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Authors: Steven Barthelme

Hush Hush

BOOK: Hush Hush
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Praise for Steven Barthelme

“Rich in laid-back realism, winsome fantasy, love, art, cats, and surprises. A first-rate first book.”


“With its unity of situation,
And He Tells the Little Horse the Whole Story
is more than the usual collection, yet not quite a sequence. Small in themselves (the longest is 14 pages), the stories grow in reference and resonance through Mr. Barthelme’s considered arrangement. The stories, if not their characters, speak across distances to one another.… exemplars of the minimalist mode …”


“Steve Barthelme’s tone is dead-right; his timing is perfect; and his philosophical stance seems about the best for being here and now. He has put generously from his heart and intellect into every line, so there are moments that linger like good memories. The tales are funny and touching. The telling is always deliberate, always hip, and always entirely his.”


“Barthelme’s wild imagination makes a literary feast … [A] great creator. And Barthelme is just that. His brothers, Donald and Frederick, already have carved themselves niches in American fiction.… Steve Barthelme appears destined to do the same.”


“To Steve Barthelme’s credit, his stories do not remind me of any other Barthelme’s. They do, however, accomplish one of the things that short stories have always done best: They trace the subcutaneous, prelingual capillaries of the self’s relationship with others and with itself.”



The Early Posthumous Work
of Steve Barthelme is like having a scintillating conversation with a much smarter friend, a friend with an enterprising sense of wonder and a faithfulness to the ambiguity of life. There’s not a moment of self-absorption in these wise, wry, and wildly entertaining essays.”


“There’s a much-vaunted notion of writing as craft, but precisely what is meant by this is not often clear. Steven Barthelme’s essays serve as the best of definitions. They afford us the complete pleasure of hearing a thing said with utmost economy and utmost elegance, the two being one. In essay after essay, Barthelme finds memory’s perfect pitch.… Crafted by a master.”


Praise for DOUBLE DOWN
by Frederick Barthelme and Steven Barthelme

“The whole book … is a wonderfully seductive performance—witty, self-aware, at once full of subtle feeling and implacably knowing—a triumph of style over temporary insanity … The Barthelme brothers turned losing into an art.”


“Dazzlingly canny and achingly abject.”


“A winning book about losing.”


“May be worth every penny the Barthelmes lost.”


“Talks perceptively and sometimes brilliantly of life, death, family, hope and despair, and money as an expression of these things.”


Hush Hush

© 2012 Steven Barthelme

First Melville House printing: September 2012

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

The Library of Congress has cataloged the paperback edition as follows:

Barthelme, Steve.
  Hush hush : stories / Steven Barthelme.
    p. cm.
 eISBN: 978-1-61219-160-7
 I. Title.
 PS3552.A7635H87 2012



For Melanie


Every eager enquiry elicits exculpatory equivocation, I said, eventually. You tell me, you’re the doctor. How would I know. I’m just a child. She was sitting up in the big brown chair trying to get me to tell her what ememtottot means. It’s totem-totem, she said, right? What? I said. And then I said, Eureka, that’s it, and I pretended to grin. Children grin. You bounce your head up and down and smile like a moron. You’re a very mature child, Elliott, she said. Memetottot, I said.

I am not a little adult. I am ten. I am a child and I expect to be treated as a child and it’s unkind to treat me as if I’m some kind of curio or freak just because they are bored or something. I know what ememtottot means and no one else does. It’s my word, so what? I expect to be bought ice cream cones and talked to stupid and let alone. I can be interested in Siberia or words that begin with “E” without a lot of attention and consultations.

I don’t expect to be put in a cage with a fat lady psychologist. But Nietzsche said, E’er twixt expecting und event ist ecstasy. Nietzsche didn’t say that. I just made it up. Every time I say Nietzsche said something, the lady psychologist looks at me, trying to figure out whether I made it up. Many words begin with E. Eviscerate, Echt, Eldritch, Effervesce, Excreta. Ememtottot. No one but me knows that, what ememtottot means. The lady psychologist does not know.

Nietzsche is some freak dead guy. I won the spelling bee.
First I spelled egregious, and excisable, excalibur, and then mnemonic. I read about Nietzsche in the
World Book
. I play chess. I have an interest in pythons. I am tired of being a special child. I want to chase cars. No, that’s wrong, that’s dogs.

I don’t want to go to a school for the “gifted.” Special, gifted, advanced, it all sounds like “freak” to me. They are sending me to this freak school and I’m not adjusting well. I burned myself with a cigarette. Their excuse for locking me in a cage in the basement with a psychologist five days a week. Exculpate Elliott at eventide, excellency. If it’s not a cage, why are there bars on the windows?

I was first in class excellence, at my old school. You get a card and that’s what it says, First in Class Excellence. In this new school there are much freakier freaks than me; there’s an orange kid who looks like Henry Kissinger and a girl who looks like Christiane Amanpour who looks like Mick Jagger. Henry is some professor’s kid. Most of the kids in this school are professors’ kids or schoolteachers’ kids. It makes you wonder. We are all kids whose parents taught them to say “melancholy,” and then when they say it, the parents gush and swoon. Give them a dog biscuit. Christiane and I are going to run away together and have sex as soon as we feel like it. Erumpent erotogenesis.

I don’t think that reading the dictionary is so strange for a ten year old child, and I am a child. Lots of us do it. There are two kinds of freaks. Freaks who pretend to be normal and freaks who pretend to be freaks. I pretend to be a normal child, but I’m not very good at it. Christiane pretends to be a freak and she is very good at it. You should see her singing “Satisfaction.” It is not the freakishness that makes us blue; it’s the pretending. You’ve got to think about it. You’re all the time planning, never being. That’s why Christiane and I are going
to run away. We are going to Siberia. Siberia has been misrepresented, so no one knows about it.

Siberia is a kind of farm with fields and rivers and trees which grow televisions and vines which grow chili cheeseburgers. There’s no brown bread in Siberia and no tofu and no yogurt. In Siberia there are no children and no adults, and no one is special or gifted or freak. Everyone has their own personal television set and no one can look at anyone else without their permission. But everyone likes everyone else so they always have permission. Dogs and cats in Siberia can talk and make jokes like everyone else. Squirrels, too. There are no fleas there, and no one gets sick and no one gets shot. In Siberia if someone wants something, they find it, just lying around on the ground. It rains a lot in Siberia, I love rain.

Of course none of this is true. The lady psychologist has been to Russia and so she knows and she has told me that Siberia is a vast icy wasteland. That’s what she said, “vast icy wasteland.” I said, You sound like the
World Book
. I said, Maybe you’re wrong.

In Siberia anyone who wants to be invisible can learn how easy as pie. Words have special powers in Siberia that they don’t have in Massachusetts or anywhere in the United States.

I said, Did you see that movie,
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
? She said, Yep. I swear that’s what she said. That made me like her a lot better. I said the psychologists were the bad guys in that movie. She said, Are you going to tell me what ememtottot means? She pronounced it wrong, of course. Totem totem? I said. Why don’t I believe you? she said. Because I’m lying? I said. Evidence etches Elliott’s eyes.

Anyone who hits a dog or a cat in Siberia is sent home permanently, and Siberian dogs and cats always tell. The principal rivers in Siberia are called the Robert DeNiro and the
Michelle Pfeiffer. The two rivers cross at the exact center of Siberia which is where you go in Siberia if you want to fall in love. Of course everybody wants to fall in love so they go there about once a week.

Sometimes Christiane sings “Get Off of My Cloud.”

The lady psychologist said, Do you think psychologists are bad guys, Elliott? I said, Oh no, you’re here to help me, and she looked at me like I’d just said something about Nietzsche. No, I mean it, I said. Have you ever actually been to
, I said; or was it just Russia? I really
here to help you, she said. I thought as much, I said.

I love my mother and father even though this school was their stupid idea. Christiane and I will go to the confluence of the Robert DeNiro and the Michelle Pfeiffer every day, when we get to Siberia. We’ll fall in love and kiss and sit on the banks and feed the pythons. Siberian pythons leave the dogs and cats and squirrels be; they eat chili cheeseburgers right off the vines, or ice cream. At higher elevations year round Siberian mountains are crowned in ice cream, which falls in place of snow. Anyone who wants to wear a Band-Aid in Siberia can, but no cut is necessary.

The lady psychologist is all right and she is trying to help me; she’s just no good at it. She just can’t help me. She said, Why do you think psychologists are bad guys? I laughed, I couldn’t help it.

It was just a movie, I said. You’re doing your best, I said. I mean, you’re helping me, I said. Really, you really are. Don’t a lot of kids burn themselves and stuff? Do you really think I need help? Maybe I just hate being in this weird school. Maybe when the headmistress tells us how we’re special children and she means we’re better, it sounds like worse to me. Maybe I won’t ever get to be normal, be normal, now that
you have started me out this way. I don’t want a headmistress; I want a principal. There isn’t any Siberia is there? There is no place to go. If I go to Siberia, Christiane won’t be allowed to go with me, will she?

BOOK: Hush Hush
3.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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