“Are you okay?” the radiologist asked, hovering near the door.
“What?” I said, shaking off the lapse in my concentration. “Do I…not look okay?” For that matter, why would anyone in a hospital ever be asking if I was okay rather than just using some sort of science machine to check?
“You were telling a story and then you just sort of….” He made an inarticulate move with his shoulders and neck. “It was like you were talking for a really long time and then just stopped for about four months.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Wait. So you were listening to the story? I thought you had stuff to do?”
“As a framing device to tell your entire college story, I think it works better to have someone actually hearing it and occasionally asking questions,” the strangely narrative-minded radiologist offered. More quietly he muttered, “Otherwise, you’re literally babbling to yourself in an empty waiting room.”
“Oh. Well…what did you think of the story?”
The man considered for a moment. “It’s interesting enough. Though I’m not sure anyone would get a ‘That Darn Cat’ pun.”
“Wait. You can know the titles, too? How does that work in the framing device? Am I actually prefacing all these segments with a title?” I demanded. “For that matter, why are you doing this to the fourth wall? Are you angry at it? Did it wrong you somehow?”
He managed a weak shrug. “I’m just a heavily embellished character. You’re the writer. You figure it out.”
I grumbled to myself. “I should’ve written a character less aware of narrative structure and literary devices,” I lamented.
“Nooooo,” he corrected, dragging out the word accusingly. “You should’ve kept telling the story – one you touted as literally never-ending – rather than losing focus before your first class even started in the story. If it’d kept going then you wouldn’t need to return to this initial segment of the story to explain the lapse.” He sighed. “Now you’ll have to keep revisiting it throughout the story to make it look like that’s what you intended to do from the beginning.”
“I can’t believe I’m being chastised by my own creation.” Then again, my toddler had recently run into the bathroom while I was using it to tell me I was a bad dancer and that I needed to stop. This might just be part of the creative process.
Still, he was right.
The radiologist, I mean. My son is dead wrong.
“All right,” I agreed, feeling properly chastened. “I’ll have to keep up on this a little more. There’s not much sense in writing a story with no end if I just stop in the middle.”
“Technically, you stopped right at the beginning.”
“Anyway,” I said, riding over his snark, “let’s see. Where was I?”
“You were using a map to find your classes the first day.” The radiologist paused. “I mean, I’m not sure if that was going anywhere or if you were going to jump to another random point or…”
“Actually, it’s supposed to be subtly mirroring the actual columns I wrote professionally while I was in college. It sort of seems random, and it is, I guess, but it all has a predetermined path if you use those columns as a road map,” I explained. Then, a bit more sheepishly, I admitted, “Though…due to an event that happens much later in the story, those original columns were all destroyed. So I’m kind of piecing it together from memory…”
The man nodded sagely. “It’s probably just as well. I don’t think enough people even remember you wrote those to get that reference.”
“I said it was subtle.” I slowly absorbed the insult. “Also, shut up.”
“Do you even remember what comes next?”
“Of course I do.” Of course I did. Mostly. “I just have to find my train of thought. From almost half a year ago.”
“That’s a long break in the train schedule.”
“Well, trains don’t come through often anymore.” I shrugged. “I don’t think the industry is doing well, honestly. I think it’s because…”
The radiologist gave me a long-suffering look.
“Right. Right. Anyway, let’s get this thing back on…track.” Trust me. All good story metaphors are about trains. I didn’t have much of an alternative. “Let’s rejoin our hero…”
“Fine,” I said, almost in a growl. “Let’s rejoin our protagonist…” I waited to make sure there were no further objections. The other man made a “so-so” motion with one hand. “It was a warm, sunny day. Summer was in full swing. The birds were singing. The flowers were blooming. And I, for whatever reason, had decided that the best use of my time was to sit indoors having a man who’d spent most of his adult life earning his doctorate read a class schedule to me while I held it.”