Fiction. Meet the Protagonist of my Novel-in-Progress

On second-hand testimony I was slain. Grain by grain, little stories, facts I learned piled up until one day I found myself wanting to gaze at him. At first it was innocent. I beheld him like any worthy thing, turning it this way and that. Simple appreciation. First intrigued by the person who could inspire such respect and die-hard devotion from his friends, at some point the grains hit a weight and thrust the scales against me. I’d slipped into a drowning undertow before I’d spoken a handful of words with him. To be fair, before I realized I was wet.

Before, I could speak with him. Friendly, meaningless talk I’d have with anyone. Now I put so much effort into planting my feet, into not touching him, not telling him– I can barely form words. What I most want is to pore over him, unfettered. I want to sit on a smooth bench and appreciate him like a work of art, drinking in his form until I’m choked with it. No interaction. I’m not disillusioned. We are not equals, he and I. Part of me hopes I’ll see a blemish or a fault line or even an old man hiding behind a curtain– anything to pull him down from the pillar unto which he’s ascended. In my mind.

One day he frightened me, not on purpose. He came up behind me and spoke. Just a bit too near my ear. His husky voice shook me out and my hands flew to my heart to protect it. That is my instinct.

But I can’t always see the threat coming, like the time at the lake. From deep in a book, my third read-through of That Hideous Strength, the sound of an aerobic thrash on the water began to gnaw at my attention. One fancies ripping duct tape from her skin the way I wished to tear myself from C.S. Lewis. Only to assure myself I wasn’t wallflower to a drowning did I gaze across the sun-sequined water and right through the lithe shape of a swimmer. Satisfied, if annoyed, I bent back into my cerulean world of impossible creatures.

Suddenly, towering over me was a statuesque body, dripping and half-clad in a towel. I drew a sharp breath.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Drowning.

Make no mistake. Men’s chiseled frames make little impact on me. I fall down before character. A beautiful mind. That fact colors everything I do. I am who I am because I want to be loved first for my inside and then for my outside, though I have resigned myself to the fact that most men love the other way around. Still, I hold out hope. It’s the only hope for one whose shell isn’t pretty enough to put in a pocket and take home.

When he stood beside me, physically glorious as the sun, I still had power over myself, could objectively appreciate him like I could any celestial body. That is, until he spoke. Many grains of sand were dropped on my head that day, though I didn’t realize. His words, not his form bore into me.

A strange thing happened when he cut his overlong, boyish hair into a military cut that skewered and re-framed his near-perfect lines: I liked him even better. In a twisted Samson dynamic, his haircut sapped what little resistance I possessed. But it was not his outer glory stunning me, I stand by that. It was the synthesis of both punches at once: inner and outer seduction. Watching him scrapes my heart with flinty moths.

I bid them not come, the moths and the flame they ignited, because he would never see me the way I saw him. It is fitting I like art, for my only pleasure in this life is to behold my desire from a discreet distance, from a pew. Still, in unrequited appreciation ever hovers a delusional thought, that somehow he’d be blinded to the socially inept and scrawny girl, the grey-white larva form I can neither change nor muscle my way out of– and see the butterfly of the soul. And it matters not how wrong I am to feel this way. It would be easier to cease breathing than to stop thinking of him.

*I finished my second vomit draft and am plugging along in the second (of many) revisional drafts. On my protagonist I’ve omitted many specifics, but I wanted to provide a sense of her. For anyone who wants to write better stories, this is an effective exercise: plumb what your characters want above all else. Unrequited love has always been a favorite theme of mine, so it surprised me little that it found its way here.

Also surprising and not a little terrifying is how long it takes me to edit even this little vignette before I’m willing to hit “publish.”  Holy revisions, Batman. 

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