Dick Bentley Interview with Jonathan Cardew
Welcome to Connotation Press, Dick Bentley. We’re thrilled to feature your work in this month’s issue.
Your story, “On High,” is an irreverent romp through youthful antics, relationship problems, Jesus, and statements formed as questions at the ends of sentences? What was the starting point for this story? Tell us a little about the genesis and process of writing it.
Started with a trip to Indian River Michigan, where the World’s Biggest Crucifix is nonfictionally located. I had been conversing with some millennials whose declarative sentences often end in question marks.
Your story features the ‘World’s Largest Crucifix.’ I recently stopped at the ‘World’s Largest Truck Stop’ when passing through Iowa--and it was, indeed, large (though, for the most part, unimpressive). What ‘World’s Largest’s’ have you visited/would like to visit/wish existed?
Crucifix is good enough. Maybe Universe’s largest planet.
Speaking of irreverence, I am drawn to stories that deflect or refract the narrative in some way--that are silly or carefree but still manage to pack in some meaning (like “On High.”) What are your thoughts on irreverence in art?
Always need more.
You have accomplished a number of things in your writing career (serving as a board member for the Poetry foundation, winning a Paris Review contest etc.) What are your proudest moments in writing? And what advice do you have for emerging writers?
Greatest moments were teaching. Emerging writers should teach.
What creative projects are you working on at the moment? Anything new in the pipeline?
A newly divorced couple run across each other at a singles bar.
I sometimes ask my featured writers to prepare a writing prompt for our readers. Please provide one here, if you don’t mind!
“Frankie! Lorna! Barbara! What a great funeral!”
Thank you so much again, Dick Bentley!
Interview makes me feel like bigshot writer. Thanks.
This crucifix? Enormous? Ski off of it! We’re heading up to Boyne Mountain for some Michigan skiing? That’s where we’re going? Got lost around Indian River and the Michigan snow thickening on the road. Robbie says, “We’re not going to make it up to Boyne tonight. Vast distances.” He’s tired from all the tipples, plus we’ve been passing a little ganja around the car? The four of us? The smoke’s quite thick and the car reeks.
Then, through the windshield, the headlights pick up this sign for the world’s biggest crucifix? Robbie goes, “Shit! Let’s check that sucker out.”
We follow the sign. We get to the parking lot and circle around. You can barely see the thing—just a big shaft sticking up through the snow and darkness? You can see some feet on the bottom, though.
That’s when Robbie dares me to climb the crucifix. There’s this maintenance ladder that goes up the back of it. With little rungs where you can stick your feet and hold on.
I go, “No way. No way I’m getting up that thing. It’s, like, fifty feet tall?”
But here I am, right at the top of the world’s biggest crucifix. I can almost see the face, but the night is dark and snowy. The thing is made of some kind of metal, bronze maybe. Shit, not the first time I’ve done something stupid for Robbie.
I yell down, “Hey, there’s somebody already up here.” Robbie and Max, I can hear them laughing way down below, laughing through the wind. Charlotte probably stayed in the car, the little pussy. Even though Charlotte’s sort of a bitch, still, she can be pretty funny. She says all the guys who like me are total jerks. That I’m like a magnet for them because I like to do crazy stuff.
Like climb up a ladder to the top of the world’s biggest crucifix?
It’s way cold up here. I’m not dressed warmly. Everything seems frozen. My nostrils are doing that thing where they stick together. Where they squinch up. My boots totally suck and I’m freezing my little butt off.
I can almost see the Jesus face now. It’s metallic and icy and the eyes are way blank, except when snow hisses across the metal, and it almost changes the expression. It totally creeps me out.
It looks like Robbie at his creepiest. Me and Robbie have our scary little dramas, too. Pretty gloomy, I guess. Sometimes he scares me, sometimes I feel like throwing up practically, or sometimes I’m just—I don’t know…afraid? I, like, don’t know what to say. He has a bad temper. Ohmigod, he goes, like, totally mental sometimes. Or else he’ll just hit me. Charlotte says, “Bad temper? Read my lips: how about asshole?” And she says the asshole thing long and loud for effect. And to think I had my tits done for him? Had my lips collagenized? Now my lips are fake, my hair color’s fake, and lots of my body parts are fake, and Robbie says now it’s time for a lobotomy.
I look down through a swirl of snow and—ohmigod—a cop car. The pigs! I can see the flasher turning slowly, sweeping the snowy lot and making everything look blue. Robbie and Max are trying to hide the beer cans, but the inside of the car must reek of weed, plus they left all that shit in plain sight.
A cop gets out and he’s talking to them. Another one is looking through the car? After a while they’re all—even Charlotte—shoved into the backseat. The cop car drives off.
Thanks, everybody! What am I doing? It’s not like I even know. It’s like I know where I am, but it’s totally crazy because I feel like I totally don’t. Like I’m here but I’m not here. That sounds so stupid, right? So totally dumb? Everybody forgot I was up here. That’s how much they care. Leave me hanging up here on a ladder. And the wind blowing snow down the back of my neck and this creepy statue—this face.
Could I leer back at him? Could I make like a teenage vampire and drink his blood? My curved fangs would make a wet, slick sound as they slid down from my gums. I’d work my tongue over the fangs, then I’d push out my bristled tongue and begin to lick the statue’s neck, my rough tongue scraping over the smooth, bronze throat. I tell the statue, “I’m so hungry, I need to feed.”
Finally, I pretend it’s real. I go like, “Now that we’re alone, can I tell you some stuff?”
It stares back.
“First of all, I’m preggers. That’s right. I think it was Robbie but it could’ve been Max. How do you like that?”
No answer—the world’s biggest crucifix has nothing to say.
“Next question. How come you get credit for all the good stuff that goes on, people giving thanks and all, but when things start to go bad, it’s our sinful nature? That gets you off the hook; am I right?”
The world’s biggest crucifix looks back at me blankly, the snow brushing its cheeks.
I’m like, “Shouldn’t you stand up like a man and take the blame for some of the shit? Not just me being preggers, but earthquakes and floods and starving Africans?”
I’m starting to scare myself really good. Maybe I’ll be left up here forever.
The snowflakes of the night continue to fall. I can’t go down the ladder backward. I’m numb with terror. Maybe I’ll see another cop car down in the parking lot to rescue me. Sometime—when? But going down is scarier than coming up.
Anyway, I’m stuck here. Whatever you say, here’s a guy who doesn’t go totally mental or hit you. Jesus has no middle finger. Maybe he’ll shake off the questions I asked him by claiming he doesn’t exist, but that’s a pretty lame excuse, a cop-out, a typical guy thing; I can see right through it.
Now, all of a sudden, I’m starting to feel nice—in a dizzy way. Ohmigod! What am I saying? This is like, what? I’m such a freak! Am I? Why am I telling you all this, like blabbing my head off? Right? Ohmigod! But I think about it. I try to think about stuff. I try to think about me as a person, like me skimming over the world. And how am I doing? I’m hanging from a ladder on the world’s biggest crucifix. Days could pass and weeks and maybe years. What more could a girl possibly want?