Parker Young’s debut short story collection, Cheap Therapist Says You’re Insane, comes out today, May 24, from Future Tense Books. His fiction has appeared in Always Crashing, Juked, No Contact, and elsewhere.
I was writing a fantastic tale about two little sheep who have nowhere to go but up. The main question that animates the whole story is, will the sheep go up? It seems that they should—they have no reason not to. Certainly, they can’t go any further down. We all have limits.
Anyway, that was the story I was writing, and the writing was going quite well until my wife began changing the words of the story at night, when I wasn’t looking. I’ve got no proof, of course, it’s only a feeling I have, but a strong one. For example, one of the two sheep is now a female sheep. I can’t remember writing a female sheep into the story at all, but there it is, and its name is Tina. On the other hand, I was never dead-set on writing a story about two male sheep, so I suppose it’s possible that I was the one who made one of the sheep male and the other female and named the female one Tina. There’s nothing wrong with a sheep named Tina, and I would never claim otherwise. But it’s suspicious. But from there it gets worse because my wife’s name is Tina and my name is Colin, and can you guess what the male sheep’s name is?
I should ask Tina what’s going on.
A new development. The sheep are no longer sheep—now they are people. People who walk upright and spend lots of time watching tennis. This is troubling because I would never write about tennis. I love to watch tennis myself and spend an embarrassing amount of time doing so, but I would never go so far as to write it into a story of mine, especially not a story about two people like Tina and Colin. Yes, I’m a tennis-watching type of person through and through, but I’m determined to hide such proclivities from the world for as long as possible, and so I can’t help but suspect that my wife is interfering with my story and changing the words all around at night, when I’m not looking. This is a serious charge because I barely ever sleep. Therefore, in order for her to change the words of my story all around, she would have to spend hours pretending to sleep, waiting attentively for the precise moment when I’ve actually drifted off for my 45 minutes or so. Then and only then would she be able to strike, affecting change in my story about Tina and Colin, who used to be sheep and had nowhere to go but up. Writing all about the time they spend watching professional tennis, which I would never, ever do. The writing about it, that is.
I think I should ask Tina what’s going on.
The final straw. The Colin character has disappeared completely from my story, which is now a Tina story about Tina things. Tina alone in restaurants, Tina alone on the train, Tina, who used to be a sheep with nowhere to go but up, watching professional tennis and drinking too much. It’s my personal opinion that in the story she drinks too much, but the narrative never acknowledges the possibility. Whoever wrote the narrative never even suggests that Tina might have a problem with drinking too much. A real problem. But a problem that has nothing to do with the story’s original question, which was, if my memory serves me: these sheep who have nowhere to go but up, will they go up? Or not? It seems that they should.
I decide to throw the story away because I don’t want to read about Tina any more, certainly not if she’s going to go on drinking gin and watching tennis for god only knows how many more pages. Making eyes at strangers. Maybe she is actually enjoying herself, come to think of it, but no, I can’t go on reading it or writing it or whatever.
Tina, I say, can I ask you something?
But she’s drunk. Tina rarely drinks, and so it only takes a few hours out with friends to render her inoperable. I decide to ask later. Until such a time as I can ask her what is going on, I’ll postpone throwing away the document, a story about two little sheep who have nowhere to go but down, although it seems they should go up.
Wait a second. How can it be that they have nowhere to go but down when I have this feeling, a powerful feeling, that they should go up? I suppose that could be the very dynamic that brings the story to life. Or brought it to life. It’s a moot point now, because, if my memory serves, it’s now a story about Tina who watches tennis and drinks deadly quantities of alcohol. Nothing like my Tina. Not really.