Sunday, May 16, 2010


“Genius is not a lazy angel contemplating itself and things. It is insatiable for expression. Thought must take the stupendous step of passing realization. A master can formulate his thought.”
—R.W. Emerson

[Saturday night, late summer. Basement of house furnished with two couches around coffee table; desk with laptop and chair to one side, kitchenette area, small fridge, counter littered with glasses, bottles of soda and alcohol on the other. Mirror on side wall. Front door, door to bedroom, door to upstairs. Knocking on front door. Jack, early-to-mid twenties, wearing dark jeans and collared shirt, enters, looks around tentatively.]

JACK: Dave? Dave? HEY DAVE! You here, man?

[A moment passes as Jack wanders the stage searchingly until Dave, early twenties, wearing a white undershirt and black shorts, enters through bedroom door. Jack has his back to him. He turns around, slightly startled, looks Dave up and down.]

JACK (cont’d): There you are.

[Dave looks at him woozily, takes a moment to register his words.]

DAVE (flatly): Hey Jack. What’s up? You just get here?

JACK: Yeah. The door was open so I just…You told me drop in any time, ‘member?

DAVE: Yeah, yeah. I remember.

JACK (chuckles to himself): Say, didn’t happen to catch you at a moment of self-pleasure did I?

DAVE: Say what?

JACK: You know. (Gesturing with hand.) Tuggin’ one out.

DAVE (coming around): No, man. No.

JACK: Sure. OK. Just, you had that look about you like you were in the middle of something, is all.

DAVE: No, was only sleeping. (Rubs his eyes and stretches.) Crashed out couple hours ago.

JACK: Still recovering, eh? From last night.

DAVE (with a sigh): Still recovering… (Gestures to couch.) Have a seat.

[Dave flops down with a weary grunt on couch nearest him. Jack takes seat on other couch across from Dave.]

DAVE (cont’d): Give me a couple minutes. Then I’ll make us up some drinks.

JACK: Yeah. Sounds good…Little hair of the dog.

DAVE: Huh? Hair of the what now?

JACK: You know…Go out for a night on the town and throw back a few too many. Wake up feeling it the next day. What’s the best cure, best way to get over it? Little hair of the dog…

DAVE (yawning): Oh God. That about describes my whole summer.

JACK: You and me both, pal. (Sighs.) Shit. Gonna have to do something about that. Here we are. Summer’s over. Semester starting up. Time to buckle down and focus. Hit them books. Four months. Nothing but words, words, words. Jesus, I need a drink just thinking about it.

DAVE: What about tonight? How you feeling about that?

JACK: At least two. Three. To start. I don’t know. Honestly, something doesn’t feel right.

DAVE: What? What doesn’t feel right?

JACK: I don’t know exactly. It’s just a feeling I have. I can’t describe it.
Like I’m Conrad’s Marlow. Setting sail on a journey he knows from the start is doomed.

DAVE: Doomed.

JACK: But he goes in anyway. Thinking somewhere along the way he’ll get things figured out. That if he just throws himself into it, all will be made clear. That it’ll make sense. Somehow.
But no. What happens? His illusions get shattered. Worst fears, confirmed.

DAVE: Worst fears about what?

JACK: About everything. The whole goddamn human enterprise. Shit man. It’s all fucked.

DAVE: Jeez. And I thought I was freaking out about my date with Lana.

JACK: I’m not freaking out.
OK, I’m freaking out. But this is different. Lana you had known a while. Hung out with her at work.
Me, I’m going in cold. I don’t know where I stand. Hadn’t seen or heard from Christy until the other day, up in the library. Till then, I didn’t know if I’d ever hear from her again.

DAVE: How long’d it been?

JACK: About two weeks, at least. Back when she still was going to be my roommate.

DAVE: So it’s not that different. You started off with a professional relationship and it developed from there. Into something, you know, more personal.

JACK: Professional…yeah, I guess you could say that. She came over, checked out the place. Agreed to move. Right there on the spot. Seemed excited. “Seemed” being the operative word.

DAVE: This was all before the camping trip?

JACK: Yeah. Obviously. I don’t know. I guess afterwards she had a change of heart. Found a place with some friends instead.

DAVE: She flaked.


JACK: …Yeah. Basically.

DAVE: Well, least it was a chance to get to know her better.

JACK: It was. And I did. But then, nothing. Silence. Had no way to reach her. No number or nothin’.

DAVE: Not even an email?

JACK: Nope. Nada.

DAVE: She had yours though? Your number I mean…

JACK: That she did.

DAVE: Hmm…Well, now, so it’s all for the best. Professional put aside. Work on the personal. All for the best.

JACK: Yeah. I guess. (Retreating) Whatever that means…

DAVE: Oh, come on. You know what that means.

JACK: Sure, sure. But in this particular situation, I mean.

DAVE: What? What about this situation?

JACK: I don’t know. Just the way it’s played out so far.

DAVE: How ya figure?

JACK: It’s just hard to read…What may or may not be going on.

DAVE: What do you think’s going on?

JACK: I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. One thing minding my own business, slogging through some readings for class. Next thing, there comes a tap on my shoulder and I look up and, surprise, surprise…

DAVE: It’s her.

JACK: It’s Christy. Re-emerged! All smiling and showered, her hair done up nice. Last time I’d seen her, remember, we’d been camping three, four days, neither of us having showered or anything, sand everywhere, in everything…total back to nature, call of the wild.
So we’re there. Middle of the afternoon. Sun shining through those big windows hitting her at just a certain angle. That moment, I swear ta ya, man, she looked perfect. I mean, fucking flawless.

DAVE (incredulous): Right.

JACK: Should have seen her. Cute as can be.

[Dave swings his head back in an exaggerated rolling of the eyes gesture.]

JACK (cont’d): I know. I know. I’m romanticizing the hell out of it. A blatant sentimentalist. But what can I say, it’s truth. Through and through. Scouts honour.
Any ill sort of feelings I might have been harbouring about how things ended off before just seemed to fall away. Disappear. Start anew.

DAVE: So then what?

JACK: So we talk a few minutes. Catch up. She tells me all about her new place, how her friends from the trip are doing, and eventually I ask her out for coffee.

DAVE: Good. That’s good. Coffee is good.

JACK: Right.
Then she tells me her and her friends are going to be downtown on the weekend — probably, most likely, Saturday — and maybe we could meet up. Then when I tell her I actually had plans to go downtown Friday, she says, “Well, hey, no problem. I’ll talk to my friends. See about changing it to Friday.”

DAVE: Well OK. Sounds promising so far.

JACK: But then, course, that fell through.

DAVE: That fell through.

JACK: But, anyway, point is: she was all ready to change her plans for me. Or so that’s how she made it sound…you know, for what it’s worth. And then, and then…as she’s leaving, I get the quick shoulder rub.

DAVE: That so…

JACK: Leans in and everything. For emphasis…or something.
What does that mean? The shoulder rub. How many guys get the shoulder rub? What subtle, unspoken meaning is being passed on at that moment of delicate splendour when hand meets shoulder? Tell me…tell me now, I need to know.

DAVE: It’s true. Scientists and researchers the world over have for centuries now been trying to understand the exact nature of the shoulder rub.

JACK: Seriously. Dave: Have you ever gotten the shoulder rub?

DAVE: Not many. Not that I can recall anyway. And of all the girls I know or have known, I don’t know of too many of them given to passing out shoulder rubs willy-nilly to every other guy looking for the time of day…if you know what I mean. It’s a good sign.

JACK: Yeah. You think?

DAVE: Yeah.

JACK: Yeah?

DAVE: Yeah. Definitely.

JACK (incredulous): Hmm. Shit. I really hate this part. This grey middle area. This purgatorial space where you think you’ve experienced something but you’re not sure. Not sure because you’re too caught up in it. To close to the thing. It’s too…subjective. You need it laid out for you. Both sides. See the whole playing field. To know, right, to know there was something there. You’re riding the same wave. You felt it, she felt it.
Only then—then and only then—does it become—for want of a better word—real.

DAVE: Uh huh.

JACK: Otherwise, well, that’s it. Roll credits. The big No-ender.

DAVE: Yeah, there’s always that. But who knows, right?
Take the time I asked out Lana. We were both of us outside on our break. She was standing a ways over from me. I was having a smoke. And then, just all of a sudden, I go over to her, say, “So how about a movie, me and you, this week.” Right away she was like, “Yeah. OK. Sure.” Doesn’t have to think about it. There. Done. Just like that. Just went up, did it. Pure gut instinct. Register. React.

JACK: Yeah.

DAVE: Thinking about it kills it. Or at least blurs it. All that working it over in the mind. Inventing scenarios. Setting up mental booby traps. These are the dangers.

JACK: Sure, sure. I believe you. But I just don’t have that.

DAVE: Have what?

JACK: I don’t know. Whatever you call it.

DAVE: What?

JACK: That assurance…

DAVE: Yeah.

JACK: That skill…

DAVE: Uh huh.

JACK: That…Ah, forget it.

DAVE: You mean confidence?

JACK: But more than that: The ability to put all mental shit aside, empty the mind of all excess baggage, and just focus on the task at hand. At that moment.

DAVE: So…confidence.

JACK: Yeah. No. Maybe.

DAVE: Confidence, my friend. That’s all it takes. Be assertive. It’s sexy. I’m telling you, it automatically bumps you up at least three notches on the physical attraction meter. Fives instantly transform into eights. Even the most homely gain a modicum of sex appeal just by carrying themselves like an eight or a nine.

JACK: Sure. Fine. That’s all well and good…But, OK: for one thing, right there you’re inferring a level a ‘bliviousness that I’m just not capable of.
And besides, I’m thinking beyond that…You’re talkin’ about the physical…I’m thinkin’ more like…
What I’m talking about, it’s more like - mind over body.

DAVE: Oh yeah.

JACK: Yeah.
See the thing is…
The thing about…

DAVE: Ye-e-s…

JACK: What I’m trying to say…

DAVE: Go on…

[Jack stands up, starts pacing.]

JACK: Howda put this?


DAVE: Just come out with it already.


DAVE: My breath’s been sufficiently bated over here.

See. Lot a times when I meet someone — I mean someone I’m really into, right off the bat — I swear, it’s like, within minutes I’ve already experienced the entire relationship. Had it all play out in my head. The awkwardness of those first few dates. Learning her sense of humour, if any…What her interests are, turn-ons, turn-offs…on and on. All that compatibility stuff.
Things go well, they start to pick up. Action intensifies. That lasts however long, few months tops. Then things slow down. Conversation lags. You become like two overly familiar strangers…without even realizing it. Or maybe you’re just in denial about it. Instead treat everything business as usual. But it’s not like it was. The spark’s no longer there.
But then things come in to fill the gap, right. First move in together. What could bring you closer, right? Literally if nothing else. But that only means more hours to fill. To entertain this phantom relationship you’ve fostered. So then what? What do you try? Go down the list. Rings, vows, mortgages, careers, kids born, raised, out of the house, grey hair, wrinkles…before you know it you’re counting down the days in some bleached-out, meticulously maintained condo somewhere in the Florida Keys with a little pet…

DAVE: Whoa. Whoa. Slow down, Speed Racer. One step at a time.

JACK: See? There you go. What I mean…

DAVE: Rewind it there. At least get through the first conversation before sounding wedding bells.

JACK: But by then it’s too late. She already walkin’. And it ain’t down no aisle, let me tell you. Or if I’m really honest, it’s me who is. Either way, so much for first impressions.

DAVE: Come on. You’re two attractive people. You like her. She’s obviously into you…

JACK: Maybe.

DAVE: So: just ride it out. See where things go. Who knows? Good things may come…

JACK: …to those that wait? Right…

DAVE: Won’t be long now. You won’t have to wait much longer.
What time did you say you’d meet them?

JACK: No set time. Whenever we get down there.
Guess we probably should soon.

[Jack sits back down. A short buzzing sound, not unlike a doorbell but not, rings out twice. Dave gestures with his arm in the air, his index finger raised.]

DAVE: Hold that thought. One sec.

[Dave reaches out to coffee table, picks up cell phone. He plays with buttons, eyes transfixed on screen. Jack looks around. Head still down looking at cell phone Dave lets out a short burst of laughter. Jack looks at Dave expectantly, waiting for an explanation.]

DAVE (cont’d): Lana just sent me a text saying she can’t wait till the next solar eclipse.

JACK: Wow, that’s random.
You tell her not to hold her breath.

DAVE: It’s weird. She’s always sending random things like that. Like, “This is so important I need to message Dave right away.” And when we’re hanging out she’s always throwing out these random thoughts and ideas that come to her. Bits of weird information. Totally random. Her mind is always going. It’s all over the place.

JACK: Sounds very…spontaneous.

DAVE: I really can’t believe I found this girl.
She crochets. She dances. She’s tried acid, mushrooms. Took philosophy for a year at university. Now works at a deli. She’s a hippie chick who listens to punk and hardcore bands. Really outgoing and talkative in public, around lots of people…she’ll start up conversations with anybody, strangers, whoever. But then when it’s just the two of us she’ll sometimes get really shy, almost insecure.

JACK: She’s a riddle, a contradiction. An explanation wrapped in a question wrapped in endless digression.
Yep. A real conundrum, I tells ya.

DAVE: Man. She’s like the female me.

JACK (chuckling): Really. You don’t say.

DAVE: My buddy Dennis, who met her when we were at the Cambie—all of us playing pool—was afterwards like, “Whoa, Dave…She’s you with a tight bod and nice rack.”

JACK (picturing it): That’s kind of a disturbing image…but I get what you’re saying.

DAVE: We get along so well, it’s like I’m hanging out with you or Steve or Mitch. Just one of the guys. She laughs at all my jokes. I can be a complete goofball. Her too. Funny and sweet. She’s almost too perfect in a way.

JACK: Sounds like it.


DAVE: Though to be honest, I think I’m less attracted to her now than when we first met. When I first saw her I was completely floored. Like, I need to know this girl. Nothing could stop me. I was possessed. Locked in. Tunnel vision. Forget about it.

JACK: But that’s just what I’m saying. Maybe that’s how it was meant to work out — to just be good friends. Things settle out. The initial flush passes. It happens more often than not. And better to realize it sooner than later.

DAVE: Oh, believe me. The flush is still there. Big time.

JACK: So what are saying then? It’s easy to get complacent. Take what you have for granted. I’m not following…

DAVE: It’s like…You’ve seen Bonnie and Clyde, right?

JACK: Yeah, sure. Saw it this summer. The miracle of downloading. The soft, milky skin of an impossibly young Faye Dunaway. Pour me a glass of that, wouldya.

DAVE: Yeah. And you have Warren Beatty as like your classic example of the Ah, shucks good-old boy. All raw masculinity. Tame and unassuming yet set to explode any minute.
There’s that one scene where they’re on the run from the authorities, holed up in some cheap motel. Him and Bonnie are on the bed getting into it when suddenly he pushes her off and rolls over and…

JACK: Yeah, I remember that. And he says something like…Shoot, what does he say?

DAVE: They’re lying on the bed, on either side, apart, all awkward. She’s all “What the fuck was that.” And he says, (affecting mild Kentucky accent) “You gotta know somethin’ about me. I ain’t like all the others. The thing about me is: I ain’t no lover boy.”
(Beat as he comes out of character.)
“I ain’t no lover boy,” he says.

JACK: Right. He’s got her right there. She’s giving herself over to him. Here ya go: Happy birthday, time to unwrap your present. And he’s not interested one bit. Like it’s too easy or something.

DAVE: Yeah. Too easy. The Paradox of Desire.

JACK: The paradox of…Sorry, you lost me there.

DAVE: No, that’s it. That’s what we want, see? Desire itself. The real drug. The desire for desire. Once it gets fulfilled, consummated—then: Poof! (Gestures with his hands.) It’s gone. No more. What’s that leave you with?

JACK: A relationship, that’s what.

(Beat. A few chuckles.)

JACK (cont’d): OK. Listen, I think I get your drift—all that “the chase is better than the catch,” I get that—but listen: You and Lana, what you got is fine. It’s ideal really. Just don’t let — don’t let it coast along for too too long before you know good and well where things are headed. Because, believe you-me, once you become “Just Friends,” brother, that’s it. Ain’t no changin’ that.

DAVE: I’m not worried about that. Things are good. It’s important to have a little tension. There’ve been relationships in the past where I couldn’t get into it at all. It was my fault, I admit. I laid back. Got too relaxed. Too comfortable. Just look at with Heather.

JACK: Yeah, what happened there?

DAVE: Well talk about being complacent. I didn’t know what I wanted. Sat back, watched as she drifted off. Dissipated. Dispersed. Right there in front of me.
It’s like when you’re fishing, right. What do they teach you? One of the most important things. You gotta keep the reel taut.

[Dave makes gesture like he’s holding a fishing pole, pulls back.]

DAVE (cont’d): Keep that reel taut. Gotta keep that reel taut.
Relationships, it’s like: same thing. Don’t keep up that tension, things start to flounder. They kick loose and swim away. And it’s bye-bye, fishy.

JACK: Yeah. Or more like they’ll get loose, jump up, and take a chunk out of your cheek. Go right for the jugular, they will.

DAVE: I suppose you gotta watch out for the occasional dogfish…

JACK: Believe that. I know only too well…
Not that I’m bitter or anything.

DAVE (refocusing): OK, that’s it.

[Dave starts to shift on couch, getting up the energy. Pats hands on knees.]

DAVE (cont’d): Drinks. We need drinks.

[With a bit of effort, Dave gets up, walks over to counter, mixes couple drinks. Jack gets up, walks over to desk, sits down, fiddles with mouse, observing computer screen.]

JACK: While you do that I’m gonna get some tunes going.
(Calling out.) Anything new?

DAVE (over his shoulder): Not really. Same old shit. Floyd, Zeppelin, Stones, Beatles, Dylan…Just don’t put on Exile on Main Street. I’ve been listening to that way too much lately.

JACK: Exile it is.

DAVE: Hey!

JACK (singing in a raspy croon): “And his coooat is tooorn and frayed,
it’s seeeen much beeetter days. Just as looong as the gitar plaaays, it’ll steeeal your heaaart ahway.”

DAVE: Fuck off.

[Dave approaches Jack with two tumbler glasses.]

DAVE (cont’d): Here. Wait till you try this. This is the oldest drink there is.

[Dave holds out drink, Jack stands to take it.]

DAVE (cont’d): This is what Hemingway and the boys were drinking over there in Paris back in the day.

JACK: You mean absinthe?

DAVE: No. Better. I got the mix just right. Enjoy.

[Jack holds his drink up for a toast, Dave does same.]

JACK: Here’s to it, man. To…
To our impending doom.

DAVE: Cheers.

[They clink glasses, drink.]

DAVE (cont’d): And cheer up, wouldya. Buck the fuck up. Tonight’s gonna go fine. Trust me.

JACK: Yeah. I guess. I don’t know. I’m all worst case scenarios. More so than usual.
Hey, this is pretty good. What’s in it?

DAVE: Just whiskey and bitters. And a little sugar.

[Jack takes another drink, examines glass.]

JACK: Yeah, this is really good. Not like most bar drinks where they sugar the shit out of it. Like it benefits them having their patrons getting all sick in the bathrooms and back alleys. Fu-u-ck.

[Jack and Dave take periodic nips from their drinks.]

DAVE: Better not be how I end up tonight. I need to take it easy this time.

JACK: That bad, huh?

[Dave leans against couch.]

DAVE: Actually, no. Not really. Just not much sleep. I was exhausted all day. Other than that feel pretty good.

JACK: Dude, you’re a champ. What’d you guys end up doing? Was there a party or something?

[Jack sits back down in chair.]

DAVE: Yeah. Over in Cedar. Some guy’s parents were away. Big place. Lots of people. Should have come.

JACK: Was Lana there?

DAVE: She was there, Steve was there. Mitch. Ben came by for awhile. It was a good time.

JACK: Yeah.

DAVE: I was hangin’ with my friends. Lana was off with hers. I’d catch an occasional glance of her across the room. She’d look back. Sometimes I’d catch her talking with another guy or group of guys. You know me: I got a real jealous streak.

JACK: Uh huh.

DAVE: But then—this is great, I love this—she’d point over to me. Talking about me, I could tell. “Oh yeah, that’s him—the guy I came with,” whatever. Then every so often I’d pass her by or we’d meet in the kitchen to get a drink and just say hey or something. Then go our separate ways again. Hang out. Meet up later. All night it was like that.

JACK: I love that. The safety net thing. At parties or wherever. That’s the only way I can stand going out. It’s like reassurance or something. Back-up.

DAVE: That’s an interesting way of looking at it.

JACK: When Sarah was staying out here we went to this party in Parksville. Outside Parksville, actually. In the woods somewhere, near some swamp…I don’t know. Barry invited us. I was nervous as soon as we got there. Kind of awkward…I didn’t really know anyone else. It was his crowd. Even he didn’t seem that friendly with them.

DAVE: Weird.

JACK: Yeah. Anyway, I medicated on a few beers, and that combined with the nervousness, got ta rambling on absently about who knows what as I am wont to do.
Most times no one pays attention…But Sarah, she was right there with me, knocking back everything I said. Like we were speaking our own private language.

DAVE: Was that the same night you’d talked mentioned before?

JACK: The night we ended up lost in front of some biker bar in Coombs? Yeah.

DAVE: That’d be pretty far out there.

JACK: The fuckin’ boonies, man. We’d been driving around about an hour. Trying to find our way back into town. Back to Barry’s. It was late. Dark out. I took one wrong turn somewhere and then another and then…Yeah.
But there was this weird energy in the car. Like a blind anxiousness. Indefinable. Lacking target or direction. You know that feeling you have, when you’re lost somewhere and with every movement forward there’s the sensation that you’re about to go off a cliff? The dizzying rush…on the brink. Between blackness and security. Everything is a reflection of a place you remember being but can’t quite place. The whole world becomes just a little off. Tilted to one side. Skewed angles and whatnot. Ya know?

DAVE: Bizarre-o world.

JACK: Yeah, sure. Exactly. But, so anyway: There we were, driving around, completely aimless…no idea how to get back. Neither of us was saying much. Maybe silently blaming the other for getting us lost. My bad driving. Her bad directions. It was a tense hour, for sure.

DAVE: Yeah.

JACK: Finally we see some lights and pull in at the bar. I used the payphone outside to call Barry to get directions while Sarah went inside to take a powder.

DAVE: Yeah.

JACK: So: Talked to Barry. Got laughed at by Barry. Got directions. Got back in the car. Sarah came out, got back in. And…Ah…

(Beat as he hesitates.)

DAVE: Yes, and…

JACK: And…ah, I don’t know what I’m saying. Forget it. Just forget it.

DAVE: No, go on.

JACK: No. Never mind. I’m off the rails.

DAVE: No, what? You found your way. Drove back into town. Happy ending.

JACK: Well, yeah. But before that. In the car, there was still that tension. We were both pretty exhausted and a little exhilarated. Like we’d been on a long journey. Like we’d made it through something, survived…The two of us. At that moment, I felt either really close to her or really far away. Like I was outside myself observing us and yet fighting to stay inside, present.
Nobody’s saying anything, we’re just staring at each other. A standoff. But something’s happening. The molecules in the air are changing around us. We go from here to there in zero steps, nary a movement. It was like: for that moment we had broke through the continuum and stepped right out of time.

DAVE: And…

JACK: And?

DAVE: So what happened?

JACK: That’s it. What I told ya.

DAVE: That’s it?

JACK: That’s it.

DAVE: Nothing else?

JACK: Nope. Nothin’.

DAVE: You kiss her at least? Make-out a little?

JACK (hesitating): Yeah. We kissed.

DAVE: And…

JACK: And that’s it.

DAVE: That’s it?

JACK: We might have smoked a joint…before we left. Before heading back.

[Jack catches Dave raising an eyebrow while giving him a knowing look.]

JACK (cont’d): What?

DAVE: Nothing. I’m not saying anything.

JACK (pointing): I know what you’re thinking. And no, nothing happened. It was out of the question. I mean, what could I do? I knew the stakes. Boyfriend back home…Out of the question. I wasn’t going to be that guy. I’ve already been that guy…I never want to be that guy again. No thank you.

DAVE: Maybe that’s what she wanted. For you to be that guy.

JACK: Huh?

DAVE: You know, come in and upset the established order. Run the old guard out of town. Maybe that was the whole point of her little visit.

JACK: No. No, that’s crazy. That don’t make any sense.


JACK: None whatsoever.
Listen: How ‘bout make me another one of these? Then we can get out of here and get on with things. Take this sideshow on the road, yo.

[Jack hold up his empty glass, shakes it.]

DAVE: Yeah. OK. Sure.

[Dave takes Jack’s glass.]

JACK: Thanks. I’ll get you back at the bar.

DAVE: Of course. No worries.

[Dave goes over to counter, mixes couple more drinks.]

DAVE (cont’d): (Over his shoulder) But hear me out, OK. It’s not so crazy.

[Dave comes over with drinks, Jack stands to take his. Sips it.]

DAVE (cont’d): I mean, for one thing she sure wasn’t acting like she had a boyfriend. She seemed pretty free and breezy when I saw her.

JACK: But she’s always like that, relationship or not. Besides, I would have caught something. There would have been more signals. If that was the case, surely she would have made her intentions more clear.

DAVE: Would she? What if that was the point. The challenge was yours to take up. To be assertive. Do the whole knight in
shining thing and sweep her off her feet. Did you do that? Did you try at least?

JACK: I…well…no, I guess not…but…


JACK: Well, like I said, it wasn’t my position to…hmm…

DAVE: Listen. You think about it. Ponder the possibilities. I’m gonna run upstairs and see if the Old Man wants a drink. Right back.

[Dave exits through door to stairs. Jack puts his drink down, paces stage anxiously, in deep thought. He comes to mirror, stands in front running a hand through his hair, then smoothes it out. Continues to pace. Dave re-enters through same door.]

DAVE (cont’d): Well…So what’s the verdict?

JACK: Jury’s still out. How’s your pops doin’?

DAVE: He’s fine. He’s up there in his den watching some action movie.

JACK: Same my dad no doubt. Right about now he’s switched over from his after-work scotch to wine and plopped himself down in his leather Lazy—forced as he is to cope with the thirty-six hours still to go before next work day. Flipping back-and-forth between a dish full of ‘80s action movies. Pretty good chance at least one of them is starring either Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis. Or the Governator himself.

DAVE: Those are actually really good date movies. You know, something fun. Light. Not too obvious.

JACK: I guess it’s better than a Werner Herzog art flick, say.

DAVE: There are girls into that as well.

JACK: Shit, you need to introduce me. Not many people out there—girls especially—interested in feature length angst fests trading in madness, guilt, doubt, and the nature of reality.

DAVE: You’d be surprised.

[Ringing sound from earlier. Dave walks over to coffee table, picks up cell phone, looks at it, then back to Jack.]

DAVE (cont’d): Well, well. Looks like we’ll be seeing Lana down there after all.

JACK: Yeah.

DAVE: Just got the update. Seems her and some friends are on their way out. As of right now she’s four tequila shots in.

JACK: At least someone’s gonna have some fun tonight.

DAVE: Maybe the four of us can break off later on. Maybe go get some pizza.

[Jack walks over to couches, closer to Dave.]

JACK: Yeah, maybe.
Listen. Dave. Did I ever tell you about Sarah’s fiancé?

DAVE: Fiancé? She’s engaged? When this happen?

JACK: Yeah. No. She was. Few years back. We when we were right out of high school.

DAVE: Oh. OK. That makes a little more sense.
No, you didn’t.

JACK: I kinda knew him. Had gone to school with him for years. Really nice guy. Chill. Laidback to the point of being laconic, really. Not sure how he landed her in the first place to be honest. Anyway, it ended up falling apart…whatever the reason. Never did really talk about it with her at the time. Just one of those things.

DAVE: I can see how that would be kind of weird.

JACK: Well, for one thing, it forced me to change the way I looked at her, my whole relationship with her. What I was in it for. Yeah, but anyway…so when she was here the topic happened to come up. She told me how…how she looks back on that time, when they were together, like it almost didn’t happen. Barely registered. A blip on the emotional radar, she said. Or something to that effect.
But I mean: they were engaged for like a year. Over a year. I’ve never been with anybody that long. Have you ever been with anyone that long?

DAVE: Close to, but not quite.

JACK: A year. I can’t even fathom that. It’s beyond my comprehension. Seriously. And she was this close to taking the plunge. Yet for her it was like…Like it never happened.

DAVE: So what’s your point?

JACK: My point? Well, so look at the guy she’s with now. They’ve been together off and on the last two years. They’re always fighting. Always some kind of excitement going on. After the first time they broke up, right. The guy, he was so fucking distraught over it he threatened to take a header off the Fourth Ave bridge…such was his undying devotion to her. Absolute fucking proof he couldn’t manage another day in this cold-hearted world without her by his side. The poor bastard.
So my point is your point. Like, you’d think when he starts talking about going for a sidewalk splash, that that would, I don’t know, be a sign that “Hey maybe this guy isn’t the best mate. Maybe he’s just a little too unstable. Maybe it’s time to move on.” Mind you, that’s just me, what do I know.
Yet she doesn’t see it that way. She takes it as this great meaningful romantic gesture that overrides everything else, all the selfish shit he’d put her through to get to this point. It’s like this…this…Shit, I don’t know. I can’t explain it.

[In the following exchange, Jack and Dave talk over each other, their words coming out faster and faster, overlapping at times.]

DAVE: Don’t you see? It was a way to demonstrate, in the biggest way possible, his emotional commitment. That you’re there, present, all of you, completely involved…

JACK: Yeah. Caught up in it…A whole performance…Putting on a show…

DAVE: Committed in all ways, in no uncertain terms: mind, body and soul…

JACK: The bigger the better. Bigger the better. Spectacle. Emotion. Large gestures of whatever for whatever purpose…

DAVE: …a way of showing that you’re prepared to give up everything, lay it all on the line, no matter what…

JACK: Drama. Drama, man. As if you’re playing the role of who you think you’re supposed to be, what you’ve been shown to be. This is how it’s done. Everything larger than life. Cliché of clichés.

DAVE: …like the soldier going into battle. Honour. Sacrifice. All these cherished ideals. This is what today’s movies and magazines have taught us to believe in. When really what it comes down to is…

JACK: But that’s it. The role. The show. The play. That Billy Shakes was onto something. He sure was. The guy had it bang on.

DAVE: Will.

JACK: That’s what I said. William fucking Shakespeare.

DAVE: No. I mean it’s a matter of will.

JACK: Huh? What’s the matter with Will? Besides being over four hundred years old.

DAVE: No, will. As in, you have to will it into being.

JACK: Will it?

DAVE: In whatever way possible. No other way. Nothing just happens.

JACK: But will what?

DAVE: The whole world round. How do you think all this appeared? How do you think you and me got here?


JACK: I’d rather not think about how I got here.

DAVE: There are infinite modes of being, Jack. Philosophy 101.

JACK: I failed first year philosophy.

DAVE: Be that as it may. There are infinite modes. But we’re not always aware of that, being limited by our circumstances and all. Only so many ways of operating at one time, of course. So but whatever form it takes, in order to make it come into being, first it has to get constituted by the will. You follow?

JACK: I think so. Sort of.

DAVE: Freedom or whatever you what to call it is measured by our ability to will. The exercising of it. However much we are able to. Based on what we have—the tools, resources, connections, so on—at our disposal. That’s what it comes down to. What would life be without will? It’s inconceivable.

JACK: Wait. Now I’m confused.

DAVE: OK. Think of it another way. You have a guy who’s really into cars. Driving cars. Working on cars. Knows everything about cars. How to take apart and rebuilt an engine. Day in day out, that’s what he works at, thinks about. That’s his world. Or take a musician. The world of notes and chords, melody and rhythm. And through that he brings all those songs and symphonies into the world. A chef cooks up a filet mignon. A scientist invents a vaccine. Teachers teach. Writers write. Actors act. Each of these things, in their way, is a function of the same thing. Each requires the same basic thing to bring it off. An impetus.

JACK: That being?

DAVE: What do you think?

JACK: Are you for real? What are you getting at here? Seriously.

DAVE: Seriously, man. What?


DAVE: Come on. Simple answer.


DAVE: Lights, camera…


JACK (mumbles): Action.

DAVE: Hey?

JACK (louder): Action.

DAVE: You got it. Action, Jackson. Not this sitting around. Pontificating hours on end…to what end? None. All that concocting of speeches. Ways of carrying yourself. Affections. That’s fine. That has merit, sure. But it’s not putting out anything new. You’re not cracking anything open. Only one way to do that is…

JACK: …through action.

DAVE: Bingo.

JACK: So action.
That’s it, eh.

DAVE: That’s it. More or less.

JACK: Next you’re going to tell me that’s how we’re defined. Character is action, or something of the sort.

DAVE: Or: actions speak louder than words.

JACK: To borrow an oft-used phrase.

DAVE: That’s what my dad always says. That’s his line. “Actions speak louder than words.”

JACK: Yeah. My dad’s line is: “Perception is reality.”

DAVE: My dad read all that Hemingway when he was younger. What makes a man. Keep to the code. Unflinching in the face of impossible odds. Know the reality of the situation, no matter how fraught.

JACK: So action above all, eh. Over insight even.

DAVE: Put it to you this way: Insight over action, no satisfaction. Action over insight, always in the right.


JACK: Right. (Sighs) And a night without drinking leads ta too much thinking.

DAVE: There you go. I’ll drink to that.

[They down the rest of their drinks.]

DAVE (cont’d): OK. One more of these then we be outta here.

[Dave gets up, gives Jack a pat on the shoulder.]

DAVE (cont’d): Get to it, friend. Set the night on fire.

[Goes over to counter, mixes more drinks.]

JACK: I don’t know, man. I just don’t know.

DAVE: Know? What’s to know?

JACK: Maybe what’s the use? Maybe I’m making something out of nothing. Maybe it’s hopeless. Futile. All just fucking futile…

DAVE: Futile? No, no, no…That’s the wrong attitude, Jack. Wrong attitude.

JACK: Torturing myself for nothing. No point. No goddamn point at all.

[Dave comes back over, hands him his drink.]

DAVE: Yeah, yeah, yeah…sure, sure, sure…there’s no point to anything. It’s all absurd. Same old song. Listen: that’s beside the point.

JACK: Whatever I do, she’s already made up her mind…one way or the other. There’s nothing I can do to change it. All this talk of action, taking control, asserting oneself…it’s all been preordained in a way. Set in stone. I can pace and fret all I want, but truth is whole thing’s outta my hands. What does it matter how I feel? What is there to be said? Words are worthless. I’m paralyzed regardless. I mean, all I can do now, really, is just show up and see it through. Whatever happens happens. Anything else, I’m just spinning my wheels. Putting on a fucking show.
Futile…fucking futile…

DAVE: Ah, what a load, what ah…Fuck. Look: I’m sorry, man…You’re my bud and all…and you know I love ya like a brother…but that, what you just said, is a ten-foot steaming pile of bullshit.

JACK: No. It’s true. It’s absolutely true.

DAVE: No. It isn’t. And I’ll tell ya why it isn’t.
OK, so you say you like this girl?

JACK: Yes. I thought I made that clear.

DAVE: OK, so you’re very much into her. You feel that you’ve experienced something you consider to be unique and special, yes?

JACK: When you put it that way…Yes, very much so.

DAVE: Then listen, man: you gotta hold to that. Nothing else means anything. There is nothing else. If you truly feel this way about her like you’re saying, than it would be a crime nay a tragedy for you not to do everything in your power to convey this to her. Get it across. Travel to the ends of the earth, if need be.
‘Cuz, listen: if you give up on it this easy, if you just let this pass without fighting for it, really digging in and going all out, than there really is no point to anything. And we really are just doomed like you say.
Days are numbered, so make it count. Time for pity has passed, Jack. And if it doesn’t work out — well then: so what? At least you’ll be able to look back and say you gave it a shot. Did all you could. Didn’t wilt and cower at the moment of truth. No fucking regrets.

JACK (detached): Yeah.

DAVE: And if you do all that and she still looks at you with blind eyes, than fuck it. It’s her loss.

JACK: Yeah.


JACK: You’re right.
You’re right.

DAVE: OK, good. Look: I’m going to go get changed up. Then after that: we’re outta here, OK.



[Dave exits through bedroom door. Jack continues to sit slumped on couch sipping his drink. Dave enters through same door now dressed in a shirt and jeans. Pats Jack on the shoulder.]

DAVE (cont’d): Just think, Jackie old boy: This could be the start of something beautiful.

[Jack stands up.]

JACK: Let’s just go. Get this over with.

[They walk towards front door, stopping just before they reach it as Jack turns to Dave.]

JACK (cont’d): But imagine, now just imagine…After all this, we get down there…we get down there and low and behold…she’s with another guy.

[Dave chuckles to himself, puts a hand on Jack’s shoulder as they continue walking.]

DAVE: That’s funny. That’s really funny.
You know, Jack, you’re actually a funny guy. Some people miss that about you. But it’s there alright. Hysterical. A funny guy you are, Jack. A real funny guy…

[They exit front door, Dave’s last words abruptly cut off by the sound of door slamming shut.]

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Fictive: An Excerpt

“Writing your name can lead to writing sentences. And the next thing you’ll be doing is writing paragraphs, and then books. And then you’ll be in as much trouble as I am!”
—Henry David Thoreau

James Harper Wells sat staring at the bright white of the computer screen, at a desk covered with all manner of clutter. There were newspaper clippings, energy bar wrappers, an empty coffee mug. Opened and unopened mail. Jewel cases for CDs. Blank CDs. CDs left out, stacked up. Music magazines, books. Books of poetry. Biographies. Books as inspiration. There was a stapler without staples. Headphones for an iPod that no longer worked. Pens with names and numbers of hotels he never remembered staying at advertised along the side. Pencils, erasers, Hi-Liters. Scraps of lined paper, some with coffee-stains, torn from ringed notebooks that had odd notes scrawled on them, random words seeming to correspond to nothing but themselves. And endless sheets of copy paper, written, sketched, printed on, of varying uses and importance, strewn about.

Beside him, near the edge of the desk, sitting on top of some papers being used as a sort of makeshift placemat, was a plate from lunch, an abstract smatter of tomato sauce caked on, knife and fork resting across it.

A desk that doubled as a dinner table.

He spent many of his waking hours here. An island of leisurely and work-related amusements, everything required to get through the day within arm’s reach. A controlled chaos he placed himself in the middle of, the heat of.

Before breaking for lunch he’d spent his morning typing three quarters of a page of new words, what amounted to a single long block of black lettering that he now could only look at vaguely, blankly, like one would the scene of an accident, unable or unwilling to bring himself to focus on the particulars.

Two years. He had given himself two years. The timetable laid out. And he was now well into the second year.

Funds were running low. There was the student loan he cashed out and would soon need to begin paying back. Also what was left of his savings, what was meant to be put towards graduate school.

He wasn’t working, not at present. At one time he held various part-time jobs. At a grocery store stocking shelves. In charge of inventory at a hardware store. Clerk at a video store. Janitor at the energy plant.

He would get fired. Or quit. All those times he couldn’t be bothered to break off from his writing, when it was really taking off. He couldn’t justify it to himself, having to give up his precious hours to something he felt only stifled his imagination.

It was a drain on his creative energies, he would tell others, family and friends, when they pressed him for an update on his current activities.

“You’re not serious?” said Melody. They had just come from a movie, a “rom-com.” Not particularly well-written, he’d thought. Derivative. Inconsequential. Not even that funny. An attractive but goofy single woman, clumsy, somewhat ditzy, crosses paths with a charismatic, blandly handsome career man with a checkered dating past. Personalities clash. Then gradually they take to each other, finally falling for each other. They learn things. A popular song plays on the soundtrack. Ninety minutes. It’s all so easy and fun and pat. The ending not so much inspiring thoughtful conversation afterwards—a meditation on modern relationships within a culture dominated by impersonal communication, say—as have you exiting the theater into the still night air feeling a kind of contented emptiness, like after buying a new shirt or pair of jeans, or finishing off your third plate of pasta during Tuesday’s All-You-Can-Eat special at Luigi’s Pizza Palace, the little Italian restuarant tucked away downtown, around the corner off Main. It depressed him. It was everything he wanted to avoid in his own writing.

But she seemed to have liked it.

They were at a coffee shop pensively sipping cinnamon-spiked espressos when he brought up the news of his latest, and what he said was sure to be his final, employment termination.

“Absolutely I am. I have to do this,” he said. “Scott Fitzgerald and Hunter Thompson both had their first books written by the time they were twenty-two. Look at me. I’m already twenty-three. Soon to be twenty-four. Philip Roth was twenty-six when he won the National Book Award.”

He was always throwing out names like this, names of writers she’d never heard of—Kafka said this, Conrad did that—a novelty, a quirk, the appeal of which having worn off some time ago. The way he casually brought them up, sprinkled them into conversations, it was like they were people he’d known personally, grown up with and had moved away but still kept in occasional contact, through email or Facebook. Any day now she expected to be invited out for dinner with one of them, this queer Bukowski fellow, say, and so have them made real. Name given its proper, physical form.

“I still think it’s crazy,” she said.

“It’s not crazy. You’re crazy.” He took a generous sip, grimaced from the near scalding temperature, then put the cup down and looked at her earnestly. “It feels like, honestly, it feels like everything in my life has led up to this point.”

“You’re referring to the passage of time.”

“I’m referring to my work. The novel in progress. It’s a monumental undertaking, all that you have to juggle to make it come off. I’m on the verge of a breakthrough. I can feel it.”

Melody rolled her eyes and turned her head away from the table. There was a time when this sort of sudden, self-serving decision-making, these heedless excursions into the grandiose he took, would have excited her, thrilled her even.

She examined a framed painting on the wall near the shop’s entrance, between a large window and the door. It was a watercolor of a man and woman. They were strolling hand-in-hand through the park amidst a splatter of golden swirls, splashes of autumnal reds and oranges filling out the background. It was a classic image, timeless. The man had on a trench coat and fedora. The woman a burgundy scarf, her long brown hair flowing out behind her like a ragged cape. Both smiling. They seemed so happy.

“It’s hard to explain,” he continued. “The whole creative process, it’s too...” James fell silent, absently tapping a finger on the table. He searched his mind, looking for the single word that would bring understanding and closure to the matter. Then settled on:


She sighed and turned back to him, her face not registering a reaction.

“If you say so.”

What did she know about these things, the whims and worries of the creative artist? She had never gone to college. Since graduating high school she’d worked as a waitress at various bars and restaurants in town. She met James during a six month stint at the Caufield Bar and Grill. He would come in occasionally, with friends or else alone, a checkered comp book nestled under an arm, pulling up a stool at the bar or hunkering down in a booth near the back, laying low, observing things, taking in the atmosphere.

He looked ambitious, she thought, whatever that meant. He was there, a part of his surroundings, but also removed from them, consumed by something else, something less tangible but bigger than it all. The idle drunkenness, full of cheery cynicism and tedious complaining, groinal humor and good-natured epithets—all part of the testy currents running just under the placid surfaces of small town chatter.

Maybe he was going somewhere. Maybe he wasn’t. The people she dealt with on a regular basis, it was tough sometimes to tell the difference.

He hadn’t shown much interest in her at first, leaving her to make the first move. She’d bring over his drinks, hovering over his booth a moment with an easy, open smile, waiting for the line to come to her that would start them off, take them beyond the usual what-can-I-get-ya patron-waitress banter. But he’d only look up, mumble a few words of appreciation for her services, and return to his notebook, jotting down more notes. Over time, she became almost jealous of those notes, whatever it was he was writing. But then again that would be ridiculous.

Then one day, as she approached his booth to take his order, she noticed a weathered copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude on the table.

“Hey, I’ve read him,” she said, gesturing to the book.

James stopped in the middle of what he was writing and dropped his pen, his eyes suddenly coming to life, slightly shocked and startled. Almost fearful, she thought.

“You’ve read it?”

“Well, no, not…”

“What about Love in the Time of Cholera?”

“Who’s that by?”

“Same author.”

“Oh. No,” she said. “But I remember having to read a short story by him for an English class. About an avenging dentist or something. I don’t know. It was a long time ago. What I remember is his name. When a person goes by three names it’s hard to forget. It’s like poetry, the way it dances on the tongue and gets resolved.”

“I think I know what you mean.”

Melody wasn’t her real name. That is, her name of birth. Her full name was Melinda Olena Davies. One of those things growing up that seems to slip out of one’s control. Through a gradual process of reduction and reshaping, of having it tossed around, played with by people, morphed and twisted, it was given back to her in its present form. Melody.

“Do you read much poetry?”

“Not really,” she said. “Not any more. I mean, there was a year there in high school when I became sort of obsessed with Sylvia Plath. But I think every girl goes through that phase.”

James chuckled, let it die out, and with a slight tremor in his voice said, “I always preferred Anne Sexton myself. She was less wild in her images but had a better sense of form.”

His gaze dropped to the table.

“Is that so?”

He looked back up at her. She caught something pass through his eyes, quick and tense, hard to pin down. A hurt, a heaviness, a loss. It took her aback. Then she found an instant familiarity in it which became a source of comfort. Like a dying deer on the side of the road, she thought.

“Just my opinion,” he said.

The next day before work she stopped off at the bookstore down the block. She found a copy of Anne Sexton’s Collected Poems on the lone, sparsely-filled shelf of poetry. She paid for it and slipped it into her bag, pulling it out and leafing through it during breaks, becoming more and more curious about this odd boy and the secret knowledge he was keeping to himself.

He continued coming in to scribble, sit and sip, often during times she was working. They struck up a rapport. Shaky at first, it eventually found its own logic, and they moved it outside the dim, noisy surroundings of the bar, and started seeing each other the next month. It was October.

In the weeks and months that followed his coffee shop announcement to Melody, James made sporadic progress on the novel. Holed up in his one room apartment. Anchoring himself to his desk. He usually worked late at night, keeping nocturnal hours, moving ahead fitfully. At the best of times he’d get on a roll, knocking off page after page in steady succession. But just as often he slowed to a standstill, having to fight for every word, every sentence, every fragment.

Regardless of his productivity, he was never entirely happy with the end results. There was always something about it that, reading it over, made him turn away. Something was off. Not quite right. He tried to go on, ignore it as best he could. But the more he wrote on the more obvious it became.

The manifold problems were persistant in asserting their presence.

For one thing, the characters were flat and lifeless. They moved mechanically, rigidly, like they were strapped to an inverted table and being pushed around on a set of crooked wheels. At the same time, the overall form was fuzzy, dispersive. His exposition digressive in the extreme—dipping at times into the abyss of abstraction. Adjectives that missed the mark. Adverbs that were there for no other reason than to draw attention to themselves as prosaic adornment. He couldn’t get a handle on it—attend to the artful shaping and scrupulous cutting so obviously required. But above all, the biggest problem he found, what really ate away at his writerly confidence—small and fleeting as it was to begin with—was he couldn’t for the life of him make the sentences sing. Consistently. Not like the writers he admired.

In their assured hands, they were capable of making magic out of mere words. Transformative. They had the ability to take even the simplest language and wring it for all its mercy and meaning, impact and implication. Give it a haunting resonance. Fire-branded with emotion. Phrases and images that, when read for the first time, even after multiple readings, detonated in the mind with a fateful blast, a penetrating shock that continued to linger on, a wave, a tremble, a flicker, a spark, potent and alive like an exposed wire, for days and weeks after. What did the masters have that he was lacking?

He sat staring at his dead words on the screen trying to think up ways of zapping them to life. Nothing was coming. He gave up, clicked on his web browser and watched the homepage load. The flashes of distraction, the instantenous feeding of information, a temporary cyber haven from the psychic storm swelling up inside him.

There were five or six sites he visited daily while working, their addresses appearing at the top of his search history. One was eBay. Though he didn’t have sufficient funds to make many purchases, he liked to search the names of his favourite writers and pore over the results. Mostly what came up were used copies of their books—the occasional first edition, the rare signed copy, legitimate or otherwise. Sometimes he came across bits of merchandise: homemade t-shirts, lighters. Mugs displaying their silhouette. Posters of their grainy black-and-white image blown-up to full size. Framed portraits of them appearing effete, coy, unassuming. In others, there was a playfully mischievousness in their expressions, lit up as if in response to some private joke being shared between themselves and the camera. But in others still there something far darker subsumed in their features, the author’s brooding gaze projecting a severity—an inexhaustible angst, a barely concealed cosmic sense of indignation.

It was true they weren’t known for their longevity, these writers whose work James was drawn to, whose observations on the human condition, meditations on the eternal questions, stirred something strong and unnameable in him. It came with the terrority, he supposed. The risks one assumed in approaching this line of work. And left it at that.

Of these literary flameouts was an east coast writer by the name of Howard Dexter Moses. Writing in the early seventies, Moses’ debut short story collection was lauded by critics, claimed to be the brave new voice of the post-Love Generation. The only other published work of his was a slim novel about his youth in Denmore, a once thriving mill town located fifty miles from where James grew up. Considered an immature work, it nevertheless demonstrated the same flashes of brilliance found in his earlier short stories. Next was to be the Great Novel, the one that would realize all the raw, teeming potential found in his earlier work, and vaunt him into the literary big leagues.

It never came to be. His death, before the age of thirty, was, as they say, shrouded in mystery. Differing accounts were brought forth and spread around the college town where he lived and wrote and occasionally taught, amongst the east coast literary circles that first championed his work. Further speculation was provided by the morbidly inclined hearsayers, less interested in his artistic output than the unseemlier details of the case. But over time a general consensus was reached, and the ensuing years seemed to only confirm what had long since passed into fact: that the gunshot wound that killed him was self-inflicted.

Rumours got kicked around about the novel-to-be, its literary potential, but nothing was ever recovered. Some said he had given instructions, prior to his death, to his widow, a then twenty-three year old graduate student and office secretary, to burn any and all of his papers left behind. Others said it was stolen during a break-in of the lakeside cabin where the writer had been known to disappear to for months.

Stories like these had fallen into the lore surrounding Moses, and his was name given up largely to obscurity, save for the few aspiring writers who, through chance or a bit of digging, stumbled upon his stingy output and became as much transfixed by the myth as the work itself.

James typed in his name and waited for the results to load.

There were eleven results for Howard Moses. Five of them were for his short story collection, three for his novella, Seaside Memories. Two were for used copies of his collected letters. James read all them including the letters, most of which were addressed to his mother while he was away at college, and then later on an unidentified woman—younger or older, who knew? Not his wife—known only as “KEL.”

James scrolled down the page. There was one other result. Something called WHERE THE WIND BLOWS BY HOWARD D.J. MOSES. In the linked title the seller had typed *RARE*. No image accompanied the item, no avatar. James was curious and clicked the link. The listing page came up. The seller’s name was mack_da_knife65, operating somewhere out of Arizona. The seller’s description was limited to a few oblique sentences.

This auction is for a used one of a kind hardcover book by the world famous American writer Moses D.J. Howard. Some of the pages starting to yellow and has a loose spine (reconstructed) but good condition overall. 880 pgs. Big! Limited print run made. Hard to find item. Perfect for collections! Payment options: Major credit cards accepted but PayPal preferred.

He stared at the screen, incredulous. Splittered impressions began to take shape in his mind, crisscrossing, back-and-forth, drifting into and out of each other—finally realized in a series of half-committed questions. But before any of them could fully register, he already placed a bid, twenty-five dollars higher than the previous one—the only other one placed thus far—and was now the High Bidder.

James closed the webpage and pulled his writing back up. He started to read over the words, methodically, searchingly, looking for some new hook or insight. Some way in. He brought his fingers to the keyboard to start a new sentence when the phone rang. He got up and answered it.


Michael, a friend of from college, was back in town. He wanted to meet for drinks. It was just the excuse James needed.

They were sitting together in a bar, the same one they once frequented during college. It had a pool table, leather couch and Sundays were karaoke night. It was just like old times, only different.

James was drinking the beer of the day, Michael a scotch and water. This was a new development. There were also changes in his general appearance. His formerly loose dark curls were now slicked back, flattened out into a domed shield melded to his skull. He leaned back in his chair with a hand fastened to his drink, like an anchor. He was wearing a shirt and tie, a button undone at the collar.

“Hell of a thing, being back here. Nothing’s changed a bit. It’s the story with hometowns. So what have you been doing with yourself, Jim? Still holding on to the writing dream?”

“Working at it, I guess. What can you do? Call me cursed. You write anymore?"

“The only writing I do these days is legal briefings and the occasional love note.”

“You should get back to writing your own stuff. Hell, you were a better writer than me. And with half the effort.”

“Jim, my man, you’re too kind.” Michael threw his head back and called out: “Somebody get this man another drink!” He turned back to James. “I was set on it for a time. What can you do? Folly of youth, I suppose. But I woke up. Realized that if I was going to dedicate myself to something, I needed to be compensated for it. You know as well as I that this is the age of digital entertainment. CGI movies. Electronic media. There’s no market, no living to be had in plain old words. Now it’s all about the visual, the concrete, the real. What’s there in front of you, see.”

He cocked his head to the side, studying the ice in his glass, then glanced up, shooting a look across the table at James. “Sorry for the spiel, Jim. I don’t mean to be that guy. The one warning you of the peril that lies ahead. Silly. What do I know? Here I am, just back. Haven’t seen or heard nothing from me in well over a year. Just ignore it. Do what you’re going to do. Don’t let my sermons deter you.”

“I won’t. And you’re wrong. They still have value. Words. And the writers who write them. They’re needed today more than ever. Someone bringing truth into a world that increasingly has less and less of it. Who else if not the writer?”

“That’s a nice sentiment, Jimmy, old boy. To the humble few that plod on, in spite of it all,” he said, holding up his glass. He lowered it and took a sip. “No, but seriously. There was a time not too long ago, back in my idealistic days, you might say, that I would have agreed with you. But look. Truth’s become an outdated commodity. It has no currency in today’s market. We strive not for truth but compensation. It’s in our blood. Instilled in us over the generations. Important to us as food and shelter. And if you don’t realize that, than on some level you’ll always be lying to yourself.”

“Oh, I see. I get it. That’s what you want to be a lawyer for. This whole rationalization of yours. It’s to give you carte blanche to rake in all you can, and to hell with the rest.”

“Yes and no.” Michael leaned forward, elbows on the table. “The way I see it, it’s a compromise. Do I still want to effect social change, the way writers were once able to? Yes, for sure. Truth and Beauty and lounging under apple trees waiting for the song of the nightingale. Open people up, you know. Affect people’s lives in a positive way. That’s still the aim of the game. But now I can do it in a more direct way. Focusing those aims through practising law. And if I stick to that, well, the rest will take care of itself.” He flashed James a wicked grin. “Come over to the dark side, James. It’s not too late. Put that philosophy degree of yours to use.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Right now I’ve got too much invested in it. Besides, I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I’d have to become a completely different person. Shed my old skin. I'm not prepared to do that.”

“You’re never too old to change,” said Michael. “Only too dead.” He sipped his drink. “So how far along are you now in this For Whom the Bell Tolls magnum opus of yours?”

“It’s hard to say. I’m too deep into it. It’s hard to be objective. It all blurs together. The meaning is buried. But what can I do? Can’t turn back now. Only soldier on.”

“Well, don’t kill yourself over it. It’s important to step back. Appreciate the finer things in life. There’s never a day goes by that I don’t remind myself that anytime all this”—he spread his arms out in a sweeping gesture that took in the whole room—“can be taken away.”

He picked up his drink, pointing a finger at James with the same hand, ice swishing around in the glass as he spoke. “Perspective, my friend. That’s what’s important. See the big picture.” He looked at James, letting his words sink in. His cheeks were flushed from the scotch, eyes reflecting either sorrow or pity—or maybe that was the scotch, also.

“Self-knowledge,” he continued. “Don’t let yourself be defined by your circumstances. Know who you are and what your aim is. Always be true, that way you’ll never lose.” He brought the glass to his lips. “My oh my,” he said. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should have been a poet instead.” He finished off the rest of his drink, the ice crunching around the bottom of the glass as he brought it down.

“Let’s get another round here!” he called out to no one in particular.

They kept it going after that night. A three day drunk during which time they got caught up, brought their lives back into the present. On the fourth day James was back at his apartment. Having groggily roused himself with coffee and an aspirin, he sat down at the computer to check his email. In his inbox was a message from eBay. CONGRATULATIONS! YOU ARE THE WINNING BIDDER OF WHERE THE WIND BLOWS BY HOWARD D.J. MOSES *RARE*.

A week later a package arrived. James signed for it, took it inside and cut open the brown wrapping and extracted its contents.

It was big alright. A weighty tome. He held it in his hands, turning it around and around, examining it as one would a piece of fruit for blemishes. He cracked the cover, letting the wide spine rest in his palm while thumbing through pages, slowly at first, then rapidly, in a rhythmic flicking, fanning through large chunks at once. A wisp of a breeze, marked by a stale, acerbic smell, like the dusty, old furniture in Grandma Wells’ basement, caught his face.

The pages were indeed aged some years, decades probably, loose and dry and fraying. The plain red hardcover that contained them was obviously a homemade job, constructed out of a tough, cheap cardboard material, fitted and glued together, with the only lettering being the title, printed in all caps, in black marker.

Even now as he held it in his hands, physical, real, affirmed, the questions were still with him. The mystery of its origins remained.

He got down to it. He spent the next week on the couch, camped out reading it through, beginning to end.

The story followed a Midwestern couple, the Wheatleys, and their four children, three boys and a girl, that had moved east and settled down in New Vestment, an industrial boom town on the rise just as war was breaking out—Germany having already invaded Poland. At a glance it seemed like a traditional tale, an examination of familial bonds and breakages spanning decades, a throwback to the kind of sprawling generational epics once popular when being penned by the likes of Thomas Wolfe, Steinbeck and others.

It would seem dated now if not for the structure. The nonlinear narrative, though nothing new for its time, cast a new light over the relationships, saw them from a different angle. There was a mounting tension in its main plotline, which followed the oldest son, Byron, a longshoreman who’d been ostracised from the family during a misspent youth, and his struggle, now that he was grown up, with the bureaucratic workings of the town’s major banking firm. His story was placed alongside the father’s earlier rise to corporate wealth and eventual fall into delusion and senility.

A building narrative tension, unfolding as it simultaneously closed in, tightened. Their stories intersecting, bumping up against each other in an uneasy dialectic of chance and causality. One not so much following the other as mirroring it, the two men’s fates interlocked, sealed together, despite the thirty years separating them and their circumstances.

He could see where it was leading, he knew. It was inevitable, how it would end. There could be only one outcome. But he was drawn in all the same, seeking confirmation, belief solidified. He read on, inhaling a hundred pages or more at a sitting. The action built and built as fewer and fewer pages remained. And then it stopped. Just like that. Plenty of rising action but no final climax.

It just ended, abruptly, inconclusively.

He put the book down and looked over to check the time. It was late. Three-thirty according to the illuminated digits on the microwave clock.

He felt an exhaustion he’d never felt before. Not so much shattered by the intense focus, the prolonged mental play of eye and object, eye and word—deciphering, sorting, retaining, recalling—as he was relieved, what felt like a purging. A weightlessness enveloped him.

In the bathroom he ran the tap, splashing lukewarm water on his face. As he patted himself down with a hand towel he caught a glimpse of something in the mirror that stopped him cold. He stared ahead starkly, charged with a disorienting sense of a ghostly presence, of this shadowy self reflected back at him. The stranger whose gaze he shared.

Back in the main room, he went over to the kitchenette, taking a beer out of the fridge and over to his desk. He opened a web browser and popped the cap on his beer and took a sip while waiting for it to load. He put on music, some plaintive Will Oldham album, and opened a folder in his Favourites menu labelled HDM. A stream of links spilled down. He clicked one.

It was a link to an essay written for an online literary journal on the life and mysterious death of Howard Dexter Moses. Of the many searches he performed on the writer, this was the only substantive piece he could find, researched and annotated, including interviews with friends and colleagues. He had read through it twice already and began reading it again, hoping to perhaps make some unconscious connection between the author as he was represented in the essay and the book he had just finished.

He read until strain on his eyes from the light of the screen became too much. He minimized the page and leaned back, downing another slug of beer.

It seemed plausible enough, that it was the work of Moses. The style was unlike any of the other writing of his that he had read, but he recognized the hallmarks, embryonic as they might have been, of the earlier work. The indistinct longing for home. The mad need for personal expansion, to test and stretch the walls of self. The resigned isolation underpinning his characters, which they wore like a second skin. The choking power of the past and the beating onrush of the future. Even the meatier, more textured prose, for the first time given free reign in the long novel form, were tempered by a melancholy, a stoical sadness that seeped off of every page.

He brought the webpage back up and scrolled to the bottom where there was a photo of Moses, the only one he’d been able to find, the one on the dust jackets of all his books.

He had even started to look like him, he thought. Take on his qualities in some dimly discernable way. The neat, trimmed beard. Solemn forehead. Pale, thin hair receding above the temples and parted at the side. He stared at the photo like he had so many times before but with a new intensity. His features were downcast, head bent forward, as if in prayer, sombre reflection. Chin swallowed up by his open collar. Eyes that might have been closed though it was hard to tell, darkened as they were by shadow. The crown of his head was lit brighter than the rest, halo-like, contrasting with the darker grays shading the side of his profile. From an overhead light most likely. But the religious connotations were not lost on him. There was an irony there. Or was it coincidence? In the essay it mentioned his conversion, in his mid-twenties, to Catholicism. This accounted for the extra initial, they said, the J. sometimes included in his name, and only made his end a scant few years later all the more baffling.

So maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. Who could know for sure? How many others had read it? He had googled the title, and though it brought back 3,720,000 results, they were all for pages that were either variations on it or had the words randomly contained within the body of the article.

He couldn’t know for sure, and yet he was sure of one thing. It was an amazing piece of work. Even without a proper ending, there was the compelling command of language throughout, an insistent thrust to the narrative that never let up for one page. The characters complex, layered. And just then, as he thought back on his reading, he felt a sudden sense of hopelessness, of sinking and utter futility at the realization that it was something he could never match. He could continue to write and write day in and day out for the next hundred years, into the total destitution that loomed with the next rent payment, and never come close to that concentration of scene and character. Rendering the unrenderable. A gesture, a look, life momentarily captured and distilled to its essence. Held under the lens to reveal the subtle intricacies and eye-flicker movements of things.

Sitting there in the familiar confines of his workspace, he felt a strange ache rise up inside him. It wasn’t anything he was used to, related in any way to the typical tensions associated with the creative process at its most grim and grinding. The precision demands of a tricky descriptive passage, frantic tightening of a loose-hanging plot thread. No, nothing like that. It was an elusive yearning, without attachment or intention. Lean, unprocessed desire. It gnawed at him, whatever it was. As if he hadn’t eaten for a week, body left reeling. A deprivation accompanied by a dizzying, vacant cry that echoed, both shrill and sonorous, all through him. And then there it was, crystallized. What it meant. Bitten with absolute certainty. The terrible, inescapable knowing that everything he had done up until that point, the last year-and-a-half of work and anticipation he had given himself over to, had been for naught.

He turned back to his desk in near collapse, his elbow knocking over some papers that swished off the desk and landed with a light slap against the linoleum floor. He ignored them, head held in his hands staring down at the keys. F-G-H-J. It was code, he thought, a puzzle. Something to be deciphered. Inaccessible to immediate understanding. He rubbed his temples, looking over his brow at the screen. Right palm settling over the mouse, he moved the cursor about the screen. And then, as if to bear out the doubtless fact that now resided in him like a soundless, resounding scream, appropriate the apprehension such a heightened, delirious state brought him to, he moved a file on his desktop labelled NOVEL IN PROG over to the Recycle Bin and right-clicked EMPTY.

Sleep that night offered a scarcity of solace.

He woke the next morning having only stolen a few restless hours. Caught in a tangle of damp sheets, he turned himself over in bed, looking bleary-eyed at the red, crumbling hardcover on the nightstand. Suddenly it became clear to him. All at once he knew what he had to do.

He took the book over to his desk, and minutes later had a steaming mug of coffee with him as he sat down, ready to begin.

It was all he did for weeks, typing out every page word for word, for hours on end. He became lost in the rhythms of sentences, the push and pull of punctuation, the sudden, breathless jolt of an em-dash, dips and turns of clauses, working through the dense valleys of paragraphs.

He got on a roll. His focus honed in, hardened and exact. So attuned was he to the work, the repetition of keystrokes combined with the line reading of words, thousands upon thousands of them, that over time he began to take on their aura. The words imprinted on his consciousness. During those heady, solitary days of typing, rereading, and more typing, he lived with the characters in a way he hadn’t that first time, that week on the couch. He came to know them deeply, inside and out, in their full scope and depth. It was an intimate knowledge. The privileged position of the creator, who having extended himself to his emotional and imaginative limits, is made one with his creation.

It took him nearly two months, all told. On the night he finished the last page and printed it off, he sat back in his chair aglow from the endless creative surge, his senses alert, attentive, almost painfully so. The nice composed stack of pages towered on his desk, the only thing on it now save for the monitor and keyboard. Everything else had been cleared off, boxed up, thrown away. Discarded. He looked on with satisfaction. There was a sense of being redeemed somehow, like having undergone a total blood transfution. Something brought into line. Revitalized. The old made new again.

He hadn’t changed a word or sentence.

He went downtown and had copies of the manuscript made and sent them out to the five east coast publishing houses he knew of, their contact information having been recorded and stowed away for such a time when they would finally be of use.

Time passed darkly. Then one day, two months on, a call came from one of the publishers, Clyde and Jefferson, out of Stanton, Mass.

It had been accepted.

It was all set, they said. This was an amazing piece of work. Everyone who read it had been floored. “An extraordinary achievement,” said the editor, a man by the name of Tom Murphy. They would be proud to be the ones to put it out there.

There were just a couple things. Small things that needed to be taken care of before it could be considered publishable.

For one thing, it was too long. Cuts needed to be made.

“Also, and about the ending,” said Tom. “I like it. I like where it’s going. But where you decide to break off, it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t completely satisfy.” He wanted James to work on it, massage it out. It was too great on the whole to let a weak ending spoil all that came before. “It cheats the reader,” Tom said.

He invited James out to their offices in the city, to meet and discuss cuts and a new, improved ending. As soon as possible. He mentioned a beach house belonging to the managing editor who was away in Europe until the fall. If he could make it out in the next few weeks he could stay there while polishing the manuscript.

It had happened.

“You what?”

“My novel got accepted,” he said. “They’re going to publish it.”

“Like a book-book?”

“The very kind.”

“Liar,” she said. He had surprised Melody at her apartment, where she was on a break between working a split shift. Her hair was still wet from the shower.

“It’s true,” he said.

“Really.” She thought about it in a peripheral way, what it might mean. “Can I read it?”

James had mentioned to her once an idea for writing a book with her as the main character, based on events from her life. Coming from a broken home. Growing up with her mom and younger sister, moving around. Their travels back and forth across the country. At first she was flattered by this. But then she thought it over, and as the reality of what this would entail began to settle in, she found it vaguely disturbing, almost creepy. Going so far as to censor certain stories she told him, in the back of her mind aware that they may one day find there way, in whatever mutated form, filtered through his writer’s imagination, into the purported book. But now, thinking this might be what he was talking about, the book that was to be published, she was getting excited all over again.

“Sure. Of course you can. But there’s still some work to be done on it.” He told her about the beach house, that she could come with him.

“But I have to work,” she said. “Next month’s schedule just got put up.”

“So quit. This is it. Our chance to get out of here. It’s what you’ve always wanted, right? What you’ve always talked about.”

She let out a breath, looking him over. She couldn’t remember ever seeing him like this. He couldn’t stop smiling.

“Well, yeah,” she said. “But I’ve barely seen any of you the last however long. You even look sort of different. Lost or gained weight or something.”

“My metabolism jumps around when I’m working. What can I say, it’s been a crazy time. But this is it. What everything’s been building towards. Whattaya say?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hey. Come on,” he said, a hand clutching her arm, pulling her close. “I need you in this.”

She looked him up and down.

“Who are you?”

“Same old me,” he said.