“But where’s the hook?” Nichols interrupted Blake right at the good part, or what Blake thought was the good part. His script had the woman with the eye patch revealing that she could really see, and the man she was trying to seduce (by pretending to be seduced by him) revealing he was really blind. (Of course, Blake was eager to explain, she already knew he was completely blind – she could, after all, see that he was – but she didn’t let on that she knew this, and didn’t let on that she could really see). Nichols gave an aggrieved sigh and glanced at his watch. He lost it around ‘eye’: “Then why, if she knew this guy was blind, would she bother to wear an eye patch, for crissake!?”
“I haven’t explained it right. See, she doesn’t want him to know she knows he’s blind, because as far as he knows, she’s blind…”
“Yes, yes, I got that. But he can’t see the eye patch!”
“No, of course not! But he can feel…”
“At what point does he feel the eye patch? You never said that. And why would he feel the eye patch if he wants her to think he can see? And why a goddamn eye patch if she’s blind in both eyes? I presume she is blind in both eyes if she can’t see, or isn’t supposed to be able to see, isn’t that right?”
“Well,” Blake stammered and flushed. “Yes, but…”
Nichols had regained his composure. “OK Blake. My man. Thank you. That’s all the time I’ve got. I’ll get back to you about this.” He picked up Blake’s phonebook-thick script and held it out for Blake to claim.
Blake ignored him and went to the window. Three stories below there was a demonstration on the sidewalk against the VA clinic across the street. The Viet Nam vets all looked like old sick bears. Most were over-weight and had white beards and ponytails. Many were in wheel chairs. What are you thinking, he wondered. These guys aren’t any older than you are. There but for the Grace of God. When these vets were jumping out of hueys and slogging through rice paddies and firefights he was safe and sound in Cleveland emptying bedpans at a Veteran’s hospital and sleeping with nurses. No wonder the vets looked 20 years older and 50 years sicker. That could have been you, he thought. But for the GOG and Blake’s luck with the draft board. He got his Conscientious Objector status fairly early—1968 or 69. Near killed his mother. But when he was drafted it was into a hospital as an orderly and not as a GI in the infantry. But it could have been the infantry. Was it just luck? Or was it because his Dad’s best friend was a judge with friends on the draft board? Is that what gave him an edge? Where was his edge now? Connections. His dad always said it was connections. Nichols was his connection, but it wasn’t working out too well. These guys in the wheelchairs, they never had any connections. They did their duty. Even if their understanding of duty was based on venal government lies it was, as best they knew, their duty.
Nichols was saying something and pushing the script into Blake’s back. Blake said, “I know the title is off-putting. I can shorten the title.”
“It’s not just the title, Blake.”
The title was:
SIGHTED GIRL PRETENDS BLINDNESS
(to attract blind lover who pretends to be sighted, to attract blind girl who pretends to be sighted, who pretends she isn’t pretending to be sighted to be attracted to a sighted guy who likes blind girls, because it makes him feel in control, even if the girls he wants are sighted girls pretending to be blind pretending to be sighted, in case any of them get angry and scratch out the guy’s eyes, which isn’t supposed to matter since he’s supposed to be blind anyway, and is pretending he isn’t, and so would be able to accuse the girls of depriving him of sight and sue them, and her, for a major legal settlement)
He turned around and found Nichols smiling. It looked like kindness. Nichols said, “You need help, buddy. I don’t mean a script doctor. I mean the other kind. The head kind.”
“Jenkins said you were reading scripts.”
He nodded. “I owe Jenks. I love the man. That’s the only reason you got any time to pitch this to me. OK, I gave you the time. I’m trying to help. You need help.”
Blake pushed the script back at Nichols. It was getting pretty smashed up. “If I get help would you at least look at it. Please.”
Nichols stepped away and raised his hands. The script splashed on the floor. Nichols said, “Jesus” and picked up the pages like he was cleaning up litter. He banged the rough stack on the desk. “I have read it. No, I tried to read it. I couldn’t get past the first page. It’s… I don’t want to say unfilmable. Yeah it’s unfilmable. Not only that. It’s unreadable.”
Blake said, “It’s like those guys.”
Blake nodded at the window. “The vets out there. You know. I was thinking. They’re down there in wheelchairs, having flash backs and seizures because they did their duty.”
Nichols had returned to his chair behind the desk. He leaned back and said, “What the hell do I know?” He rubbed his hands over his face. “That goes for script writing as well, Blake. I don’t know anything. You shouldn’t listen to me. Jesus, for all I know your script is absolutely brilliant and will make you and some studio 40 bazillion dollars the first week. Just not my studio. Look at Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman and Lars Von Trier and David Lynch. I just can’t…read your thing, is the thing.”
Blake shrugged. “I worked as an orderly in a VA psych hospital in Cleveland during Vietnam. I emptied bedpans and held down these messed up guys while they got thorazine in the ass. And I slept with nurses. Lots of army nurses.”
“Yeah. So it’s like those guys. They did their duty, and ended up in wheel chairs. I did my duty and ended up here, pitching crazy movie scripts, hoping to hit it big and retire to a villa in Majorca.” He laughed squeakily.
“That’s the hook, Nichols. Vietnam.”
“You’re telling me Sighted Girl Pretends Blindness etc. etc. is about Vietnam? Wait. Wait. You just now decided to pitch this thing as a Vietnam script because you just now saw the demonstration and it gave you the idea? That’s pathetic, man. That’s not a pitch. It’s free-fucking association. It’s… unprofessional!”
“I never said it was a Vietnam script. I just meant that their fates and mine are strangely intertwined.”
“What does this fake blind girl and fake blind guy have to do with veterans in wheelchairs?”
“For that matter, what do these fake blind people have to do with anything half-way relevant to the movie going public?”
Nichols nodded triumphantly. “Precisely. Which brings me back to my original point. There is no hook. No conflict. Nothing happens. These two con artists just circle around each other, around and around and around, pretending to be blind, pretending to be sighted, pretending to be pretending to be pretending. All for what? What are they really? What is this?” He pounded his fist on the already battered script. “How would we market this thing? film it in 3-D? That’s it. James Cameron meets Gertrude Stein. Samuel Beckett meets Ironside.”
“Wheelchairs… but the blind thing… Wait Until Dark rewritten by Martin Heidegger, or Michel Houellebecq scripts a biography of Helen Keller…”
“I know you’re just making fun of me now, but actually, these are all pretty good ideas.”
“Oh please. This is just not anything that I could possibly work with, ok? I mean, what, a 3-D version of The Makingof Americans? I mean, you’d have to get Nick Cage on board. Absolutely.” Nichols stopped. He was laughing so hard his face went from purple to white. “Gertrude Stein in 3-D…!”
Blake gathered up his script and left. He could hear Nichols laughing and calling him back, all the way to the elevator.
Once he got to the lobby he was trembling and breathless. God help him, what great ideas! He went out to watch the demonstration. A grey-bearded vet in a wheelchair growled, “Whatcha’ got there?” Blake gave him the script, and the vet set it gently before him. Blake thought of Santa with a child on his lap. He read, occasionally scratching his beard and making a low, snarling, bewildered grunt of a laugh, at once feral and forgiving, that sounded to Blake for all the world like he was hooked.
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
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