Mirror a Character

Ekstrom Noble. Lavender Bridge. Linoleum Price. Stricklin Barber. These people live beneath the dura mater, that outermost meningeal layer that that would protect my brain if my skull chose to abandon its role in that regard. Perhaps “live” is the wrong term. Perhaps “occupy” would more correctly describe their existence. And whether they reside just beneath the dura mater or deeper still, between the next two meningeal layers, or hide even deeper, I do not know. I suspect, though, they inhabit an imaginary space as yet undiscovered by neurologists and biochemists. They—meaning Ekstrom and Lavender and Linoleum and Strickland—are not alone there. An almost endless cast of characters join them there, wherever “there” is. Brighton Davis spends time there. So does Lina Lindström and Kolbjørn Landvik and Calypso Kneeblood and Fracas Edward Schlattery, Jr. and dozens more. And there was Garcia; just Garcia. He was gunned down in the first chapter of a book I never finished (one of many). But he was a central character in the book, all the way through to the end that was never written. He was the legend around whom the lives of the other main characters revolved.

The only discernible link between them are their unusual names. And, of course, the fact that they exist only in my mind and, occasionally, in my writing. I often wonder why I seem to be fascinated by characters with unique names. I suspect uncommon names lend an air of mystery to them, even before I flesh out their personalities. And I must want or need them to be unique, counteracting the drabness of their proletarian creator.

I could spend days and days and days creating the histories of these invisible people, beginning with their places of birth and their early lives. In fact, I have spent considerable time delving into the backgrounds and experiences of people whose minds work, in some ways, like mine. I know, for example, that a broken man whose last name is Truman but whose first names change depending on circumstance took his girlfriend, Cinnamon, to a hospital emergency room in Houston. The trip to the ER was immaterial to the story, if I recall it correctly, but I needed to know about it in order to know Truman well enough to show his descent into a turbulence of his own making.

Hmm. As I think about these characters, it occurs to me that their names are not the only links between them. Their troubled lives connect them. The circumstances in which they find themselves, though radically different from person to person, are difficult. In some cases, their circumstances are intolerable in the extreme. If I were to document their lives in sufficient detail so that they could fit into a story, the story would be very long indeed. Light-years long. And if their lives were intertwined, the story would form an epic soap opera, far more intense and improbable than Days of Our Lives or General Hospital or The Edge of Night. Odd that I recall the names  of those soap operas. I never watched them, but I knew of them.

I have better things to do today than reminisce about under-developed characters in unfinished stories. But the fiction inside my head sometimes is more appealing than the reality in my field of view and certainly more attractive than the character in the mirror. I can engage in conversation with the characters in my head and, if I’m careful, I can confront the more dangerous ones without being injured or killed.

Rod Serling was good at describing a world in which the impossible was commonplace. My mind is like that, but I lack either the patience or the skill to pull it off. In Serling’s world, a man could throw a stone at his own image in the mirror and the glass would shatter the man into a million shards. I do not own such a mirror.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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