words without stories

( ) wrote stories. Fiction. About people who never existed and events that never took place. ( ) wrote what he knew. And this bothered him. He watched the news. And this bothered him. His stories too, they bothered him. Eventually, ( ) ceased to care about the non-existent suffering of non-existent people. ( ) walked outside with an unruled notebook and a sturdy pen. He walked from morning to long-past nightfall, taking inventory of the world: the rusty underside of an overpass; a murky puddle next to a bus stop; a dog wearing a sweater with an owner wearing none. ( ) filled his notebook with these fragments; brief, objective, dispassionate. He had escaped the lie of narrative. For a time. The pages of the notebook were soon full. ( ) opened the notebook and, for the first time, read a page in full. His chest tightened before finishing the third page. By the fourth, he felt suffocated. The fragments were sticky to each other like gummy puzzle pieces. The dog ran under the overpass and splashed through the puddle. ( ) unsheathed a larger pen and tried to excise the notebook of narrative. No sentences. Verbs troubled him – they slyly implied a before and after…a slippery slope he wasn’t willing to stand on. Nouns were safe. Until they weren’t. Dog sweater puddle bridge. Even that was too much. Desperate, he abandoned the vowels: dg swtr pddl brdg. But pddl looked like poodle, and now an embellished sentence flaunted itself across ( )’s eyes: A well-groomed poodle in a cashmere sweater angered its owner by stomping around in a muddy puddle under the highway bridge. ( ) knew he must kill the dog. Not in real life, though the thought crossed his mind. Gone too was the sweater (for he knew all too well who used to wear it). ( ) stared at page three: the paper was overwhelmed by the pen’s touch: black ink redacting every word save two…BRIDGE…PUDDLE. ( ) stared at those words and felt peace. He stood over the motionless puddle and sensed the weight of the bridge above him. Nothing moved, nor was there anything to move. There was no story. No joy or grief. Just ( ) sandwiched between two unrelated nouns.

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