Chapter 21

21-1

“I need help coming up with pitches,” Tracey says to herself. She’s in her bedroom, at her desk. “You were copied on lots of my emails, weren’t you?” she responds to herself, in an airier voice, almost like Alina’s. “I bounced around a bunch of ideas with Ward, remember? You should use them. I doubt he remembers much of it, plus I trust you with those ideas. You’ll make them shine.” She continues this 2-person dialogue, altering voices: “You seriously don’t mind?” // “Are you kidding? What are those ideas going to do if they never get pitched? Honey, I can’t wait to see you as a real-deal author. And I hope we get to share the credit on my final book. I want you to ask for shared credit OK? You’re as much the author as I am.” // “You always tell me what I want to hear. I love you for being so supportive.” // “And I, you, for being such an ingenue.”21-2

“These pitches, Tracey! They’re great!” Tracey basks in her publisher’s praises. “And your latest rewrites…we’re almost across the finish line. “I’m glad you like everything,” Tracey says; she’s positively beaming. Ward, beside her, is silent. He’s annoyed, or maybe just indifferent at this point. The publisher continues with her accolades: “We’ll review them, but already it looks like your contract may need to be extended well beyond our initial offer. Three titles feels paltry. There’s even some potential for a couple series in here. Brilliant. Brilliant.” Tracey seizes the opportunity to ask one favor: “Do you think you could give me joint credit for this book, alongside Alina?” The publisher shrugs her shoulders like “why not?” as Ward starts saying something in dissent. Tracey cuts him off: “It just seems like the book is more mine than Alina’s. I am certain she would be OK with this, too. She was so generous like that.” The publisher and Ward share a moment of silent disagreement, just staring at each other. Then, he gives in as she nods: “I think it’ll be smart to get your name out there, to help with these future titles.” Tracey is even giddier than before. Ward, audibly: “This is a joke.”

21-3

“I’m done working with you,” Ward says to Tracey outside the publisher’s office. “This feels like blood money. I want nothing to do with you or this project. You’re a stain on this series and on Alina’s legacy. I’m not sure what Helene sees in you, or what Alina saw in you. I think you’re a hack. You steal other people’s ideas. You envy the fruits of their labor, and you want shortcuts to get those fruits for yourself. Congratulations on this latest endeavor. Only your second victim, too, it seems. Sadey.” Tracey, who has been smiling imperviously at his rant, now takes offense: “Listen, you has-been. Without me and this series, your career flatlines. So, allow me to fire you, since I want to be personally responsible for your demise. Which, by the way, will be the first and only time I will have caused anyone harm.” // “You’re too delusional to your own meddling. You’ve absolved yourself of any guilt, of consequences. And you’re just a wrecking ball; what’s your end goal with Helene? How does this end? Not well, I predict.” // “You’re fired.” // “It’s cute that you’ve empowered yourself in this way, Tracey. And, Alina, if you’re anywhere in the vicinity… I hope you see what I see. You’re smarter than this. I absolve myself of any guilt of… trying to help this book see the light of day. Goodbye, both of you.”

21-4

After Ward marches away, Tracey collects her thoughts. She’s a little dead in the face as she processes. Then, another conversation with herself: “Call Helene. You need to get ahead of him on this. Call Helene.” // “I will.” // “No, now. Call her now. Beat him to it.” On that cue, Tracey takes out her phone to make a call and holds it to her ear as it rings. Then: “Hi babe. … Oh, I’m OK. I’m fine. But, well… it’s Ward. He’s just quit on me, and on the whole project. Said he doesn’t want to help Alina anymore. … Yeah, seriously. Called it a ‘guilt trip’ project or something. Like you were forcing him to do it. Left me alone with the publisher, can you believe that?” She feigns tearful sobbing; we see that it’s total BS but Helene is buying it. “Crazy. Crazy! No, I’ll be fine, but I needed him there, you know? He’s the pro, and I’m just trying my best to keep up. I guess I’ll just have to impress them on my own. I’ll show him. … Aww babe, don’t be mad! I’m sure he didn’t mean what he said; it’s not a guilt trip. He’s just going off the deep end, maybe, after all that he’s been through. … But it’s still no excuse for abandoning me. … Yeah. You’ll be OK not having him around the apartment for a while? I can take care of you instead. I think it would be so awkward to have to see him, personally. … I don’t blame you for not wanting to see him either. … Thanks, Helene. … I love you too.” She hangs up, and says to herself: “All done.” And, in response to herself: “Well done.”

21-5

We track Tracey as she walks home from the subway. She’s carrying on some sort of conversation with herself, yet again. It’s peppered with chuckling, with changing inflection. People stare, and she even barks at one of them—literally barks, like a dog—before laughing to herself. It’s the first time we feel bad for her—or perhaps guilty for hating her, like maybe she should get help… but maybe she doesn’t realize her own problems, and the “crazy” only manifests itself when she thinks she’s alone. She stops on a corner, waiting for a light. Then, she suddenly crosses into traffic. Cars screech to a halt as she sticks her palm out—like she’s some force bringing them to a standstill. Then, as gets to the other side of the street, we see in the glow of the red traffic light, she scratches at her scalp, revealing a bald spot on the back of her head, a few inches from the stitches that remain from her self-inflicted accident. She pulls at some hair, and then chews it, swallows it, and repeats. A couple walks by and ogles in confusion. Tracey only snickers to herself.

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