His wife was trying to be supportive but felt worried about how some people would perceive them. Was what he was writing based on real life? Every day, another story of love sometimes almost found, but definitely always lost, would appear. Some more erotic than others, some angrier in tone, some more sad than even the songs or the stories, personal or stolen, that inspired them. She knew the truth, but wondered how many people would perceive her decline from cancer as a carte blanche for him to fulfill his needs elsewhere.
Truth was, he had never lacked imagination, but the stories were not entirely grown in that fertile environment. A lifetime of being the confessional, the therapist, for his friends had given him hundreds of stories of heartache, infidelity, everlasting love, or mere sexual escapades from which to draw on.
Had he not lived more than a few of his own, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to weave together the parallel lines between his own life and those from whom he liberally stole plots, scenes, sentences, phrases. And steal he did. Perhaps stupidly, he did not consider how much people would see themselves in a piece, assuming that the feelings he assigned to their co-stars were his, or those of their lover. In reality, they were mostly him. The men, the women, the good, the bad, the heartbreakers and the heartbroken ones. The parents and the children. The old, the young and the middle aged. All him.
Not that he had lived all of those lives.
Sometimes he was the other half of a couple of which he had been a part of in real life, and he would take the opportunity to occupy his lover’s body and make her behave in the way he wished she had, on a first date, on a meaningless Tuesday night, the night they broke up, just so he could finally have the conversation that he had had with himself so many times, but which she had never cooperated with in reality.
Sometimes he finished encounters that had left him unfulfilled. Other times he embellished his part, making himself more heroic, more dignified that the ageing foulmouth that greeted him as he looked up after coughing up a piece of himself that had decide to leave his alcohol-soaked, nicotine fumigated museum to self-destruction that he had become. Other stories lifted from his catalog of friends’ stories, and they would send a question, a note, a threat when they recognized a piece of their lives, however beautiful or painful, pissed that he used their lives, or worried that they were not disguised enough.
Invariably, the women grew even prettier than their real life originals, as he described them as his heart, or maybe some other body part, saw them, and not necessarily as they saw themselves. They were all truly beautiful. In his history with women, he had never seemed to attract mean ones, bitchy maybe, but all were good people with whom the chemistry, timing, whatever, just didn’t seem right. And all were definitely more beautiful than he ever dared to imagine.
Benjamin Franklin claimed that God loved mankind because he gave us beer. He on the other hand was convinced that God loved men, and lesbians he supposed, because he gave us women. He loved them. Never had a “type.” For him there were some many different types of perfection, and he had been lucky enough to have had some involvement with many of those perfect creatures.
And God had given him his wife. Tolerant to a fault, she had endured his dalliances of the past, which gave rise to the gossip of today, blaming herself, or the illness, even though there was a part of her heart, that she dare not visit, that could put timelines together to clearly see that his affairs predated her diagnosis. He had been good to her in so many ways, and oddly enough now, now when she could almost excuse it, he remained faithful. No more late nights with young editors, no book tour groupies, no pity sex with pretty nurses.
She should have left him a long time ago. Their kids at the very least suspected, and as much as she didn’t want to upset the family, she worried about the example she was setting for both son and daughter. Now, in hospice care, there seemed to be little point, other than making a point, which she no longer cared about. She chose to enjoy his tenderness, lost for years to alcohol and the shield he used to insulate himself from his guilt.
With the end days away, they spent as much time together as they could, mostly reminiscing of their early years together, before the kids, before the other women started to intrude into the fairy tale romance he had appropriated for his first book. She was convinced that he had fallen in love with the version of her that he had written. Of course, that version spoke and thought like him and remained ageless, unlike the frail woman whose trembling hand grasped his.
She called him magpie, after the opera, or the French play that she had read in college. He was so in love with shiny objects. With pretty girls, and prettier words. She should have left him. She stayed for the same reasons that people stay in the wrong relationship everywhere: kids, security, suppression of one’s own desires.
He wasn’t even a good lover! She wondered if he ever got to cheat on her with the same, unpaid, woman twice.
After she died, he again stole her story, made her prettier, not that she needed his help, made himself seem a lot more likable, almost heroic. The book was a success, and those interested in karmic justice will be disappointed to find out that he lived a full life, seemingly free of pain, physical or otherwise.
Except in his suicide note, written after a night without sleep, during a beautiful cold April sunrise, when he confessed to the world who he was, and how she had been everything to him.
In the end, he had one last character to write, one last story. It was his own, starring the real him, and uncertain how it would have ended on its own, he wrote his own ending.
The magpie would steal no more.