Fiction: Finished Projects

He was sick of everyone and everyone was sick of him. After he yelled at everyone for a solid twenty minutes,  he sat backstage, on a almost broken stool that he dug out of a pile of discarded show props, and watched all of the actors and stagehands scurry around, destroying everything. They had swore to him at the beginning of production that they were going to respect the material, but he knew now this was all a lie. The pack of cigarettes were getting crumpled in his hand, and he was smoking one cigarette after another, putting them out on the bottom edge of the “No Smoking” sign he sat underneath. He liked to think the would have been forgotten if it were not for the stench of cigarette smoke that wafted throughout the backstage area, but nobody could ignore the shadow lurking in the cloud of smoke.

At one point, this entire thing was his idea, his dream. He had spent so much time sitting at the kitchen table, a small glass of whiskey, a overfilling ashtray, and papers scribbled all over in his tight but sloppy handwriting. He wrote all through the night, until the sunlight started to shine through the window in front of him bright enough for him to see his yellow stained fingers. He worked until he was so tired that he could not be happy anymore. In eight months, he was able to write the play, rewrite the ending, and figure out how all of it was going to work.

The play was based on a novel, the novel being a 517 page novel tome after being translated from the French. The entire novel was one sentence. One 517 page sentence. When he was shown this novel by one of his friends at the bookstore he always visited but rarely bought from, he knew that he had to splurge and make an exception. He spent many days trying to weed through the prose, the pages and pages with no breaks, and thinking that this would be the most glorious project to bring to the stage. He read it again. And again. After the third time, he had his impressions of what he wanted, and he started writing. His mania over this project consumed him. He only stopped for short naps and long strolls through the garden that belonged to the widow with the house across the apartment parking lot.

The widow was prematurely hunched and continuously mourning the death of her husband at the age of 54 to a heart attack. She spent most of her life in that garden, tending to the flowers and the bushes that she named as they grew. He had not lived in this apartment building very long before he met her. These were the days when he could not sleep and spent many nights walking around the neighborhood, smoking and enjoying the darkness. The widow sat on her front porch and nodded to him a few times before he walked up to join her. He offered her cigarettes. She offered him gin from a coffee mug. They did not talk much until she had refilled the mug three or four times. She then talked about her late husband, Barry, and how he worked hard and tried to make her feel loved, but nobody could ever loved her in the way that she wanted to be loved. This made him raise his eyebrows, but she did not elaborate. Barry loved her enough to when the house between her current home and the apartment building parking lot came up for sale, Barry bought the house, tore it down, leveled the land, and gave it to her to make her own garden. He asked if she thought this was something that proved Barry’s love to her. She said, “No,” but did not explain. He did not push into their relationship, just sat and watched the cars sporadically drive down the street or the kids in the neighborhood running down the sidewalks, hooting and hollering in the dark because it was summer and summer meant no more fucking rules. He started the play in the fall when it was too cold to sit outside and wonder about Barry, wondering it he was looking down and trying to find a way to prove his love to his widow from the afterlife.

While he rocked back and forth on the wobbly bar stool, smoked, and watched the play that he had written turn into something he did not recognize anymore, he wondered if anything that you love ever ends up the way that you hope it will. He loved the book, he loved his play, he loved the process of searching for funding, the crew, and the actors that would bring his vision to life. He did not expect them to discard everything he had worked on, except for the bare bones construction of the play. It was as if the things that he had been doing all along, reading this novel, dissecting the sentences, even using some of the diagramming stills he learned in grade school to understand the parts he was not clear on describing, taking three years of his life to get through this project, from first reading the book to this moment, being tired but satisfied at all times, all of these things were a wast of time. They did not hesitate to just take it and turn it into something he did not even recognize.

He did not know what he was going to do. He did not know if he should fight to change it back, or just quit. Let them have the whole thing. He had heard this was the way plays and movies went; most of the time they are changed beyond recognition. He prepared for this, but while he watched them bringing in the props, the octopus that was never mentioned in the text or the maiden dressed in period clothing when this was originally a contemporary story, he wondered why he was even upset. This was sense of sadness  that did not surprise him, but he could not help it. He tried to remember the feeling he had when he finished his first draft, the way he took the rest of the bottle of whiskey to the widow next door, and they took turns, taking pulls from the bottle, skipping the glasses all together. He remembered the way that they shared cigarettes until they were all gone. The way he put both of his hands on her cheeks and kissed her on the lips, her breath sweet from the whiskey but being able to taste the death and grief in her soul. He was so far away from this excitement, and there was no going back. The only thing he could do was put out his cigarette, slip out of the stage door, and leave the building. Leave it up to everyone else to finish this project. He was done.

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