Dylan is practicing his Tony Award speech again. He does it when he thinks I'm not listening or out of the room. This time he's in the shower and I need to go in the bathroom to get my Emjoi and he swears he never uses it, but sometimes in bed at night when he slides his feet over my legs, his heels feel suspiciously smooth. And I can tell the Emjoi roller is dull when I use it so I offer to buy him his own or maybe he should just get a pedicure, but he says pedicures are for girls.
We've lived together six months. The first three were okay. Like practice for being married, how we fit together - our clothes and furniture, our temperaments - made for each other.
Then he had the idea for a musical.
He's in the shower, but the water's off as he shampoos because of the California drought and we're trying to conserve – we have giant Home Depot buckets in the shower to catch water we use later on plants and the lemon tree in the back yard. The shower door is covered with steam so Dylan doesn't see me come in and I can hear him, his voice sounding echo-y because of the shower walls and he's saying how it's a Dream Come True and he'd like to thank the actors, the best cast ever, especially Raúl Esparza and Leslie Odom, Jr. and I'm thinking I should clear my voice or cough to let him know I'm there. But he's going on and on about Raúl and Leslie and the kid actors who were unknowns and he thanks Bartlett Sher and everyone who Respected His Vision and now I can't leave because is he going to mention me? Thank me for my support, even though I haven't given him much since I think his idea is stupid, but it would be nice to hear my name and I do, right after his parents and God and the lighting designer and he says, “And Olivia, my shining light.”
I take the Emjoi and pulverize the cracked places on my heels and calluses and I suppose I should feel good I've been included, but it's a little sad – Dylan in the shower doing his Tony speech and me leaving piles of dead skin all over the carpet in our bedroom.
I love Dylan. He's kind and smart and he's got a great sense of humor. Sexy in a self-deprecating sort of way, a good body, a little on the skinny side, but that's okay. I like the way his sleeves always seem too short and you can see his thin wrists and he used to tug at his sleeves until I told him I thought his wrists were his best feature and he laughed and hasn't done the tug thing in months.
What he has been doing is writing a musical. The book, the music, and the lyrics. And that might sound great - it's certainly ambitious. The first thing he does when he comes home from his job at Petco, he goes right into the office/guest room and gets going on his keyboard. I don't want to make it sound like he's a novice at playwriting because he's got a theatre degree from UCLA and he's had some plays done in LA at small theatres. He has a SAG card and a couple acting TV credits. It isn't as if Petco is his career job.
But I'm not sure writing a musical version of To Kill a Mockingbird is the thing that's going to make him famous.
He got the idea in the middle of the night. He had a nightmare about Sith lords and was trying to fall asleep again and was thinking about Go Tell a Watchman and did Harper Lee really want the earlier, not nearly as good manuscript to be published or did her attorney force her and that's when he thought To Kill a Mockingbird should be a musical. By the time I woke up, he'd already written the first song.
“Welcome to Maycomb, a Tired Old Town.” How it's a hot summer day (“Ladies like teacakes, scrapbooks with keepsakes”) and the characters are introduced – Miss Maudie, Calpurnia, Atticus. The children get a big entrance, with Jem and Dill rolling Scout in a tire. There's a hint of creepiness at the Radley house – Dylan explains he has an idea for a song called “Closed Shutters” about unseen Boo Radley being kept inside his house after stabbing his father (“Walking by the Radley house gives one the shivers, Thinking of Boo and his dangerous scissors”) and I tell him maybe there's a better rhyme than shivers and I think he's going to get mad at me, but he makes notes on his iPad instead.
Has Dylan done anything about getting rights to the book, to make it legal? I suggested he look into that right away because it would be awful if he did all this work only to find out no one involved with the book would be interested in doing a musical version.
Dylan was more concerned about there being another production, but he assured me he's “on top of things” and there's nothing to worry about.
I should support him. This is his dream, I'm his girlfriend. Even though I think it's terrible. At least he's dropped his idea for the title, Mockingbird. Too much like Mockingjay, that's what I told him and to my surprise, he agreed.
So I'm patient. I work as a barista and I come home and try to study for my second shot at the LSAT. My first LSAT scores were good, but I'd really like to go to UCLA or USC and not move out of the city so I'm going to take it again, thus the studying and another LSAT prep class.
I don't complain when I'm in the middle of a Kaplan LSAT practice test and Dylan appears and wants me to hear his latest song.
A duet with Atticus and his dead wife. When they're newly married, before Jem and Scout are born. Their plans for the future - Atticus has just graduated from law school and his wife tells him he'll probably be on the Supreme Court one day.
“It's funny, isn't it?” Dylan says. “That you're going to be an attorney like Atticus.”
I nod. I'm not sure about a dream sequence with Atticus and his dead wife. She's not in the book.
“But otherwise there's no romance,” Dylan explains. “And this is a way to do a love song. 'When I Loved You.' Isn't that a great title?”
I like it better than “One-Shot Finch,” the song Dylan wrote about Atticus shooting the rabid dog. In the musical version, most of the town witnesses the scene, even evil Bob Ewell, who sings about Atticus having “Dumb luck, the cluck.”
“That foreshadows Atticus making a fool of Bob Ewell in the courtroom,” Dylan says.
The Maycomb residents sing to Jem, “Your father was a dead shot, he was born with talent, What do you think of him now, Jem, there's a dead dog lying yonder in the street.”
“But that doesn't rhyme,” I tell Dylan.
“I haven't figured out what rhymes with talent yet. Unless – how about, 'Your father was a dead shot, talent was born with Atticus. What do you of him now, Jem? Killing off that rabidness.'”
Dylan looks at me for approval and – hey, I'm not a bitch, I love him. So I tell him I think it's amazing.
Oh fuck me.
He starts to miss work at Petco. Which is fine, he says, they're excited about his musical. He's explained to them how he'll workshop it in LA, then hopefully move the production to New York. Although he'd consider South Coast Rep.
Dylan's only disappointment is there isn't a big part for himself. Too old for Jem, too young for Atticus. For now he's written Sheriff Tate as younger and given him a song about his unrequited love for Mayella Ewell.
I tell him it slows down the plot, but he disagrees. He's trying to write the music for Mayella's dance solo. It comes right after Tom Robinson's big courtroom song, “It Was Only About a Chiffarobe” and is reprised after Tom's death in “Elegy for Tom.”
Our house is starting to look like hell. Dylan does a lot of his work on his iPad, but wants to make sure he has extra copies of everything on paper, even though he's saved things to the Cloud, a flash drive, and an external hard drive. “Just in case.” Pieces of paper and Post-it notes are everywhere. We stopped using the dining room table because it's covered with notecards – “The courtroom scene is very complex,” that's Dylan's excuse. And okay, I can understand that. But why do I find notes in the kitchen, in the dishwasher? I pull pieces of paper from Dylan's pockets before I do the wash and I save them, because once when I didn't check, I found a Post-it with writing that had turned illegible and Dylan was furious. “I was so close with that lyric,” he screamed.
He sleeps in the guest room most nights. Sometimes I hear the keyboard. I buy earplugs.
It's harder to study at home, so I spend more time at the coffee shop and the manager lets me sit in her office when it's late.
Dylan leaves Petco, finally fired after singing all the parts to the Halloween pageant, the “I'm a Ham” number, to various customers.
I don't mind when he invites some of his UCLA buddies over to work on the show. They laugh and drink wine and he sings them Scout's final song, a gentle ballad. “Hey, Boo. Yeah, I'm talking to you. You made us toys, you were our friend, you saved our lives. Hey, Boo. That's who.” Several of the UCLA people cry.
Dylan has stopped shaving. When I make a joke about how he looks like an Impressionist painter he doesn't laugh. Just turns to me with red-rimmed eyes. And a Monet beard.
I take the LSAT, I think I do well.
Dylan gets migraines. I try to give him what he needs. I rub his temples. Make him lemon bars and green iced tea.
Sometimes I think about moving out and living in an apartment that's quiet, with a dining room table you can use to eat on.
What makes a person give up everything to focus on an artistic project, even when it takes over your life? I don't know how Dylan does it. How many people in the world can do something like this?
Sometimes I find myself at work humming “I'm a Ham.”
Dylan's beard is scratchy.
His wrists are still cute.
We've been married for six months. The first two – a little rocky. Getting used to the new house in the Valley. Our schedule. Me in law school at USC, Dylan juggling his job at PetSmart and auditions. He's had a few callbacks and he's feeling positive.
He's put To Kill a Mockingbird on the back burner. “For now,” he says. I tell him that's fine, it's probably good to take a break. He's calmer these days, he looks better without the beard.
His new musical is “Game of Thrones.” Much more commercial, Dylan assures me. He's written a few songs and plans to invite some friends over for a preview.
Do I think “Game of Thrones” will make a good musical? I watch the light in Dylan's eyes as he hovers over the keyboard. His lips moving in the middle of night, writing lyrics in his sleep. I move close to him, don't forget me, I whisper to him. Because one day I want to hear my name in a speech.
“What do you know, Jon Snow?”
Ann Lewis Hamilton is a writer living in California.