Inspiration by Stephen Faulkner

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Inspiration by Stephen Faulkner
Illustration by Sue Babcock

People ask me where I got the idea to do it all in the way that I did. I tell them that I got it from a book. Now, the book I am talking about was not a true classic or anything; in fact it was not old by any means. It did, and still does, however, have that damp smell of must about it and its pages have already acquired a tinge of yellow which is already shading toward an autumnal orange. Even so, the volume in question had only been published about ten years ago. In the scope and breadth of time populated and civilized (some say) by the doings of humanity, it is a very young book, indeed.  However, taking into consideration the sheer volume in numbers of books published over the past century alone where what is popular has a life span of a month and often less, this book could be considered as ancient as the Bible, the philosophy of Boethius, the anatomical studies of Galen or the give and take (mostly take) question and answer sessions of Socrates’ Academy.

In that last sentence, though, I give too much credit to the book. As far as I could tell on the first reading (and there have been several cursory ones since then) this book had no competitors, so different was it from anything else being written at the time of its original, limited and only publication. There also have been no imitators since when it was published it was largely overlooked and disregarded by the general reading public so that no competent or incompetent writer felt it to be worth his or her while to attempt something even remotely similar in either style or content. There were no detractors either, and for much the same reason: we criticize and detract against only those things which are recognized and felt deeply, either positively or negatively. How can we feel anything about something of which we have no knowledge?

For all that, though – the obscurity of the title and its author (this was his only published work), its miniscule press run, its publishers apparent lack of faith in its quality and/or the salability of the work and, therefore, its remarkable lack of promotion – it was and is an important book, if only to myself.  If only, as well, for a single long line out of the many lines in its scant 175 pages. It is a novel, a brief one, full of many little epigrammatic rants, either in the narrative itself or from the lips of one of the three main characters who trudgingly, wordily bring the plot forward. And forward, finally, to an anticlimactic and, ultimately, a wholly unsatisfactory end.

In total it is an elementally simple story; nothing really new. The plot concerns a love triangle. The title of the book, in fact, is, quite simply, Triangle.

In a nutshell it is the story of a woman trapped in a rather loveless marriage who, in desperation, takes a lover. He is younger than she and quite shallow, though he proves to be a practiced and ardent lover. Despite the woman’s selfish reasons for taking up with this fellow, she falls in love with him. This lasts for several years before the husband finally catches on. A three page paragraph ensues in which the husband goes on and on in self-pity about his situation as an unloved cuckold whose feelings are not considered by his deceptive spouse. Finally he comes to the decision to confront his rival and there are three subsequent chapters which, taken together, comprise the confrontation from the points of view of each of the protagonists. The ending of the novel, though patently unrealistic, comes rather too quickly, with the woman deciding to let the situation continue: she still to be married to her husband as long as she can continue philandering with the young lover at the same time. And this decision is agreed to by all three persons involved. The reader is left to accept this conclusion at face value for, with a facile few sentences later, the book comes to its sudden finish.

But all of this is of no matter. Neither is the mundane plot, its melodramatic posturing and bemoaning of fate nor its silly ending. Only one thing, one overwritten line spouted from the mouth of the husband in his almost delirious ramblings on the possible infidelity of his wife (which is not definite in his mind at this point in the story).  In an interior monologue delivered before a mirror, he says, “Can it be so devilishly awful to consider things like this to be so, even if they are not? Let me think: could it make me a better man to dwell on these things as fact, treat them as truth rather than just possibilities so as to take me where they will, make me see what I would be in their light, if it all were so? I think…. Yes, it might be, even though I am afraid of the consequences of mind and action should I take it all so to heart….”

And he goes on and on in the same vein. It is a line, as I have said even though it could be a paragraph in itself. It is preachy, wordy, almost Victorian in feeling, nearly Shakespearian in its construction. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the book never came to light or found its audience, never made it off the back shelves or out of the ninety-nine cent bin, having found its way there only weeks after its initial appearance. There was no hoopla or aggressive promotion, the strategy seeming to be to just put it out on the shelves and see what happens. End result: nothing. But to me…. To me it is a classic and an inspiration to greatness, all for that one sprawling, long winded line. And because of that I know that I will not sell, lend or give away the one copy of the book that I have.

How can it be so important, you ask? Good question; and I will tell you. Sit here beside me while I collect my thoughts on the matter. It is not quite such a simple thing, you see.

I will begin in just a moment.

***

I am a busy, busy man. I always have been my entire professional life, from local politics to my time in Congress to where I find myself today, in this position of influence and power. I never have had time for much more than just working, eating and sleeping, with the occasional trip to the bathroom. Ambition and necessity have been the ruling factors of my life; pleasure was in the achieving, however difficult the steps towards its fulfillment. That was, and still is,

me.

Getting back to what I started with, I cannot say how it is that I came upon the book in question, especially given the attitude I had at the time about money, my station in life (and how I could better it – artificially, as was necessary for a man born into a family consistently on the brink of losing all), and social status (pretentious, I’ll admit that, but I tried for more of a natural expression of my pretensions). Then, on a whim, I remember now, the title caught my eye in the bookshop as I was searching for a specific title on tax deductions and how best to take advantage of them.

Whim. I never thought such a thing could come over me. Perhaps it was the lurid cover of the book that attracted me: a mélange of faces, all of the same woman in varying stages of lust, shame, sadness, rapture, dismay and longing, along with the amorphic visages of two men haughtily informing the whole with an eerie feeling of something impending, just about to happen. Wraithlike and sinister, both of them, they almost seemed to suggest the possibility of the supernatural. False advertising, I remember thinking after having finished reading the book, its profound yet hidden effects already playing somewhere deep in my subconscious (I suppose). There are no ghosts in this story.

I hadn’t even read the dust jacket blurb before buying it, just plunked down my money (full price, no discount; another oddity for me) and walked out of the store with it tucked under my arm. No bag, no receipt, and no book on how not to be shafted out of your fair share of allotment of no-pays to the government. I began reading it on the bus going home, finished it two days later, wondering why I had wasted my money on such trash.

Later, though, different bits and pieces of the florid writing came back to me – don’t ask me what it was that had resurfaced; this was so long ago. I do recall some of the purple-prosey sections having helped me, however tangentially, through a love affair I was having at the time. The book was written mainly from the perspective of the female protagonist and the more sexually graphic parts were written in such a manner that felt that I understood what a woman (my woman of the moment) wanted from a man. The book was not entirely correct in this aspect, at least not as my experience in that affair would show (she left me) but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, say that it was because the book was in the words and feelings of one woman, and my girlfriend was totally another. I told myself that she (the real woman, not the fictional one) stayed with me longer than she would have had I not read the book, though I cannot be fully certain that that is so. If not, it is still a pleasant delusion to harbor.

Now, I recall none of the book fully but for that one line, the true inspiration for what I have done: “Can it be so devilishly awful…?” Et cetera, et cetera…. If you want the full quote, turn back a couple of pages to refresh your memory. Go ahead. I won’t stop you.

Got it? Good. And now I can hear you say (don’t mutter now, let it out or else it becomes like a steam under the skin, itchy and strangely painful to keep there) you say, “So what? It all means little or nothing.”   Yes, to you, maybe, but when was the last time you found yourself saddled with a life and death situation?

“Life or death?” you say. “Of course, doesn’t everyone have something to tell on that score?” Is that the truth? Fine, then. Let’s hear it. I could use some company in this, my singular form of misery. It’s called making decisions, you know.

You hem and you haw, mutter a bit as you mull it over, trying to come up with a suitable instance, an example. Then your eyes light up, a hint of a smile playing on your lips. You have it.

You say, “Should I run over that squirrel or swerve and risking heading into oncoming traffic? A driver’s dilemma, you see?” I understand its application to the theme, but that’s it? Nah – peanuts. I’m talking much bigger than that. Think people; think of boys and girls, men and women, all ages, sizes, colors and creeds. I’m sure that you can do better than that little squirrel scenario, right? I mean look at this: they bring me animals, for Christ’s sake!

So you try again: “Should I try to help that lady there who is being held up at gunpoint? Should I wrest the gun away from the thug? But what if it goes off? I could be badly wounded or killed and what if I knock the gun out of his hand and it goes off, hitting the lady and maybe even killing her. Oh, what quandary, what a strange dilemma.”  Not bad, I say; getting there. But remember, I said people – plural. Lots of people. Try again.

“He’s on the roof; I’m on the roof with him. (Though God knows what the hell I am doing here, but this is just a scenario; no real reason needed). He has a repeating, high powered rifle and is taking pot-shots at the passers-by five stories below. ‘Hah, old lady,’ he says as he makes a hit. ‘Yoho there sweetie-britches in the loose fitting halter top. Bingo, Papa bear with the kiddie stroller. Zam-bam, gotcha you pipe smoking, white haired old fart. Say there, Slim, there’s a sudden hole in your heart so whatcha gonna do? Just die? Oh, what a pity.’ He hasn’t heard me and here I go, full blast, crunching toward him on the roof gravel. Halfway there and he turns and sees me, Bearing down I go, another twenty steps to go and he’s swinging that gun around; fifteen to go and he’s got it pointed at me, barrel to belly, no doubt about it. I weave, I swivel-hip my way to the left and right, dodge away, dodge away yonder. The rifle barrel whistles as he wheels it lightly to follow my meanderings. I get within ten steps of him this way, then five. I have him bollixed but see that he is getting ready, see the finger close and tighten on the trigger….”

And then what? He shoots and wounds you? Kills you? No, he would have to miss you somehow to keep the story going. What then? You take a flying dive at him from two or three steps away and knock him head over teakettle off of the roof’s retaining wall to the street (or is it a parking lot?) five stories below to his possible death, probable broken bones, contusions, concussion, unconsciousness, internal injuries? Ah, that appeals to you, doesn’t it? A hero’s deed. A crowd gathers around the fallen sniper; they applaud you, the victorious hero atop the building as you wave, as the ambulances announce their arrival with whooping, screaming sirens to collect the bodies of both the victims and the perpetrator with equal care and regret (for the necessity of their jobs, the nature of humanity). Lovely feeling, being lauded as a hero. Even if you had gone over the edge with him, you would have fallen and smash-landed knowing that you had made the right decision (so it would seem in retrospect) and acted upon it correctly.

But what if the decision was not right or, it being right, the actions taken on its basis were wrong? What if the killer claimed you as a victim as well before you could get close enough to stop his evil target practice?  No, I won’t ask for a scenario based on this. This is my story, after all.

“Can it be so devilishly awful…?” You know, come to think of it, that quote from the book came to me after the fact, after the decision was made and the deed already done. No inspiration at all. Call it an excuse, then, if a description is really needed. I really don’t know anymore.

You decide. Here, then is the real basis, the actual story, the excuse, the evidence…. Whatever you want to call it.

***

Busy man, I said, didn’t I? Yes, so I was. So busy, lately, that I had to carry a briefcase everywhere I went, whether it was to be used or not. I had become something of an international jet setter with my own jet – well, one at my disposal, at least, for my own personal and professional use. No lolly-gagging for me. Every trip I took was necessary; no company funded vacations, no padding my expense accounts, no skimming the cream off the top. None of that was even possible since it was all mine, given to me, for as long as I stayed in the position that I held – still do hold – but it isn’t the same as it was anymore. Too confining now, too…. But more of that later; you will understand.

I wonder now…. A digression here, so please excuse me. But it occurs to me that there really is no company, had never been a company, per se. It was (and is, I suppose) an organization run something like a company, a corporation, but so sloppily managed, definitely not cost effective. Not even product effective, either. A lumbering ox of a thing, dumb and plodding, though with something akin to enough acumen to make it a rule that I carry this case with me wherever I go. Am I talking in abstractions here?

Call me Mister President, then. That’s all the clue you’ll need, the only real key to all of this.

Now, what was I saying? O yes: dumb, oxlike, acumen. An evil sort of acumen when you think of it, a cunning for making things appear worse than they actually were. But then I had a hand in that, too, so I really shouldn’t talk. It was called Maintaining the Balance of Terror; keep them, the other side, off guard, don’t let them know everything you have at your disposal, let’em think you’ve got more than you actually have. You know that they are playing the same game, breaking the same rules and in the very same way with the same underhanded tactics as your side is employing. Their top boy certainly has a fat black box with five or more locks on it just like mine. One of our professional snoopers (strange bunch, all of them) made note of a general of theirs carrying the thing at a public function over there, five steps behind his fearless, fat leader. Nondescript is the word the snooper used to epitomize the general. As for the leader of that overgrown borscht belt of county? Glasses, a sneery mouth, an ugly toupee that fooled no one; that was their leader. We all know his name; try to mouth it, so long and unpronounceable. No wonder they pre-empted, gave the word first.

Now here I sit, five hundred feet below the surface of the Earth, scorched Earth, looking at my book again with its immortal line: “Can it be co devilishly awful to consider things to be so, even if they are not?”

Wait a minute. Read that again…are not? Were not? Of course they were so. But I read those last few words a third time, just to be sure. How could I have let that last negative phrase slide past me? “…even if they are not?” I had never considered that they weren’t (things at the time, I mean, the moment it all started) as they seemed.

And so it seemed. They gave the word fist, didn’t they? We were warned, weren’t we? And we retaliated, fought back with our lives – so many lives. Well…. I retaliated. The locks on the case snapped smartly – “Yes, your key, General! Do as I say!”—and the box opened. Failsafe One – click – Failsafe Two – click—and Three—click—and the General had the Fourth, then there was a call to the Pentagon for the Fifth (in a wallsafe behind McArthur’s or Washington’s or some dead general’s portrait). Delay button, the Command “A.” Full force ordered, everything we had, hold nothing back. Lights flashing, “COMMAND PENDING” blinking red like a robot’s bloodshot, rectangular eye. Then, “COMMAND ACCEPTED.”  Red alert out to all stations, all bases and installations. But we were in the clear; we had right on our side.

“You certain…?” asked the General, still crew-cutted after so many years in service to his country. “It’s still not too late, Sir.”

“It’s already done,” I said flatly. “Now, we have to hurry.”

The helicopter was waiting for us and less than a half hour later we were already here, patiently waiting for the others (Senate and Congress and their families, sundry military personnel and members of the Judiciary) who were to follow. Less than forty five minutes after that and it was already beginning. The first incoming warheads generated innumerable shudders that we felt even so far underground, little earthquakes; dust sifted from the ceiling and the supporting steel rafters. The lights flickered and the place went as dark as a tomb until the auxiliary power could kick in.

And I read; reread, really. The only book I carried: A rare copy, surely. Here was my home, these pages. Old friend. This was the basis for my calm demeanor, for my reasoning.

After the fact. “Could it make me a better man to dwell on these things…?” I snickered then, lost in my own emotions, meanings tailoring themselves in my mind to my own circumstances, those in my head as well as those around me. “…even though I am afraid of the consequences of mind and action if I take it so to heart….”

I was in stitches, cackling like a crazed hen in a roomful of foxes. Surely they all would now think me crazy. No reason in the man, they might be thinking; no sense at all. The truth was that I had taken nothing to heart; the action was all. Something had to be done; decisive, sure, unmitigative, cruel. I was the President and this was my contribution to history (though I thought nothing of that then, when the keys were being turned, the calls being made) and here, in these pages in this book, was my reason: They are coming; we have to strike back.

Truth had nothing to do with it.

Simple. Even though the reason came after the action – heartless, cruel, and immutable – the alibi held to my eyes by the light of a dim, fluorescent bulb, drunk in and incorporated to the spirit like some quaff of the nectar of life, of a myriad of possibilities. Here is where I got the idea that all this was right. It says it right here – anything can happen, anything is possible. No way to guard against it, it will just happen. Is it such a terrible thing that you even refuse to think about it – nuclear holocaust, annihilation of the human species from the Earth? Well, I had no fear of the thought, no qualms about the idea, or any idea for that matter. Whatever it might be, if we think it and the means are at hand, it will happen.  Here, then, is my inspiration, Call it Divine or Satanic, as you will.  I just hastened the flow of history that’s all. The inevitable possibility, the simple means, always there; you got it, and you use it, period. No more arguments. Call it my motto, my passion, my reason or my insanity. I just did it.

Now, crown me, call me the Divine Coming; King of the Mighty Doers; God’s Final Instrument; Lord of the Sheltering Caverns. Call me the One Who Dared the Final Deed. It was foretold, pre-ordained and it was I who was the means of its coming to be; it was I, and only I, who finally brought it to pass, the Great Fear finally brought to fruition.

Now…. Crown me, deify me, write songs and sonnets and paeans to me alone and my masterful accomplishment. Chisel my name in stone.

 

BIO: Stephen Faulkner and his wife, Joyce, moved from New York to the Atlanta area where they now live. Since arriving in Georgia Steve has worked in a variety of industries that include manufacturing, publishing, healthcare, education and entertainment (behind the scenes). Steve is now semi-retired and back to one of his first loves – writing fiction.