http://www.albany.edu/offcourse
 http://offcourse.org
 ISSN 1556-4975

   

Since 1998, a journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays edited by Ricardo Nirenberg.


 

"The Acceptance of Riding Hood", by Joachim Frank.

 

The muffled voice on the phone was the voice of an editor who wanted to talk to me, but about what?  My instant thought was that editors of literary magazines ought to be more articulate – some of his sentences went unfinished, some had no verbs, a no-no in this branch of human endeavor, so  I asked him to repeat what he said;  I even became impatient, almost rude.  In an inexplicable role reversal, I enjoyed being rude to the editor. "Isn't that your story?" he said.  "About Little Red Riding Hood?" – "Little Red Riding Hood?  Did I write that?  Why on earth do you want to print it?”  And here his voice became excited, as he said yes, yes, yes, as though trying to make up for the slow and vague start of the conversation.  Still no verbs.  The fact is, I did write a short story called "Little Red Riding Hood," and vaguely remember its concept, an intentionally confused interplay between the children's story and the struggle of a writer to get published, but I don't remember exactly how the story went because all I could remember is there was no plot.  Yes, there was a girl, but was she little?  She might have been in the forest, but was there a wolf?  The wolf, if indeed there was one, – there are a lot of questions about that! – might have been a metaphor for the publisher of the magazine I intended to send my story to.  And this business with the hood was too cute to come from my pen.  Give me a break!  This is where doubts began to raise their ugly little pin-heads.  But the fact that the story was accepted made me run to the attic, way up in my house, to secure a copy of the manuscript, so that I could breathe in, slurp up, the words I had written, with all their elegance and foresight.  With their significations and stealth.  With their utter playfulness and lust.  On the way up to the attic, which took unexpectedly long, I anticipated the moment when, back down again, stretched out in the easy chair on my back porch, I’d be re-reading my story with the full knowledge it was accepted, and would be basking in the aura of its newly-found immortality.  It would be the most pleasurable moment of my as-yet brief but rapidly unfolding literary life.  Arrived in the attic, a dictionary in my hand, I found no trace of the manuscript.  There were heaps of other manuscripts, with titles like "My Dog Days, Gone," "Be with Me, Bee," or "Lancaster's Long Remorse," all with the crisp determined marks of my Writers’ Group, but no "Riding Hood".  Was it possible that there was another author writing under my name?  An imposter?  But this would not explain my distinct recollection of having written something about a girl in the forest, and the fact the editor had called my number, a number that is usually only preyed upon by dental offices and people with business propositions.  I looked out the window.  Down below, ridiculously far away, as though I had climbed the spire of a cathedral, was my backyard.  I flung down the dictionary.  Following a spiraling path, buffeted by the steady north-north-west wind, which seemed intent on looking up something in the short time it took for the book to pass its gravitational trajectory, something perhaps the wind always wanted to know, the book landed, a blue speck in the grass so far away, and apparently still intact, just as the coffee is still warm in certain fairy tales when the prince returns, giddy from his adventures in far-away lands, and ready to lay his hands on the princess.  Yes, yes, there was a girl in the forest, and I desired her very much, yet could not trace her path, and I felt that, as I was spending my time in this futile way, she was growing, growing older!  Oh the mist in my eye!  I made my way back down to the garden, past the phone still alive with the breathing of the reckless editor, and saw that next to the place where the dictionary had landed, there was now a large oval burst of the land, where the grass had receded, to make way for a patch of pitch-black volcanic soil, which was sharply penetrated by a ruby-colored mineral.  The mineral formed elliptic ridges. The area looked like a large magnificent open wound.  I gazed at it and walked around it, and tip-toed to the edge of the rim, quite carefully, as I do when I visit a formal Japanese garden with raked paths, where each pebble has a sacred, preordained place.  Where the chief gardener wakes up at night in a sudden panic, unsure if the arrangement of stones meets the Imperial standard.  Only here, looking up and down the fence, there was no trace of a gardener nor his fear of being reprimanded, justly or unjustly.  Oh, how I wished I could remember her – her skin all alabaster, her hair black as ebony, her eyes as the sky on certain days in September here in the Northeast, her lips red as a cherry or two, her teeth so white, her mouth raptly moving with chewing gum, her little breasts just budding – but she has escaped my memory like an unfaithful silvery snake.

OK, there is this business with the wolf, headstrong and competitive as hell.  It is not possible at this place to avoid mentioning the wolf.  On the business of the wolf I have this to say: I wouldn't want to run into him at night; not him, not at the time when he escorts the little maid to his lair.   I don't like his breath either, which is musky if not foul, nor his attitude, which is brisk.  My own grandmother died long ago.  I was little, and overheard something about her coughing up blood on the way to the doctor.  What I couldn't figure out then was why she went to the doctor if she was dying anyway.  This is why I left her out of my story, and this is why I thought no editor in the world would ever call me, particularly at this hour.  For everyone knows that Little Red Ridinghood and the wolf – being so yin and yangish, so opposite in their purpose that no-one could even imagine Little Red Ridinghood eating the wolf – require a certain amount of balance, a degree of triangulation, an extra dimension, a father figure so to say, even if he is old and female, with wrinkles and glasses and white hair and a thin brittle voice coming from thin pale lips, and a cup of tea in her shaking hand, scared of nothing since she can't see it, waiting waiting for riding riding hood, which in this world at least means waiting for the wolf.

"Now here," said the voice on the phone.  I appreciated the editor's perseverance. "Will you help us in the promotion of your book?" he said.  "That depends," I said, still the very picture of obstinacy.  And then he told me they had decided to print the story in 40-point font, little more than a sentence per page, with plenty pictures, which inflated the work to the space of a novella, and made it accessible to the nearly blind.  "First I must retrieve my dictionary," I said.  "Then we shall see."


Link to Joachim Frank bio notes.



Return to Offcourse Index.