And Even If He Won’t, She Will
He had never been so angry in his life. Swiveling on one heel he came at her.
“You what?” he half-yelled, half-snarled. “You? You went out into that school yard? To catch a dog? One that was snapping at little school kids? And you slipped on ice. And you fell. And you hit your head. And while you were down and dizzy and all that,” he appeared at a loss for words, his hands fanning in front of his face, “STUFF, then, then, the dog bit you on the neck, nicked an artery -- and killed you? You! You did that.”
His arms waved windmill fashion in the air around him, he was so exercised.
“Who do you think is writing this story?” he continued, “you or me? And -- how? That’s the really big one. How did you do that? That’s what I want to know - no, - that’s what I have to know! How did you speak without my typing the words first. How did you take my plot line and CHANGE it? HOW?!”
He whirled away again, pacing the length of the room and back in rapid smacking hard-hitting steps that echoed through the room. Once more in her face. Not snarling now. Or yelling. Hissing, more like.
“I can cover it. Of course I can. Make it work. I am the writer. I am the author. Of you. Of it all. Not you!” He pointed a finger at her and shook it with fury. “You.” he went on, “Who are there only because I brought you back. Out of pity. Because you insisted.”
Then he was off again, this time pacing in a small tight circle, saying, with a sharp shake of his head and a snapping of his fingers. “Nope! Not pity. I didn’t do it out of pity. Or obligation. Or due to your persuasive powers. No! I did it to get rid of you. Or better yet, to re-gain control of you. Even, use you.”
He was glaring at her now. “You would have been part of that narrative for the rest of that book, you know. I’m contracted for at least 250 pages. You’d’ve been in a goodly percentage of them. Pages and pages of this ‘life’ you’re so anxious to have. You! Not me, you!” His voice was rising again.
The misty half-seen figures at the way back of the room seemed to be gathering together to peer at them. Usually theroom was silent but for clack of typewriter keys, clink of carriage return bell, zip of papers in and out of the roller, his scuffled movements to ease his back or knees without rising, forcing himself to sit longer. Or a pounding of footsteps when he paced, trying to work a phrase or thought through before committing to paper. His endless toe-tapping when a word wouldn’t come or a sentence refused to be rounded off or finished smoothly. Every sound echoed in this room bare of furnishing, high ceilinged, narrow with stark stuccoed walls, and no windows.
He began again. Low of voice, this time. More reasonable. “You had a part. I gave you a part. You had a means and a way to be in that story. Alive, as you call it. To be someone. Which was what you’ve wanted, wasn’t it?”
He gazed at her, but she stood silent, returning his gaze with one just as steady, until he was forced to ask, “Well?”
His brows lifted as he took in her silence, her stance and steady look. Then his head drew back as he began to speak again, this time, in surprise. Now when he spoke his voice was totally altered. With curiosity now, even, hesitantly, wonder. “No,” he said, raising his hand. “Forget all that. Just -- just, you have to tell me. Tell me how you did it.”
Then he turned away, his back to her. Odd, what he did next. Raising both hands to his head and, as if compelled to do something violent, scrubbing at it -- fiercely. As if it were flawed, at fault, a disgrace. And by scrubbing at it he could somehow erase everything - blot, blemish, flaw, fault, her.
“How?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. “How? -- How? Did? You? Do? That?! He still hadn’t turned back to her.
Now at last she spoke. “I don’t know. I didn’t like it, I - - -. It - - .” But stumbled to a halt then, with a shake of her own head. Silence grew between them. He wasn’t going to help. He couldn’t. It was incomprehensible to him. She started again. “I... .”
And was unable to find words, driven once more to silence. He waited, now turning back to face her.
Again she tried. “I - it wasn’t me. It’s just, I’m not that person, that girl. Not any longer. She -- her part -- it was going to be less.”
She hesitated, looking for words. “It was going to give me so much less than I can handle now. Because I’ve grown, waiting for you. I know what I can be, now. -- Which means it wasn’t going to be right for me to be there, to be her.” She shook her head again. And then went on. “But, leaving that way? Not my doing. Honest. It just -- happened. It all just happened. And I think it happened because it wasn’t going to be right. For me,” she hesitated and her next words were as if choked out, “or for you - you or your book.”
His face had taken on a look of amazement. He raised a finger to point at her, his mouth opened to speak, but she continued, cutting him off.
“I’ve waited. Right here. For you to use me. And while I waited, I watched. Watched you. Watched those others, the other once-was characters from stories of yours, now just Yearn-To-Be’s shadows. Stuck here. Lingering, Waiting, too, but all the way back there. In the shadows. Where you could ignore them, and have. Or not even see them, and you haven’t. But I wouldn’t do that. I sat up here. Right in front of you. And I watched you. And I looked out the windows.”
She pointed. “I watched out there, and learned. About people. About life. I’ve seen what life is, what it can be. What people are like. Oh...,” she cut across his attempt once again to over-speak her, “not in the way you know and understand life.” She shrugged. “Well, of course not. You are made of flesh and blood, while I am of, well... words and paper.”
She halted, and now it seemed to be her turn to stare at him in frustrated anger. “YOU,” she said, “are alive. In the real sense. And I am not. But I’m not as I was, either. I am - more. --- And yes, I am new to it, to all of it. So... .” She paused, her voice returning to normal. “So, here, in this waiting room, watching life go on out there and in here - watching you and how you are and behave - what I have learned is that I am way beyond what you originally gave to me or made of me. Back then. In the beginning, before... .” She gestured about them as she spoke. The vague figures in the way back of the rooms were now dissolving back into shadowy unclarity, moving away as if to escape her words.
She continued. “Before I learned enough to know that being a school girl, in Maude Adams classroom, even with a younger brother to see to or whatever else you had planned for me was no longer who I am. I am more. I didn’t, I don’t, fit there. I no longer fit that age or place.”
She had a look of growing self-awareness. The kind born only from within. “I did not - do not - fit that character. It isn’t seemly. Isn’t suitable, my being there. You were right to begin with. Only you don’t know why. But I do. I did. And so I --. Somehow, I left. Something - somehow, I ended her life. The life of that character. Because it wasn’t real to me any longer. It’s no longer who I am.”
She waited this time until he looked her way. When he did, she made eye contact and held it, holding his gaze while she continued to speak, now in a demanding, even commanding tone. “You can write around something like that. In fact,” her face opened in realization, “you can cut it, take it out. My return, the brother, my death - the whole thing. You can cut it right out. Make it never happen. What’ll it cost you? Three maybe four pages? If that? And you’ll be rid of me. Well, not of me. But you’ll be rid of that character. Look, you didn’t want her back in your - what did you call it? - narrative. You were bullied into doing it. So now we’re back to -- what’s that expression? We’re back to square one. Which is what you wanted to begin with. Wasn’t it? Isn’t it?”
He was staring at her as if blind. And then he blinked. Then blinked again and then blinked a few more times.
Still holding his gaze, blinks and all, she said, “You know, it’s like that quote you put in your Forward: ‘No harm, no foul.’ That’s it. No harm, no foul.” She folded her arms across her chest and stared across at him cheerfully. “You’ll find something else for me. Something more fitting.” She spoke as if it was a certainty.
He began shaking his head, saying, “Get out. Get out of my head. Get out of my rooms. Get out, get out, get out.”
“Oh no,” she said, climbing up to resume her seat in her favorite place, right on the top edge of his typewriter. “No no no. I’m out of your book. I agree. I want that too. But I’m not leaving. You made me, and perhaps a little too well. No, I’m here to stay. You just have to figure out other characters for me to be. Those that will be of more interest -- to me. Maybe to you, too. Things more current, with more edge, more life.”
She motioned to the world outside the windows. The hilltop with its walking paths and sitting benches, dog-owners and parents, kids and teenagers, gangs and lovers, couples and loners. The school across the street with its streams of mothers and fathers and teachers and volunteers. The parked cars, lining both sides of the street, and those moving up and down the street. The city spread out down below. The highway that ringed it. And beyond that, bay waters. She even turned and gave a wave to the shadowy figures, massed once again at the edges and way-back of the room.
“Maybe you can renew them, as well.” And she was smiling. For the first time ever, claiming and fully owning herself, in her own present. Separate from and outside his dictate.
“No, she said, “you’ll find something for me and even for them. I’m sure you will. Something more - complex. I’m older now. Wiser. I’m even wise to you,” she continued. “Remember. Something in me knows how to write myself out of a thing that is wrong for me. I don’t know exactly how, but I do know what I was thinking when it happened.”
She looked directly into his eyes. “And so I know it will happen again. I promise you. Because it’s not under my control. It just will happen. If I’m in the wrong place, as the wrong character.” And now her face is positively sunny, her voice light and lilting.
“We can...collaborate?...isn’t that the right word? Work together.” She was supremely happy, he could see it, it shone from her. She was luminous with it.
In response, his own face was at first a study in confusion but gradually cleared into a sudden deep and profoundly unwanted clarity -- followed almost immediately by denial, as he bellowed, “My MUSE?”
He trembled. His face, at first crimson, now turned a deathly greenish-white as realization stuck him, and he whispered, “No. Oh, no.”
Then, on a rising scale of anguish, a plea, a prayer, a rejection, an abnegation, “No. No, oh please, no. You have got to be kidding me. Weeping Mary, Mother of God! SHE'S MY MUSE!”