As Jennifer Tudley awoke one morning from uneasy dreams she found herself transformed in her bed into a copy of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
She had never read Kafka’s novella, and so the irony was lost on her, but still the predicament did not cause any distress. She would no longer be obligated to go about her day, no longer need to worry about buying groceries, which she had planned to do that evening. For the next week, she just laid there. Her phone buzzed often, but she could not pick it up, nor did she desire to.
She could hear the comings and goings of her roommates, but they never knocked, or if they did, it was maybe once or twice, lightly, barely a knock at all, until the end of the week, when one of them must have spent a full minute banging on the door.
The following morning, there were more knocks, from more hands. Frenzied murmurs. Loud shouts of her name. Almost an hour of this before the noise dissipated to nothing; another hour passing in silence. Then metallic clanging from behind the door. A dull click and it was forced open, slamming hard into the opposite wall.
Her parents stood in the entranceway. Two roommates peered in from behind them, peered in from behind their own hand-covered faces. Her father took three quick steps into the room and stopped, freezing at the sight of her full front cover. He dropped to the floor, rubbed his face against the wood, unleashed a guttural groan or scream, a noise which Jennifer had never heard him make before. Her mother fell on top in silent convulsions.
It must be difficult to have one's only daughter become a book. Jennifer understood her parents’ pain, but did not feel bad for them. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to feel bad, or that she didn’t sympathize with their predicament, but just that the feeling associated with these things did not come to her. She figured books probably don’t have the same capacity for emotion people do.
The roommates pulled up her parents and said the best thing would be to bring her to the New York Public Library. The finest life for a book. Her father spread his hands around his head as if trying to keep it from coming apart. He suggested bringing her home.
“And be constantly reminded of the pain?” one roommate said. “That’s not fair to yourselves. Or to Jenn. A book shouldn’t be touched only by people who cry at its sight.” The roommates assured him Jenn knew this better than anyone. She’d been spending so much time alone just reading recently, even canceling plans with them to do so. She’d want this.
But Jennifer couldn't even remember if what her roommates said was true.
Her parents discussed it. Cried. Discussed it again. Her mother said she’d like to read Jennifer at least once.
Laying down on the bed, she picked her up. She read quickly, seemingly too quickly to totally grasp what she was reading. Pages became damp as her hand moved from eye to book. Pausing intermittently, she’d rub her thumb across the glossy cover, or brush her cheek against the binding, muttering to herself, before continuing. She went over the final paragraph again and again, her husband coming over, hugging her from behind, as she continued to read, slamming her fist against the bed. Dropping Jennifer, she shrieked face first into the mattress.
An employee from the library arrived. He threw Jennifer in a bag. It was dark. When the bag opened, she was in a beige room. The man put some plastic on her spine and placed her on a shelf. She did not mind.
Her parents visited often in the beginning, pulling her from the shelf but never taking her home. Her mother would always touch her first, moving to the last page and reading it again as she had in the bedroom. Always this caused her to stomp, or grimace, or become wet at the cheeks, before throwing Jennifer against her husband’s chest and walking off. Never did he open her. He’d spend about an hour looking at the cover, sometimes flipping over to the back, then put her down and try to find his wife, who’d always be waiting outside, leaning against their now unsuitably large SUV, biting the skin off her fingers. On the drive home she’d mumble half-thoughts to herself, things like, “just starting out,” and, “there was no,” while he adjusted the radio until he could no longer hear them. These visits became less frequent with time, and eventually petered out completely.
After that, Jennifer was touched only by the readers. Thousands of men and women checked her out, fumbling with her pages. Some left folded creases which never faded. Others, powered residue from snacks, which stained. One teen even dropped the full contents of a Taco Bell Cheesy Gordita Crunch onto the page where Gregor was impaled by the apple, making it almost impossible for subsequent readers to make out the words. Tears developed in some of the pages; in time, many went straight through, leaving Jennifer without chunks of her content. Her binding weakened and broke apart, and she became completely unusable for the library. None of this caused her any pain. It did not bother her to be touched by her readers. It did not bother her to come apart.
She was brought to a cold metal building and sent through machines which tore her body, turned it to pulp. Becoming newspaper, parts of her were spread across the city—some thrown out, some burnt, some dropped in soil, some recycled again. Each time more of her was lost. But still she had no preference. It simply was what it was, until there was nothing that it was at all. No paper or plastic or glue. Not even a memory.
Tyler Plofker is a writer in NYC. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Identity Theory, Maudlin House, Idle Ink, JAKE, Defenestration, Bear Creek Gazette, Sublunary Review, and elsewhere. In his free time, you can find him eating sugary breakfast cereals, laying out in the sun, or walking through the streets of New York City in search of this or that. He tweets badly @TylerPlofker.