So this is something I woke up at 3:20 AM with in my head last night and wrote straight through. I love it when that happens. Enjoy.
There are some authors who paint pictures with their words, and there are many readers who act as an empty canvas, ready to absorb every drop of detail. There are also readers like Jordan Murfield, who sat behind me in high school and thought William Shakespeare was the captain of the drama team, because we like, totally like, talked about him so much.
It is because of people like Jordan Murfield that I learned that when the writer directs her words like a movie, they always seem better. So, dear reader, I ask you to picture the camera coming down from the clouds, thick and gray with rain and down on through their lightning and under them, (perhaps a few ambient raindrops yet remain on the lens), and then down further to the city, gray as well, but made from concrete, then to a particular block and a particular street, and then to a hazy window with green curtains, bordered by yellow flowers in a window box underneath. It is raining.
In through the window.
It is a small apartment, furnished mostly with a comfy sofa of the lounging sort, perhaps borrowed from the parlor of Sherlock Holmes and refitted for this century. There is a large armoire, and many bookshelves. These are filled. There is a throw rug, a bust of Shakespeare, the sort of junk one amasses when one possesses a strange sense of humor and history and has access to thrift stores—in short, it is messy, strewn with books and clothes. MINA, our hero, is sleeping akimbo on the couch, while a large, furry gray cat sleeps in her legs.
A clock nearby ticks to seven and begins to ring loudly. Mina slaps it shut reflexively and turns over. The cat falls and stretches, yawning widely. He looks at the clock and purrs, then jumps and rawrs. It’s late! It is important to note that this particular cat is one of those animals in stories that have a particularly humanistic quality to them, and behave as such to keep the children in the audience entertained.
The cat purrs more loudly, MINA simply mutters in her sleep and goes back to bed. This time, the cat jumps up and knocks a large pile of papers onto Mina’s blue hair. She awakes with a start and looks at the clock.
Suddenly MINA is everywhere at once, brushing her teeth, desperately trying to find something to wear, trying to control her hair, eating breakfast, hopping on one leg while she ties on her bright blue sneakers, packing a lunch, all while the cat looks on bemusedly. MINA dashes out the door and it slams behind her. A short pause. She dashes back in, frantically dives for her messenger bag, which is bright purple, and runs out the door again. Another slam, another pause. This time it’s her keys. She finds them nestled inside a book and goes to grab them, but instead gets a glimpse of the words inside and for the first time, is still. She smiles with guilty pleasure and begins to read. The cat yowls and MINA is startled out of her daydream. She runs to the door and we see her watch the bus sputter past, again. It is still raining.
We next come upon Mina as she walks dejectedly into work, water dripping everywhere. As she does, one young man in the back looks up with great excitement and nearly falls out of his chair following her as she sopps back to her desk, which unfortunately involves directly passing her BOSS’s office. He is a trim man with suspenders and a bow tie, and his mustache is not to be rivaled. He raps on the glass with a green fountain pen and jabs at the clock.
She looks at the clock and then looks at her BOSS, who scowls and shakes his head and goes back to writing…She’s been caught. The young man continues to frantically try and get her attention, somehow managing to upset his pencil cup in the process. He likes her. She doesn’t notice the pencils nor his intended affections. He is skinny, probably wearing a yellow shirt, maybe light blue and is handsome. As MINA passes, he rests his head on his hand and sighs the sigh of unrequited movie love.
She slinks guiltily over to her barren, boring grey cubical and unpacks her things. As her computer bleeps on, she sinks back into her chair and we feel every ounce of hatred she has for her linear, boring, gray job. She gazes out the plate glass window at the gray people walking by, with their city slicker umbrellas and briefcases and glances back at her bright purple messenger bag and sighs.
MINA pulls out a stack of official looking papers, cracks her knuckles and begins to type. The clock ticks, the florescent lights buzz, and the phone rings in the distance. MINA looks at the clock again, it hasn’t moved. She types. Then the clock again. She types. Finally the clock languidly clicks over to the next minute. MINA cracks her neck and goes back to typing, but as she does we see her get more and more frustrated. Finally she slumps back in her chair and blows her bangs out of her eyes. The cursor on the computer screen blinks. MINA looks both ways and begins to type. “once upon a time…”
Suddenly MINA is transported out of the office and onto the bridge of a pirate ship where a raging storm is brewing. She is desperately holding onto the wheel while the wind whips the sails behind her. We see another ship approaching. The captain of the other ship (who looks a great deal like her BOSS) brandishes his sword, which looks very much like a fountain pen.
Advance, men! Take no prisoners! He bellows, gesturing wildly with his sword and occasionally stopping to check his mustache in the reflection of the blade.
Suddenly the boat is swarmed with pirates, all wearing business suits and brandishing umbrellas and briefcases. MINA is still trying to steer through the storm, but there in front of her is the PIRATE BOSS who thwacks his fountain pen sword down on the wheel and yanks, sending MINA flying. As the wheel spins, the ship tilts wildly. She’s thrown to the other side of the ship, where a rouge wave grabs her and sends her over the edge of the railing, but she manages to grab hold by one hand. She dangles precariously, the waves tossing and turning far below her, rain pelting her, and her fingers begin to slip. She looks up and sees the PIRATE BOSS menacingly brandish his pen sword above his head, just about to strike when all of the sudden he opens his mouth and says in a very New Yorkian Jewish grandmother’s voice.
Mina! Mina? Mina honey, pay attention, would you?
MINA is shaken back to reality and we see that she’s become completely engrossed in what she’s typing, furiously chewing a pencil, eyes wide. From the other side of her desk, a rather large woman in cat’s eye glasses and a flowery dress looks on disapprovingly. Her lipstick has just started to seep into the cracks around her lips and her blush is almost the exact shade of red.
Writing stories again? You better not let the boss catch you. I need these reports done by three.
The woman flops a huge stack of files on MINA’s desk and waddles away. MINA glances despairingly at the, and rests her head on her hand. She sighs and blows her blue bangs out of her eyes.
Later that day. MINA walks exhaustedly down a long, poorly lit hallway and stops at a row of apartment mailboxes, juggling a bag of groceries. She tries to check her mail, but the groceries throw her off balance and she nearly falls, but suddenly the bag is grabbed and the groceries neatly caught in the sack by a pair of skinny hands, that are conveniently attached to the same skinny fellow we saw earlier at the office. He awkwardly presents the groceries back to her, nervous. This is his one shot.
JIM: Here you go.
MINA Thanks, Jim.
JIM: Hey, Mina? I was wondering if maybe sometime you’d….
But MINA has already grabbed her groceries and mail and the door shuts in JIM’s disappointed face.
He sighs and turns away.
Inside the apartment, we see MINA disappointedly reading a letter from Brahm’s Publishing House, which thanks her for her submission but regrets to inform her that….she crinkles it into a ball and throws it into a pile in the corner. A very large pile. The cat twines around MINA’s legs and we see two more letters fall into the pile. Her feet turn away and dejectedly kick a magazine or two out of the way.
She sets a pot of water to boil on the stove and maybe halfheartedly chops a few carrots, but stops halfway through and sighs, yet again. She sets down the knife and turns.
She goes over to a closet door and throws it open, and an avalanche of books and papers fall out. She ducks, and then reaches into the very back and pulls out a dusty volume. She tenderly brushes it off and goes over to the sofa, pushes some papers out of the way and curls up to read.
The next morning her alarm goes off much the same as yesterday and she awakens much like yesterday, only this time it is to the sound of the smoke detector, and we see that the pot has melted down the stove and smoke is billowing from inside the kitchen. As the cat yowls, she frantically runs into the kitchen and puts the fire out with a towel, which promptly catches on fire. She puts that fire out and wipes her face with the sooty towel, leaving a mark.
She leans back against the counter and slowly slides down, looking at the havoc wraught upon her once sunny kitchen, now black and dismal and very, very damp. She leans her head back and blows her bangs out of her face. The cat comes over and licks her face. The automatic sprinkler system kicks in.
Later that day, MINA is sitting alone in the office cafeteria, and eating a rather damp looking sandwich. She is chewing thoughtfully and scribbling in a notebook. Suddenly she stops. Something isn’t right. She scribbles furiously and rips the page out, blowing her bangs out of her eyes and then goes back to writing. We see JIM enter the cafeteria and spot MINA. He takes a deep, awkward breath and checks his reflection in the vending machine glass. He approaches.
J: Hey, Mina?
Thoroughly engrossed in her writing, she doesn’t hear him.
She looks up, but is still thinking about her newest story.
J: I was just wondering if maybe—maybe you’d like to go to dinner with me or something?
He rushes the last part and waits expectantly. MINA is still staring into space.
J: I mean we don’t have to get dinner if you don’t like food, not that there’s anything wrong with not liking food, I’m sure lots of people don’t like food, or restaurants, I mean maybe you’re just not hungry or you like movies better,
MINA suddenly realizes she’s being talked to. She blinks and shakes her head to clear it.
M: what? Sure.
The sure comes a courtesy in the hopes that Jim won’t know that she didn’t hear anything he just said. He doesn’t. He smiles brightly and we know this has been his dream for weeks.
MINA suddenly realizes what must have just happened. She panics.
M: I have to go.
She quickly gathers up her things and leaves, but as she does, the crumpled piece of paper falls and wafts down to the floor behind her. Jim sees it and grabs it before it can fall entirely. He gazes at it and sighs. We see the words “once upon a time”. Jim begins to read.
Suddenly JIM is transported to a desolate mountain hilltop, suddenly dressed in armor made out of various office cafeteria dishes and eating utensils. He looks and finds a sword in his hand, and a very large blue dragon in front of him, that happens to be about ready to roast him alive. He rolls away just in time, as the jet of flame bursts from the dragon’s mouth. The dragon roars and unfurls its giant wings and dives at JIM, who spins and sprints for a nearby cave, only to be thwarted at the entrance by another dragon, this one twice as large with fiery red scales, much like the red hair of the cafeteria lady who JIM passed on his way inside. A handful of bats swarm JIM at the same time, bats that greatly resemble rejection letters. The two dragons surround JIM and he’s trapped. The dragons rear back and bare their giant fangs. He raises his sword to strike, but just as he does, the dragon suddenly turns into a bunny, the other dragon into a field mouse and then they slowly disappear in a haze of letters.
We are taken back to the cafeteria, where JIM sits, sweating and breathless, holding the paper. He lets it fall into his lap and gives a relieved
In the afternoon, MINA returns home and repeats the process of checking mail, this time sans groceries. She pulls four envelopes out, one is a bill and three are from publishing companies. She hurries inside and rips them open, and is disappointed each time by the standard rejection letter, which she adds to the pile.
We see her walk into the living room, which is covered in books turned upside down while fans waft the pages gently, drying them. The carpet squishes under her sneakers.
She is eating a frozen dinner, blindly searching for bites with a fork with one hand while the other hand holds a book. The cat is following the fork, waiting for something to fall off. It usually does. The phone rings ,then rings again. She looks up and then looks around, confused for the source of the sound. Another ring. She looks at a stack of books and makes the connection. She leaps over more upturned books and digs for the phone, and answers it breathlessly.
We hear Jim on the other end. He’s nervous.
Hi, Mina. It’s Jim. From the office. We um—work together. At the office. Where you work.
He realizes and tries to save it.
Um, listen, I was just– just wondering if maybeIcouldpickyouuptomorrowatfivefordinnerafterwork? Maybe? If that would be alright with you?
MINA furrows her brow, mulling it over. The cat nudges her. She looks at her burned up kitchen and the cat nudges her again.
Okay. That sounds good. Thanks, Jim.
We see JIM do an ecstatic happy dance and, simultaneously MINA realize she’s going on a DATE. Tomorrow. She gulps.
A brief office scene with ticking clocks and buzzing florescent, and then
MINA is sitting in a coffee shop, thoroughly engrossed in a book. Suddenly the bell tinkles and a rather loud woman in a slinky power suit comes in, in mid cell phone conversation. A loud conversation that barely muffles the click of her stilettos and does nothing to cover up the cloud of expensive perfume she’s enveloped in.
Yes, yes, that’s right. No, I don’t—no, I can’t really say for—Well that’s really not my priority is it, Greg? If he doesn’t like it then he doesn’t like it, and there’s nothing I can—we’ve got three days until the deadline, that’s plenty of—I don’t know, Gregory (tall half-skinny half-1 percent extra hot split quad shot latte with whip, thank you) I don’t write the books, I just print them. It’s up to you to find an author he likes— well he’s going to be in New York in less than 12 hours , and I take no responsibility for any— it’s not my fault he’s hated everything we’ve sent him. that’s right. At Muriel’s. 6:30 sharp. Tonight. Don’t be late this time, you know he has a temper. Oh, and Gregory, wear a tie? Thank you darling.
The woman saunters away from the counter with her coffee and the bell tings again. We see MINA, this time rather annoyed at the interruption. MINA glances at her watch and then bolts upright, nearly upsetting her coffee in the process. It’s almost five.
The next scene opens with a gigantic pile of clothes, a pair of feet and a flying dress. The dress lands on top of the cat who is unfortunately sitting in the line of fire, as it seems MINA has been pulling everything she owns out of her rather messy closet in a desperate attempt to find something to wear. She pulls out all manner of hideous and unsightly dress, and finally settles on a royal blue shirt, and then immediately changes her mind. Again.
There is a knock on the door, and MINA runs across her living room and looks through the peep hole at an incredibly nervous JIM, who is nervously tugging at his shirt and holding onto his flowers for dear life. She goes to open the door and suddenly realizes that her living room is in shambles, she pokes her head out.
M: Just a minute.
The door slams again and we hear banging and booming and a cat yowling, and then, suddenly, a breathless MINA is at the door again. She opens the door, fully this time, and we see that MINA has thrown books under, over or around every surface imaginable. She take a breath to say something, and the closet door behind her bursts open and an avalanche of books fall out. She blows her bangs out of her eyes and sighs, and JIM, not knowing what to do, hesitantly offers her flowers.
We next see the two at the one Italian restaurant in New York, checkered table cloths, a red candle, brick walls and a giant pizza on a dais in the center of the table. JIM is in the middle of explaining his deep love for pizza and MINA is genuinely enjoying herself, leaning on her hand and smiling as JIM’s arms exaggeratedly explain the size of the pizza back home. She laughs.
J-and then so after college, I had to decide between the two, and so I chose to come to New York.
M-Wouldn’t you rather have stayed and opened a restaurant?
J—Oh, I suppose, but you can’t make a living doing that sort of thing. Everyone I’ve ever known who opened a restaurant lasted a couple of years and went broke, and now they work in an office. I figured I’d cut out the middle man. It was just a silly pipe dream, anyway.
He chuckles ,but we see that JIM’s restaurant is more than just a pipe dream to him.
J—Who didn’t what?
M—He didn’t go broke.
MINA indicates the hefty proprietor of the establishment, who is enthusiastically tossing pizza dough in the back and singing an Italian opera. Badly. JIM is clearly taken aback.
M: Wouldn’t you rather try and fail then never take the risk at all?
J: I suppose—I guess I just—everyone has those ideas, you know? We just never act on them. I’m sure you do. What’s yours?
J: What’s the one thing you would do if you got the chance? Anything in the whole world?
JIM’s enthusiastic gesture knocks a picture off of the wall. MINA laughs.
J: But really. Anything. In the whole world.
MINA’s eyes light up.
M I’d write stories.
J Stories? Like detective novels?
M more than that—anything. Stories about giants and dragons and pirates and princes and great adventures and love–
MINA realizes she’s getting carried away. She blushes.
He leans back ,arms behind his head, entirely comfortable in her presence. Awkward maybe, too gangly for his own good, but comfortable.
J:You gotta admit, it has a ring to it. Mina Ray, famous author.
M: I suppose.
There is a pause. MINA hestitates and then decided, maybe for the first time, to trust JIM with her secret.
M All I’ve ever wanted to do was write stories. I never had a place where I felt like I belonged, so I would make up my own. Then I got good at it, then I fell in love with it, and now here I am, the furthest thing from an author I could be. I am a transciptionist.
The very nature of the word transciptionist tastes foul and bitter in her mouth, and her false glorification of her horrid, soul sucking job embarrasses her. She’s never this open with people.
J: no, it’s okay. So why don’t you?
J Why don’t you write your stories of great adventures and pirates and dragons and love?
M I’ve tried, believe me. I’ve sent my stories to nearly every publisher in new york, but no one wants to hear stories about silly things like dragons and princesses anymore, I guess. Besides, you can’t make a living—
MINA stops, realizing she’s echoing the same sentiments that JIM voiced earlier. She looks down and blushes again, and takes a bite of pizza.
JIM understands, and from across the table, he tentatively takes her hand. She doesn’t move it. They share a moment, and then, suddenly, there is a loud screech of tires. Both of them turn and look at the noise, and we see outside the window a large limousine whip around the corner and hastily drop off and the same woman from the coffee shop, this time dressed to the nines in a slinky evening gown, still on her cell phone, and a sweaty, balding fellow with a rumpled shirt trailing behind, carrying a planner and tugging at his tie, which is too short and tied MUCH too tightly.
She is demanding: well where is he? How do you just lose the most powerful publisher in America? Keep looking around the airport. How should I know? Send a page or something. We’re already at the restaurant. When you find him, let us know, and get here, fast.
The rounder of the two runs awkwardly from the back to get the door for the other, and we see the door swing shut, next to a restaurant sandwich board marked “Muriels”. Tonight’s special is CUISSES DE GRENOUILLE PROVENÇALE. A nearby frog hops by, sees the sign, and gulps.
Later that evening, MINA and JIM are sharing a walk and enjoying ice cream cones, when MINA notices a picturesque park bench nearby. They mosey over and are sharing the seat when a very grumpy, very small, very old man with a distinct twinkle in his eye that belies his better interior kicks a can on the ground nearby and ricochets off of the garbage can in front of the park bench MINA and JIM are sharing.
The old man takes a seat on a park bench nearby and swings his legs, looking at the view. Suddenly he jumps up.
EURGH! Gum! Got-blasted durn kids and their chewing bubbles…
It seems that our wizened friend discovered an unfortunate suprize on the bottom of the park bench. His hand is covered in the sticky pink goo. MINA sees his trouble and goes to his aid.
She offers him a hastily torn page from her notebook. Without thinking, she tries to help him, but only makes it worse. Now the gent has a hand full of gooey notebook paper.
Oh, I’m so sorry…let me…
every effort she makes turns out worse until finally the old man chuckles.
This just ain’t your day, is it, kiddo?
M: Apparently not. I’m really sorry.
SJP: Oh that’s alright. Gives me something to read and saves me the effort of holding on. Should have thought of that when I started printing books. Sticky books. Course I suppose now they’ve got those new fangled sticky notes….
He trails off, suddenly noticing the portion of the story written on the paper stuck to his hand. He begins to read, and suddenly the old man finds himself swinging from a high tower covered in vines that look suspiciously like spaghetti noodles. He looks up, and there within the tower window is a beautiful maiden with macaroni hair and meatball princess leia buns and a dress patterned with pepperonis and green peppers. He strains to drag himself up the rope, and just as he reaches the top, the OWNER of the restaurant, now dressed as a wizard, begins casting a spell with his staff, which looks suspiciously like a rolling pin. The old man cowers, but the Spaghetti princess pushes the WIZARD out of the window. They both watch as he falls and falls, and then finally a pizza dough parachute opens and he drifts gently out of sight.
The OLD MAN slowly lowers his be-gummed hand and looks at MINA with intense, squinted eyes.
SJP: Did you write this?
MINA is embarrassed. He probably thought it was a terrific waste of time for a grown-up to be writing stories like hers.
The OLD MAN nods, thoughtfully and looks off at the city in the distance. Finally, he speaks.
SJP:You know, when I was younger, this whole block used to be filled up with apartments above the restaurants. Course now, it’s mostly offices and that, but that restaurant over there has been open for 60 years. My father opened it—took him years to get it off the ground, but he managed to. Almost went bust a few times, but he stuck it out. Sold it for ten times the price he paid when he retired. Used the money to send me to school. I didn’t know what I wanted to be—I knew I didn’t want to be a chef, that’s for certain. My father always thought it terribly ironic, but such is life, I suppose. Full of surprises.
I’d come here to this bench and look at the city, think about what I wanted to be. Still don’t know, to be honest. I’ve tried mostly everything there is to do to make a living, but the one thing that’s ever made me happy is listening to stories. Or reading them, I suppose. Turns out there’s no such thing as a professional listener. So I made my business printing stories and my hobby listening to them. I’ve traveled all over the world and met all sorts of people—I’ve met kings and queens and powerful chiefs, talked with the poorest of the poor, convinced hermits and monks to tell me their tales, and seen the seven wonders of the world… but I gotta tell you, young lady, you’re the first one I’ve met with blue hair. So tell me, what’s your story?
MINA blinks. JIM pokes her and takes a lick of his ice cream which he has just realized has melted all over his hand. They share a glance and MINA takes a deep breath.
MINA makes a decision there, in the moment, to take the risk.
M: Could I—could I just TELL you a story?
SJP: Young lady, I would like nothing better.
MINA takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and opens them, suddenly focused and strong. This is a MINA we’ve never seen before.
M: Would you hear a tale of grand adventure, or of the search for love, or a search for one that leads to both?
The old man laughs long and hard.
SJP: Now that—that is what I like to hear. Tell me more, young lady.
M: Once upon a time is not a good way to begin a story, but as it happens every story must have a beginning if there is to be an end, and so begins the story of a boy.
We next see the three of them fighting the pirates and defeating them, with the BOSS tied to the mast. MINA and JIM share a high-five. Over hills and mountains and higher still until we come to the dragons, who are now tamed, with JIM and the OLD MAN riding them. The blue one is licking MINA’s hair. Away from the dragons and well towards the east, and in the distance the pasta castle. Now we are inside the kitchen with the SPAGHETTI PRINCESS and the WIZARD, who is giving cooking lessons to JIM while MINA and the OLD MAN amuse themselves by playing with a certain gray cat by the fire.
Onwards we go, this time to a giant mountain shaped like an ice cream cone, where they are desperately trying to reach the top as snow pelts them. They spot the Abominable Snowman, who lends JIM a hand and pulls him up to the top, just as once again we are pulled away, gently back into reality, to a simple park bench where JIM and MINA are sitting with the OLD MAN and
And so they went on to become the greatest leaders the kingdom—
Suddenly, we hear a sharp voice that ruins the spell.
There he is!
The slinky woman and her harried assistant hurry up to the old man and begin fawning over him.
Mr. Paperstien, we were so worried, Did you have a nice flight? Where have you been, did you get our messages?
Can I get you anything, Mr. Paperstien? Bring the car around!
MINA’s eyes widen and she realizes who she’s been talking to—Mr. Sydney Joseph Paperstien, the most powerful man in publishing. Paperstien grumpily shrugs off the assistants with a wave of his hand as he frailly climbs inside the limo, which dwarfs him.
SJP: Can’t an old man take a walk? Young people today, think us old fellas can’t do anything for ourselves…
He glances to MINA and JIM. MINA is staring at Sydney, and JIM is staring at MINA. His ice cream cone drips. Sydney stops, at though he just remembered something.
SJP: Young man?
JIM: Yes Mr. Paperstein, sir?
SJP: Kiss her already, will you? Young lady, be in my office tomorrow morning at 9AM.
I need to hear the end of this story.
With that, the limo door closes and it zooms off into the night. We go up above the park bench, just as MINA and JIM embrace, MINA’s ice cream finally giving up and melting with a plop. Up above the city, up above the clouds, up above into the stars and finally to black.