The Mandalay Writers Society met every Thursday evening in the dingy flat of Mildred Mandalay. Mildred was a middle-aged woman who worked as a receptionist at the Independent Tire Company. The job was dull, but Mildred, an unmarried romantic, passed away the hours dreaming of penning the next great love story.
There were three other members of the Society: Alicia Banks, a university student whose favorite author changed weekly; Mr. Sax, a lawyer who came to avoid his wife; and Edgar Varlish, a janitor who secretly believed he was ten times smarter than the executives whose offices he cleaned.
On the evening in which our story begins, Mildred, Mr. Sax, Alicia, and Edgar had just sat down to tea when the doorbell rang.
Mildred opened the door to a young woman with sharp, angular features, and dishwater blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore a black skirt that skimmed the floor, a long-sleeved, high-necked black blouse, and carried a black briefcase. The only colored item the woman wore was a single, blue, moon-shaped, earring dangling from her right ear.
The woman held up a flyer, “Is this the meeting place of the Mandalay Writers Society?”
Mildred admitted that it was before examining the flyer. Strange, she thought. She had put these flyers up several years ago when the Society first formed. But this flyer looked brand new.
The woman interrupted Mildred’s puzzling thoughts with, “My name is Darla Winkle and I’d like to join, if you’ll have me.”
Remembering her manners, Mildred introduced herself and ushered Darla inside. “There are four of us that meet here every week,” she said as she led Darla into the sitting room. “This is Alicia, Edgar, and Mr. Sax.”
Darla sat in the armchair in the corner and the meeting began. However, the drawback of the Society, and likely the reason there were only four members, was that nobody actually wrote anything. Of course they talked of writing a great deal, to the point that each person boasted himself or herself to be an expert.
You can thus imagine their surprise when the scratching of a pen interrupted Edgar’s pontification on how his story was similar to The Great Gatsby. Four sets of eyes drifted to the armchair where Darla sat, scribbling furiously in the notepad on her lap.
“Darla, dear” said Mildred graciously, “We generally spend our time discussing our writing, brainstorming and the like.”
Unfazed, Darla responded, “I’m listening.”
After an uncomfortable pause, there was nothing else to do but carry on. Since Edgar was too affronted to continue, Mr. Sax discussed the importance of plot planning in the detective book he had yet to start writing. This discussion lasted for two hours, during which Darla did not put down her pen once.
The following evening, Mildred was relaxing in her flat when there was a knock at the door. It was Darla.
Mildred, ever the hostess, asked if everything was all right and invited her inside for tea. When Mildred returned with the cups, she was startled to see Darla sitting in the armchair already writing.
Mildred perched awkwardly on the couch across from Darla and asked, “Darla, is there something you wanted to talk about?”
Darla reached for her cup, took a sip, and then answered, “No, thank you,” and turned back to her paper. Mildred was at a loss; she felt dismissed in her own home. She deliberated for several moments before going into the kitchen to retrieve her copy of Pride and Prejudice.
After two hours of almost complete silence, Darla put her notepad away, thanked Mildred and left. Mildred thought about the odd encounter all night and was still mulling it over the next morning. How very peculiar.
Unbeknownst to Mildred, she was in for many more ‘peculiar’ happenings. Darla came back every night that week, and the week after that. In fact, Darla showed up every night for the next five weeks.
Mildred tried everything, both subtle and unsubtle to dismiss her unwanted guest. She pretended she wasn’t home, but Darla continued knocking until she answered. She told Darla she was busy, but Darla simply replied, “That’s all right, I won’t get in your way.” She went out after work, but Darla waited on her front steps until she returned.
Each night was the same as that first night at the Society: Darla, wearing what appeared to be the same clothes, would sit in the corner, write for two hours and then leave.
Much to the displeasure of the other Society members, particularly Mr. Sax, Darla also refused to share her work.
“It’s downright rude,” he harrumphed at the sixth meeting since Darla’s arrival. “You should call the police on her.” (Alicia kindly pointed out to Mr. Sax that Darla hadn’t exactly forced her way in; she just refused to understand that she was unwelcome.)
The members were so caught up in their complaining, that it took a full twenty minutes for anyone to notice that Darla was absent. After this realization, Mildred spotted something on the corner armchair—Darla’s notebook, left from the night before.
Mildred reluctantly gave in to the pleas of the others and opened the notebook. On the first page was written: ‘For the Mandalay Writers Society by Darla Winkle’. The second page began with “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice…”
“Good God!” said Mr. Sax, flipping through the pages. “She’s written out the entire text of The Great Gatsby!” Edgar, trusting no one’s Fitzgerald knowledge above his own, confirmed that it was so.
Now, none of the members of the Mandalay Writers Society ever saw or heard from Darla Winkle again, and it was many meetings before the Society could talk of anything else. However, by the end of the year, the Society had produced some actual writing: four short stories on the curious circumstances of one Darla Winkle.
— Jenna Mohl, BFR Staff