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The Book I Will Write #69: Resuming Moment of High Drama

flemingTHE 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 was living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. After someone seemed to be trying to lure Fleming out of the library to kill him, a library memoir group agreed to join him in confronting the threat.

#69 CONTINUATION OF THE NARRATIVE OF THE RECENT CODE GREEN EVENTS, AFTER THE VOTE FOR THE PREVIOUS SECRETARY WAS NULLIFIED DUE TO A LACK OF QUORUM, THUS RESTORING THE ORIGINAL SECRETARY TO HIS OFFICE

TO: Grandmoirs Distribution List #7

FROM: Harry Ellicott, Restored Secretary

SUBJECT: Continuation of the Narrative of the Recent Code Green Events, after the Vote for the Previous Secretary was Nullified Due to a Lack of Quorum, Thus Restoring the Original Secretary to His Office

Resuming Moment of High Drama: “Because your father didn’t write it,” Probationary Member Fleming stated to the lighter-wielding thin man.

Thin Man stares. Margene faints. Bill catches her. Someone won’t admit to screaming.

Dramatic silence. Possible inclusion of traffic noises and sneezing from the allergy-afflicted. A dusty environment. Weaknesses of the body do get in the way. Lesson taken from my submarining memoir.

Nevertheless, the two leather-pants Germans appear confused.

“What do you mean, liar?” asks Thin Man.

“That book in your hands was written by your mother,” Fleming says. “She wrote it, and she’s alive.”

Telling detail: A bubble of spit expands on Thin Man’s lip. Eyes of a crazy man. He’s still got the lighter in one hand and the book in the other. Some of us are thinking that the flame will soon burn itself out and leave him defenseless. Do we wait it out or attack in his moment of weakness?

We wait.

The book is called The Devil’s Good Graces. None of us have read it. Ellen thinks she read a review years ago, but that’s the line she uses whenever someone mentions a book, even a new one.

“Don’t talk about my mother!” Thin Man screams. “Don’t!

“I sat in her car,” Fleming says. “I had lunch with her. Until that day, she worked at the library telling stories to kids.”

“Liar!” He jabs the flame at Fleming’s face. More unclaimed screams. A motorcycle helmet is kicked.

“I heard her read from The Devil’s Good Graces,” Fleming continues. “Actually, she didn’t read from it—she had it memorized. Do you know why? Because she wrote it. That was her big secret. Your father didn’t write the book. She did.”

Fleming describes a passage from the book. Something vague and poetic like a mountain stream. Not to my taste—I like water only to the extent that you can put a sub in it. After that, the water is your enemy. It wants in.

A flicker of recognition crosses Thin Man’s face. He doesn’t see how close the flame is to the book. Fleming goes on to describe a silk bookmark, cream-colored, and Thin Man seems to remember it from long ago. He lets out an anguished scream that rouses Margene only until she realizes what’s happening and faints again.

Now the book is on fire. It’s old and dry and flares up like tinder. The Thin Man drops it, still yelling, stooped over and boxing his own ears. The lighter flame flickers out as the book crackles and blackens.

The German steps in. “Stand back, everyone!” He moves three of us with one thick arm and shoves aside Thin Man, whose wails continue uninterrupted as he falls to the floor.

The rest of us cower in stunned silence, the book a full-throated symbol of something or other.

German man unzips his leather pants. More screams. Coughs in the background. Margene faints harder. No one is taking notes. The flames are doused by a German stream.

Smoke rises. Scent of urine. An ashy yellow puddle creeps toward us. We slide our feet back and help Bill carry Margene to safety.

We are distracted. Thin Man is still wailing. We want to get far away from the creeping urine, and we move toward the back door and the sufferers whose noses evidently did not respond to Margene’s alleged Claritin.

When the front door bangs, we turn around.

The Germans are gone. And with them, 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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