Reading Between The Lines
I stared at the paper. I hated when this happened, when things would be going well, and then the next thing you know, you’ve written your personal feelings into the story. It might pass the bar this time, having something so intimate disguised in the story as some kind of allegory, but I had a bad habit of painting myself into corners without realizing it.
The tricky part is gussying up the truth behind so many layers that one couldn’t easily discern what exactly was going on in the mind of the author. Of course, then you run the risk of being ‘trite,’ ‘superfluous,’ and other words critics fling around when they feel you’re being a tad too verbose. I need to add that word to the list.
Naturally, after staring at the computer screen for a short while, I moved my hand over the keyboard. My finger hovered just above the ‘delete’ key, the ‘make things all right, don’t fuck things up any further,’ key, ‘the key that I’m not going to use today,’ key.
My hand slid over to the print button and without hesitation I pushed the hard plastic in, listening intently as my printer sprang to life, giving birth to the physical manifestation of my story. Next was the tradition.
I could e-mail my editor the story, but he complains all the time about having to stare at the computer screen and how it’s sending his eyesight all to shit. I don’t agree. Hell, I stare at a computer screen most of the day and my vision remains otherwise unimpaired outside of the thick glasses I have to wear, and I swear that they have nothing to do with my computer habits.
So I head to the fax machine, the paper in my hand. My hand feels heavy, I had to work extra hard to lift my arm and place the paper in the tray. Even harder to set the phone on ‘fax’ mode and dial the number, but it got done. It just took a little time, that’s all. The paper began the descent into the belly of the machine, the various little pieces of information being sent halfway across the city through a tiny wire and into the office of my Editor, Hanson.
If he was in the office, it was a matter of minutes before I got a response. If he was out to lunch, or out with his wife, or fucking his secretary, I could expect a response that night. I was anxious as hell. Heart and soul went into the piece, so much so that I violated my own trust and gussied up my life experiences to cash in and pay the electric.
No lunch, no wife, no secretary. At the end of the hour, another fax fell to the ground in my house. I was leaning across the table, staring at the phone. Had been for the last hour, biting my thumbnail. It was a bad habit I had carried with me since childhood. I gripped the paper between my thumb and forefingers, spreading a tiny drop of blood over the top of the page. The rest of the story followed.
I hit the light switch and sat down at my table, paper pouring out of my copy machine slowly. I laughed when I read the header Hanson had scribbled over the top. Quirky guy, really.
“Now THIS I can sell!”
Hanson, always reliable. Same sense of humor. I didn’t think he could sell this, I know for sure I couldn’t. That’s the thing, you spend so much time writing, you spend so much time writing for yourself that it’s hard to imagine other people that would like reading little snippets of you everyday. I had a few things sold in the past, but they were mainly horror or science fiction, bubblegum material that kids eat up a dime a dozen.
The familiar markings across the page notifying me that I still wasn’t up to snuff when it came to grammar and proper sentence structure. I smiled, pushing my glasses down on my nose. A nervous habit, I rubbed my bald head, frowning as I followed the markings on the paper.
Hanson liked it, but he also wanted it to be entirely reworked. I scrambled to pick up the rest of the pages, the hen scratch handwriting in the corner added by Hanson so he could keep track of the pages. I organized them and began again, reading more thoroughly. I brought out a pen of my own and began doodling on the paper, a little angel and a little devil, arrows to move words around and sentence fragments to fully expand what could be.
Page ten, the last page, where my writing had become frantic. I always did that at the end, wrote quickly. The page was a blur of pencil marks and new pen marks. I had to pull out another sheet,
I idly flipped back to page eight where my admission began. It was disguised very cleverly, or so I thought. Hanson had liked it. The only paragraphs in the entire story that hadn’t been touched by the Editor’s pencil.
“Maybe I should just make a biography. Hanson likes it,” I thought to myself as I slid back into my computer chair and pulled the document back up. The arduous process began of making slight corrections, removing sentences and changing the layout of my story for my less than loving public.
In an hour, it was done. I hit ‘print’ again and caught the papers as they fell out of the tray. Back to the fax, solidly punching the number in and pressing ‘send.’
The waiting game began again.
Not for long. Fifteen minutes later, Hanson called, giddy.
“I think you’ve done it, Tom. You’ve definitely done it this time. A piece like this, I could get you a monthly in a magazine. I’m impressed. Quality change out the wazoo, better than that Buckaroo Ace shit you always write.”
“Glad you liked it, Hanson. Glad you liked it.”
“Liked it? Hell, I’m thinking about committing this memory! Damn fine work you’ve done!”
“Thank you, Hanson, thank you.”
“I’ll send it out immediately, Tom. Today, oh boy… Today, you’ve made me proud to be your Editor.”
A shallow sentiment.
The line clicked. I made Spaghetti-O’s. No, not nutritious, but on sale. Not even edible anymore. Eating was a façade.
The phone rang again.
“I want to ask you about the story. What inspired it?”
I paused, digging into the back of my mind.
“The Lion King.”
“The Lion King?”
“And Hamlet. Teen angst. New wave emo bands. That kind of thing. Acting like a teenager when we know I’m a grown man. What I think they think like, that kind of thing.”
There was a pause.
“That’s not quite what I meant, Tom.”
“What did you mean?”
“Well, page eight…”
Maybe I hadn’t been as clever as I had initially thought.
“I know the slaying of the beast is symbolic. I know it has something to do with your life.”
“Oh, oh… That?”
I paused. Had to phrase it right. “Just a hurdle I had to overcome, I suppose.”
It was Hanson’s turn to pause. “Alright. It was most interesting in the context of the story, though.”
“Thank you, Hanson.”
“Alright. Tell Betty I say ‘high,’ will ya’?”
I choked on my spit. “Of course, next time I see her.”
“You haven’t reconciled yet?”
“No. She decided to move out.”
“Oh… I’m sorry, Tom.”
“Don’t worry about it, Hanson. Don’t worry.”
“Alright, Tom. Well, next time you see her, tell her I said ‘hello,’ alright?”
I laughed. “Alright, Hanson.”
I hung up the phone and scraped my Spaghetti-O’s into the trash, lifting the cover of the can and tying the bag up. Outside, the wind picked up slightly as I opened the lid of the larger bin, and tossed the bag in.
There was a funny thud as it landed on the irregularly shaped series of gym bags I had thrown away earlier this week, before I began my story.
Tough beast to slay.
I’ll have to tell her, “Hello,” for Hanson if I ever see her again…
But you and I both know I won’t.