Friday, 24 February 2012

Fiction Installment #2: Prologue, pt 2

She stretched and rested her palms atop the desk’s sole personal touch, a chunky lucite frame. The sepia-tinted photograph suspended within had been recommended by Tamara, a Professional Strategies Life Coach recommended by a friend of the Ex. At the first assessment, Tamara had been matter of fact: “Simple, right, without a groundstone that office environment will bleed you dry. Balance your mental energies there and success will follow.”
   Tamara insisted that the special item must bridge the present to the past. “Breathe and let go. Make space for the object’s appearance in your mind’s eye.” Like a ghost in a seance the photo had materialized.
   In a cramped trailer-studio decades ago a rushed photographer had snapped her, Elizabeth-Anne then, in a flour-sack shift of rosette-print calico; smiling gamely, she’d cradled a shallow iron pan of wet gravel. The novelty set up—her mother’s inspiration—was meant as an homage to a family matriarch, the plucky wife of a ‘49er rumoured to have staked a bountiful riverside claim while a ne’er-do-well husband drank and played cards in the line of tents along the flats.
   When the woman’s parents finally swapped the Pasadena rancher for a retirement condo in Gardnerville Ranchos, they’d sent an envelope stuffed with photos inside a box of jumbled keepsakes. She was never overcome with emotion when studying her ten year-old face—having agreed to the corny idea only to keep the peace—but admired her mother’s inscription on the reverse side: “A prospector has to trudge through a lot of mud before striking gold. —Knott’s Berry Farm, 1979.”
   Balanced mood reached, more or less, the woman sighed. Trudge, trudge, I’m such a masochist, she thought, recommitting to The Prisoner of Djoun

 As Symonds continues to scribble emendations, the screen returns to the split view momentarily. The focus shifts to the man on the right.

A man—tall, bearded, and thin—grabs a book from the haphazard pile on his desk. He stands at a window and reads the cover page—Little Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century by George Paston*.
He flips to the final essay and reads a passage.

   “More books & silence?!?,” the woman jotted in the margin.
   She sought out the companion asterisk at the bottom of the page: *Emily Morse Symonds published under the pen-name of George Paston. The woman imagined words suddenly materializing on the screen to explain this crucial point. “Very artful,” she said. “Who cares?” Interest flagging, she rallied with thoughts of nuggets and professional courtesy.

The thin man reads a sentence aloud.

 "In a word, Lady Hester died as she had lived, alone and miserable in a strange land…"
(Drops the book to the floor)
Emily Morse Symonds, who are you to pass judgment, you bitter old cow?
Sanctimonious Puritan!

The man walks to a desk and scribbles a hasty note.
    "Mr. Murry:
 Thank you for the letter of inquiry. The biographical sketch of Lady Stanhope will be completed shortly as per our recent conversation. The Athenaeum shall have it within a fortnight.
   Yours in gratitude,

   L. Strachey"

ZZZZZ, the woman wrote, picturing a smothering quicksand of words.

The man folds the letter and replaces it with another sheet, entitled “Lady Hester Stanhope.” He begins to write.
“She renounced the world.” 
He pauses at the period. Leaving a few inches of blank space he continues to write further down the page.
“The end came in June, 1839. Her servants immediately possessed themselves of every moveable object in the house. But Lady Hester cared no longer: she was lying back in her bed—inexplicable, grand, preposterous, with her nose in the air.”

‘Inexplicable, grand, preposterous.’ Yes, that’s it.

The scene dissolves.

   I’ll say, the woman thought. It dissolves way before that.
   After poring over a few random pages she turned to the last scene.
   The woman pressed an intercom button. “Will you step in here for a minute, Soren?”
   “Sure, I’m free right now,” the assistant said.
   The woman looked up as Soren—blonde, deeply tanned, and dressed as if ready for a country club tennis match—opened the office door and brought in the steady hum of Studio City traffic.
   “You’re looking a tad frazzled, Liz,” he said, “How many of those have you chugged today?”
   “What are you, my mother?” she exclaimed. “It’s this script. I’m tearing out my hair.”
   “Yes, I can see stray platinum strands there,” Soren said, “not to mention black roots.” He enjoyed the hourly dramatics of his boss and the pre-pubescent’s inability to live one hour without staining clothing, losing a button, or mussing hair. “Or is that gray?”
   “Watch your tongue, spray tan,” the woman said, smiling. “You’re not here to talk hair-dos, much as I’m sure you’d love to. This, this divine script.” She tapped the cover page with the Sharpie. “How did it get in here?”
   “I don’t know. The usual way?”
   “Who the fuck let it though my door?”
   “Technically, me. Mea culpa.” He bowed in mock-penitence. “I dropped it off with the other three. But they arrived as a group, and that always means the same thing: direct passage to your credenza.”
   “Okay then, you’re off the hook. Let me read a morsel to you,” she said. “Just to whet your appetite.”
   “If you must,” Soren said, placing a clipboard and cellphone on the glass desktop. “I’m counting calories, though.”
    “I must. Sit, please.” She indicated a chair. “And close the damned door. Thank you.”
   The woman cleared her throat. “Alright then,” adopting a posh British accent for the read-through, “are we ready?”
   “Yes, Liz, any time. Tick tock.”
   “Alright, alright.” She looked at the page—


In the near distance a straw-brick walled home—at which two figures stand in front of a double-door gate. As a horse approaches, the men hurry to open the gate.
There, there, Lady Hester. Calm yourself.
Your suggestion is difficult to obey, my friend.
I fear I may pass over soon. (She coughs.)
The illness courses through you. We can but wait.
But wait?
That is all one can do.
Plague is a portent, a punishment.
Nonsense. You are one amongst many. The lowly shepherd,
the pasha’s infant daughter—will you have me believe that each
is a recipient of divine punishment for mortal sins?

“P U,” Soren said. “When does fur-faced Moses show up with stone tablets?”
“Wait a sec, I’m nearly done,” the women said. Neck tilted, she peered over low-slung glasses.

Rest, my lady. This cool cloth will vanquish the fever’s rage.
You are too kind to a foolish old woman. I should sing your praises…
although you are aware I am no Margaret Martyr!
Your humour returns! It can be nothing if not auspicious.
I cannot help but wonder, Doctor…

If Fate has brought me to the desert.

Rest, rest, dear one. Your philosophical musings will be the death 
of you yet. Here, you must take more of this thorn apple tea.

   “I can see the cast’s procession to the stage on Oscar night,” Soren said.
   “Ha! At first I only saw the script’s procession to the shredder. It starts off even worse, but surprise, surprise it actually gets better,” the woman said. “Maybe not this script, but the basic idea of this tough old broad fighting for her piece of the pie. It has potential.”
    “And so,” Soren said. “You want me to…?
    “Oh, sorry. I just wanted a sounding board,” she said.
    “Gee, that’s me,” he said. Exasperation crept into his voice. “Nothing else to do, not a thing, ma’am.”
    “I’m going to run through it again. Get me Zora at DameNetwork, but not now. I’d say in about an hour,” the woman explained. “I have an idea I’d like to fire by her.”
    Soren tapped a reminder.
    “You know, I think we should send this out, get it in better shape, toughen it up. That script trainer in Silver Lake, what’s his name,” she continued, pen doodling flowers over the X she’d slashed across the title page. “It’s flab, complete and utter flab, right now. But, and that’s a big, big but—ha ha, don’t even say it—there’s something here. Core strength, let’s call it. I jotted down a couple of points, where the story could go et cetera, so don’t forget to include them with the script. And tell whatshisname that DameNetwork is the vendor I have in mind. He’s a pro, he’ll know what will and won’t snag their interest. Just give me a hour.”
    “Sure, no problem. Anything else,” Soren said, “another latte?”
    “What the hell, sure. I need to keep my mouth occupied. I’m pretty sure my heart can take it.”
    “Right. I’ll be back in 15.”
    She turned to the list of comments:
    - Penniless aristocrat turns her back on England?
    - Virgin? In love with doctor?
    - Iconic figure re: Elizabeth, Amelia Eirhart (sp??), Joan of Arc
    - Loses mind? Visionary? Mystic?
    - A woman that carves a place for herself in a man’s world
Liz added a final question:
    - Where’s the drama???

[So ends the prologue. Up next: another epigraph, the novel's two central characters, a jump forward in time to 2010, and a change of scenery—from Studio City, CA to Vancouver, BC.]

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