Gilda

There’s this fantastic, moving story in Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s Live from New York – one of the many official and unofficial SNL backstory tomes – about a party some of the original cast players held at one point after they knew that Gilda Radner was dying of cancer. They’re all getting high, the booze is flowing, the Stones and Van Morrison are spinning endlessly on the turntable, and they’re all laughing about the old times. And at one point, someone picks up light-as-a-feather Radner and just starts carrying her around while she laughs like crazy. And then she’s handed off to someone else to carry about, and then someone else, and then someone else –  Murray to Aykroyd to Martin – and they’re carrying her all over this apartment party from room to room and she’s hysterical, that kind of can’t-stop-laughing-if-I-tried laughing.

They didn’t want to put her down. Putting her down would signal the end of the party, and the end of the party was – for most of them – probably the end of Gilda. Who knew when they’d individually see her again? Or if she’d even still be alive then? So around and around she went, a farewell tour conducted on shoulders and under arms and cradled before them each in turn.

I’m feeling that vibe as Khemnet starts to take shape on the page; I get the sense, with each scene, that this is it. These two characters aren’t ever talking again. This decision is final; that action is definitive. More of this story is going to play out, of course, off the page; Sabine finishes high school, or graduates early – who knows? She’s a sharp kid. Matthew’s headed for a medical career; Dylan’s considering his EPL options; and on and on it goes. But that part of the story is going to ‘hang off the page.’ It’s going unanswered; the window on this story is closing, and with that comes a strange and conflicted obligation. The more neatly any tale is tied off, the less believable it becomes; but the less neatly it’s tied off, the more frustrating it is to read. (With the finale of The Sopranos essentially pegging the meter in one direction, and just about any Disney-princess movie burying the needle in the other.)

I’m certainly more Tony than Tinkerbell, but it’s a bittersweet sensation to be saying goodbye, and I’m fighting the urge to allow characters to play themselves offscreen with a speech and a swirling orchestral score. It’s not a speechmaking life; are you aware, at any point in time, that this interaction or that might be your last with someone? We all tell our kids and spouses we love them, just in case today’s the day for the bus to lose its brakes, but we’re not in the habit of making speeches, and characters don’t know they’re about to have their story curtailed, either – so it’s reality for Khemnet, I’m afraid, with all of its attendant mystique.

“Who’s she going to end up with?” is the most common question these days, but what does that mean – ‘end up with?’ There’s a finality to that state that I’m not sure is warranted. Who were you dating your freshman year of high school? Did you ‘end up’ with him or her? Probably not; that’s what makes the question kind of moot. Sabine could easily break up with one and take up with the other a thousand non-existent pages in their futures, actions never documented in a junior year unseen. I’ve actually considered bringing that concept into the book, with an epilogue or a cadenza of some type that deliberately leaves her later life in question, but I’m not sure I want to go there.

“How does it end?” That’s another popular one, and while I don’t have anything Sopranos-esque in mind, I also don’t have a bow for it. That’s not reality. The best of stories are the ones we feel that we got a momentary and detailed glimpse into, but that existed before we ever opened to the first page and that exist after we finish the last one. There’s a sense that, perhaps, you observed a conversation between lovers in a restaurant without them knowing; now they’re paying the check, perhaps suddenly aware that their voices got a bit loud and lascivious after the second glass of wine, and now they’re heading for the door.  That’s always been my goal for the characters in these stories. So it has an ending, to be sure, and one that wraps up these characters’ involvement in the dreaming realm, but it’s far from a horseback ride together into the sun. (If for no other reason than some of the characters ARE horses, and…y’know…that’d be a little odd.)

Endings can wait for another day, though.

Right now, I’m all about carrying Sabine around. And to be honest, I just don’t want to put her down.

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