First Chapters: An
extract from 'Eduardo Aquifer'
exciting new first novel from Jeff Hunt
only thing better than a shorty is the universe.
The following all happened before I moved into the House Above the
World. Of course, the house wasnt actually above the world,
it was just on 47th street in Austin, but Id spent most of
August without a roof over my head. Mostly because I couldn't decide
what to do. Some of those nights Id slept in the woods off
Loop 1, and some of it Id gone to a rest stop off I-35. It
made sense to go the latter, because people were even expected to
be sleeping in their car there. Years before Id learned that
one of my least favorite things was being woken in the middle of
the night by a policeman; him kicking the soles of my shoe and shining
a flashlight in my face. But sometimes this kind of thing was unavoidable.
One night when Id reached Dallas by bus, I was stranded because
the workers were on strike. It was snowing outside. Id wandered
into a nearby bar. I sat there feeling anti-Union. There was a man
there who struck up a conversation with me, some kind of international
businessman. He was garrulous and generous and kept buying me drinks.
These can be appealing qualities at first glance, but with time
. . . .
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befriended another guy who was loitering in there like us. He was a
small, almost albino fellow with thin, balding blonde hair and tortoise-shell
glasses. He looked like a schoolteacher but he claimed he was in the
French army. The three of us got drunk and left the bar hours later.
We wandered through the streets until we came to a park. It was freezing
cold. I was lying on the park bench in between them, under-dressed and
shivering. They sat on each side of me like woozy bookends. We had a
bag of beer. They piled extra clothes and travelling bags on me. Through
all the fabric I could hear their muffled conversation. Ah,
the businessman said, as if he was at peace. Look at the three
of us, were just like a little family. He patted the mound
of textiles I was laying under and swaddled in and said, Hes
our little baby. Im the father, and youre the mommy.
I could sense he was busting with pride. But this didnt sit well
with our French mole friend, who was more macho than I had suspected.
Actually, the Frenchman corrected him, Id have
to say that Im the daddy, and you would be the mother. But yes,
we do make a nice family.
A family growing more dysfunctional by the second. In our little group
dynamic, the businessman had not only footed the bill, but generally
led the way all night. When he had said charge, we had charged. When
he had mellowed, stopping to poetically consider a flower drowning in
the falling snow, the albino and I had stood with our hands respectfully
behind our backs and listened, mourning the flower. The international
businessman throughout the night had been our leader. Therefore, he
wore the pants, and now said so to the wispy French soldier. They went
back and forth until it almost came to blows. I lay on the bench with
my hands clasped over my ears, frightened. Mom, Dad, please stop fighting.
So here I was at the rest stop, not quite to the House Above the World
yet. I sat in my truck looking at the Austin skyline ten miles away
within the city limits. I looked back to the taillights of the dinosaur-sized
eighteen-wheeler parked in front of me. I tried to cheer myself up,
to put a positive spin on things. From now on, its all going
to be puppies and ice cream and sunsets, I declared hopefully,
sounding for all the world like a Playboy centerfold of the month listing
her turn-ons. (And I hate rude guys!) I framed the city ahead of me
in the distance with my hands. Im a writer outside the city
gates, I said. Its Austin. Its . . . New York.
New York-New Amsterdam. Its Chaucers London. Rome. The old
Rome. Rome Rome. Its Constantinople, and Im a writer outside
the city gates, ready to burn the whole thing down, but in a good, literary
way. The daydream fell a little flat. I looked again to the back
of the eighteen-wheeler in front of me. I caught my reflection in the
rear view mirror. My eyes were big and serious. I thought you told me
last night was the last night wed have to come here. Nerves
of steel, boy, I told myself, my accent flaring up, a sure sign
of desperation. I told myself to phase all this out, to not lose confidence
now, to just think of everywhere as my backyard. Yes, the world was
my oyster, as they say, and for once they were right. But whoever made
up that saying must have liked oysters a lot more than me. I watched
the stream of headlights flow down the highway toward the city. What
would the Indians have thought of this scene? I wondered. Probably the
same thing everyone who ends up in Austin thinks: They eventually turn
around and start wondering when all the other people after them will
stop coming and bringing change with them. Lots were coming. Its
like this Chief who answered his tribe when they asked how many whites
there were: As many as there are stars in the sky, he told
I watched the lights move down the highway and could see how it might
seem like that. But I guess its the same all over. The worlds
filling up. One positive of this is that lyricism and self-psychiatry
are on the increase. The rising tide of growth is lifting those boats,
giving people a chance to be more reflective. By that I mean that more
and more people are getting better and better at recognizing the specifics
of their circumstances. People have a better chance at identifying their
historical situation, and even trying to show it whos boss. Like
a miner doesnt just accept hes a miner so much. He might
think, Im a miner, what does that mean? Am I just a miner?
Or, Im a miner, lets go burn down the company store.
The miner example is a bit lame, though. Maybe it was better to say
this: Way back when in Greek times, medieval times, and ancient history
in general, people believed in fate. They believed that their destiny
was plotted by the stars. Now that part actually may not be so different
than these days, but what is different is this: People before modern
science and religion thought the ups and downs of life just made a circle.
That life was a wheel of fortune, and you were either high or low. Round
and round your fortune went. We on the other hand believe in progress.
Whether a person thinks theyre going to Heaven, or getting better
at life through studying history or psychology, or magazines or the
news or going to school, the modern world believes its going somewhere
it hasnt been before. And unlike people of the past there is a
growing confidence that we can change the world. That we can right wrongs
and make improvements. That we can change our fates.
I watched the cars move down the interstate. The plot was thickening.
There seemed to be more and more knowledge all the time. Maybe because
theres a larger base for it: Theres more people living at
one time than ever before, so theres more mind space and therefore
more storage for knowledge. Is that how it works? Despite everything,
in the past weeks I had been succumbing more and more to an awards ceremony
acceptance speech type gratitude. Life could be pretty good, if you
worked at it, I thought. Not money-wise exactly, but if you faced up
to yourself. That to me seemed key. You had to be on your toes to outfox
and diffuse negativity. Like when Id been at the grocery store
the day before, and the lady in front of me in the express checkout
lane had more than ten items. An old man in line behind me was stewing
about it. He nudged me in the back and started to speak in a voice loud
enough to be heard by all, trying to denounce her, but I cut him off
pretty quick to say, Oh man, you mean youve never tried
to smuggle extra through the ten-item gauntlet? Oh youve just
got to try it! Its fun! He kept grousing anyway. He couldnt
see how we werent necessarily worse off for getting to witness
the show this guilty shopper was putting on, but I thought she was adorable.
Awards ceremony acceptance speech gratitude. Dont let me leave
anybody out. I am at the rest stop. I am the rest stop tonight. I sat
in my truck, daydreaming and trying to outrun reality, at least for
the night. I tried to make myself laugh. (Am I the only here wearing
a jumpsuit? Again?) I plugged along with the writer outside the citys
gates scenario. Being a writer was the best thing in the world, the
possibilities were endless. I started getting excited, the urge to write
coming over me, a feeling like All right everybody, get in the
car, Im driving! Now, I know, believe me when I say I know that
youve heard this one before, but everything thats usually
wrong gets fixed here! Lets roll! With these big dreams
in my head, I slept folded up like an accordion in my pickup truck.
About three in the morning there was a brutal pounding on my driver-side
window. I thought the glass was going to break. I sat up quickly, trying
to gather my wits. I saw outside the window this black guy looking in
at me. He said, Move your truck, I cant get through.
His eighteen-wheeler was idling in the middle of the road behind me.
I was confused, but I quickly started my truck and began poking along
hesitantly, trying to wake up and get out of the way. He was following
right behind me, almost on my bumper. Through the fog of my sleepiness
I wondered how I could have been blocking his way. Truckers had been
driving past me all night. He blared his horn, his lights flooding over
me. He blared his horn again. Jesus, Im going Im going,
I muttered. I was noticing there was plenty of room for him to have
passed through. Id been parked to the side like everybody else.
He blared his horn again. By the time Id found another place to
pull over, I was shaken from being air-horned repeatedly, and was pretty
angry. I pulled over abruptly, got out of my truck and hopped up to
stand on the open doors ledge so I could be seen above the cab
as he passed. Then I gestured emphatically with a dramatic after
you gesture of my hand, like I was saying, Welcome to the
Royal Road. Is that enough room? Is it? Jesus Christ in Heaven, is it?
Then I shot him the finger. But I hadnt just shot him the finger.
Id shot him the Biggest Finger in the History of the World. Id
accidentally gone way too far. It was an insult no one could let pass.
With my feet in a slightly widened stance for balance, Id reached
back behind me like I was digging deep in my back pocket for something.
Then Id released myself like a coiled spring, my finger jutting
straight into the night sky like a rock star pose, like a scimitar pulled
from its steel scabbard. Ringgg! The Shining Finger of Defiance! Of
Justice! This air-horn aggression will not stand! He instantly pulled
over, nimbly jumping down from the cab of his truck. He started crossing
the road towards me. He looked like a weightlifter, like hed been
pumping iron while he drove the last thousand
miles. I looked like I'd never lifted anything heavier than my middle
finger. Here we go, I thought resignedly, and stepped down
on the sidewalk to wait for him. I watched him come towards me. And
I hate rude guys, I thought to myself, shaking with anger like a frustrated
little bird. I think I blacked out for a second, because I dont
remember the first words that were spoken. But when I came to we were,
in an irritated way, explaining ourselves. I was saying he didnt
have to practically break my window, and that how come he couldnt
just pass by me like all the others had? He was talking fast and weird,
something about that setting my Spidey-sense to tingling. I wasnt
sure what his deal was. What if Id torn your bumper off
trying to pass you, he asked. Then Id have a lawsuit
on my hands. Id lose my truck. What about my family? Sue?
I hated this litigious talk. I told him I thought sue should just be
a pretty girls name. Look, he said. Were
both tired . . . Yeah, were both tired, I interjected,
and we started calming down. We both ended up apologizing. Stumbling
over ourselves to apologize, actually.
At one point for the briefest second I almost thought both of us were
going to cry. Stress. I got back in my truck and folded up to sleep
Ads in the paper were giving my life a significant amount of whatever
direction it had. It was through one of these ads that I then found
myself both a boarder and the gardener at the House Above the World.
It was an almost-mansion built on several lots with a complicated series
of gardens and projects like fountains to be built. On my first morning
there I woke up and walked out the front door. A girl driving by in
a small pickup waved at me and yelled, Nice house! At first,
not used to waking up in my new surroundings, I thought she was being
sarcastic. Then I turned around and looked at the house. I couldnt
believe I lived there, that my key fit the lock. It was only on my second
night there that my horrible habit of sleepwalking reared its head.
Usually I dont remember anything when I sleepwalk. The only way
I know is when the next morning someone politely asks, Hey, um,
do you ever sleepwalk? and I freeze, horrified, picturing myself
in their room the night before with my eyes closed and my face blotchy
from sleep, mumbling my way through a monologue about the Civil War.
Or maybe just shoving their door open, then clawing for the light switch.
So it was only on the second night after Id moved into this house
that I heard a voice timidly venture these words: I think youre
in the wrong room. Now, I didnt know this guy at all. I
had only briefly passed him in the hall when I was moving in and cheerfully
said, Hi, Im your new roommate, and here I was, sleeping
on the sofa in his room. But it got worse. I then vaguely realized I
didnt have any clothes on. Apparently I was now stripping before
I went sleepwalking. What a fun guy I was! To me, his question was really
strange, because I think Im in my room, and when Im sleepwalking
my motor skills are severely impaired. Its hard for me to speak.
When he asked that question, I was lying on my back and a great desire
to answer welled up in my chest, but I couldnt form the words
with my mouth. Through eyes that refused to stay open, I could barely
see my new roommate at the other end of the room, his sheets drawn up
around him. The image had a mouse in its hole quality. After a long
time I broke the uncomfortable silence, saying, loudly, to the ceiling,
Right. But I still couldnt get to my feet. It was
like I was drugged or had been tied to the sofa by the little Lilliputians
from Gullivers Travels. My new roommate helped me down the hall.
The next night before I went to sleep, I sat on my bed looking at the
door, considering barricading myself in, or wearing a robe that said,
Hi, Im sleepwalking. My subconscious couldnt
be trusted. What stopped me from rearranging the furniture, though,
was the way people had dealt with me when I was sleepwalking. They seemed
to understand. So I sat there on the edge of the bed, my feelings about
these events alternately floating somewhere in between mortified and
highly amused. Had it gone this far? Should I lock myself in? Like Mr.
Hyde? Like a werewolf? As in, No matter what I do or say, dont
let me out until sunrise. Promise me! But I decided to see where
it might lead, and would offer to pay anyones psychiatrists
bill I caused. I was a little enchanted by my vague recollections of
what Id experienced. I liked coming to in the middle of these
adventures; Stumbling along slowly with no motor skills, a total foreigner,
unable to speak, the words trapped in my chest, a kind stranger helping
me. What was this ghost driving my machine? I wondered. It was like
a couple of teenagers were taking my body for a joyride in the middle
of the night. Maybe fun Japanese teenagers whod never driven before.
© Jeff Hunt Dec 2003
If you like this extract, buy the book. It's availble on line at Barnes
& Noble (Click on the link at the top of page) or go to
www.eduardo-novel.com or contact the author.
of this book here 4.02.2004
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