Copied the “story”
I expect that
It’d take some time
Left it here
For this reason.
Hope it’s been
In spite of
it will very likely
but with some familiar
this is fiction
not to be taken
Madman…(written 1999, many, many years ago)
Page’s big moment had arrived. It was in a sealed envelope from the publishers of Wen Rekroy. His landlady, an elderly widow who had become attracted to his eccentricities, descended the rickety stairs that led into the basement and slid the missive under his door. He would still be asleep, she surmised and did not want to bother him. Besides, this could only be another one of those rejection letters. Inside the room, a young man slept in child-like innocence. He was of medium height and ridiculously underweight, anorexic in certain circles. The fact that he lived at all was of particular interest to him but minimal to anyone else in the world. This was a situation he had weighed the consequences of almost daily in the ritualistic exercise of attempting to define himself, his life, his worth and ultimately, his place in the universe. The answer was elusive, as it is indeed for most men. He had studied and worked as an engineer. Some might have argued that he was good at it but on facing each working day, he would question the direction in which science had taken the world. The mutilation of nature worried him immensely and now, the mad scramble to put humpty-dumpty back together angered him. Unwilling to continue the charade, he abandoned his only means of a secure living and disappeared into Mrs___’s basement becoming, at the same time, the super of her brownstone. From this safe haven, he lived a bohemian-styled life or as close to it as he possibly could. Renouncing society and its imagined evils, he managed, while being at the hub of the biggest city in the world, to remain completely oblivious to what transpired around him. Like some nocturnal creature, he slept for most of the day and stirred himself only after hours to perform the menial tasks necessary for Mrs ____’s satisfaction. The quiet of night was also the time to obtain food and to continue the search for artistic genius in himself. Where a television set might have been, stood an easel with an incomplete sketch of a depressed self-portrait modelled after van Gogh’s Dr Gachet. But while van Gogh’s genius is evident even after a cursory glance at any of his work, one had to exert one’s imagination to find any in Page’s. About half – a – dozen incomplete, pathetic paintings and sketches were piled under the easel. The fellow had given up after this many, merely wishing to live by his own law that “you’re either born an artist or else you are not.” The realization that he wasn’t an artist, made him double his efforts in the study of music. This was a subject with which he was passionately in love and a marriage of this and any ability he possessed would mean well. So, he tried to play the guitar, rock-and-roll style, he failed. The instrument he had bought many years ago, while he was still an engineer, now hung on the wall, a silent tribute to his effort. He didn’t waste all of his time completely though, for, dreaming of being more than a guitarist, he had written some fifty poems; most of them intended to be songs and doomed to trash baskets of publishers. Ironically, it was the publication of one of these poems that signaled the end of his search.
He awoke late that afternoon but remained in bed trying, as he always did, to reconstruct any dreams he might have had. Usually, if he reversed whatever it was, there is some reality that becomes evident. On this occasion he was working on a blank he realized presently and got up in disgust, staring under the door for signs of other worlds. The letter caught his eye in the pale light that seeped through the dirty grates. Stretching and yawning, he walked over and picked it up, wincing at a sudden stab of pain in his lower back. God damn it, he thought, I’ve got to exercise. With the same lazy steps, he moved back to the bed, flipped the light switch and laid down again. “If you’ve seen them once, you haven’t seen the last,” he muttered. Rejection slips were pretty standard. He got the letter open and knew, instantly, that it was different – it was an entire page. “We’ve reviewed your submission,” he read aloud, savoring each word, “and have decided to publish….,” a smile crossed his face but he couldn’t continue. Carefully, he folded the letter and replaced it into the envelope. A few seconds later, it was dropped to the floor as from lifeless fingers as his mind raced to see what course of action would best capitalize on this, his first, success. Several years earlier, he had sketched the plot for a play, in the present wanderings of his mind, he knew it was time to write it. It was, he decided, the key to a better future.
Several months later, a wasted Page wrote the last few lines of his play. He had become gaunt and skinnier than imaginable partly because of the long hours and the miserable food he ate. Mrs _____ had ceased to get anything out of him other than she was “likely to be named historically since the room I sleep in will become famous.” It was in her nature to accept the situation and someone was promptly hired to do Page’s job twice a week with better results. She continued to pay him and reveled in her role as his patroness. The finished play was called Twelve Years Hence. To celebrate the occasion, Page had emerged from the cocoon at night and taken a long walk in the autumn cool. He returned home with a bottle of expensive scotch. At about 11 p.m., Mrs _____ was preparing for bed when he knocked at her door. She let him in, glad for his presence.
“I’m celebrating,” he said seating himself in her leather sofa. He took a swig at the scotch.
“Ah, you’re finished then?” She too sat down, hoping that he’ll stay a while. His visits were inspirational and in the last few months, she’d missed them.
“Will you get it published soon?”
“I suppose so. It’s not very good though. There’s no sex or manic violence in it. It’s not fit for mass-consumption, you know.” He helped himself to the bottle again.
“You’re just being your worst critic, as usual.” Mrs _____ smiled.
Page looked at her indignantly, “Haven’t you been watching TV? God damn it, everything sells if you have those ingredients – and I mean absolute shit. Don’t you see, we’ve let commercialization dictate our art forms. It’s all so mechanical now and the true expressions of the human spirit have been stifled.” He stared at her emptily. Mrs_____ was getting excited. His arguments always invigorated her; she encouraged him, “But you know you’ll never write that sort of thing anyway. If you knew that no one would be interested, why did you even bother to write it?”
She always tried, sometimes successfully, to present opinions that were not in harmony with his own. He was a very opinionated man and couldn’t be persuaded by trivial arguments. In this instance, he looked at her slightly amazed. The alcohol was being metabolized, unfortunately for him, at an alarming rate.
“What do you think is the whole point of our existence? No, don’t answer. I’ll tell you what it is; it is to leave behind some semblance of our self. Whatever form it takes is completely random and irrelevant. I, as you know, have neither wife nor illegitimate child. Whatever part of me remains after I die will be in what I write.”
The tone of his voice dared her to give an answer, he was, however, totally unprepared for her response.
“Really now, you’re still quite young. There’s time for you to find a wife and have children. Why if I had a daughter…..”
Page looked at her, somewhat alarmed, “You’re showing your age then. When was the last time you were in love Mrs _____? Even that isn’t the same anymore. No, no…..” he waved at her and swung the bottle to his lips smacking them as he re-capped it. “No, don’t answer, I said that incorrectly, must be drunk you know. Love, a basic human emotion, is not what it used to be. I think it’s definable these days. Does that tell you anything?”
He tried to stand up but couldn’t and fell heavily onto the sofa. Mrs _____ was biting her nails, she hadn’t seen him like this for a long time.
“Just sit down, will you?” she pleaded nervously, “You’ve had enough now, I think.”
With a few quick steps, she moved across and took the bottle from him. Considering his nature, it was like taking the bottle from an over fed kid. Although his father had perfected the match, liquor and Page did not mix very well, fortunately, he knew when to stop.
“I’ll need that tomorrow, okay. What if your daughter did not like me?”
Mrs _____ was seated again, clasping the bottle to her bosom.
“Regardless of how you feel about it, with me as her mother, she would have. There are a few good people left!”
“You don’t teach love, ma’am. You don’t make someone love someone. That, I know. What would you have done? Dictated her life? She would have hated both of us.”
Mrs ______’s couch had become a psychiatrist’s.
“Maybe. You have so many fine qualities,….. I’m sure that any woman……..”
Her look was full of sympathy.
“You don’t know me very well, ma’am. You’re probably also quite out of touch with the whims of the modern woman. It’s a moot point anyway. I must be going.”
Getting up from the couch, he tried to find his legs under him; they didn’t exist and his subsequent fall was broken by the impact of his shoulder against the sofa. Mrs _____ came over and helped him in to a sleeping position. She hurried off and returned carrying a blanket and a pillow. He was half asleep, fetal like, and mumbled about publishing his play. Mrs ______ tucked him in and stood observing his face. “You’re really in need of good care,” she whispered, “good night.” She turned off the lights and disappeared into her bedroom.
Weeks after mailing the manuscript to some publishers and magazines, the replies came in. Most of them were long shots and Wen Rekroy was less comfortable with publishing a play. Inevitably, the desired result was obtained from a magazine whose circulation was in the thousands. The monthly was prepared to publish the play in three installments, one for every Act. He was offered several hundred dollars and that clinched the deal. There was no price to be attached to his effort, perhaps the overwhelming reason why he agreed was to liberate his conscience. He wanted, desperately, to publish the play; he needed the criticism, bad and good, that he knew will follow. It was an attempt to try to understand the public’s response to the common theme of unrequited love and to evaluate his own standing in relation to that very public. The three issues were mailed to him complimentarily. Each month, he studied the letters to the editor; searching for a hint that someone had read the play. He found none. It was just as he had suspected, no one will or could have any interest in Twelve Years Hence. In the meantime, he kept himself busy writing more poems and a few essays with topics ranging from socio-political trends to religion and morality. The lack of interest in the play kept him from even contemplating the possible publishing of any more of his writings. Facing the onset of what he knew would be a downward spiral into depression, he was quite surprised when The God of fortune directed an Allison Wobbsley, minion to an acclaimed Broadway producer, to his haven. Apparently, the express purpose of her visit was to persuade Page to let her superior stage his play Off-Broadway. Mrs ____ had half-stumbled, half ran down the stairs to Page’s flat to inform him he had a visitor anxiously waiting for him in her apartment. She’d banged at the door and he had answered in his usual unkempt “at home” appearance.
“You’ve got to come, quickly,” the old woman blurted, pulling deep breaths.
“For Pete’s sake, what’s the matter?”
“Broadway wants your play! Come on, she’s in my apartment.” She grabbed his arm and started to lead the way but he needed no encouragement.
“Really?” he cried, bounding up the stairs two at a time, “It’s about bloody time!” Not wishing to seem overly eager, he managed to contain his excitement walking down the hall to Mrs _____’s apartment. Miss Wobbsley was a blonde in her late twenties, medium height and an inspiring beauty. She was the kind of woman one marries, realizing that her’s was the feminine embodiment. But she was here, in Mrs _____’s apartment, sipping a drink the gracious woman had made her and seeming quite out of place. At the door, Page had hesitated, the thought that he must look filthy suddenly striking him. Perhaps I should have changed, he thought. But Mrs _____ had just finished the tiresome task of ascending the stairs and was now upon him, there was no time for second thoughts. She threw the door open and shoved him in announcing, like a mistress of ceremonies, “Here he is, Allison! This is Page!”
Allison looked across the room and slowly focused on him in a measured stare. In the silence Page shifted his weight and Mrs _____ took a front row seat, wringing her hands in excitement.
“Hi, I’m Page. You’re looking for me?”
He was nervous; it was years since he had talked to a woman who was desirable, sexually. Venturing closer, he sat opposite her.
She was, understandably, speechless. From the recesses of her bag, she extracted a copy of the patronizing monthly. It was also an opportunity for her to take a deep, calming, breath.
“It’s about this play, Twelve Years Hence. Our production group would like to perform it Off-Broadway. What do you think?”
The words were like cool nectar to the mouth of a resident of hell.
“I have no objection, naturally. Of course, I expect you to adhere to the requirements stated at the beginning.”
The heroine was supposed to bear a close resemblance to Grace Kelly.
“I’m sure we’ll do our best to express your intent, Mr Page.” She got up to leave and handed him a card, “Stop by this office tomorrow and we’ll finalize things. By the way, try to dress a little better,” she said, walking to the door. “See you tomorrow then. Goodbye Mrs _____.”
After she left, the room seemed, somehow, a little darker but Mrs ____ had assumed a new radiance, “Well, dear boy, you’ve really done it this time. I think we should celebrate.”
She fixed the drinks.
“What’s wrong with my clothes?”
He was examining them. The pants was a faded and torn pair of jeans and the black T-shirt showed signs of having been bleached, contrary to instructions.
“You’ve got to ask? Here’s your drink.”
“Huh? I’m sorry, I don’t need one. Thanks.”
He left with Mrs _____ staring at him in complete disbelief. This wasn’t normal but then,….. she held the thought and drank from both glasses.
The arrangements for the production were finalized. A couple of poems that were included in the play were set to music thereby lending a familiar setting for something that was to appear in the theater. Six months of hard work by the team brought them to opening night and the reason why a well-dressed Page was stepping out of the subway on Broadway. There was still an hour before curtain rise and he spent some of it, in contemplation, sharing a bench with a bum. The past with its oppression, pain, hunger and worry; the almost constant triumph of evil over good; the loneliness, the lost parents; lost love, it all came back with a few tears. “Woman troubles, bud?” asked the man next to him, offering an opened bottle of wine in consolation.
He shoved the bottle away and gave the fellow some cash, “Buy yourself some food,” he advised.
The poor bastard’s eyes lit up, “Thanks, mister. Thanks a lot. I’ll be honest with you though, I’m not buying food with this. Food extends life – it’s not worth it, it isn’t. You want it back then?”
“No, suit yourself. Goodbye.”
He walked off, the man’s words ringing in his ears. His mind cleared several blocks later as he approached the theater; here was a different crowd, full of life and wanting to experience it. They were formed in a line to get tickets for the opening play. He joined it. At the end of the second Act, he left the theater.
It was early evening the next day when he regained consciousness, with a massive headache; an indicator of the quantity and perhaps quality, of champagne he drank after leaving the theater. He was in no mood to be bothered but Allison, who’d missed him the previous night at the opening festivities, couldn’t wait for his comments any longer. She had long persuaded Mrs _____ to give her a key for the main door and now all she had to do was knock on Page’s to access him. Her reason for desiring such an arrangement was singular – sex. Page had found out that beneath her business-like facade was a streak of cunning wildness precipitated undoubtedly by the environment in which she worked. To be sure, there was no depth to their relationship which followed. Initially, it had seemed so strange and yet exciting, to Page, after all, sex was one of his motivators. Allowing for Allison’s departure from anyone’s first impression was difficult, especially for someone who had been out of touch with women for as long as he had. Her satisfaction was not without its benefits to him. He became an enthusiastic student of techniques she recommended – he needed the lessons. When she knocked at his door, he knew, immediately, who it was but his body was in no condition to react with the eagerness it normally did. He even wished she would go away. Determined, Miss Wobbsley persisted. He let her in with an unconvincing apology.
“Sorry, I’ve got this awful headache ah,…. hangover.”
He crawled into bed and she sat next to him tossing a bundle of the late edition papers to the floor.
“We missed you last night. Everyone asked.”
“Yes, mostly business people. They loved it.”
He made no reply so she continued, “There’s talk, already, of doing a movie version.”
She thought that this might make him more agreeable.
“Did you ever read Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author?” was the unexpected response.
“I heard you. Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“Yes, but I don’t understand how anyone can like the play, considering the way it was performed.”
This was too much, she began to pace the room her anger on the rise.
“You didn’t like it then?
“Not particularly. It wasn’t convincing, the director had no idea of the emotional context of the thing. It was like a high school production.”
“Is that it?”
She was positively steaming.
“Since you’re in the business and I’m but an outsider, tell me, do you think that actors can ever really bring a character to life without the express input of the writer?”
She’d stopped moving about to stare at him in absolute disgust. Her lips moved in a feeble attempt to answer but she didn’t know, as yet, what to say.
“Writers should be directors and vice-versa otherwise we’re open to misinterpretation and a travesty,” he continued, oblivious to her indignation.
“So, while it was good for three out of four critics, it’s not good enough for you?”
In a Herculean effort, she managed to regain some composure and was now seated at his desk.
“Oh? What do they know anyway? Did you ever see Theater of Blood?”
“No and shut up! You’re just a mediocre writer who happened to get lucky and you are too stupid to realize and use it!”
This really got to him, he sat up in a fit, “Will you tell me who is more stupid, me for writing a mediocre play or your business for producing it?”
The anger on his face was suddenly replaced by an expression of pain, unable to cope, he laid down again. Allison was surprised by his attitude, it was definitely unexpected. She didn’t care to offer any answers although, in her mind, they were obvious. If anything, the answers were making her view her life from an entirely new perspective. To escape the fearful conclusions, she listened to his ranting.
“Those critics are just a part of the system that attempts to swindle people of their money.” He stuffed another pillow under him so that he could look at her without effort. “If they criticize relative to some standard, why is it that they never agree? And who defines the standard anyway? They are a bunch of fat, effeminate sophists who are paid handsomely for dispersing their opinion to the public. Why should anyone listen to them?”
Looking along the sides of the bed, he found the newspapers. In the respite, Allison spoke, “I don’t think anyone listens to them, really.”
She didn’t think that celebrities had the ability to sell a product either.
He had found and was reading one of the reviews, “‘In the tradition of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (My Fair Lady) last night’s debut of Twelve Years Hence…..” With a snort of disgust, he flung the paper across the room. Its pages did a silent waltz that almost covered all of the floor space.
“Do you have any aspirins?” he begged.
She reached for her bag and tossed him a container of tablets. For a man with the hangover he had, the vehemence of his arguments could only be coupled to a strong sense of conviction, she realized. She was watching an oyster opening and the pearl that she never cared for was a diamond that struck her blind. In her enlightenment she realized also, that she wanted him like she never did before, this time, with an intense passion akin to real affection. Silently, she prayed that his headache will go away. At the moment he had gone quiet, thankful that his torment was ebbing away. When he spoke again, it was in an entirely different mood given the subject.
“Your leading lady, I’m probably partial but I think she tried and definitely has potential.”
“Yes. I was wondering when you’ll get around to her. It’s her first role. Aren’t you being hypocritical?”
“It depends on what sort of potential I mean, doesn’t it?”
She moved back to the bed and laid beside him, running her fingers through his hair. He knew what she was after.
“Do you know that you are at the beginning of something wonderful?”
“What do you mean?”
It wasn’t what he thought.
“Your career, of course. You can sell virtually anything now.” She kissed him.
“If my conscience will let me. This is how people destroy themselves; they become slaves to excesses.”
It didn’t take much to arouse in him those senses that had originally preferred to slumber, the fact that she knew him well was a major reason. It was her swan song, they both knew and felt it. She wanted to leave him with an impression and she succeeded in doing so with an encore.
The idea of God is a potent, majestic creation of man, for man, if indeed there is no God. Is it likely, though, that out of each primeval society that existed the common idea should occur? How did primitive man, confronted with the need for survival, first invent the notion that has evolved into dogmas that civilized man kill for? Further, what wisdom could guide anyone to write, for instance, the Bible and why should these ancient texts find themselves completely applicable in a complex, modern and civilized world as it presently appears? Man a wild animal then is, essentially, man a wild animal now. Thousands of years of learning, suffering and recording history and no one has learned. Religion is still the cover, the mask for all man’s other latent deficiencies under which he seeks to conquer. The holy books should be slightly altered to read, “Suffereth not thine enemies and heathens to see the error of their ways. Your God knows how to deal with them”. In the current decade, there seems to be an unusually high level of religious fanaticism and with it, the necessary war, acts of terrorism, etc. There can be but one God and the pretext that non-secular struggles or fights are founded on religious grounds is absolute rubbish. These people are fighting needlessly if this is their reason but it isn’t – in reality it is always, at its basic level, about economics. So, women are raped, innocent children and people die and men are incarcerated for reasons they do not, in most cases, comprehend. These were some of Page’s thoughts as he pondered the situation of the world. His own position in it was now defined and yet, it was insignificant. This afforded him the time to expend in melancholic contemplation of the destiny of mankind – a certain purposeful gravitation towards extinction in which all that he had worked for was to be lost and even worse, all that humanity had achieved. The general disposition of mankind, at the time, did not warrant its redemption for whatever the God, surely, he, she, it would be enraged. The time must surely be coming to put an end to the wickedness and what was more opportune than the end of the millennium?
If Mrs ____ had charged an admission fee, she may have been able to lower the tenants’ rent considerably. The number of women, groupies, who now crowded near the brownstone to set eyes on Page, with the hope of getting his attention, doubled every week. An ordinary looking man, as he, in the company of any of the women who now sought his attention, prior to his success, would have constituted a certifiable miracle. This is a familiar occurrence, though – misplaced values. These people were but victims of society’s guidance into popular taste. For all the freedom it boasted, the democracy was still a communal dictatorship that stripped individuality and shepherded people into spiritual slaughter. The idea of free will, although abundantly available on paper, was sacrificed for materialism a long time ago. Many generations did not know it existed. Page didn’t mind; the situation was predictable. He would, whenever he fancied, hand pick one or two of the ladies and spend the rest of the day in quiet ecstasy living out every conceivable fantasy and then some. Allison’s tutelage was well appreciated. There was a lull at the end of round one on this particular occasion. Page and his nymphets were silently reflecting on their performance in the smoke filled apartment. The last strains of pleasure were dying and producing a vacuum into which crept a new wave of hedonistic expectation. A knock at the door prompted the playmates to seek cover.
“Who is it?” Page yelled from the bed.
Mrs _____’s response worked its subdued way through the door.
“It’s open! Come in!”
She did, choking on the smoke that rushed towards her.
“There’s a different lady here to see you.”
Mrs _____ was mindful of her protege and exercised the necessary discretion of detaining the visitor in her apartment to allow Page time to get rid of his guests.
“Who is she?”
“It’s Karen, star of your play.”
“My God! Stall her for a few minutes Mrs _____. Please, ….go!”
She left and within minutes the two young ladies, whose trip was unceremoniously foreshortened, followed. Page had to promise them an open invitation to visit again. In the remaining time, he made a mad scramble to fix the bed, clear the haze from the room and to tidy the huge mess that had accumulated over the years. He was only half-dressed when she knocked and rather than have her wait, again, he received her in that manner.
“I’m sorry to have kept you, Miss Joseph…..” he panted.
He searched for words as his eyes told him he could only be speechless. She was awesome! The casting people had done Miss Kelly tremendous justice. When she spoke the picture was complete.
“It’s all right. Mrs ____ was telling me about her plants. I just got some and I need the information. Shall I enter?”
“Of course,” he was embarrassed and it showed, “I’m sorry the place is a mess.”
She entered looking around, a faint smile of disbelief played on her lips. Page stood with his back against the door watching her meander across the room. He followed her every move in a strange hypnotic trance. She was stepping around the paraphernalia that covered the space, pausing every now and then to study something that caught her eye. The easel with the incomplete sketch was a major attraction. Her studied attention placed it on a museum wall. She must have recognized that it was an intended self-portrait for she glanced at the creator several times.
“I wish I could paint,” she condescended at last.
She sighed and stooped down to look at the stack of other attempts. Page made no effort to converse, he was thinking that a girl, such as Karen, could not possibly express herself more eloquently than her being did. Her next stop was the guitar on the wall.
“Who’s your favorite then?”
Page could not hear, his mind was completely blown away.
Her voice carried a note of anxiety that released the hallucinating man.
He walked slowly over to the bed, found and lighted a cigarette.
“Are you all right?”
“Of course. I’m sorry, I was daydreaming.”
She had worked her way over to the desk and Page, now with increasing curiosity, invited her to sit.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here.”
She sat, looking briefly at a manuscript on the desk.
“Yes, I was just thinking about that.”
“Well, it was Allison’s idea. She thought that I should talk to you before saying yes to doing the movie version of your play.”
“I can’t imagine why.”
“Neither can I.”
“Is this your only reason, then?”
He sat on the edge of the bed facing her.
“I guess I wanted to meet you,” she smiled and continued, suddenly serious, “Delivering your lines every night for so long; I’ve often wondered what you’re like.”
“You’ll be disappointed – I’m a fascinating bore.”
She ignored the comment, perhaps out of kindness.
“Of course, I’ve heard quite a bit both personally and professionally.”
“I think the critics are just trying to get at you for painting such a dubious picture of them. I believe you’re an honest man that way and possibly, you speak of a time that can no longer exist. You’re anachronistic – I’m sorry.”
“No. You’re right. I guess I’m a pseudo-intellectual. A pretender, at least in writings.”
“I don’t know where you’ve got your values and beliefs. I’ve read some of your stuff and the philosophy is, for the most part, interesting.”
“More than anything else, my preoccupation is to see that justice is done. I mean not only in the legal sense but in every conceivable connotation of the word. People should be treated fairly,…..rightly.”
At the cigarette’s end, the emission of smoke was stopped only for as long as necessary to light another.
“Why do you care about the world? No one else does. You can’t spend the rest of your life hiding from it here. You’ve got to live, damn it.”
She stood up blushing from a mixture of embarrassment and anger derived from her frankness, seemed to consider leaving but sat down again.
“The world revolves around these people, mostly the middle class and the poor. Not many people care for them, Karen. They slither from the bourgeoisie to the classless. They fight wars for the protection of the few. These people should live in a world where power does not equal money.”
“But why do you bother? It’s natural selection. These people live happily; they don’t run around trying to change things. Everyone can’t be rich, you know. Leave them alone, how do you think they’ll thank you?” She was breathless.
The anger had distilled into an almost sad plea. Page was, uncharacteristically, tolerant.
“You’ve misjudged my intentions. I’m not trying to change anything – it’s impossible. All I’ve done is write about these people not asserting themselves as individuals and passively living according to the questionable standards of a few. I think I despise them for this, in fact.”
“Sounds to me like you’re one of the minority you’re talking about. Your standards are not everybody’s.”
“But they are universal and fundamental to human decency. It’s about defining personal freedom and when and how it interferes with others’.”
Karen was quiet. It was getting late and they hadn’t really talked about the reason she was there. Page used the silence as a cue to continue.
“You see, people have been immersed in crap for so long that they’ve become immune to its effects. Their priorities are all confused now and unfortunately, their role models are humans whose senses are inflamed by the enormous amounts of money they obtain from any number of trivial pursuits. But enough,….. You didn’t come here for this, right?”
“No, but it’s insightful. Do you think I should do the movie?”
He was thoroughly surprised, it took a few seconds before he could speak.
“How old are you?”
“I’ll be twenty-three in August. What does this,…..?”
“You’re old enough to decide,” he interrupted with a laugh.
“I didn’t ask for you to decide. What’s your opinion?
She was annoyed.
“Semantics. I guess you’re best qualified to do it.”
“Thank you. I have to go. Will you tell me about the real Deirdre sometime?”
“There’s no real Deirdre. What’s in the play is all there is, my imagination.”
“Oh, I’d just assumed that she is real!”
“I understand. Are you taken?”
“I should be insulted. Yes.”
He was immediately unhappy.
“I don’t know. I suppose a girl likes to have some fun first.”
She was pleased by his affected posture but carefully hid it. The reply did nothing to help lift his dejected spirit. The thought that fun usually comes at someone’s expense nagged him. She got up and walked towards him, stopping about a foot away, she suddenly smiled, “Do you ask the girls outside if they are taken?”
Naturally, he was surprised but before he could answer she took the new cigarette dangling at the corner of his mouth and walked towards the door.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” she said and without a further word or look, she left.
The concept of being merely friends with a desirable woman, far from experiencing menopause, was a foreign one to Page. Although he had never discarded the idea of sleeping with her, Karen had successfully kept him at arm’s length. She had defined their relationship as one of friendship and it drove him crazy. He was forced to pretend that it was all right – scared by the notion that if he didn’t he would lose her. He couldn’t understand how anyone could move from being friends to lovers. In his mind, the reverse was truer to the nature of love. People who did it backwards, he thought, were but losers who had, on realizing that their biological clock was chiming a death knell, given up on finding true love and settled down to a pathetic life with a “friend.” Love, he reasoned, was supposed to be an overwhelming emotion that did not need years of friendship to make it evolve – it needs only reciprocation. He was in love again and he hated it because of the circumstances. As far as he was concerned, Karen’s interest in him was to be classified as something that was “fun.” If anything, the time she spent with him was the opposite – she was his anti-depressant. She deserved a martyrdom for being the sole victim of his morbid thoughts on the future of the world and a sainthood for diverting him from them. She never questioned her reasons for responding to what was, she believed, his need to be understood and to be loved. There were times, she knew, when he wished he wasn’t human simply because he believed that in so being one had to assume certain responsibilities. Her intent was to prove that she was much more adroit in matters of the world and in complete awareness of Page’s psychological requirements. These alone were her reasons for showing him only the cerebral side of her affection while meticulously imprisoning the emotional. It was not by chance that her antidote for temporarily displacing his fears was to tell him details about her life. Of particular interest to him were the stories about her modeling career which started when she was sixteen and was aborted after her appearance on Broadway. Her face was well known in Europe. At eighteen, she had become fascinated by a photographer and vice-versa. This was the fellow to whom she had referred when she said she was taken. Page had never met him but he’d often wished that he was the fortunate soul who’d met her at eighteen. He was convinced that, by now, they would have been married. Her narrations were frequently interrupted with either probing personal questions or observations Page had previously made regarding the fashion industry. The questions were disguised attempts at establishing what Karen’s and Victor’s relationship was, without seeming to care. The observations centered on the notion that the entire industry facilitated an effective means of spawning beautiful women into arrogant, decadent bitches who abetted the criminal intent of designers. Talent, in this business, was the sedated ability of someone to regurgitate articles of clothing from decades and centuries past. It is only a matter of time before the avant-garde concept of clothes made out of leaves become fashionable. Page was happy that Karen had been transplanted from this orbit. His happiness may have been more intense had he guessed that she was planning to quit from the spotlight after the movie was finished. She had had enough. But Page’s inability to interpret the symptoms of the sickness he had unwittingly infected her with, was a direct consequence of his own confrontation. The tumor that was a bilious mix of anger and frustration had finally blossomed and now included paranoia and impotence about an impending tragedy.
Page had good reasons to be suspicious about the longevity and meaning of the success and recognition he had achieved in the last two years. The papers would often carry critiques of his political theories and after the demise of communism, the US government was obliged to keep him under surveillance. Anyone with sight could tell, at first glance, that he was in no way radical enough to put political theories into practice. He was far too concerned with spiritual and moral decay. The tabloids told tales of his private life almost always portraying him as a reclusive, eccentric, lecherous, satanic and more recently, insane, character. The critics whom he had incensed, perhaps too early in his career, conspired to label his works juvenile and unimportant except for Twelve Years Hence – they couldn’t withdraw their original criticism. The people he had wished to affect the most were out of reach behind a wall specially erected to contain their ignorance. Only a few intellectuals saw any merit in his writings and they were smart enough to move on. This had bothered him at first but Karen’s devotion had eased the heavy depression that blanketed him. What worried him now, was the fact that the Gods had seen it fit to band him together with the iniquitous masses. He was to share their destiny in some, soon to occur, global cataclysmic event. Surely, he reasoned, he deserved better; it wasn’t his fault that no one listened to him. But then the thought that maybe he didn’t do enough to sell his remedy for the backwardness of man would cease and cast him into a fevered hell that burnt his soul. Should he have preached “the Truth” and would this not have been in clear contradiction with the idea of free will? Was salvation not merely the prudent use of free will to discover the nature of God in one’s self? Maybe he wasn’t as ordinary as he believed, wasn’t it by divine revelation that he knew of the looming event? Perhaps he would be another Noah, preserver of life, but why hadn’t he the plans for escape yet? Through this quagmire of questions, one will emerge that will draw him from the edge, this was, “Why me, a misanthrope?” Slowly from the nightmarish experience, he’d realize that there was no logical answer. These moments of examination he suffered in a reserved silence, for he did not wish to burden Karen with his troubles. Slips over the precipice was a daily occurrence that eventually degenerated. He would talk about visiting the zoo, storing provisions and building some sort of space ship without, it seemed, regard for the presence of Karen. The kind, sensitive and perceptive girl knew that he had made an irreversible trip even though there were moments when he was the same person she’d first admired. It would have been out of her character to deny him and herself the consummation of their, now undeniable, love for each other. So it was then, that in his more carefree and less “thoughtful” moments they’d make love and she’ll listen to him talk about marriage, family and the fact that they were both richly blessed. Her tears of agony flowed like the four rivers of the ancients.
Mrs ____ had a plaque made and fixed it on the door to the room that was Page’s. Something about a “simple man living a complex life” was inscribed on it. Inside the room was left untouched, it was cleaned often but more importantly, Karen visited it on Page’s birthday every year. Ironically, Mrs _____ had now become a tenant in the brownstone she once owned but like Page, she paid no rent. Karen had acquired the place “to ensure the continued preservation of Page’s room” and her friendship with the old woman intensified with time. They were two people tremendously touched by the existence of the man, it was a profound bond that united them. When Page died in his sleep, much like his father had, on a cold winter’s night shortly after his birthday, it was Mrs _____ who had consoled the frightened girl who was then two months pregnant. The night was indelibly etched in her memory and being quite young, it was fresh on her mind for a long, long time. Not many people can experience and forget the horror of waking up next to a loved one who had gone cold. Fortunately, the film was done and she was in retirement, a circumstance that lent itself to her relocating in Europe. There she lived with her parents in a quiet country village where she nurtured her daughter in Page’s philosophy. He would have been proud of the child, she was a replica of her mom and as the years eventually proved, blessed with an intellect greater than his own. It was rather sad, Karen would often reflect, that he never got to see his daughter. He had many plans of little things they would have done together, each dying with him. His death had, also, a wider impact for it sparked renewed interest in his works. Scholars finally had the courage to disagree with critics and point out the richness, fluidity, depth and diverseness of his writings. Page would have branded them all “assholes” but even so, these people opened up his writings and thoughts for inspection and reflection to a larger crowd.
While people celebrated, around the globe, the end of the millennium, secure in the belief that everything was perpetual or purely existential according to some incomprehensible law, there were a few who remembered Page. A penitent Allison, at prayers in a convent, sought the forgiveness of his sins and her own. Mrs _____ wished for his mere presence with a formidable argument and fancied that he was present somewhere in her apartment. The memories of his last days, the fatal obsession with the auspiciousness of the occasion and the idea of confronting a wrathful God were Karen’s tormentors. She wondered too, if that which he had left behind will make a difference now that there was time.