“So what’s the story about?” asks Asher Doyle, shitbag that he is, hanging over the shelving cart like a homemade monkey doll, eyes all hanging poodle.
“Well,” says Jordan Smyth, hero of the story, calm as ever only waiting for what might come next, “it’s about a boy and a girl.”
“Ah, yes – the boy and the girl: a classic,” says Asher, “but it’s an old story and everyone knows it – what’s your twist?”
“To keep it new, you know – the boy and girl story – everyone knows that story. How are you going to make it new?”
“Well it takes place a long time ago,” says Jordan, looking at the clock. Eight-forty-five in the morning. All of a sudden, as if he had forgotten what it meant to be working at the bookstore during this time of the year, it becomes clear to Jordan Smyth that it is going to be a long day. “You see, the boy and the girl –“
“What are their names?”
“You haven’t named them yet?” asks Asher, smugly indignant, as if this slight oversight on Jordan’s behalf was enough to merit total resentment, as he grabs a stack of books from the shelving cart and starts down towards the isle marked off with the letter K, Jordan following behind him, “that’s the biggest mistake. You have to name your characters – you have to get to know them.”
“Well I don’t know about that,” says Jordan, not ready to take notes from this two-bit shelving-shift prick. He’ll entertain Asher, but he’s not giving anything away, certainly not the plot to this new story he’s been working on since he met Amanda. “It doesn’t matter what their names are, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Maybe,” says Asher, filing away the Stephen King next to the Jack Kerouac, “but get on with it then: what’s the boy & girl story?”
“Well it happened a long time ago, like I mentioned,” oh God why was this asshole making him doing this? Why was he going along with this? “and they live in two different towns – no, like villages actually – they live in two villages separated by a river.”
“Yah, alright, I’m diggin’ it,” says Asher leaning up against the corner of a bookshelf, making as if he was going to smoke a cigarette.
“The river though? It gets dried up.”
“Wait, wait, wait, — how do they meet?”
“There’s problems between their families,” says Jordan.
“Ah, the old Romeo & Juliet scheme?”
“Yah, something like that,” says Jordan, “but not like they’re at war or anything – more like there’s a difference in technology.”
“Like the guy’s family has better technology than the girl’s family.”
“I don’t get it,” says Asher, practically losing interesting, making his way back to the shelving cart to get a new stack of books, “what does technology have to do with all of this?”
“Well I haven’t worked all the details out yet,” says Jordan, following Asher back to the cart, “but it works like this: the families use to work together, but now they don’t – don’t you see, it’s about community helping one another.”
“I get that, I like that,” says Asher, “but what happens to them?”
“Well the river dries up, because it’s not just about the boy and the girl, it’s about the community, and as a community, they have to work together to fix things.”
“Are you talking about a multi-generational story here, like One Hundred Years of Solitude?”
“Yah, maybe. Yah. Something like that.”
“Well, who is the narrator?” asks Asher, filing away the John le Carré movie cover, “like is it first person? Second person – which is the hardest, or is it third person?”
“It’s first person, I guess,” says Jordan.
“But who is that first person?” asks Asher, “who is the narrator?”
“I am the narrator,” says Jordan, proudly.
“No you’re not,” says Asher, “you’re the writer. How can you be the narrator if you’re the writer? Who wants to hear that story?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re the guy writing the story, yah?”
“So you’re the writer. You’re writing as a narrator, but you are not the narrator, the narrator is just another character in your story.”
“Wow, yah. I guess you’re right,” says Jordan. That son of bitch might be on to something. “See this is why I like you. My roommate went to school for creative writing, but he never thinks of things like this. This is a good idea. I am the writer, you’re right.”
“Hell yes I’m right, but this river drying up idea?”
“Yah, the river dries up. The towns – I mean, villages – they have to work together to get by, you know – share technology.”
“So it’s an allegory?”
“Something like that.”
“Listen,” says Asher, “I want some coffee – do you need anything?”
“Nah,” says Jordan, “I’m okay.”
Asher Doyle drops a stack of books by the shelving-cart and makes his way down the escalator towards the cafe. Jordan goes to the computer, stares into the screen, waiting for a customer. His mind begins to wander. What if I am just the writer, not the narrator? Who will tell the story then? What is the narrator like? Oh, what does it matter, Asher is crazy anyway. Anyway, the story doesn’t mean anything these days, there’s Amanda to think about, and getting out of this shit job too. And Amanda, who just said good morning to him before he walked down the stairs and out of the lobby of her building. Jordan has been with older women before, of course, but never anyone like Amanda. Never a woman who knew how to touch his mind the way that she did, taking him onto her roof to paint the Philadelphian skyline before taking him downstairs to perform in the bedroom the way only a woman with delicate experience could. He remembers the way she touched him last night now and says her name to himself “Amanda,” out loud but low enough so that the approaching customer, some elderly woman with a question regarding gardening books doesn’t hear him and yet still he utters her name again as a whisper “Amanda”.
“Hello young man, I was hoping that you could help me…”