Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Starcatcher Edit Prep 2012

Star Catcher: A Tale of Average Proportions

I sometimes raise my hand to the night sky, and drag my fingers through the lights, hoping to catch one and bring it to me. But the stars never move, do they? Maybe they aren't so beautiful after all.”

     My name is James Morrison Murphy. And before you ask, yes, I was named after the late lead singer of The Doors. My parents grew up in an age where the popular burned away the necessary brain cells to remember all the good times they had. To try and be nice, you could say my parents lived a life larger than their brains could hold. I, however, call them burnouts who mentally peaked at twenty.
     My name is James Morrison Murphy, and unlike the lizard king, I don't have much sex appeal. I am an average man, of average build, with an average face, and an average personality. I could continue, but I'm sure you see the pattern here. For that, I do so solemnly apologize for telling you my name. I know a person with a name like mine sounds like the adventurous sort, but the fact of the matter is that I'm not. Things always have a way of changing though. Here is my story.

     When I turned 24, I was a lighthearted fellow, fresh from college, and just beginning to taste the bitter flavor life has to offer. I had always wanted to write a novel, but the sad reality was that I was just too plain of a person. Taking the wrong way to work, or getting lost for a few minutes was an adventure to me. I decided to be a book publicist instead; working with books, but in a safe environment. It sometimes occurs to me that the only changes I've made in my life are the results of my mistakes. Does everyone experience this? Is this some sort of life lesson we were all supposed to learn in elementary school?
     Working for a book publishing company was my first mistake. My superiors were the same kind of people you could find on any playground, tossing sand and taking toys that weren't theirs. I came to realize then, that when an explosive personality turned on a candle flame, the result is only the absence of a small puddle of light. This is how I felt when I met my superiors at Castel Publishing; I felt like that quivering flame on top of a melting pillar of wax, thinking that I would soon be snuffed out, either by my own design or that of an outside source. I didn't have a backbone to show, so they would push me as far as they wanted. They knew I wouldn't break, and knew that I wouldn't push back. It's a terrible thing, being so average.
     My second mistake was meeting Sarah. Sarah was similar to me in many ways, much in the same way climbing a cliff is similar to falling off of one. Her father was the president of the company, and she took it upon herself to become my backbone. She loved me, for whatever reason, and I suppose I also loved her as well. Whatever it was, it helped me become better at my job and climb the corporate ladder. I was now in charge of the lower level of publishing—the make it or break it for hopeful authors. I remember once being moved by a recording of the brilliant physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, quoting a passage of the Bhagavad Gita. He said “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” In my new position, I felt as if I too had been given that sort of decision. At least in my own petty, watered down way.
     My biggest mistake though, was actually Sarah's. Why would you put someone lacking imagination in a position to turn down ideas? A novel I turned down was instantly picked up elsewhere, and became a best seller. They even made a movie about it, with that pretty brunette from those big mobster movies a few years back. It managed to grab a nomination at the Oscars. Because of this — and several other major errors — the company decided to let me go, but for whatever reason, Sarah told me she wanted to marry me anyway. The headache I got from trying to fathom this was the kind to keep me off my feet for days. You'd think ceilings were mirrors to some magical land of love and wonder, from how long I stared into one.
     When I finally got up, I spent the entire day with Sarah. Perhaps the things we did had been done a thousand times by a thousand people, but for once, something average felt like something more to me. I held Sarah close to me, sitting in a hammock outside, staring up at the moon, and asked her what she wanted. With her eyes closed, and her head on my chest, she playfully told me “The stars, James. Give me the stars.” She fell asleep on me there that night, but I didn't sleep for many hours yet. “The stars, huh?” I whispered to myself. Can I do that? Can someone like me do something like that?
     I spent the next month of my life sleeping outside under the stars; hands gliding through the dark clouds, jumping into infinite pits of complicated questions under that night sky. I told myself that I was done being average. I was going to grab something of the confusion out there, and make it solid. I was going to give Sarah a star, and for once, I was going to view my life from above, looking down at past troubles and laughing. My hands always seemed to fall short though.
     On our one year anniversary, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant. I had never been a social person, and as such wasn't too great at hiding things. As a publisher herself, it was like being at work for her—from the way she read me as she would a book. Dinner rolled on uneventfully, and we made it back to my home, where we laid down in my hammock for a few silent minutes together. She asked me what was wrong, and I didn't know how to answer her.

“I couldn't get you that star.”
“I didn't think you could.”
“I'm so tired of being average.”
“I'm okay with it.”
“I'm sorry, but I'm not.”

     Looking back, I realize that I lost much more than Sarah that night. I lost a little piece of myself that genuinely loved her, and I lost the future we could have made together. However, like I said earlier, for all of you out there like me who never had the ability to reach into the black curtain of life, and pull out basic truths as children usually do, I had also gained something. I picked up a typewriter sometime between then and now, and I started to write a novel. It was published by a decent company, and actually made me some good money. I didn't get any movie deals, and I didn't win any awards. I never got the girl, and I never found a way to capture the stars—but you know what? When I wake up in the morning, and I look in the mirror, I can tell myself that I am not average. I'm of course no Alexander the Great, nor am I like the brilliant Robert Oppenheimer. I haven't picked the world up on my shoulders, and set it down a little differently.
     I am no one’s messiah, but I did have an average looking person come up to me at a book signing, and you know what they told me? They told me that I gave them hope. She told me that I given her hope. I had given someone else hope.
     I, plain old James Morrison Murphy, the lying lizard king, the school yard Oppenheimer, the heart breaker, the failed starry night sky conqueror, and the man who never had a spine or a shadow, had taken someone up in my arms and told them everything would be alright, and they believed me. I won't soar through the stars in the sky, looking down at my legacy; nor will I again be that candle, so easily put out. I'm stuck somewhere between the two, looking back at my past mistakes, and looking forward to the future ones.

     My name is James Morrison Murphy. And before you ask, yes I was named after the late lead singer of The Doors, and no, I am nothing like him. My name is James Morrison Murphy, and I am just myself — not average, not unique.
Just James, and for once, I think I am truly okay with that. I hope you can look back at your life — mistakes included — and be proud of yourself as well. Thank you.

- Pictor Vela

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