The Little Man

When I first met the Little Man, it seemed as though the only thing he wanted was to become a character in one of my stories. The words he said, the gestures he carefully calculated, even the way he looked at me was his way of making a sentence out of a situation, as if feeding me potential adjectives that I could later attach to his eyes, his clothes, his hair. Nothing about him was real. He knew that he could only begin to exist if I wrote a story about him. He only knew how to exist in the stories people would tell about him. And at times, you could just watch him pull out a semicolon out of his ear and then collapse on the floor like that dead guy from A Ghost Story who had finally read the piece of paper hidden in his old house’s woodwork. Thing is, though, when someone so desperately and obviously wants to become someone else’s story, the muses get dry like a virgin on the first night with her elderly husband. The Little Man tried too hard to wring himself into a bucket of syntax, to braid himself into a wreath of casual-sounding scenes that would make him look grand, Achillean, broad-shouldered, oceanic. Thing is, though, he was a puddle. Muddy waters. And not my cup of tea. But I thought I’d splash around for a bit, see what it was all about, that thing that kids love to do right after they’ve put on their brand new clothes on the first day of school.

Oooh how he tried to grow, the Little Man, how he tried to grow and become a plot. And sometimes, standing next to me, he seemed to be touching the ceiling, bursting with dialogue and psychoanalysis. Month after month, he paginated himself into existence, having me fill his paragraphs with climaxes, plot twists, and conflict resolutions. He watched me do my work with ecstasy, thrilled at the prospect of becoming a bestselling book. If I felt tired, if I felt speechless, there he was, stomping his little feet at my writer’s block. “Edit!” “Rephrase!” “Finish the story!” It was this last command, this “finish the story,” that disconcerted me the most. From the day I first met the Little Man, he couldn’t wait for me to finish the story. Little did he actually care about depth and complexity. What he really looked forward to was the ending, to become a story of my past, a complete narrative—opening anecdote, conflict, climax, resolution, and all. Thing is, I am what you would call an unreliable narrator. I digress, and forget, and there is so much else that finds its way into the stories that Little Men want me to write. Mulberries, for instance. There is always a mulberry tree hidden somewhere among the internal dialogues and free indirect speeches of my Little Men stories. And they hate it, the Little Men. They hate these mulberry trees that used to grow over my communist grandpa’s tractor, covering its cabin like doilies. What he didn’t know when he first met me, the Little Man, is that I am neither good at dialogues nor at coherent long narratives. But I used to eat mulberries by the bucket while my family watched the evening news, tucked around the black-and-white TV, anxious about the fate of their socialist federation. I used to eat so many of those mulberries, unwashed, unripe, that the following days were always perfumed by colorful bowel movements and accompanied by some old widow’s ancient chants to expel the evil spirits from my gluttonous apolitical belly.

I still see him around sometimes, the Little Man, tinier than ever, ragged with punctuation and the Chicago Manual of Style. Nothing about him seems to make sense anymore or, rather, it all makes sense again. He stammers now, he stammers out other people’s syntagmas, copy-pasting even his most ordinary daily conversations. Needless to say, I did not finish that story. But hey, at least I snuck in another mulberry tree.

u principinu
Chicago, 9-24-20

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