Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lucy and Jon Go for a Drive

The important thing about comeuppances is that you need the audience to want your comic villains/antagonists to get it. No: The audience needs to think they deserve it. To do that, you need the people to be as loathsome as they can get. Peter is a pretty despicable guy; we don't like him. It's easy not to like him, even though we haven't met his wife (and never will.) The simple fact that he is cheating on her and lying to Christine makes him an unsympathetic character. When Sam and Lucy ruin this charity dinner, we want him to suffer.

Getting Jon to be disliked is a bit harder. He actually has an excuse for his bitterness that some people can identify with. The only way that we can turn the audience against him (a jilted husband who stays with his wife to protect her reputation and for a bunch of strangers' kids feelings is someone who, in almost any other context is someone that we want to like.) So, part of the writing challenge is having Jon push the reader's buttons so that we are fine with Lucy and Sam screwing him over. The fact that he is coming across as a jerk (and a bit of a creep) to Lucy, one of our protagonists and someone the reader probably sympathizes with, goes a long way to making him unlikeable.

Fiction below the fold, and the table of contents is here. Also: The most painful part of giving blood? Ripping off the bandage eight hours later.

* * *

At the right seven, I was waiting patiently outside of Jon’s door. I had decided to forego cute business dresses for a very serious pants suit. No one dismissed Hillary Clinton, and no one would dismiss this girl either. I would steer all conversation away from economics, feminism, Jon’s twisted version of feminism and get him focused like a laser beam on his speech. When he opened the door, he was tying a sea green tie under his shirt collar.

“I want to apologize about yesterday,” He said. “I wasn’t quite myself; let’s just put all that unpleasantness of yesterday behind us. To make it up to you, let’s discuss the speech over a nice dinner.”

He seemed so sincere, that I found myself nodding before I could think. By the time I could think, he had his hand on my elbow and was guiding me out of his place and toward his car. Finally I found my tongue. “A business dinner is a very good idea. Apology accepted.”

I had meant to say: “Your smug self-satisfaction disgusts me; this girl’s forgiveness cannot be bought.” But, when I wanted to say that, I couldn’t remember the last time I had gone to a nice dinner with anyone but Christine. Besides, if I thought that Jon was going to not be a gentleman, it made a lot more sense to not meet in his private apartment where he made sure everyone always had a drink in their hand so that he didn’t feel self-conscious.

Besides, I said to myself. I had bothered him about his wife and pestered him. He probably had just had a bad day, right? We all have bad days. Christine says she only has bad days, but for her, that’s an excuse. One time, Sam had been hitting on me, and I told him I was having a bad day, since when Christine said it to people, they left her alone. Sam had just nodded sagely and whispered to the other waiter, a high school summer hire, and said: “Women have bad days about once a month.” I think I died of embarrassment.

I still told myself that I hadn’t necessarily forgiven Jon for yesterday, but he was my boss, so it paid to be cordial. Literally. If I let him see my doodles of him being used as a piƱata by the creepy puppets from the kid show, I’d be fired. And probably committed. So, this was our truce. I wouldn’t draw disturbing images of him being tortured by animated puppets from Hell (I’m not normally a horror fan, but the original Chucky scared me as a kid. I remember curling under the blankets and hugging Rusty. I trained him to destroy puppets.

“So, have you given the speech much more thought?” Jon asked as he drove with one hand. His other hand clicked through the GPS at lightning speed. I wonder how our parents’ generation ever found anything. I know what mom would say: “Your father never found anything.” To which dad would say: “I did find the most important thing,” and hug my mom. I think that’s where I got my cheesiness. Dad would always say things like that to make mom smile.

“I think that you should say something sweet about your wife, even if you hate her.”

“Maybe something like ‘at least she didn’t scream out his name when we had sex?’”

“Baby steps, Jon. Baby steps.”

“Oh, wait,” Jon said, as he drove a bit more aggressively. “That would’ve been impossible. Since —”

“You know, maybe we shouldn’t talk about your wife anymore? Maybe you can talk about the scourge of breast cancer in a more general sense,” I said. The streets were starting to look vaguely familiar.

“So, that’s your suggestion for the theme of my speech?” He said with a smile. “Breast Cancer: It’s Bad?”

“I used bigger words. I called it a scourge. You’re dismissing a perfectly evocative word!”

“Ah, right. Breast Cancer: It’s a Scourge. Much better. More theme-y sounding,” He said. I couldn’t tell if he was teasing me or criticizing me. It was at times like this that I called a mental cut.

I mean, it would be like hiring Martin Scorsese and asking him not to talk about directing movies. “Maybe, Mr. Scorsese, you’d like to wow us with some other life achievements to put this in perspective for us?” I folded my arms, maybe pouted a little, and looked out the car window at the familiar blurring streets.

“Weren’t there any good times?”

“I was there when she found out the cancer was terminal.”

“Fine,” I said. “I guess the new speech theme can be Curmudgeonly Widower Who Can’t Play Nice to Help Sick Women.”

I actually didn’t say anything. I just sort of glanced at him in shock before I managed to shut my horrified expression behind an impassive stare. I tried to raise an eyebrow accusingly like my mom, but he just smiled at me.

Then I realized where we were when he pulled in. If the Olive Garden was his idea of a nice place to go for dinner to apologize for being a total ass, it is no wonder his wife cheated on him.

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