Tuesday, December 14, 2010

La Ronde - Problems in the Final Act

Back in October, Patti Abbott had the fine, fun idea of a flash fiction challenge in which the main idea was to

"write a story of around 1000 words where the protagonist is jealous of another person. The second writer will write a story where that person is jealous of a third person and so on..."

I'm still not sure why I decided to join in, but I'm glad I did.  As the weeks went on, and each story began to tie into the ones that preceded it, I realized I was in for a hell of a challenge in tying the whole affair up with a pretty bow.  This is what I came up with.  Hopefully it concludes everything to the readers satisfaction.

(Each story link can be found here.  It might not be necessary to read their stories to enjoy mine, but I think you'd be missing out on the fun.)

Problems in the Final Act
by Dan Fleming


A baby, six or seven months old, is wide awake in his crib.  This is GEORGIE.  He lays on his back, looking up with a slight baby grin on his face.

A woman, PATRICE, comes into view.   She stands over GEORGIE, looking at him with a serene look on her face.  She leans closer, reaches out a hand, and gives him a small pinch on his thigh.  GEORGIE yells bloody murder as he soils his diaper.  PATRICE leaves quickly.

GEORGIE continues to yell for a moment before realizing that no one is coming to sooth his infant worries.  He looks to his left, and stares at the crib toy strapped to it’s bars.  It’s got all the bells and whistles, as well as a small mirror.  GEORGIE looks at himself and realizes he is full of shit.

This wasn’t working.

He had observed every ritual he had in the past, back when the writing came as easy as the compliments.  Two bottles of Jameson had been claimed as victims the past three days, but the liquor poured more smoothly than his words.  Three packs of cigarettes, enough to send him into an hourly coughing fit, had also been sacrificed at the alter of inspiration.  Ten years ago, four short stories and an editorial would have been placed in the box next to the reliable Remington typewriter.  It was always about the process, and lately, the process had been failing him.

As the paper in the wastebasket added up, so did his frustrations. Like any good writer, this just led to more drinking.  Two days ago he had started with Old Fashioneds.  The mixing of the drink, allowing the bitters to mix with the sugar, crushing it with the muddler, adding the Jameson, this gave his ideas time to gestate.  When the drink was ready for the cherry, the story would be fully formed in his mind.  Usually.  By the time the twentieth page was sacrificed, so was the ritual.  If the words were going to be stubborn, he would have to force them out straight from the bottle.  They held their ground, and after a long, ink stained, drunken war, his reserves were finally empty.

He stood up, lit another cancer stick, and ignored the mess around him.

Ten years ago he would've had the answers.  Straight out of college, he knew everything, had everything;  looks, luck, confidence and the easygoing attitude that comes with it.  Everything but responsibility.  Thanks to a well-to-do girlfriend, he didn’t have to worry about a place to stay, or bills, or food, or sex.  It wasn’t bad being a “kept” man.  As long as he doted on her when she got home, he could spend all day with his true love, words.

That was the life.

From this enticing arrangement came his first, and only, collection of work.  It was a batch of short stories, each centered around the green eyed beast that is jealousy, with a cast of characters that continued from one chapter to the next.  He’d stolen the idea after watching Robert Altman’s film Short Cuts.  The way the master had connected Raymond Carver’s short stories was pure genius, and if they could do it, why couldn’t he?

The fact that those two were masters of their craft didn’t seem to bother him.  Youthful ignorance perhaps?  Undaunted, he sat and hammered out page after page, barely pausing for revision, oxygen or sex, before all ten parts were finished.  And as luck would have it, his soon to be fiancĂ© just happened to have some connections at a few large publishing houses.

His charmed life continued as his book was fought over, fawned over, and soon published to serious accolades.  Somewhere in the shitbox apartment he still had a box of New Yorkers, the issue that proclaimed him a “genius.” His National Book Award was buried under months of dirty laundry, and wearing three-day-old underwear didn’t make him feel so smart now.

He took advantage of the life while he could, riding the coattails of the success and the accolades for as long as possible.  The drive that once led him to the typewriter, was focused instead on parties, wine, and unfortunately, women.  The literary elite don’t exactly draw paparazzi, but his affairs didn’t go unnoticed for long.  New York is New York after all.

Depressed and divorced, he did what any man of means would do, move to sunny California, where opportunity, success and blondes are available to those with talent and money.  After nixing a deal three times, he eventually decided to allow La Ronde to be made into a film, providing he be allowed to write the screenplay.

How hard could it be?  He wrote the damn originals after all.

It was two years worth of “hard.”  If he hadn’t been clever enough to include his writing clause into the original contract it would have been taken from him a year ago.  The producer wanted his money back and the director wanted his balls.  He alone was responsible for the delays, but he so badly wanted to disperse the blame.

Why did they want a new story for the film?  The book had worked so well, but now the producer wanted something from the baby’s point of view.  He’s an infant.  What could he possibly want to say besides "give me another breast" and "change my diaper?"  The idea had been floated to name the baby after the producer, considering they both had so much in common below the belt.

But the story didn’t want to be written.  He wasn’t meant to be a screenwriter, and the hacked together script showed it.  Regardless of the director’s genius (which actually was quite extensive) he wasn’t going to be able to do anything with this.  He took what good pages he had, tossed them into the already full wastebasket, and added the still lit cigarette.  Smoke would soon fill the poorly ventilated, one window room, and that would be fine.  It was time for a new routine, and burning this apartment to the ground seemed like a good start.

His father always told him that you couldn’t shine a turd and call it gold, but this wouldn’t stop him from sticking his hand back into the toilet for more.  He might be a black-lunged, drunken arsonist, but he wasn’t a quitter.  She hadn’t spoken to him in years, but he would finish this, make sure the film opened in New York, and ask her once again to be on his arm.

If possible, he would turn the clock back ten years and be the man she loved once again.


  1. Excellent way to round it out. Really nice.

  2. A fun way to wrap things up, and and wearing three-day-old underwear didn’t make him feel so smart now made me laugh out loud. Nicely done.

  3. Great job, Dan! This rides La Ronde right off into the sunset.

  4. you managed to find the right shade of ribbon, cut it to the perfect length and tie a neat bow - not an easy job with so much variety in the wash behind. i really like the idea of introducing a screenplay as an intro - took me a moment to latch on, but felt its originality immediately (it's the kind of idea i'd like to steal).
    i think the series has been satisfying as a reader, educational as both reader and writer and, above all, very entertaining.
    thanks to all involved and of course a special thanks for Patti for the hosting and the idea. i wonder if a novel could be written this way - if things were maybe in the hands of an overseer; i know that sounds crazy, but it might be possible (different perspectives on a whodunnit of an Agatha Christie style, for example).
    to everyone in the relay team a gold medal.

  5. Great job tying the story all together, Dan!!

  6. You had the hardest job, and pulled it off quite well. I like the idea of completing the circle of stories with a circular story.

  7. Thanks for the kind words everyone. I had a blast with this project, and I really must say thanks to everyone whose story came before mine. They were all excellent, diverse, and kept me very interested in the journey up until it was my turn. My hat is off to all of you.

  8. Dan-you had the hardest job of all and did it brilliantly. Thanks so much for being part of this.

  9. I'm late to the party on this one but well done. Way to wrap it up. So fascinating to see where this all led.