She sits in a rustic A-frame cabin, looking out a set of double glass doors. It's a humid summer day. She's not fashionably dressed: a grey, short-sleeve expedition shirt with two front pockets — in one a mechanical pencil; a scratchy, drab-colored set of insect-shield convertible pants torn in a few places by bramble. Her forearms, scented with the remnant odor of lemon eucalyptus oil insect repellant, are well-muscled enough to show she can push her way through overgrown trails; her rough bare feet are masculine enough to prove she's walked on tough terrain.
Her eyes follow a sloping meadow: beyond, the flat plain of salt marsh divided by a meandering estuary; further, a white swath of granite outcroppings; beyond this, the marsh rising again into upland forest. The only sounds she hears are the hum of an old refrigerator, the chirping of crickets, the moan of a foghorn from a hump of an island just off the coast.
For the past three weeks she has been counting birds, making entries into a laptop computer log: 1 Medium-tailed Guternatch; 2 Truncated Pipsqueaks; 1 Roasted Titmouse; 1 Nappy-headed Hoot Owl; 4 Sharp-shinned Slinkers (females only); 1 Albino Albatross; 1 Picbald Porcupine Flicktippery; 1 Jack-booted Thugwhomple; 2 Slack-jawed Yokels.
She likes being alone; better than working in an urban high rise. It's a lovely day, and she can't think of any better place to be — more or less.
"Drab-colored?" she says abruptly, apparently to no one. "You call 'chocolate heather' drab-colored?"
That's what it is – drab-colored. I can decide. Does that justify her interruption of a carefully planned scene?
"Well, I don't like what you've done. Are you seriously going to leave me alone in a wilderness bird sanctuary? For how long?"
Not much longer.
She's going to meet someone new.
"But you said I like being alone."
She does and she doesn't.
"Just who or what in this desolate place is going to be aroused by my masculine-looking toes? A black bear?"
It's not desolate. It's paradisiacal. I like her feet.
"Oh, come on. What, exactly, am I supposed to be?"
She's an ornithologist.
"Oh, brother. Just what is at stake here?"
She's very smart; she has a Ph.D. in biology from Cornell University. Her thesis was on the female reproductive anatomy of the wild turkey.
"And you call yourself a writer."
I think she's attractive.
"Sure; if you're into cloacae."
"Do I get a name, or are you going to call me 'she' for the rest of the story?"
I haven't quite decided. I was thinking 'Midge,' or something, I don't know; I'll work it out later.
"You've got to be kidding. Did I ask to be insecticide-reeking, muscle-bound, big-footed Midge-the-Ornithologist in a mediocre piece of fiction by a second- or third-rate fictionalist?"
See? She shows signs of being an intelligent woman.
"Stop calling me 'she,' and, no, I did not ask for that. Being nothing is better than what you've planned for me."
She's going to fall in love.
"In the middle of nowhere? Brilliant."
She's going to meet some guy in the woods.
"What, like you?"
I can't just stop the story. I've created her, and I'm going to do something with her.
"Well, then, change the scene. Manhattan, how about it, and pronto?"
Manhattan's loud and smelly. Here there'll be this guy and the birds — -
"As if I haven't had enough. Make me into a sexy New York literary agent."
I don't want her to be a sexy literary agent. I want her to be an ornithologist.
"Afraid I'd reject both you and your book?"
Listen; the scene is a remote bird sanctuary. She's an ornithologist whose job is to count birds. She's going to fall in love with some guy she meets by chance in the forest. Want me to change the feet? Give her small, delicate feet – like a ballet dancer? Dress her in ballet-style shoes that lace up around her slender ankles while she looks out the glass doors counting birds?
"And I could be unbuttoning the top three buttons of my 'expedition shirt' — like this, see? — because it's so hot, and right now I'm bending down to unlace my ballet shoes — -"
If I want to undress her, I will.
But that's not what I have in mind. She's an intellectual. This is a subtle story.
"Well, watch me, Mr. Subtle, while I unsnap the fly-button of my 'drab-colored insect-shield pants,' unzip half-way down because it's so sticky today, lean my hip on the unfinished pine kitchen table. Take a closer look: you've given me a small and very artful tattoo one inch above my shaved, lemon-eucalyptus-oil smudged — -"
I've done no such thing.
"Then maybe I don't want to be in this story."
She doesn't have a choice.
"You think so?"
She can't just walk out.
"Watch me. Out this glass door. And quit calling me she."
It's a point of view thing. Some novelist won the Nobel Prize in Literature using the third-person singular human/animate female personal pronoun alone.
It's going to rain – really hard. With lightning and thunder. And the bears.
"Your cheap fragmentary sentences don't frighten me."
Coyotes, feral cats, rabid foxes, bull moose. I'm not kidding — you have to be careful. I'd worry.
"I don't care what you try to do to me."
Oh, really? She doesn't care? Well, then, fine; let's see how far she gets, sliding open the left door of the double glass doors, slamming it shut behind her, walking barefoot (oh, lovely feet) out into the lush, green meadow, the sky clouding up, the heavy air foreshadowing a storm, she, walking down the long slope toward the salt estuary, a dragonfly floating past her, vibrating, trembling its tiny wings, gliding on the dead-still air, she, becoming smaller and smaller as the distance increases, disappearing behind a dip in the meadow above the marsh grass, forever gone.
Oh, the crickets chirping melancholically, the refrigerator's mechanical buzzing making the rustic old A-frame suddenly seem unbearably, intolerably silent, the historic lighthouse bemoaning 156 years of reclusion. She's on her way to Manhattan.