Everything that Larry Smith knows he has distilled into two volumes of short stories. One is A Shield of Paris. The other is Patrick Fitzmike and Mike Fitzpatrick. All the stories here, which have been previously published online or in print, are included in one or the other of those volumes.
In his stories, Larry Smith charts the transformation of irony into elegy, of the will to power into acts of love.
Larry Smith, a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, lives and works in New Jersey. He is originally from Cleveland. For decades he labored as a business journalist and communications consultant to countries and corporations. His bylines number over a thousand and he's ghostwritten for numerous prominent personages.
His ghosted or co-bylined books include a military memoir and a political autobiography. He wrote one called Paint Good and Fast on behalf of “the world's fastest painter,” Morris Katz. It's funny and actually worth reading if you can find it anywhere.
To read his unpublished fiction, or to discuss what you read here, write to Larry Smith at .
Inspired by the lives and careers of Cardinal Francis Spellman and Cardinal Richard Cushing, Larry Smith's Patrick Fitzmike and Mike Fitzpatrick evokes the political turmoil, sexual torment, and moral crises that have beset the Catholic Church and defined our era. It is an unrelenting fiction replete with Popes and Presidents, parish priests and Broadway chorus boys. Rich in its complex prose and dark humor, this narrative offers up the spiritual antipodes of human experience, from the lofty machinations of global potentates to the naked prayers of a sinful desperate saint. Order Here…
Patrick Fitzmike and Mike Fitzpatrick excerpted in The Collagist
Beast of Burden…
The Fundament Bared…
“I Will Trouble You No Further” appeared in RavensPerch
Nope, ain’t over…
“Existential Futility” appeared in Shark Reef
“Hecuba to Him” appeared in Sequestrum
In Your Rear, Your End Again…
“Woman, My Come Is Time” appeared in Heart and Mind Zine, awarded Judge's Choice as the highest-rated short story for Issue #1.
“The Magic Moslem” appeared in Phenomenal Literature (India), Vol. 1, No.2
William Burroughs in Cleveland, almost…
“Kid's Friend” appeared in Exquisite Corpse
New Jersey, hot!…
“New Jersey and Me” appeared in Exquisite Corpse
“His Respect” appeared in Sliptongue
“He Who” appeared in FictionNow
Jesus yes or Jesus no?…
“This Rover Crossed Over” appeared in Curbside Splendor
“The Montez Get” appeared in Ray's Road Review
“Gargantua” appeared in Union Station Magazine
“Cleveland, As It Were” appeared in Offbeat/Quirky, JEF Books, edited by Eckhard Gerdes
With Dutch Schultz at world's end…
“Tight Like That” appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Issue 27
Form is born…
“Punch Line” appeared in The Bicycle Review, Issue 30
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“Romero and Sylvette” appeared in Pank, January 2009
“Their Music” appeared in Prick of the Spindle
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“The Shield of Paris” (near title story of volume) appeared in Low Rent and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize
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“Global Positioning System” appeared in Danse Macabre, Issue 29
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“Edits Incorporated” (originally titled “The End of Time”) appeared in spork, 2005
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“Rockers” appeared in Knock, Issue 10, 2008
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She's in love with Sirhan Sirhan…
“The Testament of Betty Sue Williams” appeared in Hambone, Fall 1984
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Betty Sue Williams redux…
“The Desert by the Sea” appeared in Lucrezia Magazine, July 2009
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Story of the Month
I used to rock to Monk’s Dream when I was joyous and to Waltz for Debby in moods of tranquility colored by a muted tinge of intellection. I’d rock listening to Waltz for Debby not pursuing rarefied thought or potent ratiocination but in quiet appreciation rather of maybe this book or that book or of some idea or reference to a set or system of ideas to which my reading earlier in the day or on the previous day had exposed me. When I was angry I’d rock to Mingus and remember the descriptions on the back covers of volumes from New Directions or Grove Press with words like “mordant” (in a précis of a book by Patchen) or phrases like “paretic battlement” (in a blurb for Beckett). The music propelled me into the jagged rebellious beauty of that language.
The point is, I was rocking. In those years it was always on my bed, in my bedroom where the Victrola was. My cousin’s girlfriend said I had the only “pad” in University Heights (Ohio, not the Bronx), because I had broken the bed frame rocking, and now my bed was a mattress only. It looked a little like what they might use in a Beatnik crash pad.
Sometimes I’d get caught or seen rocking in the house on Traymore, where as I remember I rocked all the time, by a friend or cousin. It was hardly less embarrassing than being caught masturbating. Years later, when I was rocking on the floor in New York, a visitor who had knocked and gotten no response from me because the music was too loud looked in through the peephole and saw me in my crouch having at it, I don’t remember to what music. Where do you go for privacy?
My mother let me alone when we were still on Traymore. I’d rock loud and angry and, if she wanted me or if a meal was ready, as a signal she’d flick the light in the hallway on and off. I thought that was a very considerate thing to do, especially since a lot of the music might have been obnoxious to her, although she didn’t much mind the bop and certainly not the swing. She was all right in those years. On and on I’d rock fashioning the motion to the mood or sometimes changing mood to fit the motion and the music, but never rocking that much faster or slower to match the tempo, instead just rocking steadily and inexorably back and forth.
So imagine when Barbara Wilkinson or it may have been Wilkins, or actually it could even have been Barbara Finlay, told me she rocked too. Imagine how my interest was piqued. Damn, I wish I could remember how it came up in conversation, I just don’t.
Barbara was homely, or I should say plain, but she was one of those young women who have a kind of verve, in her case a little arrogance as well, that was prepossessing, and I could tell guys wanted to fuck her or at least would not have minded doing so. Maybe the palpable haughtiness in her came from the rocking. People have said I’m haughty, but I certainly don’t feel haughty, and I’m even a little embarrassed and certainly uncomfortable when it’s obvious to everybody that I’m smarter than they are. She had a flat chest and wore glasses and was pallid, and there was nothing special about her black hair. But I remember her voice was beautiful, its timbre was, and she walked in a way that made you think about laying her.
The main thing I can remember her saying was, “Never mind the furniture!” She too had wrecked beds and couches with her rocking. It delighted me that she had wrecked furniture just as I had. Right now, as I write this, I really wish I could remember how it first came up in conversation that she rocked too.
“My boyfriend just goes about his business,” she said, which meant that she didn’t need to be alone when she rocked. He could be in the next room working or puttering, and not think the less of her, or that something was odd because there she was squatting on her haunches and moving back and forth to music, back and forth.
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t rock in front of my girlfriend, but it’s ok if she’s in the apartment.”
It sounds as if it might have been intimate, this fragment of conversation that I can remember, but it wasn’t. It was matter of fact.
“It’s what I do,” she said, casually, conclusively, as if she were about to move on and talk about something else.
“Well, it’s a big part of my life,” I said.
My girlfriend and I quarreled and she moved to Boston. When we reconciled and I joined her there, I had to sneak in the rocking because she had two roommates. I’d only rock when everybody was gone and I was alone or else to quieter music after they were all asleep. I rocked on the couch in those days.
Damn, I wish I had asked her what she rocked to. I suppose it’s extraordinary that I didn’t. I could see her rocking to Mingus with her cunt out, stuck way out because her back is arched in raw movement to the music. Her Wasp face would be wholly given over to the rocking. With such a face, I do not quite see Mozart’s viola quintets. Her face wasn’t raw, it had no rawness in it, but maybe it could be made that way, it might be taken over in the rocking. Mingus Dynasty, maybe: her raw slow rocking to the version of “Mood Indigo” he does there.
We were in a directing class together and I had just flopped badly trying to do a scene from Look Back in Anger. Afterward, she said to me, “I saw that ironing board, and I thought, ‘no way!’” Barbara was referring to the prop the scene required. No one else was bothering with props for this assignment, much less such an obtrusive one.
“You’re a good actress,” I said.
“Thank you,” she said, in a way that seemed as if she wasn’t flattered at all nor sought to be. I wonder if her indifference was particular to me or if she were similarly impervious to such attentions from others. I remember as I write this that she was indeed a good actress—the students in the directing class performed in each other’s assignments—and that whatever role it was I was referring to, I can’t remember the role, it had her cast as a very feminine insouciant type, a Southern belle type (I don’t remember if it was actually Southern), just shy of flighty in a way that was, especially from her, charming. The instructor even called it a “sexy” performance.
They say I rocked when I was very young. I kept Marcia awake, she was living in the downstairs of the two-family house on Coventry. I broke my crib, according to my mother. It was the first furniture I ever broke. A few years later, in the same house, I was rocking on the floor to the song “Wonderful Copenhagen,” which I played over and over on the record player and I rocked to it all day. I guess playing it over and over was itself a kind of rocking. My mother was sick that day with the flu and she didn’t have the strength to go someplace where she didn’t have to hear the song over and over again. Nor was she the type of person who could command me to stop for mercy’s sake. The day was torment for her and she told the story so many times in subsequent years that I can still see myself on that floor bent over the record player one minute and rocking the next to that song, “Wonderful Copenhagen.” When I started rocking to classical music decades later, I thought to myself as I rocked that the music of Beethoven’s Late Quartets was of such a character that one thinks one has heard it before, a Platonic real sounded in some disembodied sacred time. I had actually heard it before, in this world, but my point was still taken when I rocked. I wondered as I rocked to the long passage in one of the quartets that’s in Lydian mode how George Russell could possibly have come up with something called “Lydian chromatic” music, which, though I am no musicologist, seems a complete incongruity. But George Russell was important too when I rocked to “Ye Hypocrite, Ye Beelzebub” or to the taunting chorus when he has Don Ellis playing “You Are My Sunshine” off-key. The things you think when you rock to things like that! I wonder if I would have become a different kind of person had I never done such rocking.
Sometimes when I rock I try to remember more of what Barbara and I said to each other, but I cannot or else just fragments return. Her boyfriend seemed a decent sort, better dressed than the rest of us, reserved, and, as I reflect now, he may perhaps have appealed to Barbara as her safety, her anchor. I’m guessing, but I wonder if she sought to balance whatever it was in her that made her rock with this Gibraltar of a man who couldn’t be moved and who would never be unkind. As I remember now, he seemed that sort. I can still imagine, though, that the rocking might also have bound someone like her to someone like me. Maybe it did in deepest darkest secret. Maybe she wanted to fuck me when she rocked to Miles Davis if she rocked to Miles Davis. Or do I flatter myself? Maybe she thought nothing of the sort. I don’t even know what she rocked to. I never asked her.
“Hi,” she said.
“How was your weekend?” I asked.
“Fine,” she said,
Beaten the Wasp face rocking to old jazz and, riven by its power, the pallid gaze cracks like a glass pane and the agony of sexual knowledge breaks forth. Exalted the fine soul, the body relieved, and consciousness never to be the same.
“Did you see where d. a. levy killed himself?” I asked the young man sitting next to me in the class—damn, what was his name, a sweet guy, with bushy reddish blond hair?
“I saw that,” said Barbara, who was sitting just behind us.
“It dawns on me sometimes that the hippies in this city have a special perversity all their own,” I said.
“Cleveland’s got an interesting crowd,” she said, but the young man with the reddish blond hair distracted Barbara when he leaned forward and said something to the person in front of him, and I lost her.
While rocking once, thinking this:
There’s a reason novels don’t have indices and the fact that they don’t belies the canon of the New Critics. You’re not supposed to know or remember or be able to trace everything. “Forgetting is good,” says Buber. Of course, if you could now put all of literature into the computer, you could more easily find with repeated keystrokes how many times, for example, the word “corrective” appears in The Ambassadors and draw your conclusions from that data, which would thus abet the gamesmanship that is both a part of the art and, in its too assiduous pursuit, a threat to it.
Didn’t I once mention to her that I had just been rocking or was about to that evening or even sooner right after class? I forget. But I may have, it may have been in that context that I asked, “How about you?”
“I don’t know,” she said, haughtily, almost dismissively, as if I were prying into her private life. It was one thing for her to acknowledge that she rocked. It was another thing to confess that she was about to. In the same way, she might say, “My boyfriend’s great in bed,” but were she to say that, in some circles a social permissibility, I would not then ask, “Are you and your boyfriend going to have sex tonight?” I should have known better than to probe her about the rocking as I did.
“Yeah,” I said, most uncomfortably. “Pour myself a nice shot of scotch too.”
“Good,” she said, cheerily peremptory.
While rocking once, thinking this too:
The work of some artists plays out much better on stage than in other venues where they’re also famous. Their excesses adapt to the stage; less so elsewhere, if at all. Onegin is a great opera, so is Elektra, but Tchaikovsky’s concert music is as syrupy as it’s said to be, and Strauss’ hollow for want of dramaturgy. (The whole of Death and Transfiguration is a flourish of successive climaxes.) We see something similar in the case of Beckett. The dualities strewn in his prose (Molloy/Moran, Sapo/Macmann) are jarringly conventional throwbacks to the alter egoisms of the 19th century (William Wilson, Jekyll and Hyde, Conrad’s secret sharer) and thus they set too literary a tone for this radical journey to nothingness. On stage, though, the dualities (Estragon/Vladimir, Hamm/Clov) are felt theatrically, felt directly, less mediated by literary antecedent.
“What did you think about Morel saying that theater people were dinosaurs?” I asked her. We were both in Morel’s popular film class.
“He was pretty condescending,” she said. “As far as he’s concerned, they’re dinosaurs who know they’re dinosaurs and are trying to figure out how not to be dinosaurs.”
“What do you think?”
She shrugged. “I enjoy theater. Who knows.”
“I guess you have to go your own way.”
“I guess you do,” she said.
I can’t remember any more of this conversation but, as I recall her now, she was so cold at moments, so disaffected, I wonder if maybe she regretted having told me. Warren Sheer said I looked like I was hanging. I was on the bed on Traymore rocking this time with the shade way up on the window, so when Warren walked by on the street below and looked up, he saw my head bobbing to and fro. I still feel a chill when I remember his saying it and can still remember that I was rocking at the time to “Taxi War Dance.”
I am going to rock tonight, I’ll likely rock to Schumann’s 4th Symphony, and I’ll try to dredge more of her out of memory as I rock, wrench clear a few more of her words. I’ve remembered many forgotten things while rocking but, then again, most of those times I wasn’t intending to. You just have to let it come when you rock. I’m not too hopeful about retrieving more of Barbara. When did I lose her, or when did I know I never had her?
“You like jazz?” I asked her once.
I don’t remember what she said, and I don’t understand why I wouldn’t remember something like that.
“Did you ever go to the symphony when Szell was still here?” I asked, as I recall, on a separate occasion.
“I don’t remember,” she said. “My parents might have taken me.”
I have never in all the years since I made the clatter in my crib that kept Marcia awake ever rocked alongside or opposite another. But it must be something. Rockers aren’t like dancers, after all. Imagine what rockers would share. I bet no one has ever rocked with someone else. When I see Barbara’s face while she’s rocking, intermittently she emerges from the trance and eyes me rocking over by the sofa. She’s on the floor too. We both have heavy woolen mats to rock on. We each go at our own pace. We try not to look at each other too much. I wonder what we’ll say when we finish.
Her legs must be cramped a little because she has extended her left one out and now rocks in that position. I like it. It looks wanton. She doesn’t seem at all thoughtful as she rocks, but she’s not quite entranced either. We are both back and forth. Lately I’ve started humming along as I rock. I never used to do that, but now I hum along to some things and even call out or cry out as I might call out or cry out if I were in a jazz club. (I love to shout “Yeah” at musicians while they play.) Lately too, if I’m having a fantasy while I rock, I catch myself talking aloud my part in the fantasy skit, angry or impassioned words. Imagine if Barbara were there rocking too. Imagine the intermittent expostulations. She’s gone back to a crouch. Her lap is formed again, open while she rocks.
Sweet baby. Sweet Protestant baby.
A Major Breakthrough in Literary Scholarship…
“La Fontaine’s Lost Fable Brought to Life At Last” appeared in Offcourse
The Sick Rose…
“A Mastectomy Cycle” appeared in Elimae