You sit down across the table from someone and the way they’re dressed, the way they speak, the way they position their hands, and certainly their eyes tell you something about who they are. Your mind subconsciously surmises things about this person and it depends a lot on your mood, too, and where you are. What you’re doing, when you first meet someone, even if you aren’t aware of it is creating fiction. You are creating a character for a storyline. The more the person speaks and interacts with you the less fiction there will be, at least on your side of the equation, but until you get to know this person you’re going to rely a lot on the notions that come into your head from what you see and hear about this person.
Let’s further supposed that this person is a man and you’ve been warned about him. He’s a bit on the lecherous side, you’ve been told, so there are little things about him that advertise this to you. Is it really him or is it suggestion? He’s overly friendly but so are most Lab puppies. He’s a toucher but then again there are people out there who are just like that. Later you discover that there’s a rumor he’s gay and you wonder how the hell all that got started anyway, but remember, most of what we see in people is fiction we’ve created.
Now sit down with an empty chair and begin to write the person who was never there. For what reason? For this reason, for the reason of explaining fiction, and how we react to people, describe the man. He’s thirty-nine but looks young for his age. He works out but eats poorly so he’s a little too heavy. Outgoing to the point it puts some people off, let’s call it six feet two and two fifty pounds, blue jeans suggesting causal but a nice shirt that tells us he has some money and perhaps some cultural experience beyond the norm. Short hair, long hair, ah, pony tail braided with a small silver napkin holder at the end, quirky as hell, but still within the parameters of not outright weird, but gracing the edge.
He’s right handed and his left hand has a burn scar that looks like he might have held onto the hand of the devil for an instant too long and you wonder where that came from, don’t you? He has jet black hair without a trace of grey at all. He keeps that left hand in his lap and speaks with his right, but not to the point of distraction. The waitress knows him, calls him by name, and seems to like him beyond the idea of just getting a tip, and that’s important, you know, how people treat wait staff. He tells a joke, leans into the table, brings the left hand in to speak with it, too, and the joke is just off color enough to make you laugh without being so far off the deep end as to embarrass. Okay, he seems to realize there are boundaries here.
You know this place, you feel comfortable here, mostly people here know you by sight and you know the bartender, but it’s a bit early for him to be in, yet. He walks in and you smile, wave, and he smiles and waves, back, your new companion follows suit, but as the bartender slips around the bar you catch his eye and he yours. He shakes his head at you and frowns. There’s the first hint that something isn’t right with your new person, or perhaps it’s just something personal with the bartender. How do you find out?
You ask him how often he comes here, what he likes about the menu and wine list. This is comfortable territory and the fact that he knows wine well enough to pronounce the names right is a plus. There’s a bit of a wine snob there and you guess he’s not the type to drink straight out of the box. He tells you they have a drink here that is only for those with a ride home already, and this is a slight gambit here, the beginning of a serious flirt, the hint that one night you will have a ride home, and you like the way the idea was presented. But the drink is made of burning rum that heats up the fruit in the drink and it is very tropical and very exotic, and the conversation turns to the beach and the conversation, despite the misgivings of the bartender, has a nice easy flow to it, without any dead space.
The lunch crowd is beginning to filer in and the young waitress is strongly suggesting something off the menu. Two people with no food is two people who tip lightly, and she smiles as if to suggest she’s like something to happen here. It might be rude to ask about the scar, you realize that, or it may open the door to personal questions, and you aren’t sure about that yet, but food would be good if you’re to have an early drink with this person. The bartender’s judgment is a weighty thing. You know him from way back and you know him to look after female patrons.
This is a place known for having great food even though it’s a really small bar and your new found companion suggests their chef salad which is a favorite of yours to begin with. That’s one of those connection things that people like in other people and he expertly tags a wine that would pair with it perfectly. A very young kid from the local college has been hired to play piano for the lunch crowd and the young man looks like he’s ready to fall apart from nervousness. For all you and your companion can tell, this is the boy’s first time seeing a piano, and you feel sorry for him as the first few attempts at coaxing music from the keyboard sound remarkably like someone who plays the radio well moving up to the next worst instrument available. You and your companion trade glances and you can see it in his face, too. It’s painful to watch someone flounder about so poorly. Who hired this guy? Why would they?
The kid stops, his face as red as the flag from the bartender, you still can’t get past that, and the kid digs a box out of a bag and your companion whispers, “Hari Kari?” and you giggle despite the awkward boy’s dilemma. Yet he pulls out a metronome, and sets it swaying. Suddenly, the obdurate piano keys bend to his will, there is a slow progression of a song, the notes you know belong together are almost there and then he hits it, he takes a deep breath and his eyes sharpen. He watches the metronome and forgets where he is. The piano goes from a wild beast tossing him about to a sturdy steed he rides like the wind. His face, once a caricature of some long lost comedian now looks nearly predatory. He plays soft music but it has the edge of being expertly performed and the lunch crowd, and you, are captivated.
The lull in the conversation begins but is filled with salad and wine, really good wine, and the music is perfect. You feel a connection with the young kid behind the keyboard now, he overcame his nervousness and triumphed. Your companion expertly nails the composer of a classical piece you’ve never known the name of and his hand slips across the table to hold your and this is one of those moments where your emotions are tossed as completely as the salad’s different components.
So we know who you are here; you are the woman in the restaurant. Your role is fairly passive but you’ve met someone, and his role is more active. We know very little about him, so far, and we know there are minor characters in the scene. But all of this, each and every part of it, is fiction to the degree that the pieces of all of this in my mind, have laid it out in a very short story that may or may not have somewhere to go.
Still with me?
If I decide to take this story forward I then have to decide what to do with each character. The Young Piano Player, for instance. At first, he was a bumbling young man about to make a fool of himself in public. How would have felt if he had simply burst into tears and ran off the stage? Conversely, your companion’s remark about Hari Kari could have been much more deeply cruel and where would that have left your mood? But the food, the wine, the music, everything was as it should have been, and the setting for evolution of this story remains.
My part in this, is to negotiate with the characters. I have to decide if your companion is true or not. Does he know the piano player? Will he reappear? What of the bartender? So many lives here with so much going on and I have to get the best out of all of them and make sure their lives matter to you.
It’s a form of possession, both ways. I have to be those characters and I have to allow them to be themselves inside of me. The story will dictate who is who and oddly, they take on their own lives, without my urging and sometimes without my consent. Yes, without my volition and beyond my direct control, characters do form.
Possession, without the side of pea soup, and with great background music.
You now know more about me than you ever have before.