The Third Person
I had a lover once who called me her ear-licking-freak. I’ve since been known as Elf, and since I’d left my real name behind I’ve discovered that the world of non-fiction that was destroying my sanity and my life, is also destroying our planet, and that science and historical fact only perpetuate that destruction. From my point of view solutions begin with fantasy, so I write my life as fiction hoping the real world will someday catch up with me.
One May morning while hiking down a Mohave Desert highway holding my thumb out for a ride back to Colorado, I saw something unusual on the side of the road ahead of me. There was a blown out tire still on its rim that someone in a hurry had left on the road’s shoulder. Lying beside it was a book, “Joy’s Journal”. I sat down on the tire and read the first few pages where it ended with a half-dozen punctures through the empty pages like small caliber bullet holes. I’d learned through fantasy novels that rescuing fair damsels in distress is usually very risky business, especially without a sword, and all I had was a pen. But I decided to take the risk anyway. I wrote Joy into my life beginning with her journal.
* * *
The afternoon sun’s brilliance lit the roiling white thunderhead, the brain that drove a monstrous storm forward. I stood on a fashionably thin, but not anorexic frame, wiggled my toes in the retreating tide, and stepped back for the next wave. The wind caressed my silken skin and blew sea foam from across the choppy waters into my black hair, while my feet felt the tug of the undertow suck them in. I quickly stepped back again into warm, dry sand and with my twenty-four-year-old eyes, steely blue my father called them, I gazed out over the turbulent ocean. I could see the Pacific horizon being engulfed by a slate-grey wall turning black and growing beneath the sun-swallowing white head. It seemed appropriate enough to me that my life of leisure would end in a raging thunderstorm.
I looked up at the house. My one-room beach house appeared small and vulnerable perched high on a granite knob about thirty feet above black basalt boulders resting in the sand at its base. I walked slowly toward the stone stairway carved into the granite wall, the only way down to this beach. Nostalgia rippled through my belly in waves; after tomorrow I’d never see this hidden beach again.
Windblown mist began to whip my hair and chill my skin. I felt as alone and vulnerable as the beach house. All the hundreds of tracks in the sand were mine — only mine. By the time I’d reached the stone stairs, the storm surge had begun to send knee high waves over the beach, washing all my tracks away.
Though I do love a good storm, it’s that unpredictable peopled world out there that scares me. I was raised in chiffon swaddling clothes, silk bed sheets, and with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth. My father had bought the Holy Creek Sanitarium when I was a baby and made a fortune on its rich clientele. It provided a luxurious retirement home for my demented and dying mother, a fine education for me, and a rare, secluded Malibu beach house where I’ve written in bliss by the sea for the past three years. How could I have known after my father’s death that somewhere in Los Angles in some boardroom a decision could be made that would destroy my charmed life? But it wasn’t about my lost trust fund or the foreclosure on my house that I wanted to write today.
I attended an expensive writing retreat on Mt. Shasta last summer where my mentor gave me a special blend of tea that he called Sonora Desert Sorcery: a fungus, a cactus button, and some seeds ground to a fine powder. I use it medicinally according to his directions: only a quarter teaspoon per eight-ounce cup. He told me when he gave me the bottle of powder that it would enhance my writing by expanding my imagination, and with enough practice my writing could manifest people into my physical reality. But so far, all I’ve been able to manifest are imaginary lovers that have brought me to screaming orgasms, but were never here when I awoke in the morning. I needed a real lover tonight, so I gulped down two full cups.
About twenty minutes later, after watching lightening flashes strike the waves closer and closer to shore, I saw a flash of gold through my Pacific window. A lone surfer rode a dream wave in that magnificent storm, and in the next lightening flash he appeared on the flooded shore holding his surfboard over his head stumbling toward the stairway and up to my porch, his grace left behind in the riptide. Feeling the powerful tea flowing in my veins, I felt I had him now. I met him at the door where I inhaled his seaweed essence and licked the sea salt from his golden flesh as the storm raged on. Then I laid down my pen.
* * *
In rumbling thunder last night Joy wrote herself a treasure of love beyond repossession by a bank. But the morning sun flooded the beach house with reality. The trust fund was gone, the bank did foreclose, and Joy had to leave before the real estate agent arrived to show the house. Several loud bangs on the table stirred her golden lover from his sleep. “What the hell,” he said through a yawn, “are you building?”
Joy wrenched the pen from her journal she’d been stabbing, and through gritted teeth she said, “Leap, I love you. But I can’t write anymore.” She slapped the pen down on the table. Despite the morning sun, or because of it, she saw dark shadows looming over their future.
Someone else wrote her story now — a frightening feeling. But her mentor had warned her, “Writing is dangerous. If you break its magic rules, misery will follow.” Joy had broken a golden one: never fall in love with a character that you’ve written. The resultant curse bound her by writer’s block to a helpless lover with no hope of revision.
Joy had traded the Mercedes for an old Suburu and paid off the bills with the money left over. With the engine idling and her patience dwindling, she sat at the wheel waiting for Leap. He eventually stepped up to the door with his surfboard in one arm.
“Put the surfboard down Leap, and let’s go,” she said.
He planted the surfboard firmly in the sand beside him, looked into the passenger window, and said, “Where?”
“Mountains, Leap — Colorado, hemp fields, I don’t care. We’ve got to get out of here.”
“No ocean, I’m not going,” he said, still holding his surfboard.
“You’ll go,” she said with the only shred of confidence she could muster, “or else you’ll spend the rest of your life beachcombing for another writer. Leap, I wrote you. You wouldn’t exist without my pen.”
He couldn’t argue that point, so he dropped his surfboard and got in the car. As she drove away, she tried to reassure him. “And when I can write again, I’ll write us a better story.”
The old Suburu followed the whim of another writer while Joy merely kept it on the road. After several days they’d survived a flat tire in the Mohave Desert, a sandstorm in New Mexico, and then coasted to a stop in Alamosa, Colorado. The cloud of white steam that had been following the car caught up with them as Joy slammed down the hood. “I don’t like hope Leap, but it’s all we’ve got now.”
With his golden luster left behind Leaf had turned pale. “All I’ve ever hoped for was a good wave,” he sighed.
It had been a long summer in Alamosa where Joy washed a restaurant’s greasy dishes hoping for a waitress position. The two of them waited for hope in an apartment that disgusted rats. Leap looked down at the coffee table. “Whatever killed him is probably going to kill us.”
The fly lay dead on the table. Joy turned toward the window where a hot gust blasted her face from the old-school air conditioner that had been regurgitating the same stale air all day. She banged the plastic edge above the vents with her fist. “Leap, we can’t live where the flies can’t even survive. You’ve got to get a job.”
The couch didn’t let go of sticky flesh easily. The vinyl made a flatulent sound when Leap lifted his arm. He thumped the lifeless fly off the table and looked up at Joy. “You’re the one who picked me up on the beach.” His thighs ripped loose from the vinyl as he leaned over the tabletop and caressed it. He rubbed the finish with one hand like he used to do with his surfboard. Turning his head sideways, he looked up at his love. “You’re the spoiled trust fund baby writer that wanted a beach bum in your story.” He moved up to a push-up position, each hand clasping an edge of the table and said, “You wrote a good story then Barbie. Your Ken is dying here. What happened?”
Just as she kneeled down to his face to kiss him, a fist pounded the front door, and a harried voice hollered, “Open up — Writer’s Workshop Transport.”
Before either could stand, the door swung open. Two stout men in black fatigues and combat boots walked in. The older one on the left asked the younger one, “Which one?”
“The name on the list is Joy; must be the girl.”
The older one cuffed Joy’s hands behind her back and shackled her ankles. Then he handed her notebook and pen he saw lying on a chair to the younger one. He cinched the knot tighter on her blindfold, and she pleaded, “Leap, do something. I can’t write anymore.”
“I didn’t know you’d signed up for a writing workshop,” he said plopping back down on the couch.
“Go and get inspired,” he said. “I’ll just heat up a frozen dinner.” He yawned and then asked the older goon, “When will she be back?”
She’ll be back when we’re done with her.” He shoved her into the younger one’s arms and grabbed her feet. Together they carried her out to the van. Leap left the door open in hope of a breeze.
* * *
Being the one who wrote Joy into this story, I felt a responsibility to help her out of it, so I signed her up for this writing workshop where we all sat frozen stiff around the table in a room permeated with fear. The armed goons in black, after seating us, lurked nervously at parade rest. I’d begun to believe that wanna-be writers, like stage performers, were twisted masochists who thrive on terror and agony. My belief was validated by the sadistic grin on our facilitator’s face as she strutted in. Angry orange hair flared from her scalp, and her eyes seared all that they saw. Had Hitler been a punk rocker, she’d have been his lover.
Her black leather vest barely held two planets that could eclipse both sun and moon. A matching mini-skirt fit like a tire on a rim. She sat up on the table opposite us, crossed her legs, and pulled an unlit cigar from her cleavage. She didn’t light it, but she chewed the end off and spat it into my face. I wiped it off my cheek and smiled. She smiled back and spoke to the group.
“My name is Ms. Heinlick. Tonight you’ll write for your life. If you’ve ever had a near-death experience, you’ll find my methods familiar.”
She glared at each of us in turn. I felt her stab me in the heart with her eyes. She was taking over my story, but I just let her go with it.
“Tonight we’ll be finishing up our work on point of view with third-person omniscient. Any of you idiots know what that is?”
No one responded. I stole a glance at Joy seated at the end of the table, and her angry blue eyes glared back like she knew I’d been writing her. She probably blames me for everything she’s been through since she stopped writing.
“Then I’ll tell you,” Heinlick continued with feigned patience. “In this point of view I, the narrator, am like a goddess. I know and see everything. I can read your minds. And I can see into the future seeing things that none of you characters can see.”
She gasped for breath, her face flushed, and her leather vest seemed to shrink dangerously.
Then she began to scream, “Omnipotent — Omnivorous — Omnipresent — Omnisexual — Omniscience! Get it? Now write like your life depends on it. Your pen stops moving, and you die!”
My pen stuck to the page. My heart stopped and panic stirred my bowels. I looked up to see the younger goon in black aiming his revolver at me. Then I remembered she said omni-something, and I felt my pen begin to move in third-person.
Being like a god was such a relief, Elf thought. He felt that he could write anything from this point of view. His pen slithered effortlessly across the blank page. Hot, liquid words flowed in steaming ink. The maggots in his brain scrambled for more, and sweat dripped onto the page. And a few nano-millineums later, the workshop was over.
When Elf came out Joy was sitting on the steps. He tapped her on the shoulder. “Come on Joy, I’ll walk you home.”
She brushed his hand from her shoulder. “Sure Elf, you can do anything you want with me. I’m just a character in one of your stupid stories.”
“That’s not fair. I wrote you as a writer. You can write your own damned story.” He strutted like a wounded rooster down the sidewalk. She needs revision, he thought.
“Elf, wait,” she said, catching up with him. “Hey, I’m sorry. Let’s go have some coffee at that café on the corner of State and Main. I’ve got to come up with a better story for myself.”
He put his arm around her shoulder, and she put hers around his waist.
“You ever notice how sometimes life doesn’t seem so much like fiction?” she said.
“Yeah, like now. You feel real to me,” he said.
“But what about the third person, Leap? I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Well, this is fiction.” He thought for the span of the red-light. And then, “I’ve got it,” he said as the walk light lit. “Ms. Heinlick stops by your house to see you, but you’re with me at the café writing.”
In a burst of enthusiasm she twirled Elf around to face her in the middle of Main Street. “Yes, I can write it now: Leap answers the door, and that’s when her vest gives up its burden. He’s overwhelmed by those to weapons of mass seduction.”
Elf looked worried. He was thinking. So there’s a third-person author who writes the worlds of fiction and non-fiction, and we must write our own stories in either world, otherwise we are vulnerable to someone else’s writing.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“We’re not breaking a writing rule of the Great Author, are we?”
“God?” she said. She pulled him closer, and they stood lost in each other’s embrace.
The light turned green, the first car waited for them, the second car blew it’s horn, then the first car blew it’s horn. Even though invisible exhaust fumes burned their closed eyes, they lingered in their kiss. A police siren screamed, the bells at the railroad crossing announced its closing gates, and a train whistled it’s warning.