“As you know, I will be gone for the holidays,” said Grace, the entertainment editor. She was ready to leave for the day, looming, a plastic bag full of “Face” magazines stolen from the archives now twisting from one of her hands.
Stoope picked his head up off his desk where it was marinating in a pile of his own drool and looked over the top of his cubicle partition at her. She stared back at him; long enough to make him sleepy again.
“That means two weeks of vacation,” continued Grace. “I’ve never been gone that long, but my sister and I are taking a cruise.”
Grace was a block of pink chuck that had started to turn. She was exactly as wide as she was tall, and there were two wisps of kinky black hair that dangled down from her pimpled chin, like beef blood. She had jowls like a spider, and she was sharp and quick if she caught anything inside her web and it began to struggle.
Stoope put his head back down.
“No,” said Stoope. “I refuse. I am a reporter. I report on facts. Material things: governments, police brutality, car crashes.”
“I am going to be gone for the holidays, which means I need to find someone to take over certain duties,” continued Grace.
“This is a huge newspaper,” said Stoope. “You want help? I can find you forty people with absolutely nothing to do.”
Stoope lifted his head an inch from his desk and rolled one eye around, scanning the bustling newsroom, a place afrenzy between passing shifts.
“Terry!” shouted Stoope, standing. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” said Terry – walking over to join them, a cup of coffee in one lean, tapping hand. “What’s going on? You guys going to lunch somewhere? I could use some lunch.”
“We sit next to each other every day at work, Stoope,” said Grace, ignoring Terry completely. “And you are my friend.”
“In order to stay friends, some people find it useful to set boundaries,” said Stoope.
“No one else would make the deadline,” said Grace. “Doing the horoscope drives foolish mortals crazy.”
It was true. Grace had auditioned hundreds of candidates over the years to find a replacement for the astrology column, which she had started writing temporarily decades ago in an effort to wean the paper from dependence on the national syndicates. But writing the horoscope was simply too much power for most people – even those who didn’t believe in such things (a sad, trifling minority).
Grace had a knack.
Giving specific advice to anonymous people and trying to determine the shape of invisible lives was harder than it seemed. Even if a person felt like they had the chops to sort out the mess of the signs, they lacked the nuance of suggestion. The deft stroke of selective obfuscation. The glitter of enlightening universals.
“The heavy smoke of printing press opium,” muttered Stoope. “Pacifying the busy bees and keeping them from falling, senseless, right into the bonfire of truth and reality. We ought to let them fall. We ought to drag them into the flames.”
“You doing the horoscope this week?” asked Terry. “Groovy.”
“Two weeks,” said Grace.
“No,” said Stoope. “I am a reporter. Horoscopes are against my religion.”
“You have a religion?” asked Terry, coyly pulling the pleat of his slacks out of his ass-valley and wetting his lips with a hot slurp of coffee.
“Yes,” said Stoope. “I believe that natural phenomena like the stars should be left alone, in peace, to do their jobs -- their perfectly decent jobs – not wrangled into fortune-spewing superstructures that make people stupider than they already are.”
Grace rolled her eyes.
“I’m a Leo, right?” said Terry, walking away, deciding no one was going for lunch anytime soon. “Make sure Leos get lots of power and glory this week. Power over cards, and women, and hangovers. ALL OF IT. Heh.”
“Look,” said Grace. “It’s a personal favor. I will owe you big. And you will need my help someday, believe me. You are a wreck. Look at you.”
“I need nothing,” muttered Stoope, closing his eyes. “Nothing but facts and a point of view. Two inches of broadsheet and a never-ending supply of fresh pencils.”
“You need to be recognized,” said Grace. “You need to be promoted. You need FRIENDS to say FRIENDLY things about you. Like how you are dependable in a pinch, and always ready to take on extra work for the good of the paper.”
Stoope reached under his desk, grabbed the paisley quilt he kept under there to warm his sockless feet, and pulled it over his head – disappearing.
“I can write whatever I want?” said Stoope, muffled behind the blanket.
“Sure,” said Grace. “Nothing pornographic or political, of course.”
“I’m really the wrong person to ask for this. What if people complain?”
“Then you can handle it however you like. You can give them your lecture on opium, perhaps. People love that lecture. Thanks a million, Stoope.”
“I didn’t say I’d do it. I SPECIFICALLY didn’t say that.”
“I have tricks to get things right, as far as advice goes. I mean, it ain’t science, but it’s as close as I can get. I take this seriously, you know.”
“What tricks?” asked Stoope through his teeth, straining, poking his head out from underneath the blanket and wrapping it around his shoulders. Maybe he could manufacture a huge scandal at some corporation by tomorrow and get assigned to full coverage. Maybe it would get him nominated for a departmental prize in the next qualifying round and he could coast for the rest of the month, far above things like horoscopes, delivering proclamations and making his peers laugh too loud at jokes that weren’t funny.
But it was true. He needed friends, and all he had was Grace. He had cronies, sure -- but no one who would put their reputation on the line to advance his.
“Thanks again,” said Grace. “You are a wonderful human being.”
“What tricks?” asked Stoope again.
“It’s nothing special. I keep close tabs on twelve different people with birthdays in each of the signs. I see what problems they are having, and then I imagine the advice I would give them. Maybe its universal – maybe it’s not. It’s hard to tell, of course. But this way feels more scientific. Plus, I have to keep a close relationship with twelve different people, which is good for my social life.”
Grace gave Stoope a goofy smile and stuck her tongue into the corner of her mouth.
“I don’t know twelve different people,” said Stoope. “Least of all, twelve different people with birthdays in twelve different months.”
“I can give you phone numbers.”
“What happens if one of those twelve gets brain cancer or gets hit by a bus?” asked Stoope.
“Change is coming. Your plans may take an unexpected turn. Spend more time with loved ones.”
“Don’t bother getting your oil changed,” said Stoope.
“Precisely, said Grace.
“I can write anything I want?” said Stoope.
“Thanks again,” said Grace. “Seeya in two weeks.”
Grace patted Stoope on the back and then headed for the elevator.
Monday, December 16th
ARIES -- As you float through today, try to keep your mind on the positive, and don’t get bogged down by the problems that will seem to mount up. There is always time to relax; to consider the roses; to turn responsibilities into opportunities.
Tuesday, December 17th
PISCES – Everybody goes through rough patches, and the trick is just to keep going. When in doubt, focus on the positive and try to see things in a new way. It’s not all bad, no matter how it seems. There will always be another day.
Wednesday, December 18th
SCORPIO – Life is full of surprises, and today will be no exception. You will learn something new, and remember an old feeling you thought you had forgotten. Make sure to stand by your principles. They will probably be challenged. Stay positive.
Thursday, December 19th
AQUARIUS – Today will be a positive day. Feed some ducks. Kiss your sweetheart.
Friday, December 20th
GEMINI – People will respond to your positivity today, and greet you with a smile wherever you go. Don’t forget to smile back! A long term goal is reaching its conclusion, and that means it is time to take stock of where you are going, where you have come from, and everything you have learned in between.
The news staff crowded around Kingsolver’s desk.
“You people are disgusting,” said Kingsolver. “You people don’t know the first thing about news. I have more respect for my own turds than I have for you people. I admire my turds in ways that I will never admire you. They fill me with a sense of relief. Of merriment. Of content and satisfaction in a job well done. Bang on, Kingsolver, I say to my turds and myself. Well done, old man. You people will never hear that. ‘Well done’ is something that will never come out of my mouth, flung in your direction. I will fling something in your direction, though. That’s right. Turds.”
Kingsolver hunched over his desk, smiling slightly, gripping an apple, looking over his shambling assemblage of reality-wringing keyboard crunchers.
“You hired us, you know,” said Stoope.
“And sign our checks,” said Terry.
Kingsolver’s lips pulled back against his teeth in a lupine sneer. The corners of his eyes bounced up and then crinkled down again. He took a hard bite out of his apple, sending flecks of skin and juice-spray across his desk like the last throbs of a torn artery.
“Michael Stoope,” said Kingsolver. “Do you even do news anymore? Last I heard, you had taken over the astrology column.”
“Just for two weeks,” said Stoope.
“So what am I thinking then?” asked Kingsolver. “Can you read your own future? Tell me what I’m thinking.”
Stoope didn’t say anything.
“Are you having a meltdown? Doing astrology like some goddamn drag queen?”
“No, sir. Just helping out a friend while she’s on vacation.”
“I want to see you after this meeting,” said Kingsolver, pulling a finger off of his desk and leveling it at him.
“Yes, sir,” said Stoope.
Kingsolver glanced down at the legal pad that he used to keep notes on, nestled in between stacks of rival newspapers and CD jewel cases. He typed something into his computer. These were the last days of print, and everybody could feel it at meetings like this. The newspaper was unsexy and irrelevant. All print journalism had was its reputation. A reputation that had always been for sale.
“Terry Fazoli,” said Kingsolver.
“Yes, sir?” said Terry.
“Goddamn, you have a stupid name,” said Kingsolver, underlining it on his legal pad.
“Yes, sir,” said Terry.
“I’m talking about your first name, now,” said Kingsolver. “Don’t think I’m prejudiced against Italians.”
“Yes, sir,” said Terry.
“Terry is a woman golfer’s name. Or a goddamn guidance counselor,” said Kingsolver.
“My mother was a guidance counselor, strangely enough,” said Terry. “And her name was Diane.”
“Diane Fazoli?” asked Kingsolver.
“Diane Neysmith,” said Terry. “Divorced my dad when I was three.”
“Divorce,” said Kingsolver. “Heartbreaking. What are you even working on, Terry Fazoli?”
“I’m staying on top of that big con artist that the police are about to catch,” said Terry.
“What big con artist?” asked Kingsolver. “Have you published anything yet?”
“Not yet,” said Terry. “I’m waiting until they catch her.”
“What is his con?” asked Kingsolver. “Does he apply for jobs he isn’t qualified for, and then screw around all day, hoping no one will notice?”
“SHE’S a mail scammer,” said Terry. “It’s really fascinating stuff. You’d be surprised who falls for this kind of thing.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Kingsolver. “What does he do?”
“SHE plays the percentages on long odds betting,” said Terry. “She somehow managed to get a database of people who phone into Vegas for the sports book, and that’s who she preys on.”
“Eh, they deserve it. Bunch of goddamn frat boys. What’s his angle?”
“HER angle is to cover all the bets. First, she sends out a million different mails, half predicting the Cowboys, half predicting the Broncos in the playoffs. The letters claim she is calling on her secret inside knowledge. Vegas Mafia or something. The angle is that if you want the next winning prediction, you have to send her fifty bucks. Some people do. So then she sends half of them a Cowboys prediction, and the other half the Ravens. Now, she’s got trust from the winners. They’ll cough up their kid’s birthday money.”
“Yeah, but then there are some pissed-off-goddamn-losers, too” said Kingsolver. “How’s he handle them?”
“SHE doesn’t have to handle them. They aren’t going to the police over fifty bucks. If they lost a bet, then they feel stupid about trusting some random mail scam. It’s an object lesson; an urban sports-book legend. Except it really happens. Easy money.”
“So she keeps upping the price, and cornering her targets,” said Stoope.
“Until she’s down to a handful of people who have been mailed the winner over and over, and will now pay a million dollars to know who’s going to win the Superbowl. And they do. And some people win, true to the odds. Some people lose, and they are ready to fucking KILL. But by then she’s already on a jetplane to
“Unless the police catch up first,” said Kingsolver, grinning. He bit through the core of his apple, and pulled the stem from his tongue.
“Unless,” said Terry.
“Good story,” said Kingsolver. “But until something happens, you are on the PTA beat. What will happen in our city’s schools? Terry Fazoli is on the scene, pen in hand, eyes goggling, brain afire. Assholes, beware.”
“Yes, sir,” said Terry, gloomily.
“Meeting dismissed,” said Kingsolver. Everybody started packing up to leave, filing out like toys going back in the box after an afternoon of joyless play.
“Stand still, Michael Stoope,” said Kingsolver. “I’ve got to talk to you.”
Kingsolver sat down on the edge of his desk and crossed his arms.
“So what’s going on?” said Kingsolver. “You look like hell.”
“It’s the horoscope,” said Stoope. “It’s ridiculous. It’s and feel-good pap that goes nowhere – worse than religion, even. Why is it even in a newspaper? I don’t get it. All we are anymore is ads, the AP wire, a horoscope, and syndicated columns.
“And the PTA beat!” protested Kingsolver. “And local sports.”
“This is a big city! There is news here somewhere. There used to be, anyway.”
“Real news means complexity,” said Kingsolver. “People can’t wrap their minds around the nuances of actual daily existence, let alone some goddamn reporter’s bullshit theories and preoccupations. You want to know a secret? You’ve got a direct goddamn line RIGHT NOW. More people read the horoscope than anything else.”
“I’d crack up if I didn’t have rent to pay,” said Stoope. “Even as it is, I’m thinking about going into the private sector. I’ve had some offers.”
Kingsolver glared at him, but shrugged – finally.
“Every place is the same,” said Kingsolver. “Fuck ‘em all.”
Monday, December 23rd
AQUARIUS – Life is a like a candy store, with a million different options of what to believe. Cliques dragging you down? This may be a stretch, but cooking up something healthy tonight (with vegetables) can’t hurt.
PISCES – Find a charismatic stranger, and follow him wherever he may go. You might surprise yourself with how much fire you can take while making some good news. Don’t get too down in the dumps – everybody has a cross to bear.
ARIES – Being? Nothingness? Who knows! You may be feeling more selfless than usual today. Try meditation -- or going for a walk -- if things get too deep.
TAURUS – Materialism is a real drag. Maybe it’s time to find a better way to live, a way built on principle and shored up with fiery pillars that separate the men from the boys. Sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in.
GEMINI -- Life is what you make of it. It is an uncarved block that challenges us all to get in there, and make it our own. Start carving! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There are no mistakes. There is no block! Have fun!
CANCER – Always a test, isn’t it? You may find that dedication to your society and its higher goals gives you an immense sense of personal satisfaction today. Don’t feel like you have to build a wall between you and your enemies. Instead, beat them at their own game.
LEO -- Does it ever feel like everybody’s always out to get you? Still, a life full of contemplation and strong moral and family values is yours for the taking, if you can manage to deal with your guilt and feelings of inferiority. Keep your bags packed; you never know when you might need to travel.
VIRGO – There’s nothing out there for you, and there never was. The only person you can depend on is yourself, and your cunning rational mind. Lonely? Sure, it is. Have a beer; relax a little bit.
LIBRA – Life can be full of ghosts and spirits today, for a warrior. Rage on, but stay in balance with your higher nature.
SCORPIO – Hang back – tomorrow belongs to you. There is a city for you in the future, just waiting for your shining spirit. Don’t work too hard, and don’t forget to plant seeds.
SAGITTARIUS – It’s all good, baby. It’s all good in the neighborhood. Trust your instincts. Try to see the face of the divine in everything.
CAPRICORN – Who knows? Not me. Not you. Plant a tree. Write a book.
Stoope was sitting at his desk, staring at nothing. Was he drunk?
But he was getting there.
Terry was helping, providing a flask and a partner.
Papers leapt from hand to hand and phones rang like spoiled babies all over the news room. But Terry and Stoope had been plucked from the harried masses around them by their respective assignments, ascending into inertial Nirvana like glazed-donut Elijahs.
“The twelve major religions,” said Terry. “Very artistic.”
“Sure,” said Stoope.
“Who are these even for?” asked Terry.
“Just playing the long odds.”
“Think Grace’ll be pissed?”
“Nah,” said Stoope. “She’ll be glad that no one else can do her job. It’s backhanded flattery.”
“I think she’ll be pissed,” said Terry.
“Not Grace,” said Stoope.
“The whole office is talking about it,” said Terry.
“I miss her,” sighed Stoope.
There was a flurry of shouting and overturned furniture from the hallway that led to the elevators. Stoope didn’t look, but Terry got out of his chair and craned his neck.
“I need to see the horoscope person!” shouted someone from the cramped, wood-paneled tunnel.
“Somebody pin his arms back!”
“Let him through, for chrissakes – this isn’t the Bastille.”
“Grace isn’t even here, she’s on vacation.”
“Maybe he means Stoope.”
“Pin his arms back!”
Terry closed several incriminating windows on his computer as people in the office clambered to see the commotion, and nudged Stoope, who didn’t seem to care.
“Looks like someone wants to talk to you,” said Terry.
“They want to talk to Grace,” said Stoope. “The horoscope person.”
“That’s you, today,” said Terry. “Looks like a big deal, whatever it is.”
Stoope burrowed under his blanket, but Terry yanked it off of him and rolled it into a snapping towel.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Stoope, standing.
He steadied himself on a copy machine, and then walked over to the hallway.
“Let him through,” said Stoope, magnanimously. He raised both hands over his head. “Let my people go.”
The woman who did the weather forecast and one of the fashion editors were holding the arms of a man in a dirty grey suit who had wild yellow eyes, and a face full of white stubble on sunken grey cheeks.
“I need to talk to the woman who does the horoscope,” said the man.
“That’s me,” said Stoope. “Privately?”
“Sure,” said the man, eyeing the weather lady and fashion editor on either side of him. Weather and fashion let him go.
“Follow me,” said Stoope.
“Hold all of my calls, and cancel my lunch meeting,” said Stoope to the weather lady, whose name he did not know.
“What?” said the weather lady.
Stoope marched into a dingy back corner of the newsroom, a cobwebby hole between a watercooler and an empty filing cabinet that had been locked ten years ago, and whose keys were somewhere at the bottom of Kingsolver’s desk -- buried in a sticky jumble of cocktail umbrellas, greasy tools, and wrinkled neckties.
“So how can I help you?” asked Stoope, sitting down and pouring himself a paper cone full of freezing water.
“My name is Richard Pink,” began the man, uncertainly.
“The famous rock star?” asked Stoope.
“I wish,” said Richard Pink. “I’m not even related. That guy’s real name is Pinkersmith.”
“So why are you here?”
Richard Pink blew his nose into his hand.
“I’ve been having problems in life,” said Richard Pink. “Big ones. Wife, kids, job. I feel trapped.”
“I need to know what to do next,” said Richard Pink. “Thought maybe you could help. I was reading the paper today, and the thought struck me.”
“Nope,” said Stoope. “I’m only filling in. You’ll have to come back next week.”
Richard Pink lowered his eyes, and put his hand on the watercooler. He rested it there, gathering himself.
“Okay,” said Richard Pink. “Sorry to bother you.”
Stoope smelled whiskey. Richard Pink breathed heavy through his nose, making a soft whistling noise like an infant with a dry boogers.
“No trouble at all,” said Stoope. “Care for a drink?”
Tuesday, December 24th
AQUARIUS – There’s no such thing as love, for you. The closest you’ll ever get is fond affection for a pet, or a long-dead celebrity. Your problem isn’t circumstantial or even emotional: love is a creative act, and you spent all your time watching TV and begging your culture to entertain you. You never made the jump into adult maturity. Sorry.
PISCES – The fear that comes late at night after an otherwise successful day of accomplishment and striving is the only time you are truly alive. What are you afraid of? Change. Possibility. Your life has become a hellish joke; an endless wheel that you complain about even as you slavishly sustain it with your greed.
ARIES – Today will be exactly the same as yesterday, so I hope you like where you are. Remember the aspirations you once had, and the wide open expanse that once beckoned to you as if animated by lightning? The crackle! The quickening! Those days are dead, unless you are willing to do violence to the mountains of torpor that your own bad and thoughtless choices have made.
TAURUS – Speak from your heart, while you still have time left. Think about a stroke victim in a wheelchair – eyelids fluttering wildly with the horror of stilled speech. Communication is liberty: don’t waste another opportunity to tell the people in your life your thoughts, hopes, fears, dreams, lusts, hungers. However bad your life is, you can still talk about it. Make meaning from the wreckage.
GEMINI -- You want to know why you aren’t famous, powerful, or beloved by every man, woman, and dog that you meet? Because you are human. You are false and frail, and you must make the same mistakes every other human has made until you learn wisdom. We put the elderly in concentration camps because their insanity terrifies us. Wisdom can seem like insanity. Your constant confusion is the price for this act of hate.
CANCER – You will suffer and worry until you die, because there aren’t any answers and you are a machine that solves problems. If you want to be content, or even to feel some measure of joy before the reaper takes you, you must let go of your desperation to understand the future. Can’t you see how important surprise is?
LEO – What is discipline? Discipline is deferring your desires, or shaping them, in order to meet reasonable goals and to strike a blow for unreasonable ones. No matter what you want, or how you plan to get there, if you receive your most wild desire on a silver platter, you will lose it unless you have discipline. For now, prepare yourself to be satisfied with the meager things you will actually accomplish.
VIRGO – We are the creatures that kill one another. We are the creatures who can look at the stars or a sunset and feel nothing. We are the creatures that kill ourselves, ignoring all the beauty that we have made, and all that our world has given us. Why? Ask yourself why.
LIBRA – Who are you? How can you look at the problems of the world – famine, war, disease, depression – and refuse to engage? What lies do you tell yourself so that you can stuff your straining gullet with potato chips and iced cream until you are narcotically obese, plunking your unsinkable girth in the way of progress like a cellulite juggernaut? “If you want change, you will have to get it over my two-ton piano-box corpse,” you say smugly to the starving hordes.
SCORPIO – Hey. I see you on the bus, listening to headphones, paying no attention to the dying man right in front of you. Where do you think you are supposed to practice compassion? The clean, well-lit pew of a factory-fresh church, wearing your best dress and trying to catch the eye of another honest Christian with strong family values and unlimited income?
SAGITTARIUS – You will feel neither guilt, nor shame, as you spend another day pledging allegiance to a country and job whose sole purpose is to exploit your energies and steal from others, whether through creating unnecessary crap for sale, selling that crap, or maintaining the crap-structure itself. You’ll probably even think it’s a pretty good gig, all things considered.
CAPRICORN – Do whatever you want. I really don’t care. I just don’t want to see your face pass me on the street, screwed up into a brittle mask of invective, heaping scorn on the idealistic few just because they feel they must think about the problems of life before they act. Life is a challenge. It is not a reward for passing through a birth canal without breaking your neck.
It was Christmas Eve. The whole office was empty, except for Stoope and Richard Pink.
Outside, snow fell in lazy lines and the buildings glowed from within, inflamed by their human rash.
“That’s the thing about women,” said Richard Pink. “You know?”
“Sure thing, man,” said Stoope, flecking at a dry vomit stain on his pants cuff. “So. How drunk are you?”
“Ah, hell,” said Richard Pink. “I’m sober again.”
“Good,” said Stoope. “You want to write tomorrow’s horoscopes?”
“Somebody has to. I can barely see. Straight. Or otherwise.”
“What do I write?”
“Advice for people. As if you were psychic. It’s weird; I know.”
“I can do that,” said Richard Pink.
“Ah, would you? I’ll look over it when you are done,” said Stoope. “Just let me shut my eyes a bit.”
Wednesday, December 25th
AQUARIUS – Never pass up an opportunity to take a leak.
PISCES – The most satisfying way to kill a man is to give him enough rope to hang himself.
ARIES – The world spins around and never changes. It’s called revolution.
TAURUS – Never go to church if you have the opportunity to get laid instead.
GEMINI -- Everybody is out to get you. It’s just a fact.
CANCER – Kids are great, theoretically. In truth, they are demons from hell.
LEO – Start smoking, if you can. You’ll meet a better class of people.
VIRGO – Pay attention to how often you quote jargon you don’t really understand. It’s funny, if you can laugh at yourself.
LIBRA – Try to come up with good last words before you die. Otherwise, you’ll flop.
SCORPIO – Dreams are just as much of an illusion as everything else, if not more so.
SAGITTARIUS – A city is a bruise. But don’t it shine!
CAPRICORN – I am all alone, and so are you. The attempt itself is the important part.
When the elevator doors opened and Stoope stepped into the hallway, nearly everybody in the office stopped what they were doing and stared at him.
Terry was sitting at Stoope’s desk, sharpening his pencils -- boots up on Stoope’s blotter, lines of melted snow in the leather creases.
“You are going to get water in my computer,” said Stoope. “Have some respect.”
“The man wants to talk to you,” said Terry. “He’s been on the phone all morning.”
“Piss,” said Stoope.
Stoope pushed Terry’s shoes off of his desk as he passed, nearly knocking Terry out of his chair. On the way to Kingsolver’s office, he stopped to get himself a cup of coffee.
“Rad horoscopes yesterday,” said the weather lady, raising a painted eyebrow and trying very hard to stir powdered cream into coffee that simply wasn’t hot or strong enough to melt the clumps.
“Thanks,” said Stoope. How did he get home last night? He wished he had taken the time to get a paper on the bus this morning, but he simply didn’t care enough. Also, the bus ride had been a master study in the knifeblade of nausea – an unsung tightrope act that no one would ever appreciate. Despite the full force of the Earth’s gravity and the suck and tug of his gut’s rotting chemical slosh, he had managed over and over again not to puke on the businessman in front of him.
Kingsolver was screaming at someone over a cordless handset when Stoope walked in.
“I’ll call you back,” said Kingsolver, looking at Stoope with fear in his eyes. Kingsolver’s bluster was gone, which made Stoope nervous. For a flash, he didn’t look omnipotent. He looked like what he was: an old man with a whole digested life behind him.
“That was one of our advertisers,” said Kingsolver. “They want to know what the hell is going on around here.”
“I got drunk. Fenced the horoscopes off to some street guy.”
“Is that what happened? Jesus, Stoope. People are going nuts out there. They think we’ve all lost our shit.”
“Whatever he wrote, I’ll bet it was funny,” said Kingsolver.
“Christmas,” said Kingsolver. “Nobody EDITS on Christmas!”
Kingsolver put his head in his hands.
“Dismissed,” said Kingsolver. “We are making national headlines. Newspaper fucks up. That’s us.”
“So if a newspaper does its job right, then it never makes news?”
Kingsolver raised his head slowly and stared at Stoope until Stoope let himself out and quietly shut the door behind him.
Thursday, December 26th
AQUARIUS – We make fun of you behind your back for being illiterate; for being uneducated; for being unwitting gel in the hair of your leaders. But it’s our fault. We are supposed to be educating you, and we have given up. Instead, we use our marginally more informed knowledge of the world to profit from your weakness and ignorance. Can you forgive us?
PISCES – Once upon a time, a woman was evicted from her community for denying the gods of her tribe. As luck would have it, however, she stumbled upon a hidden world of pygmy humans the size of your fist, too savage and primitive for her to talk to.
ARIES – The lashing rain and cold had driven her to seek shelter in the belly of a deep cave where she had discovered these creatures, living in the ruts and furrows of the cave’s trenches and forming a culture that thrilled at the passion of violence, and celebrated the murderous impulses of even the most timid members of the clan.
TAURUS -- She was torn. She wanted to escape from them, and yet she knew that she was like them in ways that she couldn’t understand yet. She longed to dissect them – to know what segments of her psyche conjoined to theirs, and what parallel drives spurred them to their carnage and wrath.
GEMINI -- Even though she was completely removed from the struggle of these creatures for life and death, there was nothing else to engage her mind in this cave, and so she watched them – distraught, amused, lonely, thrilled, desperate, and addicted. Each creature lived for only a year – collapsing all of the dramas of existence into 365 days of childhood, maturity, and dotage.
CANCER – They brought her food when she threatened them, but otherwise ignored her. She could never bring herself to kill a member of their kind or follow through on her threats, and so they did not respect her, even though she was larger than any hundred of them put together. Still, they obeyed her every whim.
LEO – The woman could write, so that’s what she did. She filled reams and reams of paper with tales of the creatures, laughing at their impossible dreams and their inevitable failures, cutting into their manners with the spite of her distance. But as time passed, she grew dependent -- afraid to leave them to their unrecorded, idiotic future. She was their chronicle, and they were her spark.
VIRGO – One day, she had an epiphany. What she was doing was pointless, because there was no one to read her stories, and eventually she would die. She could not go back to her tribe without recanting her beliefs, and she was too proud to face the smug cant of the elders who had banished her summarily as if elated to be rid of her stain.
LIBRA – Nor could she leave the cave to seek out other humans of her own ilk for fear that she might miss something among the pygmies. Some happening, some new wrinkle. And anyway, the perils of the wilderness were simply too great. She needed to educate them. To imprint them with her own wisdom and insight.
SCORPIO – So she began abducting babies from the creatures while they slept, stealing their young and raising them as if they were her own, trying to teach them rudimentary literacy skills and to elevate them past their capacities. The project seemed doomed at first, but slowly and by generations, the educated creatures began to fragment from the rest of society and grow more wise and cunning than their brethren.
SAGITTARIUS – Until one day, they could even read and write on their own. The woman rejoiced, because now she could pass on the record of their history to them, and they would have a complete testimony of their past that they could use to shape their future. Release! The light shining down into the cave’s exit caught the woman’s eye. Suddenly it was attractive.
CAPRICORN – With great ceremony, she gave the stories she had written to the newly literate tribal shamans, and left them alone to read and study. For the first time in years, she went for a walk outside the cave while they studied and debated her texts. She tripped and trilled -- soaking up the perfume of a beautiful spring afternoon. And then she stopped. From out of the cave, she saw a trail of smoke. Her creatures were burning the history she had given them, and they were happy about it. In fact, she had never seen them happier.
Can you forgive us for our revulsion?
Kingsolver and Stoope sat side by side in two plastic chairs outside of the newspaper’s glass-walled boardroom. Inside, red-faced men were yelling at each other and tugging on neckties.
“Grace gets back tomorrow,” said Stoope.
“About goddamn time,” said Kingsolver. “That girl deserved a vacation. Can you imagine dealing with this every day?”
“She’s a tank,” said Stoope.
The weather lady walked by slowly. She waved off the side of her hip, and crossed her eyes. Then she put a hand over her mouth to cover a secret smile.
Both Stoope and Kingsolver waved back, and then looked at one another. They laughed.
“Hey,” said Kingsolver. “Listen.”
Stoope listened. Wisdom.
“I was about to retire anyway. It’s good to go out with a goddamn bang.”
“That’s a load off,” said Stoope.
But honestly, Stoope didn’t need the encouragement. He felt great. Better than he had in years.
He considered all the things there were to write about besides news.
You could write about aliens from outer space dealing with the stresses of a lifetime in a traveling ship, and scouring the stars for a world to call home. You could write about the sex lives of cats, or the politics of fish, or the insights that buildings whispered to each other late at night, when the people who worked inside them had all gone back to their families, and the girders and glass creaked and shrunk with the cold.
There was a whole ocean out there, and there were some trenches that people had never found the bottom of.
A monkey-looking man tapped on the glass hard by Kingsolver’s head with the hollow knuckles of a class ring.
Friday, December 27th
PISCES -- Think positive, because change is coming! Every step is a step forward if you are ready to take the day at face value. You can really make a difference if you keep an open mind, and hold your head up high. A turn of phrase might make you see things in a new light. Don’t be afraid to say yes!