All Stories, General Fiction, Humour

Ellen and Elise by Brent Holmes

“What’s your name?” James asked the hostess.

She furrowed her brow, “Claire. Do I know you?” She donned a small, professional smile.

“No. Readers like knowing the names of the characters. If I just call you the hostess over and over, they’ll get detached from you; it’ll annoy them.”

“What?” Claire asked.

“I’m writing a story, but without a name you’ll feel faceless, like a tack on, a discardable character. I don’t want you to be that way. I don’t want any of my characters to feel like that to the reader.”

“Here’s your table,” Claire said to James, wheeling on her heel and hurrying back towards the front of the restaurant. James imagined her heart was pounding.

“Hello, my name’s Dave, and I’ll be your server.”

“Dave, how nice to see you!” James exclaimed.

Dave tilted his head, cocking an eyebrow, “Do I know you?”

James shook his head, “Truthfully, I don’t know, but something has to draw the story on, don’t you see? What will there be to this story if we don’t create our own truth?”

Dave narrowed his eyes and then beamed, “Are you writing a story? Are you at the university?”

James shook his head, “Not anymore. I was, but I was expelled.”

“Oh, well, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be! Being expelled from the University of Mississippi has been a dream of mine for many years. It feels wonderful to accomplish it, like my hero William Faulkner before me!”

“Well, um, can I get your drink order?” Dave fumbled.

“Aren’t you burning to know what I did?” James goaded.

“Yes?”

“Nothing really. I’m a dreamer, but hardly a doer. I cheated on some tests, I paid a student to accuse me of assault, I sent rude letters to the president, I expressed my freedom of speech in ways that disgust me. That was the hardest part, the awful things I said through a megaphone, but how am I to become a great writer if words scare me? I needed practice to be freed.”

Dave let his eye widen for a second, before recovering his professional countenance. James chuckled at his effort, all to woo a tip. “I asked your hostess for her name, but she was loathe to give it.”

“She’s the hostess. It’s a little out of the ordinary for her to be asked her name,” he defended.

James wondered if they were friends, maybe they were lovers. They weren’t unattractive; they met the criteria for people in a story to feel passion.

“Why did you want her name?”

“People don’t care about characters without names. They are the maid, the painter, the factory worker, the waiter; but she is Claire, and you are Dave, and now the readers will care. They will empathize with you as you work to be professional in the face of such an outlandish individual. You will fight the fear that naturally arises from meeting the unknown, the strange, the quasi-imaginary.”

Dave stared blankly, then, “Why not just make up her name?”

“Fiction!” James shouted.

Dave took a step backwards.

James reset his face to a sunny calm, “I’m sorry to stress you. You must be afraid my outburst might upset the other guests; I’ll be quieter, but you must try to give me less reason to feel such intensity! Fiction has been done, in and out. Fiction is the old man’s art. Fiction is telling truth with lies. What a roundabout fool’s way of doing things! Why not tell the truth through the truth!”

“You mean non-fiction?” Dave hazarded.

“No, for fuck’s sake!” James exploded.

“Sir, please!” Dave whispered, putting his palms out. Sweat dotting his forehead, he mouthed apologies to other tables. His eyes roved the restaurant for his manager.

James laughed. “Don’t worry! I don’t know the names of the people at the other tables. They are half-characters at most. The reader will not care about them, and they will certainly not engage with them. They are the vague brush strokes representing trees in the distant background. Don’t you see? We are the sharp, pointed people in the foreground. Dave! You and I are everything.”

“Sir, what do you want to drink?” Dave pleaded.

“You see, non-fiction is disorganized. It’s a ship without a captain. Trying to garner truth from non-fiction is like trying to drink water from a pressure washer. Everything is fair game in non-fiction! No, what I am creating is a hybrid. It is a story told with the tools of fiction and the truths of non-fiction. I am here to shape the reality, to show the truth, to destroy the undesirable and distracting! I am transcending the author to become the grand architect, and you are here to not only witness, but to be a part of the first story!”

Dave’s muscles tightened. James could feel Dave realizing how long he had been at the table, “I’ll have a rum and coke,” James announced. “I won’t live long enough for my liver to be compromised. I’m going to eat a shotgun like Hemmingway.”

“You can’t mean that!”

James laughed, “Words about the future are meaningless. Telling of the future is like telling fiction; you can make up whatever you want, but it won’t make it remotely true.”

“It’s not funny to joke about,” Dave glared.

A burly man approached the table, “Sir, is there a problem?”

“Can I get your name?” James asked.

Dave looked to the burly man and shook his head no.

“Zachary Smith. I’m the manager of this restaurant.”

“Zachary!” James shouted, “Claire, Dave, myself, and you are in the process of becoming immortals! We are transforming an organic moment of human life into a thought, an idea. A new idea, so different from others that it will be remembered for millennia.”

“Order or leave, sir,” Zachary growled, his face displaying more open disgust than his employees dared show.

“He, uh, did order, sir,” Dave mumbled, “He took quite a while to do it, but he gave me an order.”

“Fine, you can stay. Just act civilly,” Zachary dismissed, turning from the conversation.

“No, I rescind my order!” James exclaimed, jumping to his feet. “I grow tired of this setting, this boring mid-American restaurant. Where does the story have to go, to evolve? No! Extricate me from your restaurant, bodily if you have the back for such labor! That will wrap us up. That will end our tale. It will be wholly contained, a complete story. Even as we forsake fiction for seemingly meaningless and unending reality, still we must tell contained and complete stories. And we shall: the tale of how a mad man was bodily thrown from a restaurant after exhausting the staff’s patience. It isn’t the most exciting of tales, but it is a tale!”

Zachary rubbed his fingers against the sides of his nose, “Please leave,” he rumbled through labored breaths.

“Make me!” James goaded. “Toss me to the street!”

“Dave, call the police,” Zachary spat.

“No! Build a legacy! Be a bigger part of the story. Don’t be like Claire, the most forgettable. Don’t be like all of these nameless, faceless people surrounding us, lost to history. That’s what you’ll be if I abandon this moment in time, choosing a different memory to start this scintillating new genre!”

“Shut up,” Zachary roared.

“I’ll move him for you, sir,” a behemoth with a crewcut declared in thundering staccato.

Zachary exhaled, “I’d be much obliged.”

“Ah, good! A man has emerged from the nameless forest!” James cheered.

With long strides, the giant approached the fracas. Looking down on James, the hulking titan bellowed, “My name is Andrew Williams. I completed two tours with the marines, and now I sell hand-made wooden models of ships and aircraft on eBay. My wife’s name is Ellen Williams, she is a poet of unbelievable talent, hardworking but unknown. Her work is readily available on Wattpad. Anyone who reads it will be thankful they did. My daughter Elise will never doubt that she can be anything she wants if she works hard and believes in herself.”

With one hand, Andrew lifted James by his shirt and carried him to the restaurant’s entrance. The nameless stared with immaterial expression, already drowning in the ephemeral memory of the present. “Best of luck, writer. You dream big. I admire that, and I’m happy to help you, but don’t you dare forget Ellen and Elise’s names,” Andrew said as he hurled James from the restaurant.

James smiled as he sailed through the air. He crashed to the sidewalk, scraping his hands and knees. Rising to his feet, he dusted himself off. “I wonder if other artists ever felt physical pain for their art,” he muttered as he walked towards his next tale.

Brent Holmes

Image: Pixabay.com

14 thoughts on “Ellen and Elise by Brent Holmes”

    1. James would be proud to be both unusual and interesting.
      Thanks for the compliment, it’s exactly what I aim for!
      Brent

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  1. Well written story about what is seen as an undersized problem. Everybody knows that writers are crazy, and usually have some sort of substance issue. It’s as known as the color of the sky and which way the sun moves across it. But most people don’t know that the stories and people that writers create are all stone cold sane trouble makers. The resulting friction leads the writer to the creation of “Art” or the gutter, usually both, but it is the gutter part that always happens regardless. This interesting tale once again displays the lack of concern God has for writers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is a very interesting thought. I have bipolar disorder, and I do write characters with bipolar disorder. I want there to be more representation especially as done by people with the disorder, but one thing I’ve found, both with beta readers/critique partners and when submitting, is that I tend to have less success with stories with a prominent character with bipolar. The feedback from the br/cp’s is often that they struggle to understand the character with bipolar. It’s something I’m certainly trying to improve on my end, but to me, the characters are acting in character. Now, I wonder if other writers have this same experience when writing characters that are like them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with people liking what they like, but it now makes me wonder how many authors write only stone cold sane trouble makers and how many are only getting the stone cold sane characters trouble makers into publication.
      Thanks for the comment, I think that’s something really valuable.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Brent,
    I normally despise stories about writing but I did like this.
    I suppose it is some form of method writing or instigating a story from nothing. But I do think the guy was delusional and probably more of an attention seeking nutter than a writer.
    I liked the marine character as he got what the MC was trying to do and with him naming his family, he was projecting them into main character realm.
    Normally when someone chooses to categorise their story humour it doesn’t work as it isn’t funny. By calling this humour, it takes away any idea that it is misjudged due to the guy having serious issues.
    The consideration the reader has about the MC’s state of mind shows how cleverly crafted this is.
    All the very best.
    Hugh

    Like

    1. I too normally despise stories about writing, but some perverse part of me makes me write stories that on the face sound like things I wouldn’t want to read. Now I mark this one off and try to resist the urge to write in second person.
      Getting the marine and the title just right took a couple iterations, but when I had it, I was happy with it. You may be sad to know the marine lost a son, Derek, to the Grim Reaper of editing. Alas, Ellen, Elise, and Derek didn’t sound good to my ears, and so Derek was unmade.
      I tend to write a lot of serious pieces that do deal with mental health, and I wanted to step away and write something light. I’m glad to succeed in making the humor not about someone’s issues.
      Thanks so much for the kind words.

      Like

    1. Thank-you! I’m glad to see such resounding love for Andrew. I felt the story hinged on him. Glad to see the success at least in the early comments.

      Like

  3. Very unusual and funny story. Loved how the marine started talking to James and they bonded a little. Loved the exclaimed ‘Fiction!’ as well, made me laugh.

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    1. If all fiction has been dreamed of and all non-fiction has been lived, then a new course must be set. A course straight into the cement!
      Glad the story made you laugh.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Read this three times now – really impressive. Excellent plot idea and, just at the point where it’s getting a bit stretched, Andrew’s entrance takes it to a whole new level. So well done. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fun story the plot is well threaded and the character entertaining, I like the name of the restaurant manager “Zachary Smith” the same name as the villian in the old T. V. show “Lost In Space.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I found your story to be refreshing. As I read it, I could see it being done as a performance piece, like a scene from a play. The possibilities of what you could do with James in settings such as these are endless.

    Your voice reminded me of a short story I read several years ago, “The Varieties of Romantic Experience: An Introduction” by Robert Cohen. It is in the anthology, The Story Behind the Story, edited by Peter Turchi and Andrea Barrett. If you have not read it, you may wish to do so.

    Best Regards.

    Darren A. Deth

    Liked by 1 person

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