Chapter Fifty

   If you still think this is being written backwards, go ahead -- see for yourself -- read it backwards. I'm having a hell of a time just writing it forwards, but if you really believe that this book is nothing more than a gimmick, an experiment in wordplay, an unusually long palindrome -- then prove it -- to me, and to yourself. And when you're finished, report back and tell me what you think. I have an open mind. If you can prove that this novel is being written backwards the publisher is prepared to present you with a cash prize of 25,000 British pounds. That's about 40,000 dollars in American money. (What? Dad, come quick! -- Ed.)
   Let's move on. This being the fiftieth chapter, it's an appropriate time to celebrate, and to reward you, the reader(s), with something new and exciting, something to keep you reading for another fifty chapters (just kidding). So, break out the champagne! Let's go to Maine!
   "Why Maine?" asked Maureen, trying to hang on to a wriggling, squirming, lobster.
   You're right. Forget Maine. Let's go instead to sunny San Diego and an all-expenses-paid vacation at the fabulous Hotel del Coronado! Three nights and two days at this world famous five star beachfront resort, with all meals included!
   Hand me the sun block.
   Hand me the sun block.
   "Sun block? What are you talking about?"
   The sun block -- we're on the beach, Maureen -- we're sunbathing on the beach at the fabulous world-famous Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. Now, pass me the sun block.
   "Whatever you say, but I don't see any beach, or hotel, or sun block for that matter."
   Just play along, okay? I've never been to this place so I can't describe it, but if you play along the reader will get a little feel for it just the same and maybe we can get through another chapter. In other words, ixnay on the acktalkbay.
   "All right, all right. Here's the sun block."
   That's not the sun block. That's a stuffed porcupine.
   "All right. Here. Here is the sun block. Here."
   What's that?
   "Sun block. Here. Take it."
   That? That's the sun block? I asked in disbelief.
   "Yes. Why. What do you think it is?"
   I... I can't think of anything. Never mind, give it to me. Now, shall I apply it to your thighs first, or would you like me to start on you?
   "Jim, if this is a trip to the beach, then I'm going back to Blabbo Blabberman, not his real name. Please. I'll be anything, I'll be a talking porpoise, I'll be a tree with feelings... "
   It'll feel cold at first...
   "... I'll be an interior voice, a Greek chorus, a metaphor -- anything -- but at least put me somewhere where there's some context, somewhere where there's some -- oh! that's cold!"
   I told you.
   "But, can't you at least describe sand, water, people, the temperature, the smells -- "
   All right, all right -- say, do you smell those hot dogs? Mmm. Hey! Watch where you're walking, you big jerk! You're kickin' sand in my girlfriend's face!
   "Jim, don't get so angry, he's a lot bigger than you."
   He is?
   "Hey -- who's doing all the yelling?"
   I, uh, well, I --
   "Look, bud, no hard feelings, okay? Shake."
   I started shaking, then he grabbed me by the shoulders.
   "No -- I meant shake hands."
   Relieved, I shook hands with the big jerk and he walked away, disappearing -- although it's possible he was still hanging around, just out of view, spying on us, but that's something for someone else's book, maybe his.
   "Well, that certainly was dramatic," Maureen waxed, sarcastically.
   Well, wax my sarcasm, Maureen, you touch me to the quick! (Browning -- Ed.) Bright boy, maybe I was wrong. Anyway, what did you want, a fist fight?
   "No, just something more dynamic than 'no hard feelings' and a handshake, that's all."
   Like what, smartypants?
   "Like, maybe, a wrestling match, a funny one, like on television, where you could be the good guy, the fans' favorite, and that big bully could be the bad guy, The Giant, The Killer, The Masked Executioner. And you're both fighting over me."
   You've got a vivid imagination, Maureen. Possession of a vivid imagination is a felony according to Section Two of the Criminal Code.
   "You know what, Jim? This novel is beginning to resemble that stupid on-deck mystery on that stupid Alaskan cruise, or maybe it's one of the clues in that stupid mystery, or maybe I'm dreaming the whole stupid thing, or maybe I'm reading it during my lunch break at Kopy Katz, or you're reading it on your lunch break, or I'm writing it, or whatever, the point is -- what is the point? And why am I asking you? Do you see how frustrating this is, Jim? Can't you do something?!"
   (Editor's Note: Excuse me, Maureen, but my oldest son informs me that Mr. Reynolds has offered up a large cash prize to some lucky reader. Is this true?)
   "You'll have to ask him that, sir."
   (Editor's Note: Reynolds, is this true?)
   Yes, Mr. Note, it's true.
   (Editor's Note: Why? What made you think we would ever authorize, let alone be able to afford, such a prize?)
   I was just spitballing.
   (Editor's Note: "Spitballing?" What the hell does he mean by "spitballing"?) (He means shooting ideas off the top of his head, Dad. Thinking spontaneously, quickly, without reflection -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: Aha. I see.)
   "Mr. Note, can I say something in Jim's behalf."
   (Editor's Note: Well, all right Maureen. By the way, we've received quite a few inquiries about you.)
   "You have?"
   (Editor's Note: Writers, usually, wanting to know about your availability. It kills me to have to tell them Reynolds has you all tied up -- legally, that is.)
   It kills you, eh? Why don't you ask these imagination-less wretches what they'd offer for her?
   "Jim, you're not serious, are you? You'd sell me?"
   I was never more serious in my life. Oh, once, maybe.
   (Editor's Note: Look, Reynolds, even I have to admit that Maureen belongs in your novel, and I'd hate to see her sold off like so much chattel, or cattle. She belongs here, where we can keep an eye on her and, unfortunately, so can you.)
   In the end, though, it's still my call, Mr. Note. I make the choices around here. When I say dance, you dance. Let's say I want you to --
   (Editor's Note: I'm afraid that's not exactly true anymore, Mr. Reynolds. Those days when you could make characters say things like perpendicular porridge are over. I can say perpendicular porridge whenever and wherever I choose. The choice is mine. It's my call now.)
   But, I didn't want you to say perpendicular porridge.
   (Editor's Note: I know.)
   But, how... ?
   (Editor's Note: I said those two words on my own, with no help from you. And I chose to say them, just as I now choose to eschew saying them.)
   (Editor's Note: Yes, eschew. I can now eschew saying perpendicular porridge because I am free and in control of my ability to express myself, I am an independent entity, and from here on out a big thorn in your side, Mr. Reynolds. Unless, of course, you wise up and win back your freedom, somewhere down the road maybe.)
   So, what you're telling me is -- I'm under a form of house arrest, is that right? (Random House arrest? -- Ed.) ("Ugh!" -- Dancing Cloud) Hey, how'd he get in there? He can't read or speak English! ("I can now, Uncle Lupo taught me!" -- Dancing Cloud) You can? ("And how! Get it? And how?" -- Dancing Cloud) Yes, I "get" it.
   "Jim, this is dissipating into a superficial and self-absorbed dialogue about nothing, if you ask me."
   I didn't, but thanks, Maureen.
   (Editor's Note: By the way, more reviews came in.)
   And? How were they?
   (Editor's Note: Mixed.)

(This ends Chapter Fifty.)