From: Dan & Jan [editor@——mag.org]
Sent: 18 June 2014
To: K— J—— [k—@—-lit.com]
Subject: RE: Bryan Hurt
We enjoyed Bryan’s story, but we are looking for something more true, something that explores deeper human emotions. Bryan’s stories do not have as much emotional depth as I think we are looking for. Might he have something else that is more along these lines?
Hope all is well!
Jan says that my stories aren’t real enough. She and Dan like them, she says, but they want something that’s more true. Even the true stories I send them, stories about stuff that really happened, aren’t true enough. They want true true. The kind of truth that builds a nest in your heart, lays eggs, and two weeks later little baby truth birds hatch out. That’s the kind of truth she’s talking about. “Truth birds?” I say. “Or bombs,” says Dan. “The kind of story where you read it and—” He makes a kaboom gesture with his hands like a bomb blowing up.
“So you want a story with birds or bombs in it?” I say. I’m hunched over my notebook taking notes.
“No!” they say. Birds and bombs are just metaphors. They want stories about real things, stuff with real emotional depth.
“Got it,” I say. “No birds, no bombs.” I scratch both off my list.
“And no ghosts,” says Jan. “No zombies, no spaceships, no time travel, no fairy tales. None of that funny stuff.” They want straight-up, regular stories about real life, emotional things. “We believe in you,” says Dan. “We know you can do it.”
Me, I’m not so sure. I like Jan and Dan a lot and want them to like me back. But the way they’re talking about my stories makes me feel like I’m a psychopath. Like I deliberately put a heavy lid over my feelings or that the tap to my emotions is completely shut off. But the tap to my emotions is not shut off. I look down at the floor so they can’t see that I’m hurt. While my eyes are down there, I notice that Dan’s sneakers are a limited edition. I’ve never seen them back home in L.A. “Thanks,” says Dan. He sips his drink, gets mustache in his beer. “They are a limited edition. They only sell them here in Williamsburg. You have to be from Brooklyn to buy them. They make you show an I.D. and everything before you pay.” Compared to his shoes my sneakers are nothing. The black parts are brown, the white parts are black, and there’s dog poop dried to one of the soles.
“We didn’t come here to talk about shoes,” says Jan. “We’re here to talk about stories. What do you say? Do you have the kind of story we’re looking for?” I look at the list that I jotted down on the airplane, but after Jan’s tirade almost all of my ideas are crossed out:
“What about pirates?” I say. Of course I know what they’ll say pretty much immediately. But I’m not very good at making things up on the spot. Jan lifts her glasses, pinches the bridge of her nose. Dan blinks. A silence, tight as piano wire, stretches across the bar. “Sad pirates,” I say. Someone coughs apologetically.
“Well,” says Dan. “I like the sad part. The feels true to me. Sadness is real.” Jan sighs. “Look,” she says. “We’re not saying we need a story right away. Think about it. Maybe send us an email when you get home.”
When I get home I’m still shivering from the plane ride. I paid twelve dollars for a chicken sandwich that tasted like a lab. Everyone was too big for their seats. My wife is on the couch, underneath an Indian blanket, reading the Sunday magazine in The New York Times. “How’d it go?” she asks. I uncork the wine, pour myself a glass. Upstairs the neighbor’s big dog starts scratching. The building is old and everything is thin — the walls, the ceiling. Our ceiling lamp shakes.
“We should move,” I say.
“Can’t,” says my wife. This is true. We could barely afford our place when we moved in three years ago, and we can barely afford it now. But it’s rent controlled. Since the recession, we can’t afford anything else.
I’m feeling anxious from the plane ride. I down the wine in two drinks, but still the need to do something is like a rash. “Want to fool around?” I say.
My wife looks at the clock. It’s inching towards ten o’clock. “I would,” she says. “But I should be in bed already. Need to get up early for a conference call with the East Coast.” She yawns. “Tomorrow? Pencil it in?”
I throw myself on the couch, switch on the TV, and flip between channels for a while before settling on a show about science. A famous scientist is talking about global warming, mankind’s eventual doom. When I wake it’s from a bad dream I don’t remember. The TV’s off and my wife has gone to bed. I lay there for a while trying to remember the dream and feeling my heart beat. The more I try to remember the dream—the more I can’t—the faster my heart beats. It takes a few minutes to realize that I’m having a full-blown panic attack.
I stumble to the kitchen, splash water on my face, pour myself a glass. The apartment might be crappy but you can’t complain about the location. Out the window there’s a clear view of the ocean. Tonight the moon’s big over the water, fog rolling in. To the north a foghorn’s blowing. I drain another glass and focus on my swallowing, like focusing on my swallowing will slow down my pounding heart. When did I start having panic attacks? I’m not that old, live by the ocean, have a beautiful wife. What do I have to panic about?
The toilet flushes and my wife walks into the hallway. “Still awake?” she says.
“Can’t sleep.” All of the sudden my heart moves into my throat. I feel like I’m going to cry.
“Sit with me on the couch,” she says. We sit and she holds my hand. “It’s going to be okay,” she says. She shushes me and wipes a tear off my cheek. “It’s going to be okay.”
But the more she says it the less I know for certain. I don’t even know what it is. What’s going to be okay? Are we going to make more money? Be less stuck? Be less tired? Will we have more sex again like we did when we were in our twenties? Back when it seemed like we were more in love.
I want a story that answers yes to all of these questions. A story that’s definitely not a real story because it tells me that things will get better. Maybe everything will be okay. A story slips past the truth like a pirate at midnight. The story that my wife is telling me while she’s patting my hand and smuggling me lies.
Bryan Hurt’s first book, Everyone Wants to Be Ambassador to France, is the winner of the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction and will be published in fall 2015. He teaches at Colorado College.