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tragic metafiction volume one
   by curt duffy

a single man with a cell phone. in denny's.
    i can't tell you how disturbing the sight is. truly disturbing.
    not that i'm the kind of guy who's disturbed easily. i mean i'm pretty open-minded, don't you think? you've known me for a half-dozen sentences now, you should have a basic idea of who i am. though the absence of capitalization probably throws you off. especially with the word "i," huh? you've got to wonder about a guy who isn't the center of his own universe. he might be humble, reserved—god even bearable. much unlike pretty boy with the cell phone.
    check out his glasses. dainty little wire rimmed things. at least they are not the bulky black plastic ones that make you look like you just stepped out of a fifties sci-fi flick. and the jacket. a waist length leather coat. mauve. how fucking pretentious.
    not that i'm without my affectations. damn, i'm a trendy bastard, too. i'm just so much more subtle. wouldn't want you to know i was highly self-conscious. god no, that would be so embarrassing. shit, i'd feel like i was that asshole with the cell phone.
    it's ringing. he's gonna let it ring you see, at least three or four times. let everyone know he's got one. now the other people in denny's are turning around, necks craning, trying to see who's so important that he can't go twenty minutes without a damn phone. but it's not about importance really. it's about technology, and embracing it, and what it can do to make the asshole's life better. i'm gonna start calling him a.h. for short—if you don't mind. figure i can take that liberty now because we go back a whole six paragraphs. true, two of them were a mere two sentences in length, but they're paragraphs nonetheless.
    so now the phone rings for the fourth time. a.h. picks it up, says hello, pauses, says who's this. now i'm tone deaf, so i've got good reason to say who's this, but a.h. here, he's engaged in sexual leveraging. it's a term i thought up all by myself. you play multiple sexual partners off each other trying to get to some sort of social higher ground. looks, career, ability to blow smoke rings: all these things factor into this amazing operation a.h. has running through his head right now, providing him with a rational basis for either accepting, rejecting, or postponing the proposition he's hearing.
    i've dealt with a.h. before. fuck, i've been a.h. before. so i know by the tone of his conversation, that he's going to opt for a little extra time on this one, say he's waiting to hear back from a friend about some fictional plans already made but not committed to. probably a movie. it's l.a., that's what we do here, movies. oh, excuse me, i should have located this story sooner. i'm not the most reliable narrator. curt's just using me because he was sitting in denny's, a restaurant of last resort, and feeling pretty lousy, asocial and all, and in one of those funks where a pretentious prick with a phone is all he needs to piss him off. he can't go around, however, being as irritated, irritable, and caustic as he actually feels, because this is l.a., and we're all supposed to be so excited, especially when it comes to art.
    as a narrator, i have no opinion on art. curt, though, is a critic. not only of the human condition, but by all things wrought from the human condition. i couldn't care less, i'm only a vehicle for his emotions, shit he can't really process in real time, shit being sublimated through me, by him, into printed words. honestly, i wouldn't read his shit if i were you.
    why, he once wanted me to write something called "fucking the reader," where he would slowly and methodologically climb inside the reader's mind and mess with his of her reality, hoping to incite some existential crisis leading to psychosis. i told him i wouldn't do it. most of the other narrators refused the job as well. two or three accepted, but they couldn't relay a story for shit. so curt was left with the option of writing the thing himself, or letting the idea wither on the vine, satanic gourd that it was.
    a.h. finally turns the phone off, sets it down on the table, and looks up for the waitress. curt makes a mental note of this scene and begins soliciting his various scriveners for proposals. most of the modernist protégés turn the thing down. denny's is too proletarian for the fitzgerald clan. a few of the more experimental types, however, jump up and down. not quite novel material they say, but there's a strong possibility of a fashioning a short from the misguided emotions—emotions they say would probably be better processed through therapy. with this curt slams one of the narrators up against the side of his cortex and makes it clear to the literary runt that his therapist has told him not to come back and that he is okay. curt spins around and threatens the rest of the journalists with s.s.r.i.-induced extinction if someone doesn't step up to the plate and write the portentous "fucking the reader." the narrators, however, revolt and run amok through his memory, changing this and revising that, creating an identity crisis that causes curt to bob up and down in his booth mumbling unintelligibly. meanwhile, the experimentalists are spray painting "fuck the writer" on the ceiling of his skull. the waitress comes over, sees the lunatic, and drops two plates of denny's grand value specials on the floor. the guy with the cell phone turns the thing back on and dials nine-one-one. the paramedics finally come and wrap curt up in a strait jacket. as he's being loaded into the ambulance, he turns to me and says if you ever write about this i'll wring your fucking neck.
    i make a break for it and get inside a.h.'s skull. his phone rings again, he opens it up, and he says who's this. his editor says, it's me, your last story sucked. a.h. says don't worry i've got something much better.

Copyright©2003 curt duffy


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