Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fool's Goldfish

Round 2 of this competition. I'm somewhere between fifteenth place and last. (When you get down that low, you're basically all tied for last, so no one gets any points.)

My assignment, if I chose to accept it (I chose to):
Genre: Comedy
Location: A greenhouse
Object: A goldfish

Maximum number of words: 1,000 (mine's 993)
Maximum time allowed to write: 48 hours.

Fool's Goldfish

Sometimes I sit. Sometimes I think. Rarely do I do both simultaneously. This is more due to ability than preference. I can’t think if I have nothing to distract me. This is to say, if I sit down and concentrate on something, my mind manufactures its won distractions. Conversely, if I struggle to follow the traces of the tail of an idea, dodging obstacular thoughts and detour-inducing envisionments, the detritus of half-conceived ruminations, aborted foetal thoughts, abandoned ponderances, and discarded musings, the challenge of following that contemplation trail to the end is often enough motivation to reveal some real revelation.

Right now, I’m sitting.

That’s why I’m making little (OK, no) progress on the mystery – the mystery of the missing fish. Where does a fish go? My grandma says that all fish go to heaven – she’s a Pescaterian – but, I mean, I can’t even find a body. Where does a fish go? It has to be somewhere in the pond – doesn’t it?

Well, if I don’t find him before grandma gets back, she’ll send me to heaven. Or wherever God sends negligent fish homiciders.

But I’m not even sure he’s dead. But what else could it be? Harry jumped in his Geo Supermarine and took off for Marseilles?

I stand up and take what must be my tenth lap around the greenhouse. Three-quarters of the way through, I see Sally come by again. And, as usual, I’m struck by the feeling that I have no idea what enables her gluteus maximus to carry itself with such a regal bearing. I’ve heard women’s bodies described as defying gravity, but Sally’s also defies anatomy and structural engineering. What reproduction pressures could have selected for her rump to possess such divine deportment?

As usual, I thank and curse God for his rear-end work on this particular model.

Strolling along in the transfenestral light of the afternoon sun, I already feel dangerously somnolent. Catching sight of Sally makes me light-headed.

“Sally,” I venture.

“Hey, Malcolm,” she says, awaiting more. Or not.

I smile until she turns away.

“Do you…?”

“Yes?” she turns back. The sun filters through her nectarine-red hair and makes her eyes glow like liquid oxygen, the tittular freckles dusted on her smooth, pale face like candy crystals on God’s favorite red-velvet cupcake.

I can’t help but think that, even though a million of those freckles on my tongue would never fill me up, one would be all I’d ever need.

“Malcolm?” she asks again. Now she’s right in front of me. You got to watch these pretty ones. They have powers.

“I can’t find my gran’s fish.”

“Have you checked the pond?”

I just stare at her.

“He’s not in the pond,” she asks?

I shake my head.

“Well, then where could he be?” she asks, catching up.

I shrug.

“Well, what do we do?” she asks.

I like that, though I have no answer.

“What could have happened?” she asks. “A cat came in and stole him?”

“Maybe. But what cat? And how’d it get in? And how’d it get out?”

“I don’t know. What else is there? It emigrated to the Atlantic?”

“OK, what would you do if you were a fish?” I ask.

“Nothing. That’s why I’m stumped.”

“What would you like to do?”

“I don’t know – maybe go visit another pond? I might get lonely here all by myself.”

“But how would you leave? On your bicycle?”

“Oh my gosh – Gloria Steinam was right!”




“Well, there’s that tube, right there,” she says, pointing to a tube that’s right there.

“But that’s for incoming water,” I say. “You think it swam up against the current to freedom in the water tower? It’s a goldfish, not a salmon.”

“Have you ever noticed that, when they start swimming against the current, salmon seem in a rush to die?”

“Like someone who’d write The Satanic Verses?”

“Aww, come on – you give Khomeini too much credit.”

“You give Muslims too little – look at what they did on 9/11. On 26/11.”

“Those guys were about as Muslim as the crusaders were Catholic.”

“Yeah, OK, but I give murderous sycophants appropriate credit.”

“Well, you shouldn’t – the dude who planned to kill Rusdie blew himself up hanging out in his hotel room.”

“Well, maybe he was repenting.”

“I guess we’ll never know.”

“Anyway, this fish needs to get found. The pump was down last night. Do you want to pursue the out-of-greenhouse theory or not?”

“Where’s this tube come from?”

“The coy pond in the garden.”

“Oh, God,” I say.

“Allah,” she offers.

“Brahman,” I counter, and we lose interest as we exit the greenhouse, and run to the coy pond.

She stands over the pond, shaking her head.

“He wouldn’t last a minute in here,” she says.

“I’m dead. He’s dead, and now I’m dead.”

“Wait – what’s that?” she says.

She reaches for a leaf that covers half of the tube that sends water into the greenhouse pond. Behind it is a miniature version of the behemoth fish boredly floating around above it.

“Grab him!” she says.

“I need a net! Protect him!” I say as I run away.

“They’re coming to me! They think I’m going to feed him!”

“Distract them!” I say as I run into the greenhouse.

I’m back with the net and I see her on the other side of the pond, tossing pieces of crushed leaf onto the water, surrounded by progressively less-interested coy.

I sweep the net down near Harry, flicking my wrist to pull some water back toward it, and then scoop.
Up comes the net, and in it is a tiny, shining fish.

I go back inside, putting Harry safely in a glass of water.

“Don’t drink that,” I say, my hand on the counter.

She smiles and exhales relief. Then, she collapses into my chest.

I grab the shoulder away from me and laugh.

“Exhausting, huh?"

She whispers into my neck, "Let's take a nap.”

A Learner's Literary Life

Hey, kids - even gotten back an English paper in which you were told you incorrectly identified a symbol? Thought the pickle jar in Ethan Frome was just a pickle jar? Missed four of the twenty Christ-images in whichever Victorian novel you've just read? Didn't realize Alice was bi-curious when she went down that rabbit hole? Ha. I envy your naivete...

Well, now's your chance to talk to determine the symbolism for yourself! You've probably read "A Literary Life" in your AP English classes. Now, avail yourself of the opportunity to actually determine what symbolizes what! In the comments section for this post, please tell me what you'd like something "A Literary Life" to symbolize.

For example:

1.) I think Moishele should represent Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

2.) North Samarsheffieldchestershire = Babylon

3.) The adverb "spontaneously" in the phrase "one of the books spontaneously shook" is used to symbolize the uneasy balance between the modern Western woman's quest for self-determination and her primordial need to play the role of birth-mother-goddess-queen.

The best answers for each word will be chosen as the official representation of that word in this story. All other answers will be wrong. It will be indisputable!

Knock yourselves out!

(Also, anyone who finds run-on sentences in A Literary Life gets an honorable mention here. Please alert me to them in one of the "comments" sections.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Feedback on "A Literary Life"

''A Literary Life'' by Matthew McHugh - WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT - ...The very subtle sexual attraction here between M. and the librarian is well done; it's also good that the writer has firmly grounded us in exactly where/what/who/when......................The remote control action was funny and somewhat genuine. The ending was also a nicely handled twist.................................................... WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - ...The use of the word "stalked" in the first line was odd to me; also, a bit further down, there is "comforted and depressed him." These are conflicting emotions--and I wanted to know why; perhaps tie this to the attraction he has for the librarian more concretely, so that this makes more sense? I'd also consider the introduction of the character/conflict/crisis/change structure--the potential or strains of it are already in the piece--obviously, the rabbit, a symbol of fertility, is part of that. But then the question becomes: what does the rabbit DO that makes this man realize he really needs to go for this librarian? I'd give this some thought......................Title/synopsis should be on their own page. There are quite a few places where the narrative doesn't quite make sense. For example: warm-cold fluorescent lights; that over an 11 month period, there would be holidays wherein the library is closed, even during normal business hours (Monday-Saturday); that most libraries have high shelves, and it would be impossible to dance on top of them without hitting the ceiling. There are some grammatical mistakes, chief among them run-on sentences.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Literary Life

This was written for a 48-hour short-story contest. It had to be 1,000 words or fewer, and it had to include fantasy, a library, and a remote control:

Moishele stalked into the library as he had every Monday through Saturday for the past 11 months.

The warm, cold fluorescent lights of the library comforted and depressed him. But what did he want? A waterside park to arise from the children's section? Perhaps a wet bar to open over in fiction? He pictured Miss Gupta, the librarian who looked a young 25 and acted an old 85, dancing in high heels atop the bookshelf.

"Mr. Gwynn?" came a voice from behind him.

He assumed it was Miss Gupta, though it sounded as if she had a cold. Not only was she the only one there with a British accent, she was also the only one who ever struck up conversation with Moisele, though it tended so toward either the mundane or the literarily analytical that Moisele would eventually find himself imagining grabbing her and kissing her, half because of her shimmering lips and that accent, and half just to shut her up. Of course, that was as far as even his imagination allowed him to go without embarrassment.

Moishele turned toward the voice. Instead of Miss Gupta, he was surprised to see a spring hare in a dressing gown on its hind legs, addressing him.

"Your reputation impedes you."

Moishele felt himself blushing. How awkward for this semi-literate hare, he thought.

"'Your reputation precedes you' is, I believe, the phrase you are grasping for," he said.

"Oh, that it does as well, sir, but that is not me intended message," said the hare. "I mean to communicate that your reputation, or, more accurately, your self-image, really, keeps you from realizing your full potential."

"Bollocks," said Moishele, surprising himself - he'd never considered British a medium in which his tongue was very comfortable.

"Most right, sir - that's the spirit! Never too late to change things for the better!" replied the hare.

"Why would I want to change things? And why can no one else see you?"

"Why would you think me invisible to them, sir? It's a library - it's rude to stare."

"But not to come up unannounced behind a bloke and accuse him of self-limitation?"

"Well, no, sir - that's just honest good-Samaritanism!"

"You're from Samaria?"

"North Samarsheffieldchestershire, near Trifle-upon-Avon."

"I'm afraid I'm not familiar."

"Quite not - they'd find you very strange indeed, sir. Strange but intriguing. But we have other matters to attend."

"What exactly are the matters?"

"The matters are myriad, but, in crude summary..."

The hare somehow held in his small, hairy paw a remote control of the most peculiar variety. It was purple with neon-green writing and trim. It appeared to have a raised glass prism near the upper-right corner in which a small gummiworm-like object seemed to rotate.

It had all the usual buttons - "Play", "Pause", etc. But it also had others, including one labeled "Viewer Selection", and that mysterious prism.

"It's like a sorcerer's TV remote," Moishele said.

"Give it a try," said the smiling hare.

"I don't have a sorcerer's TV."

"The world is your set," said the hare as he bounded off and disappeared into Reference.

Moishele looked the remote over. It was compelling. It begged to be manipulated.

The most alluring part was undoubtedly the prism, but, If I start there, where is there to go? thought Moisele.

After much deliberation, his fingers hovering over the "Fast-Forward" button, then "Rewind". Finally, pointing it at an elderly patron, he pressed "Play".

Nothing happened.

He pointed it at the bookshelf and tried again.

This time, one of the books spontaneously shook, fell off the shelf, and opened.

Above it appeared something like a hologram, but dreamier. A pirate ship rocked on storm-stirred sea.

Zoom into the captain's room, where sat a pirate and a beautiful maiden on a rickety bed. He tore at her clothes, and she at his.

Moishele looked around, embarrassed. But no one else seemed to be paying the least bit of attention to the half-naked grope-fest unfolding before his eyes.

Still, he didn't want to risk it. Panickedly, he pushed "Pause". The figures froze in a skinful embrace.

That wasn't much better.

So Moishele pushed "Stop". And the figures disappeared. And the book closed. It still lay on the floor, however.

Moishele went to put it back. As he did, he saw the title for the first time: Pilfered Passions.

He pointed the remote at An Annotated History of the Crimean War and pressed "Play". The book fell open and atop it appeared a mishmash of sword-fighting horsemen. It looked as if England were trying to take over Turkey. The noise was deafening.

Still, no one batted an eyelash.

He pressed "Stop".

The war ended. Or, at least, disappeared.

Too numb to be astonished, Moishele wanted to know what the glass prism did.

He was about to touch it when he heard footsteps approaching.

"Hey, Moishele. Oh, what you got there?"

Miss Gupta was there, a thick tome under her arm as usual, staring at the remote. Moishele handed it to her.

"Well, now, what's this?" she continued. "'Viewer Selection'?"

She moved the viewer selection dial from "1" to "2".

"It's beautiful. It looks so high-tech, yet this prism reminds me of something I read about in a Victorian novel."

"I'm still figuring it out myself."

"Well, you'll have to tell me what it does when you're mastered it," she said, handing it back.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I think a little of the library dust has already begun to blanket that beautiful crystal. Let me just…"

She placed one hand on the remote to steady it and blew on the crystal.

Where she and Moishele had stood, only the tome that had fallen from Miss Gupta's grasp remained. Open to page one, it read "Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Sing as well the confusion of Moishele Gwynn, son of Ira, and Shama Gupta, daughter of Anil, thrust into a war not theirs…"

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