Friday, August 5, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Welcome to Modernity

He abandoned his grilled cheese and slid up to her booth. Her coffee-colored eyes poured over her French fries, refusing to come up at him even when he sat opposite her. He arched his back to make more of a noise against the cushion. When she continued to ignore his presence, he whispered.

“Don’t worry. I won’t tell.”

“Good,” she said, stirring her ketchup with a fry. “But what is it you won’t tell?”

He leaned until his sour breath blew across her plate.

“I saw you glowing.”

Her fingers retreated from his breath, lying instead under the table on her lap. She directed her voice to them even when she spoke at him. “No, you didn’t.”

“Right as you materialized.”

“You didn’t because people don’t glow.”

He pointed an index finger over his shoulder, accusing everyone else in the restaurant without seeing who was there.

“These people don’t, because they’re nobodies like me.”

Her nostrils prickled and she looked at him for the first time. Her coffee eyes simmered. “Are you saying I’m, like, pregnant-glowing?”

“Like phosphorescent-glowing. Only, not now. You’ve got it under control.”

She rubbed at her temples. “This is the second lamest come-on I’ve heard today.”

“Was the worst from a supervillain?”

“Can you go before I call the manager?”

He put his palms to his chest, fingers splaying unflatteringly against the loose cotton and his man-boobs.

“I’m here to help you. That’s my reason for being.”

She brought up her index and middle fingers, then added her ring finger.

“Third worst come-on.”

When he didn’t press it, she didn’t call for the manager. She popped a fry instead. Only once she started chewing and couldn’t talk did he try to drop the truth on her again.

“It isn’t like this for you, you can’t know this, but my whole life has sucked. Been hollow. Breezed by.”

“Everybody feels like that. Welcome to modernity.”

“Nothing’s felt like it even really happened until I saw you.”

“Alright. Welcome to Aderol.”

He turned to point more intensely to the dozens huddled into Modernity. They ate colorful foods from unique plates, no two dressed alike, a flood of accents – and yet he couldn’t describe one of them. They might as well have all been grey. He barely had the strength of mind to look directly at them.

“It’s because, like all the other people in this joint, I’m just a minor character living out a couple paragraphs of backstory. My existence is rushed. We were made for you.”

“Don’t be savage.” She threw down her fries. God help him, but their impact made more important noise than the entire restaurant combined. “You’re a little cute. If you showered more, maybe quit shopping at K-Mart, you’d have much better luck with girls. For God’s sake, though, don’t do this ever again. You’re trying too hard.”

He snapped his fingers, then shook them at her. “I hate showering. I bet that was in my backstory, to set up your joke just then. You see? That’s how this works for a clever main character. So what are you? An alien? A superhero? Hogwartz girl?”

“You missed the ‘trying too hard’ part, didn’t you?”

The city outside tried too hard. Flames bit into the smoggy night sky, basking the skyline in orange. The flash was so sudden even the explosion didn’t hit for another moment. It rocked him to the edge of his booth.

The restaurant patrons screamed, fleeing to the windows for a better look at the burning buildings. Their fear filled his ears, almost three hundred and sixty degrees of gawker noise. But not from her direction.

He scooted around in the booth. Her side was empty. The plate of fries sat plaintive and unfinished. There was no sign of her anywhere in the joint, except perhaps the faint gold glow of someone disappearing by the restrooms.

“I knew it!” he yelled, not that anyone heard him over their own screaming. Not that it mattered what he did, either. He was just a minor character. He remained a minor character for one and a half minutes, until he produced his wallet to pay for her fries. That night he graduated to a supporting role.

32 comments:

  1. I love meta-fiction. This was interesting and cute. The part about her eyes "draining" threw me for a bit, but I love the whole ensuing conversation. Well done!

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  2. A character aware of his role! Interesting.

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  3. A supporting role eh! She needn't worry her secret was safe with him, even if she didn't know what it was.

    I think I found a typo here for you John:
    " then shook at them at her" I think you meant then shook them at her - one at too many maybe ^_^

    helen-scribbles.com

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  4. Really, really surprising and compelling. Huh. This is great, John.

    (Btw, my word verification is oven sega. Ha.)

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  5. Good one, John. Thankfully, the characters of our stories aren't aware of who puts them through their ordeal...

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  6. Ganymeder, you're right and I've changed it. I wanted more of a flourish there than I could earn, at least on that much sleep.

    Sonia and Shopgirl, do you think he is really aware? He didn't get any paragraphs...

    Helen, thanks for catching my typo! That's what I get for trying to write a #fridayflash on the train in the middle of 13 hours of travel.

    Jen, thanks! Glad you enjoyed it so much. What did you find so compelling?

    Anne, they might be cross with us if they knew how much we torment them for so little payoff.

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  7. That's how I feel sometimes. Like one of the supporting characters in life. There to fill up space.

    But then I think bugger that. I'm the master of my own destiny.

    Very nicely told story John.

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  8. I think there's something quite comforting about a character who knows his place, and worth in a story. :)

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  9. I like how the very realization of his role in the story leads him to being a supporting character versus a minor. Kudos!

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  10. Craig, if I was the master of my own destiny I'd be glowing a lot more often. Also, I'd eat more French fries.

    Steve, they definitely help the work come along.

    Glitter, you might call it character development!

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  11. How do you come up with this stuff? Loved the premise.

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  12. I often wonder about those minor characters and wonder what kind of lives they might have. Sort of feel sorry for this one.

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  13. Cool. I think this fits in nicely with your Origins series too.

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  14. Well played. Interesting that he accepts his role.

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  15. Interesting. A behind the scenes look at a scene. Way to stretch the boundaries of literature

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  16. Peggy, in this case? Just paying attention to the way fiction's put together, and revolving through the notion of perspectives. Comedy can come from anywhere, I think.

    T.S., I feel sorry for them, too. It's why I try to give so many of them either happy endings or worthwhile existences.

    Tim, how would it plug in there for you? I'm curious. They weren't on my mind during composition.

    Raven and Michael, what do you think your minor characters would do?

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  17. I've got a friend who has paid his dues as extras in movies (while trying to make his break) and I love the way you capture their feelings and thoughts in the story. Great details, he comes across a little needy to me, but I'm sure that's how I'd come across to a MC.

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  18. Such an interesting perspective for a story, John. I love the way his feelings of being a "minor character" relate to real life as much as they do to crafting a story.

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  19. Nice one, John. I love "almost three hundred and sixty degrees of gawker noise" - v.descriptive!

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  20. I found it really compelling because I wasn't sure throughout how it was going to go: if this guy really knew more than he said, if *he* was indeed the hero of the piece... and actually he was. I love self-referential fiction (when done well) and this was done well.

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  21. We're all the main characters in our own stories. Nice to see he won a supporting role for his antics.:) This was clever and fun, John. Your signature.

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  22. Nice, me likey. I've often wondered how minor characters level up when I'm not playing or writing. Who knew buying dinner would do it? :)

    And I love the meta aspect.

    We seem to be playing with the same ideas a lot :)

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  23. Intersting - just a taste leaving me wanting more.

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  24. Jen, thanks for returning to field my question. I'm glad the meta-fictional aspect was compelling for you; it's a turn-off for many readers. If we can get an audience that's playful with the medium, or at least receptive to such play, there's a lot to tinker with.

    Aidan, he's definitely clingy. If he's right, his entire existence hinges on her. I didn't think about the analogy to the experience of extras, but it totally applies. Thanks!

    Chuck, I've often said that I'm a supporting character in real life. Haven't we all been there?

    Deb, glad you liked that line! It was the last thing I added.

    Laurita, I sincerely hope everything I do is clever. That'd be such a nice trait. Though if I seem like I'm stretching to be clever, it all falls apart.

    Anthony, have you been writing about a lot of golems?

    PC, where would you like to see this go? I might have a follow-up, but I don't know if there's a series behind our needy non-leading leading man.

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  25. Nice work - like the subtle humour and yet compelling character dialogue on this

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  26. Next time I see a woman sitting alone eating French fries, I'll look more closely (especially if she glows).

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  27. It's a cruel world you stuck Mr. LackShower in, but at least his creator promoted him to supporting role. That's more than Dr. Frankenstein did for his monster. ;-)

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  28. I always love reading about characters who know they're characters...always reminds me of Deadpool. There's something almost empowering about them knowing their own fate.

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  29. Niiice. I haven't seen a story like this in quite a while—one in which the character knows they are fiction. Well done and thanks.

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  30. Haze, glad you enjoyed it! Did anything in particular strike you about it?

    Liminal, try not to get caught. Neither this fiction nor its author endorse staring at or bothering women in public places.

    Jodi, Mr. LackShower is the perfect name for him. If this continues, I'll probably just dub him that. Thanks!

    Icy, Deadpool can be a great metafictional character. I adored Gail Simone's writing on his book.

    Donald, would more of this interest you? I'm toying with a second installment, but am unsure how many people would be into it.

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  31. At least he's found his purpose in life; not many people do.

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