Egberto leafed through the license agreement that Susannah Fontaine-Williams had left open on her nightstand. She was painting his toenails purple, not his favorite color, and he'd have to remind himself to pick up nail polish remover on the way home. He'd have to remind himself to remove the color before he went to the pool, not that anyone in New York pays attention to anyone's toenails. The chlorine would do the job if he forgot. Her polish application technique tickled so he wasn't really reading so much as trying to fend off the ticklishness. “Suze, listen to this,” he said. “Item 37: some objects not belonging to nor placed by licensee may periodically appear in bag from time to time.” SFW could not possibly take seriously a sentence with such a redundancy problem: periodically and from time to time. If an assistant brought her uneditd copy like that, she'd fire him on the spot. Or her. She concentrated on drawing a smooth edge on Egberto's big toe toenail while simultaneously tickling the bottom of his foot with the index finger of her left hand. “Hold still,” she said.
The man’s name turned out to be Walt and he told Susannah Fontaine-Williams that the bag would cost her ten thousand, not the fifteen hundred he first quoted. And she wouldn’t really own the bag, just a license to use it that Walt could revoke any time. He produced a 40-page document outlining myriad terms and conditions she’d have to agree to. “Here,” he said. “Just check this box and initial. No one ever reads these things.” She was impressed. Walt told her he got the idea from Apple and Microsoft and Google and… Anyway, she really had no choice. During her trial week with the bag she stuffed everything in it she could: files, books, makeup, pens, a notepad, a straightening iron and a curling iron just in case. And still it weighed next to nothing. If she shook it, it didn’t make a sound and nothing shifted inside. Once, it fell onto its side on a table and nothing spilt out, as if it was empty. But reach into the interior void, and there was that hairbrush, exactly where she left it. As she saw it, well worth the ten grand. Hell, a decent bag without this kind of storage would run a few thou and not even Oprah had anything like this hanging from her shoulder. “Deal,” she said and extended her hand.
In Susannah Fontaine-Williams’s world, leaving for an event at the time it starts counts as getting there on time, the lone exception being her show, SFW with Susannah Fontaine-WIlliams.
We’ve arrived at weddings as guests are filing through the reception line. SFW will cause a scene if the theater won’t seat us because the curtain has already risen. At movies, we not only miss the previews and ads, but sometimes arrive so late we have to sit apart.
A little bit about movies with SFW. She talks, she comments, she interjects, she sighs, cries, gropes, snorts and laughs – an immersive experience. She won’t let you get anything for her at the concession counter, but will eat everything you get for yourself. She smuggles Smarties and kettle corn and I can already see a great use for this new bag of hers. Sitting apart just won’t do so I lie to her about start times, the current time, the traffic, the weather…anything to get her there.
It’s late afternoon when we tumble back out onto Canal Street, with the bag that bends space-time swinging care-free from her shoulder. She’s poured everything into it from her precious letterless Louis V bag.
“Here,” she says, handing it to me. “You can just toss this.”
I don’t, which leaves me the indignity of carrying it. We walk uptown through Soho stopping in galleries and shops before she flags down a cab with a barely perceptible wave. To the observer it appears taxis pull up and she gets in without the slightest indication that she signals for one.
“Let’s see those earrings you’ve bought me,” she says.
“Now how did that happen?” I say.
She opens her bag, turns it over and shakes it. When SFW needs something from her bag, she doesn’t rummage, she dumps everything out. Nothing comes out.
“Oh, that’s odd.” She rights the bag, reaches in, feels around for a moment, and pulls out the neatly wrapped box with her earrings.
“Huh!” I say. “Interesting. A bag that won’t empty when you pour it.”
“And don’t forget, you can’t see inside it.”
I’d forgotten that. “And what was he going on with about electronics?”
“Don’t worry, my phone’s right here in the outside pocket.,” she says, then taps the driver on the shoulder. “Pull over right here,”
“This is where you get out,” she says to me. “I found a street spot. Aren’t you proud?”
“Keys.” I say.
She reaches into her bag, feels around for a second and pulls out the key fob. The electronic key fob.
“Oh, I didn’t even think… well, it looks fine.”
“I’m sure it is,” I say, certain that it isn’t.
I push unlock and lights flash on every car in both directions on the block. The door to my car does not open. I push unlock again, and again every other car flashes, including the cab. I try the door of the car just behind mine and the door opens. I push lock and again lights flash and I hear the lock click on the car I just tried.
I press the remote start button on the fob twice and I hear a dozen car engines turn over, but not mine.
“Huh.” I say. “Interesting.” A light snow begins falling.
…to be continued.
“Who is she, this Susannah?”
She isn’t anyone. She’s made up.
“You’ve based her on someone… who?”
She’s just a composite of every talk show host, game show-er, blond TV personality. Turn on the TV and you’ll see her on every channel.
“Why are you holding her hand in Chinatown?”
Well that’s not me – it’s just me writing in first person. I like to write first person; I can omit all of the details that omnisciency requires. It’s not me.
Look, if you want, we can just leave that story where it is. I haven’t figured everything out yet.
The conversation is happening last night. We had just seen the movie Her and were sitting in the lounge at the Stone Barn hoping for a seat at the bar. Our first time there – an extraordinary place – I was drinking a scotch concoction that included something almond and cinnamon and wheat grass and a few other things that you couldn’t imagine would taste so good. I think there was triple sec in there. The fire was going and people waiting for tables were dressed very well. Except me in jeans and a sweater – we hadn’t planned on popping in but here we were. A fire warmed the room.
My wife has the most delicious and irrational jealousies because everyone knows I married up. I’m the lucky one in this relationship. My blog isn’t a confessional, although wouldn’t that be something?
“No. I want to know if you’re going to sleep with her.”
Well, it isn’t me, and we can assume that the two characters are intimate.
“I knew it!”
If you want, I’ll just write about something else. I have something like three readers…
“Well, no… Why is the bag so expensive?”
You’d pay that much for a bag like that wouldn’t you? Maybe more, right?
She nods and I can see she’d really like a bag like that. SFW’s carrying needs are based on hers of course.
“Where does everything go and why can’t you put electronics in there? Is it a black hole or some kind of a portal?”
I haven’t worked it all out. However she’s impressed me with the sci-fi terminology (she doesn’t think much of the genre).
About this time I’m thinking we should give up on getting seated at the bar and go eat somewhere else when a polite man in a suit tells us that it will just be a few more minutes.
Soon they transport our drinks to the bar and put little menu booklets in front of us. The couple to our left enthusiastically explain how things work – they’re on the foraging menu and have been there three hours already. I am salivating and my wife is smiling. We have for the evening left Susannah Fontaine-Williams in Chinatown holding the extra-dimensional bag. There’s no way I’d ever bring her to a place like this anyway…
It’s Feb. 1 and the garden is still beneath a coat of snow criss-crossed with footprints and pocked by various tree droppings. Even the roof, bathed in sunlight, still has snow and ice on it. In the summer, there were tremendous spiderwebs spanning the eaves with huge, voracious spiders and these webs have been replaced by lengthening icicles. Winter’s lock remains and the heating system creaks and groans.
A thing to look forward to today: my new phone arrived at the destination sort facility at 6:28 AM this morning and a man in a blue uniform will deliver it to me by noon. It says so on the tracking page and I believe it.
Let me tell you something I don’t believe: Susannah Fontaine-Williams does not love me although she says she does. She’s too practical for love and I’m just someone who can knock down 18 year old Scotch Whisky with her dram by dram and throw her pithy phrases that sometimes ends up on her show, the fourth most-watched afternoon talk show in the land.
She has the most amazing extra-dimensional bag and it’s gotten her into several kinds of trouble. It all started when we were on Canal Street looking for knockoffs and a man led her into a narrow shop with bags hanging from the walls and ceilings like cave bats and piled everywhere on the floor. You waded more than walked through this place.
“I need a bag that will hold a lot,” she told the man. “But isn’t very big.”
He pointed to the knockoffs and SFW held them, appraised them, hoisted them onto her spaghetti-strapped shoulder and shook her head no. No. “Too big. Too heavy.”
She took my hand and we looked at each other and laughed and walked out of the store.
The man said, “Wait. Come with me. I show you something special.”
He led us to the back of the cave to a door covered with dusty bags and found the knob beneath the faux leather. We walked onto a creaky, wooden stairway. Bare fluorescent bulbs hung every few feet so where we hoped for and expected a puddle of dark, we were instead treated to blue-white light. After 27 steps, one of which had an nail sticking straight up (“nail, watch out), we landed in the basement, a big, neat, mostly empty space.
“My workshop,” he said.
At the far end was a metal desk under exposed fluorescent tubes. On it sat a single bag.
“That doesn’t look like it would hold very much,” SFW said.
The man smiled and handed her the bag. SFW dutifully put it on her shoulder.
”The straps are too short.”
“Put your hands on strap and lightly pull,” and as she did the straps lengthened.
“Now, put something in the bag, your wallet…”
SFW pulled out her wallet, a bulky thing weighted down and fattened with credit cards, slips of paper, loose change and lots of cash. She always carried too much cash.
“It will take up the entire bag,” she said.
“Put in everything else you have with you now. Except nothing electronic.”
She piled in a notebook, a few loose pens, a makeup kit, a toothbrush…”
“You carry a toothbrush?” I said.
It all fit. I looked in the bag and it was black inside, dark, although a bright light was shining directly over it. I reached in and felt around for her wallet and pulled it out. “Huh.”
“For you, $1500.”
“Too much for a knockoff.”
“Not a knockoff. This is one of a kind. A prototype.”
He gestured to his workbench with his neatly organized tools and implements and tubes.
”Tell you what. I like you. I watch your show. You take it with you, try it for a few days. If you still want it, buy it. If not, just give it back. No charge for trying it out.”
She looked over at me.
“Why not?” I said, not realizing that that question would be answered soon enough.
“Remember,” the shopkeeper said. “Nothing electronic.”
“Well, where do I put my phone?”
“Outside pocket. Always in the outside pocket.”
…to be continued.
Fix the errors in “Get your hands of my chair young man.”
The second woman on the bus is now a younger woman, maybe in her twenties, and she’s in a wheelchair because her legs have been blown off at the knees by a bomb in a train station. She’s the only one who survived. She’s on her way to the TV studio to be interviewed. The host, the collagen-lipped Susannah Fontaine-Williams, is going to surprise her with a new Chevrolet Malibu equipped with hand controls so she can drive it. The audience whoop and rhythmically clap.
Then Susannah Fontaine-Williams announces that they have an even bigger surprise in store for our young hero. The lights dim and a video of the woman’s boyfriend displays while inspiring patriotic music plays. “And here on special leave to share your special day, Lieutenant George Michael W…” and rising up through a platform in the floor through a fog of dry ice is her longtime boyfriend. The Lieutenant is a soldier stationed somewhere in a dangerous part of the world. He too is a bombing survivor. He still has his legs but his hearing has been damaged. In a moment, Susannah Fontaine-Williams is going to present him with a state of the art ear implant and the resulting thundering audience applause overtake the pair who break down and weep.
The damaged young bombing survivor cum celebrity glimpsed Rose as the bus rolled away from the bus stop. She caught Rose’s eye and smiled politely. She hoped the interview will be over quickly and thought about how she’ll spend the check for appearing.
The bus pulled up for Rose at the corner of Columbus and 75th. The driver extended the ramp and she haltingly pushed forward to get over the edge of the ramp and grab a handrail inside the bus. It was slow going. She felt her chair nudge forward and turned her head around to see a man giving her a helpful push.
“Get your hands of my chair young man.” She said. “No one asked for your help.”
“Sorry,” he said and backed away from the chair.
“You have no right to just push someone like that.”
She resumed jerking her way forward finally managing to round the bend past the driver, turn the chair face forward and parallel park herself into the space vacated by the seats that had been turned up for her. The driver strapped her wheel in. She adjusted her hat and sighed.
With her hands in her lap, she waved an arthritic finger at the helpful man as he walked by. When he’d passed her, she smiled, adjusted her summer hat, a straw thing with a wide brim that hid her thin hair and the bald spot that had made camp atop her head several years ago and would not leave.
The bus moved forward and she noticed the woman sitting across the aisle, also in a wheel chair, also with a hat, although hers was white.
“I hate when people do that,” the woman said.
“It doesn’t like you’d need a boost with that thing,” Rose said with a nod toward the woman’s chair.
It was a beautiful chair, with smaller wheels than Rose’s, pneumatic tires, a thick, padded seat with a head rest and joystick controls – a lovely, motorized chair. “I know you. Aren’t you…,” Rose started to say, then looked the other way out the window.
Here we have these notes jotted down in a notebook six and one half years ago. I typed the notes into a word doc on June 1, 2007 presumably to flesh out a story. I remember the incident – the old woman with the funky hat rolling on the bus and the young man who pushed her (me, not so young) and the reproachful look she gave me. The notes end there and though I can recall the moment I don’t remember if the other woman an old friend, someone who stole a lover, or someone famous she recognized.
No matter. They sit in their wheelchairs on a bus on Columbus Avenue heading downtown in 2007 at the beginning of a conversation in an unfinished barely begins story waiting for the words that form their thoughts and construct their sentences and drive their actions.