Yesterday, I promised (warned?) that an excerpt would arrived today, from my novella Other Lives of the Boothbys.
And now here’s the section where Bradley Boothby calls the writer George Foulkes to chat about a character in one of George’s stories…
Dialing the phone number on the screen, Bradley hoped George Foulkes wouldn’t ignore the call. If George had caller ID (and didn’t most people?), he wouldn’t recognize this number and might assume it was a telemarketer. George could let the call go to voicemail.
“Hi. Is this George Foulkes?”
“That’s me. Who’s this?”
Bradley didn’t have a flair for the dramatic. If he did, he could’ve deepened his voice, wishing to sound like a theatrical voice from beyond. Bradley said his own name in his normal voice.
Silence that could’ve lasted an hour but was merely a handful of seconds.
“Is this the editor again?” George asked. “No, I guess not. The number’s different. So’s the voice. Who is this, really?”
“I’m really Bradley Boothby. The editor called you because I went to his office this morning. I asked him to look up my name in his company’s books, and he discovered it in yours.”
“But my book isn’t published by his company,” George said. “I’m sending it around.”
“Okay, so that part’s wrong. But the book was at his company. And my name’s in your book.”
“Oh my God.” The writer’s caution dropped its luggage and jumped into excitement. “My own character is calling me. Do you have a quest for me? Or do you want me to chronicle more of your adventures?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Is this like in The Dark Tower?”
“A book series by Stephen King,” George said. “The characters visit King, and they convince him to continue writing the series. Well, they hypnotize him to keep going. He was afraid of being killed by the Crimson King. And with good reason. It’s a fantastic series. King’s a master of his craft, and I like stories about parallel realities.”
Bradley pinched the bridge of his nose, and the pressure helped to center his thoughts. “I’m wondering if I’m in a parallel reality.”
“Is it like ours? Or is it a post-apocalyptic wasteland?”
“It’s not a wasteland. Not yet.”
“Too bad,” George said. “It would’ve had more opportunities for characters to act like savages. But you calling me is huge. Never in a million years did I think one of my characters would call me.”
“I’m not your character,” Bradley said.
“Oh yeah? Do you own a storage facility?”
“No, and I didn’t find a time machine.”
“Then how do you know about the time machine?” George asked.
“Jack Schneider told me. We just had drinks, and he told me about your novel, how you got the idea for the name of the characters.”
“I know you’re not the people from the booth. They’re not my characters.”
“And I’m not, either!” Bradley’s volume was louder than he had meant.
Danielle looked worried at her husband, leaning against the kitchen counter, growing more agitated, his arm held across his chest propping up his other arm holding the phone at his ear. The past couple weeks had put a strain on Bradley, and today’s revelations made it worse. They should’ve improved the situation, by providing answers. However, not all answers gave relief, instead causing troubles of their own.
“This is disappointing,” George said. “Especially since you don’t have a time machine. That’d be more incredible than incredible.”
“Believe me, if I owned a time machine, I’d be rich,” Bradley said. “I’d go back in time and buy the stocks that would make me rich. And I’d live in a much bigger place.”
Bradley didn’t have to look around the kitchen to remember its dimensions and middle-of-the-line appliances. He and Danielle fantasized about owning a rowhouse, rather than renting this apartment. They were saving money for that dream.
“Okay, okay,” George said, enthusiasm drained from his voice. “So you’re not my character. It would be cool if you were, though.”
“Gosh, thanks for acknowledging me as a real person.”
“I deserve the sarcasm,” the writer said. “Why’d you ask the editor to look up your name?”
As Bradley gave the background of the persistent déjà vu outside of Randolph-Turley, it was easier to talk about. Growing accustomed to it with practice. George asked if the feeling was one that Bradley often had, and Bradley said he rarely felt it before the recent happening with the publishing company. Before, the feeling was minor, going to a place and having the sense he had been there but was unable remember the specific memory.
Bradley pictured George sitting cross-legged on a rug, peering through eyeglasses, a notepad resting on his lap, pen jotting down nuggets of information. The writer turned into therapist. Wanting to delve into the inner workings of this situation, discover what made it tick.
“We find ourselves in a fascinating place, don’t we?” George asked. “Here’s how I see it. You could hang up, and this whole thing is over. You found your answer about my character. You can chalk it up to random shit in a random world.”
“Sounds about right,” Bradley said.
“But this doesn’t have to end here. We can keep going.”
“Meaning the universe aligned to put us together,” George said. “I don’t know why, but it did. We should get together in person.”
“You want to come to New York and meet up?”
“Or you could come here. I’ve got it.” Excitement returned to the writer’s voice. “How about we meet the people in the booth? My wife and I are regulars at the diner. We’ve seen those people there before. Wouldn’t that blow your mind? Boothby could meet the Boothbys.”
Bradley pondered such a meeting. “I think it would blow your mind more than it would blow mine. They’re just regular people to me.”
“You’re sort of connected to them. Think it over. It would be a shame to end things with this phone call.”
Bradley said he would consider the idea, then he hung up and told Danielle about George’s invitation. She didn’t share the writer’s thrill about meeting strangers who happened to be eating in the booth behind George Foulkes and his wife on a particular night. Kansas City, Missouri wasn’t a subway ride from Brooklyn.