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?