I wish I were an actor. I think it might make me a better writer. I’d role-play my characters to get to know them better. I’d understand them viscerally, from the inside.
My story is about a writer who adapts the victorian novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin into a screenplay, sells it, and then falls into a relationship with the actress who’ll play the lead. Or maybe it’s about a starlet who hires a writer to help prepare for a role and ghostwrite her autobiography. Who decides what happens? Who’s in charge, the actor or the writer? Who’s the main character? Whose version of reality will prevail?
The other night I woke up in the wee hours with the thought that my novel should have been a screenplay. I’ve never even read a screenplay.
Did you ever perform on stage? Are you the type to play the lead, sing in the chorus, hide backstage, or sit in the audience?
She thought about the words no one will ever read. They formed an emptiness that kept pulling her like a tongue to a cavity because Drew couldn’t stop thinking about her mother’s suicide note. She replayed over and over again the scene of the paper slipping into the bath water and dissolving into a wad of pulpy pink matter.
Drew told Dr. Robinson that she felt like everything would make sense if she could only read the note.
“Perhaps you should try writing one for her,” Dr. Robinson said. “That might give you some closure.”
“I knew you’d say that. I already tried.” She had fired up the Mac Plus and sat poised over the keys, staring at her fingers while the machine slowly hummed to life. “I couldn’t do it.”
“What would you want her to tell you?”
“I just want to know why.”
“Okay. Let’s do a little enactment.” Dr. Robinson pointed to the love seat. “Pretend she’s sitting right there.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Drew scowled at the leather upholstery and picked a scab on her chin. “I’m not really the improv type.”
“Just give it a go. You never know until you try.”
“If you insist.” Drew faced the sofa, underarms are already slick with embarrassment. “But it’s not going to work.”
“First, close your eyes and picture her face.”
“Fine.” Drew closed her eyes and summoned her mother, profile etched like a cameo, sitting there in her red chenille bathrobe, hair loose and tangled, absorbed in the task of filing her nails. How young her mother looked without makeup; even as a child Drew could recognize the porcelain fragility of that naked face.
“Now ask her.”
“Okay.” Drew took a deep breath. “Why did you have to do that? Why not just leave if you were so unhappy?” She expected to hear ennui or petulance or anger but instead, her voice was a thin whine.
Dr. Robinson instructed her to sit on the sofa and picture herself in the chair. She saw herself–cross-legged, braless under her silk blouse, hair piled up and held in a loose bun with two sharp ticonderogas, tattoo just visible under the hem of her frayed cut-offs–needy and slightly derelict, an obvious mess. Again, Drew blushed with embarrassment. “I don’t think I can do this.”
Dr. Robinson ignored her. “Answer Drew’s question.”
“I don’t know why. This is stupid. If I knew, I’d know.”
Dr. Robinson waited calmly for Drew to continue.
Drew closed her eyes again and said, “Because I was depressed. Or disappointed. Maybe I was just bored.”
“Say more. Get into her head.”
In Drew’s mind, the details grew hard edges–how the school bus would let her off at the corner and she’d walk slowly over the brown, crunchy snow and up the walk to their little house with its curtains pulled shut. Going home was as inescapable as being sucked down a drain and inside, under the fluorescent light, into that perpetually damp air that had been exhaled so many times it smelled like breath, where she’d leave her boots on a newspaper spread across the linoleum and walk down the dark hallway into the musty den and settle into a seat like a stone.
Only this time, Drew took the battered orange chair in front of the television and turned to face her daughter.
“It’s like being a fly stuck in an ice cube,” she explained. “I thought life was going to get bigger but it didn’t. Things just got smaller and smaller until there was nowhere else to go. I kept waiting for a door to open but it never did. I just got tired of waiting.”
It was stated as plain truth; no need to cry about it.
Dr. Robinson said, “What do you want to tell your daughter?”
Drew took a deep breath. “Don’t let yourself get frozen. Find happiness.”
“What else does Drew need to know?”
Drew remembered herself a child with those hungry eyes. Adoring eyes, turned up toward the sky waiting for to the love to rain down.
“That I love her. I loved her.” The tears fall in sheets. “I always, always loved her. My love was always there, just under the surface. I’m so sorry it wasn’t enough.”
Dr. Robinson nudged the box of tissue toward Drew. “What else needs to be said?”
The wave peaked and subsided. Drew smiled and shook her head. “She has nothing else to tell me. Her death had nothing to do with me at all.” She laughed and rubbed her cheeks with a tissue. “Nothing at all!”
Good,” said Dr. Robinson. “How do you feel?”
“I think I’m fine.” Drew sniffed. “I think I feel much better.”