Okay, so I lied. :) Looks like it's going to take longer than I thought to finish this up. Thanks for the comments.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Aaron Sorkin et. al. I'm not making any money off of them.
Summary: Josh and Donna discuss soap operas and more.
Archive: If you want, sure. Just let me know. (firstname.lastname@example.org) Feedback: Please. :)
Soap Operas and Soap Suds (3/?)
Donna was stretched out on Josh's bed, her eyes half-closed, drowsily listening to his diatribe against soap operas. It was actually quite soothing in a way. If you didn't listen to the words, but just the modulations of his voice, it was just like a, like a, hmm, what was it? Like a rolling wave of sound. Up and Down. Soap operas this. Characters that. The dull roar of the ocean or the hum of a crowd.
On the edge of consciousness, Donna chortled. Wouldn't Josh just love it if she told him that she found his argumentative mode as soothing as a lullaby.
"Donna, are you listening?"
Well, that sharp tone just clashed terribly with the ocean.
"Donna. Donna Moss."
She managed to make a sound approximating an "Unh."
"Hey, Cinderella, are you falling asleep on me?"
Now that roused her enough to reply. She propped herself up on her elbows. "You're mixing up your fairytales, Josh," she mumbled, rolling her head from side to side to work out the crick.
"You were laughing."
Okay, that accusatory tone was definitely not soothing.
"I was laughing?" Donna sat up.
"And what you said wasn't funny."
"You do say some funny things sometimes, Josh."
"I said: `The clear dichotomy between good and evil in soap operas is one blatant example of the oversimplification and unrealistic vision of the world that such fantastical and escapist entertainment offers. And this naïve portrayal can lead to the undesirable result of creating within audiences expectations of real life which are inherently doomed to fail.'"
"And that's not funny."
"And I laughed."
"Well, it was more like a chortle."
"So I wasn't listening to you."
"No. And you should have been."
"Newsflash! Newsflash! I am not one of your groupies who hang onto every single word that drops from the luscious lips of Joshua Lyman." Oh, my, did those words actually escape her mouth? Luscious lips of Joshua Lyman. Say that three times quickly.
"Okay, that `Newsflash, Newsflash,' thing is almost as annoying as `Phone message, Phone message.'"
Maybe he overlooked the lips comment.
"And `luscious lips of Joshua Lyman'?"
No such luck.
"Nice alliteration there, Donna." There was a perceptible smirk in his voice.
"You know what I'm saying."
"You're saying that you weren't being a good listener."
"So I wasn't listening," she expostulated, standing up to give her words effect even though he wasn't there to see her. "You know, something, Josh. I do a lot for you. I keep you organized at work, I run your errands, I put up with all of your moods, and it just so happens that I got a little tired from cleaning your apartment. Which I think is above and beyond the call of duty of an assistant. And by the way, I do not necessarily appreciate you making fun of my verbal peculiarities. I happen to have a very distinctive way of speaking."
He didn't answer for a moment, and when he did his voice was quiet. "You do keep me organized and put up with me. You also keep me from going to pieces, you look out for my needs, and you protect me. It was thoughtless not realize how tired you must be right now. Forgive me, Donnatella."
The man was undeniably sweet at times.
"I'll let you go. You should get some rest."
The apologetic note was still in his voice, but more than that, the sense of loneliness that came across the telephone line gave her pause.
What had this whole telephone call been about, anyway? Why call her out of all people? He could have called Toby or Sam or CJ. But he had taken the trouble to track her down when she wasn't at her apartment, which probably meant that he had given her at least some thought.
Maybe this was his way of letting her know, in his roundabout Josh sort of way, that he was sorry. Sorry for snapping at her yesterday. And that he truly did enjoy her conversation.
Even her verbal peculiarities.
"No, Josh. It's okay. I'm just taking a break from cleaning."
"You're sure." The hope that crept into his voice would have been enough to make up her mind even if she had been too tired.
Maybe he hadn't completely alienated Donna by being an asshole.
"So," Donna prompted.
"So. The dichotomy between good and evil."
"It's clear cut in soap operas. Have you ever noticed it?"
"No. I can't say that I have."
Okay, she could still be a little mad at him. "Well, just look at that show with the stupid name."
"Ignoring the fact that most soap operas have pretty silly names, Josh, and taking into consideration your limited exposure to soap operas, I am arriving at the clever deduction that you mean A World Apart."
Well, at least that response had included words of more than one syllable.
"Yes," he replied enthusiastically, "And the lawyer with the girly name."
Did it sound like she was smiling? Maybe a little.
"Right. Blaine. Well, Blaine's evil twin brother has to be the most ludicrous caricature I have ever seen."
"And how did you decide that?"
"The man swindled the entire town out of millions of dollars, seduced numerous women, bricked his brother into a niche in the wall in a direct rip off from The Cask of Amontillado, ruthlessly disposed of various people who got in his way, bombed the local restaurant, released some mysterious disease into the water supply of the local hospital, faked his own death, framed an innocent woman for all of his crimes, and laughed while he was doing it."
"You got all that from one episode today?"
"They were recapping his criminal history."
"And from him you have decided that the…"
"Dichotomy between good and evil is too clear cut on soap operas."
"I'm saying that the character is unbelievable as he is written."
"Yes," Josh interrupted, starting to warm to his subject, "The character is completely evil and thus loses any credibility.
Everyone hates him, Donna. He has no saving graces. He shows no remorse for his crimes. There seems to be no motivation for his acts except a senseless desire to create havoc."
"And this bothers you."
"You are bothered by the dichotomy between good and evil on soap operas."
"A soap opera bothers you."
"I think we have sufficiently covered this question, Donna."
"You over think things sometimes, Josh."
A nurse appeared in the doorway carrying a tray with his dinner. He motioned her to put it down and leave. Fortunately, it appeared that she was new and not as immune to the Lyman glare as most of the hospital staff because she put it on the table next to the bed and scurried out of the room without admonishing him to eat it all. Josh lifted the lid and eyed the steamed green beans on the side with distaste.
"Maybe I do. But maybe it's something that should be thought about.
"This is a medium that reaches into the households of millions of Americans every day, Donna. And they are presenting this fundamentally skewed version of the world.
"They create these one-dimensional criminals, these monsters, whom everyone can point to and say, `Yes. There is something wrong with this human being. He has no feelings, no emotions. His sole purpose is to commit terrible acts.' They paint a world in which you can completely detest the bad buys because they're not human. They're not like normal people. The soap villain is in a category completely by himself. It's as if he's his own species.
"And the thing is…" His voice dropped, "The thing is, that's not how it is in real life."
Donna's heart contracted painfully. She wished that she could look Josh in the face at that moment; to take his hands in hers, but it was impossible without breaking the tenuous connection between them created by the phone line. And she knew instinctively that this connection had suddenly become a lifeline, tying her to him.
"It's not clear cut in real life," she said, her voice small.
"Okay." She didn't know what else to say to him.
"The truth is, evil acts aren't committed by monsters."
Oh, Josh. Please say that you aren't thinking about the people who shot you.
"Take the people who shot at us," he continued.
"No, Josh," she said, "Don't take them. They are monsters."
"Are they, Donna?" The calmness in his voice troubled her.
"Yes. They shot the President, they shot you. They wanted to kill Charlie."
"Consider this: they are someone's sons, someone's grandsons, someone's friends. I don't think everyone thinks of them as evil."
"And their friends and relatives are probably as horrible as they are!"
"Donna," his voice still had that terrible calm, "It might be easier to think that there is something intrinsically wrong with them. But… they can't think of themselves as being horrible. On the contrary, they think that they are doing good works. That they are right."
"But they're wrong!"
"You and I feel that. Most people do. They don't."
"Because all they know is hatred."
"But that's what I wonder, Donna. I wonder," he continued, "how people can be surrounded by hatred to such an extent that they are inured to it. They are so filled with hate, so assured of their own righteousness, that they can go to their knowing deaths, thinking that they are dying for a cause. And that cause was to kill a man for the color of his skin. They thought it was some great cause to kill this man for loving someone with different colored skin. I'm trying to understand. I should be able to understand. How is that possible? How can such people exist?"
Tears sprang to her eyes. Don't, Josh. Don't try to understand them. Don't try to go into their minds.
"Because they are stupid, and they are ignorant, and they are afraid," she said fiercely, "And despite what you say, I think that they are evil. They almost killed you. They almost took you away from us."
The distress in her voice saddened Josh. He was upsetting Donna. He hadn't intended to, but these thoughts had been consuming him, and he found himself unable to change the subject.
"Okay, Donna, say it's true. They are ignorant, and they are stupid. But they are not evil. And it would be wrong for us to say that they are. These acts were committed by ordinary people. People who get up in the morning and have breakfast. They go to work, they talk to their friends, they come home at night, just like you and me. And somewhere in between, sometime after breakfast or after work or while they are talking to their friends, they find this capacity for hatred."
She didn't answer him for a moment, and he wondered if he had completely shocked or repulsed her with the ideas that had been running through his mind.
When she did speak, her voice was soft and trembling with emotion. "No Josh. Not like you and me. Okay, so maybe they aren't evil. Maybe it is just ignorance alone. But the thing is… they could never do this. What we're doing."
Her voice was gentle, and it broke something inside him. A coldness that he was trying to hold within himself. This understanding that he had been trying to achieve to banish the threatening wave of darkness that he felt welling inside. Her words were a healing balm, seeking to break through his barriers, to soothe the ache of wounds that the doctors did not treat.
"They could never try to imagine that there is any viewpoint other than their own. They could never admit that the people they hate are anything other than sub-human," she said. "And, Josh…"
"Yes." He suddenly felt like some of the weight that had pressed down on him ever since he had been told about the shooters had been lifted, as if Donnatella, with her slender shoulders and hidden strength, had slipped to his side to shoulder his burden.
"It's okay to be angry."
"You're not like them, Josh…"
How was it that this woman could know him so well? That over the course of a few years, she, above all others, could understand his secret fear. Could see through his pretense of calm rationality. Could see the fear that when he was alone at night and dreamt of finding the shooters and shouting at them and hitting them and asking, "Why?", the fear that his anger made him no better than they were.
"…You're not like them if you feel anger and hatred right now. What they did was terrible. Yes, maybe it's true that they aren't monsters. Maybe they're just very sad people, and we should pity them. But you're doing too much, expecting too much of yourself… Like you always do…"
He had to give a tiny smile at that.
"…if you're trying to understand them right now. It's… It's okay to be angry," she repeated.
Josh looked up from the bed cover, which he had been contemplating for a number of minutes, and somehow he wasn't surprised to find that the first thing that caught his eye was a small picture set among the numerous flowers and gifts that had been sent to him. It was a detail taken from Monet's murals of water lilies. The white of the flower was set against a dark background of leaf and water.
It had been a present from Donna.
She had told him that he needed something pretty to brighten up the room. A flower that wouldn't fade and droop and die like the cut bouquets that other people had brought.
Maybe this was nothing more than a random leap of thought, but to Josh's mind sprang the story of the water lily, a story long ago learned and forgotten among the other bits of knowledge. The lily is the sign of purity. Not for its color, but from the fact that it arises through the muck and scum of the pond to open up on the surface, above all of the grime and murky water, clean and untouched.
And to Josh, it seemed like it must also be a symbol of hope, a sign that even amidst hatred and anger in the world, something good could still, always, possibly arise.
Donna didn't know, couldn't know, God, he hoped she would never know, the complete extent of what he had been feeling. But knowing that she wanted to help him, that she was trying to ease his pain, touched him in some immeasurable way.
"Thank you," he breathed.
"Mr. Lyman." The deep voice, with the scolding tone, startled Josh. The football player nurse was suddenly at his bedside, and Josh was annoyed. Annoyed that this stranger was disrupting his conversation with Donna. Annoyed that he wasn't going to be as easily intimidated by the Lyman glare as the timid young nurse from before.
"Mr. Lyman, you haven't eaten your dinner. You have to eat your dinner if you want to get your strength back."
"I'll eat it, all right," Josh protested, "if you stop treating me like a baby."
"Okay, okay," the man replied with a grin, backing off, "But I'm going to be checking the garbage can when I come back."
"Josh." Concerned-Donna was apparently back in full force. "I've been keeping you too long. You should hang up and go eat."
"No," he said, "I can still talk and eat at the same time."
The smile had returned to her voice. "I think you can talk and do anything at the same time. You just like talking."
It occurred to him… "You haven't eaten yet," he exclaimed.
"No. I thought maybe I would raid your freezer."
"Why don't you-" He hesitated. "Could you come here? Keep me company while I eat this horrible food?"
"Won't I be bothering you? Too much Donna Moss for one day?"
He hoped that she wasn't thinking about what he had said yesterday. "How can anyone have too much Donna Moss?" Josh remembered his earlier thought that he was addicted to her. Well, at least it was a good addiction. "And hey, maybe you could smuggle in a hamburger."
Oh, that wonderful way of saying whole sentences by only saying his name was back again. This time it was saying, "Josh, don't be such an idiot."
"Really, Donna. I just…" It shouldn't be this hard for him to admit it. "I would appreciate your company."
"Okay," she said softly.
"I'll be right over."
There was a click, and Josh was holding the receiver until the beeping of the phone disrupted his reverie. She would be right over. A smile lit up his features as he placed the receiver back in its cradle.