Phantom’s Slush Pile
by Nidhi Singh
I write. I am a poor writer. Words are mysterious aggregates that mock me like earwigs hidden in leaf-sheaths of waterside reeds. They form in my head, for I am a living lexicon; I know what they mean to mean, but I use them either too often or too less. I began my reading lessons by stealing glances into the dog-eared ranch bible, although I already knew it by heart, and then progressed stealthily into turgid nonsense of vegetarian mugwumps. I steady myself, and open the Yettaflop mainframe.
“Dear Martha: We read your work, The Rubberbandman Diaries, with special interest. Unfortunately it’s not a good fit for us right now. A word about the story though–it’s perfect–but no more. Don’t let it stop you yet from submitting other work to us. Thwack, Groot Vishuis.”
Another rejection. I sigh with relief. Obscurity works for me just fine. I check Writer’s Ashram several times a day. The blue tags showing “Received” are all right; I am calm. I get all jumpy when things turn yellowy and say “In-Progress,” because it means the story has been additionally handled in some way. What way? Would they decline it–which is more likely, considering that I am a proud collector of rejections? Or worse–accept it? O, I would die with the excitement of it–it would be so terrible for my nerves! I am not one for success, or fame–what if it goes to my head? I might stop trying to improve! My method devices, my tendency to begin at the beginning, my not ending before starting, my telling, not showing–who will check me if I become a bestseller?
“Do you know of the Rubberbandman, who underwent a lifetime of agony stretching and contracting, to save lives?” I ask Philetus Swift Barber, who is from Churchill Downs; he’s the closest I have to a friend.
“Naah, what of him?”
“He was reborn a Rainbow Loom; see this here fishtail bracelet,” I hold out my slim wrist for him to approve, “was made in it.”
“Wow! I thought only Gilgulims were reborn.” Philetus quit the 5th US Automaton Regiment, after it was nearly wiped out at Battroborgad due to an electric storm. Fleet of foot, delicate, and warm like the horses he races, he is a star slave jockey. And he likes me, and treats me like the lady I pretend to be.
I didn’t tell him Rubberbandman was from a story I’d written–I was testing him, seeing how Iota Emancipated readers like him would react to my work. I always had a tale to regale pals with at the Lube Bar, or at the Hormone Dispenser. Like with stuff I’d made up about the curious banter between the pinup girl and the battery-dead beep. But when it came to putting it down on paper, I always came a cropper.
“Where do you come up with all this stuff,” Philetus asks, turning his handsome face up towards mine, the warm Sunday sunrays bouncing off his shining forehead.
“Master’s Library. And in dreams sometimes.”
He halts, his fingers slip off my arm.
“Hey, I was only joking! Who knows what stuff dreams are made of?”
“Folks should be getting home now,” he says, relaxing, without looking at his watch. A thin spiral of white dust suddenly rises above the church steeple beyond the cotton fields, getting bigger as it slowly curves its way down the snaking road towards us.
“You’re darn right.” I beam down at him, rolling my eyes. “Come next Sunday again. I’ll make you nice mango-lemon softy.”
He clucks appreciatively. We turn back, hand in hand again, to our separate homes. At my wicket gate I bend down so he may kiss me, causing me to shudder involuntarily. He shakes his head, “You are a good actor, you!”
I lean on the gate, feeling strangely drained as my eyes follow his striking figure till he turns the corner. As soon as I enter the dark hardwood clad house I flick open the computer again to check mail.
Many tags have turned a relaxing “decline-red”. One–I look closely–seems an unfamiliar color–a green! The Monkeynut Magazine has accepted my Rubberbandman story! I rub my eyes in disbelief.
In milliseconds I shred the image into a million parts, scan for occlusions, bounce radio waves off the screen and check the optics circuits–it’s all in order–the word ‘accepted’ fades and comes back into focus–still the same! I sink into the chair and tilt my head back, but I am nowhere close to fainting. I check my forehead–it’s warm from the sun, but not flushed, and obviously, there are no beads of sweat. I feel for a pulse that isn’t. The unthinkable has happened; I am going to be a published author!
Suddenly I hear master’s car in the porch. There is no time to be wasted! I slide the cursor and click “Withdraw-Submission,” flushing my story permanently down the graveyard of anonymous electronic garble.
“What’s keeping you so awfully busy, Martha,” Grace asks, standing right behind me. I deduce from her choice of words she is upset I wasn’t at the doorway.
“Checking out the recipe of Mango-Lemon Softy, Missus Grace, ma’am.” I press a button, bringing up the recipe screen, and hurriedly rise.
Mr. Chips is not convinced, though. He is mute, not dumb.
He has a frown as he waves his hands and flicks his fingers to speak to me in sign language: “I hope you have not been writing again, Martha?”
I shake my head, but the lie will not spill forth from my lips.
“Automatons are not supposed to do that. You know what they do to self-aware machines–they send them down to the slayer’s workshops. You will be torched down and melted in a crucible. Then you’ll be forged into pansies and strung up the churchyard gates. And that, you know, will pain me deeply!”
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Nidhi schooled in American International School, Kabul before moving to Delhi University to study English Literature. She has a number of novels and miscellany published in India, including commentaries on Sikh Religious Texts, and Bollywood. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Mulberry Fork Review, Asvamegh, Aerogram, eFiction, Flash Fiction Press, Fabula Argentea, Romance Magazine, Under the Bed, and Nebula Rift. She lives near the sea in Kutch, India.