This is a short piece of fiction I just wrote entitled Waiting for Joseph Varnhein. I hope you enjoy it!
I read all his books, and he wasn’t even there. All seven of his amazing books in the Gatsby Starship Series, all of his short stories(even the one with the tentacles he said he only did for the money), his biography, his autobiography, and I even signed up on that thing know as Twitter just to get his inspirational quotes every week or so. I drove three hours out of my way, in the car kept together by Duct Tape, in my dirty white Stop N’ Save shirt just to wait on line, just to see his face, just to get a squiggle that barely resembles the beautiful words, “Joseph Varnhein” on a book to battered to remember its creator.
And he wasn’t even there.
A few fans were standing around, arguing over whether Tabatha really died in the fifth book and whether the second was better than the fourth. The Borders patrons were walking around as if nothing had happened, as if Gods walked around them daily. There was one guy dressed in tin foil and wire that really made a good Drasnick from the third book. I tried to figure out what had happened to the man I joined the Twitter for. He was here. He wasn’t here. He was here, but then he left, but he’ll be coming back in a Cadillac, so don’t worry. The point was that he was not here now and I was standing with an unsquiggled-on book. It was probably about time I took care of the bladder problem I had been holding for the last forty-five minutes anyway.
I was standing at the urinal with my back to the door, watching my urine create a city of bubbles when I heard the creaking of another visitor. He shuffled straight past me and headed to the middle stall. I only caught a glimpse of him through the corner of my eye, but I saw the brown blazer and the gray mustache, and that was all I needed. That was Joseph Varnhein.
The stream instantly cut off. I was petrified. Dare I peak in the crease between the stall door and wall and risk bursting into flames at witnessing the holy of holies?
Crazy idea the first: Jump over the stall, snap a quick picture with the phone I never use, and blackmail him into coming to my house and signing every book in his series.
Crazy idea the second: crawl under the stall and hand him both a pen and a book without looking.
I could do neither of these. I stood and listened. Just to listen to Joseph Varnhein would be enough. There was a rustling of toilet paper being pulled and carefully placed down. Of course he’s a careful man. I’m surprised they don’t have a fur seat cover waiting for him with the letters of his name outlined in gold.
There’s a shuffling of shoes, and a fiddling of the belt buckle. I don’t know why, of course Joseph Varnhein wears pants, I just never imagined him with a belt. Not that it isn’t obviously a practical way to keep one’s pants up, it’s just the clickity clack of the buckle unhinging from the notch is such a normal familiar sound. I suppose I would have pictured fairies holding up and lightly dropping his pants for him, but I suppose that’s just a little much.
And then there is nothing but his breathing. I could never envision Joseph Varnhein breathing like that. One could scarcely envision Joseph Varnhein breathing at all. Do gods breathe? Do heroes breathe? I guess they have to. It’s a deep nasally intake, just a bit raspy. It’s long and slow and a paints a picture of his lungs filling with oxygen. He doesn’t remind me of my grandfather. He reminds me of all the old people sitting around my grandfather, with walkers and breathing mechanisms, watching Alex Trabeck on a TV with rabbit ears.
The breathing doesn’t sound human in the emotional sense of the word, not as though you’d envision a brother or a sister or a friend. It’s mechanical. This is a Joseph Varnhein breathing machine.
There is a heaving and a panting and a silent release of gas. I can’t in all conscience picture what this Joseph Varnhein machine is doing. And then there is a plop in the water, a light splash. Two plops. Three. This is the creator of the seven greatest works of literature of all time and something is coming out of him. If this were really a Joseph Varnhein machine, I’d like to think that what was going on here was the creative process. Three little ideas just dropped into the water and are floating there, waiting to be used. Four. But I realize I’ve been standing at a urinal for the past two minutes, holding my genitals, and this can not possibly be anything related to writing an epic.
I zipped up and walked over to the sink to fill my hands with soap. It is only after I’m standing with my hands under the sorry excuse for a wind machine that I realized I’d forgotten to flush. One does not forget to flush in the presence of Joseph Varnhein, no matter what process he’s in the middle of completing. I had to walk over and shamefully pull the plunger. And then of course I had to wash my hands again because one must be clean in the presence of Joseph Varnhein.
And I waited. I’ve read all his books and all his short stories and I drove three hours out of my way to listen to this machine release gas, and I wasn’t about to leave without knowing whether this is really Joseph Varnhein or not. Because there’s always the chance the creator of the battered and now slightly wet tome I’m holding does not share the same identity as the man that is in that stall. A very good chance.
There was a flush, and the familiar sound of the belt buckle again. He unlocked the stall, and walked out. There was a moment of awkward silence as we both stared at each other. I gave him the weakest smile I had while hiding the book behind my back. He shot a quick smile back, and then he left. I didn’t ask him to squiggle on my book. I didn’t run after him and ask him about the riddle of the squid in the fifth book, which had been bothering me for four years; I just stood there and continued to wait. Because that was not Joseph Varnhein.
Joseph Varnhein would not have made those noises and sounds. Joseph Varnhein would not have made those breathing noises. Joseph Varnhein would have had a much more serene creative process. Joseph Varnhein would have washed his hands. Joseph Varnhein would have been great, and that was not Jospeph Varnhein. So I kept waiting. But he didn’t come.
I read all his books and he wasn’t even there.