The subject line on her email read, “jus what yu ned ^ mor crapp 22 reed”
She was right about the crap. It was dreadful writing, unapproachable from any direction, almost incomprehensible. However, I had signed a contract to edit her memoirs and she could well afford my $50 an hour fee.
At the outset, though I had spent almost no time with her, I was excited to have a large new project. We met just once and talked very briefly. From behind her large dark glasses, she said she liked the look of my “facial face.” I gave her my resume, clips and book. We talked on the phone twice, on the second call she hired me. She sent a courier right over with the contract, signed, sealed, redelivered.
She struck me as wealthy but lacking sophistication and trying to conceal this lack with eccentricity. When I asked for specifics about her life and the purpose of her book, she was vague and indifferent, saying, “I know you’ll surprise me.”
She told me when she finished writing a chapter, she would email it to me for editing. I awaited Chapter One.
I vividly remember seeing the subject line of her first chapter come up. It said “Chapter On…Lovly Death.”
Excited, I clicked it open.
“Chapter On” was like a message from Jupiter.
I read it, reread it and reread it. I was baffled, a sheet of confusion. Her ramblings were devoid of structure, grammar, reason, intent, subject, focus and purpose. The vaguest syntax awkwardly weaved in and out of some profoundly warped English.
Flummoxed, I kept rereading her words hoping to distill even an ounce of meaning or intent. None came, nothing. My frustration grew until the epiphany: I was trying too hard!
There was no literacy here, no depth, almost nothing to go on, just hints spattered across the pages, memories from shadowy places crying out for light, my light. I started to rewrite.
That was six weeks ago.
After Chapter Two, a long and grueling account of her strange, cruel mother who was more interested in raising chickens than children, I began to dread checking my emails lest her latest chapter awaited my attention. A lone click away there might lurk something uneditable that had merely swum in the same ocean as English and based a language on that experience.
My fee – now billing almost 200 hours – is my only consolation. The content of her remembrances provides no rewards. She mostly recalls pointless, uninteresting things about nearly everyone she knows or knew. It is awful, just awful. But she is rich and her big idiot ego needs a book.
To that end, I have become her ghostidiot.
I clicked open her email. The subject said “Chaters 7 Lovly Death”
The name of her book is “Lovely Death.” Wonder why?
You’ll just have to read the book…no, no you won’t. I’ll tell you.
To finish each chapter about a family member or a friend, she ends by hoping they have or had a lovely death. She is adamant about this so I must go along with her feeble, morbid hook to give this thing any cohesion.
Sadly, most of the deaths she remembers, not because they were lovely, but because they were rending and gruesome. Her parents died very unlovely deaths, which shall not be recounted here.
Since I have spent several hundred words carping about her writing, it is time for you to get a taste of the raw beast, to be sprayed with her toxic slurry. The sharp, swirling chopper blades of syntactic apocalypse are approaching. Be brave. It is messy.
Junie Bug Rupple
thens maw ant juniei liki in……juneie bug junie bug sh from cromartys yondr fouk to brindle county wif wifves all ^ tangl in theyer birches sh from thym junie painned purchures merteerials merteenials sh foun sh…….like painnne wifbalrushs an cabs an chic bons an beeks sh sur lik a lotta reshut beeks clim clim junie …..sur di lik lota beeks a dung, her lik a dung fur purtchers too…lota he purtchures soll… in wedrich stors fur art… fir hunnrs hunnrs dolards an an I. ama membr dermtun sh clim mea stay wif her ize bout ten year fur ^weeks…at hers sumer….sh live in harnit ol… wrekety ^ hous poin tee roofs wodt starcases up an don sh chas ame up a don starchezzs wift a stinck…..stink izeize…bofh laffin lik wis ach earlee crazzee in uur owen wayts, ech laffin too ..peein up usselfs…sh lock mea in .room att nitt….juniei me misses^^ sh bein preshenit reel wi her. i wuner whirr thyms beeks clim purcchures is tonitt.
You now have a fuller appreciation of my job as ghostidiot.
Junie’s story goes on for fourteen more pages with much, much more about beeks. Eight of the pages are nearly incomprehensible tangents about glunock and klepsums.
What could dermtun and preshenit seek to signify? Their context, such as it is, is not helpful. I will add them to my long list of questions to ask her. From Chapter 7 alone, there are now 19 “words” about which I am meaning-impaired.
I don’t know what the dots are supposed to signify since there is no repeatable pattern to them. Perhaps they are thinking marks. They and ^, another mystery, are her only punctuation, if that is what they are. All this gives me enormous grief and latitude to interpret whatever she may be trying to say.
My client doesn’t talk at all like she writes. She speaks in sentences and creates syntax. The written form plumb eludes her. I have transformed her life into English, which she appreciates when she reads it. She just can’t seem to create using it.
Maybe she’s putting me on for her own amusement, getting her money’s worth.
Maybe she’s channeling someone.
Despite the liberties I have taken with her words, she has indicated approval of my work on the first five chapters and quickly paid my weekly invoices. On the back of one of her cheques she wrote, “thees s vury terorpull’ddic fuour i me as”
I suppose you will now require me to put my fee where my mouth is and edit. Fair enough.
A couple of things: I have two partial family trees that she gave me, one for each side of her family. That is where I found June’s middle name and her husband’s first name. The Cromartys are some kind of inter-marriage group, like, but not, cousins. She is related to them but not through June Rupple, as she suggests. I haven’t figured out the relationship yet. It’s on the list.
Here, after fourteen hours of consternation, contemplation and imaginings, is what became of Chaters 7. (I know I’m out of sequence but I needed a break from Chapter Six, which is over fifty harrowing pages about her twin brothers, one a genius, the other an imbecile.) I have spared you the whole chapter and just translated the original section quoted above.
June Ninette Rupple
June Ninette Rupple was my mother’s older sister. People called her Junie Bug. She married Biggaty Cromarty and lived in Brindle County where they had a large family.
Aunt June was an accomplished artist who used unusual objects as brushes, applying paint to create unique textures and depth. She used corncobs, bulrushes, chicken bones, dung and even chicken beaks, to which she was especially attached. City art galleries sold many of her paintings, some fetching hundreds of dollars.
When I was about 10, I spent two weeks that summer staying with Aunt Junie. She was quite old by then and lived in a big ramshackle house with a many-pointed roof. It had several wooden fire escapes coming from the top floor. Junie and I would chase each other up and down the fire escapes, laughing til we peed ourselves. I have such fond memories of Aunt Junie. Perhaps she was a little crazy.
End of my translation and I’m sticking to it.
Even as I bask in the pleasure of preparing my invoice – 37 hours billed this week – my bliss is blemished by the dreadful certainty that, somewhere out there, Chapter Eight percolates in the nethersphere of her need.
I am repelled and attracted at once.
I had better check my emails.
Wish me luck.