I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.
It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.
I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.
All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….
I didn’t think it would be like this.
I could have been convinced, mind you,
But I was skeptical, in a benign way.
Unmoved except by facts, I said.
“Show me a ghost; I can’t take your word for it. Continue reading “A Ghostling, in Training”
Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.
It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.
Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,”was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.
I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!
If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )
I’m working on the book again, trying to get some of the characters and plot unstuck in my mind, and decided to do this as a character study for the main guy, Ted Duffy. For those of you who’ve written fiction, have you ever tried something like this? And how does this sound? This probably won’t end up in the book, but by the end, I felt as though I’d gotten inside Ted’s head a bit more. And, I know this is very long. You’ll earn karma points if you slog through it. 🙂
I hate talking to strangers about myself. Well, that’s not exactly true. I have had to do it a lot more than I used to do, and it’s gotten easier, but still… it’s not my favorite thing.
It’s boring being a character in a book, you know? And if it is ever published, what do I have to look forward to? If I’m lucky, I’ll occupy the attentions of enough people to encourage my lord and master, the great author, to think up another story to put me in, and then I’ll have another run.
“You give up the world line by line. Stoically. And then one day you realize that your courage is farcical. It doesn’t mean anything. You’ve become an accomplice in your own annihilation and there is nothing you can do about it. Everything you do closes a door somewhere ahead of you. And finally there is only one door left.”
Harlan Coben is one of my favorite mystery writers. The genre is all about sorting out lies from the truth, some really hard, basic accounting and accountability; life and death accounting rules. That’s part of what I love about it.
“There’s always a price you pay when you lie. Once you introduce a lie into a relationship, even for the best of intentions, it is always there. Whenever you’re with that person again, that lie is in the room too. It sits on your shoulder. Good lie or bad lie, it’s in the room with you forever now. It’s your constant companion.”
― Harlan Coben, Seconds Away
“The ugliest truth, in the end, was still better than the prettiest of lies.” ― Harlan Coben
There’s a good reason pro authors finish a book’s first draft as quickly as possible: If you wait too long, you lose touch with the energy and lives in that created world. They both die of asphyxiation.
This means one of two things. Each and severally—as the lawyers say—is and are quite bad.
(There’s a third, quitting, but …. just no.)
Either you have to pray that there’s something salvageable after you shit-can the 95-plus percent of it that makes no sense anymore, and probably never did…
OR you knife the useless bastard in its hard drive sector like Macbeth stabbed Duncan.
Get drunk, feel sorry for yourself and have the funeral;
If you want your writing to be effective, you need to have a point: a purpose, something specific you’re trying to say, a “Why” behind the writing. This rule applies no matter what you’re crafting – novel, short story, poem, personal essay, op-ed, sales page, website, flash fiction, screenplay. Having a point is what stokes your creative fire, and it’s what gives you the ability to write something that will make people care.
Clarity brings focus and purpose to your writing. It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity…
You know that moment when some idea just-weird-enough-to-be-worth-blogging-about happens? The it’s-not-true-but-ought-to-be moment? The kind of thing we normally keep to ourselves but have gone slightly cracker dog? So we don’t..?
I just had one of those.
You know about Moore’s Law for computers? Where they double in power or speed every few months now? So more and more transistors can crunch numbers faster and faster, and the computers are so small that every human has at least one in a pocket—except when it’s glued to said humans’ hands, which is pretty much 24/7. I mean.. c’mon, people!
But I digress….
I wondered… when a certain point is reached, and the Web—the Baby Hive Mind—switches on one day–no, I mean REALLY SWITCHES on— and makes people forget kitten videos on Facebook, and Kim K’s non-human butt, forever. And we all realize the damned dress WAS Gold and White, dammit!
And once switched on, phones…home.
What I wondered (oblivious to a dozen serious problems with this assumption) was…. what if we’re part of the experiment? That we’re designed to build eight quadrillion microscopic computers and hook them all together globally? And what if we’re only one of a billion planets, all doing the same thing, and someday all switched on?
I wondered the same thing you just did: Exactly who–or what– would we all be trying to call?
And you know that other kind of moment? The one where you notice people are backing away from you slowly, a look of concern on their faces?
One of them, anyway. Some are real people in my life, too. Some are bloggers I have the pleasure of knowing, a little.
Every day when I sit down I jettison my rational side for a time and invoke whatever little bits of magic I can to get the words flowing. My friend the crane, here, is the first one.
It’s solid brass, made in India, poised on one foot. I feel the tension and thrill of the hunter flow into me when I put my hand on his back. I’m preparing to go hunting, too… for words, for ideas, for stories. I need to be poised like he is. I know the statue isn’t alive, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how it makes me feel, how it makes me feel like it’s time to go to work, to open those little doors and windows in me and let the process begin to blow. Or, to ‘billow’ as someone said recently.:-)
I’ll bet you have some little rituals you go through to help, too. I’ve got a can of Unicorn meat sitting on the window sill in front of me for a little touch of magic, and a small turned vase made from black walnut that is just a piece of wonder. Touching it grounds me.
Further down is a clip from the Kenneth Branagh movie of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Listening to Shakespeare always gets my juices flowing. This ought to be mandatory listening in any leadership training course. But it’s something else that gets me in the mood.
These are my rituals. Do you have some? Could you share them in the comments? Who knows, something you say might be just the trick to help a fellow writer along.
The horse snuffles in the morning fog,
Feeling the stirrings of his rider,
Smelling the fear and excitement.
The call of battle is on the dawn breezes,
Trumpet and drums in the distance.
The horse’s ears flicker forward and back at phantoms,
At distant whinnying, at visions of danger,
Chuckling deep in his chest, shuddering and blowing
Steaming blasts from quivering nostrils.
I must go soon.
How would you have me speak to you?
I truly no longer know.
Would you have me remain mute, for fear that my words
Bring pain, the knowing that you were once and still, truly loved?
It was just not enough.
Would you have me ask you why?
Would you tell me, this time?
Would you look at me again, with guarded eyes,
Neither regret nor reproach passing through to the outside, to me?
And would you turn away? Again?
Would you have me tell you one last time anyway, listening without reply,
Leaning into the words like a sultan’s captive would,
In the cool shadows, listening—through the
Carved screen of the harem,
Cheek pressed to cold stone and carved rosewood—to whispered words
That pierce with sweetness that makes you bleed?
In the night, from the courtyard below.
Would you want me to speak plainly as a man who wants a woman,
Who speaks of running his hands over willing, swelling flesh,
Rejoices in your voice, perfect and rising,
Touches your lips with his?
Who caresses you with words,
And conjures you open like a rose in the morning dew,
To make you whisper soft things into his ear,
To try to hold him with tears?
Would you have me simply not speak to you at all,
Let the silences stretch forever, so that you would not
Feel so keenly the depth of what you have lost?
The orders have come. We are off, our horses chuffing and stamping
Raising dust and answering some ancient call to battle.
It is too late. I am called. I may not return.
I’m dealing with three things at once. I’m feeling a little guilty about it, too.
One is that we’re getting ready for a party tomorrow. Superficially, it’s to celebrate a wedding anniversary and a retirement (her’s, not mine yet, dammit) and an excuse to go to the wine store. But really, it’s just a big ol’ wet kiss to the fact that we’re both still alive. It always comes down to that for all of us in the end, you know.
But the advice to finish what you start applies to the writing work. I am working on the book. I haven’t been talking about it, because i found out that if I was talking, I wasn’t writing. But I haven’t done much yesterday and won’t today.
Yesterday was due to the third thing, which is the aftermath of that annoying little blood clot in a tiny part of my brain that is still making itself felt. Yesterday was a day it was making itself felt, and I wasn’t able to get out of the chair much. Today I feel great. It seems to go like that. So today is party prep, tomorrow is the party, and then “Running Girl” is going to feel my hands all over her again.
Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t wait. 🙂
What’s happened so far:Ted’s old love, Miriam, is on the run from some seriously bad people and fears she’s been betrayed, as well. She has no where to turn. She decides she can only find Ted and throw herself on his mercy, knowing he probably won’t be happy to see her, given that she abandoned him and ran away without a word. She’s run across the country by train and car, appearing across the street from the old mansion he’s restoring in the middle of a epochal thunderstorm. While deciding whether to knock on his door, having multiple second thoughts about doing this, she’s knocked down by a nearby lightening strike and nearly drowned by the heaviest rain she’s ever experienced. With her last bit of strength, half conscious, she staggers up onto his porch and pounds on his door. He doesn’t recognize her at first, but then does.
She looked like a body that had been dragged along the bottom of a river, hitting sunken debris along the way and had been thrown up onto the porch and then groomed with a blowtorch. Her hair was plastered to her head and the face— which had an angry bruise on her forehead and the right side — was shockingly unrecognizable in the reflection from the glass of the front door. Water collected at her feet and she shook with tremors of shock and cold. She felt light-headed and sick at her stomach. A pool of red, blood diluted by rainwater, was growing at her feet.
After staring at her for what felt like hours—but was only a couple of seconds—his expression changed. He focused on her eyes, and his narrowed. Then, his face shifted from confusion to shock when he realized who it was standing there. His mouth opened and closed like a fish’s. He opened the door, but still couldn’t speak.
“Hi, T-t-ted,” Miriam said through chattering teeth, feeling her legs start to wobble. It sounded like someone else was talking. No food and not much sleep for nearly three days, and now electrocution, shock and hypothermia. She had the odd sensation of floating up near the porch light, watching herself and Ted facing one another. She looked half-dead, and her spirit had almost left her body, in fact. Her knees buckled and her eyes rolled back as she fell forward.
Just before she blacked out, she felt his arms catch her and inhaled the familiar smell of him. The vague ache she’d felt for many months escaped her like an exhalation of stale air held inside for far too long. “Oh, God….” She heard someone say in her voice from far away.
She felt arms catch her, hold her up. Then everything went dark.
Sunlight wormed itself through a gap in wooden shutters and crept across the floor until it found Miriam’s face. Like warm fingers, it traced the outlines of cheek and jaw, caressed the bruised face and lit the fine hairs on her cheek. A light breeze ruffled sheer lace curtains with edges embroidered in silk, and gradually nudged the shutters open. More sun brightened the room, and the spring aromas of warming earth and flowers began to fill the room.
The woman with many names and many secrets lay on her back under a fluffy white down comforter in a large, iron-framed Victorian bed with the head against a wall, in a corner room. On either side were two windows facing the morning sun. A third window in a wall to her left faced west, shade-dappled by a giant maple tree. All had two sets of shutters, top and bottom, all but one were closed. The latch on that one had not been secured tightly and it was through a slowly widening crack that the the sun and spring air pushed in and insistently pulled her from the darkness.
She stirred, images of herself floating up from the depths of a well toward a small circle of light above running through her awakening consciousness like fragments of an old movie. She delayed opening her eyes, her mind momentarily free of thought in that moment suspended between one world and the next. The warmth of the sun on her bruised skin was welcome and healing, and she savored it, content to pause and let her senses return.
Like an engine that had been flooded, her mind turned hesitantly and with effort. It was still muzzy and fitful, too rebellious to focus on any one thing at first. But as the moments passed, it gained strength and she pushed through the last of the water in the well and came back to herself, and knew she was safe.
As she had done as a child waking on a lazy Saturday morning in her mother’s house the kibbutz in the lower Gallilee, she played the waking game, kept her eyes closed and explored with her skin and nose and ears. Flowers bloomed there, too.
She was warm, that registered first. She was covered in something soft and light. She heard birdsong washing in through the window, and sniffed the clean scent of spring. Her ears strained to hear beyond the twittering chorus, and heard a car’s engine and the swish of tires on a street that wasn’t too far away, to her left. A bell in a nearby church sounded nine times. She didn’t consciously count the strikes, but as usual, some part of her brain just took care of that and reported it to her. This filled her with relief; perhaps she would be OK after all.
Her body began to remind her of less pleasant things: a dull ache from her forehead and the side of her head brought back the desperate struggles days before in Henry’s house, 3,000 miles away. The skin on her forehead also felt tight and hot, like a burn. Her right hip and thigh ached. She felt the lump over her eye, wincing at the pain that conjured up. She ran fingers lightly over her temple and felt the swelling and the harsh stubble of scorched hair. Her head was splitting; she remembered the lighting strike. A slight tingle and numbness in her fingertips made her rub them together, and sharp stabs of pain from two fingers told her of damage there.
After cataloguing the injuries, she pushed them away and opened her eyes. She saw a large room with tall windows, wood trim and a pleasant feeling. Turning her head to both sides hurt, but she took in the dimensions of the room. A big wooden door, closed, was directly opposite the foot of the bed. She sensed, rather than saw, the windows behind her. The shuttered window to her left let through the moving shadows of leaves from a large tree. There was a wingback chair and ottoman by the bed on her right, and a wooden antique dresser with a marble top and beveled mirror in a tall frame sat beside the door. The room was probably 15 or 20 feet on a side, and had the look and smell of being recently repainted, or remodeled. Everything looked too smooth and fresh to be as old as the house looked from the outside.
Miriam —that was her actual name, she reminded herself—tried to sit up but the heavy bruise to her hip and thigh had stiffened. She remembered the confusing last few hours in the rain and dark. A fragment of memory of herself at Ted’s door. A shaky image of a drowned and burned woman distorted in beveled glass. An old woman patting her cheek. A train ride. A long drive to get here. Hiding in a closet. A beating. It was all mixed up and confusing.
With a second effort, and grunting against the pain, she pushed herself up to a sitting position. She lifted the white comforter to see that she wore men’s pajamas. Lifting her hips, she slipped the elastic waistband down and saw a wrap around her thigh, the edges of a purple and red bruise peeking out from the edges. Higher up, another bruise from the corner of Henry’s counter top remained, but was darker and hurt less. Still, everything hurt, even her hair. She closed her eyes again, moaned and slumped back against the carved wooden headboard, the comforter falling down to her waist.
Alarmed, she pulled it up under her chin wondering if anyone else was there, watching.
She was alone and relaxed, but her eyes fell on the chair next and saw jeans, a sweatshirt, sandals, a bra and some lacy underwear laid out there, apparently for her. With one last suspicious glance around, she slid legs out from under the covers, dropped her feet gingerly to the carpet, limped to the chair and dressed. The things didn’t fit too badly, which made her absently wonder who had picked them out and put them there—and who had undressed her, washed her, dressed her wounds, and put her to bed. She was grateful, in any case.
She limped over to a closet door and peeked in. Nope, no women’s clothes in there, and there was nothing feminine on the dresser. It had the feeling of a guest room, then.
She walked slowly—testing her muscles, wincing at each step—to the western window, unlatched the shutter and looked out. It was one of those exquisite mornings in early spring where the air is soft and shares your relief that winter is finally over. The storm had gone, leaving a scene bright and washed clean like a morning at the beginning of the world. The sun blazed down on flowers bobbing in the breeze around foundations of houses across the street, and the whole scene looked so wholesome she couldn’t take it all in after what she’d been through. She closed her eyes again and leaned on the window sill, breathing deep the clear air and scents of blooms. There was a lilac somewhere near sending its fragrance up on on currents of air.
Turning, she stretched out her stride to loosen up her stiffness more, and made it to the door in seven slow steps. The door, solid, substantial oak like the rest of the room’s wide trim, sported old-style brass hinges and a doorknob with an elaborate filigree pattern pressed into it. She listened at the door for a moment. Hearing nothing but with habitual caution, she opened the door a few inches and saw a wide hallway with doors— to other bedrooms?— another hallway to her right, at right angles to the one she was examining. In the same direction was a set of stairs leading to the floor above. At her end of the hallway, opposite the door, a wide staircase lead down.
This place must go on in all sorts of directions, she mused, intrigued. There was no one in sight, but she smelled coffee—her drug of choice— bacon and other incredible kitchen smells. Her stomach lurched and rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten for a long time.
Time to go downstairs. After all, she mused, blushing a little at the thought, it was probably Ted who cleaned her up, bound her wounds and put her to bed last night. He’d gotten to meet her then, in a manner of speaking. The thought was not entirely unpleasant.
She walked toward the stairs that lead toward the smells of breakfast, taking in the details. Her near-photographic memory was both a natural gift and part of her training. Very little escaped notice and was filed away automatically. A part of her brain noted details, such as a paint can left in the hall corner, a look of recently finished walls and floors, new oriental carpet runners in every direction–and she could smell fresh paint and plaster. She could tell that this had been a major restoration. There were plaster walls, oak trim everywhere, and a marquetry floor with two or three kinds of wood. The Ted she remembered could never have decorated this on his own, so he had either hired someone pretty good, or there was another woman in the picture.
To her surprise, the latter thought sent a mini-tremor of jealousy through her. She shook her head.
“Hardly have a right to be jealous, do you?” she scolded herself under her breath. “None of your business now.” She clamped down on the emotions that had stirred and started down the stairs, her lips set in a thin line. “We’ll see what’s what, first.” Little red spots remained on her cheeks.
The plush pile of the carpet runner down the center of the stairway silenced her footfalls. She moved deliberately, holding onto the railing next to the wall, unable to reach across the width of the stairs to touch the other railing. It was a long way down—13 steps, she noted automatically. At a glance, she logged the number of spindles in the railing—26—and that one halfway down was slightly turned. She corrected that to match all the others on her way past.
The enticing aroma of coffee got stronger by the time she reached the bottom, but the stiffness in her legs made it slow going. By the time she neared the bottom, though, she was moving more purposefully. She paused on the last step to look around and listen, sniffing the air, then stepped down onto a matching area carpet on more fine wood flooring. Normally unimpressed with wealth, she was becoming aware that this place, while old, had “good bones,” as her father would have said. The place exuded 19th Century quality without shouting about it.
She stood for a moment at the bottom of the steps where a long central hallway widened as it stretched to the right and left. She took a few steps to the right and passed a large room with pocket doors partially opened, and then another larger room in the front of the house. A short hallway led to an outside door on the right. On the left were doors closed on spaces she couldn’t guess the uses of, and then another front room, this one obviously appointed as a library with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and a fireplace with an elaborate carved black marble mantle. Wingback chairs flanked the fireplace, each with a round side table of oak in an older style. A built-in window seat stretched across the front, with more bookshelves built in underneath.
To the left, at the end of the room that would easily hold two of her last apartment, was another set of nine-foot-tall pocket doors. She stepped over to the center and moved them apart with surprisingly small effort, as they were probably 300 pounds of thick old wood each. But the balance was so good that they slid apart easily. She stepped through into a dining room. An antique table of highly polished dark wood stretched half of the length of the room, with ten high-back chairs of matching color and style tucked neatly all around, four on each side and one at each end. A matching sideboard sat in the back corner, and another marble fireplace, slightly smaller that the one in the front room and faced with white, veined marble and bright brass andirons, sat in the middle of the outside wall, flanked by a pair of eight-foot-tall bay windows. Even with no lights burning, the room was ablaze with sunlight.
Stepping to a side door, she opened it and found herself back in the hallway, near the stairs she’d descended a few moments before. She heard the clatter of dishes down the hall to the right, and saw someone move across a doorway.
She took a deep breath and moved toward the sounds and the smell of coffee and food. The coffee would help with the headache and she couldn’t resist the allure of the aroma any longer.
At the threshold, she stopped again and watched Ted’s back as he worked on something at the stove. A kitchen table to the right was set for two, and more sunlight was bursting into the room from another big bay window beside it. A lanky chocolate Lab had caught her scent already, and raised his head and was watching her from his spot under the table. He unfolded himself from the floor and ambled over, tail wagging like he’d known her all his life.
She scratched behind his ears and looked up, realizing Ted hadn’t heard anything yet over the music of a radio he had on.
He looked different around the edges, but the same at the center: A little thinner, perhaps, but with some grey at the temples that hadn’t been there a year ago. The hair was shorter. He was humming along tunelessly like she remembered, something that sounded like a mixture of an old Stones tune and a little Count Basie, and completely unrelated to the song that was playing. She smiled. Typical. He wore a short-sleeved yellow polo shirt and khaki slacks, well-worn moccasins and no socks.
His arms were tanned and looked better muscled than she remembered, as did the shoulders that looked broader and solid under the shirt’s fabric. The back of his neck was ruddy from the sun. Overall, he was in better shape and had lost the flabby, disheveled, half-crazed look of his life in New York. There, he’d lived mainly on adrenaline, beer, coffee, cold pizza and vending machine food and more beer. Whatever else had happened, moving here seemed to have been good for him. She approved.
A bright red cardinal landed on a branch of a small tree just outside the window, looked sharply around a few times with a combative manner, and sounded the penetrating clear call notes that warned any competitors that he was master of this territory now.
She heard the powerful song from outside and watched him, comb flashing angrily, and felt the pride and challenge of his brash music of survival go through her. She did not realize Ted had turned at the cardinal’s call, as well, and had caught sight of her from the corner of his eye. He put a skillet down and turned the gas flame off. He switched off the radio and turned and stood, waiting. His face was not unfriendly, but impassive.
She turned her head as the music stopped and looked into his eyes for the first time in more than a year. She opened her mouth once, then closed it.
The silence stretched.
“Hungry?,” he said, turning back to the stove.
All she could do was nod once, suddenly shy and tongue-tied, then realized he couldn’t see her. The lab bumped her hand with his head, wanting her to pet him some more. When she didn’t, he sniffed her fingertips and touched them with just the tip of his tongue.
Ted pointed to the table with his hand and arm outstretched, without turning. “Why don’t you sit down. I’ll get things together. And—“ He paused, turning from the waist up and looking at her a long second “— we’ll eat.”
As he dialed up the gas flame under the skillet, he started whistling that tuneless tune again.
She nodded to his back, felt foolish, then walked over to the table and sat at the end so she could watch him. The dog escorted her, side pressed against her legs slightly.
Ted put eggs and bacon on a platter, poured juice and two coffees, put it all on a big tray and carried it to the table. He put a glass of orange juice in front of her and the platter in the middle of the table. Abandoning any pretense or etiquette in sudden, ravenous hunger, she pulled the empty plate in front of her, grabbed the platter and scooped eggs and meat onto it, then slices of toast while he poured her coffee. He moved to the other end of the table and pulled the platter to his side and helped himself. He put the pot of coffee halfway between them.
Miriam made the food disappear with efficiency. He watched in fascination as so much food went into such a small person so quickly. She ate one helping without looking at him, chewing. He pushed the platter back to her and she loaded her plate up again. She drank the juice and coffee gratefully, then poured another of each. Ted ate without a word passing between them, finished and sat back, sipped coffee and looked out the window while she ate. His thoughts were tripping over themselves.
He had seen her the night before, of course, but she looked more like the accident victim she was than the remarkably restored woman at his table. He hadn’t been affected by her nakedness in the ways he would have been at almost any other time. Besides, Rose had been there and helped clean Miriam up, bandage her wounds and get her into bed. Rose had picked out the clothes.
He reflected on that scene, wondering if he’d have been as composed and business-like if Rose’s ex-husband had dropped in out of the deluge, babbling incoherently, the way Miriam had talked in her delirium as they worked on her together.
Not bloody likely, he knew. He’d have been more likely to stop the yammering of the man by putting a pillow over his face and holding it there.
But not Rose. She was full of surprises, that one.
But the woman he’d once loved to the point of insanity, the woman who had run away without a word, was sitting at his table.
He felt equal parts anger, intense relief, and an odd flutter of the heart.
But who, intact,
would Venus [de Milo] be?
ingénue. Give me
a woman who’s lived
a little, who’s wrapped
her arms around the ages
and come up lacking: that’s
the stone that can move me.
—“Truth in Advertising,” Andrea Cohen
Ted’s doorbell, which sounded like Big Ben, rang at 9 p.m. precisely two days, seven hours and 23 minutes after he left the old Mill’s bar floating on the updrafts of new love.
He had music playing and had cleaned things up as much as one can in a house that’s full of carpenter’s tools and stepladders, the smell of fresh paint and polish.
Rose stood outside on the porch with her hair down on her shoulders, and breathtaking in a low-cut but still modest black dress that ended just above the knees, a silver necklace and playful eyes. She fairly glistened under the light.
To say that she was well put together would be like saying Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” was just an OK little sketch.
And never in the history of little black dresses had there been such a little black dress.
His heart fluttered a bit and then flopped over. His mouth went dry. She was overloading his nervous system. He liked it.
Her hair glowed in the light of late evening and the porch lamp. She must have done some fairy magic with makeup, because all he saw were her eyes and lips, a hint of swelling bosom…and felt something break loose in his chest. Everything about her looked understated and expensive, and he forgot his own name.
Rose looked a little worried at first that he wasn’t saying anything. It had taken a lot of work to look like this, after all. But then she looked more closely and saw the wordless appreciation in his face and then blushed at what she saw behind it, and felt a thrill run through her at what that look did to her. She laughed, held up the bottle of wine she had in her right hand, and waggled it at him.
“Are you going to invite me in, or do I have to find another guy to share this with?”
That shook the spell off, and opened the door wide.
“Hi, Rose. I’m sorry. You … . You’re so gorgeous, I forgot how to speak there for a minute. Please…. Come on in.” She smiled up at him warmly and stepped across the threshold, presenting the wine bottle.
Their fingers brushed lightly as he took the bottle.
“You look beautiful, too,” she said, a little shyly, almost too softly to hear. “What say we get started on that wine?”
He took the wine and led her back to the kitchen, opened it and filled two glasses. Then, even though they both knew they were delaying the inevitable, he played tour guide to his pride and joy renovation/rescue project, all three floors. It took the better part of 40 minutes. Back in the kitchen, he refilled their glasses, pulled a tray of cheeses and olives and meats and crackers from the refrigerator, and tried to tuck another bottle of wine under his arm. She held up a hand, took the wine from him, picked up the open one and a cork screw with her other hand and he grabbed the food tray and led her up the winding staircase to the tower room with its 360-degree view of town and treetops, where he’d earlier put some candles.
The summer sun was just touching the top of the mountain to the west, filling the room with a golden glow. They had had a spell of clear, dry air settling down from Canada over the valley, with sunny days and cool nights, so the windows were open and a slight breeze moved through.
He sat on one of the couches as she took her time inspecting this last space, sipping wine without saying much. She took in the view of town below, of the mountains to the west and north, and the tree tops of the old neighborhood stretching to the east toward the gigantic old limestone open mine a couple of miles out in the forests that surrounded them. It was just getting dark enough that the glow of the university town 10 miles away over a ridge to the south could be seen blotting out the first stars. The street lights and the yellow glow of the lights below in the downtown looked more inviting. He took in her presence, smiling at how lovely she was, how she moved so effortlessly. She’d chosen the dress well, too, and he watched her body move under it, enjoying the swish and sway of the fabric falling from shoulder, and breast and hip, but stopping at two of the finest pair of legs he’d seen in a long time, bare, with no stockings.
After she paused back at the beginning, looking pensively toward the glow of the western sky, he cleared his throat.
“What’s your story, Rose Tyler?” he finally asked, breaking the silence. She turned at the question, eyes dark and serious. He indicated the tray of food and offered to refill her glass. He stammered… “You know a lot about me — God knows I’ve been doing nothing but talking about myself all evening — but now it’s your turn.”
She didn’t answer right away, but took another sip of wine and held it to her lips for a few seconds, looking at him over the rim of the glass with unfathomable eyes. She moved to the seat opposite, but close enough that he could have touched her knee if he had just leaned forward a bit.
She held the stem of the wine glass with both hands in her lap with knees together and ankles crossed.
“Let’s eat first. I’m starving, and much more wine on an empty stomach and I don’t know what I’ll do,” she said. “But then you’ll get the whole sad story.”
Later, after the food and after they shared some more of their personal stories, they sat in silence for a while, sipping wine, neither knowing exactly what to say.
He put his wine glass down and leaned forward. Might as well be blunt, Ted thought.
“I’ve been thinking about you almost non-stop since the other day at lunch,” he said. “Truth be told, I’ve been thinking about you a lot even before that. And I want to kiss you,” he said. “Almost more than anything I can think of right now.”
She put her glass down on the side table and looked at him with a frank invitation in her eyes. “If you hadn’t said that pretty soon, I was going to,” she said, her voice a little husky. “And then I want to see more of that bedroom.”
Somehow– he later couldn’t remember moving– he was next to her and the room was lit only by a candle by the time they broke away. The sun’s glow was gone from the sky and the moon was rising, but it seemed as though no time had passed for the two of them.
They were both breathing hard. She put her head against his chest and ran her hand up and down, then back inside where buttons had been opened before. Her touch seemed infused with fire.
“Oh, my,” she said, voice husky and hushed. “Oh, my.”
He kissed the top of her head and stood, then moved around blowing out each candle. The moon was rising, filling the room with blue light, enough for them to see now. He took her hand and drew her up from the couch to him, kissed her once, touching her tongue with his. Without another word, he led her down the stairs.
The next week was a rushing memory. Rose left at mid-morning the next day and went to the restaurant. Ted met with a decorator and a plumber and some other tradespeople finishing up the upper rooms, and felt like he had a grin plastered on his face the whole time.
When he was alone he found himself whistling, something he hadn’t done for years. He also realized he wasn’t very good at whistling, but didn’t care.
Rose came back that night and brought some samplings from the restaurant, and also had a snack of cheeses at the big table in the kitchen. They washed it down with some German beer, and talked again for an hour about their lives and their losses.
She grew quiet after a while, and he could tell she wanted to say something. He waited.
“I like you, Ted,” she said. “I really do. Last night was unbelievable. But I need to be clear about something.”
“Um, Ok,” he said, wondering what was coming, fearing the worst.
“We’re both grownups,” she started again. “We know what we like, and what we don’t, and neither of us has time for games any more. That’s for kids. I’ve got issues. You’ve got issues. But I do love the way you use your hands,” she said.
“I know, I know,” he said, waving modestly. “My hands should be insured. I’m gong to call Lloyds tomorrow,” he said. “You certainly were vocal on that point last night.”
“Very funny,” she said, dipping a finger in her beer and flicking it at him. “But I’m not looking for anything permanent here. It might happen. I like being with you. We’re two people who need each other right now, who can make each other laugh. But it’s too soon for either of us to get too serious. I’m too scared about something bad happening again. The divorce was brutal. But I should warn you, I could very easily fall for you, and if that happens, it will be very hard for you to get away.”
“But let’s try to keep it loose for the time being, OK?”
As she said this, she reached over and took his hand and squeezed it.
“I get it,” he said, choosing to make light of it for now. He was feeling much the same. “You just want me for my body. And… “ he gestured at the shirt with a few cracker crumbs and the remnants of a spare tire under it…”I can’t really blame you. This is… well, it’s just irresistible.”
“Let’s just say that with the lights out, I can forget the cracker crumbs,” she said, rising and patting his stomach.
She led him toward the bedroom, although they didn’t make it all the way up the stairs on the first try.
The next hours were memorable. They dozed and then found each other again and again. At the last, she held him with arms and thighs, whispered urgently in his ear, made herself the safe habor into which the storms of his buried selves burst and were forgiven. At the final moment all of the grief and pain and doubt and anger stored inside from all those hard years of loss and disappointment left him.
Afterward, she lay quietly, fingers moving languidly over his skin, a feeling of deep contentment filling her.
They lay side by side, not speaking in the dimness of the giant old room. He let himself drift and wondered at what was gone from the day before— a darkness in his gut that he had felt so long that it seemed normal. He had a brief sensation of sliding down a warm slope. In an instant, he was deep asleep for the first time in months.
She pulled the sheet up over them and settled in under his chin, her head on his chest and one leg and arm thrown possessively over him. He stirred and murmmered something unintelligible and put his arm around her shoulder and then was still again, breathing deeply. With a strand of hair across her face and enigmatic smile at the corners of her mouth, she closed her eyes and followed him into oblivion.
This is not an original thought, but worth repeating.
The real point of any piece, the inner crankiness of malformed intent that pushes me to write, doesn’t emerge until the sixth or seventh draft, usually. (I’m writing for the terminally ill, after all —we’re all gonna die—and I don’t want to waste our collective valuable time with frilly froo froo stuff.
Don’t you have enough crap in your life already? Yeah. Me, too.
Writing is mostly staying at the chair and getting the first five versions out of the way so I can really begin to work, to follow the scent, to hone and polish and revel in the craft and mystery of it. I murder my own words for the greater glory of the correct ones still caught in a holding pattern and unable to land.
The final piece may look nothing at all like the first — or fifth, or eighth — draft. That’s just how it works.
The stuff I’m most unhappy with are the things that I pushed out into the light of day too soon.
Like this post, for instance.
This was only the fourth draft, and it shows. I should probably go back and cut about 20 percent more. 🙂
I love this concept, this thing, this noun. If we’re looking for stories, they’re everywhere. The only problem is that a lifetime is not long enough to explore them all. The word, Sonder, is a noun. Whatever exists can be named, and that name is a noun. Stories are like verbs, actions that move this idea around on the page.