Excerpt: ‘Telephone’

Read the opening of the May California Book Club selection, Percival Everett’s novel Telephone.

percival everett, telephone
Dustin Snipes

People, and by people I mean them, never look for truth, they look for satisfaction. There is nothing worse, certain painful and deadly diseases notwithstanding, than an unsatisfactory, piss-poor truth, whereas a satisfactory lie is all too easy to accept, even embrace, get cozy with. Like thoughts that carry with them a dimension of attendant thoughts, so actions have attendant actions, with unpredicted, unprompted intentions and results, good or bad, and things, things themselves, have attendant things in unforeseen perspectives and dimensions. An unsatisfactory truth? Like Banquo’s ghost, such thoughts sit in the king’s place, literary allusions being all the rage. Such thoughts. It is slavery that inaugurates the path to freedom.

hic et nunc?

I am Zach Wells. Wells is a good name for a geologist-slash-paleobiologist, and so I was one. I knew a lot about fossils and caves, especially the bones of creatures left a long, long time ago. I would tell my daughter that we had to take care of our bones because finally that would be all that was left of us, all that was left to tell our stories. I knew an awful lot about one particular hole called Naught’s Cave in the Grand Canyon and the bird life that once lived in it. How arcane is that? Well, I knew more than most people. To make it all clear, I should point out that most people knew more about nearly all other things than I did. All of this was and is of little significance, or perhaps transcendence, except that it clues you in to my profound and yawning dullness. It lets you know that I could spend endless hours with bones, rocks, and sediments, and, not only that, but in one very particular cavity in one very particular red wall some forty-four meters above the Colorado River, in a spot that no one can get to except by helicopter or, at one time, a tough-hulled boat. That says something about me, I suppose, if there is much at all to say about me. A friend of mine died in a helicopter crash trying to get to that very particular cave. Asshole that I am, I have returned to the cave again and again and have thought of him only briefly each time. That tells you something, though it’s none too flattering.

Before graduate school I was in the Marines. It was a mistake that I never had to regret. I served in no war and maintained no relationship with the corps after I left. I made good friends that I never saw again. I never got a tattoo.

I lived in a town called Altadena in California. It was north of a town called Pasadena. Altadena means “higher dena,” as in Pasadena. I do not know what Pasadena means. Apparently no one does. There are many things that no one knows, which is comforting, up to a point. At the time of this writing, I do not know whether I will live much longer, and you don’t know what I’m talking about. I was led to this point by a simple note, marks on an odd scrap of paper, words that could have meant nothing, that I could have allowed to mean absolutely nothing. But that’s not really possible, is it?

Sicut in spelunca

Aechmorphorus occidentalis. Two fragments found in pack rat middens. Pieces were too small to allow measurement and subspecies identification. The grebe is a common transient and winter resident.

I had a family, a wife and a daughter, Meg and Sarah. I tried to tell my daughter, while she could understand, that women are hunted in this world. I tried to tell her without telling her, without saying it in plain language. I did not want her to be afraid in life. Finally she was not, but that was only because she knew no better. It was a sad, good thing.

Across the long and very old Stanton Street Bridge from El Paso, Texas, is a not-so-little town in Mexico called Ciudad Juárez. Friendship Bridge, Puento Rio Bravo, Puente Ciudad Juárez-Stanton El Paso. Hundreds of women had been hunted there, on the other side of that bridge, pursued, raped, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. They were mostly dark haired and of slender build, as was my beautiful Sarah. Believe it or not, that story is, in a shapeless and vague way, a part of this story.•

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