by Jay Wilburn
He threw his weight against the side of the sofa, but even on the hardwood floor it refused to budge. Jason Kurglessul dropped to his knees and rested his face on the plush arm. He arched his back against the pain and tightness along his spine and knew the move and the furniture had finally beaten him.
He struggled to his feet and regretted every one of the two dozen trips he had made in the SUV to avoid hiring a moving company. A few of his friends had helped over the weekend, but it was Thursday and he was getting too old to buy labor with pizza.
Jason limped to the counter that divided the kitchen from the living room/ dining room. He looked toward the dark hallway and listened to the rattle and hum of the refrigerator. He had snapped the waterline moving it and now they were using ice trays.
“Maddy, are you still up?”
As the refrigerator was the only sound in the house, he assumed she was asleep or pretending to be. Either way worked for him.
Jason used the counter for support and continued on to the doorway of the addition. The step down between the wood floor and the carpeted bedroom off the dining room was still exposed concrete with the abstract shapes of ancient, industrial glue showing. The contractor had not completed it, but Jason was just happy to be able to move the furniture into the room finally.
The guest bed didn’t quite fit in the corner between the closet and the built-in shelves, but Jason and his friends had crammed it there anyway over Madison’s protests about scuffing the new wall. Jason was accustomed to shoe-horning pieces into place when needed. He had settled himself into a marriage to keep from losing Madison. She had not exactly given him an ultimatum, but she had not exactly given him the option of perpetual dating either. They were trying to have a baby and had moved into a nicer house for that reason. Jason tried not to think about wiggling into the role of a father, but a piece of him felt silent relief each month they found out Maddy wasn’t pregnant. He forced himself to act comforting each time.
Jason stepped into the guest room/hobby room/office/writing nook and he was surprised by how abruptly the sound of the refrigerator vanished even with the door open. He turned in a circle noting the hodge podge of furniture lining the walls. From the bed he saw the two-drawer filing cabinet, his scarred writing desk under the window, the extra table stacked with Maddy’s scrapbooking supplies, and two shelving units piled with board games and puzzles.
Jason stood behind the red chair from the dining room set. With the leaf of the dining room table closed, they had to find spots for two chairs. Jason had set one at his desk. They had two each of red, white, pastel green, and sky blue. They were purposely distressed for the Farm House collection sponsored by some celebrity Jason didn’t know.
He drummed his fingers on the distressed back. “The rest of our furniture is distressed naturally.”
Jason opened his laptop and stared at the blank page. The page was technically a rich text word document and it wasn’t exactly blank. It had his pen name listed as Jason Kemp and their new address. He had a space for a word count and a title, but he did not have either at the moment.
Jason Kerglessul had chosen the pen name on the advice of a writer he had befriended on Facebook, but had never met in real life.
Jason spoke aloud. “No one can spell Kerglessul.”
He had not written a word since he started the move and that was approaching ten days. He wanted to fall into bed and make it another night. But some part of him felt the energy leaving his fingers and some syrupy lead filling his bones in its place. He felt he needed to spill the words out on the electric page – any words – just to get the poisons out.
“I’m not blocked,” Jason said, “I’m just tired.”
He closed his hand on the top edge of his laptop to shut it and put it to sleep, but he stopped. Jason turned and looked back at the bed. His eyes drifted to the empty space below the built-ins.
Jason sighed and rolled his head around his neck.
He unplugged the cord and saw his screen go dim. “It’s not like I’ll lose anything.”
He pulled out the red chair and gripped the edge of the desk. Jason grunted as he pivoted it out from the window. After two deep breaths, he leaned back and inched it across the carpet. His back cramped, but he bent his knees and pulled back again. Inch by inch he crossed the room diagonally and shoved his desk under the shelves of knick-knacks and pictures.
Jason stepped back and marveled at how perfectly the desk fit into the alcove created by the shelves. He tilted his head and looked up and down wondering how he had not noticed the space before that moment.
He slid the chair over and sat down. A warning light in the shape of a battery flashed in the corner of his screen. Jason reached under the foot space and wrestled with the cord until he forced enough slack to plug the computer back into a socket that lined up just right with the opening behind the desk. He hit his head on the way back up and cursed.
Jason clicked open his e-mail and his lips tightened. He had three more e-mails from stories he had written and submitted weeks before the move. He wished that editors wrote in a way that he couldn’t tell he was rejected by the preview lines. They each used just enough words that the preview stopped at “Unfortunately” or “We’re sorry to say.”
He clicked them anyway reading through the form responses. The third e-mail, rejecting a sci fi story, gave bullet pointed suggestions for improving. Jason scanned. The message was polite and constructive, but he was a bit tired to accept either.
“Plenty of room for improvement to take this work from fair to great.” He read aloud before he minimized the e-mail on his screen. “I’ll take a rude acceptance over a polite rejection any day.”
Jason laughed as he stared at the white field below his name, address, and empty word count. His fingers hovered over the keys.
“Dear Mr. Kemp, if that is even your real name,” Jason lowered his voice as he spoke to himself, “We hated your story almost as much as we hate you. We don’t like you or anything you stand for. Your mother is ugly. We will publish your story and pay you pro rates, but do not contact us again. If we see anyone we know, you need to duck down because we are embarrassed to be seen with you, but you are such a great writer that we can’t help ourselves. Send us another story, but know that we hate you very much.”
Jason stood without typing a word and stepped back from his chair. The desk looked good in the alcove, but the red chair seemed wrong. He never cared about matching colors. Maddy picked out his clothes for him. But something bugged him about the red chair. Something about the white screen of his laptop and the white mats of the black-and-white pictures Maddy had on the shelves made the red chair wrong.
He lifted the chair by its back and felt the stab of protest from his own back. As he crossed the carpet, he heard crackles from his knees. Once he exited the guestroom, the refrigerator covered the failing cartilage noise behind his kneecaps. He set the chair at the corner of the expensive farmhouse table, looked at the other chairs, and considered his options.
He rested his hand on the back of one of the white chairs. He heard Maddy’s voice inside his head scolding him. He couldn’t make out the words, but the tone of the mental version of his wife was clearly mocking. He thought about the time he had worn a brown shirt with brown pants and his running shoes. He thought brown and brown matched, but she had spent the whole day joking about him walking farther away from her so that no one would know they were together.
Jason thought that the white chair with the white screen and pictures might be the same sin.
He called. “Maddy?”
After listening to the refrigerator growling at him, Jason carried the white chair through the doorway. As soon as his feet hit the carpet, the room magically swallowed and smothered the noise from outside.
He set the chair down and felt his muscles spasm. Jason held onto the chair, waiting for it to subside, until he realized there was an electric pulse traveling from the wood through his fingers. Jason lifted his hands away with a start and looked at his palms. As his skin tingled, he expected to see burns or discoloration, but they were just pale. Muscles along his arms, back, and legs twitched as they had been doing for days.
He shook his head and whispered. “Stupid … get some sleep all ready.”
He eyed the blank page and the minimized rectangle for his e-mail on the bottom edge. “Unfortunately … sorry … this does not reflect on your writing … it’s not you; it’s us … let’s be friends? I have to write something tonight. This is ridiculous. I’ll just write a flash piece to get the juices flowing and then I’ll go to bed.”
Jason reached for the chair again, but stopped. He dropped his hand and took a step back. Now he thought the chair was glowing. He looked at the light from his laptop through the slats on the back of the chair. His eyes focused out and he saw the whole composition of the chair, the desk, the alcove, the symmetry of the pictures, the alignment of a fancy clock Jason had not noticed on the shelf before then, and the nook they all created together. He backed away until he reached the edge of the doorway, but stopped just shy of reentering the world of refrigerator noise, heavy lifting, and sleeping wives.
“It’s magic; it’s perfect,” Jason breathed. “Jason Kurglessul moves furniture and has old knees and old friends. Jason Kemp is a writer and tonight he is going to write a masterpiece – maybe a short masterpiece. Just a little something to show he’s still got it. I didn’t use to talk to myself so much.”
Jason shook his head and advanced on the magic he had created with the white chair. He sat down and rested his fingers over the black squares of the keys. He felt a tingle in his buttocks that could have been the strange power from the chair or failing circulation in his cheeks.
He wiggled his fingers and began to type. His automated formatting took hold as he created the words. He used a quarter-inch indent instead of a half inch. The half inch looked wrong to him like the words were damaged or missing some of their pieces. He still had to remind his fingers not to create two spaces after each period. He had learned the hard way that modern editors, almost to a person, despised this practice.
The habit still lingered in his brain from his days of typing on old, electric typewriters with hard covers that locked down and kept the dust out. A few of the nerves in his finger tips missed the connection between his skin, the resistance, and the motors that sent the tiny levers out to strike. Rejections came through the mail back then and took longer to arrive.
As he paused to look at what he had created over the white light, Jason realized he had written a scene that described the rain and had the protagonist eyeing his reflection in the darkened glass of the wet window.
Jason shook his head as he held down the backspace key and swallowed the words back into the oblivion of the white light. “No and no.”
Jason rubbed his fingers together in the air above keys, but then drew them away. “Not so magical after all.”
He opened a drawer and lifted out a notebook with the chewed remains of torn-out pages hanging jagged from the binding. He fished blindly around the clutter in the drawer until his fingers located the round body of a pen. Jason pulled the pen out and leaned back in his white chair without closing the drawer.
He clicked the button a few times enjoying the smooth cracks from the point jumping in and out of the bright blue pen. When Jason rolled the pen between his fingers, he spotted the text along the side: UnderWriters Insurance Collaboration … Always bet on a Sure Thing.
As he narrowed his eyes, Jason tried to remember where he had come into possession of the pen. Maddy handled the insurance, but he felt sure they used one of the big name companies. He thought he might have picked it up from a writing convention, but most of that stuff sat in bags in the bottom of his closet.
“What is an underwriter?” Jason asked the room.
Jason shook his head and clicked the pen a few more times. He rested the point on his paper and wrote “WIP.” After a pause, he added “The Werewolf’s Cousin: A Cross-species were-romance.” He tapped the pen on the page before he marked out “romance” and wrote under it, “Erotic Tail.” Jason marked out the entire title, but circled “Erotic Tail.”
He wrote the first line, “When Samantha found herself alone again, she started having dreams about a large, black-haired beast.” He marked out “dreams” and wrote “sweaty nightmares” above it.
His e-mail beeped at him three times. Jason set down his pen and opened the e-mail window across his screen. He clicked on the first message and stared. As he licked his lips, he looked at the notebook in his hand followed by the pen on the desk. He forced his eyes back to the text of the e-mail.
Jason read aloud, “We are interested in your current Work In Progress and would like to make a preliminary advance offer on the ‘Erotic Tail’ novel.”
He picked up the pen and marked out the words “Erotic Tail” on the notebook. He saw motion on the screen out of the corner of his eye. The words in the e-mail had shifted.
He read, “Samantha’s Sweaty Nightmare … hmm, that’s actually not half bad.”
Jason clicked on the next e-mail. Another publisher who had not been open for submissions in the whole lifetime of the penname Jason Kemp had sent him a personal e-mail.
Jason whispered as his eyes darted from line to line. “We understand there is growing interest in Samantha’s Sweaty Nightmare, the forthcoming first book in the Erotic Tails series. We would like to discuss a bid on the entire trilogy.”
The notebook crinkled as Jason gripped it harder in his sweaty hand. “Who said anything about a trilogy? … Who said anything about anything? I was just brainstorming.”
He clicked the third e-mail to find one of his rejections had sent a follow-up.
Jason swallowed and read, “We have reconsidered ‘Swamp Skanks Take New Orleans’ and would like to option the short story for an ongoing series.”
His e-mail beeped again and again and again. The screen filled with follow-up e-mails going back to rejected submissions from months past. Each started with the word “RECONSIDERED” in all caps.
He dropped the notebook on the desk next to the laptop and stepped out of the chair. He ignored the ache in his lower back and walked backwards for a few steps.
“Maddy? Are you awake? I need someone to pinch me … in a dreaming way – not a sex thing.”
He listened, but couldn’t even hear the refrigerator that was dominating the conversation in the rest of the house. His e-mail continued to beep with each follow-up and new query from publishers asking about a novel that did not exist.
He stared at the perfect chair by the desk under the shelf in the nook and he swore he saw light that had to be more than just glow from the beeping computer screen. Jason’s eyes traced the halo over the chair at the notebook on one side and the pen on the other.
He leaned over and retrieved both. Jason tore the scribbled sheet off the top, partially crumpled it, and dropped it on the carpet next to the open desk drawer.
Jason heard the “new e-mail” chimes taper, but not halt completely. “Hmmm, were-wolf smut is popular this evening. Jason Kemp’s stock is rising.”
He wrote the words: Television drama – Angels vs. Furry Sewer Dragons
The e-mail beeped faster than Jason could count the separate entries pouring into his inbox. He leaned close enough to focus on the preview lines of the mail, but he dared not touch the chair or the keys.
He spoke in hushed tones. “Our studio is interested in optioning your script … haunting premise with important religious commentary and subtext … We want to fly you to LA to meet directors and potential lead actors.”
Jason kept his eyes on the screen as he tore the page loose and let it float to the floor. The endless stream slowed, but studios, production companies, and even name actors contacted him from their personal e-mails.
While he rested the point of his pen on the page again, the e-mail stream of pre-acceptances paused, as if they were waiting over their own keyboards around the world watching for his every word through the white oblivion of his screen. Jason swallowed. He cut his eyes to the page to be sure he was on a line. He wasn’t quite sure why that mattered to him since the publishing and now the film world hurled acceptances at him with every blot of his Underwriter’s pen.
Jason looked back at the screen and wrote a single word without looking. He used block letters to be sure he composed exactly what he intended. B …O … O … G … E … R.
The screen remained on pause. Perhaps the literary world did not know what do with his new masterpiece or maybe they thought he was kidding.
Jason smiled and whispered, “The momentary madness has passed and we’ve returned to the world of casual rejections.”
As he moved the pen away from the page entirely, the beeps of incoming mail resumed. Jason blinked and leaned forward once more. He rested his pen hand on the white chair back and thought he felt a spark. His attention locked on the inexplicable subjects to publishers’ inquiries.
“We love your experimental tone.” Jason shook his head. “What we have read so far is genius, please send us ‘Booger’ on spec for pro rates. We would like movie rights for ‘Booger.’”
Jason turned away from the computer and looked out the door toward the rest of the house. “Maddy?”
He wanted someone to tell him what to do with the magic – what not to do. He imagined moving again, but to a bigger house and slipping fifties to the professional movers to thank them for their hard work. He pictured the delivery of a quiet refrigerator with a stainless steel door and a working icemaker. He saw new cars and an easy life.
“I could blow my nose on the paper and have it in hardcover before Christmas,” he smiled.
The smile wavered and he bit his lip. “I’ll never have to get better … just open the e-mails and cash the checks.”
Jason squeezed the notebook and pen for a few seconds longer. He dropped both the paper and pen into the wastebasket over near where the desk used to be. He considered sliding the desk back to the window. Instead, he took the white chair back to the room of refrigerator noise and retrieved the red chair.
He sat down without looking for the glow again.
As soon as his backside touched the seat, his e-mail went silent. The screen froze and then refreshed. As he watched the spinning circle, he waited for the acceptances to reappear as rejections.
The fresh screen opened back to the original rejections without the hundreds of bizarre inquiries for werewolf erotica and “Booger.”
Jason sighed and clicked on the third e-mail for the personalized rejection of his sci fi story. He scrolled down and read the bulleted suggestions for improving the story. As he read, he noticed that he could hear the refrigerator noise drifting through the open door behind him.