The writer sat down to write a story for The New Yorker. No, that’s not right, she was already sitting.
The writer adjusted herself in her chair, set her fingers against the typewriter, and typed A Story for The New Yorker.
It began the way most stories do, with a girl with a tail taking a seat on the subway and adjusting herself because of her tail.
It wasn’t a real tail but a fake one attached by a belt cinched around her waist and hidden beneath a black shirt. It was fake but colorful. I can’t remember the colors—feel free to imagine them.
The girl with the tail was leafing through a copy of The Holy Bible, adding an S in front of all the He’s.
The writer adjusted herself in her chair so that she was sitting on the edge and decided that the girl will leave the Book on her seat when she leaves the train.
The train stopped. A woman with skin the color of coffee boarded and sat on the girl’s tail as she relieved her body of the day’s burdens. She watched the girl write three S’s before leaning in close. “You’re quite clever.”
The girl wrote another S without looking anywhere else. “Cleverness is boring.” She started her next S. “And so are stories about writers.”
The girl yanked her tail from beneath the woman and got off at the next stop, Bible in hand. She hiked seven blocks to Bookstore Alley and trudged past the Action/Adventure shop, the Fantasy shop, the Science Fiction shop, the Road Trip shop, the Graphic Novel shop, the Mystery shop, the Religion shop, the Smell-O-Text shop, the Literary shop, the Short Story shop, the Poetry shop, the Urban shop, the Suburban shop, the James Patterson shop, and the “Foreign” shop. She pulled her free hand into her sleeve and pushed open the door of Romance.
“I’d like to return this, please.” Her book thudded against the well-worn checkout counter.
“But you didn’t get that from here,” replied a white-haired woman whose Mrs. Clause-inspired spectacles encircled eyes fixed on the girl’s tail. “It belongs down at the—”
“No,” said the bookseller. “Besides, it’s used.”
“And how would you know that?”
“Because I’ve seen your work before.”
The girl lifted her Bible with a smile as faux as her tail and walked backward out of the bookstore, never taking her eyes off the woman whose eyes never drifted from her own.
The alley was as hushed as space and just as void of readers and people who buy books. A pigeon marched silently from the bricks and mortar of the Romance shop to the yellow curb and dropped dead into street. The girl made the sign of the cross and headed toward Religion, stepping over every crack in the sidewalk.
Inside the store, the girl wagged her tail as she sauntered up to the counter, holding the Bible in front of her face. “I need to make a return.”
“You didn’t get that from here,” replied a white-bearded man who would have reminded the girl of Santa or God or her Great-Grandfather.
“Thou shalt not lie,” said the bookseller. “Besides, it’s used.”
“How would you know?”
“Because I’ve seen you before.”
The girl lowered the Bible and exited the store normally. She glanced up and down the alley but saw no one else with a tail or without one. She thought about filing a report with the Persona Police but decided against it before the thought finished navigating her mind.
Only the pigeon’s skeleton remained, and the girl with the tail looked over and up at the skyscraper that was the Stories Twice Told shop. There she found a vulture perched two stories high licking its lips and scraping its beak against a gargoyle’s. It was the lone sound in the canyon of stores, and it sounded to the girl like the turning of pages in a book. She laughed, and the vulture listened to her cackle until its echo scared the bird to the heavens.
The writer made herself a cup of coffee, peed, and continued A Story for The New Yorker.
The girl skipped to the Literary Journal shop and tugged on the door with a bare hand, forgetting her phobia for half a second. The bright lights inside glared down at her and faint, unfamiliar music seeped into her ears beneath the rattle of the glass. She turned and tripped over a stack of paper that had not been there before, then choked on the fumes of a delivery jeep speeding away from the scene.
The girl stroked the colors of her tail and stuck her thumb in the air, straight up toward the sky as if raising her hand at school.
“That’s not my name,” answered the girl. “But I’ll let you call me that if you get me out of here.”
And a bus teetered around the corner with a squeal and squeeched to a stop at the girl’s feet.
“Thank you,” said Maria-not-Maria.
There was a version of every person in the city on the bus, and they were all shouting various complaints about making an unscheduled stop in Bookstore Alley. The girl spotted a carton of French fries coming her way and blocked it with the Bible.
There were no open seats and the aisle was lined with straphangers, so the girl stood in the back door stairwell despite threats from the driver to stop the bus if she didn’t read the signs prohibiting her actions.
The writer bled onto the keys of her typewriter. Her eczema was starting to act up, and red seeped from the cracks along her knuckles.
The bus remained stopped at a green light, and everyone but the girl in the stairwell was protesting the delay. A trail of cars with their hazards blinking sat silently behind the unflinching vessel.
“I’m going to ask you one last time, Miss. You need to move,” demanded the driver.
And the girl with the tail in the stairwell started to dance. “There’s nowhere else to go.”
The back door opened accordionly, and a blast of the coldest air the young girl had ever felt struck her eyeballs like shards of glass.
“Then have a nice day.”
The girl felt a tug on her tail and a shove at her back, and before she could stretch out her hands she found herself lying on the floor of a planetarium, gazing up at her favorite constellations. She reached for them, clutching countless stars until silver and gold inched down her wrists and arms and around her naked shoulders.
All was white when she finally lifted her lids. She was back in her clothes, and although she wasn’t quite dressed enough for the arctic, she wasn’t shivering. The environment was surprisingly balmy instead, and she sensed moisture beading wherever skin met skin.
The girl bent toward the snow, clutching countless flakes until they puffed their way from between her fingers and fell back to the earth. The snow wasn’t cold or wet, and she stared at the M in her palm until a light went off above her head. One by one, the grid of lights shut down, and the blanket of snow gave way to concrete floors and motion picture cameras and darkness. No one was around and neither were his or her footsteps.
“Action!!” yelled the girl.
And dots of red began to dapple the Faux Snow.
The girl began counting them, then lost track, then connected the spots with an invisible string in her mind. The whirrrrr of a camera fired up and a microphone descended from the heavens, hanging just out of reach.
“A Story for The New Yorker. Chapter One. Where something happens, then something else, then something else.”
The words repeated themselves through speakers she couldn’t see, and the girl with the tail didn’t recognize the sound of her own voice.
“Chapter Two,” she spoke. “Where nothing happens, then nothing else, then nothing else.”
The speakers hung silently out of sight.
“Chapter Three. Where—”
The girl was interrupted by the ringing of a telephone she didn’t know was in her pocket.
“Hello?” came the girl’s voice from the speakers as she reached into her pants.
“Is this BLEEEEP?”
“Yes. This is she. Speaking.”
“Great. This is Mary St. Mary from The Agency. We love your manuscript, absolutely love it love it love it, and I’d like to offer you misrepresentation.”
“How wonderful. Thank you.”
A dial tone faded up from the depths of somewhere, growing louder every second until the girl couldn’t take it anymore. She grabbed the microphone above her head, ripped the black foam from it, and stuffed pieces into her ears. It was the quietest silence she had ever heard.
A mourning dove cooed outside the writer’s open window. “Shut up!” screamed the woman, but she didn’t get up to do anything about the intrusion.
The girl careened through a maze of television soundstages, charging across sets littered with the angry faces of reality show performers and producers. She read on the lips of one man “Cut! Cut!” and found herself chased by a woman wielding a knife pulled from a block in the mansion’s kitchen. The pursuer slashed at the girl’s tail, striking one of its colors and bending the knife until its blade touched its handle.
The writer finally leaped from her chair and slammed the window closed, shutting out the dove’s call. She paced the perimeter of the room, where a path of missing carpet formed a square. She sipped her coffee, bit her fingernails, twirled her hair, tapped against the wall with her scabbed knuckles, hummed, and cried.
She returned to her desk, sat down, adjusted herself, and looked down at the paper teetering from her typewriter’s carriage, flabbergasted to discover that her most beloved character had carried on without her.
She lifted the paper and read out loud, whispering:
“The blade wraps around the green of my tail, and with a forceful strut of my right hip I tear the weapon free from my aggressor’s hand. She probably screams, but I hear nothing but the tinnitus in my ears. The studio dissolves behind me, color becoming black, and I pluck the foam to the ground. The world crashes into me—horns, sirens, airplanes, commercials—and I slip through the door of my home.
I take a shower. Eat. Sleep. Dream.
I look out my bedroom window and watch as a man turns to check out the rear end of another man’s girlfriend, wife, sister, friend. I think, She’d never go for you anyway. I’m not sure why, but she wouldn’t. I think it’s because he’s a man who turns.
I get dressed. I go to work. I get yelled at by my boss. I’m not sure why.
I go on a blind date. I get to the restaurant first, as always, and the server ties a paisley doo rag around my head, covering my eyes. I hear the chair opposite me scratch against the floor, and I wonder what pattern he got.
‘What pattern did you get?’
‘I didn’t get a pattern. I got a color.’
I don’t like the way his voice sounds. ‘Oh, which one?’
I love his specificity, though.
‘We do not discuss blindfolds,’ says our server with a smile I can hear.
‘Excuse me, but,’ says my date, ‘she can do whatever she wants.’
‘No, there are rules here.’ The server pours what I assume is water into two glasses.
‘They’re posted over there.’ I hear her pointed finger slice through the air. “If you wish to stay—”
‘We do,’ I interrupt. ‘We’re sorry.’ Under the table, I sling my foot toward my date, connecting with one of his shins and rattling the objects in front of us.
‘Hey Zeus,’ he grimaces. ‘What the hell?’
‘I think she wants you to apologize,’ explains the server, again with a smile.
‘Then have a nice day.’
‘Adios,’ she adds.
The chair squeals, sending my tinnitus roaring, and the objects rattle.
‘Nice tail,’ says the man, and his footsteps disappear into the conversational din of the room.
‘He’s been here before,’ whispers the server into my ear, ‘and he’s a toilet paper receiver every single time.’ I feel her breath on my cheek. ‘Do you wish to stay?’
The writer stared at the white space leading to the corner of the paper. She glanced to the corner of the room closest to her desk, the corner where her waste basket should have stood, and found the impression of a circle in the carpet. Her pinky stung, and she looked to where a crease on its knuckle had opened up to red.
She struck the keys softly.
The girl with the tail dined alone. As she ate an entrée the server had recommended she thought about being alone and of loneliness, and she concluded that the two are not always the same, like twins.
Then she thought about twins. She wondered if they ever feel alone, concluding that if she had a twin she would never feel alone or lonely.
Then she wondered if twins feel the opposite of alone, and she wondered what that was…
She was certain that together is not quite the opposite of alone.
The check came and the girl placed her debt card on the table. She wondered what everything totaled but didn’t dare peek. She trusted that the honor system would prevail.
Rain pelted her as she stepped outside, drawing welts from her skin and turning her tail into a limp weight that dragged behind her. Everyone hustling past her held firmly onto metal umbrellas, turning the avenue into an orchestra of snare drums.
“Five dolla five dolla! Umbrellas, umbrellas! Just five dolla!!” shouted a man who rammed a folded umbrella into the girl’s arm.
She bought it, and as she ambled to the intersection at Bookstore Alley the nylon canopy became riddled with holes, pierced by the drops hurtling toward Earth.
The drum roll without a climax continued. She stopped at the curb’s edge, where a river flowed and people ferried across the street in tiny boats.
“Five dolla five dolla!!” the familiar voice faded up from behind her. She turned to see the umbrella man carrying a tiny boat on his back. He smiled in her direction, and his gold and silver teeth blinged even without a sun in sight.
“I’m good,” promised the girl.
“No, you’re cold and wet and heading toward death.”
“Well, one day anyway.” The man marched up the Alley, a boat with feet shrinking in the distance. “Five dolla five dolla!”
The girl sprinted as fast as her tail would allow, chasing the bobbing boat until it became a dot, a speck, a flake of dust, nothing. She slowed and stood in front of the Literary Journal shop, where the stack of stories had grown into a tower as tall as the still-locked door. The store’s music couldn’t be heard over the snare drums, not even when the door swung open and a baby-faced man hurried onto the sidewalk, a tiny boat slung over his back. He flipped the vessel into the river and moored it to a fire hydrant, then grabbed as many pages as he could muster and tossed them into the boat.
“Excuse me!” shouted the girl, but the man either didn’t hear her or chose to ignore her. “Excuse me!!”
The young man made quick work of it, tossing and tossing until the stack was a scattered pile in the nearly sinking boat. He untied the rope and pressed the sole of his loafer against the gunwale, giving it a nudge and sending it out to the sea of commuters.
“What are you doing?!”
The man strolled almost right through her and into the building, locking the door’s numerous deadbolts—click, click, clack, clunk—seven in all by the girl’s count. She pounded on the door, adding a bass line to the snares, and the lights inside dimmed to darkness. Backing away from the store, the girl felt a thud at her heels and tumbled over a short stack of stories on the sidewalk.
“Careful now,” said a voice that floated away as quickly as the words were spoken.
The girl jumped to her feet and flung the stack against the door, shattering the glass and setting off an alarm louder than the storm. She jammed her fingers into her ears and ran.
“Don’t run,” said the writer.
But the girl with the tail ran faster.
She plucked her fingers from her ears and ran faster, faster than the writer could type.
She ran out of the writer’s head and plunged to the typewriter, smashing the keys with all fours and her tail—wdiughaondfva8aoerh;i—before leaping to the window, where she crashed through the glass, scaring the dove to silence and flight, bounded down the tree’s trunk, grabbed an acorn, tossed it to a squirrel, mounted the rodent’s back, and rode off into the sunrise.
The writer experienced another moment of flabbergastation. She sipped her coffee. She wiped her brow.
She lit a cigarette. No, that’s not right. She had beat cancer years ago and wasn’t going to let it in again.
She paced the room.
DANNNY POWELL is a writer of fiction and a director of motion pictures. He has been an Edward Albee Fellow and a Tofte Lake Center Emerging Artist, and he currently is the writer-in-residence at Art & History Museums–Maitland. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss Magazine, Pea River Journal, Pretty Owl Poetry, York Literary Review, Fantastic Floridas, and Highlights Hello. He is the creator of Fo(u)nd Memories, a story series and collection-in-progress inspired by photographs gleaned from antique dealers and flea markets. More at danny-powell.com.