Thursday, 23 February 2012

Fiction Installment #1: 'This Location of Unknown Possibilities' Prologue


Prologue: Studio City, CA

  Uncapped medium point felt pen in hand, the woman was poised—ankles crossed, spine rigid—to read at the desk. Before peeling over the script’s cover page, she noted that so far as attention-grabbing goes, The Prisoner of Djoun gleamed with potential. Though shelling out for The Spanish Prisoner would never happen—all that Mamet talk, talk, talk, endless manly posturing, and film noir ulterior motives—she slid The Fugitive into the player once a year at least. Titles rich with implication were 24-carat. She signed approval with a thick check mark and watched black ink bleed into the paper’s filaments.
    “Okay, let’s find out about this prisoner,” she said.
  The woman wore a favourite pin-stripe blouse beneath a charcoal cotton-linen suit; tortoise shell reading glasses rode low on her nose. The look meant getting down to business. Freshly delivered from the panoramic office suite of the Man Upstairs, a stack of three scripts sat next to the water glasses on the credenza; she expected to chew through them before lunch.
    Focussing, the woman ran an index finger along the page. Noix d’Amazonie, the new nail colour Byung-soon had applied yesterday, caught her eye. The woman followed trends selectively and had pounced on the forest-tone polishes of the season. A touch of glam earthiness would soften God-given edges, she reasoned. And as much her stomach might twinge at the term lipstick lesbian—what a godawful relic from the ‘90s, as bad as those linebacker power suits she’d worn—experience had revealed over and again that approachability was key in the industry.
At first glance the script’s opening paragraph—the scene establisher—seemed reliably professional; centred and laser-printed it had been processed through a recent version of Final Draft, she’d wager. While no guarantee of quality, neatness was infinitely less aggravating than the tatty, crudely stapled masterpieces—complete with red ballpoint annotations in fevered physician scrawl—that showed up with surprising regularity and incited speculation about the sender’s mental competence. Other than Unabomber types holed up in log cabins, who used a manual typewriter anymore?
Returning to the page the woman said, “Okay, here goes nothing.”

Split screen. Two authors at their desks, clothed circa 1900. On the left, a woman in a dark dress writes at night, candles the only illumination. Her desk is neat, but the slope-roofed attic room appears cramped and shopworn. On the right, a man dressed in brown tweed trousers, a matching vest, and a white shirt sits in a sunny room. The room and desk are messy, but modern art and bright flowers in a vase suggest a well-heeled bohemian atmosphere.


    The woman printed “WTF?!?” on the script’s right margin.
    Oh my Christ, she thought, another Liberal Arts major who’d spent a couple of semesters in film school and was now dreaming of hitting the big time with an art house crossover extravaganza, a high brow drama that will have powerhouse critics competing for superlatives to describe a powerful, unapologetic work of art. American Beauty meets The Hours meets The English Patient, starring Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Anthony bloody Hopkins. Abracadabra: armfuls of awards, doors of opportunity across the globe swinging wide open, reputations set in thick bronze. Cash for the asking, naturally.
    Back erect and eyes closed, she took in a deep breath. A slow count to ten completed, the woman resumed.


A homely woman sits at a desk and writes by candlelight. Emily Morse Symonds, age 37, appears tired, as though ground down by life’s progressive hardships. Dour attire and the room’s spare furnishings hint at Symonds’ lack of wealth and an avowed commitment to the  ideals of women’s suffrage. Leaning close to a flame, Symonds recites words from a sheaf of paper.

Seldom are true stories distinguished by a well-marked moral.
If we study human chronicles we often find the ungodly flourishing 
like rodents, and the righteous apparently forsaken and begging his meal. On occasional a human life illustrates moral lessons with the crudity 
of a Sunday-school story...

Symonds marks deletions and hastily scribbles in replacements. On a fresh sheet she writes:

    There are few true stories that are distinguished by a well-marked moral. If we study human chronicles we generally find the ungodly flourishing like
a green bay tree, and the righteous apparently forsaken and begging his bread. But it occasionally happens that a human life illustrates some moral lesson with the triteness and crudity of a Sunday-school book...

   The woman circled key phrases in the ensuing paragraphs—Pride goeth before the fall; All earthy glory is but vanity; Ambition that o’erleaps itself. “This might test well in the Bible Belt,” she said, “flyover states can’t get enough of that fire and brimstone spiel from the pulpit.” Seeking a break from the speechifying, she ran the marker down the page.

Satisfied, the writer stands, walks to the window, and watches the roofs of London basking in moonlight.

   “Holy Toledo,” the woman muttered. “Incredible! What’s next, ‘She searches the thesaurus for a synonym’? ‘She adjusts corsetry for three minutes’?” For a moment the woman considered shooting an email to the screenwriter—“Dear Dumbass:” But, really, what could she hope to convey? They breathed different air, apparently. She returned to the script.
    In the midst of character assassination, the garret-dwelling moralist rejected the smallest breath of Christian mercy.

She was ambitious, and her ambition had been foiled; she loved irresponsible command, but the time had come when those over whom she ruled defied her; she was dictatorial and exacting, but she had lost the influence which alone makes people tolerate control. 
    She incurred debts, and was doomed to feel the degradation consequent upon them. She sought to defy her own nation, and they hurled the defiance back upon her. She entertained visionary projects of aggrandizement, and was met by the derision of the     world. 

   “Okay, okay, we get it. Lady Hester was hell on heels. But. Why. So. Many. Words?” The woman granted that a century ago people had nothing better to do all night than read. Radio plays were still decades away.

    In a word, Lady Hester died as she had lived, alone and miserable in a strange land, bankrupt in affection and credit, because, in spite of her great gifts and innate benevolence, her overbearing temper had estranged friends and kinsfolk alike, and 
    her pride could endure neither the society of equals, nor the restraints and conventions of civilized life.
Perhaps 'alienated' will suffice.

   “ZZZZZZZZ,” the woman spread across the page. Sugarcoating wasn’t her style.
   Annoyed, brow furrowed, and fighting the temptation to hurl the script to the floor, the woman plunged a fat green straw into a morning-sized takeout cup. Straws in lattes were the latest in a short line of cigarette replacements, and this month being jittery and motor-mouthed was second nature. She was showing a few extra pounds of muffin top too. Better that than cancer, she’d remind herself whenever passing by any traitorous mirror. 
   She shut her eyes again with intent, as the facilitator of the anxiety management class taught. “Okay, lady, you relax now, let’s take a little breather,” she said.
   Regulating air intake and imagining breath flowing down to the toes while keeping the body alert were, she remembered, the next steps in the meditation exercise. That wasn’t happening today. Sarcastic exclamations rather than the placid rhythm of deep inhalation gushed from her brain; and annoyance was causing teensy eyelid muscles to spasm.
   The script’s clueless high-mindedness astonished her, that dogged and hopeful—naïve? blind?—disregard of the market, not to mention the pretentious, in-your-face intellectualism. All of it spelled commercial suicide: death by a thousand syllables. Who would pay good money to stare at a drab wallflower from days of yore reading from one sheaf of paper and then writing on a different one for five goddamned minutes? Librarians? Tweedy professors, maybe. Monks. For everyone else on the planet five minutes on screen is an eternity. Five minutes! Christ, Michael Bay makes two hundred cuts in that time and look at the vaults of ka-ching he earns. But here: no talking, no action to speak of, zero tension—writing doesn’t count, and those three steps to the window barely register. “This la-di-da Masterpiece Theatre crap might catch buzz at a multiplex in Oxford,” she said, wondering, Is there such a thing? “But here in the real world? Not an iota.” 
    The woman turned to the cover page and wrote a peeved X through the title. The name of the screenwriter meant nothing.

[That's the first half; the second installment of the prologue will appear shortly. It's serialization, remember?]

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