It was so late that it was early by the time the Writer finished polishing the wittiest bit of dialogue in the world.
Nothing was too good for his girls. He went to sleep with a satisfied grin on his face. Tomorrow he would reread those lines and doubt and ponder and even despair of his midnight creatures which had seemed so perfect at conception.
For now, Morpheus left him smiling.
The sisters had come to him in a random flash of (dare I say it?) inspiration.
He saw them on a stage. A darkened background, vague shapes of furniture. Under the spotlight, two girls. So near in age as to seem twins. Light hair, white summer clothes. They sat on the floor facing each other. Between them, a checkerboard.
Midmorning, he was awakened by Thalia jumping on his stomach and meowing cheerfully about breakfast.
He sat up, blinking sleep out of his eyes. Melpomene, little drama queen that she was, stood by the empty bowl making big eyes at him.
The muses fed and watered, he forced himself to have a shower and a cup of coffee before looking at the product of the previous night’s momentum.
He half-feared, half-expected that his three a.m. judgement wasn’t to be trusted, and indeed it wasn’t , but, although not the stuff of genius ,the pages were mostly usable.
He settled down to fill in some exposition. He wasn’t clever enough for fine work in the mornings. He was quite happy with the title ,SisterShare ,and had a mind to keep it. It was very theatrical.
He got back to Katy’s speech on act 2.There was a first draft but it was only half baked.
“KATY-We used to play checkers constantly then, and one of us had this idea to make our set unique. You know, it was summer, we were bored. At first we were going to draw faces on all the pieces, or maybe write words, but we couldn’t agree ,so in the end we did the colours.(she takes a sip of wine, gets up, walks across the room)All other boards are black and white, or red and white or red and black, you see, but we….
KAROL-….we chose green and blue (she walks in).Fun was a simple thing back then.(she takes a sip from her sister’s glass, who doesn’t seem to mind).remember? we had blue and green stains on our fingers for days.
KATY-Mum was so cross! she made us wear white gloves…
KAROL-….to church , and when we had guests. I couldn’t keep mine clean to save my life.(they both giggle).”
He leaned back in the chair and drank cold coffee. Was it too long? should he tighten it up? It was an important piece of symbolism. Also, it was a clue to the sister’s relationship. He wondered again about the use of Russian words. In the interest of clarity, he had decided against it but maybe one or two. Like “mum”. Or something that their mother used to say when she was angry. Or happy.
Belly full, Thalia climbed onto the computer monitor to lend him a paw. She enjoyed laying there, warmed up by the machine, her paw (white toe, black toe) carelessly hanging over the screen.
Katerina and Karolina Kendall had inherited their names and their beauty from their Russian mother and their surname and charm from their American father.
Born eleven months apart, they had grown up like twins .In fact they enjoyed confusing people about who was who.
“KAROL- Wanna play a game?
KATY-I will win.
KAROL-No you won’t. Not every time.
KATY-I win a lot.
KAROL-(setting up the game)You are going to lose.
KATY-If I win, I get your lilac bow.
KAROL-If I win, you give me the fairy doll.
KATY-Lilac bow, and the sparkly yo-yo.
The parents didn’t appear in the play. To better show the isolation of the sisters’ little private world, he had kept them as off-stage voices punctuating the childhood scenes in Act 1.
Melpomene walked in with her stuffed beany rabbit in her mouth. She threw him a reproachful look (he had no idea why) and curled up on the armchair with the rabbit between her paws.
She was a temperamental ginger with huge eyes that, if you flattened her ears, made her look like an alien cat.
The Writer considered tackling the fight on act three but it was a bit too early. He did a quick read instead, focusing on the sister’s voices. It worried him that the public might think them interchangeable.
Their personalities must come through, distinct, individual, ringing like two bells with different notes. Katy was more gentle and diplomatic, a reflective girl. Karol had the frankness of practical people, moved by impulse and, while giving an impression of strength, she was more sensitive than her sister and easier to hurt.
The writer put his pen down and started making lunch. Thalia and Melpomene followed him to the kitchen. He fed them bits of cheese and Italian sausage while the spaghetti boiled.
Leaning against the counter, he munched on a salty cracker and reconsidered his parallel dialogues with the sisters’ children.
Like the first-act parents, their offspring had been excluded from the spotlight to give the sisters room and time to move along.
And he knew(he knew) it was the best choice, only it stung him a little ,the loss of those two childish voices, ready, in all their innocence, to reveal their mothers’ secrets.
“MYRA-I know a secret.
RAY-I know secrets too. Grown up secrets.
MYRA-My Mum says everyone should have secrets.
RAY-Mine too. Make life interesting…
MYRA-They are to keep….(she recites)
RAY-…not to share…(he joins in)
MYRA-…except for maybe one person.
RAY-I’ll tell you one if you tell me one.”
But no. It was better this way. The kids would be good for a novel, one of those jigsaw tales where the reader has to put the pieces together on his own.
Too distracting on a play of this length.
He strained the pasta, dry-fried the sausage slices, added tomato sauce (not too much, don’t drown it) ,tossed in the pasta, quick turn, plate up, add cheese.
He ate on the sofa, watching the NatureDoc Channel.
The muses went to sleep, lulled by the deep voice on the TV. He ran his fingers through their warm velvet bodies and went for his walk. When he was writing full time, he made a point of taking at least a two hour walk. Besides, his brain was at its more unproductive at this hour. He walked briskly ,refreshed by the crisp breeze. The parks were blooming, perfumed and welcoming. His favourite one was annexed to an old mansion turned museum. It was an added pleasure to envision the(fabulously rich) family that had owned the state for generations.
Little lords in velvet suits learning to ride ponies(Do hold on, my lord, keep your back straight).
Delicate ladies in long dresses and silk parasols gossiping on the paths(“I believe young Mr Ashcroft is about to propose to our darling Louisa. He has ten thousand a year and Lord Ashcroft’s state is entailed to him as second son.”-“Oh, I’m so pleased for you, my dear!”), their yapping lapdogs chasing frogs around the pond.
What wouldn’t he give to find one of those ghost spots where you can listen to echoed conversations from the past.
He met a friend and spent the next three hours chatting, walking at a fast pace and, later, drinking fresh carrot and mint juice bought from a man with a juicer on a trolley. Not thinking about Karol and Katy.
The muses ran to greet him when he got back. Thalia bouncy and chatty, as if lots of interesting things had happened since his departure and she absolutely must tell him all about it.
Melpomene strolled languidly behind, little red panther, freshly groomed. He got out of his jacket and, a cat on each arm, he started preparations for some serious writing.
Big pot of tea (green jasmine these days),non relaxing music(a restless jazz),shoes off, bowl of mixed nuts, bowl of chocolates, notes and ideas notebook, a few pages read of a book to focus the mind and all systems on. Full steam ahead!
If only. There was more snacking and playing with the cats than working for about an hour. Then, slowly, he started turning back towards the sisters’ long necks, quick tongues and elegant shoes, until he didn’t notice that the music had stopped and he was drinking cold tea.
The brackets had been nagging at him.
He wanted to bracket the play in by turning the last scene into a mirror image of the first. The girls on the floor playing checkers.
The final one was the calm after the storm. It must follow the raging fight on Act 3,bringing a gradual relief on the tension, as the sisters realized there was no reason to fight because, at the end of the day, they cared more about each other than about any of the men in their lives.
Husbands faded into a darkening background, as the women’s hands moved faster and faster above the board. He made a note of white dresses and hair down, to perfectly reflect scene one.
The men, mere accessories, were Fred and Charlie. They never fully grasp their own insubstantiality in their wives’ lives.
The crisscrossing of the two couples was only a reflection (yet another one) of the Kendall girl’s adolescent games where they would exchange ,pawn and bet boyfriends with each other.
The game was called “SisterShare” and they had played it since childhood. They would barter men as they had done with shoes, toys, clothes, trinkets and the last piece of cake.
Ownership (or right of use) was decided over a game of checkers. Blue and green checkers.
And there were many men to play with. Karol and Katy had always been popular.
“KATY-Are you done with Sean? Iam so bored of listening to Steve talk about horses’
KAROL-I did warn you.
KATY-can we play for Sean then?
KAROL-I don’t know. He is a good kisser. And sweet.
KATY-Sistershare. I’ll throw in the red skirt.
KAROL-and the ankle chain?
KATY-Deal. I’ll get the board.”
When Karol found herself pregnant by a boy she had no interest in seeing again, she chose Fred for a husband. As he was on Katy’s possession at the time, they played for him and Karol won. It was easy to manipulate boys ,redirect their interest.
Only after the speedy engagement did Katy discover her own pregnancy by Fred. For the first time, she kept a secret from her sister.
She simply chose a husband of her own and they celebrated a double wedding.
“KATY-wasn’t it a lovely day?(she picks up the photograph. Karol looks over Katy’s shoulder).
KAROL-We looked beautiful.(they giggle).”
The checkerboard was left behind at their parent’s home, where the play unfolds ten years later.
The Writer scrolled back to Act2.They had an argument over a pair of green sandals when they were 15 and 16 which would serve as a blueprint for the big fight on Act 3.
It was a rarity for them so he must be careful to establish ‘how’ they argued.
He was interrupted by two cats climbing onto the keyboard and rubbing their heads against his. Dinner time.
He fed the cats and started chopping. Apples, chicken, ginger. He browned them up in oil and added a bit of water to simmer while he grinded the spices. A pinch of paprika fell on the floor and crazy Thalia ran to lick it.
-You little addict-he muttered affectionately.
While the smells filled the apartment, he had half a glass of white wine(any more made him sleepy) and thought about the husbands.
They were there to listen to their wives’ memories and as objects of desire but he wondered if he had left them too removed. After all, they must be believable as men worth fighting for.
He turned off the stove, added a handful of spinach and filled a bowl. He ate with the TV. Those clever guys on CSI. The cats watched with him, then asked to be let out.
After his muses vanished into the garden’s night life, the Writer washed the dishes of the day. In his head ,the sisters were already yelling at each other.
“KAROL-You were in love with Fred. You’ve always been.
KATY-Maybe, but we never did anything. You…(she’s so angry she stutters), you had an affair with Charlie!
KAROL-what do you care? It’s not like you love him!
KATY-Neither do you! and he is my husband! I never touched yours.
KAROL-No. No you didn’t .You did worse. You kept loving him and he kept loving YOU.
KATY-You don’t know….
KAROL-Yes I do. I’m not blind. You two were in love and kept being in love to my face! my husband! MINE!I had to do something.
KATY-So you slept with Charlie? I fail to see how that makes things better.
KAROL-It doesn’t(almost a sob).
KATY-(softly)Of course it doesn’t .But you did it.
KAROL-I needed to feel…to do…It was empty. It was sad empty sex. Not that we would admit it.
KATY-Just as sad as Fred and I, not looking at each other…
KAROL-all those motels….
KATY-talking about the weather…
(their voices wind down,gradually)
KAROL-he gave me jewellery. As if I could have worn it.
KATY-making small talk, never touching…So stupid.
KAROL-He is my husband.
KATY-My husband. (in unison)
KAROL-Do you want Fred now?
KATY-No. It’s too late. It’s gone.(they both sigh)”
The muses were back. They took their stations. Thalia on top of the computer monitor, Melpomene on his lap, purring in harmony while he drank lemonade and toiled for two more hours.
His vision getting blurry reminded him of the time.
Time for dessert.
He came back with a bowl of caramel vanilla ice cream for himself and a bit for Melpomene in an egg cup. She loved the stuff.
Since he didn’t want a diabetic toothless cat on his hands , she didn’t get this treat very often. Tonight she did.
(Lights slowly dimmed down. Spotlight centerstage. Checkerboard on Karol’s hands, Katy finds the box of game pieces in a drawer. They approach the circle of light, sit on the ground, set the game)
KATY-I know what we should do. Get a divorce.
KATY-All of us. Don’t you think?(Karol thinks for a minute).
KAROL-A double divorce. And why not? We did have a double wedding.
KATY-It will be beautiful.(they smile at each other .They start playing. Quick, sure. Lights out.)
The Writer and the muses crawled into bed, tired and satisfied. It had been a good day. Some days, some days were hell on ink, dozens of crumpled pages in the wastebasket, his finger spending more time on the DELETE key than on any of the others, doubt and despair. Worse of all, nothing to show for your efforts.
That would push the dirty snowball downhill. Chaos ensued. Irregular sleeping hours. Too much senseless TV, not enough fresh air. Beer, fast food of the worst greasy kind.
The muses would despair of him. They would glare disapprovingly, impatient tails flickering.
He would eventually drag himself outside, into normal life, until his brain’s cobwebs cleared out so he could see the way for his pen again.
Some days. But today, bliss of a day, he fell asleep with their young voices ringing inside his head.
“KATY -I’m wearing the blue dress with the flowers.
KAROL -I was going to wear it!
KATY -Sistershare. I’ll play you for it!”