Dear Ron
Lyn Coffin

    I hope you don't mind receiving letters from unknown persons. I mean, phone calls are different, right? Phone calls could be aluminum siding sellers. I guess letters could be that, too, though. Aw Nuts.

    Start again. I was over at my good friend Robert's house the other day. Yesterday. I say good friend, though I haven't known him very long because I haven't been here very long. Seattle, I mean. Seattle is here now. I think Seattle will be my last here, though my life has been a sequence of them. Do you know what I mean? I think you do. Is it too soon for another Aw Nuts. Probably. Never mind. It's kind of a hypnotic, hypnagogic little language byte, that Aw Nuts. Like real nuts.  Press onward, Lyn. Elcelsior.

    Robert is a good friend; so is his wife, Meg. Secondarily so, maybe, because he and I were friends first. That makes things a little dicey. The way it can be with a single woman and a dyad.

    I had a funny little bachache along my left shoulder blade. Kind of where my left wing would attach, if I were an angel. Meg tried spraying my back with some "magic spray." The sprtizer felt nice (it was a hot day) but didn't touch my "I'm small but you can't forget me" pain. By then their daughter Sallie had showed up with her adopted son, Bart. You might wonder about where "Bart" came from- knowing you as I absolutely do not, I think you might-Sallie was living in San Francisco when she first conceived. And that's all the hint I have time for.

    So right there, in Outer Magnolia, right in the middle of Meg's back yard (the back yard, with its rhododendrons and splashy hydrangeas, is clearly hers, whereas the studio-he's an ironworker-does fences and statues-is his), Robert gave me a massage, while Bart splashed in the kiddie pool with a sucker- what we used to call a pacifier- in his mouth, and Meg did crossword puzzles-What's a six letter word with lots of vowels for ÎRetrograde Angel'?

    I'm not even going to ask if you wonder about the answer. What I think is more interesting is how Meg knew the word had vowels if she didn't know what they were. I wonder if she's one of those people who don't give you all the clues. In this case, for instance, did she already have "e" or "o" or "i" lined up? I don't suspect it of her.

    All of this is leading up to how I felt while Robert gave me that massage, partly under the shade of the Japanese looking umbrella that dwarfs the little round metal table they have out there (The table, you see, is communal), feeling the sun's warm play across my back, hearing Bart pull his sucky out over and over, making this sucky little pop sound I easily identified, though I was sitting several feet away.

    Of course, I was sitting with my eyes closed, and they say your hearing is better when you do that. No visual distractions. Sometimes I try to type with my eyes closed, because I like the "click" of the keys. I love that they're called keys, don't you? Keys of the kingdom is the phrase that always springs unbidden to my mind. Actually, and this is getting me getting ahead of myself, which I do more and more these days- now when I think of keys of the kingdom, I think of your peacocks. The racket of sympathy.

    I used to raise peacocks. An hour and a half (to the minute) before I married my third husband, I was crawling under our house, to drag out a dead peacock, because you can't leave dead animals around the living too long, or pretty soon the currently living will be dead, too, especially birds. No, wait. It wasn't a peacock. The peacocks roosted on the roof. Oh, wait. Yes, it was. I remember the feet. 

    So now when I close my eyes while I type-which, granted, isn't often: I'm not someone who loves to make little mistakes and see where they lead me-but whenever I do do that, I think keys-keys of the kingdom-peacocks-Ronald Sukenick. Well, not the name, but the bodiless entity of you.

    But the massage is where I was going before I so rudely interrupted myself.

    Aw Nuts.

    I sat in the dappled sunlight, and Robert stood behind me, and after rubbing my back for a while-through my shirt, through my long sleeved and, yes, flannel shirt, which I was wearing even though it's summer here because flannel shirts are comfort shirts, and this one wasn't that hot, being old and frayed, and my back was hurting, so I wore it.

    After massaging me the standard way for a moment, with his amazingly strong yet comforting ironworker hands, Robert turned sideways and slid his right arm across the front of me, at the level of my throat. I felt a moment of panic. Was he going to pull me backward? "Ironworker strangles woman while family watches horrified"?

    But there was something wonderful about that one arm bracing me, while the other arm-well, hand, of course; an arm can't really probe- probed the lens-shaped area right behind my left shoulder-blade. I found myself relaxing. My chin came down on Robert's forearm. I closed my eyes. I gave in to the warmth-pressure-probing of his left hand pushing in behind my left shoulder blade.

    I felt good (Okay, finally I've reached the metaphoric here toward which I-we?-have been struggling)-I felt aware-I felt the moment to be fraught with dangerous and desirable potentialities. And at the very moment (this is where you come full-blown into my narrative) when Robert touched me most successfully, one of your sentences jumped full-blown into my head: "It was like the relaxation of a muscle with a spurt of warmth." Then came the thought. No, it's not like that. It is that.

    That's how it is with me and the three stories of yours I've read.

    I can be more specific about your work. I don't think there's any limit to how specific I can be. I could say I didn't like the title of Never-not in itself, but because you made the title the last word of your story, and that's a fictional technique I became unenamored of and dropped after using it extensively in sixth or seventh grade. And I was offended by the ending of The Cat-At first, I really objected to your use of you. I mean, it's outrageous enough to write a story and use the second person all the way through. But to tack it on, after the fact, like aluminum siding! Sort of like Nuts without the Aw, I thought. (Not really, I'm just trying to be clever.)

    The you at the end made me read and reread the story, wondering Where did you come from? Why would he bring you in at the end like that? And, of course, then it was slap yourself on the head time, Lyn- which, okay, did something to justify the ending in my mind, but didn't make me like you (the you of the story, or you, the author) any better.

    And you wasn't (by far) the only example of pronoun-messing-with in that story.

    I think, you set up your stories sort of like the South American J.B. himself, so a reader can never be sure. I think your stories start out in the world beyond intention: they are born in a cosmic swirl of truth, and you slap that down on the page or the screen or whatever. Then you take the raw stuff and mess with it. I think there's a divide in there, somewhere. You, the artist, the cosmic paint-slapper stops. Then you, the craftsman, the messer-of-minds, takes over. You make great frames, and make them seem part of the picture, because otherwise the reader would know where s/he is, and you don't want that. I "get," with The Cat, the multiple lives, interchangeable, "And not only with one another," thing. (I'm only going to quote you once.) I get that you, the craftsman, brings the reader into the cosmic shuffle, with the one word, you, using it twice, once to say you were dying, once to say he loved (not the cat but) you.

    Never mind. I didn't want to get into that with you. I just wanted to suggest (I first wrote "point out," but it sounded arrogant) that the artist's The Cat story ended with "the privacy of their respective books." I believe another story starts with his going to San Jose after Denver. (You mess with time and the landscape as well as with people.)

    Back to Never: I didn't like its "contemporary disguising" at first. I mean, it's a memoir (thanks, Meg) about your parents, but you dress it up in this tricky way. I thought to myself, I could do that. Anyone could do it. Third grade Picasso, etc. Then I thought, It's just no one (so far, that I know of) has. Aw Nuts. Slap in the head. The guy is crafty.

    The third story. My favorite. Save the best for. You ended it with "the end."

    I know about peacocks, more than most. You really grokked peacocks, with a capital p. Soulful. Demure. Cute. Sad. Keats. It was masterful the way you flicked from here, now, fact, to there, then, future. "The vultures jerking at the longish neck, eyes still blinking."

    The dead peacock didn't smell, up close, as bad as I thought it would, but it was a smell that lasted through my wedding. Through my marriage. My divorce. A private smell, rich with decomposition.

    There's a Zen koan about two monks doing their laundry by the riverside. And down by the river, in full view, two crows beaking over a frog, still partly alive. The young monk, breaking silence to comment, says, "That's too bad" or something of the sort. (No one reallys listens to what young monks say.) And the old monk says, "It's your fault." I had that as a koan once. Given to me by a Soto Zen priest. A woman. And Sotos don't do koans, that's Rinzai. Made it even better. I got from the young monk's point of view to the old monk's to the crows, separately, to the frog, to the fly in the frog's stomach.

    "Something was about to happen that he didn't want to happen." I worked as a hospice social worker for years. Will probably do it again. Maybe. Something volente. "A few lines and voila, a landscape." That's you, the writer. "A racket in sympathy." Me, the reader. Now. Here, in Seattle.

    I really liked/learned from/was jerked around by/wished I'd written/wished you had blotted a thousand words of/ (Shakespeare and Johnson, are you with me?) your loneliness of the long distance lover fiction. Your stories go to calm and squalls and real trouble and calm again. The sacred moment of. Without the quotes. I'm stealing, like the vultures. Like the crows, the monks, the fly, the peacocks. Steal away, steal away.

    Reading you, I had the impression of moving many ways at once, as if I were dispersing. It was pleasurable yet terrifying, like a ride on the roller coaster. When I wanted to get out of it, I couldn't. Mostly, I wanted in. Because that was where you were. I think of you as my property now, you know, the beautiful, geometric property I'll never get to see. I am the nonexistent guest your disconsolate waiters with ragged towels are looking for.

    If we met, you might not even like me. I would quote you to yourself, and pat myself on the back. And still, it was Never 77 The Cat, it was you I loved. You wise old man, you.

                           Yours till Victor Matures,