You and I have decided to write this short story together. For this we need some characters. We dip our hands into a hat and pull two names at random: Goombeldt and Zungvilda.
Who are these people? What do we know about them? It’s fair to assume they are a couple, or have been, or perhaps will be at one time or another. We have to start somewhere. You suggest that the opening scene happen at night. I accept. Goombeldt is alone in his study. He can’t focus on work. Zungvilda was supposed to be here by now, but she is not. She hasn’t called either. Goombeldt is stuck between two worries:
- something may have happened to her;
- she may have ignored their date for something more important to her.
Unfortunately, the latter has happened once or twice in recent months, always followed by a series of apologies. The reasons have invariably had to do with Zungvilda’s work. Goombeldt believes them. It’s not that he thinks she is having an affair—their own relationship is, so far, little more than a long affair, and he has absolutely no evidence. It’s that he feels so external to her life that he wouldn’t know if she was an addict, a drug dealer, a nymphomaniac.
We should decide where Zungvilda is. We’ll need this information later. But you suggest that we postpone this decision. The reader doesn’t have to know yet.
Goombeldt is unsure whether he should go to sleep or wait a little longer. He’s already tried calling Zungvilda, but she is not picking up. This may mean nothing at all: She always forgets her phone at home. Or is she in trouble? And if so, what can he do to help her?
Do the two of them live together? A rather important detail you and I must work out, it will affect the reader’s perception of the relationship. We reread the paragraphs above and conclude that the two characters maintain separate dwellings. Otherwise, we couldn’t have referred to tonight’s meeting as a date.
Goombeldt knows he won’t be able to sleep. This has happened before. His choice is between lying in bed wide awake and meaninglessly shuffling around in the apartment. Either way, his time does not belong to him, and neither does his own mind. How can it be that one should surrender his most significant asset to another party? Is independence a myth? The more connections to the world outside one keeps, the more vulnerable one is. Another thing becomes clear, as it does in his best moments: He should break up with Zungvilda. But Goombeldt is not the type of person to live on his own. That may be part of the problem. He needs Zungvilda more than she needs him. There’s just no way around it.