The Maples – A short story

Center Bar

“The maples?”

“Still there,” Lucy smiled. “They look like hell, but they’re there.”

“I thought the hurricane took everything out,” Jeremy replied.

“Actually, the ice storm in February did the most damage. About half the trees split at the trunk, so the whole copse leans to the left.”

Jeremy smiled at her, eyes alight.

“What?”

“The whole ‘copse’?” he teased.

She slapped his arm, causing his rye and coke to splatter. She mopped the mess with her napkin as he licked the alcohol from his fingers.

“Well, it’s hardly a forest. There are what? Twenty trees?”

“Sounds right, from what I remember.”

Lucy sipped at her straw, taking in the new Jeremy as she took in her iced tea. He had come a long way from the torn jeans and sleeveless sweatshirt she remembered from school.

Truth be told, she too was a long way from the matching couture of her younger days, knock-off Gucci and Prada long replaced by Mommy and Dadda.

“So, what kind of law?” she asked.

“Corporate mostly,” he said. “M&As, takeovers, trusts.”

“A real-life Gordon Gecko!”

He laughed.

“Nothing that sexy. No Darryl Hannahs in my life. Although, I am okay with greed…within reason.”

“Still. New York City.”

“Might as well be Albuquerque for all I get to see the city,” he replied. “Most days, I sit in boardrooms watching people talk to tape recorders and then reading transcripts of the same conversation to verify the transcriptionist isn’t an idiot or deaf.”

Lucy rolled her eyes.

“Seriously, if I wasn’t charging $750 an hour to play Tetris, I’d go back to bicycle repair.”

Lucy’s eyes widened.

“I’m sorry. I should have said anything about the money. Sounds like I’m bragging.”

“Bragging?” Lucy repeated. “Surprised you’re not standing on the bar, crowing.”

Jeremy’s smile faded, triggering a flicker of self-consciousness in Lucy. She put her hand on his.

“Tell you what, you can buy the drinks,” she said, trying to make light of it all.

He smiled, and they fell silent for a moment.

Jeremy swished the ice around in his glass, attracting the bartender’s attention. Jeremy shook his head at him.

“So, two kids,” Jeremy finally managed.

“Yes, boy and a girl,” Lucy said, jumping at the change in conversation. “As well as three dogs, a cat and a goldfish that just won’t die. Don’t believe them when they tell you goldfish have the lifespan of a toilet flush.”

“That’s quite the menagerie,” Jeremy responded. “You hear about a big rain storm I should know about?”

“No,” Lucy giggled. “Besides, Dave would look terrible in the long white beard.”

“Your husband?”

“Yeah,” she replied. “Has a John Deere dealership in town. He’s stable.”

“Stable?” Jeremy chuckled. “Not the most ringing endorsement I’ve ever heard.”

Now it was Lucy’s turn to go quiet, adjusting her jacket below the bar.

“I’m sorry,” Jeremy interjected. “That came out totally wrong.”

“No, it’s okay,” Lucy replied softly. “And you’re right.”

Lucy poked at her ice cubes, searching her thoughts for her next words, as Jeremy waited. Something told him, she was actually glad to talk about this.

“Dave’s a good man. A good father,” she explained, adding quickly, “And husband!”

Another moment of silence.

“The best man I could ask for…in Bedford”

Jeremy waited. Lucy would continue when she was ready.

“I don’t know. Maybe I expected too much after high school…” she faded off into her own world.

Finally looking up, Lucy realized Jeremy was watching her, eyes full of concern. She laughed at herself.

“I’m babbling,” she blurted. “Life is good. Great. Really.”

A wistful smile migrated across Jeremy’s face.

“We all have skeletons, eh?”

“And some of them come with mortgage payments.”

“Attention passengers of US Airways flight 7783 to New York. We are now boarding executive and elite status members at Gate 61.”

Jeremy removed his boarding pass from his pocket and threw a $20 bill on the bar.

“Sounds like that’s my cue,” he said, rising to his feet.

Lucy stood, giving him a quick hug, which he returned, not releasing her right away.

“Good seeing you, again.”

“You, too,” Jeremy replied. “Give my best to Bedford.”

Lucy remounted her bar stool as Jeremy grabbed his bag and headed toward the concourse.

“Hey Jeremy,” Lucy called across the bar.

Jeremy turned back, confused.

“I didn’t think you liked me.”

Jeremy smiled and winked.

“I didn’t,” he laughed. “I like this you much better.”

Lucy blushed as he dissolved into the crowd.

 

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission because I had to fly.)

Just tell the story – Austin Film Festival

Ron Nyswaner

Perhaps the most interesting advice I heard while attending the 2013 Austin Film Festival came from the Just Tell the Story session by screenwriter Ron Nyswaner, who suggested that not all stories are movie-worthy. It’s not that such stories are unimportant or not worth telling, but rather that film is a very specific medium—as are novels, videos, television, etc.—and therefore requires specific criteria be met for appeal.

1. Do you have a worthy protagonist? It is important that the audience understands the protagonist’s struggle, that the character is constantly dealing with questions of life, loss, yearning. There should be clearly understood interior and exterior conflict.

2. Does you protagonist have face worthy obstacles or a worthy antagonist? The antagonist should represent the opposing view, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the antipode to your protagonist’s views. Overall and within individual scenes, there should always be a sense of ideas in conflict. Nyswaner stressed the importance of the hope-dread axis—What do you hope is going to happen and what do you dread is going to happen in a scene—suggesting that the stronger the axis, the more tension you build in your story.

3. How strong is the central relationship? Sydney Pollack suggested that every story is a love story, and Nyswaner followed on that, suggesting that the relationships between your characters, and particularly the protagonist and antagonist, is what drives the story forward. The stronger that relationship (positively or negatively), the stronger the story. He also discussed the idea of triangulation; the effect of adding a third party into a scene to increase the tension or stakes.

4. Where am I (the writer) in the story? Who am I? All good art is personal, Nyswaner said, so the writer should look for his or her emotional connection with the story. By making the story personal to you, you develop a deeper story.

5. Take your audience into a world that’s interesting. If the audience cannot connect with the environment that you’ve created, they will find it difficult to get into your story. This doesn’t mean that the environment has to be familiar so much as understandable and relatable.

6. Do you have enough turning points to carry through a feature? A good film story is constantly changing direction, keeping the audience engaged and intrigued. Without sufficient turning points, audience members disconnect from the story or worse, get bored. Attitudes and powerbases should shift throughout the story to keep the audience guessing.

7. Does the audience love the story and its characters? Nyswaner suggests writers must be ruthless, paraphrasing a quote (trying to remember by whom) that a writer is a person who will betray the people he loves to impress people he will never meet. The key for a writer is to give everything to the story he or she is trying to tell, even at the cost of real-world expectations and relationships. This is not to say that success comes from being the biggest asshole, but rather that it is important to keep the focus of a film on the story and its characters to the detriment of other external factors (as best as possible).

 

Ron Nyswaner is perhaps best known for having penned the movie Philadelphia, but has also worked on television (Ray Donovan) and in print, and teaches film at the Columbia University School of the Arts.