by Nathan Leslie
You write the story in the second person. It’s your go-to point of view now. You like its edge, its resonance of irony even if your story lacks said irony (it adds irony). You makes anything possible. You is the new me.
By writing the story in the second person you can avoid concerning yourself with psychological dimensions; you can avoid over-thinking. You makes every sentence glow, you think. It makes the reader the story. It’s direct engagement. It’s intense. Immediacy.
It’s like a camera down the gullet. It’s like being inside someone. It’s like sex, without the emotional messiness.
Your story is about an anonymous man (or woman perhaps—though most yous are men) who walks through the urban blight, looking for a child named Cass. You had just heard Bread on the Classics station, and hadn’t really thought about Mama Cass for years. Cass? Why not Cass. You like the allusion.
Hipsters should know.
Fiction should educate. The urban blight is somewhat inspired by the city in which you live, though a far more post-apocalyptic version thereof. Instead of Starbucks and little pastry shops and Thai restaurants with orchids on every table you write about the desiccated skeletons of once productive textile factories, crack vials, and prostitutes with scabs on their faces. You’ve never seen desiccated textile factories, crack vials or prostitutes (scabs or no scab-free), but you use your imagination. If you don’t know, you will. Zombies, there’s always zombies. Second person zombies.
You wonder, Why the post-apocalyptic mélange? In a more or less peaceful age you notice more horrific violence, more dripping pipes and sunless urban canyons. Yet from whence does this come? You know the recession hasn’t helped, but aren’t zombies an overreaction? Are you really living in an urban wasteland? There’s a Whole Foods on every other corner. Shit’s nice.
Once, just once, you’d like to meet a reader. This would help clarify your purpose. And not a reader-who-is-also-a-writer hawking his latest “fabulist” novella at AWP (“It’s like 19Q4, only shorter, and less, you know, Japanese”)—a real reader. One who just reads, doesn’t write. Even more ideal would be catching a reader in the middle of reading one of your stories, midstream so to speak. You’d love to ask the reader if he/she felt as if she/he was the protagonist. You’d love to know if she/he was walking through the rat infested heroin streets whilst searching for Cass. And if he/she felt as if he/she could place him/herself in the story, did you feel invested in it? Did you feel the intensity of the you? Did you meld with the story? Did the fourth wall come crumbling down?
You keep your eyes peeled. You’ve published in several small magazines, but you never see people out and about in society reading the Orange Toad Belly Review (circulation 250). Even if you positioned yourself on the campus of Southwestern Central Missouri State Community College (South Bend Campus), you doubt you would see people walking around reading the Orange Toad Belly Review. They’re in a box somewhere in some professor’s office. Behind some other boxes of other shit he’s been meaning to get to.
But then. You’re on the Metro people watching through the reflection in the window. Through the reflection you see a young woman scrolling on her I-Pad. She clicks on several literary pages, then—amazingly— clicks on the Orange Toad Belly Review. You watch her scanning the page, then she clicks on your story.
Ten seconds is a long time, you think. For ten seconds your story, “Gristle and Bone” lingers on her screen. It does more than linger. It pulses. It, like, throbs on her screen. She’s reading it. You aren’t breathing. You are watching her read. A real person, reading.
You hold your breath. For the first time your life you feel as if you are really and truly an author. You feel as if you have a voice and someone wants to hear it. You feel as if you could be the author you’ve always wanted to be—an amalgam of Pynchon and Vonnegut with a dash of Rushdie and Marquez and a dusting of Barthelme. You feel important.
She utters a quick little snort. Then she clicks away. She clicks to Facebook.
“Wait, wait, wait,” you say, startled by the intensity of your reaction. You turn your head.
“Huh?” the reader says.
“Just…why did you click away from that last piece?”
“Are you, like, spying on what I’m looking at?”
“Yes, you are. It’s, you know, really none of your business.”
“Ordinarily, I’d agree but I wrote that.”
“You wrote that?”
“Yeah. So I was wondering. Why did you click away?”
She says she doesn’t know. It just didn’t appeal to her. It was too negative. Too caustic. It didn’t have the human dimension she’s looking for in a story. It was missing something. Plus the whole “you” thing is weird, isn’t it? It feels forced. Am I supposed to be that person, or something? I’m not. I’m me. She snorted. Snorted.
“I see,” you say.
“Sorry,” she says, and lowers her head back to her I-Pad. “Gotta be honest.”
You wander down the streets of your pleasant urban reality. The craft shops seemed to have tripled in the past three years. You pass three grocery stores in three blocks. Now there’s a tea shop. More bagel shoppes than you can count. Aren’t those little art galleries precious? You can’t help but peek inside one or two crystal shops. Or is that you? You’re not sure anymore.
You plop down on your “reclaimed” vintage sofa you bought for $1,687 at Dukents, the new furniture boutique down on 12th Street. It probably cost $100 to make back in 1979, or whatever. Now it’s “vintage.” Perhaps you should invest in furniture, you think. You close your eyes and breathe and listen to your breathing. It’s good to be alive, you think. One day you will write something good. You know you will. You’ll keep trying. Your ten seconds will be elongated. You will become loved. We all should, shouldn’t we? Isn’t that what this is all about?