By Ben Myers
“Expressing a human need, I always wanted to write a book that ended with the word mayonnaise” – Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America.
I remember the time I saw Richard Brautigan.
It was in a second hand book shop on the wrong end of South London, one with an excellent selection but which involved running the gauntlet of crack dealers to get to. Dodging blades and bullets really makes you appreciate poetry on an even deeper level.
He had been dead for fifteen years, this Richard Brautigan, and I had no idea who he was.
It was raining in the final days of the second documented millennium. I was living in a squat with no heating, a hole in the roof you could lower a tiger through and had recently left my first – and thankfully only – job to make it as a writer, as if a writing career were just a lump of clay to be hastily fashioned into something desirable.
It’s a story as familiar as a faded Polaroid of yourself looking for crabs like big golden coins in the rock pools of your youth: the poor, starving author. Boo hoo. You don’t need to hear it again. Suffice to say I was rejected by the literary establishment – and still am – but remained undeterred. I was also often highly delusional; the perfect frame of mind for a writer fighting through the ranks for a shot at the title.
Then there he was, Richard Brautigan sitting on the shelf, chuckling quietly into his moustache like he couldn’t believe that young men still sit around in empty rooms tearing their hair out over money and women and making it. He shook his head, wondering why the whole happiness situation had not yet been sorted out.
I lifted him from the shelf. He had the word TROUT emblazoned on his brow in courier new font, then down his neck and shoulder: FISHING IN AMERICA. On his knuckles: by RICHARD BRAUTIGAN.
I lifted him from the shelf and looked into his eyes. His whites were as white as down-home mayonnaise. His smile was seventeen steelheads leaping out of a creek simultaneously, each tooth a syllable of a poem waiting to be written.
His jacket was old and dusty and had fishing hooks hanging from its top pockets. It also revealed that he was “streets ahead of Burroughs and Kerouac – the Times.” I wanted to take that journey down those streets and see what the view looked like, and maybe find out who this Kerouac-the Times guy was too.
What happened next, I’ve never told anyone about. I gave the man in the shop three metal coins and I took TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA by RICHARD BRAUTIGAN home and I pan-fried him with a little farm-house butter and couple of twists of lemon. Salt and pepper.
When the jacket was going nice and crisp I slid him out of the pan and onto a plate, walked through to my living area and ate him with one eye on the roof for falling tigers.
Soon I was dining on Richard Brautigan every night. I worked my way through the entire selection of fresh-water Brautigan’s, devouring the entire school of variety in bite-sized increments. Some tasted like pulp detective novels, others like Mark Twain‘s bunions or a 1950s cheeseburger and others still recalled the earthy top soil of a Gettysburg battle-field, but all were highly satisfying and tasted quite like no other writer.
With each meal my brain capacity and imagination grew in tandem with my appetite for this strange new dish, the Richard Brautigan. Baked, fried, poached, grilled, stewed or in a soup – mmm. The words of Richard Brautigan falling from my mouth, crumbs of poetry all over the kitchen floor, one-liners hanging from my chin, a smear of a metaphor on the cupboard door under the sink. It was as if the steady diet of Richard Brautigans was making me stronger, pushing me on, building me up.
It actually got a bit embarrassing.
I’d walk into family restaurants and declare “Bring me a plate of Brautigan and don’t spare the seasoning!”
Soon I was writing again though, not caring what came out, but just letting it come out. Thoughts leapt sideways like a pike that’s grounded itself. The banks of the imagination burst and a hard rain fell but I didn’t care down there in a clear blue pool of my own making, the torrent of words and ideas gushing out, heavy and murky with silt at first, but then clearer and purer and cooler, then a slow meditative trickle, then finally it turned into a novel in my hands, and it’s published and I’m smiling.
I belch, yawn, rub my eyes and it is eight years after the book shop. I’m by a slow, heavy river – the silent type – somewhere in northern England. I’m surrounded by green fields that sway like hula girls, their grass skirts a roar of silence, and beyond them woodlands made of trees like gentleman bowing, and the sun is on my neck. It must be the present day.
Along the bank is my friend Davey James.
He has a rod in his hands. I do too. We’re fishermen!
Not only that but we’re idiots, and furthermore we’re idiots who are writing about our uneducated fishing escapes, and this is our latest living instalment, a story waiting to be written. That much we know.
I sit in silence, staring at the river and the halo of flies that hover above it. Soon time slips away and puts me in that trance that is so addictive to the fisherman; that narco-haze of a lazy summer’s afternoon fishing, that extended moment when everything suddenly settles down, no breeze, no noise, but definite discernible life beneath the shining levels of the surface.
There’s a tug at my line and the float disappears beneath the vast, moving meniscus with a plop.
“I’ve got one…” I say to Davey James.
He looks over, puts his rod down and tentatively asks:
I reel it in, carefully remove the blood-worm fly hook and place him gently in a holding net in the river. His body flexes and he looks up at me.
It’s my old friend Richard Brautigan, returning.
PS – I know it’s him because his eyes are the colour of mayonnaise.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben Myers is a writer and poet. He is the author of the novel The Book Of Fuck, his recent work has appeared on sites such as 3:AM, Zygote In My Coffee, Laura Hird, Bookmunch, BLATT, Straight From the Fridge and in a number of forthcoming anthologies throughout 2007. Ben is also a member of the Brutalist writers and has recently completed his second novel, the Brautigan-inspired The Missing Kidney.