STET ~ A Story

After reading his latest message, Alice Blanchard had enough of Clive Swindell. She balled up this note, tossing it at and missing the wire wastebasket next to her writing table in her tiny apartment.

“Honestly, Lucy, that man makes me so angry I could…” Alice finished her sentence with a sob.

“What’d the jerk say this time, Alice?” her roommate Lucy Watkins said as she picked up the offending projectile and smoothed out its prose, which, essentially, was what Swindell was telling Alice to do in the first place. Only Lucy did it much more gently.

“He says this latest draft of my novel lacked any discernible plot, was short on dialogue and action, and long on exposition and, what he called ‘the mewling and mawkish meandering of some high school girl.’ The publisher is expecting this manuscript in two weeks. Now I’ve got to type the whole thing out again with the changes he’s ordering based on what I think is his personal animosity toward me,” Alice said as she pulled the marked up manuscript of her second book from a large manila envelope.

“Looks like it’s bleeding blue blood, Alice. Like Swindell took out his poison pen and just kept stabbing it.”

“The publisher loved my first novel. Not sure why they assigned their — and I quote — best man to be my editor. He’s downright rude and demeaning. I’m going to take the train downtown to his office — uh-gain — and confront him with his edits. I followed every one of his ‘suggestions’ last time, the time before that, and the four or five times before that, and look at this,” Alice said, fanning the pages of her manuscript in such a way that its passing pages looked like a light blue wave crashing on her writing table.

“And all he does is look at me, barely blinking, saying, ‘Well, Mis Alice Blanchard, I’m trying to help you make a success of this book and we’ll keep working on it until it shines,’ like I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“Maybe he hates women,” Lucy said.

“I just know he’s mean to his secretary and pretty mean to me,” Alice said, putting on her best hat and gloves and heading for the door. “Don’t hold up supper, Lucy, I should be back before 5:00.”

Alice silently practiced what she planned to say to Swindell when she got to his office. She recalled the meeting with the editor where he had tossed the third draft of her novel manuscript at her from across his desk.

“Not nearly good enough yet, Miss Alice Blanchard,” he said. “I wish to be carried along on the emotional wave of your heart and voice in this work.”

“He’s never written his own novel, you know. He’s really just a poet,” his secretary told Alice. “Probably editing and polishing it until he’s satisfied…which will be never. One of his authors told me if he’d kept rewriting until Swindell said his book was finished, he’d be waiting until that Hitler fella came over and planted a kiss on President Roosevelt.”

Alice grinned and rose from her seat in anticipation of the subway grinding to a stop down in mid-Manhattan’s Flatiron District. She walked right by the secretary and knocked once then burst into Swindell’s office.

“Why, Miss Alice Blanchard, what a surprise to see you here. Have you completed your redraft already?” Swindell said, not the least startled nor perturbed by Alice’s abrupt entrance.

Swindell was a man in his late forties who always wore a suit, keeping his jacket buttoned and rep tie knotted at his starched collar. On his desk stood four columns of manuscripts, each about a foot tall and as perfectly square and plumb as the building in which they sat. In the darkest corner of the office, a Victrola played a recording of Leopold Stokowski leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in Brahms Symphony No. 4.

“No, Mr. Swindell, I haven’t completed my redraft. How many redrafts do you expect me to do when you have me change something only to mark that you want it changed again? Sometimes back to the way I had it in the first place.”

“Believe me, Miss Alice Blanchard, I have only the best interests of this company — and you, the author — to ensure this novel will shine to the sun-bright promise of my not insignificant editorial gifts. And yours as writer, as well, of course,” Swindell said. Then he just stared at Alice.

“Well, Mr. Swindell, I think you and your ‘not insignificant gifts’ can take a long walk off a short pier. I want you to take one more look at this manuscript, not with your eyes, but with those of the readers who might plop down their money to buy it. Show it to your bosses, too. See what they say.” Alice pushed the marked up manuscript across the mahogany desktop toward the editor.

“I expect you’ll be sending it back to me, a mess of blue pencil on each page, but I don’t think I can make it any better than it already is…and has been,” she said, turning and walking out the door without waiting for Swindell to reply.

On the train headed back home, Alice thought, Well, that’s it for this publishing house. Maybe I can take this manuscript to another one after I it back with my letter of rejection.

Two weeks later, a fat manila envelope arrived at Alice and Lucy’s door. Inside was a proof of her manuscript and a letter from the publisher that said in its first paragraph they were ready to take it to print.

“Yee-haw, the Texas-born Lucy shouted. “That’ll show that tight-ass Swindell. What’s that other one?” she said, pointing to a second envelope with the publisher’s address in the upper left-hand corner.

“Don’t know,” Alice replied as she sliced the top open with a steak knife. Again, it was a pile of pages, wrapped in brown paper, with a cover letter on top.

Alice took the letter and began to read it.

“It’s an apology from the vice president for my having to rewrite my book so many times and go see Swindell about it each time I did,” she said. As Alice continued to read the letter, her face grew pale and she gave a short gasp.

“Lu, Swindell’s dead. Found him slumped at his desk over a file with my name on it: ‘Miss Alice Blanchard.’ The letter says they decided to send them to me because…”

Lucy unwrapped the brown paper surrounding the envelope’s contents and said, “Honey, these are all hand-written in blue pencil and they’re poetry.”

Alice took the first page and read:

If Only Alice
When the light of day follows the sun
to its westward bed, and clouds tuck in
the moon and stars, I sometimes wonder
what it would be like.
If.
That’s when I see my clearest,
when the distractions of the real
don’t encroach on this vision moment
where the voice in my head echoes the same
sad reverie as perhaps yours might.
If.
That’s why I share this bed with
naught but a weighty conjunction,
a supposition called on account of darkness,
a two-letter regret wrapped in desire
and a vision of you in the not-there.
If.

“They’re all love poems, honey,” Lucy said. And it looks like they’re to … you.”

“I was so sure he hated me. Why else would he keep sending me back edited and re-edited manuscripts? Oh. Oh my, just so I’d come down…”

Alice took the pages from Lucy and fanned through them, seeing her name here and there, as if floating upon the emotion, hearing it in Clive Swindell’s voice above the roar of his final heartbeat wave of blue on white.

 

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