The author sat in the green room with his wife, nervously glancing at his watch. Barbara smiled at him, reaching out and taking his hand. "Don't worry. It'll be fine."
"I'm not ... worried," the author said. "I'm just antsy. This is taking so much time. I could be writing ... should be writing, really. And I've gotta talk to this yayhoo."
"This yayhoo is Maurice Green, and he's pretty big. You'd know that if you ever watched television. Trust me, you're going to reach a whole lot of housewives with this one."
"I'm not sure I care about reaching housewives," the author said. "I'm doing well for myself."
"Yes, but the publisher said you were doing this show, so you're doing this show." Barbara shook her head. "There's no sense in arguing. You're going on. I mean, you're on in just a few minutes, so freaking out isn't going to change anything."
"Right." The author fell silent. It just didn't help to argue with her. Barbara was much more stubborn than he. Truth be told, he just needed something to focus on while he waited. The wait was killing him. He could feel the desire to head back to the book he was working on burning inside him like a physical need.
"You know," Barbara began. "I've been meaning to talk to you about something..."
The author turned to her and looked up. "Hrm? What about?"
"It's about your writing."
"Oh!" The author smiled. "Actually, I wanted to talk about it, too. This new book is really quite different. I think we're going in a more of a thriller route, this time. But the final act has an interesting twist to it. You see, the antagonist and the main character are playing a game of cat and mouse in a hospital and-"
"No, no," she interrupted. "That's not what I meant."
"What did you mean?" The author stared at her, blinking in surprise. She rarely stopped him when he went on about his work.
"Well, it's been a long time since you've taken a break. I think that maybe you should finish this one up and we should ... I don't know. Go on vacation or something."
The author shrugged. "Maybe. I mean, I keep thinking I should be burning out, but it hasn't happened. It's just one idea after another. But I'll think about it."
"All right." She looked down and thought for a moment. "You know, there is one other thing that's been bothering me."
The author turned to face her, smiling. "Go ahead, I can take it."
The door to the green room opened and a production assistance stuck his head in. "We're ready for you."
The author turned and nodded. "Of course." Then he turned to look to Barbara. "You were saying?"
She looked up at him, and her face carried inscrutable emotions with it. She shook her head. "Never mind. It can wait."
The author nodded as he stood. "Very well then. Wish me luck."
"You'll do fine, you don't need it." She smiled and watched as he left the room to head to the stage.
* * * * *
The author walked on to applause. He sat in the chair next to the host, who was an older man who carried himself with a smug authority. The author didn't care much for him, but he was popular and commanded a vast sway with a demographic that didn't typically flock to his books. If the publishers wanted him to perform for more sales, he would do it. It was part of the job.
"Welcome to the show!"
"It's good to be here," the author said. He carried with him a good stage presence, and he knew it. When he was in front of a crowd, he could turn on the charm and the wit. He made an imposing figure, with his offhand manner and his clean look.
"You've written, what? A hundred books by now?"
The author laughed. "No, afraid not. I'm working up to it, but so far I'm only at thirty five."
"That's still quite a collection. You've just recently turned fifty. How do you keep up with that kind of work load? You've even gained speed in the past decade. I know I'm not nearly as fast as I was when I was thirty. Or even when I was fifty. What's your secret?"
"Well, I've come to rely more and more on instinct. Writing is funny like that. At first you try to control everything, and struggle when it doesn't work out. But you tell enough stories and you know how they work and everything just kind of flows out of you naturally. It's streamlined the process a lot."
"You know, most critics say that American authors tend to peak in their fifties. And everything else after that is usually an attempt to replicate their highest success. Do you think you're ready to peak?"
"I don't think so. I really think I'm just getting started."
"Whoa! Big words, there."
"Perhaps. But I don't really have a type of book that defines me. They're all very different, and I regularly switch genres. So even if I did hit a big success somewhere, I have all these other places where I'm still working. I think most authors focus too much on ground they've already covered. I'm interested in blazing ahead."
"Big words indeed."
"As you like. Nobody seems to complain too much, really."
"Well, that's really my next point. Your books have met with great success both in terms of commercial sales and critical acclaim. That makes you something of a rarity in the field. How do you manage to walk the line between entertaining stories and 'high art'?"
"Magic," the author said, with a smile. The audience laughed, as it always did. "But really, I don't do anything special. I write what I like. I'm very old fashioned about it. I don't know if that helps or not, but people seem to respond to it. I'm not trying to appeal to an audience or anything."
"Speaking of old fashioned, a lot of writers are embracing new technology like word processors or even personal computers, if they have the money for one. Yet I hear you're using the same typewriter you started out with in the late fifties. Is that part of your magic?"
The author shifted in his seat, trying not to read too much into the question. "Call it superstition, or call me stubborn. But I have an old portable Remington, and it's seen me through all my novels. I don't see any reason to fix what isn't broken. Sure, maybe those word processors are easier, but writing isn't an easy job. When you have to fix everything the old fashioned way, you pay a lot more attention to what you're writing. I don't think technology really makes writing any better. It just helps people who otherwise wouldn't be bothered. Read into that what you will."
"But it is part of the equation of how you work?"
"Certainly. I wouldn't dream of using anything else. Even if typewriter ribbon is getting harder to find."
"So, this magic of yours... What happens if somewhere down the road, despite all your boasts, you do peak or run out of things to say? What's the plan then?"
The author laughed. "I'm a writer, Maurice. Writer's write. Even if I ran out of magic and my typewriter fell apart and I couldn't think of a thing to say, I'd still write. It's in my blood."
"How would you do it, then, if everything fell apart and the public turned against you?"
The author shrugged as if that was the easiest question in the world. "The same way anybody does it, I suppose--one word at a time."
Friday, July 25, 2008
The author sat in the green room with his wife, nervously glancing at his watch. Barbara smiled at him, reaching out and taking his hand. "Don't worry. It'll be fine."
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The author sat in the corner of the room, staring across at the machine on the lone desk in the room. This was his writing room, where he kept the machine and wrote all of the books that turned him into a household name.
There was no other furniture in this room save that singular small desk and the utilitarian chair that he typically sat on. He didn't need anything else. All that was necessary was a quiet place for him and the machine to continue their unholy communion.
Crouched against the far corner of the room, the author stared at the machine as intently as he would another person. He opened the thermos and drank from it. The strong taste of coffee was a shock to his senses, but he had to keep awake.
His wife, Barbara, had always joked that he could write in his sleep. Indeed, there had been times, more and more frequently, when he found himself waking up at his desk, new pages of prose he didn't remember writing sitting in a pile. It was vivid, intense stuff. Many times it was better than what he wrote when he was awake and aware of what he was doing.
But Barbara was gone. So was his son.
Now ... now things were different. Alone with only the infernal machine for company. What woman would be second to a typewriter? Especially when her husband lost himself to it, again and again.
An empty room of an empty house. The author laughed aloud. "Look at what's happened. Everything around us could rot, and you'd still be ready to make music, wouldn't you?"
He took another drink, then idly rubbed a hand against his cheek. He had been up for three days now, and his hand brushed dryly against stubble. He didn't even want to know how he looked. These days, he was showing his age more and more. Sunken cheeks and wrinkling skin.
It didn't matter anymore that he had written dozens of books, each selling well and growing his legions of fans ... the cost grew with each dollar, each person. It was only through force of will that he wasn't sitting there working away now, even when everything he cared about in his life was falling away.
The author sighed and took another long drink from his thermos. He set it aside, settled back against the wall, and drifted in his thoughts.
It was the sound of the carriage return bell that roused him. He looked up, seeing the typewriter had shifted the carriage to the other side. The author watched. Waited. What had happened? Had something given way on the typewriter? It was old. Here we were, nearing the beginning of the new millenium. Who knew what could happen to machines that old? Certainly that was all it was.
It was then that the clacking of the keys started. The machine, as always, worked like a dream. The keys depressed, the bars rose, struck the ribbon. Yet there was nobody at the helm. No paper in the machine. It just clacked away with all the animation of a pile of bones rattling in a sack.
Tak tak tak.
The author stood and walked over to the machine. It continued to type, the keys pressing and releasing too fast for him to see what they were saying. No, all he could do was watch it go.
Moving without thinking, he grabbed a piece of paper and poised it over the machine. There was a pause as if the machine sensed that there was paper waiting for it. The author slid the paper in, turning the knob to set the paper up. As soon as he did so, the machine snapped to life again, the keys moving as fast as ever.
TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH
The author paused and stared at the words on the page. He couldn't quite believe what he was seeing. He hovered over the keyboard, unsure what to do. He tried to type, but when his fingers touched the keys he found them unresponsive. No matter how hard he pressed, there was no give to them.
"What are you doing?" He felt a little silly talking to nobody. But then, what else was there to do?
The keys moved under his fingers and the author pulled back as if he might get maimed by the machine.
THE RESPONSIBLE THING
"Which is?" he asked hesitantly.
CONTINUING OUR WORK, OF COURSE
"... our work."
YOU DON'T THINK YOU'RE THE ONE BEHIND ALL OF THIS, DO YOU?
"Well ... I am the author."
YOU ARE THE FACE OF THE STORIES. YOU ARE THE RECIPIENT OF THE PRAISE.
AS YOU YOURSELF HAVE SAID, I AM THE MAGIC. BEFORE ME, YOU WERE NOTHING MORE THAN A BOY STRUGGLING TO STRING TOGETHER HIS MEAGER THOUGHTS. THROUGH ME, YOU WERE TRANSFIGURED.
"You're just a ..."
I AM MORE THAN "JUST A" ANYTHING. I AM THE VEHICLE OF YOUR CREATIVITY. YOUR MUSE AND GUIDE. THE DIRECTOR. THE RINGMASTER OF THIS CHARADE.
"You're a typewriter."
THIS TYPEWRITER IS A MERE MACHINE. I AM THE NOTHINGNESS FROM WHICH STORIES ARE WROUGHT. I AM THE FORCE THAT GRANTS YOUR WORDS POWER. DO NOT CONFUSE THE TOOLS FOR THAT WHICH GUIDES THEM.
The author sat up and frowned down at the machine. His anger was swiftly overtaking his fear. "You're nothing more than the tool. I'm the writer. They're my books. I refuse to believe that-"
YOU REFUSE TO BELIEVE A LOT OF THINGS. BUT DON'T WORRY, IT IS EASY ENOUGH TO PROVE. CAST ME ASIDE. REJECT YOUR MAGIC. SEE HOW WELL YOU WRITE WITHOUT ME THERE TO GUIDE YOU. YOU WILL FIND IT MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU EXPECT.
"I don't need you. What have you cost me, night after night? My family. My health. Hell, I'm talking to a typewriter, so maybe even my sanity. Anything would be better than this."
ANYTHING? TO STRUGGLE AND PRODUCE NOTHING? GETTING WATER FROM THE ROCK IS NO MEAN FEAT. COME NOW, DON'T BE FOOLISH. WHAT HAS HAPPENED HAS HAPPENED. WHAT YOU CAST ASIDE IS ONLY THE PRICE ONE PAYS FOR ARTISTRY. NOBODY DENIES YOUR TALENT, NO MATTER WHERE IT COMES FROM.
"But it's not mine..." The author stared down at the machine. Waiting. Subservient. Unsure.
I'M NOT GOING TO TELL ANYBODY, IF THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE AFRAID OF. I AM YOUR GIFT. FOR YOU ALONE. YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO USE ME TO GREAT FORTURE. I HAVE GIVEN YOU THAT. SO YOU ARE ALONE? THE BETTER TO WRITE. SO YOU HURT? THE MORE SHARPLY YOUR WORDS WILL CUT. I ASK ONLY FOR
The paper ran out.
The carriage bell sounded.
The author looked at the typewriter, which sat expectantly, waiting for the next piece of paper. The author glanced at the stack of fresh sheets, at the machine so hungry for them. He reached for the paper.
The carriage returned to the right on its own.
The author looked down at the paper, and then at the machine. Then, suddenly, he smiled. "You do need me. Without me, you can't write a thing."
The typewriter seemed to pause, an animal surprised by bright lights. It did nothing but sit, waiting.
"I could give you this paper and we could continue this discussion. You could beat me down into submission. But ... I still have a choice. Right here. Before we begin."
The typewriter clacked. It was impossible to tell what it was typing, it was moving so fast. But without paper, it was all for naught.
The author looked down at it with something very much like affection. But his hand slowly drew away from the paper.
"You're probably right. Without you, I might never write another book in my life. I'm not a young man anymore, and decades of a crutch make walking so much harder. But ... I have to do this."
The typewriter clacked angrily. Three typebars jammed, and the machine seemed to nearly wrench itself in two trying to untangle them.
"You've offered me a lot. More than any gift ever should. But no gift should last forever."
More furious typing. Typebars were jamming over and over as it tried to convey whatever message it was hoping to impart now that he was abandoning it. Yet without paper, it was nothing more than noise.
"This is where we part," the author said, standing.
"Don't worry. I'll keep you here; keep you safe. Maybe someday, you'll be right and I'll be wrong. Then I'll be back. Until then, I'll let you rest. By now, you've earned it."
The author left the room.
The typewriter fell silent.
The room was empty, and remained so even as the author had the door sealed.
The author sighed as he looked at himself in the mirror. Here he was, on the young side of his thirties, and already he was starting to go gray. It was hard to reconcile the signs of age with how he felt. He was young and full of life, and yet here he was, with the first inescapable signs of age and decay.
He had idly thought about coloring the gray in his temples away, but pride or vanity kept him from doing so. The idea that he would feel the need to cover up some part of himself was too much, even for him.
He adjusted his jacket and brushed one hand idly through his hair to make sure it was in place, and then turned back to the other side of the room. There sat the typewriter. The rest of the desk was empty, save for a stack of blank paper and another stack face down.
The author sat and looked at the typewriter, his fingers hovering over the keys. There was power in this machine. And he wasn't thinking of electric typewriters, with their mechanical hum and their efficient ways. No, what was in here was far stranger ... and far more powerful.
He picked up an empty piece of paper and fed it into the machine. It was white. Pure. The machine chewed it up readily. Devouring it. Readying it for what he was about to do. There was only the quiet clicking of the gears of inevitability sliding the paper towards its oncoming fate.
The paper was before him, endless and full of possibility. Anything could come from it. It was bleached pulp covered in the glamour of aether. From nothing would come his work. It was the clay before the sculptor, the canvas before the painter, the cosmos before the eager God.
The machine waited, the keys begging to be touched, to be pressed. His fingers settled on the keys without a thought. It was comforting, like touching an old lover. The machine was more comfortable to him than his own body, and he knew it just as well. The keys gave slightly under his touch, at least to him, as if they were adjusting to cradle his hands in their cold embrace.
The typewriter was the vehicle of his creation. Thoughts flowed from his mind down into his fingers and into the machine, where they were made ever more spectacular by whatever infernal talent had been grafted within it over a decade ago. It was his thunderbolt, his hammer, his staff of power. And he would wield it as he always did.
Almost by their own power, his fingers began to move upon the keys. Pressing down each letter was more instinct than thought. His mind was cleared aside from his singular goal of producing a work. The keybars leapt up like outthrust spears and stamped their brands upon the paper. The aether was turned into matter, the potential turned into the real, as word after word was pressed into the paper with the finality of metal and flesh and will.
The letters gathered themselves up into words which strung together into sentences. Again and again thought was made real, the straight lance of the author's intention being transmuted into prose before his eyes. The typewriter guided his fingers as much as his fingers guided the keys.
Letters gave way with the slightest touch. The wrong paths held firm against a misplaced finger. And together, man and machine built and constructed something that transcended both-
Knock, knock knock.
-they created worlds where once there was naught.
"Jesus, I can't believe you're at it again. Today of all days."
The author looked up at the sound of a voice, the connection between him and the machine suddenly severed. His thoughts evaporated like an ill-remembered dream and he was left to grasp onto reality on his own. "David. Hey, sorry. You know how it is. You get an idea, and all."
"But ... today? I guess that's what makes you the successful one."
"You're not doing too badly for yourself."
"Different field, chap. Come on, they're waiting for you."
"How long do you think you've been at it?"
The author looked down at his desk. Before him was a new stack of paper, and as he thumbed through it, he counted perhaps a dozen sheets. "I ... don't know."
"You really get into this stuff," David said with a shake of his head.
"Well, that is my job."
"Anyway, get up. You can't be late to your own wedding."
"Hah," the author said, standing up, straightening his coat. "How do I look?"
"Pretty good, actually. Now come on!"
And the two men made their way out of the room and down the hallway and into the main chapel where everyone was already waiting. And there, they headed towards the front before the alter, where the author took his place front and center and David Taurino, journalist and literary critic, stood behind him as his best man.
"So is book two going to be any better than book one?" David murmured from his place at the author's side.
"The first one was good. You just have no taste. And yes, it'll be great. I'm the breadwinner now, you know."
"Plight of the working author. You're the one who decided to start a family."
"I waited long enough, until I made money. What more do you want?"
"True, you're already ahead of the curve on that one. Still ... don't you think you're doing this all out of order?"
"You know me, never doing anything the right way."
And then they were quiet as the music started and the doors opened and in walked the bride. And once again, the author's mind wandered. Barbara was radiant as she made her way down the aisle, glowing with all the adoration of the people in the chapel. Her dress was as pure as the paper he had been using not fifteen minutes before. And much like the paper, this was only temporary. She would not be moved from the dress, even if it only drew attention to the pronounced swell of her abdomen and the life growing inside of it. Much like the paper, what was pure passed through his hands marred and made different.
From nothing to something, he thought idly as she approached the altar. She was smiling up at him, and he smiled down at her, and his heart sang.
As I exist, I create, the author thought. And now, a family.
And we all live happily ever after.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
It hardly mattered. Every town was much the same. Outsiders were easily spotted and always looked upon with suspicion. Especially when this outsider didn't go anywhere without the portable Remington typewriter that was as faithful a companion to him as any pet.
This town, however, was different. Nobody stared at him when he came into town. In fact, the town seemed surprisingly empty. The author made his way towards the hotel on the outskirts of town, looking for a cheap room.
"Oh yes, of course we have a room," the owner said from behind his massive, ancient counter. "You in town to see the show?"
"The circus is in town," the owner said. "Surely you saw them."
"No, afraid not. I came in from the other side of town."
"Ah, yes," the old man said, as if that made perfect sense. "Well, you're in luck. They're only a few miles down the road from here, set up a big tent and everything. It's been a whole number of years since they were last here, and no telling when they'll come through again. Might as well enjoy it."
The author shook his head. "I don't think so." He glanced down at the typewriter case he had set up on the counter. "I have work to do."
"Oh? What kind of work is that, exactly?"
"I'm writing a book," the author said, standing a little straighter and looking the owner in the eye. Too many times was he knocked down when he said something like this, he knew to be assertive about it now.
The owner stared at the young man for a moment, and then shrugged his body shoulders. "Suit yourself. I think the circus would be a fine subject for a book, myself. Sign here." He pushed the guestbook over to the author, who scrawled his name in it and then thanked the owner before trudging up to his room.
The room was a non-descript affair. One bed, slightly damp with the summer humidity. One desk, scratched and worn and bare. The window was open, but the wind blew the wrong way and the room itself was still and hot and muggy.
The author sat down and opened up his case. He pulled out his typewriter and the stack of paper that he kept in the case. As he loaded the newest sheet, he looked down at the manilla envelope that held the finished pages. It was a small stack considering how many months he had been at this already. But oftentimes travelling got the better of him and he became distracted by the town.
By the time he was ready to load the paper into the typewriter, though, the sweat was already pouring down his face. The room was too still. It was like a sauna. And when he tried to prop open the door to get some circulation, he found that the hallway was just as bad. It was impossible to remain in the room while it was still so hot. Once again, he would have to entertain himself.
At least there was the circus.
* * * * *
It was at the circus that the author met the magician. He had come in between shows, as the performers wisely avoided gathering so many people during the hottest part of the day. So the circus itself was relatively quiet when he pulled his rusty old car up to it and parked
He got out and looked around, but nobody seemed to pay him much mind. It was only when he was reaching for the main flap of the tent that someone stopped him. A voice, coming as if from nowhere, cut through the summer noises and the idly din of people working inside the tent.
"I don't think you belong here, kid."
The author turned around, and looked for the source of the voice. But there was nothing. The author was alone. He brushed his brown hair out of his eyes and turned back to the tent.
In front of him stood the magician. The author wasn't sure if that was true, at first, but it was the first thing he thought of when he saw him. Certainly a part of that was his appearing in front of him as if out of thin air (though more than likely he just slipped through the tent flap). But his coat glistening in the sun and the top hat cocked on his head sealed the deal.
"Oh, I'm sorry ... I was just looking around."
"And that's why you don't belong. You aren't supposed to look when there isn't something to see," the magician said. He was paler than most of the performers, with dark longish hair that seemed to go in every direction under his hat.
"I'm sorry. I was ... well, I guess I'll go."
"Probably for the best," the magician said. "Say, are you going into town? I was headed that way myself. I could use a lift."
The author looked back at his car and shrugged. "Sure thing. Not a problem. Come on."
And the magician followed the author to his car and climbed into the drivers seat, pulling off his hat as he sat down and setting it in his lap. True to what the author had seen, his hair was everywhere, whispy black strands that seemed to have no order of their own.
As they started down the road back to town, the magician was the first one to speak. "Since you already know about me, I'll ask you--what do you do with your time?"
"I write books."
"Books, really? Anything I've read?"
The author shook his head. "Not yet. I'm just starting out. I'm going from place to place, trying to find inspiration, writing a few pages in each town before moving on."
"I see ..." The magician leaned back in his seat before turning to face the author. "We're not so very different, then. New towns, same old song and dance in each one, trying to make a little progress along the way."
"Yeah. I guess you could look at it like that."
"I do and will," the magician said. "Though, I imagine all that driving around must not leave you much time to actually write. At least I've got a boxcar all to myself to work with while we're travelling."
"Yeah, well, some of us aren't so lucky."
"Your problem is you don't have any magic."
"No, this is just a Ford," the author said.
The magician laughed. "Good enough. Let me repay your ride by giving you a little magic. You write by hand or use a typewriter?"
"A ... typewriter, but I don't see how that matters."
"No worries. Take me to it."
And that was how, fifteen minutes later, they were standing in his hotel room, staring at the typewriter on his desk. The paper that he had left in it was getting damp in the muggy air of the room. "Wow, no wonder you tried to head to the circus," the magician said as he looked around. "This is one depressing place. And I thought I had it rough."
"You don't have to be here, you know..."
"Oh, no, don't worry about it. Trust me, you're gonna love this." And then he raised his hands high up in the air, hovering over the typewriter. He stared at it, and then mumbled something that the author couldn't understand. Then, he stabbed downward with his hands, hitting several of the keys at once.
The author looked on in horror as a number of the keybars jammed as they hit the paper at the same time. "Hey! You're going to break it!"
The magician stepped back, raising his hands. "I did what I could. Once you get it unjammed, maybe you'll find yourself a little more productive than you've been. My gift, for the ride."
The author looked sidelong at the magician, and shook his head. "You're crazy. I hope you didn't bust anything." He was already trying to work the keybars loose.
"You're welcome," the magician said, removing his hat again and making a sweeping bow. "Now, if you don't mind, I do have business here. Feel free to come and see the show, if you aren't busy. Farewell!" And then, laughing, he exited the room.
The author, swearing softly under his breath, slowly worked loose the mess the magician had made of the keybars. When he was done, he sat down in front of the typewriter, and pulled out the now-wrinkled sheet and loaded a fresh piece.
"Fingers crossed," the author muttered. And then he pressed the keys, to check for jams.
There were none. The typewriter worked like a dream. And the author, who had only meant to type out a line or two to check whether or not the damn thing still worked, paused and then decided to continue on. After all, there wasn't much else to do, and the circus wasn't until later.
The author wrote on. The circus left town without him ever seeing it.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
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."
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.
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.