The backdrop is newspaper. Decades and decades of newspaper, draped up against the wall. There’s a story about the first man on the moon and hey, there’s that really bad terrorist attack.
Bad stories and good stories.
Near the edge of the newspaper backdrop, there are three cheerleaders standing at the sidelines with megaphones. They wear short silky white skirts with blue trim. They shout out letters. ‘How do you spell A-M-E-R-I-C-A?’ They don’t stop smiling, throwing the American dream and pride at me.
On the other side, there’s a small dwarf man dressed all in black holding cue cards that demand you to ‘laugh’ and ‘cry’. He’s the definition of manipulation. I flinch.
There’s a tall woman with a straight posture who stands upright and rigid before she unravels a ‘to-do’ list which keeps on rolling and rolling. It hits the floor and spreads like a red carpet. It’s numbered 1, 2, 3, 59, 122, 542, 683… and it continues. She is reminding me of all the expectations that I never was able to reach.
There are text messages flashing off the ceiling: ‘I love you’, ‘This isn’t goodbye’. My heart aches.
Then a book shelf tips over, slams against the ground and the pages from novels flutter all over the floor. Sentences that once were obsessed over are now meaningless at my feet. They are attacking me. Begging me to come back to words, come back to pages. Taunting me for all the stories I could never finish.
Everything is black and white. I am tied up between all of my worst nightmares. The cheerleaders, the woman, the small man all shout and yell at once. Everything starts to spin and I can barely breathe.
I stand there, naked, surrounded. The words jump off the pages, out the megaphones, from the ceiling and circle me like a tornado. I spin around with it with my hands spread by my side, trying to balance. My hair whips across my face, my makeup running from my eyes like rivers.
Words everywhere. Letters. Poems. Sentences. Paragraphs.
There are always too many words weighing me down and absolutely no way to balance them. No way to grab them and figure out what they mean. No way to phrase them.
I reach out for a paper that flies by me. It is from an ex lover. I hold it in my hands for a few moments before it wisps to dust. The ashes lay warm in my palm then are blown away by the heavy sweep of a novel plummeting towards me. I duck as it hits the wall. I watch it shatter.
Then a poem written by some Renaissance man lands at my toes. I bend over to pick it up and am knocked over by an old text message. It hits me in the spine and I sprawl on the floor. I peel it out my back like a knife. The blood trickles down my body as I hold the sharp message in my hand. It reads, ‘I think it would be better if we were friends…’
These are all the words that ever ruined me: the devastating power of literature in some form or another. I am ready to weep into the words when a gust of jumbled letters from the megaphone rolls me onto my back. I look up to see floating letters that spell out ‘stupid’.
The ‘S’ and the ‘D’ fall on my feet making it impossible to stand up. The ‘T’ lands over my mouth so I can’t even scream for help. The rest of the letters pin my hands and pelvis to the ground so I am completely helpless. I wriggle and squeal at the cheerleaders who stand beside me, laughing. They tower over me, their bodies jiggling with giggles. One laughs and points at me. I can see up their skirts.
“You’re stupid,” they taunt. It triggers a sensitive place in my mind where that word has been eating away for years. I can hear it in my head, spoken in the different voices of all the people that have fled in and out of my life just to remind me that I am incapable.
The lights flicker. My eyes widen and the cheerleaders look up. The big metal beam which supports all the accusing spotlights begins to quake. I hear it before it happens.
It creaks, crack, smash, break, and then in slow motion, the beam falls. It starts at the right and then tips downward. First the light bulbs smash and rain upon us. They fall into my bare stomach and prick my skin. The blood starts to squirt out, staining the white outfits that the preppy girls wear. They scream. Then it tips a bit more. It catches onto the newspaper backdrop. It snags and tears into two.
Then it all falls down. The small man with the cue cards drops his signs to hold everything up with his two bony hands but he’s not enough. He starts to curse before being drowned by the newspaper. He is now a lump underneath it all. He smooths out later, after he stops breathing.
The metal beam lands onto the floor with an echoing ‘smash’. It knocks one of the cheerleaders on the head and she falls to the floor with a bloody nose. Her face lands right next to mine and for a moment we are the only two in the world. She looked at me with apologetic eyes before they lazily shut, the whites of them flashing before saying goodbye. I gasped.
The demands off the to-do list fall from the sky like bombs. They land all around me, between my legs, between my fingers, at the curves of my body before they explode: ‘pass your exams’, ‘stop looking so miserable’, ‘don’t be with him’, ‘get prettier’.
Then the rest of the backdrop and the left side of the metal beam tumbles down, too. It knocks everyone down with it: like dominoes. Except me. I don’t die. The beam falls across my body, right at the chest, but it balances above me because of luck and physics. The newspaper lies over me like a blanket. The tall austere lady is pinned to the wall with blades of books stabbing through her shoulders. She dangles there with her head rolled to one side. The other cheerleaders faint and soon enough they take a final breath.
I begin to suffocate under the words. My breaths are short and occasional, like weekend trips.
I am there for what feels like days. Naked. Hungry. Alone. The breaths I do take taste like death. I am breathing the out-of-date stench of the cheerleader next to me. She even twitches in the afterlife.
Then one day, I wake up and see a favourite book of mine. It is a few feet away. It has a maroon binding and gold lettering across the front. The words glimmer in the light of the flickering bulb that fights to stay alive in the darkness.
The ‘stupid’ letters have lost their strength a little so I manage to pull my right arm out from under them. I stretch for the book but it is too far away. I reach my body in impossible ways in hope that I will somehow grow to the books.
And then I do. My body begins to slowly extend. Like Alice in her Wonderland. I look down at my feet in disbelief. I am growing! I reach the book, hold it to my chest and break free from the clutch of the beam. From the bookshelf. From the queue cards and the letters. From the stinky cheerleaders. I grab the book, a few poems, some newspaper that I can fashion into a modest dress. I wrap a newspaper from 1995 around my body so that it models a strapless floor gown. And I am on my way.
I stride from the crash of words with the chosen letters wrapped around me and held in my fingertips. I look at the wreck behind me and can’t help but smile. I survived. I survived the storm! I survived the attack of all the things that have tempted me away from being one with literature. I am walking away from the pressures of society, of the repetitive reminder that I am small and stupid, of the manipulation that cuffed me to pillars of hopelessness. And I am not leaving with nothing. I am leaving with words. All the words I need. The words I need to eat on and survive long enough before I will create my own.