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Trials and Tribulations
Tired of being a Word, Tribulation decided he wanted to do something with his life. He had really thought it over, going through book after book, asking questions, getting annoying answers. Of all of the places he’d heard of, Tribulation decided that New York City was the place for him. Fashion, business, huge museums, and such a diversity of people! Yes, New York was the place for him, and, best of all, it wasn’t that far from Augusta, where he lived with all the other Words in all of the other books.
“Tribulation, you are off your inksplot!” Everyone had told him, ever since he’d taken up this project of his, but no matter. He would go, tonight.
After the library had closed, and the lights had been turned off, Tribulation wriggled free of the dusty pages. It wasn’t too much of a tight squeeze, but he had forgotten that he was on the fourth level of the bookshelf. He fell, and landed silently and painfully on the carpet. Looking up, he realized just how small he was. Maybe going to New York wasn’t such a good idea after all…
“No Tribulation. You said you’d do it, and so you shall!” Tribulation inched his way across the floor, under the door, and outside, onto the street.
“Well, that wasn’t so bad!” He thought. He swelled with pride and laughed at the other Words who’d mocked him. Then, a car hit him.
He rolled on the bottom of the tire for hours, feeling carsick. A pebble stuck to him, the ground was wet, he was miserable.
“They’re probably going to Canada!” He cried to himself, as the car merged onto the highway. The car wasn’t going to Canada. It was going to Portland. As soon as it parked in the garage of the Park View Hotel, Tribulation fell off. A purple suitcase was placed on the ground, and he took the opportunity to sneak into it. They rolled away, without knowing he was there.
A couple of hours later, the suitcase was unzipped, and Tribulation crawled out. He was in a small room, on a mountain of white. He heard the door snap shut, and he crawled in an easterly direction. He reached the edge of the “Sea,” and looked down. He saw another carpet, not quite so far away as his shelf had been from the carpet in his library. He made himself comfortable, and fell asleep, exhausted from the night’s traumatic journey.
The person with the suitcase, it turned out, was a Canadian woman. The next morning, Tribulation overheard her talking to someone on her cell phone. She said she was on her way to New York, to see her fiancée. Tribulation’s heart would have pounded, if he had one. He crawled back into the suitcase as soon as she turned her back, and hid in the folds of her jacket. The woman threw her phone into the suitcase and zipped it up. Then she put the suitcase on the ground and rolled it back to her car.
This time, the ride was far more comfortable, and shorter. Tribulation found the woman’s phone and played with the buttons while she took the suitcase out of the car, and rolled it for what seemed like forever. She would stop, wait for a little while, and roll it again. Finally, she sighed and opened her suitcase, taking out her cell phone with Tribulation in it, and putting it into her pocket. The purple suitcase was given to a friendly attendant, who swung it onto a conveyor belt. The suitcase woman walked for a bit and stopped to get a coffee. Tribulation looked over the top of her pocket. They were in a large building, with lots of other people with suitcases. Voices were heard loudly, Tribulation couldn’t tell where they came from.
“Flight 22A Portland to New York is now boarding, Portland to New York is now boarding.”
“Darn!” The woman said, and hurried to another area of the building, up an escalator and down an enormous hall. She rushed to a man at a small booth, in front of a door. After handing the man a piece of paper, which he tore in half and handed back to her, the woman rushed through the door. She flopped down in a seat, next to a tiny, round window. A tiny, old woman with a plastic rain cap came and sat down next to them. They made polite conversation for a while, before a man's voice was heard.
"Good morning everyone. This is your captain speaking. We're about to take off, so please fasten your seat belts, and ensure your luggage is either in the compartments above, or underneath the seat in front of you. Have a pleasant journey." The room started to shake. Frightened, Tribulation hid inside the woman's cell phone. About halfway through the flight, Tribulation had fallen asleep. The woman who owned the cell phone wanted to put it in her luggage. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the phone and Tribulation. A man in the seat behind her snorted in his sleep, surprising her. By accident she flipped open the cell phone, flinging a terrified Tribulation across the room. He landed in a plastic cup, filled with orange soda. The soda was passed to a woman wearing a checkered shirt, who nearly drank him.
Tribulation escaped just in time to jump into her purse, which was snapped shut and waved around by a child, who sat next to her. Tribulation was unable to open the purse, and was trapped in darkness, amongst used tissues and cough drops.
Tribulation felt the thing they were on, probably a plane, drop back down. The woman and her son left the plane, and got back their luggage. They walked out of the busy building. Tribulation was suddenly surrounded by noises. Humans were everywhere, even if he couldn't see them. The woman and son got into a taxi, and said something to the driver. Tribulation thought to himself, "Finally in New York and I can't see a thing! Where's Wall Street? The Chrysler Building? The designer stores?"
Just as Tribulation was about to give up all hope of ever getting out of the purse, it was opened, and unceremoniously dumped on a table. Tribulation looked up in wonder. It was chic! Beautiful! It was everything New York City should be! It was...a library.
“NOOOOOO!” Wailed Tribulation in despair. He had wanted to eat a hot dog, ride a subway, and go to a fashion show! Instead he found himself trapped in a dusty, stupid library! True, it was the swankiest library he’d ever seen, but it wasn’t what he’d wanted. He inched his way to a penholder. Grasping the gigantic pen to the best of his ability, he tried to stab himself with it.
“Mom? What’s this word?” The little boy from the plane grabbed him with his grubby, sticky fingers. He brought Tribulation over to his distracted-looking mother, who was reading a gigantic book. At the sight of Tribulation, the woman’s face lit up.
“Oh! Well let’s sound it out shall we?” She said condescendingly to the boy, who nodded.
“Trib-u-la-shun” said the boy, struggling through the word. Tribulation wasn’t used to such treatment. Vexed by the sticky fingers, Tribulation wriggled free of his grasp.
“MOM! MOM, MOMMIEEEEE!” The little boy shouted, while older people glared, he couldn’t have been any older than six. The mother shushed him, and went over to the table where the boy had jumped on top of a chair, terrified.
“What is it Benjy?” Benjy’s mother had put away the huge book, and looked ready to leave.
“Mom! The word! It moved!” The woman simply shook her head
“Words don’t move, honey, they’re just written down.” Still frightened, Benjy shook his head.
“No, Mom, this one wiggles! Look at it!” Tribulation looked up to see two large heads looming over him. One belonged to a blonde, blue-eyed boy of about five, with flushed cheeks. The other, a concerned young woman with dark glasses and mousy hair.
“Well, what’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a Word before?” Tribulation’s patience had expired- he was officially on a rampage. “Here I am, just trying to see New York City. I get hit by a car, I’m covered in juice and whatever else your kid has on his hands, I’ve been traumatized in more ways than one, I finally get to New York, and I’m in a library! I came thousands of miles to see New York City, you know-the “Big Apple”? “The city that never sleeps”? I just want to go home!” The little boy started to cry. His mother looked at Tribulation in pity. She picked him up.
“Why would you want to come to New York? You’re a little small.” Irked, Tribulation crossed his serifs and turned away hotly.
“No one asked you anyway. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m in the middle of trying to put myself out of my misery.” Tribulation threw himself off of the table, but the woman caught him.
“Hang-on…Tribulation? I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to try to kill yourself. Besides-can you die anyway?” Tribulation was now beside himself with rage.
“ Ah! I can too die! At least…I hope so.” The woman just shook her head again.
“I think we’d better take you home now,” she said to him, zipping Tribulation into her son’s backpack.
“No! Wait! I-you’ll regret this!” Came Tribulation’s muffled threats from behind the red pocket.
“I’m sure you will,” said the woman as she and her son walked out of the library. She unzipped the pocket and held Tribulation as they walked down the sidewalk. Tribulation looked around. There was a scent of hot-dogs and pretzels in the air, mingled with car exhaust. A woman walked by wearing enormous pink glasses, and inside her purse was a tiny dog. Six Wall Streeters rushed by carrying sandwiches and talking on cell phones, to each other. And the taxis! They whizzed and bobbed through the city like bees, picking up people and dropping them off somewhere new ten minutes later.
The woman took Tribulation to an apartment a little ways away from the library. They walked into a kitchen, painted a cheerful yellow with a checkered floor. The woman put Tribulation on the table, and went into another room, grabbing the telephone.
"So," said the little boy, "you're really a word?" He had gone to get some paper and crayons, and was now drawing some pictures of trains.
"Yes. Are you a sticky, little boy?" Tribulation asked, sarcastically. The boy looked up and scowled.
"You aren't very nice. I don't think I like you." The boy put his head on the table sideways as he scribbled on the paper in red.
"My name doesn't mean anything nice, so why should I be?" Tribulation wriggled to the other end of the table, where he could listen to the woman's conversation. She was talking to someone about "picking him up." He assumed she meant her son. The boy interrupted before he could hear anything else.
"My name's Benjy, and I like it!" The boy swung down off his chair, and went over to the refrigerator. “Do you want some milk?" He asked.
"No, I can't drink it." Benjy came back with his glass of milk. Just then, his
mother came in. She looked pleased with herself.
"I've got a friend who designs clothes. He needs a muse for his new label, and sounded thrilled when I suggested you! He's coming tomorrow to pick you up Then you'll be going to his studio, where you can help him out." She poured herself a glass of milk, and admired Benjy's picture. Tribulation fantasized about being a designer label name while they talked about trains. He could just see the lights! The cameras flashing, the chic, young women walking down the runway carrying bags that said “Tribulation”! He wouldn’t just be a Word then; he’d be a superstar!
Benjy's mom's friend Serge came to pick up Tribulation the next day. Serge was tall and super thin, with a goatee and glasses. He wore pointy shoes and was excited to see Tribulation. He ruffled Benjy's hair and gave Benjy's mom a hug, then clapped his hands together when he saw Tribulation.
"You are perfect! I haven't been able to find the right, ooh, something for my fall collection but you are it! Would you come with me to take a look at the pieces? I think you'll like the jackets-you strike me as a jacket kind of guy." Tribulation said he would love to go, and that yes, he did like jackets. Tribulation said good-bye to Benjy and his mom, and then went outside to Serge’s waiting bicycle.
Tribulation hid in Serge’s coat pocket as they weaved through the heavy traffic. Tribulation was feeling a little unwell by the time they reached Serge’s studio. It was a large, white-walled room with lots of windows, crammed with clothes, sewing supplies and mannequins. He put Tribulation on one of the sewing tables, and pulled out an orange pad of paper.
“I’m having some models come in half an hour to make some last minute touch-ups for my collection for next week. What do you think?” He held up a pink bag with neon blue handles. The front was flat. Well-made, but flat.
“I think something should go there,” Tribulation suggested, pointing to the upper center of the bag.
“Oh, I see what you mean! Like this, perhaps?” Serge drew a label on his pad of paper and showed it to Tribulation, who agreed. The two made minor modifications to the collection while waiting for the models to come. When they arrived, Tribulation watched from the table as Serge fitted the clothes, comparing notes with Tribulation.
The week before the showing of Serge’s collection flew by, with more fittings and changes. Serge took Tribulation to Central Park on Wednesday. Tribulation was amazed by the size of the animals he had only read about. They had pretzels for lunch, well, Serge did, and Tribulation just admired it. Benjy and his mother came to visit on Thursday. Benjy brought a toy castle for Tribulation to sleep in, complete with toy soldiers so Tribulation could “have friends”. Touched, Tribulation forgave him for the sticky fingers on their first meeting.
Serge’s nerves began to play up as soon as he had nothing else to work on with the collection. To distract him, Tribulation convinced Serge to teach him how to play checkers on Friday morning, the day of the show. Serge shuffled around in his bathrobe and slippers, his brown hair sticking up in all directions, and refused to do anything until it was time to get ready for the show, except play checkers and drink lots of coffee.
That evening, Serge dressed in a blue jacket and green shoes, put Tribulation in his pocket, and rode to the site of the show. The room was huge, and mostly vacant, as most of the audience was still at the front door, handing in tickets. It was crowded and stuffy backstage, a stark contrast to the emptiness of where the audience was going to be in a few minutes. A man in a black tee shirt and a microphone came over and told everyone that the show would be starting in five minutes. Serge and Tribulation made some last minute touch ups and lined all of the models up. Then they waited.
After the show, several top fashion critics, who had nothing but praise for their collection, approached Serge. “Finally,” thought Tribulation, “this is the New York I’ve been dreaming of!” The critics had no idea Tribulation existed, of course, but that didn't bother him. Serge, with Tribulation in his pocket, talked to journalists, photographers and other designers before heading back to Serge’s apartment, cheerful.
Tribulation stayed with Serge, designing clothes. Serge’s small design company became a major international company, and “Tribulation” became a household name. Serge took Tribulation with him on his travels all over the world, meeting royalty, becoming politically active, and adding eco-friendly materials to the line.
Tribulation’s life seemed to have no limits. While on holiday in France years after Serge had died, he decided to walk to the park behind the post office. While inching past the small building, he was stepped on by an old woman. She walked into the post office, and in turn stepped on an envelope she had dropped. In pain and panicking, Tribulation tried to wriggle free as she closed the half-open envelope, getting old-lady spit all over him, and dumped him into the mailbox.
“Hey! Let me out! I’m Tribulation, you know, Trib-u-la-shun? I’m famous! I’m not just some silly, little Word anymore; I’m a superstar!” Tribulation beat his serifs against the paper of the envelope again and again, but to no avail.
Tribulation waited for weeks in the cramped envelope as he was moved, thrown, stepped on, rained on, and shipped. He was put in a rough bag, and handed to a woman. She opened the envelope over her book, and Tribulation fell out, and back into the pages.
“Hi, Tribulation! We were wondering when you would show up again,” said Haste, a Word who had lived two lines down from Tribulation. Tribulation started.
“Haste? What are you doing here? What am I doing her?” Tribulation tried to jump back out of the book, but the woman snapped it shut before he could escape.
“We’ve missed you terribly, Tribulation. But, admittedly, we’ve become a much more popular book every since you left. Suddenly, everyone wants to read Pink Snows over Rustic Lands! What did you have to come back for?” Tribulation couldn’t take it any more. He’d gone from being a superstar designer label to a cry of despair in a cheesy romance novel. He passed out for lack of other options.
He never did leave Pink Snows over Rustic Lands again. The book that had been so famous far a while was still famous, as no one could figure out how a word had mysteriously reappeared, and Tribulation found himself almost as popular as he had once been, which has much to his liking, as he was finally doing something with his life.