Verisimilitude, That Bitch
One of the things that kept bothering me while I was writing Liz is that I have no idea what it means to be a single thirty-something in the twenty-first century. While I realize that there are many single-thirty-something-in-the-twenty-first-century experiences, I don’t know any of them, so I kept pulling back and thinking, “Does this sound like a single-thirty-something-in-the-twentieth-century or, worse, a-single-sixty-something-in-the-twenty-first-century?” Because while truth isn’t necessary to fiction, verisimilitude is. One “that would never happen” and your story falls apart.
I’d already had a conversation with Mollie about this because Liz was going to end up with an RV at the end of the book, not an airstream, a regular albeit short Class B RV. For me, it was a move in Liz’s arc: at the beginning of the novel the only home she has is her car and she’s alone and at the end she’s stuck with this RV (she didn’t choose it) and she’s adopted a dog. But Mollie said, “Nobody I know would want an RV, that’s for people like you and Dad.” I said, “Lani wrote a book about a young woman who lived in an Airstream and it was great.” She said, “That’s an Airstream. Airstream’s are different.” I decided she was wrong because there are a lot of thirty-somethings out there with RVs, but I wasn’t completely sure and that was the problem, not being sure. For Liz’s kind of life, an RV seemed like a genius idea, but it if was something where a reader would say, “That would never happen . . .”
Of course the tricky part in all of this is that verisimilitude is in the eye of reader. There’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t believe your story. I once got an e-mail from a teacher who’d read Crazy For You that said, “The least you could have done was research teaching.” I e-mailed back and said, “I spent fifteen years in the Beavercreek Public School System; your teaching experience is not necessarily everybody’s teaching experience.” So even the stuff that I know for sure isn’t right for some readers. Still, the idea is to get it in the ballpark of believability for the majority. And I really don’t know if Liz was, if any of the characters were, or if they weren’t being seen through some kind of time warp, and they were people from the eighties transported to the teens. Last century fiction. It’s a problem.
Which is why dark fairy tales appeal to me now. Fantasy. A different world where I don’t have to worry about what’s true in this time, I just have to worry about what’s true about human beings in general. I can cast off the shackles of social verisimilitude and stick to psychological truths.
Although as we’ve brainstormed Fairy Tail Lies, there’s still going to be an RV. It’s a gypsy caravan but it’s an RV. I really want an RV.
But I digress. In the rock-throwing scene, I had to do a first person I-just-got-hit-by-a-rock narrative. I researched concussions, trying to find the sweet spot between truly-injured and quick-recovery and then did a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing which is when Lani put a note in the manuscript that said something like “NOW I like her.” But I kept going back to it, wondering if I’d gotten the concussion right, and especially wondering if I’d gotten the thirty-something-single-woman-with-a-concussion-in-the-twenty-first-century right. This writing gig is not for wimps.
So now I’m curious. Here’s Liz getting hit on the head with a rock. How’s the verisimilitude on a scale of one to ten, ten being spot on and one being “You really are old and out of touch, aren’t you?”
* * * * *
Molly followed me out a minute later. “What happened?”
“With Vince?” She grinned. “I’m sorry I missed that.”
“I barely escaped with my virtue,” I said and started to walk home.
Molly followed behind me, laughing at the idea of my virtue. I told her we had to walk since if Vince picked us up for DUI, I’d have to trade sex for a-get-out-of-jail-free card instead of the T-shirt. And I really wanted that shirt.
“That’s not all you want,” she said, and held out her hand. “Give me your phone.”
I was too tired to argue so I handed it over, wondering who the hell she was going to drunk dial with my caller ID, but wanting to get home and fall into bed more than I wanted to know who was going to be yelling at me the next day. She tapped on it for a minute or so as we walked, and she then handed it back.
“Vince’s number is in there now, in your favorites. You get lonely later, give him a call. I’m pretty sure he’ll deliver to the house.”
I almost considered it, just to see Vince’s face when he saw all the bears in my old bedroom, but I said, “No, thanks, leaving tomorrow, no complications.”
She laughed, but when we reached the sidewalk to front of my mother’s little ranch house, she stopped.
“I’m so glad you’re home, Lizzie,” she said, and even with a couple of beers in her, she sounded sober about that. “When you left . . . it hasn’t been right since.”
“I’m not staying,” I said, but she hugged me anyway.
“Just . . . come back again,” she said, and then she let go and went off down the walk to her own bed three houses down.
I thought about going with her to make sure she was all right, but instead I watched her until she turned down her own path to the porch, and when I heard her front door close, I headed for my own bed.
But when I was halfway down the walk, something moved in the shadows beside the house, next to the bedroom windows, so I stopped. Burney didn’t have much of a peeping Tom problem when I was there last, but it could have changed.
Then I remembered it was Burney. Of course it hadn’t changed. I took another step and then something definitely moved in the dark at the side of the house. It was just a shape in the shadows, but it was there.
“Hey!” I said, and started toward it, and something came winging out of the dark and landed in the dirt beside the walk. “Hey!” I yelled and bent over to see what it was, and about the time I registered that it was a rock from my mother’s rock garden, something smacked me hard on the temple and the lights went out.
When I came to, it was still dark, the grass was cool, and all I could think of was, I knew this town was going to kill me someday.
After that, I had a hard time concentrating—Somebody threw a rock at me? Really? Son of a bitch—and time passed while I tried to figure out what to do. I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in the grass. The neighbors would notice and my mother would be disappointed. I definitely had to sit up.
I sat up slowly and felt my stomach lurch.
Nausea. That was a bad sign.
I put my hand up to my throbbing temple and my fingers came away wet.
Blood. Another bad sign.
I lay back down in the grass. If people were trying to kill me, they’d just have to come and get me, I was in no shape to go find them.
I should probably find somebody for help, though. Because if I didn’t, I’d still be in the grass when the sun came up and the neighbors would see and my mother would be disappointed.
My head spun for awhile and I tried to think of who to call. Not the neighbors because my mother would be so—
My head really hurt.
I felt around in the grass until I found my purse. It was harder because I couldn’t sit up. Sitting up seemed like something I might do later in life, like belly dancing or learning the trapeze.
Somebody hit you with a rock, a voice said. Call for help, you idiot.
The voice was inside my head, which was disconcerting because it certainly wasn’t my voice, I would never call for help. People call me for help, I do not call them. I do not need help, I rescue myself.
Of course not being able to sit up was going to make that harder. If I didn’t get help, I was still going to be in the grass when the sun came up and the neighbors would see and my mother would be disappointed.
I had my purse in my hand. I fumbled inside it and found my cellphone and punched at the screen until I managed to find the “Favorites” list.
I could call my mother, she was only about twenty feet away, but she’d be so disappointed. I could call Molly and she’d come get me, but then M.L. would know and yell at my mother because I was such an embarassment to the family, and my mother would be so disappointed. I could call Cash—no, I could not call Cash. Mac would come get me. Good old Mac. I stared at the phone screen, trying to remember why I’d want to call Mac. Then I saw Vince’s name.
I punched my finger at his name. It took a couple of tries. My head hurt. I listened to the phone whirr as I stared up at the stars. They appeared to be moving.
Somebody said, “Hello,” and it took me a minute to remember I was on the phone.
“Hello,” I said.
“Wow. You can recognize my voice?”
“No, I can read my phone screen.”
“Oh.” That was vaguely disappointing. It shouldn’t have been disappointing. It wasn’t as if I expected him to remember my voice. But it would have been kind of nice–
“Liz? Are you there?”
“I think somebody hit me with a rock.”
“I think somebody hit me with a rock.”
“Where are you?”
He was so damn calm. If somebody called me and said, “I think somebody hit me with a rock,” I’d be more animated. I’d say, “Oh, my GOD, A ROCK?” And then–
“I’m on the front lawn.”
“You’re at your mom’s house?”
“I’m on my way.”
His phone clicked off, and I went back to watching the stars swirl around. I kept expecting them to stop because I was getting better, but they just kept going. So I thought about Lavender, doing all the right things and clearly a suitable bride for Cash; and Cash leaning close in the bar, looking so damn good; and that kiss with Vince the cop that was also damn good, verging on great, although that could have been the alcohol talking. And then he’d recognized my voice. No, wait, he hadn’t, I’d just wanted him to recognize my voice, but for why? I asked myself. I was still pondering that when a shadow loomed over me and the stars went away.
“If you’re here to kill me,” I said, “a cop is on the way.”
“That would be me,” Vince said. “Can you sit up?”
“Sure,” I said, and sat up, and when he held out his hand, I took it and let him pull me to my feet. “Just like this morning,” I said and threw up all over the lawn.
“Hospital,” he said, and then I was sitting in his jeep, so very tired, and I tried to sleep, but he kept saying, “Liz!” in this sharp, cop voice, and once when I tried to sleep anyway, he even grabbed my shoulder and said, “Stay with me!”
“Where else am I gonna go?” I said. “I’m in your car.”
And then I saw the hospital sign, and after that, I really do not remember.