from Miller’s Ridge
“Two on a Raft”
Miller dreams he’s with O’Connell in the hospital, rolling dice. He rolls doubles every time—so does O’Connell, but in this dream he’s a priest and doesn’t believe in chance.
Doctors keep slipping through a curtain to the other side of the room. One carries a telephone trailing a line. One carries a gun. At night, when the hospital’s dark, Miller sees a red glow slip under the curtain.
Miller tries to convince O’Connell that they’re sharing a room with the devil’s twins. O’Connell rolls two sixes and shrugs. The next day the curtains open and a priest walks out with a young movie star. In this dream Miller is a young movie star.
The television in the room starts showing movies. Each stars Miller, but this new Miller is often a disappointing actor. Sometimes he forgets his lines. Sometimes, on the red carpet, he’s with a priest. The priest compulsively consults an eight ball. The press loves it.
Miller tells O’Connell the only thing to do is take the twins’ place. O’Connell shrugs. The next day, a nurse wheels his bed out the door and into the elevator. Miller thinks he’s on his way.
Later that day, Miller’s twin comes for a visit. He asks about a contract Miller signed to play a doctor in a comedy series set on an island. It’s entering its seventh season, and he’s tired of curing bouts of voodoo. Miller explains that the contract’s airtight, and the twin glances toward his old bed behind the curtain.
Miller asks what he did before he went into movies. He says he watched a lot of TV.
In response to criticism, season five attempts to give the audience
two for their money, but the producers have forgotten
no one remembers Shakespeare. It’s a poor introduction,
then, when in episode one the heir to the mill meets a ghost
and telephones ring across the country: We’ll return
you to the program after this short quiz. Few households recover
the reference, and in the next episode writers try to recover
the plot by introducing the famous prince to the audience:
a shot over the heir’s shoulder, and the Dane returns
twice-filmed to the screen. The heir leaves the room but forgets
to turn off the television. So, marred by reflections, the ghost
appears again, played by the heir’s dead father, reintroduced
and repackaged now in period garb. With this second introduction,
the actor imagines for his career a long-needed recovery—
and the heir’s dead father, in a misunderstood monologue, ghosts
on about plans to finally get to know his son. The audience
misses the obvious clue and within two scenes has forgotten
all about the heir’s revenge. So in episode three we return
to the theater. The heir, now dating the killer’s daughter, returns
to his seat in time to catch a melodramatic introduction—
the production’s ghost is on a wire, and the heir, so taken, forgets
his father’s death and manages a brief emotional recovery.
From behind the curtains, the ghost glares at the audience,
stage-whispering, Fool, fool, remember me. But the ghost
polls poorly, and episode four gives up on the ghostly
hope that had to that point haunted the season, instead returning
gleefully to the kind of short, sappy monologues the audience
loves: boy tells girl she’s more than she seems; girl introduces
boy to her father; father inspires hope in others recovering
from guilt-induced amnesia. Even the show’s writers forget
their lofty mirrors, but one actor, forlorn and forgotten,
still remembers who killed the heir’s father. He plays another ghost
in episode nine, dancing in a hospital gown and singing that recovery
is sometimes more pain than it’s worth. Still, he tries to return
to that comedic role some of the weight the season’s introduction
had promised, tries without hope because he knows the audience—
knows the audience will always forget the persistent reintroductions
of ghosts, ghosts who can return but might never be recovered.
“We’ll Always Have Paris”
Miller dreams of Marilyn, and no one knows. He dreams of vacationing on a planet where no one has seen his show. In Miller’s dreams, twins are of no special consequence. The aliens all have twins, and this is not meaningful. On this planet, Miller doesn’t have a twin, and this is also not meaningful.
Marilyn floats down through the hatch, and he thinks how she looks like Jane. In Miller’s dreams, Miller is not paranoid. He follows Marilyn through the hatch.
In the current season, Jane is trying to kill Miller. They chase each other through the countryside, from manor to manor. They both wear jumpsuits and hoods. In the show, Miller is obsessed with patterns—at parties he avoids playing chess; he refuses to drive a red car. He never shows the camera the tattoo at the base of his neck.
On the alien planet, Miller dreams the atmosphere has turned toxic, so he and Marilyn put on hazard suits. They spend years looking for the cure. Miller and Marilyn dream that they are twins, born with loose synthetic skin.
During the season’s last episode, Miller takes off his hood, wraps it around a papier-mâché head. He tucks the decoy into a sleeping bag and hides behind a rock. While he waits for Jane, the audience imagines next season’s Miller, coughing blood and sick from exposure, shuffling through deserted streets.
Later, Miller dreams that Marilyn is the cure, and the aliens know. He dreams of standing before them and removing his hazard suit, of lifting his helmet to watch Marilyn’s ship leave the planet as he’s surrounded by angry twins.
Jane’s been waiting all these long seasons
for a final showdown. At the end of the episode
she holds her breath, hopes the scene
will end with Miller’s last gasp. She’s seen
his throat flutter and shake in episodes
of passion and pain, and that image has seasoned
her revenge well. But each long season
he’s made it out, been rewarded. Seasons
have seen Miller’s character come together, episode
by long episode, while every episode
sees Jane break down, fall apart. Every scene
has an evil twin in Jane’s mind, every scene
Jane plays her favorite part, and every scene
ends with blood. She’s got these fictional seasons
in her head, compiled just from scenes
ending with Miller dead: whole seasons
of pulped-up, snuff tape runs, orderly episodes
sorted by method. Here’s a classic episode
filed under “gun”—and here are more episodes,
identical to the first, but now, in the same scene,
Jane holds a knife, pitchfork or sword. Episodes
are permutations on a theme; seasons
are arguments to persevere. Each season
Jane tries to get through just one more scene
by imagining it’s Miller’s last—this is scene-
stealing of a metaphysical sort, episodic
breaks forced on already-written reality. Seasons
pass, and Jane hates the plot. For Jane, scenes
are just songs on a bad mix-tape—each season
Miller is the ex-lover, and each episode
Jane sings him a lovely death, an episode-
long aria. Like karaoke in an empty room, Jane’s scenes
have an audience of one, and her operatic seasons
play on lonely, basement VHS: rows of episodes
collected in battered boxes, bloody death scenes
on the front. Desperate, Jane needs these seasons—
as seasons need episodes, and episodes love scenes—
and death scenes make the best episodes and seasons.
Daniel Miller is the author of two chapbooks, Here Both Sweeter (winner of the Wick Chapbook Contest) and This Apparatus (Furniture Press). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Salt Hill, Barrelhouse, Crazyhorse, The AWL and elsewhere. He lives in Austin, TX and is online at daniel.inletters.com.