But I Made Sacrifices
You are new to this.
No, you're not new at it, not quite. You know what it's like be a Neopian Writer, at least moderately. You prefer white quills that bleed through the page over regular blue or black pens. You've witnessed the weewoos in the mail room, separating the slush pile from the accepted articles, comics, and stories. You have even spent some years as a delivery girl, perched on your bicycle seat in the early morning, tossing fresh copies of the Neopian Times to front doors, screens, closed fences.
You are new to this.
Your last rejection letter hit you hard. It is not that you're not used to rejection, it has happened to you before, for every reason from there simply wasn't any room for your story to the fact that you forgot to specify that your protagonist's friend was a green Kau (you did mention that she was green, though). This rejection aimed right for the ego, seemed to shrug at your very identity:
"Dear Rita Uni,
Your story (From Vain to Vanity Set) has been rejected because we want something new from you. Something beyond you.
Neopian Time Editors"
Something beyond you. You toss those words around in your head for a while, then begin to whisper them out loud, to yourself.
Something beyond you. Like a story about Kreludor and the stars? You think. You've written something like that before. You were sitting on your stiff bed in the Neopian Pound, gazing out the window, when a star fell from the sky--either that, or it was metamorphosing into a supernova. Either way, you knew any time a star stretched or stumbled, a wish was to made, and you wished something you told your pound friend you would never tell them, only everyone knows what it is.
"Home, duh," said that green Kau friend of yours. "Everyone knows. Every pet in the pound, everyone who reads stories about poor, lost Neopets in search of a home."
"Whatever," you muttered. Secretly, you're shaming her.
Great, she knows it. Now it will never come true, right? Someone guessing is just as bad as you telling someone, right? Wishes know when they've been guessed.
A single tear shows at the corner of your eye. You brush it away.
You're too good for this.
That's it, you decide in the morning. You've been contemplating it for a while, since you went to bed last night. You even had a dream.
You were sitting at your vanity set, dabbing your cheeks delicately with blush and tracing your lips with your favorite lipstick color, a vibrant but subtle red, called Ultimate Bullseye. You faced the mirror of course. Your mane was a glorious tangle of hairspray and bobby pins. Suddenly, your reflection blinked. Your eyes were wide open now. They had to be for the application of mascara. But your reflection was not applying mascara; she was simply staring on. Her irises were not your irises, glistening blue disks like an undiscovered planet's rings. Instead, they were grey, pallid, like dull sheets of metal. Her pupils were not your pupils, full and dark and enigmatic like a pit of some tropical fruit (enigmatic? Like a fruit pit? You don't bother questioning it, it's the word you had used in the dream). These pupils were that strange shade of blue that is almost purple (Indigo! Indigo!). Blue-purple? They seemed to be roving about somehow, even though they are locked within those cold metal irises (cumbersome planets seeking an orbit. What?).
As the dream continued, you began to realize that your reflection wasn't a Uni. It wasn't an Neopet you know of. This reflection was a wisp of something, perhaps of breath, of a mist. Those eye-planets remained, lumbered languidly on in place. They looked on, but could not see. They were your eyes, weren't they?
Something beyond yourself.
You remember hearing this somewhere in the dream, perhaps right before you woke up. You roll your eyes, partially in annoyance, partially because you want to feel that they are still there.
Oh right, this is that kind of story.
You're not new at this, remember?
You took the strange rejection letter to your green Kau friend. She has a name, it's on her mailbox and on a pendant hanging from her neck, but you don't think you ever call her by it. You never call people by their names. You just kind of start talking and expect them to listen.
You start talking and expect her to listen. She does.
"What does it mean?"
"The letter or the dream?"
Oh right. You told her about it over neomail before you went over her house this morning, not that it matters, the dream.
"The letter, duh."
"Well, that's easy enough. I think they're trying to tell you that you need new material, a new character."
Your ears perk up. You are shocked. Why?
"Why, what's wrong with me? I make a great character."
Your Kau friend blushes. "Right, right. You are, you really are, but after a few stories, they know you well enough, don't they? Your story has been told. You've told them everything--about you, about us. They just want to read about something new."
Your Kau friend smirks. It's such an annoying smirk. You wish she'd knock it off.
"I know," she says. "You can write a story about me! I was in the pound with you, don't you remember?"
You think about it. "Nah, too boring. Thanks for your help, though."
"It can be like your usual pound stories, just featuring me."
"Because I'm someone different, exactly what they're asking for."
"Hm, thanks, friend, but--"
"My name is Tara."
"Right, good bye. Thanks again."
It's past noon. You're sitting at your desk, gnawing at a gnarled pencil with no lead. Over lunch, you decided to give up the words I, me, and blue.
You're too good for this.
You pick up your quill.
"Rita was a kind Uni. Rita was a pound Uni. Rita was lonely. Rita was alone. Rita was a red Uni."
You read over what you've written, cringe. That's it. You'll give up the word "was" too. You're sick of living in the past.
"But you're not sick of telling it?"
You shake your head. Did you daze off?
Suddenly, you think to yourself: the biggest sacrifice I ever made was giving up the word blue.
The next day, you have decided: I will give up the color blue. No more summer skies, no more walks on the beach with the waves at my feet, no more "Puppyblew Kisses" and "Water Faerie Caress lipstick".
You recall reading a story in the Neopian Times several years ago, one about an Aisha who gave up everything to live in the Lost Desert. For years, she lived among shifting sands and thirst mirages with nothing more than a tent and a small canteen of water that always ran dry before the sun set.
You need to make more sacrifices. That's what the good writers do. No more blue, no more was, no more I.
"Rita has given up the color blue," you begin. The quill stalls above the page after you've formed the words in your usual ribbon-like penmanship.
"Rita misses the color blue. Rita misses the ocean, the lake, her own eyes in mirror. Rita--"
You've never called anybody by her name before.
"Perhaps I should take up poetry," you tell your Kau friend over a cup coffee.
She cocks an eyebrow. "Why?'
"Nobody has a name in poetry. It's all sky, grass, weewoo, Kau, Uni. There's nothing to give up."
"Poetry doesn't have to rhyme, does it?"
"How to you feel about explanation points?"
"You mean exclamation points?"
"Ugh! You're not helping!"
You stomp off, leaving a half-full mug of coffee on the table to simmer and steam. After a couple minutes to yourself, you return to the table. You say nothing.
"No. I'm taking up poetry."
"I guess. Bye."
But you don't leave. You never leave.
You'll take up poetry, but then give it up the next day. Another thing sacrificed. But you won't write about it. No writers do until they feel a deep conviction, the need for catharsis. You wait for catharsis. You don't know what it looks like, but for some reason the thought of it brings you back to your first pound story. You ache all over. You feel like a glorious grand piano tripped over my the same fingers too many times. You feel like an easel that has been displaying the same artist's same pastel tiger lilies for years.
You feel like a poet who has given up poetry.
You have another dream. Everyone has a name in this dream. Even you. Even the color blue. Even Tara, Kau Friend. Even the color blue, Indigo.
You can't speak. You don't even really try. You just assume you can't and don't bother trying. Three Unis are speaking at you.
"Hello, my name is Gemma."
"Hello, my name is Kate."
"Hello, my name is Ivy."
You nod. Gemma, Kate, Ivy. Those are nice names.
They nod too.
You are puzzled. You continue not to speak, but you think.
I gave up the color blue. I gave up poetry. I am new at this.
"We know," the three Unis say. They're singing.
Who are you?
"Something beyond you."
There is a fading out, a flickering of eyelids, a blurred world. You've awaken, seemingly unaffected.
"Right, that kind of story."
You gasp. You've spoken.
You decide to give up speaking.
"This is getting ridiculous," says your Kau friend later that morning. You two are conversing over coffee again.
You pick up your quill and scribble on the back of your receipt,
"This," your Kau friend has risen her voice. You gasp. She's never done that before.
"For Fyora's sake, Rita, just write a story. Who cares what anyone thinks? Write for you, as you have all these years! Who cares if they don't accept them?"
You're about to open your mouth, but stop yourself. You look down at your receipt.
No, yes, sorry, Why?, 1 House Blend Coffee, Sacrifice, 100 Neopoints.
Somewhere between the words "sacrifice" and "coffee", you squeeze in the word bye. You squint, frown, attempt to fix your sloppy handwriting. Your cursive e smudges forlornly.
You go home, take a seat at your desk among crumpled papers and dried-up quills and spilled ink. Catharsis still hasn't come. You expect it to arrive stealthily, through an inconspicuous crack in the ceiling, like the Tooth Faerie, like a mist.
Like something beyond yourself.
Suddenly, those words make you hurt all over. You feel like a dreamer who will be unable to sleep tonight, a traveler still searching for the oasis in his mirage.
You pick up your quill. "RITA..."
You expect those letters to shatter the silence, like stones thrown at a mirror, at a stranger's reflection.