I hope it's okay to have a slight case of writer's block, 'cuz I do.
Marvin is finished, save the small touches and last chapter revision. I want to leave it be for a spell so that I can let it simmer. And then it's back to the whole book read-through; the final rewrite.
I've been writing short stories lately, 3-4,000 words. I think I'd like to have you read one of them here, in two installments. 2,000 or so words each. CB edited for me, and I really thank her. Not only is she a great writer, she has that keen editor's eye that we all need so badly.
Matthew and Isabella
I slept well last night except for the pain in my knee that woke me three times, the need to pee that woke me another, and the image of Isabella that kept me up during the time in between those. Yet I am refreshed. The wine sat well—a 2003 vintage Chateau St. Michelle. Hardly what I might have expected from an out-of-the-way mountain lodge, and its selection by the Davenports lifted my opinion of them from earthy all the way to complex. Mrs. Davenport might prefer coffee sludge from a percolator, but her taste in fine wine showed nothing of that peculiarity.
I am not a religious or superstitious man, but the entire day seemed driven, or at least prodded on, by hands outside my range of knowledge. If not by divine ordinance, then by what command did I stumble into the orbit of Isabella Glenbard? Simple fate cannot explain it adequately. Neither can prayer, as I have forgotten, even, the words to grace before dinner. But then, what?
No matter. She is at this wonderful lodge, and so am I. And she is going to help me write. I think she will also become my lover.
It is four fifty-eight a.m. Here I lay, my eyes following an imaginary spot on the ceiling that moves along one minute, and then is thrust back to its starting point the moment I blink. As though it had never moved to begin with. My brain, however, is following the movement of Isabella; the raising of her hand, the turn of her head that makes her hair hesitate before following, the forming of a smile. I need not concentrate or force the images, needn’t try to keep them in focus, unmoving, captive. They do not wander, but rather hold themselves constant, like shadows in the moonlight that refuse to be shaken off the ground.
I feel the soft touch of her. The sensation of fingers that inadvertently brushed against mine is here with me, occurring again, again, again, as though she stands invisible before me with the intent to conquer me in yet another way.
She has, and probably doesn’t even realize it.
It is five a.m. A soft glow of silver has begun to make the features of my room lighten to the point where the bathroom door is identifiable, and other objects, as well. The chair with my pants draped over it and the table beneath the window are the most clear, and I notice that I didn’t fold my pants last night. I admit to myself that I was, and am, perhaps, a little obsessed.
Isabella of Glenbard Manor. Queen Isabella. Lady of the Lake. Authoress and Muse.
I rise and force my bum leg to follow the one that works to the bathroom. I look at the tub and think it would be wise to soak the still-swollen knee for an hour or so. I’d like that, and would no doubt benefit from it, but I have a book to finish. And then it hits me. How can I show her the high school grammar of it, the grade school plotting? I wish for a brief second that I’d never asked her to help me—I mean, seriously, what can she actually know about characterization and story-arc? About how to write in motion, with style and flare and an intriguing voice? Even knowing none of this, I’m afraid she’ll hate it all, I know it, every word of it. I can see her rising from the end of the bed where she spent the day wading through the pages, shaking her head at me, then tossing the manuscript onto the floor. Then she leaves, laughing. “Didn’t I tell you, Matthew Ash? You’re a hack!”
I turn my head and look back at the bed in the next room. My tendency to imagine awakens in a finer focus, and I begin to seriously imagine. But that is after the words, “The End” are keyed in on my laptop. I think it will be afterwards. Tomorrow. For now, to work.
Her fingertips are soft.
I shower, brush my teeth, and scowl at the wrinkles forming beneath my drooping eyes—yes, I am honestly sleepy, bleary-eyed. That condition makes me think irrationally.
I look terrible, like a hundred year-old man—and I shave in scalding water at the sink bowl. When I finish and splash on a little cologne, the guy in the fog-edged mirror smiles out at me. He looks to be only seventy or so now. That’s better, if not exactly good, and I return his courtesy.
I leave the light on and return to the bedroom where I notice the distinctly rectangular shape of a folded piece of paper protruding under the space between the entry door and the dark of the carpet. Isabella. She has left me…something. Is it a decline, “No, I’ve reconsidered,” with an apology? Or perhaps an invitation, slipped under the door just seconds before I turned out the light last night? Yes, it is that, and I curse my having failed to notice it the moment she slid it in for me. I walk over and tug it quickly from under the crack under the door, then rubbing my knee with one hand, I flip open the folded page with the other, counterbalancing the stab of pain.
Printed letterhead of Roosevelt Lodge.
Breakfast served from seven a.m. until nine a.m.; continental, or a heart-seizing Midwest mish-mash of bacon, sausage, ham, roast beef, eggs, French toast, Maple syrup, potatoes, gravy—Christ alive!—or a variety of fresh fruits. I know what Isabella will choose, and though my stomach screams for the Midwest killer, I’ll take the cantaloupe and grapefruit, too.
For some reason I lay the menu aside and open the door to the hall. Her room stands straight across from mine, and I am surprised. A yellow glow is visible beneath her door. I stare at the line of light as though I expect her to come floating out with the warm glow. She does not, but a quick, faint shadow joins the yellow light, moving from right to left, and then back again in the opposite direction a second later. She is awake. I find myself glued to the possible image of her beyond the rough wood of the door. Her hair is un-brushed, dangling and provocatively unkempt. Her lipstick and eyeliner have long ago vanished. She is more beautiful in its absence, I think, and I say so in a longing whisper. Her nightgown is satiny, mid-thigh, and clings so provocatively that she instinctively raises her arms to cover her breasts, outlined in alluring shadows and perfect contours against the material. She blushes, but I do not—
And suddenly the door opens.
Isabella reacts with something between total surprise and anger. There I stand again, leering, a perverse fool. I was correct, though. Her hair is hanging loose, toussled, and her eyeliner has gone away. Isabella is incredibly fresh and beautiful at five in the morning.
Her eyes narrow, but this time I’m ready.
“Good morning, Isabella.”
She blinks twice, quickly, and stands with one hand on the door, the other clasping her terrycloth robe closed at the neck. She doesn’t open her mouth, but neither does she step back inside and slam the door. She’s waiting for an explanation, and so I begin:
“I saw the edge of the menu sticking into my room under the door. I couldn’t pull it in, so I opened the door and picked it up,” I lie. I lift the paper and hold it out for her to see. She lets her eyes drop to it, then they return to mine. “I noticed a light beneath your door and wondered if you…I mean I figured you must be up…but it’s only past five a little…” I’m winning. Her countenance softens, and I think she believes me. Well, it’s true anyway, except that her bathrobe isn’t…well, yes it is…quite as alluring in its own way. I find her entrancing in terry cloth.
“I didn’t sleep well,” she offers.
“Neither did I.”
What did she mean?
“I think it was the wine, though it should have had the opposite effect. It was a good wine, though. I enjoyed it very much,” she says.
She curves the corners of her lips upward very quickly. I’m not sure what that gesture is all about, but I like it very much. It is another facet of her endless variety of hypnotic features. I find myself unsure of exactly what to say, where to go next, and so I hesitate a bit too long for comfort and shift my eyes from her as though I were embarrassed.
“I, umm…I’d better get dressed,” she says, and the words are a relief from the silence, but they are not what I would have wished her to say. She smiles in a diffident way, a way that I’ve yet to see from her, and then she backs into her room and begins to close the door. I have less than a second to salvage the moment—I think waiting until “The End” is a foolish idea. I begin to open my mouth, to invite her over flatly, but the door closes with a click, and so does my opportunity.
“We can have breakfast at seven…” Together.
I stand and stare at her door for some time, hoping she’ll return and open it, but I know that she will not. I hear the faint sound of water begin its rush through the pipes in her room, see no more shadows crossing in the light under her door, wait a bit longer, then re-enter my room and go to the bathroom. I think I’ll soak my knee.
Precisely at six fifty-eight I open my door and cross the hall. The window to my left with its lace-edge curtains tied back allows a hazy light to fall through. It’s overcast outside, a perfect day to stay inside and disassemble my latest disaster, “Somewhere In Love”. As I tap on her door the thought occurs to me that maybe I will set Isabella down on one of the sofas in the sitting room and read what I’ve written to her. I’ve done so many readings at garden clubs and book events that I’ve developed a voice that is capable of hypnotizing a cobra. I know my writing, know where to inflect my voice for maximum impact. I’ll inflect upon Isabella.
She answers immediately, as though she’d been standing on the other side with her hand on the knob, waiting for me to knock.
“Good morning again,” I say with too much enthusiasm. She is wearing form fitting designer jeans and a sleeveless, light gray top with a wide, black band of sparkling beads bordering the swoop at the neck. I try to memorize the look so that I can dress my feckless main character, Sylvia, in just this way if I ever get to the next chapter. Isabella’s long hair is nearly brushed—but not quite, which is the fashion I guess, and not a disregard for coiffure. It rests across her bare shoulders in winsome collections of strands. My eyes widen and I am forced by the sight of her to suck in a breath of air.
I have the thick bundle of hardcopy in my right hand, and I raise it for her to see.
“Ah yes, the sick novel with yet another tainted lady? Let’s get something to eat, then we’ll start,” she says matter-of-factly.
I’m delighted, and as we walk down the hall I smell a different perfume. Very light and sweet, not Calyx, not at all overwhelming, but nice. When we reach the end of the hall and begin to descend the stairs I hear a muffled voice and then the opening of a door. Michael emerges from his and Frank’s room, number Two. He is saying something about floral prints, the Weinbergs, and how none of it will work—not at all. I glance at Isabella and she begins to giggle, then we dance down the stairs more quickly. She half-whispers:
“They’ve been fighting over prints versus solids for some job back in Ohio for a solid week. I don’t know for sure what Frank wants, but my money is on him; whatever he wants. I’m pretty sure he’s the tempering half of that equation, the real designer.”
Mrs. Davenport is waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs. Her elephantine figure is graced by a loud, floral print dress, pink and yellow posies showing off where the white waist apron she wears allows. She looks up at Isabella and me—or past us. I’m not sure. I think she’s watching Adam and Eve who are spitting at one another and have reached the top of the stairs, quarreling over the plaids versus prints, or prints versus solids, or whatever. Wait till they see Mrs. Davenport’s dress. When we arrive at the bottom of the staircase she steps aside, and her plain, black, lace-up shoes make a squeaking noise on the waxed floor.
“Good morning Isabella, Mr. Ash.” She nods twice but says nothing else. Her eyes are still locked on Frank and Michael who are approaching the end of the landing. Her face shows no emotion, although her hair, piled up like a swirling silver turban, makes her look attack-ready. I look at Isabella. She shrugs, and we hurry off to the dining room. I don’t know what she’s going to say to them, or if she intends to say anything. Maybe she’s just pissed because the day is overcast.
Isabella grabs my elbow at the doorway and places a finger to her lips. Ssh!
Ssh, don’t speak? Or ssh, don’t ask questions? I raise my eyebrows in question nonetheless. She laughs. “Michael tends to be a little noisy late at night up there.”
I think I understand.
We walk quickly to the end of the table where we sat last evening. A gray cat with white paws raises his head when he sees us, and meows. He is sitting on top of the table and doesn’t seem to mind our approach. I guess that he’s the housecat, another member of the family, but I recoil at the thought of him walking all over the linen tablecloth with feet that have traipsed through his piss and excrement.
(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010