Charles Holdefer

STORY OF RALPH

from The North American Review

One Monday night Ralph had an idea: he got up and turned off the football game,
picked up a pen and wrote a story. He’d never been seized by such an urge
before but he didn’t hold back, and wrote non-stop for a whole hour. “What are
you doing?” his wife asked. “Quiet!” he said, “I’m writing a story.” When he was
finished she inquired: “What kind of story?” Ralph riffled the inky pages. “A
humdinger!” He asked her if she had any stamps. He folded up the story and put
it in an envelope and mailed it to a magazine with a geographical place name.

The next morning he received a letter of gratitude from an editor who said this
story was without a doubt—in his humble, perceptive, very important opinion—a
real humdinger, adding that he was enclosing a check for $5000 and he was sorry
it couldn’t be more. Ralph felt so happy upon reading this that he called in sick at
work, which was a good thing, for the doorbell rang at noon when he was
struggling to open a pack of hot dogs and while he shook hands with the agent
who explained that she charged only 15 per cent the phone jingled and the man
on the other end wanted a hardback deal, about which poor Ralph didn't know
what to say, actually had no opinion, but the agent took the receiver and by the
time she hung up the deal was struck at 200 (smackers, big fat Ks, Ralph told
himself,hardly believing) so he accepted her offer of services and sat down,
extremely pleased with himself,and made her open the hot dogs.

On Wednesday the press came, a few video crews, and he gave the interviews
while reseeding the backyard, for, as he said, the lawn had been needing it for a
long time: an attitude both earthy and aloof that his visitors just raved about.
Thursday was devoted to paperback negotiations, which dragged on to Friday,
and weren't finished until that afternoon when he had to kiss his wife and kids
goodbye and fly to New York for the Bigap Literary Awards Banquet. There were
rumors of talks of speculation of Hollywood feelers, but nothing came of them that
night, even if, as everyone who’d read Ralph’s story agreed, it was exciting to
imagine such a humdinger on film.

By the time he got home on Saturday all the banks were closed, it was too late to
cash his checks, a fact which, combined with his mistreatment by movie moguls,
left Ralph very depressed. That night he drank every bottle under the sink and
abused his wife. The next day he felt ill and ashamed and took the phone off the
hook; by late afternoon he managed to make her feel sorry for him. But, on
Monday, he did the same thing all over again. It happened after he decided to sit
down and write another humdinger; but he couldn’t, the words wouldn’t come, and
before the evening was up he found himself in front of the football game on TV
sucking desperately from bottles in each hand, a heavy sick feeling in his
stomach. At half-time he kicked over the coffee table and started throwing things.

By Tuesday his children were totally and irreversibly screwed up. Ralph lounged
in a red silk kimono, leaving the house only to catch a flight to start his reading
tour, for which he jetted to many cities and college campuses and staggered full
of toxins up to podiums to read his humdinger, sometimes losing his place, then
teetered off to eat and drink some more and snort bags of powder up his nose
and inhale clouds into his lungs and stick his penis into any orifice that would
have it, discovering that there were many, an astounding number, ready and
willing to be stuck into because he was the author of a humdinger, and sensitive.
He spurted and spurted and spurted and didn’t know where he was.

By the next weekend when a team of graduate students who were each dissecting
a different aspect of his humdinger got him on the plane to Stockholm, strapped
him into his seat and ran out, all his hair had fallen out and he was in serious
need of a change of clothes.  But he made it through the ceremony without
throwing up, thanked the King and while the bulbs flashed puffed cigars with Nobel’
s great-nephew, answering as best he could the questions about the reunification
of North and South Yemen.

Ralph’s death in a hotel room with a transvestite Norwegian translator is all too
well known, though the truth is less sensational than the rumors—too much
smoked fish lodged in the windpipe. His body was flown back on the same plane
originally booked for his triumphant return, and it appears a virtual certainty that a
film will be made, not of the humdinger, which in the week that followed the demise
of the author was subjected to diverse opinions, many maintaining it was not really
a humdinger after all—but the Story of Ralph. Caution, however, about the facts.
Many are already lost, or forgotten. His wife has expressed no interest in
cooperating with the project, and to the question, just who was Ralph, blurts: “He
was an S.O.B.”