While we made our way from vehicle to vehicle, I decided to figure out what kind of car Becker would drive. It proved to be a more complex question than I had anticipated, partially because of the convoluted origin of her character. You see, Becker was not always a misanthropic freelance photographer with a man in her half-bathroom. In fact, she began her life as a fairly cheerful FBI agent with a large disposable income -- and a woman in his half-bathroom. Obviously, I thought at the time, such a person would drive a Lexus. Hence the first paragraph of the short story "Dream Lover," which turned into the book I am writing now:
He kept a woman in his closet. He was normal in a lot of other ways, somewhat taller than average perhaps, with obstinate hair and hands that the veins stood out of -- he had a two-bedroom apartment and one good three-piece suit, and he liked to shoot pool once in a while. But there was a woman in his closet. There was a deadbolt lock on the door, and he kept the key to it on a ring with the key to his apartment and the keys to his Lexus.
But yesterday afternoon at the auto show I quickly realized that this would no longer do. For one thing, my protagonist is no longer an FBI agent, she is a freelance photographer, and though I have not done a lot of research I imagine that freelance photographers make a lot less than FBI agents. She cannot afford to drive a high-end Lexus, and what's the point of driving a low-end Lexus?
So I enlisted Vince's help. I told him I was looking for a car that was luxurious without being flashy, and not overly expensive. He took the question very seriously. "Where does she live?" he asked.
"An urban area. On the outskirts of a large city," I said.
"Because if she's Midwestern, she probably drives American," he said. "How about a minivan? The soccer moms go for that."
"No, she hates people," I said. "She wouldn't drive a minivan."
"She hates people. Okay. Is she better than them?"
"Yeah, she'd think so. What's a good I-hate-people car?"
He gestured toward a shiny concept car with many angles. "This is a good I-hate-people car," he said. "This is a car where the makers said, Let's make a car totally free of any kind of human passion."
Virgil and I briefly considered the Chrysler Sebring coupe, she behind the wheel, I in the shotgun seat. "I don't know, does this make you hate people?" I asked.
"It makes me hate poor people," she replied.
But the moment of clarity came when I got behind the wheel of the 2002 Chrysler 300M Special. Here, truly, was an I-hate-people car. The antibiotic sleekness, the headlamps long like narrowed eyes, the dim interior all buttery leather and genuine California-walnut trim -- this was Becker's car, all right.
The protagonist of "Dream Lover" was a lot like Jeremy Mishigosh, not because I am a one-trick pony, but because of a workshop class I took in my junior year of college. At one point I submitted to my fellow students "The Part Where They Hide," a story that I left almost completely devoid of context, the better to concentrate on the atrocity, which involved Jeremy's ability to hear people breathing. (This is an idea I got from an early Garfield strip and had been carrying around since childhood.) To my surprise, the other students were curious about him. Was he a rogue cop, or a Nazi officer, or what?
I decided that if Jeremy or a reasonable facsimile thereof lived in the present day, he would be an FBI profiler with a woman in his half-bathroom. He would come home in the evening and sit outside her door and talk about how stressful his job was, and she would coo sympathetically. He never had a name, but the employees of the all-night drugstore called him Morpheus. He would show up there at two or three in the morning and buy things in unsettling combinations: Windex and hypodermic needles, or bleach and sandpaper, or razor blades and lots and lots of latex gloves. The cashiers who rang all these things up were entirely correct in their suspicion that he used them toward sinister ends.
The story kept not getting finished, though, and eventually I realized that it was because I was repulsed by the misogyny inherent in the idea of a man keeping a woman as a pet. (I realize that this should have occurred to me much sooner, but fictional psychopathy is so darn codified -- and so very, very male -- that it seemed natural.) So Morpheus became a woman and the woman in the closet became a man. That took care of that problem; but still, I liked the guy who buys latex gloves and razor blades at three in the morning, so I made that into a whole separate story, entitled "Here To Serve You."
The cashiers at the drugstore have come to recognize him because he is the only regular customer who comes in, regularly, at two a.m. or later. They have compared notes, and he never comes in at any other time. He always looks fresh and alert when he sweeps in, alert perhaps to the point of fidgety, overly caffeinated some of them think, long fingers of his long hands scratching the back of his neck, brushing invisible lint from his clothing, folding pieces of paper into precise, arbitrary shapes. Sometimes they do not see him for days, but he is never gone for more than a week, because he needs things. At two in the morning, he needs things.
This, I have decided, is Eric, Becker's brother. Becker hasn't seen him since she was eighteen and he was sixteen, but he has grown up to be nearly as strange as she is, only nicer. He is a cheerful, gregarious polysexual with both great skill at folding origami stars and an inoperable brain tumor of a particularly malignant variety. The most optimistic of his doctors has told him that it will be a miracle if he lives to see his next birthday. He does not keep anyone in his half-bathroom.
I don't know what the point of this entry was, unless it was to illustrate in excruciating detail the fact that at this early stage in my writing career I have already been reduced to imitating myself. That, and to talk about Eric Becker. I like Eric. Someday I may even finish that story, so he can die in peace.
Total word count: 42,506