Naked Me

“Naked Me is a tremendous, beautifully-made book about the functions and dysfunctions of families. Winn writes glittering stories about trapped, beaten, and restless young people, reluctant adults living under financial pressure and nursing wounds and wearing out their welcomes. The unforgettable stories “Rough Cut” and “Where He’s Living Now” alone are worth the price of admission.”

Anthony Doerr, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize

Naked Me, Christian Winn       Release Date: Summer 2014

In his debut collection, Christian Winn throws his readers unabashedly into a world of characters on the brink. Sometimes overtly, sometimes obliquely, we see what it means to live in a flawed world and, like anything profound, come away from the experience provoked, asking new questions. Naked Me, though despondent in places, is steeped in hope with characters willing to believe they might find peace, or at least a semblance of understanding within the earnest clutter of love, addiction, friendship, and dreams.

Voyeurs at a gambling party spy on the exhibitionist across the alley. A young boy tries to conceal his love for his best friend. Murdered dentists mysteriously begin to appear floating in the shipping canal of a city. Naked Me is that collection that pulls wisdom from the mundane, making us cringe and laugh in the same sentence. From the first line, Naked Me quickly reveals we are in the capable hands of a master.

Christian Winn was born in Eugene, Oregon, and grew up in Palo Alto, California and the Seattle area. He now lives in Boise, Idaho where he writes and teaches in the Creative Writing Department at Boise State University. He is the founder of the Writers Write fiction workshop series, which has been in operation since the summer of 2003. He is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, and the Boise State University MFA program.

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Rough Cut
Christian Winn

The Mormon has fought before. Tompkins sees this right off and it scares him, his belly clenching at the ribs as he watches Bean absorb gut-shots and jabs from the Mormon, a man they have never seen. Tompkins leans against the concrete wall abutting the vacant lot and stagnant summer creek, the thin hair on his arms laying sun-bright over tightening skin. The Mormon is putting it to Bean, tearing his uniform shirt, biting at his shoulder, landing three blows to Bean’s one as they tumble across the oil-mottled corner of the parking lot behind Lowry’s Discount Tire out Fairview, in Boise, where Tompkins and Bean work the back yard full-time.

This man has fought in crooked alleyways, Tompkins thinks, in vacant lots, in woeful heat or rampant cold. He’s fought where baited air hangs like rot. The Mormon is smooth, direct, a dirty fighter. Feet shuffling like a rough-cut boxer, scratching at the pavement, he spits, purses his thin lips, and takes what he needs from Bean without recognizing doubt or
disgust. A man fueled by instinct, Tompkins believes, a man born with desires he has tried to outrun.

Tompkins listens to the grunts and tussle, listens to the heavy traffic up Fairview where men and women roll and lurch in autos, in trucks, air-conditioned and unaware of his watching, his inept leaning. Bean is bleeding, and Tompkins stands still.

“You go in,” Bean has told Tompkins. “Go right the hell into a fight. Strike. Shock the man, take something, before he hurts you.”

“Right,” Tompkins said. “Yes.”

It was the second day they met, Bean explaining yellow bruises across his neck, Tompkins listening, feeling his insides flutter, whir.

“That’s how I whip ass,” Bean said. “Alone. Believe it. I do it alone.”

Now it’s turned upside down, and Tompkins, afraid for Bean, thinks, I am a statue while my
only friend is being beaten. Tompkins aches to step in, but has never fought. He’s heard all about it from Bean, but has never drawn a fist, let it fly toward another man, doesn’t know if he could. Tompkins would love to be like Bean – fearless, bent – but he his shorter, pale and small, so drawn to the fight, but unable, he believes, to carry out the intrigue.

The Mormon looks like the others Tompkins has seen all summer – the smooth-skinned boys in white shirts and plain ties, missionaries, half-smiling, peaceful as they walk Fairview up beyond the Big and Tall, down past the Food Warehouse. The Mormon boys want someone to talk with, to impart what they know, and they seek them out, strolling over the rubble – cigarette butts and spent condoms, singular shoes, underwear, half-eaten cheeseburgers – the chaff Tompkins himself sees each day. These weeks since he and his mother moved, Tompkins has intently watched the Mormons – pairs of boys looking so much younger than he who is eighteen, or Bean who now is twenty.

Bean moves in, casting a white fist that
glances the Mormon’s neck. The Mormon dodges, ducks, and he counters, connects, a shot to Bean’s chest that sounds like a deep drum beat.

Tompkins leers at the swaying men – Bean bleeding above his left eye, the Mormon circling, stalking. Breath whorling, weighty, their clenched fists try to out-do gravity – rise high, drop hard. Bean says, “fucker” “pissant” “lemming.” The Mormon says nothing, just pants, wrenches at his tie, throws it aside in a weightless arc, and again charges Bean fast with a low shoulder and quickening eyes, eyes believing in nothing but this sharp blue moment.

Tompkins and his mother came from Seattle in June. She picked him up the last day of senior classes, and they drove east in the Skylark his father left them when he moved south and away four years ago. Tompkins only had one peripheral friend – a junior who called herself Frank, a mousy girl who after school played gin rummy and walked the neighborhoods near school with Tompkins, talking about her plans to work and travel and
expertly know the world. He didn’t get to say goodbye to Frank, didn’t in fact know he and his mother were leaving that day until they were down I-5 and ramping east onto I-90. It was a long ride to Boise for Tompkins, who sat sullen and angry beside his mother as she smoked her long brown cigarettes and explained that it was an emergency, that they were three months late on rent, that his father and his support money were nowhere to be found. She had a plan, she said. They were going to Boise, moving in with a man she knew, a friend named Mikey. She reached across the console to squeeze Tompkins’s wrist. “He’s a decent man,” she said, smiling wide, showing the thin wrinkles at her eyes and mouth. “People like him. We call him Thin Mikey. He’s real tall honey. You can call him that, too.” She let go of his wrist, whispering, “This will all work out fine. Absolutely fine.”

Tompkins felt adrift, meaningless, watching the yellow evening sky darken above the open land east of Yakima. If only he could have said goodbye, given Frank a handshake or a kiss.

Thin Mikey, his skin deeply tanned from time
spent greens-keeping at the city golf course, was taciturn and almost kind. He stood over Tompkins as he ate breakfast in the cramped, blue-painted kitchen that first morning, and told him he drank with a businessman named Lowry, that he would pull strings, help get him a job.

“You better start holdin’ your own now, buddy,” Thin Mikey said. “You live in my house, you work. Got it champ?”

“Sure,” Tompkins said, “I guess so,” captured, looking into the charming, wry smile of Thin Mikey, held by the surety of his presence. Tompkins hated Thin Mikey hard because he saw why his mother had changed into her red leather skirt before they pulled into Boise, why her voice rose and trilled when Thin Mikey said, “Look at you, Terri,” then hugged her as she stepped from the Skylark and into his arms.

Tompkins was trained for the grunt job of tire stacker and gofer by Bean, who has worked at Lowry’s for two years, and who took to Tompkins, began telling him so many things
he hadn’t known. Bean has eyes like Tompkins has never seen, eyes like wishing stars. Bean is tall and lithe with sugar-blond hair, and his words have a presence. Stories fall from Bean. This man has lived.

Tompkins knew it right off, listening to Bean retell his seducing of three girls in one night at a party in the orchards. Bean has told Tompkins how he stood up to his own father, kicked his ass real good when he was only fifteen, how his daddy moved out because he was afraid of Bean. Tompkins has sat quietly as Bean’s whispered tales of drinking at the High Low Bar down Fairview, where they’ve been letting him shoot tequila, play pool, and juke-box dance since his senior year at Capital High. He has watched Bean’s long fingers wrap up old tires with gallant strength, with grace.

“You’ll see them,” Bean has said. “Mormons trooping down Fairview. They like to think we need saving.”

“Mormonville,” Tompkins said. “That’s what Mom calls it.”

“They’ll come to your house,” Bean said. But, Tompkins has only seen them walking Fairview looking feckless, so weak, peeking into windows of Confucius Chinese Buffet, of Wendy’s.

Now Bean and the Mormon circle, and Tompkins balances on one foot, whispering, “Punch, Bean. Swing. Act what you know.” Tompkins wants so badly to step in, wants to save Bean from disgrace and pain, but his feet are leaden, hot anchors in the broken afternoon. Tompkins watches closely, listens, solving pieces of the fast-spinning world. Bean is wincing. A plane traces a contrail across the brightest sky. Bean is a staggering wayward idol. Men on that plane are going to London, or Sri Lanka, places they have never been. The smell of diesel is creeping in from the rumbling trucks up Fairview. The Mormon is so quiet, so strong. Where did he learn this?

He is base and hateful, not weak. A troubled vessel, Tompkins thinks, though he couldn’t see it as the Mormon approached he and Bean, alone, straight-faced, grasping a Bible, wearing a backpack. Bean hates them, has
always hated them. Bean has wanted to fuck one up, and he taunted this man with talk of sacrilege and polygamy as he has with others who have wandered through the lot to find he and Tompkins stacking used tires in the disposal truck. Bean was telling a story about Sally Beecher, his long-legged summer girl, a woman who has touched places, he said to Tompkins, he hadn’t even known existed.

“Porno horny, Tompkins,” Bean said. “She wraps me up and breathes the crazy shit in my ears.”

“Damn,” Tompkins said, and he saw the Mormon ease across the lot. “Here comes a white shirt.”

“It’s Bean yes, Bean do me, Bean Bean Bean.”

“Hello,” the Mormon said. “Can I talk with you, about something important?”

“Go find your own place in hell,” Bean said, stepping to the Mormon. “This is ours.” He gave him the finger, knocked the Bible from his hands, turned and walked, winking at
Tompkins. Bean expected him to walk, to just go as they have all summer, heads held up, hands in the pockets of rumpled trousers. Tompkins saw rage gather in the Mormon as his eyes landed on Bean’s.

“I’ve had Mormon girls,” Bean said, hip-thrusting, giddy. “A planet of ‘em.”

The Mormon set his backpack down and charged Bean hard. Bean never expected it, and now the rap of fist landing on skin levels in Tompkins’ ears.

Sometimes Tompkins is curious, wishes Bean would lay off, let them draw he and Bean into their calm, neatly-folded way. It may be easier, may hold the curious numbness Tompkins desires as he walks the avenue, watching, listening with exactitude and purpose each morning, each evening – five quiet and dirty blocks between Lowry’s and Thin Mikey’s place.

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