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The Difficult Ones

Brandon Cole

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


I am reluctant to be here, and scolding myself that there is work to be done has not removed the reluctance. I was so pleased to find Andrea, so pleased, and now where is she? Still crying? No, nobody cries that long unless they are seriously disturbed and Andrea is not disturbed like that.

Just for a moment Andrea saw herself sitting across from a man who suddenly repelled her and that sudden awareness had caught her by surprise. She had tricked herself into thinking she cared for Tom, that is all that happened, and she could not understand how she could have been so abysmally mistaken about him for so long.

I am in big trouble with Andrea. All I know about her is her first name and I need to face the serious problem that if she and I must meet, how is such a meeting to occur? Here is a critical test of authorial integrity. Because if our meeting is unconvincing, no one will adopt an indulgent expression and say cheerfully, "The way Andrea met that odd writer fellow, that was unbelievable but you know in love strange things happen! Ha ha ha!"

In the first place, no one speaks like that. In the second, I do not consider myself odd and where does any talk about love come from? If Andrea and I do ever meet and we meet each other in some half-assed coincidental way, there will be outraged reactions like, "What preposterous horseshit! This narrative is nothing but a pile of crap!"

So, yes, Andrea, she has surfaced as the first big test of whether there is something worthwhile in this narrative or not. She is such a big test that I shrink from it.

If I could retrace Andrea's steps and place her back in that café with Tom, only this time smiling and chatting away and pleased to be with him, her future husband, future father of their two lovely, intelligent, and well-behaved children, and just an all-around nice man though over-weight, vulgar, unimaginative, already divorced once and without curiosity, a typical, twenty-first century self-satisfied American male, well I would be tempted to place Andrea back in that café and leave her there with him.

But Andrea is not mindlessly chatty and she is not able to deceive herself the way many people can, so it is impossible that this unimaginative Tom could ever satisfy Andrea enough. Andrea had to have suspected how ill-suited they were for each other, no matter how considerately Tom treated her and how sweet he was to her while he still liked fucking her brains out.

Andrea must leave Tom. She knows she must. Because Andrea too suffers inner dissolution, I saw that in her face in the café and in that glimpse I had of her sobbing on the sidewalk. And people who suffer from inner dissolution have special needs. Not that those needs will be satisfied but they may, they may. Some of them anyway.

Andrea had seen her mind as a broken hour glass with the sand of her thoughts streaming away and screaming foul things back at her. But telling Tom that her thoughts were flowing wildly out of her head in a blinding sand storm and screaming reproaches back at her, well, talking like that to Tom would annoy him.

Tom would have marked that conversation as the one where he had had to accept that though he considered Andrea an unbelievably good fuck and a good companion in the shower she was unsuitable as the mother of their etcetera. That would have been the conversation in which Tom decided manfully that he had to dump Andrea. And who would blame him?

Me for one. I would blame him.

Andrea, she is really distracting me. I see her walking briskly on the crowded sidewalk now, passing people without seeing them, wiping back her tears and with a new defiant look in her eyes, determined to be who she is at whatever cost. But we are still so far apart, she and I. Never mind the Toms and never mind me either, Andrea! You should be who you are, Andrea, you should be who you are, at whatever cost, and there will be a cost, there will be a cost and the cost will be high and life-long, but you can pay it.

End of writing number 6



The fear I will not finish this narrative is back.

My meeting with Andrea may never happen. Strangers do not usually meet each other. Certainly I am not the only one convinced of that. All the people walking about the streets dissatisfied or sitting in their homes dissatisfied, if they even have homes some of them the poor dears, those people know strangers do not usually meet each other. Meeting Andrea, aside from the immense obstacle that I know nothing about her except her first name and according to Tom she is a well-shaped good fuck. That is not even a sentence! But how am I supposed to write coherent sentences when I am this lost?

I am rambling about strangers failing to meet each other and calling them dears when I know nothing about such meetings, whether strangers have them or not. But some strangers must meet each other and have sex, there is a growing population out there.

Perhaps some of these strangers were not total strangers. Perhaps some of these strangers grew up in adjacent neighborhoods or met in school or had friends in common. Andrea believes her thoughts flow out of her brain like a sand storm in a broken hourglass and scream horrible reproaches back at her, waking her at night. A fat lot of help knowing all that does me.

I am going nowhere with Andrea. Andrea was supposed to help me in this narrative and she has only made it worse! But what am I going to do now? Andrea is out there somewhere, I have no idea where. Maybe she went back with Tom, maybe they patched things up or maybe she found some one else. What about her job? Andrea cannot sit around in her room all day as I do, hammering at myself, hoping for my mind to work. Andrea is going to get up, put on lipstick and go outside to make her living. She is going to stand up and move on, unless she

End of writing number 7



Another day like yesterday and I will quit.

Andrea could have helped me a little more yesterday, she really could have. Or Tom. Tom is a man and men know, men pick things up without needing to be told, men understand desperation.

"You're in a jam, friend, OK, come on, let's sit ourselves down right here and now and let's talk your problem through together. You've tried everything and nothing's working, right? That’s a nasty forest to walk through alone! But, listen, who hasn't walked alone in that lonely forest? I have, believe me, many times! Let's sit down here and figure your problem out right now the two of us. What you're going through can’t be all that bad!"

It can't? Really?

Who am I kidding. Since when do men understand anything? I should know, I am a man, and look at me.

But in the café, Tom had called me "friend". I know that was just Tom's way, that "friend" was just a word to Tom like "clod". "Friend" or "clod" just words.

Tom could have said, "Let me tell you something, Clod, we've all walked alone and cried alone in that lonely forest!" and I still would have understood him. I would have reacted in that mild self-effacing way I have. I would have gone so far as to believe my name had suddenly become Claude and Tom had just Americanized it to Clod.

Call me Claude, or Americanize it to Clod, that is perfectly all right with me, Tom. So long as you talk and let me listen. I can still listen. I am at a loss to explain now why Andrea suddenly found you unbearably artificial that evening. I know I explained what is so wrong with you before but that was when I was on top of things.

I am tired, that is the whole problem. I am tired and coffee cannot help me. I am tired and frightened and I am talking to Tom.

We managed to get to know each other a little in the café that night. Tom was not as bad as I had first thought him and I should have told him so, but my mind was fixed on Andrea. My mind was fixed on Andrea and look what she did to me! She stayed far away from me! She tortured me with her absence!

Tom has a career and a large salary and he wants to have children so he can give them the things that he never had.

Like what?

"Oh, these things, you know what I mean." He smiled warmly and shook his head, his thoughts full of love and kindness for his future children and for the things they would not be denied.

I said that I did know, yes, I did know what he meant. I had been given a sled once at Christmas that meant a lot to me at the time.

"A sled?" he burst out incredulously. "No that's right I see what you're saying! Some dumb sled that’s how I grew up too, Claude! You’re right, I’m not talking about giving my kids some dumb sleds. I’m gonna give him a car, or her, they're gonna have shiny expensive cars, my kids, that’s what I’m gonna give them. Fast cars."

Kids and fast cars? That has to be the beer. "Cars," I said doubtfully, "sure, when they’re older. I had a car too."

"Piece of shit, I bet," he said.

"I don't know, it took me around."

"Bet it was a piece of shit. What was it? Figuring your age, I’d say it was some piece-of-shit Volkswagen, right?"

"I did have a few Volkswagens."

"It's what I'm saying, Claude, some piece-of-shit Volkswagens, not for my kids. Break down a lot, did they?"

"Not really."

"Come on, who you kidding?"

"Well, they were old cars. I paid fifty dollars, two hundred dollars."

"Fifty dollars or two hundred, what's the difference? Fucking broken-down piece-of-shit Volkswagens, I got you. We all grew up some rag-tag way or other like that, what else was there to do? But not my kids. With my kids it'll be different. You got kids?"


"Don’t you want any?"


"Why not?"

"I don’t know."

"No, you know! Come on, man, don’t fuck with me! You know! Kids, right, let me tell you what kids are. Kids are one huge thankless pain in the ass and they will rob your money and screw you over the first chance they get! I understand what you’re saying.

"But you know, still, kids, they're the best things on earth, even when they're screwing you. Kids give meaning to life, even you can't deny that, Claude. My old man was good to me but I still fucked my old man good, that prick, he's in prison on account of me but I’m still his son."

"Come on."

"I'm telling you, Claude. In prison. My dad. I put him there and he still loves me. He cries when he sees me. He apologizes to me with tears running down both his fat cheeks, that dirty old fucker, for what he did to me!"

"What did he do to you?"

"What'd he do to me? You’re too much! What do you think he did? Rape me with a tuning fork? He didn't do anything, Claude! I'm just fucking with you, man! What's the matter with you? Are you slow? You knew I was just fucking around with you, right?"

"No, I didn't."

"Well I was, come on, what's the problem? A little fucking around over drinks, a little getting to know each other tonight you and me, what's the problem with that, Claude? A few laughs, what's the problem with us having a few laughs together here tonight?"


End of writing number 8



Tom is a bit of fresh air. I live closed up in a dark mental closet and Tom is outside on the lawn playing croquet or cutting the grass, cheerful and ready to knock off the next chore or the next lawn game once he has finished walking the dog or cleaning the car. Healthy out door activities on a sun-shiny day. A happy guy.

Maybe I could be friends with Tom. Maybe instead of being drawn to Andrea that night she broke up with him and ran down the sidewalk crying, I should have been drawn to Tom. He was the one left sitting there. Maybe. Or maybe Tom could help me find Andrea.

But now why do I need Andrea? I can hang out with Tom and he could introduce me to a different well-shaped woman, a more accessible woman with a last name, an address and a phone number so one day I could actually meet her.

We have one thing in common already, Tom and I, that is our taste for well-shaped women. Both of us were immensely attracted to Andrea until we found out she was a neurotic bitch. I have no idea what a neurotic bitch is, but when Tom told me Andrea was a neurotic bitch, I nodded my head at him like I knew and I sneered, "Neurotic, huh, yeah, it figures."

I had said "neurotic" toughly, as if it was time all neurotic bitches were warned there were men in the world like Tom and me who had figured them out now and we were coming after them. And we would be better equipped this time to deal with their tricks.

I cannot go out and I cannot see Tom again. He has a bad influence on me. Most experiences influence me badly but Tom’s confident kind of shirt-off-flabby working-in-the-yard type of experience is like a friendly neighbor waving me into his yard to stick my face in a bowl of mayonnaise.

Tom's fat does not come from the outside chores he busies himself with or from walking his dog too much. Tom's fat comes from over-doing the food and the beer and he would say so himself. He did say so, more or less, when he talked about stuffing his future kids with things they did not need.

Tom believes that if you like mayonnaise on a sandwich, why have all that bread? Just eat the mayonnaise. Fine. I may not like mayonnaise that much but if the price of being friends with Tom is to stick our faces in bowls of mayonnaise like two pigs, if that is the call I must answer, how am I to refuse that call? Because without Tom, what will I have left in this narrative? Think about it. What? Me, just me. Well, maybe Andrea too but she is not around right now. How has the "just me" worked in the past? Not well, not that I am complaining, but not well.

So maybe sharing a bowl of mayonnaise is not such a bad idea. Maybe I should reconsider that bowl of mayonnaise if Tom offers it to me and stick my face deeper into it than even Tom sticks his. Maybe I should keep a healthy supply of mayonnaise and an extra deep bowl in the cabinet just in case Tom comes over hungry. Just in case I am tempted ever again to think that I can go it alone.

It was easy for me to shout at Andrea, "Go, Andrea! Go be who you are! Forget Tom! Go out in the world and be independent and alone and think for yourself and pay a huge price!" because Andrea had not heard me and I could stay inside my closet safely away from the world and shout advice at her.

But here inside my closet, I can hear me, and going it alone sounds a lot different when you will have to go outside and do it. Going it alone unfortunately means more than just sitting in the audience listening to a descendent of Ralph Waldo Emerson lecture you to go it alone and nodding your head that Ralph Emerson’s descendent is correct.

Unfortunately yes, a few more difficulties with going it alone than head-nodding agreement with Emerson's descendent. And Dr. Emerson's descendent, so unassuming! He went alone and look at him, he looks fine! With such a clean sweater and such clear honest steady eyes! His manner is not at all offensive though he is saying some hard terrible truths about how self-satisfied and herd-like we Americans are, terrible terrible truths about us Americans and the belligerent and shoddy behaviors we tolerate in ourselves, but still truths we all must face in our daily lives if we sincerely want to improve! Terrible difficult truths we all must somehow face.

End of writing number 9



Where am I? Pretty much nowhere it feels like. I am drifting and clinging to whatever I can.

Tom continues to surprise me. He could be called the one really bright spot so far in this narrative if a man with Tom’s personality could ever be called bright. He has turned out to be more substantial than I thought possible though how he came to own a house in the country with a lawn and a car and a dog, I cannot say.

Tom lives in the city. What about his dog in the city? Well, he walks that dog in the city too or he pays his cleaning lady to walk it or she walks it and then he walks it again because he trusts only himself to give his hound the healthy exercise it needs. But Tom could have a country house, why not, he makes enough money, a country house that he drives to on weekends whenever he can get away and he loves it up there, or he used to.

Andrea loved it up there too when she and Tom first loved each other. They had had good sex there because the house was so isolated, though what isolation adds to sex I fail to understand. A little isolation certainly, some thick bushes or a shut door at a minimum and some space to muffle sounds unless you are insensitive to moans and yelps and are convinced others are too. But a lawn, a driveway and a quarter mile of a tree-lined country road to the nearest neighbor, if isolation like that were necessary for good lively recreational sex, or good strong child-producing sex, we would all be living in a drastically under-populated world. But we all know we are living in a drastically overpopulated world.

Surely I have mentioned Tom and Andrea's sex enough. Surely something passed between them other than having good recreational sex in Tom's huge renovated shower and on his country kitchen floor a few times on Saturday afternoons. Surely they went to cultural events together and movies and shopped together and read the Sunday paper together just as if they had been good companions, which they were not, and shared interests, which few do, and profited from their differences, which is hard even to write down as a possible human experience. Also, for Tom, those Friday afternoon grueling drives out of the city had soon turned into a grind like his other grinds, but a drive he still forced himself to bear happily enough in order to justify the immense amount of money he had tied up in that country property.

In the middle of their love affair, which is to say after it had begun to lose its mindless glow, Andrea had the uncomfortable suspicion that Tom blamed his deteriorating attachment to his country house on her. Tom had owned the house before they met, had bought it in fact during his first disastrous marriage and fought like an animal to keep it during his ugly divorce, the unreasonable brute. What had Andrea to do with any of that?

But maybe Tom did not blame the house on Andrea, nor did he blame on her the traffic jams, though his fury had to find a place to land and only Andrea and the dog were in the car. Perhaps Andrea only imagined Tom blamed her for country life becoming less attractive for him because Andrea was worried she did not contribute enough to their weekends.

Andrea did not contribute financially that was one worry, but she had the even more bothersome worry that she did not anticipate Tom's country needs as some believe a loving companion should. One god-forsaken Saturday summer afternoon, for example, Andrea had not thought to bring Tom a glass of cold lemonade while he cut his lawn in the hot sun. That evening, Tom had mentioned pointedly that missing glass of lemonade to her, outrageous as that sounds.

Andrea was just not cut out to be a servant and Tom had to accept eventually that she was not willing to run his errands or to fetch things for him. After all, Andrea would never have thought to ask Tom or anyone else to do personal crap like that for her.

But Andrea had tried to contribute to their country experience by creating an intimacy there, such as by telling Tom how much she treasured his "gift", for "gift" is what she called the country. Fearing Tom’s dark silences, Andrea had unfortunately fallen into a few artificially sweet ways to express herself, the "gift of the country" was one of the more artificial, and one expression she soon came to her senses enough to loathe, this "gift of the country" that Tom had made possible for her. The country air was cleaner. It was so much quieter of course of course. There were trees but there were trees in the parks in the city too and lovely trees on the streets in certain neighborhoods and Tom never cared to look at any of them.

Still in the country, life was different in the country, or so it seemed for a good long while.

Tom had even enjoyed the country inconveniences and small disasters in those early sex-packed days. In those first weekends in the country with Andrea, any problem could be solved with a fire in the fireplace or that ridiculously expensive box of emergency candles and a bottle of brandy. Tom had especially liked driving with Andrea and the dog to the little store on Sunday morning to pick up the newspaper and fresh-baked cranberry scones.

But Tom came to dread so much the murderous traffic back to the city that he spent most of Sunday afternoon tormenting himself whether it was better to leave early or late and listening to traffic reports on the radio. Sundays had begun to disturb Tom as they had when a boy he had faced a next day at school, but Tom still liked the country, so he said, so he told himself.

Does anyone care about Tom? Someone must. He is really not so bad. Tom just takes some getting to know as do we all.

End of writing number 10



Is Tom not so bad? I think so of course, because I have been using the hell out of him in this narrative, so for me, yes, Tom is not so bad. But for others, now that Tom's ability to excite interest is waning, perhaps Tom has over-stayed. Perhaps Tom's, yes, perhaps Tom's, Tom's what, you know, perhaps Tom's what?

Before Tom is dragged through a destructive critique and discarded, I especially might want to pause to consider that although it is very easy to discard people, very easy, bringing people back and being around them again in a friendly give and take, that may prove a practically impossible task. Look around for Andrea, if you doubt me. Andrea is gone and has not returned to me though I very much want her to while Tom has stayed and become more defined, even too defined perhaps for some people.

Tom surprised me with his owning a dog and who can say Tom may not have other surprises in him, surprises that even Andrea overlooked because she failed to bring those surprising sides out of him. So long as Andrea was lost to herself, she had been interested primarily in fucking Tom, as has been pointed out many times, and in going to restaurants and having a so-called good time. Perhaps Tom is involved with charities, did anyone think of that? Did Andrea? But Tom is not involved in charities, at least not in any other but a relatively modest and uninvolved check-writing and tax-deductible way.

Or what about Tom's mother, Bertie? Might Bertie be someone interesting and aggressive, a widow with a few small cruddy apartment buildings way out in some run-down crime-ridden neighborhood somewhere? Apartments that Tom has begged her and begged her to sell so she would stop asking his advice about running them, or improving them, or remortgaging them. Begged her also to sell them so Bertie would stop pestering him to drive her to meetings with Mr. Sheen, the managing agent, and to talk with the tenants, many of whom Bertie has grown fond of over all the years she has listened to their complaints and taken their hard-earned rent money.

What about Tom's mother? Her last name for example, different from Tom's and why? Because she remarried when Tom's father died but maybe not because Bertie remained a widow.

Bertie had always kept her maiden name, a resentful act at the time she married, in order to remind herself that she did not love Tom’s father and would not subject herself to him. Bertie had married Tom's father reluctantly and would have chosen an entirely different way of life if she had had courageous parents and teachers who had encouraged her to think independently.

But Bertie had had none of those immensely important relationships to guide her when she so desperately needed guidance and so she had instead settled for a life protected from financial need. Tom's father, as a good dumb American male, could be counted on to provide at least that much protection.

Bertie had continued to stunt her development by cutting herself off from any experiences that might have led her to think defiantly, as Andrea now does, or brought her to imagine that life could be different and richer than the life she had been raised to expect. Still Bertie never for a moment believed she had made a terrible mistake in the marriage and in the life she had been forced to choose for herself, if how Bertie married Tom's father may be called a forced choice or any kind of choice at all.

Bertie had raised her son in a generally unchallenged way to be bland and aggressive just like her and just like her friends and the American population in general. But Tom, instead of being thankful that he had been raised free of material wants, remembers his childhood as a pinched one, as he expressed to me that night in the café when we talked about my sled. Tom remembers his childhood as one where things came to him only begrudgingly and always well-wrung out.

One of Tom's early memories is of his mother’s prematurely wrinkled and bony hands, snapping and crinkling each bill from her purse, no matter how small, before handing it to him, just in case, as happened one time only in fifteen years, two bills had managed to stick themselves together. Such care, such care Bertie had, she still has, for all things material as if the world were filled with robbers cheats and swindlers and nothing but. "Us or them, Tommy, us or them," that is what Tom remembers, that is the loveless sentiment Bertie shoved deep into her only son’s breast.

End of writing number 11



I wanted to meet Andrea and I met Tom's mom instead. I would not say that things are turning out as well as they might. But they are still turning out. So far anyway. Andrea, where are you? Andrea, what am I going to do? Every time I try to turn in your direction, I turn away from you.

How did Andrea and Tom's mom get along? That is a question I would like to answer if I could bear writing about one of their meetings but right now I cannot. Bertie and Andrea probably got along as well as anyone, what would stop them? Bertie was always looking for allies in her fight to keep Tom connected to her life and to her apartment buildings and Andrea was a potential ally until she proved herself hopelessly otherwise.

Tom's first wife Glenda had proved herself hopelessly otherwise almost immediately. But the disrespect with which Tom's first wife treated Bertie was Tom's fault. Tom, that dear boob of a son, had found it impossible to control Glenda by giving her a threat-filled ultimatum that his mother was his mother. On Tom's side, he had never been comfortable with saying menacing sentences to any of his girl friends like, "My mother is my mother!" or "She's my mother so be nice to her god damn your spoiled nasty shit to hell, you fucking cunt!", though Tom knew other men who had no trouble proclaiming their mother-love to their wives and girl friends in that clear unconflicted way.

But Tom did try to insist to Glenda, in a mild and principled fashion, that his mother should be treated with consideration just as if she were any other human being. Unfortunately, Glenda would not accept that mild principle. She had been insanely convinced that what Tom meant by consideration toward Bertie was that she should listen respectfully to whatever Bertie felt like telling her. Just sit there and listen to Bertie was something, however, Glenda was unwilling to do after a few experiences of trying to follow Bertie’s thoughts. Nor was Glenda going to listen very long to Tom once she had him in her married clutches, nor was she going to listen to any one else.

Bertie blamed herself, and rightly so, for the enormous tensions that surfaced whenever the three of them met, whether in a restaurant or in her home or on what should have been a pleasant walk by the sea. Car drives together were many times worse. Those rides had proved so agonizing that even Bertie was relieved when they ended. These outings must have been horrendous since Bertie had by that time toughened herself to withstand all kinds of verbal slaps.

But of these three, only Bertie recognized what an abysmal failure had occurred in their relations and that human civilization itself had been set back by their failure to be able to pass a pleasant time together. If such a small group failed to find ways to get along peacefully, what hope was there for two countries?

Bertie was so sufficiently chastised by this self reproach that she was determined to behave differently if given another opportunity. After Glenda and Tom's divorce, she was content to stay well in the background and not involve herself with Tom and any of his new females. Bertie would sit silently in a corner, when she could find a corner, content to let her mind wander to those other times in her life when she was with people who sincerely cared for her, loved her and appreciated her, and wanted her near them.

In the time between Glenda and Andrea there were many opportunities for Bertie to sit quietly in her corner, which she did, but there is no chance that any of those other sexual relationships of Tom's are going to be written about, not by me anyway. They were simply women, as Tom is simply a man, and, before Andrea, each and every one of Tom's sexual relationships was based on bustling activity, noise, and self-loss. Not until Andrea was Tom ever forced to experience someone who was capable of fucking him well and also being intelligently silent and sitting still, and Andrea, as we have seen, was a woman who never should have met Tom.

End of writing number 12



I am convinced that I if I want to meet Andrea, I am going to have to take a step toward her. But I am not going to step anywhere. Something unexpected will have to happen to bring us together or this narrative can just go along with the unsatisfactory way things are.

As for Andrea somehow taking the initiative and meeting me, that is impossible since Andrea does not know who I am. But would Andrea say something to me if she did know me? Who knows? Probably not. My usual expression is not a welcoming one especially when I am in a situation where I desperately want it to be.

My desire to meet Andrea can sit in me like a toad, croaking its mating agony from time to time, and I will struggle with thoughts of cowardliness and impotence, that much I know about myself.

Such behavior may sound incredible. It certainly may sound incredible that an American male, coming as I do from such a god-trusting aggressive self-righteous people, should accept a toad’s cowardliness and impotence. That description of myself may sound incredible, cowardly and un-American, but living tormented with thoughts about Andrea and looking at her from a distance and longing for her and never taking one step toward her, that might be the best thing for me to do.

The simple question, "Don't you want to fuck Andrea, Claude?", that simple question,

End of writing number 13

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