(supposedly a parable)
The great American novelist sat poolside, shirtless in red-and-yellow Bermuda shorts. He was very white and very hairy. In one hand was a cigarette; in the other, a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Across the pool he could see the beach and the wide blue ocean. It would be sunset soon and there were rumors of a green flash like the one that could be seen from Key West. The cigarette was almost out and the beer was warm because for quite a while he had been watching the sunset on the verge of something – a word, maybe a line.
Before the something came to him he heard the voice of the great British poet/novelist behind him.
‘How’s recovery, old man?’
The great American novelist had time to roll his eyes and take a paltry drag from his cigarette before the great British poet/novelist sat down in the chair beside him. The great British poet/novelist was paler than the great American novelist and almost entirely bald where the great American novelist still had all his white hair. He smoked a pipe and had a thin mustache. Once, when the great American novelist asked why he did not wear a monocle to complete the affectation – they were much younger, and good friends – the great-British-poet/novelist-to-be replied ‘Don’t think I haven’t considered it – don’t think that at all.’
‘I’m fine’ the great American novelist said. ‘It was a simple procedure. Nothing major. If I can get out at least a sonnet by tonight, they’ll let me go home tomorrow.’
‘A sonnet, you say.’
‘That’s what they said.’
‘Have you ever written a sonnet?’
‘A few’ the great American novelist said. He shrugged. ‘I think they just mean length.’
‘Oh. That’s all?’ the great British poet/novelist asked. ‘So little. Must not have been very backed up.’
The great American novelist put his nose to the beer, winced, and sat it down beside him. He scratched his nose and said ‘No, not very. Last couple of chapters. You know how I work.’
‘Yes, yes’ the great British poet/novelist said, nodding. ‘I know, always a schedule. How far behind, if I may?’
‘A few months’ the great American novelist replied. ‘Three.’
‘Three months’ the great British poet/novelist said. ‘My, my. That is bad for you. Not at all for me, but for you…’
The great American novelist ground out his cigarette on the cement. ‘And you?’
‘Oh, horrid, horrid’ the great British poet/novelist said, swirling the air with his hand. ‘Hadn’t written a word in – oh, a year and a half, I suppose.’ He mashed down the tobacco in his pipe with his thumb and took out a book of matches to relight it. ‘Not a word. Couldn’t even manage the Kafka translation I’ve been working on. I even went back to some old work, to revise – you know, the long poem about Yeats, my third book – and nothing.’ He heaved a smoky sigh. ‘Horrid’ he repeated.
The bottom rim of the sun had reached the ocean and cast a rippling orange path along the surface.
‘So you came here.’
‘Yes. Victor – you remember Victor – Victor suggested it. Of course I resisted, but – you reach a certain point, you know.’
The great American novelist nodded. ‘What did you have done?’
The great British poet/novelist shook his head. ‘Oh, I don’t know. The one with the long name. Of course it’s not the procedure, it’s the therapy. I’ve had a week of therapy. Have you seen the therapy room?’ The great American novelist shook his head and the great British poet/novelist shivered. ‘Nightmarish. All those machines. Just miserable looking. You can’t imagine.’
‘Therapy, huh’ the great American novelist said, nodding.
‘Two hours day. But wonderful, I mean it works wonders. It’s not wonderful in itself you know. But works pure marvels. In one week I’ve written a chapter and an ode. I haven’t written an ode in years.’
The great British poet/novelist grinned coyly. ‘A Grecian urn. One must start somewhere, you know.’
The great American novelist might have laughed, but the sun was almost gone and he was concentrating on seeing the green flash. He said ‘Yeah, I have to write at least a sonnet. And they have to see it hit me, and see me write it down. If they don’t –’
The great British poet/novelist jumped out of his chair. ‘By God, there it was!’
The great American novelist looked up at him. ‘What?’
‘The green flash! Victor told me about it! Magnificent!’
The great American novelist looked back to where the sun had just been. ‘I didn’t see anything.’
The great British poet/novelist looked down at him. ‘You didn’t? Christ!’
‘I was looking. I didn’t see it.’
‘Sweet Virgin’ the great British poet/novelist said. ‘Magnificent.’
‘Are you sure?’ the great American novelist asked. He was still looking intently out to sea.
‘Sure?’ the great British poet/novelist said. ‘Sure? Why, I’ve never been so sure!’
‘How do you know?’ the great American novelist asked. ‘You’ve never seen one. How do you know?’
‘Oh, I know. I saw it’ the great British poet/novelist said. He looked firmly at the great American novelist.
‘But it could have been your imagination.’
The great British poet/novelist didn’t respond immediately. He sat down, thinking, then said ‘You may be right, at that. It could have been my imagination. How marvelous.’
‘You don’t care?’
‘Why no, old man. Of course not. Whether it was there or not, I saw it.’
The great American novelist shook his head and looked back at the sea.
‘I think I’ll go down to the beach’ the great British poet/novelist said. ‘They should let me go home tomorrow too, and I haven’t even seen the beach yet. What about you?’
The great American novelist didn’t look at him. ‘I hope they let me go too.’
‘A sonnet, they said.’
‘At least. And not necessarily a good one. I think they just meant length.’ The great American novelist looked down at his hands. ‘Maybe they’d take an octave.’