Fictional Distractions (Distracting Fiction)
Hal woke up just an hour or so after he had fallen asleep on the couch cradling a box of Froot Loops.
“Dude, I just got the best idea,” he croaked in sleepy-voice to his roommate, Milburn.
“Go back to sleep man, you’re not even awake enough to think right. Good ideas don’t come from this state of mind,” Milburn responded without even looking away from the television. The sound wasn’t on, but he was intently watching a show on luxury RVs.
“No, this is the kind of idea that comes when you sleep, it’s like an epiphany.”
“You’re incapable of epiphanies. That cereal box of high-fructose corn syrup has interrupted your body’s sleep pattern. See what I’m telling you this whole time about eating better? Just because you’re thin doesn’t mean you’re healthy.”
“Burn, you’re stoned out of your mind all the time and you think I’m going to listen to you about eating right?”
“It’s apples and oranges, man. Apples and oranges,” Milburn trailed off, not caring enough to continue the conversation with his half-asleep roommate.
Hal lifted himself into a seated position and all the Froot Loops that had settled on his chest fell to the floor. While he may have intended on explaining his idea to Milburn, his attention was now diverted to meticulously picking up each Froot Loop and eating it. This took about 10 minutes of seeking out Froot Loops on the floor, under the couch, and then scouring underneath the cushions for wayward Froot Loops. Hal is slightly obsessive compulsive, and in their four years of shared living arrangements, Milburn grew to ignore Hal’s selectively compulsive behavior.
Hal continued the thought he started what seemed like ages ago, in what could be the longest night of his life.
# # #
“I’m going to write the story of the rest of my night.”
“What?” Milburn asked.
“Just what I said.”
“I’m not sure I—what? Wait are you still talking from a while ago?”
“Are you stoned still? Or again? What time is it anyway?” Hal asked, genuinely confused.
“That’s not even pertinent to the conversation, man. I’m just trying to figure out what you just said and why I need to be listening to you.”
“Alright that’s a little hostile, don’t you think?”
“No, man, it’s not hostile. You’re snoring on the couch for over an hour and I finally had some peace to just, you know, chill out. And now you’re talking all crazy. You just said, ‘I’m going to write the story of the rest of the night,’ which, if you think about what you just said, makes no fucking sense. So it’s 1am and I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about and you need to just get your ass to bed,” Milburn explained, with deference and calm, “And brush your teeth.”
Hal got up, looked around and checked again for homeless Froot Loops, and went into his room and cracked open his laptop.
“Here it is, man, the rest of my night. Going to be here on paper,” Hal said.
“That’s a journal, Hal, a fucking journal. You’re not the first person to think of that. I think even Jesus kept a journal,” Milburn yelled from the den.
“I wasn’t even talking to you. Why don’t you ever turn on the sound on the TV? Some conversations aren’t meant for your ears.”
“Then don’t say them out loud, you freak.”
Hal was already on to his story. He’d been a writer for years, but referred to himself as a mercenary. He writes ad copy for agencies; has adapted a few screenplays; did some ghostwriting; and has had to endure business and technical writing. So in the years following his aspirations to write creatively, he made the mistake of taking day job writing assignments, which sucked the life and joy out of writing creatively. It’s not on his own terms.
“Freelancing is such a bad term for it,” he said to his girlfriend once.
“For what? That wasn’t even a complete sentence,” Tru snapped. She was a little sick of his complaining about his frustration and she knew what he was starting.
“There’s nothing free or liberating about being a mercenary writer. A freelance writer,” he said, emphasizing the free in freelance with a long, drawn-out sarcasm in his tone.
“For fuck’s sake, just quit and submit your work. You’ll be poor as shit and I’ll definitely leave you, but you won’t fucking complain anymore about your day jobs.”
“It’ll be something altogether new to complain about,” Hal said, goading her. But he knew that submitting his work would be a stupid waste of time. He’d worked in the publishing industry and those related to it long enough to know and readily admit that putting his hopes into being discovered as a creative jackpot would be a pipe dream.
So instead, now, Hal was going to embark on a different type of project he would write for himself: the live story. He’ll call it Harold and the Purple Laptop.
# # #
He picked up last week’s issue of Sports Illustrated and looked for a story to inspire him to break the conventions. He thought that if these super-athletes could break records and rewrite the rules, he could, too. Except he couldn’t even manage five pushups, but that’s not the point.
He sat way back in his writing chair, closed his eyes, and let his fingers fall gently on his keyboard, as if to play a Beethoven Sonata.
Hal sat way back in his writing chair, closed his eyes, and let his fingers fall gently on his keyboard, as if to play a Beethoven Sonata, wishing he had a few more Froot Loops to snack on while he thought about the plan for the rest of the night.
At that moment, his phone chirped. He thought for a moment about not picking the phone up, but since he had no plan for the night, the message on the phone could provide him with a path to follow.
The first message, “Billy, I have the package we talked about and I came to meet you but you weren’t there, or late, but I left because it started raining, so call me and you can come get it, but I can’t stay here for long, and Bing has a message for you also but we can talk about that when I see you, so call me. It’s Gina.”
The second message, “This is Gina again so call me. I’m leaving here in about an hour so you have to call me before then.”
“Billy it’s Gina, I left 3 messages for you and if you don’t call me back you’re not getting your package and I’ll sell it. I will sell the fucker, Billy, so call me.”
Naturally, Hal was intrigued by the moral implications of eavesdropping on a wrong number message. It’s his phone, he can listen. But can he act?
“Dude, that is awful, you need to hang it up. Not believable. You are not a good writer when you’re tired. This is not experimental, it’s just shitty writing, dude,” Milburn shouted, standing over Hal’s shoulder and squinting at the screen. “Let’s go play Grand Theft Auto. I’ll let you beat me this time.”