untitled (flash fiction from 2006) – second in an unrelated series of fails

I’ve been trying to find all the scattered bits of writing I’ve done (as an adult), and I located this fragment buried in an email exchange.  A friend of mine was bored and asked me to write her a quick story to enliven her afternoon…. I’m not quite sure that I succeeded, but I rather like the result nonetheless.

The girl sat at her desk, her computer up and running, papers and notebooks spread about giving her the appearance of busy-ness.  Actually, the girl really should be called the woman, but she would object to such terminology.  With a customary blend of self-awareness and self-deceit, the girl felt neither old enough nor mature enough to refer to herself in such adult terms.

The girl sat at her desk at work, for reasons she chose not to examine; most likely, she sat at her desk because countless adults from countless sectors of society sat at their desks on weekdays between eight in the morning and five in the afternoon.   Of course, there was more to it than that, than society pressure and conformity, but this particular girl chose not to think about it at all, ignored completely this opportunity for analysis.   She sat, simply, because she did.

Another person walking by the desk, transformed while walking past the desk into an observer of our girl, whether passively or actively, might be struck by a few seemingly incongruous objects present there.  (It is equally possible that this momentary observer would notice nothing at all.)  The observer might notice: the girl was dancing from her neck up to music that blared into her ears from a pair of headphones; despite the head dancing, the girl was reading from a large binder, taking notes with an air of intense concentration; there was a preponderance of shoes in various stages of disrepair strewn under the girl’s desk, in plain view of any observer who happened to fulfill his role.  If inclined, the observer could then glance around the rest of the girl’s work area and notice a few other surprising objects: a mismatched pair of latex gloves pinned to the clothboard, a bookshelf straining under the weight of too many large binders, each labeled according to a uniform system, an unbent paperclip next to a very large manual hole punch.

The entire area seemed full of contrariness—the industrious-looking female dancing while she worked, the uniform binders next to mismatched and unexplained latex gloves, the above-desk reason and order juxtaposed with the tangle of well-worn heels beneath the desk.

Most observers, if they happened to notice all these things, would shake their heads in confusion, perhaps in disapproval, and would move on.   Some observers would ask the reason for the gloves and the shoes and would receive the answers, “Just in case,” and, “I like variety,” respectively.   On this particular occasion, with this particular observer, the response to the desk and its contents was different.

When he was a boy, he was captivated by nature, by the capriciousness of plants and flowers and trees.  He found magic in the sound of wind teasing and tousling leaves and branches, in the sight of luxuriant, wild grasses swaying under the ministrations of that wind.  In short, he was an inquisitive child, easily amused by what he saw around him.

As he grew into manhood, his natural curiosity was dampened by the responsibility of life, by the life he did not choose but continued to pursue, thoughtlessly existing each day, no longer in tune to the magical, the miraculous.

But this day would be different, for, as he walked past the cubicle on his way to the copy machine, he happened to be struck by a feeling he hardly recognized: magic.   It was the pile of shoes he noticed first, his eyes moving from that evidence of carelessness to the currently bare feet, crossed at the ankles, of the girl who sat at her desk, dancing from the neck up.   A smile began to form on his face, tentative at first, then broad, finally showing a glimpse of teeth and lower gums.

He stopped in his tracks, openly staring at the work area and its inhabitant, who, completely unaware of his scrutiny, had begun mouthing the words to some song, intermittently giggling for a reason that was not outwardly apparent.   The gloves elicited from the man a chuckle, almost a giggle, except that men do not, as a rule, giggle.

The girl threw her head to one side and exclaimed, “Word to your mother!” and laughed; it was a deep, throaty laugh, full of secret knowledge and delight.   The girl’s laugh reverberated through the man like something slow and slimy, tickling, working its way across his skin, tantalizing him with its unreserve; it was oddly familiar, this laugh, at once shunning him and welcoming him home.

The man walked away from the girl’s cubicle; he did not continue on to the copy machine as had been his original intent.   Driven by a need he could not explain, he walked outside.

Outside the artificial environment of the office building, the wind blew intermittently, rustling the leaves of the non-native, pruned trees located throughout the parking lot.

The man took a deep breath, held it in his lungs for a few seconds, and exhaled loudly; it was almost a sigh.   As he drew air in through his nose, he allowed himself to focus on the feeling of the air filling and expanding his lungs, energizing his cells.  With that breath he drew into his body the magic in the air, the music of the wind.

With the simplicity of his childhood he reaccepted the miraculous into his life.   He realized he was smiling.  A rumble, low, like distant thunder, began deep in his chest.  It bubbled to the surface in an explosive expression of mirth, joy and delight.   He was made new.

If my sister were writing that story, the man would, immediately after this renaissance, fall into a ditch and die instantly.  I learned how to write from my sister, the same way that someone could learn how to act (or, God help us all, dance) from watching Waiting for Guffman (and I do actually mean that as a compliment).  Her stories are brilliant.  They are always short, usually no longer than one page; feature instant, unexplained connections between people; offer plenty of outrageously unnecessary detail (and very little necessary detail); and spend a huge amount of time building up the story only to close with a phenomenally unsatisfying ending.

Have you ever heard of The Shaggs?  They are either an abomination to the name of music, or the most brilliant music theorists ever to exist.  I think they are brilliant and subversive, and that’s how I feel about my sister’s writing.  It’s what I’m always tempted to emulate in my own writing.  It’s easy to be mediocre, it’s hard to be truly good, but to be powerfully awful is also a bit of a triumph, right?

My big fail (one of an unrelated series of fails)

I don’t write stories very often.  Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I almost never write stories, and I don’t very often engage in creative writing.  Occasionally, I write ridiculous story fragments whose purpose is to confuse and annoy the poor souls who get guilted into reading them.

While cleaning out my junk room on Labor Day (3rd mostly-annual Labor Day of Labor), I found a story fragment that I wrote four years ago as a secret santa gift for a fifteen year old boy whom I did not know.  I usually figure that if you’re going to fail at something (in this case fail at getting a gift the receiver will appreciate and enjoy), you might as well fail big.

I think I nailed it.

The Importance of a Greeting, Or Why French People Hate Americans

Once upon a time, there was a young man named John.  John was a very handsome man, and many of the young ladies of his day were wont to sigh and swoon as he walked past.  Despite such accomplishments, life was not entirely without difficulty for the young man, for he had an unfortunate problem: John was deathly afraid of salutations.

Though John had exhibited the fear since he was a young lad, everyone around him figured he would eventually resolve to put such childish stuff behind him, to enter into conversations with equanimity, but he did not.  Instead, John’s fear grew more pronounced with each passing year.

When John was young, the folk of his town humored him and entered into conversation with him without preamble.  But as John grew older, folk began to expect him to behave normally.  People started to find it more rude than amusing that John never said “hello” or “good day to you.”  Some people went out of their way to salute young John, and this story is chiefly concerned with these exploits, with the day the baker said, “Good morning, and isn’t it a fine day?” to our young hero.

The baker was not a nice man.  There were surely as many reasons for his crotchety behavior as there were people who disapproved of his manner, but whatever the provocation, his antics were such that, after passing several years in the village, the baker ceased to be known by his given name (Charlie) and was known merely by his occupation and any adjectives attendant on his behavior.  If a person held him in neutral regard, he would be Baker, but if a person held him in contempt, he would be “that bastard, the baker,” or “that miserable old buffoon, the baker.”

On a particular morning in May, the sun dawned bright and warm, its rays stretching into the sleepy village, awakening the inhabitants in that natural way to be found only in country villages.  John bathed and readied himself for the day without any of the trepidation that would surely have settled on him had he known what the day had in store; he left the friendly shelter of his family home and struck out on a well-worn path, his errand on this fine morning being to purchase some baked goods for his family.  As he walked to the baker’s shop, John whistled a jaunty tune, and he reached his destination with such alacrity as is found only among the able-bodied.

Having fortified himself with a deep breath, John pushed open the door to the baker’s shop and proceeded, almost immediately, to express his reason for having come.  “Baker,” he began, “my mother needs two loaves of your finest bread.”  But that Mephistophelean miscreant, that nefarious ne’er-do-well, that baneful bully of a baker leveled his leering eye towards our hero and, in a loud voice, exclaimed, “Good morning, John! And isn’t it a fine day?”

Can one find fault with John for the actions which followed this attack?  He gasped, staggering back against the door, clutching his heart and fixing upon the baker a look so full of terror as would have melted the heart of any good man.  After fumbling briefly with the door handle, he flung wide the portal and ran into the streets of the village sobbing insensibly.

The end.

If that bit of nonsense made you laugh, chances are fairly good you’d like me, personally.  If you now want to smash every tooth in my head, it probably wouldn’t work out between us.