The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Assholes All Around

Rachael Conlin Levy

It’s 5:40 in the morning, and neither of them are allowing me to write. The man promises support after he showers and after he shaves, which takes twenty minutes, a sizable chunk of time in the hour I am trying to call my own. The boy promises to be still, to read a book, but it is a pledge his wired young body cannot keep as he bounces against my writing elbow. I smolder, and resentment swirls into a dangerous cloud above my head.

The boy watches me form letters. “Are you writing a report?” he asks, and I tell him to find the “i” and the “n” and the “a,” while pushing my elbow into his side so he will stop leaning on my arm. He finds his name. “That’s what I write,” he says. “Yep, that’s your name, but I’m trying to not write about you.” I sigh and look at the clock, open Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” and copy down the sentences that were meant for this morning.

“How the hell can a man write when he doesn’t know where he’s going to sit the next half-hour? … Even if it’s not a masterpiece you’re doing. Even a bad novel requires a chair to sit on and a bit of privacy.”

The morning’s effort is going to the shit-hole, and I know I am not going to accomplish anything. My dark cloud bumps against the ceiling, and, as the man returns, I throw down lightening to singe this showered and shaved time thief. Twenty minutes. Told you. No, told myself because this is a note to me.

“Let’s go eat,” the man tells the boy, but the boy has other plans.

“I’m going to read in bed,” he says and hops out, returns with Sendak’s “Alligators All Around,” which he opens and reads from memory, “M — Making Macaroni.”

“Mom, I want to make this,” and  he points to the pot that is overflowing with noodles.

I do not answer because I am reminding myself to try out the suggestions heard in a news story about a more effective method of teaching preschoolers how to read. I decide to give it a shot now. “Can you show me where the “m’s” are in Making Macaroni?”

He studies the page and points to the first letter, then he turns the page and whispers: “N — Never Napping.” More pages turn. “What does this say?”

“Very Vain.”

“Hey, that’s in my name.”


Dammit, now I am not writing at all, just recording our conversation, which is a good way to keep my reporting skills from calcifying, but a surefire way to “atrophy the inventive powers,” according to Raymond Chandler.

I fight back: What was the man doing forty minutes ago when the boy was E — Elbowing my Elbow? S — Snoring Soundly. Why is he incapable of giving me the full hour in the morning? Because M — Marcel Must Make Money. Therefore, I must be grateful by N  — Never Nagging (Not!).

The man comes in and asks, “Do you want the light on?”

“No, I want help with this child.”

“Well, give me a minute.”

“I just gave you twenty in the shower.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I want you to get him breakfast before you shower, otherwise I have to start getting up at 4:30 in order to write.”

“Just be quiet. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“This is bullshit.”

I record the last sentence, adding, B — Bucket of Bullshit.

It is 6:10, and they have left the room, but minutes later the door bangs open again. The boy is crying, dives into the bed and burrows into the blankets. The man stands in the doorway. “Come on, son. I can help you.” “I want Mom,” comes the small, muffled response, so the man leaves. I record all of this, as a head pops out of the blankets: “I wanted a blue bowl.” “Then go tell your dad.”

He jumps out of bed, leaving the door open, an unintended benefit, because now I record the kitchen conversation:

“I wanted to do it myself.”

“You wanted to pour the milk yourself?”

“I wanted to pour the granola myself.”

“Okay. I’ll pour it back so you can do it.”

W — Wearisome Whiner.

He leaves and my mind reverts to the Flannery O’Connor story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” I was reading the night before, a story about unspeakable violence, of taking what is not yours, not mine. We all have things we want, right? I mean really want, and when the desire’s tripwire is fingered and tugged, it produces a powerful yearning that cannot be denied. In O’Connor’s story, it was selfishness and murder, and the need to deny culpability even as your family is picked off one by one and the gunshots ring in your ears.

What do I want? I thirst for time, to think, to write, to not think. Time to let ideas bury themselves, to be forgotten until the  subconscious unearths them, transformed and potent. Where do I find that kind of time when there are people needing me, my people? Where can I find time for an act that is, at once, selfish and self-saving?

I am writing furiously as the man returns, bringing coffee with just the right amount of cream. I thank him, and in the margin I scribble C — Conciliatory Coffee, and keep writing, jumping from O’Connor to the last line in the Cowboy Junkies’ song “Floorboard Blues.” It’s a fucked-up old world, but this old girl, well, she ain’t givin’ in, and ends with a harmonica that leaves me weak in the knees, for, I swear, there is nothing like a man with a harp. I look up at a ceiling free of clouds; sunshine slides over the curtain, turning watery light to ripened wheat, then I add, R — Rachael Writes and Reloads.

11 responses to “Assholes All Around”

  1. Linda says:

    Yes, “Rachael Writes and reloads.” I love this post as I watch your mood, like the dark cloud over your head, dissipate. Mom

  2. anno says:

    Writing and reloading… interesting how that happens. Great aim here, too. Love this post … don’t know if this is what you want to hear, but even though my only child is mostly grown up and gone to school, my husband works from home, and sometimes I wonder when I will ever be able to hear my own unimpeded thoughts: this post resonates.

  3. Andrea says:

    Oh, it is so hard some times, this desire to create that is both impeded and fed by children. Sometimes I wish I could be one of those moms that can happily watch a baseball game (day after day after day) without a notebook jammed under her thigh on the bleachers, without a cauldron of resentment for lost time always bubbling just beneath the surface. But not really.

  4. Despite your constraints, you are kicking ass. Yes, my friend. Kicking ass. And I find it pretty damn impressive.

  5. Rachael says:

    Thank you, Ma.

    Anno, I need to hear that it doesn’t get easier, because that means I must not wait, but write hard, right now. Thank you.

    Andrea, here’s to our jam-smeared, dog-chewed, crayoned-over writer notebooks!

    Denise, that means a hell of a lot coming from a writer I admire.

  6. As a infrequent (or frequent if you ask Chez Danisse) asshole that steals time, this was both laugh out loud funny and also a bit singeing. Yes, Secondhand Singeing.

    Thanks for the reminder of the impact the man can have on the writer.

  7. Kate says:

    You had me at the title. There is so much I recognise here: the cloud, the lightning bolt, the leaning on the arm. The sheer effort of carving out thinking, writing – time. Reload. If I could, I’d play the harmonica for you…

  8. Rachael says:

    Christopher, always happy to oblige.

    Kate, here’s a Junior Wells’ song for both of us:

  9. Beth says:


    Your writing teaches me how to be brave! So glad you’re fighting for your time.

  10. Heather says:

    Another R – Recognizable Resentment


    L – Laughing Loudly

    Love ya.

  11. […] I write stream of consciousness first thing in the morning. I write with a bright yellow pen in cheap spiral notebooks I buy during back-to-school sales. I return to the notebooks and search for threads of a story. I write some more. A better description of how I work can be found in the post Assholes All Around. […]

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