Monday, January 31, 2011

Kafka Meets Wonderland - Part 1

One morning, when Erin Sweeney woke from troubled dreams, she found herself transformed in her bed into a bit of ceramic with a handle.  She lay on her porcelain back, and if she lifted her head a little she could see her painted belly, domed and marked by a pink rose pattern her Irish grandmother would have chosen in the china shop.  The bedding could not cover her and had slid off overnight.  Her legs and arms were of no use as they could not reach the bed and waved about helplessly as she looked.

“What’s happened to me?” she thought.  It wasn’t a dream.  Her room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls.  A collection of papers spread out around her where she had flung them away in frustrated dissatisfaction the night before, shouting, “A stinking horrible manuscript!”

Erin then turned to look out the window at the dull weather.  Drops of icy rain could be heard hitting the pane, which made her feel sad.  “How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget this writing nonsense? It's hopeless anyway,” she thought, but that was something she was unable to do because she was cold without her blankets and used to sleeping on her right side anyway.  In her present state she couldn’t get into position for sleep. However hard she threw herself onto the right, she always rolled back to a slight left tilt that rested on her handle. She must have tried it a hundred times, shut her eyes so that she wouldn’t have to look at her floundering arms and legs, and only stopped when she realized that if she wasn’t careful she might very well roll off the bed and crack her cup.

“Oh, God, she thought, “What an impossible career I have chosen! Working, writing, slaving day in and day out. Never getting paid. Pouring my soul into the work only to get criticized. It never ends.Why can’t they talk about loving my characters? Or my ideas? It can all go to Hell!” She felt a slight ache up on her forehead; pushed herself slowly up on her teacup bottom; found where the ache was, and realized it was a chip in the place where her brain ought to be. “Oh, so I am not just a teacup but a chipped one at that!”

She slid back into her former position. “If I didn’t have these children to look after I’d have more time to write and maybe I could make it into something that isn’t so stinky, that isn’t such crap.” And she swung an arm toward the manuscript ineffectively. 

She looked over at the alarm clock, ticking on the chest of drawers. “God in Heaven!” she thought. It was half past six and the hands were quietly moving forwards, it was even later than half past, more like quarter to seven. Had the alarm clock not rung? She could see from the bed that it had been set for four o’clock as it should have been; it certainly must have rung. “I’ve lost all my writing time this morning! In ten minutes my kids will have to get up and I will have to prepare them for school! What a waste!”

She was still hurriedly thinking all this through, unable to decide to get out of bed, when the clock struck seven. There was a cautious knock at the door. “Mom.” It was her son. “Come make us breakfast.” That little voice! So persistent and needy. Erin was shocked when she tried to answer. Nothing came out. She cleared her throat and wanted to say, “Better make your own breakfast, grab a pop tart or something.” But again silence. 

A rattle came at the knob. The door was locked, a habit she had after being interrupted too many times late at night while writing. “Mom? Mom?” She heard both her sons calling her name. One said sweetly, trying out his manners on her, “Um, sorry, Mom.  I meant, please can you make breakfast?” Still no sound came out of where her mouth should be. “Mom? Wake up.” 

The first thing she had to do was get up and get dressed. That much was clear. She only had to tip back up on her teacup bottom again. But then it became difficult, especially as she was so broad around the middle.  She could not see her feet, for one thing. Her legs did not touch the floor, which she also could not see. Her arms did not reach the bed but stuck out nearly uselessly at her teacup sides. 

She looked around the room and noticed yesterday’s clothes draped over her headboard. “That will do,” she thought. But when she grabbed the shirt and jeans she quickly realized how slow her chipped brain had become. She struggled to spread the shirt out over the place where her head should be but the material was not sufficient to cover her teacup body. Her arms ached and she held her breath to suck in her gut. When her arms began to burn and her fingers went numb she threw the shirt away in frustration and turned to the jeans.  “If I could only bend my body,” she thought. The jeans clearly would fit onto her legs but, no matter how she tilted and kicked, her arms could not get them started over her feet. “There is no chance of this shirt fitting over my teacup body. And how would I button these jeans even if I got them on when I don’t have a waist?”
She allowed her teacup to relax back into its tipped over and tilted state, but when she lay there sighing and panting her arms stuck out stubbornly from her sides.  With no hope of relaxing or resting, her arms continued to ache and burn.  She told herself it was not possible for her to stay in bed all day and the most sensible thing to do would be to get free of it whatever way she could at whatever sacrifice.  At the same time, though, she did not forget to remind herself that calm consideration was much better than rushing to desperate conclusions.  At times like this she would direct her eyes back to the window and look out at the icy rain.  “Perhaps school was closed today and it doesn’t matter that I haven’t gotten my children ready for their day,” she thought.  But unfortunately, she could see out into the cul-de-sac clearly as the bus rounded the corner to pick up for elementary school. 
Time seemed to be operating oddly, as not long after realizing her children had not gotten on the bus, Erin noticed it was after ten and soon some stern secretary from the school would call to find out what happened to her children.  And so she set herself the task of rolling and tilting the entire breadth of her wide cup out of the bed at once. Her main concern was for the breaking of her cup that might be expected from a hard roll out of bed.  But it was something that had to be risked.

After a while she had managed to get a healthy roll going and had lost all sense of balance or spatial orientation.  Her nerves about falling from the bed and her hard wood floors remained and held back that final moment of risk that a well placed stomp with her left foot would provide.  Then the phone began to ring and she heard her children calling to her from downstairs.  The phone rang and rang, stopped, and then rang again.  Would they send the police around to her house if she did not respond?  How many days would it take before someone noticed?  “Even if teacups don’t need to eat, my children certainly do,” she worried to herself.  It would be far easier to get help from someone lifting her up and out of bed, but there was no one around to help her. 

And that was it, wasn’t it? No one to help her. She wasn’t permitted to pay a proper editor for help on her work. Some of her beta readers suggested, in not too veiled comments, that her methods of composition were flawed. Apparently she wasn’t permitted to make any mistakes in conception or plotting. Was she expected to create the Immaculate Conception?  And what about that last agent she queried, telling her she sounded like a 1950’s science fiction author! What was wrong with Isaac Asimov, anyway?  “Too intellectual” or “The language is too high.”  One said, “Complicated concepts, simple words.”  And who knew mass market was below an eighth grade reading level?  And of course, there was this matter of style.  That’s another one she didn’t know what to do with. Was that beta reader suggesting her style had something wrong with it or that she didn’t have a style? Had no one taught these people how to give proper support and encouragement? Or maybe that’s how bad her work truly is.  “It isn’t them; it’s me.” And more because these thoughts had made her upset than through any proper decision, she swung herself with all her force, placed a kick into the covers and ejected herself, ass over teacup, out of bed.

With a hard thump but not a crack, she found herself tipped over on her brim, legs flailing in the air uselessly, upside down on her bedroom floor.  “This is something that can’t be done alone,” Erin said to herself, “I better find someone who knows how I can still get published once I’ve managed to turn myself ass over teacup.”

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