You do not know what slipstream
is, and so you ply the net, sifting through half-remembered
conversations and fine discriminations, more Fisher King than
One page glows about the
curious unsettling effect slipstream is supposed to have upon
the reader, and so, just to keep your head off-kilter, you begin
to write on upside down pages, back to front in a spiral
notebook from Dollar General.
"What are you doing?" your
oldest daughter asks, and suddenly you're back in Chucky
Cheese's realm amid the electronic noise and clamor of the young
devoted crusading for more of Chucky's paper ticket manna.
"A story," you say, hoping you
have not lost the thread, fearing that it's gone forever. You
try to dive back into it, your pen a staccato flash of blue
across the upside-down pages.
But now she's interested.
"Who's it about?" she says, tongue darting out to clean tomato
sauce from around her mouth.
You put your hand to your
receding hairline, laughing at how that could be one of the
worst possible questions she could have asked right now. "No
"No one! How can a story be
about no one?"
"I'm not sure," you say,
because you aren't, or because the story is too far beneath the
surface still to really explain. Or (telling the truth
now) because you hate to admit that the story is about yourself,
and how you have no idea what slipstream is.
She slips out from her side of
the plastic booth and curls around next to you, alert
eight-year-old eyes squinting at your cursive title. "You don't
know what what is?" she asks.
"I can hardly explain it to
myself," you tell her, hoping the answer will suffice to send
her off to Whack-a-Mole, or whack her little sister, or whack
some other cartoony thing too fresh and unjaded to be worrying
over writing a story about not knowing what slipstream is while
at the same time hoping that when it's done the story happens to
be just that.
* * *
If you give
up on the story and go insert tokens into the Skee-Ball machine,
proceed to section 62.
If you try
to finish the thing, to really capture it once and for all right
here in Chucky Cheese's, proceed to section 101.
* * *
You pour eighteen tokens into
the machine, years of honing your skill at rolling balls up
hills rewarded by a strip of tickets longer than you are tall.
Your kids add them to their bag, excited as only girls of eight
and five can be.
Trophies await them just beyond
the guarded glassbound case, and they do not understand why you
are so pensive, not when there are so many clearly definable
prizes to pick from. They choose some things they won't
remember a week from now when their mother has snuck them all
into the trash and the three of you go out into the night, the
same number stamped on each of your hands in invisible ink.
* * *
Not quite satisfied with that,
you decide not to get up, to keep on tugging at the thread of
the tale unraveling before you. It's leading to something
graspable. But just barely.
So you never really got up,
never rolled the balls. Just kept scribbling, scribbling into
your upside down Dollar General notebook, smiling vacantly and
nodding where you're supposed to as the girls interject their
joy into your process.
The five-year-old: "Daddy, I
found tickets already on a machine!"
The eight-year-old: "I beat the
The five-year-old: "Daddy, look
how many tickets!"
Still calling yourself a Fisher
King, you dig one paw into a pocket and lo, there are more
tokens. Little bits of not-quite-metal made to look like coins,
even minted with a date. But they are not really coins, they
are not tender outside of Chucky's border. Maybe slipstream is
like that, you muse. The word just means something so long as
some other rules apply. You wonder what games the slipstream
coin will let you play, what prizes you can win if only you
trade in enough of the right kind of paper tickets.
Number One Daughter startles
you, her face so close you can see where the lady didn't trim
her bangs very evenly today. "I just won forty tickets!" she
* * *
If you get
up from the chair to high five her and go play at this point,
you just might be able to pick this up at another time. Proceed
to section 89.
* * *
You lied to yourself. You
didnít get up. You just kept writing. Someone once compared
slipstream to the beautiful mortarwork between the cracks of
genre. But you did not care to think of genre as so many
squares of red brick, did not see how the rough glue of a
million marketers and masons could be worthwhile, not to mention
"Bah," you said. (But not out
loud.) "Slipstream is simply what the pretentious and literary
call work that wouldn't otherwise sell." And for a long time
after, your ego was grounded in being correct.
You read things labeled
"interstitial," praised for their use of prose to create an
experience in the reader--but not the same type of
experience as magical realism would, because that's a more
easily defined genre (just barely) and so it can't possibly be
slipstream. (Or can it be, sometimes?) You try to winnow out
what it is about these tales that makes them slipstream where
very similar others do not earn the label.
You drive the kids home, flush
with their million little victories over Chucky's games. You
wish you had maybe spent more time with them. They're getting
older so fast it scares you. You promise yourself that next
time you won't use the excuse of them being old enough finally
to entertain themselves. You'll give them your undivided
attention. You really mean it. Other stories wonít be so hard,
wonít swallow you up so completely. You really do mean it.
* * *
In the car:
"So did you finish that story,
Dad?" the eight-year-old asks.
"Yes," you say. "Just
barely." If you had stayed much longer, your wife would have
sent out a search party. You picture it, a gang of khaki-clad
explorers wearing monocles and jodhpurs and safari hats,
crashing through Chucky Cheese's with a train of native porters
in tow, only to find their quarry in a cramped plastic booth
trying to write a story about himself coming to terms with
slipstream as a mode of fiction.
"So what was it about?"
"I still donít know, honey."
"What was it called again?"
"You Do Not Know What
She wrinkles her face up behind
you in the car. It doesn't matter that it's dark even with the
streetlights flashing past, nor does it matter that you donít
actually have eyes in the back of your head (despite numerous
claims to the contrary.) And it most especially doesn't matter
that you're really still in Chucky Cheese's writing about
things that will never actually happen. You know she'll wrinkle
up her face because that's what you're doing right now and she's
your real imaginary daughter, so that's what she'll do too.
"So what is it?" the younger
one pipes up. She's just now at the great age of articulate
interrogation. Life will never be so simple again.
You play dumb, hoping to buy
time. "What is what?"
"Spitstream," she says, and the
older one chokes back a laugh.
"I'm not really sure, baby."
She screams the way she's taken
to screaming out her laughter, her childish delight.
"What's so funny?" you ask,
looking back into the rear view mirror, jerking up again as she
slaps another stack of tickets onto the cramped little table
among the paper clutter of a long-finished Fun Saver Meal.
"You are," she cackles.
"There's no such thing as Spitstream."
She's just turned five and you
love to watch her laugh like that. The eight-year-old is there
too, her tokens spent and now she's anxious for her prizes. She
smiles at her little sister's flub. "It's slip-stream,"
she tells her, sounding far too much like her mom.
The little one gives her sister the look that means she knows
better than to believe that. "It's whatever I want it to be,"
And you figure this is just as
good of a place to stop as anywhere else. You still donít know
what slipstream is, but it's time to go turn in your tickets and
get your prizes. Your kids hope they will have enough to get
something really cool from Chucky's stash. You just hope that
whatever you get will be remembered beyond next week.
are ready, proceed to the next section.
About the Author:
Lon Prater still doesn't know what slipstream
is, but he can sure show a skee-ball machine who's boss.
Find out more about his writing at
Story © 2006 Lon Prater.