You Tore Me Down  

By: Lori Hahnel  

Fiona opened the door a discreet length of time after the mail carrier left. Discreet was when the carrier had got, say, two doors down the block from hers. She hated to look too eager for the mail to come, didn't want anyone to think she was just sitting and waiting for it to arrive. Certainly didn't want to get that smirk from the carrier that meant Hey, loser. Another rejection.

She opened the door, had to set one foot in the fresh snow to get to the mailbox. She riffled through the stack of mail. The usual shit. Bills. Junk. To the lady of the house. Oh, and if that wasn't exciting enough, there was another rejection, this one from an Eastern literary magazine she'd sent a story to some four months back. Damn good thing I've been dumped so many times, she reflected. Good preparation for being a writer. Or maybe this wasn't a rejection. Usually they send it to you in your own SASE. This one was actually on the magazine's stationery. Who knows, she thought, ripping the envelope open. Maybe I actually sold something. Dear Fiona Baumgartner, it read:

Thank you for submitting your short story entitled You Tore Me Down to The Castle Review. We wish to suggest some changes, with an eye to possible publication in a future issue.

"YES!" she yelled, thrusting her fist in the air. "It's not a rejection…really." She continued reading.

We wondered if the main character, Porphyria, could be changed from a blonde to a redhead. Also, we felt the story might ring a little truer if it was set in Calgary instead of Vancouver. If you could make these changes and send it back to us, we will contact you promptly to let you know of our decision. Sincerely, The Editorial Collective

Fiona tried not walk, not run, to her computer. Strange changes to ask for. The character's hair colour? And the city? But, she reasoned, since she lived in Calgary and not Vancouver, they probably thought she'd be able to render it better. After all, no doubt the Editorial Collective knew what it was talking about. She'd change the main character to an Armenian sword swallower and the setting to Planetoid X-47 if they wanted it. Just so long as they printed the damn story, she didn't care.

Two weeks later, another letter arrived from The Castle Review. Fiona tore at the envelope as she watched the letter carrier trudging through the snow on the other side of the street. She read the letter a couple of times before she sat down, bewildered. Dear Fiona Baumgartner, it read:

Thank you for making the suggested changes to your short story, You Tore Me Down. We feel the story is much improved by them and are very interested in including it in a future issue of The Castle Review. However, we would like to suggest the following changes before we can do that:

  1. Make the male character, Bart, a little more sympathetic. We don't think he really could have meant to break Porphyria's heart. She probably just took what he said the wrong way. Girls are always doing this.
  2. Mention Porphyria's bust size, specifying that it is ample. Additional detail about clothing she wears would also be welcome.
  3. Clarify the date of the alleged dumping. January 1985 sounds about right.
After making these changes, please send it back to us and we will contact you as soon as possible. Thank you.


The Editorial Collective

Who the hell was this damned Editorial Collective, anyway? Her hands shook as she searched the letter over for a phone number. She grabbed the phone and began to dial. Then, she hung up.

Better not to act in haste, she told herself. She went to the kitchen, got a cold drink of water, read the letter again. She felt calmer now, but she had to call and find out what was going on here. And what was up with the Editorial Collective.

"You've reached The Castle Review. No one is here to take your call right now…"
"Shit!" she hissed. She was about to hang up the phone when she heard someone interrupt the answering machine on the other end, "Hello, hello?"
"Uh, yes. Hello. Am I speaking to one of the members of the Editorial Collective?" she asked.
"You are. In fact, I am the Editorial Collective. What can I do for you?"
Fiona was sure the voice sounded familiar. "DAVID!" she roared. "Is that you?"
After a short silence the voice asked, "Who is this?"
"This is Fiona Baumgartner! Are you David Laurier?"
"Well, yes. How are you, Fiona?"
"How am I? What is the meaning – I mean, what are you trying to do to me, here, David?"
"Well, imagine how I felt, reading this story. I get your submission, see your name, and I think, fine, we'll see what old Fiona's up to these days—"
"Old!" she interrupted.
"Take it easy. It's just a figure of speech. So I'm reading this story, and here it's about the last time we saw each other."
"How was I supposed to know that you'd be reading it? I mean, what's with this 'Editorial Collective' shit?"
"It was an Editorial Collective until six months ago. I'm the only one left. I don't want to go into it right now."
"Fine with me. Anyway, after you read it, why didn't you just send me a rejection letter?"
"Because I want to run it. It's well-written."
"Okay. I'm glad you think so. But, c'mon, what's with all these changes?"
"I just wanted to make it more authentic."
"Authentic? David, it's not a documentary. It's a work of fiction."
"I beg to differ. I knew what was going on. I have to say, you've got a pretty good memory. But can you really call this a work of fiction?"
"I have a great memory when it comes to trauma. I can remember every gory detail. And, yes, it's a work of fiction. I mean, it happens to be based on a true incident…and if anybody else but you had been reading it, it wouldn't matter. But it's my story, David, and I don't want to make those changes."
"Okay. I don't really want you to. Actually, I was just messing with your mind. I'll run it in the next issue."
She let out a sigh of relief. "As it ever was."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.
"It means you haven't changed an iota. Messing with my mind, after all these years."
"What about you? You're like a…I don't know what. You haven't forgotten a single word I said to you, after all these years."
Fiona pulled together all the dignity she could find within. "Perhaps it was because I cared, David," she replied cooly.
"And I suppose you think I didn't!"
"It certainly seemed that way at the time. But never mind. I don't want to have this discussion. I'm so over you, you know. I haven't thought about you in years. And I rescind my story, I withdraw it, don't you dare run it!"
"You can't do that! It's a great story."
"You really think so?" she asked, quietly.
"Sure. How could I not love it? C'mon, let me publish it. Just this once."
She thought for a moment. "Okay."
There was an awkward pause. "So, other than writing, how are you doing?" he ventured.
"I'm okay. And you?"
"Oh, not so bad for an old guy. Listen, did you know we've just started to be able to pay our contributors?"
"No kidding. So, what do you pay?"
"Thirty dollars for a short story."
"Great. That should just about cover this call. And I'm glad we got this cleared up."
"Good, good. It was nice talking to you, Fiona."
"You, too, David."
"Feel free to send more stories, anytime."
"Sure. I will. Goodbye."
Fiona hung up the phone and looked out the front window, focused on the letter carrier's footprints in the snow on the steps. The walk needed clearing, she realized. She put on her boots and coat and found the shovel.

"Old!" The word came out as a frozen cloud as she threw the first shovelful onto the lawn.

Lori Hahnel is a Calgary writer whose work has appeared in such magazines as Canadian Author, Books in Canada, Paragraph, NeWest Review, Filling Stationa and Small Press Review.
Contact Lori Hahnel
December 7, 2000
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