A Perfect Heart of Paper

By Matthew Sirois

The novel was in final edits when he won. I was supposed to be approving copy edits, but some tacky, silver spoon had taken the presidency on a platform of total division. The novel was about dangerous metanarratives, but he’d won on straight-faced xenophobia. My book navigated the thin border between religious faith and nationalism, but this fucker was grabbing some poor woman’s ass with one hand and Jesus’ tongue with the other. On TV. The worst of our white, American inclinations had gotten their smarmy king, and I was about to launch my “timely, thoughtful” novel like a wish into a hurricane. My heart was on the floor. I put a line, You’re making reality itself a partisan issue, into the mouth of a minor character.

My indie publisher hyped it as the most relevant pages on offer in 2017. I didn’t necessarily believe this, but I spiked my occasional promo spots with political barbs. And I looked hard at what I had to say next.

It was about race, my new project. It was about the intersection of identity and power. Good, good. But this president was operating on so many fronts—attacking the brown, the poor, the disabled, the female, the queer, the outspoken, the educated, the soldiers, the teachers, and those stripped of shelter—that I couldn’t settle on a trajectory. I couldn’t choose the exact argument I’d want to be making in five or eight years when the manuscript was finished and I again stood a chance of publishing relevant words.

Meanwhile, a travel ban was leveled against Muslim people entering the country. An army of unsupervised immigration officers was sent into our midst. A tax bill was passed that, among many atrocities, threatened to redefine my partner’s education funding as taxable income. She’d have to quit her program if my income as a metalworker didn’t cover the difference. Her program was the reason we moved to this little New England town, where families were now facing deportation due to changes in immigration policy and status for refugees. Lest anyone misunderstand, we’re white and (in my partner’s case) educated people, but this president’s tide of shit took only months to lap at our doorstep.

My book was published, to little fanfare. One indie novel isn’t sword enough to slay the hydra. Onward, I thought anyhow. Get back on the horse. But plot machinations feel disingenuous. Why should someone sit through fiction when there’s real smoke outside their window? I told my partner I didn’t believe in the novel anymore. It was already hard enough reading the colonialism of Babar the Elephant to our three-year-old without screaming.

I tap at the keyboard, still, wondering if composition is just an excuse for drinking. I look at the advice online and know that I should be writing my heart; I should be constructing a perfect heart of paper for others to unfold. But all I really want is a sentence that rings like a gunshot. I want a guillotine drawn in ink.