I have a book due in a few days.
Five, to be exact.
So it's five days of full steam ahead, screaming, aching, crawling toward the bitter end and that beautiful, beautiful thing that the fancy French call the denouement.
I remember learning about the denouement. It was in Mrs. Donahue's sixth grade English class when we were learning story structure. Mrs. Donahue, who spent every non-education moment talking about her bowling scores, drew a six-inch horizontal chalk line (yes, those were the days when "the board" was green and clapping erasers was actually a thing). I diligently copied this fascinating straight line onto my paper. Having flailed through those stupid sentence diagramming bars for a semester (look, I can speak English properly but I refuse to diagram it. That just sucks the magic out of the language), I was going to slam-dunk this weird cross into geometry/language arts.
Mrs. Donahue wrote "exposition" and an arrow pointing down to this straight line. I copied that, too. Then she ticked the end of that line and drew a diagonal line going up. Rising action. At the peak, climax -- and in those days sixth graders got most of their sexual information from Uncle Jesse on Full House which means that no one giggled at the word "climax." Diagonal line going down - falling action. And then another straight line, much like the exposition line. This one "denouement." I remember perking up at the word. It was lovely. It was French. The T was silent.
(I didn't get out much)
I immediately took to my notebook and filled it with stick-story *diagram after diagram of novels that I intended to write. Exposition: we meet the time-traveling twin orphans. Rising action: They find a grandfather clock that lets them travel through time. Climax: They travel through time. And the denouement -- how easy it would be! They find adoptive parents - yay! I would forever love the denouement, the happy ending, the wonderful solution to a novel problem.
And then I became an author.
With a book due.
In five days.
The denouement is so close I came smell it. It smells like chalk, old bowling shoes, and the watered-down joy of a sixth grade author hopeful who believed the denouement was the most wonderful, simple thing in the world. I didn't know then that that sinister French word is a master at hiding and giggling from afar as you think it's right there but it's not, because you haven't solved this problem or wrapped up that storyline and you need the denouement to be there, settled at the end of your doc so you can take a shower or at the very least, change into some clean pajamas.
Denouement, in literal translation, means to "untie." I thought that was weird that we would use a word originally meant to untie to tie up an ending.
But now, five days from red dawn, I know that denouement IS the end of the novel. And the untying? I believe that refers more to the author.
*Thirty-shhhh years later, I still use the diagram for every one of my books. Time-traveling orphans or not.