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Story Hour
By Jill-Elizabeth
Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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On the desperation of writers, the nature of reality, and the power of stories...

They always met on Thursdays in the basement of the YMCA. The same seven people always showed up. The Story Hour Writing Group consisted of five increasingly desperate, congenitally unemployed “writers” crying into their laptops and whining about how no one appreciated how HARD it was to practice their craft and how only people with CONNECTIONS ever got published, one “published” author whose sole claim to fame was co-authoring a self-help book on dealing with the aftermath of her beloved iguana’s battle with lymphoma, and Crazy Marge who sat and mumbled to herself about how He could tell a story better than anyone else. Everyone in the group knew Crazy Marge’s story – how she had been married to an internationally-acclaimed author, the love of her life, and how he had died in a mysterious and inexplicable accident late one night after he had finished a literary reading at the local library.

This Thursday began like every other Thursday before it, with everyone but Marge huddled in their self-designated spot in the molded-plastic folding chair circle. Marge never sat in the circle – she preferred to meander about the edges, leaning in every now and again and then suddenly withdrawing back into her own world, the crazy writ large on her face like graffiti on a highway underpass. Fifteen minutes in, as one of the five had moved, yet again, into a world-loathing rant about the pointlessness of it all, there was a brisk, professional knock at the door. All seven heads turned sharply. Six of the faces wore equally blank looks; the face of the seventh, Crazy Marge of course, displayed (for the first time in a vast number of years) a flashing shot of brilliant lucidity chased by, in equal measure, a dash each of fear, recognition, and peace.

No one made a move toward the door. No one knew what to do, exactly; no one ever knocked on this door on these nights. Five, then ten seconds passed. Still, no one moved – even Crazy Marge stood stone-still. If any of the seven had been close enough to hear, they might have noticed a faint, self-satisfied “hm” from the other side of the door just before the rattle of the knob. The door stuck; it always did. With a sharp crack, the door popped open and He walked in.

At first glance, He looked rather like one of the five: a little disheveled, a little disenfranchised, a little disenchanted. At second glance, He appeared to have the self-pitying, vaguely distant manner of the self-help co-author. Because neither the five nor that one ever looked past second glances, that is all they saw. Crazy Marge, on the other hand, knew better than to stop at two looks – or at least not to trust them if she did. She did the only wise thing: she looked away entirely, focused intently on the lines in the patchy old linoleum flooring.

“Is this the Story Hour?” He asked, in a voice that was neither loud nor quiet, neither passive nor aggressive, neither here nor there. “I was led to believe that the Story Hour Writing Group met in this particular room on this particular night.”

Around the circle, six faces traded confused looks. If it could be said that no one ever knocked on this door on these nights (and it could), it could be said with even greater emphasis that no one besides these seven individuals ever entered this room on these nights or in fact even knew that this group (or even, most of the time, these seven individuals) existed. Only Crazy Marge appeared to even hear Him – and that was only obvious by the way she intentionally ignored Him.

“I was hoping to join your group,” He said. “I could use some feedback on my latest efforts.”

Confused looks made their way around the circle again, as His comments were greeted with blank, uncertain silence by everyone but Crazy Marge, whose disregard was presented with the greatest possible focus.

“Please, resume your efforts. I am happy to wait my turn,” He said, “I certainly do not wish to intrude.”

Uncertain how to react, entropy regained its death grip on the circle and the first of the five resumed her rant mid-sentence: “…and no one will read my manuscript and no one wants to hear about my story and everyone in publishing is corrupt and there is no way I will ever catch a break and I don’t know why I don’t just give up and sell-out and take a stupid desk job. I mean, I can’t live in my parents’ basement forever…”

“If I may,” He interrupted smoothly, “I would like to respectfully disagree with a portion of your statement. I would very much like to read your manuscript and hear about your story. I have some connections at X and Y (here he named one of the larger publishing houses responsible for several of last year’s top bestsellers), and I would be happy to review your work tomorrow and pass it along. I have been looking for a new writing group, you see, and all I ask in exchange is that you indulge me this evening and let me first seek your input on my latest project. If you will do so, I would be happy to do what I can to help further each of you in your efforts.”

The silence that fell over the circle was palpable; He found Himself staring into twelve empty eyes, each so accustomed to disappointment and so disgruntled from previous publishing slights (real or imagined) that their faith was as long-gone as last week’s newspaper, the possibility of hope as dead as last season’s fashions. Only Crazy Marge looked up – up and then away, quickly, before He recognized her.

“As no one appears to object, I will begin,” He said. “My story is a new take on an old classic, and it begins on a dark and stormy night…” And from there He proceeded to describe a fantastic tale of fear and trembling, fame and glory, love and hate; a story at once touching and humbling and enlightening and enchanting, with heroic heroes and villainous villains. A story involving a maladjusted young woman with a nervous twitch in her left eye. A story including a bizarrely colored parakeet that only flew in counterclockwise circles. A story incorporating a devolution into madness by an aging one-hit-wonder whose wonder was never a very big hit. A story introducing an evil genius and his reality-altering inventions. He talked and talked, crafting an ever-more fabulous creation seemingly out of thin air, talking as He did without benefit of notes or manuscript.

And if anyone noticed the thunder and lightning crashing when He began, no one mentioned it. And if anyone noticed the first of the five’s left eye begin to spasm, no one mentioned it. And if anyone noticed the small blue and red speckled bird flying in lopsided left-wheeling circles near the ceiling, no one mentioned it. And if anyone noticed the increasingly manic gleam in the self-help co-author’s eye, no one mentioned it. And if anyone noticed Crazy Marge sitting on the floor just outside the circle, carefully (and oddly) drawing pictures on the backs of a stack of old scrap papers, no one mentioned it.

Finally, His story came to a close. “And that,” He said, “is the end.” And then He stood up, set down all but one of a stack of business cards with His mailing address (for He did, after all, offer to review their manuscripts), and walked out of the room smiling to Himself and running his thumb slowly along the flat edge of one of His cards.

And then He was gone.

And if anyone noticed that Crazy Marge stood up when He did, no one mentioned it. And if anyone noticed that she set down all but one of her stack of old scrap papers in the middle of the circle, no one mentioned it. And if anyone noticed that she walked out of the room, smiling to herself and running her thumb slowly along the flat edge of one of the pieces of old scrap paper, no one mentioned it. And if anyone noticed the drawing of a drop of blood appear on the edge of the drawn blade on that piece of old scrap paper, no one mentioned it. And no one definitely mentioned when that drawn drop reached the edge of the paper and plopped wetly onto the ground. By that point, no one was able to mention anything at all.

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