The Surrealist

by Matt Leibel

The surrealist sliced open a grapefruit, and inside was the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, written in squid’s ink. The surrealist’s oatmeal was a gaping mouth, which spoke to her of the day’s stock prices, in calming, dulcet tones.

The surrealist worked as a copy editor at Giant Magazine, where she was tasked with carting around life-sized wood-block letters on dollies all day. She spent her lunches in the break room, lounging on chairs carved from actual clouds that her company purchased wholesale, direct from Heaven—which had a surplus, and even threw in a couple of underperforming angels.

After work, the surrealist went to the gym, where she lifted 100-pound weights solely with the power of her mind. People waiting to use the equipment gave her dirty looks; this was probably the 20th time she’d done this trick, and patrons were way beyond the ‘how did you do that?’ stage at this point. Embarrassed, she turned herself into a baby blue jay, and flew out of the gym through the open window above the ellipticals.

The surrealist’s boyfriend was a broken alarm clock: they’d met at a yard sale, where they’d been introduced under false pretenses. “We’re all broken, in different ways,” he’d told her, by way of explanation, after she found out he no longer worked (he was on disability). The couple got the expected mileage out of the “right twice a day” bit, but she knew him to be genuinely wise, and correct about the important things more often than not.

One Saturday, with her boyfriend off at band practice (he played a trio of triangles: isosceles, love, Bermuda) The surrealist attended an art show entitled “Innovations in Contemporary Surrealism.” She spent several minutes staring bewildered at blank walls while noticing the other patrons looking only at her: it became quickly apparent that she was the art on view. When she fled the gallery in a panic, she could hear the gallery grumbling that they’d been short-changed, and demanding their money back.

Throughout high school and college, the surrealist had used the word “surreal” expansively, to describe the even slightly off-kilter: a movie with a nonlinear structure, a freak hailstorm, a dandyish professor in an ascot. Friends gave her grief for abusing the word (much as others in their clique abused “literally”), but she enjoyed saying it, wringing as much meaning as she could from it, and didn’t stop until her mid-twenties, by which point she fully embodied it.

As her life, and the world, became increasingly unmoored, The surrealist found herself wondering: If everything is so constantly strange, what even is normal? Is it okay to crave normal things? Is it okay also to crave bizarre things? Is it okay to mix the two in a single craving, like a chocolate-vanilla soft serve swirl? Also: Why does my imagination feel like a 16-pound bowling ball I have to drag around with me everywhere on a leash?

The surrealist posed these questions to her boyfriend, as they got ready for bed—which was literally a bed of roses, with the stems painstakingly removed. Her boyfriend wanted to provide comfort, because he loved her, and hated to see her feeling so unsettled. He longed to assure her that he was real, and that she was real, and that their reality together was better and more real than either one of them had reasonably imagined real could be. But he didn’t have the words—so he told her what he always did: 8:42, 8:42, 8:42

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