out of the ashes

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 fa├žade, 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

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