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Excerpt from The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins

The Graybar Hotel


by Curtis Dawkins
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  • First Published:
  • Jul 4, 2017
  • Paperback:
  • May 2018
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Italian Tom was a saucier until a Cadillac doing sixty hit him and knocked the recipes out of his head. He had a faint line like an old smooth weld across the length of his forehead and the dark dots of suture scars. He wasn't five minutes in our cell before he knocked on the scar with his knuckles, making a dull metallic sound like he'd flicked an open can of soda with his finger. "Go ahead, try it," he said, taking a step closer.

"I heard it. I believe you," I said from my mat on the floor. Tom looked around our cell for another taker, but Domino and Ricky Brown were both sleeping. Normally I'm not a very good conversationalist, but the past two months in jail had made clear to me I had nothing better to do. So if someone talked to me, I had resolved to take him up on it. At least until he got boring, or until the lies became too much, or until The Price Is Right came on. Since it was only 10:00 a.m. I said, "How long ago did it happen?"

"About fifteen years." Tom sat in quiet reflection on the bench of our steel picnic table. "And the funny thing is, I was only visiting Cadillac for the day. My sister had begged me to come up there and meet her newest husband." The television hadn't been turned on yet and Tom looked up through the bars to the cold, black screen we shared with the neighboring cell. I looked forward to seeing Bob Barker up there, and hearing Rod Roddy calling people to come on down. For an hour a day I could live in a world full of lights and color, noise and smiling women gracefully highlighting things with the near-touch of their hands. And hope. The hope for a good outcome kept me transfixed.

"Hold on," I said. "You were hit by a Cadillac in Cadillac?"

"Ain't that some shit?" Tom said. He turned away from the television and I could see his other scars then, some self-made, like the ones cut vertically through his eyebrows and the tiny notches in the rim of his right ear. "I was crossing the street to get a pint of gin and a pack of squares, then bam! Doing sixty in a twenty-five. Knocked me eighty feet and out of one of my sneakers."

"Now that's something I've never understood," I said. "I don't get how someone could be knocked out of their shoes. And your case is even more bizarre because you were only knocked out of one shoe."

"There were witnesses," Tom said. "That's how the cop figured out the speed the guy was going."

"What law of physics governs whether a person's shoe comes off?"

And what are the chances a person gets hit by a Cadillac in a town called Cadillac? I wondered. Did it mean that everything meant something? Even if that something is a lie? And who's in charge of the meaning? The liar? The lied to? And what the fuck could all of this possibly mean?

Ricky Brown woke up. He had been playing possum. Faking sleep becomes an art form in jail, especially when someone new comes in, and especially when he's asking you to knock on his skull.

"I'll tell you what it means," Ricky said from his bunk. He always had the uncanny ability to answer the questions that were floating around in my brain, as if we were both listening to the same party line but he had a better connection. "It means don't pay a lot of fucking money for tennis shoes. And it means life is a big, shiny machine made by General Motors, and it's a tale told by an idiot, signifying shit."

Ricky read a lot—Faulkner and Shakespeare mostly—so he thought he knew some things. He was a skinny, red-haired, old-school man with a tattoo of a court jester on his left arm and a green, faded wizard on his right. He had the giveaway constellation of a crack addict's scars on the insides of his wrists, the exact shape of a hot glass pipe hidden up inside his sleeves. Even without seeing his shins, I knew there would be scars there too, from the same pipe hidden in his socks.

Excerpted from The Graybar Hotel: Stories, by Curtis Dawkins. Copyright © 2017 by Curtis Dawkins. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc

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