So I sit on a hard plastic chair, under fluorescent lights. I smell the familiar antiseptic and watch the scenery. It’s a busy night at the hospital. Token injuries like a broken leg or third degree burns pass me by on stretchers. Things get interesting when a man’s wheeled in, frowning girlfriend at his side.
“Things get interesting…”
Do you think your narrator is aware of how whacked out that is? That he is about to hit on a woman with a potential corpse on her hands. Or is he one of those guys who is clueless about their own behavior and motivations?
Jules Archer: I don’t think my guy is totally clueless about his behavior or motivations. I don’t think he is aware of his whacky-ness either (is that a word?). I think, in a creepy way of looking at it, that he is just doing what needs to be done. He looks at it (wooing the hospital women on this one day) as matter-of-fact, with a bit of cockiness tossed in the mix. “Yeah, I can do this,” I think is his odd shtick.
Susan: That was my take on him, too. He is the quintessential unreliable narrator. They are so much fun because they can go anywhere and do anything and don’t answer to anyone. They can also be dangerous. You have set this story in a hospital ER, a place fraught with danger and uncertainty. Any idea what made you choose this particular setting?
Jules: Well, originally this Valentine’s Day story idea came from doing a duo blog post with Harley May. The goal was to write the antithesis of a Valentine’s Day flash. No lovey-dovey crap allowed. We each had to come up with two key words and instantly I knew one of mine had to be ‘hospital’. It’s not your typical romantic setting, plus I already had the picture brewing in my mind of all the Valentine’s Day related accidents that I thought would occur. I mean, who hasn’t choked on a candy heart? And then came a guy who freakishly cashed in on love and the story was a goner.
Susan: “… a guy who freakishly cashed in on love…”
A great way of putting it. Also, if I might add: It’s very “Jules”… You definitely have your own slant on life and it pushes into your stories and poems in the best possible way. Voice is crucial for carrying any narrative. But you’ve also made him “seeable.” In other words, I could see this guy crystal clear. Was he immediately clear for you in the physical sense?
Jules: Thanks, Susan. That makes me all giggly inside that you say it’s very “Jules”. But I am glad to hear that…that my voice is carried through in my pieces.
I could see him right off the bat. Not sure how or why but the character just came to me. In my eyes, he was a young, cute kid, who likes to get into trouble. Shaggy hair maybe. Cocky charm. Doesn’t fear the world. Has a way with the ladies. Especially on Valentine’s Day. Oh, is it wrong that I kind of want to date him now?
Susan: Ha! That’s perfect! Of course you want to date him. I want to date him. We gotta love our characters— even the really naughty ones. And this baby-boy is all yours and he has the lines.
There’s a brunette sitting in the corner, knees pressed together, head in her hands. She came in, holding the hand of a guy with third degree burns. The tears in her eyes tell me not a chance.
His casual disregard of what’s real in that ER comes across as funny because it’s part of his personal truth. The worst behavior can be really funny if we don’t moralize. Do you think he’s a narcissist?
Jules: Hmm… I don’t think he is a narcissist in the sense that he’s absorbed with himself and elitist. I think he is someone who is just honest with himself— and others— to the point of being almost cruel— but he doesn’t see that. He just does what he wants and get what he wants. He definitely lacks empathy and definitely looks out for himself, but not to the point of narcissism.
Susan: First I thought he was one of those people doing the hospital “drive-by”— hitting up different hospitals for the same prescription drug. But it didn’t go that way. He also tries to twirl the nurses around his finger.
The nurse calls my name and I look up. I approach the desk. “Busy night.”
She bristles. “Yes, it is.” I lean against the counter. Gives me the stink eye over the rims of her spectacles. “I remember you from last year.
Jules: Yes. Here he’s just making conversation, being his usual charming self, albeit maybe a bit tongue-in-cheek. But this nurse doesn’t buy it. He’s familiar to her and she knows he’s up to no good.
Susan: Despite all his obvious cruising, I feel a deeper underlying motive here with him. Did something from his childhood wound him perhaps? Valentine Day can be heavy with chocolate and roses, but also grenades. It can be a lonely day if you watch the flower trucks making the deliveries and you are getting none. His “love-seeking” behavior in a non-traditional environment leads me to believe it’s something from his child-psyche. An unfulfilled need, perhaps in his mother on that day of love?
Jules: Good question, Susan. No…there was nothing in his childhood, no Oedipal complex or anything like that because I don’t see this character as having that underlying trait. When I wrote him, I had the notion that one childhood he got screwed over on Valentine’s Day. Maybe when he was 9 he didn’t get any Valentine’s in his classroom trade. Maybe when he was 19 his girlfriend dumped him on that certain day. So now, once every year, he takes a little payback on the ladies. Sure, he loves love, but he loves mischief more.
Read “An Ordinary Broken Heart“ by Jules Archer
Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories.Susan’s new book From the Umberplatzen is a collection of linked-flash published by Wilderness House Press.