Chapter Sixteen

   I was losing control, so I decided to bring it back up here to the present... and... welcome to the present tense. Watch your step folks, watch your step.
   "Hey! What is this crap? What do you think you're doing? This isn't making any sense, none at all."
   Oh? What's the problem?
   "The problem, as I see it, is how can you keep changing tenses, and shifting characters, and changing this and changing that, and talking to people that don't exist, or who couldn't possibly be there to talk to you, like in the future, or the past, or now, in the present -- like me?"
   It's one of life's great mysteries.
   "That's what I should have picked up -- a mystery. I could have been curled up with a delicious little detective novel right now, instead of reading this crap which is giving me a migraine."
   That's why you should always read the blurbs on the back cover. If it says, "'Gave me a splitting headache!' -- Joan Didion," that should be a pretty good tip-off.
   "A friend told me to read it. With friends like that, who needs enemies, you know what I mean? Heh-heh."
   Did you just do that? Or did I?
   "Do what?"
   Did you just go, "heh-heh?"
   "Well, yeah."
   Because no one actually says "heh-heh," it doesn't really represent the sound one makes when one chuckles, or laughs, or guffaws, or whatever. It's like "tsk tsk."
   "Tsk tsk? That's the way it sounds. Tsk tsk."
   No it's not. "Tsk tsk" really should be "tisk tisk."
   "Look, whatever it is, you're splitting hairs. Besides, who cares?"
   Maybe I do.
   "Maybe you're afraid of something else."
   Oh? Like what?
   "Maybe you're afraid to write something that makes sense, with a consistent style. Maybe you're afraid because doing so would bring up all those things you don't want to think about and force you to confront your demons."
   Demons? What demons?
   "The ones you've been hiding deep in your unconscious -- the ones you haven't confronted in over forty years."
   Oh, those demons. Thanks for reminding me. Say, how do you know so much?
   "I know everything."
   But, I know everything.
   "I know more than you do."
   You know more than me?
   That's impossible.
   "Test me."
   Hmm... all right. What am I going to say next?
   "After this?"
   After this. Hey, not bad. Let me try another one... What does it all mean?
   "What does it all mean?"
   Right. What does it all mean. Take your time. (While he's thinking, let me remind the rest of you that I fully intend to focus on something very soon, so don't give up hope.)
   "I'm ready."
   Wow, that was quick. Okay, go ahead, tell us. What does it all mean?
   "It's all baloney. Or balogna."
   "See? You didn't know that."
   No, I didn't (wink wink), you're right. You do know everything there is to know -- and then some. I'm impressed. What's that? -- oops -- made you look, made you look! You fell for the oldest trick in the book! Ha ha ha.
   "That's so childish."
   What's that on your shirt?
   "Where -- why, I... !"
   Ah, forget it. You don't know beans. In fact, I'm
   So long, sucker!
   ( Maureen's Note: You know what? In an odd way, this is starting to make sense. There is something here, but it's hidden in the fabric of the text, assuming text can have fabric. I think Jim's trying to say that he's trapped -- trapped within the boundaries of his imagination. He can't go beyond his own conceptual limitations, and this is causing him great distress. Of course, I could be wrong. It's the first time I've done anything like this since working on the high school yearbook!)
   Meanwhile, a few years ago...
   "Anything else, Reynolds?"
   "No, I guess not, sir." Boy, did I have egg on my face. I started to leave, but then Mr. Butler grabbed my arm and stopped me.
   "Reynolds? Promise me something."
   "Yes, sir?"
   "Don't come back in here with a machine gun and shoot up the place. Please?"
   I laughed, but he was serious, as if he'd been reading an early draft of this novel.
   "I won't," I answered, adding "probably" on my way out, but I don't think he heard me.

(This ends Chapter Sixteen.)

Chapter Seventeen