Author’s Note: “Could you befriend something you created? Maybe the answer depends on two problems: What do we want, and need, from things we make? What do we want, and need, when we’re with others? Writers are often asked (or ask ourselves), “Why do you write?” Even if you’re not a writer, similar mysteries may trouble you, for it’s a special case of a general question which attracts and vexes many: “Why?”
AOI WAS A WRITER, and she wrote a story about a writer, but it was not about herself. True, like Aoi, the writer in the story was a solitary woman who shied from human contact. She also possessed a lonesome disposition. She wished to maintain distance from others but also to bridge that distance. This was a paradox. The writing of stories, she felt, made the paradox possible. Here, “she” refers to the writer within the story. Aoi drafted and edited and polished the story, which came to feel like, as it were, an imaginary friend. To clarify, what felt like a friend was the story itself, not the writer in the story. Aoi would not have wanted to be friends with that writer.
As the story became precious to Aoi, as precious as a friend, in the magical way of such things it came to life and said its name was Story. It stood before Aoi in her six-mat apartment in Nishi-Ogikubo and saw that it and Aoi were about the same age, about the same height and weight, and dressed in similar colors. It sensed great need in Aoi and felt, indistinctly, that it was obliged to do something for her. Don’t tell me anything else about yourself, Aoi requested, lowering to the tatami to sit seiza. I don’t want to resent or fear you. Let’s remain friends who owe each other nothing. I couldn’t stand it otherwise, and, being unable to stand it, I’d leave you, and thus I’d lose you. Story sat too, nodding in empathetic understanding. I suppose you have an ex named Satoshi or Takashi, said Story, who constantly pinched your belly fat or refused to finish dinners you cooked because he didn’t like the flavor, then kept you from leaving him for far too long through self-destructive acts and you fear that what allowed him to control you so abominably was the fact that he understood you too thoroughly. Not exactly, said Aoi, extremely pleased that Story had not quite guessed the truth.
Story perceived this and nodded again, which Aoi told it not to do. I rely on nods too much, she explained. My characters are constantly nodding. Story replied, I suppose this authorial tic bothers you because it feels false: it feels like you are not creating realities on the page but merely completing a mechanical process of assembling prefabricated phrases into overfamiliar configurations. That’s an insensitive way of putting it, said Aoi tartly. I created you. Every comma and hyphen. Hearing the pique rising in Aoi’s voice, Story knew intuitively that their newborn bond was in the process of dissolving. Story realized, before Aoi did, that each of them did, in fact owe the other something, and that each knew far too much about the other: unmeetable responsibility and uncomfortable intimacy would act as the repelling poles of two magnets. Within and between them a pressure would soon mount, growing intolerable, only able to be released when their friendship ruptured.
So Story glanced at its phone and pretended to have received a message, tapped the screen as though typing, pantomimed hitting Send, slipped the phone back into its handbag, and murmured, I need to meet someone in Koenji. It’s sort of urgent. It did not occur to Aoi until later that Story was lying; all she knew in the moment was that it was a glorious relief that Story would go away, leaving her alone in her apartment so that she would be able to recover herself in isolation.
Dale Stromberg, from Malaysia, is the author of Melancholic Parables (2022). He grew up not far from Sacramento before moving to Tokyo, where he had a brief music career. Now he lives near Kuala Lumpur and makes ends meet as an editor and translator. Website: dalestromberg.jimdofree.com
Delmarva Review is a national literary journal with strong local roots in the Delmarva Peninsula. Editors cull through thousands of submissions annually to select the most compelling new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. About half are from the Chesapeake and Delmarva region. It is available in paperback and digital editions from online booksellers and regional specialty bookstores. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, support comes from tax-deductible contributions and a grant from Talbot Arts with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: www.DelmarvaReview.org