Miranda Sutter is a vegan, a bartender, and a writer – not necessarily in that order. She knows that the next Great American Novel is rolling around inside her head, if she can just find the right inspiration… The solution? Consult with one very dead writer by the name of Ernest Hemingway. When a handsome stranger saves a choking woman, Miranda knows she’s found a hero she can base her book on, but when she begins stalking him to learn more about his life, she’s in for more than she bargained for. Along the way, she will have to deal with long-buried grief and fear, a crisis of faith, an unwelcome housemate, a clingy gothic poet, the hero’s ex-wife, and a very hairy dog. Her crazy antics are sure to land her in jail… or in love!
If you're new, read part 1 and part 2 first.
Monday, April 16 (continued)
At the risk of seeming terribly cliché and somewhat masculine, I often drink cognac while I am writing, for no other reason than it’s what Hemingway’s characters drink. I’ve always secretly hoped that this hearkening to Papa Hemingway may invoke his spirit to speak to me. Not that I want to write a great, manly scene or have my characters fall in love with military nurses, but I simply seek his voice, the minimalist surety of it. Oh, how I desire the efficacy to neglect adjectives and to passionately pen the sparse truth, the skeletal actuality of my heroes and heroines. Maybe I’m just not made that way.
This evening I have heedlessly downed four snifters of cognac in an attempt to conjure any sort of guidance from beyond the confines of my own obstructed mind and, quite possibly, the grave. What I need is a brilliant lead character, someone painfully good or deliciously bad or, even better, a little of both. At this point, I am uncertain who my hero is, but I prophesy that once I know who he is, the next Great American Novel will be born.
I force myself to recall each of the men I’ve dated in the last five years, hoping to create some wonderfully complex composite protagonist or, far more likely, antagonist. Out of all of the poets, musicians, painters and sculptors, one should think I would have some sort of inspiration stockpiled in my dating history. Where is Papa Hem when I need him?
I fill my notebook page with columns of virtues and deficits for each and realize that there is nothing in the way of a decent human being among them, even if I blend them all together into a cool, frothy margarita of a man. Additionally, there is the glaring absence of a steady paycheck for any one of them, but I’m not analyzing that right now, am I?
Aiden comes in through the front door, wordlessly opens the refrigerator, liberates a bottle of Fat Tire, and flops down on the sofa, remote in hand. “I thought you were going out with Jennifer after work tonight,” I mutter without looking up.
“Jennifer? No. She died,” he remarks, flipping through the channels and finally selecting The History Channel.
“Again? Sorry to hear it. I’m getting nowhere, fast, on this character, Aiden. Any ideas for me?”
He starts clicking through the channels again, having lost interest in history already. “Still looking for your elusive knight in shining armor? Or have you determined you need a world-class anti-hero? Or are you looking for that perfect balance, your own personal Rhett Butler? Seriously, Miranda, maybe your dude is supposed to be a regular guy who takes his kids to ballet practice and does the laundry. Think about it. An unsung hero. An average Joe cum superstar.” He’s scrolling through infomercials. Tony Little is hawking his latest exercise equipment. Some British idiot is telling us we can’t live without the ultimate chopping gizmo he’s discovered. George Foreman is showing us how healthy bacon can be with his amazing grill. Early-morning television at its best.
“Yeah, right. Maybe he’s the next random guy I see in a bar. Thanks for nothing, brother dear. Good night.” Yawning, I make my way up the stairs with an obligatory snicker at the memory of Aiden’s ass-sliding narrative earlier. I’d noticed that his knuckles are, indeed, rug-burned. I wonder how got through a night of wiping his bar down with bleach water without agonizing pain.
Undressing and pulling my favorite, worn tee shirt on, I select a pair of flannel boxers out of the drawer and wonder if maybe the plan to write the Great American Novel is a farce. Maybe I’ve chosen this life for the same reasons Aiden has. Perhaps it is our subconscious fear of success that keeps us drawing draughts and pouring pitchers. No commitment required. Nothing ventured, nothing gambled, nothing at stake. Every night a parade of strangers vie for our attentions, and we know that tomorrow brings another round of admirers. As anyone who has watched Cocktail or Coyote Ugly knows, bartenders are the rock stars of their domains. Neither of us has been involved in any romantic entanglement of substance, both of us have dropped out of college and both of us are perfectly content leading lives devoid of self-actualization. Okay, Aiden had a good reason for dropping out, true, but he hasn't gone back. That's really the point I want to make. Maybe growing up poor made us underachievers. Maybe growing up as latch-key kids made us eager to scoff at opportunities bound to lead to security and stability and made us fear actually having someone to come home to. When you've lived in chaos so long, chaos becomes comfortable.
Commencing my ritual one hundred crunches before sleep, I audibly plead, “Papa, if you’re listening, I need some help. Send me a great storyline, a superb plot, a brilliant character, anything. I’m blocked, and I don’t own a gun so I can’t solve that problem the same way you did. Really, what I need is a great hero.” Thirty-seven, thirty-eight. “I swear, if you send me my own Frederic Henry, I’ll do anything. I’ll even eat meat for a month.” Fifty-four. That last part is a lie, I know. I haven’t eaten meat in sixteen years. No eggs or dairy for fifteen. Sixty-two. “Okay, maybe no meat, but I’ll drive to Ketchum and put a really great box of cigars on your grave marker. How’s that?” Seventy-five. “And some really nice flowers on Mary’s grave. Deal?” Eighty-three. “And I’ll name my first-born child Gregory. Or Gloria. Both after your youngest son. Sorry, that was in bad taste, wasn’t it?” Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred. “I know you will send me a hero. I’ll wait for your divine guidance. Amen.”
Tuesday, April 17
It’s Tuesday. Tuesdays mean that Aiden works the day shift at McArthur & Schultz, and I sit at his bar, drinking coffee and the occasional cognac while I write. Today is particularly slow. An elderly couple sits near the window, looking out over Lake Union while drinking Chardonnay and nibbling on appetizers. Four men in business suits are having a hushed discussion in the far corner, three of them with Bluetooths adorning their ears, ready for that ever-important phone call. Near the door is an attractive man of about thirty-five drinking diet soda and chatting with a slightly overweight brunette who is easily ten years his junior. She’s drinking a lager in between huge bites of a bacon burger. She talks with her mouth full. Charming. How do really great-looking men end up with these slobs? From where I sit at the bar, I can see no wedding ring, so maybe there is still hope for him. I can't help but think he looks familiar. Maybe he just has one of those faces.
Lord, what a face. Mossy green eyes and strong features framed by immaculately groomed espresso-brown hair. It's the perfect topping for his well-sculpted body, which is clearly filling out his "Northwest-casual" clothing; a light blue tailored shirt with the top button open and a pair of khaki herringbone Tommy Bahama pants. He’s only about five-foot-eight, but it works for him. Very well, in fact. Where have I seen him before?
The chubby brunette breaks into very loud laughter at something the attractive man has said. Considering how few customers are in the bar, the noise is rash and abrupt, like a smoke alarm in a church during communion. A couple of the executives look up, annoyed. She's one of those true peanut butter girls; chunky and nutty. I roll my eyes at Aiden, who mouths, “She’s hot.” I giggle quietly and gaze out the window, where the soft wind fills the sails of the MacGregors and Hunters. Seattle is so beautiful in the spring, in spite of our famous rain. However, today’s skies are clear and honest, without that quiet smugness of skies about to pour.
Aiden is refilling my coffee when the elderly man speaks in a panicked manner. “Helen? Helen, are you okay?” His wife is holding her throat with one hand and gesturing wildly with the other, unable to form words. The man shouts, “My wife is choking!” while standing, knocking his chair over. He makes his way behind her, slapping her on the back.
“No... stop. That can make things worse.” It’s the attractive man near the door, only he is halfway across the room to the choking woman now. “I’m a trained EMT. Call 9-1-1,” he instructs Aiden as he reaches her. The old man steps aside as Mr. EMT expertly places a fist against the lady’s abdomen and, grasping his clenched hand with the other, presses in and up with a quick thrust. He pauses and, not seeing the desired effect, repeats. I want to help in some way but can't remember a damned thing from my high school first aid class. Instead of rushing over to where the action is, I force myself to stay put and give Mr. EMT room to do his thing.
The old man is wringing his hands worriedly. “I think she’s choking on a prawn.” His pale gray eyes are filled with alarm and concern. “Oh, Helen…” My heart is breaking for him. I know what it is like to helplessly watch someone you love possibly dying. My mind flashes to the image of Aiden in his sterile room at Fred Hutchinson, the leukemia inside him hidden but its effects clearly visible. The moments of not knowing were the worst; not knowing if I was a donor match, not knowing if the transplant would take…
PART 4 HERE.