Footnote (Story by Risa Peris)

Oh, he did love a good lunch. And a good breakfast and dinner for that matter. But right now, it was lunch. At the Attic. A high-end restaurant in New York City, which is where the writer lived. The magazine was going to interview him. THE MAGAZINE. The New Yorker. Quite a compliment to be in the magazine. Not just anyone ended up in the hallowed pages. Her name was Megan Rathbone. She was to interview him.

“Let me buy you lunch,” she said. She sounded young and pert.

“The Attic,” he said. It was expensive but if they wanted to interview him let it be over steak tartare and mellow Merlot.

When he arrived at the restaurant he was seated and ordered oysters and a martini. Megan, tallish, thin and with a sallow complexion tumbled in with a leather bag stuffed with papers and a computer and a Kate Spade purse.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. Her voice was soft but slightly hardened with what the author guessed was a childhood in the Bronx.

“Not at all. I was thoroughly enjoying my oysters.”

Megan dived into her oversized back, pushed things around, and then grasped hold of a recorder.

“You don’t mind if I record?” she looked young. She was still in her twenties. The author felt a pang of jealousy. Oh, to be twenty-five again. He would have written so much more and gone to fewer parties. Did fewer drugs. He would have been more disciplined. But the past is the past and he finally wrote a great novel that was followed by two more great novels. He bought a house in Tuscany and a condo in NYC. He got lazy. Sometimes in the middle of the night, he woke up in a sweat and yelled to the empty room – I have nothing else to say. That was a tragedy. Having nothing more to say. Did Shakespeare ever write about that? A deadened voice.

Megan ordered a salad and he ordered pasta with lobster. He was going to milk the magazine for every possible cent.

“So tell me about Margaret Cunningham?” Megan clicked on the recorder and stared at the author with a touch of anger.

The author was stunned. Stalled. Choked. Margaret.

“Well, what about her?”

“Rumor is she gave you your ideas for your books. She wrote text. She edited. Your books are more Margaret than you.” Megan sat still. She didn’t lift even a water glass.

“Margaret was my dear late wife. I always had the ideas.”

“And the writing?” Megan wasn’t letting up.

“She read and made comments but that is all.” The author downed his martini.

“One of your friends said she wrote the books. The whole trilogy while you partied, drank, and snorted cocaine.”

“This is outrageous.” The author gulped water. He could feel sweat sliding down his back. “Besides, she was a partner. A wife. She tended to the house, taught middle school, and read my pages at night to give input. She never wrote anything.”

Megan dove into her enormous bag again and pulled out a journal. Black. Unadorned. The author wasn’t sure what it was.

“This is Margaret’s journal from 1981. She writes in detail about writing your book. She writes that she reformed your flawed idea for your most famous story. She writes that she graded papers and then wrote your book while you were out with the art scene of New York doing whatever frivolous people do. Creative people are disciplined. There is nothing disciplined about your life.”

The author stood up. Stumbled. “Outrageous,” he said. He walked through the restaurant into the street. It was raining. He felt water droplets slide down his cheeks. The rain. Margaret. Yes, she wrote his books and wrote them well. But he did have ideas and she worked with them. When she died of breast cancer, the books stopped. They had to. She was the writer and he was the socialite who marketed his books.

All art requires work and the author was never willing to work. But he did love the parties. Good lord. He loved the parties. Poor Margaret sitting at home typing like a madwoman and then not complaining when cancer began to eat at her. Poor Margaret. The author could not cry. Besides, the rain made it seem like he was crying. He was sad he missed a full lunch. He ate not a single oyster. He called a friend.

“Party tonight, my dear?”

“Party tonight,” said his friend.

“Wonderful. I think my name will be destroyed by The New Yorker. I need a distraction.”

“Poor you. Yes, come over.”

And that was that. Margaret went back to being a footnote in the author’s life.


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