While I’m currently focused on essay writing, I was writing mostly fiction for the past eight years or so. The first complete work of prose fiction I wrote was a novel (why start small?). I’d like to share this excerpt, not to show you my writing per se, but because of the weird thing concerning it. I hope you’ll stick with the scene (which is about to receive an edit from a much stronger writer than I was when I wrote it—Good God! What’s with the adverbs?), but if it’s not your thang, you could probably skip to the weird thing at the end after you’ve read about half of it.
The back story: Leigh was seeing Steven, who broke her heart. Steven’s married brother, Chris, manipulates Leigh into having an affair with him, thinking Steven will never get back with her. Wrong. This scene takes place after Steven has asked Leigh back and she is trying to figure out what to do. Chris is in love with Leigh, but tries to manipulate the situation for what he thinks is her own good.
Chris stood at the window, using the distraction of the view below to take him away from his hotel room. He held the phone to his ear and listened to the endless ringing, or maybe it was just the first ring. In the distance, he saw the lights of an airplane heading toward the Prudential tower, an illusion that frightened and stimulated him every time he saw it. Had the phone rung again? Two, three times? He was startled to hear her voice, then startled to be startled.
“Chris,” she said softly. Leigh, his Leigh, his brother’s Leigh, not his Leigh. Just Leigh.
He was startled again, this time by the robot mechanicalness of his voice. “Leigh,” he said flatly followed by nothing, a long nothing. “Why…This isn’t like us at all, is it?” He laughed. A comic balloon over his head: ha ha.
“Hm Hm.” Leigh faked a weak laugh.
“How is it going with Stephen?” he said, all friendly-like, locker room buddy that he was.
Leigh spoke in a great rush. “How do you think? Did you think it was going to be easy? Did you think I was just going to pick up with him like the past never happened?” Then, an embarrassed afterthought: “And like nothing ever happened between you and me?” she said, guiltily, guilty, he could hear all the permutations of guilt for what they did, for what she felt, didn’t feel, didn’t know what to feel.
“You will work it out,” he commanded hypnotically.
“But what about you and me?” she asked.
He listened carefully, not letting his wish for her meaning to cloud his thinking.
“Stephen will never know about us,” he said with an overemphasis of diction. “Not unless you want him to.”
He heard the long, nervous exhale and knew he’d answered the right question. He was relieved to avoid the embarrassment of answering the wrong one, the why do we have to end, I love you, what about us.
“But…” she started.
“You’ll pull it off. Don’t tell me you’ve never lied before.”
“He can read me. He can see things in me no one can see.” Ouch, ouch. Careless. She was so careless.
“Do you want to keep it a secret? I wish you would,” Chris said drily.
“I…I still don’t know where it’s going with him, you know, but…”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense, isn’t it, Leigh?” he put an edgy spin on her name, a parental scold that he knew she would heed. He pictured her little girl scared, don’t yell at me face.
“I…Yes, that’s what I…of course,” she said.
“Leigh, here is what you need to do.” He hardly recognized the voice coming out of him, droning on without emotion. “Remember, the last thing he would ever think is that you were seeing me. He cannot possibly read that on you. You have to believe that first.”
She let it sink in. “You’re right. Of course you’re right. He could never imagine…”
“Right. There’s no reason for him to know or not know if you were seeing someone else. You can allude to a romance but he knows he has no rights to the details. Anything he’ll read on you he’ll attribute to that. And his own guilt over what he’s done will prevent him from calling you on it. In fact, it will make him try harder to please you.”
He watched another airplane head toward the Pru. This time it was really going to hit, the spray from the explosion sure to hit him here at the Sheraton.
“Next, you must convince yourself it never happened. You’re not a good liar, Leigh. I know that. But when you’ve done something really bad, that’s another story, isn’t it?”
He could hear her chewing on it, perhaps regretting the conversation in which she’d told him about sleeping with her best friend’s boyfriend and facing her friend without giving anything away. “Just tell yourself it never happened, and if it did happen, it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong, like that other time.”
“But I didn’t do anything wrong.” She sounded bewildered. Not her usual sharp self and he was in top form.
“There. You’ve got the hang of it,” he said cruelly.
He paused. Would she laugh? Was she stupid enough to laugh? He heard a noise that could have been a laugh, or a sob, or just the sound of her taking the hit.
“I know you can pull it off.”
There was no sound from her end of the phone. That was okay. He was enjoying the show below: A couple kissing in a doorway. Pseudo punk-rockers heading into an upscale sports bar. Two black men the people around them did the dance to avoid, avoid their gaze, should I cross the street, how bad would it look if I crossed the street, I was gonna cross the street anyhow, honest. He pictured them all covered with debris from the crashing jet.
“I think I’d better go, Chris,” Leigh burst into his consciousness.
Fuck her. No. Must put a stop to this. His façade was too revealing, his controlled tone showing how out of control.
“Leigh, this will work. You know it will. You just have to lie to yourself to avoid the beating of the telltale heart. It will destroy you and him. Don’t let it. It doesn’t have to.”
He was exhausted and wanted to drink his whiskey, wanted to stand by the window and watch planes crash into the Pru while sipping his whiskey, all night long. He wanted her voice out of his head, the sooner the better.
“I’m going now, Leigh,” he said evenly. “See you at Christmas.”
The creepy footnote
I almost can’t even write it. While the writing is not as good as it seemed when I first wrote it, the freaky thing now seems much creepier.
I wrote this passage on September 1, 2001.
Honest freakin’ injun.