Several of his friends regularly commented about Skyler’s writing, frequently expressing amazement at how vividly his words painted his characters’ thoughts and physical surroundings. “It’s as if you were there, behind his eyes, recording every detail,” Ophira O’Malley said to Skyler one bright January morning, as the two of them waited for their warm drinks and hot rolls.
The smell of coffee and cinnamon filled the tiny New York City neighborhood bakery where they sat, sunlight pouring in through the huge picture window and bathing their two-top table in welcome warmth. Outside, the crisp, almost cold, morning air urged pedestrians to hurry to their destinations.
“I am,” Skyler said.
“You are what?” Ophira’s blank face registered nothing.
But her gaze seemed to Skyler to reveal confusion.
“I am there, behind their eyes, recording every detail. I become the character in every sense. I mean, I remember things that never find their way into my stories, like what their mothers called them when they were babies. And I remember bat mitzvahs and the funerals of their great aunts and…sometimes I even remember what it was like having sex with a character’s wife earlier in the day.”
Skyler stopped talking, his bright blue eyes piercing Ophira’s dark brown windows, searching for signs that she either understood or thought he was out of his mind. He could not tell what she was thinking; the springy curls of her orange-red hair distracted him from her eyes. She was a beautiful enigma, he thought.
“Okay, I get that you get ‘in character’ when you’re writing. But, pullleeeaassse, remembering sex with his wife?” Ophira’s sneer and dismissive chuckle irritated him.
“Fine! Don’t believe me. I didn’t expect you to get it. I had just hoped…”
Ophira continued her assault on Skyler’s revelation. “Is that sex surprisingly similar to the sex you had with Darlene the night before we met?” Ophira’s accusatory smile and cocked head told Skyler he was right. She still did not understand.
“No, the sex is completely different. Seriously, Ophira, I don’t just get ‘in character.’ I become the character. Skyler is gone, replaced by the character.”
Ophira’s eyes narrowed, as if she was trying to process what he had just said. “You’re serious, aren’t you? Explain that. What do you mean ‘Skyler is gone’?”
“I mean, when I’m seeing the world through a character’s eyes, I am that character. Not that I think I am that character. I am that character. I don’t even realize Skyler is writing about him. I am that person, not a character in a story. I have a history that’s totally different from Skyler. I remember going to synagogue as a child. Me! An atheist! Going to synagogue! And, with one of my stories, I remember an event in my character’s childhood; he doused his little sister with alcohol and lit her on fire. She never told on him. She was blamed for her own injury.”
“Except for the look on your face, I’d say you’re screwing with me. I…I…I just don’t know how to respond.”
“I’m not looking for a response. I just want someone to listen. And to believe me. I think I actually become different people. Several at a time. Whoever is in my stories. I become them. But somehow I function as Skyler at the same time. I know this sounds crazy. Maybe I am crazy.”
Skyler thought he saw empathy and compassion replace skepticism on Ophira’s face. Finally, he thought, someone believes me; I can share this with someone else.
But Skyler had been wrong about people before. And, he recalled later, he had been wrong about Ophira.
Ophira O’Malley’s death was ruled accidental. She had slipped while standing on a subway platform, stumbling off the platform and down onto the tracks just seconds before the train roared into the station. The motorman told police he saw nobody with Ophira when she fell off the platform; it was just a horrible accident. Skyler Clark learned about the accident from Jerome Davis, the police officer leading the investigation and Skyler’s friend of fifteen years. Davis called Skyler, who was attending a writers’ workshop on the upper west side at the time, less than half an hour after Ophira’s death.
Two weeks after Ophira’s death, while Skyler was writing in the character of Guatemala Coombs, a wealthy New York City drug dealer, Skyler saw it. He saw a wire stretched across the platform, the far end tied to the middle of a piece of two-by-two lumber. Ophira stepped out of the stairwell and crossed to her usual place on the platform where she waited for the train. Just as the train approached the spot where she was standing, Guatemala jerked the wire. The piece of lumber caught on the tips of Ophira’s spiked heels. Guatemala pulled harder. Ophira lost her balance and plunged onto the tracks just before the train passed that point on the platform. Guatemala reeled in the wire and the little piece of lumber, wound the wire around the board, and walked away. No one by Guatemala saw what happened. Ah, but Skyler saw it; not as Skyler, though. For he had become Guatemala.
I could continue, but I won’t for now. This is post number 3001 on this blog. I should celebrate by having a sweet roll. Absent the availability of a sweet roll, I’ll have avocado on an English muffin.