Tag: scenes

I’ve only been back and serious at the writer’s game for about a year and half–so it’s not hard to look around and see tons of folks who’ve been working with nose to the grindstone much longer, and to admire the wherewithal with which they’ve continued to pursue their craft, come thick or thin.

One of those folks is Christine H over at The Writer’s Hole.  Christine has been working on the same WIP for over four years, and she’s refused to give up or give in to the many voices telling her to start a  new project.  That’s commitment, folks.  Christine has devoted herself to her inner writer and stayed with this project–and promises to see it through to the end.

To celebrate, she’s hosting the You’ve Come A Long Way Baby! Blogfest, with prizes!  The point of the blogfest is to take a minute, smell the roses and realize how much we’ve grown as writers.

As part of the blogfest, we’re each to post something written far in the past, to highlight how bad things once were–and I tell you, for me it was really bad.

Prepare yourself.  Or if you prefer, skip to the end!

I dug out this old chestnut from my “JP’s Papers” file, a short unfinished piece of fiction titled “Snowstorm.”  Since most of North America appears to be under a white blanket, it seemed apropos. 

I have not even reread it, but memory is enough to tell me it wasn’t good.  Not even close.  And I’m not going to edit it at all.  I’m just going to type it into my post straight–although my wife will likely hear some groans and howls of laughter.

So here it is: Snowstorm.

    A sugar-spray of snow blew across in front of the headlights.  Up ahead, the bend of the road dissolved into the snowstorm and John realized he was lost.  Where the hell am I?
    The party would have started by now.  He imagined Justin laughing and playing with his friends, Veronica looking on with a forced smile.  In his mind’s echo chamber, Justin said: “Daddy, you have to be there on time.  Please!  Promise me, OK?”
    “OK, Tiger.  I promise.”
    He rounded a Rubbermaid trashcan that had blown into the road and gunned the engine, pushing up the hill in search of Garvey street.  Veronica and Justin lived in a 2/1, three from the end.  Red shutters, grey roof.  Veronica had brought Justin here after the divorce because she wanted Justin to go to a good school.
    The corner ahead looked familiar so John slowed the ‘Vette to peer up at the street sign.  No luck.  This sucks…Who the laid out these subdivisions anyway?  Normally, he would never have gotten lost, but in this weather…he jammed the gearshift down into first and barreled on.
    He was late.  Veronica would be hot about it.  He imagined her pacing the living room.  Every two minutes, she’d check her watch.  John swore again.
    It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been tardy.  Justin played drums in the band at school.  In the last four months, he’d been late to two of Justin’s concerts, and missed a third completely.  There had been too many parties, too many late nights–always home before dawn with some girl he hardly knew, up early afternoon.  The guys at the construction site hadn’t missed him.  He told Maria to tell them he was gone up north to Baltimore to buy sink fixtures, or to Philly to pick up the newest order of tile.  No one noticed.  Funny how it hadn’t been hard to fall into that routine.
     He had sworn to himself that this time would be different.  If was Justin’s 12th Birthday for God’s sake!  he was going to open a few presents at the house with some friends, then head off to the skating rink.  He should have focused on  the importance of making it on time, this time.  Instead, he had spent the afternoon in a hot tub with a few of his closest friends, and a few drinks–way too many banana daiquiris–and he hadn’t glanced at his watch until it was too late.
    Coming over a rise, the road dipped suddenly and John felt the steering wheel go loose in his hands.  The car spun left, then right, then back to the left as he tried to get it under control.  The wheels skidded in the salt and sand lain down by the snowplow crews hours before.  He pumped the brakes and watched in detached amazement as a sidewalk and someone’s yard drew up in front of the car as the car came to rest, headlights illuminating the ketchup red front door of a house.  John sat there, looking out, his heart beating.
    Veronica would never forgive him.  He let go of the steering wheel, the engine purring quietly.  She’d meet him angrily at the door, pull him off to the side so she could hiss in his ear and start in the way she always did when they were married: “Why can’t you do anything you say you’re going to do?  Can’t you see what you’re  doing to this child?”
    John gunned the engine and turned the wheel hard, straightening the car.  He smiled grimly, feeling  the worry come over him like cold water.  Justin was different.  He’d waited.  A couple of years ago, right after the divorce, John had gotten a flat tire.  His cell was dead, so he couldn’t call.  By the time he got the tire changed, it was after 10:00.  Still, when he pulled into the driveway, Justin was there waiting for him.  “He’s been there for three hours,” Veronica had told him.  “Do you hear what I’m saying?”
    “Yeah.”  He had given the boy a hug, and it was like Justin never wanted to let go.  The same thing had happened at Justin’s concerts.  He’d ignored his friends, everyone, even Veronica and waited for his father.  The night he didn’t show, Veronica had been in tears, trying to drag him home.  Loyalty like that had to come from somewhere.  John didn’t understand it, but he knew his son would wait for him.
    John tapped the gas the ‘Vette started rolling forward.  The snow wasn’t coming down as hard now, but still drifted like confetti falling from a black syrupy sky.  he could make out the houses–a blue one with a straw colored roof, another with a green Volvo in the driveway.  Then he saw one with a silver Mercedez Benz with personalized plates that said: “BE-ATCH.”  John recognized that car.  Justin’s house was around the corner.
    He pulled into the driveway, ready to see his son, expecting to see Justin standing on the front porch, expecting to see the lights on inside, even ready to take whatever Veronica had to dish out.  Instead, the house was dark, and the only light John could see were flecked with shadows cast to the ground by the fallinng snow.

Yeah.  Right.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Ketchup red door indeed!  But yeah, I am embarrassed to admit that I wrote that, and I can see fifty mistakes/changes in every line, so I guess I have that to feel good about!

What about you?  Do you feel like you’ve come a long way, (and may I respectfully call you) Baby?

Hi gang!

Unfortunately, I still have my nose buried in ground school books this week.  I didn’t have time to finish the piece I had originally planned for Roni’s Let’s Talk Blogfest, so I am substituting.  I put up “Love Is Blind” once before, but some of you might not have seen it yet–so enjoy!  You can check out all the other entries here.

Have a great week everyone, and I’ll be back around when I have a chance to catch my breath this weekend.  Happy reading!

Love Is Blind 
(c) 2010 Jon Paul

    The minute I heard her voice, I gave Phillip a nudge. “Who’s that?”
    “By the kitchen?” he asked.
    “No, over near the living room window.”
    “Ahh. You sly dog, you.” The party wasn’t loud, so he leaned in and whispered to me in a conspiratorial manner. “You have good ears, my friend. That’s Sloan Brady. Lawyer. Boston College grad. Intelligent, great sense of humor, but…I don’t know….”
    “What?”
    “She’s a bit of a handfull.”
    “So?”
    “Well, you know. I was thinking about Sarah and stuff.”
    I could hear the tentativeness in Phillips voice. It had been a year since Sarah left me, walking out one Tuesday morning after breakfast, sending me a breakup text that afternoon. A week later, the moving guys showed up to get her stuff. She never told me why it was over, but I thought I knew the reason.
    The birthday party had been Phillip’s idea. Get you out of your shell, he’d said. Meet a new girl. At the time I had agreed; maybe I was ready for something new, but now that it was time to step up to the plate, I wasn’t so sure.
    Phillip laughed. I bet the look on my face told him exactly what I was thinking. “You want I should introduce you two?”
    “Do you think she’ll have a problem with–”
    “I think there’s only one way to find out.”
    I took a drag of my beer. “What’s she like?”
    “Well, you know. She is a woman. But…well. Maybe she’d be too much for you.”
    “Too much? What does that mean?”
    “You know. Like you couldn’t keep up with her. She’s too smart, too witty. You’re getting slow in your old age after all.”
    “Funny, I thought it was graceful.”
    Phillip chuckled. “Naw. Just slow.”
    “The problem is I can’t figure women out. I always think–“
    “Dude, I know. I know. We’ve been over this ground a hundred times. But you gotta pull the trigger sooner or later.”
    “Yeah, I just wonder if now is the right time, when–“
    “Look, I don’t care. You want me to ask her over or not?”
    I thought about it. It was now or never, right?
    “Ok. Sure.”
    “Right. One hot lawyer introduction, coming up.” Phillip walked away.
    I leaned against the wall and took a measured breath. I wasn’t nervous; rather the need to relax before any first time run-in with a member of the opposite sex was an old reflex, operating in the same mental space as tying my shoes or straightening my tie before a big performance: I did it without thinking. I rarely noticed it, except when my Spidey-sense told me something unique might happen. Like now.
    Phillip returned with Sloan in tow. “Sloan, I’d like you to meet Eric.”
    “Pleased to meet you.” Her voice hinted at a cautious interest, exuding a chocolaty coolness like the hush of a bowstring gliding over a cello’s middle register. I extended my hand and she gave it a refined shake.
    I waited a beat too long before I let go, then smiled at the faux pas. “Thanks for coming.”
    “Thanks for having me. Happy Birthday.”
    “Thank you.”
    Phillip patted my shoulder. “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.”
    Dress shoes clacked on the hardwood as Phillip disappeared into the clamor of music from the other room and left Sloan and I alone. Harvey Sneed, my music coach, was telling an off-color joke in the kitchen. The crowd’s laughter kept the silence between us from becoming uncomfortable. I’d heard the joke before and Harvey told it well. With great fanfare, he delivered the punch line–“When pigs fly!”–and Sloan chuckled. The rest of the gang laughed too and groaned as Harvey started another joke.
    Sloan spoke again. “So this is your place?”
    “Yep.”
    “How long you lived here?”
    “Let’s see. Going on five years now, I think.”
    She took a sip of her drink, like she was thinking. “I like your art.”
    “Thanks.”
    “No really. I mean–I don’t mean to be, well–obvious–but how does a guy like you get such cool art to hang on your walls?”
    The art had been Phillip’s idea too. When Sarah moved out, he said I needed to make a fresh start. Redecorate the apartment! he’d said. He helped me pick out the paintings. Actually he and Camille, a gallery owner he knew, picked them out. In the process, he tried to set me up with her, but in the end he said it would never work: she was too visual.
    The art was inexpensive. According to Phillip, the collection of pieces reflected my personality perfectly. Enough visitors had made similar comments in the last nine months that at some point I had started to believe it. Still, the fact that everyone made the same remarks about the art felt a little like a joke to me. I caught myself smiling and looked away. I could tell she was looking at me.
    “I hope that wasn’t a rude question.”
    “No. That’s a good question, actually. People ask me that all the time.”
    “Are your laughing at me?”
    “No. Sorry, I was thinking of something else.”
    She reached out and pinched me hard on the forearm.
    “Hey,” I said in mock alarm. “That’s not fair.”
    “Don’t lie to me,” she said, laughing herself. “I can smell a lie from a mile away.”
    I liked her confidence. And her voice. I couldn’t get over the sound of it, like a song far away and near at the same time.
    I reminded myself to take it slow. My affection for women ran in an easily recognizable pattern: meet a great girl, fall head over heels for her, go out for awhile, break up, pick up the pieces. And the girl always seems to think that my problems are the same as everyone else’s problems. But they’re not.  Funny.  My lifestyle seemed obvious enough, but the girl never understood it was going to be a problem until I had already committed one-hundred and ten percent. By then, it was too late.
    “So it’s your birthday,” she said.
    “Yeah.”
    “What do you want?” I could feel her eyes on my face, appraising me. She let the suggestiveness in the question stand, gauging my response. I wondered if her directness rattled hostile witnesses when she cross-examined them on the stand.
    “Oh, you know. Cure for cancer. World peace. The usual things.”
    “I see.”
    I took a sip of my beer. “I hear you’re a lawyer.”
    “Yeah, pays the bills. You know.”
    “So you…don’t like it?”
    “I didn’t say that. But it isn’t my, shall we say, first love.”
    “What’s your first love?” I asked.
    “My aren’t we nosy.”
    “Sorry.”
    “If this relationship is going to work, I’m going to have to ask you to show better discretion.”
    “OK.” I nodded and smiled like a schoolboy who’d learned his lesson.
     Sloan talked about her job. She worked in a law firm downtown–pretty prestigious from what I could tell. She’d been there for four years and guessed she might make partner in another five, if she really worked. She hated the office politics, the backstabbing. She couldn’t trust anyone, which was a real adjustment for her because growing up she had always trusted everyone. She was constantly catching herself with her guard down and had now become super careful of anything she said. To her, it was like working in a police state.
     I nodded and smiled, trying to imagine her workplace, wondering what her office looked like. By the sound of it, the rest of the gang had moved from the kitchen out onto the patio. Phillip came by and asked if we needed anything. We requested another round of drinks and he said he’d be right back.
     Sloan said she wanted to sit down and so I led her carefully across the room, edging around the coffee table with my knee. We sat down on the couch together.
     “You know I saw you play once,” she said with a hint of bravado.
     Here it comes, I thought. She’s going to drop the standard line on me about how great my performance was, how she loved the concert, how the evening was such a treat for her. I loved playing the violin–it was my life–but the drudgery of going through the same story with a thousand different people over the years had taken its toll. I just couldn’t bear to do it over and over again–almost verbatim–without busting into a sarcastic smile.
    I did what I could to keep a straight face. “So, how did you like it?”
    “I didn’t think you were very good, actually.”
    Ouch. I didn’t see that coming. I waited for the joking laugh, but it became clear after a second that she was serious.
    “I guess you can’t please everyone,” I said.
    “I do remember reading in the papers that you were ill at the time–but went on with the show anyway. So there is that. Maybe it was just an off night.”
    She didn’t pull any punches, that was for sure. “Yeah, that was probably it.”
    “But you know, I’m really no judge of music. I’m more a literature person.”
    “Ah. I see.”
    Phillip came back with our drinks.
    “For you Madame, a Bartles and James,” Phillip said. “And for you, Eric, le Heineken.”
    I took the beer from him. “Thanks, man.”
    “Now Sloan,” he said, “Go easy on the guy. It’s his Birthday and all.”
    “I’m being good,” she said, laughing.
    “Alright. If you guys need anything, I’ll be on the patio. Give me a holler.”
    We thanked him and he left.

    I raised an eyebrow and gave her my best skeptical squint. “Bartles and James?”
    “Hey, leave me alone.”
    “It’s just that I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone drinking a Bartles and James since college.”
    “And your point is?”
    I thought about this for a moment. “Let’s see. All the really wild and crazy fraternity chicks drank Bartles and James. You’re drinking Bartles and James. Er go–”
    “I don’t like where this conversation is going, buster.”
    “Noted.”
    “I happen to like wine coolers. I know it’s weird, but there it is. Take it or leave it.”
    “Thanks for setting me straight.”
    “You’re welcome.”
    Despite my reservations, I really liked this girl. In my head, I counted the reasons why I didn’t need to be in a new relationship right now. It didn’t help that she seemed to be taking me seriously. It didn’t help that the flavor of her shampoo–vanilla with a sweet trace of jasmine–kept drifting over in my direction.
    She nudged me. “So how old are you anyway?”
    “Twelve. Obviously.”
    She laughed in a way that told me she liked that. “No really.”
    “I’m an old man.”
    “How old?”
    “Twenty-nine.”
    She sat up. “Wow! That is old!”
    “I told you.”
    “I don’t know if I should be seen hanging around with an old fogey like you.”
    “I heard old fogeys are cool. At least that’s what they tell me.”
    “Who’s they?”
    “You know. ‘They.’ You gotta believe them if it’s they.”
    She lolled her head back on the couch and leaned her body in to mine ever so slightly. I felt the skin of her shoulder against my upper arm. We sipped our drinks.  The rhythm of her breathing came to my ear in an even and uninterrupted ebb.  The noise in the rest of the room felt far away, washed out. In the stillness of our proximity, a subtle electric charge played between us like static.
    She brushed her hand on my thigh. ” I have to tell you something.”
    “OK.”
    “I have an uncle who’s blind.”
    “You do?”
    “He’s my favorite uncle, in fact. I used to go over to his house every day after school. You know, stay there until my folks got home from work.”
    “Yeah.”
    “I used to play a game with him. I had this stuffed bear that he would ask me to hide anywhere in the house. I’d run off and find the hardest hiding spot I could think of, and put the bear there. Then when I came back, I would close my eyes and count to ten. He would smile real big and tell me exactly where I hid it. Every single time. It was pretty unbelievable.”
    “That sounds cool.”
    “But the thing that impressed me most was that he knew people really well. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see them. He knew when they were lying, and knew when they were trying to hide something from him. He could always tell. It was like magic.  I wish I was more like that.”
    I listened, not sure what I should say. It wasn’t unusual for a blind person to have better hearing than a normal person. Her uncle could probably tell from the noise Sloan made where she was hiding the bear. As for knowing when people were lying, I didn’t have the first clue.
    She leaned into me. Her breathing had shallowed; she was thinking. “Do you think people are stupid?” she asked.
    The question was odd. “What do you mean?”
    “I mean, do you think people are generally stupid. You know. Most people. Do you think they do dumb things?”
    I could think of a few dumb things I’d done in the past. “Yeah, I guess so.”
    “I do too. That’s what everyone thinks. But you know what?”
    “What?”
    “Even though people think that other people are dumb, they always consider themselves to be smart. Have you ever noticed that?”
    I thought about it for second. She was right.
    She went on. “All my clients think that. We march into court and every one of them is somehow convinced that they’re bulletproof. They think the judge and the prosecutor and everyone else is dumb, but somehow they’re not. Somehow they’re smarter than everyone else.”
    “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
    “But I’m just going to admit it to myself.”
    “Admit what?”
    “We should all be allowed to do something crazy once in awhile. Right? Even if it’s dumb.”
    “Sure, I guess.”
    She put her hand on mine, and my heart rate ticked up a notch. Gently, she lifted my hand, guided it across the space between us until the tips of my fingers touched her face. I could feel the warmth of her cheek, her skin smooth, pleasing. She pressed my hand up in a slow arc, gently, taking her time, and I began to understand the shape of her face. She had high cheekbones, just as I’d imagined them; a small mouth; a pert nose; the delicate curve of her chin expressed a sleek grace, an innate determination. I could tell her beauty could be both hard and soft, depending on her mood.
    I wondered what color her hair was–my guess was brunette–and imagined blue eyes as cloudy and mysterious as river water. My fingers brushed the eyebrow at her right temple; I felt her breath on the inside of my wrist and the faraway rhythm of her pulse. She smiled beneath my fingers, guided my thumb along the supple fold of her upper lip, and I contemplated what it would be like to wrap one arm around her waist, tug her to her feet, slow dance to the rock ballad on the radio.
    She turned her head to the side, into my palm. The idea of kissing her fluttered through my thoughts, but I knew that wasn’t in the cards. For a second I thought I heard her humming, but then decided it was my imagination. A flurry of eyelashes brushed my fingers as she opened her eyes and looked at me.
    “I love your hands,” she said.
    I smiled. “Thanks. I work out.”
    She sighed, the subtle indication that she was enjoying this, but that we had had our fun, that the tour was over. She let my wrist go and my hand fell to my lap; I still felt the hot tingle of a buzz in the pit of my stomach.
    “I hate to run,” she said. I could tell from her voice that she was sort of putting the pieces together, that what had just happened had been as unexpected for her as it was for me. “I have an early deposition in the morning. All the way across town.”
    I was careful to keep any hint of disappointment out of my voice. “Sure. No problem.”
    “Thanks for letting me come to your party. It was really fun.”
    “Anytime. You know, strangely, this happens about once a year, so consider yourself invited next year too.”
    She paused, as if wondering what to say next. I made sure the smile on my face stayed plastered there, and didn’t falter.
    “I…I’m a little embarrassed. I’d like to give you my number. But…how do I do that?”
    “What? You don’t read Braille?”
    She laughed, relieved.
    I pulled out my cell-phone and handed it to her. “Just put your number in there.”
    She typed it in, and though there was a voice in my head still saying “Slow, slow”, I couldn’t help but notice the air of excitement coalescing in the back of my brain.
    “555-8743,” I said.
    She handed the phone back to me. “Wow. That’s impressive. You’ve got a good ear.”
    “I took a college class on it. ‘Fundamentals of Cell Phone Key Tone Scales 101’. I got an ‘A’.”
    “Figures.” She laughed, then leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “I gotta go. Call me.”
    Then she was gone. I must have been smiling like an idiot when Phillip came over, because he knew what happened even before I told him.
    “You dirty dog, you!” he said. “Got her number and everything. Man, that was like twenty-five minutes. You work fast.”
    “Well you know, all I gotta do is lay that Al Pacino Scent of a Woman shtick on them and they become like putty in my hands.”
    “Right. So really. What’d you think of her?”
    “I…I think she’s….” And I didn’t want to say it, but it felt like the truth. “It’s far too early to make any firm conclusions, you understand…but I think she’s almost perfect.”
    “That’s what I knew you’d say.”
    “Knew I’d say? You were telling me she was too much for me–‘you’re getting slow in your old age’–etcetera, etcetera. Don’t go taking credit for it now.”
    He patted me on the knee. “Now Eric. Do you honestly believe, as stubborn and mule-headed as you are, that if I told you I had the absolute perfect girl for you to meet, you’d say yes?”
    I thought about this. “No. I guess not.”
    “Exactly. Case closed.”
    “You don’t have to gloat about it.”
    “Oh, and one more thing.”
    “Yeah?”
    “Happy Birthday.”

~~fin~~

Technology is a pretty cool thing.  I am writing this post 35,000 feet over the Eastern seaboard, as I fly down to Atlanta enroute to San Antonio.  Onboard wi-fi is rocking!  What’ll they think of next?

Staring out the window, all the fields and towns look tiny, and there are patterns there that are not visible except from this height.  It is a pretty amazing view, and I find myself mulling things over in my WIP.

As I get further into my story, I am starting to consider the structure of the scenes, the pacing, the way certain bits of information are shared with the reader.  I think I’ve posted before that I tend to write extremely messy first drafts that go all over the map–so there is a definite need to take all that content and pair it with a structure that keeps my novel from sagging in the middle, or dragging at the end.  In my mind, good structure really is about balance between the different parts of the story.

Creating and applying a structure to accomplish these goals can be tricky.  It’s a bit like the Nazca lines down in Peru.  If you haven’t heard about these fascinating lines, I’ll share a little history.  For hundreds of years, the locals and then the Europeans who arrived in the area near Lima, Peru knew that there were strange man-made rock formations out in the desert.  They had no clue what they were for or who put them there.  In the early twentieth century, when the airplane was invented and people started flying over the area, they realized that the strange formations were actually symbols, visible only for the air.

There’s an important lesson here, I think, and as I dig into my WIP, I am realizing that the ground-view, page level vantage point isn’t going to cut the mustard.  I need to look at things from 35,000 feet.

In my playwrighting days, I had several tricks that I would deploy to evaluate and tweak structure.  For one, I’d place each scene on an index card, then lay all the index cards out on the floor and move them around to explore different structures to determine what works best.  This also sometimes helps to identify scenes that can be combined or cut.

I also sometimes write an outline or treatment which serves the same purpose: to ensure that each scene performs it’s function and fits into the larger inciting incident-rising action–climax–denouement framework.

What about you?  What do you do to get a strategic view of your WIP?

YIPPEE!

Today’s not only St. Patrick’s Day, but it is also time for the Drunk At First Sight Blogfest. Below is my entry, but here are the rules: before you even take a gander at my piece, I want you to go to the link and read all the other Blogfest fiction pieces being posted by a bunch of other great writers.

Also, I’d like to thank the following folks who helped getting the word out for this Blogfest:

You guys totally rock!!!

And now here’s mine, but remember only after having read everyone else.  That’s alright.  I’ll wait.

OK.  Here it is.

VCR
(c) 2010 Jon Paul

    My father wanted to record the World Series, and the doctor had promised they’d see what they could do. I offered the pretty nurse a sheepish smile as she fiddled with the VCR, but she didn’t seem to notice me. After a moment, I turned and watched Dad in the hospital bed. He looked tired after the surgery. A telling fatigue obscured the clarity in his eyes. His silver hair matted in knots against his forehead.
    He was studying the white-clad nurse with a half-smile and it made me remember a summer trip ten years ago. Back then, Dad had always wanted to visit Ireland, but Mom had nixed the idea. “Who wants to sit in a smoky pub?” she always said. “And I can’t understand a word they say anyway.”
    But after the divorce, there was no reason not to go. My father said then that he stilled loved my mother, that some people couldn’t find a way to live together, and that the parting had been amicable–a word whose meaning I didn’t understand until years later. My mother told a different story: Dad talked too much. She often complained that he always had something to say, and what he said never really added up to anything worth hearing. I once heard her tell my aunt on the telephone: the man simply likes to hear the sound of his own voice. It’s as simple as that.
    Dad moved a few pieces of furniture and his clothes out into a small apartment a few miles away from our house. When my younger brother Michael and I went to visit him on the weekends, he never cooked; he took us to our favorite fast food restaurants instead. In fact, I don’t even think he owned any pots or pans, and sometimes he served us donuts for breakfast on paper plates. Still, by all accounts, my father handled the breakup well. He laughed with us, and we played games and watched our favorite television shows together, though a strange faraway look sometimes flickered across his face in restaurants or while we were driving in the car. After a couple years, I’d been in and out of a few relationships myself, and I realized what he had been thinking in those moments: he wondered, since things had gone south with my mom, if he even stood a chance of ever finding someone else again.
    A trip to Ireland was still something he wanted to do–more now than ever–so it happened that later that year, the week after school let out, Dad picked Michael and I up and drove us to the airport. The trans-Atlantic flight lasted forever–Michael and I dozed most of the way while my father reviewed documents for work and chatted at length with one of the stewardesses–and we woke with the light of a new day streaming in through the airplane windows, the green fields of western Ireland scooting below us like a brilliantly-woven medieval tapestry.
    Driving a rented car, suitcases fitted into the undersized trunk and film loaded in our instamatic cameras, we set out from Dublin around lunchtime. The plan, sketched by my father on the back of a napkin during the first hours of the flight, called for a circuit from Dublin around to Galway Bay and back over the span of ten days. Each evening, we’d stay in a Bed and Breakfast or Inn and rise early the next morning, the better to get a start on the day’s driving. The first night, we were to stay at a cozy place halfway between Archerstown and Ashbourne called the Shillelagh House. Dad said he’d made all the arrangements.
    We stopped along the roadside now and again to take pictures. An occasional drizzle glossed the roads but that didn’t deter us; we pressed on. We took a break and a snack at a village pub where my father engaged in lively banter with one of the waitresses–in fact we had to pull him away after it became clear the woman had other customers to help. We pointed out thatch-roofed houses and castle ruins and anything that caught our eye as we drove along the country roads. We were happy the trip was off to a pleasant start, and we enjoyed the lazy pace of the day.
    The late afternoon sky was growing cloudy when my father finally pulled the car into a graveled driveway and the Shillelagh House came into view. It knelt at the top of a squat hill, down a ways from the main crossroads, and was simply but sturdily constructed in brick and finished timber. We knocked at the door and a stunning red-headed woman answered. She introduced herself as Charlotte. She smiled at my father–she had been expecting us and we were just in time for tea–and welcomed us in, the singsong lilt of her accent adrift in the air like a siren’s voice.
    We were her only boarders that night, she said, and had the run of the house. Michael and I would sleep in the loft–my father told us to take our suitcases up and we did as we were told–and he would lodge in the master suite. Breakfast would be served promptly at eight-thirty.
    The small, cozy rooms looked like something out of a Forties movie; heavy darkwood furniture; beds covered in thick down comforters and quilts; paintings of the Irish countryside on the walls. The dimensions and accoutrements of every room conveyed a refined comfort, useful in keeping the chill of an early spring rain or late winter wind at bay.
    Downstairs, Charlotte served tea and sweet cookies–the fact that she called them biscuits drew a chuckle from us–and Michael and I devoured them, sipping the hot tea with care; we had barely realized our hunger until that moment. Charlotte’s green eyes flashed upon us as she spoke–again her accent amazed me–and she asked about America and our lives there.
    My father explained that we were from Texas. He worked in banking.
    “Oh, so you’re a banker?”
    No, he was an accountant who worked in a bank, he explained, as odd as that sounded. My father went on to describe where we lived and told her about our schools and the kind of television shows we liked to watch.
    Charlotte smiled at the two of us. “So what about you boys? What do you want to be when you grow up?”
    Michael gave her a noncommittal shrug. He hadn’t decided yet.
    My father put his hand on my shoulder. “Pete here wants to be a writer. In fact, James Joyce is one of his favorites.”
    A sudden light danced in her eyes. “Is that right?”
    “Yes,” I said, avoiding the urge to look at my feet. “My favorite short story of his is ‘Araby’.” When I spoke, she nodded her head and listened in a thoughtful way, and I knew then that I liked her.
    She spoke to me like a fellow conspirator, as if it were only the two of us in the room. “Did you know that when I was a college student in Dublin, I lived in a house around the corner from where the Bazaar was supposed to have been?”
    “Really?”
    “Yep. Joyce is one of my favorites too.”
    I laughed, charmed and intrigued.
    After a few minutes’ further discussion, Charlotte told us about the local area. Many years ago, most of the surrounding countryside was part of a larger estate, land parceled off over the years until the only piece remaining was the corner lot where the Shillelagh House stood. Charlotte had inherited the property and had decided to convert it to a Bed and Breakfast several years back.
    As she described other local attractions–there was an old castle ruin up the road worth seeing, for example–she must have caught Michael dozing in his chair because she said to Dad: “It looks like your little one is fading fast.” I was having trouble keeping my eyes open too.
    After a quick discussion, we decided to turn in early so that we could get an early start in the morning. Climbing into bed under the heavy covers, my head on a goose feather pillow, I realized I was so tired from the flight over that I didn’t even mind missing dinner. I was soon fast asleep and I woke only once, several hours later, to hear the voices of Charlotte and my father chatting pleasantly in the parlor below.
    When Michael and I came down for breakfast the next morning, Charlotte had laid out a feast. Rashers, black and white pudding, baked beans, brown bread, butter, raspberry jam, marmalade–a true Irish breakfast.
    She stuck her head out from the corner kitchen. “Morning, boys.”
    “Morning,” we replied in unison.
    We ponied up to the table and poured ourselves glasses of orange juice. My father appeared after a few moments, freshly shaven and looking bright. He sat down and we shared a smile at the bounty of food in front of us.
    “Wow! This looks great,” he said.
    Charlotte came in and placed a plate with a fried egg in front of each of us. “Don’t be bashful,” she said. “Eat up.” She addressed my father: “Merrill, can I get you coffee or tea?”
    “Coffee would be nice, if it’s not too much trouble.”
    “No. No trouble at all.” She disappeared into the kitchen and we served ourselves food from the platters. After a moment, she returned and sat with us, sipping only tea and smiling as we chatted and ate our breakfast. The meal went quickly and the food was delicious. I gave Michael a happy look and he grinned back at me while chewing a butter-topped piece of brown bread. We finished our meals, wiped our mouths with napkins, excused ourselves from the table and stood up.
    “Thank you so much, Charlotte. This meal was delicious,” my father said.
    “My pleasure. So where are you off to next?”
    “The Golden Arms Inn. I believe it’s near a town called Monaghan.”
    “Oh, that is a very nice place. I know the owners, the Mullaneys, rather well.”
    “Great.”
    “You should really make an effort to go over and see Castle Leslie, nearby,” Charlotte continued. “It’s worth a visit. Just follow the road out of Monaghan toward Glaslough. It’s very popular. They even advertise on the television.”
    Michael and I were halfway up the stairs when my father said: “Do you know, in America, we have a way to record television at home?”
    “Really?” The interest in Charlotte’s voice was genuine.
    “Sure.”
    My brother and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes as my father began to tell Charlotte about Video Cassette Recorders–by then, everyone in the U. S. called them VCRs. He explained how it was possible to record a television program at any time with the press of a button. Simply connect the cables up to the back of the television, press record, and the broadcast can be replayed later at a time of the viewer’s choosing.
    “We don’t have those in Ireland,” Charlotte said when my father stopped to take a breath.
    Michael and I edged down the stairs to get a better view. My father stood talking with a smile while Charlotte faced him, a pile of dirty dishes in hand.
    “Give it time,” he said.
    She turned to go to the kitchen. “Well, that sounds like a fantastic piece of technology. One of these days–”
    “But that’s not all!” My father gently shifted his weight to keep her attention and block her exit.
    I laughed silently with Michael as my father explained that for a VCR to work, you didn’t even need to be present to record the broadcast. To my ear, he sounded exactly like a VCR salesman trying to close a difficult customer. My father continued: Each VCR had an onboard clock. Set the clock to the current time, then a time could be programmed in when the VCR would begin recording automatically.
    “So, you can be out to dinner and the VCR records your favorite show while you are away. It’s the easiest thing in the world,” he said.
    Charlotte nodded politely, an uneasy smile on her face. “Thanks, Merrill. That sounds, uh, sounds grand, and I’ll–”
    When my father interrupted her again, Michael gave me a worried look. I glanced at my watch. It was starting to get late and we needed to get moving. Michael indicated that as the oldest, it was my responsibility to go down and break things up. I nodded that I would try, inched down the stairs and crossed to where Charlotte and my father stood, his voice filling the small space with technical VCR details.
    “Dad?” I said, giving my voice as much intensity as I could muster.
    My father glanced at me and Charlotte gave me a thankful look.
    I spoke again, trying not to sound too pointed. “I think we need to get going…”
    He looked back at Charlotte and gestured upstairs. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
    I paused, unsure whether to trust him.
    He looked at me directly. “In a minute.”
    I shrugged and turned away. “OK.”
    My brother and I retreated upstairs, standing together on the landing. We could hear my father continue the History and Times of The Video Cassette Recorder and I imagined Charlotte standing there, trapped, shifting the dirty dishes from one hand to the other, giving my father every non-verbal signal in the book that breakfast needed to be cleaned up and that it was time to get on with the day. In between my father’s long lines of explanation, she gave a polite grunt here and there, and agreed when necessary, but under the politeness a definite undertone of impatience had set in. Nonetheless, my father pressed on, unaware and undeterred.
    I sighed, exasperated. I suppose I was embarrassed; I didn’t understand what my father thought he was accomplishing. Michael and I grabbed our luggage, making plenty of noise as we dragged the bags down the stairs, bustling pointedly past my father and his victim as she stood pinned against the dining room wall, a solemn white pallor having overtaken her features.
    I had hoped the obvious move toward the car would change the equation, would knock something loose in Dad’s brain, would make him realize that we were overstaying our welcome, but he didn’t move an inch. Now he was explaining that a VCR allowed you to watch a program on one channel and record a different program on a different channel.
    Outside, the sun was up, the day bright. I went back in for my father’s bags and returned with them as well, making as much noise as possible but still having no effect. We piled the bags next to the rear wheels of the car and stood around. Eventually, Michael climbed up on the trunk and put his chin in the palms of his hands. One look at him told me he had given up and would wait as long as it took for my father’s tirade to come to an end.
    Of course, just as mom had said, Dad had done this before, but for some reason this time it really bothered me. Charlotte seemed like the nicest lady. We’d had a splendid evening the night before and a very nice breakfast this morning. I simply didn’t see why Dad had to go and ruin it with all this talk about VCRs.
    I hadn’t understood until that moment that my father’s actions reflected on us. It bothered me that Charlotte’s memory of us, if she retained any memory at all, would not be of a pleasant conversation about James Joyce, but would instead be a silly tale about a loud American who couldn’t keep his mouth shut, who loved the sound of his own voice.
    I marched back inside, a new kind of resentment warming the back of my neck, resolved to drag my father away. Charlotte had set the dishes she had been holding back on the table in resignation and, with arms folded, glared at my father in open dismay. The sonorous rattle of my father’s voice was now outlining the detailed steps required to set the clock from 12:00 a.m. to the local time. I couldn’t believe my ears.
    “Dad, we have to go!”
    He smiled down at me, as if I hadn’t really said anything. “In a minute.”
    Charlotte sort of laughed slyly at this. At least she saw some humor in the situation, but by this time, I did not.
    “You said ‘in a minute’ fifteen minutes ago,” I said.
    My dad offered a good-natured smile, more for Charlotte’s benefit than mine. He pulled the car keys from his pocket. “I know. Here, put your luggage in the trunk. I’ll be out in a minute.”
    I thought about objecting, of pointing out the late hour, of pointing out that Charlotte probably didn’t care one bit about VCRs, but I realized it would be no use. To make a bigger deal now would make the situation more embarrassing than it already was.
    I retreated to the car, deflated. We loaded the bags, climbed inside. I stuck the keys in the ignition and started the car, and there we sat for another thirty-five minutes.
    Finally Charlotte and my father emerged from the house. He wore a bright smile; she looked slightly withered, but still as pretty as when we’d first met her. My father climbed into the driver’s seat, put the car in gear. We waved as we pulled out of the driveway, and Charlotte waved back until she was out of view.
    “Wasn’t that fun?” my father said, the strange look on his face competing with a smile.
    I rolled my eyes. “Sure, Dad. It was a blast.”
    My father’s cough brought me back to the hospital room. His head dipped forward slightly with each exhalation, then fell back on the pillow when the fit was done.
    “You doing OK, Dad?” I asked.
    He managed a weak smile, the gleam still strong in his eyes. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
    The nurse was still working in front of the TV. Her red hair fell prettily along the line of her neck. My father caught me looking. He knew I’d been having girl troubles lately and he nudged me, nodding in the universal sign: she’s attractive. What about her? I shrugged. I wasn’t sure I was ready for something new.
    The nurse turned around with an exasperated sigh, holding the VCR remote in her shapely hands. “I can’t get this thing to work. Can one of you help me?”
    My father nudged me in the ribs again and grinned like he was sharing the secret of the world. “Why don’t you tell her?”

~FIN~

Thanks for reading, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

A quick reminder: Don’t forget to sign up for the “Drunk At First Sight” Blogfest–a fun chance to write fiction for St. Paddy’s Day! Get all the details here.

Here’s part two of my scene entitled “Love Is Blind.”  You can find part one here.

Enjoy!

Love Is Blind
(part two)
(c) 2010 Jon Paul

    Phillip came back with our drinks.
    “For you Madame, a Bartles and James,” Phillip said. “And for you, Eric, le Heineken.”
    I took the beer from him. “Thanks, man.”
    “Now Sloan,” he said, “Go easy on the guy. It’s his Birthday and all.”
    “I’m being good,” she said, laughing.
    “Alright. If you guys need anything, I’ll be on the patio. Give me a holler.”
    We thanked him and he left.

    I raised an eyebrow and gave her my best skeptical squint. “Bartles and James?”
    “Hey, leave me alone.”
    “It’s just that I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone drinking a Bartles and James since college.”
    “And your point is?”
    I thought about this for a moment. “Let’s see. All the really wild and crazy fraternity chicks drank Bartles and James. You’re drinking Bartles and James. Er go–”
    “I don’t like where this conversation is going, buster.”
    “Noted.”
    “I happen to like wine coolers. I know it’s weird, but there it is. Take it or leave it.”
    “Thanks for setting me straight.”
    “You’re welcome.”
    Despite my reservations, I really liked this girl. In my head, I counted the reasons why I didn’t need to be in a new relationship right now. It didn’t help that she seemed to be taking me seriously. It didn’t help that the flavor of her shampoo–vanilla with a sweet trace of jasmine–kept drifting over in my direction.
    She nudged me. “So how old are you anyway?”
    “Twelve. Obviously.”
    She laughed in a way that told me she liked that. “No really.”
    “I’m an old man.”
    “How old?”
    “Twenty-nine.”
    She sat up. “Wow! That is old!”
    “I told you.”
    “I don’t know if I should be seen hanging around with an old fogey like you.”
    “I heard old fogeys are cool. At least that’s what they tell me.”
    “Who’s they?”
    “You know. ‘They.’ You gotta believe them if it’s they.”
    She lolled her head back on the couch and leaned her body in to mine ever so slightly. I felt the skin of her shoulder against my upper arm. We sipped our drinks.  The rhythm of her breathing came to my ear in an even and uninterrupted ebb.  The noise in the rest of the room felt far away, washed out. In the stillness of our proximity, a subtle electric charge played between us like static.
She brushed her hand on my thigh. ” I have to tell you something.”
    “OK.”
    “I have an uncle who’s blind.”
    “You do?”
    “He’s my favorite uncle, in fact. I used to go over to his house every day after school. You know, stay there until my folks got home from work.”
    “Yeah.”
    “I used to play a game with him. I had this stuffed bear that he would ask me to hide anywhere in the house. I’d run off and find the hardest hiding spot I could think of, and put the bear there. Then when I came back, I would close my eyes and count to ten. He would smile real big and tell me exactly where I hid it. Every single time. It was pretty unbelievable.”
    “That sounds cool.”
    “But the thing that impressed me most was that he knew people really well. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see them. He knew when they were lying, and knew when they were trying to hide something from him. He could always tell. It was like magic.  I wish I was more like that.”
    I listened, not sure what I should say. It wasn’t unusual for a blind person to have better hearing than a normal person. Her uncle could probably tell from the noise Sloan made where she was hiding the bear. As for knowing when people were lying, I didn’t have the first clue.
    She leaned into me. Her breathing had shallowed; she was thinking. “Do you think people are stupid?” she asked.
    The question was odd. “What do you mean?”
    “I mean, do you think people are generally stupid. You know. Most people. Do you think they do dumb things?”
    I could think of a few dumb things I’d done in the past. “Yeah, I guess so.”
    “I do too. That’s what everyone thinks. But you know what?”
    “What?”
    “Even though people think that other people are dumb, they always consider themselves to be smart. Have you ever noticed that?”
    I thought about it for second. She was right.
    She went on. “All my clients think that. We march into court and every one of them is somehow convinced that they’re bulletproof. They think the judge and the prosecutor and everyone else is dumb, but somehow they’re not. Somehow they’re smarter than everyone else.”
    “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
    “But I’m just going to admit it to myself.”
    “Admit what?”
    “We should all be allowed to do something crazy once in awhile. Right? Even if it’s dumb.”
    “Sure, I guess.”
    She put her hand on mine, and my heart rate ticked up a notch. Gently, she lifted my hand, guided it across the space between us until the tips of my fingers touched her face. I could feel the warmth of her cheek, her skin smooth, pleasing. She pressed my hand up in a slow arc, gently, taking her time, and I began to understand the shape of her face. She had high cheekbones, just as I’d imagined them; a small mouth; a pert nose; the delicate curve of her chin expressed a sleek grace, an innate determination. I could tell her beauty could be both hard and soft, depending on her mood.
    I wondered what color her hair was–my guess was brunette–and imagined blue eyes as cloudy and mysterious as river water. My fingers brushed the eyebrow at her right temple; I felt her breath on the inside of my wrist and the faraway rhythm of her pulse. She smiled beneath my fingers, guided my thumb along the supple fold of her upper lip, and I contemplated what it would be like to wrap one arm around her waist, tug her to her feet, slow dance to the rock ballad on the radio.
    She turned her head to the side, into my palm. The idea of kissing her fluttered through my thoughts, but I knew that wasn’t in the cards. For a second I thought I heard her humming, but then decided it was my imagination. A flurry of eyelashes brushed my fingers as she opened her eyes and looked at me.
    “I love your hands,” she said.
    I smiled. “Thanks. I work out.”
    She sighed, the subtle indication that she was enjoying this, but that we had had our fun, that the tour was over. She let my wrist go and my hand fell to my lap; I still felt the hot tingle of a buzz in the pit of my stomach.
    “I hate to run,” she said. I could tell from her voice that she was sort of putting the pieces together, that what had just happened had been as unexpected for her as it was for me. “I have an early deposition in the morning. All the way across town.”
    I was careful to keep any hint of disappointment out of my voice. “Sure. No problem.”
    “Thanks for letting me come to your party. It was really fun.”
    “Anytime. You know, strangely, this happens about once a year, so consider yourself invited next year too.”
    She paused, as if wondering what to say next. I made sure the smile on my face stayed plastered there, and didn’t falter.
    “I…I’m a little embarrassed. I’d like to give you my number. But…how do I do that?”
    “What? You don’t read Braille?”
    She laughed, relieved.
    I pulled out my cell-phone and handed it to her. “Just put your number in there.”
    She typed it in, and though there was a voice in my head still saying “Slow, slow”, I couldn’t help but notice the air of excitement coalescing in the back of my brain.
    “555-8743,” I said.
    She handed the phone back to me. “Wow. That’s impressive. You’ve got a good ear.”
    “I took a college class on it. ‘Fundamentals of Cell Phone Key Tone Scales 101’. I got an ‘A’.”
    “Figures.” She laughed, then leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “I gotta go. Call me.”
    Then she was gone. I must have been smiling like an idiot when Phillip came over, because he knew what happened even before I told him.
    “You dirty dog, you!” he said. “Got her number and everything. Man, that was like twenty-five minutes. You work fast.”
    “Well you know, all I gotta do is lay that Al Pacino ‘Scent of a Woman’ shtick on them and they become like putty in my hands.”
    “Right. So really. What’d you think of her?”
    “I…I think she’s….” And I didn’t want to say it, but it felt like the truth. “It’s far too early to make any firm conclusions, you understand…but I think she’s almost perfect.”
    “That’s what I knew you’d say.”
    “Knew I’d say? You were telling me she was too much for me–‘you’re getting slow in your old age’–etcetera, etcetera. Don’t go taking credit for it now.”
    He patted me on the knee. “Now Eric. Do you honestly believe, as stubborn and mule-headed as you are, that if I told you I had the absolute perfect girl for you to meet, you’d say yes?”
    I thought about this. “No. I guess not.”
    “Exactly. Case closed.”
    “You don’t have to gloat about it.”
    “Oh, and one more thing.”
    “Yeah?”
    “Happy Birthday.”

If you got this far I thank you for reading.  I think by now you realize I hid a secret–Eric’s blindness–in plain sight (pun intended), and tried to craft the narrative in such a way as to not give it away until late in the story.  Did I succeed?

What secrets do you have in your WIP?  What have you done to make them both predictable and a surprise?

**[Author’s note: If you are reading this, I have left my post in Baghdad and am now wandering aimlessly about the Kuwaiti desert on my long circuitous route home. In other words, I am off the grid. As soon as I am able, I’ll make the full go ’round and respond to comments and check out any new followers. Thanks, and see you all in a few days.]**