coffees and a dozen crullers in the drive through, but except for that he didn’t want to stop for anything.

– Wow, two hours in the car with Raymond Carver, that would be awesome. What did you talk about?

– See, that’s the thing. I mean, he’s my god, one of them anyway, his stories really cracked the fiction code for me. So you’d think we’d have this awesome conversation about the writer’s art all the way down. But that Dunkin coffee really scours you out and whatever I hadn’t already yakked up along with Carver was pooling up in my colon and the motherfucker would not let me make a pit stop. He had the shakes already, and if I so much as mentioned making a stop he’d ball up a fist and get this look on his face. So I’m trying to hold in some explosive diarrhea and half my brain power is focused on keeping my sphincter clenched and the other half is trying just to keep the car’s tires on the road through those squalls.

– So you didn’t talk to him at all?

– I tried. That was part of the job of driving. If I didn’t distract him from the shakes he’d start distracting me muttering about Maryann or slapping his fingers on the dashboard.

– Who’s Maryann?

– His first wife, when he was a drunk. He was like, thirty-five maybe, our age, hadn’t met Tess Gallagher yet.

– Who’s that?

– His second wife, his muse.

– Whatever, man, I’m not as big a Carver fan as you.

– After that drive I’m not as big a Carver fan as I used to be. Anyway, this Carver who was in the car with me, he had published a few stories in Esquire—you know those motherfuckers don’t even publish fiction anymore? But his collection hadn’t come out yet, and he was teaching boneheaded undergraduates at UC, and that was mostly what he wanted to talk about. How stupid his students were and his pain in the ass department chair and what a bitch Maryann supposedly was.

– Was she?

– If you had to spend your life with that guy, you’d be a bitch, too, is what I’m saying. Maybe she was, but I’m not going to say anything based on his side of the story.

– So you didn’t like him.

– Fuck, no. I mean, you know how sometimes when we’re hanging out like this, drinking together, shooting the shit, one of us will say something stupid and the other one will take it the wrong way and then it’s like pistols at fifty paces until one of us just decides, shit, I’ll take the blame, and be cool about it. Well, every conversation with this guy was like that. I just couldn’t figure the angle for anything that wouldn’t piss him off. I tried explaining to him that he wasn’t in the seventies any more, that he was in the future, and in this world he was acclaimed as a genius who had realigned the art of the short story for decades to come. He just could not believe me, kept fuming about how he’d never be able to write a big novel like Philip Roth and said some anti-Semitic shit about him, too. I told him, yeah, Roth’s a tool, but I’m a Jew, too, and, let’s just say, that did not make the situation any better. In vino veritas, as they say.

– Just so you know, doesn’t matter how drunk I am, I would never say anything anti-Semitic about you. You’re my favorite little kike.

– Fuck you, dude. Anyway, he just would not believe me that this wasn’t, fucking, 1973 or 1974. I tried pointing out the makes and models of the cars, but he couldn’t see straight. Then I showed him my iPhone, and that freaked him out a bit, but then he dropped it, cracked the screen and forgot all about it. That was when I decided I was going to strand this motherfucker in New Hampshire.

– That’s cold, man. One of your literary idols gets vomited out of your guts through some fucked up occult process, drunk, deranged and disoriented, and you’re just going to leave him hanging out to dry?

– No, I set him up. Speaking of which, I need another gimlet.

– Coming right up.

– So we get to New Hampshire and we step into the liquor and wine superstore, and his eyes just glitter. He goes looking for the Cold Duck…

– Do they even make that shit anymore?

– I didn’t think so, but fuck me, they had it, and I told him, dude, I seriously need to use the crapper, but trust me, I’ll hook you up. You can get up to a hundred bucks worth of whatever you need, and I’ll meet you by the cashiers. So I go and take one of those massive post-bender and Dunkin coffee shits, the kind that are pleasure and agony at the same time…

– I have no idea what you’re talking about. You are one sick dude. Here’s your gimlet.

– And I come back and he’s got a full case of that Cold Duck shit. I buy him that and, thank god, they let me get $20 cash back. I took it as a $10 bill and a roll of quarters and handed him the quarters. I told him, man, it’s been great, but the party’s over for me, and I’m gonna find you a pay phone and you can try any of your people, I’m sure you’ve got some writer friends somewhere in New England.

– Where the fuck can you even find a pay phone anymore?

– They’ve got a few not far from the liquor store, thank god. He wanted to open a bottle right in the car and I told him fuck no, I’m not getting busted for open container, and he had no idea what I meant. I guess the laws weren’t as strict back then, so he was pissed off for about a minute there before I spotted the phone and dropped him and his case off.

– And that was it?

– That was all.

– Did you ever find out what happened to him?

– Didn’t care to. I’m hoping he just blacked out on Cold Duck and disappeared back into whatever wormhole spit him out into my stomach. Or got through to Gordon Lish, or was picked up by the cops as a vagrant. I don’t care.

– That’s cold. You should write that up as a story.

– No way, no one would ever believe it. I’d have to sell it to one of those science fiction or fantasy rags, or some alt-lit mag that doesn’t pay. It’d drag down my whole CV.

– Well, you could change it up a bit, make him a delusional street corner derelict who washed up during one of your parties. Instead of puking him out, you find him curled up in your bathroom after everyone else left. And he thinks he’s Raymond Carver. In his mind, he’s Raymond Carver, and the physical resemblance is uncanny, but really, you’re just playing along to keep him cool.

– Yeah, yeah. Not so bad. Don’t fucking steal this idea!

– No worries, man. You know I’m strictly working on poetry. Another gimlet?

– I’ll just nurse this one for a while. I don’t want Ernest Hemingway making an appearance tomorrow.

{ X }

tomaras-photoJOSEPH TOMARAS is locally confined to southern Maine. When not helping scientists get money to test their hypotheses, or ranting about the state of the world on his blog (skinseller.blogspot.com), he leaves traces of prose in any genre or the spaces between. His fictions have appeared recently in Clarkesworld and the Haikasoru anthology Phantasm Japan. He also encourages strangers to yell at him on Twitter (@epateur).

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