I walked into the Imaginary Writers’ Room, one of my favorite corners of my mind, with a bigger smile than usual on my face. It makes me happy to retreat there with my favorite inspiring writers, to talk about their work — and mine. But that night, I was arriving with happy news.
“Sir Arthur,” I said respectfully to the chairman of my imaginary committee, “I’ve brought good news for Mr. Burns and Mr. Stevenson today.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle closed the agenda folder on the mahogany table that decorates the room. “That’s a’ for the planned meeting, then,” he said gently. “But you’re not needing much help on your story the now, are ye?”
I smiled. Dad used to tell me “Good night the now,” and it was good to hear the Scottish usage.
“No, Sir Chairman, I’m doing fine with my book thanks to all of you.”
“What then, Margaret?”
Robert Louis Stevenson propped up his head on his hand, lying on the comfortable sofa alongside the longer edge of the table and across from us. Robert Burns, equally alert, held the arms of his chair against the table.
Burns spoke first. “What’s happened? Are we awa’ out of here?”
“Awa’ wi’ your bother,” Stevenson snapped. “I’ve been been here since Margaret was a wee lass. I’m not leaving.”
“Ach, awa’ wi’ the pair of ye!” I told them — the Scots equivalent of “Get outta here!” and just as affectionate. “Will you listen?” I said, putting back my Illinois accent (tinged with the Scots I heard from Dad and other relatives) back on.
“Do tell us,” said Agatha Christie.
“Yes, do,” drawled Daphne du Maurier. “You know Agatha can’t handle suspense!”
Sometimes it’s just as well I’m the only living person in the Imaginary Writers’ Room.
“It’s time we had another poet around here,” I said.
“But you’re not that fond of poetry, are you?” said Conan Doyle.
I winced slightly. He pronounced it poi-try, as one of my Scottish pastors, my childhood pastor in Illinois, and (to hear Dad remember it) several relatives did.
Burns and Stevenson looked nervous.
“Louis, it took me a long time to find poems I loved as much as ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses,'” I said.
Stevenson beamed at me.
“And Robert,” I sighed, “I’ll never forget hearing my father getting every laugh you put into ‘Address to a Haggis.’ ”
“Even some that I didn’t really put there,” said Burns. “Warm, reekin’ ginger and lemongrass, indeed!”
“It’s funny, but it still sconners me,” I said.
Ever the medical doctor, Conan Doyle pulled out a chair on the ladies’ side of the table and reached for a pitcher of ginger ale I keep there for the writers. Including me, in this case.
“Get that right down, Margaret,” said Doyle gently. He really did sound like my grandfather. I drank and the nausea passed.
“You got those laughs yourself this year, before everything stopped,” said Agatha loyally. “And now you’re doing well at the suspense, but who is it? Who’s joining in?”
Maybe I wasn’t all that steady yet. “Arthur, would you get the door?” I said.
Not worried at my familiarity — who owns the room, anyway? — he did. A tall, wide-eyed American man in a three-piece suit not too unlike Arthur’s was waiting there.
“Hello, Tom,” said Arthur.
“Sir Chairman,” said T.S. Eliot.
With that, I thought they would need some privacy, so with a smile for Agatha and Daphne, I said, “Here’s how I handle suspense, ladies: I’ll be back later.”
Yes, as much as I detested “continuing stories” when I was growing up, I must admit it: I’d walked into writing one, and here ends part one.
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