By Franco Amati
I was getting a bagel and a coffee, and the girl behind the counter was looking at me weird. She was, like, really staring at me. I’m not a handsome guy, so it didn’t make sense. I got all self-conscious and touched my face thinking maybe there was something stuck to it. Nope. Just my normal knobby-old face. “Something wrong?” I said to her.
“You’re the guy. The purple carrots guy,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s you.”
“Oh, come on. It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone else you’re here. Once your bagel’s ready, you can leave quietly. I won’t say a thing. I just wanted you to know that your story—it meant so much to me. You’re remarkable.”
Okay, at this point I was totally creeped out. I was this close to walking right out of there without my food, but my pounding head reminded me that I needed the caffeine. So I stuck it out. I figured, whatever, what’s another thirty seconds with a lunatic barista?
I played along. “I’m glad to hear it,” I said, nodding, trying to avoid eye contact.
“The part where you finally reveal what the title means. Mind. Blown. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And you—your author picture. Such a distinct face. I couldn’t get it out of my mind for days.”
“Listen,” I said, “whoever put you up to this, tell them—oops, hang on—one sec.” My phone vibrated. It was a text from my girlfriend.
The text said: “Congrats, babe! Better thank your beautiful wifey when you make your big acceptance speech! You’re amazing! See you at home. Xoxo.” What?
I was about to reply, but the flashing light on my phone continued to blink. More messages. I had dozens of new emails in my inbox. One colleague after another, saying similar things about some award. I kept reading phrases like finally and all these years have paid off and you deserve it man!
I stopped skimming through the messages and just googled my own name and the word award. My heart sank. I nearly collapsed. The top result was the list of Hugo Award nominations, along with my name and some story called Purple Carrots.
When did I write a story called Purple Carrots!? What the hell is happening? There’s no way. This is not how I envisioned this moment.
The barista handed me my coffee and bagel. “Cream cheese or butter? No, wait. I can totally guess. You’re all about the butter, aren’t you?”
I didn’t respond. I just grabbed my stuff and scurried over to a booth in the corner, pulling my hood over my head and putting sunglasses on so no one else would recognize me.
I took out my laptop, opened up the finder and typed the words: purple carrots. Christ—a manuscript popped up. Right there, in perfect Shunn format with my name in the upper left corner, four thousand words. Looked like a legit final draft.
You know when you’re nervous—when your body’s just starting the sweating process, like that initial sensation where the upper part of your forehead gets kind of itchy, like right where the nascent beads of perspiration are being produced? You get all hot and your stomach starts to make noises, like, yeah—things are happening in there, and you’re losing your grip, and you have no clue what to do? That’s what was going on inside me when I started reading Purple Carrots.
All the hustle and bustle outside the cafe booth slowed down and blurred at the edges. The words on the page stood up in crisp Times New Roman, and they shot right into my head like lightning bolts.
The story was incredible. Hell yeah, I’m talking like best-of-the-year type quality, without a doubt. The barista was right. The revelation at the end. It worked. It totally worked. For once, I didn’t write one of those flat endings that “didn’t quite work for me.” Damn. Goosebumps. I gave myself goosebumps.
I looked up from my laptop, hoping to reunite myself with reality, and there was a guy sitting across from me. Great, another fan, I thought. But no. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at me with this placid expression.
“Who are you?” I said.
“You know who I am, Stephen. We talk every night. It’s Jude.”
“Yes, Jude. Granted, you do most of the talking. But, come on. You should recognize me. You’ve seen enough depictions of me.” He reached for my bagel and took a bite of it. “Butter? Come on. Isn’t this New Jersey? Where’s the cream cheese, man?”
He looked just like the pictures. The ones they show you in Catholic school religion books. All those portraits on the back of prayer cards that you buy in hospitals. Saint fucking Jude. With the beard and staff and the green robe and the big copper coin around his neck the size of a Flavor Flav clock. The only thing he was missing was his halo.
“You did this?” I said, looking at him hard, guzzling my tepid coffee. “You gave me Purple Carrots?”
“Who else would have done this? This is what you prayed for, man. Every night before you go to sleep. Every day of your life, you ask for it. Let me get nominated for a Hugo Award. Oh please, Lord. Someday. You’re pathetic, man. Let me ask you this. Am I your favorite saint now or what? They don’t call me the patron of hopeless causes for nothing. Am I right?”
“No. Stop it. I didn’t want it like this. I can’t take credit for it. I don’t even remember writing it. Purple Carrots? Really? I’m known for dystopian fiction. This stuff reeks of magical realism. Or slipstream even. I don’t know. It’s not even the kind of thing I’d write.”
“What difference does it make? You’re a Hugo nominated writer now. You’re gonna get all your other mediocre shit published after this. This is just the trigger, man. I’m still waiting for my thank you.”
“Undo it. Undo it, Jude. This isn’t right. I’m not even really Catholic anymore. I don’t believe in this stuff. I tell people I’m an atheist. I even write it in my author blurb sometimes because it’s the only thing about me that’s underrepresented.”
“You better stop lying then. Because, my friend, you are not an atheist. Now, I may need to brush up a little on my secular terminology, you know, being that I’m a vicar of Christ and all. But I’m pretty sure non-theists don’t beg for miracles in the middle of the night.”
“It’s not—ugh! I do it, like, as a hope. A wish. You know, like, just expressing something I want. Like a verbal self-actualization thing. I don’t literally mean it. Come on, man. I’m getting out of here. Once I leave this booth and get on the bus, I’m gonna google my name again, and it better not be associated with anything called Purple Carrots, okay? Undo it, please.”
“I can’t just undo it. The Boss doesn’t like returns. And, no, I’m not talking about Bruce Springsteen. I can do an exchange, though. Is there something else you’d like instead? Something more straightforward maybe?”
I almost stood right up and walked away. But then I thought about it for a second, and I said, “Actually, you know what. Yeah. How bout this. Make me better looking. That’s all. That simple. I’m talking like handsome as hell. Like David Foster Wallace type literary good looks. That’s all. That’ll do.”
“Yes, sir. The patron of hopeless causes grants you your wish. Good luck, and happy writing.”
I finally got on the bus. I napped until my stop. When I got off, I noticed my reflection in the big bus window. Oh yeah. I looked different all right. I rushed into the house, ran right past my girlfriend, and headed straight to the bathroom to inspect my face. Man. I shuddered at how good looking I was.
Then I went to my office and sat down at my desk, pulled out my laptop and did a quick check to make sure Purple Carrots wasn’t a thing anymore. To my relief, the only results that came up were actual purple carrots, which I honestly didn’t know existed until all this nonsense took place. Apparently they get their color from something called anthocyanin? Anyway, for good measure, I checked my inbox. Phew, no congratulation letters related to the Hugo Awards. However … I did notice a conspicuous increase in traffic to my website. Like a ridiculous amount. It’s like readers just came pouring in out of nowhere.
Stories that I couldn’t even get my grandma to read were practically blowing up. So then I went to my analytics page to check the patterns and the stats and stuff, you know, like any overly obsessed egoist would. Of course, my self-portrait was different—it now displayed, in the most perfectly-tinted, sepia-toned photograph, my new adonis-like face. And sure enough, the number of clicks on my author photo was up like a thousand percent.