This is a Marge Piercy and Ira Wood assignment to write a dialogue that passes time, uses action and descriptive tags, and contains indirect as well as direct dialogue. I chose the moment in my life when I got Very Bad News.
The phone's ring stirred me from a half sleep in my cozy Williamsburg bedroom. I was tired and achy from a day of digging over a new garden patch and plowing through plagiarized research papers, seeking the good stems among the weeds. Pulled by the phone, I wrapped a blanket around myself, scuffled to the kitchen, jerked the phone off the wall and nearly barked my hello.
"Hi, Susan. This is Tom calling from Berkeley."
His familiar voice brought out my smile. "Oh! Hi Tom. It's been a long time."
"Are you sitting down?"
"No. Barely standing. Do you know what time it is? How's Debbie and Doug?"
"Susan, whoa. Sit down, OK?"
"OK ...?" I say, putting my knee on a kitchen chair.
"Are you sitting?"
"Yes. Come on, friend, you're scaring me."
"Doug is dead."
I sank onto the hard chair, heart pounding so loud in my throat that I couldn't open my mouth.
"Yes, Susan. Doug died tonight. He had a massive heart attack and died before his friend Bob could take two steps toward him."
A woman's voice wound through my drumming. "Susan, are you alone? Is there someone you could call?"
"Debbie, what's going on? This isn't funny."
Damn. She was crying. Matter-of-fact Debbie was crying, I thought to the rhythm of the drum beat in my ears.
"This can't be true, Debbie, this can't ... it's been so long since he and I talked. He can't be gone."
Pause. "He loved you, Susan," she said quietly.
"But he broke up with me seven months ago! We haven't even talked!"
Pause. "What are you talking about? Just yesterday we were all talking about how we missed you, and Doug was saying how important you were to him..."
"He didn't tell you."
"No. He would've if it were true."
"But it is! Because I wanted us to marry. Because he said it would never happen. Over the phone, Debbie."
"Doug is dead, Susan. We don't know what to do, call his dad, arrange a burial, have a party. We think Doug would want a party."
"Call his Dad and let him arrange to .... Deb, Doug wanted his body to go to science. Can you tell his Dad that?"
"I'll arrange something at the college. Deb, I can be there within two days."
"Come home, Susan."
So I did.
Doug and I were both 46 years old. We had been together since I became a student at UC BErkeley and cast him in a play 8 years earlier. I needed to see his body to believe he was gone.
His Dad arranged a viewing in the back room of a funeral home where Doug's naked and refrigerated body waited under a sheet. He had a look of surprise on his face that was not un-peaceful. he had lipstick on his lips and eye shadow, just like Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When the funeral director handed me the bundle of black leather and piercing rings that emergency workers had cut from his body, I believed he was dead. Tom had walked with me into the back room while Debbie and Dad waited out front. They wanted to remember him as he had been, not how he was now.
"He would have liked this," Tom observed. "A rapid death in front of a Goth Club called the Terminator, lots of drama. The viewing in back of a funeral parlor, your readings over his corpse. Doug was nothing if not an actor."
I had to agree.
And now the tasks. Doug's Dad wanted me to find the new car not yet paid for and return it to the dealer. Left on the street for more than 24 hours, it had been towed to the impound lot. A ransom would have to be paid to free it. By the time time Tom and I found it within row after row of cars by the San Francisco Bay, Tom had me laughing too. How Doug would have loved this!
And then came the task of taking apart his apartment. Debbie came with me. I unlocked the door to find myself everywhere in pictures and opened letters mixed in with marijuana and ecstasy and fen-fen, and then I cried thinking that Doug had considered suicide--or at least an early death--when love just might have been enough. I took only a small carpet Doug had told me stories about and the coffee table he had designed and mocked up, a manufacturing line in mind.
Tom sold all of Doug's woodworking tools and saws and machines, and bought drugs and wine and snacks to throw a huge party like an Irish Wake. Doug's body was not there, but I had rented a car to fetch his father.
And then I left Tom and Debbie's house to spend one last night at Doug's. I lit candles everywhere and wrapped myself naked in our favorite quilt. I curled into his bed and felt him there, alive and laughing, red hair standing up every which way, and him refusing, as always, to coddle my excess emotion. "It won't work," I heard him saying. "I'm gone, Susan. Let me go. It was a good death. I loved you." And I replied, "Doug, I love your restless experimental soul. But you were right, I wouldn't have had your drugs in my home, and your Gothic fantasies went further than I could go. I'm glad you felt free before you died, baby. I will miss you. Go." I dried my eyes, and fell asleep peacefully in his scent and warmth. In the morning I dressed in his jeans and favorite shirt.
Today I would fly back to Virginia to resume my teaching duties in the theatre department at the College of William in Mary. In a month, I would get my first anti-depressants when I could not be in a rehearsal without crying. In a year I would try to move on. I still look for him in the crowd scenes of movies, I still use his coffee table, I still stand on his rug, I still wear his jeans, but they are getting tight.
Copyright © 2013 S.L.Chast