I am meeting with my editor, right now, as you read this story, a meeting about this story that I first submitted to her rather prestigious literary journal, a literary journal that will remain nameless, but one that has published three of my stories before, two of which won Pushcarts. So she feels like she has dibs on me and my little successes. Now we’re discussing a story that she asked for but now is questioning whether it’s exactly what she had in mind.
She says: This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.
What did you have in mind? I ask before taking a sip of ice tea. I like this restaurant, Pete’s Cafe, on Main St. in the Old Bank District. This part of downtown L.A. is really bustling now that these wonderful early 1900 office and bank buildings have been converted to lofts. New eateries, little markets, hair salons. Pete’s Cafe was one of the first to open, about ten years ago, but it’s owned by one of the bigger loft developers so he (the developer, not Pete since there’s no Pete as far as I know) has skin in the game, as they say.
She picks at her tuna niçoise salad while keeping her eyes on mine. I couldn’t do that. I need to look at my food when I pick at it. She sighs.
Something with more, I don’t know, more, you know, ethnicity.
She leans closer to me, lowers her voice because now she sees that I’m annoyed.
Your stories usually focus on Chicano characters, you know, dealing with, uh, you know…
Yes! she chirps. I wanted more culture in the story, and maybe a bit more plot, she adds.
I look down at my Thai turkey burger. It’s goddamn good, smothered in peanut sauce and some apricot-pineapple chutney, a side of sweet potato fries. But this editor is ruining it.
Okay, I say, reaching over and snatching my story from her side of the table. I grab a Sharpie from my shirt pocket, open it, and say with a flourish: How about if I cut out the first paragraph for starters like this:
I am meeting with my editor, right now, as you read this story, a meeting about this story that I submitted to her rather prestigious literary journal, a literary journal that will remain unnamed, but one that has published three of my stories before, two of which won Pushcarts. So she feels like she has dibs on me and my little successes. Now we’re discussing a story that she asked for but now is questioning whether it’s exactly what she had in mind.
She blinks slowly, then narrows her eyes.
And then, I say, how about I begin with this, and she watches as I quickly write this in the white space above the paragraph I just struck:
Inés yells ¡Chingada! as her hand slips and the thick sewing needle slices through her left earlobe and into the cork faster than she wants. She could have said Fuck! but she hates the sound of that word because it’s what her older brother, Jesusito, whispered in her nine-year-old ear as he fucked her for two years while their parents slept down the hall.
I hand it to her and she reads to herself. She smiles when done.
I like that! she says.
Can’t have it, I say and snatch it back again. The waiter comes by and refills my glass. He reminds me of Peter O’Toole who just died the other day. He was born the same year my parents were: 1932. But my parents are still ticking, knock on wood. We wait until he leaves before we start up again.
Why not? she asks. It’s exactly what I want.
Because I wrote it years ago and it’s in my first short-story collection.
She drops her fork into her salad, reaches for her purse, and throws some money on the table before standing and whispering: You’re an asshole, you know? Before I can answer, she turns and leaves Pete’s.
I look down at the bills and notice that she hasn’t left enough to cover her share of the tab. Whatever. So, I pull up the story on my Android and submit it to this literary journal, the one you now hold. I think it’d be a good fit. And, to be honest, this journal is more prestigious than her journal. I lift my burger and take a big bite. It’s a bit cold, but it still tastes fucking good. I like Pete’s. I say out loud: God bless Pete’s!