duct duct duct
subscribe submissions contributors back issues trumpet fiction contact us legal links
support ducts
art gallery
best of ducts

The Difficult Ones

Brandon Cole

The Possibility of Being Who You Are

We are proud to present chapters 14 through 18 of Brandon's novel, "The Difficult Ones." We will continue to serialize his book in future issues. See our prior issues for the first 13 chapters.

Chapters 1-5

Chapters 6-13


Yesterday's experience with Andrea was unsatisfactory. By now, I should be used to unsatisfactory experiences with Andrea, but I am not. Every time I try to write about Andrea, this narrative comes to a slow murderous halt. And the person being slowly murdered is me.

Perhaps Tom was right that Andrea did not have her shit together so I will always have a hard time with her, just as hard a time as Tom had at the end of their love affair. But Tom had the compensation of having enjoyed fun times in his shower and on his kitchen floor with Andrea before things went bad for them. What fun times have I enjoyed with her?

I saw Andrea sobbing and falling to pieces on the sidewalk outside the café, if that could be called a fun time, and I was immediately drawn to her. But there are many people out in the world who are sobbing and falling to pieces on sidewalks and to whom I am immediately drawn so what makes Andrea so different from any of them?

Seeing Andrea falling to pieces, as strong an impression as that was, amounted to one look, one evening, a few days ago. Since then, what from Andrea? Since then, nothing but grief from her! One meaningful glance that lasted a few seconds, then days of going nowhere with her, what the hell is the matter with me?

I should drop Andrea. I should forget Andrea and move on to someone else or maybe adopt a pet or I should just stop writing this narrative. I should give up. I should throw all these pages in the trash, stomp them down flat with my foot and quit. But I will not quit yet. I will hold on a little while more. I will hold on as long as I can, no matter how bad this writing becomes no matter how unreadable this narrative is, until I make a fool of myself. Making a fool of myself usually stops me.

End of writing number 14



Another dream about poverty and homelessness.

In a blighted industrial neighborhood just at nightfall, I was trapped in a narrow ditch up to my shoulders and some large man was hovering in the shadows, similar to the time I was running out of money in Nice and slept a night in a woods at the outskirts of the city. When heavy footsteps lumbered by me late that night, I closed my eyes, curled up tight like a worm, and hoped I would not be molested. It had been an unusually warm spring on the Côte d'Azur and I was teaching myself how to be a vagabond.

Maybe there is an internal connection in these pages somewhere. Maybe there is something in me truly trying to find its expression. Whatever that expression is, I am ready for it, more than ready, I am desperate for it. All I ask is that the expression come soon and I recognize it when it does.

I had hoped insanely that this narrative would be about Andrea and me finding each other and kissing hungrily and being happy together though I am twenty years older. But the chances of Andrea and I ever meeting have dwindled to zero pretty much so this narrative is again in danger of not being about anything.

Maybe Andrea has been to Nice also and maybe Nice will prove to have a magical significance for us. Maybe Andrea and I passed each other one night outside that expensive café near the Hotel Piano, she on her way inside with her friends, laughing and gay her pockets full of francs, me standing alone outside frightened by the menu and looking in wistfully. If Andrea had stayed at the Hotel Piano in Nice, though, she probably would have found a way to mention it by now.

Bertie's fear of poverty at least stemmed from real-life experiences. Her parents had worked hard and saved themselves into a decent life only to see their hard work and savings smashed to nothing by what heartless people call a business down-turn.

Bertie had been the youngest child but old enough to know her older brothers and sisters were drifting away from home in search of work and, though no one said so, leaving also so as not to be a burden on the family. Disturbing word burden when used to describe one human being's loving relation to another.

Bertie had been deeply frightened by that experience of sudden poverty and had bought apartment buildings because that fear burnt itself to the very center of her mind and woke her late at night. In two lifetimes, Tom would never understand that fear of Bertie's because, since Tom lacked sympathy and imagination, he was incapable of imagining what his mother's childhood fear had been like. To understand the fear that disturbed Bertie, Tom would have to have worried about money as Bertie had, and feared the future as Bertie had, and felt as alone as Bertie had.

Tom also would have to have felt the fear of abandonment a youngest child feels when the older brothers and sisters suddenly are no longer home. If he could have understood all those experiences, if he could have felt them and been sympathetic to them, the thick-skinned dull-brained ox, he would have understood that when his mother tried to keep him close to her with apartment buildings, she needed to clutch at him and hold him tight to her in that way.

For Tom would have understood that Bertie loved him in the strongest way she knew how to love: as a heart-felt possession she would always always have. Tom would have understood that for Bertie a possession, especially a heart-felt one, and one she owned free and clear, could not be taken away ever, would not ever just drift out of her life, and could not ever leave. He would have understood that having such a heart-felt possession allowed Bertie to rest quietly within herself, to quiet her fears and let her drift back to sleep, and to feel herself during the day safe from harm.

End of writing number 15



It is late and I should have sat down here much earlier. I have excuses ready, honest ones, when this writing begin to

End of writing number 16



If this writing keeps going this way, pretty soon I will not have one character left to work with and nothing to write about. Perhaps I could rework another unsuccessful narrative I never finished titled, "Life's Meaningless Progress To Eternal Silence". I retitled that unfinished narrative, "Death Is Coming! Hark!", in an attempt to reach a large Christian audience but with the same lack of success.

With a little reworking that unfinished death narrative might now be made to appeal to a small literary group of readers that has time to waste. But is there such a literary group? If such a literary group existed, I should have found them by now, that is what I think. It is possible my search for them was so bungled that none of them, even when I addressed them directly, could understand I was searching for them in particular. But maybe the trouble is on their side. Some of them could have developed slight learning disabilities from over-reading, especially these days from the pollution.

For years I have shouted, "Death Is Coming!" and "Look at what I'm writing! I'm writing about death and morality! Both topics must interest you deeply! Argh!"

It is true that some people have turned to look at me curiously before stepping away horrified, absolutely convinced it was impossible I could be shouting such warnings at them. Maybe some of those people had been part of this small literary group I need to find and the problem that has kept us separated was more of a misunderstanding. Having an impressive introduction certainly would have helped.

Or maybe shouting, "You're screwed! We're all screwed! Death Is Coming For Us! Argh!" is not the best way to reach anyone, whether that be a conscientious humanist determined to carry forward the burdens of civilization, or an illiterate big mouth just looking for something amusing to do. Not everyone has the time or the inclination to be bothered with esoteric questions about how to place oneself in this universe. It is well known that most people are doing all they can and using all the time they have just living their lives and staying abreast of current events.

I am going to have to look at what happened between Bertie and Andrea. I was probably too quick to

End of writing number 17



I would like to write that Tom was a lawyer because some lawyers will not hesitate to intimidate the uneducated and the poor and many are extremely well-paid. Tom's large lawyer's salary would justify his having a country house and free time and enough pocket money to go often to restaurants and to play around with good-looking women.

But Tom is not a lawyer, he is a businessman. Tom owns garment factories outside the United States, though to say Tom owns these factories is imprecise. A bank owns them. But Tom and his partner Dennis run these factories and keep the money flowing so everyone connected to Tom and Dennis, except perhaps the foreign factory workers and their families, is satisfied most of the time.

Tom's and Dennis's factories make some kind of women's garment, probably dresses, because there is such a huge markup in women's clothes. Tom slowly learned what Dennis saw immediately, that with a huge markup, a businessman can be stupid, or dishonest, or mistake prone, or careless, or unlucky, or lazy, or drunk and still turn a good profit more years than not.

Tom calls his dresses, "this shit we have here," or "the shit we have coming up next season," or "our new line of shit," because to Tom a dress is only something frivolous on its way to becoming money that he can spend on himself as he likes. But until Tom's dresses have been sold and he has been paid, because some of Tom's buyers are disreputable rats who pay slowly or not at all, Tom is furious with his dresses as if they were intentionally thwarting him from reaching the financial goals he demands from himself.

For many weeks, Andrea had enjoyed Tom's factory money without caring where it came from and so without a qualm. Andrea's first qualm came when she saw press clippings and photos of Tom's foreign factories because to her they looked unsanitary. She felt a second qualm when she socialized with Tom's business associates, not the fun-loving Dennis whom she liked immensely, but their New York buyers. These New York buyers offended Andrea without meaning to just by being the kind of people they were, people Andrea described to Tom as loud, ignorant, low-class, and crude.

When Andrea had complained to Tom about not wanting to be around some of these people again, Tom had listened as long as he could before he became furious and cut her off with, "What makes you think you're so cultivated, Andrea? You think I don't know the men are brutish lying bastards and their wives are stupid noisy cunts? But I never gave a fuck about what any of them was like and I don't give a fuck about them now. What I give a fuck about is that those rag sellers pay me on time. So if you like my money, try to smile and be nice to them. Can you do that much?"

Slowly, Andrea began to connect Tom's factory money to his character flaws, such as his inability to feel compassion for the sufferings of others and his readiness always to take as much as he could for himself.

Bertie had been the first person to notice these character flaws developing in her son and had watched their growth with a mother's lip-bitten concern, though she had proved helpless to arrest them.

When Tom and his bankers were just beginning to acquire their foreign factories, Bertie had dared to ask Tom whether he was happy and whether he liked the work he was doing and the people he was working with. Tom's answer had been a snarling, "What do you want me to say about that, Ma? You want me to say I like making money and that's all I'm good for? You want me to tell you I like exploiting foreign peoples? Why can't you just lay the hell off me!"

When Bertie had been idiotic enough to respond to Tom's snarl with some words to the effect that she loved him and was only trying to help him, Tom gave her a, "Just keep the hell out of my fucking business! You want to help me, Ma? That's how to help me!"

None of this terrible abuse had shocked Bertie as much as the look on Tom's face. There was hatred in that look and Bertie was afraid that not all of that hatred was directed at Tom's competitors, or the markets, or the factory workers, or his jerk-off partner Dennis, or the bankers who never left their comfortable offices, but that some of that hatred was directed at her.

If only Bertie could have fathomed Tom's snarling hatred then, she might have been able to help her son develop into a generous, well-rounded human being. If only Bertie could have fathomed then that some of Tom's hatred was directed not at his factory work but at existence itself, she would have understood that as Tom's mother she was seriously responsible for this existence Tom hated. In fact, with his father she had created this existence for him.

But because the hatred in Tom's face had so shocked her, Bertie's response had been to keep her mouth closed, to shut her eyes to Tom's faults, and to hope only that she never had to face that snarling hatred again.

If Tom had asked her, "Why, Ma, why did you bring me into this vicious world?" What could Bertie have said other than having a baby seemed absolutely necessary to her at the time, that she had needed to love and to care for someone, and she had needed to be loved and to be cared for.

End of writing number 18

Return to Fiction