Avram Davidson was one of the great original American writers of this century. He was erudite, cranky, Jewish, wildly creative, and sold most of his wonderful stories to pulp magazines. They are wonderful.Now his estate and his friends have brought together a definitive collection of his finest work, each story introduced by an SF luminary: writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, William Gibson, Poul Anderson, Gene Wolfe, Guy Davenport, Peter S. Beagle, Gregory Benford, Thomas M. Disch, and dozens of others. This is a volume every lover of fantasy will need to own. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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September 01, 1999
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Excerpt from The Avram Davidson Treasury by Avram Davidson
My Boy Friend's Name Is Jello
INTRODUCTION BY ROBERT SILVERBERG
This little story was the science-fiction world's introduction to the art of Avram Davidson. It occupied just four pages of the July, 1954 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which then was an elegant and fastidious publication edited by the elegant and fastidious Anthony Boucher, a connoisseur of fine wines and opera and mystery stories and fantasy, and his colleague J. Francis McComas. Boucher's brief introduction to the story went like this:
Avram Davidson, scholar and critic, has the most beautiful beard that has ever visited our office, and one of the most attractively wide-ranging minds, full of fascinating lore on arcane and unlikely subjects. For his first fiction outside of specialized Jewish publications, he takes his theme from an offtrail branch of folklore, the baffling rime-games sung by little girls, with distinctive and delightful results.
Thus the new author was placed perfectly for us as he actually was: the bearded scholar with the wide-ranging off-beat mind. And Avram did the rest, with the dazzling opening paragraph that (while seeming to be bewilderingly diffuse) actually communicates a dozen different significant things about the narrator and his predicament, and then, deftly leading us onward through one circumlocution after another, depositing us less than two thousand words later at the sharply ironic final moment.
It was all there, right at the outset: the cunning narrative strategy, the mannered prose, the flourish of esoteric erudition, the sly wit, all done up in a four-page marvel of a story. Surely we all saw, right away, that a stream of further masterpieces would follow this introductory tidbit. Surely we did: surely. Oh, Avram, Avram, what a wonder you were!
MY BOY FRIEND'S NAME IS JELLO
FASHION, NOTHING BUT FASHION. Virus X having in the medical zodiac its course half i-run, the physician (I refuse to say "doctor" and, indeed, am tempted to use the more correct "apothecary")--the physician, I say, tells me I have Virus Y. No doubt in the Navy it would still be called Catarrhal Fever. They say that hardly anyone had appendicitis until Edward VII came down with it a few weeks before his coronation, and thus made it fashionable. He (the medical man) is dosing me with injections of some stuff that comes in vials. A few centuries ago he would have used herbal clysters ... . Where did I read that old remedy for the quinsy ("putrescent sore throat," says my dictionary)? Take seven weeds from seven meads and seven nails from seven steeds. Oh dear, how my mind runs on. I must be feverish. An ague, no doubt.
Well, rather an ague than a pox. A pox is something one wishes on editors ... strange breed, editors. The females all have names like Lulu Ammabelle Smith or Minnie Lundquist Bloom, and the males have little horns growing out of their brows. They must all be Quakers, I suppose, for their letters invariably begin, "Dear Richard Roe" or "Dear John Doe," as if the word mister were a Vanity ... when they write at all, that is; and meanwhile Goodwife Moos calls weekly for the rent. If I ever have a son (than which nothing is more unlikely) who shows the slightest inclination of becoming a writer, I shall instantly prentice him to a fishmonger or a Master Chimney Sweep. Don't write about Sex, the editors say, and don't write about Religion, or about History. If, however, you do write about History, be sure to add Religion and Sex. If one sends in a story about a celibate atheist, however, do you think they'll buy it?
In front of the house two little girls are playing one of those clap-handie games. Right hand, left hand, cross hands on bosom, left hand, right hand ... it makes one dizzy to watch. And singing the while:
My boy friend's name is Jello,
He comes from Cincinello,
With a pimple on his nose
And three fat toes;
And that's the way my story goes!
There is a pleasing surrealist quality to this which intrigues me. In general I find little girls enchanting. What a shame they grow up to be big girls and make our lives as miserable as we allow them, and oft-times more. Silly, nasty-minded critics, trying to make poor Dodgson a monster of abnormality, simply because he loved Alice and was capable of following her into Wonderland. I suppose they would have preferred him to have taken a country curacy and become another Pastor Quiverful. A perfectly normal and perfectly horrible existence, and one which would have left us all still on this side of the looking glass.
Whatever was in those vials doesn't seem to be helping me. I suppose old Dover's famous Powders hadn't the slightest fatal effect on the germs, bacteria, or virus (viri?), but at least they gave one a good old sweat (ipecac) and a mild, non-habit-forming jag (opium). But they're old-fashioned now, and so there we go again, round and round, one's train of thought like a Japanese waltzing mouse. I used to know a Japanese who--now, stop that. Distract yourself. Talk to the little girls ...
Well, that was a pleasant interlude. We discussed (quite gravely, for I never condescend to children) the inconveniences of being sick, the unpleasantness of the heat; we agreed that a good rain would cool things off. Then their attention began to falter, and I lay back again. Miss Thurl may be in soon. Mrs. Moos (perfect name, she lacks only the antlers) said, whilst bringing in the bowl of slops which the medicine man allows me for victuals, said, My Sister Is Coming Along Later And She's Going To Fix You Up Some Nice Flowers. Miss Thurl, I do believe, spends most of her time fixing flowers. Weekends she joins a confraternity of over-grown campfire girls and boys who go on hiking trips, comes back sunburned and sweating and carrying specimen samples of plant and lesser animal life. However, I must say for Miss Thurl that she is quiet. Her brother-in-law, the bull-Moos, would be in here all the time if I suffered it. He puts stupid quotations in other people's mouths. He will talk about the weather and I will not utter a word, then he will say, Well, It's Like You Say, It's Not The Heat But The Humidity.
Thinking of which, I notice a drop in the heat, and I see it is raining. That should cool things off. How pleasant. A pity that it is washing away the marks of the little girls' last game. They played this one on the sidewalk, with chalked-out patterns and bits of stone and broken glass. They chanted and hopped back and forth across the chalkmarks and shoved the bits of stone and glass--or were they potshards--"potsie" from potshard, perhaps? I shall write a monograph, should I ever desire a Ph.D. I will compare the chalkmarks with Toltec emblems and masons' marks and the signs which Hindoo holy men smear on themselves with wood ashes and perfumed cow dung. All this passes for erudition.
I feel terrible, despite the cool rain. Perhaps without it, I should feel worse.
Miss Thurl was just here. A huge bowl of blossoms, arranged on the table across the room. Intricately arranged, I should say; but she put some extra touches to it, humming to herself. Something ever so faintly reminiscent about that tune, and vaguely disturbing. Then she made one of her rare remarks. She said that I needed a wife to take care of me. My blood ran cold. An icy sweat (to quote Catullus, that wretched Priapist), bedewed my limbs. I moaned. Miss Thurl at once departed, murmuring something about a cup of tea. If I weren't so weak I'd knot my bedsheets together and escape. But I am terribly feeble.
It's unmanly to weep ... .
Back she came, literally poured the tea down my throat. A curious taste it had. Sassafrass? Bergamot? Mandrake root? It is impossible to say how old Miss Thurl is. She wears her hair parted in the center and looped back. Ageless ... ageless ...
I thank whatever gods may be that Mr. Ahyellow came in just then. The other boarder (upstairs), a greengrocer, decent fellow, a bit short-tempered. He wished me soon well. He complained he had his own troubles, foot troubles ... I scarcely listened, just chattered, hoping the Thurl would get her hence ... . Toes ... something about his toes. Swollen, three of them, quite painful. A bell tinkled in my brain. I asked him how he spelt his name. A-j-e-l-l-o. Curious, I never thought of that. Now, I wonder what he could have done to offend the little girls? Chased them from in front of his store, perhaps. There is a distinct reddish spot on his nose. By tomorrow he will have an American Beauty of a pimple.
Fortunately he and Miss Thurl went out together. I must think this through. I must remain cool. Aroint thee, thou mist of fever. This much is obvious: There are sorcerers about. Sorceresses, I mean. The little ones made rain. And they laid a minor curse on poor Ajello. The elder one has struck me in the very vitals, however. If I had a cow it would doubtless be dry by this time. Should I struggle? Should I submit? Who knows what lies behind those moss-colored eyes, what thoughts inside the skull covered by those heavy tresses? Life with Mr. and Mrs. Moos is--even by itself--too frightful to contemplate. Why doesn't she lay her traps for Ajello? Why should I be selected as the milk-white victim for the Hymeneal sacrifice? Useless to question. Few men have escaped once the female cast the runes upon them. And the allopath has nothing in his little black bag, either, which can cure.
Blessed association of words! Allopath--Homeopath--homoios, the like, the same, pathos, feeling, suffering--similia similibus curantur--
The little girls are playing beneath my window once more, clapping hands and singing. Something about a boy friend named Tony, who eats macaroni, has a great big knife and a pretty little wife, and will always lead a happy life ... that must be the butcher opposite; he's always kind to the children ... . Strength, strength! The work of a moment to get two coins from my wallet and throw them down. What little girl could resist picking up a dime which fell in front of her? "Cross my palm with silver, pretty gentleman!"--eh? And now to tell them my tale ...
I feel better already. I don't think I'll see Miss Thurl again for a while. She opened the door, the front door, and when the children had sung the new verse she slammed the door shut quite viciously.
It's too bad about Ajello, but every man for himself.
Listen to them singing away, bless their little hearts! I love little girls. Such sweet, innocent voices.
My boy friend will soon be healthy.
He shall be very wealthy.
No woman shall harry
Or seek to marry;
Two and two is four, and one to carry!
It will be pleasant to be wealthy, I hope. I must ask Ajello where Cincinello is.