Your Novel And You

CW: animal death, cannibalism, violent imagery

Your Novel And You
Photo by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

by Zoe Adrien Lapa

Having not killed yourself, you wake up with a ring of people around your bed. The bed is yellow. Faces poke into your yellow kingdom: that of your mother, your father, your first grade teacher, and your guidance counselor. Their passive faces look you in the eye. You have to pick one of them to look in the eye, but you can’t think of who to pick, so you stare directly into the ceiling light. Your eyes burn. It goes on like this for a while.

“You shouldn’t be awake,” your counselor finally says. She’s right. But, well,

“I haven’t written my novel yet,” you say.

Having not killed yourself, you go on to write your novel. The best of your art. You can imagine it shining in the dark of your room— but it’s daylight, and your laptop’s at its lowest brightness. You know, because of the migraines.

You feel the urge to vomit.

The counselor reads the novel with her glasses sliding down her nose, one finger of one hand lightly holding back the bridge of it. She keeps swallowing noisily, but her mouth doesn’t move. Just the crinkles in her eyes crinkling, then not. Afterwards she looks you dead in the eye.

“Honey,” she begins, gently. “It’s... good, but I think it’s evident that you just... need more experience. Like, with humans. You should get out there.”

You say nothing, so she pushes further. “Go out there. Socialize. Learn,” she says. And then, forcefully, “Be normal.” You know you’ve learned plenty enough, considering; then again, she isn’t wrong.

Having not killed yourself, you carry politely on. The two girls huddled together with their backs to the cafeteria wall don’t look interesting; in fact, they’re very familiar, and thus boring. The human experience starts here.

You plop down beside them and immediately they go quiet. One, with the long, long braid, looks up at you underneath messy bangs.

“What are you doing here,” she says, and it comes out flat and semi-hostile. You shrug.

The other one, her with the short brown hair, says, “That isn’t an answer.”

“I’m supposed to be learning,” you say. “How to experience humans.”

“You’re not learning anything here,” One says, shoulders hunching like she’s trying to burrow deeper into the wall.

When you look at the Other One, she just nods. “You really aren’t.” But you know what to say.

“I tried to kill myself a couple weeks ago.”

They gasp, fawn over you after, ooh-ing and aah-ing over your tortured soul, your
bravery. You drawl a little something about art and boom! Vulnerability! Over weeks of socialization you wheedle statements out of them, statements that go on to become full sentences, and then whole paragraphs, a chapter’s worth of stuff. You write and write it all feverishly down.

A month after and One is just describing another serial killer she’s recently been obsessed with, and you think, There. That’s enough. You’ve learned enough. And you stand up, ignoring Other One’s confused stare and One’s exclamation, and you walk away, back towards where your laptop sits.

Having not killed yourself and keeping your new lessons in mind, you start editing your novel. You show your mother, but she doesn’t say anything for a long long while. She sits and thinks, and you shrink and shrink, until all you see is her long neck poking her small head into the waterlogged ceiling. She looks down at you. You wonder if real humans have ever managed to communicate effectively.

“You just need,” she says, “To better portray the human experience. You need to
understand the heart and how it works.”

You don’t know what ‘the human experience’ means, but you know one thing about the heart: it does work.

Having not killed yourself, you catch a rat. The rat is plump and dark, heavy in your hand. You think, idly, of the plague. When you press your scalpel into the rat’s flesh it starts wriggling, uncomfortable at the press of cold metal. You feel absolutely nothing at all, nothing as you slam it quickly down onto hard floor, once, twice, thrice... and the rat does nothing either as you lay it across your desk all bloody.

Your first cut is jagged and uneven, the depth of the sunken blade changing all across the belly of the animal, until the slash starts resembling a series of holes. The bones are thin and shiny. The next cuts are more confident, stronger, but still jagged and strange. You dissect it like a frog, pin the flaps of skin to the sides, and look curiously at its organs. There, the liver as winedark as an ocean. There, the lungs beneath the sheaf of ribs. And here, the fleshful bloodful heartful sack of heart. It doesn’t beat. It kind of jiggles, actually.

You pull off your gloves and start taking down notes. The door creaks, groans, opens–your father peers in. His face does a funny dance at the mess of your room, the redbrown of the desk, the rat like an angel with wings splayed out. A dry retch shoots forcefully out from the back of his throat. He coughs an ahem and goes, grufflike, “You really should stop doing stuff like this.”

Your response. “I haven’t finished editing my novel yet.”

Having not killed yourself, you read it over. Is it done? Is it finally done? Have you put everything you wanted? You ask your first grade teacher. The most trustworthy of sources.

He says, simply, “You lack empathy. This book– it has everything!– hauntings and
suicides and weird immoralities. But it lacks something, something fundamental. The human experience. The human heart.”

You’re sick of the human experience. And you know where the human heart rests.

One and the Other One sit at the same spot still, and their faces brighten when you join them. They brighten even more as you lay out the plan– the heist– a lot of people like mysteries, and true crime’s on the rise. There it goes—

Having not killed yourself, you work on directing all the inner violence outwards. You work on sharing and socialization, and you think, this is great for your novel. When the three of you get caught, the blood makes your mouths look like lipsticked clown smiles. Behind you, around you, are a series of holes of varying depth.

Zoe Adrien Lapa is a writer and modest microblogger on Tumblr, a website that is definitely still relevant to this day. Their work has appeared as short stories on Foglifter Press, Wrongdoing Magazine, and The Origami Review, with assorted poems and visual artworks published elsewhere. You can find them on Twitter or Tumblr via @zoeadrien.