Black Bill Part 3

There was no plot. Before he said it, he knew she would say this didn’t matter, not that this was the point. It was childish to reply this way to a reasonable observation. “Mom, there’s no plot.” And after her hesitation, “It’s not a value statement.” “It doesn’t matter.” It’s not what she asked him for. “It’s a choice you’ve made here and I want to understand it is all.” She thought the point of having a child and raising them warmly and patiently but not by way of smothering was that there could be unspoken communication between them, but what the hell. “I want you to ignore what you expected, and tell me about what you’ve actually read. Don’t mind the gaps. Take the plunge. You know, et cetera.” “OK. Yeah. Let me read it again.”

It was hard with her because she had such a flagrant approach to doing and yet was so private, didn’t say much in the in between time. He had of course dealt with some version of this as a child, but he actually felt baffled as an adult. Who was this woman? He sort of asked his sister Linn, who said, “Oh mom’s hilarious. Like, we all know it. And kind of smart, right? But she likes to kind of surprise people with all that because she’s always a little socially mortified, right? And maybe that’s from growing up in an immigrant family.” He couldn’t make much sense of this. The other twin, Olly (she’d been Minn, then changed it to avoid torture in school, then removed the M he guessed to reclaim some edge), on the same call, had nothing to say. “I don’t even know what the problem is. What’s the problem?” “She’s also alone a lot, I think,” Linn offered. They were such generous psychologists and that’s why he spoke to them. “I’m just not sure what to say sometimes. Especially when she asks me to do something and then it becomes this big drama.”

“Reading her stuff is a big drama?” Olly’s questions were never issued from a place of confusion but ruthless curiosity. Her asking was of the most earnest kind, never rhetorical; it’s why she did so well at math. “Not for me, but for her. It’s a momentous occasion for her it sounds like, and I just have no clue where that all comes from or why it’s coming at me.” “OK, but have you considered that she may be asking a bunch of people to read her stuff, and that she’s come to you last, because you’re in it?” Bill hadn’t known Linn and maybe Olly had gotten manuscripts too, but he didn’t think too deeply about it, or the fact that they had withheld this information so far, because that would be meaningless conflict. “There’s no objective way to say that I’m in it.” “Ooh, Billy, you’re in it! You’re innn it.” The sisters laughed on the phone, on mute, and the sudden absence of miscellaneous background noise might have clued Bill in if he too had inherited the gift to ignore what he expected. As they laughed, “OK, so there’s a ton of subtext, I get that. Maybe that’s what you mean? But she spends so much time painting a picture that you’re finished and then think, ‘But what was I looking at?’ I don’t want to tell her what to do. But I don’t undeniably see myself in it and I don’t think any reasonable person, reasonable person who’s not in our family, would.”

“OK so that’s the kind of feedback you could give her. You could say that you think it’s a little too specific, and that she needs to spell things out a little.” How mortifying. He had gone to college, where he remembers learning expressly that you didn’t tell an aspiring writer to “Spell things out a little.” He was sure his sisters had created some sort of fascinating twin world that didn’t make any sense and maybe mom had somehow always been a part of it. He didn’t feel ganged up on, per se, but lamentably superior. Olly: “Do you think you’ll read it again?”

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