The novelist tumbled into awareness, and promptly wished he hadn’t. His head still ached. So did his shoulders, his back, and—oh, everything. The novelist groaned, and opened his eyes.
A puffy, red face quivered upside down, inches above his own. It reeked of potatoes. ‘Oh various lack, that circumstances foul should muddle the cheese,’ the face sighed.
The novelist pushed the face away with remarkable vigor, scrambled to his feet. ‘I say!’
The face was affixed in the usual manner to a thin young man with blond dreadlocks. The young man sat down heavily, and glared at the novelist.
‘That was a haiku,’ he said. ‘A very good haiku, if you hadn’t noticed.’
‘Oh, it was, was it?’ the novelist sneered. ‘I thought it was an op-ed.’
The young man waved his hand limply. ‘The problem with your sort is that you fail to interconnect all those things that need interconnecting. Like chickens and roast beets. Or pigeons and editorials.’
The novelist had turned his attention to his surroundings. They were in an attic, filled with bales of straw and dry-rotted crates. The ceiling dropped at a severe angle, a frosted window opening onto a view of staggeringly depressing brick walls. There was no sign of the sock monkey, or the tea, or anything indicative of civilization except a large, mahogany wardrobe looming in a corner.
The young man picked up a handful of straw, and stuck it into his hair fretfully. ‘I don’t see why you’d think that was an op-ed. It had meaning. Purpose. Profundity.’
‘It didn’t make sense!’
‘Of course it didn’t!’ The young man looked affronted. ‘It’s abstract. I’m a poet—I’m paid to be abstract?’
‘Are you really?’ asked the novelist, suddenly interested.
‘No,’ the poet admitted. ‘But that’s only because the edited editors of the edited elite wouldn’t know Art if it punched them in the mouth. He has, too. But he tells me that eventually they’ll die off, and someone will want to read my poetry.’
The poet reached into a hay bale, and drew out a battered leather notebook. ‘I’ve written a cycle of poems on the subject of editors. I call it, ‘the orange gall flowering under the seeing who notices the brain—’ All lowercase, you understand.’
The novelist sighed. ‘Look, poesy—I know all about editors. Well, at least all about the slush pile. Well, the bottom of the slush pile. Griping isn’t going to get you anywhere. Do you mind telling me how I got here? I think our realities might not align.’
‘You flew out of the wardrobe.’ The poet thumbed through the notebook, cleared his throat. ‘The fit begins like this: circular laminates who sees what i look for / that’s not a crime/ at least/not until the criminal /umbrellas/like/ foil hedge pins…’
‘Out of the wardrobe?’ the novelist muttered. ‘I felt sure I’d gotten shoved sideways through a burp in space and time.’
He opened the wardrobe cautiously. A cold wind rushed out, carrying with it the scent of distance, time, and death.
‘Ah, brilliant!’ the cold wind gasped. ‘Getting rather stuffy in there, it was. You mind if I leave this here?’ It dropped the scent of distance, time, and death unceremoniously on a hay bale.
‘river understands only the hugo/ of /retrospection in the /rain again with it?’ the poet wailed.
‘Right!’ The cold wind waved. ‘Sorry to drop and run, but I’ve got to get home for Pillsday dinner. Can’t keep the old gal waiting. Ta-taa!’ It rushed through the wall with a shriek.
The novelist peeked into the wardrobe. There was nothing inside but a moth-eaten umbrella. The novelist opened the window, and was quietly sick into the street.