< Today The Sky is Blue and White with
Bright Blue Spots and a Small Pale
Moon and I Will Destroy Our
Relationship Today

by Tao Lin

The Novelist

I’m in the bookstore. I’m sitting in a plush one-seat sofa. I’m thinking about my novel. I see a lady with a shopping basket. There are six or seven books in there. She’s shopping for books. I stand up. She’s very big and tall. I walk behind her. I follow her. She stops, extends her arm to a shelf, gets a book, puts the book in her basket. She looks at me. I look at her. I try to smile. I fail. I look at the ground. I keep looking at the ground. Then I glance up. She’s gone. I walk to the Poetry section. I sit on the ground. I think, This is going in my novel. I take a pen from my pocket. I write this on my hand.

I’m writing a novel set in a grocery store. That’s why I’m at the bookstore. Because the narrator in my novel wanders from the grocery store to the bookstore. I’m making this up right now. I’m writing this down. On my hand. I’m writing a novel. I’m in it. In my novel, I’m me.

I ask the people at the information booth what the return policy is. I ask both of them, simultaneously. This is for my novel. I turn my head to each of them as I talk. I use messed-up syntax. I say, The policy of return is what at this store? My voice is weak, inaudible. I stare at them, note their reactions. One says, Excuse me? The other says, Uh. A third information person rises up from behind the counter, like a robot. He looks at me. My neck twitches, tenses. I say, What is the time of closing for this store? This is all rehearsed. I say, What books by Joyce Carol Oates do you have? They hesitate, look at each other. I say, Never mind. I walk quickly to the Biography section, kneel down, write all this on the palm of my hand. The Sting biography is in front of me. Young Sting’s face. I write this down too. For my novel.

In the magazine area I walk around like someone lost. Someone foreign. A boy looking for mommy. I walk to the Games section. I walk through the aisles. I walk to the Music area. I walk to the café. I walk upstairs. I stand in one place. I think about my novel. I move to another place. I stand there. I get an idea. I go sit in a plush one-seat sofa. My idea is for the narrator to go insane on page 100. On page 99 the narrator will be sane. On page 101 he will be severely deranged. I take a pen from my pocket. I write this on my arm.

I go to the Fiction section. I pick up books, randomly. I read the first sentence of each book. I read the last sentence of each book. I give each book a makeshift review. On a scale of 1-100. Most books score in the low 20’s. A few of the books, I can’t finish the first sentence. I get bored. These books receive a score of 1. In my head, I feel good. My self-esteem increases. I think, This is all going in my novel. I go to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I look around for people. I see no people. I see an empty plush one-seat sofa. I rip out one of the blank pages from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. On the blank page I write the word Prowess. I write the word Morbid. I write the word Incongruous. These are words that are going in my novel.

I need to see what happens when someone spills coffee on a display of hardcover bestsellers. I want that in my novel. I buy a coffee from the cafe. I go to the hardcover display. It’s directly inside the entrance. I stand there. I think how great this will be for my novel. I sip my coffee. It burns my tongue. I put the coffee on a Harry Potter book. I put my hands on the Harry Potter book. I pick up my coffee. I can’t do it. There are all these invisible forces. Pushing me away from the action. Like-charged magnets, everywhere. I put the coffee down, on Harry Potter’s face. I’m thinking I just need to say fuck it, fuck Harry Potter, and start doing things. I’m thinking this could be a turning point in my life if I could just do this. After I spill the coffee I’ll chat up some girls. I’ll enter their circle of friends. I’ll become their leader. We’ll have an orgy. I’ll go around during the orgy, impregnate each of them. I’ll have children with each of them. I’ll call them my minions. We’ll all live in Queens. In an underground tunnel system. I’ll give them assignments, like in Fight Club. My children will have more children. But it doesn’t matter. By default they’ll all be My Minions. By genetics. They’ll live in my underground tunnel. They’ll dig it deeper. Straight through to China. They’ll travel on the Great Wall and reproduce with the Chinese. I take out my A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius paper. I write all this down. In my head, I read it over. I think, This is good. I think, I am a genius.

I stand here sipping my coffee. I think of what to name my novel. I write, Me and My Minions. I write, Straight through to China. I finish my coffee. Someone comes up to me and looks at my face. I look down, at my hands, at the empty coffee cup. The person says, Can I help you? It’s a guy. An employee. I say, No. He keeps looking at me. Angling his head to look at my face. I say, I’m fine. I stare at Harry Potter’s face. His glasses. I turn away from the employee. I go to the Travel Guide section. I see travel guides for Paris, the Bahamas. I stand here. I’m waiting for the employee to go away from the entrance. I stand a moment longer. Then I walk quickly past the hardcover display and exit the bookstore. Outside, the sun is yellow. The sky is blue. I stand up straight. I think, I have good posture. The sidewalk is white. I think, I am writing a novel. I think, I am a novelist.

I stand on the sidewalk, feeling superior to all these other people who are not writing novels. A tall man walks by me. I wonder if he’s writing a novel. I think, Probably not. I feel superior to him. He’s about two feet taller than me. He doesn’t look at me. He goes in the bookstore, behind me. I walk into the parking lot. My SUV is parked here. I get in. I sit. I grip the steering wheel. I pull the armrest up. I climb to the backseat of the SUV. Like someone else is driving. I sit here a while. I sit here a really long time. I listen to people in the parking lot. People going in and out of the bookstore. I wonder if my novel will make me famous. I wonder if I should do a book tour. I watch a young couple kiss outside their minivan. They go in the bookstore. I wonder how many novels they have written between the two of them. I think, Probably zero. It starts getting dark. I stare at the people outside. I follow them with my eyes. I wonder how many of them are writing novels, if any. I watch a lady pet her son on the head like a dog. The son ducks, hops away. I watch a man skip across the parking lot. His friends grin at him, from behind. They laugh. They go in the bookstore. I pull my legs up on the seat. I move to a crouch. In front of me are the driver and passenger seats. I turn around, face the back of the SUV. It’s dark out. The parking lot lights are on. I climb over the backseat, to the trunk area. I sit here. It’s quiet. I stare at the back of the backseat. I listen to a car pull up beside me. I feel hidden. I listen to the car outside. Its doors open, close. I hear voices. A man and a woman. The man says, Lets do it on the roof tonight, we’ll pull a mattress up there. The woman laughs. She says, In the neighbor’s yard, against their front door, we’ll just pull a mattress over there. They laugh. Then it’s quiet again. It’s dark. I think, No one knows I am sitting here in the trunk area. I lie down. I fold my legs up. I feel small. I stare at the dark inside of the trunk. I think, This is going in my novel.