situation: Girl takes up smoking and one day enters a no-smoking restaurant.
A. Dull happy version: Girl steps outside to have a smoke. On his way to a hospital, Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome notices her and asks for a light. She obliges. Etc. Now, love conquers all, even those with financial difficulties, addictions and artistic delusions, and the two soon find a cozy rent-stabilized studio apartment--complete with a washing machine. They choose a career. Instead of having children, they opt for a pet tarantula. They are very very happy, although very very dull, and the world is a better place. The end.
B. Dull unhappy version: Girl steps outside to have a smoke. However, she is extremely hungry due to a supperless last night (the electrical tin opener wouldn't work), which resulted in nightmares. Consequently, she went to the restaurant to eat. Unfortunately, food has stopped exciting her since her taste buds dulled, so there she is, shivering outside in the late-January winter. The girl shuffles through her purse and extracts a small white square. She burns her fingers while lighting a match and wonders if the pain is worth it. A bit of constant motion before her pauses: a chic although skinny guy touches her and asks for a light. She is about to oblige when she notices the tracks on his arm. A sudden vision of his frame dancing hysterically causes her to reflect. The girl looks into his sad, sad eyes and shakes her head. "Sorry, I don't smoke," she says, flicking her cigarette to the ground.
C. Romantic version: Girl steps outside to have a smoke. A romantic, broken-hearted boy passes by and morosely asks for a light. She attempts to start up a conversation while rummaging through her purse, but his despondent manner forces her to search in silence. She hands him a matchbook. A few days later, the boy lights another cigarette and notices that the girl craftily wrote her name and phone number on the matchbook sleeve. He calls her. They date for a few months in pre-marital bliss. He feels like he can love again, but can't break his heroin addiction. One whirling night, she, confused by his undying love for both her and heroin, picks up a random guy and, sadly, a sexually transmitted disease. The boy finds out. They argue. They fight. Jealous projectiles cause an intensely dramatic two minutes, and as a result two people remain. Hollywood is delirious, and "Matchbook Made in Heaven" makes billions catering to the 14 to 17 demographic. The two remaining, realizing their lives have been made into a travesty, cling to each other. Unfortunately, their state does not allow for same-sex marriages. They quiver.
D. Cartoonish version: Girl steps outside to have a smoke. A piano falls on her from above. A cute boy notices the broken piano, shakes his head in shame, and hits an epiphany. He remembers his life as a child, how his fingers would caress ivory keys, much to his older sister's chagrin. How he would wake up suddenly at midnight and purge himself of notes that angrily crashed through his mind. And his science teacher, Sister Agnes, how she once used a ruler to rap on his fingers, which were already bleeding from the morning engorgement of piano playing, and how her mouth dropped open from his strange stigmata, and how from then on she treated him like the messiah come again.
His lips curl into a burlesque version of a nostalgic smile. A haunting circus tune combined with various Gregorian chants plays incessantly in his head; it is in allegro 6-8 time, with whirling triplets and abrupt transitions from the major to the minor. Ignoring the crowd, he steps over pieces of wood and metal and walks briskly to the nearest conservatory. The boy composes several beautiful yet hideously absurd piano pieces, which are subsequently performed by masters like Evgeny Kissin and André Watts. His body later gives out from a drug-related disease (although the prevalent rumor is tuberculosis), but he attains immortality, as his music lives forever.
E. Nietzsche version: Girl steps outside to have a smoke. It is cold. The wind blows, her fingers tremble, and the cigarette between her fingers flies away. She mutters the standard blasphemy, stomps back into the restaurant and displaces her anger onto two packs a day.
Years later, she loses one lung, and her face bloats up due to complications. Hospital bills run up frighteningly. She stares at the big television bolted into the upper corner of the room and endures a mind-numbing game show. She floats further away from the present while a doctor reads her charts. The girl tries to focus on the turning pages but then starts coughing up mucus and blood. The paused figure before her flows into constant motion.
Since her first operation, the girl had stopped noticing day-to-day changes, and instead became obsessed with arrivals and departures. Currently on her bedside table are obituaries, birth announcements, hospital and prison visiting hours, invoices, flight times, and train schedules. Whenever she browsed through the times, the girl was never sure if she was lonely but had the deep misgiving that a long time ago she may have missed something important. She simply replaced the emptiness with solipsism. Some believed she cultivated a poorly conceived syncretism of pessimistic misanthropy with the nepenthe of misconstrued omphaloskepsis. The others thought those people were pretentious Novellian fools drowning in sesquipedalian pedantry. Arguments ensued. The girl did not care.
From far, far away, the solitary whistle of a train arriving interrupted the declaration of the deep midnight.
The girl coughs her last.
One would assume that by now the girl would die. But why? No one will benefit from her fate (or lack thereof). And thus, to placate the masses: the doctor turns out to be quick at sticking the needle in the right place at the right time, as well as an accomplished amateur pianist. For some strange reason, the two plunge in love and are together forever. Dull happy ending occurs.
However, someone has to die.
So, God volunteers, Nietzsche gets his story, and a series of holy wars ensues. Lots of people die. The world is a horrible place.
F. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez version: Girl steps outside to have a smoke. A handsome man-child resembling the non-homosexy version of Leonardo di Caprio asks her for a light. As the end of her cigarette reaches his, their eyes meet. Marriage. Children. Their children have children. Their grandchildren have children. Their great-grandchildren have children. Their great-great grandchildren have children. Girl is now an old old lady. She becomes so wrinkled that she shrinks down to a size no larger than a tarantula. Her great-great-great grandchildren carry her around on their shoulder and, to tease her, pretend she does not exist. However, unlike Garcia-Marquez's original, the girl does not die, but instead remains immortal, like the Oracle, except without the prophetic capabilities. She is useless. One day she accidentally gets thrown out with the garbage.
JENNIFER F. ESTARIS is pursuing her MFA in fiction at Columbia University. Her stories, essays and reviews have appeared in Good Use, Lit Rag, The Subway Chronicles, Topography of War, Digital City and Sassy, among others. Please visit http://ione.freeshell.org to see ducks.