I dropped my favorite cereal bowl when Annabel Lee appeared without warning in the dining room and said, "I'm worried about Sherman Alexie's marriage."
Annabel Lee is one of my imaginary friends. Unlike my other imaginary relatives and friends, Annabel appears and disappears seemingly at random and always when I am not prepared for her arrival. Prasad and his friend always knock; Bertie and Bob generally call; and Great Uncle Leadbelly requires a search party. But I am never looking for Annabel Lee, and she is almost always accompanied by broken dishes.
"Oops!" she exclaimed as I bent to retrieve the shards. I put my hands over my ears and shushed her. I think I'd had a little too much cognac at the Poe Supper the night before.
"Did you know that cognac will eat through a paper cup?" she asked.
"I do now," I whispered. I carried the broken bowl to the trash. We looked down into the receptacle as if we were staring down into a grave.
"At least it wasn't a pickle dish," she commented brightly.
"You're too literate for your own good," I told her and retrieved a fresh bowl. "Annabel Lee, I can only handle so many allusions before sustenance."
"Ugh, do you have to call me that?"
"It's your name," I said. She was born on Poe's birthday to a mother with a unique sensibility. "You should consider yourself lucky."
"I know. I know."
"It could've been worse," I reassure. "Evangeline or Ligeia or even Lenore."
Her only response: "Nevermore!"
I ate a spoonful of Kashi and wondered about the appropriateness of rhyming 'reassure' with 'Lenore.' The meter was all wrong anyway.
"Sherman Alexie!" Annabel blurted. I dropped my spoon onto the floor. Its clatter echoed in my cognac-soaked head like the bells -- the bells -- the tintinnabulation -- the tolling --
"You keep slipping into the wrong author," Annabel Lee interrupted. "I'm here to talk about Sherman Alexie."
"You know," I responded. "I saw a bumpersticker the other day. It said, 'Welcome to my country. Speak English!' And I thought, 'Welcome to my country. Speak Algonquin!'"
"That would be a lot funnier if you were actually an Indian. "
"All white Americans think they're part Indian," I said. "Besides, I'm much funnier after I've eaten."
"I don't think you should try to be funny any more," Annabel said with a little wrinkle above her nose. "It's ruining Sherman Alexie's marriage." She took her copy of Ten Little Indians out of her bag.
"You know that's all fiction, right?" I asked.
"This is the second book from Sherman Alexie that I've read with a story about a man destroying his marriage because he can't contain his funnybone."
"I thought the stories in that book were all pretty hopeless. Beautiful, but hopeless. There's the woman in the terrorist attack and the dying baby --"
"The baby was kinda funny."
"The baby was dying," I repeated.
"There is a nice love story," she said.
"The guy lied about the cat."
"The story about his mom was sweet."
"I'm not seeing the funny," I said. "Why do you think Sherman Alexie is funny?"
"Did you miss the whole magical vibrator thing? Them wandering around looking for their parked car? Look at this picture." She held up the back cover of the book, which included a large picture of Sherman Alexie, his head tossed back and he was obviously enjoying his own laughter.
"There are two stories in two different books. It's a pattern," she said.
"It's not a pattern; it's a line segment. You need a third point before you can even define a plane, let alone a pattern."
"The problem with funny guys," she went on, ignoring my math joke, "is that they take everything so seriously."
"'How long til my soul gets it right?'" I sang.
"Every statement is a potential joke to ease the pressure."
"Every statement is potential reality," I countered. "The problem with funny guys is that they believe it all."
"There's no difference," she said.
"There is sum." She obligingly rolled her eyes. I said, "All we really want is an audience. Why are you so concerned about Sherman Alexie's marriage?"
"Worrying about authors is my hobby," she said.
"Worrying is your hobby, full stop," I said. "Look, maybe he just writes these stories to work out his own fears and put them to rest. Perhaps if they're stuck to the page, they can't become real. They're not reality, they're about preventing reality."
"If you say so. Still, I think you could cut back the jokes a bit, yeah?"
"OK. I'll try," I told her. She tapped me on the head and disappeared. I finished my cereal and rinsed out the bowl. The Brunette called from the top of the stairs to ask who I was talking to.
"Nobody," I said.
"Oh, I thought I heard voices down there."
"Don't worry about hearing voices," I said. "It's just the cognac. I'm alone down here. Well, I mean, there's also Interrupting Cow."
She sighed. "OK. Who is Interrup--"
"Moo!" I said and laughed, laughed, laughed until the tears stopped falling.