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The Freelancer

by Daniel Felsenthal

 

[Editor’s Note: This piece is part of the “Topical” series, with each piece solely submitted to and chosen by the Final Reader Pietra Dunmore.]

 

When she stopped working for the publication, no one sent her an email. A couple of people assumed she had taken a vacation. No one knew anything else: whether, for example, her mother or father had gotten sick. No one knew if she had returned home to care for her parents. Or if she had married and become a homemaker who took on occasional freelance pieces, which she completed with one hand while the child in her other hand fed from her breast. Or if she was privately wealthy, and if this enabled her to stop putting on the pretense of making money from writing. Or if she had gotten deeper into drinking, or was ever into drinking, which was a question, for no one had ever gotten a drink with her. Or if she was into drugs, and if this was the reason for her departure, increasing dependency problems. No one knew these things about her. No one knew if she gambled. No one knew if she left to go to law school, for she was still young enough to go to school again, or moved back into her childhood bedroom, or into the room her parents set up, if they were no longer in her childhood home, to give her the semblance of having a room, because they wanted her to visit. Or if she moved to the opposite coast, the one that some said was better, or to the mountains north of the city, or to one of the cities that people who lived in larger cities described as “livable.” No one knew why it mattered, where she lived, for no one had ever invited her into the offices. The company had tons of freelancers, and even staffers, who lived in other cities and other countries. No one knew if she had left the industry entirely, or just the publication. No one knew if she had died.

Three people had access to her tax forms. Two people knew that she had filed as a single person, her address (51 137th Avenue) and her Social Security number (339-97-1338), which meant she was 31 years old and grew up in Illinois. Only a handful of people were even aware that she had left.

Before she went, eleven people received emails from her that began, “I hope you’ve been well!” Two people wrote her something similar. Everyone assumed that she was not quite as busy as they were, and that this was why she bothered being concerned with the well-being of co-workers she had never met. Sixteen emails marked low-priority by the publication went unanswered.

Three or four people missed her, without realizing what it was that they missed. Two people remembered a piece in which she used the first-person, and one person remembered it fondly. Three or four people were moved by her writing in general, while one person declared it vaguely offensive. Four people forgot every piece she wrote within a week of reading it. Three people believed her tone was too formal, yet one thought that she would loosen up in time. One person thought that she was too political, while two others thought that she should stop being funny. One person found her verbs inert. Two-hundred and twelve people began reading one of her pieces, and then clicked into another tab, having forgotten what it was that they were in the middle of doing, but not because they did not like her writing. Four-hundred seventeen freelancers work at the publication.

None of these people is her.

 

Daniel Felsenthal is a music writer for Pitchfork and the Assistant Editor of NOON. His short stories, essays and criticism have appeared in a variety of publications, including the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Village Voice, The Baffler, The Believer, Hyperallergic, Kenyon Review and BOMB, among others. In 2019, his novella, Sex With Andre, came out in The Puritan, and he received a 2020-21 Fellowship Grant from The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. He is currently at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. Read more of his stuff at Danielfelsenthal.com and find him on Twitter @D_Felsenthal.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Freelancer”?

A couple of months after I got vaccinated against COVID-19, I saw the latest film by the German director Christian Petzold, Undine, at the IFC Center in New York. The movie, a mermaid story set in modern Berlin, was forgettable—by no means awful, but not as good as Petzold’s earlier work. In one scene, a character searches for another character, the woman he loves. He goes to her workplace. He asks after her. The co-worker of the missing person looks baffled by his line of questioning. “I don’t know anything about her,” she says—or something like that, I’m paragraphrasing from memory—“She was a freelancer.” As usual, I was the only person in the movie theater who laughed, probably because I related to the line’s sadness and anonymity, more than I found it funny. I began to construct the voice of the story that would become “The Freelancer” in my head, which I then transcribed onto the notes app of my phone during the credits. I like the idea that the dialogue was just devastating enough to produce a 587-word piece of flash fiction, the way that single paragraphs of Proust have been adapted into entire literary careers, and songs from The White Album have sprung into genres of music.

News

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

Matter Press is now offering private flash fiction workshops and critiques of flash fiction collections here.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The reading period for standard submissions closes June 15, 2021. Topical Thursdays’ submissions are open year-round. Submit here.

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