Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Unthinkable Come to Pass Again

Ever since you first read then saw a performance of Terrence Rattigan's play, That Winslow Boy, you have been haunted by the major defining moment and narrative hook set so firmly in place.

Ronnie Winslow, thirteen, is accused of the theft of a five-shilling postal note from one of his cadet classmates at The Royal Naval College. Because of the exquisite and threatening implications to his personal and professional life, Arthur Winslow, the father, retains the noted barrister, Sir Robert Morton to defend Ronnie against the charges. After Sir Robert mercilessly questions Ronnie as he might be cross-examined in an actual trial, Ronnie, who has protested his innocence all along, breaks down and confesses to the crime.

Mightily embarrassed, Arthur Winslow apologizes to Sir Robert for wasting his time, then offers to pay for Sir Robert's time so far. "Nonsense," Sir Robert responds, "We've just begun. I'll take the case. The boy is clearly innocent."

You wished to arrive at such a defining moment in a story of your own, happy were it to arrive A short story, thrilled at the prospect of it having enough substance to merit a novel.

Because you had occasion to think about, then write a few lines about a some-time character of yours, you quickly cast that character into a situation where he'd been dating a single mother with a sixteen-year-old son, whom he has begun the habit of spending an afternoon a week with the boy as a bonding gesture to both the mother and the boy.

The character is an actor, getting on toward fifty. His fortunes have been up--off Broadway plays in New York, a few film roles--and down, as in your story, "The Man in the Chicken Suit," wherein his job is wearing a chicken costume at an opening of a fast-food restaurant. You had not thought about Matthew Bender since early last summer, when you'd added a few paragraphs in a story in which Bender is confronted by the husband of a long-ago girlfriend. No telling when you'd have thought of him again if you hadn't been nudged into awareness of him thanks to a rhetorical question on a friend's blog.

Now Bender is back, struggling with the weight of a defining moment that has landed on his shoulders. Sylvie, his lady friend, has a sixteen-year-old sin, Rex, who actually thinks he might want to become an actor. At the COSTCO Mall in Goleta, where Bender has taken Rex to get some denims, they run into a group of actor friends of Bender's, who have communally rented a house for the summer, while they rehearse then live while performing in a play. They are buying goodies for a housewarming party which is more or less already in progress. Bender and Rex are drawn into the festivities, thanks to a pleading look from Rex to Bender, asking to be included.

This is most of the backstory, except to introduce Janet, one of the actors. Janet is a stunning-but-fragile beauty of thirty-two, with good, solid acting moves, a rave-reviewed Blanche Dubois in Streetcar, and an ability to project emotion Here it comes, in case you hadn't already sensed it. Janet is just out of a relationship, still hurting and lonely. She falls hard for Rex.

Bender had no idea what was going on in the sidelines until it was over and he was taking Rex home to Sylvie, Janet having shown Rex much more than her room.

We begin with Sylvie on the phone to Bender, having just found out her son got laid. "How,"Sylvie asks Bender, "could you have let such a thing happen?"

Have we got a story?


Marta said...

Sounds like a story to me. It even sounds like a story I'd read. (Glad you remembered him.)

lowenkopf said...

It all began because you asked the right question.