Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tonight I read a short story at the Mercury Cafe in downtown Denver. It's short - I'll share it with you here:

Seek Your Fortune

by NC Weil

"Out! You can't sit around this house any more! Leave!" She shoved the protesting books onto the porch. When she was done, nearly two hundred copies huddled together, shivering in the frosty morning air and sniveling.

"You can't do this," one whined.

"We're your children," said another.

"Yours, all yours," chorused a third.

Marigold closed the door on their complaints. She'd stumbled over their boxes long enough. No one was going to read them in her dining room time to make their way in the wide world, like younger sons in fairy tales.

Through the keyhole and the crack under the heavy door she could hear their collective plaint. Hardening her heart, she went back to the kitchen and put on the teakettle.

"You did what?!" Fred was shocked, if not alarmed. He'd actually read the book, claimed to like it.

"I gave up," she said. "Maybe they'll do some of the PR heavy lifting themselves, now that I'm finished."

"How are they supposed to do that? They're helpless."

She gave him a skeptical look. "Yeah, they had me convinced, for a while there. No more. This morning I heard them giggling, horsing around in my office. They sounded like teenagers older teenagers. They're just lazy."

He opened the front door and looked at the bare porch. "You put them out here?"

"Sure did."

"They're gone."

"All of them?"

"I don't see any books. Are you sure "

"Let me see," she elbowed past him. "Well I'll be durned." She laughed, flinging her arms around Fred. "It worked," she crowed.

"Pure fantasy," he muttered, sure she'd made up the whole story.

"That's what writers do," Marigold explained at dinner. "We make up stories." She speared a floret of fractal broccoli.

"You sure had me fooled." He shook his head.

"You misunderstand. I made up the story in the book. Kicking them out today? That's true."

"True stories are the best, if anyone believes them," he said.

She flattened a chunk of yam with her fork. "True stories are true whether anyone believes them or not."

He studied her a moment before he resumed eating. "The trash-man must've taken them."

She snorted. "Yeah, you know how diligent he is about looking for stuff to throw in his truck." She leveled her fork at him. "He doesn't even empty the can, if it's not in exactly the right place."

Fred nodded thoughtfully. "Well, a neighbor took them."

"Two hundred books. In a pile. Because " she couldn't keep the sneer from her voice "they're so popular. So desirable."

"All right, where did they go, miss smarty?"

"To seek their fortunes. They didn't leave a note so I don't know where they're headed."

Within a week rumors were circulating. A local art website posted a photo of three copies hitchhiking at a northbound Interstate on-ramp. They looked a little roughed-up but their covers were still glossy. She could swear the title, Karmafornia, was grinning.

Their friend Joe two blocks away reported seeing a gang of ten or a dozen, facing down a large stray dog. After winning the standoff they clustered in a front yard to celebrate, then went up to the porch. The big brick house was subdivided into half a dozen apartments, and they split up, ringing doorbells. As Joe watched, the broad front door opened and they all trooped inside. With the door closed and nothing more to see, he went on his way, but thought Marigold would want to know.

"Thanks," she laughed. It was working! They'd got the message. Those books had seemed so pitiful, lying around in cartons. What an act!

The local video store soon had a row of them in the window, below the movie posters. Fred mentioned them to the clerk, who didn't believe him. When he dragged him out to the sidewalk to see the new display, the clerk just shrugged.

"The owner musta put 'em there. Wanna buy one?"

"I have one already, but maybe you should."

"Aw, I don't really read."

"They want to be looked into, can't you tell?"

And as they watched, one of the books pulled open its cover to the title page.

"Hey, cool graphic," the clerk said.

"The story's good too." Fred gave the guy a friendly slap on the shoulder and walked away.

The clerk went in and pulled the enticing copy off the windowsill. He put it in his backpack, but didn't put money in the till: there were so many, who'd miss just one? He wanted to read it.

A bold foursome showed up at a sports bar, demanding coasters and napkins so they could watch the game without getting wet. Pretty soon the guys sitting next to them were asking them questions. One copy showed off its Part 2 title page: "Angels can fly 'cause they take themselves lightly," the elegant font superimposed on a ghost imprint of an unusual curlicue. The guy plucked up the book.

"Check this out," he showed his buddy the page.

The guy laughed. "Good joke. Never heard that one."

"Take it," the first guy said, handing over the copy. "There's more."

"Who do we pay?"

"We're free," the book in his hand said. "Everybody should be free, don't you think?"

"Hell yeah."

The books fared better in groups. One going it alone tumbled into a greasy puddle. Even after its pages had more or less dried out, its cover was curled and dirty. It took shelter in an alley, then was run over when the trash truck came by to empty the adjacent dumpster. Torn and aching, the book crawled into the weeds. But when a homeless woman came by with a big bag, scavenging aluminum cans, the copy came out. She picked it up, curious. She read a few sentences, then sitting with her back against the sun-warmed wall of a garage, settled in to read.

A month after Marigold had kicked them out, one of the books slipped through her mail slot.

"Just thought you'd like a progress report," it said.

"And ?"

"You were right. We were cozy here, and safe, but we might as well have been blank. Some of us are beat-up and dog-eared now, but your words are out there."

Marigold extended a hand to pick it up, but the book scurried out of range.

"I'm not staying," it said. "I just wanted to let you know we're doing all right." And before she could think of a response, it was wriggling back out the mail slot. She pulled the door open to look: it was already toddling down the street, erect and proud. Free.

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