An Angel of Sodom by David Vardeman
An Angel of Sodom is the title short novel, which is followed by 13 short stories, by David Vardeman, long neglected, long at work, always writing. Now that he is published a unique and frankly indescribeable author has come to haunt the literary milieu with is perverse, absurd, realist, Midwestern, US American, human being tales of people who generally go about their mundane quotidian while navigating the most difficult task of all–living sanely. In each story, the characters seem to be confounded by the banality of normal, while the undertow of an unglimpsed all-powerful strange tugs at them.
What they don’t notice, luckily Vardeman does. His writing provides a variety of pleasures, including humor and puzzles that prick the intellect to discomfort, but his primary talent lies in providing endless surprise. Not a page goes by without unpredictable reactions, urges, indabas, insights, petty cruelties, odd moments of tenderness–which in this world are indeed odd, and not likely to last.
We will have more about David Vardeman the human later, but for now, here is an introduction to his work through my mock writing class that I persist in posting on youtube in the grim hope that a few young writers will recognize the need to ignore all writing advice and go it on their own. And of course occasionally I do something of value, like here, presenting some of David Vardeman’s work:
From An Angel of Sodom
Mrs. Frings was adjusting Fur Baby’s pinafore when Mr. Frings entered the living room and said to her, “I can’t remember. Is it better to throw water, flour, or salt on a grease fire?”
Mrs. Frings didn’t answer immediately. Fur Baby came first. When Mrs. Frings was done prissing and fussing over Fur Baby, she sat Fur Baby on her lap and stroked Fur Baby’s furry leg. “How does Fur Baby look?” she said.
Mr. Frings was more than a little jealous of Fur Baby and all the attention his wife had heaped on Fur Baby over the years. His habit, as often as Mrs. Frings asked him to admire Fur Baby, was to say the cruelest thing he could think of to say about her.
“Next time your back is turned, I’m going to take Fur Baby’s kidney out with a spoon, that’s how Fur Baby looks. Then I’m going to flip it at you and put your eye out with Fur Baby’s hard little kidney. I’m going to put your eye out with Fur Baby’s kidney, that’s how Fur Baby looks. You and Fur Baby better look out.”
Mrs. Frings received very calmly the news that Mr. Frings was going to put her eye out with Fur Baby’s kidney. She acted like she didn’t believe Mr. Frings could take Fur Baby’s kidney out with a spoon, or that he was a good enough aim to hit her with Fur Baby’s kidney if by some fluke he was able to remove Fur Baby’s kidney with a spoon. She stroked Fur Baby’s cheek. “Don’t listen to Daddy, Fur Baby. Momma’s not going to take her eye off her Fur Baby.” She said to Mr. Frings, “Fur Baby is a saint.”
“I’m sure she is. We’ll have her canonized along with the dust mop.”
“Fur Baby has never sinned. She has the soul of an angel.”
Mrs. Frings brought out a little white plastic comb she swore was made of pearls and gently combed Fur Baby’s arms. Mrs. Frings was very tender with Fur Baby. She poured all her unspent affection out on Fur Baby like the sinful woman had poured out all her expensive perfume on Jesus. If Jesus hadn’t been there that day the sinful woman wanted to pour perfume, the sinful woman would have poured out all her perfume on Fur Baby, Mrs. Frings was certain. Fur Baby was worthy of having a year’s wages worth of good stink-em poured out on her. Fur Baby was no slouch. Fur Baby didn’t save a bunch of souls, no, but she saved Mrs. Frings’s soul from having no one to love passionately. Mrs. Frings passionately loved Fur Baby. “I love you,” Fur Baby,” Mrs. Frings said. She brought Fur Baby close and kissed her cheek.
“If you two could stop all your smooching long enough, we could get down to business,” Mr. Frings said.
Mrs. Frings played with Fur Baby’s legs and picked at the tops of Fur Baby’s pink lace stockings.
Fur Baby was the pair of rose-colored glasses Mrs. Frings saw everything through. Mrs. Frings had better watch out. One day he might seize Fur Baby and chop her little head off, stick her foot in a bare electric socket or bake her in the oven at four hundred and twenty-five degrees for five minutes so she’d be crusty on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. There were ways to make Mrs. Frings see life in the cold hard light of reality.
“Fur Baby has asked if she could wear a bikini to the beach this summer,” Mrs. Frings said, “but I have told Fur Baby no. I want Fur Baby to remain a virgin until her wedding night.”
Mr. Frings pointed out that Fur Baby was twenty-four years old and could decide for herself whether or not to remain a virgin until her wedding night. “Go ahead. Let Fur Baby buy a bikini so I can hang her by the tiny thong.”
Mrs. Frings bounced Fur Baby on her knee and gave her voice that razmataz lustiness she used to rev Fur Baby up to a fever pitch of good humor. “Doesn’t Daddy say the kuh-raziest things, Fur Baby?” Mrs. Frings bounced up and down as she bounced Fur Baby. “I know! I know! Let’s play ‘Fur Baby, May I?’ I’ll start. Fur Baby, may I have a million dollars?”
Mrs. Frings put Fur Baby’s hairy mouth to her ear and listened intently. Mrs. Frings was disappointed by Fur Baby’s response. Her disappointment showed in her degraded posture. “Oh, I see, Fur Baby. Well, whatever you say. You know what’s for the best, Fur Baby. Mommy trusts her Fur Baby.” Mrs. Frings looked through her big troubled bloodshot eyes at Mr. Frings. “Fur Baby says we can’t have a million dollars, Daddy. What do you say to that?”
“I say Fur Baby is a dung-covered little stew-head.”
“Now your turn.”
“I don’t need to ask Fur Baby’s permission for anything.”
“Yes, you do! We are now playing ‘Fur Baby, May I.'”
“All right! All right! I’ll play ‘Fur Baby, May I?’ Fur Baby, may I spoon out your liver?”
Mrs. Frings pulled Fur Baby to her and listened. Fur Baby’s voice was like Gods voice: still and small. Mrs. Frings had to concentrate and listen carefully to hear it. She nodded. “Fur Baby says you may not spoon out her liver.”
“What about your kidneys, Fur Baby? If I know my kidneys, you’ve got two. May I spoon out one of them? You won’t miss it. Won’t you give Daddy the pleasure of taking out one of your kidneys?”
Fur Baby’s response was lengthy. Mrs. Frings listened for a long time, nodding and interjecting an uh-huh every so often. Fur Baby was informative and witty. Mrs. Frings chuckled. Her chuckle took. It caught on and became constant rather than intermittent. At the same time, it changed in character from a light feathery something to an outright cackle, high-pitched, witchy, toe-curling. Mrs. Frings leaned back and raised her legs and rocked like a rusty see-saw as she witchily cackled. Her cackling was like the crackling of a rapidly spreading fire.
Mr. Frings felt left out. He was sick of always having to wait for Mrs. Frings to repeat the joke or the wit and wisdom of Fur Baby. Why should Mrs. Frings always be treated to it first? Furthermore, he had never once in the twenty-four years of Fur Baby’s life heard her voice. Just once he’d like to hear Fur Baby speak before he took a notion to strangle her and break her furry little neck.
“What? What’s so funny? What’s the musty little mop said now?”
“That’s for Fur Baby and me to know and you to find out.”
“A lot I care.”
“A lot he cares, Fur Baby!”
Mrs. Frings see-sawed harder, using her rump as the fulcrum, giving Fur Baby a ride on her knees. “Hold tight, Fur Baby.”
Smoke drifted through the door from the dining room and the kitchen beyond it. Having the smoke wander into the living room that way was very distracting and irritating, like seeing a ghost form at the edge of your vision. Mrs. Frings noticed that.
Fur Baby had something to say. She indicated to Mrs. Frings via secret body language that she had a directive. Mrs. Frings pulled her close. “What is it, Fur Baby? What guidance does Fur Baby have for Momma?”
Mrs. Frings lowered her legs. She bent possessively over Fur Baby and listened intently. Then she nodded. Fur Baby’s directive was reasonable and easy to carry out.
Mrs. Frings said to Mr. Frings, “Fur Baby says you may take neither liver nor kidney. She will be using hers for a long time to come. You may, however, in fact you must close that door. There seems to be a problem in the next room. It’s causing Fur Baby’s eyes to water.”
“Fur Baby, may I pull your eyes out? That way you wouldn’t have to worry about them watering.”
“Ask a different question,” Mrs. Frings said.
“All right. I came to ask this in the first place. Flour, water, sand, or potting soil: which is the best for a grease fire? Or should I call the fire department?”
“That is two questions. You confuse Fur Baby when you pile on the questions.”
“All right. Fur Baby, I want to know. Should I call the fire department?”
Fur Baby reported to Mrs. Frings that she did not like people invading her privacy, nor did she like men who wielded axes. Firemen would do both, and therefore they should not be consulted.
Mrs. Frings put Fur Baby to her shoulder and burped her.
Mr. Frings made a puling face. “Twenty-four years old and still getting burped. And good God, Doris. Where’s the towel? She’ll get it all over the couch.”
“Fur Baby resents that. Fur Baby’s never puked on anything in her life.”
“Fur Baby’s one big matted fur ball herself. She’s been puked up and reborn as a fur ball every day of her life.”
“Go get Fur Baby and me something to eat, to make up for all the nasty things you’ve said.”
“Why can’t you?”
“Kitchen’s off limits.”
“Why is the kitchen off limits?”
“It’s on fire.”
“Well run down to the deli and get us each a tuna on rye with bacon.”
“I thought Fur Baby was Jewish. She can’t have bacon.”
“What gave you the idea Fur Baby was Jewish?”
“I very distinctly remember that last week Fur Baby was Jewish. You took the ham off her ham and cheese sandwich I bought her and said, ‘Fur Baby can’t have that. Fur Baby is Jewish.’ Then you took the cheese off her sandwich and said, ‘Fur Baby can’t have that. Fur Baby is vegan.’ Then you took the bread away from Fur Baby and said, ‘Fur Baby can’t have that. Fur Baby is gluten-intolerant.’”
Mrs. Frings narrowed one eye and pointed one very crooked index finger at her husband and said, “You know what the thing is about you? You’re crazy. I think I’ve just about figured out you’re crazy.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Fur Baby,” Mr. Frings said. “May I answer the door?”
Mrs. Frings stuck Fur Baby to her ear to listen for the answer. “Fur Baby says you may, and thank you very much for asking so politely.”
Mr. Goettel, the fumbling shambling neighbor from next door was at the door when Mr. Frings opened it. Mr. Frings groaned. “What do you want, Harry?”
Mr. Goettel wrung his hands and bent his neck apologetically. “Were you aware part of your house is on fire?”
Sick with impatience, Mr. Frings said, “Yes, yes, yes. But we’re not in that part of the house right now, so don’t worry about it.”
“Would you like some of us to see about it?”
“Some of you around the neighborhood? If you feel like going door to door and raising awareness about it, that’s fine. No skin off my nose.”
“Is that Fur Baby in there with Mrs. Frings?”
“I’ll thank you not to look at my daughter. She is but a maiden. Curse your eyes. May you go blind for that!”
“I see.” Mr. Goettel began to shuffle off in the shuffling way typical of Mr. Goettel when he went away. He rubbed his chin and looked aside into the distance. “Well, I might want to get a few friends together and see what we can do.”
“Do that, then. Just do that.” Mr. Frings was about to close the door when he reconsidered and got friendly. “I’ll tell you what you might do, though.”
Mr. Goettel came a step closer.
“You and your friends might want to get shovelfuls of dirt and throw them into our kitchen. That might do the trick.”
“Wherever you see a bit of fire, that’s all.”
Mr. Frings shut the door and then through the glass watched Mr. Goettel try to run down the sidewalk. Mr. Goettel looked ridiculous. Old men looked ridiculous when they tried to run. Old men should not run. Old men should shamble along, but be quick about it.
“What did Mr. Goettel want?” Mrs. Frings said.
“What do men ever want when they come to the door? He wanted to get an eyeful of Fur Baby.”
“I don’t like it when grown men look at Fur Baby that way.”
“But right now he’s hustling all over the neighborhood seeing if he can gather up some friends to throw dirt into our kitchen.”
“I wish him all the success in the world. Are you going to go to the deli and get our sandwiches or not?”
“I’m going to wait and see. If Goettel and his cronies throw dirt into our kitchen, I won’t have to. I’ll make your sandwiches here.”
“That’s better than going all over town, I guess.”
Fur Baby was weirdly placid. She gazed steadily at Mrs. Frings who was wracked with a fit of coughing. Fur Baby herself had excellent lungs, such really fine lungs that she was not affected by the atmosphere in the room. The atmosphere in the room would have benefited from a smaller ratio of smoke to oxygen. But Fur Baby was above such things as chemistry and molecular impositions. Fur Baby was genetically superior and immune to many things that would fell lesser mortals. Fur Baby’s lungs wouldn’t be bothered in the least, say, by explosive decompression at cruising altitude on a commercial jetliner. Her lungs would not explode or lack for a thing, nor would she have to grab in panic for the little yellow cup and slam it to her face. Fur Baby’s lungs would remain stubbornly intact. Nor would Fur Baby implode like most people would if she dove a mile into the ocean and swam around looking at fish and shipwrecks. Fur Baby was made of strong stuff.
“I wish they would hurry up with that dirt,” Mrs. Frings managed to say through her coughing. “Fur Baby and I are getting very hungry.”
Mr. Frings growled and did a menacing face and grabbing hands at Fur Baby. “Fur Baby better be pretty damn glad there’s too much smoke in the kitchen for me to find my way to the silverware drawer, or I’d put on my surgical gloves and come after her with my little spoon.”
Mrs. Frings coughed and fanned around Fur Baby’s face. “Lucky Fur Baby. The Angels have sent a cloud to protect you from mean old Daddy!”