Blasts from the Past - Exercises in Style
Another creative writing exercise, this time based on Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, a book in which the same story with the same beats is rewritten in ninety-nine different ways. In this story, an unattractive hooker with curly hair, an asymmetrical dimple and a crooked nose scores heroin and goes home to her very domestic boyfriend who has prepared her a big dinner. He only asks that she showers before coming to him. So here is that story told in three different ways, a lurid noirish short story, an alphabetical challenge, and a defensive rant. Enjoy.
There was a sick clockwork order to the city at night. People who had better places to be walked quickly and stuck to well-lit sidewalks. Though they had all the light to see, they never let their gazes linger. They were strange tourists crossing this land, trying their hardest not to see the sights or to hear the sounds. Those who were gripped by the wanderlust always ducked quickly out of the light, armored in masks of suspicion and shame. They groped along in the darkness, searching for the certain something they craved. That certain something that’s only spoken in whispers and answered in moans.
I had found what I was looking for that night— after a long night of people finding what they were looking for inside of me. I had spent half the night’s taking just to get it and it bounced along in my jacket pocket as I crossed over into the light. Of the little else that I wore, almost all of it was luridly colored; plastic pink pumps and fishnets with a matching halter top and short skirt. These colors pop in the alleyway shadows like a neon sign, catching darting eyes and closing sales. I was both the commodity and the advertisement all in one flesh and like all advertising, my clothes are worn only to distract from the unmarketable truth. If I stood in these well-lit sidewalks to ply my trade like the prettier corner girls do, I’d end up living on street instead of working it. Even in the dark, johns made a point of not letting their gazes linger too long at the pronounced dent on my cheek or my crooked nose. Maybe they thought it was the natural result of a violent pimp running my body. These misconceptions must have frothed away in the hindbrains of these pit-stained nightcrawlers as not one of them ever attempted to dick and dash. Sure it was just an odd dimple, but these hard-ons already had their imagination primed, trying to transform me into the one they could never lay. Was I their brother’s wife or was I just their brother? The way they used my holes, either wouldn’t surprise me. But I made my money just fine. Any piece of meat will sell, provided it’s priced to move.
I fingered the little ball of junk in my pocket. I had spent the equivalent of a marketing textbook to get it. But the more I worked the streets the more I learned the real worth of that college education. As it was, it had stopped bothering me long ago. What I really needed this for was what was waiting for me at home. I clambered up the stoop, languid with the weariness of the night and went to unlock the door, only to find it partially open. I gave a shadow of a cringe and pushed open the door. The first time I had found it this way I had thought there had been a break-in. An intruder forcing himself inside and taking away all that had made me, me.
I had been half right.
My boyfriend greeted me, as always, in the kitchen doorway, wearing a novelty apron over a colorful sweater and sporting a vacant grin. I could hear the sizzle of something cooking behind him and its pops and splatters broke away his momentary interest in my arrival. I quickly secured myself away in the bathroom, locking the door on the man I had let into burrow into my life. He was a relic, both from some suburban ruin and from the time in my life when I was still attending my business classes. He was a nobody from some nowhere town in some nowhere state. He was like a lost puppy alone here in the city. I had thought he was cute. That was two years ago.
I turned the shower to scalding hot. I still wore the night on my skin and I started stripping it off. My grimy street clothes found themselves in the ‘Hers’ wicker hamper, carefully labelled as such on a printed puppy dog sign. My mess of long curls were a tangled series of clumps by now, the grips of sweaty palms had robbed them of their daytime luster. But the outside would have to wait, I needed to clean the inside of me.
I took my needle from the medicine cabinet from its usual place, next to an unopened box of glucose testing strips. I had told my boyfriend that I was diabetic because it gave me an excuse to keep needles in plain sight. He never questioned it. He also never questioned why I took so long in the shower every night. He never questioned how our credit cards got paid off despite us both being students and him stuffing himself on surf and turf every Friday night. He never questioned much at all.
I unscrewed a prescription bottle and tapped out my shot into the cap. I glanced down at the pills in the bottle. It was my Paxil— I had stopped taking it months ago. It cut into my high. I added drops of water into the cap and sucked it all up into the needle. I took off my belt and notched it tight on my arm. I flew to heaven riding on a fuzzy toilet seat.
Sometime later a knock on the door brought me back to this world. My boyfriend said that dinner was ready and nothing else. I stood up and finally stepped into the shower. I rubbed pink clouds into my hair and closed my eyes, desperately leaning back into the high I had paid so much for.
I eventually floated to dinner and smiled at my boyfriend. He probably returned it sheepishly, embarrassed by the steak well past well done with rock hard shrimps alongside. I didn’t pay any mind. Forget A1, H was the best steak sauce money could buy.
A Babe Copped Dope. Egressing Forward Going Home. Inside, Johns Kept Low Mumbles. No Occupations Panned. Quiet. Respite Sought Through Uddered Vittles. Was Xeric Yet Zealful.
Every day thousands of children die of AIDS, why should the life of this one person interest me in particular? Who cares if this woman has an asymmetrical dimple on her face and has a long nose, tell that to the all the Iranian women getting acid thrown in their eyes for daring to let someone see their face in public. A bunch of curly hair? The top of her head wouldn’t matter if she had eye stalks with a piñata hanging off of it. You aren’t listening. What about Syria? I don’t care if she is turning tricks to pay for college. Boo hoo, at least she doesn’t have to worry about contracting polio from dirty water in a ditch. Oh and she’s a drug addict too? She should thank her lucky stars that she hasn’t been scooped up by the American Prison-Industrial Complex then. You know the United States has imprisoned more black men per capita this year than Joseph Fucking Stalin did to Russians at his worst? Oh she also has to deal with paying for college, well isn’t that sad. It would be sadder if she worked for pennies a day stitching your sneakers together in a grimy sweatshop in Honduras, don’t you think? You’re saying she finally gets home and her boyfriend’s cooking her a steak and shrimp dinner. Truly a vision of hell on Earth. It must be so tough to have to live in a permanent and secure abode alongside your caring and doting life partner and resort to eating like royalty. Oh her boyfriend insists that she has to shower first before he will let her sit down to eat? I just hope all the families dying of thirst in the drought stricken Horn of Africa don’t ever learn of this wonton wasting of that which would allow them to survive just one more day; all to assuage the vanity of these inhuman monsters. Oh and they burnt their murdered animal carcasses. Don’t worry there’s countless millions more cows being force fed antibiotic slurries every day in stifling hot warehouses to replace that useless bit of burnt carbon. You make me sick.