out of the ashes

Friday, December 10, 2010

Life is Good...

Friends are many.
I'm working on quite a few "stories"!
Here's one that I like. Hope you do, too. From One Year.


Rocky Mountain News headline. Page 2. April 10th, 1957.

BLAZE ERUPTS IN WESTSIDE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

I said a hundred prayers of supplication to every saint I could think of after reading that, but Jimmy and I decided against finding that little rat Dennis and stringing him up by the thumbs...or the balls. Local investigators somehow failed to add up two and two, to our greatest relief, and so the mysterious fire in Mr. Kintzele's weed-infested vacant lot, the girl with the incinerated scalp at the Comet Theater, and the roaring blaze in the auditorium at Barnum Public School remained isolated incidents. We thought.
We decided to forevermore curb our fascination with pyrotechnics…well, kind of. Jimmy boasted that he’d nearly solved the problem of the amount of gunpowder needed to propel his broom handle rocket into orbit.
Meanwhile, a certain detective familiar with my neighborhood began to apply basic arithmetic to the possibility of a connection regarding the fires…






Twenty-two







Detective Ryan did indeed visit the home of the Patterson family. I learned much later that Butch answered the door with the ever-present cigarette dangling out of his mouth that day. Unlike me, he did not make a good impression on Detective Ryan. But he did make a lasting one. Being stupid, Butch’s vocabulary was limited to sentences which made little sense, were contradictory, or else splattered with four letter words—and that did not set well with the detective. All told, his explanation of the events that terrible day at the Comet Theater sounded very much like a lie to Ryan. Suspicion concerning who committed the crime of shooting the match into the girl’s hair fell immediately onto his and Inky’s shoulders.
Still, the matter was easily settled now that a battery of suspects had been tracked down. Ryan requested that my parents bring me, and that Mrs. McGuire bring Jimmy, down to the home of Dennis to star in a line up. All hope in my heart vanished when Mom informed Pop at the dinner table in tears that her son would likely be going to juvenile hall soon—if not the state penitentiary. Afterward she left the tear-stained room and marched next door to awaken Mrs. McGuire from her continuous drunken stupor, if such a thing was possible, and inform her that Jimmy must accompany us on the death march. Mickey’s name was never brought up.
“Did you do it?” Pop inquired calmly after mom had disappeared in her breast-beating, doloroso veil.
I did not lie. “No, sir. I had nothing to do with it.”
We walked; Mom two steps in front of Mrs. McGuire, Pop bringing up the rear, Jimmy and I sandwiched in between. Down past Clifford’s big house, past Allen’s tiny one, then across Ellsworth Avenue we walked. Midway down the street we passed the dancer’s front door, and a sort of hellish feeling welled up in my stomach. She sat on the porch swing with a friend—or maybe the other girl was her sister. I tried not to glance over at them, or at her I should say, but a morbid impulse latched onto me and I turned my head. She’d noticed the parade, and she must have known it was more a procession of calves to the slaughterhouse, or murderers to the gallows. I dropped my eyes and cursed the moment.
When we reached our destination, I saw detective Ryan standing on the doorstep of Dennis’ house, the door ajar, the boy’s mother halfway in and halfway out, holding a handkerchief over her mouth and nose. At her side peeking out at us stood the bane of creation himself. I shot a look at Jimmy. He was sweating bullets this time around, and he whispered to me, “By his little balls.” Dennis eased farther behind his weeping mother’s skirt.
“Ah. Here they are, Mrs. Humboldt,” Ryan said when we came to a halt at the foot of her porch. “Terrence, can you step out here and take a look at these two boys? Do you recognize them as the ones who gave you the matchgun?”
Dennis, or little Terrence as it turned out, poked his head out from behind his mother’s broad posterior. He wasn’t looking at me, I’m certain. His eyes locked on Jimmy’s immediately, and the necessary words were quickly communicated. Even little Terrence valued the jewels he had not yet had the opportunity to use. He crumbled in the face of Jimmy.
“No.”
“No?” repeated Detective Ryan.
“No. I never seen these guys 'afore. They ain’t the ones. There was three of ‘em.”
Detective Ryan’s brow fell at that lie. He addressed Pop matter-of-factly. “Wait by my car.”
And so the five of us turned and marched back out to the street. Ryan, Terrence, and his mother had disappeared by the time I took a seat on the curb and looked back at the house. A few moments passed in that state of Limbo out in the silence of the street. Then Ryan exited the house alone and strode down the steps, down the sidewalk, and came directly to me.
“You told me yesterday that you’d given the boy a matchgun, Daniel. Now he tells me he’s never seen you before. What’s up here? Did you or did you not give that boy the weapon that enabled him to start a fire at school?”
I stood alone in the universe after that question. A concept I’d never truthfully encountered on a real level surfaced in my head. A moral dilemma. I had two options, and neither of them was particularly palatable. Deny my involvement, or tell the truth. I answered Detective Ryan.
“No sir. I didn’t. Jimmy gave it to him…but I was there. And it was us who shot the match inside the Comet…”
Mom let out a sound that was not a wail, nor a screech. I had kicked her in the stomach and her response was a muted bellow, a groan, a whimper.
Pop remained quiet.
Mrs. McGuire merely seemed confused.

I thought better of speaking at the dinner table that evening; of even being there in fact. But, my presence was requested, and my replies to the questions pitched at me were duly noted, as if Detective Ryan had seated himself with his notebook and pen at the ready directly across from me. A rancorous veil was thrown across me, this time not only by Mom, but also by Pop.
“Even if it’s true you didn’t actually shoot that match in the theater, or have anything to do with handing the gun to that boy,” Pop lectured me waving a finger in my face, “you’re still guilty by association.”
“Yes, and I’ll tell you another thing, and it ain’t two…” Mom began.
“Be quiet, Rosie, I’ll handle this,” Pop said. The color in his face deepened to incendiary red as he continued, at long last not the least lost for words. Mom sat back in her chair, defeated, or content with his command, or waiting—but in silence.
“So here’s the deal. I’ll drive you to school for the remainder of the year, and pick you up at 3:30 every afternoon. I can’t stop you from talking to Jimmy or that Fumo boy while you’re out of my sight, but by God if I hear even a whisper that the three of you have done anything—anything—that would make me raise an eyebrow…do I make myself crystal clear?”
Like looking through a window into God’s home on high. “Yes, Pop.”
“Good. You’ve shamed your family and yourself. Don’t ever let it happen again. Understand?”
“Yes sir.”
“Alright, then. You’ll stay in this house until I say you can leave. Now, finish eating, get the dishes done, and then go to your room.”
I looked up. Mom had placed her hand on Pop’s forearm, and though I’d pierced her side with a spear a few hours ago down at little Terrence’s house, I saw her mouth curl upward into a smile. She remained silent as I rose and took my plate to the sink in the kitchen.
“And one last thing,” Pop added. “You’ll go along with me to that girl’s house and you’ll tell her you’re sorry. God help you if her folks decide to press charges.”
“What about Barnum School?” I asked in dread.
“We’ll wait and see there.”
At last Mom decided it was probably safe to interject her feelings on the matter.
“Skippy. That was a courageous thing you did…telling the truth. I’m proud of you.”

***

The smoke cleared two weeks later, and I heaved a sigh of relief. The girl at the Comet whose hair Jimmy’s match had started on fire had a name, I discovered. Marilou Jenkins. She was very pretty, an honor student at a private school for girls on the eastside of town. As promised, or as threatened, we visited her.
Jimmy, Pop, and I drove to her home one morning when the sky had abandoned itself to a somber rug of gray. We pulled up to the curb, and at first I was shocked and disheartened when Pop checked the address he’d written on the back of an envelope, and then announced, “This is it.” He cut the engine of our dusty old truck, emitting a cloud of smoke out through the tailpipe thicker than the dreary sky above us. We had driven to another planet.
“Je-sus H. Kee-rist,” Jimmy remarked, and I had to second the invocation.
The home, sitting in Versailles elegance on the corner lot, looked more like a grand museum or an important public building, except for the park-like expanse of golf course lawn, and the English gardens meandering through the acreage spanning the distance to the mansion that would have made Mom explode with envy. Bordering the broad parkway, towering elms stood, perfectly aligned and spaced. They were trimmed as if a small army of tree barbers spent innumerable hours each day manicuring them, until even the squirrels and birds donned tuxedos before entering the branches.
The three of us exited the truck in a state of awe—Jimmy and I, anyway—and hiked up the meandering flagstone walkway to an entry as imposing as that of Montecello. I glanced nervously at my ragged sneakers as Pop pushed the doorbell button.
We waited.
The door was opened halfway by a predatory-faced woman dressed in the attire of a maid instead of what in my mind should have been spots, or stripes. She smelled strongly of lemon oil mixed with mothballs, and she showed us into a foyer the size of our entire house, where we were politely instructed to wait. She then padded silently across the black and white checked marble floor into an adjoining gallery lined with ten foot-tall paintings and milk-white statuary. Standing in the foyer peering in, it seemed to me none of it had any practical use beyond its grandiose statement of sinful wealth and extreme snobbery. Undoubtedly, Mom would have agreed. And, the statues were naked.
But such was not the case with the occupants themselves.
A middle-aged gentleman dressed in a Lord and Taylor-looking black suit strode across the floor several minutes later as I stood gawking at the smooth, sculpted, firm breasts on one of those statues. He was followed by a much younger woman, fashionably attired, who at first I mistook for Sophia Loren. Miss Marilou Jenkins, sporting a blonde, pixie cut hairdo, followed her beautiful black-haired mother. My eyes fixed on the young woman immediately, trying to imagine if she could have looked any more angelic with locks like waterfalls of silk drifting all the way to her shoulders, and snow white wings that had not been savaged by the fire. I shuddered and drew in a breath as inconspicuously as my instantly smitten condition would allow. I glanced again quickly at the undressed statue directly over her shoulder—and then as quickly made an abbreviated act of contrition.
Miss Marilou Jenkins surveyed the three visitors from the Westside; Pop and Jimmy, impassively, briefly, and then she let her gaze fall on me where it rested as she followed her parents into the foyer where we stood waiting. Whether she was counting the droplets of sweat that had begun to form on my forehead after seeing this creature Jimmy had lit on fire, mentally sneering at the apparent rags I’d thrown on not two hours ago in ignorance of the impending audience, or simply wondering what alien universe I’d escaped from, I could not tell.
“Mr. Morley. Thank you for coming across town with the boys.” Mr. Jenkins spoke in a clear, mellifluous voice as he walked toward my father, his hand extended in greeting.
Pop seemed very comfortable, or at least not particularly ill-at-ease. He shook the gentleman’s hand.
“I’m very sorry, Dr. Jenkins, that this visit became necessary. This is my son, Daniel, and his friend Jimmy.” He motioned with a nod of his head for me to say something. But what was I to say in that ambassadorial place, standing before these people who likely had just removed wreaths of laurel from their heads before entering the cavernous room?
It’s so lovely to meet you, sir. May I kiss your daughter?
And so I merely said, “Hello, sir.” To my undying horror, my voice cracked mid-sentence. The velvety mid-range C of ‘hello’ suddenly kicked up three octaves at the next short word, ‘sir’. I cursed my vocal cords and would have bolted for the door right then except that Miss Marilou Jenkins’ aquamarine eyes had brightened like twin novas, and she smiled across the room at me. I cleared my throat. My cheeks and forehead bled heat.
“Please,” Dr. Jenkins gestured to us, “Come into the library. Right this way.” He waited until Pop drew alongside him, and then walked with him, trading small asides, grinning at my father’s pithy replies to his statements and questions.
The amiable doctor’s wife lingered a step behind the two of them. She smiled at Jimmy and me, and then inquired. “Your mother could not make it, Daniel?”
“No, ma’am. Saturday is laundry day.”
“I see. That is a shame. And your mother, James?” she said turning to Jimmy, who turned up his nose at the appellation.
“Umm…she’s emptyin’ bottles.”
I cringed, certain that...
“I see. Baby bottles? You have a younger brother or sister?”
Jimmy nodded, as if he had rehearsed his answer. “Yeah, one of each.”
“Ah. How lovely.”
We crossed the expanse of the gallery of naked statues, Miss Marilou Jenkins gliding between her mother and myself as though one of those marble images had come to life and stepped down from its pedestal. I thought I caught the faint scent of lilacs drifting from her.
“The younger ones must keep her very busy, indeed,” Mrs. Doctor Jenkins said.
“You can’t imagine,” Jimmy laughed. “Bottles everywhere. And crappy diapers.”
Mrs. Jenkins’ pencil-thin, dark eyebrows soared upward at the remark, and she shot a sort-of disdainful look at my best friend. Miss Marilou Jenkins put a hand to her mouth, stifling a giggle. We moved on, me wishing I had at least worn my old suit.
At the end of the gallery of statues and paintings, an ornate archway of stone led into a wide hallway lined with several imposing carved wood doors, their polished brass handlesets set midway up on one edge in the European style. Dr. Jenkins stopped at the second room on the right, opened the door inward, and indicated with a wave of his hand for us to enter. Again, and not for the last time that day, my jaw dropped. This was the library.
Four wingback chairs—that Pop took only casual notice of, but probably would be able to describe down to the last luxurious thread later—were set in a semi-circle in front of a kingly desk of mirror-polished wood. Floor to ceiling bookcases stood, packed with volume after volume, and except for the doorway in, and a single, tall window behind the desk, the books dominated; a dense wallcovering of thousands of lofty, written thoughts.
We took a seat; Pop, Jimmy, me, and to my right, Miss Marilou Jenkins with her faint scent of summer flowers. Dr. Jenkins sat imperiously in his leather chair opposite us behind the desk. A gray-mist shaft of light shined through the window making him appear otherworldly. He leaned back and surveyed the two arsonists, the fingertips of his right hand tapping his chin, and then he let his gaze fall on his daughter.
“That was a very serious and foolish thing you boys did in that theater. You understand that, don’t you,” he said, as though the statement was being directed at her.
“Yes sir,” I concurred holding onto my vocal chords with all that I possessed.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Jimmy followed.
I did not wait for anything further to erupt out of Jimmy’s mouth. I turned to Miss Marilou Jenkins and melted into an apology worthy of my finest moment inside a confessional.
“Please accept my sincerest forgiveness, miss. If I had it all to do over again I wouldn’t of…well, that is…I would have…”
Miss Marilou Jenkins’ smile broadened in amusement at my comments. She turned full-face to me and said, “I accept your ‘forgiveness’. I was planning to have it cut anyway.”
I heard Jimmy exhale in relief. If we were to be chastised and made to kneel in sackcloth outside their door for one or two weeks; made to survive on moldy black bread, and water from the gutter, it appeared it would not be at the hands of the girl sitting beside me. We both looked imploringly over at Dr. Jenkins, as if to say, “See, sir. No harm done. None at all.”
“What were ya’ doin’ at a theater clear across town?” Jimmy asked Miss Marilou Jenkins in the momentary lull in the conversation. Pop looked over at Jimmy in astonishment. I dropped my gaze and squinted with pain. Still, it was a good question, but I would never have had the courage to ask it. I waited for her answer.
“Our daughter wished to visit her cousins who live near a park on your side of town,” Dr. Jenkins emphasized the phrase, ‘near a park’. Barnum, I guessed, as there was nothing as grand as City Park where we lived; just the small, hilly half mile square home of smaller trees, smaller trails, a smaller playground, and the smaller lake. “Her mother and I were going out of town. Perhaps we should have taken her with us?” he asked in a serious tone, but with a glint in his eye.
Probably so.
In the moments ahead we learned these things:
Dr. Jenkins had been in Minneapolis with his lovely wife that weekend attending a convention of Proctologists. The eminent rectal repair specialist did not tell us exactly what one hears at such a convention—perhaps long hissing sounds punctuated by laughter and the pinching of noses?—but he lectured us, punctuated, definitely, with extremely long words neither of us had ever heard before. We sat before him nervously, and I’m certain shook our heads yes once or twice, when in fact we should have shaken them no.
The inferno in Miss Marilou Jenkin’s hair turned out to be not an inferno at all. In fact it was only a minor brush fire of really little consequence. The cousin sitting at her side had had the foresight and prize fighter reactions to smother it long before it did more than eliminate most of the split ends caused by teasing and hairspray.
“Young gentlemen such as yourselves from good Christian families,” Dr. Jenkins turned his head slightly toward Pop and nodded. Pop nodded obligingly back at him. “…consider their actions very soberly, weighing the consequences…” And we listened to it all again.
An hour later as we left his mansion I couldn’t help but overhear Pop inquiring of Dr. Jenkins whether he knew the little known fact that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart suffered from Tenesmus, brought on by an unwillingness, or forgetfulness, to run to the chamber pot due to his complete immersion in composing. Of course, Pop continued, the physicians of the day diagnosed the discomfort as nothing more than gas.
“Not precisely true,” corrected Dr. Jenkins (who certainly would have known). “Herr Mozart consumed entirely too much beef, and drank cheaper wines far in excess of what would even then have been considered moderate to heavy alcoholic consumption. While he imagined his bowels…”
At the end of which Pop quipped that never in his life had beef, or beer, at least, “…caused any discernible deviation from other than a normal bowel movement in my life. At any rate, I bow to your probable expertise concerning Mr. Mozart’s unfortunate condition. It certainly didn’t affect his fingers.”
With a hearty laugh, the doctor agreed wholeheartedly. I moved down the corridor toward the entry at the side of Miss Marilou Jenkins, lost in a cloud of medical shadows cast by the doctor and the upholsterer. My father, I suddenly realized, inhabited a world far below the one he should have lived in.
“He loves to speak to his guests about stuff like that. My father is so weird,” Miss Marilou Jenkins whispered to me.
“So is mine,” I whispered back, my lips touching the strands of sweet-smelling hair covering her ears.
At the entry, Dr. Jenkins grabbed hold of Pop’s hand once more, clasping over the top of it with the other. For the short moments of our visit they had looked in each other’s eyes on an equal plane, but I knew the moment we left that the invisible barrier separating their worlds would have to be erected again.
We returned to Barnum along the same streets that had taken us to that place of refinement and beauty; relieved, silent.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A very short story

I've been working.

The Rape of Innocence


This was clear as crystal in his nightmare.
There were children laughing and shrieking on a playground outside a tall school building with darkened windows puncturing the red brick façade, and a high sloping roof with dormers. There were trees bordering it—elms and cottonwoods with bare, tangled branches that seemed to shiver under a thin cloak of snow, and there were green and dappled-white firs, too, that looked quite warm somehow. The schoolyard itself was deeply covered in snow, except where the children played; shoveled roughly there into mounds in a wide circle outside the doors, and beaten down beneath the swings and gleaming steel slides and ladder-like monkey bars. He could see his fingers hanging through the links of a fence so high that the top rail vanished in the lead-gray air, and he watched the children running, screaming, throwing snow. The coat he wore had short arms, and the ends stopping well above his thin wrists were threadbare and spotted with stains. He wanted to go inside and play.
A man stopped beside him, towering over him, and the child grasping the links of the fence immediately felt his presence, feared him instinctively, but there was nowhere to run. No gate leading into the schoolyard as far as he could see in either direction, and he sensed that if he bolted an iron hand was set to grab him anyway. He peered up with dread into the face. White puffs of hot breath came in even bursts out of a mouth that dragged down the lined and sunken cheeks. He had no nose, this man—or if he did the child saw only two bullet dots set between vicious, glowing eyes. He glared at the children on the other side of the fence, and even though his body covered in a cloak as ragged as his own touched him, the child knew the man’s attention was focused like a hawk’s on the carefree quarry protected by the fence.
A young girl with long, raven hair looked up and noticed the child standing at the fence. She left her swing and the anthill of other boys and girls and walked with tiny steps in his direction until she reached the ridge of dirty snow where she stopped. A smile had graced her pretty face until, he could not help but notice, her eyes shifted upward to the figure standing beside him, and then a look of fear greater, even, than his own descended over her. She turned and ran back toward the other children. He watched her. The man watched her, too. The playground was empty, suddenly, and dead quiet, and sheets of white had begun to fall that made it almost impossible to make out the building in the background. She stopped when she saw that she was alone, like a terrified roe finding itself surrounded by wolves in a blizzard. Her legs, covered with white stockings, jerked left, then right, then left again. Finally adrenaline and instinct thrust her body into motion. She bolted through the thick cloud toward the doors and disappeared in the dense mist.
The man stood motionless, glaring. Now his steaming breaths came in deeper, closer bursts, and he grinned, but the boy had no idea why at first.
A moment passed.
He felt the vise of the man’s fingers on his shoulder, and finally heard a low voice that perfectly suited the face.
“Stay put you little fuck.” And then he moved away, down along the fence to an opening that hadn’t been there seconds earlier. He stepped though.

The young girl reappeared, and the boy could see the terror more clearly, now, with every step she took. Steps that faltered and wound up leading her back to where she had started. She froze. The man walked steadily through the drifts of snow as if the ground was dry until he reached the plowed walkway a dozen feet from the little girl. He glanced back at the boy, whose fingers tightened on the links, and then he turned and approached the trembling girl. The boy screamed. He recognized the girl! He knew her—the clear memory of a house built high in a tree. A thatched-roof porch and a bamboo railing. Her hand in his as they sat cross-legged and threw twigs and fallen seeds through the wide gaps of the rail. Her laughter.
He knew the man, too—the horrible thing was his own father—and he knew that the little girl would soon die.
(c) Patrick Sean Lee-2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Shift

To the right...

I just finished this, though, after several reviewers dissed my "revised" Chapter One from Marvin--which I was a bit skeptical of anyway.
I'm going to complete the rewrite--not much left to do--and begin shopping it to agents again.

Here's One :)

The Redemption of Marvin Fuster

Chapter One

He was a careful man. Years and years of practice had honed this quality in him. It saved his life and freedom time and again, when instead of stepping into the street without looking, he bothered to glance left and right. When, before stealing a slab of cheese or his afternoon bottle of whiskey, he melted into the shadows momentarily. It was as much a part of him as the ragged, filthy clothes he wore. It might even be argued that it was part of his genetic makeup.
Today, May 31st, 1998, Marvin Quenton Fuster abandoned that single, saving quality—only for an instant, but in that instant the course of his life changed forever. Stepping casually into the street, not noticing the speeding car approaching with its driver on a cell phone, could not have been more momentous.
The early evening was delightfully warm, and above him the sky was beginning to unfold in deeper shades of blue, with the first twinkles of light stretching their delicate little arms. Marvin had already finished half of his bottle and he felt the rising of that pleasant numbness that had become his lover over the long years. He was hungry, as well, and so he’d returned to his favorite dumpster, the one behind La Fitte’s Restaurant in downtown Denver where some of the most delectable garbage in the world always awaited him.
He approached it, looked left, and then he looked right out of habit. The alley was empty, and so he poked his head over the edge of the steel container. The rancid smell of putrefied meat and potatoes and vegetables that had escaped the banging motion of the dumpster as it was being emptied into the refuse truck struck him. So, also, did the sight of a half-eaten slab of prime rib splattered with freshly mashed potatoes and trails of rich brown gravy. A little to the left of it beneath a crumpled napkin lay the remains of a salad and two or three segments of an orange, one of them severed in two. There were mounds of other cast-offs littering the third-full dumpster, but the prime rib was what he wanted. It lay near the rear a little out of reach, and so he climbed in to get it.
He sat for a moment, his back against a strong end of the container and his legs stretched out comfortably in front of him in the pile of souring food. He bit into the steak and savored the taste of it, and then eased a wilting piece of lettuce from its resting place beneath the napkin—which he would later use to wipe his lips clean, as gentlemen everywhere did. The lettuce itself had little flavor, but he liked its texture and the faint, oily residual taste of some dressing he couldn’t identify. The mashed potatoes were real, never instant from a box in an establishment like this. The gravy blended into the creamy softness of them was delicious, and he licked each finger after stuffing the gooey mess into his mouth.
Marvin removed the pint of whiskey from the pocket of his trench coat and sipped it between bites, imagining himself seated at one of the elegant tables inside, sipping a fine wine, a beautiful woman charmed by his wealth and wit inches away across the table. He closed his eyes, sipped the whiskey, chewed the steak (forgot all about the lettuce), and spoke like Casanova to the woman.
The metallic squeak of a door nearby awakened him as surely as if he’d been touched by a live wire. He instinctively eased himself down lower and waited.

***

She stood somewhere outside his crib in a white skirt with puffed cap sleeves, and she was sobbing. She was his mother, and her name was Rosemary, though he didn’t know this. She was simply her. The image drifted, or he did. Nothing would stay focused for more than a second or two. Suddenly Marvin was in a doorway, looking up at her. She seemed so tall. She was laughing, perhaps—her lips were moving, and he wanted her attention for some reason. Rosemary—it was Rosemary Fuster—leaned down at last to ask him what the matter was. He raised his arms, and one of his hands came to rest inadvertently, unconsciously, on her left breast. There was laughter and some remark that he couldn’t understand that came from the foggy background.
He blinked and found himself outside in the backyard behind the ramshackle house. This image was much clearer. It was hot and he was sitting in the tall weeds playing with pot-metal soldiers. They were painted in reds and blues, with white breeches and black boots. The soldier in his hand held a musket. Those hidden behind the thick, green stalks—the trees on his battlefield—wore different colored jackets, but their breeches were white as well. They also held muskets, and one of them was missing a leg. Another had fallen over, lying rigid in the dirt like a toppled statue. He was outnumbered ten to one, but he was quicker and smarter, and he wasn’t drunk like they were. Fools. He’d take them down one at a time and send them straight to Hell.
He could hear slurred shouting and cries over his shoulder coming from the house.
He swung himself down, musket pointed forward with its bayonet attached, and took out the first of them with violent quickness.

***

He closed his eyes. Wondered why?
The sound of slightly labored footsteps, grew louder and nearer, and then they stopped just outside the dumpster. Marvin opened his eyes and raised himself, placing both hands on the edge of the dumpster.
Screw it. I ain’t got nuthin’ to be afraid…
He peered out. Nearly even with the edge of his dining pit was the circular rim of a thirty-five gallon plastic garbage can wobbling left and right as a pair of arms struggled to lift it. Marvin reached out, put a hand on the top of the can and pushed down. The can sunk six inches under the pressure, revealing the top of a gnome’s head covered with a thick black carpet of hair. There was a grunt, and then the can shot upward again, and a set of eyes appeared as the gnome struggled, moving his head to the right to look. Marvin smiled down at him.
“Hey there, bub. You ain’t plannin’ on dumpin’ that stuff on me, are ya’?”
There followed a silence.
The gnome seemed not to understand English, at least Marvin’s English. Marvin waited. Finally the gnome replied.
“Signor?”
“Ahh.” Marvin pointed to the far end of the dumpster. “Down there-o.”
The little fellow shot his dark eyes to the end, following Marvin’s finger, and then he smiled up at the bum. “Si.” He muttered, “Un vagabundo de mierda.” He slid the container along the edge until it arrived at the corner, and then he began again to push it up. Marvin followed inside, over the mattress of slop and refuse beneath his feet, and then helped pull the container up onto the edge. With a mighty effort, the gnome pushed harder, and with a last grunt, managed it over the rim. A liquid mass mixed with napkins, gooey greens, a cigar butt…all of it and more slid out and landed with a splat. A shake of the container, and then back down it went.
The little guy hesitated for a moment, looking up at Marvin, surveying the weather-beaten skin of the bum’s face, the unruly shock of thin, gray hair, the sunken shoulders draped by the filthy trench coat.
“Gracias.” He finally bowed his head quickly, and then strode away. He would return to his duties inside, and the honest-earned paycheck that would be handed to him in a day or two.
Marvin watched him leave. Gracias. Gracias. ‘Course! Grace before dinner.
“Grat-see-oss yerself, little fella’…an’ thanks!”
He was standing by then with his hands on the steel edge, his waist leaning against the metal, watching the kid retreat. When the rear restaurant door clunked shut, Marvin turned and looked back down. Now, where was I? Goddam’ pig sty. Let’s get our butt outa’ here, Marvin. Where’s that fuckin’ steak?
He rummaged through the garbage until he located the meat with his teeth marks in it. Stuffed it into a crumpled bag just added by the gnome’s drop to the mess, added a few greens and some soggy crackers. A bonus—a bottle of wine with a sip or two remaining in it. He happily scanned the label.
Fonta—la-luh—lora Fel—si-na. Hmm…don’t reconize it. At’s okay…wine’s wine.
He gathered up his trove and then began to exit the bin. The bottoms of his shoes were layered with the liquified mess—potatotes, antipasti remnants, Veal Parmesan, water, Fontalora Felsina, 1982 vintage, et cum spiritu, tuo. He held the bag and the wine bottle in his right hand and swung the same leg over, searching down along the face of the bin for one of the longitudinal depressions stacked like ruled paper lines in the metal. He didn’t bother to bend his head over to look, however, thinking he’d found one of the toeholds. He had not.
The sole of his shoe slid quickly, like the slop it wore had when little Rudolpho had added it to the bin, and Marvin’s body followed, head first. The trip down—he clung to the bag and bottle with a religious fervor—was quick, but Marvin was able to relive several important scenes of his long life, say the entire act of contrition, recite the pledge of allegiance (those portions he could remember), and calculate that it was going to hurt like hell in just a second. After all these thoughts were completed, there remained a split second of nothing in his mind.
He hit, and true to his expectations, it hurt like hell. And then everything went to peaceful black.

***

This was clear as crystal.
There were children laughing and shrieking on a playground outside a tall school building with darkened windows puncturing the red brick façade, and a high sloping roof with dormers. There were trees bordering it—elms and cottonwoods with bare, tangled branches that seemed to shiver under a thin cloak of snow, and there were green and dappled-white firs, too, that looked quite warm. The schoolyard itself was deeply covered in snow, except where the children played; shoveled roughly there into mounds in a wide circle outside the doors, and beaten down beneath the swings and gleaming steel slides and ladder-like monkey bars. He could see his fingers hanging through the links of a fence so high that the top rail vanished in the lead-gray air, and he watched the children running, screaming, throwing snow. The coat he wore had short arms, and the ends stopping well above his thin wrists were threadbare and spotted with stains. He wanted to go inside and play.
A man stopped beside him, towering over him, and the child grasping the links of the fence immediately felt his presence, feared him instinctively, but there was nowhere to run. No gate leading into the schoolyard as far as he could see in either direction, and he sensed that if he bolted an iron hand was set to grab him anyway. He peered up with dread into the face. White puffs of hot breath came in even bursts out of a mouth that dragged down the lined and sunken cheeks. He had no nose, this man—or if he did the child saw only two bullet dots set between vicious, glowing eyes. He glared at the children on the other side of the fence, and even though the man’s body, covered in a cloak as ragged as his own touched him, the child knew the man’s attention was focused like a hawk’s on the carefree quarry protected by the fence.
A young girl with long, raven hair looked up and noticed the child standing at the fence. She left her swing and the anthill of other boys and girls and walked with tiny steps in his direction until she reached the ridge of dirty snow where she stopped. A smile had graced her pretty face until, he could not help but notice, her eyes shifted upward to the figure standing beside him, and then a look of fear greater, even, than his own descended over her. She turned and ran back toward the other children. He watched her. The man watched her, too. The playground was empty, suddenly, and dead quiet, and sheets of white had begun to fall that made it almost impossible to make out the building in the background. She stopped when she saw that she was alone, like a terrified roe finding itself surrounded by wolves in a blizzard. Her legs, covered with white stockings, jerked left, then right, then left again. Finally adrenaline and instinct thrust her body into motion. She bolted through the thick cloud toward the doors and disappeared in the dense mist.
The man stood motionless, glaring. Now his steaming breaths came in deeper, closer bursts, and he grinned, but the boy had no idea why at first.
A moment passed.
He felt the vise of the man’s fingers on his shoulder, and finally heard a low voice that perfectly suited the face.
“Stay put you little fuck.” And then he moved away, down along the fence to an opening that hadn’t been there seconds earlier. He stepped though.
The young girl reappeared, and the boy could see the terror more clearly, now, with every step she took. Steps that faltered and wound up leading her back to where she had started. She froze. The man walked steadily through the drifts of snow as if the ground was dry until he reached the plowed walkway a dozen feet from the little girl. He glanced back at the boy, whose fingers tightened on the links, and then he turned and approached the trembling girl. The boy screamed. He recognized the girl! He knew her—the clear memory of a house built high in a tree. A thatched-roof porch and a bamboo railing. Her hand in his as they sat cross-legged and threw twigs and fallen seeds through the wide gaps of the rail. Her laughter.
He knew the man, too, and he knew that the little girl would soon die.

***

The dim vision of doors opening. A voice; the sensation or being rolled along on a cart over an unending series of railroad tracks.
“Go! OR 2!...”
Darkness.
Angels! Jesus Christ! Two of ‘em, maybe three. No, two; one of ‘em keeps shifting, like some kinda’ mirage. Two, hoverin’ above…wherever I am.
Darkness.
Voices…not clear…so far away. Somethin’ like a brightness…insides of a goddam blast furnace, or a atomic explosion, but no pain or heat...no…
No pain…shift again. Inside a familiar room, but unfamiliar. It’s cavernous, poorly lit, and Marvin is not alone.

(c) Patrick Sean Lee-2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

September Has Slipped Away

Where did it go? So quickly; too quickly
I'm immersed in work, immersed in editing. "Can you read this and offer your opinion, please?"
"Of course, send it over."
I'm a damned good editor! A better set of eyes, perhaps, than a writer. I don't know.
No.
I believe if I just focus and do it, the good stuff will come out. It's the, "Okay, my turn. Put everything else aside, sit down, open the working draft and go. Yes, I know you're not inspired this morning...that isn't what it's all about, though, is it? It never really was. It never will be. It's the ACT of beginning. You begin by typing 'The.' Small beginning no doubt. And then you transport yourself to the scene. Walk in it. Begin to see the flowers and trees and clouds and mountains; the mosquitos, the little movement of something in the brush there beside the trail. You smell the unusual little odors in the air, hear a bird's call nearby. Your hand brushes the spiky leaves of a plant. Get it?"
Yes, I do. It's work, but it's magic.

I'm meeting with some old friends again...good writers...we're tearing into our books, line by line, character by character, word by word. "But I meant to say..."
"Well, you didn't. Consider doing this..."
And so books are created. Good books.
Here's a little from my totally, totally revised third book...a line or three:)

The Lodge—September 30, 2010
Matthew

The sun is as bright as the insides of a white-hot blast furnace this morning, but it is a frozen brightness. It is my second month here at the lodge. The long eaves of the roof seem to be smoldering as their breathy vapors leave and stream upward, urged off the foot-thick blanket of snow covering the steep roof. Droplets of water escape through the underside; the snow is melting from the inside out. Here in the room the stale, pungent air is radiant-heated by the window glass, but out there on the other side the temperature is barely above the freezing mark.
I am writing. One hundred-sixty pages as of last night at midnight.
The doorway wall no longer suits my creative mood. I require sunlight dancing on my brow, so yesterday I moved the writing desk across the room to the window. Now I can see this wonderland that changes in shadow and texture with the rising and setting of the sun. I can feel it. I set the phone on the floor, strung a power cord that Mr. Davenport was kind enough to give me from the outlet across the room, and placed a pillow from my bed onto the hard chair. I listen to classical music on iTunes, write for twelve, or even fourteen hours, with four ten-minute breaks to run downstairs for more coffee, run back up to pee, make the phone calls necessary to keep the world happy, or at least off my back, eat the food my adopted mother, Mrs. Davenport, delivers, rest and stretch my arms and legs. Discipline is the doorway to success, to completion, to the possibility of a favorable review in the New York Times Book Review next year. I am consumed.
As I sit here in front of the window, yawning, finding words, pecking, my cell phone rings. I meant to switch it to vibrate before I sat down, but I meant to eat, too, and forgot to open the door three hours ago at 7:00 and grab the tray of my standing order of fruit and cereal. Thank you, Mom. I check the number, praying it might be Isabella’s, one of the few I have never seen displayed.
Shit. It’s Allison, who I haven’t spoken to in ten days. I consider not answering it, but I depress the green circle on the keypad instead, and say hello.
“Matt you need to come home right now I’m sick of Maria and her constant cleaning while I’m trying to make my breakfast and I’m tired of her always asking me if I need anything when she knows perfectly well that if I need something I am perfectly capable of getting it myself and if she doesn’t stay out of our room...” she starts.
I think of Michael and how sad it is that he could only ever be her bosom buddy. I’d love for him to steal her away from me. “Slow down, Allie. One thing at a time. Try that again,” I say very nicely.
Allison remains silent for a second, and I know she is wracking her brain. Finally she has it all worked out and starts again. “Matt. Maria is getting on my nerves. I nearly threw her out today and told her not to come back.”
“Because she cleans the kitchen while you’re in there?”
“Yes. For starters.”
“What time would that be?”
“I don’t know,” she says with a great deal of irritation in her voice. “Ten, maybe.”
“Or eleven, maybe?” I ask.
“I don’t really know! Maybe.”
“Why don’t you try getting up at, say, eight?”
“For what ungodly reason? Nobody gets up at eight! Maaatty…it sounds like you’re taking her side over mine!”
She’s right. Maria is the best housekeeper money can buy. “Try eight. That gives you two hours to get out of her way.”
“Oh! You’re impossible! Eight. I’m barely getting to sleep by then.”
I’m betting that’s the truth. Or maybe just getting home.
“What else?”
“You need to come home, Matty.”
“Why? I’ve only been here a couple of months. I’m writing.”
“You need to handle all of this! I can’t.”
“All of what? Just get up earlier, and stay out of the bedroom when Maria is cleaning. What’s so hard about that?”
“She’s a pain…and I’m out of money.” Allison says the last part sheepishly. Now it’s clear.
“What? Your credit card has a ten thousand dollar limit, for Christ sake! How can you be out of money?”
“I just am. Can you just call Visa, then, and tell them to take some money out of your bank account or something. I have to buy clothes and…all that. You want me to look nice don’t you, Matty?”
“No! How did you max out a ten thousand dollar card? What the hell have you been buying? I know you had at least six thousand on it when I left.” This woman doesn’t know the value of six dollars let alone six thousand. Call Visa! She’s insane.
“I hired a caterer, sort of. That was expensive. And like I said, new outfits. They’re not cheap.”
“A caterer for what?”
“A little party. I was lonesome. I wanted to have some friends over; go swimming and have some food and drinks—you know. And my new bikini! It cost over three hundred! Can you believe that, Matt? It’s crazy!”
“You’re crazy, Allie. Quit shopping on Rodeo Drive…and go visit your friends, for crying out loud.” I want to hang up, but I decide to rip her. “How much did the damned party run? What kind of party?”
“It was…I don’t know. A lot, I think. I was just lonely without you. Just some friends. I’m out of money, sweetie. Please put a little money on the card…please! I promise I won’t spend it on anything obscene. I’ll get up at eight, or eight-thirty, and I’ll stay out of Maria’s way, I swear it.”
I’m going to put her in my book. No, no, no. I’m just angry and there’s no reason to ruin a beautiful story with someone as feckless as she is. Sylvia is brilliant compared to Allison.
“Allison. Do you have friends you can stay with?”
“Why? I have a bedroom, and a house, and a pool. I don’t need to go stay with friends, silly. I’m perfectly, perfectly happy right where I am. Perfectly!”
“I want you to be out of my house by the time I get home at the end of the month. And I’m not putting any more money on your card. When you go, leave it.”
“What? But why would you tell me to…oh, silly! You’re just angry. I promise I’ll be better. I mean, I can get by, I suppose, without charging anything. I’m sorry, that was silly of me.” Her voice is kittenish, and I can see her full lips pouting clearly, right through the phone. If I were there she’d have my pants half-off already…and I’d probably already have gone online and paid the entire bill. But I’m here, and I’m thinking of Isabella, who, I’m certain without having to inquire, knows at all times where her credit limit is and budgets the money to keep it in low orbit. Allison has stroked me for the last time.
“No, Allison. Just pack your clothes and your jewelry, and whatever else you have that I’ve paid for, and leave. I don’t want you there when I get home.” That was easy.
Allison says nothing again. I’m sure she’s stumbling with the idea that just maybe she might actually have to leave. That shouldn’t be a great problem, though. She knows at least a dozen horny, wealthy men who’d take her in in a heartbeat. That I’m sure of. Eight of them were probably at her little party. I simply hang up.
I return to my work—writing something beautiful for Isabella. I read, edit, write, read, edit, write more. I’m happy…almost.

(c)Patrick Sean Lee, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cathedral rewrite

In the first draft I rushed. After Isabella thrashes Matthew at chess, I rammed the request by Matthew for Isabella to help him write his book into the plot. She, of course, accepted. Mistake. The entire meeting and "falling" by the two of them was way rushed, and I sensed this long ago.
Now it's time to add chapters; extend Isabella's stay and her further shunning of his thinly-veiled overtures. Of course she will finally accept, but by that time they will have fallen quite hopelessly in love. Still, she will leave after reading his crappy first chapters, knowing she doesn't want to further complicate her already complicated life. Vis a vis Brad.
I rewrote the very first chapter which explains that she still DOES love Brad. Maybe. Sort of. Perhaps. She "buried' the letters, plural, she found several weeks ago.
Onward...From page 50 of the working draft...


“No, I’m serious. You hate my books, you’d be perfect!”
“I don’t think so. Thanks anyway. And I don’t hate them—just that one.”
“But you read a lot, right?” he asks with an excited edge to his voice. The faraway look that he had in his eyes a moment ago is gone. Matthew lifts the glass again and this time takes a healthy drink. Yes, he’s excited, but something tells me it’s not so much about my ability to help him as it is…
Still, the thought of participating in the writing of a book, of actually helping a famous author, is intriguing. I consider it, but only for the length of time it takes me to jump two moves ahead in my mind. He’s been writing for years. I’ve never written anything more profound than a grocery list. Checkmate, we both lose. Not only has he written another loser, he’ll probably stick my name on the acknowledgments page—or worse, alongside his on the cover.
“No…”
“Isabella, you’re the first person I’ve ever met who’s had the courage to tell me what I honestly thought myself about ‘Saving Isabelle’. I know you can do it! Help me!”
“Please don’t use my name and the title of your book in the same sentence…”
“Please! I’m stuck.”
We met less than an hour ago. I mean, really met.
He doesn’t move a muscle; he’s like a statue, or a photograph that’s come to life that I find myself studying. I’m wise enough to the world; I’ve heard them all, still…
“I don’t know the first thing about…”
“That’s precisely my point. You don’t have to, and in a way it’s even better that you don’t.”
“Don’t your editors advise you what to leave and what to cut out after they’ve read what you’ve written? They’re your best shot I should think.”
“I have to get them a manuscript first. Even so, they’re not concerned with literature so much as the house’s bottom line. ” Matthew laughs at that in a mocking way. “You’re an intelligent female reader—about mid-thirties? You’re my market. You can show me immediately—at least from where I am right now—where I’ve fallen down and…I think…how to change course and get back on track again. Whatd’ya say? Just your opinion, nothing technical.”
Put in those terms, I believe he’s right. At least I can tell him that his story sucks, which, judging from ‘Saving Isabelle’, I’m betting it does. And then I think, what if…what if my suggestions actually enable him to…?
“I have to leave next week. That doesn’t give me much time to even read what you have, let alone suggest ways to fix it. Like I could anyway.”
“That’s plenty of time.”
“I have no experience, no qualifications…”
“Yes you do. You’re a great chess player. That’s an analytical thing. You can do it, Isabella.”
I think, in a way, he’s right. I want to think he’s right, anyway. He has leaned forward, elbows resting firmly on his side of the board, chessmen scattered as though the cavalry arrived during our conversation and ripped through their flanks. His hands are folded, resting on my side of the board, the sides of them barely touching my Queen. His smile is soft and genuine and despite the misgivings I have, my ego tells me to go for it. I can always walk away.
And as I consider the look behind the look in his eyes, I decide.
“No.” His countenance plummets immediately. Defeat number two. I feign a certain sadness and touch his hand with my fingertips. “I’m sorry Mr. Ash. I’m flattered, but what might be bad in your current book right now would only get worse if I supposed I could help you. If I tried.”
“But Isabella, I’m serious. You could do it!”
Oh, that puppy-dog look in his eyes. That wolf in his head.
“I think not. But thanks again.” I rise, smooth my dress a bit, and then I walk away. I’ll bet he’s already plotting a new assault. I’ll be ready.

(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's

...a small magazine. Probably read by few. Still, the editors liked my piece enough to buy it and include it in the August issue. I got my contributor's copy yesterday in the mail, along with that small check. Which will be in a frame shortly :)

The results of the WD 79th Annual will be announced sometime next month. I have three pieces in that one. I'm confident at least one of them will place. High up, I hope. There is also an upcoming comp at WD with a deadline of December. Time to write something for that one.

A good summer, it was.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Book of Angelina

It's been a while. Sigh.
I'm editing Cathedral, and I'll finish it!

Here are pages 138-141. Matthew is alone at the Lodge. Isabella has gone home to Santa Monica. He is writing his finest novel; the one that will prove his worth to Isabella, to himself, and to the world.

The Lodge-October 4
Matthew

From: The Book of Angelina

In Paradisum.
I float on the wings of music; on a ballet of staccato strings, pings of a harp, and a chorale of exquisite soprano voices—tenors and baritones, and rich basses.
I dream that God has taken hold of my hand and flown with me across a land of green meadows, of streams and woodlands, and to mountains so high that ascending them hand in hand with Him, my breath leaves me. Rushing upward we leave my earth, my home, bound for heaven.
The voices, I discover, so far away from where we started, are Him. The violins and the harp are part of His soul that is so lovely I cannot do without hearing it. Again and again it emanates like suns and clouds and planets—omniscient peace. It is absolute rest. A moving rest that is not an agent of reinvigoration but invigoration itself.
In my dream God is a melody, with mists of robes and a face that never frowns. In my dream He has an ancient white beard that is buffeted by the starry winds of notes we sail through, and His eyes are diamonds and still pools of blackness, like space itself. They draw me, and hold me as surely as His strong, infinite hand.
“She is waiting,” He says, and we soar through endless space and dimensions of time.
I am wonderfully warm, and I wonder if I’ve died. I laugh at myself and realize that I have not because I feel my feet and my toes, and I know ghosts do not have feet.
In my dream God extends His arms outward like mighty wings, and at the end of His right hand I am suddenly shot through the dust of planets, the gas of stars a trillion light years beyond Him. Oh, and the music heightens as though every atom in the universe becomes a part of His glorious symphony as we pass by! I am smiling and unafraid, now…and looking across the cosmic ocean of His body I see Angelina in His other hand. Her sparkling jet hair, so far away, courses behind her and throws pricks of dazzling light upward and outward, like stellar fireworks, like stars being born. She turns her head and smiles at me, and I am gloriously happy.
In my dream I use the power of celestial strings and the choir voices as my pen, writing with them on comets that stream in endless arcs to hesitate momentarily in the void at my fingertips. I move my free hand in its own arc and watch as melody transformed into script imprints on them, and then one after another they whisk away, across their Creator’s beautiful face to Angelina.
In my dream Angelina longs for me, wants to fly across the space dividing us and join my soul. I believe in her love, as surely as I believe in this God whose hand holds me.
And finally… in my dream there is no hell, nor are there demons or condemnation, only a contentment and the sure knowledge that as I sail through this dimension given to me, I am safe and cared for. I join the chorus, and I am filled with joy. My words are stars. My stars are Angelina, and she is singing, too. We have found each other again, and we are going home.
***
I awaken and feel the hand and fingers of Angelina in my hand, and excitement grips me; my heart races for the split second it takes for me to realize she is not beside me. The sensation of her warm hand lingers, though, an afterimage, the clinging of the subconscious to things that are buried deep inside. I turn my head on the pillow in a useless gesture to make certain I am not mistaken, knowing, of course, that I am back in solid, distressing reality. God has gone home and left me here, and Angelina has also disappeared. I was safe in the dream, but now I am only in a home of brick and mortar, floating away from her, dying inside . Such are the endings of dreams. Vain hopes, and the refusal of the mind to follow the death of the heart and soul.
Since returning to the parish, she has haunted my thoughts. I rise and dress and leave the rectory every morning to say Mass but I feel the overwhelming shroud of loneliness that covers me. My lips perform the duty solemnly, without error, and also without reverence.

It is Saturday morning and a winter blizzard that rushed over the front range like a horde of invaders yesterday afternoon continues. Wild winds hurling shards of ice rise violently, subside, then begin the attack again. The pavement of the street in front of the church is black, still, because the ice has no cleft or ridge to cling to, and so the bitter snow piles up against the edge of the gutter instead, growing at the whim of the wind, beaten down again and again as chunks of it are ripped free and taken along to other barriers. I raise the collar of my winter overcoat up to cover the exposed side of my face, bend forward and to the left against the gale, and hop-run to the rear sanctuary door. I will say mid-morning Mass, visit Mr. Hernandez who is dying of liver cancer afterward, then return to the warmth of the rectory. This afternoon Father Gregory and I will hear confessions, if any parishioner penitent enough to brave the fury of the storm comes to the cathedral.
Though we priests cannot forgive a sin we are party to, Angelina confessed to me anyway. Asked my forgiveness for our sin. I didn’t know how to absolve her. Absolve her of what? That day I sat across the desk in my office watching her cry, certain in her heart that we’d committed some sin beyond adultery—and I suppose we had; we parted. I dutifully made the sign of the cross with my hand and whispered as I held back my own tears, “Ego te absolvo de peccatis tuis, in nomine Patris…”.
I watched her leave quietly, not looking back, her sad, radiant head bent forward. I struggled to speak. “Goodbye, Angelina. I will always…” She raised her hand as she descended the steps, as though casting a backward blessing, but I knew it was really her plea for me not to finish. I could see that she was still crying.
I haven’t seen her since, and I want badly to leave this earth.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Part Two

...........

Isabella shoos “Jack” off the table. He scurries to a spot at the narrow table’s corner, stops and looks back at us almost defiantly. He pauses before raring back slightly, and then jumps up. I wonder if he was there at dinnertime last night. Or over here.
The dining table is white and clean, except for those places where the damned cat walked or sat. A fresh vase of colorful flowers sits dead center. Four place settings of white china and silver have been laid out, with sparkling glasses, close together so that the four of us can enjoy talking about…what do we talk about? Plaids and solids? I don’t want to talk to Frank or Michael, nor do I want to eat here, really, but then again, I don’t want not to be beside Isabella. The promise, the excitement of creating—recreating—the ending of a novel, with real color and texture and an internal life uncontaminated by plainness and convention is palpable. I can smell it and taste it this morning in the presence of Isabella. Gardenia and rose and sweet orange chocolate. A drab garment of me has fallen to the floor, and I sense poetry writing itself in my heart. I swallow my Monk fetish for a sterile environment and hope that my immune system can handle the ship’s hold of germs unloaded by the disgusting cat with the un-feline name. I can create something worth reading again, and we’ll begin—the two of us— after a breakfast of…gag… yogurt and fruit.
I crave bacon, and eggs, sunnyside up.
I quickly move the dishes and silver that Frank and Michael will use down one place while Isabella strokes the cat’s back. Jack lifts his tail and rear end high, as though he’s preparing to launch a fart at the ceiling. I have no use for cats.
I place the manuscript on the table next to where Isabella will sit, slide her high-backed chair out, and wait patiently until she has finished congratulating the animal with her fingernails for having fouled the linen we’re about to eat on. I am not a hater of cats, but if Jack should decide to jump back up onto the breakfast table again after Isabella has sat down, I’ll have no compunctions about stabbing him with my fork. Or better, Michael’s—who has now entered the room slobbering and boo-hooing, and who, it looks, will be sitting to my left again. He is positively Shakespearean, and daubs his eyes with a lacy handkerchief as he walks dolefully along the table, one hand extended toward its top for safety sake in case his legs falter and he begins to collapse. Frank walks calmly on the opposite side, reserved, seemingly unaffected by his lover’s near hysteria. I wonder what Mrs. Davenport said to them?
Beginning to answer my unasked question, Michael lowers the handkerchief from his eyes to cover his nose and mouth, and says in a rumpled, muffled voice, “She’s a wicked woman.” He turns to Frank, who doesn’t seem to be paying attention. Michael goes on, “I think we should simply pack our things and leave, Sweetie.”
Frank greets Isabella and me, cursorily, and then shakes his head with what I interpret as mild disgust as he answers his Michael. He half-whispers, but I catch the drift of it. “You are so stupid sometimes, Michael. Asking her,” he whispers, now, but I have excellent hearing, “…for a rope with knots in it or a horse whip! Do you think she’s ignorant? And then your loud mouth all night long…” He stops. Isabella cannot help herself. She cracks up—her hearing is as good as mine, I guess—which sends Michael into another fit of crying, and makes Frank throw up his hands in defeat. I look over at Jack, who is staring over at me, and control my laughter with great effort. Poor Frank.
That fucking cat.
Mrs. Davenport has Mr. Davenport deliver the food. We eat, avoiding anything in our conversation dealing with horse gear or sex gear. Michael eats very little and cries a lot.

I am not full, not at all, but I excuse Isabella and myself after we finish, grab the pages of the manuscript covered with Michael’s tears, and we head off to the sitting room at the front of the lodge. Jack meows and follows along. The room smells of old fire; ash, and an almost bitter earthiness, not breathing. Cold. It is a good day for a fire and I consider emptying the grate of its burnt pine carcasses and starting a brand new, warm and cheery blaze. I’ll sit a little closer, instead, to Isabella, and I’ll read to her.
We sit near the fireplace at the end of the sofa farthest from the windows. If I reach over my body with my left hand I can easily touch her. I adjust my butt on the cushion, cross one leg in a manly fashion, then turn to her.
“Ready?”
“Read quickly, Mr. Ash. I will listen and take notes in my head; offer my take on the writing at the end of each chapter.”
So formal all of the sudden. She leans back and closes her eyes, and after admiring her thick, dark eyelashes too long, I begin to read in a clear, mellifluous voice.
“Sylvia Ortin stepped out of the mall entrance door, stopped under the covered area in the wind, and snapped her blue floral umbrella open. The sky hung gray and low, almost kissing the square, flat roofline of the building, and droplets of rain splattered onto the uncompromising surface of the concrete walkway all the way out to the gutter, and then into the endless parking lot beyond. She had just finished shopping for Daniel at Macy’s, for his twenty-fifth birthday…”
Five minutes later I end the reading, “…not knowing, not caring whether her blond hair got wet, or if the passing traffic mowed her down like wheat in a pregnant Nebraska field.” I want to sigh. Even though I know the book falls apart in the middle, and definitely at the finish line, that opening scene has always moved me. Poor, poor Sylvia. What a terrific opening ten pages.
Isabella sits looking at me, her lips pursed, the rest of her face stoic, or blank. I think she’s moved. I expect to see a tear forming at the corner of her eye, but—not yet. She has to digest the loveliness of this part of the book. Probably the only really excellent example of what I’m capable of. At last she moves her folded hands, and then slowly turns her head so that I can see her entire face as clearly as Sylvia sees the gray world she’s trapped in. Isabella speaks:
“Her husband beats her. She meets a house painter—a house painter? Of all the occupations you could have picked for this Daniel, why that?”
I begin to explain the significance of Daniel’s chosen trade in the novel, but she breaks in.
“Well enough, I suppose, but to have her daydreaming about their first meeting, seeing one another for the first time at a construction site. Love at first sight? At a construction site, in an unfinished house littered with paint cans and empty beer bottles? And all of this reminiscing taking place while she’s driving in a rainstorm on a busy street? Why would she believe her bald-headed, fat husband is going to beat her when she gets home, too? And the wreck. Do you really think women like me are going to identify with her after you’ve put her in such an unbelievably saccharine, melodramatic—absolutely low-life situation?”
I never thought of it in quite that way. From that perspective. But I defend myself because my book is me, even if I know deep down that it needs some fine tuning. Sylvia is Everywoman, and I know, also, that the tragedy of her life becomes absolutely clear as I drag the plot along. Isabella just hasn’t read far enough. But then again, I think sadly, maybe she has.
“I’ve just waded through ten pages of a famous author’s new book. I’m sitting in an easy chair at the bookstore, hoping I will like…no, love this new one. Maybe I was disappointed with his last book, maybe not, but I need a reason to be moved by the images in this book, the dynamics of the main character, the hopelessness she feels. I need to be shaken in some way, and Sylvia simply doesn’t have what it takes to do it. For certain, sex in an unfinished house in the first chapter is just too weird. And wheat in a…” she giggles, “…in a pregnant Nebraska field? I have serious difficulty with that image. I return the book to its place in the hot current releases rack and forget about Matthew Ash’s latest offering.”
I am shocked. I am disappointed and shocked. Isabella doesn’t understand, even though I set the scene beautifully and gave the reader…okay, maybe the construction site part was a little too over-the-top. I can easily change that and have them make love on their second meeting, somewhere else…at her house or his, or at McDonald’s in the ladies room. An author, a truly gifted author, has to be inventive. I can change that part of the scene.
“What else?”
“You are an award winning writer. Your opening chapter is weak, and unrealistic to the point of being offensive. The language you use, both in the narrative and the dialogue, is substandard at best. Why? Is that the best that the great Matthew Ash can come up with?”
Isabella says this with conviction. I am being pulled through the wringer, and suddenly it hits me that maybe she’s incapable of being my editor. She probably hasn’t read enough great literature. Then on the heels of that thought, another; that maybe she is hitting the nail squarely on the head. I don’t want to rewrite the book. I can’t. I don’t have enough time and, truthfully, I’m sick of Sylvia and Daniel and the dwarf on the horse who stalks them. I just want to get those last chapters finished and get the manuscript to my editor. My real editor who will love it. I don’t care if it stinks. I want very badly to write the words, “The End”.
“Why does this Sylvia have such a dirty mouth? Matthew, you must change her name and also give her a little more dignity. At least Isabelle was an attractive name, even though she was a…” Isabella doesn’t finish the sentence.
“Tell you what. Let me have the pages. I’ll lock myself in my room and read them over the next couple of days. I need to see her character in context, see how you tell the story with her. The dilemma she creates, or that fate throws at her. All of it as a whole. I need to read it. If the rest of your book is like your numbing opening chapter, it’s my opinion that we’ll have to trash it and start all over again. But, let me read it first.”
Isabella stands up, and Jack comes flying across the room to join her. She’s bold, I’ll give her that. I’ve just been insulted, but the words “we’ll have to” send goosebumps racing up my arms and down my back. Isabella extends her hand, not for mine, I know, but for the pages. This has become very too professional all of the sudden. I reluctantly hand her my six-eyed child and question in my own mind whether “we” will be able to type “The End” in the next week at all. I’m deflated. Limp. I wanted to finish it by this evening.
“Let me sit with you in your room. I won’t say a thing unless you ask me to—ask me to explain something that you’ve just read.” I think she’ll melt after a few more chapters, honestly, and well before chapter twenty she’ll be in my arms. I can begin to finish the goddam book later, after she leaves.
“No. Stay in your room and do what you do best. Write. Just think about the word “campy”. Keep it in mind. Write the ending, good, bad, or whatever. I’ll read and make notes on what I have here and get back to you tonight at dinner, then maybe tomorrow we can read your ending—if you can devise one—and talk a little about what you might want to do to salvage this thing.”
Not even my editor would dare…but, okay. I have no choice. I have to be patient.
Isabella touches my hand as Jack rubs his side against her leg.
“You asked me to help. I’ll do it, but I won’t be kind if kindness is all your looking for. By the time I’m finished with you and your book, you’ll have a Pulitzer prize winner. Your main character won’t be named Sylvia, either.” She laughs gently. Gently, so that my feelings remain somewhat intact, and then she brushes her fingers along my hand, turns, and walks toward the stairs. Jack is right on her heels, lucky bastard. I remain standing for a moment, watching her ascend the stairs like a breeze clothed in moonlight. The gray cloud dances along right behind her.

(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday...Something new

I hope it's okay to have a slight case of writer's block, 'cuz I do.

Marvin is finished, save the small touches and last chapter revision. I want to leave it be for a spell so that I can let it simmer. And then it's back to the whole book read-through; the final rewrite.

I've been writing short stories lately, 3-4,000 words. I think I'd like to have you read one of them here, in two installments. 2,000 or so words each. CB edited for me, and I really thank her. Not only is she a great writer, she has that keen editor's eye that we all need so badly.
Thanks, CB.

Matthew and Isabella




Daybreak

I slept well last night except for the pain in my knee that woke me three times, the need to pee that woke me another, and the image of Isabella that kept me up during the time in between those. Yet I am refreshed. The wine sat well—a 2003 vintage Chateau St. Michelle. Hardly what I might have expected from an out-of-the-way mountain lodge, and its selection by the Davenports lifted my opinion of them from earthy all the way to complex. Mrs. Davenport might prefer coffee sludge from a percolator, but her taste in fine wine showed nothing of that peculiarity.
I am not a religious or superstitious man, but the entire day seemed driven, or at least prodded on, by hands outside my range of knowledge. If not by divine ordinance, then by what command did I stumble into the orbit of Isabella Glenbard? Simple fate cannot explain it adequately. Neither can prayer, as I have forgotten, even, the words to grace before dinner. But then, what?
No matter. She is at this wonderful lodge, and so am I. And she is going to help me write. I think she will also become my lover.
It is four fifty-eight a.m. Here I lay, my eyes following an imaginary spot on the ceiling that moves along one minute, and then is thrust back to its starting point the moment I blink. As though it had never moved to begin with. My brain, however, is following the movement of Isabella; the raising of her hand, the turn of her head that makes her hair hesitate before following, the forming of a smile. I need not concentrate or force the images, needn’t try to keep them in focus, unmoving, captive. They do not wander, but rather hold themselves constant, like shadows in the moonlight that refuse to be shaken off the ground.
I feel the soft touch of her. The sensation of fingers that inadvertently brushed against mine is here with me, occurring again, again, again, as though she stands invisible before me with the intent to conquer me in yet another way.
She has, and probably doesn’t even realize it.
It is five a.m. A soft glow of silver has begun to make the features of my room lighten to the point where the bathroom door is identifiable, and other objects, as well. The chair with my pants draped over it and the table beneath the window are the most clear, and I notice that I didn’t fold my pants last night. I admit to myself that I was, and am, perhaps, a little obsessed.
Isabella of Glenbard Manor. Queen Isabella. Lady of the Lake. Authoress and Muse.
Not Isabelle.
I rise and force my bum leg to follow the one that works to the bathroom. I look at the tub and think it would be wise to soak the still-swollen knee for an hour or so. I’d like that, and would no doubt benefit from it, but I have a book to finish. And then it hits me. How can I show her the high school grammar of it, the grade school plotting? I wish for a brief second that I’d never asked her to help me—I mean, seriously, what can she actually know about characterization and story-arc? About how to write in motion, with style and flare and an intriguing voice? Even knowing none of this, I’m afraid she’ll hate it all, I know it, every word of it. I can see her rising from the end of the bed where she spent the day wading through the pages, shaking her head at me, then tossing the manuscript onto the floor. Then she leaves, laughing. “Didn’t I tell you, Matthew Ash? You’re a hack!”
I turn my head and look back at the bed in the next room. My tendency to imagine awakens in a finer focus, and I begin to seriously imagine. But that is after the words, “The End” are keyed in on my laptop. I think it will be afterwards. Tomorrow. For now, to work.
Her fingertips are soft.
I shower, brush my teeth, and scowl at the wrinkles forming beneath my drooping eyes—yes, I am honestly sleepy, bleary-eyed. That condition makes me think irrationally.
I look terrible, like a hundred year-old man—and I shave in scalding water at the sink bowl. When I finish and splash on a little cologne, the guy in the fog-edged mirror smiles out at me. He looks to be only seventy or so now. That’s better, if not exactly good, and I return his courtesy.
I leave the light on and return to the bedroom where I notice the distinctly rectangular shape of a folded piece of paper protruding under the space between the entry door and the dark of the carpet. Isabella. She has left me…something. Is it a decline, “No, I’ve reconsidered,” with an apology? Or perhaps an invitation, slipped under the door just seconds before I turned out the light last night? Yes, it is that, and I curse my having failed to notice it the moment she slid it in for me. I walk over and tug it quickly from under the crack under the door, then rubbing my knee with one hand, I flip open the folded page with the other, counterbalancing the stab of pain.
Printed letterhead of Roosevelt Lodge.
Breakfast served from seven a.m. until nine a.m.; continental, or a heart-seizing Midwest mish-mash of bacon, sausage, ham, roast beef, eggs, French toast, Maple syrup, potatoes, gravy—Christ alive!—or a variety of fresh fruits. I know what Isabella will choose, and though my stomach screams for the Midwest killer, I’ll take the cantaloupe and grapefruit, too.
For some reason I lay the menu aside and open the door to the hall. Her room stands straight across from mine, and I am surprised. A yellow glow is visible beneath her door. I stare at the line of light as though I expect her to come floating out with the warm glow. She does not, but a quick, faint shadow joins the yellow light, moving from right to left, and then back again in the opposite direction a second later. She is awake. I find myself glued to the possible image of her beyond the rough wood of the door. Her hair is un-brushed, dangling and provocatively unkempt. Her lipstick and eyeliner have long ago vanished. She is more beautiful in its absence, I think, and I say so in a longing whisper. Her nightgown is satiny, mid-thigh, and clings so provocatively that she instinctively raises her arms to cover her breasts, outlined in alluring shadows and perfect contours against the material. She blushes, but I do not—
And suddenly the door opens.
Isabella reacts with something between total surprise and anger. There I stand again, leering, a perverse fool. I was correct, though. Her hair is hanging loose, toussled, and her eyeliner has gone away. Isabella is incredibly fresh and beautiful at five in the morning.
Her eyes narrow, but this time I’m ready.
“Good morning, Isabella.”
She blinks twice, quickly, and stands with one hand on the door, the other clasping her terrycloth robe closed at the neck. She doesn’t open her mouth, but neither does she step back inside and slam the door. She’s waiting for an explanation, and so I begin:
“I saw the edge of the menu sticking into my room under the door. I couldn’t pull it in, so I opened the door and picked it up,” I lie. I lift the paper and hold it out for her to see. She lets her eyes drop to it, then they return to mine. “I noticed a light beneath your door and wondered if you…I mean I figured you must be up…but it’s only past five a little…” I’m winning. Her countenance softens, and I think she believes me. Well, it’s true anyway, except that her bathrobe isn’t…well, yes it is…quite as alluring in its own way. I find her entrancing in terry cloth.
“I didn’t sleep well,” she offers.
“Neither did I.”
What did she mean?
“I think it was the wine, though it should have had the opposite effect. It was a good wine, though. I enjoyed it very much,” she says.
She curves the corners of her lips upward very quickly. I’m not sure what that gesture is all about, but I like it very much. It is another facet of her endless variety of hypnotic features. I find myself unsure of exactly what to say, where to go next, and so I hesitate a bit too long for comfort and shift my eyes from her as though I were embarrassed.
“I, umm…I’d better get dressed,” she says, and the words are a relief from the silence, but they are not what I would have wished her to say. She smiles in a diffident way, a way that I’ve yet to see from her, and then she backs into her room and begins to close the door. I have less than a second to salvage the moment—I think waiting until “The End” is a foolish idea. I begin to open my mouth, to invite her over flatly, but the door closes with a click, and so does my opportunity.
Click.
“We can have breakfast at seven…” Together.
I stand and stare at her door for some time, hoping she’ll return and open it, but I know that she will not. I hear the faint sound of water begin its rush through the pipes in her room, see no more shadows crossing in the light under her door, wait a bit longer, then re-enter my room and go to the bathroom. I think I’ll soak my knee.

Precisely at six fifty-eight I open my door and cross the hall. The window to my left with its lace-edge curtains tied back allows a hazy light to fall through. It’s overcast outside, a perfect day to stay inside and disassemble my latest disaster, “Somewhere In Love”. As I tap on her door the thought occurs to me that maybe I will set Isabella down on one of the sofas in the sitting room and read what I’ve written to her. I’ve done so many readings at garden clubs and book events that I’ve developed a voice that is capable of hypnotizing a cobra. I know my writing, know where to inflect my voice for maximum impact. I’ll inflect upon Isabella.
She answers immediately, as though she’d been standing on the other side with her hand on the knob, waiting for me to knock.
“Good morning again,” I say with too much enthusiasm. She is wearing form fitting designer jeans and a sleeveless, light gray top with a wide, black band of sparkling beads bordering the swoop at the neck. I try to memorize the look so that I can dress my feckless main character, Sylvia, in just this way if I ever get to the next chapter. Isabella’s long hair is nearly brushed—but not quite, which is the fashion I guess, and not a disregard for coiffure. It rests across her bare shoulders in winsome collections of strands. My eyes widen and I am forced by the sight of her to suck in a breath of air.
I have the thick bundle of hardcopy in my right hand, and I raise it for her to see.
“Ah yes, the sick novel with yet another tainted lady? Let’s get something to eat, then we’ll start,” she says matter-of-factly.
I’m delighted, and as we walk down the hall I smell a different perfume. Very light and sweet, not Calyx, not at all overwhelming, but nice. When we reach the end of the hall and begin to descend the stairs I hear a muffled voice and then the opening of a door. Michael emerges from his and Frank’s room, number Two. He is saying something about floral prints, the Weinbergs, and how none of it will work—not at all. I glance at Isabella and she begins to giggle, then we dance down the stairs more quickly. She half-whispers:
“They’ve been fighting over prints versus solids for some job back in Ohio for a solid week. I don’t know for sure what Frank wants, but my money is on him; whatever he wants. I’m pretty sure he’s the tempering half of that equation, the real designer.”
Mrs. Davenport is waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs. Her elephantine figure is graced by a loud, floral print dress, pink and yellow posies showing off where the white waist apron she wears allows. She looks up at Isabella and me—or past us. I’m not sure. I think she’s watching Adam and Eve who are spitting at one another and have reached the top of the stairs, quarreling over the plaids versus prints, or prints versus solids, or whatever. Wait till they see Mrs. Davenport’s dress. When we arrive at the bottom of the staircase she steps aside, and her plain, black, lace-up shoes make a squeaking noise on the waxed floor.
“Good morning Isabella, Mr. Ash.” She nods twice but says nothing else. Her eyes are still locked on Frank and Michael who are approaching the end of the landing. Her face shows no emotion, although her hair, piled up like a swirling silver turban, makes her look attack-ready. I look at Isabella. She shrugs, and we hurry off to the dining room. I don’t know what she’s going to say to them, or if she intends to say anything. Maybe she’s just pissed because the day is overcast.
Isabella grabs my elbow at the doorway and places a finger to her lips. Ssh!
Ssh, don’t speak? Or ssh, don’t ask questions? I raise my eyebrows in question nonetheless. She laughs. “Michael tends to be a little noisy late at night up there.”
I think I understand.
We walk quickly to the end of the table where we sat last evening. A gray cat with white paws raises his head when he sees us, and meows. He is sitting on top of the table and doesn’t seem to mind our approach. I guess that he’s the housecat, another member of the family, but I recoil at the thought of him walking all over the linen tablecloth with feet that have traipsed through his piss and excrement.
.............
(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

Twelve

Here we are...in the mansion at last.

Twelve

Marvin stopped.
He turned, curious as to what Maribeth might say, seeing as how he hadn’t exactly impressed her. A glint of afternoon sun struck his eyes as he did, and he closed them quickly, reaching for the thin marble column nearest him that supported the roof to steady himself.
She sat forward, her posture elegant, yet rigid. Delicate hands lay clenched upon the tabletop, her soft lips pressed tightly together to form a grim line, but, it was the gentle questioning look in her eyes that sparked a glimmer of hope within him.
“Do you know Shakespeare?” she asked.
Marvin closed his eyes, took a deep breath, letting the thread emerge. He stood immobile for a moment or two, and then answered.
“Plays or Sonnets? I don’t have them all yet.”
“Try ‘As You Like It’.”
He thought for a moment.
“No, sorry. I can’t find it. How about Hamlet or Love’s Labours Lost?”
“Act II, Scene I, then. Love’s Labours,” she challenged.
Marvin stepped back toward the table as he searched the gigs in his fortified brain. Amazed himself.
“Am I supposed to act, too?”
She laughed. “No, you’d probably wreck it. Go ahead. Do what you like.”
“Okay. A-hem…” He cleared his throat, lifted an arm and began.
“Enter The Princess of France, Rosaline, Maria, Katharine, Boyet, lords, and other attendants.” He paused.
“Now, Madam, summon up your dearest spirits: consider…” There followed a grand gesticulation… “who the king your father sends, to whom he sends, and what’s his embassy: Yourself, held precious in the world’s esteem, to parley…”
“Good God! Laurence Olivier come back from heaven!” All her contrary appearances vanished in a single, undignified outburst of delight. “Marvin, either you’re the world’s greatest liar, or else someone touched by some power I can’t imagine!”
Marvin left the stage and walked with aplomb to the patroness seated in her chair. He bowed slightly, in deference to her position in the court of Harris. “Madam, as you can see, I lie not. Wouldst thou have me, thy lowly servant, entertain thee further?”
Maribeth took her cue, stood in the radiant afternoon light across from him. She tipped her head and reached across the table with the palm of her small hand down. “No, gentle bard. I have received measure for measure and am pleased. As such, I knight thee.
“Where did I lay my sword?”
“Then you believe me?” Marvin asked, taking her hand in his.
“Well…no. Not really. You might be an overnight phenomenon, a miracle…but, angels? I don’t know, Marvin Fuster.”
“Are you religious?” he asked.
“Not exactly. Well, yes, I suppose…oh, I see where you’re going. I’m Catholic by birth and upbringing. Marvin, bible stories are one thing; fascinating, yes, but this is the Twentieth Century.”
“Nothing changes, essentially, paraphrasing Augustine. Truth is truth, no matter the era or the mores. Either it was fantasy then, or it was not. Let me prove the truth of it, dear child.” He held her hand, Anselm’s fingertip atop them. A gentle warmth radiated in a circle around the touch of fingers; the flesh of youth, and the decay of age. Maribeth reacted as though she was standing on a precipice, slipping, unable to halt her movement forward.
“How?” she breathed.
The die was cast. Anselm spread his wings, and the temper of the air in the garden gazebo turned from incredulity to awe.
How, Marvin wondered? Very simple. Rewrite biological reality.
“I need books. Every book ever written on genetics.
“And I need a room,” he added as a veiled reference to his need for light to see by at night, and shelter from the elements if nothing else.

It was nearly six o’clock when Maribeth threw caution and good sense to the wind after hearing a dissertation on faith, imagination, and desire—on Amy, a woman from a dream, of all things. Marvin Fuster was a shambles, at least physically, but beneath the exterior of the wraith standing before her she saw the spark of brilliance, and the lyricism of every poet from every age. His eyes, suddenly, had begun to sparkle, as though deep inside him a universe of atoms had begun to collide. When she had discovered him dead to the world on the lawn, he was blank; a blackboard wiped clean of what once might have been something of lasting value. Within half an hour he had filled the slate with chalk of immensely varied and dazzling color, and words of incomprehensible allure. What could she do but adopt him as her own?
It would have been easy, rational, sensible, to send him on his crazy way. She had no idea that Marvin had already made an enemy in the person of Robert, but even if she had, the passion and frightening eloquence of Marvin’s dream, his quest, stirred an equally passionate response, stirred by a different but equally powerful thread winding its way inside her heart, if not her head.
And so.
“Daddy and Mums are gone. Hurry then, let’s get you situated,” she said, taking hold of Marvin’s hand.
Maribeth spirited Marvin through the garage door into the home. A long hallway with windows on the yard side opened at the far end to a kitchen. Immediately to the left, five feet in, was a paneled door. She opened it quickly and motioned without a word for Marvin to follow her. A broad switchback stairway led down the wainscoted walls to the mansion basement, originally a spacious cellar for storage of coal for the home’s boiler, non-perishable staples, boxes of papers, the overflow of non-essential goods of the families who lived and died in the house. More recently it had been cleaned out. The old boiler was replaced in an earlier administration, and the coal bin dismantled. Modern accoutrements and décor were added for the overflow of entertainment; a place the governors could retreat to with friends in a relaxed, non-official atmosphere.
“Your room is right down here,” she said motioning him to follow her. The short, narrow hallway at the foot of the stairway opened into a cavernous room, in the center of which stood an opulent billiard table, and for a moment Marvin wondered if the gigantic felt-top might become his bed until father discovered his presence sometime in the near future. He dispelled the notion of having to climb up onto the uncomfortably hard surface, though, when she led him toward a doorway into an adjoining room.
Walking behind her across the room, Marvin glanced at the walls, rich Mahogany lining it. The thick carpet was deep red, and one wall was dominated by a fully stocked bar. It reminded him of the interior of a decadent nineteenth century brothel. He vowed to himself never to tell her that, however. He imagined His Lordship The Governor might very well have had some interesting parties in a room like this.
“Do you like Daddy’s playroom, Marvin?” she asked looking back over her shoulder.
“I think so. It reminds me of a whorehouse, though.” He cursed his stunning lack of ability to keep a promise, and at the same time found his eyes taking inventory of the wealth of bottles lined up like soldiers behind the bar.
Maribeth laughed at his statement. “That’s exactly what I told him after he had it remodeled. I remember that he looked a little shocked, and he asked me how I would know something like that.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“I just said, ‘Daddy, your only daughter is an avaricious reader’. This city had more than its fair share of those kinds of places…the archives are full of them.”
She opened the door to the adjoining room and flipped on the light switch. Marvin was torn between following her or remaining close to the source of a potentially endless drunk. The thread arose and squirmed, and he dispelled the very notion of it.
“Do you think I can crack the mystery of time and aging,” he asked Maribeth as they walked toward the small anteroom.
She turned and looked back at him sadly. “No, not really. Still, it beats sitting in the drunk tank for the rest of your life and dying out there on the streets, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a perfectly noble quest on your part, but it seems way too big for an angel-seeing drunk, if you don’t mind my saying. Sorry.”
“No, that’s alright. Half the time I think I’m nuts, I really do. I appreciate your picking me up and offering to help me, though. You’re probably as crazy as I am. Even so, all this stuff that’s been going on…there must be something to it.”
“We shall see,” she answered.
They walked in, and Marvin looked around. A single bed with a blond frame dominated, made up and ready for whoever might need it. Tonight it would be for someone absolutely unsuspected. Above the headboard on the wall hung a painting of the Capitol Building with its glittering gold dome, flight of steps leading up from Broadway Avenue, conifers on either side, and a brilliant blue sky above. To the right, a small writing desk with a few books atop it, a plain wooden chair without arms. An awning window with the sheers drawn closed provided a powdery glow of light to the room.

..........................
(c) Patrick Sean Lee, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

The end of Eleven

First draft, but...well, as you can see, Maribeth has seen the light :)
........

Marvin relaxed, now, seeing she was probably not “foe”, and that the police were most likely not on the way. “I have no fuckin’…AAAAGH! No idea. Sorry, miss. Something’s inside my brain. I think it’s him. Somehow he got in there. Every time I say something that isn’t straight out of Emily Post he zaps me!” Marvin leaned forward and grabbed her arms suddenly. “I tell you, Maribeth Harris, daughter of the governor, I know every line of The Grapes of Wrath. Boom! Just like that all of the sudden. It’s frightening! A Farewell To Arms, too! This morning I couldn’t have recited Mary had a little lamb…couldn’t even have read it! Christ Almigh…WHOOA-AAGH! You know what I mean?”
No. How could she? An instant savant, who yesterday was simply a common indigent?
“Explain.”
Okay, he thought. He’d come here to see Amy, though what he intended to do afterward was nebulous. But he had been instructed to come, that he would find her here. She wasn’t here, though, and that presented certain problems. Was that thing lying? Did he really even see what he thought he saw outside the Mission window? Maybe, maybe not. Still, what was happening inside his head? And why? The language, the books he’d never read rolling around up there complete and clear as crystal. The zaps. All of it was connected to Amy in some mysterious way.
He decided to unload. If this girl rolled over laughing or told him to take a hike, so be it. Back to the dock sooner than he anticipated was the worst thing.
“This might take a few minutes. Can we maybe find a chair or two someplace to sit more comfterble…AAAGH! Comfortably? And, I don’t suppose you’d have any cheese…or cookies…or…” Marvin was wincing, holding his temples.
“Of course.” Maribeth jumped to her feet. “Can you get up?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Marvin’s joints felt like staples had been driven into them, but he managed to rise by himself, afraid to speak. He faltered a step backward, the vertigo attacking him briefly. Maribeth skirted to his side and steadied him by the arm. Robert moped across the drive carrying Maribeth’s cell.
“Better?”
“Better. Thanks.”
“Here yuh ah, miss Maruhbeth.” Robert, dole-faced, but proper, handed her the phone as she and Marvin began the trip across the driveway to the gazebo he had noticed earlier.
“Will that be all, then?” he asked.
“Not quite. Please bring a large tumbler of iced lemonade and a platter of chocolate chip cookies to the gazebo. And a few slices of cheese.”
“Yes, ma’am. As yuh wish.”
Maribeth and Marvin walked down a long, sloping field of emerald-green. In the center, midway between the rear of the mansion and the guest quarters tucked into the western edge of the grounds, stood the gazebo. A meandering pathway of flagstones led from the house to the opening in the stem-walls surrounding it. Inside were a small table set to one side, two chairs, and a chaise lounge. Maribeth entered holding Marvin’s hand and motioned to him to sit across from her.
“Now. Tell me all about it, Mr. Fuster.”
Marvin took a deep breath. “Well, it started a few nights ago, I think. I’ve lost some days somewhere, but…”
Robert brought the platter of cookies and the drinks as he was instructed, and then left without a word, glancing over his shoulder twice as he made his way back to the house. Marvin began the journey, which seemed disjointed and beyond incredible most of the way to Maribeth. She listened to the sad story of his early life, how he had left society and married a bottle, without comment, but when he came to the chapter opening at the Mission, chewing on the fourth cookie, her ears began to flutter.
“You what?”
“Yeah, I had to get out of there quick…”
“Oh, Mr. Fuster…”
“Please, call me Marvin.”
“Marvin. Seriously. An angel?”
“Well, I don’t know how else to describe a thing with fifteen eyes and sporting wings. But, I wasn’t drunk! I swear it.”
“You hit your head when you jumped out the window.”
“NO! It just knocked the wind out of me. My head was okay.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
“Look!” Marvin pushed the chair back with a clatter, stood up, and yanked his tee-shirt up. A wide band of reddish-blue extended straight across his stomach. Maribeth looked at it and made a frowny-face.
“Ooh, that’s nasty.”
Marvin then bent over and brought his scalp within her eyesight, pulling the failing strands of hair apart with his fingertips. “See, nothing there.”
She laughed at that. “Well, I can’t see inside.”
“No knock on the head. I swear it’s true. After Essie threw my legs out, I somersaulted...and I felt these, these fingers or something just before I hit. Or landed. It didn’t hurt a bit.” His eyes drifted far away. “Fingers. They were his fingers.
“I’m not crazy, Miss Harris…”
“Maribeth. Or Mare. Suit yourself.”
“Maribeth, look at me. You gotta’ believe me. I’m not nuts.” Marvin gazed hard into her eyes. “Do you want me to recite Moby Dick? From page one? I can do it.”
“So you were an English professor…”
“ I dropped out of school after the fifth grade. And besides, what English prof do you know who could recite the whole of any book? I tell you, an hour ago I couldn’t spell my name.”
“The thing in your head.”
“Yes! And she’s the reason! I have to…to reverse my age. I’m going to. I mean, why else would this be happening to me?”
Maribeth shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know.”
There was a moment of nothing, a dead calm. Marvin looked at Maribeth. She looked at her hands folded in her lap. The sound of a fly crawling across a cookie on the platter was like thunder.
“Well,” Marvin said finally, rising. “Thanks for the cookies and lemonade. I’d better get moving. Thanks for listening.”
“Where will you go?”
“Back home. I need to rest. It’s been one helluva’ day.” He smiled and began to leave.
“Wait.”
(c) Patrick Sean Lee-2010