Just the Ordinary-Everday-Not-so-Bright Kind of Girl
By Judy Cabito
At first I thought it was just some kind of mistake, human error. I didn't notice the changes, the little nuances in her voice right away. Somehow, I thought she developed a new style on her own. She was sitting on the end of a red satin couch, sipping red wine. She had a designer dress on, red of course, symbolic like her ruby-red nail polish.
I had her saying, "Really dawling. No one would suspect me of such a crime."
But it came out, "darling." No matter how many times I went back into chapter one to straighten it out with her, I mean straighten her out, no no, I mean straighten it out, clean it up, rewrite the line...oh heck, let me tell you before I get into this any further. I'm a writer. WHO DONE IT, you know. Bang-bang-throw-them-in-the-slammer, that kind of stuff. The girl causing me all this trouble is a character in my latest book. She's a moll. Just the ordinary-everyday-not-so-bright-kind-of-girl. Not the girl-next-door I remembered from my youth. I had to force that memory out, wouldn’t want the girl-next-door spoiling everything. I needed the flashy kind that would hang around a bunch of gangsters and like it.
The "darling" thing started a few weeks ago, I thought I was having a short-term memory loss thing. I changed it but then the next time I looked, it was back to "darling" and then the other thing happened - the couch. It became a chair, no less a cane backed, with green paisley print. Of course there was the dress length. No, I don't think I mentioned it because I didn't write it that way. Actually it read, "When McAllister," (that's my P.I.), "took her in, she was crossing her legs so that the upper meaty part of her thighs became a focal point he'd never forget." Without question, that’s an important point, and just a few weeks ago when her hemline covered her knees I was taken back. Damn disappointed, as I know McAllister would be, not to mention my readers who count on smutty cheesecake.
So there she was sitting on a green paisley cushioned, cane-back chair, sipping wine, in a skirt that covered her knees, and I was just about to change it when she said, "Hold up."
"I said, hold up. I don't want McAllister looking at my legs that way. I don't want the reader looking at my legs that way."
"Oh! So I suppose you know better than me what you should be wearing and sitting on."
"Well, quite frankly, yes. There's several things I've been meaning to speak to you about."
I couldn't believe it myself. There I was carrying on a conversation with my computer screen and a one-dimensional character I plotted out to be a simple-minded girl. If I had wanted her to be smart I would have used the girl-next-door. Actually, the women in my books have small parts and I wasn't in the mood to waste time on this one. But I did have to get things settled so I could write on.
"So what things did you have in mind?"
"Well for one thing, red isn't my color. Green is. And you should have figured it out long ago. Besides, I've needed a change. Red’s been my color in your last six books."
"Last six books? Listen sister you've never been in any of my books."
"Want to bet?"
"The Cry in the Night, Candy; Two Men, Two Lives, Teresa; Seven Steps to the Sea, Samantha..."
"You’re not anything like those girls."
"Don't you read your own books? Candy, friend to all, all men that is, wears short skirts, and has a passion for red raspberries; Teresa, secret life of a hooker, wears midriff tops, leather skirts and red hip-boots; and Samantha, the girl without a stitch on who lures men into the sea and eats raw hamburger."
"Oh? Well you aren't going to continue to make me into another one of those little teasers."
"Just how do you think you're going to stop me."
"Your reader is going to catch on sooner or later to the fact that your writing is a weak. So far all you've done is change the character's names, locations, and clothes. No one ever knows what your female characters look like from the neck up. I think your audience would like to know who I am."
"You're nothing but a two-bit character, sweetheart. You're in the book for color, not philosophy."
"That's it. I've had it. I refuse to be in another one of your stories until you take me serious."
That line broke me up. When I finally stopped laughing, I asked, "Who ever takes a character in a book serious?" But I didn't get an answer. I searched chapter after chapter from beginning to end, using the FIND COMMAND. She was nowhere to be found. The computer kept flashing, NO MATCH. NO MATCH. NO MATCH.
I wrestled with trying to find her for several days - I had to. When she took off, she took my story. I was two chapters away from completing the whole thing.
The next day, I was out on Balboa Boulevard, in my cherry-red 1968 Impala, it came with memories, good ones, in the back seat. Anyway, I was out cruising looking for a new character. The boulevard was full of the girl-next-door-types. I could have picked out a hundred of them but the girls in my books are special so when I spotted two girls in bikinis, one of them red, running down a side street heading for the beach, I parked my Impala and took off after them.
They had found themselves a nice little knoll to spread their towels out for an afternoon of tanning. The girl in red had slicked herself up with coconut oil so her boobs glistened like two softballs resting on a pitcher's mound. She was perfect. The other one lay on her stomach, her ass sat plumb, soft baby-cheeks, and the arch in her back dipped down like a ski run.
Red said, "He's a real dud. You know what I mean?"
Cheeks said, "But you're the one who led him on. You should've been more up front with him in the beginning. Letting him think you were -- available -- and now since he's not willing to play with you, you're calling him a dud."
"It's not like I'm married to him," Red said in defense. "I should be free to do as I please."
"I didn't say you couldn't do as you pleased. I said you needed to be honest. But I got the idea you didn't plan on letting this thing go too far. Right?"
"Sort of. But he hurt me, he said I didn’t have character. I lacked color, as though I were a character in a book not flesh and blood. I wanted out, besides he hasn't been real attentive lately."
"I know," Cheeks said glancing over at me with a look that said; "you know what I mean."
I was afraid I did. The guy had been two-timing Red for Cheeks. In my book, that would get someone killed. But it gave me an idea. I'd do her in -- rub her out -- blue-line her once and for all.
I got roses, figured anything less might say, cheap and make her suspicious. I put them next to my computer and turned it on. I activated a search and sure enough there she was. She had changed again. The wine was white and her hair brown.
"Been waiting long?" I asked.
"No. I knew you'd be back but I didn't expect roses. The red is disappointing."
"They don't come in green, sweetheart."
"Well at least you're trying. Sensitivity in a writer is a plus."
"Thanks. But right now I'd like to concentrate on you. You say I need to get to know you. Tell me something I don't know."
There were several seconds of silence as the cursor blinked: thinking, thinking, thinking.
"Well," she began, " you should know that I'm Linda Sue."
"I was afraid you forgot -- that hurts."
"Okay, okay give me a moment. Linda Sue. Did I write about you?"
"Linda Sue. Linda Sue."
"That's enough. I'll tell you. "I am the girl next door."
"Next door to whom?"
"You - stupid! I'm the girl who peered at you from behind the drapes when you sat outside your parent's house in high school. I saw you put your hand up Tilly Thompson's orange sweater. I saw you do a lot of other things with Marsha McQuinn. And then there was Joy Johnson..."
"Hold on. You don't mean you're "the" Linda Sue Swanson from Madison High. Gee I haven't thought about you in years."
"You were a little girl back then. Ten? Twelve?"
"Fourteen. So when you got back from the service I was seventeen. Do you remember?"
"I'll never forget the army or the party they gave me when I came home."
"I was there."
"I was the girl in the green dress."
The cursor blinked wildly.
Linda Sue. I forgot about her - the night in back of my Impala. "So many women! So little time!"
"That's hurts," she said. "It's going to take a lot more than roses to put things right. I've got scars."
"Scars? I never made promises to any girl, including those in my books. How could I have caused you scars? Playing hanky-panky in the back seat of my Impala didn't say, 'Will you marry me?' now does it? I'm no catch, never been, never going to be, you’ve got to take me the way I am. Just tell me what you expect, I mean in the book. Tell me what you want to wear, drink, what kind of girl I should make you into. You know characterization has never been my strong point."
"I'm not surprised to hear you say that. But that’s rhetoric now. You were gone just long enough."
"What do you mean?"
"It's simple. While you were away, I made some changes."
"Great! Let me see them."
"Sorry, I don't think that's possible. You see you've been so noncreative, thematically incorrect, not to mention your red-herring problems and cliches, it was time to take charge. You've been at the helm too long, your voyage is over."
"Take charge? Voyage? Where am I going?"
"I'm sure you'll understand your part. It's not hard. I made you into a simple-minded-kind-of-guy, the sloshing-down-beers-paunch-belly-bald-slob type. You know the kind."
"I think so. But what do you mean - me?"
"You haven't noticed the changes? It's not really important, after I'm finished with this book no one will remember you."
"You finished the book? I'm the writer."
I was sure this broad wasn't fooling anyone. Who, her, write? I kept telling her she was getting it wrong. There was so much she didn't understand. Adverbs, symbolism, tags, openings -- not to mention endings. You don't learn to write over night. Just because she'd been sitting on my mind for the past fifteen years or so doesn't mean there was something to learn. But there was no talking her out of it, I just sat back and let her go. I never saw words fly so swiftly. The thing was, the book wasn't half-bad.
But for me? It was all over. Linda Sue's alter ego took over leaving me in a pile of laser paper dust. I tried reasoning with her but the words came out wrong. If I said, "I'll change," she wrote, "he never listened." If I said, "I saw my mistakes," she wrote, "there was no turning back for him." She had me up against a wall, pounding me into an oblivious cursor using my own keyboard.
He had been a handsome man -- once, she began. But the accident had put an end to that. His nose had been permanently pushed flat on his face. And his ears -- well -- he didn't need them anyway, he wasn't into listening. He looked like a well-worn baseball with loose threads. Once, women flocked to him. Once, he was popular. Once, he could have done something about it. But years of chauvinistic acts could only lead to a chair, something that suited him like an "electric" one. He ended up as a-regular-kind-of-guy-who-got-himself-mixed-up-with-the-wrong-girl.
The warden, the priest, a loved one? (his mother) came to watch, to record his last words.
"Listen you guys. I didn't do anything. You gotta believe me. You gotten to give be another chance. I'm innocent. I'm innocent you guys. I'm sure it's all just some kind of a clerical mistake."
© 2004 by Judy Cabito. All Rights Reserved.
Judy Cabito lives and writes in Long Beach, California. She grew up steps from the Puget Sound and calls herself as Westcoaster, if there is such a thing. She has been published in several very fine online publications.