24. Fiction party

I entered the fiction party uninvited, as we all did, and I like to think maybe I crawled in through an open window. Dirt on my hands and knees, I sought the nearest restroom, where I washed up while catching curious glances from Michael Crichton fixing his dinosaur necktie in the mirror. Heading toward the noise, I saw John Steinbeck and Mark Twain trading jokes in the stairwell and they gave me conflicting directions about where I’d go to find my voice. “West,” said John, while Mark insisted, “Follow the Mississippi.” Must’ve taken a wrong turn at Castle Rock, following the bark of a rabid dog and the purr of a possessed 1958 Plymouth Belvedere, leading me to the wicked workshop of Stephen King. Veering back into the smoky crowd, I bumped into Ernest Hemingway and spilled his whiskey. There were hundreds of faces in the crowd, filling the endless rooms with the smell of ink and sweat. Many of them I did not know. Hemingway demanded I fetch him another drink, and in the kitchen I met Chuck Palahniuk, who stood there talking to himself about mayhem and lullabies, whispering, “His name is Robert Paulson.” Cormac McCarthy pulled me aside and told me to forget everything I knew about quotation marks. Never got back to Hemingway with his drink, which was snatched out of my hand by a moody Anne Rice. On the back porch I found Bret Easton Ellis, rambling about the lights of Los Angeles at dusk, doing lines of coke with Hunter S. Thompson while Truman Capote in a bathing suit clacked noisily on a typewriter nearby. Somewhere in the distance I heard J.K. Rowling practicing her spells, and over by the gazebo was Paulo Coelho drawing figures in the sand garden. The time was slipping by, yet it felt like we existed in a realm that controlled it, if only I knew the secret. Tom Robbins came through like a perfume, filling my mind with immortal thoughts, vanishing in a cloud of exotic vocabulary. The hum of the party and outdoor electric lights grew overwhelming, and in the quieter rooms upstairs, I found Harper Lee and William Golding exchanging ideas about morality in our children, a much more pleasant debate than the one boiling next door between Huxley and Orwell. I wanted to stop the fight from escalating but Ray Bradbury held me back and said, “No, let them handle this.” In the dining hall I joined Charles Dickens for a glass of wine and some roast duck, but he ventured off to discuss with Poe an idea for a story about a raven. The doorbell rang and I answered it, letting in Franz Kafka, stuck again in cockroach form, and no one but Kurt Vonnegut paid him any attention. I watched a few minutes of the Lord of the Rings with Tolkien before he switched it off and said they pronounced Aragorn wrong, and I was distracted by Joseph Heller, who was making dive-bomber sounds as he leapt from the roof into the pool and Jack Kerouac soon joined him, and it was Jane Austen who told them to settle down while she sunbathed in the lawn with Charlotte Brontë and two bloody marys. In the evening, as the party died down, I walked for some time with Jules Verne until I realized that we’d found the center of the earth, and we discovered Shakespeare’s true identity, but I promised not to tell. Upon return, Verne went off with James Joyce and I sought the company of Neil Gaiman, who took me into Neverwhere to meet the shadows of his mind. When we returned it was daylight and the party had begun again with the death of Myrtle Wilson and a big gasp from those listening to Fitzgerald tell Gatsby’s great tale.

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