My Idea For This Story
My first idea for this story was to build a page for homicidal sentences. They would be the toughest, meanest sentences anyone had seen in a long while. As soon as the reader opens to the first page: *blam-blam*, there they are, the sentences, just going at it.
Whoah, thinks the reader. That's blood. That blood is real.
These sentences would be criminals. They would have escaped from burned-down asylums. They would want to dance the way skeletons want to dance; with their whole bodies missing at once. They would be crude and nasty. They would behave badly. And then they would die in wanton spectacles of violence.
That didn’t work out, so my second idea for this story was to make a story that was a story about writing this story itself, like a self-zapping lightning bolt that strikes itself over and over again. This would be the paragraph where you’d get a sense of whether or not this sort of thing could hang actually together.
Sometimes I’m much better at coming up with ideas for stories than actually writing them. There’s a reason you don’t see a whole bunch of self-zapping lightning bolts waltzing around the Midwestern skies. They would be an awkward meteorological phenomenon for any TV weather expert to explain.
Last night I went to ATA, which is a little shopfront performance art venue on Valencia Street and watched Hannah Beck in a wedding dress and blue tulle veil sewing a strap in her mouth to the nonface of a woman in an opaque body stocking. Sewing anything in your mouth to another person’s stockinged nonface isn’t easy. Hannah once explained to me that the sewing performance is supposed to be a diagram of intimacy – gesture follows gesture, but the residue it leaves binds us together and begins to distort the conditions of relatedness, pulling the other’s face into a kind of wounded asterisk or anus. As Hannah sews, the stitch pulls together, forming a tight little prickle of cream-colored stocking that reaches up towards the strap of dark fabric gripped between Hannah’s teeth. As she lowers and raises her chin and head, the fabric covering the face of the supine body jerks, tightening and crinkling.
I watch the exertion and concentration on Hannah’s face as her teeth gripped harder onto the strap, yanking and relaxing, yanking and relaxing, a kind of dance in which the desire of one face forms and creases the features of the other.
That crease and the string between my mouth and the the other’s nonface is why I always think about you a lot. You, as in you the reader. I think about the shape of your eyes and the shape of your hands and the shape of your mouth. My idea for the perfect reader of this story is both naked and plural.
You are reading this out loud to one another, taking breaks to get kissed on the back of the neck. You smoking maijuana from a pipe with indigo and orange swirled together under the bubble of blown glass. You are fingering the shape of a pupiled lemniscate across the other's shoulders. Ask her to guess what the word lemniscate means. She’ll guess wrong, but it'll turn out even better that way.
I wish I could tell you that this story wasn’t real. But I can’t. Even the most ludicrous of ideas still happened, if only because someone thought them. That’s the tragedy of ideas, that they so rarely end up becoming themselves. This one I hope is different; that you’ll take it from here, that you’ll write out the rest for yourself.
Dear Wonderful Stranger
This is my July, what I feel like when I close my eyes and let the stems of letters rinse against the numb pad of my worry. There’s a voice that says:
I remember being alive because I spent a lot of time looking at the ground.
No matter where you are, there it is: the ground.
The ground is where I keep my feet and my sadness.
Slowly, as I stare at the ground until all feeling leaves the edges of my eyeballs.
When the numbeness takes last gleam, I remember that it’s a Tuesday.
I think I’m typing symbols into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
That’s what I’m usually doing, when I’m not looking at the ground.
The night this July has gotten chilly and all I have is a buttondown shirt on. Lucky how I’ve gotten so good at clenching, gritting, grinding.
Yesterday my boss turned to me and says: You know Elizeya, you really aren’t good at writing. I thought you told me you knew how to write? This isn’t writing. This is worthless.
Me and my boss share a tiny one-room office. I sit on one side and research municipal procurement policies. Every other day I send her my research. She sits on the other side of the room and participates in stakeholder conference calls. Call. Email. Research. Call. Microsoft Excel. Worthless.
My eyes burn two slits into the L column of my Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and pretend that I haven’t heard the thing that she just said. How supposed to respond to something like that? I mean, it’s not like she asked me a question or anything. Maybe she was just thinking out loud.
You’re not a good writer. And you’re not organized like I hoped you would be. It’s frustrating. For me. Don’t you understand how I feel. I want you to try and see where I’m coming from. You’re worthless. Can you please see things from my point of view?
The job I do is not difficult. Anyone with basic computer skills and an average aptitude for Microsoft Excel spreadsheets could learn how to do it in about a week. I have done it for three months without once missing a deadline. My performance review is one week away and I already know that my boss is going to fire me.
Back when I was alive I used to lie down on my back to escape from looking at the ground, the ground so full of feet and sadness. Up in the sky I imagined a herd of tiny dogs. The tiny dogs formed an autonomous society in the sky. There are a lot of rhodedendron bushes in this plot of land, next to our one-room office where twice a day I go off to take a break, where I go to sit and look at the sky and feel like shit and hate myself. I pinch the weird skin of my elbows. This elbow skin must be what being dead feels like. Except you get to play with the tiny dogs forever, because you aren’t allowed to re-open your eyes.
There’s this fantasy I’ve been having about my upcoming performance review that involves me somehow getting to fire my boss. Like, for exactly one day a year the rules change but she forgets and so in a magical I’m-made-of-rubber-you’re-made-of-glue moment I get to tell her that I’m sorry but there’s just not a good fit for you here. Goodbye.
You’re not a good writer. I had hoped you would at least be good at something.
For some reason these words hit me with the choking hazard of uncooked hotdogs and the next day by the rhodedendron bushes I kind of collapse on the ground and try to lie still enough to feel the heartbeat of the earthworms making love beneath the soil. Do earthworms even have heartbeats? Do earthworms even make love?
The rest of the day I sit glued to the L column in the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet until my boss goes home to eat a fish dinner with her smiley-faced husband. Still at the office, I begin applying for jobs. Because I feel lost and bitter, the jobs I apply for are ones that I’m totally unqualified for and have no hope of ever getting. My cover letters read like this:
Dear Wonderful Stranger,
My name’s Elizeya and I’m the perfect human for your retail tweet-writing job.
Not only do I know everything there is to know about retail, but I tweet prolifically. I have even once tweeted about a retail experience that I have personally enacted!
Before looking any further, you should know that I’m exactly the type of can-do eager beaver that all those exclamation marks in your job description were hoping for!
Plus, I’m quite fun. Though my credentials may appear unothodox and my informal tone potentially off-putting, you should buck your instincts and impulsively invite me in for a job interview. How about it?
The sole reason I wrote this cover letter was to have another fantasy, in which I interview for this retail tweet-writing job in a room full of mid-level managers who have only invited me to the job interview in order to laugh in my face.
You call this a cover letter? They’ll all say. You call yourself a writer? You can’t write anything! You’re a loser! You’re a joke!
And then, because it’s my fantasy, I get to retort with the following dramatic monologue:
So you think that I’m the joke? Look at you, posting a job description with twenty-three exclamation points asking for a “social media retail ninja” and hoping to hire just another humorless shill like yourselves! For shame. The sad truth is that you can only stand to be in the same room as people who look and smell and think exactly like you, people who enjoy being hazed and prodded into galootish yessing and uninspired betrayal bonding. You and your ilk are the reason why most professional environs are such totally mediocre places to exist – it would be better if there were fewer of you, not more!
This speech ends up sounding a lot better in my head than it does on paper, but thinking about yelling it while I wait for the train warms me up on this cold July night.
It’s nearly midnight when I finally make it home and I’m ache-hungry. My thoughts are as flighty as crazed ravens as I climb up the stairs in the evening’s semi-blue darkness and I stand by our kitchen’s greasy window while the water boils for a quarter packet of green fettucini. I’m so deep down in myself that even the fornicating earthworms of my soul have lost their heartbeats. My Russian roommate V who looks like a hairless Kafka comes up to me and says: “Do you like that tonight?”
And I say, “What?”
“The moon. Look.”
I follow the line of his gaze up to the moon, which is only a slender cuticle shy of full, a big, gorgeous pearl disc nestled over the black velvet panties of the sky. Tonight the moon brings me no joy, no uplift at all and I’d love nothing more to forget what a moon is, or that I’m looking at it.
“Your water boils.”
While the green fettucini is cooking V tells me that last month he saw a rainbow around the moon. A moonbow, it’s called.
“You don’t say.”
“Come on, man! What’s wrong with you? A rainbow around the moon? That’s cool, man. Don’t act like that isn’t cool.”
All I want is to take my aloneness to where no one can hassle me. So I kind of grunt an apology at V and I take my bowl of mushy pasta into my tiny room and sit on the edge of the bed, kicking off my shoes and gazing down at my socks. There’s a hole in one of the socks and I look into the hole and see the L column in the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, I see the words: You’re not a good writer. You’re worthless. When you die it will only be feet and sadness, just like life was for your ground. How do you like that?
Up in the skylight I can see the moon again, leaving its wonderful silver-edged shadows that tonight are not at all wonderful to me. I think about how I should not care about my job, about my peformance review, about falling in love or having children, about dressing in style or having attractive-looking teeth. I stare down at my feet, my crooked toes shivering in the inky darkness. No, all I want is to be able to gaze up at the sky and see, shimmering in a halo around that fragile disc, every color in the universe, briefly glimmering as if it was and wasn’t there.
Elizeya Quate isn’t sure this etauq ayezile is correctly falling backwards over the mirrorstains in your skull or that such a betrayal is really the note we ought to end on, is it? Elizeya Quate isn’t sure this is going to work out, but is willing to give the sparkly facepaint and jellyfish costume a try if you are, because dammit this marriage is worth it! (Elizeya Quate is legally married to you, the moon).