June 27, 2020: “Hungry” by David Bergen

Happy Saturday, Story366!

Today, unexpectedly,  became the day we look forward to all year: Today I got paid.

I get paid every month, by the way, usually on the thirtieth, so this is a few days early—that’s the unexpectedly part of that previous statement. The reason we look forward to this pay day in particular is because the July paycheck is the one where my summer school  pay shows up, the month we have extra money.

In some years, years without COVID-19, we’d be using some of this surplus for a vacation. If things don’t get out of hand, we might still try to camp somewhere at the end of July, get out of the Ozarks for a few days. This isn’t the year to go to Disneyland, though, or anywhere there’s a lot of people. There’s some talk of Mount Rushmore, but that might be a stretch, as it’ll either be too crowded or flat-out closed. Anywhere that’s not here might do. We’ve done here a lot.

What’s really so great about this month’s pay is we can get everything fixed. We used the stimulus money to do some of that, yeah, but every year, some of the things that break down, things that need a professional, get put off until this month. The thirtieth is Tuesday and I was planning to have a plumber in this house, first thing Tuesday, to fix three different sinks, both our toilets, and one of our showers, all of which are semi- to nonfunctional. Could we have had someone out earlier? Probably, though we’re thinking this is going to be a big job, with a big bill, so we put it off, knowing this day was coming. Now, with the early deposit, I get to do this on Monday.

We need an electrician out, too, but that’s less urgent. We need to paint our bathroom. I’ve wanted a weed wacker for a while and our sidewalks look like crap. I’d like to eat beef again. All of that is going to happen this week. I’m pretty excited.

Of course, we’re not really waiting for July 1 every year, chomping at the bit to have this extra money. Yeah, our plumbing situation has been bad, and it’ll be nice to have that taken care of. But I realized something several years ago, right around the time I turned 40: Stop wishing for time to pass . Time is going to disappear quickly enough without me crossing days off a calendar, all in the name of a little bit of money. Money will come and go. We’ve not had money. We’ve had money. In the end, it’s not what makes us happy.

The one thing we always lose, though, is time. We’re getting older. Our kids are getting older. People we know are getting older. To want time to pass more quickly is a privilege of the young.

.Today is that day that problems get solved. But it’s just a day. We took a nice hike, Zoomed with my family, and had dinner together. That, more than money, is what I look forward to. That’s something we can do every day. No need to look ahead.

Today I read from Canadian author David Bergen‘s 2020 collection, Here the Dark, out from Biblioasis. This is a book that got some press upon its release this year, so I was happy to track down a copy, to spend some time with it today, reading the first three stories . Usually, I read the title story, but in this case, that’s a lengthy novella, and I just didn’t put the time aside for that. But I do like what I’ve read here, so I’d like to revisit, see what Bergen does with a slightly longer form (to note, he’s also published nine novels, so he’s probably pretty good at longer).

The first story, “April in Snow Lake,” is about this young man whose girlfriend goes to Italy one summer to help with disaster relief. His pining for her is offset by the fact he works constantly, first driving a truck for an abbatoir and then pouring basements fourteen hours a day. On Sundays, he runs a Christian youth group and falls for one of the 17-year-old attendees, whose father puts him through a near-death experience to earn his daughter’s hand—or perhaps simply kill him.

Next up is “How Can n Men Share a Bottle of Vodka?” a story about a math teacher whose actor wife leaves him for another actor, leading him to fall in with a woman who has five kids. He works through his marital problems by running weird classroom sessions with his students, realizing what really makes him happy.

The story I’m writing about today is “Hungry,” which is my favorite of the three. This one’s about Sandy, whose life is pretty random and unfocused. He’s dating Tiff, who seems to like him, though their sex together makes her sad. He lives with his older brother, James, who’s a psycho dick. He skips high school a lot to work at the car wash, where he’s had to beat the shit out of his boss because his boss was harrassing him. There’s also a little boy named Wanda, a latchkey kid who hangs around their house and watches TV because his mom’s never home.

In the grand scheme of this story and its inhabitants, Sandy is the moral center. As random and unfocused everything above might seem, I’ve described it in a generally positive light. It’s actually much worse, bordering on sad. For one, people seem to pick on Sandy, in general, even though Sandy is good at fighting back. Already in the first paragraph, there’s just some random guy fucking with him, but he deals with it. Like he deals with his boss. At the end of the story, he deals with someone else, quite effectively. So for whatever reason, people screw with him, but he’s up to the challenge. It’s a weird and interesting character trait.

His relationship with Tiff is even more complex. At the start of the story, he finds Tiff leaving someone’s house, this someone having painted words all over Tiff’s body, in bathing-suit-type areas. Sandy blows it off—this someone was a woman—and they go back to his house. Wanda’s there—he’s always there, letting himself in—and after Sandy feeds Wanda (who utters the titular line, “Hungry,” whenever he wants food), they try to have sex but stop short of all-the-way, as remember, this makes Tiff sad.

The real complication in this story, which I’ll reveal somewhat, is when Sandy comes home from a particular errand—involving Wanda—only to find Tiff naked and bouncing up and down on naked James on the living room couch. The story ends, but not before Sandy, once again, avails himself and his sense of honor.

“Hungry” doesn’t have so much of a plot as it has a character acting and reacting in certain situations. I wouldn’t say Sandy changes here, though the situations he has to deal with do escalate, representing some rising action. I like all that about this story, that there isn’t some grand resolution or big shift for Sandy. His world is terrifying, but Bergen makes it interesting, makes me root like hell for this kid, who solves the shit out of his problems. I think I’d follow Sandy anywhere, into the depths of hell and back.

I feel like I should know David Bergen’s work, as Here the Dark is his tenth book. I guess that since this is his first collection, that amply explains why I don’t know him, as I don’t read that many novels. He’s also had more success in Canada than here in the States. But yet again, Story366 does its job and helps me find good stories by a new author. Another day, another victory.

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