December '05 -- guest edited by Christopher Monks
Pamela Zaslow's face was contorted with grief. For the moment, though, she had no features, so no one could tell how she felt, or indeed, if she felt at all.
However, Pamela's friend Binky Meyers was a very perceptive fellow; indeed, up until now, he was nothing more.
"Why so glum, chum?" Binky asked her.
Pamela wiped away a tear. "My father just died. I got a telegram."
Binky laughed. "Oh, is that all? Listen, sweetie, you didn't even have a father until the last paragraph, until your last line of dialogue.So why get all hot and bothered?"
Pamela was confused. "What do you mean, Binky? Of course I had a father!"
"Okay then, kiddo," Binky said. "Tell me something about him."
"Uh.well.uh," Pamela stammered.
"See, Pammy, girl," Binky said, "the author hasn't thought up a set of referents to go with your old man yet. Ergo, your poppa never existed."
"I suppose what you're saying is true," Pamela said reluctantly.
"Furthermore," said Binky, sitting down at a hitherto nonexistent table, "we're characters in a story."
"But aren't we supposed to be people?" Pamela persisted.
"Oh sure," said Binky. "Coleridge and suspension of disbelief and all that. Let's look at it this way, kiddo: you're Pamela Zaslow, right?"
"Okay, then. Pamela Zaslow is a character in this story," Binky said, a toothpick dangling from his teeth. "You're Pamela Zaslow: we've established that little fact. But what is Pamela Zaslow? I'll tell you, chum. Pamela Zaslow is a noise, two words, a proper noun, a controlling conception, a complex system of ideas, an instrument of verbal organization, a pretended mode of referring, and a source of verbal energy. But you are not a person."
"Face it, babydoll," he told her, "the author makes no mention of your nose in this story. Therefore, you don't have a nose."
"I don't?" Pamela said, feeling the space on her face where a nose should be. It was flat. "I get it," Pamela said, "it's like in that Gogol story."
"Wrong!" chimed Binky cheerfully. "Totally, one hundred percent wrong. And anyway, kiddo, you never read Gogol. How could you? Look, later on in the story -- don't ask me how I know, but I know, believe me -- later on in this story, you and I are going to make love. The old roll in the hay, you know? But the author never writes one word about our sex organs. What that means, baby, is that you and I are going to screw without benefit of a penis or a vagina. How do you like them apples?"
"I don't get it," Pamela said.
"You will, you will.but really, why do we go on? I mean, why bother? This is all mucho absurdo, after all."
"You mean we should kill ourselves? I should shoot myself with the gun in that bedroom that I didn't know existed until this sentence?"
"It makes no diff, really," Binky told her.
Pamela was shocked. "But life is precious, Binky. Suicide is a serious thing, a moral issue. People would cry; they'd mourn me terribly."
"Why should they?" Binky asked. "I probably will, old girl, but after all, I'm just another character in the same story. I could just as well kick your corpse in the belly-button if the author wanted me to."
Pamela got up from the table and went over to a hitherto nonexistent window overlooking the rush hour traffic of the city, any city. "Oh, God," she said. "I'm so full of ennui and angst."
"Can it, chum," Binky told her. "You never went to kindergarten. Nowhere in the story does it say anything about your education. So where do you get off, using terms you don't even understand? You don't know what ennui and angst are."
"And I suppose you do?"
"But of course," said Binky. "Ennui is boredom and angst is anxiety. Simple definitions, but they'll do for you."
Pamela screamed a high-pitched scream. "Then why bother going on?"
"Search me," Binky said, sipping a Coke. "Look, it's impossible -- and I mean impossible -- for anyone reading this to picture Pamela Zaslow. Let's say the author describes you as 'pretty' or 'blonde' or 'statuesque'.that would still mean absolutely nothing to the reader. Can you see the 'prettiness' apart from what you really see?"
"No, I can't," said Pamela. She became highly agitated. "But I can't see at all! I'm blind! That bastard, Binky.he made me blind!"
Binky looked at her. "Don't get your dandruff up. You're going to have an operation later in this story, and then you'll see again, and you're going to fall in love with the ophthalmologist and forget about the terrible pain you felt when your father died."
Binky was lying.
Pamela felt her way towards the table and sat down again. There was a long silence. Then Pamela said, "This fiction business -- it's ridiculous, really."
"You hit the needle on the head, kiddo," Binky told her. "But look at it this way, if it'll make you feel better: You're just as real as Julien Sorel or Anna Karenina or Stephen Dedalus."
"Small comfort," Pamela said, her head in her hands. "So we just have to sit here and wait?"
Binky nodded. He produced a book and said, "If you want, you can read this William Gass novel. I hear it's pretty good, and it may help to pass the time."
Pamela shook her head sadly. "It's so unfair," she said.
"John F. Kennedy said life is unfair."
"Was he a character or a person?"
"Both," Binky said.
They sat at the table for endless minutes, talking softly. Then Binky took Pamela's hand and they retired to the bedroom, where they made exquisite, lonely love.
The best, or the worst, was yet to come.