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The Book I Will Write #48: You Never Know Who’s Been Touching It

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 living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. 

#48  YOU NEVER KNOW WHO’S BEEN TOUCHING IT

Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski

Interim Senior Editor

Knopf Publishing

 

Dear Annie,

I was passing the time at my favorite table, which used to be Zeppelin Man’s table before he had to go into temporary hiding. The table has a good view of the door, so I can see when Vik comes looking for me. Lately, Vik’s been hunting for me on her own, possibly because her leather clothes are less squeaky than Hans’s, but it might also be that Hans has begun work on the next zeppelin prototype, so Vik does the field work. I know how they operate.

I’ve begun reading the collected works of D.P. Reasons. His murder mysteries keep my mind off the possibility of being murdered myself. I’m currently reading On the Lamb, the fourth in a series about organized crime in rural America and a farmer-turned-detective named Blaine who’s out to save a throwback community of family farms from mob takeover. You wouldn’t believe how many ways a person can be killed with a pitchfork, or the way a flock of sheep can be trained to encircle a victim and slowly smother him.

Do sheep have free will? Can they be held accountable for their actions? These, I feel, are the underpinnings that give the book added heft, which you can argue it doesn’t need, since it comes in at 887 pages. Still, the print is large, and Reasons makes liberal use of white space to convey the openness and the moral vacuum of a traditional farm community tumbling into decadence. It’s a page turner!

I’m also reading up on organic tomato-farming and aesthetic theory as research for my own novel. Did you know that Henri Bergson would say that the act of throwing rotten tomatoes at an artist is itself an art form, provided the throwing is an intuitive act? That’s my reading, anyway. If I ever get the chance to throw a rotten tomato at a dishonest artist, I will be sure to appreciate the unique beauty of the tomato—the form of its rot, as well as its flight characteristics. Art is all about perception.

In any case, Vik arrived on schedule today and walked the library, peering between stacks and pausing at the computer terminals for evidence of my writing. There are several places I can hide when she does this, the best being the pyramid-shaped interior of the two-sided newspaper racks, where I can spy between newspapers and follow Vik’s progress. This worked fine until a man I didn’t see coming yanked The Wall Street Journal off the racks and exposed me.

The man stared like he couldn’t make out what I was. I had to think quick.

“I was reading that,” I said, reaching through the stacks for the Journal.

The man looked at the paper and back at me. He wore un-ironed business attire in the manner of an unemployed assistant manager whose pretense of caring has fallen on hard times. He raised the Journal like a sword. “It comes off the rack,” he said. “You can read it anywhere in the library.”

“But you never know who’s been touching it,” I pointed out.

He stared again and slowly nodded like a machine stamping a label on my forehead. He walked off.

I take solace in the fact that when he sat down he wiped his hand on his trousers, the pockets of which flared out like a misplaced set of big, white ears.

Still, there I sat, exposed to public view, and before I could crawl out of the pyramid, the Story Lady passed by and spotted my face between newspapers. She didn’t look surprised. Maybe she’d seen everything. Maybe she always does.

“Meet me out front in twenty minutes,” she said. “I’m on lunch break.”

What else would I do for twenty minutes but send you an update?

And now that I’ve done that I’m off to take my chances with the Story Lady. Wish me luck!

Yours,

John Henry Fleming

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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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