The Ballad of Jack and Odile

Short Stories, Writing

By Will Montgomery

I sit at my desk for seven hours my first day as a homeowner. I write eight words. I make myself nine vodka tonics, I smoke ten cigarettes. Mother hated my habit;picked up at Cornell. The closest I ever came to saying a proper goodbye to her was putting each cig out on her Shirley Temple 50th anniversary doll’s face. That felt like a fitting send off. She was a woman destined to be forgotten.

The day before I watched my siblings tiny faces fade into reflections as the station wagon pulled out of the driveway and began down the gravel road. They looked sad; I hoped my expression read as indifference. I didn’t want them to have any reason to ever think to call. They were wasting away here anyway; eight and three quarter miles away from the nearest neighbor is no good sort of place for young girls to grow up. I should know. But mother left the house to me in her will, so I should be allowed to remain behind and take care of it. It was what  I always wanted, to be alone, an only child and an orphan. This is how I would write my screenplay. I had never loved New Hampshire, but with my new arrangement in place it seemed tolerable. My groceries would even be delivered for me, I had no reason at all to leave. 

Ever since moving back home after college mother had been such a pain, and the girls she squeezed out of her second marriage were no better. Their constant shouting and bitching had made the months since my post-graduation move home nearly intolerable. The only thing I could respect my mother for were the gigantic alimony payments she procured monthly from my father and Frank. Alimony payments that she wasted on ridiculous and bourgeois furniture, artwork, china dolls, collectible spoons, all of which she crammed into our two bedroom tudor, and its connected barn. Either way, the chiffon sofa and ceramic eggs served as useful investments for my purposes. A local man was compensated to deliver groceries, each week taking an envelope of cash and a grocery list from the mailbox  for next week’s provisions. I could live like this indefinitely. At least long enough to get my film made and start my journey to my destiny. 

One week in, I was getting nowhere. Everything I wrote felt too cliche, too been-there-done-that. I had banged my head against the desk, kicked the cat, overturned my desk. The booze helped the frustration, but not the work. I needed a fresh perspective. When the groceries came on day eight, I ran outside to catch the delivery boy before he disappeared for another week.

“Read my screenplay” I breathlessly called to him at the end of the gravel driveway. He turned, and for the first time I got a good look at him. Young, my age or maybe a little older. Scruffy in that New Hampshire way, not something I couldn’t appreciate. He turned and sort of smiled? I couldn’t read his expression, but he started back towards me and I ushered him inside.

I poured him a drink. He sipped. The pages were laid out on the coffee table in front of him, and he looked from them to me and back to them. He read slowly, considering. He finished his drink, I poured two more. He set down the papers and looked up at me. 

“What are you trying to do here?” He stood and walked over to where I was sat in a garish chiffon chair. He sat on the arm of the chair and gestured to a section of the story. His warm breath smelled like whiskey and coffee, in that order. I looked up at him and kissed his face. He pulled away. 

“This is a brilliant start. I love your voice, I think you can really make something of this. I’m gay. I wanna help you, but you need to keep it professional. Can you do that?” I was struck by his bluntness, his intense interest in my project. I didn’t want his grubby little fingerprints all over my work, but it was clear solitude wasn’t the solution either. I decided to give it a try. 

His name was Jack. The next day he came round to work with me, and I said, “What’s your name, anyway?” He said, “Jack.” I said, “Mine’s Odile.” We got to work. I had thought that having an extra set of lungs smoking my cigarettes, an extra mouth drinking my booze, an extra pair of eyes, hands on my work would be a distraction, but Jack kept me writing. And drinking. He told me the best writers were drunks.

“Hemingway, Capote, Parker, Williams. Liquid courage, liquid truth. Whatever you wanna call it, it helps you cut away all the day to day bullshit and just feel stuff. That’s what’s important in great writing.” I believed him. So I drank. So did he. I wanted to kiss his mouth from across the room as he asked questions, made suggestions. I wanted to feel his rough hands on me as he marked down my script with red ink. I wish I was that pen, I lamented to myself from the couch. 

“Goddamnit!” He startled me awake. It was three in the morning, twelve days after Jack started helping me. He was visibly wasted, hunched over at my desk. 

“This shit issto fucking farm town! Weneed to get you out of here. You need some new surroundings to inspire you.”

“That’s forsure.” I sunk deeper into the couch and reached across the coffee table to procure a cigarette, knocking over the whiskey in the process. 

“So you’re open to it? A move? What about the city?”

“The city” I echoed, smiling to myself. It felt good to have company. I fell back asleep.

I had forgotten about it by the next day, but Jack took our conversation to heart. “I’ll handle all the details” he told me. “You need to focus on your work.”

The house sold quick, we left for New York in Jack’s truck with nothing but cash in hand and my story.

I hadn’t even stayed in the New Hampshire house two weeks. Eleven handles, twenty two packs of camel crush, and thirty three pages written. Jack was so right, I couldn’t find inspiration in the same wood panel walls I had bored my eyes into my entire childhood. The sale of the house was quick and although it went for less than asking, the money would be more than enough for a year lease on a place in the city. I needed new surroundings, something to inspire me. Isn’t that what the city is for?

The new apartment was small, but it had none of the characteristics of my old place, so it was perfect. We decorated with furniture from the street. I hung a poster of Zog Chothra from a record store above the bed, kept a lily in a pot on the windowsill. Jack brought me coke, which I had tried before at Cornell. It never did anything for me really but I guess I had just never done enough, because in that East Village apartment it conjured a story from my brain to my fingertips so fast I could barely see the words being written. I barely knew what I was writing at all. Jack watched over my shoulder, did a bump, went out for more beer, watched TV. I wrote. I felt it all coming together. For the first time in my life, I could feel everything coming together. 

I finished the entire screenplay one month to the day after our move. I watched Jack’s face every second he was reading it, and the second time over too. He finally looked up at me with a huge grin on his face. “Now,” he said, “to edit”.

With that, it was his turn to disappear. I took long walks through the city, stole lighters from bodegas and clothes from thrift stores. When Jack dropped the stack of pages onto my lap four days later, I could tell he was pleased with himself. I spent the night reading through it again, laughing at the jokes and tearing up at the ending we had written together. I watched him some more, watched him watch me read. He approached the bed.

“Thursday,” he grinned, “all this work pays off” Thursday, Jack had gotten us a meeting at an indie production company in Brooklyn who were as Jack said, “incredibly interested in our brand of genius.” I believed him. I drank.

Before we left for our meeting Thursday, we had a few drinks to celebrate. We were sure of our imminent success. I was buzzed walking to the subway when Jack grabbed my arm right before a crosswalk. 

“Odile, this has been the most intense and surprising month of my life. I never expected to meet someone like you, and I’m gonna be grateful for what you’ve done for me for the rest of my life”. I smiled. He put the screenplay into his messenger bag, and pulled me closer. I was convinced he wasn’t, but then he was, we were kissing and the New York breeze blew through my hair, and I felt like I was finally living out my own movie, not just dreaming it. His hand moved from my arm to my chest. An instant later, it was pushing me back, away from his face, his lips, his kiss. His smile, suddenly sinister? I was confused. I flew backward into the street and turned just in time to see the bus, barreling through the now green light.

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