Sunday, July 20, 2008

Writing Exercise #5 ( Day 1 )

There was quite a buzz when the author entered the party. As was his wont, he was late. Not terribly so, but enough that his absence built an air of mystique and expectation. People wondered where he was.

Would he show?

What kept him?

His absence made more of an impact than if he had been there from the start like everyone else. People cast sidelong glances to the door, as if waiting for him to come through at any moment. The food was sitting uneaten. Nobody wanted to act as if the party had already started before the author showed up. After all, he was one of those figures that was as much a myth as he was a man.

When he finally did arrive the tension in the room rose palpably. He was ushered in by the parting of the crowd like the wind through tall grass. People gave away under his presence, their voices stilled and their eyes turned towards the door where the author stood. As one, the crowd beheld him.

The author stood before them, and beheld them in turn. His eyes were sharp despite his advanced age. He stood tall and straight as he looked at them all. He was dressed in a sharp suit, traditional but worn with a certain flair that made it stand out.

His white hair was carefully laid in place. He made no effort to hide his wrinkles or his hair or any other sign of his age at this point. He had lived a long life and when people asked him how he felt about being old he took great pleasure in telling them he felt "Damn good about it, thank you."

They always laughed. They always quoted it, too, which was a source of secret pride. He still had it, after all this time.

The crowd continued to gape at him as if they couldn't believe he was really there before him. Either that, or they couldn't believe the woman on his arm. That was okay, he was sure that she wasn't real either. Or, at least, parts of her weren't. He didn't bring her because she was the real deal. Like the suit, she made him look good.

This silence had gone on long enough. It was getting embarrassing. He didn't want to create expectations he couldn't meet. So he broke the silence. "What are you all looking at? I know I'm late, but give me a break..."

The laughter that cut through the room broke the surface of that endless moment, and suddenly the party was alive again. People turned away, picking up their conversations that had been left stranded mid-sentence. Those closest to him made their way towards the author as he entered the room, extending nods and words of greeting. They would have extended hands, but the girl bringing around the drinks beat them to him with a gin and tonic and his woman remained firmly affixed to his other arm.

"Oh, it's so great to see you," one said. "It's been too long! You really do need to drop by more often." One of the hostesses, he assumed. He didn't remember her--but he didn't try very hard, either.

"You look so good," said another. "How do you do it?"

And, of course, inevitably, one said "I can't wait for your next book! When is it coming?"

The author smiled and waved them all away. "This is supposed to be a party, and I haven't even gotten ten feet from the door yet. One at a time, I'll try to talk to as many of you as I can," he said, holding up his drink. He had already taken a rather large portion of it. The ice clacked hollow against the glass. "I'm going to go have them top this off, first."

And he cut past them for the part, leaving only murmurs and expectations.

"Isn't he marvelous? He's so good, I'm shocked he came to this party," said one woman.

"Hey!" the hostess replied. "Lots of important people come to my parties."

"Yes, but he's different."

"Maybe," said a small man who intruded on the conversation. "But he isn't going to answer your questions. You should know that. He only answers what suits him. And lately that's less and less."

"Oh, hush you! Don't be a spoilsport. Surely he'll talk to us. Maybe you can go and coax that pretty young thing off of his arm and keep her entertained. Certainly he'd be less distracted then."

The two women laughed at him as he reddened and slunk away to whatever lonely corner of the room he had come from. Instead of bothering to watch, they turned to the author, who was across the room getting his drink.

The woman at his arm looked up as a tap fell on her bare shoulder. She turned to offer curt words to whoever would bother to touch her but came face to face with a man who didn't seem interested in her at all. He was nearly as old as the author, with short grey hair and a deeply tanned face.

"Beat it, honey."

"Hey, buster, I've got just as much of a right as you to-"

The author looked up at the man who had intruded upon this farce of a couple and smiled slightly in recognition. "Mia, why don't you go find someone to mingle with. I do want to talk to him."

She looked up at him, disappointed, but when she saw the set of his mouth she turned and walked away without complaint.

"Scotch," the other man said as he slid next to the author.

"I thought you swore off the sauce, David," the author said as his smile grew. There was a merriment in his eyes as he looked at the drink set before his companion.

"Yeah, well, what fun is being on the bandwagon if you can't take a tumble now and then?"

"I wouldn't know," the author said as he took another drink from his own glass. "I never climbed on."

"Yeah, I know." There was a long pause. "You know why I'm here, right?"

"Same reason everyone else wants to talk to me, I suppose. You want to know when the next one is, right?"

"I'm not paid to surprise people. That's your job."

The author snorted. "Call it what you want. Anyway, the answer is the same--when it's ready, you'll have it."

"We aren't getting any younger, you know. I can't tear it to pieces if either of us are dead."

"Don't worry, David. I'm plenty older than you. I'll croak and you can blast me without retribution."

"Eh, hard to pick on dead authors. People get touchy about 'preserving their memory' or whatever you want to call it. Besides, if you don't finish, I can't even do that."

"Oh, don't worry. My literary executor will take care of everything. You know I plan for all these eventualities."

"Right. So you're just here to give these people the run around again?"

"Sure, why not? Smoke and mirrors isn't too far from words and punctuation, you know. If I can charm these people, they're as satisfied as if they read the book. More, maybe, since they can gloat over others who didn't get the chance."

"Pessimistic bastard."

The author laughed. "Funny, I'm sure that's what you'd say about the book, too."

"Right. Well, that's all I needed. I don't suppose you're going to tell me anything else I can use, are you?"

"That what's coming is going to blow away all the expectations."

And the author was left alone again, for a moment. He finished his drink and turned towards the crowd, putting on his smile and stepping out among them. It wasn't long before he was noticed.

"Oh! Your last book, I have a question..."

"And I have an answer," he said. She laughed, like they always laughed, and he listened to her with all his attention as she began to speak. The party around them listened in this time. At the bar, they knew to keep their distance. But now, here, was something for them. Something they wanted to hear.

The author didn't disappoint.

Some time later, the author retired for a moment to the balcony outside the main room. It was a summer night, full of the magic of the season. Yet he was not alone. There was a young woman, younger perhaps than Mia (though it was hard to tell how old people were these days) who stood by herself nursing a drink and the bruised ego of a night gone badly.

"Rough night?"

The woman turned to look at him, blinking in surprise, as if she was trying to comprehend why he was here talking to her. "Um ... something like that."

"I understand. At least this helps," he said, gesturing to the moonlight garden below them.

"Yes, it does indeed." She looked up at him, her eyes narrowing. "Do I ... know you?"

"Maybe," the author said, puffing up a bit at the recognition. He had known that he wasn't the entire reason for the party, and it was nice to know that even those who hadn't come for him knew him by face and reputation. "What was the last book you read?"

The woman laughed. "Oh, I don't know. I don't really read books much. Hm. You know, I could swear I know you from somewhere. Have you ever done any movies?"

The author sighed and shook his head. "No, afraid not."

"Oh well. My mistake."

The conversation died between them. Both of them returned their attention to the night, the garden, and their own thoughts. Remaining ignorant of each other, they both raised their glasses and took a drink.

1 comment:

Nick said...

why did you start with number 5? Much enjoyable though, would love to see this as a short story