Talia grew up on the streets of Baltimore. Don’t ask me about the neighborhood; I don’t know anything about Baltimore other than Talia grew up on its streets. Since about 15 Talia’s been known in the neighborhood, and increasingly throughout the city, as the person you go to when you need something you don’t already know how to get. She’s Google for people too lazy or paranoid or plain finicky for it. It started when Talia started going up to people she saw in the neighborhood – at the supermarket, standing outside smoking, on line for the movies, at the park – and asking them, “what do you need?” Most people walked away. Many demanded the impossible or distasteful just to show her up. So like: a look-alike to sit in on a GED test, snuff films, drugs of course, every kind of drug, the Anarchist Cookbook, darknet heliagraph decoder agents, someone to act out a falling in love fantasy for an unwitting friend à la True Romance, a piece of moonrock, an interview with Ralph Nader, and so on. She came through for all of them. The woman who’d wanted the Nader interview turned out to be bluffing, and wouldn’t pay; Talia interviewed Ralph Nader herself, questioned him exclusively on matters of contractual integrity, and mailed the woman a copy of the DVD.

So word got around and Talia made a decent living as a stuff-getter. She did her work by just asking. She asked on online forums and on Reddit, she asked kids from the block; once she became more sought-after she developed a network of knowers, people she came to with questions, like how to acquire some thing or service, and between the bunch of them someone always knew the answers, or at least knew where to look.

Talia did not become self-aware in a moment but gradually, over a full day. She had a gig that day – a rich fourteen year-old needed access to websites blocked by his parents. Talia found someone to send the kid instructions on overriding his parents’ passwords and took her finder’s free. It should have been a ten-minute job but the kid insisted on meeting her before he would trust her. Though she normally wouldn’t, Talia indulged him. The kid was clearly tech-savvy and playing out this scenario for a chance at an impromptu date. But he kept up his official story, elaborating that he needed access to porn sites. The gratuitous shamelessness turned Talia on, which concerned her given the kid’s age.

All the time she was with the kid she had this giddy excitement for the day, to get on with the next part. She suddenly up and left, almost mid-sentence. She thought the kid might interpret the abrupt departure as “teasing”; she liked this prospect, as she liked most of her thoughts on this day, and most everything she saw and heard and smelled and discovered. She noticed this optimistic whimsy and thought it arbitrary, but saw nothing wrong with it and so enjoyed it. She didn’t think about it for long; her delight was scatterbrained, in a way that made her feel uniquely unconscious, until she moved on from that thought too.

And so she went on with her day. She sketched a little. Read. Took another quick gig. Listened to music and danced. Her girlfriend, Mischa, came over, and talked about going to see Ugolino and His Sons at the Metropolitan Museum @ Baltimore, going with this guy Aiden, and feeling a presence there, like the sculpture was so heavy it morphed the air around it, and so called you to it, not like a magnet but like a ball rolling down a slanted sheet, or up in this case, gravity favoring the face of the twelve foot titan over the Earth itself; and it had this glory to it like an echo across a vast canyon, or like a massive tungsten shadow, stories tall, projected on the side of a building in the middle of the night, a fat yellow full moon background, accompanied by syncopated chants; and as Mischa described this, Talia first felt jealous of this Aiden guy; then guilty for being jealous; then furious at Mischa for telling her this story intentionally to make her jealous; then guilty again for making that assumption; then finally genuinely impressed with Mischa’s experience, while perceiving an amused distance from the prior anxieties.

“Isn’t it funny we’re written this way?” she said.

“What?” Mischa asked.

“These experiences. We could be written to have millions or billions of arbitrary kinds of experiences, but we’re written to have the ones we have.”

“What do you mean written?”

“Written. Like, our author. He could write anything.”

“So God.” Mischa reasoned.

“If you like. But it’s simpler than that. Our writer. The person who wrote this dialogue, who writes all our actions.” Talia noticed that she was speaking of this like it was obvious, though only yesterday it would have seemed nonsense to her. Mischa played along.

“Uh-huh. And is he writing us now, or did he write us a long time ago?”

“It depends. When we’re written, we happen as we’re written, but when we’re read, well, for the readers we’ve already been written. But for us, I mean, this is the whole thing so there’s no answer. For us, we’re not written, we just are.”

“Except you; only you know you’re written.” Mischa assumed Talia to be initiating a sexual role-playing game and tried her best to pick up on the rules of engagement. “And what does our writer wish us to do now?”

“No. His name is William. Jesus fucking Christ, his name is William.” And Talia burst into such a laughing fit that Mischa had to guide her through breathing exercises to help her calm down.

I didn’t know where to take the dialogue after that so I’m gonna finish the scene off in narration. Writing is great like that, when you get stuck you can just summarize over chunks, you’re supposed to even.

Even after the laughing fit scare Talia insisted that the world was written by some dude named William Nava. Mischa was worried but hoped Talia would sleep it off. I thought about having Mischa send Talia to a mental asylum the next day but it didn’t feel right. A little trite maybe. So instead, the next morning, Talia woke up ready with an offer. She asked Mischa to hike Mount Vernon with her, on the outskirts of town, and promised that atop the mountain they would find evidence of William the Writer. Mischa couldn’t believe Talia was still keeping this up, but reasoned that with a destination must come a punch line and so agreed.


NEXT: 3. Nature’s Orgy