By Tony Conaway
You would think that, when both sides of a contentious issue are screaming for your head, you must be doing something right.
But when both sides have the influence to have your book pulled off the shelves, recalled, and pulped - well, it really doesn’t matter who was right. Publishing is a business, and all that the publishers care about is money. Nowadays, the big publishing houses are owned by multi-national corporations. As multi-national corporations, they have far more areas of vulnerability than the old, family-owned publishers ever did. And a boycott of their corporation in Germany or China would cost far more than their publishing subsidiary could possibly earn from a controversial book about the Middle East.
So they pulp the book and throw the author to the wolves.
Where do you go when they pulp your book? Home. The home you grew up in. Your mother’s house.
The sounds of the party downstairs barely reached Casey in her old bedroom.
Not that it even looked like a bedroom any more. Her ruthlessly efficient mother had turned it into an exercise room. Her bed, her vanity, her desk were gone: sold off. Her clothes and other boxable possessions were stored away.
There wasn’t a single chair in the room. Casey sat on the treadmill. It made an uncomfortably low seat, but, in the part of the world she just came from, she had often sat on floors. She finished her drink and put the glass down beside her. It made a ring of condensation on the rubbery treadmill surface.
Footsteps on the staircase.
An old high school boyfriend stuck his head in the door. Ted? No, Tad. They had rarely seen each other in the years since graduation. She had gone as far away as possible. Tad stayed. In a way, he never left high school; now he worked there as a phys-ed teacher and coach.
“Wondered where you’d gotten to,” he said.
“Now you know.”
Tad had always had a self-satisfied affect. He still looked like an athlete. He looked good.
He sat down beside her on the treadmill. She wasn’t surprised that he carried a full bottle of champagne. He filled her glass. “You hiding from your party?”
“Getting used to being back home. Culture shock, being out of the Muslim world.” She raised her glass. “I can use my left hand again to eat or drink.”
“Here’s to left hands, then. Cheers.” They drank, she from her glass, Tad straight out of the champagne bottle.
Tad wasn’t comfortable sitting on so low a purchase. He shifted. Or maybe it was just a ploy to sit closer to her.
“Did you have to wear one of those tent-like outfits?”
“A burka? No, but I often had to dress differently. You know what’s a relief? Just sitting here, cross-legged. When I was in the field, in a camp, in a cave in Afghanistan - if I sat cross-legged while wearing jeans, I had to pull a shirt-tail over my crotch. Otherwise, the crotch seam of my jeans would remind the men that I had a vagina, and that wasn’t acceptable.”
“Here’s to vaginas, then.” They toasted. Casey wasn’t used to alcohol, not any more.
Tad sprawled across the treadmill, behind her. He started massaging her shoulders.
“I should be having a book release party in Manhattan. But with this…controversy, no one in the business wants to have anything to do with me.” She felt the need to justify her work, herself, to Tad. “My book reports on the entire Muslim world. Only two chapters are on the Israelis and the Palestineans. And the words ’compromise or genocide’ only appear a few times, in those chapters. But thanks to the protests, the publicity, that’s all that the book is about now.”
“If the Palestineans hate you, don’t the Jews – “
“No, both sides are protesting. The Palestineans accuse me of supporting genocide, the Israelis of making them look like potential mass murderers.”
“Yes. It’s not a subject you want to get on the wrong side of.” Tad’s hands started roaming down her back. “You know, when I was in college, a creative writing professor wrote a short story called ‘Four Arguments for the Destruction of Jerusalem.’ That was just a work of fiction, but it raised such a furor that they denied him tenure.”
She saw that he didn’t really understand. Tad probably hadn’t read a book since he graduated from the local community college. But his hands felt nice. He was married now, though, wife and kids. Would he still come on to her?
Yes. His hands slipped around from her back to her breasts. It felt good, so she left them there.
“Well, you’re home now. Among people that love you.”
She didn’t know if that was true at all. She hadn’t gotten along with her mother for years. She was about to say something, but as she turned her head, Tad kissed her.
The treadmill really wasn’t comfortable, with its hard rollers under the flexible surface. They stood to undress. She unrolled her mother’s yoga mat, and lay down upon it. Tad closed the door, locked it. It had been a bedroom, after all – it still had a lock.
There was a tinge of guilt, knowing that there was a Mrs. Tad, and a pack of little Tadletts. It didn’t overcome her need.
And as he entered her, she thought of her mother’s advice: anyone worth having probably belongs to someone else.
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Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tony Conaway has written, co-written, and ghostwritten everything from blogs to books. His fiction has been published in two anthologies and numerous publications, including Clever, Danse Macabre, qarrtsiluni, and the Rusty Nail.
His story "Bustles Went Out of Fashion by 1905" appeared in Linguistic Erosion on Thursday, August 8 of this year, and generated 11 comments.