From the Desk of Jojo Self
by Corey Mesler
|part 1 of 3|
Resistentialism (ri-zis-TEN-shul-iz-um), noun —
The theory that inanimate objects demonstrate hostile behavior against us.
Jojo Self’s desk was piled with manuscripts, the weight of his collective literary world. He had written, as of today, 162 novels, all unpublished, most unsubmitted. The piles tottered over him like some paper Babel, or, sadly, like some paper twin towers, soon to fall. Still he found a little cavern of space between them to write, to situate his computer. It was dark in this tunnel. It was dark and that’s how Jojo Self liked it.
Jojo wrote long into the night most nights. He did this because he had no other life. He did this because writing about life was easier for him than living it. He was agoraphobic, if agoraphobic means he was too timid to mix it up with the rest of the population on Planet Earth, which as of this writing stood at 6,624,358,566 wandering souls.
Now, to say Jojo was writing about life is perhaps misleading. His stories mostly took place on invented planets with invented creatures that fought invented clashes mostly among themselves. Jojo wrote battle scenes because he loved action; he loved violence. He knew 15 synonyms for hit or strike. He knew 12 synonyms for wound. Jojo wrote violent scene after violent scene. It was better than sleeping because Jojo’s dreams were full of concupiscence and he awoke from every troubled sleep lonelier than a dragon in a cave.
Jojo Self, partly because of these dreams, or in response to their ability to upset him, never wrote about sex. Oh, once, Princess Mandalooie, of the Planet Nfs-X, approached one of the Battle Ogres and dropped her top to bamboozle him, but Jojo covered her again quickly, and just as quickly moved back onto the battlefield.
So, Jojo Self wrote. He wrote and that was his life. Better than some, not quite up to snuff compared to others.
Then Jojo’s manuscripts began to disappear.
He knew this because his cavern walls were not as precise. They were suddenly a little more loosely stacked, a little more haphazard. He felt their papery length and breadth and wondered what was missing. He began to grieve for his lost words before he even reconciled what exactly was missing. He checked his log, his list of works finished, and discovered there were 11 fewer manuscripts. How did this happen? No one ever entered his study save Jojo Self himself.
In anguish he began to search the drawers of his colossal desk and found that one was unaccountably stuck. It was the drawer that held work in progress. In addition to Jojo’s 162 finished novels he normally had anywhere between 20 and 30 books that were fragmentary, unfinished, or ongoing. Some were no more than sketched ideas, stories about as long as the life of a wave.
As he pulled and pulled on the recalcitrant desk drawer a creepy feeling came over Jojo. It seemed to him that the desk, his antique gargantua of a desk, was fighting back. An absurd thought! But, there it was, suddenly in Jojo’s heart, a new fear, a dread of confrontation with the physical universe. Jojo, who sought escape from the workaday world, was up against it. What could he do?
He stepped back into the room, ten paces backwards from the desk. The piled manuscripts looked like some modern art sculpture. The pages of the top manuscripts wafted slightly like tiny wings with the flux of a draught from the air conditioning vents.
Get a grip on yourself, Jojo told himself. Jesus God, a desk doesn’t have consciousness. It was something out of one of his own stories. A leviathan desk, a freak, brutish desk!
Then, like something only seen out of the corner of his eye, Jojo could have sworn he saw one more manuscript disappear into the wood of the desktop. Absorbed into the wood of the desktop. He rubbed his inflamed eyes. Been working too hard, he thought. A desk doesn’t swallow manuscripts, even if it does fight back.
He recounted. He counted an even 150 manuscripts. He was indeed down one more book.
Now, a real terror gripped him. He had to get a handle on this desk. He had to show it who was boss. First, he must clear its now treacherous plane. Take every damn novel off its surface and then he could possibly see what was what. That was his stratagem, his only stratagem.
He stood long in reflection. The day ticked by as he reflected.
One, two, three more manuscripts vanished.
“Oh, jeepers,” Jojo said. “Oh, Jupiter’s jockstrap!”
He practically sprang at the desk. He pulled manuscript after manuscript off and tossed them gently aside. They made a small slapdash snow fort next to the wall. Finally, he had the desk clear and he could scrutinize the surface circumspectly. It was wood, some kind of wood. It was an unbroken surface, as smooth as ice, dark ice.
Jojo put a pensive hand to his chin and nearly chuckled at this unexpected turn of events. Was it some kind of benison? he wondered, the challenge of Calliope, or perhaps Melpomene? Was Jojo suddenly the center of his own tragedy? It was a writer’s poser and hence he was proud of it. Though Jojo Self often felt like a writer — a lama in the lamasery of his own head — it never hurt to be reminded of his high calling.
Since it was late in the day and Jojo was tired he decided to test the desk while he slept. He took a magazine, one about as thick as a sheaf of manuscript pages, and laid it on the desk’s surface just to the right of his word processor. He patted it as if to say goodbye and went to bed where he dreamt furious aphrodisia dreams about women from high school, the ones mostly who had tormented him with derision and imagined putdowns. This was just the sort of night to tie Jojo up in knots and, sure enough, he woke the next morning feeling eviscerated, as out of place in the world as one of his aliens.
Having fixed himself coffee he approached his study with some trepidation, yet the trepidation was wedded to a new jangle of excitement, as if he were embarking on some exotic emprise. His eye went to the desk and he was almost pleased to see that the magazine was gone. The desktop was clear again.
Then he saw the magazine on the floor. It was some women’s fashion thing called Lucky, delivered to his house by mistake, apparently meant for the long-legged blonde who rented half the duplex next door. Now, her copy of Lucky lay on Jojo’s floor, a spurned offering. Jojo, coffee in one hand, bent to the magazine and picked it up. He held it in his hand, weighing it, looking for clues.
Then he noticed the name of his neighbor. Had he really never noticed it before? It read Candy Marcrum. Jojo thought long and hard as to why that name set a small silvery bell tinkling in his head. Candy Marcrum, he said over and over. Of course, he finally glommed on to the truth, it was the name of a character in one of his early novels, The Saturnian Age.
Well, that’s interesting, Jojo thought. He must have subconsciously seen her name once upon a time and threaded it into his story. Near as he could remember Candy Marcrum — the one in his novel — was a princess (women in Jojo’s novels were either princesses or queens or damsels in distress) on a moon of Saturn. On this moon women loved men unequivocally, just for being men, honoring them in their difficult lives. That’s as much as Jojo could remember.
He shook off his reverie and returned to examine the desk. So, you only eat manuscripts. “You’re not only a papyrivore but a picky eater,” Jojo said. There was only one thing to do. Jojo searched through his piles until he found one novel, Ethel Paraben’s Jaunt to Venus, which he thought dispensable, or as dispensable as any of them, and he ceremoniously placed it on the desktop. He stood back to watch vigilantly.
An anxious minute or two passed. Then, like a Hollywood special effect, the pile of paper seemed to sink straight into the solid surface of the desk. Spliff! it was gone! Now, nonplussed, Jojo sat down on the couch opposite his desk. He had to think this through. Nothing was coming to him. He looked at his lap. He was still holding the copy of Lucky.
Almost as if controlled by unseen sources Jojo rose and decided to return the magazine to his leggy neighbor. It was an effort to effect change, any change, though not the change needed certainly in his study. But, reasoning that he could not return to writing, not today, he thought he could, perhaps, exit his house, walk the 136 steps to his neighbor’s door and knock. It was quite a determination.
Jojo shuffled from his front door, across the grass, still damp with dew. He shuffled partly because he had little control over his motor skills and partly because he was wearing bedroom slippers. It never occurred to him that he hadn’t dressed to go out. His head was full of midges. He wore a robe over his Star Wars pajamas. He made it all the way to Candy Marcrum’s door, his heart pounding. The fear — the outside world terror — was close beside him. Stay behind me, Jojo prayed. He knocked.
After a moment Candy opened the door. Her lovely blond face squinched into a questioning grimace. She didn’t offer a hello. Jojo almost ran for it.
“I got this mistake, by mistake,” he said. His voice was dry as tinder, a wee spasm. He held the magazine out in front of him.
Candy took it warily from him. She looked it over. Finally she said, “This is 6 months old.” She looked at the strange man in front of her. Her face offered no comfort, no way-in.
“Okay,” Jojo said. He began to shuffle back home.
Candy Marcrum watched him for a second and then said, “Oh, you live next door. You’re the writer!”
Jojo Self’s heart turned over in its sleep. It punched the pillow a few times and resettled itself. Jojo Self’s heart opened like an awakened flower.
“Yes,” he said, without turning around.
“I’m Candy,” she said.
Jojo Self turned slowly.
“I forgot to get dressed,” he said.
“Yes,” Candy Marcrum said back.
“I should go home now.” But he didn’t move. He wanted to look at Candy Marcrum as much as he wanted to fathom the mystery of the desk. She was a long cool drink of vitelline. Her legs — she was wearing buttercup yellow shorts — were tanned and as shapely as javelins.
“Okay,” Jojo Self said, and he returned to his home. Once inside he willed his heart to act normally. He needed peace to work out his dilemma. He needed a cloudless coconut.
Countless times in Jojo Self’s life he had turned to writing to stave off life-fear, to re-center himself. When the agoraphobic demon raised its ugly tentacled head Jojo often found solace in sentences. This is not uncommon among the writerly. So, now, with his manuscripts piled safely on the floor of his study, he decided not to solve the riddle of the hungry desktop.
Instead, he fired up his Hewlett Packard and dove back into Captain Wally Schmendrik’s Voyage to Ataraxia. He had reached the part where Captain Wally’s storm troopers had penetrated the outer boundaries of the evil Dr. Diktat’s ice-bound fortress. The action was running smoothly and Jojo’s brain cells were firing smoothly. The problem of his disappearing manuscripts was forcefully exiled to the back burners.
Captain Wally entered the chamber where Dr. Diktat was known to hatch his evil schemes. He held his weapon at ready. His men had neutralized the Diktat guards. Suddenly, instead of the vile visage of the hunchbacked doctor, Captain Wally was confronted with the shapely form of a maiden barely old enough to vote back in Captain Wally’s America. She wore only a see-through shift and her body moved like the celestial spheres. It was Diktat’s niece, Cancrine, home from college, where she had a reputation as a bit of a runaround. Right now she looked at Captain Wally with lascivious hunger. Her eyes glistened with lust. She parted the simple folds of her shift. Her body shone like ambergris. Her pubic patch was a tangle of honey and soft coils. Her legs were as shapely as javelins.
Jojo Self pushed back from the desk. No, no, no, he said to himself. Is this my story? I don’t write this way, Jojo Self said to himself. He moved cautiously back toward the screen and read what he had written. He stiffened in his pajamas and he was horrified. He got up from the desk and paced the room. Then he left, shutting the door.
He sat in his living room and turned on the TV. He had not watched TV in years. There were people on the screen vying for some prize which eluded them and the sense of the show eluded Jojo. His mind was miles away. Not on a planet in a galaxy yet undiscovered, but here on Earth, stuck with Earth problems, Earth mysteries, Earth disorder, Earth discontent.
Some difficult days passed for Jojo Self. He did not enter his study. He watched TV shows which did not entertain him but only held his place like ludicrous, cosmic bookmarks. Jojo Self was spinning his wheels. He didn’t know what to do next. Were it not for the inheritance checks he lived off and his grocery deliveries Jojo Self would have slid unceremoniously into destitution.
Then, about a fortnight later, there was a knock on Jojo Self’s door. He answered it, assuming it was the grocery boy or another manuscript returned. Instead, standing there in a short skirt, surrounded by a surfeit of sunshine, was his neighbor Candy Marcrum.
“Hiya,” she said.
“Hi,” Jojo said, cinching the belt of his bathrobe.
“Not dressed again,” Candy tried, with a quick laugh.
“Oh,” Jojo said.
“Look, I brought you something. I felt bad about that day I didn’t know who you were. One of the other neighbors, maybe you know Mrs. Glockomorra, down in 1954. Anyway, she told me you were a shut-in and I learned in this training seminar I took at the junior college that most shut-ins crave books and, well, that’s what I brought you, a book. I got it down at the bookstore.” Candy smiled after this speech. And she proffered her gift, a new science fiction novel, its garish cover art just this side of amateurish.
Jojo Self looked at the book and his head swam. Suddenly he saw waves of psychedelic color, swirls of outer space debris and stardust. Pain punched behind his peepers. He had to steady himself on the door jamb.
Copyright © 2008 by Corey Mesler