Altered Persona

by Thaddeus Rutkowski

Each night, I put on my costume—a long cloth neck, two stubby horns, a patchwork quilt, and stilts—and went out to forage for leaves. I needed a long neck to reach the topmost morsels. But my neck wasn’t going to get any longer from stretching it. No, I understood Darwinian theory. Creatures with long necks didn’t get those appendages by reaching higher. They got them through natural selection. If I were going to survive, I’d have to wait ages for a naturally long neck. But I didn’t have the time, so I pulled on my extensions and my patchwork quilt, and I went out at night. I roamed my neighborhood. It was no Serengeti, but it had some trees.

I drew some attention, but I didn’t care. I was eating the greenest leaves, and my character began to change. I began to ruminate as I chewed. I begin to think about savannahs, tall grasses, and acacias full of shoots. I could see over treetops, spot predators a mile away. I could wrap my tongue around twigs and strip them of edible parts. I was no longer in a suburb, straining to see over shrubbery, trying not to trip over trashcans, and keeping one step ahead of the authorities. No, I was on a plain, and I was taller than any living creature.

At one point, I saw a dog. But was it really a dog, or was it a person dressed as a dog—a person altering his or her persona the same as I was doing? The creature came to me without fear, as if I were encroaching on its territory. It strained to reach my knees. I could have booted it with my hoof—with great force because I was so much taller—but I didn’t. I just kept tonguing the leaves from branches, keeping an eye out for serious predators.

Thaddeus Rutkowski’s new book, Haywire (Starcherone), is a novel composed of flash fictions. His previous novels, Tetched and Roughhouse, were finalists for an Asian American Literary Award. He teaches literature at City University of New York and fiction writing at the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in Manhattan. His web site is www.thaddeusrutkowski.com.

What first drew you to compression—and what about compression continues to captivate you? I was naturally drawn to compression: Writing short was the most comfortable way for me to write. Maybe I think about things in short bursts. It’s not that I shrink or reduce what I have to say; I actually try to “stretch” my prose pieces and include everything I can think of. Even so, my pieces come out short.

I’m working between poetry and prose. The conscious side of my brain wants the order and clarity of prose, but the instinctive side clings to the immediacy and illogic of poetry.

On a practical level, many of my short prose pieces/flash fictions are written in a brief period of time. The initial exercise is to put something down on paper in about ten minutes. I go back, of course, and revise—I add and subtract to make what is, to my mind, a complete story.

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