From the Desk of Jojo Self
by Corey Mesler
|part 2 of 3|
It was not the sight of the comely Ms. Marcrum which so flummoxed Jojo. It was not his proximity to those legs. It was not even the embarrassment of being seen once again in his pajamas at mid-day. No, what caused Jojo Self to temporarily lose his grip on Planet Earth was the book’s title. It was Princess Mandalooie of the Planet Nfs-X. It was his title but it was not his name in the author’s place on the garish dust jacket. No, the author’s name, which was unfamiliar to Jojo, was Celery Moser.
“Are you okay, Mr. Self?” Candy Marcrum squeaked.
“Come in, come in,” Jojo fairly shouted as he himself stumbled into a wingback chair. Candy Marcrum sheepishly entered, closing the front door and taking her place opposite Jojo on the sprung couch. She sat primly, her perhaps inappropriate gift resting on her beautiful knees. She wished now that she could make it disappear. She had, inadvertently, upset her neighbor, the reclusive author, and she didn’t know what to do to make it up, to make things right.
Jojo Self put his head in his hands. Then he raised his face to Candy’s.
“May I see that?” he said, holding out his hand. Candy slipped the book into his hands.
Jojo stared at the cover. The artist’s conception of Princess Mandalooie was spot-on. Jojo looked at the spine of the book. Doubledog. With its distinctive twin Border Collie logo. Whoever had perpetrated this theft had found a home at one of the largest publishers in America. He or she had had better luck than Jojo at placing his manuscript. Jojo could only imagine the five-figure contract the picklock had garnered for work he (or she) had not done.
A sourness bloomed in Jojo’s gut. It didn’t take too much cerebration to reckon how he had gotten the book. Jojo was sure it would turn out to be one of the missing manuscripts, one his desk had digested.
An awkward few minutes passed. Candy crossed and re-crossed her legs and each time Jojo’s libido gained weight. But the book — the damn book — held most of his attention. He read it in various places. It was his story alright, right down to some grammatical errors and some jiggered plot elements. In all its artless glory it was Jojo’s novel, now successfully published, but not under his name.
The face that he presented to Candy Marcrum held years of distress. It was a face going down a dark road. It was a face upon which was written the failure of Man, who once in The Garden reigned. It scared the bejesus out of Candy Marcrum. She felt responsible but she didn’t know what for. How had she crushed her ascetic neighbor?
Cautiously, Candy moved toward Jojo Self and knelt next to his chair. She placed her hand on his knee. Jojo Self smelled like old tallow. He looked down into the comely face of Candy Marcrum and saw only his own failure, his own mistreatment, his own despair. Even her diamond-cut dimples seemed to him marks of the devil.
“Mr. Self,” Candy said. “What did I do?”
“Jojo,” Jojo said.
“Yes,” Candy Marcrum said.
“Call me Jojo,” Jojo said as if in a stupor.
“What happened? How can I help you?”
Had Jojo not relinquished his human credentials moments before, this question would have raised many interesting possibilities. Now, he could only shake his head.
“My desk,” he said.
Candy Marcrum looked at him as if he had said, “My death.” Or “My off ox.” It made no sense to her.
“My desk ate this book,” Jojo said, holding up Celery Moser’s novel.
It was only getting worse for Candy Marcrum. She thought perhaps she had fallen down the rabbit hole.
“Your desk,” she said.
“I know,” Jojo answered.
“It eats — things?”
“Yes. Well, not just things. Books. Manuscripts.”
“It eats them and then, apparently, gives them to other writers to publish.”
“I see,” Candy said, rising. Jojo assumed she was leaving now. He assumed that he had driven her away. Instead she rested her lovely haunch on the chair’s arm and put a hand in Jojo’s hair.
Jojo Self looked up into her face.
Candy was torn. She was nearly repelled by the unkempt writer, yet, something was happening to her, something mysterious. That was it. She thought she was face to face with the mysterious. This man, this writer, was tapped into something that was drawing Candy the way a flame draws air.
She didn’t meet many creative types, not in her line of work. Candy was a real estate agent. Her face could be seen on signs around their neighborhood and more than one young vandal had written obscene thought balloons coming out of her lovely blond head.
Jojo could not know this since he did not leave his house. Candy was as much mystery to him as he was to her. All the humans out walking around, all 6,624,358,566 of them, were a mystery to Jojo.
“You need a shower,” was all she could think of to say.
“I don’t have a shower,” Jojo Self said. He said it as if it were his worst failing.
Candy thought it was more nonsense-speak.
“Of course you have a shower,” she said.
“Clawfoot tub,” Jojo answered.
“Oh. Well, a warm bath. That would be good, wouldn’t it? Make you feel all human again.”
“Don’t be nice to me,” Jojo said. He didn’t know where that came from. He wanted badly for her to be nice to him.
“Oh,” Candy said, stung. She stood up.
Then the look on his face opened her heart one more time.
“I’m going to run you a hot bath and then I am going to leave and come back later. How’s that?”
She didn’t wait for an answer. She hustled upstairs, found the unclean bathroom, turned the taps to create a steaming hot soak, and hustled back downstairs. She resisted the urge to clean the bathroom.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be back.”
As soon as the door was closed Jojo Self burst into tears.
Later, after a soak in a tub that was a little hotter than Jojo would have liked, he returned to his study. He stood and looked at that diabolical desk for a few minutes. He could think of nothing that he could do to work out the chthonic powers of the thing, to twig to its abracadabra. He was about to turn back to his TV when there came a timorous knock on the door.
Candy Marcrum re-entered Jojo Self’s home with a renewed sense of purpose.
“Was your bath nice?” she asked, her voice light off a lake.
“Yes,” Jojo said. “Listen,” he continued. “I’m sorry. You’re being awfully nice to me but you find me at a terrible time. I have been bewitched or something. I am not myself.”
Of course, Jojo thought, myself is not that great at the best of times. Myself is not someone in whom someone like Candy Marcrum would show much interest.
“Tell me what’s going on,” Candy Marcrum said.
Now returned somewhat to human form, Jojo Self found himself unable to raise his eyes from Candy’s remarkable legs. He sat there pretending to woolgather but really lusting after her in a profound way.
“Your legs,” he said, almost involuntarily.
“Um,” Candy said.
“They are perfect,” Jojo said, slowly raising his gaze.
Candy Marcrum thought, Oh no, here we go again. Men.
Then Jojo Self added a line she had not heard before. “They showed up in my new novel, unbidden.”
This was more nonsense, Candy thought.
“Mr. Self. Jojo. I want to help you through whatever this is. I claim no special ability but I cannot stand by and let a neighbor suffer, especially someone who cannot go out for himself. My mother suffered from agoraphobia. I know its ugly contours. I can help you. I can go out in the world for you. I can be your legs.”
The mention of the word legs again brought a smile to Jojo Self’s face. The smile made him almost attractive.
“Okay,” Candy said. And she laughed.
After a minute Jojo said, “I fear there is no Earthly help for me, Candy.” Saying her name gave Jojo a warm thrum under his breastbone. “This is beyond — well beyond human understanding. Let me run down for you what is happening.”
And he told her the story of the disappearing manuscripts right up to the point where she brought him the book that was his and not his.
Candy sat stock still for a minute. She was digesting this implausible tale. “Well,” she said, slowly. “Then we must find this Celery Moser. We must go to Doubledog and demand they produce this charlatan.”
Jojo looked like he was abruptly queasy.
“I mean, of course,” she continued. “That I will go.”
“Doubledog is in New York,” Jojo said.
“Yes,” Candy said. “I better get some time off.”
Jojo Self smiled. “Why are you being so kind to me?” he asked.
“Because you are stuck here. Because you are my neighbor. And because writers are important. They must be aided, supported. How we help the least of us, isn’t that what any religion teaches us?”
These were solid good reasons. Jojo Self was, naturally, madly in love.
After Candy left, Jojo approached his office with new self-assurance, almost a swagger to his step. He stood in front of his desk and appraised it as if it were a behemoth, or The Sphinx. I am not afraid of you, Jojo thought. I am not afraid.
The desk said nothing. It returned Jojo’s gaze without flinching, without quailing.
Jojo flipped through his manuscripts. He found one that he was not particularly proud of, one called Trouble with the Tottenhots. He walked over to the desk, ran a hand over the smooth wood. Then he placed the manuscript there, a sacrifice. Take it, he thought.
A few minutes passed and nothing happened. Jojo scratched his whiskers. He placed his palm on top of the manuscript. Did it feel warm? A few more minutes passed.
Finally, Jojo took the manuscript off the desk. It felt queer somehow. He turned it over and the back couple of pages were dog-eared, as if they had been creased by an unseen hand. The desk actually rejected the book, Jojo thought. The desk was one tough-ass editor.
Copyright © 2008 by Corey Mesler