Last year a young writer in my class sent me a text message that was a sequence of images. Being the late adopter I am, I was like, “What are those crazy emoticons?”
“You don’t know emoji?”
I didn’t. But I was so excited about them that the next day I took a screen shot of my hundred favourite emoji, had my students paint images of each character, then had these same students blindly select a sequence of emoji and use that sequence to inspire a story. The best examples from this first batch were published in The West Enders, Vol. 1, Issues 1 and 2, available at a fine bookstore near you.
The activity has been well received so I’ve been sharing the hell out of it. People enjoy it enough that I wanted to try it.
So, I asked my friend, the illustrious musician Jim Guthrie, to create a sequence of emoji for me. He created two. Below is the first sequence and the story I made from it.
Suggested musical pairings for the following story: “Alien Love” from Jim Guthrie’s first cassette, Home is Where the Rock Is (1995) (https://jimguthrie.bandcamp.com/track/alien-love); “Not Yalk’s Requiem” from Jim’s fourth cassette, Some Things You Should Know About Sound and Hearing (1998) and his recently reissued breakout album One Thousand Songs (https://jimguthrie.bandcamp.com/track/not-yalks-requiem-2); “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground” by Blind Willie Johnson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DB7C7BgxEWw).
Thanks for your time,
The guitar’s dying vibrations made Matt feel especially alone at the microphone. One or two members of the audience stared at him wondering if he was finished; most people were chatting. His brother, who, for whatever reason, was broadcasting this performance live on the world wide web, started clapping and a few other people picked up his cue. “That’s it,” Matt said.
“Do another,” his brother shouted.
“Good night,” he said.
The next act was setting up. Matt stood by the bar with his guitar and waited for his brother to pack up his webcam, microphone and laptop. Someone tapped Matt on the shoulder.
Two tall strangers stood stooped above him, their hair falling over their faces. They both wore red lipstick to demarcate near-invisibly thin lips. The strangers spoke simultaneously. “We liked your set.” Matt was trying to see their eyes through their hair. He would have remembered seeing them if they’d been in the audience, right? “We watched your performance on the internet.”
“It was emotionally direct and vulnerable.”
“You’re making me blush.”
“Come with us, please.”
“Sure.” He carried his guitar over to his brother and asked him to watch it for a few minutes. Matt followed the hunched strangers out of the bar and into an alley. They stopped beside a large something under a huge black sheet with iridescent thread woven through. It wasn’t that the cloth made it hard to see the overall shape of the thing it covered, but that it somehow made it hard for Matt to think about what he was seeing. The strangers stood on either side of the object and pulled the sheet. It fell in a shimmering wave.
The ship was three stories tall. “You can go inside while we fold this,” the strangers said.
They led him into a living room with two couches that looked like garbage day curbside finds and a La-Z-Boy that Matt swore had been his grandfathers.
“I’ll be right back,” one of the strangers said. Watching the stooped figure walk through an open door, Matt realized that the stranger had removed his/her hair. Matt looked to find the other stranger.
(S)he stared at him with dark, double-sized eyes. Matt couldn’t tell if the stranger was a girl or a boy or even if the stranger was hot, but the way (s)he was leaning towards him made Matt eager for the kiss he sensed was coming. The stranger touched his cheek.
“Are you ready?” the other stranger said from across the room.
“Yes,” said the stranger who had been about to kiss Matt. “Come this way,” (s)he said, grabbing Matt’s hand. (S)he led Matt past a window. He saw the curvature of the earth and way more stars than he could see in the city at night. He thought he should maybe text his brother to tell him to go home without him and ask would he mind taking the guitar, but Matt figured he wouldn’t get service up here.
The strangers sat him in front of a Tascam 4 Track Cassette Recorder in a tiny back room of the ship. They played him a song that sounded robotic, like Kraftwerk, only wetter, and not, like, wet with reverb. Gooey, almost. The strangers asked him to record a vocal track. No, they did not have anything written. Matt listened to the track a bunch. No words came to him, so he hummed a melody. The stranger who had touched his face cried during his fourth take, so they kept it.
The strangers dropped Matt off at his house. His brother wasn’t so much mad as worried about him and worried about explaining to their parents and a bit mad, actually, but mostly relieved, but, no, still mostly a little mad. Matt thanked his brother for bringing the guitar home.
That night and many nights afterwards, Matt lay in bed and imagined kissing the stranger.
Nine months later he received a cassette in the mail. On the cover there were symbols that looked like letters around a red lipstick smudge. Matt’s name wasn’t in the credits, at least not in any form he could read, but the tape, and especially his track, sounded pretty good.
Toronto, April 2015
Jim Guthrie is a musician from Guelph, Ontario. Andrew Hood just wrote an inspiring book about him, Jim Guthrie: Who Needs What. You can find out more about all things Jim at jimguthrie.org
Lee Sheppard is a writer and educator living in Toronto, Ontario. He is the founder of The West Enders at West End Alternative Secondary School, a creative writing and illustrating program that publishes The West Enders magazine twice a year.