This Location of Unknown Possibilities

THIS LOCATION OF UNKNOWN POSSIBILITIES

THIS LOCATION OF UNKNOWN POSSIBILITIES

a novel

BRETT JOSEF GRUBISIC

Copyright © 2014 by Brett Josef Grubisic

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced

in any manner whatsoever without the prior ­written permission of the publisher,

except in the case of brief quotations ­embodied in reviews.

Publisher's note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and

incidents are either the product of the author's ­imagination or are used

­fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead

is entirely coincidental.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Grubisic, Brett Josef, author

This location of unknown possibilities / Brett Josef Grubisic.

ISBN
978-1-926942-63-6
(epub)

ISBN
978-1-926942-65-0
(mobi)

I. Title.

PS
8613.R82T45 2014 C813'.6 C2013–906591–1

Printed and bound in Canada on 100% recycled paper.

eBook development:
WildElement.ca

Now Or Never Publishing

#1101, 1003 Pacific Street

Vancouver, British Columbia

Canada V6E 4P2

nonpublishing.com

Fighting Words.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council

for the Arts for our publishing program.

It is an error to divide people into the living and the dead: there are people who are dead-alive, and people who are alive-alive.
The dead-alive also write, walk, speak, act. But they make no mistakes; only machines make no mistakes, and they produce only dead things.
The alive-alive are constantly in error, in search, in questions, in torment.

—Yevgeny Zamyatin (trans. Mirra Ginsburg)

On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters
(
1923
)

STUDIO CITY

SOW'S EAR SILK

1.

U
ncapped medium point felt pen in hand, the woman sat poised to read at the desk—ankles crossed, spine a staunch column. Before peeling back the script's cover page, she noted that so far as attention-grabbing goes,
The Prisoner of Djoun
gleamed with potential. Though shelling out for
The Spanish Prisoner
would never happen—the endless manly posturing and ulterior motives, all that Mamet talk, talk, talk—she slid
The Fugitive
into the player once a year at least. Titles rich with implication? Typically
24
-carat.

She signed approval with a thick check mark and watched black ink bleed into the paper's filaments.

“Okay, let's find out about this prisoner.” The low rumble of commuters along Ventura met her words.

The woman wore a favourite pinstripe blouse beneath a charcoal cotton-linen suit; tortoiseshell reading glasses rode low on her nose. The look meant
getting down to business
. Freshly delivered from the panoramic office suite of the Man Upstairs, a stack of three scripts brooded next to the water glasses on the credenza; she expected to chew through them before lunch.

Focussing, the woman ran an index finger along the page. Noix d'Amazonie, the new nail colour Byung-soon had applied yesterday, caught her eye.
The woman followed trends selectively and had pounced on the forest-tone polishes of the season. A touch of glam earthiness would soften God-given edges, she reasoned. And as much her stomach might twinge at the term
lipstick lesbian
—what a godawful relic from the '
90
s, as ugly as those navy suits with the NFL silhouette she'd once scrimped for—experience had revealed over and again that approachability was key in the industry.

At first glance the script's opening paragraph—the scene establisher—seemed reliably professional; centred and laser-printed, its author had the presence of mind to buff his words with a recent version of Final Draft. That, she'd wager. While no guarantee of quality, neatness aggravated her infinitely less than the tatty, crudely stapled masterpieces complete with red ballpoint annotations in feverish physician's scrawl that showed up with surprising regularity and incited speculation about the sender's mental competence. Other than Unabomber types holed up in log cabins, who used a manual typewriter ­anymore?

Returning to the page the woman said, “Okay, here goes nothing.”

SCENE 1

Split screen. Two authors at their desks, clothed circa 1900. On the left, a woman in a dark shawl writes at night, candles the only illumination. Her desk is neat, but the slope-roofed attic room appears cramped and shopworn. On the right, a man dressed in brown tweed trousers, a matching vest, and a white shirt reads in a sunny room. The room and desk are messy, but modern art and bright flowers in a vase suggest a well-heeled bohemian atmosphere.

FADE TO:

INT. LONDON - ATTIC OFFICE, Feb. 1897 - NIGHT

The woman tagged “WTF?!?” on the script's right margin.

Oh my Christ
, she thought,
another Liberal Arts major who's spent a couple of semesters in film school, now dreaming of hitting the big time with an art house crossover extravaganza, a highbrow drama that will have brand name critics fighting over the kudos needed to describe
a powerful, unapologetic work of art. American Beauty
meets
The Hours
meets
The English Patient
, starring Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Anthony bloody Hopkins.
Abracadabra: armfuls of awards
,
doors of opportunity across the globe swinging wide open, reputations set in thick bronze
.
Cash for the asking
,
naturally
.

Shoulders back and eyes closed, she took in a deep breath. A slow count to ten tapped on the desk's glass surface, the woman resumed.

FADE TO:

INT. LONDON - ATTIC OFFICE, Feb. 1897 - NIGHT

A homely woman sits at a desk and writes by candlelight. EMILY MORSE SYMONDS, age 37, appears tired, as though ground down by life's progressive hardships. Dour attire and the room's spare furnishings hint at Symonds' lack of wealth and an avowed commitment to the ideals of women's suffrage. Leaning close to a flame, Symonds recites words from a sheaf of paper titled “Lady Hester Stanhope.”

EMILY MORSE SYMONDS

Seldom are true stories distinguished by a well-marked moral.

(pauses)

If we study human chronicles we often find the ungodly flourishing like rodents, and the righteous apparently forsaken and begging his meal. On occasional a human life illustrates moral lessons with the crudity of a Sunday-school story.

Symonds marks deletions and hastily scribbles in replacements. On a fresh sheet she writes:

There are few true stories that are distinguished by a well-marked moral. If we study human chronicles we generally find the ungodly flourishing like

(pauses)

a green bay-tree, and the righteous apparently forsaken and begging his bread. But it occasionally happens that a human life illustrates some moral lesson with the triteness and crudity of a Sunday-school book.

Clearing her throat, the woman circled standout phrases in the ensuing paragraphs—
Pride goeth before the fall; All earthy glory is but vanity; Ambition that o'erleaps itself.

“This ‘repent sinner' BS tests well in the Bible Belt,” she said. “Flyover states can't get enough of that fire and brimstone spiel from the pulpit.”

Seeking a break from the speechifying, she ran the marker down the page.

Satisfied, the writer stands, walks to the window, and watches the roofs of London basking in moonlight.

“Holy Toledo,” the woman muttered. “Incredible! What's next, ‘The writer searches the thesaurus for a synonym'? ‘Symonds adjusts her corset for a minute'?” For a moment she considered shooting an email to the screenwriter—“Dear Mr. Dumbass.” But, really, what could she hope to convey? They breathed different air, apparently.

She returned to the script. In the midst of character assassination, the garret-dwelling moralist's pen rejected the smallest breath of Christian mercy.

She was ambitious, and her ambition had been foiled; she loved irresponsible command, but the time had come when those over whom she ruled defied her; she was dictatorial and exacting, but she had lost the influence which alone makes people tolerate control. She entertained visionary projects of aggrandizement, and was met by the derision of the world.

“Okay, okay, we get it—you disapprove. This Lady Hester was hell in petticoats and paid the price. But. Why. So. Many. Words?” The woman granted that way back then people had nothing better to do at night than read. From Symonds' point of view, voices emitting from a radio speaker would represent the very height of futuristic.

In a word, Lady Hester died as she had lived, alone and miserable in a strange land, bankrupt in affection and credit, because, in spite of her great gifts and innate benevolence, her overbearing temper had estranged friends and kinsfolk alike.

SYMONDS

‘Estranged'?

Perhaps ‘alienated' will suffice.

The woman spread ZZZZZZZ across the page. Sugarcoating belonged in a nursery.

Annoyed, brow furrowed, and fighting the temptation to hurl the script to the floor, the woman plunged a fat green straw into a morning-sized takeout cup. Straws in lattes currently served time as the latest in a short line of cigarette replacements, and this month being jittery and motor-mouthed had become second nature. A pound or two of fresh muffin top showed too. Better that than cancer, she'd remind herself whenever passing by any traitorous mirror.

“Okay, lady, you relax now, let's take a little breather.” She shut her eyes again
with intent
, as the facilitator of the anxiety management class taught.

Regulating air intake and imagining breath flowing down to the toes while keeping the body alert were, she remembered, the next steps in the meditation exercise. Today, gentle downward air wafts stood no chance. Sarcastic exclamations rather than the placid rhythm of deep inhalation gushed from her brain; and annoyance caused teensy eyelid muscles to spasm.

The script's clueless high-mindedness astonished her, that dogged and hopeful—naïve? blind?—disregard of the market, not to mention the pretentious, in-your-face intellectualism. All of it spelled commercial suicide: death by a thousand syllables. Who would pay good money to stare at a drab wallflower from days of yore reading from one sheaf of paper and then scratching in corrections for five goddamned minutes? Librarians? Tweedy professors, maybe. Monks.

For everyone else on the planet five minutes on screen felt like eternity. Five minutes! Christ, Michael Bay makes two hundred cuts in that time and look at the vaults of ka-ching he earns. But here: no talking, no action to speak of, zero tension—writing doesn't count. And three steps to the window? They barely registered.

“This la-di-da Masterpiece Theatre crap might catch buzz at a multiplex in Oxford,” she said, wondering,
Is there such a thing?
“But here in the real world? Not an iota.”

The woman turned to the cover page and wrote a peeved X through the title.
The name of the screenwriter meant nothing.

Stretching, she rested her palms atop the desk's sole personal touch, a chunky lucite frame. The sepia-tinted photograph suspended within had been the advice of Tamara, a Professional Strategies Life Coach highly recommended by a friend of the Ex, and comfortably matter-of-fact at the first assessment: “Simple, right, without a groundstone that office environment will bleed you dry. Balance your mental energies there. Success will follow.”

Improbable with a Nantucket-evoking white Brooks Brothers seersucker dress and fortune cookie advice, Tamara insisted that the special item must bridge the present to the past. “Breathe and let go. Make space for the object's appearance in your mind's eye.”

Like seance ectoplasm the photo had materialized.

In a cramped trailer-studio decades ago a rushed photographer had snapped her, Elizabeth-Anne then, in a flour-sack shift of rosette print calico; smiling gamely, she'd cradled a shallow iron pan of wet gravel. The novelty set up—her mother's inspiration—was meant as an homage to a legendary family matriarch, the plucky wife of a '
49
er believed to have staked a bountiful claim upriver while a ne'er-do-well husband guzzled whiskey and played cards in the tent settlement along the flats.

When the woman's parents finally swapped the Pasadena rancher for a retirement condo in Gardnerville Ranchos, they'd sent an envelope stuffed with photos inside a box of jumbled keepsakes. Never overcome with nostalgia when studying her twelve year-old face—having agreed to the corny idea only to keep the peace—she nevertheless admired her mother's inscription on the reverse side: “A prospector has to trudge through a lot of mud before striking gold. —Knott's Berry Farm,
1979
.”

Balanced mood reached, more or less, the woman sighed.
Trudge, trudge, I'm such a pushover
, she thought, recommitting to
The Prisoner of Djoun
—

As Symonds continues to scribble emendations, the screen returns to the split view momentarily. The focus shifts to the man on the right.

FADE IN:

EXT. TIDMARSH, VILLAGE IN S.E. ENGLAND, FEB. 1919 - DAY

CUT TO:

INT. THE MILL HOUSE - DRAWING ROOM - DAY

A man—tall, bearded, and thin—grabs a book from the haphazard pile on his desk. He stands at a window and reads the cover page—
Little Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century
by George Paston.**

He flips to the fourth essay and samples a passage.

“More books & silence?!?,” the woman jotted in the margin. She sought out the companion asterisks at the bottom of the page:
**Emily Morse Symonds published under the pen-name of George Paston.
The woman imagined words materializing on the screen to explain this crucial point. “Very artful,” she said. “Who cares?” Interest flagging, she rallied with reminders of a potential nugget trove and professional courtesy.

Pacing, the man reads a sentence aloud.

LYTTON STRACHEY

‘In a word, Lady Hester died as she had lived, alone and miserable in a strange land—'

(Drops the book to the floor)

Emily Morse Symonds, who are you to pass judgement, you resentful old cow? Sanctimonious Puritan!

The man walks to a desk to compose a note.

Mr. Murry:

Thank you for the letter of inquiry. The biographical sketch of Lady Stanhope will be completed shortly as per our recent conversation.
The Athenaeum
shall have it within a fortnight.

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