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Wayne Kumai, Novelist, Centaur

Story by Matt Bell (Read author interview) April 3, 2015

Art by Katelin Kinney

Wayne Kumai is a novelist.

Wayne Kumai is a novelist who is writing his bio, for the dust jacket of a book he is about to publish. For the space on the right flap of the jacket, printed beneath his author photo, beneath his black glasses, the pen in his mouth, the same pen he will use to write the bio.

Wayne Kumai’s wife is upstairs asleep, having long ago asked him to come to bed. He told her he was too too busy to sleep, because he is writing his bio and at first he believes it is important that he not lie.

Wayne Kumai writes, Wayne Kumai grew up in Massachusetts. Wayne Kumai practiced as a pain management physician in Illinois. Wayne Kumai is now a full-time novelist.

He thinks, How boring.

He thinks, What next?

It is honest but it is not as exciting as Wayne Kumai wants and yet all is not lost. Wayne Kumai is a novelist and a novelist knows that facts must not be allowed to get in the way of the greater truth.

He thinks, What is the essence of Wayne Kumai?

He strikes out, erases, tears the page out of his notebook. He begins again.

Wayne Kumai, he writes, was raised by centaurs.

This is not strictly true, he knows, but is the essence correct? Was there something centaur-like about his father, about his mother? He searches himself to check, clicks links to move between Google Images and his own published works. He scans his parents’ Facebook pages. It is impossible to be sure. There is a Wayne Kumai on the internet, also a writer raised in Massachusetts, but who is to say that the Wayne Kumai in this story is that Wayne Kumai, even if they both chew their pens in the same way?

Let us say that they are not.

Let us say that Wayne Kumai, the novelist in this story, realized that the other Wayne Kumai is the reason he couldn’t get his name for a Twitter handle. Because of this, Wayne Kumai has never joined Twitter.

Now our Wayne Kumai at last opens a Twitter account. His username is @RaisedByCentaurs. His new parentage is only minutes old but already it is everything to him, like the zealous beliefs of the newly converted.

Wayne Kumai, our Wayne Kumai begins again, gently setting his pen to a third page of his notebook. He writes, Wayne Kumai was raised by Massachusetts centaurs but always suspected he might be adopted, as many precocious youths must suspect—and then he smells something in the air, something good: endless grasslands, perhaps, or else the musk of horsehair, the strong clean scent of Mane ‘n Tail shampoo.

Wayne Kumai is not Wayne Kumai’s real name and so perhaps it is easier to believe this new story he tells himself. He smiles. He has a good smile that many people might admire if he was allowed to smile for his author photo but he is a serious author so no smiling. Instead the pen, instead the glasses.

Plus, he thinks, now I have the dignity of the centaurs to think about.

The centaur-raised Wayne Kumai is not the Wayne Kumai with the Wayne Kumai Twitter account and he is not the man inside the penname. Our Wayne Kumai is alive only inside this story where he is writing his bio, the story of his life, of the life that allowed him to write the novel upon which the bio will be printed.

Our Wayne Kumai writes, Also, he did not have the body of a horse growing up, which was another clue that the centaurs were not his real parents.

Our Wayne Kumai’s bio is getting dangerously close to being too personal. He tries to adjust his course. This is a professional statement, he thinks, not a tell-all biography. Stick to the basics. Magazine publications: Cryptozoology Lit Review, Centaur v. Fawn, Casa del Caballo. He writes a quick sentence about not having an MFA, for increased credibility with his intended audience, then deletes an additional sentence about the institutional insularity of today’s writers.

No social commentary, Wayne Kumai tells himself.

He is flexing his toes, he realized, gripping the shag carpet the best he can. He has not gone for a run in far too long—he has been busy writing a novel—but now he finds himself aching to run as far as he can. He aches, he thinks, to run with hooves.

I want to grow my hair long and gallop, he thinks, surefooted and hooved, like my four-legged forefathers before me.

He writes, Wayne Kumai has surely been nominated for the Pushcart Prize but sadly they are rarely won by writers who publish in online magazines or by the children of centaurs.

His hobbies, he writes, are stargazing, prophecy, and warfare.

He hears drumbeats now, reverberating in the distance. He imagines himself writing his bio not at his desk but out upon the steppes of a distant land, carving it into a shield instead of pressing it into the last pages of a Moleskin. He reads the bio over and he thinks to himself, this is the life I should have lived. Centaur-born or at least centaur-raised. Fleet of foot. Skilled with the bow and the spear. A lover of nymphs, a lord among the bull-slayers.

Wayne Kumai considers his office. In the distance there is the sound of the television in the upstairs bedroom but when he closes his eyes he hears pan flutes, a lyre. He looks at his diplomas on the wall, the pictures of a family he is suddenly unsure of, their human legs so unappealing. He searches Google Images for the kin he is sure he prefers, putting his browser into privacy mode so his wife will not know his betrayal.

Wayne Kumai is a novelist who was once nervous about his first novel. Would it be received well by publishers? Would the book clubs love it? Would the paperback get a cover bedecked in sunflowers and blurred headless women which denied its literary ambitions in order to better position it for commercial sales, and could he live with that compromise?

Now he feels no such nervousness. Now he knows that no publisher would dare besmirch his honor. After all, he is Wayne Kumai, novelist and centaur. Who would not fear such a being?

At the end of the bio, he finally writes, This is Wayne Kumai’s first novel, and when he reaches the end of the sentence he pierces the period with his pen, like a spear flung through an enemy, and with the blow struck he yells aloud his battle cry, a sound so fierce it wakes his wife, who does not know who he really is, who cannot understand when he rushes into the bedroom to tell her who he has become, how at last he knows he will earn his spot in literary Olympus, his fated place among the great gods upon the shelves of eternity.

About the Author

Matt Bell is the author of the novel In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award and the winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award. His next novel, Scrapper, will be published in Fall 2015. He teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

About the Artist

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.

This story appeared in Issue Forty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Seven

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