“It’s impossible. It can’t be done,” Carl said.
“I can do it,” Melanie countered.
“I’m not talking about you, just you,” Carl said. “It’s everyone, anyone, nobody can do it.”
“Why can’t I do it?” Melanie asked.
Carl rubbed his forehead with four fingers, the index and pointer from each hand and slowly pronounced each word. “Because, Melanie, it’s a fucking paradox.”
Melanie rolled her left eye then her right eye at Carl’s crassness. “Just because it’s a paradox doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The fact that it is a paradox does add challenges to my endeavor, I admit that, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try at all.”
“I still think it will be a waste of your time,” Carl said.
“Is that so much different than sitting here in a cafe with you?” Melanie smiled, but her look went unmirrored in Carl’s reaction. There was a pause in the conversation, each left to reflect on the words that had just passed. Melanie and Carl had been dating for nearly six months. They met at a bookstore, at a reading of fiction and essays by local authors; she preferred the fiction, he the essays. Their relationship blossomed out of disagreement, bitter cocktails, and neurotic lovemaking that left each of them satisfied in their dissatisfaction. Carl wrote a poem about that night but had never and will never share this information with her. Melanie tried to explain to her friends how this good-bad lovemaking was the best-worst sex she’d ever had, but they kept saying how bizarre she sounded. “That’s contradictory,” they would say. “I know,” Melanie would respond.
It was this contradiction that Melanie found to be so stimulating, fulfilling. She’d been that way her whole life. Doctors could never tell if this was a physical or neurological impediment. Impediment: their word, not hers. Melanie embraced this feeling. That whenever something felt off, not painful, just off, she would embrace it. Carl was fully aware of this quirk of hers, and he adored her for it at first. But Carl was much more pragmatic, conventional in his attractions, and he grew irked by this quirk the more the relationship led on, a constant stream of frustration.
Their conversation was still on pause when a woman came to the table.
“Hello, Anna, hey, what are you doing here?” Carl said as he stood up to greet her.
“Oh, just passing through on my way to the tiger and the ball,” Anna responded.
“Melanie, you remember Anna right? We work together, right, you remember her?” Carl asked stammering.
Melanie paused and cracked a knuckle on her left hand. “Yes, hi, hello again, Anna.”
“Mounds of joy if I don’t wraq nim ououttzz omniomn ou’t here,” Anna responded.
Melanie smiled politely. “Carl,” she started, “it looks like our dear friend Anna just proved my point.”
“How’s that?” Carl asked.
“What point?” Anna asked. “What were you two talking about?”
“Carl said it was impossible for me to write a story while I was unconscious, while I was sleeping. My point comes from the only real way one can explore the unconscious through writing is if one is actually asleep while doing so. Makes sense, right? But who’s ever tried it? And I’m not just talking about some dream journals. So Carl disagrees that it can be done. But I know it to be true. For one, Anna, what you are saying makes no sense at all. Like, at all. Two, you’re not Carl’s coworker, you’re his roommate. In fact, I’ve fantasized in my dreams about the three of us having sex, but Carl releases too easily, so you and I leave him, Anna, on the side of the highway like in Being John Malkovich. Huh. I haven’t even seen that movie in years. Anyway, I also know you have curly hair, not straight like it is now. And even Carl’s and my’s whole story is wrong. We didn’t meet at a bookstore, it was at a cafe just like this.” Melanie paused and looked around. “Yes just like this but without the palm trees. We live in the Midwest, why are there palm trees? Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”
Carl floated out of his seat. “OK, Melanie, so what’s your point?”
“The point is, Carl,” Melanie began, as she somersaulted into the air, the background disappearing, “is that I’ve been writing this story while I’ve been asleep the whole time.”
Andrew Hertzberg is a reader in Chicago who sometimes writes. He tweets at @and_hertz.