The Counterfactual | Molly Dektar

11 mins read

1. Free Audiobook

I got one free audiobook for downloading the app, so I downloaded Middlemarch, which is 35 hours and 38 minutes. Trying to listen to this audiobook has exposed the extreme intermittency of my ability to pay attention. As it turns out, 50% of my walking time is about the world, and 50% is about something that everyone told me is not worth my time and consideration.

It goes like this. The baronet offers Dorothea a tiny puppy. She rejects the gift. Why didn’t you call when you said you would? I waited for you with my phone two inches from my face for hours. Three presses on the back-30-seconds button. Strangely the baronet didn’t give the puppy to Cecilia. Should I tell you how much of my life is in a holding pattern because of the way you treat me? Do you realize it? I’m sure you don’t but if I tell you will you drop me? Three presses on the back-30-seconds button. 

2. Immunity

The playground was dark and empty. Then a man came running out of the basketball court and behind him the rocket went up and produced a huge boom and no visual. The noise rattled off of all of the apartment buildings, making the neighborhood sound metallic and empty. I looked around urgently because I didn’t know if people had started other dark rockets on the street. I ran back to my building. 

On the next street men set out the fireworks on the double yellow line. They lit the bases of the vertical rods, and the fuse fire fluffed out along the street. The cars kept going down the street and the rockets flew up inches away from them and exploded in strips, ferns, clusters, and screws. The men yelled at a bus driver and a woman hustled her children out of the way and a sprinkler wave of white sparks shot up three times higher than the buildings. When they all started shouting get back! Get back! That was the best, since I was right on the immunity border.

3. My mother

Last year, when my mother was taking her daily walk around the neighborhood, two massive dogs ran down the hill and jumped up on her. She was terrified and screaming. The dogs’ owner arrived. “They’re just puppies, they’re just playful,” he said, and scolded my mother for her anger. When she asked him to keep them on a leash, he said, “They didn’t hurt you.”

This story makes me side against dogs. I used to love dogs, from the squeaky tiny ones to the big tumorous ones. I loved strolling around Manhattan, being proximal to a huge array of dogs. Now I think of my mother, who has taken to walking around the neighborhood with one of my dad’s golf clubs. I’m glad to have this surprising reminder of my love for her. We’re not a very demonstrative family.

4. Self Awareness

The grocery store near my apartment has plastic strips for a door. I really like going in and out of the plastic strips. When I’m alone, they feel good, exciting somehow, and I like the flippy noise they make and how the light bends on them and breaks around me. When there are other people going in or out, we lift them up for each other. 

I’m alone almost all of the time, but when I’m not alone I’m getting excited for when I’ll be alone again. For someone who spends so much time alone, I am not very self-aware. I can tell that I’m not very self-aware because when I look into the future I have no idea whether this will prove to be a phase or the shape of my life permanently. But all it takes is a cloudburst or a dark firework going off right over my head for me to feel utterly distracted by the fact that I’m alive.

5. Walking

I walked to the road after the reading, listening to Middlemarch. Rosie wants to enslave Lydgate. The brand of nail clippers was “Drug Store.” A pack of Sonomas for $3.33. A pack of Eagle 20’s for $3.37. A man showed me a photo of hibiscus. “Beauty even in the brambles,” he said, and looked at me to hammer it home. Mary Garth says no to Fred, the first time in the book that someone seems willing to try to change someone else, to imagine the counterfactual. Deer in the fields, their bulky bodies and alien-shaped heads. Deer with small antlers. The rain and sun, the rainbow in the net, the steam off the asphalt as high as houses. 

The horses roll around on their backs in the straw. They’re hot in their fancy fields. The goats come up to the fence and swing their ears bashfully. The butterflies actually fly as high as birds on occasion. The frogs are so incredibly loud and as soon as you shine a flashlight on them they clam up and hide. The armadillos look like gleaming little piglets. The bats have a frantic flap to them. 

6. Beloved Things

If there’s one thing I love, it’s shopping online for a Victorian-style nightgown. If there’s one thing I love, it’s being able, materially and physically, to nap. If there’s one thing I love, it’s bright fragrant flowers in my vase on my writing desk. If there’s one thing I love, it’s the long idle conversations at work precisely when we should not be idle. If there’s one thing I love, it’s hiding during the event and eating chocolate. If there’s one thing I love, it’s sitting there in the hot grass while the little blue-eyed goats wander over, eating as they go, then touching my hands with their noses.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s the thick cold mist, its endowments of rain, up over the huge lawn. Well, not just the mist, but running into it, getting eaten by it, an echoing zone of white, like in the Matrix, or the Yellow Submarine, the white imaginary land. If there’s one thing I love, it’s when I’m too distraught to talk, but you call me over and over, and I know that you know, and neither of us are tired. I hung up on you to enter the mist, because neither of us were tired.

7. On Writing

If you need something to do in a group, you can divide people into Lord of the Rings creatures: elf, human, dwarf, hobbit. You can also divide people three by three along a) lawful, neutral, chaotic, and b) good, neutral, evil (the center is true neutral). When you’re talking about people who aren’t there, you can do marry, fuck, kill, but that’s difficult for me because I want to fuck and kill everyone. In pairs it’s easier, you can choose any set of things and decide who is who. You’re obviously the spoon, I’m the fork. You’re the salt, I’m the pepper. You’re the cat, I’m the dog. 

With writers you know fairly well, you can do a version of this that’s easy, which is, what writer would you be friends with? With writers you know a bit better, you can ask, what writer would you be? The hardest and most interesting version of this, however, reserved only for the widely-read friends that you know deeply and love, is, what writer would have written the character that is you? Very quickly you adjoin the limit of literature, and confront its extreme specificity, and the strangeness of character as lived, but then you have to push past that because in fact there is something beyond it.

Molly Dektar’s second novel, The Absolutes, was published this summer by Mariner. She is also the author of The Ash Family (2019). Her short fiction has appeared in N+1, the Yale Review, the Sewanee Review, and the Rumpus, among others.