An Anthology of Almost-Works
I’m good at starting things. I have plenty of enthusiasm and creativity, at least at the outset. The following are all stories that could have been—could still be I suppose, though some are yrs old at this point. They wait on my C:/ drive, little kernels of ideas waiting to be nurtured into a full-fledged tale.
But I’m going to tell you, gentlefriends, I do not think this is likely to happen any time soon. Like I said, I’m good at starting things. But finishing them? I’m not so sure. And I’m starting to wonder if what has held true in fiction is going to manifest itself in reality.
Though these pieces are but fragments, I think they are still enjoyable to read, the way that sketches are nice to look at. So I’m going to air them out, under the assumption that some exposure is better than none.
This reading selection should tide you over until I return from my wknd adventure w/ Anya (who is arriving tmrw)!
I. Gold Digger
“Oh darling, this is so exciting,” breathed Mika as she and Frank looked at the view before them: a wide expanse of indigo water into which a ravishing sun was disappearing. It made Mika think of a golden coin sliding into a bottomless piggy bank. She kissed Frank’s hairy ear and did a little dance.
The guide tied the rope around Frank’s feet. He swallowed and looked down at the water.
“Mika…I don’t know if I can do this.”
Mika laughed. “But you’ve wanted to do this all your life! If not now, when?” She tugged at Frank’s arm. “Frank, all your life you’ve slaved away at the office. You’ve gazed at posters of the ocean instead of the real thing. Finally, finally you get away and you hesitate? Where’s your commitment, Frank? This is your life, the only one you’ve got! You can’t waste it by being afraid, for God’s sake! If you don’t do this today, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”
“Also, your deposit is non-refundable,” their guide added helpfully. Mika ignored him.
“You’re right, Mika. Darling. God, I love you.” Frank leaned toward her and his smooch landed on the corner of her pretty rosebud mouth. “I’m so glad you’re here with me.”
“I wouldn’t miss it.” She held on to his hand, squeezing it hard. “Come on, Frank. It’s time.”
He stood on the edge of the bridge. The sun was all but gone, remaining to just peek over the horizon to see what Frank would do. He took a deep breath and squeezed Mika’s hand. He closed his eyes.
“Are you ready, Mika?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“No.” Eyes still closed, Frank jumped off the bridge.
“You meet you haven’t gotten rid of him yet?” Pauline asked incredulously. The women were lounging by Pauline’s pool, sipping strawberry margaritas.
“No,” admitted Mika in despairing tones. “No matter what I do, he won’t die. I don’t understand it…the doctor claims he has a bad heart, but I think we’d better get a second opinion.”
“Don’t worry; if nothing else, he’ll get cancer eventually. He doesn’t smoke, does he?”
“Unfortunately, no,” said Mika. “Do you think it would be worth a try to get him started?”
II. It isn’t as easy as it looks
It’s February, and it’s too cold for Celia’s taste, though the temperature hasn’t dropped below the mid-forties for weeks. Celia’s roommate Bianca commented philosophically that it was good that they were cold now; if it was warm in February, it would be hot in March and unbearable by April. Celia conceded the point, and added that she likes wearing sweaters and scarves anyway. Still, she wishes spring would come. The grass is green enough, and they are far enough south that the leaves never fall from the trees, but Celia misses the light. The sun retreats far too early and she wants to call it back, bask in its golden glow a little longer. A friend suggests that she come tanning, but Celia resists the idea for a number of reasons; namely the potential of skin cancer and claustrophobia and a vague suspicion that she will come out looking like some sort of scaly, reptilian creature of the sort found on Mediterranean beaches.
Besides cold, February means Valentine’s Day. Most of the girls Celia knows seem to fall into two categories: free but bitter, or attached but lonely. The former have been searching the college campus for the past two months, fishing for a potential mate. The latter—like Bianca—spend much of their time on the phone with their boyfriends, or talking about their boyfriends, or making tentative plans to go and visit their boyfriends, if they ever happen to get a free weekend (not likely).
In fact, she cannot think of any prospering freshman couple. Only the upperclassmen seem to have any stable relationships. Perhaps Celia’s advisor will reveal their secret in coming years.
The other thing about not having a boyfriend is that, instead of spending time with him, you have time to think about all the time you’re spending without him, since he doesn’t exist. Furthermore, it appears that all this thinking leads to bitterness, which builds up over time and becomes quite formidable. At least, that’s how Celia remembers her friend Tory explaining it, though she was only paying scant attention. Tory detests Valentine’s Day, a fact she is quite comfortable sharing. If only she could get her hands on dimply, cherubic Cupid, she vows, she would tear off his wings and stab him with his own arrows.
So Celia is not expecting very much out of Valentine’s Day.
Robin was supposed to be on his way to deliver a message to the butcher about how much pork the Duchess wanted delivered. But instead of going straight to the market, Robin had scrambled up onto the roof and was looking out over the broad expanse of city stretching before him. It was a vast, dirty metropolis, not particularly pleasing to the eye, although if you looked in the right direction, you could see lovely ivory and gold towers that looked as if they’d been made of milk and honey. In other directions were the low, cramped houses that huddled together, propping each other up like a group of sickly beggars, and the large, black factories that pumped black, powdery smoke into the air.
It was mid-afternoon, and a dull white, cotton-wool haze had settled over everything, blocking the sun from view, but still allowing its heat. At least it was cooler up here than in the kitchen, where Alice was making mince pies. Alice was the Duchess’ daughter; she was young, with blue eyes, a wide white forehead, and a narrow chin that made her look like an elf. She was five years older than Robin and had recently had her third child.
The Duchess had been there too, complaining about everything and helping with nothing. Her real name was Ursa Temple, but everyone called her Duchess, ostensibly because of the name of her inn, which was “The Last Duchess.” Robin called her the Duchess of Nothing, and both despised and feared her. He felt sorry for Alice, since she was Duchess’ only child, and because she was married to such a brute. Hairtusk, her husband, was a gravedigger. He was a hulking man with a large red face, a long dark beard, and a crooked scar over his lip. The scar tissue was knotty and white, and the puckered flesh above his lip had been pulled up slightly, revealing two of his long teeth. They gleamed whitely against the shaggy blackness of his beard.
I only ever wrote one good poem. The rest were mediocre at best. The good one was enough to garner the particular attention of one of my tutors when I was reading English at Cambridge. He encouraged me to apply for all sorts of fellowships, but in the end, I was only accepted into one.
My father wasn’t exactly proud. He was a doctor in London, and hoped that I might suddenly outgrow my adolescent love of literature and develop a keen interest in anatomy and biology. His ancestors had emigrated from Russia back in the 1800’s (when they’d evicted the Jews from Moscow…again), and his family had done well for itself. His brother, my uncle Josef, was a banker. My father was what you might call a secular Jew, and religion had never been a part of my upbringing. We never lit menorahs or fasted in repentance. If my ever father drank wine on Passover, it was coincidental. Moreover, he had married a Gentile. My mother was a more recent arrival to England, also from Russia. She had made a daring escape across Europe during World War II, and had spent some time in a refugee camp in Germany before finally coming to London. She talked a great deal about this time, about the lack of food and small comforts. According to her, many Russian women wanted Jewish husbands because they were dependable and didn’t drink. She had been married before, but her soldier husband had died early on in the war, his life squandered by one of those famously profligate Russian generals. She had a picture of him, a black and white photograph of a handsome young man with very thick eyebrows. My father was short, scrawny and nearsighted. It was lucky he was very dependable, because it always seemed to me that my beautiful mother might have had her choice of men. She had blonde hair that she wore in two plump braids that were pinned up into a golden coronet, pale wide-set eyes, and an exquisite upturned nose.
My sister Masha (officially she was “Mary,” but at home we always went by Russian diminutives, the anglicized versions of our names reserved for the outside world) and I never had to go to Hebrew school, but twice a week in the evenings we were taken to the residence of one Aleksandra Aleksandrovna in order to have Russian lessons. My mother would stay and chat politely, often detailing what my sister and I had eaten that day. This subject seemed to hold a special fascination for them, though I never understood why. We would leave our shoes at the door, and supplied with tapochki, the house-slippers that Russians are inordinately fond of. My mother forced us all to wear them around the house, insisting that we would catch cold and die otherwise. Then we would be ushered into the parlor and given chai and biscuits. If my mother had time to stay for a bit, she and Aleksandra Aleksandrovna would drink a thick black coffee that was brewed in a special little iron pot with a long handle.
*I’m pretty sure this wasn’t meant to be the title of the story, merely one section of a larger work.
V. What Penny Knows
Mr. Whittle, you wanted me to write this paper. You said it was to hear my side of the story, but I am not sure this is true because you have already said that you believe Lacy Reeves, and not me. Maybe it is because I have not been around very much lately. I know I have missed a lot of school. I have been in Florida, living on the naval base with my brother. I was down there because there was nowhere else for me to be.
I don’t know if you know this, but my father died a little while ago. When I was younger, he would do things to me, and when I told my mother, she would not believe me. She told me not to tell stories. But I have to tell you, Mr. Whittle, I could not take it anymore, and I told my crisis counselor at school. You probably know her. Her name is Mrs. Simmons. She got me removed from my home and I was put in foster care. The family I was with was not cruel, but they did not love me. That is normal, I guess. How can you love someone you don’t know? Why would you try in the first place? They would wake me up early before school and have me do chores. I would have to vacuum and clean the bathrooms before I could leave. I was there for two weeks before my aunt and brother came to rescue me. My brother took me to Florida with him. He wasn’t happy about having to do it, but he didn’t make me feel bad about it either.
I was going to stay in Florida while my dad was in court. He said he was guilty, and so was going to go to jail. But then he died of a heart attack and they told me I could come back home. Things have been a little bit different. At first I thought they would be the same, or even better, but I see that is not true. I went to my dad’s funeral, but I did not cry. It was not that I was not sad. Even though he did those things to me, I did not hate him, not exactly. He was my father. Mostly I pretend I do not care, but I must care, because when Lacy said that I killed him, I snapped. She said it was my fault she was dead, because I had said all those things about him and the stress killed him. So I fought her. I am not saying I didn’t, but I didn’t attack her, like you said I did. She even went to the office and told on herself, and you still said, “That doesn’t sound like her. Lacy wouldn’t say that.” Why wouldn’t she say that? Is it because she is pretty, or because her mother is on the school board, or because she is on the track team? Then when that excuse didn’t work, you said, “Well, she said she was sorry.” She didn’t even get in trouble. I wish I had hit her harder, left more of a mark, because at least it would be worth the trouble of being suspended.
I know you want my mother to come in for a conference, but I will tell you now, she probably won’t come. She is very busy lately, but also she just does not care anymore, not since my dad died. I used to have an 11:30 curfew, and then it was 12:30 and now I don’t have one at all. I used to have to lie and make up excuses about where I was going, so I could sneak off with my boyfriend (my boyfriend has a really deep voice, and sometimes he would pretend to be one of my friend’s dads), but now I can do whatever I want.
As for me, I just want to get my diploma and go and join the navy, like my brother. I hope that this suspension does not get in the way of that, because it is very important to me.