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The Book I Will Write #45

THE BOOK I WILL WRITE by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. THE BOOK I WILL WRITE is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant and a senior editor at Knopf, as well as with an agent. He’s been kicked out of his apartment, and is now living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. Now he’s being stalked by the murderous son of Reid Markham, the author of The Devil’s Good Graces, a book Fleming is trying to track down and read as an influence to his own, still unwritten, novel. Annie, the editorial assistant, has been filling in at Knopf while her boss is in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct.

THE ZEROES ARE SYMBOLIC

Dear John Henry,

I’m sitting here drinking my chai again, wondering how you are. I have things I want to tell you.

My job as Interim Senior Editor is evolving. The books that Ms. Hollymore was editing have been reassigned to other editors. That means that I don’t have any books to edit or authors to contact. The only person who ever calls me is Martin Shill, and he calls three times a day. Sometimes I answer because I’m bored. He wants to know when Ms. Hollymore’s coming back. I tell him I don’t know. He says he’s got big plans, and he’s anxious to talk to her, but she won’t see him at the jail. I tell him I’m sorry. I ask him if his wife is putting him up to this. I met her once, so I know. He says I shouldn’t get personal with him. I tell him I’m sorry. Then I hear his wife in the background, and if there’s no one around, I yell into the phone, Hi, Mrs. Shill! And then I hear him shushing her. And then I hear her angrily tell him not to shush her. And then he says, louder, Shush! And she replies, Shush you! And then one or the other of them hangs up the phone, and that’s about how it goes.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t have any work. I should be bored, but I’m not. I’m accepting my free time as a gift. I’ve decided that, later in life, when I’m entangled and overworked and stressed out, I’ll look back on this period as the peak of my carefree youth. I’ll forget about all the things that currently stress me out. I’ll forget that my life drifted aimlessly. I’ll forget that sometimes I forgot to have hope. I’ll forget that my love life consisted of exchanging emails with someone I’ve never met.

For now, I make myself happy by sipping chai at my empty desk, writing this email to you, and imagining myself sometime in the future remembering this as perfection.

The other good thing is that I got a raise. It’s not a big raise. I think all they did was round my salary up to the next $1000/year. Somehow that fits my current situation. I’m not an editorial assistant and not a senior editor, so my salary is in between (a lot closer to assistant), and all the zeroes are symbolic of my duties.

You see how funny I am?

I also take long lunch breaks. I go for walks. Sometimes I catch a cab and walk around Central Park. It’s chilly, so I bundle myself in my coat. How easy it is to pretend you’re in a movie when you’re bundled up in an overcoat and walking around Central Park. Sometimes I just go with it. I’ll stick my earbuds in and play a soundtrack. Other times, the feeling is oppressive and I have to do something to counteract it. I’ll put a leaf in my hair or unbutton the middle button on my overcoat or walk a little too fast or slow so it’s easier to imagine myself not in a movie.

Everyone wants to be in a movie, but when you are in one, it’s not so easy to get out. That’s my deep thought of the day.

I can’t deny that I’m thinking of you, too. Whatever our relationship is, it’s definitely not a movie relationship. Unless we’re permanently stuck in that period when the lovers have separated because of a misunderstanding and the scenes go back and forth to depict the former couple now as Central-Park-walking, bundled-up lonesome individuals.

You see what I mean?

Anyway, I’m glad I have you to write to. I hope you’ll write back soon. I’m going to finish my chai. Then I’m going to have another. Then I’m going to leave my desk and pretend I have something to do in another part of the building. And then I’m actually going to go to another part of the building and find a new hangout.

I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes.

Perfectly aimless,

Annie

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About John Henry Fleming

John Fleming's stories have appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The North American Review, Mississippi Review, Fourteen Hills, and Carve, among others. He is the author of The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman, a novel, and Fearsome Creatures of Florida, a literary bestiary. He teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida and is the founder and advisory editor for Saw Palm: florida literature and art. He blogs at johnhenryfleming.com.

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