Daily Prompt Slash and Burn Write 500 words on any topic you like. Now remove 250 of them without changing the essence of your post.
My problem as a writer is the opposite; I learned to edit from the best, Truman Capote. In my fiction I’m challenged to write MORE words, not fewer.
So…here’s a bit more from the Love Story. It seems people enjoyed reading the little excerpts I’ve put up. Below is a chapter toward the middle of the story. This is the protagonist writing in her voice about herself. What is all this? Well, once upon a time, a long time ago, I wrote a love story. At the end of the real life version of the love story, I began to wonder what else there was to life, what other challenges, what larger loves, that might end in something worth taking away. Still, I wrote the love story — as a novel about becoming a writer. If you like it, let me know and every time there’s a crappy daily prompt I’ll post more. The protagonista has several names and various plot lines. It’s an exploration of how a story can be an exploration of alternative futures. If you want to read the other two bits I’ve posted, I think you can use the search feature for Love Story.
Lost in Devoid
Snarling at the lousy weather, the hanging gray cold, and all the people, I pushed through the crowd on Seventeenth Street. After two blocks, I caught up to a crippled blind guy banging his cane against the two-by-four supports of the narrow entrance to a construction sidewalk.
“What is it? What is it?” he screamed frantically, “Would somebody please help me? Help me!”
“Damn it,” I thought.
“It’s a new building,” I said to him, catching up. “The sidewalk is like a tunnel. Here, take my hand and we can go through it together.”
He told me he was catching the Colfax bus which was a block behind us, loading passengers. He was about five feet tall, if that. He was a little shorter than I. Every aspect of him was wrong. His watery pale sightless eyes, his pinkish hair flattened from sleep, his crooked, red, too-large nose, his feet twisting toward each other just enough to make his stride unsteady. Some of his teeth were gone and his fingers were gnarled, but he seemed to be only in his mid twenties. His helplessness compelled his trust. “Can you run?” I asked. “Your bus is at the stop before this one. I’ll hold your hand. I think we can make it. There’s no ice on the sidewalk here.” We had a half a block and the bus was at a the traffic light behind us and it had just turned green.
“OK,” he said, and we ran to the bus. “This is fun!” he laughed a snorting little laugh. The bus driver must have known the blind guy because he waited at the corner. The man struggled up the steps and showed his pass to the driver. “Merry Christmas!” he said, “See you again!”
I raised my hand to wave goodbye, but at the last minute, I put it in my pocket. “Merry Christmas!” I said.
I reached the Presbyterian church on top of the hill just as the carillon began “It Came upon a Midnight Clear, that glorious song of old, of angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold. Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, the Heavenly host proclaimed. The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.” Suddenly my grandmother was alive, singing in her kitchen and I was only four years old, stretching awake on the bed made for me of two easy chairs pushed together. A Christmas tree stood in the corner of the tiny living room. My mind’s eye saw her in the dark Montana morning still wearing her egg-gathering jacket and hat, putting wood in the stove. “Merry Christmas, Adrienne. You’re up early.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks. I looked into the chasm of life between that Montana Christmas and this moment. What did I have to show for it? More than a year had passed since the October morning in Albuquerque when I’d watched the mass ascension of balloons. I had written and submitted lots of stories and all had been rejected. My brother insisted that I had “missed the public pulse.”
In the middle of the night, I woke up feverish and knew I’d caught the flu. It was not an ordinary flu, either. Before it was over, it would possess me completely. Not know about the end at the beginning, I got up at my usual time the next morning and went to work. After a day made surreal by fever, I ate supper with my friend Anne and went with her to a bookstore. Anne looked for presents while I stood in one place fascinated by the way the titles changed into small, printed surrealistic rainbows.
“Anne, let’s go. I’m sick. I feel awful.”
“Was it the spaghetti?”
“No. It’s the flu.”
“Your face is really flushed,” she said. “Well I don’t want it.”
I dropped her off and went home. I got into bed and watched a brightly colored halo form around my ceiling light.
“Shit,” I thought. “This can’t be good.”
Sunday night my mom cooked me the supper I appreciated most when I was sick as a kid. I hoped I would wake up feeling well enough for work the next morning, but it was not to be. I felt worse. I went to work anyway because that night a man I’d been seeing was taking me to see “The Elephant Man.” Steve – his name — was older by something like eleven years which bothered him, but I liked him very much. He was intelligent, funny, cynical, heterosexual and good-looking in a New York kind of way. Sitting in a booth at Zack’s, waiting for dinner, we looked around at the paintings hanging on the walls.
“What do you think of these?” asked Steve.
“They’re OK if you like Matisse-Lautrec,” I said.
“That’s what I like about you. You say things like that. I don’t know anyone else who says things like that. We have something in common. Weltschmerze.”
“It’s German. It means ‘world weariness’.”
I didn’t see myself as “world weary.” I liked the world. I couldn’t think of a better pace to be, but that didn’t mean I liked that paintings or thought they were original, deep or meaningful. “I don’t feel world weary,” I said. “I just have the flu.”
“Weltschmerze isn’t bad. It just means that the common lot of things which satisfy people doesn’t satisfy you.”
All I could think of was my brother’s public pulse remark. I wanted to be on the public pulse. I rated quality of effort with success in the public market. I had no interest in “art for art’s sake” hoo-ha or any other artsy-fartsy twaddle. Matisse-Lautrec was hot in the market place and I had not been able to write stories in the Matisse-Lautrec style. This “weltschmerze” thing was too much for my flu inhabited brain. “Can we go home? I really feel like shit.”
“We have to talk,” said Steve once we were in the car. He started the engine. It was two blocks to my apartment. Apparently we were going to discuss our “relationship.” I didn’t feel like “talk.” My flu had left no energy for one of Steve’s Woody Allenesque discussions.
“Is it serious?” I asked.
“Yes. It’s serious.”
“Well, if it’s serious,” I said as we walked the living room. I” guess you’d better take the chair.” I had only one comfortable piece of furniture in my apartment. Until my aunt gave me that, a big red over-stuffed wing chair, I had done most of my reading in the bathtub. I gestured toward it and perched on my desk.
Steve looked guilty. “No,” he said, “you have the chair. You’re sick.”
“I’m fine. Sit down. Talk.”
“Listen,” he said, pacing rather than sitting. “The fact is, there’s this person I’ve been seeing for two years. We had a good relationship. Until I met you, I’ve been with her exclusively. Do you understand?”
“Yeah. You have another girlfriend and you don’t want to mess it up, so you want to bag it, right?”
“Well, I don’t know if I want to ‘bag it.”
“It’s OK. We can bag it.”
“You mean, that’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
“Sure.” My one thought was that if he left I could go to bed. “So, why don’t you leave now? Goodnight.” I began herding him to the door.
“You mean that’s all?”
“It’s OK. Don’t worry about it,” I said as I pushed him past my bicycle which took up half the hallway. When he left, I took my temperature. 101.
I woke up the next morning two hours late for work. I was on fire. I stayed home for the rest of the week. Christmas Eve I spent stretched out on my mother’s living room floor, waiting to go home. Christmas Day was very cold; I knew going out only made the flu worse, but there was no escape from Christmas dinner. When I arrived at my aunt’s house, I laid down in front of the fire and tried to be good company, but my mom was on my case for “always being sick on Christmas.” I think it was my dad she was thinking of but I didn’t fight back. I wondered if I would ever be healthy again. As soon as I could, I went back home and back to bed where I stayed for the next few days.Luckily, the law firm was closed for Christmas week, so I wasn’t missing any pay or pissing anyone off.
Four days after Christmas I’d started to feel better, but still exhausted, not right. The phone rang, waking me from a nap. It was Mark’s father, inviting me to meet them in Aspen. I didn’t want to see Mark. “I wish you’d come,” Frank said. “It’ll be so much more fun if you are here. Mark will get here tonight; he was hoping you’d meet his plane!”
“Why didn’t he call me?” I asked Frank.
“You know how he is. He thought I would be more persuasive.”
“I can’t come up. I’ve had the flu for almost two weeks and I’m just starting to get better. If I skied even one day, I’d be sick all over again.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t have to ski. You can just come up and keep Elizabeth company and cheer us up at the end of the day.”
“Oh, Frank, it would be horrible to be up there and not ski. Besides. I’m terrible company. All I want to do is sleep.”
“We got a little apartment. You can rest as much as you want!”
“It sounds wonderful, but I have to stay here. I’m afraid to drive that far. I’m really sorry.” I was, too. I loved them and free trips to Aspen didn’t happen every day. I wondered if I were having a mid-nap fever dream.
“You really don’t sound like yourself,” said Frank. “I can hear some congestion in your voice. Are you still running a fever?” Frank was a psychiatrist, actively interested in the medical side of his job. But, the fact was, I’d started to cry.
“Maybe a little.”
“You poor thing! I know Mark will be disappointed, but you’d better take care of yourself. Happy New Year! We love you, honey. There’s next year, right? Bye-bye.”
I loved Mark’s dad. I began to cry in earnest. I was no writer. I was a failure at loving people. I went back to bed and resumed my nap. When I awakened again, two hours later, something happened which had not happened in all my adult life. I started painting. I painted a small picture of a woman looking into the ground. It was brightly colored, painted with linoleum ink, watercolors and lace paper. After I finished that, I painted another, a picture of a round man, pushed against the side of the paper, as if he were trapped in the rectangle that held him. The paintings were vivid, spontaneous, free.
Late New Years Eve, Steve called. “Adrienne?”
“Hi, what’s up?”
“I just wanted to talk.”
“OK.” I didn’t feel hostile; I felt radiant. I was in love with my paintings.
“Are you mad at me?”
“You were so abrupt the other night. I thought we’d at least talk about it.”
“I was sick. Don’t worry about it.”
“We can still be friends, right?”
“I don’t see why not.” I had a little practice with this. I was “friends” with an ex-husband.
“So we’re still friends?”
This was noxious. “As far as I can tell, Steve. Don’t worry about it. Goodnight!” I hung up.
The next day I got up and started painting. I painted from a photo I’d taken of my reflection in my bathroom mirror. Just before noon, Wes showed up. He stood at the door, carefully nonchalant, in worn jeans, a black sweater, white shirt and tie. His cigarette hung provocatively from his lips. Wes was young enough to play dress-ups. His pale straight hair was parted on the side, a long lock hung across his forehead. His beard had finally grown in, thick and ash-blond. “Don’t you think I look like Hemingway?”
“Well, yes,” I had to admit, “but you look like Hemingway in 1960 when he was an old, depressed man thinking of suicide. You’d have to shave the beard and dye your hair to look like Hemingway at your age.” The young Hemingway looked something like Charlie, but the mention of Charlie’s name was enough to put Wes in a snit for a week.
“How was Christmas?” he asked, putting his arms around me and giving me a sweet mouth kiss with a little — but not much — tongue.
“Well,” I said, “I had the fucking flu the whole time.”
“Sounds like fun,” he said, winking.
“You mean you’ve been sick since I left for Looooosiana?”
“Yeah. I missed a lot of work. I don’t know if I even have a job now, but I’m going tomorrow. Joe will be pissed.”
“Who cares? Joe’s an asshole anyway.”
“That’s true, but I’m up for a raise.”
“I’m quitting. Maybe I’ll go back to school.”
“Well,” I said, diving into the revelation of my strange new reality. “Get a load of this. I’ve been painting.”
Wes was an artist, a good one, not Matisse-Lautrec. In spite of his spacey personality and romanticized appearance, he was productive. He was the “real gen” as Hemingway would have said. Before he went home for Christmas, he had been looking for a place to show his work. He looked down at me indulgently. He had to be nice because I often loaned him money and cooked him supper. “Cool,” he said, “let me see them”
I went into the bedroom and got my three paintings.
“I didn’t know you did this,” he said, startled, leaning them against the living room wall.
“I was an art major, but I haven’t painted since college, I mean, not really painting. I just started yesterday.”
“They’re good.” He got very silent. Like my brother, also an artist, Wes was not happy with “sibling” rivalry.
“Let’s go get breakfast,” he said, changing the subject. It was a cold, sunny day and we went to a cafe on Broadway, newly opened, where you could get good coffee and read the Sunday paper. After breakfast I dropped him off at his place and went to buy art supplies. I bought several heavy sheets of cold pressed paper, five tubes of gouache, and a couple of large, flat, camel hair brushes.
When I got home, the sun was streaming in the beautiful big south windows of my apartment. I felt so good, terrifically good, invulnerable, rapturous. I cleaned the living room, putting my useless typewriter under the bed, and stuffing sheets of clean typing paper into desk drawers. I found something I could always use as a palette, an old, white enameled oven tray, in one of the drawers of my old stove. I wash bedding and towels, clothes, underwear dancing up and down the steps to the cantaloupe colored laundry room in the basement. By dark, everything was clean and ready for work the next day. I sat down on the floor in front of Cosmos with a sandwich of turkey leftover and a glass of milk, my first real taste of what had been Christmas dinner.
I watched Cosmos because Charlie watched it. But Carl Sagan was a paradox to me. At times he insisted we were accidental flotsam and jetsam, relics of the cosmological accident; other times we were miraculous “star stuff,” the ultimate lucky break of the universe.