The True Story of Her Play
Paul Dickey’s first full length poetry manuscript, They Say This is How Death Came Into the World, was published by Mayapple Press in January, 2011. A second book, Wires Over the Homeplace, was published by Pinyon Publishing in Fall, 2013. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Rattle, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, 32 Poems, Sentence, Pinyon Review, Mid-American Review, and online at Verse Daily, Potomac Review, Ascent, Diode, and Linebreak and several other journals.
After class, I talked to a student who didn’t want to drop. There’s a fighter in me, she said. Something says I’m going to do it. I didn’t want her to drop. Half the class had already dropped; no one had explained why.
She, if anyone, should drop my class. She turned in a mediocre first essay two weeks late. She failed the midterm. She’s missed half the classes and hasn’t logged into the website. She writes emails suggesting (and sometimes even saying) that she and her husband are in financial desperation (her word), but she shouldn’t let herself get so stressed. It is just her. She thinks too much about details. So see, there was no way she could come to class that other night.
I said it is impossible to think too much. Actually when people say that, they are thinking about the wrong things for the context. They should be thinking more about what is relevant. I picked up my can of crème soda and asked her how much soda would she think I have left if I told her I had “a few drops.” Would she need to use some sophisticated chemistry measuring devices to get a more exact measurement, or should she just understand that there is not enough to give a satisfying drink? But that isn’t thinking too much. It is thinking in an inappropriate context. She nodded her head as if I were right and continued to believe that she thinks too much.
I advised her that now she only has one week to make a good decision before the last day to withdraw from the class without negatively impacting her grade point average. She is an A student at a private, four-year college and is only taking my critical thinking class because the tuition is cheaper at a community college. She said she has a 3.4 or something GPA.
I outlined all the work that she would need to do to catch up and have any chance to pass the class in the context of the value of critical thinking to her. “Arlene, you will have to make the decision. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful.” She had wanted me to say I would let her turn in all of her overdue work for full credit. Perhaps unfairly inferring maybe that is done at a “real” college, I mumbled something like that wouldn’t be fair to other students. “Well, thank you anyway, sir,” she said. I had a pretty good idea I would see a drop notification in my email in the morning.
Finally at home that night and getting back to the play I was writing, the set on the page was familiar. A coffee table was fixed in space and time where I had created it beside the cozy but embarrassingly worn couch. The director carefully had hung the picture I had wanted and that she had bought at the thrift store with the theatre’s limited budget. I was a stranger here. I felt awkward and had nothing to say. I couldn’t even make small talk. The characters greeted me warmly. It wasn’t that. They accepted themselves, even if I did not know myself. They seemed to know what they wanted and had purpose.
One character seemed to love me the most. Yes, even more than I had loved her myself – when I had written her into scene after scene, had fretted over whether this truly was her play, or whether she could handle the truths I needed her to expose about herself. I tried hard to take the role of a lover – claiming I knew the part well, but I could not. Not even once. She didn’t love me that way.
A man I did not know (and I sensed shouldn’t) stood there above me on a riser, fixed and demanding, taunting me with the many other plays needing to be written. She left him only for a minute to embrace me, and I smelled on her skin strawberry incense that I had not created. I looked at the director, and we smiled. The others milled about the set – now seemingly unfocused, unwilling to perform their parts as I had imagined, yet completely in keeping with the script.
As I left, Arlene and I embraced one last time. Like a daughter, I knew where she was now and where she always could be found. She called after me from the living room. She was sorry to see me go, but she knew it had to be. Thank you, sir. She loved her play and everything about it.