THINGS THAT HUNCH, PART IV
By Zachary Lutz
In this ongoing piece, the self-appointed writer's narc, Stephen Blaine, studies the effectiveness of workshopping. Starting a poetry workshop in the fall of his low spirits, as a way to boomerang and prove his creative worth, Stephen will attempt to describe the intricacies of process, peer review, and imagination. It is his personal hope to unearth the assumptions of a good writing critique, and stage a revolution based on a new hypothesis. This revolution will begin, however, in his notebook.
"What is your profession?" a thought, then, "uh, you're Stephen?" said Dog, almost characteristically barking. Stephen remembered making eye contact with Dog and also with the puce cardigan, as though the cardigan had eyes, too. They were in the parking lot, the three of them: Dog, Stephen, the puce cardigan.
Slipped or tripped by the momentary obfuscation of his exit towards the sidewalk, Stephen turned and saw Dog standing almost entirely still on a perch that was the speed bump in the middle of the parking lot.
"Do you need a ride?" Dog offered, replacing his original question.
"Air conditioning," a re-affirmed and focused Stephen replied, committed to the sidewalk and to making a series of metal notes regarding the incessant and altogether necessary obliteration of the word 'flow' from any and all vocabularies, unending and forever no dictionary or encyclopedia unturned. Also, he was paring through a curt argument for submission to those makers of historical textbooks and subsequent poetry anthologies to be spared the word from all upcoming and scheduled releases, personal letters to editors and scholars alike with the intention of forming some group in solidarity aimed solely at the banishment of the word 'flow', "And, no thank you. I prefer to stand."
"You'se mean walk?" The red ring around Dog's neck throbbing like a collar or a rash.
Stephen re-straightened the tuck of his shirt in his belt, pushing in at the buckle just so and feeding the shirt's gridlocked wrinkles back from that point with his index fingers.
"Yes, walk. Sorry."
"Some do. No mind."
Stephen turned and looked up at the punch-hole sky, knowing the route home almost inherently and digested and possibly exhausted also of the whole experience and on then to new things. Though he knew this disquisition on 'flow' would have to be revisited at his desk later that evening. The determined glamorous gaunt of his eyes then mapped through the direction east and pictured his own self walking all the way home, the blue dumpster and shave of front lawns, twilight, the cone of streetlight or another, the green and red globed porch three blocks toward the river and then south. To command both feet in a walking unison required deft function and accommodation, the foregoing of all other minuscule triumphs for the left right, left right of one foot and the other, directed.
"Say," Dog brought him back again, to where Stephen knew he would have to re-center himself: "You'll be around next time?"
Stephen didn't know what to say. Everything had been internalized to such a great extent that this kind of external inquisition hit him and glued sliding-like, such as to immure his consciousness into a solid brick of dumb — and he knew it was Dog seeing all this, and Dog's puce cardigan also, in parallel, seeing too, Stephen caught off guard. Stephen the unlucky air conditioner repairman.
It began to snow, in small immaculate shapes from above like sand turned white and sprinkled in humiliation all around. Nadine Kitchen, wintertime; it was an affectation. Dog had stirred something in Stephen which he had some time ago swept beneath himself and festooned, possibly, into his toes or some other outer-proximity limb of feeling, caught with tangled cuts of other ill sounds.
The two figures stood in the parking lot, Dog on his speed bump curl, the space bar of the concrete embossed, Stephen Blaine dejected in a half-run freeze nearer the edge. Threaded out from the door of the community center came the rest of the writers, each in their own pairs, as was unanimously decided by similar catchings of eye during the session, and a few who orbited Web like frogs would a ball of flies. They were heading towards dissipation but already there was a commonness in their right places that re-assured the nature of 'Web's Poetry Workshop', the moniker given on effect from the cork-board, and Stephen suddenly wondered how many of those in the parking lot had seen the flyer in the cafe shop or had seen it elsewhere, and that possibly it was titled something else like 'Web's Lonely Hearts Club' or 'Web's Community Seekers', which would be ironic, to say the least. Was Stephen hoodwinked into group therapy of some sort? Or just un-keen to the idea of people?
"Snow?" Stephen asked, child-like.
"Like hell it is," Dog, in denial.
It wasn't snow. There was nothing. It was October.
"You got some kind'a brain problem there? Or you jus a lil' heady bout the winter?"
Dog was probably a novelist, Stephen thought. A fiction writer, maybe creative non-fiction, anything to afford such a strange and obtuse character. Oblique, the self-awareness of the puce cardigan and the perch on the speed bump and the nickname — nom de plume, Dog, writes war books perhaps, Civil War books, Stephen Crane bleeding the bled badge of courage. Or they were not writers at all, any of them, communicable in demeanor and swimmingly jocular but shallow in a way so as to double-talk and sound professional or creative but not really have any one ounce of creativity maybe; how does one discern any kind of authenticity from a mode of such obvious authenticity? And then when, Stephen asked himself, when does one conjure enough evidence in the negative to venture a suspicion in the opposite? Was his writing any good anyways, or just a jet of nonsense and sick-miniature representations or caricatures of life that held nothing honest or real in any way? Stephen the renaissance air conditioner repairman.
"Heady, yes." Stephen said, not acknowledging Dog's slip into drawl.
"Ready es more like it."
Stephen re-coiled: "I've got to head home, I think."
"What's there to think 'bout it?"
"I've just got to head home, that's all."
"Got ye a girly, hey?" Dog asked.
Stephen laughed, and then blended with the darkness, letting Dog and his cardigan fester in the parking lot, luring out for someone else to barb, that he was looking for closeness in someone and ultimately under-achieved this endeavor with Stephen Blaine, the nimble air conditioner repairman. The dejected but not entirely shot down Stephen disappeared quickly, rushed away swiftly by his own sense of detachment and leaving Dog with an unanswered bit of small talk. Dog stood at the speed bump shifting little and scanning for another body. There, after having retrieved a loud aluminum canister from the vending machine at the side of the community center (bump, thump cough) Jonathan came into view in front of Dog.
"What's your profession, eh, uh Jonny was it?" Barking.