Authors: Barry Hannah
Praise for Barry Hannah and
“Whether it's a masterwork of literary jazz ... or of formal brilliance, I don't know. All I do know is that those who feel for literary expression will be wowed by it.... An intense and readable joy.”
Chicago Tribune Book World
“Barry Hannah's writing is raw and exhilarating, tortured, radiant, vicious, aggressive, funny, and streaked with rage, pain, and bright, poetic truth.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer
delights, provokes, shocks, amuses on every page. Barry Hannah is an original, vital talent.”
“Dazzling fiction . . . Hannah has some sort of compound eye with an ear to match, and the result is a manic cacophony of Life in These United States. His characters comprise the fifth column, perpetually looking for salvation in a parking lot. . . . With
Hannah continues to amaze. He's beyond Southern. He's brilliant.”
is a song . . . about the electrics, cool and hot, of being alive.”
The Village Voice
BOOKS BY BARRY HANNAH
PUBLISHED BY GROVE PRESS
Bats Out of Hell
Copyright Â© 1980 by Barry Hannah
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
A portion of this text originally appeared in the Autumn 1980 issue of the
The author wishes to express his gratitude to the Research Grant Committee of the University of Alabama for financial assistance given in the course of this writing.
Originally published in 1980 by Alfred A. Knopf
Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4645-9
PS3558.A476R3Â Â Â 1994Â Â Â Â 813â².54âdc20Â Â Â Â 93-42708
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Distributed by Publishers Group West
For Gordon, Bill, Elizabeth
is thirty-three and he was born of decent religious parents, I say.
Ray, I didn't ever think it would get to this. The woman I love and that I used to meet in the old condemned theater and we would wander around looking at the posters and worshiping the past, I just called her Sister like her parents, the Hooches, did. Her mother lives in that house with that man. Her grandmother was a Presbyterian missionary killed by the gooks.
Ray, you are a doctor and you are in a hospital in Mobile, except now you are a patient but you're still me. Say what? You say you want to know who I am?
I have a boat on the water. I have magnificent children. I have a wife who turns her beauty on and off like a light switch.
But I can think myself out of this. My mind can do it. It did it before, can do it again, as when I was pilot of the jet when I was taking the obnoxious rich people in their Lear from Montreal to New York to Charlotte to Pensacola to New Orleans to Mexico City to the YucatÃ¡n to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, because they had an old friend there.
You can do it, mind and heart. You can give it the throttle and pick up your tail and ease it on. You can do it, Ray.
For instance, look at this male nurse. He weighs three hundred pounds. He's got flab in his eyes, but he used to weigh four hundred. Now he's divorced his second wife and has no remorse and is moving to Key West for a higher-paying job. He has no care for other people because his own elephantine system keeps him employed. You would fire him, Ray. Except you can't fire anyone now.
That's a good one. Hang on to a word like
Her nether hoot. No, I don't, nether. This is the netherlands and it will nether get worse. That is the awfulest netherest laughter.
I just threw up my netherest soul. There's nothing left, nether. My eyes are full of yellow bricks. There are dry tiny horses running in my veins.
That was three weeks ago, Ray. Now I am clean. My head is full of light. I am a practicing
doctor again and it is necessary I go over to the Hooches.
My heart, my desire. Sister!
The stacked tires, the station wagon half-captured by kudzu and ivy, the fishing boat on wheels, the tops of an ash and a pine rising from the falling ravine behind the backyard, and in front, the house, a peeling eyesore, the complaint of the neighborhood. The Hooches!
The Hooch children are afraid. The car seems to have plunged up from the ravine. The smaller Hooches are fearful.
The roof of the garage has fallen in and around it clay pots are scattered through the lustrous ragged fronds.
The Hooch family is large and poor.
I have seen the moon make an opaque ghost of the backyard, and I have seen the Hooch animals roam out into it, smelling the life of themselves. They enter the border of visibility and pass through it into the uncanny.
Time and time again it comes back. Where the Hooches buried Oscar in the backyard near the fallen garage. Where the broken flowerpots were pulled away to make a place for Oscar. Where a single white wild blossom occurred under the forever stunted fig tree, making no sense at all, certainly not to dead Oscar.
The others of the street are not of their homes as much as the Hooches. The loud and untidy
failures of the Hooches pour from the exits. Their broken car is on the curb in front, pasted over with police citations. Around the base of a ragged bush near the front door is wrapped an old rotten brassiere. In the small front yard parts of toys and soaked food lie. A rope hangs from a second-story window. The drainpipe has been beaten out of place by the children.
The Hooch family has a familiar, I am saying, a certain familiar joyful lust and ignorance. They are mine. They're Ray's.
I say they are mine.
“Hi, Doctor Ray. You got that morphine for me?” says Mr. Hooch.
“I do like that fog.”
Mr. Hooch climbs up on his crutch.
“I guess I'm a fairly worthless bastard, aren't I?” he asks.
“You are. You've perfected it,” I say.
The old man is tickled.
“Are you horny, Doctor Ray? You want me to call Sister?”
“There's nothing to drink. I've drunk everything there is to drink.” Mr. Hooch throws out a cough, very nearly pukes. Revives. “Didn't you say you used to be a drunkard, Doctor Ray?”
“I did,” I say. “Almost got kicked out of the trade for it.”
I can see it makes the old man feel better to
hear it. “Ray,” he says. “Ray, boy, that old morphine is sudden, hey? I'm fogging away.”
“Your leg already better?”
“Already. Listen to this, Doctor Ray. I know life all round, up and down. I have become my dreams. I have entered the rear of Mother Nature and come out her mouth, and I am the sin that is not ugly.”
“That's fine,” I say.
“It hurts my leg to talk like that,” the old man says.
From the back of the house, looking over the fishing boat and past it to the wide, brittle leaves at the crown of the unhealthy magnolia, there comes Mrs. Hooch with her Pall Malls, a blotched woman in a bravely colored wrap, her legs lean and veiny. She arrives out of breath. She sits in the flaking chair.
“What are you looking at, Doc?” she says.
“Everything in your backyard looks hungry,” says I. “There's a bird that looks like he doesn't know what to do.”
“It's all we got.”
Looking out at the unhappy foliage.
“Ever since I wasn't a virgin no more, things have slid down,” she says.
“There must have been love or something,” I say.
“Sure, but it was all downward.”
I say, “Are you hopeless?”
“Close,” she says.
“Well,” I say, “I brought another bottle of Valium.”
“The preacher was here,” she says. “He couldn't do anything. I told him every time you came you left us happier.”
“God bless the pharmacy,” I say.
Outside, there are two small heads wobbling in the fishing boat. The Hooch twins, the young set. They have older twins too, and three children between these pairs.
“You want to talk today, Doc?” Mrs. Hooch wants to know.
I say, “I get tired of people. All of them driving around in their cars, eating, having to be. All of them insisting on existing.”
“But you help people,” Mr. Hooch says.
“I'm one of them,” I say.
“If you're sad, do you want to see Sister?” Mrs. Hooch says. “I think she's still in bed.”
“Maybe I will,” I say.
Sister is always in love with somebody, sometimes me. There is a capricious wisdom she has about attaching herself to anybody for very long, although her loyalties are fast. She plays the guitar well and has a nice voice that she keeps to herself. Life has been such for her that she has no attitude at all. She expects no sympathy. Two of her teenage lovers died in an accident at the railroad tracks. That's when I met Sister. I rode down to the tracks, and she was standing there in
a long sleeping gown, two weeks after the accident.
“What's wrong, girl?”
“I growed up.”
“You want to go home? I'm a doctor. The preacher called me. They're worried about you.”
“Ain't nobody should worry. I'll be here.”
“I can give you a pill.”
But she said to leave her be.
So I drove back to the fancy rich thing of my home in my Corvette. In back of my house is the swamp, where all the creatures are either singing or angry or sexed up. My three well-fed and luxuriously moving furred Persian cats roam around with their big eyes. The back door was open and in front of one of their feed dishes there sits a mother raccoon. She's got two little raccoons with her, who are having a really good time. One of the cats tried for them, but I kicked it back through the kitchen. “Listen,” I said, “I am the emperor here. I reign.”
Ralph and Robert, my rich brothers, approve. But because of them, I can't even say my name.
But then I had to go back, to see Sister, to see if she's still there at the railroad tracks.
She was. Her gown was wet with tears and she was shivering bad.
“Nothing'll help,” she said.
Henceforward we were together.
“Sister, do you have a real name?” I said.
“Sister's enough,” said she, “but my real name
is Betty, and my age is eighteen. My grandmother was a Presbyterian missionary, but the Chinese Communists killed her. My pappy's from Mississippi. He ain't worth nothing, but there he is. He never worried about too much and his words is always kind. It was hateful for him to get shot in the kneecap in World War Two. But there he is. I don't want to talk about my momma too much because I don't like her. Her name's Agnes and she acts like that name.”
“Well,” said I, “I did my part in hurting the gooks back for you, Sister. I flew support missions for B-52 bombers in Vietnam.”
“You flew what?”
“An F-4, called the Phantom. It's a jet airplane.”
“I've seen them jets pass over me and thought about them,” Sister said.
Her figure and face were lively and charming. Her legs were open, dark-skinned, negligent, as in the posture of lust. She had Cajun blood from her mother. Her hair was thick and black, and I suppose her beauty was astounding, even in the dirty gown and her eyes red with nervous grief.
I don't feel that good about women anyway, nor gooks, nor sand-niggers, nor doctors, nor anything human that moves, with its zealous raving habits. Then I met Sister and my trust came back, my body was flooded with hope.
“You hear about Uncle Sweat?” she asked me once while we were making love. “He tried to take
off a plane and crashed it into the state pen, Parchman, over in Mississippi. They didn't even have to get a judge or nothing. He was already there.”
“Never heard about him.”
“Last week Aunt Viola was in a rage about Uncle Tom's carelessness and she dropped a chain saw on her foot.”
The thing I like about Sister is that every hurt she mentions, every hurt she has, she gives it back twice in love. She beats the hell out of my wife, who looks like somebody on television.
My town now is Tuscaloosa. I want you to know about some of the people here. My friend Charlie DeSoto, for example. He and his sweetheart Eileen came in, both of them wanting the drug that would help them stay in love without the grinding nervousness they had, because they
in love and they wanted to make it stick. Yet they induced tension in each other. Charlie was going for the booze, Eileen for the Compazines and coffee.
The name DeSoto was important, Charlie thought. He's a manager of the soap factory to the south of town and has made happen important steps toward antipollution of the Black Warrior River, into which his factory used to dump all the chemical wastes it had. It killed fish, and generally screwed up the water vegetation for fifteen miles downriver.
One night Charlie was waked up by a noise in his backyard. He caught hold of his hatchet, hoping it was a criminal, for his life had been dull lately. But when he went outdoors in the cold air, DeSotoâwho was of course the namesake of Hernando de Soto, the discoverer of the Mississippi River who perished in 1542, probably of greed and arroganceâsaw there was no criminal. The man in the backyard was not running. He was crawling, almost wallowing, toiling on the brown rye grass of Charlie's yard. The man lifted his face and said, “Listen, friend, I can't take it anymore.”
DeSoto considered that for a while, a whole day, actually. Charlie liked considering things. Best of all, Charlie DeSoto liked considering Mr. Wently. Now this Wently was a man who came by DeSoto's house every morning,
morning at exactly 7:45. This Wently was a man somewhere in his seventies, and he was regular. But so was the dog, Albert. Albert belonged to two gentle lesbians, Marjorie and Jane. And the minute Wently showed himself on the block, Albert came out viciously and barked. But the old man was never appalled, for he knew Albert was just a loud coward.
DeSoto wanted to kill Mr. Wently, was the problem. He could murder Mr. Wently for the regularity of his habits. Wently had a three-piece suit and sunglasses and a cane. DeSoto owned no
gun, but if he had one, he would have killed Wently first thing.
One day it was a glorious day, and the red and yellow leaves were falling all around the street, since it was fall, the dying beautiful season of the year.
DeSoto was reading about the original de Soto according to Rangel, his diarist on the expedition from Florida.
Sunday. October tenth, the Governor de Soto entered the village of Tuscaloosa, which is called Athlacia, a recent village. And the chief was on a kind of balcony on a mound at one end of the square, his head covered with a kind of coif like the almaizal, so that his headdress was like a Moor's, which gave him an aspect of authority. He also wore a mantle of feathers down to his feet, very imposing. He was as tall as that Tony of the Emperor, our lord's guard. A fine and comely emperor of a man.
Hernando remained seated with him a short time, and after a little he arose and said that they should come to eat, and he took him with him and the Indians came to dance. And they danced very well in the fashion of rustics in Spain. At night Tuscaloosa desired to go, and our Commander de Soto told him that he must sleep there. He slept there notwithstanding his reluctance.
The next day de Soto our Governor asked him for carriers and the rest of them he said he would give at Mobile, the province of one of his principal vassals.
Monday. October eighteen, St. Luke's day, the Governor de Soto came to Mobile, having passed that day by several villages and mountains with two Christians slain by Indians who did not take our passing through their village peaceably. The soldiers stayed behind to forage and scatter themselves, for the region appeared populous. And there came with the Governor only forty horsemen as an advance guard, and after they tarried a little, that the Governor might not show weakness, he entered into the village with the chief, Tuscaloosa, and all his guard went in with him. The Indians danced an
While this was going on, some soldiers saw them putting bows and arrows slyly among some palm leaves and other Christians saw that below the cabins were full of people concealed.