I started reading today The 4AM Breakthrough as a way to stretch my writing fingers and to keep myself in the practice of writing. For the last three months, I have been lingering in this creative desert. In part because of situations outside my control that drained my energy. In part because I could not find the creative energy to write. Which is nothing more than a death sentence for a writer.
So I’m writing. And I’m going to do exercises when I can’t think of something else to write or when I have nothing extraordinary to write because I have to write. I need to write.
Parataxis. From Wikipedia (judge all you want) is a stylistic technique in which a writer will use (potentially) short sentences that are not connected using conjunctions. The most famous example is “I came. I saw. I conquered.” By not utilizing conjunctions, each sentence has its own unique emphasis.
The 4AM Breakthrough‘s assignment is either a woman begging her mother not to remarry her father or a 19 year-old man leaving a voice message to the woman who broke his heart. But I’m going to change it because I can and no one is grading me and I feel like it.
I like the idea of a woman leaving a voicemail message to a man to break up with him. Even though she actually still cares about him but she is convinced that it’s not going to work.
All right. Here goes. Let’s see if I can do this.
Brian came home from work, dumped his apartment keys in the Depression era candy bowl by the front door, and sauntered to the kitchen for a beer. It’d been a long day at work. IT department kept calling him about viruses. Trojan Horses. Malware. Someone had downloaded explicit images from a website and infected the entire system. He’d spent the entire day going from cubicle to cubicle, running anti-virus software and updating computers. He thought everything was fine. All the computers were clean. No major files had been compromised. The idiot who couldn’t keep his greasy fingers off of the world’s most infected websites was suspended. Life was good.
His cat meowed to him from the bathroom where she liked to hang out on the windowsill. He dumped a cupful of catfood in the tomato-sauce stained, warped Tupperware bowl he used for a food dish and refilled her water bowl. Her loudly buzzing purring was a rhythmic underscore to her crunching through her food. Taking his beer back to the living room, he went to the blinking answering machine and pressed the “Play” button.
“You have one new message,” the mechanical woman’s voice intoned.
He pressed the “Play” button again.
“Playing new messages.”
A beep. A staticky long pause. Then a loud breath, an exhale. A woman.
“Hey Brian. It’s me. Janice.”
He took a pull on his beer. Let it sit in his mouth and enjoyed the bubbling feel of the carbonation crisply bursting on his tongue. Around his teeth. He’d taken Janice on several dates in the last week. She was from the marketing department. Nice woman. She seemed to think his fascination with old video game systems was charming.
“Look. Jeez.” Her voice faltered. “I don’t know how to say this. I’ve had a lot of fun on our dates. You’re a great guy. I mean it.”
He took another drink, staring at the blinking light. He couldn’t tell what he was supposed to feel. Earlier that afternoon, he had treated Janice to lunch, buying them egg salad sandwiches from the bodega around the corner. She had seemed happy, had taken huge bites of the sandwich and giggled when bits of egg plopped onto her skirt. She had fished the bits from the valley between her legs, had licked her fingers, wiped her hands, lips, and purple skirt with the flimsy paper napkins the bodega offered. He could hear shuffling behind her. The sounds coming from the phone were muffled. She must have covered the receiver with her hand. He could hear her talking to someone. Her voice suddenly came back. Crisp. Clear.
“Look, Bri. I like you. I really do. You’re a great guy. I’m just not ready for a relationship yet. I mean. I thought I was. I’ve really had fun hanging out with you. You’re sweet. You’re really nice and charming. You gotta understand, though. My ex. Steve. He’s back. I can’t stop thinking about him. It’s not you. It’s me. You’re such a nice guy and I really don’t want to hurt you.”
Her voice caught again.
“I gotta go. I have a call on the other line. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“No more messages,” the mechanical female voice intoned.
Brian took a long pull on the beer. Pressed his finger down hard on the delete button. He went to his cat-scratched couch, picked up the remote, and turned on the television. Putting his beer on a coaster, he flipped on the video game console and pressed buttons on the controller. He focused on the screen, on the pixelated princess trapped in the tower. She was the one he could save.