By Eric Boyd
Sitting on the toilet, I was reading a copy of Women's Weekly. I often went to the local thrift store and, along with any decent chinos or blazers, bought a stack of random magazines, usually only a week old, for about two dollars. My girl, Lucy, liked having the magazines around to roll up and hit bugs with; our apartment was full of spiders. I liked having something to read on the bus, or at the plasma center, or in the bathroom.
Women's Weekly was a cheap, gaudy, embarrassing magazine. Had I noticed picking it up, I would have bought it anyway, but to burn it. The magazine was dull, devoid of relevance, and filled with stereotypes about its demograph of readers. Nearly every advertisement featured 'plus size' models waving their double D breasts in photos for Fruit of the Loom; and the rest of the ads were for dieting products. I read about what stockings to wear at your job for a raise, a little girl who won a beauty pageant before being raped by a judge, whose mother had since entered a younger daughter into pageants to "show that monster we're still beautiful," and how pinching your earlobes for three minutes a day relieved stress. Basically, I read nothing.
Continuing to flip through the magazine, however, I found the 'Romance Fiction' section; one page featuring a short story submission, called upon by the magazine, from a 'long time reader.' The story, about a widower who falls in love with a female air pilot, was awful. I glanced over it for a moment, amazed by its simple idiocy, and laughed.
"These magazines actually pay writers for this shit," I said to myself, wiping.
As I pulled my pants up and flushed the toilet, I realized I could do a story like that. I couldn't write that sort of story, writing having to involve actual care or worth; but I could do a story like that. Afterall, the magazine was calling for submissions, and donating plasma didn't always make enough money to cover the month.
I walked into the kitchen and grabbed an old metal coffee pot from the cabinet. I put the pot down on the counter and opened the freezer, pulling out a bottle of Jameson and a few ice cubes. I threw the cubes into the coffee pot and placed the bottle inside to stay cold. I went back to the cabinet and got a glass, which I put over top of the bottle. Then I made a sandwich, picked up the coffee pot with the chilled bottle, and went towards the bedroom.
"Fredrick, what are you doing?" Lucy asked from the other room. I was standing in the hallway and said, "I'm going to do a story."
"Absolutely nothing, probably. I'm going to do it for a women's magazine, see if I can get it published."
"Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know. It could be funny, in an Andy Kaufman kind of way."
"The magazine pays, doesn't it?" she asked.
"Yes," I said meekly.
"I see, now."
"It'll only be one page worth, maybe less."
"If you get published, everyone will think you're awful."
"Who will? A bunch of fat housewives? I don't see any risk."
"Alright. Have fun."
"I'll try," I said, stepping into the bedroom. I put my things down and shut the door.
How do you start a story you know will be terrible? How do you belittle yourself and your work? Easy, by needing your rent paid. Magazines generally take a few months to reply to short story submissions, but the need will always be there. Rent has a way of always needing to be paid.
Eating my sandwich, I thought about what to include in the story. I took a pen and paper from my desk in the corner of the room and listed the best possible things.
1. Make the main character a person in their early to mid-thirties. This is an age the reader will either be in, or is familiar enough with to be pleasantly recalled.
2. Give the main character a flaw, one which the reader will identify with.
3. The main character should be smart, witty, and responsible. But, more importantly, they should be bland. The reader will have the chance to admire the main character, while also giving the character no truly unique features, so the reader can inject themselves into the story.
4. Make the story vaguely romantic and slightly mysterious; this entices the reader.
5. The shorter the better.
I drank three shots and began.
I ended up typing a story, under nine hundred words, about a divorced woman taking her young son to a photographer for his school portraits. The son's birthday is soon, and for some reason he is acting strangely. The photographer asks if the kid ever sees his dad. The woman says yes, and recalls her ex-husband, saying he was a 'goof' who 'could never dress himself.' The woman is confused, noticing the photographer is acting strangely too.
But then her ex-husband comes to the photography studio and tells her that, on his son's last visitation day, they took photographs for the kid's birthday. The woman is speechless (this tying into the title of the story, 'A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words') and fondly watches the ex-husband as he leaves the photography studio. The last lines are 'But the goof still couldn't dress himself.'
I resisted the urge to make it about the photographer having beaten the kid at some point, explaining why they were both acting strangely, even though it would have been the funnier story.
I drank a lot while reading the story over, reviewing. I put the pages into a large envelope and sealed it, writing down the address to the editor of Women's Weekly. I went into the other room and showed the envelope to Lucy.
"Can you do me a favor?"
"What's that?" she asked.
"Tomorrow, could you take this to the post office? It's a big envelope so they'll have to weight it. I'll give a couple dollars to cover it."
"Why can't you?"
"The women's story?"
"I shouldn't even ask to read it?"
"No. It's already in the envelope, anyway."
"Okay, I'll take the story down," Lucy smiled.
I went back into the bedroom and turned the light out. I sat down on the bed and thought over the story for a moment; I was amazed by its simple idiocy. It would probably be published. In fact, I was sure of it. The story was just bad enough. At least they'd pay me. Then I wouldn't have to worry about the rent for a month or so, and that'd be extra money to buy more whiskey, maybe some better magazines. Anything to forget.
I rubbed my earlobes for a few minutes, trying not to think about it.
- - -
Eric Boyd was born on October 16th, at 3:33AM, 1988 in North Carolina. He briefly studied at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. Boyd's work has been featured in several journals, both online and in print, including the Newer York, Hillbilly Magazine, and Velvet Blory. He is also a fiction writer and assistant editor for Pork & Mead magazine. Boyd's first collection of short stories, Whiskey Sour, will be released in the spring of 2012 by Nervous Puppy Publishing; he hopes to complete his first novel before he dies. Eric Boyd currently lives in Homestead, Pennsylvania. His cat's name is Oscar.
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