Daily Prompt Four Stars Write a review of your life — or the life of someone close to you — as if it were a movie or a book.
Sorry, WP, mine is a five-star life and I’m not writing a review. It seems people enjoyed reading the little excerpt I put up yesterday. Below is the opening of the story. What is it? Well, once upon a time, a long time ago, I wrote a love story. At the end of the real life version of the love story, I began to wonder what else there was to life, what other challenges, what larger loves, that might end in something worth taking away. Still, I wrote the love story — as a novel about becoming a writer. If you like it, let me know and every time there’s a crappy daily prompt I’ll post more. The protagonista has several names and various plot lines. It’s an exploration of how a story can be an exploration of alternative futures.
“El tiempo se bifurca perpetuamente hacia innumerables futuros.” Jorge Luis Borges
I sit at the desk which was my father’s. Elisabetta, my wife, has just handed me a steaming mug of Caffe Latte. Snow falls in big dry flakes outside my window. Never was there a man more comfortable than I am, more secure, happier. Phillip’s letter sits open on my desk. “Cold and miserable here in Chicago. If nothing else, at least snow is better where you are. Have you been skiing?”
Everything speaks to me of my obligation to write Phillip’s story. I crank a long sheet of yellow legal paper through the carriage of my typewriter, the archaic tool I’ve chosen for this story. With more than a little reluctance, I begin my new career, the distillation of the inexplicable.
Hemingway — about whom I wrote my dissertation — is famous for having called a blank white sheet of paper the “white bull.” I don’t see my paper in that light. I prefer to regard it as the void, as the empty space from which the future is fulfilled. Every minute, every second of life, resembles that empty sheet. It’s a convincing metaphor for reality. It may be the only place where I can do justice to my two friends. It’s true that Kate’s death made Phillips choices easier. Still, I believe Phillip would return to the difficulty if he could. I sip some coffee and begin.
Sorting through the clutter of events that made up their relationship, it’s difficult to know what makes the “story.” Maybe logic will have to be imposed — but that could be why people write. Imposed logic isn’t any less real.
Maybe there isn’t anything to do with Phillip and Kate but to turn them into fiction, create a form for their accidental love. A plant growing in a house can suffocate if it isn’t dusted. There are no breezes to keep the leaves clean. Fiction is not a forest; it is a house plant.
For all of us it was a time of unknowns. We stood on the brink of our futures, all of us. Whatever syndicated sophist said, “The only certainty is uncertainty” had lived through a time like that. The certain of Kate’s marriage dissolved only because she wanted it to. The fact that something as solid as a marriage could be destroyed because of her will surprised her. From the been a terrible marriage. Divorce was just a matter of extrication. Phillip unwittingly gave her an ultimatum. One night, listening to Phillip’s analysis of an obscure poem by Yeats, Kate realized that if she were really free of the man she was married to, a silent, moody, brutal boy who took after his own father in his way of treating women, she could spend her evenings with men like Phillip. The next day she drove to Laramie and gave her husband the papers she had had prepared months earlier.
Charisma. There is no charm like that of a person who is, at best, ambivalent. Sitting in crowded rooms, even class, I felt a power emanate from them, from the connection that separated them from the rest of us. If I were Scott Fitzgerald (who had the guts I don’t, to stay drunk all the time) I would tenderly, with antiseptic passion, analyze their relationship, from even to event, the events rather minor, actually; the dialogues meaningful and intense. “I wrote a poem about this frenzy, Phillip. Don’t ever think I like it. I feel eaten up by it, by my own intensity,” she said one winter afternoon, sitting on the couch in his small apartment.
“I have read that poem in you,” Phillip answered, smiling. “You put your arms straight out behind you and look as if any moment you could fly away.”
“But I can’t fly!” she said, almost in tears.
“You try, though. There’s something very gallant in the way you sometimes try.”
A true gambler plays his hunches and doesn’t worry too much about losing. “Well, at least I didn’t sell out. I gave it my all.” If he loses, he can still walk away proud of his Quixoticism. That was Kate’s attitude toward Phillip; it was much more important to play than it was to win.
To Phillip, most people were nothing more than mannequins in store windows; only Kate was real.
There is music I cannot hear without seeing them. At the symphony, El Amor Brujo, Kate sat far forward in her seat, rapt, tense. “Beautiful, beautiful,” said Phillip leaving at the end of the concert. “The mixture of the occidental and the oriental,” not realizing he was speaking ot an old woman in a mink coat, and Kate was still in her seat, watching the musicians leave the stage.
Kate described his hands with their long, slender fingers. The hands and fingers didn’t fit with the rest of him. There was something vulnerable, fragile, sensitive about them; something shy. He sat there, wearing a tight, blue T-shirt which outlined his muscles. (“I go to the spa for me,” he told her once, defensively, as if she cared, which she didn’t. “It’s the only thing I do for ME.”) She said his hands posed a contradiction, made him a liar.
I am no Fitzgerald. I have been left with this love story and I have no language for transmitting it. They were islands that imitated the “should be” rather than the “is” in each other. Hot afternoons, Kate AWOL from work, stretched out, oiled, in the sun, smelling like a pina colada. They talked about life and literature, both believing that one enhanced the other; what was there to interpret but life, after all? And yet, the blue-nosed types in our field lived so far away from the life Kate and Phillip lived that they didn’t know that this was true. At department parties, Kate and Phillip drank the best, and held it like gentlemen (occasionally, a little more drunk than she appeared, Kate would pay with Phillip under the tables). They brought names into the conversation, authors from the fringes of “literature,” books the professors stored in their basements, if they kept them at all. “There will never be another XXX,” the professors insisted, harping on their personal hobby-horse, unaware that a real story, a great plot, a piece of living literature, was unfolding in front of them, arguing with them.
“Life is flux,” Kate responded. “One thing springs from another. To embrace a new age doesn’t mean you have to discard the past. It means you are making love to its children.” It was heresy, but appealing to me. Naturally, there was talk about kicking Kate out of the department long before that actually happened. Kate and Phillip saw things through different eyes; they went to classes, speeches, presentations with the rest of us, but at office meetings they hesitated. Talented they were, yes, but fearful they wouldn’t come through, knowing at heart they were not dependable in the usual sense. They worried about what we thought, yet knew that it really didn’t matter. Life had the power of final evaluation and it is my duty now to rescue them from obscurity.
They left every party before it was over. Behind them remained a cavity, a place where a light had gone out. Usually they went dancing, sometimes taking me with them. They attempted, with their bodies, the physical transformation of the world. Under the blast of cold air, the spinning mirrored disco ball — yes, disco — next to a blonde boy in a white suit with a magenta tie, they danced, dervishes restrained too long from prayer. Secrets told and forgiven, not forgotten. More than anything else, their secrets had the power to destroy them.
Kate danced with her shirt off, stuffed into the back of her jeans. “Put it on,” said a voice in her ear, the voice of a large man hired to prevent or end disturbances in the disco. He didn’t see that her shirt had been taken by someone in the crowd. When she reached behind to comply, she found her shirt gone. Phillip draped his own sweaty flannel shirt over her shoulders. As they walked out, a stranger’s hand reached behind Kate and straightened her collar. “You are so beautiful,” he said. “I have never seen anyone like you. Who ARE you?”
Phillip hit the boy in the face. “She’s mine,” he said, simply, as if anything else were preposterous.
Seven years ago, Phillip wrote, “It’s hard to be a writer in America in 1979. One thing cancels the next. Lines wander. Knowledge, once won, cannot be evaded. It’s impossible to ignore — or pretend — that things which ought to exclude each other don’t.”
Kate seldom spoke to anyone at school. She didn’t care about making friends. Her life was a mess and she knew it. She spent her time with an undergraduate who had been her student, a beautiful rich girl from the East Coast whom Phillip hated. The day she met Phillip was the second meeting of our class. He walked in with his friend, Carla. Kate told me that from the first moment, she thought he would be trouble. She avoided him for most of the quarter, but in the midst of a Yeats seminar, they finally connected. “I have had passionate affairs with both men and women,” Phillip proclaimed as he walked her to her car.
“So? she answered.