Okay, dear ones, here it is – sort of-ish-Chapter 1 of a work in progress and I think I like it but I also need some affirmation — let me know if it makes you feel anything at all, okay?
SEPIA FALLOWS: CHAPTER 1: CW
“The forsythia are in bloom!”
CW jumped, dropping The Collected Dorothy Parker first edition, his attention torn from re-organization of the bookshelves to the doorway where Hughes stood, arms full of cut branches already dropping yellow blooms, a trail of which he’d no doubt left as he’d gamboled all the way from the mud-room door, up three flights to Belle Reve Suite.
“You didn’t notice; they match my outfit,” Hughes continued, sounding a trifle peevish at CW’s having turned away without comment on his nineteen-eighties, disco-shiny, lemon-canary colored coveralls-ensemble (Gallic pronunciation, if you please) du’jour to pick up Mrs. Parker and continue culling the shelves of other out of place books; those not by Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, or William Faulkner, the only authors allowed in the Southern Gothic themed Belle Reve.
“These forsythia called to me, asking to be taken to Camelot,” Hughes slowed, inserting the sort of dramatic ritard he used when announcing he’d had one of his glimmers, as he called them, “The room wants re-freshening as it will soon be occupied.” Again, CW went silently about his business, ignoring Hughes clear invitation to interrogation. Again, Hughes adopted a peevish tone. “Well, someone is on the way who belongs there. These forsythia told me so in a very powerful scintillation. You know, of course, forsythia are named for William Forsyth, Scottish botanist founder of the Royal Horticultural Society?”
“No. But I do know Dorothy Parker said, ‘You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her drink.’ Which I thought was extremely funny when I was young and then, I lived, and experience taught me that most whores don’t hesitate even a little when presented with a drink. Or, should I say; Cocktail?”
“You should not.”
“And, what does Scottish botany have to do with Camelot?”
“It’s all Great Britain. Celtic. Something to do with Aquitaine and one of the Henrys. The third or maybe the fourth one.”
“Celtic, shmeltic. My knowledge of Great Britain’s history is entirely supplied by Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, Kate Hepburn in Lion in Winter, Lerner and Lowes glorious musical – though glorious only in its original Broadway cast recording, not the abominable adaptation of a film. Did I mention that along the way in my wasted youth I saw Christine Ebersole play Guinervere to Richard Harris’s Arthur and Richard Muenz’s Lancelot?” Having thus established what he considered a clear victory in the never-ending competition with Hughes to claim superiority in the area of useless trivia, CW risked a glance and a smile. Or, smirk. “Now, I really would like to finish straightening up these shelves. I don’t understand how these books keep migrating to the wrong rooms around here. People need to be more careful. Or, should I develop a color-coding system, something to indicate in which room they belong?”
“You should not. The forsythia are in bloom, CW. Spring has sprung. You should get out of the house. Come, walk the Sepia Fallows grounds with me.”
“Grounds is an awfully highfalutin term for a couple of acres of lawn, Hughes. And I’ve a million things to do today, including, it seems, getting Camelot ready for a guest. Is this actual knowledge or just a tingle?”
“Glimmer. And glimmer is as good as a fact. What in the world is wrong with you today? Come, you need air. A walk.”
“What I could really use is a Xanax. But I’ve sworn those off as well. Now, go, I’ve no time. Anyway, I – unlike you, apparently – lost custody of all my disco costumes in one of my falls from grace, so, alas, having nothing to wear, I must decline.”
“Well, you may have cast away your disco togs, but I can see you’ve held tight to your lumpen, snit-fitting frocks. I shall leave you to smother all joy and light in them.” Hughes twirled away, torqueing dramatically, the atmosphere around him made flavescent by shedding forsythia blossoms, then stopped in a pose he thought not unworthy of Bette Davis during her heyday. “And don’t worry, I’ll clean up the flower trail. I wouldn’t want you to be able to follow it and find me, not in the mood you’re in.” And, Hughes exeunt, stage left stairway.
April. Spring. The forsythia in bloom. CW wondered if Hughes expected him to tend the grounds and mow the grass. If so, he’d insist on a mower other than the antique rotary reel model he’d seen in the Back 40 Shed while searching for a snow shovel during the January blizzard, a blizzard Hughes had christened “The Donner Debacle” in that annoying way he had of inventing sobriquet for everything from weather events to rooms in his home, sheds, and people, evidencing his addiction to florid elaboration.
How, CW wondered, had the grass been mown?
Though Hughes was remarkably, even annoyingly energetic for a fellow in his seventies, he couldn’t have tended the three acres of Sepia Fallows before CW had arrived in October. Or, maybe he could have; on second thought, CW could easily picture Hughes promenading in a safari-themed get-up even Little Edie might have considered garish. Who knew? Hughes was also annoyingly mysterious about some things, like his past, how he’d arrived at Sepia Fallows, and who had done what prior to CW’s being hired as – whatever it was he was. Although “hired” wasn’t really what he’d been. Accident-ed was closer to the truth. CW had retreated to Sepia Fallows in the autumn after the latest of his falls and in the seven months since had become embrangled in Hughes combination boarding/bed and breakfast/halfway house.
Now it was April. Now it was spring. Now the forsythia were in bloom. And according to Hughes’ good as a fact glimmer, someone would soon be arriving to occupy Camelot.
“Pray musical theatre gods that it is not Guinevere. I’m in no mood for a soprano. And, sorry forsythia and Hughes-overalls, but, I hate,” CW said to himself, “yellow.”
CW knew Hughes had been right to call him on the wearing of his snit-fit-frock. He had a bad case of the Mean Reds. Exacerbated by being so pathetic he had to borrow even descriptions of his moods and life conditions from other writers – well, actual writers – even if, in this case, it was someone as masterful as Truman Capote. And whatever CW could come up with should he ever actually sit down again to write — or, un-write — would never be as perfectly apt as; “Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.”
Although, CW maybe knew. CW maybe had a clue. CW was maybe thinking too much again. CW – no maybe about it – had a bad habit of calling himself CW over and over as if the repeated incantation of his name might conjure some enchantment to part the mists of his ditheration and magically accomplish the editing of his three-hundred-thousand-word mess of an inchoate “un-agented-first” manuscript into a two-hundred-thousand word cohesion of a “hot new debut repped by” novel. Alas, Queen Morgana he was not, and Sepia Fallows was not portal to Avalon, books about which could be found in the Camelot Suite of Sepia Fallows.
So thought CW, busying himself with anything to avoid facing his logorrheic fog, choosing instead those chores he knew (or, thought) he ought to be doing, which, in that moment, after he’d finished re-organizing the books, involved the following from Sepia Fallows’ never quite finished maintenance list: laundry, food shopping and prep, common area cleaning, and, because of the arrival of spring and its rains, the placement of ant traps illegally smuggled from Mexico, where ant-free homes were prioritized over human health concerns – as, CW thought, it should be. All of which quite necessary activities unavoidably delayed the word-cutting required by the latest helpful acquaintance who’d promised to forward CW’s magnum-magnum-opus to an agent.
On the condition that CW . . .
. . . deep breath . . .
Cut. A. Third.
Those were the instructions.
Since the ego-deflating decree – not the first time CW had been told his ramblings were rather less Proustian and more puffy, pontifical prattle. Which such alliterative thinking along with his over-comma’d, em-dashed, en-dashed mess of punctuating, he knew, would set every poor, put-upon copy editor in the world to weeping; “Why can’t he just say he talks too much? Why must he always blather to beat the band (and this cliche, C.W. knew, too, would be DELETED) and be out-Baroque-ing Balzac?” Oh dear, even in his imaginary quoting of copy editors bemoaning his periphrastic meandering, he was circumlocutory. And, abstruse. And, discursive.
CW had tried multiple methodologies to emend his bildungsroman. He’d struggled through his Luddite disability, managed to download the manuscript to his Kindle, where it sat with all the other books he’d purchased, and, just like those, remained unread. He’d then transferred it to a flash-drive and paid eighty-seven dollars and forty-nine cents to have Staples print out a double-spaced, three-hole-punched version, for which he’d purchased two large three-ring binders as there was not one large enough into which to fit the entire novel.
Cutting a third of his novel, after having cut so much of his life, was one too many too big a thing. One too many whelmings to add to the already over. One too many too much-ness. For which he was not enough, with which he could not cope, like Lady Macbeth, his bosom too full of that perilous stuff, rooted sorrows weighing upon his brain and heart, the razing out of which he’d meant to do by taking on this position at Sepia Fallows. Here, where being combination caretaker-custodian-concierge-librarian – and possibly gardener – was meant to distract him from the dichotomy of having once been considered one of the most brilliant, agile minds of his cohort who, somehow, now had left all his half-careers, whole ambitions, and fractional loves behind, to spend his life mostly alone, in bed by 8:30, surrounded by stacks of to-be-reads and the secret of having spent the earlier part of that afternoon under a married, muscular thirty-five year old “straight” man who grunted imprecations of, “Don’t move, bitch. You want me to seed you, don’t you? I’m trying so hard not to cum, right now. Tell me you want it. Tell me you fucking want it. That’s why you came right? You want my big, fat straight cock-seed. Oh fuck. I’m cumming. I can’t hold it. Oh God.”
CW didn’t believe in god. Or marriage. Or “straight”. Or love.
Which was why a thirty-five year old with a wife was fine.
Sometimes a person needed sex. And, anyway, he was better than the twenty-five year old who smelled of stale smoke and cheap beer and wanted only car play, parked in spots where discovery was always a danger. Part of the rush. And, anyway anyway, while CW did not use a pen name, he did use a pen(is) name: Brendan.
When he was tricking he was not CW.
When he was CW he was not tricking.
Half. Whole. Fractional. One, the other, all, some part illusion. Illusion: a trick of the light.
No, CW much preferred the dark, rarely looked at his unclothed self.
Brendan, though, was brazen, unbridled in his willingness to be naked.
CW insisted to himself that Brendan was the freedom CW had never had. That Brendan solved the problem of CW having never wanted long-term companions other than his books.
CW was beginning to suspect that the gap between CW and Brendan was filling up with something that required editing as difficult as the novel-cutting he was avoiding.
CW: “Nature abhors a vacuum. Some Greek said that first, hadn’t they?”
Brendan: “A hole. Fill it. I don’t care what race.”
CW. Brendan. Gap. Mean reds.