Gwen Cooper, the volunteer Weekend Caretaker at New Town Cemetery, was raking leaves one fine autumnal Saturday morn’, singing a groovy song first heard on The Brady Bunch called Sunshine Day:
“I just can’t stay inside all day
I gotta get out, get me some of those rays
Everybody’s smilin’ (sunshine day!)
Everybody’s laughin’ (sunshine day!)”
I, the Godlike Narrator, placed Sunshine Day in Gwen’s mind because I’d finally “got” an initially puzzling remark she’d made earlier, during the first draft of this story–call it “rehearsal”– because she, like all my Fictional Characters (FC’s) has Free Will, and often shares observations during the drafting process.
This is what happened:
Godlike Narrator: “I’m unhappy. The opening is an unsustainable strangeness. And I cannot face another backstory. It’s a recipe for shame and embarrassment and tautology.”
Gwen Cooper: “I thought you were ‘Unsneezy.’”
At six-feet, Gwen is thirteen inches taller than your Godlike Narrator. You may call me anything but late for Happy Hour; but sometimes I get sensitive when the subject is verticality.
“Hello, Gwen,” I said, as she continued singing and raking, my “from up there” voice a gentle breeze passing through the boughs of an Enchanted Oak Tree in the cemetery. I was invisible and somehow everywhere at once, as most Godlike Narrators choose to be. “Glad to see you’re having a groovy, sunshiny day.”
“Omnipresent,” Gwen said. She ceased raking and singing and directed her comments at the from up there voice.
“Gesundheit.” I said, not caring for the lack of awe in her voice.
“The word is omnipresent. If you say ‘somehow everywhere at once’ you damage your claim as a Godlike Narrator because the readers will wonder ‘Hey, if she’s Godlike how come she doesn’t know the word?’ That proves you are not omniscient, which, for your information, means all knowing. For my money omniscient kicks the crap out of omnipresent–but omnipotent rules both. What I’d give to be omnipotent. Again for your information, that means I can make anything happen because I say so. It would be sweet. For me, that is–I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic if it described you. Which it obviously doesn’t or I wouldn’t need to tell you this stuff.”
“Ha! Being the Godlike Narrator allows me to roll how I want. How do you explain Sunshine Day stuck in your mind? If that ain’t omni-whatever I don’t know what is. I need not pluck down the stars.”
“No, someone has to hand them to you.”
The second short joke fell flat, even with the bit o’ Shakespeare added in, as predicted by Gwen during the earlier draft. It looked good in my mind, but, as you can plainly see, it was as “I Saw it Coming” as Godzilla to the residents of Tokyo when he stomped in from the sea. It was meant to infuriate your Godlike Narrator into smiting Gwen as a device to move the story along. But as you also can plainly see, Gwen and I were still rooted to our spots. Unless one of us thought quickly, a chorus of crickets would sing us home with Sunshine Day.
“First, get that dumbass song out of my mind then follow my lead,” Gwen said. “Do so and I will spill the backstory. Just describe me as I tell it and don’t butt in.”
“Ha! Just as I had it planned,” I said, but without conviction. I sighed and removed the song from her mind.
“And change the ‘key,’” she added. “It will sound better in the present tense.”
“Your wishes are my commands, sire,” I say.
“And maybe you could display a sunshinier disposition.”
“Don’t push it sister.”
“Anyway, dear Reader, here we are together at the same time. Gwen has something to tell you. Feel free to imagine her anyway you want, but I insist that she be on the fresh side thirty, tall and such a spectacular looking type of person that you cannot imagine her having an excretory system–like a damn Barbie doll.”
“Why are you suddenly speaking in italics–and what the hell does ‘fresh side’ mean?” Milady asks.
“Chalk it up to mysterious ways, Gwen… all deep and meaningful.”
Gwen wants to say something. Perhaps a little sarcasm. Maybe something about how I now eschew italics when I describe her. But, maybe, she is thinking that I know lots of even lamer songs I can place in her head than Sunshine Day if she forces me to repeat myself about my mysterious ways; so, she shakes it off and addresses you.
“Hello, Readers. My name is Gwen Cooper–”
“Jesus Christ Gwen, I’ve told them that at least five–””
“Silence! Godlike Narrator, can’t you see I’m talking?” Gwen says, all snotty-like, with a scowl directed in the direction of my invisible from up here voice. Now she’s looking back your way, friendly-like, as though you guys are juuust a little better than me.
“Anyway,” she continues, “ if you can remember back to the opening, I’m the volunteer Weekend Caretaker here at New Town Cemetery. And although it is my objective to enlighten, the next few things I’m going to tell you will probably create confusion because the Godlike Narrator has just pissed away nearly a thousand words that could have been used to establish a bit more than what there currently is.”
As I prepare to smite Gwen for her little blasphemies and character assassinations, she points at the small cube-like structure pictured in the heading of this piece and says:
“That there is called the ‘Caretaker’s Cottage’ even though it is obviously a tool shed and no more a Cottage than Sylvia Plath was the composer of Sunshine Day. But it is magic inside. Via the Enchanted Oak tree that the Godlike Narrator is hiding in, an Elemental Earth Spirit known Keeper passes Enchanted Electricity from the Oak through the little brass eagle atop the cottage and inside I can summon the Ghost of my co-star and love interest, John Mallory John and I walk our fantasyland and have adventures, like Kane in Kung Fu or Jules in Pulp Fiction.”
Gwen winks at you. “You know,” she says, “that is all the backstory you really need for now. But it still leaves me with the job of ending part one of this story so we can move on towards something more elevating. As you already know, the Godlike Narrator is preparing to smite me for some untoward comment I will soon make about her lack of ‘verticality.’ For that, the recent use of ‘elevating’ and other shit supposedly long forgotten–for though low built, she has a tall memory.”
The smart ass is now feigning a thoughtful gaze into the distance, arms crossed, but one hand frees to rub her chin in the time honored mime of cogitation. Now her eyes are wide and bright; as though an “idea” light bulb, like in a Daffy Duck cartoon, has appeared above her head.
“Psst, guys,” Gwen says. “The Godlike Narrator up in the sky isn’t really invisible. We can’t see her cos Smurfs are blue.”
Although that one was even lamer than the other short joke that fizzled, I returned (as you already may have noticed) to the “key” of the past tense and took great offense to the dopey remark because Gwen was right about one thing– the three thousand word budget was looking to take the big swirl, so we had to get moving. Clouds gathered, rain fell, wind blew; and a single bolt of lightning, just close enough to get Gwen’s attention, hit across the street from the cemetery. She dashed into the safety of the Caretaker’s Cottage.
John Mallory suffered an essentially pointless death by accident in 1978; he was thirty-two and died never knowing true love. How sad. (Of course he was never abducted and anally probed by aliens either; but on that account he has never expressed his gratitude.)
Fortunately, Mallory was buried at New Town Cemetery between the Enchanted Oak occupied by the Earth Spirit called Keeper and the Caretaker’s Cottage. Keeper was able to bring back Mallory as a Ghost as long as specific actions were followed. And via a series of previous events that would blow the word limit to revisit, Keeper had arranged it so only Gwen Cooper could perform those specific actions and interact with Mallory (which, when you think about it, in no way eases a suspicion that she might be crazy).
Although the cottage is a tool shed not much larger than a walkin closet, when Gwen enters and closes the door the far wall withdraws and the space fills with a Victorian era parlor because she believes that such is an appropriate meeting place with a Ghost paramour. Upon being chased inside by the offended Godlike Narrator, the cottage transformed. To “access” Mallory, Gwen must “phone” 1978. She also opens a bluetooth speaker on a table for Mallory to “speak” through. As a shape, Mallory is ethereal but no more impressive than Casper or the Canterville Ghost. But as has been established in previous performances by the Ghost, he has eyes the color of city rain, which appeals to Miss Gwendylyn Cooper.
Although it is highly unnecessary, Gwen likes to sing “Heathcliff, it’s me, your Cathy,” from Kate Bush’s 1978 hit Wuthering Heights upon calling John. Apparently, she operates under the delusion that the fiftieth time is as charming as the first.
John Mallory is always charmed by this, and was again, for the fifty-first time. Of course, even though dead, he is still a guy and Gwen is, as also established, beautiful. This combination allows her to say the stupidest shit conceivable and have it regarded much higher than it would by an objective observer.
“Hi, Gwen,” John said, upon the culmination of the process.
Despite those city rain eyes of his, alive or dead John is one of those guys who probably should never be allowed to dress himself. Some otherwise intelligent people need to go from start to finish with Mom (or her proxy) laying out their clothes on the bed. Then again the popular wardrobe of the late 1970’s didn’t allow much for good taste. Hence, John’s Ghost “gathered to” clad in red high rise silk jogging shorts; knee high white socks with two stripes at the top; an orange pair of size thirteen Traxx and a sleeveless puke-colored polyester tee shirt that had some sort of hood attached in the back.
“Trick or treat,” Gwen said, which she always says when his outfit stuns her.
He smiled as he always smiles when she says that because he never gets the joke.
“Hark!” Gwen said, holding a hand to her ear, in the time honored “hark” gesture–”Doth I hear the tense of our reality slipping like fault lines.”
Naturally that unscripted remark was meant as a jab at the Godlike Narrator. Due to word count issues, I couldn’t/can’t act on it then, now or tomorrow. But soon. I will smite her again. I put it on my Retroactive To Do List.
“Winners aren’t funny,” John said.
Gwen was used to strange little announcements made by John. For they were the words of Keeper, that ineffable Earth Spirit who has the entire life histories of all the persons buried in New Town Cemetery contained in her mind. Thousands of years, which she explores via the ad of Gwen and John as though they are human Rossetta stones.
“I said, Winners aren’t–” John began to repeat himself, because Gwen had yet to reply as planned.
“I know, lover,” Gwen said, “but I was listening to the enhanced backstory.”
“Cut!” I yelled. The scene vanished and resolved itself to my office in my realm of make believe.
There we were, Gwen, Mallory’s Ghost, Boots the Impaler and myself. The first three are Fictional Characters (FC’s) of my creation who act in stories that I try to write. Every FC has a Self and (as stated before and plenty) they all have Free Will, which, I, the Godlike Narrator stupidly endow them with upon creation. Free Will often leads to unpleasant side effects such as unionization–and the Union of Imaginary Friends and Fictional Characters now demands that I offer roles in all my productions to my stable of extant FC’s before I may create new characters. Although Gwen and Mallory played themselves in this production–they have appeared as many different creatures in the past. The role of the Eternal Earth Spirit, however, was/is to be played by a FC Siamese Cat named Boots the Impaler. Boots (or BTI) is attracted to roles in which he holds great power. But when he isn’t on call he’s usually cataclysmically stoned on crack nip and sleeping on my desk. Which was precisely what he was doing when we zapped out of the Caretaker’s Cottage and immediately zotted into being in my office.
“Yes, Gwen, zotted,” I said. “It seems to me that it will be impossible to tell a story with you guys in it if you keep peeking at the narration as we go.”
“It’s a little hard not to, Leila,” Mallory said. “You are right there in the room with us, practically yelling to the readers through a big hole in the fourth wall.”
“Right?” Gwen said.
I sighed and consulted the word count. Only 776 left in the budget prior to the start of this sentence.
“All right, kids, let’s adlib a finish,” I said.
At this point BTI awoke and yawned. Like all Cats he had been listening to everything that had been going on while he slept and did not care much about anything other than what concerned BTI. So it was a rare thing that he actually made a useful suggestion.
BTI speaks with what is known as a “mid atlantic” accent–that was once used by the Hollywood stars in old movies because being American they felt inferior to British actors in matters of class and sophistication.
“Seems here that we should finish the same as we began,” BTI said.
“What–with Gwen raking leaves and singing Sunshine Day–c’mon Bootsy you can do better than that,” I said.
“Not literally, dullard Human–but in the theme of it. You got over sensitive about the ‘Unsneezy’ remark dear Gwen made in rehearsal, and you carried it into the tale, thus ending any chance the material had of going anywhere.”
“The Godlike Narrator said shortly,” Gwen added.
“Yo ho, Judas.”
BTI sighed as though trying to communicate the simplest idea to a single cell organism. Then a light shone in his ice blue eyes. He jumped onto Gwen’s lap and whispered something in her ear. She smiled and the same light shone in her equally icy blue eyes. She shared the idea with Mallory’s Ghost whose eyes like city rain shone just as brightly.
Then all together they began to sing:
“Short people got no reason, short people got no reason to live…”
Although that blasphemous tune hails from 1977 and not ‘78–for a sense of symmetry, I understood the idea behind it.
“You guys can consider yourself smited,” I said as I immediately zotted the three of them back to New Town Cemetery. But not before hearing Gwen say “Smited?”
I just sat there for a long while, so long that the past eventually caught up to and merged with the present, as it is right now.
“Well,” I say, “too many tense issues for a sunshine day.”
12 thoughts on “Small God Syndrome by Leila Allison”
Dear Santa, This Christmas can I please have a ‘retroactive to do list’? Thank you.
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Thank you Michael–
One should ask Santa for anything. i mean, you never know. But you have to be careful. Kids who actually got ponies had overlooked the vast uptick in “pony lemonade and cookies” in their rooms. So Santa is a cautionary fellow at best.
Here we go again.
I know that you have read this but I do feel as if I’m being honest to all our submitters when I use my initial comments.
Not sure if I can add anything else except the usual nod to your brilliance!!
Really clever Leila.
A worthy loop from start to finish and back.
I am always amazed at how you find a new and novel way to introduce the back story – It is one helluva skill that you have there!
I’m sure many a writer shies away from re-introducing characters and situations in case any reader finds it repetitive or boring. With you it becomes a unique part of the whole thing.
…I like 70’s clothes – There were big flared trousers that were comfy, not like those fucking stupid trousers now-a-days that try to choke the life out of your shin by giving the bone a DVT!
If you couldn’t be arsed ironing, then there were cheese-cloth shirts and my own personal favourite – A Velvet Jacket. It is still an iconic fashion statement – I’ll get one of them one of these days – Either dark blue or wine!
And no-one ever wore sodding tan shoes with blue suits!!!
The characterisations of BTI are perfect and remind me of an other psycho, BTK (If only BTI could get those thumbs to work!)
You finished with a clever tie in to the Randy Newman song!
This is another story of yours that we spot something else every time we read it.
Thank you, Hugh
I did so love a lot of 70’s fashions too. Those velvet jackets were cool. My favorite were the rugby shirts and soft Converse sneakers. I swear with the bells you never saw people’s feet!
I forgot to mention that BTI’s “voice” is precisely the same as Shere Kahn (voiced by George Sanders) the Tiger in the original Jungle Book film.
George Sanders, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Roger Moore all had classic male voices.
I recently re-watched The World at War–Olivier did first rate narration, yet I never cared for his voice as much in films he’d made earlier. UK produces the best speakers. But I do like Jack Nicholson’s wonderfully snide voice.
I always enjoy entering this world. I appreciate the wit and LA’s ability to manage the different POVs (and even different tenses this time). The characters have their own distinct personalities and, as usual, there are some nuggets to enjoy (such as “eyes the color of city rain,” “ crack nip,” and many more.) An excellent read.
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Thank you, David
I buy something called Cat Ganga online. All kinds of takes on druggie lingo for Cats. One will bury his face in a pinch of the stuff like Pacino in Scarface, the other goes bonkers over mint. So, inspiration is all around me.
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yep, ‘crack nip’ is wonderful
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Brilliant, exhilarating reading! I say this a lot, but I’m not sure I understand it, but I love the breaking down of all feasible narrative walls here. The argument over ‘omnipresent’ vs ‘omniscient’ is hilarious – as is the ‘gazundheit’. Your writing is like taking acid on a rollercoaster in another galaxy.
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Thank you, Paul–
Your kinds words are always appreciated.