(photo by johnwilliamsphd on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnwilliamsphd/)
Last night Wayne did his customary circuit of the clubs and didn’t find his way back to his own apartment until 4:23 am. He would still be asleep if Mrs. Espinoza hadn’t come at noon. She bumps around in the kitchen and hums as she cleans.
Today he will do at least two thousand words, do some Bikram, maybe dinner with Drew. He’s currently writing a screenplay about a struggling hunky writer who sells himself to a washed-up celebrity who wants a second chance at stardom—sort of like Sunset Boulevard, only different—and he’s watching the film again as research. He likes to say that immature writers imitate but mature writers steal, an idea he lifted from T.S. Eliot.
In school his teachers loved him, especially English teachers. He stole their hearts by adapting short stories and essays by obscure Russian writers and signing his name. He wouldn’t call it cheating. Rephrasing perhaps, or interpreting, reimagining for a modern audience. While Drew says her daily prayer to the photographs of authors she loves and admires as figures of authority or parental gurus who might someday invite her in to their literary houses and teach her how to speak their mother tongue, to Wayne, books are just good ideas with potential to get better, with his help. That’s what makes her the better teacher: in a selfish, cynical world, people will pay a lot for the enthusiasm of their biggest fan.
But he’s the better writer. He doesn’t say it out loud, but he knows it’s true. It takes a writer to know a writer and when he recognizes true talent, when the words on the page fill him so full he must look up for a moment just to breathe before he continues, that’s when he secretly applauds himself for demonstrating his own talent once again. Because it takes one to know one, he appreciates his appreciation.
Now, lolling in his kingsize, blinking in the glow of his widescreen, he feels engorged with it, brimming, scribbling notes on the back of an envelope, and petting the front of his shorts pensively when Mrs. E knocks loudly.
“Hello? Are you ready for the clean?”
He jumps up, thumbs the pause button, and the screen freezes on a tableful of photographs in frames backing the sofa where Gloria Swanson lies draped over William Holden like an old fox throw. He adjusts his robe before opening the door. Mrs. E. peers into the darkness over his shoulder. “I was just working,” he assures her.
“Do you want me come back later?”
“No, no. I can take a little break. It’s okay.”
She takes one step into the room, pausing to let her eyes adjust, then peers around at the curtains drawn tight against the day, rumpled sheets, DVD collection spilled over the cowhide rug, heaps of discarded clothing, dirty glasses. She sniffs once but says nothing.
About a year ago she caught him with someone. She had been vacuuming in the hallway when Wayne’s naked friend had popped out of the bathroom door behind her. “Boo!” he’d said, like it was all a big joke, and then he had lingered in the hallway making small talk, not even lifting a finger or a hand or anything to cover himself. Wayne watched the whole thing through the cracked door; he had the comforter pulled up to his chin and, although she never said a word about it to him, he stopped inviting guys over after that. She’s the cleaning lady, after all, she has three children and a cross on a chain around her neck, she is virtuous and immaculate and good, and every time she rattles her heavy keys or treads with extra-heavy steps down the hallway, he feels guilty.
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