The Interview, page 1
By Meredith Greene. A short story inspired by close friends.
Copyright 2010 Meredith Greene – All Rights Reserved.
Entering the sprawling park, a young woman walked briskly down a well-groomed path. Checking her watch she quickened her pace. In one hand she clutched a water bottle and a blank notebook. A park bench with a single occupant came into view; book in hand, a woman reposed on the polished, wooden bench, her face shaded well by the wide brim of a chic sun hat. Spying the figure on the bench, the pedestrian seemed to relax, a little; she smoothed her suit-coat and tucked a stray piece of her long, blond hair behind her ear.
The woman on the bench looked up at the sound of approaching steps. The approaching young woman smiled, nervously; to her, the lady on the bench possessed a face of aging beauty. Her serene expression did not appear staged but as natural as one would wear clothes.
“You must be Miss Varen, from the Tribune…” the woman on the bench said, at last. The reporter nodded and habitually stuck out her hand, then retracted it; her boss had often warned her that many celebrities did not like to shake hands.
“Er… yes, Candace is fine,” she stammered, gripping her notebook. “I, uh… thank you so much, again for granting me this interview. My employer is, uh, well, everyone is kind of desperate to know all about you.”
The woman on the bench smiled down at her book.
“It is a popular opinion that merely reading someone’s writing enables one to find out all they wish to know about said writer …”
“Er, right,” the young reporter said, her face pink, “Write what you know, and all that…”
“And then, there are the blogs I write, my website, my poems… a veritable montage of deliciously available information.” The lady writer paused a moment before continuing. “Yet, you called me... wanting to know something else, information that no one else has, thus selling more papers or getting more hits than your competitors.” The woman in the hat closed her book, letting it rest on her gray skirt. “I am aware of how this works. You asked me honestly for what you wanted, and I respect that. Please, sit down.”
Candace complied, letting out a small breath of relief; in her experience famous figures were often capricious, demanding and vain. The woman seated on the bench before her seemed oddly out of place in such a sphere, something which just incited her curiosity further. The wrtier's clear, gray eyes gazed out steadily from under the hat’s brim, appearing completely un-intimidated by the presence of a reporter; her demeanor seemed as gentle as the cool breeze stirring in the surrounding trees. Trained to size up people by their appearances, the author’s outfit struck Candace as elegant and simple: a white summer blouse, light gray skirt and silver-colored sandals, all topped with the Audrey-Hepburn-style sun hat in a flattering shade of rusty red. The reporter made a mental note to ask where the hat had been bought and get one like it. The writer’s face also appeared to be aging well; her eyes held a spark of amusement in them despite her straight posture.
“Well, erm… right.”
Candace ‘s mind raced to form a pithy string of words; she’d practiced this interview a hundred times during the last week--and in the car ride over--until the questions were down pat. The presence of a sought-after celebrity was nothing new, either, but the writer's rather mysterious serenity had thrown her.
“Take a moment to collect your thoughts, dear,” came the authoress’ voice. “I won’t bite your head off… nor will I ‘put you in a book’.” The young reporter grinned sheepishly.
“Heh, thanks… well, I wouldn’t mind being in one of your books. Not as the villain, though.” The woman seated nearby smiled a little.
“That would be a bit cruel I think. You’re just about the age of my oldest daughter.” Candace nodded, drawing in a long breath; the woman’s tone indeed sounded motherly.
“Oh, well... let’s start on that, if you wouldn’t mind… your family. From what I’ve gathered you and your husband have four children.”
“Correct. We’re about to get our first grandchild, actually, next month.”
Pen scribbling in neat lines, Candace kept up with the flow of softly spoken information.
“Graduated high school, two semesters of community college… Married for twenty-five years to one man. Erm, the owner of the Rentyn Company…”
“He does have a name.”
The writer’s tone did not vary; ever gentle and steady.
“Uh, right… er…” Candace racked her brain for the correct information.
“James,” the woman said, smiling. “It is easier for me to remember it.”
“Yes, certainly,” the reporter answered, feeling a bit more relaxed at the joke. “So… married for a quarter century; that seems to be the theme of your books… finding your soul mate, getting married right away, having children and staying together, forever.”
“I’m flattered you found it so clear,” was the woman’s response. “Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that the difficulty of Literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.” The writer's hot brim bobbed slowly, as if she were nodding in agreement to her own words.
Writing this down, Candace worked out how to ask the burning questions in her mind, without sounding insulting. The serene woman sitting on the bench could easily ‘put her in a book’ or worse, ruin her career with a few, choice words spoken at some gala event to some other media outlet; she had that kind of sway. Readers worldwide purchased her books and clicked into her weekly blogs; just the site clicks on her online poetry rivaled that of the Tribune’s top stories. Once a month, she’d give out book reviews and thus launched novelists to fame… or not. Negative reviews from the woman were rare; a particular writer who’d received one was still struggling to find work.
The young reporter cleared her throat.
“Your life seems so… flawless, almost… like the relationships in your books.”
Soft laughter greeted this hesitant statement.
“Flawless? Hardly…” the woman said; her smile grew wide, allowing her dimples to show. “My characters have insecurities, arguments; they do laundry, wipe up spills and change diapers, just like any wife would… just like I do.”
“I know… I’ve read all your books, but, they always seem to work things out in the end. Nothing ever ends in separation, or divorce.”
The word hung heavily in the air.
“Divorce…” The woman in the hat spoke the word as if tasting it, deciding whether it was palatable or not. “True. None of my characters have waded into that bitter mire…”
“It’s not always bitter,” Candace said, adjusting her seat; her hands felt clammy all of he sudden. “For some folks it’s the only viable choice, really…”
Studying the reporter from under her hat, the authoress carefully kept a smile off her face. The pretty, young reporter sitting uncomfortably on end of the bench suddenly displayed a stubborn tilt to her chin, along with a certain guarded look in her eye.
“Actually, it’s a series of choices,” the lady writer said, at last. “Many of my friends’ parents divorced; I got to see it, along with them, from beginning to end, as well as all the after-affects.”
As much as the subject they’d got on was uncomfortable, Candace felt intrigued.
“What do you mean a series of choices?” she inquired.
The authoress noted her interest and smiled; her eyes began scanning the surrounding area for something. Lifting one hand, the writer pointed across the way; a couple sat there, on a bench a little further down, out of earshot.
“Take that pair, there…” she said, in a voice just loud enough to be barely heard. Candace looked at the couple on the bench. The woman was reading a book… the man, a paper;
“It starts with something silly…” the writer continued. “Something very, very trivial… nothing more than a few, hasty words spoken in anger about socks left on the floor, or the toilet paper not being replaced, the car door left unlocked, dishes in the sink… anything, really.”
The words flowed out evenly as the two women watched the unsuspecting couple. “The hasty words stick around; they linger just as the tender ones do. But these are words that no one says ‘I’m sorry' about later… for whatever the reason. That night, the two grow tired and simply go to bed… and nothing is resolved. It becomes a small choice… a choice not to let it go and the next time, there is fuel already there for a slightly bigger blaze. Pretty soon, they’re finding more faults with each other and experiencing less joy; there are less moments of laughter, more fights. Finally, they don’t even like one another anymore; they stop talking and just give up. Sadly, disagreements do not right themselves; they must be worked on… resolved in an adult fashion. But... it’s easier to walk away from something that hurts that much. Most choose the route of least resistance.”
Candace glanced back at the lady writer. The woman sat in sage posture on the bench, her book in her lap. It was difficult to argue with someone who held all the cards.
“I guess you do know a bit about it…” the reporter said, quietly “So, those psychology classes worked out for you, eh?” The writer chuckled.
“Life taught me more. There are not many left that do not have some idea of what divorce is like…” Her tone felt like a mother’s, comforting a child that has fallen down and scraped a knee. “I would be remiss not to offer a plausible alternative solution in my books… not a perfect solution, per say—for humans are not perfect--but a solution that is actually attainable.”
Candace felt a smile creep over her face.
“As you have daily proof of, right?”
“As I had daily proof,” the lady writer corrected, nodding to herself. “My parents are still married, my grandparents stayed married and devoted, even until death... and then there were my great uncle and aunt, a couple who taught me that marriage can be fun… a lifelong adventure. I was always determined to have something like it.”
“Then you succeeded. Everyone who has met you and James seems to think you two were meant to be together. I guess it’s natural that you would write that into your story-lines.”
“Indeed,” the woman said, nodding slowly. “I know nothing of vampires, knights or space aliens, so real romance stories and happy tales of families were always my best option.”
Candace cleared her throat and shifted in her seat a little. Watching her, the authoress smiled; the more prying questions were forthcoming.
“Some readers, like myself… and perhaps we’re just a bit jaded, but we wonder…. well, it’s hard to believe that like your characters, you’ve only ever loved one man.”
“Loved? Yes; I have only ever loved James.” The woman in the hat seemed perfectly serious. Inwardly disappointed, Candace made notes, wondering how to dig further.
“What about a crush?” she inquired after a moment. “Perhaps, in school? Was there ever a boy you liked?” The authoress seemed to consider this a moment; Candace leaned forward, hoping the woman as not toying with her.
“There was one,” the writer said, after a moment. “No soul is completely impervious to a tentative emotional attachment… especially when you’re young.”
The reporter perked up at this statement; pushing her blond hair behind her ear, she picked up her notepad again.
“Now that sounds like a long, interesting story,” she remarked, trying not to sound too eager. “Finally, some dirt…” Candace thought, making certain her pen was working.
From under the brim of her hat, the authoress watched the reporter’s every move; her smile did not fade.
“When I was quite young, elementary school, I met Ben,” she began, “… a boy who stole my breath away just to be in the same playground with him.” Candace began writing, busily. The woman in the hat relaxed against the bench, looking up into the blossoming trees across the way. “He had golden-brown eyes, brown curly hair and all the girls in four grades had crushes on him.”
“I bet he liked that, huh?” Candace asked, smiling. The authoress shook her head.
“Not at all,” said she. “He possessed a solitary nature; the attention was merely a nuisance.” The writer smiled a little at the recollection. “The others boys were a bit jealous of this, as you can imagine; they ribbed him a great deal. My heart went out to him because of it, you see; I was treated the same way all through school. Everyone picked on ‘Ugly’.”
“Ugly?” Candace repeated, looking up from her notes. “No way… they did not call you that in school!” The authoress chuckled, nodding.
“They did indeed.”
“Wow… I bet they wouldn’t now,” the reporter said, smiling as well. The woman in the hat let out a small sigh; it was not a sad sound, more one of wistful reminiscence.
“Yes… funny how that works,” was her reply. “But then ‘Ugly’ I was… and Ben being the rather saturnine soul that he was picked up on it; I don’t know why but he reached out the hand of friendship towards me. It was kindness, I think… such as no one had ever shown me.”
Candace nodded, writing less and listening more; she’d involuntarily sat forward a little, like a child at story-hour. The writer’s voice held a calming rhythm, her words easy, unfaltering… elegantly moderated, yet nothing was hidden away. The authoress on the bench did not appear uncomfortable talking about thus subject in the least.
“Our parents became good friends so they came over often; his older sister was hired to watch myself and my little brother and Ben would usually come along; he loved walking in our woods, watching for animals. He’d point out tracks and different plants to me; sometimes we’d sit by a creek and say nothing for hours, and it was perfectly comfortable. Later on he began to find interest in automotive things; I watched him and his father re-build car engines. There was always something useful to learn around Ben.”
“Sounds idyllic,” the reporter said, with a small sigh. The authoress tilted her head a little to one side, still gazing at the trees.
“For children, it was,” she replied. “As we grew into teenagers, however, Ben began to naturally find the company of boys his age more desirable. My crush on him--as the term goes--remained strong; even though we spent hardly any time together. No other boy could get my attention, and when Ben was busy with cars, motorcycles and paint-ball I would be at the library with my only real friends... books.”
“Ah, now that make sense,” Candace said, smiling. “Most writers I’ve interviewed were kind of social loners and they all like books better than people.”
The authoress chuckled.
“Well, that depends on the people,” she returned. “By the end of high school I was finally starting to look like a girl; along with some other boys Ben realized I was still alive and began talking to me again; I let him drive me home each day from school in his classic Ford truck.“
“Nice… a guys’ car, for sure,” Candace said nodding to herself.
“It only got eight miles to the gallon,” the woman in the hat said, shaking her head. “But, it was a nice-looking ride; he was so proud of it, you know, re-built it himself with his father. That year Ben showed me how to change the oil, how to change a tire, the fuel filter, spark plugs… we spent a great deal of time talking about automotive parts.”
“Wow, you must have liked him a lot to put up with that,” the reporter said, making a face.
“I’ve always like learning,” the writes responded, smiling. “Besides, all the girls in school all envied me that year. Ben was tall
“First date, huh? Aw, that’s so sweet…”
“It was. My father sat in as a dance chaperon and rode in the truck with us, but we still had a good time… a hilarious time. For all his athletic ability Ben was a terrible dancer, but then so was I. We looked ridiculous together and it didn’t matter. No one else mattered.”
The authoress paused a moment, her smile faded a little. Candace leaned forward again, her pen again ready to write.
“Then came Graduation and after, Ben enlisted in the Marines.” The reporter’s eyes grew wide but the writer continued her tale. “Everyone was shocked, except me. I was merely heartbroken that he was leaving; I felt like one of my arms was being severed, or something equally horrendous, as teenage girls are wont to do.”