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Essay-a-week

Character development

I’m worried about you, Kacper.

I don’t mean this paternalistically or bordering on self-righteousness stemming from my own insecurities. Instead I’ve seen what you’ve been thinking about and I’m concerned not only for you, but for myself as well.

I know, I know. Who am I to tell you otherwise? I’m just a little piece of you – a sliver embedded into the skin that sometimes bleeds and is probably infected, and you try to pick me out from time to time. But daily, I dig deeper.

And now here I am, J. J., a character in a short story you wrote, coming to the surface to talk to you.

Why? Because if I won’t no one will. Especially not you. Look at yourself. It’s late. Stop eating those chips. Go to sleep. Rest. Wear deodorant at the very least.

Because though it’s hard to believe, creator, I want you to know that it’s alright. Not because it is necessarily, nor because it will be, but because it was for me and everything can be okay for you too, if you want it.

You used to know this – the consistency of bad days and good days alike. I’ve looked at part of your past stuff. It’s soaking with such understanding and thought. It’s cutting edge. There’s real flow. No fragments. It’s beautiful to see you bound a sentence or express an idea with such penchant and purpose as though the whole of the English language was built up for that very moment with you at your computer, type-type-typing away.

But something changed. All of a sudden you started to getting beaten by the slightest trouble. You began to give up and regret anything that didn’t go to some ideal, contrived plan of yo-

I know.

Oh. Hi Kacper.

Hi J. J. I’m not going to ask how are you.

Why not?

I’m afraid of you asking it back to me.

Well, in that case: how are you?

I’m talking to a character I wrote a long time ago – that might say more about my state than I ever could.

I’m fine too, in other words. Thanks for not asking.

I shouldn’t of interrupted you. This is crazy.

Yes it is, Kacper, but sometimes being crazy allows you to see the sane.

Unless I’m too fucking crazy for that.

Yeah, I used to think like that too. But things changed. I changed. After you finished writing about me, and moved on to something else, I stopped smoking, stopped drinking too, if you’d believe it. I even cleaned up my language. Stopped swearing as a way to fill in vocabulary gaps. Though between you and me, that was the shittiest part of the whole life-changing circumstance.

About that.

What?

Writing about you. I’m sorry.

What do you mean?

I was writing against the future. My future. Yours. The one that is sucked into a tiny screen, that passes in moments as fast as a photon whirls.

That’s okay. You made my present by creating my past.

But I shouldn’t have. Listen to how choppy you sound even now, how direct your comment was to mine. It’s artificial. Sounds so planned. No one talks like that.

I do.

Listen to the dissonance in your speech. It’s jarring. Like you’re gargling a handful of bolts or something.

I like it. It’s me.

It’s a waste is what it is. You could be so much more.

I became so much more either way. I developed. I’m your coal turned to diamond.

And that’s my point. You’re unfinished. Even now you’re using a cliché. If anything, the pressure of composition made you crumble. You’re a coal turned to smaller bits, if anything.

How can you say that? You enjoyed writing about me.

I did. You’re right. And that’s why your fragmentation and incoherence is my fault. Really. It is. If only I smoked or I drank excessively or I loved so passionately that you’d think every time I kissed someone, the music of our lips parting would sound like the opening of Beethoven’s Third. Then I’d be complete. I’d be a writer who says things so effortlessly, who can resonant with people I’ve never met and who have never met me. I’d be the author who rallies and shares. Who writes to make others feel guilty, whose pen is a megaphone, a call to action. I would write to teach but also to criticize, to inspire, to find, all while using perfectly placed words and shattering emotions. I’d write magically, weaving pain and happiness as though there was no difference between the two. And there wouldn’t be when you’d read me: you’d feel so happy that it would hurt.

Kacper, I don’t give a shit about your loss of worth. You can still be such an author without all that self-imposed destruction.

I’ve tried. I have. I’ve copied others. Even their lifestyles. I see them drinking their coffees and smiling and I drink their coffees, same order, same milk, same amount of sugar up to the littlest grain, and I smile, and then I feel sick and poop it all out. I see them dance and I dance too but I tire quickly. I see them fall into the company and comfort of another’s arms with such vulnerability and I collapse into the structure of another’s too – someone’s whose skin is soft and who has black hairs peppering their arm but who can’t be bothered to shave them and I don’t mind it either because I don’t shave mine and why hold a double standard because that’s the kind of stuff we talk about: feminism, equality, standards set for each other and the rest of us – but then I slip through and hit the floor.

I’ve always been here for you, though. That’s why I’m saying this now. I’m here to help.

I’ll speak in ways the disconnected way you understand: The grass thinks the same of the dandelion when it plants its roots. So do we. We make wishes on them. And it turns out we are just spreading weeds.

Kacper, I am no weed. I am you captured and contained. I can assist you because I know you.

How can you help me when I can’t even help you?

Because I know you and –

Want to know something I’ve wanted to say for a while?

Are you listening, Kacper?

Yeah yeah.

What did I say?

That you were about to listen to me.

No I di-

Here. Look. You’re different. You said so yourself. I’m not. So just listen for one fucking second. You’ll understand me after this.

Understand what?

This. Why you’re talking to me and why, despite all you say and how it sounds and feels like an awkward elevator ride between two strangers stuck on their way to the top level, you can’t find anything to say anymore.

Okay. Fine.

Thanks: She had just given birth and he released he didn’t love her. He shifted his stance from one foot to another, dancing in spot to try to stop the blood from clumping at his toes. He was diagnosed with varicose veins just two weeks ago. Something to do with faulty valves in his veins. Not enough pressure, the doctor said. He didn’t really understand it at the time, but he nodded and nodded, and thanked the doctor. He’d have to wear these black, tight socks now. A quick research on the Internet revealed it was an issue that occurred primarily in older men. He was twenty-three.

There were some stores nearby, he could see them through a window that coughed out light, and he might be able to get to them after this. It was taking longer than expected, though. Most things do. But he was here long enough to let the blood settle and his toes to numb and he was getting restless and tired and swaying side to side didn’t help the condition  –

“Mr. Mahony, congrats.”

A hand patted his back and the blood trickled to his heart. He stopped moving his feet. He smiled. A weak thank you escaped him, though with all the noise around, it was hard to hear. He could barely tell himself if he had said it, and too much time had past between then and now to repeat the message.

He tried to move his feet again but it felt like they were stuck to the floor. Probably something to do with the room. It seemed dirty. A thick moisture coated the walls. Hard pushes and yells had birthed such a mess. So many different tools had been used. Different fluids had poured on the floor too. They probably had mazed from the spill to his feet and then glued him to the ground one foot at a time. Or if not the room, maybe his recent stagnation was because of the viscous blood congealing in his veins. Maybe the red liquid wasn’t like water but oatmeal, and it was choking up his insides. Maybe his inner body had become so solid that if he moved, he’d break into a million pieces. Like Medusa and the stone men she created, he thought. Then he remembered that varicose veins weren’t known to cause such immediate death, but then again, people weren’t supposed to get it so young.

He attempted to lift his feet again. They felt heavy. Was he wearing his steel-toe boots? He couldn’t remember.

“Come here, honey.”

The blood began to circulate again, and he could smell and see and move suddenly. The air was soaked in sweat. Most of it seemed to be concentrated urea that left a smell of piss that had been sitting unstirred for days.

The soft parade of shuffling met his ears. Muffled moans from outside beat their way into the room. A cry of a baby, or perhaps a cat dying, could also be heard.

He moved his stiff neck freely now with the momentary passage of blood into his skeletal tissues. The violence of bones groaned against one another. He looked at her.

Water or sweat or both covered any visible portion of her skin. Her gown was drenched too. In the weak light of the room, she glistened like a piece of mud does after a storm.

Her hair was damp and untamed. Curls of it snaked down her face, blocking her left eye. Her right was swollen shut, a pattern that defined most of her face. Even her lips were plump. She could barely breathe without them flailing about.

Some of her stomach seeped through the gown. It was stretched and flabby; the remnants of a balloon that had recently been popped. What looked like her belly button dangled off the edge of the metallic frame. From afar, it looked like a pepperoni that was left to rot.

“Look at our son.”

Her nostrils were huge, unexplored caves. They flapped around as she inhaled.

He took a step.

Her hands rested on the bed. They were bloated sausages.

He took another.

Her feet stuck out from the blanket. A worn tattoo of a butterfly looked like a bruise.

He was there.

The smell. The smell. The smell.

“Isn’t he beautiful?”

Trying not to breath the piss-filled air, he moved his neck slowly and carefully, an attempt to save the blood that he knew he’d need with these damn varicose veins that make it so hard to move in a room like this, to the bundle of blankets and flesh. His eyes were tired, but in the dim sunlight that died in the corners of the room, he noticed that the baby looked like her. 

I don’t understand what that story has to do with anything, Kacper.

I knew you wouldn’t. I barely do.

What I don’t comprehend is why would you tell me a story when you said you wish you could write them better?

Because, J. J., this person is you.

What?

This unsatisfied, lost individual who can’t love his wife because she is disgusting at this moment is the person I imagined in the future for you.

But I’m different now.

The renewed spirit you feel will fail and you will fail with it.

I don’t believe it.

You don’t have to. It will happen whether you believe it or not.

But I’m doing so well.

Everyone does for a while. But then we get old and feel worse and then we die – old and sick and exhausted.

Kacper, I refuse.

You can’t.

But I will no matter what you say or pen or whatever. Don’t you see that?

No.

For fuck sakes, Kacper. Why?

Why what?

Why not write something else. A happy ending?

Sometimes there aren’t any happy endings. Sometimes things just end and they’re in pieces that can never be put back. The bits are scattered too far away. Years will be spent looking for them and when they are found in small, hidden nooks in the streets of London or the bottom of Atlantic Ocean or this one home that is steeped in sunlight, that looks no different than the others in a suburban madness, and that is plopped right into a persistently stubborn city that won’t fade away no matter what is flung at it, it’ll be too late. Time will flow and it’ll slip through your fingers and then so will you one way or another.

But you can change that. You are in control, Kacper. You can either chose to laugh or curse the world for being born and not having a say in the matter.

Funny. That sounds familiar.

You wrote that once.

I wrote a lot of stupid shit once.

And you’ll keep doing so, you know why?

No.

Because though it might seem like crap, and though you might feel like it too, you’ll eventually write something worthwhile.

How do you know?

Because writing is the one time you can be anything from depressed to happy and you don’t have to be, or relate to, either. Instead you’re forced to see both sides. You have to engage. So you do. You become happy. You become sad. And you create a world where you can talk to your characters and where they can talk to you and both become vulnerable as a result.

What will I write about, though?

Anything. Me. You. Both of us having a conversation.

Won’t that be self-indulgent?

Any thing you write is because it suggests it may be worth reading, even if it isn’t.

Okay. I’ll try again. I’d like to become happy, if only for a while.

Just don’t try to make my life so miserable as a sacrifice, eh?

I’ll try.

Don’t try. Just move and feel and write and do. For now, though, go to sleep. You’ve ate enough chips besides.

They’re good. I’ll let you have them the next time I talk to you.

Thanks, but I’m also a vegan now.

That will change and you can thank me for that later.

About kacperniburski

I am searching for something in between the letters. Follow my wordpress or my IG (@_kenkan)

Discussion

One thought on “Character development

  1. wow loved this

    Posted by marissadubecky | October 15, 2018, 4:30 pm

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