He is overtaken by a wave of annoyance. She hasn’t been back to her apartment for at least a month. Her neglected mail, which he has been collecting for her even though she never bothered to ask, has been stacking up. They usually have dinner together but she hasn’t once called to say she wouldn’t make it and, when he finally reached her on the phone yesterday, she said she was too busy to talk and that she’d call him later, but she didn’t. She’s wearing a pretty silk blouse and she’s shining at the head of the table like a blazing candelabra, like Kate Winslet as the prow of The Titanic, talking about how all the best stories are adaptations and how adaptations are always at least partly original and he group is rapt and amused and Wayne has no idea what’s going on.
“Let’s play a game,” Drew says. “Give me the name of any movie and he’ll tell you who it samples. From whom, that is.”
They start calling out titles; she lobs them back like an old pro. This is not the awkward Midwestern girl he first met. Back then, she would wave her hand to speak in class and the other students would just roll their eyes and groan. Her stilted comments would go on for paragraphs: grandiose thesis followed by encyclopedic references, and, finally, a sputtering apology. She was always the girl with the most nervous habits: bleeding cuticles, acne scars, scabs that she’d pick off before they could heal, all proof of her inability to leave anything alone. He used to have to bat her hands away when she started to pick and chew, but tonight she looks beautiful. Wayne wonders why.
“Remember, nothing is original. There is no such thing as an original thought. So what is the difference between being inspired by life or by a movie you saw or a book you read? If you snootily claim that you only listen to your muse, well, you’re merely quoting Homer.”
Wayne calls down the table: “That’s something I’d say, Drew. You sound a lot like me tonight.”
“Really? Well then, aren’t you clever. I hope you don’t mind if I borrow your schtick. I promish not to break it.” They all laugh; she turns away from Wayne and continues. “Everything hinges upon our belief that Eliza Doolittle was nobody until Henry Higgins gets his hands on her. Doolittle: Even her name implies her ineptitude because she can’t do much right. But lately, I’ve begun to wonder. Does he really make her a better person? Does she really need him at all? Isn’t he just an elitist prick?”
Isabella giggles and looks at Wayne. “Well I, for one, have nothing against pricks.”
“Why should she believe him when he says that she is nothing without him?” Drew asks. “Why should she fall in love with him? I mean, what does he really have to offer?”
Suddenly it occurs to Wayne that she’s getting laid, an idea which he immediately discounts since she always tells him when she meets somebody. Wayne eyes the two other males in the group: There’s Kinko, the 17 year-old who lives with his filthy rich parents, who always reeks of weed and dirty socks, whose parents consider groups like this “extracurricular enrichment” and an excuse for them to, as Kinko always says with a curled lip and four curled fingers, “have a life.” But no. Even though Kinko is watching Drew now like a puppy waiting to be pet, he’s just too young. And there’s Aidan, the actor/model/waiter who reminds Wayne of the guy who played Perseus in the original Clash of the Titans. Wayne would never admit to Aidan’s face that he saw Anything Else, the one movie Aidan spoke a line in, and Wayne had probably replayed far too many times the scene where Kevin Bacon and Jeff Bridges are sitting at a restaurant table having a protracted metaphysical discussion about paella, frigid women and the afterlife (the film did not do very well) and Aidan, wearing a white towel draped over his shapely forearm, bows over to ask the titular question, “Would you like anything else?” No, Drew couldn’t be sleeping with Aidan. Aidan is just too stupid.
Drew uses the spoon to squeeze the teabag against the side of her glass. “And I don’t mean that rhetorically, either. I really want to know: Is the writer’s agenda the most valuable? What if the subject has a mind of its own? Or maybe you could answer this: What’s harder, teaching or learning? Or who has more talent and deserves more respect—the one who wrote the story or the actor who brought it to life? What do you guys think?” She doesn’t look at Wayne. “Isabella? Adian? Come on, you’re an actor, Aidan. You must have an opinion.”
Isabella leans forward. “I think the writer and the reader do it together. They use each other.” She glances at Wayne. “As long as it’s mutual between consenting adults, what’s wrong with that?”
Karen clears her throat and rearranges her poncho. “Well, I guess I agree with Isabella. I think they need each other because you can’t have one without the other. A script without an actor is just words on a page and an actor on stage with nothing to say is just boring. With mutual respect, they can build a something beautiful together.”
“I beg to differ,” Wayne says. “Of course the writing is more important. Even the best actor can’t turn a Harlequin romance into Shakespeare. All the smart actors know they need great writers to make them look good. That’s what my story is about, after all. My actress knows that all she needs to make a comeback is the right part. Unless she gets one, she’s as good as dead.”
Aidan scoffs. “What are you talking about? Actors make writers look good. Everyone knows that writers are ugly. If they were hot, they’d be actors instead. If they were better looking they could say their lines themselves, but they’re not. Take me as an example: I can take the stupidest lines and make them sound smart. I’ve done it a hundred times.” Aidan looks at Drew and blushes. “I don’t mean anyone here, I mean other writers. The ones who make lots of money.”
Kinko the kid giggles. “That’s so funny. You’re so funny.”
Liz the mother/writer adds, “But the audience matters, too—don’t forget the audience.”
They all look to Drew who has been gazing into her cup. “You know, I used to agree with Wayne but now I’m not so sure. I’m starting to see how the actor shapes the words they speak, how every word is shaped by the mouth that speaks it. I’m starting to think that writers don’t really matter.”
“Woah,” giggles Kinko with a mouthful of brownie. “Awesome.”
Drew continues. “I mean, every actor says the words differently, so isn’t there something to be said for that difference, the mediating personality, which adds a certain something to the meaning of the words? They convey layers of meaning. The actor, not the writer, brings it all to life.”
Wayne looks at her over his glasses. He can’t believe she’s sleeping with Aidan. How could she sleep with Aidan? “How romantic. How… fresh. Have you fallen in love, my darling?”
Drew laughs. “I’m just trying to be open-minded.”
“Good for you. That’s probably an interesting experiment, as long as you remember who’s pulling the strings.”
Drew’s smile is unfazed. She tells the group, “Let’s do some writing. I call this assignment ‘Goodbye Because I Love You’. Can you all please grab some paper and a pen?”
While they shift and shuffle, Drew pulls out the piece she’s been working on, the deathbed scene between Mae and her mother just after her mother got hit by the car. Drew has little information to work with, just a nondescript setting–a hospital somewhere–and two bodies–one in a bed. Drew has been writing and rewriting for three days, trying to find a way to convey the significance of this moment, but all the words she uses ring false. Maybe it’s hard because Drew never got to say goodbye to her own mother. How does one convey sadness, love, anger, denial, compassion and narcissism at once?
She tells the group, “I’d like you to try a scene between your main character and the person they’re closest to— love interest, parent, friend, coach, employer, whoever. This the last time they’ll meet or the end of their relationship and they both know it–or maybe they don’t, you decide–but either way, both people feel the need to tell each other how they feel about each other and their relationship. But here’s the catch. I want you to write the scene without dialogue. How about a limit of five words, to make it fair? Five words only. They must find a way to convey their feelings and thoughts through action and gesture. Let’s write for ten minutes and then discuss.”
Drew sticks in her earplugs and gets to work. This morning she turned off the computer when the birds in the fig tree had just commenced their daily chatter. She slept until the heat of the day woke her and then drank her coffee in front of the screen, toast crumbs raining down on the keyboard. The shape of the book is visible now, stretched out before her like a shadow, and all she has to do is empty her mind to make room for its development.
Wayne watches her. His page is still empty. She means him, of course: she’s saying goodbye to him. She found someone else. She’s going to move out. Or maybe he’s just being paranoid. Of course he is. But he can’t shake the feeling that this is the end.
Do you want to start from the beginning?