Most amazing were the pictures. My aunt had hinted at the transformation Görbe had undergone since the 1960s, but it was beyond what I'd expected. He'd been slight, almost pixyish, at the time of his arrival in New York, and what happened to him over the years was so extreme I could only think his metabolism had been damaged. There was no way you could get that fat in that short a time all by yourself. Part of the problem early on was that he hadn't figured out how to dress for it. He was still wearing the clothes of a skinny mannarrow pants and tucked-in shirtsthrough much of the 1970s and '80s. It wasn't until the '90s that he adopted the black suit and overcoat whose layers smoothed his folds and bumps of flab. It was why he took up the cigar as wellhis features had sunk so far into the flesh of his face he needed something sticking out like that, a flag, to remind us he was still in there. And with the physical change came increasing accounts of bad behavioursarcasm, insults, fist fights. I was surprised so few articles commented on how a writer of such fantastical stories, of a world mapped out with such visionary innocence, did little more than satisfy his appetite for food, booze, tobacco and outrage. There was nothing beyond that, just the immensity of his cravings, as if Görbe had become the monster excluded from his books.
That, at least, seemed to be Zella's opinion. The one article I did find on her was a page six piece from the New York Post, a single paragraph mostly taken up with the names of celebrities who'd attended a recent "bash" for one of Görbe's books in 1975. They gave her three sentences: "It appears the booze was flowing pretty freely. Zella Görbe, the author's wife, was acting 'erratic,' according to one guest. Before being escorted home by a private nurse, she regaled the room with stories of her husband's weight, calling him a 'fat disgusting pig' one minute, then swooning over her 'little boy' the next." There was nothing else, and however much I scanned through the information I'd gathered, returning to paragraphs and statements, there was no more about Zella's "behaviour," nothing to suggest she was a drunk, certainly nothing about a "private nurse," though I did note a number of photographs where there was a third figure presentan older woman, dressed well but very straight, always in the background near Zella. Since none of the photographs listed her among the guests, either the newspapers didn't know her name or she wanted it kept out. She looked stern, a mother figure, and the pictures made me recall what my aunt had said about Görbe when he was twenty years old: still afraid of the dark, playing hide-and-seek, climbing into the attic as if it was the entrance to a palace.
During that last month I kept my research hidden from Görbe. I worried about how he'd react. But Görbe must have sensed something, because he paid more attention to me than before, coming over unannounced with presents for the kids, sitting by the kitchen table (as much of him as would fit, anyhow) complimenting Marcy's cooking and listening to her talk half-jokingly about how I couldn't enjoy New York because I was so wrapped up in making contacts here, so obsessed with publishing in the right places, so distraught at not getting on, that the kids had started jumping on my back while I sat at the computer just to get some attention. "Ah, ambition," Görbe muttered. "Toxic as poison."
He even showed up to two dismal readings arranged by my U.S. publisher.
"Well, that sucked," he said, afterwards. "It's interesting that the woman in the audienceor I guess I should just say 'the audience,' perioddidn't even bother to buy a book. With all our eyes on her you think she'd have the decency."
Excerpted from Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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