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Julie Falsette by Tom Lichtenberg
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Julie Falsette by Tom Lichtenberg
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A young woman sorts through her life while trying to find a missing valuable object. A story about life, the universe and everything.


Some words belong together, Mary said, like 'babbling incoherently'. It's hard to imagine them separately.

That's just because you hear them so often together, ]ulie replied. She was standing in the hall, looking at the mirror. It faced the front door, so the first thing she saw when she came home was herself. That self didn't please her now. Its hair was too curly, and too long, it stuck out in all the wrong directions, and strangled combs when they attempted to subdue it. ]ulie was tugging at it with her fingers, pulling it down and straightening it, but when she let go it sprang back up again. It was no use. She couldn't go around tugging at it all day long. There was nothing she could do about the hair.

I'm going to cut it all off, she said, half to herself. obooko.

No, you're not, Mary told her from the kitchen, where another cup of coffee sat in front of her, and the breeze coming through the window blew cigarette smoke across her face.

Here's another one, Mary proclaimed, the so-and-so 'flatly denied' that blah blah blah blah et cetera. Why can't they ever just deny it? Why does it always have to be 'flatly'?

I don't know, ]ulie said, why?

Because the words belong together.

That's silly, ]ulie replied. She sneered at her image in the mirror. The image sneered back, and she thought, well, if that's the way you're going to be, the hell with you! She turned away from it. As she came into the kitchen, she said,

Things do not 'belong together'. That's just a myth. What happens is they get stuck together, and they just stay stuck until they get unstuck.

She was thinking about her comb, about how it gets all tangled up in her hair, and she can't get it out again, and every twist, every turn just seems to make it worse, until, in sheer frustration, she throws up her hands and leaves the damn thing there. Moments later, calmer now, she tries again - not to comb the hair but just to get the comb out, and it comes unstuck. But maybe there's something to it, she thought, like the words 'sheer frustration'. They sure seem to belong together.

How about 'sheer frustration?" she asked.

That's a good one, Mary said, like here, in the paper, here's another one: 'major upheaval'. you never hear about minor upheavals, do you? No way. If it's an upheaval, it's bound to be major, don't you think?

Yeah, ]ulie laughed. Mary grinned. She was balancing a pen between two fingers, and ]ulie noticed how on the front page there were many words and phrases circled and underlined.

You're at it again, she said, and Mary nodded.

I can't help it. If I don't pay attention to what I'm reading it all slips by my censor, and I wind up with all sorts of stupid phrases in my vocabulary. You have to be careful. Newspapers are dangerous. Everything in here is 'rushing headlong' or 'burning out of control' or 'scurrying behind locked doors' or 'flatly denying' or 'growing in leaps and bounds' or 'babbling incoherently! Christ! That's just a few of 'em from the front page alone!

Sounds exciting, ]ulie said, and she took one of Mary's cigarettes and lit it. She was still standing there in her underwear, shivering slightly from the breeze, clutching the cigarette in a fist braced against her lips.

That's the point, Mary said, they're saying, go on and lead your boring lives and leave the excitement to us. Why should you do anything interesting when everybody else is doing it for you?

Oh, I don't know about that, ]ulie said, thinking, it's too early to try and think about these things. I don't know what she's talking about. Mary had been at it for the past two weeks, this frantic attempt to purge her vocabulary of all newspeak, all cliches, but there didn't seem to be any point in it.