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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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In Which He Felt The Need To Defend Himself

You can find the archive of our Saturday fiction series here.

by Gideon Rubin

Nine and Zooey


He said, "It connects thematically with the transient nature of things, and the permanent nature of institutions." He always preferred to start a sentence with a vowel. His tears, extended over time, were icicles, but just now they were anguished droplets, patterning the piece of paper.

It was awkward to see him crying in the middle of class, but after a moment, the rest of the group relaxed. A woman named Virginia pointed at the sky. A girl named Jamie reapplied lipstick. He said, "If you establish something, then remove it, you haven't taken it away completely. The absence remains."

He let that sink in, sipped his coffee, accidentally slurped it. He wondered if that undermined his point, but dismissed this insecurity. The only emotion that was worth analyzing was the last, since it contained all others.

Jamie picked up the papers in front of her and shuffled them as if that might rearrange the words into something different. She said, "I don't care for the narrator. He's simply not likeable. If I met him, these are the very last things I would want to know."

Tony nodded, brushing back his long hair. They waited for him to speak but he never did.

Ariana said, "Just because you don't like one facet of a person, doesn't mean you dislike him entirely."

He felt the need to defend himself, but could not imagine how. Instead he told the truth. "It's just a representation of me. You're saying you don't like me."

Virginia said, "Nine times out of ten, I would agree with you. But I just can't sympathize with a smoker. He's giving himself lung cancer after all, and on some level I feel he deserves it."

Ariana said, "If you receive something you ask for, it's a gift, not a disease."

by Gideon Rubin

Jamie said, "Cancer treatment can be very expensive. But I don't feel that kind of pain here. Perhaps he could ask someone for money. It's easy to sympathize with an individual who desperately requires what we all need to survive."

Tony said, "I was watching the Yankee game last night. A ball was hit into the crowd. A woman caught it, and gave it to a child. The boy shook his head and placed it back into her hands."

Miguel said, "I found the part about the nuclear reactor distracting."

He directed the conversation to the ending. Ariana said, "You should never end something with a gesture. I read that somewhere, but I knew it was true even before I read it."

Virginia said, "What is the religion of the protagonist?" He answered that he did not know. "I do sketches in longhand for all my characters," she explained to the group. "I need to know everything about them, so if another character asks them a question, I'll have the answer."

Tony said, "I like to find out things about my creations that I didn't know."

He said, "How could you discover a new fact about a figment that is entirely of your own imagining?"

They took a break. Even though he felt bad about it, he smoked a cigarette. Orion's belt shone like an indecent flag.

Virginia said, "Now that you have some time to think about it, what's his religion?"

Ariana said, "When you cried, I did feel for you. Perhaps your character could cry as well."

An older woman who normally did not talk during the class, and who he knew was named Yvonne, touched his hand. He started from it, surprised. She said, "Have you ever read anything by Knut Hamsun?"

Later, Ariana said, "Have you ever read anything by Howard Norman?" She knocked on wood.

Tony said, "Ethan Coen wrote some inconsistent short stories. Your work reminds me of that."

Virginia said, mere minutes after his hand had been so suddenly impacted, "You'd really like Rabbit at Rest. It is my favorite of those novels."

Their instructor was in her late fifties, her long blonde hair adorned with barrettes of the exact same color. Her golden retriever always sat next to her; the dog was named after one of the characters on Babylon 5. At the end of each class, she made her pronouncement on the story up for discussion. Often it contained some repudiation of his classmates, occasionally she confirmed one or more of their views. At first he thought she touched her chin absentmindedly during these lectures, but the more he saw of the behavior, the more convinced he became she was self-conscious about her neck.

At the bar afterwards, Ariana said, "I'm completely frightened by what she will say to me. You're so lucky."

Virginia gave him a cocktail and pressed an index finger to her temple. When he thanked her she nodded and said, "You know how sheets list their thread count on the package? Everything should do that." She headed right for the bathroom after that.

Ariana said, "Your eyelashes are so long. Have you ever read Mavis Gallant?" When he stared at a row of vodka bottles, they shined in his eyes like spanish dubloons. He had never seen such gold.

In class, Tony had said, "I don't personally find it believable when after I'm done reading something, no one has eaten or slept."

He had responded, "So you're saying every work of fiction has to contain eating or sleeping?"

Tony had answered, "There's a difference between hinting at an event occurring, and actually depicting it."

His instructor had said, her left hand stroking her chin, her right hand petting her dog, "Confusing a tiny part of the thing with the whole is a mistake reminiscent of a poor semiotician. We control each and every part of our lives; no one else shares this burden. Tony."

"Yes," Tony said, and looked at him.

Slowly, as if she were surveying a canvas wider than it was high, his instructor directed her attention to the same place, addressing him thoughtfully. "When you meet someone new, do you tell them everything about yourself?" He shook his head. "And why not?"

"Because I don't know everything." The females laughed, the men just shook their heads.

by Gideon Rubin

The instructor said, "If you met someone, and you wanted her to know you completely, and you wanted to know her completely... What would be the best way of telling her this?" No one answered. "That's right. There is no good way."

Jamie said, "A hurricane approaches from the southeast. All bow."

Tony said, "When I read the word 'speckled', I feel bile rising in my throat."

Ariana said, much later, "When you come it's like you're apologizing. But I like that."

Virginia said, "What does this have to do with what we've read?" His instructor levelled her gaze like a clothesline.

"Maybe you'd rather get to know her more slowly. That way you could adjust yourself to her, and she might do the same. But at the end of it, you would find the identical result, unless you willfully held something back. Actually doing that is harder than it is for me to say it. You want something of her, and to get it, you have to lie. That's what this art is, and nothing else."

He said, "I have never been a very good liar."

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here.

"Alone's Just Fine" - Holly McNarland (mp3)

"You'll Forget About Me" - Holly McNarland (mp3)

by Gideon Rubin


In Which We Cannot Read Anything On The Menu

New Cassette


The twins came to the gate when we rang, riding bicycles that they had outgrown. James pedaled furiously, boy-knees reaching comical heights near his chin; his sister, Amy, lagged behind, her long denim skirt tangling around her shins, mousy brown ponytail swinging from side to side. Before she reached us she wobbled in a wide arc, turning back up the gravel driveway to the house while James unlocked the gate. Hailey let up the brake with a slight movement of her thin ankle.

The white car crawled down the driveway behind the eager bikers. Through spindly trees, the house appeared, long and squat. On the front porch, which was really just an expanse of pavement beyond the driveway, the twins’ mother appeared, dressed in colonial garb, down to a circle of lace pinned to the very top of her head. She balanced a white terrier on her hip. We remembered that it would soon be the Fourth.

“Well good morning, y’all!” she called. Like all Texan mothers I had already met and was yet to meet, she seemed larger than life: a caricature, rudely captioned with an oddly-capitalized axiom.

She had brewed coffee for me, although I told her I didn’t drink the stuff. It sat with fraternal sugar cubes, one brown, one white, on a silver tray in the middle of the children’s school table along with an ancient tape recorder and two pencils freshly sharpened. At a look from their mother, the twins sat obediently, notebooks crushed to their chests, blinking behind their glasses. She would not have me begin teaching, however, until I had (just as obediently) choked down the entire cup and refused another.

She only stood by, however, until we had reviewed the previous lesson: several repetitions of the alphabet, altogether too many slurred Bonjours, comment vas-tus and d’ou viens-tus, and a few eager Je m’appelle James, then retiring to the kitchen which, admittedly, was only separated by a piece of wall. Dishes rattled comfortably as I took the twins once again through the rudiments of the French tongue, some of which were new, most of which we had already learned last time, repeated ad infinitum, and committed to a tape for them to memorize in my absence. Upon my promptings, James launched unafraid into the most absurd Anglo-Gallic pidgin, while his sister remained absolutely silent until I asked her a question directly, to which she responded hesitantly but almost always accurately.

When we had exhausted a new lesson by repeating it, loudly, into the cassette, I told them stories (in English) about Louis XIV and Versailles, going to school so early in the morning that I left the house when the boulangers were pulling the first pan of fresh pastries out of the oven, what it was like to learn French at their age for the first time, not as a hobby, not as a mid-morning pastime, but as a necessity. It was this part that I couldn’t (didn’t have time to) communicate to them: the normalcy of it, the regularity of its illogical rules.

You learn quickly, as a transplant, what you must do to adapt. You can spend your time thinking about what you must make do with "now" compared to what you had "there". (As a transplant, then and there become one and the same thing. The past is a geography lesson.) Or, you can absolutely forget whatever you knew before and become someone different, bloom anew. This is easier for children, I think; like pruning a bush back, performing the necessary amputation results in greater growth. If you're young enough, this happens almost unconsciously. The twins were twelve when I taught them, the same age I had been when I left the United States, on that strange border between unselfconsciousness and intense, awkward awareness. Growing into your body, into a new sensual appreciation of the world, you feel each loss physically, as time transforms, too, into place.

The first time I ate in a restaurant in France it was 1999, just after Christmas, and we were in Lyon. My brother and I couldn’t read anything on the menu so we pointed to the word “hamburger” when the server asked us what we wanted. The whole trip has taken on a dreamlike haze but the moment those steaming patties of ground beef arrived on their very white plates — surrounded by rice and nothing else — stands out vividly. I cut into the meat with my knife and the slice pulled away with a squelch and blood seeped out from the raw inside onto the rice. 

“Oh!” exclaimed an expatriate, when she saw my face. “I forgot to tell you that you must ask for your hamburgers ‘well done’ here!”

When we had ended our month and a half summer session, the twins’ mother gave me a French press with which to brew my own coffee (“you must love it, since you grew up there!”) and drove me, along with her children and my friend Hailey, to a fancy new French restaurant on the other side of San Antonio. It wasn’t until that visit to Texas, after I had left France for good after living there for seven years, that I first tried snails and frog legs. I smiled bravely over the puff pastry and the butter garlic sauce and the truffle ravioli and the lobster. The waitress offered wine, which my hosts quickly declined, because they were good Baptists and it was Texas after all and not France, not home, not at all what I remembered, familiarly strange.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Madeleine L'Engle. She twitters here and tumbls here

"Lurk Underneath" - Trouble Books (mp3)

"Dead Bee In A Golden Bowl" - Trouble Books (mp3)

The new album from Trouble Books is entitled Concatenating Fields.


In Which We Write Our Covert Lesbian Manuscript

Innermost Secrets


During my last few days at the Swiss Literary Archives in Bern, where I had spent three months reading through the personal letters and papers of the American author Patricia Highsmith, I came across a manuscript fragment in a box marked “unfinished novels.”

Simply titled First Person Novel, this unpublished and loosely autobiographical novel contains a series of a letters that reveal an intense romance between two young women. With the exception of The Price of Salt, a lesbian cult classic that she published under a pseudonym, Highsmith’s treatment of homosexuality in her fiction is coded and evasive. First Person Novel provides a rare, personal glimpse into Highsmith’s experience, as well as those of other gays and lesbians, in the forties and fifties.

I understand your feelings, I understand. And I think I also understand mine. I reserve the right to like whom I like, to be honest with my feelings, and I reserve the duty, also, to curb my feelings and actions, if they are likely to hurt people I care about. In a fictional German village, Juliette Tallifer Dorn writes these extraordinary sentences about her attraction to women in a letter to her husband. Juliette inhabits Highsmith’s own personal predicament in the fifties: she is a “mature woman who cannot keep herself from practicing homosexuality, even if for social reasons she should wish to.” Her sojourn in rural Germany from her family life in the States allows her to reflect on her lesbianism for her bewildered husband, who demands an explanation of her ongoing affairs with women.

In her letters to her husband, Juliette justifies her present fling with a ballet dancer by delving into the past, into her memories and recollections of an adolescent romance that happened nearly twenty years ago, when she met another American girl at a Swiss finishing school. Juliette’s past history, she writes to her husband, is “not the facts you know, but the trail, the chain of crushes and loves, amounting to nothing but memories, but such memories.”

At seventeen, Veronica is “not really pretty,” boyish, and slightly unkempt, but has energy and vivacity, and Juliette is drawn to her on the first day of school as “a sick person’s eyes might wander to a happy, lively bird that has suddenly perched itself on a windowsill.” During a class outing, the two become separated from the rest of their group, when a sudden storm brings them propitiously together. As both of us looked, a long jagged flash of lightning shot down the sky, lighting up everything bright and green, and there was a sound as if a huge rock had been split apart. Verie and I were holding each other`s hands. Then Verie smiled and said, ‘It didn’t get us.’ We kept holding each other’s hand. Verie kept looking at me, her eyes smiling, and her fingers tightened and moved on mine. I wanted to kiss her. Verie moved first, then I a second later. A short, surprised kiss, and then a longer one. And a startled silence between us, and our hands in the same grip – that spontaneous, accidental hand clasp that turned into something else now, a promise, a reassurance, a bond.

As Juliette’s first love, Verie shapes the mold of her future lovers. So much of love is conditioning, and I mean the emotion of love as well as the habits and the means of its expression. I grew conditioned to a physical type like Verie – not too tall, slim, but rounded and much softer to touch than she appeared to be, her short, wavy hair, her firm, round breasts that needed no brassiere, her slender feet braced against my insteps in bed, the slight depressions – favored by Rubens and odd in anyone as slim as Verie – on either side of her spine above the buttocks, little sinks that I could feel in the dark with my fingertips. All this has never left me. They may not all turn up in the same person, but every woman I have liked has had one of the characteristics of Verie in her. After graduating, the pair go on holiday together in Europe disguised as “old school friends.” We had consent and blessing from home. We were gloriously happy. We loved each other and we had each other, and we had the approval of our families … does one ever get over wanting and needing the approval of one’s family? It seemed to us that we had everything…

Their grand tour passes in a glamorous whirl of sightseeing, shopping trips, and late nights in European capitals. The girls’ bond, forged during a freak storm, becomes the still center of this new, transitional world of hotel rooms, trains, cafes, and theatres. I used to look at my face in the mirror in those days, more than ever before or after. The image of myself I remember best is from one evening when Verie and I were dressing to go out in Venice. I leaned toward the mirror to check my make-up: a nineteen year old face, the longish cheeks rounded still, the gray-blue eyes clear and sparkling without a wrinkle around them or a frown above them. Not pretty, I think, not by any means. But it was a nice mouth. And what am I saying in all this? Only that the world was right for me, and it showed in my face and in my expression… At twenty-four, Highsmith wrote in her journal: “in the cases in which I have reached the real persons and have allowed others to reach me, then I do not shy from new company; I am sure of this.”

That the two women will have a future together is never questioned:

We talked of buying a house in California, of starting an art gallery there, since we both liked painting, and we talked also of finding a house somewhere inland from the Cote d`Azur, in some village, and living there. We also talked of a house in Italy. But it was always a house. We were happy and the rest would follow automatically. Verie is unconcerned about their risk of exposure, or the consequences that could follow such a revelation. She lights Juliette’s cigarette and makes a habit of holding her hand in restaurants. In Capri, she talks openly about their relationship to a group of gay men and women, many of whom were married, married to each other, married to someone in Europe or America whom I got the idea they seldom saw. It was all cynical, flippant, wide open and unserious.

But Juliette remains uneasy about being outed, even to such an unconventional social set. When we left, I felt as if we had left behind us thirty five or forty potential enemies, people who knew Verie’s and my innermost secrets, people who would spread it still wider, mentioning names, telling stories, telling of the time Verie kissed me on the lips in Grace Field’s swimming pool, the Canzone di Capri – such a long kiss that people sunning around the rim or drinking drinks had sat up to look at us. Most only smiled. Who cared, after all? But I was nineteen then, and I cared.

In Rome, Juliette’s fears are confirmed. We ran into some friends of Verie`s family in a restaurant. I’ve never spent a more uninteresting or quieter evening. It was quiet – like an unlit bomb. Within a week came a blistering letter from Verie`s mother, which Verie let me read. Verie took it with a careless smile at first, but I noticed she had turned pale. She was shaken to the core and did not want me to see it, but as the days passed, it was impossible for her to hide. We went over what happened with the Tompkins. No, nothing had happened, and no innuendos had been dropped by the Tompkins. It was just a case of their smelling out something, given almost nothing, nothing but the fact we’d been best friends at school and were now traveling together, and – the future art gallery, of course.

Other letters arrive from Verie’s brother, sister, and a former teacher, containing similar messages: she must “break off the relationship” and return home, or, as her mother puts it, “break with us.” Verie begins drinking scotch during the day and into the night. It was a long way from the old Verie, the real Verie, who might have dismissed all this with a wave of her hand and a smile. At least, a few drinks could make her smile, cynically, but it was not Verie`s old smile. There was bitterness in it now. But it was better than no smile at all. She made love to me once, but it was rudely and defiantly – predictably, and that started to break my heart.

Though Juliette has money for them to live on, even enough to start a gallery together, she realizes that Verie does not dread the loss of her inheritance, but something less tangible and more valuable. She was inarticulate about it, I had to guess it, to see it, to face it: she couldn’t face the social blot, after all. I hadn’t realized until the ax fell in Rome that Verie`s world was Baltimore. Even though she didn’t intend to live there, her roots there were deep. If they were cut off, the whole tree would die. It would die of shame. It was curious, it is curious, looking back on it, at Verie who pretended never to give a hang what people thought. The only explanation is her age, twenty. At twenty, one has not the strength, the character one thinks one has. I groped around this, trying to get her to say it – that she was going to give me up. She wouldn’t say it, for the three days I was trying to put the words in her mouth. At last, I said it for her, and Verie corroborated it. ‘Yes.'

The haste with which Verie leaves for home and discards her lover was “the most painful of all” to Juliette. Verie’s blind panic renders her a stranger to her girlfriend. At that time, I couldn’t comprehend the terror that was in Verie. I saw it as a sudden heartlessness, a complete reversal. She looked the same, her voice was the same, her clothes, the scent of her hair, as she bustled about her suitcases, but the inward thing I had loved had fled, flown away like the bird on the windowsill, which I had thought of the day I met Verie, and still could remember. To this day, it doesn’t make sense. The fiasco ending doesn’t make sense, because it wasn’t preceded by enough warning, danger signs. It doesn’t seem to hang together. Yet that was the way it was.

After a long string of failed relationships with women, Highsmith writes in her journals of the “faithlessness” and “transitoriness” of gay relationships, and, conversely, on her feelings of guilt and shame for her “sexual hypocrisy.” Her partner reports that in the fifties, Highsmith began slipping alcohol into her morning orange juice, a sign of her encroaching alcoholism that dogged her for the remainder of her life.

Verie never stopped drinking in Rome, nor does she stop in Baltimore. I can see it, the quantity increasing with her age until it`s a half bottle a day, then three quarters, then a whole, and the same ball of discord, unhappiness, tragedy, hopelessness, rolling along in her with the years. She lives still in Baltimore, and I wonder if the upright citizenry down there are more pleased with her celibacy, her ins and outs of alcoholic institutions in Baltimore and elsewhere, than they would be if we were running an art gallery together in San Francisco? That's a bitter question, but after all, is anybody pleased by what happened? Is anybody happier for what happened?

Highsmith writes in her diary of her dream of dancing with a woman on a midnight river cruise in Mississippi, which she contrasts with the reality of the presence of her male partner: Even in his arms dancing, one feels her in one`s arms dancing. The brain dully occupied with him, dreams with a clarity and a sentiment that stifles the breath, bringing tears.

First Person Novel concludes with Juliette’s similar sense that her love for another woman was built on fantasy, on the impossibility of two women living together as a couple in the middle half of the twentieth century. The loss of Verie – I am as incapable of describing what that was as I was incapable of describing what it was to have found her, to have known her and been with her those three years….It`s all finished. It`s all far back in the past. I have heard of people who cracked up under similar circumstances. At nineteen, as I was, it wasn’t unlikely that I’d crack up. I felt the beginnings…

As I look back, it's all so simple, so absurdly simple: Verie was weak, she did what she had to do, what others told her to do. But at the time it happened, it was a grand tragedy, we were torn apart by cruel fate, cruel Other People who presumably had infinite power over us. It was all not so. It was a dream, all of it.

Kate Hart is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Montreal.

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