Cutting Lisa

Cutting Lisa

by Percival Everett

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Retired Virginia obstetrician John Livesey, recently widowed and discouraged by the world's crumbling morals, meets a man who has just performed an unnecessary cesarean section on his wife so as to be the one to deliver their child. Though initially appalled by the act. Livesey finds himself recalling it later when he learns a friend is dying of cancer, when his affair with a younger woman ends in disillusionment, and when, during an extended visit to his son and his family in Oregon, he realizes his daughter-in-law's unborn baby does not belong to her husband. Coming to admire the calm directness with which the man took matters of life and death into his own hands, Livesey begins to reconsider what he values and what he will protect.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781941088944
Publisher: Dzanc Books
Publication date: 08/05/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 170
File size: 596 KB

About the Author

Percival Everett is the author of ten novels, including Suder (also a Voices of the South title), Glyph, Frenzy, and God's Country; two story collections; and a children's book. Raised in Columbia, South Carolina, he is now professor of English at the University of Southern California.

Read an Excerpt

Cutting Lisa

By Percival Everett

Dzanc Books

Copyright © 1986 Percival Everett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-7697-8


John's spending the summer in Oregon was in some fashion a surrender. He was giving in partly to his fear that as an aging man he would soon be dead and partly to the fact that he felt he was losing his family and sense of family. He did not really know his granddaughter at all, and he was haunted by the thought that he and his son had never truly known each other.

Elgin, his wife, and his daughter would be waiting at the airport in Eugene. John looked out the window of the Hughes Air West liner at the green patchwork landscape of the Willamette Valley below. Closing his eyes, he tried to picture the faces that would be greeting him. His son had been teaching history at the university in Eugene for six years now and had been east only twice in that time, the second time because of his mother's death. Katy hadn't seen her grandfather in four years, but he and the child had exchanged a number of letters.

The plane landed and taxied to a halt. John followed the flow of passengers down the steps, across the tarmac, and through the gate.

"Grandpa!" said Katy, running to him.

John picked up the child and hugged her. She had grown and was heavy, but he held her easily. Pulling her away, he looked at her face and said, "It's good to see you, Valerie."

The puzzled child frowned and stared at him. She placed her open palms against his chest and pushed.

"I'm only teasing, Katy." He hugged her again. "It's good to see you. Let me have a look." He put her down and stood away for a view.

"Hello, Dad," said Elgin, stepping forward to embrace him.

John looked at his son's wife. "Lisa, you're still beautiful."

She smiled and hugged him, saying, "It's good to see you, Dad."

"This is more hugging than a man my age can stand."

As they walked through the small airport to the baggage claim area, he looked about the terminal and out at the parking lots. "So, this is Oregon. I thought there'd be more trees."

"Flying still makes you nervous," said Elgin.

John looked at his son. "It shows."

They stopped and waited for the bags. "I brought two suitcases, both brown." They watched the conveyer. "I'm not nervous about flying," John said and added, under his breath, "It's landing." He turned to Lisa. "The thought of dying with all those strangers upsets me. I'm an old man. I deserve some privacy. Right, granddaughter?"

Katy smiled and grabbed the hand that her grandfather held out for her. He pressed the soft flesh between his fingers and closed his eyes for a second.

"You look tired," said Lisa.

"There's one of them," John said, pointing to a suitcase.

"It was a long flight," he said to Lisa, "but it was the layover in San Francisco that got me. Over two hours."

Elgin grabbed the second bag and they left the terminal.

At the house, Elgin and Lisa went to the kitchen. John found a soft overstuffed chair in the den and relaxed. Katy sat on the sofa across the room, watching him.

He closed his eyes, but he could feel the child's stare. Opening one eye, he looked at her. "So, you're in the third grade."

"I will be."

"You're very big." He closed his eye.

"Do you want to go to sleep, Grandpa?"

"I'm just resting my eyes."

"Katy," called Lisa from the doorway. "Come and let your grandfather rest."

John fell asleep. He was awakened a while later by the sound of the television. Elgin and Katy were sitting on the sofa, watching the set. John cleared his throat and sat up, adjusted his eyes. He coughed and reached into his jacket pocket for a pack of cigarettes. "Have I been asleep long?" he asked.

"Still smoking," said Elgin.

"And still alive," John said. "How long was I asleep?"

"A couple of hours. Hungry?"

John strained to see the television. His vision was fine, but often he needed a few seconds to focus. "No, I'm not hungry. What're you watching?"

"A bad movie," said Elgin.

"A scary movie," said Katy.

John listened for sounds of movement in the house. "Where's Lisa?"

"Gone to visit a friend."

There was a silence while John watched his son and granddaughter watch the television. "So, when do we leave for the coast?"

"The house will be ready tomorrow."

"Does this mean we will be going to the coast tomorrow?"

"Yes, Dad."

"If this is such a bad movie, how come you can't tear your eyes from it?" John asked.

"It's scary," Katy said.

"So, Elgin, how have things been going?"

"Just fine, Dad." Elgin leaned back and looked at his father. "What have you been doing with yourself?"

"Reading, painting, the same old stuff."

"What have you been painting?"

"Fruit." He stabbed his cigarette out in the ashtray, shifted in his chair, and smiled. John knew that conversations with him were not easy. His wife used to say that if not for John's nastiness, he'd have no charm at all. He'd accepted this, claiming that the world was clearly composed of half-truths.

"And what have you been reading?"

"Anything and everything. A lot of trash." John looked at the television. "How's the history business?"

"Okay. I had a light load this past semester, more time to work on a couple of articles."

John nodded. "What time is it?"

"About ten."

The hour was catching up with Katy. She was drifting off. Elgin stroked her hair from her face. "Katy. Katy, go on up and get ready for bed." She rubbed her eyes and found her legs. She hugged and kissed her father, then John, before leaving the room.

Father and son were silent through a few minutes of the movie. John smoked another cigarette.

"Well, Elgin, I think I'm ready for bed, too. Ask Lisa to forgive me for not waiting up."

"I'll show you your room."

Perhaps because of the time difference, John awoke a little earlier than usual. He had not slept well. He showered and was out walking at five-thirty. A chill hung in the air with a patchy fog, and it was not quite light out. He walked two blocks and found himself on the university campus. He chose a straight path across the grounds so that he wouldn't get lost. One sign of his age was his inability to recall his way. He liked the bite in the air. He stopped and breathed deeply several times before turning and starting back. When he returned to the house everyone was still sleeping. He sat in the den, in the same chair in which he had fallen asleep the night before, and read a book from the shelf.

Lisa was the first downstairs. She walked past the open door of the den, caught a glimpse of John and stopped. "Oh, Dad, you startled me."

He closed the book. "Sorry."

"Don't be silly. I'd forgotten you're an early riser. Good morning."

As with Elgin, there was an awkwardness when John and Lisa were together, especially when the two of them were alone. John attributed this, in part, to the fact that she was married to his son. They liked each other well enough and got along, but since the first time they had met there had been a wall between them, or at least a screen.

"I'm going to start breakfast," she said. "Why don't you join me in the kitchen?"

He followed her and sat at the table while she prepared the meal. "I went for a walk this morning."

"You have been up for a while."

"This is quite a pretty place."

"There's a studio at the house on the coast.

You're still painting?"

"I'm still working at it."

"You're not still painting fruit?"

He scratched his head. "I'm getting very good at it. Besides, I can't see that there's much else worth painting."

Lisa stopped and turned away from the frying eggs. "Well, we'll find you something else to paint." She looked at him for a few seconds. "Elgin hasn't told you."

He straightened his back.

"Let me think of a good way to put this. I'm pregnant."

John rubbed his jaw and looked her up and down. He got up and embraced her. He headed out of the room, stopped at the door, and looked back at her. "Damn good news." He marched upstairs and pushed open the bathroom door. Elgin was standing in front of the mirror, shaving. He turned to his father with a lathered face.

"Congratulations, boy," said John.

"Lisa told you."

"Damn good news."

After breakfast, they loaded the station wagon. They were taking two cars. Lisa and Katy went in the wagon. Elgin and John rode together in the beat-up MG.

John sat low in the sports car. "Will it make it to the coast?"

"It's seen better days."

John enjoyed the ride through the coastal mountains. He looked at the huge Douglas fir trees and down the slope at the Siuslaw River.

"Maybe a boy this time, eh?" John said.


The house was just south of Yachats, a small town about halfway between Florence and Newport. The house consisted of a large room that contained a kitchen, a dining area, and a living area with a fireplace. A hallway led to two bedrooms and a bath. Set away from the main house was a studio with an adjoining bedroom. The studio's west wall was a large window that overlooked the ocean. The bedroom offered the same view and John liked it very much. He put his bags down and followed Elgin back to the main house.

After the unloading was done, Lisa and Katy drove to the market for supplies. John and Elgin walked down the slope to the beach.

"Pretty nice ocean," said John. He looked out over the water and then back at the studio.

"I love this place," Elgin said. "This will be our third summer here."

Gulls and cormorants skimmed the water and congregated on some rocks a few yards out. John turned to the ocean when he heard a sound like a rifle shot.

"Whale," said Elgin.

"So, how do you feel about it?" John asked.

"How do I feel about what?"

"Another child."

"Oh, I'm for it."

"You don't seem very happy about it."

"If you're trying to ask me if this was planned, the answer is no. We didn't plan it, but I'm for it. I'm happy about it."

John stopped and faced the water. "Third grade." He shook his head. "She's lovely."

They walked on.

"You seem distracted, Dad."

"I really do like this ocean. It's rougher than the Atlantic." He felt a chill and rubbed his arms. "Am I distracted? Probably the time difference."

Elgin steered them back toward the house.

John watched the waves breaking. "The Atlantic is pretty, but it doesn't move this much."

"The Atlantic has its advantages. You can swim in it. Here it's a little cold."

"That's fine with me. You know I'm not about to jump into anybody's water."

"I'll have to take you to Devil's Churn. The sea slams into this alley with such power ... well, you'll have to see it."

"Who owns the house?"

"A doctor in Portland. Never uses it." Elgin pointed north. "An interesting fellow lives up the beach a ways. He's a writer—named Turner."

"Name doesn't ring a bell."

"He's quite a character."

"And he's my age," said John.

Elgin was silent.

"I'm sure I'll get around to meeting Mr. Turner."

"Dad, I didn't mean—"

"We old-timers have a way of drifting together."

"Dad ..."

"It's okay." He had quieted his son. "So, he's a character."

Elgin had come to accept his father's habit of making even casual conversations difficult. He was used to it. John claimed that it was his duty as a father to give his son a least a moderately hard time; it strengthened his character. He admitted that this was all rationalization, but he avoided facing the fact that the friction's source was what he feared, that somehow he and his son had never found the time nor the channels through which to become very close.

"So, I thought I'd be coming to some kind of solar dwelling," said John as they started up the hill to the house.

"I suppose Oregon has a certain reputation."

"Lots of hoopers, huh?"

"Actually, Oregon is a very conservative state."

"Bad press, eh?"

They stopped on the deck and turned to look once more at the ocean. The sun was full and shone white on the waves now breaking farther out.

"So, what do you do for fun around here?" John asked.

"A lot of walking. We know some people who summer here. There're a few parties."

"What about the locals?"

"Not a hell of a lot of them. They're nice enough." Elgin pointed up the beach again. "Do you see that little island? Well, actually, it's not an island, just a big rock. I've tried climbing that rock wall every summer we've come here and I've yet to reach the top."

John studied the rock, which resembled a haystack. "It doesn't look that steep."

"You can't really see it from here. The beach side is pretty much straight up and down. I get about halfway up and get nervous. That's when I work my way over to the easy slope and come down."

"Why do you get nervous?"

"I guess I don't trust myself to go any higher."

"Seems natural," John said. "Some people have trouble with high places. I'm not overly excited about being in the water."

"Still, I go at it time and time again."

John looked at his son. "Well, of course, this is right." He looked at the sky and squinted. "So I'm sleeping down in the studio?"

Elgin nodded.

"I'm going down for a nap."

"Dad," said Elgin, "thanks for coming."

The afternoon sun pushed a blanket of light over John's bed. He opened his eyes and turned away from the window. He slowly sat up and rubbed his face, yawned, and stretched. Once his eyes were open he had no choice but to get out of bed. Since his wife's death he could not seem to relax while awake in bed. Before, when she was beside him, he would lie still and gaze at the crape-myrtle tree just outside their window. But alone he felt a need to rise immediately. He washed his face and walked up to the main house.

Elgin and Katy were sitting at the kitchen table, playing dominoes. Lisa was at the counter beside the sink, slicing vegetables.

"How was your nap," asked Lisa.

"I don't know, I slept clean through it." Katy giggled and John smiled at her. "Is there any coffee?"

Elgin pointed to the pot of the coffee brewer. John stood beside Lisa and poured a mug.

"What are you making?" he asked.


"Pizza." He looked at the round tin in front of her. On a plane of dough was a hill of assorted vegetables. "What-all is on there?"

"We've got mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions. And tomatoes, of course."

"Of course."


"What about meat?"

Lisa shook her head.

"None whatsoever?" He stared at her.

Elgin laughed. "Dad, I told you in a letter that we've become vegetarians."

"Hell, do you expect me to read and remember everything in your rambling, disjointed letters? We had meat at breakfast."

"There was no meat at breakfast," said Lisa.

"I could have sworn I ate sausages."

"Afraid not," said Lisa.

Elgin laughed.

"What about the child? Is she allowed to eat meat?"

"Meat puts unnecessary strain on the digestive tract," Lisa said.

"Excuse me?" John sat at the table and offered an expression of disbelief. "I've been a doctor for forty years and I've never known this to be the case. Did you read this in some organic periodical?" When Lisa said nothing, he went on. "We'll have to work something out. I eat meat." He turned to his son. "Do you really go for this?"

"It's been okay so far."

John raised his eyebrows. Elgin didn't sound firmly committed to this diet, but he decided not to press. He looked at the clock. "It's about time for a drink." The silence that followed caused John to shake his head. "Don't tell me ..."

"I'm sorry, Dad," Elgin said. "I should have thought to buy liquor. We don't drink these days."

"That's disgusting. And you, no doubt, consider this a virtue."

"I'll buy you some Scotch tomorrow."

John got up and went to the sofa. He called Katy over to him. "So, your grandpa's a difficult old dog, it seems." The child sat beside him and he put an arm around her.

"Can we go for ice cream after dinner?" Katy asked.

John looked over at Elgin and Lisa. "Is it okay if the child has ice cream?"

Down the road in Yachats center was a small grocery market. A blond boy was stacking bags of charcoal in the front of the store when John and Katy entered.

"Howdy," said the boy."

John nodded to him. "We're on the prowl for ice cream."

The boy looked at Katy and gave a wink. "Come on back." He led the way to the rear and stepped behind the counter. "What'll it be?"

Katy studied the carton buckets in the freezer case before them. "Which flavor would you like?" John asked.

"May I have two scoops, Grandpa?"

He nodded. Why shouldn't she have two scoops? Her parents were starving her at home.

Katy pointed. "I want a scoop of strawberry almond and one of peach mocha on a sugar cone."


Excerpted from Cutting Lisa by Percival Everett. Copyright © 1986 Percival Everett. Excerpted by permission of Dzanc Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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