Bertram: I’ve been trying to write freeform in an effort to get your story moving. You’re on your way home now, and your neighborhood is still intact, or as intact as it was the last time you saw it. The change from open prairie to city disconcerts you, or does it? I’m still not sure who you are or what you want. You want freedom, of course. No one to bother you. No one to tell you what to do. No one to change the world on a whim.
Chip: At least you got me away from that danged volcano. You should have done it a long time ago instead of making me run and run for months on end.
Bertram: Life got in the way, you know how it is.
Chip: No I don’t. You barely wrote me into the world and then you left me to fend for myself.
Bertram: It wasn’t fair, but I’m here now.
Chip: You’re not. Your mind is still somewhere in cyberspace. You’re wondering what you’re missing. Who’s emailing you? Who’s commenting on your articles? How many people are reading your other blog? What’s going on in your discussion group?
Bertram: Okay, you got a point. My attention is divided, but . . .
Chip: Buts and more buts. That’s all you ever offer me. What you need to do is get your mind here with me in this crazy world that changes by the minute. No wonder you don’t know who I am. I don’t know who I am because you’re not writing me.
Bertram: If we’re casting blame here, why aren’t you helping me to move the story along? Usually after 15,000 words, I have a feel for my characters, a sense of who they are, and what secrets they hoard, but you–you don’t tell me anything about yourself.
Chip: How can I? Growing up, my life was never about me. I didn’t have much chance to develop a solid identity. My father died when I was young, and my mother was a narcissist who always put herself first. I know she had to work two jobs to support me, and I’m grateful. I really am. She went through a lot for me. People didn’t treat her well at work. The women were jealous of her looks, and the men never saw anything but her big breasts. Yet she fought her way to the top of the company and ended up retiring with a great pension. Poor mother didn’t know what to do with herself after she retired, so she came to visit me. For six months.
Bertram: That doesn’t explain why you aren’t helping me write your story. We know what happens to you—
Chip: Maybe that’s why I don’t want to help. Maybe I want the world to go back the way it was. I was happy, except that I couldn’t get my mother to leave.
Bertram: Were you happy?
Chip: Sure. I had my store. I loved the animals in my charge, and I miss them. I know you said you sent the frilled lizard home to Australia and the Scarlet Macaw home to the rainforest, but I have only your word for it. I’ve never seen them there. And then all the other animals, like the poor blind seeing-eye dog. What did you do with it? A generic remark that it’s in a better place does not answer the question. Is it with the wolves? Is it young again? Is it sighted?
Bertram: You sound like a whiner here, and yet I never saw you as a whiner. A bit weak, perhaps—you never got up the courage to ask your mother to leave. I had to et rid of her for you.
Chip: I did ask her to leave. Many times. But she didn’t go. What was I supposed to do? Throw her out the door? Drag her to her car? Change the locks when she went shopping?
Bertram: Do you think maybe you wanted her to stay? Maybe you’re a mama’s boy. Maybe you liked having her take care of you AND you wanted your freedom. Since you couldn’t have both, maybe you got in the habit of blaming her for your inadequacies.
Chip: Inadequacies? You think I’m inadequate?
Bertram: I think you’re perfect for your job—a rather ordinary character who becomes extraordinary because of what happens to you.
Chip: Inadequate and ordinary. Thanks a lot.
Bertram: You do have a few qualities that make you stand out—your way with animals, the way you identify with them rather than with humans.
Chip: That is a good quality, one I would have chosen for myself if you hadn’t bestowed it on me. What other qualities do I have that make me stand out?
Bertram: You’re reasonably bright—
Chip: Reasonably bright is a good quality? Sheesh.
Bertram: And you have a strange sense of honor. I like that you saved Nicholas Nickleby to read after you fudged on reading it during college.
Chip: I was embarrassed at having to rely on cheat sheets from the internet to write that paper, but my job had to come first or I wouldn’t have been able to afford college. I will read the book, just not now. It makes me think of all that’s lost.
Bertram: What do you miss from the old world? I mean besides working at your store. You never seemed to do much else.
Chip: I spent a lot of time planning my animal refuge, but when you destroyed the world, you destroyed my dream along with it.
Bertram: Maybe I made your dream come true. I returned your animals to their natural habitats.
Chip: But I didn’t have anything to do with it.
Bertram: So what you’re objecting to is that I saved you animals and you didn’t?
Chip: No. Yes. I don’t know.
Bertram: Precise response.
Chip: I don’t need your sarcasm. I could be doing . . .
Bertram: Could be doing?
Chip: Anything but talking to you.
Bertram: I really want to know. What would be doing if you weren’t talking to me?
Chip: Going home. I have a cat waiting for me. You’ve left us alone so long, it’s probably gone by now.
Bertram: Not yet, he’s still waiting for you. And he’s doing well. He’s quite a self-sufficient creature, you know.
Chip: It. It’s an it, not a he. “He” presumes humanness, and it’s a higher life form than any human I’ve ever met.
Bertram: Okay. It’s waiting for you.
Chip: I hear that patronizing tone in your voice. I don’t have to put up with it.
Bertram: Oh, but you do. I’ve pledged to write 2000 words tonight, and since you’re not giving me anything to work with, we’re going to keep at this until you do.
Chip: What do you need from me?
Bertram: Something to make you real in my head so that I can hardly wait to work on your story everyday. Something that excites me so that I can’t stop thinking about it.
Chip: No one can do that. You’ve read so much you’re jaded, and now you expect me to supply the excitement you once found while reading. At least you’re working again.
Bertram: But the writing is awful. I can’t use any of it for the book.
Chip: So? I thought the point was to write whatever flows out of your mind.
Bertram: I didn’t expect such drivel. I’d hoped for magic.
Chip: We all hope for magic. Few of us get it.
Bertram: Now we’re getting somewhere. Did you hope for magic?
Bertram: Then you got it, didn’t you? One day your world was the same as it always was, and the next . . .
Chip: It changed. Nothing is the same. Nothing is real.
Bertram: How does that make you feel?
Chip: What are you, my therapist?
Bertram: Just answer the question.
Chip: It makes me feel frightened. Awed. Unsettled. Lonely. Desperate. Excited. Except for the bugs. I can do without those.
Bertram: You have to admit, it’s interesting for a character who professes to love animals to have an aversion to bugs.
Chip: Big bugs. Two-inch beetles. Seven-foot millipedes. Next thing I know, you’re going to have dragonflies with six-foot wingspans.
Bertram: Great idea, but I don’t want to overdo the bug thing.
Chip: Believe me, I don’t want you to overdo it either. Can I go home now?
Bertram: As soon as you give me something to work with.
Chip: It’s going to be a very long night.
See also: Pat Bertram Introduces Chip, the Hero of her Work-in-Pause, a Whimsically Ironic Apocalyptic Novel (Part II)