One dark and stormy night … Well, actually, it was mid-morning of a halcyon June day, birds chirped, lawnmowers growled, weed eaters whined and children squealed, but inside the little cottage at the end of the cul de sac, lightning sizzled, thunder boomed and wind yowled. A story for Jane’s online writing class was due by 10:00 the next morning, and her mind was a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
She emailed her classmates for suggestions of story ideas that might jump-start her muse but received no immediate replies. While she waited, Jane showered, shaved her legs, polished her nails, defrosted the freezer, cleaned the toilet and dusted the living room, but no merciful incoming message ding broke the silence.
Yanking how-to books off the shelf and leafing through them, she discovered a chapter on clustering that showed promise. She put a question mark in the center of a sheet of poster board, drew a circle around the mark and waited for something to happen. No ideas surfaced, so she drew a line sticking out from the center circle, drew another circle at the end of that line and continued until the board was covered with lines and circles, revealing a stick man lying supine in an ocean of bubbles. Ready to fling the board across the room, she looked at the figure again and laughed. The little guy was really kind of cute, all straight and proper, like Carson in DOWNTON ABBEY.
Then the stickman sat up, folded his legs and placed his hands, palm up, on his knees in a lotus pose. Jane yelped.
The figure touched his lips in a shushing mime and tapped the side of his head.
“You’re telling me to be quiet so you can think?” she said.
The figure nodded. After several moments, he crawled across the desk to Jane’s Sidekick smartphone, flipped up the screen with his foot, and typed on the tiny keyboard, “Might I trouble Madame for some clothing. It is cold in here.”
Bending over to see what he had typed, she said to herself, I am sitting here, a 70 year old woman, having a conversation with a stick figure drawing. What is happening to me? Shaking her head to clear it, she said, “I’ll do my best, but I’m not much of an artist,” and drew a pair of trousers, cutaway jacket and tiny bow tie. “Do you want a hat?”
The figure shook his head no.
“You look like a dapper butler. Do you mind if I call you Carson?”
The figure typed, “My name is Sebastian, but if Madame would be more comfortable with…”
“No. Sebastian is a lovely name.”
“Thank you. Now, in what genre is Madame interested in writing?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
“Murder mystery? Romance? Science Fiction? Memoir?”
“I don’t know, and I fail to see how a figure of my imagination could help me.”
“It is precisely your imagination that must be tapped. If I am not mistaken, Madame is 70 years old?”
“It is most impertinent to ask a lady…”
“Please forgive me, Madame, but I only meant to point out that if you are 70, you have at least 60 years of memories and ideas buried in your mind that must be set free.”
“How do we do that?”
“We will start at the beginning. Where were you born?”
“Hm. Not much to go on there. Where raised?”
“Even less. What is the worst day of your life?”
“When my husband dumped me for a chippy.”
“More promising. What’s the best day of your life?”
“When my husband dumped me for a chippy and I moved to Hawaii.”
Sebastian applauded. “There is Madame’s story. Start with four cups of Oklahoma for a base, toss in a handful of history with the brutish husband for spice, then stir in chunks of fresh pineapple and mahi-mahi from Hawaii. Simmer for several weeks or months and Madame will have a great novel ready to be savored.”
“I don’t need a novel, I just need a story.”
“Very well, then take one ingredient at a time. If Madame will permit, I will attempt to write a short introduction, but first could I trouble you for some kind of chair? My back is killing me.”
“I have just the thing.” She raced from the room and returned pulling straight pins and needles from a rocking chair pin cushion with back and seat upholstered in red brocade.
Sebastian sat down, rocked a few times then typed, “This is a truly magnificent chair, thank you.” He lifted the smartphone onto a stack of paperback books, pulled the chair close and typed, stopping every few words to stare into space. When he finished, he showed Jane what he had written. “What does Madame think?”
Jane read what he had typed. “This is a tale told in small pieces, sound bites, spurts of memory and vision. In this way, I hope to tell this story of laughter and betrayal, friendship and loss, discovery and growth, music and mayhem, without its sounding like a sad country and western song.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said around the knot in her throat. “I can already feel stories lining up in my mind. Thank you, Sebastian.”
“I’m glad Madame is pleased. Now might I suggest you turn to your computer and get to work? You have a deadline, I believe.”
“Yes, I — you’re not leaving, are you?”
“I will remain as long as I can be of service. Might I beg Madame’s indulgence and use your smartphone? I am well into Chapter 11 of my science fiction novel and believe I’ve finally discovered a way to save my protagonist from being demolecularized.”
Jane turned on her computer and noticed several email messages from her classmates but didn’t bother to open them. Spotlighted by sunshine streaming through the window, Sebastian sat hunched over the smartphone on the desk beside her, his fingers a blur on the keys. As she typed her first words, their keyboard taps and clicks joined cadence, flooding the room with their rhythmic melody.