An arborist works his magic at the Missouri Botanical Garden, summer 2014. Photo by Leigh Ward-Smith.
In honor of Labor Day, and all the hard-working people out there, worldwide, I am taking the day off, with an “oldie” but, I hope you’ll agree, an existential goodie (of flash fiction) that I wrote a year or two ago.
Speaking of which (and to be very serious for a moment), I offer big props to one such dad-blogger, Andy Chih, whose blog is, sadly, on hiatus. But understandably so. He is taking a break so he can support his daughter by working hellacious hours at two jobs. My kudos to you, Andy.
When We Are Our Works
Copyright Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014
Almost nothing was under my control. That knowledge began to leach into me one day when I got back to my soda can–forted workspace.
Hunched over a crumby communal keyboard at the Weekly News, referred to by our sports editor/graphic designer/advertising supervisor as “Weakly, News,” I was jolted to learn that my neighbor, Candy Mangold-MacGuffin, had plummeted to a pancake death (Dale’s term) about an hour prior in the elevator shaft. It was exceedingly strange, made more so by the fact that there was no elevator in our building.
The pizza grease–laden telephone handle almost slipped out of my hand.
My roommate, photographer Marcy Heart, said she’d gotten a few decent shots of the scene. But it had defaulted to me to do the story. Everyone in this Everglades sinkhole of a newsroom had naturally assumed I’d give my eye teeth to write it. Although I was as curious as the next person—I mean, what horrible luck for Candy: recently finding love or something approximating it after 46 years of widowhood, with playboy and visiting artist Maximilian Capricorn—murders weren’t my beat. Really, they weren’t anybody’s beat around here. Those sticks had been dropped long ago, if they ever existed. In short, this place was too boring to have anything other than garden-variety deaths. More likely: deaths in gardens. Lots of old people equal lots of gardens, I learned here, if nothing else.
When I got to the scene I saw only a seeming rivulet of red hair hanging from the metal gate drawn across the shaft, now bereft of elevator. Five floors below lay a human jumble in a scarlet dress. From here, she looked sickeningly akin to a swastika with a couple little red and apricot Pollock splats next to it. That would be her poodle, Pepé, and what apparently was her auburn wig.
I hadn’t even noticed it was the 13th, and a Friday, until I glanced at my watch. I’m not sure why I did that just now, because I normally am content to let the time sift by. Maybe it was the building excitement of a new kind of story. In any case, the damn Timex was so tight on my wrist that you’d think someone else had put it on me.
The reporting flew by that afternoon, and soon I was back at my desk, typo’ing away.
I almost began to marvel at the taut phrases that muscled their way onto the screen, and the sound of the keys clacking made me feel I was conjuring Joplin at the ivories. The ghosts of Chandler, Carver, and Christie (Agatha, not Chris) thundered in my ears, cinching the writer’s garrot, from forearm to heart to head, tighter.
When I woke up at my desk, I was surprised to find a Denou Mint dangling from a cleft of curls. More startling still, the iron-y taste of epiphany:
Holyshit! I, Paige Turner, am inside an actual book! Does that mean instead of blood I have words—of course! it all makes sense now—coursing my veins, adjectives sardined into my arteries, hyperboles latched onto teats of hemoglobin like similes on this hack’s half-blank page? Was I the only character outside Faulkner or Joyce to escape the prison of the page, to become self-aware? I mean, the story here, it’s basically what happened to me.
And now that I’ve spilled my Vonneguts to you, dear reader, maybe you can enlighten me on the sense of existence. Help me transcend this setting, assist me in copyediting the meaning, or the lessness, of my life. By relinquishing control to you, maybe I might yet win some of it back.
Unless . . .
Are you written, too?