Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Boys in the Back

I have made a deal with my Boy Roberts, the ones who want to write and make worlds with and through me. Here's how that came about this week, in my creative writing retreat at Mosswood Hollow.

They are rocking the car. Or maybe it’s the car that is rocking them, messing up their plan for the world.
    They have created a world in miniature with maps and drawings hung on a wire, and model figures and dioramas arranged on the floor. They are sitting with their backs to the driver, who has his back to them as he grips the wheel, driving in the direction he has chosen. The passenger area is quite large, like the inside of a London taxi.
    The boys are young, between six and twelve. They have a whole thriller plot figured out that may involve a War of the Worlds scenario, secret agents, a grand conspiracy, and lots of danger and derring-do. As they move their toys and hang things on the line or fold them or take them off, the outside world changes. For the man at the wheel, this is only a distraction and a fantasy. For the boys it is quite real.
     When the car hits another bumpy patch on the road, traveling much too fast for the potholes, the boy’s world is shaken violently, which means that terrible things could happen in the larger world around them, because the two are intimately connected. In fact they are one world. Doesn’t the man at the wheel understand this yet?
     Can’t he slow down or stop and make time to enjoy the fabulous view from the cliffs near the road? Isn’t there someone who can tell him to listen to the boys in the back and join their game of making a world?    
    I have a notion who the boys are, and who the man at the wheel must be. I step into the middle of the road, commanding him to stop.
    Reluctantly, the driver complies, complaining that he doesn’t have time for this. He has plans, and a schedule to complete. I lean in the window, telling him to turn around and listen to the boys in the back.
    “Who are you?”
    “We are the world makers,” they chorus.          
     “So what is in your world?” The man sounds weary and skeptical.
     “There is the Bear, of course,” says Six. “He’s the one who sits at the gate to the Color Worlds eating grapes. He’s the one who tied a red cord around your waist, and the waist of your sister, so you could always find your way back from your adventures – or be pulled out when those adventures got too scary.”
      “There is Pondicherry,” says Nine. “You can’t really have forgotten. He is the swimming tiger who was with you when you swam five miles in the Melbourne pool even though you had been really, really sick. He likes you to speak in French, even though your French is terrible, and he especially likes it when you lie on his favorite sofa and tell stories about him.”
       “There is the Pilot,” says Twelve. “You were in contact with him every time you got on your bike and put on that aviator’s fleece-lined leather cap with the ear flaps to ride your bike to school in Canberra on wintry mornings.”
     I am at the wheel now, ready to hear the deal the boys in the back have for me.
    “We’ll help you with your book,” they tell me. “On condition that you work with us every day on our book.” This doesn’t have to feel like work at all. A drawing, a cartoon, a set of little panel sketches like a draft of a page on a comic book.
     I start right away. I draw a boy looking through the open door of a bathroom. Inside there is nothing except cat litter boxes, lots of them, arranged on the floor. In my sketch, they look a lot like open graves.

     I write the caption:
He wasn’t scared until he went to the bathroom and found it was full of cat boxes. Nine of them, the same number as the women in the library.
    A bit too long for the comic book page I produce, so I slim it down. The other panels are scenes taken straight from another of my dreams.
    Memo to the man at the wheel, for forgetful days:
Listen to the boys in the back. They are the world makers.

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