a discarded fragment of a short story that never completely happened:
She was Reading, a bookish child whose fate was sealed by the solitary pronouncement of two bohemians who never should have procreated. Bored and restless with the poetry of the smoky jazz houses, they grew tired of looking tired and restless with the restlessness. She was their creative project.
She did everything within her power to grow out of her name, trying to live out her cartoon fantasies of a creative future. From a young age, she drew pictures, smudged paint and worked tirelessly to avoid words. But alas, she was Reading. All the time. Everywhere. She couldn't escape the magical icons crying out each solitary sound, a chorus creating meaning and worlds and memories in an eternal flame she could never extinguish. She was Reading.
She saw story in life, often listening to a friend speak and wondering about plot and setting and themes and conflict. She would try and ask about the weather and it would trail into a question of setting and climate and why people in cold places have such a cold demeanor on the outside, but the friendliest sunbelt cities can have such an empty core inside.
Growing up, her dad had read her the classics, because the folks in Whoville seemed bound too closely to the rhyme schemes of an impostor doctor drawing saggy-chested women who seemed too realistic a representation of a coffee shop crowd past its prime. Her mom read her Pride and Prejudice, not to offer an insight, but to cleanse the palate afterward and prepare her for the day that she could grow into The Color Purple. She wore the heavy, industrial language like a child's costume jewelry and by fifth grade she had realized her parents couldn't see how gaudy it had become in an age where nouns were already becoming verbs. She could see what others couldn’t. In a few more decades, a text would be anything but sacred – a verb rather than a noun.
Sometimes she would step out onto the grass, barefoot with freshly painted toenails, envious of the militaristic marching ants that had freedom in their lack of freedom. She took serious the call to consider the lilies, not for romantic impulses or for the sense of spirituality, but to shut out the stream of letters that filled her mind. And even then, when she closed her eyes, the words appeared in red-letter Garamound font. She considered it sacrilege and so she would imagine a short, portly man yelling at a crowd in a language she couldn't understand. But inevitably she saw the red letters again.
If words could create reality she had no need for them. She didn’t want to create or even to understand. She just wanted to escape it all, because it felt so heavy. She recalled a former sage, “The letter kills but the breath creates life.” She'd pray to the Unknown for a flash of light on a Damascus Road to blind her from the dull typographic typecast.
Fantasy. Embrace. Flower. Incense. Rosary. Polaroid. Clay. Stained-glass windows. Kodachrome. Each one another false escape leading her back to the notion of story.
She turned to vinyl before it was vintage and listened impatiently through an album just to hear the repetitive scratch, cycling quietly, wordless in form and flavor and texture as if to tell, even Frank Sinatra, "I can outlast your words." It was her cathedral of scratch and she dreaded the notion that club DJs had turned a sound so pure into a formal structure - pimped out this beautiful silent non-silence to the coked-up college kids bumping and grinding without any respect to the sound of scratch.
She pulled out a notebook her brother had bought her and she began the swift swirl that would eventually disguise itself as a very feminine ivy. Yet, mindlessly, she began to form a letter, not a noticeable letter, just a lower-case "l" or perhaps a "q" in waiting. Methodically, melodically matching each stroke with the cadence of the city bus where she tried to focus on the urine-soaked passenger who mumbled gigantic curses against capitalism and socialism and nationalism and any ism he could muster up in the moment.
Paragraphs and pages. Ink bleeding black, words flowing into one another in a cursive she hadn't felt since she was in the primary grades. Drunk on the words, she woke up in a daze, head pounding, the Moleskin tattooed with lines she was afraid to read.
“Okay maybe a bad one night stand. This isn't love.”
She hid the notebook in her satchel and began to crochet, but even the violent freestyle rapping on the fringes of the monorail seemed to tell the same nihilistic narrative in the same iamb of a Shakespeare tragedy and without thinking, she began thinking and reciting and enjoying the rhapsody.
“You can't escape who you are,” she wrote, then crossed out the “you” in thick, drippy ink and wrote “one” as if to say, “I can't take ownership of the first person. Not yet.”
“One can't escape who she is,” she rewrote it, until eventually it became first person.
“I can't escape who I am.”
Maybe she'd find a detox between red rock canyon walls, a desert place where words could not break-in and she'd find solace in her yoga and hiking. But alas, she fell in love, like an awkward virgin couple on a honeymoon, uncertain about whether it was any good and scared about venturing further, but still feeling that faint sense of normalcy. She was Reading.