Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Fenton and Kilasha, Chapter 6
Kilasha trembled with exhaustion, her muscles protesting their unaccustomed position on horseback. She blinked and her vision refused to lighten. She realized with a chill that night was coming, and fast. She pulled her mount to a stop, heart sinking. She had no tent, nor any blankets.
After cursing herself silently for several minutes, she made her decision. She dismounted stiffly and led her friendly companion into the trees.
The horse nosed at her, his breath comfortingly warm. He lipped at her braid and she laughed, pulling it away from him.
“No, my princeling, that’s not for you.”
The stallion flipped his ear in response and promptly tried to investigate her silks.
It dawned on her he was probably hungry. Spotting a small clearing, she tethered him by his reins and left him happily gorging on the fluffy grass and weeds. She removed the rest of his tack. The saddle was much heavier than she expected. She tugged at it and it came free all at once, tumbling into her arms and sending her onto her backside. The stallion turned and regarded her, his eye curious, and then turned back to his meal.
Upon investigation, she discovered three hidden pockets in the saddle; one at the rear and one on each leg piece. She liberated a small woolen blanket, light but warm, and a felt pad. There were fire-starting tools, eating implements, even a carving knife and half-finished animal figurine made from a soft wood. The badge on a spare riding jacket gave her pause, it bore the insignia of the Castle guard.
She made herself a small nest near the stallion, startled by the warmth of the simple blanket. Further rummaging yielded a pouch of jerked meat, beef by the smell. She broke off a piece and gnawed at it distastefully. As the last light faded from the sky, she drifted to sleep, tired beyond endurance.
A piercing scream woke her. It was the stallion. He reared, snapping the branch she’d used for a tether, and spun. His front hooves slashed out and a rough-clothed man fell back with a cry, clutching his splintered ribs.
She started to sit when a hand closed on her shoulder.
“Don’t move,” a voice grunted harshly in her ear, the odor of foul breath overpowering.
The stallion hopped sideways and one hoof flashed out. Her assailant went over backwards, face a mass of blood.
She stifled her scream with one fist. She whirled, trying to see, but the moonless night offered no help. She wished she’d built a fire, but they would have found her sooner. ‘They found you anyway,’ her mind whispered.
She shivered, staring into the night. She got to her hands and knees. The stallion blew out a sharp breath and she jumped. He crow-hopped sideways and kicked another assailant, a faceless mass in the darkness. She fumbled at her side in the bracken and clutched the knife in a trembling fist.
More steps sounded in the inky black and she made up her mind. Kilasha rose, intending to flee. She backed two steps and the third failed to find purchase. Off balance, she fell. Her head slammed into a rock and she felt like she dropped into a deep, dark hole.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Fernando came awake to a heavy weight against his chest and stomach, as though a jack collapsed and let the car fall on him. He tried to breathe and pain seared him.
“Keep him quiet,” a man’s voice snapped.
It sounded like Adana, but Fernando couldn’t get his voice working to ask. He finally managed to pry his eyes open and saw the interior of the ambulance.
“He’s awake!” Adana cried. “Fernando!”
The EMT turned, his curly red hair held back by a bandana with jalapeño peppers on it. “There’s our hero,” he murmured, checking something attached to Fernando’s body that looked like a hose. Fernando didn’t want to think about that too hard.
“What the hell happened?” he managed to croak.
“I got the ambulance,” Adana whispered, eyes wide and threatening to spill over with tears. “You were on the floor with blood all over the wall behind you…”
He went cold. “You could have been killed!” he grated.
She shook her head. “The others ran when you killed those three. I was afraid the cops would come, so I called Felipe.”
He stared at her. Felipe. She called Felipe.
“I’m Karl, Fernando,” the EMT interrupted. “We’re taking you to General. You’ve got quite a wound here, but we’ll fix it up.”
“Insurance,” Fernando panted, trying to reach for his wallet.
Karl caught his wrist. He didn’t have to hold it very hard, Fernando was that weak. “I work for Felipe.”
Karl smiled slightly, a look sliding through his eyes that let Fernando know the red-head knew exactly what Fernando was thinking. “Don’t worry about it, old man. Felipe pays his debts.” He let go of the wrist and checked something on the monitors nearby.
His debts. Felipe thought he still owed Fernando something? Fernando tried not to think about it.
At least Adana was safe.
She slipped her hand into his, and he let her hold his palm. Her fingers barely covered his, but their warmth comforted him. He felt his eyes fall shut like they had weights attached to them.
Monday, May 18, 2009
The Adams Street bridge clanked loudly as the drawbridge machinery locked it closed, the guard rails bouncing a little as the housing rattled. Jenny watched the mechanic working in the wheelhouse, far above the street, and wished that she might go up and see the bridge controls. She looked up at the tall white building across the river from her, the black bulk of the Sears Tower rising like Everest behind it. The black windows were a nice contrast to the argent walls of her new building, her office housed somewhere on the twentieth floor. She looked back at the wheelhouse impatiently, wishing the mechanic would hurry up.
Finally the security guard raised the gate blocking pedestrian traffic and Jenny started across the bridge in the midst of the flow of people. She was surprised, it was two in the afternoon and still the sidewalk was packed. Some were obviously tourists, backpacks and cameras in hand. Others were just as obviously on their way, like she was, to their offices; suits and fancy shoes making them seem glamorous. The bridge had little wells of metal, making holes like honeycomb filled in with concrete. Her pumps slipped a little on the surface and she wondered how treacherous it would be in the rain. She came to the middle of the bridge and watched the join between the two halves bouncing slightly as the traffic crossed. A large delivery truck lumbered by and the space gapped an inch or two and she suppressed a shiver. No one else noticed, so she gritted her teeth and stepped over it, catching a glimpse of the greenish water far below.
The second watchtower on this side of the street was lit by a bare bulb, no fixture covering it. She could just make out the shock of blonde hair belonging to the mechanic and wondered suddenly if he’d let her in if she knocked. She slipped on a bit of metal and caught herself against the hand rail. None of her fellow pedestrians spared her a glance and she walked on, a little offended.
A homeless man begged for money on the corner, his crutch tucked securely under his arm. His odor sprang out at her like a barking dog and she sidestepped slightly, wary of pickpocketing. She moved around him to the short set of stairs and came up to the revolving doors. She took a deep breath to center herself and pushed through, entering her new life.
Jenny emerged from Union Station, the grey overcast sky low ad close enough to touch. She stepped out from the overhanging roof and moved forward to the round planter box, maybe ten feet in diameter, and sank down on its far side, facing the river. Her feet ached. She slipped out of her shoes and rested her heels on top of them, keeping them off the concrete but letting the toes breathe.
The Adams Street bridge went across the river to her left, leading cars and pedestrians into the heart of Chicago’s Loop. Tommy had loved the Loop, with its business and restaurants and the museums on the far side. He’d been a member to the Art Institute. She couldn’t see it from where she sat, but knew it was at the end of Adams Street just before Millennium Park. She could walk there from here in about fifteen minutes, walk right up the wide shallow steps between the bronze lions, all the way in to Callebaut’s masterpiece. It was Tommy’s favorite. ‘Rainy Day, Paris Street.’
She looked away from the bridge and its wrought iron decoration to the green water below it. She could only see a narrow strip from where she sat but didn’t feel like walking over to the railing to see the whole of it. Little more than a canal here, bounded on both sides by concrete walls and manipulated at the end by locks, Tommy had loved the river. He’d loved the stench, the engineering feat that turned its direction backwards and made Chicago the enemy of St. Louis downriver. The Chicago River had been his favorite, and he’d ended his life in sight of it.
No one had found the body right away. He’d climbed down the embankment over by the Merchandize Mart, hidden from view by a few thin bushes. She could walk there, too, in about the same time it would take to walk to the Art Institute. She turned her head but the buildings and cars blocked her view of the Mart just as the trees and shrubs must have blocked his, as he slit his wrists at their feet.
She cleared her throat and looked back at the Adams Street drawbridge. Rust decorated its underbelly and she could make out the massive housing for the wheels that let the two halves raise, so ships could pass by. She stared at them until her eyes misted over with the need to blink, or with tears.
Two ducks floated by the housing, hunting for food.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
“The Silent Ones”
Susan looked up at the old Tudor, its windows black and looming over the entranceway. A short patio extended from the front door, its beveled glass pretty but empty like a staring eye. She glanced down at the EMF meter in her hand but it stayed silent.
She sighed and put her foot on the first step. The wood creaked loudly, startling her. She put her hand out to catch her balance and a large splinter slid into her palm like a knife into butter.
She worked at it with her teeth and tongue and finally sucked it out. It tasted bitter, like old paint or creosote. She spat it on the ground and watched blood well into her hand. She sucked a few more seconds, just to make sure it bled clean.
The moved toward the door and the floor beneath her feet bounced a little, like it was warped. She looked down and her stomach clenched. The planks were separated by an inch or so and blackness seemed to well up from between them like smoke. She shivered and blinked. The moment passed and the impression went away. She shook her head and went up to the door.
The key stuck in the lock, squeaking and she pushed it open. She looked at the EMF meter, but it was silent. She looked up and a shadow moved. She froze.
After a few more moments of staring, nothing seemed out of place. She felt sweat drip down her back between her shoulder blades, itching a little, and laughed at herself weekly. “Stop being such a ninny.”
A loud creak sounded from inside the entry hall and she gasped. She stared into the gloom, trying to let her eyes adjust to the dimness even though she wasn’t inside yet. “Hello? Is someone there?”
After several more minutes of waiting with nothing happening, she stepped all the way into the house. The back of her neck prickled and she brushed at it, but felt nothing. She turned to the door and swung it. It moved heavily and slammed shut, the hollow resultant boom echoing all the way up into the house. The minute it closed, darkness descended like a hand.
She fumbled her flashlight out of her pocket and flicked it on. The narrow beam swung around the entryway, a wide open space at the bottom of a stair that wound up and around the room for two storeys. She looked up to the cupola but couldn’t see anything except the faint black outline of a chandelier brooding just overhead. The shine of spider webs winked at her in the flashlight and she shivered.
She walked toward the kitchen at the back of the first floor, the map in her mind telling her the stairs to the basement were on the left, the formal dining room just beyond that and the sitting room on the right. As she came even with the basement stair she heard another creak, like a floorboard popping.
She turned and looked back, and caught out of the corner of her eye the golden chatoyance of an eye watching her from the dining room. She froze and the flashlight fell, shattering against the floor with a sharp pop. The EMF meter went off in a burst of lights and beeps and she started to run.
She never saw the stairs.
The basement door, far above her now, creaked as it closed. The lock clicked faintly and silence descended.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Richard looked out at the street. The front window of the house was low and wide, not quite a bay window but the size of one. He could see all the way to the end of Kensington Court Road, down to where the street turned to the left and exited the group of houses that made up Kensington Court. They stood sad and run-down now, nothing like their splendor when they were built in the post-war boom. Back then, things were bright and optimistic. Not like now.
The oxygen tank next to his bed sighed softly, its faint hiss just audible over his labored breathing. Madge bustled in the kitchen, the desperate banging of pots and pans as she washed up from brunch clear to his ears. Their kids had escaped as soon as they could, almost before she’d served the coffee after breakfast.
He couldn’t blame them, not really. The stink of his sickness was sharp even in his own nose; what it must be like to them he had no idea. He nestled against the soft feather pillow, the bed springs creaking faintly. His son-in-law Michael had installed the bed in here, in the living room, the former magnificence of the room faded now. Madge hadn’t complained, though he knew that it must have pained her. She’d spent years getting the room just-so. Now…
He started to cough and couldn’t catch a breath. He tried to speak, to call Madge, but his voice wouldn’t cooperate. He stared outside, watching a car go buy slowly. It faded from few around the corner as his eyes slipped shut.
The oxygen tank continued its susurration, oblivious.
“Michael, I just can’t do this anymore!” Linda wailed. “He just looks so weak!”
Michael sighed. “I know, honey. You have to be strong. It means so much to him, and to your mom.”
Linda rubbed her stomach, the distention from little Victor junior lumpy under her palms. She felt him kick a little and grunted.
“Moving again?” Michael asked, smiling.
Linda started to answer and gasped. The pain took her by surprise. The nurse was right; this wasn’t anything like Braxton Hicks. “Michael…” she gasped.
He glanced over at her, eyes widening. “You’re kidding.”
She shook her head sharply, not getting breath to speak. She stared out the window at the old neighborhood, Mr. Phillip’s garden waving in the hot summer sunshine. She loved that garden. “Hurry,” she gasped.
Michael turned back to the road and accelerated.
Immediately after that, he hit the brakes and she cried out, the seatbelt cutting against her right breast and pressing painfully against Victor. He didn’t like it and kicked.
Little Johnnie Phillips, the grandson of old Mr. Phillips, waved cheerfully and ran across the road after his ball. Michael glanced at her and accelerated again. “Just hang in there, baby.”
“Baby is right,” she grated. “Oooh…”
Michael turned left at the end of the drive and they moved toward the entrance to Kensington Court. The light changed and he pulled into traffic, heading for Lutheran General. “Hurry, honey,” she gasped.
“But your water hasn’t broken!” he protested.
“You want it to happen in the car?”
His eyes were wide as he turned to stare at her and then turned back to the street, his jaw set. “I hope there’s no traffic.”
“Just wait a minute, Victor,” Linda whispered. “Just a minute, okay baby?”
Kensington Court receded on their left, the splendid old houses resting in the summer heat. Linda wiped the sweat from her lip, hoping she didn’t make a mess in the car. Victor kicked again, impatient.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I found this one interesting, and it actually wove itself into a discrete vignette, not just disjointed ‘beginning’ and ‘ending.’ I hope you like.
Excerpt, Faerrie Story (working title)
The rain pounded down, drumming against the roof of the car hard enough to leave marks. Jesse sat back in the seat, leaning his head against the headrest. “Let’s just wait until this passes,” he suggested.
David stirred and looked at him. “Yeah.”
The streetlights flashed one, glowing dimly as they grew in power. They never flashed on brightly, always started on low and then grew in luminance. Jesse watched as a newspaper, lying discarded up against the curb a little in front of the car, gradually sank down flat against the concrete as it got more and more sodden. Ever since the Tribune had decided to make their little daily rag free, the papers would get discarded all around the sidewalks and in the alleys. Jesse hated it, but what can you do? It wasn’t like he could call up the Tribune and tell them to stop feeding the litter in the city. Advertising dollars fed the newspaper business, and the advertisers wanted the paper free so they could hawk their wares. The red ink on the cover bled slowly, like blood running, and then the paper dislodged itself in the torrent of water flowing down the gutter and disappeared down the storm drain. He sighed.
After another fifteen minutes, the torrent let up to a light but steady drizzle. “Let’s go,” he said, his voice loud in the silence.
David jumped, eyes flying open. “What?” he said too loudly.
Jesse chuckled and slapped his thigh. “You fell asleep, you slacker. Come on, Brian will worry.”
David nodded and unlocked his door. They stepped into the sauna that was Chicago in the summer.
Jesse walked along Jarvis, skirting a pile of building materials from the new condo a few doors down from their apartment. The builders had put up a large dumpster that took up three parking spaces on the tiny street and he frowned. A newspaper lay, half in and half out, perched on the top. As he walked by, he batted it over the top and heard it flutter to a stop inside the dumpster. He walked on, aware of his surroundings and yet relaxed, comfortable.
When had he become comfortable in he neighborhood again? He cast his mind back. It wasn’t clear, immediately. He hated the influx of the yuppie condos, tearing down the old buildings built in the 1920’s to make way for boring brick boxes with narrow rooms and hardly any space. But the neighborhood felt quiet now, without the buzz of frustrated anger it used to have.
He turned down the alley behind their building and heard the Rottweiler in the next yard barking. Its deep voice echoes through the alley, bouncing off windows and seeming louder than it was. He smiled. She was a pussycat in person, but sounded like she’d eat your face when you walked down the alley. Her owner called her Sara and she would like his face when they met on the street.
He stopped at their gate and pulled out his keys. Sara’s owner stepped out of their garage and saw him. “Hey, Jesse!”
“Hi, Mark. How’s Sara?”
Mark smiled. “She’s good. Wants to go for a walk, as usual.”
Jesse smiled and walked through his gate. “Have a good one.”
“You too,” Mark called.
Jesse walked up to their door, still smiling. He turned and looked back one last time at the coppery night, lit by the streetlights but not yet dark. The sun still cat her light even though she was not longer visible, hidden by the line of buildings between him and sunset. All was quiet. He turned and went back inside.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Mount Shasta is not dormant. It’s one of the active volcanoes of the Cascade Mountain Range, and like its sister Mount Lassen they are geological anomalies. They lie well within the Sierra Nevadas, a non-volcanic range in Northern California. It’s rare to have a volcanic range intrude into another non-active range. Mount Shasta is an anomaly in other ways, as well. It rises from the valley floor as high as Everest does from its neighbors, a pimple in the landscape. It’s unusual to have such a tall peak standing alone without other mountains next to it. It stands in solitary splendor, an object of worship to the five tribes who lived in the area before the whites came. The whites didn’t know about it until about 1840, since the Spanish didn’t come this far north and the Russians and French fur trappers didn’t come this far south. It stands 14,000 feet high and is covered with five glaciers, named for the tribes whose land this was, before the whites came.
Before the whites came.
I stand at the stepping-off point, a small parking lot near a devastated area from the last season’s avalanche. A mile-wide swath of twisted trees and upended boulders, it’s mute testimony to the power and glory of Nature. It’s one thing to read about an avalanche or see one on television. In person, it’s stunning. I’m speechless. It looks like a demilitarized zone, like a bomb went off and took the pastoral woods and made them this twisted mass of roots and mangled greenery.
I turn my back and look up the trail. It’s innocent. It looks like any other trail I’ve climbed in these mountains. I grew up in the Sierra Nevadas, I know their forests well. This looks no different, even though the rocks and magma below me are quite alien to my experience. Up here, in the open air, all is as it should be. Sequoias and pine, and the occasional oak, greet me. I set off up the trail, gravelly rocks and powdered dirt under my feet. It’s a two-and-a-half mile walk, starting at 8,500 feet, straight up to the Sierra Club cabin. It will wind through the chaparral and forest almost to the tree line at 10,000 feet. I can already feel hypoxia waiting to claim the unwary. I slow my pace.
The trail ascends for a few hundred feet, rocks making steps out of the path. An alpine meadow opens out in front of me, curiously nestled within feet of the trail of the avalanche. I look up, craning my neck to see the peak, but it’s hidden by trees. Innocent. I wonder if anyone was on the mountain at the time of the avalanche and have a sudden mad wish that I had been. What would it have felt like?
The trees thin, the sequoias the first to disappear. The pines get shorter, only thirty feet instead of fifty or even a hundred. The underbrush gets thicker, gnarled branches and thick leaves to take in the sun’s nutrients this high above the valley floor. After a few hours of walking, my heartbeat pounding in my head from the elevation, we come around a last string of boulders and see it.
Built in the 1920’s by an old mountain climber, the Sierra Club cabin is the real starting-off point for the ascent to the peak. Climbers hike in here, spend the night, and get an early start. Mount Shasta is a training peak for places like K2, and is not a novice mountain. I’m not trained in technical climbing, which is what they call it when you use pitons and ropes. It’s a dangerous climb because part of it is on rock and part on glaciers. You need to have a number of skills to make it safely, and the elevation is nothing to sneeze at. Even at 10,000 feet I feel thready and weak. We walk up to the cabin.
I’m startled by how small it is. Only about fifteen feet square, it’s foundation is rock from the surrounding area. The rest is wood. I wonder suddenly if the wood was cut from the trees up here or hiked in. I’m sure I could look it up, but for now just stare at it. The man who built all this was a hermit. I know about the rock walk on the other side of the building from me, but take my time getting there. Each step makes my heart race and I feel dizzy. Hypoxia. I sit down on a nearby bench and drink some water, letting my heart slow down.
It takes longer than I expect and I feel fear stir in my gut. Maybe this wasn’t a good climb for me. But I’m stubborn. I’m here already, I don’t want to just turn back with my tail between my legs.
After I can move without wheezing, I get up and wander inside the cabin. The Forest Service runs it now, and there is literature in cases around the walls. There’s equipment too, for use by hikers and Search and Rescue. I am suddenly disinterested. The peak appears out the far window, white and immense.
I walk out the back door and don’t quite realize I’ve stopped dead. I see the peak every day from my kitchen, far below us at about 6,500 feet. We had to drive up the flanks of the mountain just to get to the stepping off point. So I’m about 3,500 feet above my house. I didn’t realize how much a difference that would make.
The glaciers seem close enough to touch. I suddenly don’t want to see an avalanche. My throat closes as I stare at them, looming overhead like great white hands of God. All it would take is the right combination of weather, a thawing here, a crack there. I quell the urge to run. Besides, if I run, I’d faint from the hypoxia.
After a moment or two, or an hour, I’m not sure how long I really stood there, I lowered my gaze to the rocks. And stand in shock. These aren’t rocks, they’re boulders, easily 500 pounds a pop. They are laid out in a path leading to the first wall, a half a mile or so straight in front of me. No one knows how he put them there. He would hike out with a six-foot metal staff and bring the boulders out of the forest, nestling them here like paving stones. He never told anyone how he did it. How the hell could he have? It would take a crane and a team of men! I set off along the path, and it’s much less like paving stones than I expected, more like walking a riverbed. I move from stone to stone, amazed by how flat their tops are. What makes a man live for years in the woods, building a path like this? I can understand the hermit impulse, but not the urge to expend such effort at altitude. I reach the first wall and look up.
It goes straight up the rock face about a hundred feet. It’s not yet a technical climb; I can see the footholds. I look back at my climbing partner and he shakes his head. He doesn’t think I should do it, with my knee. Stubborn suddenly, I put my foot on the first step.
Halfway up I nearly pass out. My heartbeat is so loud I wonder if other people could hear it. It pounds so heavily in my ear I am getting a headache. I collapse against the boulder I’m climbing and look up to where my partner is, the mountain goat. He’s a good twenty feet above me, hopping lightly from rock to rock.
He looks down and his expression goes blank. I blink. He walks down to me and tell me calmly, I need to get off the wall. I’ve come too far. I nod, nausea building in my stomach from the movement, and shrug. I can’t move my legs.
He advised me to wait until I can feel my feet. It takes longer than I want it too, about ten minutes of breathing slowly, trying not to let the panic claw its way into my breathing to take the last of my oxygen. There just isn’t enough up here. He tells me slowly it’s hypoxia.
The danger with hypoxia is you don’t know you have it. It’s one of the biggest dangers of exposure, along with hypo- and hyperthermia. Once you have it, it takes the oxygen in your blood away from your brain and you can no longer think. He guides me back down the wall to the valley floor, and I collapse on one of the boulders. There’s more air down here. He gets me some water and tells me to go sit somewhere, he’s going to go up again and see what’s there. Up to the end of the non-technical climb. Jealousy flares in me but when I look up the wall, I can hardly breathe from fear. I nod, defeated.
After I could move, maybe a half hour later, I walk over to the devastation caused by the avalanche. I can see where it started, to my left below one of the glaciers. A crack started at some point and the glacier broke off, thundering down the mountain to take everything in its path. I look down the flanks of Mount Shasta and can see for several miles. No, I don’t want to be up here when one of those mothers cuts loose.
I lay down on my back in the light dusting of grass and wildflowers. I lay totally flat and don’t even have to run through my relaxation exercises. My body doesn’t have any energy left to be tense. My heartbeat pounds in my throat and I imagine an observer could see the skin jumping. I lay there, my arms out and palms flat against the flanks of this mountain. I don’t know how long I laid there, a couple hours at least. I never quite dozed off, but I floated in some kind of connected haze. I began to imagine I could feel the engine of the volcano, buried miles beneath me in the rock and sediment.
The clouds floated by overhead, peaceful.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The number 93 bus pulls up at the Kimball terminal on Lawrence Avenue, and pulls past the entrance to park halfway down the block. The driver is stubborn about where the 93’s stop is – he won’t stop where the 81 does, which is right in front of the terminal doors. No, the 93 stop is halfway down the block, so halfway down the block we go. A small knot of passengers waits on the sidewalk, all ages and ethnicities – African American, Mexican-Indian, Pakistani, one White lady with silver hair in a bun, tendrils dripping around her face. I push past the family of African Americans who don’t make room for the disembarking passengers and hear the Arabian man behind me say something sharp to the mother. She mutters a swearword at him but moves grudgingly out of the way, hauling her little boy away by the arm. I walk up the sidewalk to the entrance to the station, past a group of transit employees in uniform, with “CTA” emblazoned on their chests. Chicago Transit Authority. A quasi-governmental agency, it’s really privately run and wastes a tremendous amount of money every year. It’s one of the last bastions of the old political order, the patronage jobs that could be had for doing favors for one’s local Alderman. I turn left, into the building’s atrium, and move up to the entrance. There are four narrow turnstiles and one handicapped one, which is nice and wide with a swinging door. I’d really prefer to use it, because my bags make me wider than two people walking abreast, but I hate fumbling with it. It’s embarrassing because I still haven’t quite figured out how to open it. So I sigh, and push my way through the narrow entrance, bumping my hips as I go. I feel the blood flame into my face and hope no one is watching. The attendant watches me as I go through and I can feel his eyes on my ass as I go through. He seems to ignore the wedding band, even though it’s on the hand that faces him whenever I go through the turnstile. Talk about optimism.
There are three tracks at Kimball. The far left isn’t used as often and you can feel it if you walk down it – a sense of disuse. I prefer the central walkway, where trains are on either side. After the reconstruction, they now run eight-car trains in the rush periods (morning and evening). Usually it’s only six, and four on the weekends. I like being in the front train car because I can look out the front of the train and have a sense of direction, of setting the trail. I like to be either the lead or the tail of any line of people. I don’t like being in the middle, it feels constricting. I pick my favorite seat, a single chair on the right side of the train by the window. These trains have eight single seats, sometimes ten if there are two at the tail of the car. The other train lines only have double seats, side by side. I don’t really like sitting next to people. My single seat is right against the window so I can watch as we go. I pull out my morning pages, sometimes having written a little on the bus here, sometimes not – it depends how crowded the bus is. We set off, moving slowly out of the station. The train car is nearly empty, this early in the morning, particularly since they switched to eight cars. Few people want to walk all the way down the platform to the first car, but I don’t mind – it’s nice to have the solitude.
I will sometimes track our progress in my morning pages, using a diamond in the left margin for stations, and writing their name above it. Kedzie is first. The train rocks a little on the long turn out of the station. The front car bounces less than the others, and if I’m in the last car I really feel the rails. I’m usually in the last car on the way home. Michael goes to work before me and parks at the next station after Kedzie, Francisco; I only have to come back to Francisco in the afternoons. After Francisco, I like to watch the scenery, because we go over the river. I find that the river changes by day – sometimes, the ducks swim, and once I saw a green heron fishing. There are little boats belonging to the houses along the shore and I wish I could take a boat and wander the river.
Rockwell is next, the last of the ground-level stations on the Brown Line. The rest are elevated, which is why they call the trains in Chicago the “L.” It’s usually fun to be that far above things, we’re up about the third storey. But a few weeks ago there was a derailment on one of the other train lines, the Green Line that goes out to West Chicago and Oak Park. It was scary. The rain derailed sideways to the tracks. If it hadn’t been at a junction, where there were extra tracks on either side of the main one, the cars would have gone right off to the road below. I think about that ass we leave Rockwell, on our way to Western. It’s not a comforting thought, but I have to trust in the Universe since this is how I get to work every day. Sometimes, having my head in the sand is a necessary evil.
After Western, we get into the stations that are being rebuilt. All the stations before Western are completed, somewhat. They didn’t finish entirely, but enough to reopen them. Damen is the first one; when we pass it all you can see are the skeletal girders that will house the new station. The last time there was a significant overhaul of these stations was in 1953, so they’re long overdue. Then we come to Montrose. I had a friend who I wanted to date who lived on Montrose. He lies in California with his new wife. Paul Mullins, he is an actor in Hollywood. Then we come to Irving Park. It’s one of the new stations too, but it’s ugly. I don’t like the new rectangular panels, they have small squares cut into the sheet metal. They’ll look awful in a few years with the accumulated grime of pigeon droppings and messy snows. I’m not sure why they were picked, but someone must think they look nice. Chicago is a contender for the Olympics, so the mayor wants the trains to show off our best side. Someone thinks this is our best side. No accounting for tastes. Addison is closed for remodeling, and you can’t even see the skeleton of the old station anymore. They’ve taken it down to the track, with the building materials on either side of the road below. Heavy barricades keep people out of the station and I wonder if anyone ever tries to break in.
I usually finish my pages before Belmont, which is a huge interchange. They’re doing a major track overhaul and the three train lines that go north and south are all on one track now in the mornings. It’s a clusterfuck. I hate it. The Red Line, the Purple Line, and the Brown Line all use the same track between Belmont and Fullerton, which is four stops. It’s caused so many delays, Mayor Daley put his foot down and the CTA announced in the news last month they’ll finish six months ahead of schedule, in December of this year instead of next summer. I’m glad. This is silly. It should be nice when it’s done, because there will be three tracks instead of just two – one for each of the three train lines. We stop on the long turn leading into Belmont and hear the rumble and clatter of a train heading back to Kimball. For some reason, I always feel like I should pull my arms back inside the train – even though the windows don’t open. I suppose this is because when I was little, my mother always told me not to put my arms outside the car window – if we get too close to another car, it’ll get chopped off. Not very realistic, but the admonition stayed with me and I still find myself paranoid when two trains pass each other. The tracks wiggle and bounce with the passage of the other train and I remember the derailment. But we emerge safely to Belmont, moving slowly into the station past the hundreds of people waiting to board.
Another morning in Chicago.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I'll post shortly; just have to get caught up on the homework reading. Hang in there! (If you feel the need to read, check out March 2008 for some fun stories, both in the FFC category and the March FADness category...)
And positive comments make me write more.
I used to feed the horses before I went to school. I got up at six o’clock in the morning, before the sun had reached our small valley. The valley ran east to west, so the sun came up at one end, and sank down behind the mountains at the other end. Our house also stretched east to west with the front only one storey, but the back was set against a hill so it was two storeys. Tall trees on the south side blocked the worst of the summer heat.
The path to the barn led from the back porch, down the black metal stairs and around the large back patio. I used to have to sweep that patio in the summer and the tree seeds would flutter down and get caught in between the planks. It was next to impossible to get them out from between the joints and it took forever to sweep it clean.
My stepdad made a path from rocks down between the patio and the well house. The wishing well, made from stone and sporting a wooden roof, could actually be used for drinking water. You’d let the bucket fall in and the winch would unwind at terrific speed. My mother was afraid one of us kids would get whacked on the head by it and killed. It never happened, but her paranoia rubbed off on me and I’d always let the bucket down while standing on the opposite side of the opening from the winch. The water tasted good and slightly metallic, and it was always amazing to me that it was potable.
The big area sat in a large open space, the size of half a football field. The path to the barn ran across the road that led to the arena gate, alongside it and off the end to where the barn stood. The tack shed was on the right, one of the three original outbuildings on the property. It used to be over to the right by the clock shop, but we had it moved when we bought the place. The big prefab barn was brown fake wood with wrought iron sides and roof. It echoed when it rained like somebody banging on a pot with a wooden spoon. To its left stood the huge hay barn, really just a roof with three sides where we stored half a semi-truck full of hay – about twenty tons. We’d buy it once a year and it was always something to watch the truck driver maneuver down the narrow gravel road and back out again.
I would go into the main barn, the central section open to the elements but equipped with a heavy sliding door should we need to close out the rain. We lined about twenty bales of alfalfa along the back wall up on pallets, with a fifty-gallon aluminum trash can full of grain. We’d feed half a coffee-can of grain in the morning along with a flake of the hay – the bales were put together so they’d flake off in four or five inch chunks. Each of the horses had a feed bin so their food stayed off the ground. It’s not good to feed them on the ground because they can get sick that way, but one of our horses preferred it and would pull all of his food out and dump it on his floor. What are you going to do about that? Here’s a half-ton animal deciding how he wants his meal. You let him have it that way, and hope he doesn’t come down with anything.
One morning, the moon rose heavy and full over the mountains. It hadn’t set yet, and its light seemed very bright. I went into the barn and left the flashlight off, since the reflected light from outside came through the door and windows and left me enough to see by. Farazha and Thunder whickered softly to me as I entered, hungry for breakfast. I made my way to the grain bin first and opened the lid.
Something jumped on my hand and ran up my arm. The whatzit ran over my shoulder, down my back and out of the barn before my dog so much as snuffled.
I stood there for a few beats, relearning how to breath. I remembered I had a flashlight – hell, I could’ve turned on the barn lights, the switch was right by the door. I shined the heavy flashlight into the grain bin, expecting to not find anything since whatever it was had already used me as an escape vehicle.
Nestled in the coffee can full of grain, on top of more grain than they could eat in fifty lifetimes, lay six tiny white mouse babies.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I left the formatting in here how it came to me, partly to add to the dreamlike quality of stream of consciousness. I'm not convinced I'd do that in a story, but it was an interesting exercise. I found it difficult, because I don't like discussing my dreams with others. Plus, the next night, I had a nightmare. Sigh.
The room was painted white, but had yellowed with time to a dull sort of ecru that didn’t do justice to such a posh-sounding name. More like cigarette-white, or age-white, or long-tooth white. The paint didn’t have many cracks in it, but looked like it should. It wasn’t the sort of place that you’d think of having nice paint, that’s for sure. The carpet was dog shit brown, probably piled once but now flattened and walked on. There were probably wax stains if you looked hard enough, but nothing was immediately visible. The two beds stood next to each other, forming an “L” shape in the room. Twin-sized, they had yellow sheets and individualized blankets. It looked a lot like a dorm room. Holly’s was the lower one, parallel to the bottom wall, to the left of the door. The other one was above it, along the opposite wall with the room’s only window. The view didn’t look out on anything interesting. The second door was opposite the first, but looked flimsy – one of those hollow-core doors available cheaply from places like Home Depot. It had a dead-bold like you’d find in a front door of a house, which was strange. Why an interior door, and such a flimsy one, needed a deadbolt, wasn’t immediately apparent. It was open, at any rate, and looked out on a dingy hall. A bathroom as just visible up three short stairs, and if you peeked out the door, another room opened to the left. A fat kid lived there, a weird guy, heroin addict and loser. He was greasy skinned and unattractive, going out of his way to dress cool – which really meant he looked frumpy and unemployed. He actually worked for a large drug-store chain, though one would have thought they had rules against hiring addicts.
The lower door opened onto a normal hallway, but the door was closed. The upper door was closed as soon as it became apparent that the neighbor was in fact present. He started to say something to the person whose hand was on the door, but the door was slammed and locked so quickly the words were unintelligible. He hollered for a while on the other side of it but gave up, a spurt of rage streaming through the flimsy wood.
“We need to get a stronger door,” Holly said musingly.
“Yeah, or move,” her roommate said. “Why not just move?”
“We can’t afford to,” Holly pointed out.
“Fuck that. I still think we should try.”
The pounding on the door grew louder. “Fuck off!” she screamed, slamming her hand against the door hard enough to make it rattle. “Fucking addict!!”
A hurt silence descended but she stared furiously at Holly. “I don’t like it here, so close to him,” she growled. “We have to find a way out of this.”
“Yeah,” Holly agreed. “But how?”
“I don’t know. I’ll look up places tonight okay? See what you can find at work tomorrow. Let’s have a plan in place by the end of this weekend.”
They could hear the footsteps receding and then the other door slammed.
“Good,” she grumbled. “Maybe he’ll stay asleep for the rest of the night.”
Holly grimaced. “Like last night? Three o’clock in the morning?”
“I hate it here,” she repeated. “I fucking hate it here.”
Holly looked resolute suddenly. “All right. I’m with you. Have a plan in place by the end of the weekend, okay?”
They looked at each other and a shared resolve grew. By the end of the weekend.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
“Imagine some event that could have happened to you but did not - something that you wanted or feared. First, make up the basic outline of the event, and then incorporate true details. Put your teapot and cats into the story; they won't sue you. Your knowledge of these details will help you convince your reader of the truthfulness of the story's main event. Don't spend much time on introducing this event or on drawing conclusions. Just give us the scene with your desire (or fear) acted out. Keep yourself as the main protagonist.”
The Asian lady next to me was named Louise, and she was nice. Her nose was really small, close to her face, but she had these cool glasses that were all silver frames and round and stuff. They were really cool. The man in the aisle seat was older, like my dad, and he was fat. His name was Bill. His belly stuck out over his pants and his belt strained to hold it in. He wore a yellow shirt over a white undershirt and his brown pants pockets had a white lining you could see when they gaped.
The stewardesses were Mary and Cindy. They let me hand out peanuts and help collect empty drink cups. I collected the little liquor bottles because I like having little bottles in my collection. I washed them out and put them on my shelves like a display. They look pretty with flowers in them. The dried flowers are the best because they don’t fall over and spill water everywhere.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll take your seats. The Captain has turned on the seat belt sign.”
The voice droned on. I sighed, bored, and put my belt back on. I didn’t like it, because it made me feel stuck in the seat, but if the Captain said, I guess you can’t really argue, right? I stared out the window at Colorado, the Rockies were on my right. They didn’t look like much from this height, wreathed in wispy clouds like smoke.
Mary came up to our row and stopped to talk to the man. I was a minor, she explained, traveling alone. My parents would meet the plane in San Francisco. He agreed to be my guardian for the flight. I didn’t really like that idea, because he was, well, fat. The Asian lady was a lot better choice, but they didn’t ask me. I was too intimidated to speak up.
The plane started bumping a little in turbulence, but that was pretty normal for this flight. I took it all the time, visiting my grandparents in Ohio. My mom and them didn’t get along, so I went by myself. It was fun to go through the airport alone and know where I was going. The airlines had never given me a guardian before, though.
I took out my book and started reading, since I couldn’t walk around anymore. I was bored but the book was good. I got it from the library at school, one of Phyllis Whitney’s, the Mystery on the Isle of Skye. I loved the smell of her books at the library, the paper had its own distinct odor. I really enjoyed it, it made reading special.
As we got closer to San Francisco and had to pack our tray tables up and put our seats back, the people around me got tense. The Asian lady had some beads in her hand, like a bracelet, except she kept moving them around in a circle and her lips were moving like she prayed the rosary. It was strange, I’d never seen a rosary that small before.
Bill didn’t say much to me, just told me to make sure that my seatbelt was on and stuff. I’d already done that. I wasn’t a novice, after all.
The stewardesses came around and had everyone get into the crash position. You could either lean your arms across the seat in front of you, or lean over and circle your legs. They made me do that one, because I wasn’t tall enough to use the seat in front of me. I didn’t think that was very fair, but I didn’t argue. Cindy was very tense when she came by and I didn’t want to make her mad at me.
The Bay was below us, but I had to bend over so I couldn’t see the landing like usual. That was a bummer, because I really like watching the takeoff and landing. I heard someone start to cry in one of the seats behind us and the landing gear clanked as it lowered. I could hear the motors change as they lined up to land, and the wings made noises as the ailerons extended.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to thank you for flying wit us today. Your Captain and I are committed to making this a safe landing. This will be the last cabin transmission before we are at the airport. God bless us all.”
That was a strange thing to say. He never said that on other flights. I peeked at Louise and saw slow tears sliding down her face silently.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
She looked at me, face calm except for the tears. “When we took off, some of the tread from the tires was burned away. They’re not sure if we can land safely,” she whispered. “There’s a chance the tire may rupture and cause a fire in the front of the plane.”
I stared at her for a little while but she didn’t take it back. I put my face back on my knees, my mouth up tight against my legs and prayed.
The pressure changed as we descended and my ears popped. I wanted to look out the window, but was afraid to sit up. The whine of the engines seemed to get louder and we dropped further. I saw a shape flit by the window, a building or something, but it was gone too fast to register. Then we bounced as we landed.
A crash shook the front of the airplane and we jerked forward sharply. The back of the plane yawed, making my stomach sick with reaction. The front of the plane jumped and fell sharply and several people screamed. We skidded for quite a ways and then finally stopped.
“All right, everyone. As we discussed. Rows behind me, please proceed to the back of the plane. The rest of you, please form two lines, over the wing exist.” Cindy clapped her hands sharply and someone gasped. “Quickly people, move!”
I was in row 27B, so I followed Bill toward the back of the plane past the galley. The door opened and the roar of the engines deafened us. My hair was plastered to my head in the wind and I stared down the exit. There was no stair. Instead it was a bright yellow slide, like a raft or something at camp. “Okay, honey, I want you to sit down and put your arms across your chest, okay?” Cindy shouted over the racket. “Quickly now.” I did as she asked and flew down the slide. A huge paramedic was at the bottom and he caught me, swung me up and off the slide, and deposited me in the arms of another huge paramedic. “This is the one,” he announced.
The one holding me nodded and turned without speaking. He hitched me onto his hip and walked toward a red SUV that said “Fire Marshall” on the side. “I’m Chief Wilson, Miss Noon,” he told me gently. “We’re going to meet up with your parents. They’re very worried about you.”
I started to answer him but the ground shook. A huge boom shook us and the Chief swore. He whirled and I could see the front of the plane engulfed in flame. He turned, arms tightening around me, and ran for the car.
Once we were inside the vehicle, and I had my seatbelt on, he grabbed a radio from under the air conditioning controls. “This is Chief Wilkins with the minor aboard. Clear entrance three.”
I stared back at the airplane, the people now as small as little black ants running from the burning shape. “Did the Captain get out?” I asked the window, afraid of the answer.
“Yes, he did,” Chief said gently. “The crew is clear of the plane now. Everyone got off safely.”
I watched until I couldn’t see the plane anymore and then turned back to stare at the backside of the terminal. We got to the door and the Chief pulled to a stop. The door flew open and my mother and dad flew out, my mom this weird shade of gray.
“Baby!” she screamed.
I couldn’t get the seatbelt off before she got there, but she snapped it free without even looking and pulled me out of the car. I couldn’t really breathe when she hugged me that tight, but I didn’t care. I was home safe.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
It was interesting: I found I did not want to write about intense negative emotion. When I was worried it might be attributed to me by the other people who know what the exercise is, I was afraid they’d think I have a temper or feel negative emotions a lot. It was startling to learn that about myself.
Jamal Kincaid sat down at a table in the back of the bar, one of the shadowed ones that wasn’t immediately visible from the front. He could see the entrance, but they couldn’t see him. The shadows fell just right so that he was hidden by them, even though his table had a candle like all the others. He blew it out when he sat down, plunging the table into darkness.
It was eleven at night and the bar was already busy. Patrons lined the tall wooden counter, beers and harder drinks in hand. No one had martinis or any of those foo foo drinks, this wasn’t one of those yuppie bars. Cullen’s was in the heart of the industrial section and it showed. The odor of old beer and Jack Daniels hung heavy in the room and the bathrooms, he knew from experience, had a heavy stench of disinfectant and urine. The men’s room just needed a sign, like in Roadhouse, “Don’t eat the big blue mint.”
Jamal had been running for days. He’d made it to Commerce, California, just by dumb luck. Why they named a town like that, he didn’t know, but it was smack in the middle of South Central and it showed. Latinos and white trash were the only ones in this place. And him, just an old black man that everybody ignored.
He took another sip of his Coke. He couldn’t afford to get fuzzy, not now. Not after all the work he’d put into getting here, surviving this long. He just had to meet with Alejandro and that was it.
A brief stir by the door caught his attention and he looked up. Four men came in, the two in front clearly bodyguards. They wore identical black jeans and white t-shirts, and the one in front had a jean jacket on top. It didn’t cover the hilts sticking out of the sleeves, but it would if he needed it to. No cops here, so they showed. The second one moved like a panther. A huge tattoo covered his chest and stomach, a dark shadow behind the t-shirt. He had no weapons that Jamal could see, but that didn’t mean he was unarmed. The man’s eyes flicked to Jamal’s and Jamal jumped, startled. They stared at each other for a moment or two and then the man looked away. He stepped out of the doorway and Jamal got a good look at the man behind him.
Alejandro was big for a Mexican, more like a Spaniard than an Indian. His broad shoulders bulked large even under the black suit he wore to hide the fact he was street scum, no different than Jamal. Well, he had bodyguards, so maybe that counted. Jamal swallowed, his throat dry.
Alejandro’s black suit covered a wine-red shirt, smooth with no buttons. It outlined the muscles in his chest and made him look powerful. A diamond flashed fire from his left earlobe and his hair shined a little in the light with reddish highlights. Not all Spanish, then, in his ancestry, or the highlights would’ve been blue-black.
Alejandro signaled with two fingers at the bartender, who nodded. Then he moved forward and was up to Jamal’s table all too soon.
“Well, I see you made it, Kincaid,” Alejandro said. “I have to say, I’m surprised.”
Jamal nodded and stared up at him, not willing to stand and show even that much intimidation. Besides, his knees probably wouldn’t hold him.
“Have a seat,” he invited. His voice was steady.
The two bodyguards sat at the next table. Jamal looked around for the third one and was startled to see it was a woman. Black boots with a three-inch heel flowed up her legs under a white pantsuit. Her midnight blue blouse had a sheen to it like satin and her breasts were twin mounds underneath. Jamal looked away, flushing. She came over with a drink for Alejandro; whiskey, by the smell of it. She set it down and took a seat at the table, ignoring Jamal.
“Well, I’m here. Now what?” Alejandro took a sip of his whiskey.
“I want protection,” Jamal murmured.
Alejandro studied him lazily, like he was looking at a dog he didn’t particularly like. “Why should I help you? You’re not even from LA.”
Jamal nodded. “I know about you, Alejandro. I want to come in.”
Alejandro’s attention sharpened a little, Jamal could see it. Alejandro blinked, breaking eye contact for a moment, then glanced at the woman.
“Clear,” she murmured, hardly any sound to her voice.
Alejandro looked back at Jamal. “Why now?”
Jamal shrugged. “The heat’s getting too heavy in Chicago,” he said. “And I’m not liking where the organization is heading.”
“You don’t like Louis Harcourt, you mean,” Alejandro corrected.
Jamal flushed but held his gaze. “You know I can’t answer that.”
Alejandro leaned forward suddenly, and Jamal froze. “You’ll answer anything I tell you to, Kincaid, you want me to do this for you. It’s not just your life on the line, we do this.”
Jamal swallowed and nodded, throat dry. His palms were sweating but he didn’t want to wipe them on his pants for fear they would see it and understand just how rattled he was.
“I understand,” he said. “I know what’s at stake.”
Alejandro didn’t answer right away, just stared at him. Jamal resisted the urge to look away, feeling like that would show too much weakness.
“What intel can you give us?” the woman asked, startling him.
He transferred his gaze to her, not wanting to speak. He looked back at Alejandro.
“You can answer,” Alejandro told him shortly.
Jamal cocked an eyebrow but looked over at her. “If you know enough about me to know why I’m here, then you know who I have been working with the last four years.”
She snorted. “Working with doesn’t mean you have shit, Kincaid. What can you give us?”
“What can you promise me in return?” he countered.
She shrugged. “Standard protection.”
He looked back at Alejandro. “I have your word then?”
Alejandro shrugged. “You convince me that you’ve got intel worth having, I’ll hide you. The department will hide you.”
Jamal nodded. “Fine.” It looked like he’d get his witness protection after all, and Louis Harcourt would get what was coming to him. Finally.
Friday, May 8, 2009
“The Visit of Pervii Pyotr”*
Mrs. Mary Johnstone, chatelaine and chief servant to Mr. John Evelyn, was not happy. Someone had failed to close the linen closet door tightly and one of the cats had gotten in and gave birth all over the guest sheets. They were the new set, too, with embroidery on the edge in little Lilly Finch’s delicate hand. Lilly would be devastated. Mary didn’t know how to tell her, poor lamb.
“Mrs. Johnstone! Mrs. Johnstone!”
“Tommy Nevil. How many times must I remind you to not run in the house!” Mary snapped, whirling on the boy.
Tommy was running so fast that he nearly tripped over her skirts as they twirled in the hallway. “But Mrs. Johnstone!” he panted. “Please! It’s the Butler. He’s in a right fury, he is, and the hedges are all gone!”
“The hedges…” She glared down at the boy. “Are you telling your stories again, Tommy Nevil?”
“Honest, I ain’t, Mrs. Johnstone! Please! The Butler’s goin’ ter get his horse whip, he is, and there’ll be Hell to pay!”
“Tommy!” she gasped. “You take that back this instant!”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Johnstone, I don’t mean te swear. But please, you have to come!” He tugged on her topskirt, his face shining with sincerity.
“Oh, all right,” she surrendered. She slipped the hall keys back on the ring at her belt and let it fall with a faint clink. “Let’s go see his Lordship.”
Tommy flashed her a guilty grin at her nickname for the Butler and took off down the hallway.
“No running!” she shouted after him.
He skidded to a stop, glancing over his shoulder, and then took off at a fast walk. He disappeared around the corner and she could hear the sound of his running feet out of sight down the next hallway. Then a door slammed to the outside and she could hear his voice in the distance, hollering for the Butler.
Mary blinked as she emerged into the chill morning. The sun shone down on the gardens of Mr. Evelyn and she smiled, heart touched anew every time she saw the view. Then she faltered and stopped, the smile evaporating.
Every one of the hedges in view from the house was…gone.
“Dear Lord,” she gasped, starting forward again. “What in the world…?” She hurried around the side of the manor house to the path that led to the main gardens. The devastation was worse there, two wheelbarrows on their side. One’s wheel lay several feet away, the obvious victim of a collision. An empty whiskey pot lay on its side, broken neck sparkling with the last drops of the alcohol, and she got a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“I’ll kill ‘em!” The Butler was below her, near the barn, a long horse whip clenched in a ruddy fist. “Every last one of ‘em!” he bellowed, stomping up the path toward her. “Out of me way, woman!”
“Simon Kelligan! What do you think you’re doing!” she shouted in her best imitation of Father O’Malley.
Kelligan faltered, but then his face darkened. “It’s nothing for you te worry yerself over, Mary. Out of me way!” He started up the path, obviously expecting her to move, but she held her ground.
When it was clear she wasn’t to move, he slowed and then stopped, staring up at her with a mix of fury and uncertainty on his face. “Mary…”
“You can’t,” she whispered urgently. “The Master will be here this afternoon! What if he hears you?”
“What if he sees that?” Kelligan roared, gesturing with the whip at the nearest demolished hedge. “I’ll give ‘im their heads in recompense!”
“You’ll do no such thing,” she snapped. “Embarrass the Master like that. What would your wife say?”
Simon deflated. His arms fell to his sides, the whip dragging on the ground forlornly. “Mary…”
She stepped forward. “I’m sorry, Simon, truly I am,” she told him softly. “But think! The boys will be up soon and if they see you carrying on… Please don’t yell again,” she begged.
He blew his breath out angrily but, thankfully, didn’t shout. “They’ve destroyed Master’s hedges, Mary. Look!”
“I know. I know, Simon. We’ll figure it out, we will. But that Russian is here by order of the King, Simon! The King!”
Simon stared up at the house, furious, but finally thinking. “I swear, Mary. On my wife’s very grave! If he touches another thing, human or inanimate, on this estate…”
“Shh, Simon,” Mary urged. “We’ve already sent the girls away. They’re not interested in boys, thankfully. Just wait it out. When the Master sees, he’ll take care of the problem. But don’t you go gettin’ involved.”
Simon glared at her, but much of the heat had settled in his eyes. He turned and saw Tommy. “Tommy Nevil!” he barked. “I told you to fetch John Murphy, didn’ I?”
Tommy jumped and scrambled back from the Butler, out of range of a drubbing. “Aye, sir, ye did. But he’d’ve boxed my ears for me if I did’na hear tha end o’ this.”
“You little imp…” Simon moved forward but Tommy was faster. The boy scampered away, down the hill toward the house of the Horse Master.
“Oh, Mary,” Simon murmured, tears in his voice. “What are we to do?”
Mary put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “They won’t be here forever, Simon. This, too, shall pass.”
Simon sighed heavily and patted her hand. He turned and made his way back down toward the stable, his steps heavy. He paused on the way to collect two more whiskey bottles discarded by the drunken Russians. Mary turned back to the house to prepare Tsar Peter’s breakfast.
“Please, Lord. Let them leave soon,” she prayed, collecting a broken flagon and two silver spoons lying in the grass on her way back to the house.
*Author’s Note: The term “Pervii Pyotr” is transliterated from Russian, and literally means ‘first Peter.’ It refers to Peter the Great.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
“The Wroth of God”
“Is he gone?” The whisper came from behind him, his mule’s bells nearly camouflaging it.
He turned. “Is someone there?”
No one answered for a moment. His mule paced a little, the bell clanging against his chest, and Phenthan stilled him with a gentle hand. “Shh, Boljer.” Nothing stirred on the road behind him. Trees waved in a light breeze and a tall stone pillar, perhaps from some forgotten temple, stood in a lonely vigil over the valley containing the huge city in the valley ahead of him.
He was just about to turn back to the road when he heard a rustle.
“Is he gone?” It was a woman’s voice.
Phenthan looked around in a wide circle but saw no one except the guards at the gates of Soddom, still a heavy walk in the distance.
“I see no one but me,” Phenthan answered. “Where are you?”
A cascade of gravel tumbled toward him from the hill to his left. He turned in time to see a woman shake herself free of a fine white gravel, the rocks and silt flowing from her hair and clothing almost like water. The pillar had disappeared and in its place was this woman.
“Are you a ghost?” he gasped, stepping backward fearfully. Boljer shook his head, bumping Phenthan’s back, his bell clanging softly in protest.
“No!” she cried. She sounded teary.
Phenthan looked over his shoulder at the city gates, but even if he shouted as loud as he could, the guards wouldn’t hear him. He sighed bitterly. This is what he got for traveling alone. He turned back to the woman and watched as she batted at her waist-length hair, a white dust puffing off her skin and clothing.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
“My husband left me!” she answered, and then did start to cry. The tears made ugly tracks in the white dust covering her face and she hid behind her hands. “He left me!” she wailed.
Phenthan stepped forward, almost without meaning to. “Don’t cry. I’m sure we can find him.”
Her eyes, large and a dark brown that appeared black in contrast to the dust, appeared over her dirty fingers. “You won’t!” she cried. “He’s with two angels of God. They’re going to destroy Soddom!”
Phenthan felt a chill. “What?”
She looked over his shoulder at the gate and its guards. “We spent the night there, but they wanted to visit with the angels. He offered my daughters…” She kept speaking, but Phenthan couldn’t make out any words among the sobs and wailing.
“So you left Lot, is that it?” he asked, confused.
“No!” she shouted, coming out from behind her hands to glare at him, a faint dust rising behind her. “He took us out of Soddom this morning. The angels said that the men of Soddom were wicked for treating us that way, and for other sins. They will destroy the city!” She looked past Phenthan at the gate. “We have to warn them!”
“Look,” he tried, then stopped. “I’m Phenthan. What is your name?”
She blinked at him, eyes red from the dust. “Ashara.” She had a pretty voice when she wasn’t crying, and her figure under the dust and dirt was comely.
“Ashara.” He felt his face heat. It was a pretty name. He scrubbed his chin, trying to focus. “The guards are worldly men. They won’t believe us if we just barge in there. Let’s sit for a moment. I have water,” he added.
She transferred her attention to him at that. Then she looked down at herself and grimaced. She batted futily at her skirt and a puff of white dust billowed away from it. She looked up at him in disgust. “Water would be welcome,” she agreed.
Phenthan moved up the hill toward her, pulling Boljer along behind. They settled by a short tree, its shade a pleasant respite. He sat down gratefully and pulled his waterskin free of its mooring on the side of Boljer’s tack. She took it gratefully and used a corner of her skirt as a wash rag to clean herself.
A loud boom made them both turn. Boljer woke, startled, his bell clanging mournfully. The ground started to rumble and shake and Phenthan whirled to see Ashara clinging to the tree, eyes wide and terrified.
“What is it?” he cried.
“The Wroth of God! Look!” She pointed a shaking hand at the valley.
Phenthan turned and nearly fell. Flames shot from the city in a wave of destruction. He watched as the gates toppled forward, almost in slow motion, and fell with a huge puff of dust. The sound didn’t reach them immediately, and the fearful crash that did eventually sound seemed tinny in comparison to the scale of the flames. He sank to his knees, stunned.
“I told you,” she whispered behind him. “I told you…”
Phenthan looked back at the woman. He got to his feet, his mind made up. “Come, Ashara. It is a long way to Zo’ar.”
She stared up at him, tears still oozing down her cheeks. “What?”
“This man of yours, this Lot. He could destroy a city and leave you behind? He is no man, Ashara, he is no man to me. Come with me. I will show you my homeland. Let me take you away from this place, this destruction.” He did not add, ‘Let me make you my wife.’ Time would allow him to speak those words, he knew for certain, as sure as the city dying behind him. His gods were not so capricious as this, and he knew a gift from Them when he saw one.
Ashara sniffled but got to her feet resolutely enough. Instead of waiting for him to direct her, she picked up the waterskin and reattached it to Boljer’s tack. She met his gaze with a hint of her own strength. “I will come with you to Zo’ar, Phenthan.”
Phenthan turned and led the way back up the mountain path, Boljer’s bells a cheerful sound behind him.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
This next prompt is still from chapter one, sources of story ideas. I include these here in the beginning of Mai Madness, partly to show the incredible breadth of ideas available to us within our own lives. Of course, we can stretch and write about “stuff” outside of ourselves – which, as a science-fiction and fantasy author, I do a lot. But the old adage, “write what you know,” applies in many ways – not least of which, to actually write from what actually happened, expand and elaborate.
It’s kinda fun, too.
Mr. Novakovich credits writer-teacher Jim Magnuson for this next one. “Write ‘My mother never...’ at the top of a page, then complete the sentence and keep going. As you write, begin to fictionalize. Construct scenes. Take out sentimentality … and forget it's your mother. Take yourself out, too.”
I found this exercise volatile, like handling nitro glycerin. I like the result, in that I surprised myself and was able to come up with a story in response to the prompt; but it was not easy.
My mother never understood what it was to be a mother. I think she thought it was like revision in school. You go to the husband-store, get one, then go to the offspring-store, get one (or two, or three), and voila. Insta-family.
She did the best she could with me. She carried me around by a papoose when I was little, because that was “good.” She didn’t breast-feed me, because in the early seventies that was not good, thanks to the Nestle Corporation’s propaganda. My mother was deeply suspicious of the women of La Leche League, so their message went right by her. When I asked her, once, what she thought of feminism, she got angry.
“I don’t want to whine about my lot, honey,” she told me. “It’s more important to me to just do the work. All those women are just complainers. They’re not really workers.”
That didn’t really sound right to me, but at the time I didn’t know how to argue. Now, we have a sign in my company’s lunch room: “In Illinois, a woman makes 71 cents for every $1 a man makes. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY IS THE LAW.” Guess she was wrong; sounds to me like feminism still has a ways to go.
We got in the truck one day to go in town. A beige Toyota Landcruiser, one of the early models first in this country she would proudly say, it boasted dark brown stripes on the sides and four-wheel drive. Surprisingly comfortable to drive, it wasn’t nearly as tippy as some of the other SUV’s on the road then – mostly Jeep Cherokees and Ford Explorers.
“Oh my God!” she burst out, then started laughing.
“What?” I squawked, coming out of my book with an almost physical sensation of moving. “What’s wrong?” I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and anyway, she was laughing so we couldn’t have hit something.
I followed where she was pointing, but couldn’t see anything on the windshield. After a moment, I realized that was a problem – where was the windshield wiper? I stared for a moment more and saw it, sticking straight out from the front of the car like it was pointing the way to town. “What the…” I didn’t finish the sentence. Swearing wasn’t approved of in the ‘perfect child vocabulary.’
“Buttercup did it!” my mom crowed, eyes merry. She glanced at me. “When she was in the paddock last night!”
“No,” I scoffed, looking back at the wiper. Sure enough, it was mangled all to pieces, unrecognizable. Even the metal frame was warped and bent in several places with what could only be teeth marks.
“I had the rig parked in there all night to get her used to the horse trailer,” she pointed out. “She must’ve decided it would be funny.”
“Yeah, but Mom, that’s on the side next to the fence! How could she even reach?”
“Well, she did,” my mom responded happily, pleased as punch that our horse ate her windshield wiper.
What was worse, the next day at school my friend Sandy ran up to me. “Did you hear the radio this morning?” she burst out breathlessly, interrupting my book.
“The radio!” Sandy repeated irritably, pulling my book out of my hands. “Your mom’s ad!”
My heart sank. “What are you talking about?” I tried to put on a brave face.
“Did Buttercup really eat your wiper?” Sandy asked me, laughing.
What was worse, Sandy made sure that everyone in fourth period, fifth, and P.E. all knew about it.
When I got home, my mom was in the kitchen, putting together dinner. As I walked by, she called out. “Honey? Can you do something for me?”
You guessed it. Not only did I have to hear about it all day, I got to replace the wiper that evening.
Buttercup just looked smug.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
ANYWAY. Here’s mah storeeeee!
A note on these: they’re not, strictly speaking, “stories.” They’re sketches. I found that doing them was like doing actual sketches as a limbering-up exercise, just like if I were a painter. They really do seem to help. Once I knew I didn’t have to come up with a plot, or a beginning-middle-end structure, it was actually fun to just write what I saw in my mind. That helped me get somewhere and, oddly, led into story. I could use these to continue from. I point that out for those of you that have thought of trying similar prompts but didn’t have an idea for a full-blown story in mind. Just be willing to sketch something and see where it takes you.
The interior of the car pulsed with the rotations of the wheels on the highway, bouncing every-so-often as they went over a pothole. Chicago had two seasons, they say: “Snow Repair” and “Road Removal.” Highway 57 was better than some but still pitted. Difficult winters meant bad roads, there wasn’t really any way to avoid it.
Jenny peeked at Roger as he drove. He still clenched his jaw, giving him a chiseled air. Still handsome, but less approachable.
“I don’t want to fight, Jen,” he startled her by saying. He glanced at her, eyes red.
“I don’t either,” she retorted before she thought, then looked out the window. “It just happens.”
Angry tears leaked down her cheeks in spite of her efforts to keep them from coming.
“Come on, Jen,” he coaxed. “It’s not like it’s a lot.”
“It is too a lot!” she snapped, head whirling around. “It’s not enough that we have to deal with their schedule all the time. You have to stand up to her, Rodge. You can’t just roll over every time she wants something. It’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to him!”
Roger’s neck flushed and his hands tightened on the wheel. He stubbornly said nothing, his usual pattern.
“Say something, dammit! You always clam up when we try to talk about this!”
“What do you want me to say, Jen?” he shot back.
“That you’ll stand up to her! Tell her that we want Marty for the whole summer, for Christsakes! You wait too long, like you did last year, and it won’t be her fault for not having the time since she will have had to make other plans! We have to tell her now! You can’t keep being chicken about it!” She went farther than she intended, but stared at his profile anyway, seething.
“I’m not being chicken!” he shouted. “You two just keep putting me in the middle!”
Her stomach evaporated and she turned away to stare out the window, crying silently. She wanted to throw up. Bile burned the back of her throat and even her neck muscles cramped. He said nothing, just navigated around a dual-trailer semi lumbering along in the slow lane. He moved in front of it and coasted along at the speed limit, the truck falling farther and farther behind.
“I am not putting you in the middle, Rodge,” she finally told him. “It pisses me off that you would say that. Just because you’re too fucking pansy to stand up to her, and I hold the line on the boundaries, doesn’t mean I’m the one putting you in the middle. She wants what she wants, and you don’t stand up for yourself. How the fuck is that me putting you in the middle?”
He didn’t say anything to that, just drove. She could see his profile out of the corner of her eye, the set jaw and the furious eyes. She turned away, moving in her seat so he couldn’t see her face. If he was going to be like that, he didn’t deserve to see her tears.
The highway stretched on, silent.
Monday, May 4, 2009
The first thing Giselle noticed was the sound. It was everywhere. Loud, like at a concert, but nowhere near as pleasant. The stench of diesel fuel filled the sidewalk, making breathing difficult. She found herself staring, fuzzy-headed and mesmerized, at the engine grate of the bus nearest her. The paint lay thick, gooping over the openings, making the neat lines uneven. The yellow-orange wasn’t quite a natural color, more like a vivid mold than anything healthy.
She looked up at the sky, away from the bus, and found the color of the clouds matched the bus. They lay thick and low, almost close enough to touch. They loomed overhead, stationary, big and billowy like rain or thunder clouds but angry and jaundiced. She shivered. No one nearby spoke, so she sat down on the gritty sidewalk and took out a sandwich. The bologna was boring but familiar and she ate in silence, staring up.
The road made no noise. No cars drove back and forth, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. With the sky the way it was, the blacktop seemed more vivid than usual, the yellow and white lines bright and clear. She craned her neck to see around the side of the school, up the hill toward the cemetery, but no cars came from that direction. Nothing from downtown, either. Not that there was much “town” to be “down,” but it wasn’t ever this silent.
She finished her sandwich and stuffed the empty plastic bag back in her backpack. No teachers stood nearby and, when she looked, the driver’s seat of the bus nearest her was empty. No adults anywhere. She stood and brushed off her pants, removing gravel with her palms and then brushing her hands together. She slipped around the side of the building and took off across the lawn toward the hill, not looking back. No one commented, no shouts interrupted her. She glanced back once when she reached the fence, but no one saw her.
She followed the road as it wound up the hill toward the cemetery. The old Indian graveyard stood off to the side, back from the road, while the White cemetery ranged back and forth along the fence by the street. Marble monuments vied for attention among rows of flowers and manicured, small trees. The Indian grounds, by contrast, were silent. Oaks and several cottonwoods waved their branches among the Indian grounds, the graves silent and unmarked. Giselle wandered in past the small gate that proclaimed “Indian Burial Ground, No Trespassing.”
She found a spot next to a huge cottonwood, its trunk so thick she could barely fit her small arms even halfway around it. She sat down with her back to it, the tree between her and the street with its school and too-silent lack of cars. She pulled out an apple and took slow bites out of it, savoring the sweet flavor.
A sudden flash startled her. She looked over her shoulder and had to squint. The entire sky that she could see glowed argent, hurting her eyes. Her apple dropped to the mulch as she scrambled to her feet and ran toward the gate. She tripped and bounced off of something and rubbed her eyes. Nothing was there.
She took a step forward and ran into what felt like an invisible wall. She hit so hard, and was off balance, that she rebounded and landed on her butt in the leaves and bracken. She got to her feet and tried to step forward again, but she couldn’t pass the gate. When she looked up again, a wave of debris flowed toward her, borne on a wind she couldn’t feel. She gaped a moment or two and then turned to run. She fell over a bush and landed next to her backpack.
When she looked back, in terror of being buried by the wave, she watched it break in two and flow around the gate, missing the entire burial ground. She watched as it went overhead, missing the tops of the oaks and cottonwoods. She could clearly see bits of trees, garbage, even a tire. It all whirled past with no sound, no scent, nothing but the visual. She got to her feet and walked to the gate, stopping short before she reached it. The wave flowed past, unchanged.
She turned back to her pack, bemused, and rummaged. Her can of Diet Pepsi was warm now but she opened it and drank gratefully, thirsty for more than just beverage. She stared up the hill at the steady march of mounds and wondered how far back into the trees the burial ground went. She stood, heaving her pack onto her back, and set off into the trees. As the afternoon wore on, the flow of orange and yellow overhead slowed, but Giselle wasn’t interested anymore. She had a forest to explore.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
From Exercise 2, Chapter 1: “Two to three pages. Write down your first three memories. Can you make a story out of any of them? Try. Even if you aren’t sure what you remember exactly, keep going. Imagine that you remember more than you do. Expand and rewrite in the third person and forget it’s you. This could be precious material for you. Renowned psychiatrist Alfred Adler thought that first memories reveal the psychological leitmotif of your life. Objective: To begin to write stories that deeply matter to you.” (Novakovich, Fiction Writer’s Workshop)
Bill arrived home late. He could hear Anne in the kitchen, cooking again. That was all she seemed to do these days. Ironic, really – when they’d moved to San Francisco, they’d tried out all the new restaurants. Seafood, Chinese, French… it didn’t matter. They tried everything to see what was good. He’d gained weight and so had she. But instead of letting that go, or walking more, she got obsessive. Refused to go out with him anymore and stayed home to cook.
It was a good thing she could cook, or things could be a lot less pleasant.
Still, he missed the restaurants. Scoma’s, in particular, was his favorite. A little touristy, down on the wharf just north of Pier 39, it nonetheless boasted some of the best fish in the city, and their Lobster Newberg was to die for. He wondered if he could sneak a visit… He did have a client meeting coming up. Maybe he could convince Johnson to go there with the client for lunch. Lunch wasn’t dinner, by any stretch, but it was at least in the restaurant.
“Hi, honey! I’m home!” he called, hating the trite expression the minute it was out of his mouth.
“You sound like Mr. Cleaver,” Anne complained, coming to the door of the kitchen. “Here, try this,” she ordered, thrusting a spoon full of something white with floaty bits. They jiggled and swooned as the spoon came toward him and he stepped back, purely out of reflex. “Oh, Bill.”
“Well, I don’t want to get it on my suit!” he protested. He came forward again and sipped at the stuff. “This is good!”
“Well, don’t sound so surprised, then,” she snapped and disappeared back in the kitchen.
“What is it?” he called, setting his attaché case on his desk chair.
“Bouillabaisse, can’t you tell?” She sounded irritable.
He sighed. It was going to be one of those nights. “Yes, dear. It’s very good.” He wondered if Scoma’s made it? Then he flushed, embarrassed at the disloyalty.
“Can you take Sam out?” She sounded absentminded and slightly muffled. A moment later he heard the oven door close and realized she must have been speaking into it.
“When did he go out last?” he countered, eyeing the couch longingly.
“A few hours,” she said vaguely, starting the water in the sink.
“Oh, Anne,” he sighed, visions of a nap evaporating. She didn’t hear him over the water. He walked through the office, past the kitchen and up to the gate in the hallway. “Hi, Sam.”
Sam jumped up and down, his back feet stationary while his whole front vibrated. His tail thumped the wall rhythmically and he moved his mouth as though talking even though no sound came out. Bill grinned, the sight of the dog’s antics cheering him. He pulled the leash off the hook next to the dog gate and Sam went wild, spinning in circles. His claws scrabbled against the carpet and his tail wagged hard enough to fall off.
“Sit, Sam,” Bill commanded.
Sam sat, but whimpered in agitation. His fur vibrated as his muscles clenched and unclenched and, as Bill bent over to slip the harness under his chest, he jumped up to catch Bill with his tongue.
“Uch!” Bill responded, wiping his face with one hand while he clipped the harness with the other. “Sit, Sam!”
The dog, never having moved from the sit, wagged his tail harder. Bill surrendered and scratched him behind the ears. “Come on, old son. Let’s get your walk in.”
“Grab the mail too, honey, please?” Anne called from the kitchen.
“What did you do all day?” Bill grumbled, fumbling in his case for the keys.
“What?” she called over the water.
“Nothing, dear!” he shouted back. He winked at Bill and opened the door. The dog, ecstatic, bounded outside.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
From Exercise 2, Chapter 1: “Three paragraphs. When you go out to a restaurant or a bar, jot down your observations in a notebook. In one paragraph, describe a loner’s looks and behavior. In another, a couple’s looks and interaction. In the third paragraph, describe how a waiter or a bartender communicates with the customers. (You could do a similar exercise, jotting down your observations of people in a grocery store or at a street corner). Objective: To gear up your observations of the world around you toward writing.” (Novakovich, Fiction Writer’s Workshop)
He sat alone. Dressed in black slacks and a grey long-sleeved t-shirt, he seemed out of place in the late-night bustle of the diner. Most of the patrons were drunk or had been so at one point that evening. They ate to stave off the munchies and drank coffee in the vain hope of appearing sober. It didn’t work, but the coffeepot was refilled four times in an hour. He just sat there, by himself in a booth that could seat two people side by side, and drank a soda. His food, a cheeseburger and fries, congealed slowly as he ignored it. He watched the people around him – a man and woman, just out of a theater and still dressed to the nines; a group of young adults from the university trying to appear less inebriated than the others; two women having some kind of intense argument at a table in the corner – he studied all of them like it was an assignment, or he was a foreigner, some kind of alien alert for cultural clues. He sat back and cross his legs, one foot bobbing slightly, the Nike logo flashing in the harsh overhead lighting.
There were only two of them, but they gave off enough energy that it could have been several people occupying the booth. The waitress avoided them and, after a while, so did the bus boy as he made his rounds with the coffee and decaf. They bent close to each other, eyes snapping. The one on the left tossed her mane of brown hair over one shoulder impatiently, as though its presence annoyed her. Her eyes, a hazel dark enough to be brown unless the light caught them right, were a little red in the corners and shined a bit with unshed tears. Her lipstick, once pink and bright, had faded and made her lips seem naked in contrast to the green and blue eye shadow and plum color on her cheeks. A necklace with a clear stone hung between her breasts, offsetting her pink dress. She wore no stockings, just pink heels that closed with delicate straps. Her companion wore faded jeans with a white halter top and had short, spiky blonde hair. Her nails were a dark brown and cut short, which just offset the powerful hands. Muscular and fit, she dwarfed several of the men in the dining room – not by size, because she wasn’t all that tall, but in athleticism. Her face, devoid of makeup, glowed with a flush of anger. She gestured as she talked, her hands moving back and forth around her coffee mug.
The waitress moved around the dining room efficiently, collecting a plate here, refilling a water glass there. Her nametag said “Joan,” but she looked like a Marjorie or Louise. She checked her hair and lipstick in the reflection of the silver fridge behind a long counter and slipped a small silver cylinder out of her apron. Her lip color went on smooth, a glossy violet that set off her brown eyes. She fluffed her hair and went back to her rounds. She never stayed longer than necessary to collect orders and check on beverages, there but not there. No one had any time to complain, but no one got to know her, either. The man sitting by himself in the booth made for two watched her, never looking directly at her, but head always turned so he could sneak peeks. She never spoke to him, just refilled his soda a couple times. She avoided a table of two women arguing, interrupting just long enough to get their order and then set it on the table – two grilled cheese sandwiches, fries, and a side of ranch. She didn’t look twice when the blond one dunked the corner of her sandwich in the dressing and took a bite, just refilled their waters and went about her rounds.