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"Out of the Book," short story excerpt

Saturday 8/21/21

One day a character came out of a book. Tumbled into the world. Or was knocked. Dumped. Well well well, he thought, picking himself up and dusting himself off. Here was opportunity aplenty. To see how the other half lived. Not an everyday occurrence. First he’s between covers, next there’s the same volume in front of him. He could read it if he wanted to, but as he’d already lived the story, that wasn’t necessary unless he cared to try and better understand some flaw in his character or revisit a choice made in pondering where it had all led.


What a chance this was, though. Time in the world. The real world, as it was called. Real life. Which would imply that the world within the book was fake life, but the character knew—believe me, he did—that that wasn’t true. He was resolute in the faith of his knowledge and the knowledge of his faith. Without being a fanatic, mind you. Leave obsession to others.


He intuited in his bones, now that he had them, that the author would have had no problem saying that any of his characters, all of his characters, were more real than he was, more real than anyone he knew was, more real than anyone out in the world was. Then people who were not in the book were supposed to see themselves in the people of it and shout, “Hey, that’s like me!” which was this ironic hitch in the giddy-up. Scientists talk about the Big Bang starting the universe. Maybe the character had one of his own and that’s how he did his tumbling after enough people shouted that he was who they were and they became a little bit more real. Could take just an evening. Couple hours on a plane. That was the best you could hope for, the character knew already. His bones kind of hurt, in fact. Maybe the fate of the world depended upon it. Who knows. Not the fate of the climate. Or the fate of the outcomes of wars. Or politics or races or nationalities. Trends, fads. Technologies. So much damn technology. The outcome of people as people. People who might be struck by themselves, as if they were bent bolts of lightning. It was kind of like chucking a meteor out of the sky and hoping it hit the right patch of soil and if it didn’t—if it hit any other—it’d just go to waste. But you had to try.


There’d been a process they’d stuck to. The character who was more real than the author told the author his story. He could take as long as was necessary, as per their undocumented agreement. The author listened to the character who was entirely in his moment. Moments extend. They can be in the past, the present, the future at once, but when one is in the moment, every last tributary stream of emotion and intellect is funneled into the meaning of the moment, or what meaning can be made from the moment. Some call it focus. Others call it purpose. Others, concern. Others, self-preservation. Others, love. And you don’t just sit there mulling where you stack up with someone else. Especially if you’re busy living your story, as the character knew, though that knowledge was also receding maybe a little from his mind. But the real world! Business at hand. Let’s do this. He smacked his lips. Said, “Huh.” The “huh” with that tonality of realization and accepted realization.


He’s in the present tense, because he’s out here now, moving about. He doesn’t know how much time he has but he figures there’s enough, so he ventures, wanders, roves into this thing called real life. He reasons, “why not embrace it?” Solid enough plan. Off the character goes, spring-heeled bounce in his step. He drinks lemonade slushes and gets a Netflix account and that’s kind of cool at first but after a while it all starts to look the same so he expands the circle a touch more and the time just keeps extending, too.


He has more pressing concerns. Everyone talks about the fast pace of life and move it or lose it, but it also feels like a lie everyone has agreed to go with. He gets a job, he gets a girl. He gets the latter because he feels pretty alone for the most part, and it’s not that big of a stretch to think that you love someone, and it’s really easy to say it. There’s safety in unions. More to keep a person busy on the weekends. No mountain casts a shadow as long as the shadow of loneliness. He says phrases to himself like “I pick my spots” and “I pick my battles.” They have some kids. What else are you going to do? You fall into them, they fall into you.


The flesh gets tired, the ways of the flesh are tiring because of patterns that unionize and call themselves the grind, night after night, day after day, and let’s just say that he thinks the oblivion-like quality of sleep isn’t the worst thing ever. He has some electrifying interludes in his bathroom looking at people copulating on his phone, in stolen moments, because at least it’s new, sort of. He calls them “treats.” Wasn’t as if he was hurting anybody, but he still imagines potentially fractious conversations with his wife in which he’d have to say “chill out” a number of times.


Maybe he has a friend or two, but they’re people like his brother-in-law’s partner he sees at cookouts who has solid insider information for betting on NFL games, or neighbors whose lives are the exact same as his life. Well, they have different names. They weigh different amounts. In their neighborhood, they pretty much make the same amount of money. And they all talk the same. About the same subjects. But that’s everyone. He gets up in the morning with the routine of first scrolling through Twitter lying on his side in bed as his wife snores which she asked him about before they were married and he picked a spot and a battle and told her it was cute. When he’s feeling especially tetchy and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” comes on the radio he changes the “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” part to “R-E-G-R-E-T-S” in his thoughts but he would never tell anyone and he’s only blowing off some steam, internal-style. He sees the same images, the same phrases, the same jokes that were never funny even when they hadn’t been repeated a billion times. He starts to think that all of human language in this whole real world thing comes down to people repeating first words at best. It’s not much more. It’s not 15,000. He hungers so much for anything new, in theory, but it’s not like he’s providing any of it for his part in actuality.


There’s significant hullabaloo about actions talking louder than words, except everyone appears inert. They wait to see what the rest of them do before acting themselves. He’s miffed by the thought that words automatically matter less. The concession. Surely some words can count for as much as anything? Though maybe that’s his past talking. Where he came from, which is a pretty cloudy memory now but it’s pleasing, he thinks, in general, like maybe a hug from spring fog would be. They call that nostalgia. The emerald grass of what was. A guy on his street collects Hasbro toys in their original boxes from the 1970s.