Iconic objects and text fragments culled by rejected authors from their rejected manuscripts: the last act for the Fictional Show Trial – it seems fine as imagined. The texts and their writers have been consigned by a bland late-modern decadence to a Limbo of hermetic isolation, but now the liturgical counterclockwise recession assembles them into an intricate and powerful Device offering transport to a multitude of alternate ficticities. Like the collective elohimic creation in Genesis 1.
It might be better, in imagining myself a member of the fictional writers’ Show Trial collective, if I am not the one who selects the castoff trash from my own book to be enshrined in the closing ceremony. Instead, one of the other participating writers, or perhaps one of the readers, makes the selection on my behalf. An interconnected circuitry of other people’s trash plucked from the dumpster and cobbled together into a composite exaptation, a ritualistic device that gestures toward systemic redemption. The Salon Postisme Suite provides ample precedent for blurring the boundaries between writer and reader, between outlier and identifier, between creator and audience. Bud, a writer, takes dictation from an elohimic narrator. Pilgrims traversing the Trails hand-copy portions of Bud’s transcribed text as a means of achieving vicarious theotic identification with the transcriber and with the narrator. The Genesis 1 Creator entrusts the extension of heavens and earth to the Witness who chronicles the creation event in writing. The audience isn’t just a passive recipient, copying imaginary creations into their own imaginations, consigned to being mere imitations of the originals who came before them. Participating in image and likeness means participating in the joint creative enterprise. Imaginary audience.
Passion responds to calling, agency aspires to standards: the Fictional Show Trials kickstart the Device’s metabolism, fueled by and energizing the fourteen writers and readers who participate. The writers become readers of one another’s books, the readers write about these books in the form of reviews and interpretations and fan fictions. More books are written by more writers, read by more readers. Still, one local manifestation of the Device remains a crackpot scheme, an underground cave with no outlet to the outside world. What’s needed are more local Devices, linking themselves together as nodes in an extensive network of tunnels. Not just a cluster of writers and books and readers; not even just an anarcho-syndicalist analog to the interrelated organizations of agent and publisher and retailer. Something more like a four-dimensional ficticity, a Grand Central Station offering transport to all destinations – actual, possible, impossible, inevitable – in a pulsating pullulating multiverse.
I am writing inside that multiverse.
The Courthouse: Anne and I drove up to see it. I wanted to confirm the physical layout of the place, inside and out. I wanted us to walk through the Show Trials scene by scene — the sets and props, the dialogues and soliloquies, the music and choreography. I wanted to enter into the ficticity, imagining a void opening up inside that actual courtroom and filling it with meaning.
But first came the realty walk-through. My mother-in-law’s friend is selling a house that her parents built, that her son lived in for a few years before moving away, that now stands vacant. Anne has looked at a lot of houses in the area while exploring the possibility of our moving closer to her parents, and so she’s a potentially valuable informant for someone who wants to know how her house stacks up against the competition. Given our ambivalence about actually relocating there, we were prepared to play the role of potential buyers in a practice showing while retaining the option of becoming actual potential buyers if the house spoke to us.
What spoke to us was the owner.
Does the property go all the way down to the lake? Oh yes, my father would go down there to fish. He’d be out here all the time clearing the weeds, they’ve come back now, but every time I’d stop by he’d be out there with his weed whacker. He had a garden just there beyond where the fence is now, flowers closer up toward the house, then the lettuce and tomatoes farther down. And over here, you see, he had another garden, it’s all grown over now, but it was beautiful. He fenced in the back when he started raising show dogs. He actually had two winners at Westchester. In New York. Boxers. Here’s the shed where he’d keep them, and the dog runs. Concrete slab for the runs and under the shed, solid. Somebody told me I should have it all taken out, but you see, my son used the shed for his lawnmower. It was good for my son, mowing the lawn. Those holes? Moles – a cat would be good to take care of them. My son kept a couple of rocking chairs on the covered porch, he’d sit out here after work. And a grill – why he’d cook every night on that grill, winter and summer. That’s his boat there next to the garage, he’s going to store it in Raleigh. You know, he and his friends, his old college buddies, they worked for a mortgage bank down in Raleigh. And you know they’d get together and talk shop, ideas they’d try if they ran the place. Finally one of them said why don’t we? Run a place. And don’t know you they did just that? Then came the real estate crash, and my son went to work for Wells Fargo, got himself a transfer back here. But his friends are there in Raleigh you know. The last time they all got together, it was in Colorado, one of them said to my son, you ought to come and work with us. They do software for flooring companies – retail, wholesale, manufacturers, you name it. My son had been thinking that he’d like to try something new, get out of the finance industry, and so… It was twenty minutes before we finally set foot inside the house, and even then we learned far more about the curtains and the furniture than about the house itself. This was a walk-through of unreal estate, a stage setting for a historical tour, the docent paying homage to three generations of a family who had once lived there, their spirit suffusing the place like an open can of haunted beer. Two hours later we were finally back in the car, on our way to meet Anne’s parents for lunch.
At the restaurant each of us selected one of the lunch specials, the indifferent quality of the food presumably offset by the quantity set before us. The waitress called us Hon and Sugar. The owner swung by to chat up my father-in-law, who used to work with his father back at the foundry, one of the blue-collar employers that had long since shut down, leaving the town at the mercy of the evangelical university whose accelerating metastasis has overwhelmed the place. Anne and I tried to offer her parents a balanced review of the house showing, though it soon became evident that any checkmarks on the “con” side of our mental ledger would meet with disapproval. Even the price comps, which suggested strongly that she was asking far too much for a house that is well-maintained (that’s Shirley for you!) and sturdy (they don’t build them like that any more!) but old and small and awkwardly laid out. Anne and I got the distinct impression that her parents wanted their dear old friend to get every last ten thousand of her asking price, even if it came out of our pockets. We didn’t argue with my father-in-law when he reached for the check.
It was ten to three. I figured an hour at the Courthouse would do the trick before we headed for home. Pulling away from the restaurant Anne informed me that visiting hours ended at three, which meant that her parents would have to meet us at the Courthouse to unlock the place. Which further meant that they would have to wait around while I did whatever it was I had in mind.
Though they knew I had some sort of theatrical scheme in mind, they’d not heard about the Show Trials idea. On the drive over to the Courthouse I realized how ridiculous it would sound to them. This wasn’t to be the dramatized re-enactment of a momentous event in Virginia’s proud and patriotic history; it wouldn’t be a revival of The Music Man. I felt descending a dread like O’Gandhi must have felt as he faced the inevitability of having to explain his crackpot portality schemes to his neighbor Mel.
After the first time we returned from France my mother-in-law asked for a copy of my novel. There was only one then: it began as book five now begins, with Mrs. Dervain extending her well-manicured hand to a disillusioned Stephen Hanley at his café table in the south of France. While I felt sure that all of my friends would love the book (they didn’t), I had reservations about my mother-in-law. Though I never asked and she never told, I heard from Anne how it went. Why would anyone want to read about a character who doesn’t even want any clients to come and see him? I guess she never had much use for Philip Marlowe either. Ten pages in she abandoned the book. In years past I’d enjoyed long conversations with my father-in-law about politics and Taoism, so for him I held out some hope. Apparently he made it about halfway. A year or two after handing over the hard copy I asked for it back, and after some searching they were able to lay their hands on it. I believe I recycled it soon thereafter. As the years extended to a decade and more they have never again asked me about my writing, nor have I volunteered any information about it.
I could have imagined that the actual Courthouse would turn out to be exactly the way I’d remembered it. It wasn’t. The majesty of the building itself is diminished by peeling paint on the pillars, but in a way that’s better, more Southern Gothic, more decadent, the crumbling façade of justice. There is no central stairway climbing from the office, no landing, no opening at the back of the courtroom facing the bench. Instead it’s a narrow back stairway that sneaks in behind the Judge’s chambers up front. No: the grand entrance into the courtroom would be achieved by climbing the sixteen front steps that pass between the pillars, onto the wide and deep portico, and through the big double doors emptying into the back of the courtroom. The Eye of Justice is even larger than I remembered, positioned directly behind and above the Judge’s massive chair, its visual rays projecting outward across the wall like the eye of Sauron in the movies. The benches of the gallery are divided by the central aisle, but they extend laterally much closer to the sides of the room than I’d remembered, with the back two rows actually abutting the side walls. The counter-clockwise recessional around the perimeter would have to be repositioned, or even re-scripted. Maybe do it on the portico? All in all, the material actuality of the place is more than up to the job.
I could have imagined that my in-laws’ actual reaction to the Show Trials would turn out to be exactly what I expected. It was. I can picture a meta-Show Trial in which I’m petitioning the Keepers of the Keys for approval to put on the Show Trials. Motion ignored. Motion ignored. Motion denied. Motion ignored. I wouldn’t even be escorted out of the courtroom by Colonel Lynch, whose reputation as a patriotic hero who never lynched anybody remains unsullied in the official “Colonel Charles Lynch: His Life and Legacy” brochure, prepared by the Colonel Charles Lynch Chapter of the DAR that was founded in 1928 by the great-great-great-grandniece of the Colonel himself, a lady of indeterminate age whose dour disapproving photo appears in a display case in the Courthouse, said brochure being made available free of charge in the gift shop to all visitors, the sum total for the past week numbering four, including Anne and me. Now let’s go have a look at the Textiles Room displays, my mother-in-law instructs, where we’ve set up the old loom and spinning wheel and some of that wool your father and I carded a few years back… I’m picturing another brochure for the rack in the gift shop – “The Show Trials: No Reason They Can’t Happen, No Way They Will Happen.”
To be continued…