dark house

by Bruce Yale
© 1999, And Other Stories
how about how it good it feels to finally forgive you
a morissette

She draws as she waits to see the director.  It is a light sketch, free form castle she can use later on after the meeting, when she knows for certain what direction the look of the film will be taking.  When the shouting in the office gets loud she turns toward the receptionist but the woman at the desk seems not to have noticed.

“Well, fuck this then,” comes a shout as the door to the inner office slams open.  She tries not to move, to stop even her breathing.  She is in luck as the young man turns away and yells back into the office.

“I will write what I want, Terry!  Just fucking direct it!  King sold it, so it’s mine now.  Don’t go bonkers with the damn set pieces and launch the budget into the stratosphere.”

She has recognized him instantly, would always know his voice.  She closes her eyes and struggles to breathe.  When she opens her eyes she sees the director standing in front of her, smiling.  The crooked smile gives her the urge to bang two coconuts together.

“I hope he didn’t scare you.”

“No.  I’m fine.  Ellen Stevens.  Pleasure to be working with you.”

“You’ve done excellent work.  I was really impressed with your work on the Jeunet film.”

“I draw what I’m told.”

“That’s not what Jean-Pierre tells me.  If you just drew what you were told, I wouldn’t need you.  The way he explains it, you draw what they don’t think to tell you.”  She smiles at that comment because she can not think of a response.  “Did you get a chance to think of anything since we talked?”

“Well, I took a look at the original novel and I got some ideas, but perhaps you’re going in a different direction . . .” she says, with a nod towards the departed screenwriter.

“Don’t listen to him.”

“I don’t know that I ever did,” she whispers as she follows him into his office.  She watches as he shows her the storyboard but her thoughts have begun to drift.  I was wearing a black bra, she thinks, a black bra, a pair of borrowed running shorts and a cast on my wrist.

“What is ‘Dark House’?” I ask. He turns and sees me looking over the pages on his desk.  He is tall, much taller than I ever thought about, at least a good six inches over Ian.  He has much better hair too, actually has his own dark hair, not forced to try and make it regrow with something out of a bottle and hope that will outrace the failing hair on his own head.  There is a bit of a shy look when I ask him, as if he has not thought that anyone would ever ask this.

“It’s just a book.”



“Why is ‘Faulkner’ pencilled in below the title?”

“He had two different novels that began with that title.  Too good a title to let go to waste.”

“What’s it about?” I ask, then smile when a slight blush of red appears as he grabs the last loose pages and throws them in a drawer.  “You don’t want to tell me.”

“Look, do you want a shirt, Ell?”

“I’m fine.  This bra is actually really comfortable.  I go without a shirt a lot.”

“Don’t know how you can keep Ian off you,” he mutters, almost beneath his breath.

“Am I that irresistible?”

He starts to answer, thinks better of it, turns around.  His eyes flit to my legs and I feel like I want to blush, something I haven’t done in ages, but it’s nice that he’s actually shy about being attracted.  I wonder what else he’s hiding other than his eyes.

“Sorry about your wrist,” he says softly.  I can still see it happening, can remember the feeling of freedom I had with four rum and Cokes inside.  I was just so astounded that he could pound that Southern Comfort and still stand.  I can see my own reaction at losing at pool as I move the cue up in an attack stance and make a lounge at him.  He made a great defensive move, countering my initial attack and I kept thinking he couldn’t really have gone through that whole bottle, not with a move like that.  So I tried a different attack and he blocked it again but I came around quickly, managed to tag his arm, shouting with a glee of triumph, ‘got you, your arm’s dead,’ and he dropped his cue.  I thought I would go for the kill, but he was so fast, kicking the cue up into his left hand and coming up in a swinging motion just as I stepped close and everyone could hear the snap in my wrist.

“It’s as much my fault as it was yours,” I say, as softly as he did.  Thinking about it now, it doesn’t hurt so much, I just wish I could dry it out properly.  “But I blame you for getting me wet.  Driving too damn fast.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Don’t.  It’s okay, really.  I’m not trying to make you feel bad, Bill.”

“Bad is hardly how you make me feel.”

I look up quickly but he’s looking away.  I should put on a shirt.  This can only go badly.  But instead I come around in front of him and I can see his eyes drop, but not too low and it’s nice to be admired, feels good to have him want me, maybe more than Ian’s ever wanted me.

“How do I make you feel?”

He looks up, that little sardonic, half romantic smile and I wonder why things turned out the way they did, with him so miserable, engaged to that bitch for so long.

“With wet hair and a black bra?  Come on, Ell.  I’m not emasculated.  I’m not Jake Barnes.”

“I’m not as smart as you, Bill.  Talk to me so I can understand it.”

He leans in, and fuck, it’s a powerful kiss, much stronger than anything I’m used to, so much deeper than Ian.  When he backs off I struggle to take a breath.

“Oh, Jesus.”

He starts to turn away but I reach out and grab him.  I have my arms around his neck and my mouth is on his.  “Kiss me like that again,” I whisper.  He starts to react but I just push him back.  “Oh God, Bill, don’t talk, don’t think, just fuck me, just fuck me now.”  I am quickly out of my shorts and panties and upon him as he falls back into his chair struggling with his shorts, but I have him out and inside me quickly and God damn it, that is so what I needed, so what I have been needing and I push him deeper inside of me and bite his lower lip.

She remembers that, feels something and wonders if he knows she is working on this film, if it was his idea or if it’s just a simple coincidence, the funny way that life works sometimes.

“I think I’ll be very happy with all of this, Terry.  It’s nice to have some idea of what I’m doing.”

He returns ten minutes after leaving, two cups in hand.  He hands one to the woman sitting behind the desk.

“What the hell is this, Cuttner?”

“It’s apparently something called a caramel pumpkin macchiato, not that I have any idea what the hell that is.”  But she doesn’t drink, she just stares at the cup.  “It’s a peace offering, Maggie.  Just take it.”

“What’s making you nice all of a sudden?”

“I’m a nice guy.”

“You’re a shit, Bill.  Or so the rumors say.”

“Whatever words may float upon reputation I am certain can qualify as nothing more than hearsay.”

“You are too wordy for films.  You should write plays.  Or poetry that no one reads.”

“Well, the Writer’s Guild seems to like me.”

“More than the Oscars do, anyway,” she says and with that takes a victory sip of her drink which she seems to enjoy.  When he doesn’t take the bait, she asks “Why did you come back, anyway?”

“I felt bad for yelling.”

“You must feel bad a lot.  Anyway, you can’t see him right now.  He’s with some computer graphics person.  She’s worked on some Sci-Fi films.  Terry wants her to work on matte painting backgrounds.”

“Just so long as it looks good.  I’ll never understand the graphics shit.”

“How long have you been in films?”

“And you notice I don’t ever say, ‘oh, what I really want to do is direct’.  I like to write.  I’m good at that.  I create stories.”

“And here I thought Mr. Stephen King created this story.”

“He wrote a kids book for his daughter.  I made it art.”

“You put words on paper, Bill.  That woman in there, she creates art.  It’s amazing stuff.  Did you see that new Jeunet film?  She did the work on that.”

There is a pause before he speaks again.  Maggie fails to notice that he is trying very hard not to look at the door of the office.

“The new Jeunet film?”


“Is her name Ellen Stevens?”

“That’s her.  You’re actually familiar with someone aside from your beloved Uma Thurman?”

“You know, the first time I ever saw Uma Thurman was when she nude in one of Terry’s films, so I can hardly be blamed for wanting to put her nude in every film I can.”

“I was just about to tell you there was hope for you yet but that was apparently a premature judgement.”

She has not noticed that he has turned and is now staring at the door, trying to imagine what might lie beyond it, what she might look like, what she is wearing, the look in her eyes.  I can almost see it if I try.

I can imagine the two of us having a baby.  This could be the best thing possible.  I’m still bouncing off the walls when the door opens and the first person who walks through is Ian.

We haven’t spoken much since I told him, the guilt of being out of town and Ell leaping into my arms growling ‘fuck me’ and tearing my clothes away all because of circumstances.  But fuck if I’m gonna give her up now.

“What’s up?” I ask as she walks in behind him.  I avoid adding anything, don’t aim the question, don’t add any of the names I call her, don’t say honey or darling or even Ell, as everyone else has always called her Ellen or Ellie.

“I should, I should go, this, this won’t work,” Ian starts to say but she puts her hand up.  She turns to look at me.

“He has a right to know, Bill, as much as you do, I guess.”

“I love you,” I say immediately, hoping and praying that this will keep everything okay and she must know that because she smiles, even though her smile is tinged with sadness.

“Don’t worry, I love you too.  But Ian should be here, just so we can find out together.  Because we’re all in this together.”  She squeezes Ian’s arm as she says this and then walks over to me.  She kisses me on the cheek, whispers ‘it’s all okay’ and disappears into the back of the apartment.

I look at Ian as he looks carefully around the apartment.  I wonder what he’s thinking, if he’s trying to figure out where we fucked the first time, if we used the entire apartment.  Maybe he’s just trying to feel at home again.

“Sit down, Ian.  Please, sit down.  Do you want something to drink?”

“No.  Bill, it’s okay, you don’t have to be nice.  I know it’s weird.”

I feel cold for a second, feel that I should do something.

“Ian, we’ve been friends for a long time, long before she came along.  We’re still friends.  It’ll be weird for a while, but we’re still friends.”

He doesn’t say anything, just turns away and I sit back down at my desk, stare at the screen, try to make the words of an ending come out.  All I can do is wait.

I hate waiting.

It’s a blessing of sorts, I suppose, that I don’t have to wait long, that she is back out before we have to think of what to say.

Ian looks up and he knows because he’s known her longer, started dancing with her at Harry’s while I was in the desert trying to make another life succeed.  The edge of tears disappear and he goes close and kisses her on the forehead, softly, sweetly, in a manner I should somehow learn to at least emulate, if not perfect.

“I’m sorry, Ellie.  I know you wanted one, but it’s probably just not right for it.”  He starts to walk towards the door, then stops.  He looks back at me.  “You’re right, Bill.  We’re still friends.  Everything will come right in the end.  It always does.”  Then he turns and he is out the door and she falls apart in my arms, tears cascading away in a flurry of pain and sorrow.

I wish I knew what she felt.  I wish I could understand even her most basic level.  I’m so much smarter and I understand so little about her.

“Staring at the door won’t make it open, Bill.”

“Sometimes wishes come true when you least expect them, Maggie,” he says, turning and making with his best smile.  “Believe in that.”

Ian recognizes the mood as soon as he comes in the door.  He and Bill have been roommates, housemates, friends, on and off for fifteen years.  He knows that Bill has fallen in love only a few times, slept with only two of those.  He knows what food Bill prefers after sex, what films make him cry, what horrifying acts of cruelty on the news will actually make him turn it off.  He also knows that Bill is not particularly talented on the piano but loves to play, needs it around for those times when he can not write.  He knows that Bill only plays Billy Joel when he’s been drinking Southern Comfort.  A lot of Southern Comfort.

“Piano Man” gives way to the opening bars of “Only the Good Die Young” and Ian decides this could be bad, maybe even that the movie has started to fold, something not unheard of when it comes to Terry’s movies.  When Bill doesn’t stop with the opening bars but actually descends into the song, Ian decides to go get a beer.

Ian quickly downs the first two beers, listening to the medley from the living room.  When the opening words of “Just the Way You Are” start to drift in, Ian grabs a third beer and walks in.  He leans against the doorframe and remembers Bill on the piano playing it for Ellen.

They weren’t playing Billy Joel and small wonder.  I can’t imagine anyone stripping to Billy Joel.  But some good music would be a nice change from this remix techno dance shit.

I watch Bill line up his shot again and it still seems off.  Not off enough that he’s deliberately missing but definitely off enough that it doesn’t seem like he’s paying attention to what he’s doing.  Sure enough, the cue ball hits the seven, but sends it flying straight instead of sideways and it just bounces the balls around the table again, which would be a phenomenal shot, if perhaps we were playing billiards.

He mutters a soft ‘fuck’ but nothing more.  I can’t remember when he’s played this bad sober but he’s hardly touched his drink.  Maybe he just needed some nudity and the pool and booze are just add-ons.  I can understand that, am glad he’s getting past his horrid engagement.

I line up my shot and sink the ten and give him a smile, then smile more when “1979” comes on.  I turn and see one of the strippers coming out in full 70’s gear and am glad that somebody can find a decent song to dance to for once.  It doesn’t all have to be a techno nightmare.  You can strip to good songs too.

I stand watching, knowing I shouldn’t be, that across the bay there is a woman waiting for me to come home, a young woman about the age of the one I’m watching but quite a bit shorter, with dark hair and glasses.

When the song starts to fade out, Billy Corgan’s purring voice beginning to disappear and she starts to move around gathering the ones and a few fives, one from me, I turn back to look at Bill and see how the game is going.  I watch as he pulls a cigarette from the pack we bought a little while ago from the vending machine just inside the door.  I hear the jukebox move to another song, but this song is on our side of the room and it’s “33”, my favorite song, and I know that no one strips to “33”.  Come on, he said, let’s go act stupid and watch some chicks get naked and when he bought the first beers and bought the cigarettes I thought this was an act of desperation to rid himself of a presence we all hated.  But this is something different.  He’s holding his lighter.  He planned to smoke tonight.  This is no impulse.  This song is no coincidence.

“What the fuck is going on?” I ask.  The question is not violent, just a simple question of concern as he leans back against the pool table.  I walk closer so I can hear him over the music, so the dancers won’t distract me.  “Hey, Bill, talk to me.”

He takes a long drag, letting the smoke out slowly and starts to fidget.  “It was raining so hard the other day, you know,” he starts out saying, his head jerking around and I have a bad feeling that evil bitch has come back to fuck up his life again and he’s been a fool and let her in.  “I didn’t see her and my car hit a big patch of water . . .”  My heart freezes and I think there’s been a hit and run and fuck, he’s killed someone.  But no.  “She got so wet, I offered to give her a ride, and she came back with me and we were drying her clothes.”  No.  I was right the first time, he’s gone and done it again.  “It wasn’t supposed to happen, but you know she’s so beautiful, you know I think that, and a stare lead to a kiss and to more and it wasn’t supposed to turn out like that . . . ” and I’m starting to shake my head and tell him what a fucking idiot he is when he keeps going, “and I just wanted to give her a lift because I didn’t want her cast to get wet and fucked up.”

I struggle for a breath.  What did I do wrong?  Should I have loved her more?  Should I hate her?  Should I hate him?  This was planned, they decided how to tell me and this way, this isn’t just a one shot of them fucking away on the floor of his apartment, that I am now the odd man out.  I can argue, scream that I saw her first, but he loved her at first sight and he’s been so miserable and he should be happy, but fuck it, so should I.  Is that how it happens?  Nudity, beer, my favorite song, then he blows my brains out?

“Excuse me,” I mutter softly, then run out, spilling beer all over some poor stripper whose clothes are about to end up in a pile on the stage anyway and I just make it to the parking lot before five beers and the two burgers we got at the diner down the road come quickly up my throat and splatter across the asphalt.

“Tell me what the fuck’s going on.”  He looks up at Ian and ties to smile, makes a fake of it, then forgets about it and looks back down at the piano keys.

“I never asked her to change.  She dragged me to Boston and back to Berkeley and never could figure out what she wanted and then she was gone.  She needed to be somewhere else and she was gone.”

“Yeah,” Ian says.  “Six days before you were gonna get married.  And that was seven fucking years ago.  Look, I know she cheated on me, I know she left you.  I know she and I were able to put everything to rest and you never got the chance.”  He slams the bottle on the table, causing beer to foam up.  “Fuck,” he mutters under his breath and goes to get a towel to wipe it up.

“I remember it, Bill,” he yells as he returns.  “I lived through it.  Now what the fuck is wrong with you?  It’s not her birthday.  It’s not your old anniversary.  So, please tell me, is there a reason you’re taking this stroll down Self-Pity Boulevard?”

“I saw her today.”

“You what?” Ian says, looking up from cleaning but Bill continues on as if he doesn’t hear.

“You know, I saw the person on the couch and never looked over, it was just someone in the corner of my vision.  If I had just turned, you know.  She must have been staring straight at me.  Probably heard my voice before she saw me.  Got a moment to prepare.”

“Bill, what the fuck are you talking about?  If this is some . . .”

“Terry hired her.”


“She’s great at what she does.  Jeunet recommended her because of that work she did for him.  So, she’ll be doing the matte paintings.  And I’m sure they will look fucking amazing.”

“Did you talk to her?”

“I didn’t even see her, really.  She was just a corner of my vision.  I only found out later after she was in Terry.”

“Ellen is here.  Working on your film.”

“Ellen is here.  Working on my film.”

They cross on the freeway, he to the set, she to her studio.  He is remembering the first script he wrote, remembers how he showed it to her, remembers her laughter at the jokes, things he thought the studio might find touching but knew that she would find funny, a few brief moments of their lives.

Now, almost seven miles away, she remembers reading his first script, remembers how she smiled, laughed, came near to tears.  It had been true to love but not true enough to life to hurt.  I almost wish he had been true to life, wish she had a cast over a broken wrist, she thinks now, because then I would have known it was me, me and me alone.

He finds it easy enough to work.  A week earlier her presence would have thrown his process into disarray but he’s at a good point now and the easy part has come for him.

She finds it easy enough to work.  She has always found it easy to lay aside any emotions and bring everything that is necessary for the job.

He turns on the phone and dials his sister’s number.  “What up?” she says when she answer the phone and he silently curses the wonders of caller ID and wishes himself back to the days when the identity of caller was still a mystery until they spoke.

“How are the kids?”

“You don’t call me from that phone to ask about the kids.  What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“Don’t cuss in front of the kids.”

“William, how dare you presume to lecture me!  Thanks to your damn language I still can’t take my kids to any of your films.”

“Don’t forget the nudity.”

“Yes.  It is really necessary to have an ass shot in every film you do?”

“As long as Uma is willing to show her ass, I’m gonna write that scene into every script.  Where are the kids?”

“They happen to be with their father.”

“How are things?”

“We don’t yell in front of them.  I consider that an improvement.  Now, how are you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, you brat, I am three years and nine days older than you.  You’re calling for a reason, so talk.  This conversation is interfering with my sex life.”

“Should you have a sex life when separated, 36 and with three kids?”

“I can fuck whoever I want, punk.”

“See, now can you possibly complain about the language in my scripts when I clearly learned such language listening to you while growing up?”

“Bill.  Tell me what’s wrong?”

“We hired a new graphic designer for the film.  It’s Ellen.”

“Oh, fuck me gently with a chainsaw.”

“Been watching Heathers?”

“Have you seen her yet?”

“Not yet, but I’m fairly certain she saw me.”

“What are you gonna say to her?  Have you even seen her since everything went down?”

“I have written to her.  I have conversed with her.  But I have not seen her in the flesh, not since she left.  So I don’t know what I will say.  I’ll probably start with hello.”

“Don’t fuck around.”

“I don’t know what I’ll say.  Maybe we’ll never run into each other and I won’t have to say anything.”

“You be careful, Bill.  Don’t let her fuck up your life again.  I watched you fall apart once but I’m not there to help Ian pick up the pieces this time.”

“I’ll be okay.  I just wanted to tell you.  Get back to your sex life.  Is it a fellow prof?”

“One of Sarah’s grad students.”

“Can he write?”

“No, but he’s 25 and he can fuck for ages.”

“He was in elementary school when we were running varsity cross country.  You know that, right?”

“Doesn’t change the fact that the young fuck better.  Go find yourself a younger girl to fuck.”

“Ellen is a younger girl.”

“Maybe not young enough.”

She sits in the car, sucking a chocolate shake from In-N-Out through a straw, staring up at the house.  The address matches the one the studio offices gave her an hour ago.  She finally unlocks her car door and gets out.

She hops up the steps, the way she used to when she felt like she was in love and wanted to bounce towards whoever she could feel pulling on her.  She doesn’t bounce very often anymore and it feels good to remember that she still knows how.  She hesitates for a minute, then brings herself to ring the doorbell and leans against the wall in what she feels is a casual air of indifference.

She looks up slowly when the door opens and is surprised to see that he’s adapted a style that’s much more suited to Ian and when she realizes that this person is too short her eyes jump to his face and she is almost forced to smile.

“Hi,” he says.

“Now, that’s funny.  I could have sworn I was given the address for a William Cuttner.”

“Yeah, he lives here too.  We put it in the newsletter.”

“Are you attempting to grow a sense of humor, Ian?”

“I thought it was about time.”

“You don’t seem surprised to see me.”

“I’m not.  But I’m trying to decide whether it’s nice to see you.”

“Is this gonna be awkward?”

“Not between you and I.  I’m fine with seeing you, for my sake.  He’s still not sure.  And for his sake, I’m not sure.  But, for the moment, he’s not here, so you can come in and have a drink if you want.”

“Do you have . . .”

“Tequila?  No.  Only beer at the moment,” he says and backs away from the door and lets her in.

“Well, a beer would be a start,” she replies and follows him inside.  She watches as he moves towards the kitchen.  He moves in much the same way he did the night they first met.

I was down at Blake’s on Telegraph.  Chandra is acting like a preppy fucking cheerleader, taunting all the guys with her legs, with those long wonderful legs.  Then again, with a name like Chandra, how could she be anything but a preppy fucking cheerleader.  God, I wish I could be tall like that and get that kind of attention.

Between those long legs and her tiny little ass, wiggling around under that skirt, Chandra manages to attract an entire table of guys and they can’t seem to decide if they’re more focused on her ass or her legs.  I suppose they’ll ignore her crooked smile if it means those legs will be wrapped around them later.

But there’s one guy who’s not staring at Chandra.  He’s trying to hide it, but he just keeps looking at me.  He’s nice and cute, not too tall, looks like his hair might be starting to fade away just a bit, but he’s cute and he’s the only one whose eyes aren’t glazing over as Chandra does her little dance.  I turn to him and he smiles.

“My friends seem to be enthralled with your friend.”

“She’s good at that.  Wonderful fucking legs.”

“Unless things have changed lately that I’m unaware of, you don’t fuck with legs,” he says and I give him a strange look.  If that was supposed to be a joke he’s in trouble.  But he’s cute and he seems nice.

“I’m Ellen.”

“I know.”

“How the fuck could you know that?”

“I asked your leggy friend a half hour ago.  I was wondering if I was gonna have to make a move, but she assured me that she could get my table to join yours and give me a chance,” he says and he’s smiling now and God damn, he really is cute.

“You could have just bought me a drink.”

“What are you drinking?”


“How old are you?”


“We can go with that.”


“And they served you?”

“Haven’t asked for ID yet.”

“That’s Blake’s all right.  I’m Ian, by the way.”

“Nice to meet you.”

He stands to get my drink, then pauses.

“You know, it occurs to me, that seventeen is under the age of consent in California.”

“If you’re really nice I won’t let that get in my way,” I say.  And they both smile.

She looks around the house, looks for any sign that both or either shared their lives, their bodies, their love with her.

There are no pictures.  One wall is dominated by large print of an Escher piece.  A second wall is made up mostly of bookshelves and the third main wall is covered in movie posters, all of which she recognizes as films that were written by Bill.

“Something interesting?” he says as he returns with her beer.  She turns and she is surprised at herself when she is almost forced to fight back tears.

“How hard has it been to erase the memory of every female who’s walked through the door looking for one or the other of you?”

“I don’t think you would understand, Ellie.”

“It’s not so hard to understand from him.  You always seemed more grounded in romance.”

“And that’s where you always had it wrong.  I was just looking for a nice time.  He was the one looking for romance.”

“That’s absurd.”

He motions to her and she follows the move of the finger, follows him out of the room and up the stairs.  She stops at the top of the landing, watches as he opens the door to a bedroom.  Her first thoughts are of the first night they met, the rush with which they ended up in bed, their clothes tangled up around their bodies.  She follows him anyway.

His bedroom is much as she remember it, even back to the first morning when she woke up sideways on the bed, her entire body sore and her head pounding from the tequila.  A large drafting desk covered with plans takes up much of the room.  There is a filing cabinet, which she knows contains more plans.  There is a dresser and a bed, like any bedroom and a bookcase with a few books, some of which she recognizes as those containing scripts of Bill’s.  She owns those books herself.

“Hasn’t changed so much.”

“I like continuity.  Makes life easier.”

“And this proves . . .”

“This?  This proves nothing.”

“Then I fail to see your point.”

He takes her hand, not in any sort of romantic gesture, but rather in an effort to make her follow him, and she lets him lead her on until he opens the door down the hall and she steps inside.  Then she stops.  She can not move, struggles even to breathe.

She slowly takes a step forward towards the wall.  She knows many of the people in the photographs, remembers meeting them at one time or another on her long road towards the altar which she abandoned in sight of the end.  There is the famous photograph that he always uses, the one of him on his parents rooftop, his hands reaching out to the stars.  It is the only one of him alone.  He is still in many of the pictures, pictures she knows, a couple of his parents, a few of his sister, but the majority wrapped in an air of romance.  There is the first love, a puppy kind of thing from elementary school.  There is the high school romance, the one that collapsed when he got engaged to the dreaded ex-fiancee, who is conspicuously absent.  There are women she doesn’t recognize, women perhaps, who have come and gone in the seven years since she caught an evening flight to London.

And there are pictures of her.  Dear God, there are so many pictures of her.  The one Ian took of the them in the snow, the one they didn’t know about until they found a copy of it lying on their bed.  The one of her playing piano at his sister’s house.  The one of him covered in mud, just back from Frisbee and her just staring in disbelief.  One of her in bed, when all you could see above the covers was her face.  There is a beautiful one which she has never seen but remembers being taken, remembers him gently running his fingers down her cheek and Ian taking a picture with the good camera, the one where he kept the black-and-white film and they both look at peace.

She steps forward and runs her own finger down Bill’s finger in the photograph and feels the gap of years between her finger and his.

“I think I need to go,” she says as she finally finds her voice.

“Ellie, don’t . . .”

“I’m not ready to see him.  I need time to think.”

She turns and is out the door and starts to run down the stairs.  He starts to go after her.

“Ellie,” he yells from the top of the stairs.  She stops at the bottom, her hand on the doorknob.  When she turns he can see that she has already begun to cry.

“You weren’t there, Ian.  You didn’t see me panic, see me freak out about everything that was coming true and my sudden realization that it wasn’t what I wanted.  And the worst thing about it was I couldn’t explain it to anyone.  I certainly couldn’t explain it to him.  And I don’t know what I could possibly explain to him now.”  She pauses, looks down, but then looks back up at him again and continues.  “I shouldn’t have come over.  He deserves better than for me to just reappear into his life and say, hey, I’m sorry, I wish I could have said something more than that I loved you and goodbye, I wish I could have made you understand but I didn’t even understand.  So right now, let’s leave it at that, okay, Ian?  I’m too scared to do anything more than run.  Believe me.  I know what that feels like.”

And then she is gone, out the door, down the walk and he knows there is no sense in going after her.

He sits in the back of the bar, scribbling feverishly in his notebook.  He has eight scripts to his credit, four of which have been nominated by the Writers Guild of America and two of which won (also earning him Oscar nominations, which he lost).  His dark humor and off-kilter take on traditional characters have earned him the respect of many of Hollywood’s most powerful players, many of whom have asked to work with him.  He has graced the pages of many major entertainment magazines which has more to do with the various actresses he has been linked to (for he is, after all, a writer), actresses who have been pleased to star in his film and whom believed him when he convinced them that rear nudity was essential to the character and the plot.  He has become as successful a film writer as he ever could have wanted.  He has never finished Dark House.

Dark House contains everything he has ever imagined in his writing.  It contains the same dark humor, the same off-kilter take on traditional characters.  It contains more.  It contains a study of the nature of evil, a haunting, brooding narrative from a man who feels only the need to strike back against every person who has ever come through his life.  It contains everything he ever learned about sex and lust and love and has much of the story of his relationship with Ellen.  It contains everything he has ever thought about literature.  It does not contain an ending.

“Sometimes things end.”  I can hear her saying it, but I still don’t understand it.  Looking over at the calendar, I can see she is right, April ends in six days and we get married.  Except now we won’t, because, I guess sometimes things end before we know it.

“You know, I’m just not that good of a person.  I never ended things straight with Ian.  I don’t know how to explain all of this to you.  I’ve gone through so much other . . .”

“Don’t I make you happy, El?”

“I was happy with Ian.  He never wanted me like you did, but we were happy.  And back then I needed to be wanted more than I needed to be happy.  You’re very good to me.  But you can’t make me happy.  No one can make anyone else happy.”

“I tried, though.  Doesn’t that count for something?”

“It’s not about what counts, Bill.  What is it you told me?  The only thing that really matters is what you can’t live without.”

“And you can live without me.  And nothing else counts then.  Okay, then.  So go already.”

She looks at me with concern for the first time in all of this, sees the sudden shift in my eyes, from grey to black.

“This isn’t about you, Bill.  You know that, don’t you?” she asks.  “This is about me.  I’m 22.  I’ve been with you and Ian since I started college.  It’s about a chance for me.  About not holding back.  Finding everything I can.”

“So go then.  I’m not stopping you.”  And she goes.

He closes his eyes against the persistence of his memory and tries to sink into the darkness of drunkenness.

They both lift the drink to their lips.  He slides a shot of Southern Comfort down his throat.  She sips slowly at her coffee to try and clear her head.

They remember.

I close my eyes as I talk.  “It’s about a chance for me.  About not holding back.  Finding everything I can.”

“So go then,” he says, turning away.  “I’m not stopping you.”

He is true to his word.  He turns away completely, not lifting a finger to stop me.  I walk over, come within inches of him, reach my hand out towards him.  I wish he could make it all go away, make me stop feeling the way I do about life, make me the way I was when I growled ‘fuck me’ in a low voice and pushed all his clothes away and let him push inside.  I wish we could just fuck all the pain away, take everything back to a basic level where only good things survive.

But the opening of his novel is right: ‘Night sets early and cold air settles in on the dark house.  No love stands strong enough to live beyond the last light of the day.’  That was what I read that night after we had pushed our passions as far as they could go.  And I relished in every word he had put to paper and wondered where it would end.  But it never ended.  Perhaps because he doesn’t understand the way things come to an end.  But sometimes things come to an end and even life isn’t enough to stop it.

“I still love you,” I whisper from the door.  I can see him react, see him pretend he doesn’t hear me, but I know better.  He almost turns around.  But maybe he knows me enough to not bother to try to stop me.  So I leave.

And I’m still running, she thinks, because no one tells you when the race is over.  And no one lets you know when light shines in on the failures of this dark house.

She begins to laugh when she realizes that she has understood the conclusion of his book, the point of finality which he missed completely and flew past through when they were still together.  Soon everyone in the coffee house is staring at her but she continues to laugh.  She finds something in the laughter she has not felt in a long time.

There is a note on the fridge that reads ‘she came by, she left in tears, she might come back, don’t ask for an explanation as I have none, talk to you in the morning.’  He takes the note down and drops it in the trash.  He fights the urge to reach for a beer as he tries to settle his stomach.  He decides on a glass of water and it seems to do the trick.

He sits down at the table.  He opens the notebook and starts to read what he has written.  He tears out the final page.  He looks at the previous page.  He tears it out.

He is halfway through the notebook when he hears a sound.  After a minute, he determines that it is a soft knocking on the front door.

He knows as he turns the doorknob, can see her face before he opens the door, can hear her voice before she opens her mouth.

Both of them, to their surprise, find themselves smiling.

“I didn’t know who the writer was when I was hired,” she says.  “Didn’t have any idea until I heard you come through the door, yelling at Terry, and thank God, not looking my way.  I’m not sure how that would have gone.”

He doesn’t say anything, just continues to stare, maybe the first time she can remember that he is unable to speak, or will not respond, or can not find the words that always come so easily to him.

“I’m sorry, you know,” she continues.  “Things went bad with the way I felt and I had to be anywhere but near you.  Because I did love you.  I still love you.  I just couldn’t be near you, couldn’t bear to have you near me when everything felt so wrong.”

She stares at him.  She remembers when she first met him, not long after she was already together with Ian, how tall he seemed, how handsome, yet with a smile that lacked the assurance that Ian’s had.  He says nothing, just continues to smile and she wonders if it is the smile of someone who is hearing all the things he needed to hear, so she continues to speak.

“I don’t expect you to understand.  I don’t expect you to forgive me.  But I just wanted to say all that, have tried so hard for years to be able to say to you.  I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

She starts to turn to go and he remembers her turning away seven years before, saying ‘just go then’ and listening as she went and this time he puts his hand out.  She turns and lets her gaze fall back into his.

“Stay,” he whispers, “please, don’t go.”  A shudder brushes through her.  She falls into his embrace.  He holds her and continues to whisper.  “She worked on the Jeunet film, I was told and I just froze, staring at the door.  I could feel you through the years, could remember every time we touched, every word we ever said.  The last thing you said on your way out the door was that you still loved me.  And I knew I’d forgiven you.  Before you left, I’d forgiven you.  The first time I said I loved you, the first time I held you in my arms, I forgave anything and everything you might ever choose to do.  Everything burned out years ago except love and forgiveness.”

Ian wakes before dawn and comes downstairs.  He stops at the foot of the stairs.  He sees them asleep on the couch, his arm wrapped around her body in much the same manner he remembers from year before when things seemed happier.  When dawn comes, the light floods in through the bank of windows and pushes back into the crevices all the shattered dreams of the dark house.