'The door made a slight groan as it was opened. She entered the passenger seat and sat down. But he did not know her, although she smiled at him.'
Ralph pushed his chair away from his table and decided impromptu that a shower would do him some good. The last time he wrote a story of a runaway, a bath with the salts had done wonders to his head and helped him complete it. Fifty dollars to that story, he was convinced, must have been fetched by the magic of his style. He was also convinced that the two-fifty could have been his, which was awarded to the Requiem instead. In no uncertain terms had he told himself that today, he would come out on top, and he was that serious too.
Sometimes, a prompt or two were necessary for Ralph, necessary to help him mushroom an idea out of his restless mind. He had found two of those, lying idly in his notebook where he'd record his ideas, and then he had mashed them together.
While doing that, he traveled through alternate universes to see which most pulled his mind. Over the contemplation, he had chewed a carrot and had also downed a tall mug of root beer. A pencil had it's end soaked and then rent apart into sinewy filaments, such was the intensity with which he worked his mind.
From a half-baked protagonist to a temporary side-kick, characters all wanting, here and there, he had cooked them again and again. Though he was divided over which of them would work best, by experience his hands twitched to land at the typewriter. His mind knew that no prose was produced by thoughts but only by the act itself.
By the end of that line which had suffered the usual additions deductions, modifications and pointless wait like human life, the final line was born, and so were the characters, Butch and Sara, on his pages.
Neither of them was by themselves, anything more than wisps of creative smoke. Butch sat inside his BMW in the parking lot, hands on the wheel, eyes beaming ahead in the low-light. The car was immobile but hummed. Sara, a devilishly seductive woman with a pompadour had a face that caved out like a cat. One could claim she looked like a siren.
At the time of this writing, when Ralph jumped out of his chair after writing the first line, his mind got disconnected from the world on the page. Butch and Sara thus became mobile.
The engine was punctuated with a regular click-clack of heels. Sara walked confidently in Butch's line of sight to his car. She sat in and smiled.
Then with motion in contrast to the earlier smooth one, she whammed the door back in its place and looked despairingly at Butch.
Butch let out a chuckle followed with a sigh and swept up the thick strand of hair falling down his slick forehead.
"Oh hun, stop it already? I know you. We've had this talk before," and with his hand, he pulled her face to him and observed it.
"Fix that mascara. He might come back anytime and you just might ruin his thoughts," and he handed her some wet wipes from the glove box.
But Sara, she was miffed at him. Through her tear-stained eyes, she glared at him for a moment, before wiping away the black streak.
Very quickly, she broke down again and mixed with sobs, said:
"I love you Butch, you know it. Since the starting-"
"It doesn't work out that way. He decides what to do with us. I can't help it, really. Even if he decides to shoot you to hell, I'll have to go ahead with it."
She joined her hands and after turning to him, pleaded, "Make it work Butch! Make this work! I, I don't like it. I don't like being a side figure. In the last line, I was a-"
"I know. Honestly it was very painful to watch it," he said with a nod, hiding a not so audible chuckle.
Holding back her tears, she stared at him.
"That man, how long do you fathom is he gonna take?" Butch stretched his body along its length. It was average-sized and average height.
She shook her head in response.
"But it's a good idea innit, to have some time to stretch, be out of his control. Damn strain!" he exclaimed, and placing his hand behind Sara's back he started making small motions massaging her. It seemed to pacify her immediately and she relaxed and leaned back into her seat.
"You saw what he did to me when this terrible idea came to him? Before this," and she waved her hands to pull his attention to her body "I was dead, thrice. And I don't even know what two of them looked like! The only I do know, he had me strangulated in it."
"But you know it wasn't you."
"With a wire!"
"Oh don't break out into a sob again."
"On top of it, that wretch doesn't think it proper to clean the thoughts he filled my mind with. I can remember, I can remember the hands that had pulled the wire around my neck.."
Butch took out a cigarette from the side of his jacket and put it between his lips. Sara thrust out her lighter to the cigarette herself and lit it. He smiled from the side and looked at her. She was looking at his ring.
"Why, they were just these hands. Or could have been, but I had seen the ring with the cross on them. Those hands were grotesque."
"Could you stop being so paranoid all the time? I am not having much fun with his revolting train of thoughts either."
Both of them fell into a solemn silence, reflecting on what had just happened. Suddenly, they felt relaxed. While under the shower, Ralph shampooed his curls and massaged his head.
Placing his hand on the gearstick, Butch pushed it to the first, and slowly started his car. Sara liked the new thoughts she was having inside her head, and suddenly, she knew what was going on inside Butch's mind too. Ralph had while washing down the soap from his hair, a new idea. He thought about changing it a little. Just a little.
Butch was suddenly a new man when she glanced at him casually. A pencil-thick mustache suited his slick back hair, and he was dressed in all black. Even the shirt was black but silky, glittering. He was no longer smoking a cigarette but a pipe, that wafted aromatic vanilla and had a premium hint to it.
Upon looking down, she realized she was wearing a white dress, knee-length. Her head felt a pull behind her and she bent forward to release her long hair. She pulled them to the front on her left side, where Butch could see them shimmer under the moonlight.
They were in a Bug now and where they rolled, stood no parking lot but was an open country view. Romantic music was building up from behind, the lyrics of which were provided by Butch himself.
He started, as he placed his hand on hers in her lap, and she saw the ring she had slid on his ring finger, studded with a ring of little diamonds. Nothing could ever get dreamier than this. She had no knowledge of the turn of events that had let to this and neither of the ring.
Butch for all she knew was just as sweet as she had always known him to be. She had married this man after she had run away from her home. Only her father had stood in her path, him and his wealth. He was against the idea of her marrying this bootlegger but what would a father understand when he himself had inherited the riches from his father down the line?
Not much heed had been paid to him even when he had screamed in her ear. When he had slapped her with his accounts book, she had found herself seized by a little demon that raged inside her. She took off her heels and stabbed his right thigh.
First, she felt unbearably guilty, but soon pleasurable and satiating was her joy at this. A raging scream at disobedience had become a war cry sounding wrath, from her father. He clutched his thigh and barely managed to limp forward at all.
All this she remembered, had happened in vivid daylight and she had walked out of her father's office the next second. Her body had bruises on it, which she suddenly felt creeping on her skin just then, at the end of the thought where she had run away. She also acknowledged the appearance of a little swelling on her right shoulder, which she remembered looking at some time ago.
The idea came out of nowhere with a heartwarming feeling, as images crept up in her head, that all of those bruises were not by her father; some had been inflicted upon her by the man she was with right now, and he was looking romantic and deep.
She also had flashes that the bruises that weren't caused by him, he had kissed. Now they felt like marks of victory to her, to them.
But Ralph had to think about it again. Did he really want it romantic? “Wait,” he thought, “how about…”
He lifted up her chin to look at her. When she looked up, she saw the moon, it's light in its sweep, the brook, and the pastures. Everything was a stationary image. Nothing moved, all stood there, like a set. He prompted her to look at him but she couldn’t move her eyes away from what she saw.
The car wasn't moving either, and neither did it hum, but just seemed to be moving on a machine, bumbling along in its imaginary wake.
From behind, someone shouted, "Cut!" and around twenty people emerged from the shadows. For a second, she froze and it seemed like a party was going on around her, but she was soon proven wrong since the din of it all was not at all celebratory. She saw all these people wearing hats, some smoking, some scribbling on their pads, revising and fixing equipments, consulting and discussing with each other.
She didn't know where they were as she looked around. And then as she looked at Butch, she felt like he knew. He was getting out of the car himself. What took her aback was the fact that the set behind him had disappeared. Everything was out in the open. It was like a movie set.
She heard someone come to her side and after opening the car door, he asked her, politely, to step out, offering her his hand.
“No, but think again, this hook is so, plain. I wouldn’t read my own work if it started like this. Wait. Let’s think again,” Ralph, again muttered to himself as he applied hair cream while looking at himself in the mirror.
Sara didn’t take the hand, even though she let her own move towards him. His hand melted away, the car floated down to the solid ground, and Butch was driving it again. It was just as it was before when the set had disappeared but a little different, and there was an edgy feel to it now.
The scenery behind his head reappeared and this time, it seemed to be moving, breathing, the lifelessness dwindling out of it. The moon shone unassumingly, the sweep of its light made the lush grass sway with rhythm, and the brook shimmered as it flowed gently.
After some time, some confusion arose in their minds. It grew into a discomforting sensation for both.
The wind that had been gentle till now, became dry and unconcerned, the brook was swelling and hurrying slightly, dropping its calm and picking pace.
Then, just as suddenly, a clear dispute grew between them and showed up on their faces. It was no longer hazy, but its knowledge was in the possession of them both. Butch was irritated and blowing up red, while Sara was apprehensive and didn’t know how to avoid facing his ire.
"You know what you are? You are a weak woman, yes, a weak idiot! You will blow up my dreams to hell. You knew only your father could help finance it but still, you came running here! Oh, and what do you tell me? You tell me, 'I told daddy I'm leaving him... I told daddy I love you and he hit me so hard.' You dare!" and at this, he looked at her with simmering eyes. The air around her was filled venomous.
She reached out to his shoulders, to try and soothe him, but he swatted her away and grunted to no one. A thin sheet of rain started to blow down as she glowed a little.
Contrary to her miserable mood, she felt tiny pangs of life kick inside her. Her right hand which was placed near her belly was pushed aside a little. She didn't look down but she could feel what it was, and that made her happy, but she was confused. Along with that, she was angry, a little, and disappointed too. She wanted to do a lot many things then, but most of all, she wanted to run away.
Without any inclination or cause to do it, her hand reached out to the steering wheel, but it was blocked by Butch. This stoked her anger and she reached out again. This time too, Butch blocked her hand with his, but they didn't quite meet, and one swing of the wheel to the right by her, was enough to cause the car to swerve.
The car swayed and went out of control as it slid down the curb, but Butch somehow held it together and got it back in control and on the road. His face shone with frightening perspiration and he was gritting his teeth together, maneuvering the wheel with immense skill.
Meanwhile, Sara, who was equally frightened for two people, kept saying things that were beeped out because they didn't matter to Ralph, who was just coming out of the bathroom, towel tied around his waist, hair wet and glistening.
He was excited now, about this new plot that had come out. He hurried over to his table and put on his glasses.
Just then Butch brought the car to a standstill, and Sara ran out of it, crying.
And as soon as Ralpha looked at the line again, everything froze for Butch and Sara.
Butch stayed in the car, which was billowing some smoke from the front and appeared to be extremely agitated. Sara was unaware why she had stopped running though she felt frightened for herself, for Butch, for the world around her, and the baby that was still quite comfortable in her womb.
Ralph considered the scene carefully. He had played with the idea for a long time, of writing an origin story about the first human on Mars.
The idea seemed amusing to him, and he could make a memoir out of it, of the first Martian the world had ever seen. A work of pure fiction, but told like a memoir. The baby! He would make the baby be that, the first Martian! The first human on the Red Planet.
He thought about it some more, and in the end, decided that it would be a woman. A woman who would, with this global first, shun all stereotypes, champion feminism, be the cultural hero that brought full and final equality to men and women in the entire world.
Ralph, who was still thinking, thought to himself and talked to himself. He barely muttered, "This man doesn't seem much worth to the story now, does he?". Tears leaked from Butch's eyes along with the sweat and he tried in vain to look at Sara.
Walking to his fridge, Ralph pulled out a coke, a diet coke.
The disconnect caused Sara to resume running and crying, and for Butch, it was a save, a life save. A blast followed as soon as he walked out of the car. The blast was, in Ralph’s mind, the only way how this plot would go ahead. The few moments before it, the air was filled with screams that belonged to him. His last words were, "he is mad! This man is mad! He will kill me!"
Though she was outside the blast radius, her ears hurt and bled as she tried to breathe but could do so only with some difficulty. She kept crying but she couldn't hear herself while the burning metal in which she had been sitting some moments ago, creaked and groaned and whined. Her mind that was split into searching for someone who wasn't coming back ever again, and thinking largely, about the baby.
But soon, very soon, she was filled with a gladness. She felt that she was the only person who mattered in this world, or only second to the one who did. Her baby, the first Martian she somehow knew she would become. She was a little glad, though, she knew she must not be. The show had to go on and she had to play her part perfectly. Still a sidekick, she had a bigger role to perform now. Butch? Butch who?
Never before did he have such a crafty idea in his mind as Ralph gulped down the soda and smiled to himself. This time, the two-fifty was his.
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