‘My Anger Problem’ By Scott McClanahan

In this excerpt from his just-released, Tyrant-published novel, Hill William, West-Virginia-based author Scott McClanahan shines harsh light on the frustration time and place can breed and the ways it can transform its captive audience

I don’t know why, but right after this I started breaking shit around the house. It first happened when Sarah decided she was going to go to Charleston one day. This always rubbed me the wrong way because she was always going to Charleston and never inviting me. That day she took off and I was left alone.

3 hours passed.

4 hours passed.

5 hours passed.

I called her pissed off.

She said, "Hey bubbie. Watcha doing?"

I said real gruff, "Wondering when in the hell you’re going to get back here? I’m getting hungry."

Sarah said, "Why don’t you fix yourself something to eat?"

"What? I think I need to send you to wife school. If you went to wife school you wouldn’t even think about saying something like that."

This started us going back and forth at each other until Sarah hung up.

This flash of anger went through me. I saw this chair sitting in front of me. I thought, "I’m gonna pick up that chair and bust the shit out of it."

I picked up the chair and I held it high and bashed it against the floor, but instead of the chair just bouncing against the floor—it broke into two pieces.

"Ah shit," I thought, "they don’t make furniture like they used to." I decided to hold it high and slam it again. It was already broken. I smashed it again and broke it into three pieces. I picked it up and threw it in the trash.

I thought, "Uh oh. I bet I’m going to be in trouble with Sarah."

I called her up and told her I was sorry about everything. I told her I’d just fix a bologna sandwich.

I said, "I think I need to go to husband school."

"Aw," she said like I was real sweet for apologizing.

I said, "You know what? One of the kitchen chairs broke?"

She was quiet and then she said, "What?"

She already sounded like she didn’t believe me.

I tried covering it up. "I mean I didn’t slam it against the floor or anything," I said. "I was trying to sit on it and it broke."

She wasn’t buying it.

I knew she wasn’t buying it when she got home and saw the kitchen chair in three pieces in the trash can. One of the legs was still sticking out of the top, looking like the loneliest chair leg in the world.

All Sarah said was, "Goddamnit Scott."


I knew things weren’t going well.

"So you expect me to believe that you sat down on it and it broke?"

I said, "Well…"

She asked me if I was sure I didn’t pick it up and slam it against the floor.

I said, "I don’t know if slam is the proper word."

The more she kept talking about it, the more I thought, "I’m not going to let her talk to me like this."

I lost my temper again. "Yeah, I smashed the hell out of it. And if you give me anymore lip—I’ll break every goddamn chair you have in this shit house. I’m serious. I’m going to break every goddamn chair in the house."

I sounded crazy.

I stopped.

I tried explaining about how I just picked it up. I didn’t think it would break. I didn’t know my own strength.

Sarah shook her head and we started talking about my anger problem. She talked about how she’d never met anybody who would break stuff when they got angry. It scared her. I told her that where I came from getting angry and breaking stuff is perfectly acceptable.

I said, "Does this mean I have to go to the Super 8 tonight?"

She shook her head no.

I apologized again.

And then again.

And then again.

She said, "Well just don’t break any of the good furniture. There are a couple of old things I’d like to get rid of. I hate looking at them."

She pointed these pieces of furniture out to me.

I wrote her a note the next morning and left it for her, so she could see it before she went to work.

It said, "Sarah. Please be patient with me. I’ll make it worth your while in the long run." I knew there was only one step past writing notes and that was getting your ass kicked out of the house.

I decided to lay low for the next couple of days. I knew it was best to keep quiet. That was until my brother in law called. Sarah’s brother.

But now the phone was ringing and I picked it up.

I said, "Hello."

On the other end was a voice I knew all too well.

"Hey what you doing, fucker?"

I touched my forehead. I knew I wasn’t getting back the next fifteen minutes of my life.
He started talking.

I kept telling myself, "Stay calm. Stay calm. Don’t lose your temper. Don’t lose your temper."

He started going on about how I should have called him when Sarah was sick a couple of weeks before. "Listen, little fucker." I blazed red. I was able to get off the phone without blowing up, but for some reason I decided to call Sarah.

She picked up.

She said, "Who have you been talking to?"

I said, "O you know. I’ve been wasting fifteen minutes of my life talking to that big mouthed brother of yours."

I knew this probably wasn’t the best way to start a conversation.

I decided to change my tune.

I said, "I’m just going to tell you. I don’t like that dude."

Sarah was quiet for a second and then she said, "Yes you do."

I said, "No I don’t."

Sarah said, "O you like him."

I said, "No Sarah I don’t. He called me a little fucker on the phone."

Sarah said, "O you know he was just joking. You know how he’s always joking."

I said, "No he wasn’t joking. He called me a little fucker."

"He was joking and I don’t want to talk about it anymore."

I hung up. I walked into the living room. I walked into the kitchen. I picked up the phone and called her again. It rang through to the voicemail.

I left a message and told her I was glad to see where her loyalty was. It was really sweet.

I hung up. I was pissed again. I turned to the wall and that’s when it happened. I don’t know why it happened but it happened. I turned to the wall and reared back with my foot and then…


…Ah shit.

I kicked a hole in the wall. "Oh shit."

I kicked a hole in the wall. I panicked.

I was thinking inside my head as I was doing it, "I can’t kick a hole in this wall. Surely this wall is strong enough."

But here I was with my foot stuck through the dry wall, and here I was trying to get my leg out of the hole like the wall was giving birth to me. My leg was stuck but then it finally came loose. The hole was bigger than shit.

"What am I going to do?" I said.

I tried to put the kicked out section in front of the wall but it just fell to the ground.


"What am I going to do?" I moved this dead ass looking plant we had in our living room in front of it, and it looked like a dead ass looking plant sitting in front of a hole in the wall.

I moved a stack of couch pillows over in front of the wall, but one of the couch cushions fell in the hole.

"Goddamnit," I said trying to reach inside the hole and get the couch cushion out.

I could barely reach it.


"What am I going to do?" I repeated.

I called Sarah. She still wasn’t answering her phone. I left her a message in the most pitiful voice possible.

I said, "Sarah I really fucked up this time. I really fucked up. Please come home."

I thought, "What should I do?"

I decided to leave. I imagined committing suicide.

I drove around for awhile trying to figure it out, but when I got back home Sarah was already home. When I walked inside she was quiet. She was kneeling down in front of the hole and there were tears in her eyes. She was so quiet. She didn’t say anything.

Finally she said, "Bubs. I think you need to be on medicine. I really do."

I remember how the last time this had happened, it had been a disaster. I had to go talk to that crazy woman. After that didn’t work I went to see another doctor. I mean they made me feel so good, I just kept taking them. It got so bad Sarah picked up a bottle one night and there were only four pills left.

"Bubs," she said. "There are only four pills left."

I smiled a high smile and said, "What the hell? That damn pharmacist must have made a mistake. I know you can’t trust these goddamn pharmaceutical companies these days. Fucking corporate bastards."

Sarah jumped on me, "Scott the pharmacist didn’t rip you off."

I had to think quick. "Well that little niece of yours was just here."

"Scott. She’s 8 years old."

Shit, I thought she was like 12.

"Well you can’t trust these little shit ass dope taking kids these days."

Sarah didn’t laugh.

But in reality we were back to the old arguments. These were arguments I used to win but couldn’t now. I understood kicking a hole in the wall weakens your negotiating power. I told her that emotions aren’t appreciated anymore. I told her that anger is a natural emotion, and by suppressing anger we only create more problems for ourselves in the world.

Sarah said, "Now Bubbies. Let’s use our inside voice."

I told her I wasn’t using any damn inside voice, and quit calling me Bubbies. I told her happiness wasn’t the goal of life. It’s life that gives life meaning.

Sarah said, "Scott why are you talking in that high pitched voice. You know I don’t like it when you talk in that high pitched voice."

It wasn’t going to happen this time. Sarah told me she had a couple of months worth of LEXIPRO samples if I wanted to try it.

I agreed for some reason.

I took one that first evening and my bones felt different. My brain popped and cracked and things looked all sparkly and fuzzy.

"O you can’t feel it yet," Sarah said.

After 3 days she asked me, "What are you gonna do today?"

I sat and said, "I don’t know."

Then that evening Sarah said, "You wanna do anything this evening?"

I said, "I don’t know."

Then the next morning Sarah said, "Well how do you feel this morning?"

I said, "I don’t know."

She asked me, "Well do you feel like kicking holes in the wall anymore?"

I said, "I don’t know."

I tried to explain how I felt all fuzzy and funny.

She asked, "Well how do you feel?"

I said, "I don’t feel like anything really."

She smiled and patted my arm and said, "Well that’s great bubbies. That means it’s working then."

I smile and watch TV. I watch the pictures go flicker flicker.

I watch a commercial that says, "Do you feel down more than 3 days out of the week? Well something could be wrong."

It’s all different. I watch talking animals selling me things on television.

I say, "This is real."

I sit and stare at the place where I kicked a hole in the wall, and I imagine myself kicking more holes in the wall, holes and more holes until there is no wall. I imagine flowers growing from deep inside these holes like a womb. But I don’t kick holes in walls.

I don’t take a crowbar to the walls.

I don’t drive my car too fast, thinking I might crash it into telephone poles and kill us all.

I don’t throw the dogs out the windows of tall buildings and watch them drop like bowling balls.

I don’t punch myself in the face.

I don’t set the house on fire and watch it burn around me and then finally become ash.

I don’t punch myself in the face.

I don’t hijack planes and crash them into cornfields.

I don’t hijack planes and crash them into tall buildings that finally crumble and fall.

My ghost doesn’t high five other ghosts when the people fall from the sky.

I don’t strap bombs to myself and walk into crowds of people.

I don’t leave a place late at night, running away in the darkness like some murderer covered in blood.

I don’t create a million deaths the children read about in school, whispering, "He was a monster. He was the scourge of God."

But there’s a change coming on.

I’m going to go crazy again.

I can feel it.

I can’t wait.

Hill William is out now, published by Tyrant Books

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