The following story also appears in my short story collection, An Optimist’s Journal of the End of Days and Other Stories, published via Venetian Spider Press.
What is the meaning of this?
You are here, Mister E, due to the nature of certain letters that have come into our possession.
I’ve told you thugs before, my friend B is innocent! Since when is it a crime to say you don’t like war? Who does?! Only madmen and–
I do not refer to your friend’s anti-war sentiments, though that shall surely be investigated…
Stop shuffling those goddamn papers, and look at me! I don’t understand. Why are you even reading the mail when–
Now, you are the madman, Mister E! An enemy may send coded messages, and even newspaper columns may be employed to–
No, no, no! I mean, why read our mail? We’re just ambulance drivers, and B’s only crime is hating all the blood and death we’re exposed to in the service of “peace.”
Aha! This “peace” you refer to is an example of exactly the sort of thing we are concerned about.
What? I don’t…what?
The scare quotes you used when you referred to peace, which is the end goal of this military operation.
It’s no secret that saying war in the service of peace is an oxymoron!
No, Mister E, I am not referring to your attitude but rather your punctuation.
My punctuation! What on earth does that have to do with anything?
Have you noticed, Mister E, how you have used punctuation and capitalization throughout our conversation? Even the questionable use of scare quotes? I have.
That is something notably absent in your published works of poetry, even to the extent of not capitalizing your own name.
Now, Mister E–or should I say mister e? what do you have to say for yourself?
I’m a writer! We expand the use of language; poetry often breaks the rules of prose–with the exception of prose poetry, and–
To the extent that you even lowercase your own name?
Hey! You used lowercase as a verb, and that’s-
That is not the point, mister e. Do not dare change the subject! Who are you working for?
No one! My poetry isn’t code for the enemy, I swear! I’m not working for the enemy!
And your idiosyncratic style? Besides the occasional odd usage of brackets and parentheses, your methodology makes no sense.
Hey, watch it! Art is in the eye of the beholder!
Eye and ear, apparently. Your excessive use of exclamation marks during our little talk is giving me almost as much of a headache as your printed works.
It’s a stressful situation! I resent that.
You are meant to.
How can you accuse me of anything when you just ended a sentence with a preposition?
It was correct usage, and you are in no position to do anything other than answer my questions.
Listen, can you at least untie these ropes? I’m beginning to chafe.
No. Not until you explain.
That wasn’t a proper sentence! There was no–ouch!!!
I see you are beginning to slip and reveal your true nature, mister e. Three exclamation points?
Dialogue is different.
How do you expect us to believe you are an author with so little vanity that you eschew capitalizing your own name? You must be getting paid a great deal, mister e, to go that far.
I swear to you, I am not a spy!
Spy? Who said anything, anything, about spying? Admit it. You are a saboteur.
If you don’t think I’m a spy, then what am I sabotaging?
I ask the questions, mister e!
Ow! I swear to you, I’m not working for anyone! All I did was experiment with punctuation and grammar! Since when is that a crime?
Crime? You are not under arrest.
But the ropes, the cuffs…?
They are merely details to ensure your cooperation.
Who do you work for?
Wait, you don’t work for the military?
Military, mister e? You wish. I work for a much more important organization.
Who? Dear gods, who could that be?
Let’s just say certain union officials are unhappy with the turn the language has taken recently. The editorial costs alone are enough to put a significant dent in their annual budget–a fact which does not please them. So, once again, who do you work for? The CIA?
You just said it wasn’t a spy thing!
Don’t play dumber than you already are. The CIA in this context is obviously the Committee for Interrobang Adaptation! Is it them? A rival editorial group? The Typographers’ Guild? Who? Confess.
if you could loosen these ropes and get me some water for my throat I would appreciate it all those exclamation marks really did a number on me
i will tell you everything for the right price
Stop smiling like that, mister e. It is giving me the creeps.
thanks for the water friend
You are evil.
***For those of you lucky enough to live in Northeast Ohio, Saturday the 24th of September is the Western Reserve Writers’ Conference. I hope to see you there!