Sackett Street Writers Workshop: Pens down, bottoms up
At the end of every session of the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop
, a Brooklyn-based organization started in 2002 to help writers get their stuff together, the class participants gather at a bar. On Wednesday night, yours truly, who'd taken the estimable and very pregnant Julia Fierro's novel-writing workshop
this February and March, along with several other writers got together at Freddy's Bar
on Dean Street in Brooklyn, which was recently featured
on National Public Radio for its live opera performances (!), to read some of our stuff. We'd been allotted five minutes each.
Well, trying to keep novelists to five minutes is like asking a politician if he or she'd like to say a few words. Most of us managed to keep it relatively brief, much to the relief of our posses who'd shown up to support us. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank mine: in alphabetical order, Kathy Chetkovich
, Tim Cramer, Len Egert
, Stefanie Glick
, Tim Keating
, Mia MacDonald
, and Amy Trakinski
. I'd like to thank them for laughing in the right places, and for not vomiting.
I decided to read a self-contained short story rather than an excerpt. And if you
want to read what I
read, which clocked in at just over seven minutes, then you just need to click below.
It was clear to the Vegans we were a sad disappointment. Their three eyelids drooped during our envoy’s admittedly long-winded speech promising the most amicable of stellar relationships, and some yawned openly during the poorly edited but, we thought, moving presentation of life on our planet.
“We assumed you’d be taller,” said Kaj, their interpreter, to me at the reception afterwards. “You sounded more impressive in your transmissions.” I nodded, and diplomatically blamed the misperception on ripples in the space-time continuum. “But what about the content?” piped up Hïngë, the one in our group most eager to impress (understandably so, since he was a moon dweller). Kaj nodded both his heads and scratched an extensively punctured ear. “Well, it was interesting,” he mumbled, “in a rather obvious, sociological way. If you know what I mean.” Nobody did, but we said nothing and glanced anxiously at Hïngë. Thankfully, he simply grunted and shrugged his dorsal fin, allowing his fragile sense of the importance of cordial international relations to overrule his tendency to project poisonous phlegm in a spectacular arc at those he disliked. We all sipped our frakorlis
and the moment passed.
The following day the council met to discuss our case, while our embassy staff took us on a monumentally tedious tour of the Ministry of Intergalactic Infrastructure. This left us anticipating even more the dinner that evening at the president’s palace. It was there I saw her.
I’m far from a connoisseur of beauty. I’m satisfied with the usual green hair, moderately abrasive scales, and tail of average length. But this creature was ravishing. She had perfectly ovoid suction pads, exquisitely crenellated antennae, and three pairs of luscious, purple eyes that wandered, mostly together, in my direction. She also showed an exquisite sense of discretion. She didn’t ogle, or throw a feeler onto one of my brabulas
, as I’ve had some do in the more casual corners of the cosmos. This one had real spectral class.
“I’m called Fçñp,” she purred.
“Pretty,” I said, as nonchalantly as I could, given the obvious extension of my mandibles. “I’m Tschrrls. It’s pronounced Tschrrls,” I added helpfully.
She smiled, and a perfect array of tongues displayed itself. She told me she was a reporter from the Andromeda galaxy, covering the hearings. She asked where I was from, and like I fool I told her the truth. Her faces fell. “Oh, I see,” she murmured, distractedly chasing a nervous pfibb
around her plate. “I would normally eat you. How awkward.”
I suppressed a bolus of fear. “It must feel strange.”
“I could always do so later,” she added, attempting unconvincingly to return the universe to its rightful order. “But that’d seem merely rude. Especially to the Vegans.”
“And a little shocking for me,” I responded as lightly as I could. I was kicking myself: Why hadn’t I said I was Uranian? Everyone knew that Uranians were inedible, and I could have passed for one quite easily, with one or two pigment changes. “Perhaps, given that we are both sophisticated creatures of the universe,” I continued uncertainly, “our relationship might evolve beyond that of predator and prey?”
I’d touched a nerve. “Do you think so?” she asked, blushing an appealing blue. “It makes it so difficult to date. But who would allow it?”
I reached over and pulled gently on one of her suckers. “We would. We
would allow it.”
I could see from the slight quivering of her upper lips that she was struggling to wrap her twin lobes around the idea. I was asking for something unbelievable. For someone, especially from such a conservative galaxy as Andromeda, to go against her nature and consort with a prey species—well, it was impossible. But, still, how intriguing! Yet, I had no right to admire such a dangerous beauty. It was madness even to have placed myself within the reach of her wonderfully iridescent ghrools
. There was too much interstellar baggage between us to warrant a hope that we might reverse light years of prejudice and food preferences. We looked at each other, and knew.
“I should go,” she said and puffed a mournful odor of regret from her nostril. “You’ll be leaving tomorrow, and I’ve a story I need to prepare.”
I wondered whether she knew. “Have you heard anything of the Alpha Centauri case?”
Her eyes widened and she lowered an eyelid or three. “You’re part of that? I thought you weren’t from there.”
“I’m not,” I replied. “At least not by birth. It’s my adopted cluster.”
She paused. She knew this was bigger than both of us. “I’m sorry, Tschrrls. The resettlement proposal was turned down. According to my sources, the council didn’t find Alpha credentialed enough. Too much catching up to do. Not enough resources on Vega.”
I stared at the table. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking down. And right. And left. Simultaneously. Anywhere but me. “I’m afraid we live in a very cold universe.” She delicately lifted one of her pouches. I noticed how deflated it was. “I wish you luck,” she whispered. “Your kindness will not be forgotten.”
“Kindness?” To my surprise, water welled in every one of my eyes.
She allowed an antenna to brush away a tear. “Yes. It inflates my sacs to know that someone thought it could be different.” And then she was gone.
Our request, as Fçñp had indicated, was rejected. Our group took it quite well, except for Hïngë, who was killed by the Vegan guards before the toxic spit had a chance to leave his upper mouth. Fortunately, the council didn’t charge us with rebellion, but instead hurried us onto the shuttle and projected us unceremoniously out of orbit.
Even now, it’s hard for us to talk with each other. I know the others are thinking I could somehow go back to my birth star. But it’s been too long, and I would feel too guilty. I’m fully aware our cluster will not be satisfied with the council’s response. Despite our woefully depleted numbers, we’ll declare war, and will be defeated in a matter of gravitational seconds. Our group counts itself fortunate we won’t live to see the slaughter, having long been dispatched for our failure to convince the Vegans we should be rescued from our dying constellation.
I don’t blame our leaders, of course. They are simply making the final hopeless decisions in an endless line of poor choices because of our collective refusal to acknowledge the direness of our situation. But nor do I blame the Vegans. We simply weren’t
that impressive. And there really was no reason why we, among all the other members of other galaxies, should be rescued. After all, there were others who’d perished before, and undoubtedly would be in the future, who were of much greater stature—in all senses of the word—than us. What choice did any of us have?
What I have, for now, is that moment: when two beings from two different worlds dared to imagine another future. I dare to hope that Fçñp will stand by her word and remember me. And more than that: Remember the possibility of us, and perhaps—just perhaps—allow her membranes to fill with emotion and fibrillate delicately. For us, it will be all that’s left.