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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
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all the demons retreat to the restroom
november 1, 2013
I got to the restaurant early.
Was seated near the high-ceilinged center of the main room. Mostly older diners. Suits, white hair, quiet voices, comfortable wealth.
Late morning sun through the narrow windows. Discreet middle-aged waiter by the side of my chair. Bent at the waist. White linen tablecloths. My favorite. I appreciate the smell of freshly-starched linen when I'm sitting down for lunch. Dining out in a nice restaurant is so relaxing to me. Soothing. All the demons retreat to the restroom.
I ordered a Manhattan. On the rocks, because I like to put the whiskey-flavored ice cube remnants in my mouth once the devil is gone.
The restaurant was civilized, so I was able to light up a cigarette. My disposable Bic, flame blue at the bottom, tall yellow above waving side to side. Coming into fiery contact with the circular brown tobacco tip of my cigarette, igniting the tiny dried leaves.
A nervous guy came over, clearing his throat that way we do where we try to clear our throat without anyone noticing. Lowering his jaw like that will prevent anyone from noticing the Adam's apple bob? "Do you know who I am?"
Me sitting, him standing. I studied his not-quite-handsome face. It's a bit like seeing someone you last saw twenty years ago, trying to fit what's in front of you from out of all the younger faces from your past. Finally, I hazarded a guess. "Are you Philip? From my story When the Big One Thaws?"
His gratefulness at being recognized. "Yeah."
"Wow. But you know you're dead, right? I killed you at the end of that story."
"I always thought that was open to interpretation."
"No. You're dead. That giant frog ate you. Sorry. Pull up a seat."
I mean, to me it makes no sense meeting with characters from stories you've written, I don't see any good that can come from it, but it's a service I do every once in a while for these creations of mine that just can't let go.
He fiddled with a parmesan breadstick. Sunken eyes. "I just need to know. It was unclear in the story. Did Jill actually cheat on me at the end?"
Well, she didn't, but I'm not going to tell him that. That ambiguity was one of the main points of the story.
"Who knows?" My shoulder shrug. Went back to studying the menu. They had some pretty interesting dishes.
His knuckly hands on the white tablecloth. "I mean, it would really put to rest a lot of bad thoughts."
"Well, that's not what that story was all about. You were meant to be paranoid. That's how I wrote you."
His tears. "Did she love me? Was she faithful to me?"
What we all ask. But I really don't have any desire to placate him. After all, he's imaginary.
"You portrayed me in, well, kind of a negative light."
"I sure did. That's how I saw you."
"But I didn't really see me as that negative a person."
I lit a fresh cigarette. "I know you didn't. That's why I gave you that flaw. Made you more interesting, as a character."
We were joined by another guest. A woman in her early thirties. She thrust out her hand. "Hi! I was one of the nurses during the first section of your novel, As Dead As Me."
I looked over the top of my menu. "Okay."
"I died early in the novel. I was one of the nurses who tried to escape from the zombies, but then I was trapped in a corridor, I mean I could see the door to my freedom from where I was cornered, but then you had the living dead set on me, biting into my shoulders, turning me."
"Them's the breaks."
"But do you really think that's fair? I always thought it would be great--and really interesting!-- if the protagonist, Jack, had rescued me, and then maybe we had a romance?"
I asked the waiter for oysters on the half shell. I love 'em. That raw ocean flavor. Plus you get to kill your food. In your mouth. How great is that? "Nope. You were just background color. Sorry."
"I had this whole thing worked out…"
"I didn't. You were a couple of sentences. Nothing more. I don't think I even bothered to describe your face, did I?"
"No, you didn't! Which is another complaint."
"Sorry. I think I had another line or two about you in an earlier draft, but I edited it out as I was finalizing the manuscript. I mean, that's just the way it is. I never saw you as anything more than a glimpse."
Another guest joined us. An old man, white and black hair pulled away from his tanned face into a ponytail. In a white suit, presenting himself with a lot of dignity. "Mr. Moore? My honor. I'm Chief Blackfoot."
"From The Machine of a Religious Man."
"Absolutely, sir." He took his seat at the table. "I must ask you, if I may...Did I ever exact revenge on Bonay?"
That first ice-chilled oyster was sublime. I always chew on them with my back molars, because, as I said, they're still alive, and if you swallow them whole, they swim around in your stomach for a while, which can be unsettling. Especially if you're drinking alcohol. "Honestly? I don't know. I never thought that far ahead of where the story ended, so I didn't have to resolve that issue."
"I firmly believe I should have been allowed to."
"I understand that sentiment. But, honestly, I never gave it much thought."
"Could you write a sequel where I kill Bonay?"
"I could, but I won't. I have too many new stories to write."
Finally, our last guest.
He stands next to my chair. Tall, middle-aged, pot-bellied. "Can you tell who I am?"
"I'm Pottah. From your story Big Inches."
And then I saw that, in his face. "Okay. Wow."
"You did terrible things to me in that story."
The restaurant's cassoulet was divine. Goose, sausage, pork baked in a casserole, all those good juices and fat dripping into the white beans. "I guess I did. So?"
"So, couldn't I have escaped at some point?"
I shook my head, tearing off a chunk of crusty bread. "No. You had to die."
"But I really didn't want to!"
"I'm so sorry. I guess. But, you know. Ultimately, it's not about you. It's about me."
"Some people might. I don't know. Say you really fucked me over in that story."
God, I hate these "get togethers." "Well, I did. So some people would be absolutely correct."
You know? I'm trying to eat, here.
He started crying. "Did I really have to die? There was no way you could have allowed me to live?"
"I always thought, maybe while they were inspecting my car, they were distracted, and I slipped out a back door? Please?"
I dipped the side of my spoon into my crème brûlée.
Glanced at my wristwatch.
My short story "The Dead Leave Small Bones" has been bought by Cemetery Dance.
My short story "Dogs Want to Eat You" has been bought by Horror Society Stories Volume 1.