Tag: short story

This is a quick odds and ends post before I bolt out the door.  I’m up early today, flying off to Spain–and back!  I love my job, but ten plus hours in the cockpit can get somewhat tedious after awhile.  😉

Although I’ve been getting up early for years due to the demands of Navy life, a 4:30 a.m. wakeup is still pretty painful.  I used to not be a morning person, but I’m working to change my ways.  And I’m pretty proud of myself: I’m up early to write some fiction.  😀

Anyhoo, I’m making progress on the writing front and happy with the results.  My main effort lately has been scribing out a little flash fiction, which I’m discovering comes with a whole different class of challenges.  You may recall I mentioned a contest hosted by Esquire Magazine where entries are stories told in exactly 78 words. 

Have you ever tried to tell a story in less than a hundred words?  It’s pretty tough–but fun.  As a writing exercise, I decided to write ten of them, then choose the best.  I’m about halfway through, and enjoying it.  I may even share a few before all is said and done.

I’ve also started work on my idea for the upcoming Rule of Three Blogfest (link in the sidebar)!

If you haven’t checked this one out yet, I highly recommend you get on over there and sign up if you’re interested.  It promises to be a ton of fun, and the excitement is palpable as I consider how to structure my piece.  I’m learning I tend to enjoy challenges like that–not only for the fun factor, but because they help keep me focused on getting words on the page.  😀

Of course, NaNo is right around the corner.  (Has it been a year already?)  I am certainly planning to participate again this year.  Last year was a blast, crazy unbelievable finish and all, but I think I need to be somewhat more organized this year.  I’m planning to finally have a go at First Person Shooter (previously called First Man–detailed here) but I have some character development and plotting to do before the starting gun goes off.  You planning to play in NaNo this year?

Finally, we’re heading off to visit Sweet Paree in a few weeks!  We’re excited.  We’ve been before, but only for a day and a night, so this’ll be our chance to see what’s what in Paris.  Anyone got any travel tips for me?

That’s it for now.  I have some News and Views piling up, and I’ll get those out tomorrow. 

 

Now I’m off to dream up some fiction.  What are you dreaming up today?  Have a blast of a hump day, and don’t forget to stay groovy!

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!

I haven’t had a beer in six months.  The picture on the right is really making my mouth water.

If you’re Irish, you know that St. Patrick’s Day is next month–and in my book, that’s just around the corner (you may know about St. Paddy’s if you’re not Irish too :D).

A few of us got to talking and we asked ourselves this question:  “What could be better than sitting around on St. Paddy’s Day evening drinking a (possibly green) beer?”  The answer is simple.  Sitting around drinking a (possibly green) beer and reading some great fiction, that’s what!

So, following in the footsteps of the Fight Scene Blogfest, and “Love At First Sight” Blogfest, we are announcing the first annual “Drunk At First Sight” Blogfest! 

Here’s how it will work:

1)  Sign up below.

2)  Write a new scene or short story, or dust off an old one, about a love/relationship situation that also includes one or more of the following elements:

     —St. Paddy’s Day as important event or setting
     —Use of Ireland or anything Irish as a setting or prop
     —An alcohol related event (party, hangover, cocktails, AA meeting, etc.)

3)  Just prior to March 17th (St. Pat’s Day), post said story to your blog.

4)  On St. Paddy’s Day, cruise around the interwebs, drink in hand, and check out everybody’s amazing fiction.

That’s all there is to it!  Sounds like great fun–and in keeping with the St. Paddy’s Day spirit.  These other great bloggers are helping out with the Blogfest as well:

The DAFS Blogfest promises to be fun for the whole family.  No really.  The first (virtual) round is on us.  Sign up below, and spread the word.  The more, the merrier.  Let’s raise our glasses on high and make this Blogfest a great one! 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  Thanks for stopping by.  This is my post for the “Love At First Sight” Blogfest. Make sure and make a trip over and read some of the other great offerings. Enjoy!

The Dragonfly

(c) 2010 Jon Paul

    Heidi Mandrake materialized out of the shade like a mystery, standing ankle deep in the shoal of the creek, wearing a blue one piece swimsuit. Henry knew he would find her here, knew that most summer afternoons she sunbathed by the creek with her girlfriends, listening to the radio and reading a paperback novel. Today he could see she was alone, and a shiver flooded through him.

    He edged down the path until she came into full view, framed by the oak and elm trees that crowded together along the bank. A fire of red hair fell in a blaze down her back. Pearls of water beaded freckled shoulders. Long bare legs. Skin white and cool as vanilla ice cream.
    Henry had never kissed a girl–Heidi Mandrake least of all–but his mind constantly puzzled away at the idea, as if wishing could make it so. Last year, Heidi sat two seats in front of him in English, and he had fallen head over heels for her. Smart. Funny. She wrote amazing poetry and staged poetry readings at the local library. To Henry, she was perfect, although he found it impossible to keep a thought in his head whenever she drew near, and he sometimes went out of his way to avoid her in hallways. Any close contact–once she’d eaten lunch right beside him–left him sick with nervousness for days. He had admired her from afar, and he was quite certain she didn’t even know he existed.
    He inched forward, awash in that familiar mixture of excitement and panic, that same ecstatic emptiness that fired the pit of his stomach every time he laid eyes on her. She knelt in the shallow water. Slender hands retrieved stones and turned them over. A constellation of reflections dazzled her face in white-yellow sequins of light.
    He wanted to turn back, but he knew he couldn’t do that. His brother Kevin had said he was too afraid to talk to her. He’d taunted him–“Fraidy cat! Fraidy cat!”–and called him a wimp in front of his friends. Even now his ears burned thinking about it. Henry had been angry, withdrawing to the safety of his room, but he had also felt a kind of raw recognition of the truth. Maybe he was afraid.
    The sandbar lay at the edge of the creek like a piece of pie crust. Heidi had set up camp next to a few river rocks: green towel, sandals, a beach bag. A black transistor radio spit out Fifties music. Henry watched as she came out of the water and wandered toward him, curves drifting along above the ground. For an electrifying instant he thought she saw him, but she turned away without any sign of recognition. She put her crimson hair in a pony tail, brushed the dampness from her arms and legs, then lay on the towel.
    Henry’s breathing grew shallow. He stared out across the sand at Heidi, who picked up her paperback and started thumbing pages. The smooth expanse of sandbar felt like an impasse; further progress risked stalling him out in the open, in plain view. He hesitated, half-crouching awkwardly behind a tangle of bushes.
    His brother didn’t know it, but Henry had tried to talk to her before. One afternoon, he came late to the library and spotted her sitting at a long table near the window, reading a textbook and taking notes.
    For twenty-five minutes, Henry milled and thumbed books in the Arts and Recreation section, his mind ajitter as he troubled over what to say to her. He licked his lips. Act normal, he kept thinking. People do this every day. But when she collected her books and started for the door, panic overtook him. Every atom in his body screamed for him to go after her, but he just stood there like a dummy and watched her leave.
    This is stupid, Henry mumbled to himself, shaking his head. He should have gone with Kevin and his friends to catch horned toads. They’d seen some huge ones that summer, crabbing across the dirt over by the lumber mill. The gang had planned to set out after lunch with a butterfly net and a backpack full of glass jars, but Kevin grew perturbed when Henry said he didn’t want to go.
    It was like Kevin thought Henry was trying to show him up in front of his buddies. “You think you’re something special?”
    “No,” Henry answered. “I don’t wanna go.”
    The other boys snickered. Kevin displayed a wide smile–things were under control–and grabbed Henry’s shirtsleeve. “We need someone to carry the backpack. Who’s going to do that?”
    Henry pulled away. “I don’t care. I’m not going.”
    Laughter echoed off the concrete floor. Embarrassment clouded Kevin’s flat, sturdy eyes. Henry started for the door when Kevin announced: “If you don’t go, I’ll tell Heidi Mandrake that you love her.”
    This drew hoots, and peals of laughter. Although Henry tried not to let it show, the words sliced right through him. Kevin’s smile returned.
    “Go ahead,” Henry said, forcing his voice to sound nonchalant.
    They’d been gone an hour before he set out for the creek. He’d struggled to soak the quiet calm out of the air in his room, attempted to read a book, but he couldn’t keep his eyes on the page. He couldn’t dispel the thought that he had to do something, he had to find out if something was wrong with him.
    Henry frowned. That voice in his brain urged him on, but another voice warned of shame and humiliation if he went any further. Heidi was less than fifty feet away, but she might as well have been on the other side of the world. If his brother saw him now, stuck behind a bush like some goof, he’d laugh–but Henry couldn’t bring himself to go any further.
    If he went home now, his brother wouldn’t have to know a thing. He might not remember his threat, or carry it out. Even if he did say something to Heidi, would she believe him? She didn’t even know who Henry was. Why would she care?
    “Are you spying on me?” Heidi’s voice came out of nowhere and he looked up to find her standing less than five feet away. His heart started pounding.
    Her eyes floated in front of him like two green seas amid a milkyway of freckles. A wet heat radiated off her swimsuit. The way her hair fell free of her brow, the crackle of light in her eyes, these things together gave him an unexpected thrill.
    “Well?” Her tone took on a hard edge.
    He could feel his heart notched against his throat. When he spoke, his voice sounded as tinny as an old phonograph record. “I, uh…no…I was…coming for a swim.”
    She raised an eyebrow. “Then where’s your towel?”
    Henry looked around like maybe he’d forgotten it. Heidi tilted her head and followed his motions with remote interest, but a hard glint in her gaze told him she didn’t believe a word he said.
    Henry tried again: “I…what I meant to say was…for later. I was coming to see for later.” He knew he wasn’t making much sense. He attempted to force a smile but the muscles in his face didn’t want to cooperate.
    Heidi studied him for another second, then shrugged her shoulders and marched off. “It’s a free country.”
    She returned to her book, long legs sprawled out on her towel. After she left him, he caught his breath, then sauntered out onto the sandbar toward the water, knees and ankles swimming under him like balls strung together with rubber bands.
    An odd cheery weakness washed him along, but his heartbeat still rang in his ears. He migrated toward the water’s edge fighting his nervousness, moving in a conscious way, attempting to convey an air of relaxed confidence.
    At first he was certain she was watching him, but each time he glanced in her direction her attention was elsewhere. She turned the pages of her paperback, tapped her foot to the beat of the song on the radio, wrapped a curl of red hair around a finger. After a long while, Henry decided that she had forgotten he was even there.
    His breathing and heartbeat settled down, then he realized he still faced the same problem that had stopped him dead in his tracks at the library. What should he say?
    He skirted along the creek bank toward her, trying to look natural. At one point, he took off his sandals; he scrutinized the trees and sky with great interest; appraised the water; scuffed dry sand with his toes; kicked over clumps and flattened them beneath his heel. After a few minutes he made an overly elaborate play of nodding his head and furrowing his brow, as if deciding: “Yes, I guess I can stay.”
    At last he plopped down in the sand about ten feet from her. As soon as he looked up and realized her closeness, his heart rate doubled. He pivoted toward the water because seeing her at this distance felt like looking into the sun.
    “Was it something I said?” Heidi gazed at him over the edge of her book.
    “What?”
    “Why are you sitting all the way over there?”
    Henry traced the wide track of sand between them with his eyes. He was sitting pretty far away. Like a mile away. He wondered if he looked as stupid as he felt, but he shrugged and played it off. “I don’t know. It’s just where I sat down, I guess.”
    “You can sit closer if you want. It doesn’t bother me.”
    “Ok.” But he didn’t move. With each passing minute, the initial spark of confidence that had gotten him this far was giving way to an insistent numbness. He closed his eyes. A picture of himself flashed through his mind: head down, sitting here on the river bank like he was made of granite, long after Heidi had gone, through endless cycles of light and darkness and rain, his feet fusing with the sand, river moss growing up on him until there was nothing left.
    It was like he was back in the library. His mind was a blank. Words eluded him. He sensed she was looking at him again. He kept glancing over but she was still reading her book, humming quietly along with the radio.
    Then, he thought he caught the flicker of her eyes upon him an instant before they dropped to the page, and it dawned on him. She was waiting. She was testing him, seeing what he would do next. Paralysis still gripped him like a spell but he knew he had to say something, anything. His mind fumbled and the words came out of their own accord: “Do you come here often?”
    She dropped the book to her lap and rolled her eyes. Henry was staring so intently at the water that he didn’t notice.
    “What the heck was that?”
    Henry ignored the urge to scramble to his feet and run.
    “That’s like the oldest pick up line in the book. I mean, that line is so old it’s a joke now.”
    Henry flushed with embarrassment and dropped his chin to his chest.
    “Try it again.”
    At first he thought he heard her wrong and looked up, confused. “What?”
    Heidi brushed the bangs out of her eyes and flashed a broad smile. White teeth, laughing at him. “Try it again. It’s not rocket science. Just say something natural.”
    He squinted into the sun, feeling naked under the high canopy of the sky.
    She continued: “Like—ask me about the weather.”
    He cleared his throat and spoke in a monotone. “Do you think it’s very hot?”
    She picked up her book again. “Ok. Maybe not.”
    Henry looked away, feeling like an idiot. He wished he had stayed at home. Coming all the way out here was a stupid idea–what the hell had he been thinking, anyway?–and now things were worse off than before. Sure, if Kevin had spilled the beans, Heidi might have thought he was a weirdo, but now she knew for certain.
    Heidi would tell everyone. He cringed thinking of Kevin’s laughter when he heard about it. Here he sat, too dumb to talk to a girl, too scared to leave. He gave Heidi a long stare, but it was clear she’d forgotten him again, that the pages of her paperback were more interesting to her than he was. Some lead character probably had her wrapped around his finger and there was no way—
    “Did you know we had a class together?” His voice quivered but he managed to get the words out.
    Slowly, inexorably, she looked up. “What?”
    “We had a class together. Last year. English. Harris. Third period.”
    “I know.”
    Henry did a double take. “You know?”
    “I know. You’re Henry Letourneau. You sat in the back row all year and didn’t say a word to anyone.”
    “I did?”
    “Yes, you did. Pretty rude if you ask me.” Heidi looked back down at her book and flipped the page.
    Henry shook off her retort. He felt like he was on a roll and needed to keep going. “I…I-I like your poetry.”
    She turned her green eyes up at him with a sudden skeptical curiosity. “Yeah? Name one of my poems.”
    He frowned at Heidi and tried to think. She had shared so many of her pieces in class. There was one he remembered in particular but the title eluded him. Finally, he sighed and simply started talking.
    “The one about the woman in the field in the summer. She turns into an insect. I can’t remember what the poem was called. But it was beautiful, the way her arms turned into wings, the way you talked about her heart withering away to nothing which made her want to fly away and never come home. I don’t know why, but I really liked it. I still think about it sometimes, especially at night.”
    When he stopped to catch his breath, Heidi stared at him for a long moment. An eternity. Those green eyes. He felt them in his soul.
    “But what was it called?” she asked at last.
    “I-I don’t remember.”
    “That’s too bad.” Heidi got to her feet, dusted the sand off her towel and wrapped it around her.
    Henry stood up too, trying to suppress the alarm rising in his chest. “Where are you going?”
    “Home. It’s late.” She turned off the radio and dropped it in her beach bag.
    Henry ran his fingers through his hair. He wanted to stay cool, but in the back of his mind he wondered if he’d blown it, if he’d missed his chance and would never talk to her again.
    “My friend Martha was supposed to meet me here today,” Heidi said as she gathered her things. “But I guess she forgot. Does that ever bother you, when people forget?”
    Henry looked up, nodded.
    “Yeah, me too. People are careless, you know. They don’t pay attention.” She looked around. “I guess that’s everything.”
    He grumbled his agreement and stood there, feeling empty-handed and lost.
    She started across the sand away from him. The light was failing; the pale sun hovered behind a cloud. Just before she floated out of view she stopped and turned back, calling out to him: “I’m Heidi, by the way.”
    He said “I’m Henry” before remembering she already knew that.
    She nodded her head and laughed. “Listen, I don’t know whether you’re interested or not, but I have a poetry reading at the library tonight. Six o’clock. Maybe you’d like to come.”
    Five minutes after she left him, he remembered the name of the poem. He laughed as he strapped on his sandals and brushed himself off. It was so obvious. A warm satisfaction smoldered in his chest. He took his time, wandered up the path, followed in her footsteps with a half-smile, feeling clean like a blue sky after a summer storm.

Before we get started, don’t forget about Heather at See Heather Write’s contest–with confetti! Win a signed copy of Dennis Lehane’s “The Given Day” or Anita Shreve’s “The Pilot’s Wife”!

And a super special thanks goes out to Liza at Middle Passages who put up the nicest post about me yesterday.  For a sampling of her great work, go read this post about a recent trip she made to an Italian Food Emporium.  Her writing is so visual, I promise you you’ll be hungry all day.  I’m getting peckish now just thinking about it.

Now down to business.  There’s a great old story by Donald Barthelme that I love called Me and Miss Mandible (story at the link).  The story tells of Joseph, a 35-year old former insurance adjuster who, through a clerical error, is mistaken for an eleven year-old and ends up in Miss Mandible’s sixth-grade class.  The other kids know the system and have the day-to-day routine down pat while clueless Joseph struggles to make sense of it all, despite his maturity.

Looking at my TBR list last night, I realized I’m a lot like Joseph.  The “A-ha!” moment happened when I noticed how many older works are in my queue.  For example, I am about half-way through re-reading John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace”.  The copy of “To Kill A Mockingbird” I ordered last week arrived from Amazon yesterday.  Other recent conquests include “Catch 22” and “Requiem for A Dream” (my review here). 

I know, I know!  I need to update my reading list!  But I don’t know the first thing about what’s hot right now.  The best seller list has never been a good guide for me.  I hear lots of talk about young adult (YA) fiction, and I have to admit I don’t have a clear grasp of what’s good and what’s not in that genre.

Can you guys stear me in the right direction, both for YA and for other genres? 

If I wanted to get a good picture of what constitutes cutting edge publishable fiction right now, what novels should I pick up?  What have you read recently that you liked or thought was noteworthy?