Edwin Mullhouse
The Life and Death of an
American Writer 1943 - 1954
by Jeffrey Cartwright
a novel by Steven Millhauser

(an excerpt)

Chapter One

Behind the rich blue luminous curtain, rippling, the pale blue luminous letters ripple, mingling with bright blue luminous melodies jingling with jujubes, in the black-crow licorice dark.  In light, caught, the letters, transfixed, stiffen.  Brighter than licked lollipops, livelier than soda in sunlight, lovelier than sunshine on cellophane the colors shine: popsicle orange and lemon-ice white, cotton-candy pink and mint-jelly green, cherry-soda red and raspberry-jello red.  Cellophane crackles in the green-and-red-tinted dark.  Thick with purple shadows, a dim room appears.  In the center stands a vertical ladder, from the top of which a narrow shaft of yellow light falls diagonally down, cutting across one end of a bed and illuminating two round white feet sticking up at the bottom of a blue blanket.  A white rabbit, wearing one red nightcap on each tall ear, lies on his back, asleep.  As he exhales, with a whistling sound, the blanket under his chin rolls down to his feet.  As he inhales, with a snoring sound, the blanket over his feet rolls up to his chin.  Over his head a dream appears: he is sawing a log in half.  As the saw cuts through the log a piece falls out of the dream and hits him on the head.  He sits up, rubbing his head.  A red throbbing bump grows higher and higher, pushing up his hand, and then grows lower and disappears.  The rabbit yawns and stretches and removes both nightcaps.  Putting on a pair of large round black eyeglasses he walks over to a little stove and begins to fry an egg, flipping it up in the air and catching it in his pan.  He changes hands, flips it up in the air, and holds out the pan waiting.  The egg does not return.  Sighing, the rabbit walks over to the ladder and begins to climb.He pokes his head out of his hole into a bright green clearing.  In the near distance stand several thin black trees, each with three or four leaves.  Beside the hole lies the fried egg.  The rabbit picks it up and disappears into his hole.  From behind one tree an orange snout with a black nose pops out, followed by a V-shaped frown.  In long white eyes, little black pupils move to the left and right.  The fox tiptoes quickly to another tree, no thicker than one of his eyebrows, and disappears entirely behind it.  His foot peeps out and tiptoes across the grass, followed by his leg, which stretches to twice its length and stops behind another tree; the rest of the fox shoots across to the new tree in an orange blur and disappears behind it.  His frowning head peeps out.  He looks to the left and right.  With hunched shoulders he tiptoes over to the hole.  He is orange except for his white toes, his white fingers, and the broad white patch that stretches from the top of his chest to the bottom of his belly.  Reaching behind his back, he brings forward a huge red firecracker.  He lights the firecracker, pushes it upside down into the hole, and tiptoes a few paces away.  With his back to the hole he squeezes his eyes shut and blocks his ears with his fingers.  The rabbit flips his egg and holds out the pan.  The egg does not return.  Frowning. He looks up and sees the firecracker.  The egg is speared on the sizzling wick.  He climbs the ladder, removes the egg, and pushes the firecracker up out of the hole.  The firecracker rolls along the grass and stops behind the fox, who stands with his fingers in his ears.  After a while he opens his eyes, removes his fingers from his ears, and turns around.  When he sees the sizzling firecracker at his feet his eyes spring out of head an the ends of springs.  He dives headfirst onto the grass, landing with a crash and covering his head with his arms.  The sizzling wick goes out.  The fox looks up.  He rises to his feet, walks to the firecracker, picks it up, and smiles.  The firecracker explodes.  When the smoke clears. The fox is still standing.  He is entirely black, except for his white eyes and his white smile.  The rabbit sits in a rocking chair by the stove, reading a newspaper.  The frying pan is attached to one foot. As he rocks back the egg flips into the air.  As he rocks forward the egg falls into the pan.  The fox approaches the rabbit hole, pulling a rope attached to a shiny black cannon.  He places a shiny black cannonball into the shiny black cannon, tips the front of the cannon into the hole, and lights a wick at the cannon’s back.  He turns around, shuts his eyes, and blocks his ears.  The front of the cannon swings up, followed by a fried egg, and turns all the way around until it is pointing at the fox.  The fried egg goes back into the hole.  The fox turns around, sees the cannon, and looks at the audience.  The cannon goes off.  When the smoke clears, the fox is standing with a hole in his stomach, through which a tree is visible.  He reaches down and zips up the hole.  Then he collapses onto the grass.  A new scene begins on the left, traveling to the right and erasing the old scene.  The fox enters pulling a rope tied to the top of a bending tree.  He hammers a peg into the ground , ties the rope to a trigger attached to the peg, lays the rope in a circle near the hole, and places inside the circle a bright orange carrot that rests at the end of the trigger.  The fox sits down against a nearby tree, crosses his legs, crosses his hands behind his head, closes his eyes, and begins to snore.  Above his head a dream appears: he is seated at a table with a napkin tied under his chin and the rabbit bound hand and foot on a plate before him.  The rabbit’s head pops out of the hole.  He sniffs, adjusts his eyeglasses, and sees the carrot.  He climbs out of the hole, steps into the rope-circle, and removes the carrot.  Reaching into a pocket in his skin, he removes a leg of roast chicken and places it on the trigger.  Crunching on the carrot he steps out of the circle and sees the fox asleep against a tree with a dream over his head.  He walks over to the fox, unties the dream-rabbit, who runs away, and puts in its place a huge red firecracker.  Then he goes back into his hole.  The dream-fox bites into the firecracker, which explodes. The real fox wakes up.  He spits out a mouthful of teeth..  In the circle of rope he sees the chicken leg.  He walks over to the rim of the circle and frowns down, tapping his foot.  As he stares, lines of odor twist from the chicken leg to his twitching black nose.  He bends over, reaches toward the chicken leg, and suddenly straightens up.  He looks at the audience and shakes his head slyly.  Reaching into a pocket he removes a cane.  Gently he prods the chicken leg until rolls from the trigger.  He flinches, but nothing happens.  Shrugging, he picks up the chicken leg. Thrusts it deep into his mouth, and removes a clean white bone.  He licks his chops, rubs his belly, and tosses the bone away.  It lands on the trigger.  The fox’s hair stands on end but nothing happens.  Frowning, he pokes the trigger with his cane.  Nothing happens.  He takes out a sledge hammer and slams the trigger.  Nothing happens.  He steps inside the rope and kicks the trigger.  Nothing happens.  As he wipes his forehead with a red handkerchief, a small blue bird flies overhead.  A tiny blue feather flutters down.  The fox watches the feather as it slowly falls, rocking back and forth, descending past his eyes, his neck, his stomach, his knees.  It lands gently on the trigger.  The rope yanks the fox into the air and out of sight, accompanied by the sound of a whistling rocket.  A distant explosion rocks the forest.  The fox enters on the left, leaning on a crutch.  One leg is bound in a cast and white bandages cover his head.  He sits down beside the rabbit hole and thinks.  A lightbulb appears above his head.  He reaches up and turns it off.  Tearing off his bandages and throwing away the crutch, he removes from his pocket a hammer, nails, and pieces of wood.  He begins building furiously, working up a cloud of dust that conceals him completely.  When the dust clears a vast blue chute is visible.  Beginning in front of the rabbit hole, it rises slowly toward the right on taller and taller posts, passing through the forest where small deer gaze up in wonder, passing over the treetops as an old owl frowns and scratches his head, passing beneath a rainbow into the sky, passing clouds and jagged mountaintops until at last it reaches a tall brown cliff on which a vast boulder rests atop a tiny pebble.  Beside the boulder, reclining in a yellow and red lawn chair, wearing green sunglasses and sipping lemonade, is the fox.  He picks up a straw, tears one end, and blows the paper wrapper at the boulder.  The boulder tips onto the blue chute and starts to roll down.  It rolls past clouds and jagged peaks, it frightens a buzzard, it flattens a passing airplane, it snaps apart the rainbow, it roars over treetops past the startled owl, and terrified deer take cover as it thunders past.  The rabbit’s head pops out of the hole.  Grasping the end of the chute, with a quick motion he bends it upward slightly.  Then he ducks out of sight.  The boulder follows the curve of the chute and sails into the air, hitting a distant treetop that catches it, bends backwards, and springs forward, flinging the boulder back.  The fox is standing on the cliff with his head to one side and one hand cupped over an ear.  He removes a watch from his pocket and frowns.  As he turns his head to look down, the boulder slams into him, rolling over him and flattening him like dough.  For a few moments the fox lies like a colorful shadow.  Then one end peels up and he rolls into a tube.  His eyes move back and forth in the tube.  One leg emerges, one arm, a bushy tail.  The fox stands up.  Cracks appear in his body and he falls apart with a tinkling sound.  The rabbit is lying on his back on the floor, doing sit-ups.  He stands up and begins to do quick knee-bends.  He lifts a dumbbell over his head.  As he begins to skip rope, a sudden crash shakes his house.  Frowning, he looks up.  The fox, eyes bulging and teeth gnashing, is trapped in the hole at his waist.  His arms are pinned to his sides.  The rabbit breaks into a smile.  Pushing over a small yellow stool, he puts on a pair of boxing gloves and begins to punch the fox’s head as the circle slowly closes.

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text © 1972 & 2002 by Steven Millhauser