Thursday, October 19, 2006

Like Coordinates

a story for The Scheherazade Project

He used the women’s bathroom because some fool had got drunk and locked himself into the men’s then passed out, and Miss Mabel didn’t want to break the door or the window. Yet.

He waited as long as he could. He must have gone outside a dozen times trying to find a secluded spot to go but there were couples everywhere it seemed. The call to war seemed to do that to people, make them couple up. His own little brother was about to be married. “Ain’t she just as pretty as a little baby doll?” his brother would ask of any and everyone, again and again.

He made his buddy stand at the door as he went in to this sanctuary. He could see the shadows of women in their trumpet heels and seamed stockings, their swinging skirts and fitted jackets, their hair in rolls and under hats with demure feathers -- he could see shadows in the mirror above the sink. Even as he took it out to pee, it wanted to swell for them. He stared at the corner instead, listened to the steady stream that was just warmed up beer, tried to think of anything other than being here.

He finished, shook himself dry, tucked himself back into his underwear, zipped his fly. And with the thought of being in the women’s bathroom finally not being the foremost in his mind, he saw it. A pretty little script, small amongst the bold declarations of love and eternal affection, the angry accusations of inadequacy and infidelity, desperate pleadings with God to let someone come home. The same sentence, written twice: “Is this all? Is this really all?” And a phone number.

Instantly it was in his mind, like home base coordinates.

He didn’t call it though. He would wake up seeing it. He shipped out, European theater, bombing Germany. Once, three days in a row, the entire squadron that went out before his didn’t come back. They’d move their gear in, and move it out again, and the boys were like those shadows in that bathroom mirror. And he’d think, “Is this all? Is this really all?” and the number would glow neon in his mind.

He lived through his 25 missions by sitting on his flak jacket. He went home. He started training others, and doing whatever military work was assigned. He was stationed near his little brother’s wife. His brother was in the Pacific. He called on her once a month or so. He called to check on her for his brother, although she lived with her parents and her sister and there was really no reason to check. Still he called on her and wrote to his brother about where they’d gone and how pretty she had looked and how much she missed him. He always had trouble saying how much he missed him.

Except for at the wedding, he’d never met her family. He would call her at her work. During war everyone worked. They would meet at any one of several restaurants, most featuring Maryland crab in some form. She would talk about them some. Her parents were easy going, her sister a bit more uptight and unmarried although a few years older than herself. They would talk about his brother, her husband, and what they’d done as boys, the trouble they’d gotten into as young men, how earnest and sincere and serious he was for all his good-timing.

And then they both got word that his brother, her husband, had been killed in action on an island in the Pacific. His body would stay there until after the war. There was really nothing to do right now except to keep doing what they’d been doing. Except now they didn’t have anything at all to say. They met and ordered something to eat. He drank a beer. She lit a cigarette. He took a pen out of his pocket in idleness and doodled on the napkin. It started out with rows of x’s, like his mother used to make, but then he was drawing clouds, like you see them when flying above them, and he didn't even know he knew how to do that. And then he’d found the numbers in them, the numbers that had been on that bathroom wall with the words, “Is this all? Is this really all?”, and he traced over them again and again.

She exhaled a puff of smoke and as if in slow motion put her hand across the table and onto the napkin. Their eyes met and he released the napkin to her, he didn’t know why. She slid it across the table, not picking it up but turning it around to face her.

“How do you know that number?” she asked, calmly, flatly. He didn’t answer, just looked at her dumbfounded. “How do you know that number? That’s my sister’s private number.”

“I’ve never called it,” he said.

“How do you know it?” she asked again, insistence in her voice though not impatience, and he explained, as best he could, which wasn’t too good. She didn’t say much about it but did say that they’d both visited that bar with her husband -to-be when they’d made a premarital trip to meet his parents.

The next time he checked on his brother’s wife, took her out to eat, she didn’t show up.

But her sister did.

feel free to comment

12 comments:

laura said...

i'm left feeling the same as J, it goes fast. i want more details. i want to know more about the sister now too. it drew me in. i love to read things that are not present day. i'm always impressed with the ability to write about and use imagery of the past.

i love how your stories tease, leave me wanting more.

i'd still like to see you do something with those little vignettes you sent me before.

writing, writing, writing.

you are a writer. i am an artist.

i am learning to say that.

the Contrary Goddess said...

I'm learning to not think in terms of "I am" (with the exception of those things listed in my byline, like "cowgirl" and "thorn"). So I definitely do not think of myself as a writer -- but I do write. And thanks to you, sometimes now I express myself visually. And I'm still hoping to express myself more via music too.

And all those really should not be "express myself" I suppose, but express the universal as I find it expressed within myself.

Something airy fairy, artsy fartsy like that.
************
But as to the story, yeah, it could go places. I find that I don't have to work so hard to write "what I know" -- like visceral memories (like the vignettes I sent to you). This is a fictionalized memory -- things I know, pieces, from my family stories, but woven into something I made up because I don't know the rest of the story.

I ahve one (hmmm, wonder if it still exists somewhere?) that I wrote about my great aunt who had an illegitimate child in the early 1900s -- I was a grown person before I knew he belonged to her and wasn't her little brother -- and they were old by that time, that's what a secret it was in the family. So I made up this love story for her. Because I loved her. She died at 100 years old not long ago and I love her.

Anyway, I'm having fun with the Scheherazade exercises and think that, as always, just flat out writing (even without sweating it) helps develop writing skills.

Joe Tornatore said...

great story.

MiLFie (Hot Brownie) said...

Wow. That was an intense story, that was quick, but yet left an impact on me. I am only left to wonder why her sister had left her number there, and why she had gotten so offended.

Keep up the fantastic work.

And yes, you are a writer.

dragonfly183 said...

that was very good. But i would have liked to know more about the sister. i think it should have continued after she met him for dinner, like telling her story. why she wrote that on the wall. what caused her to do it.

laura said...

well i can't wait to see you express the music part of your soul too, no matter what title you decide to give yourself for it. you know sometimes you've just got to say "i am..." about things. there is nothing wrong with it. why are you learning not to do it? i would like to know the story behind that more than anything. what compels you to believe it is something you shouldn't do. you mystify me!

the Contrary Goddess said...

oh, yeah, I am that I am. And often when talking about something husband does/is doing/has done, I use "WE" because gosh darn, in this house, if everybody ain't part of it, it hardly gets done.

Ah, but the "I am" and not expressing it like that . . . probably is rather philosophical/religious, just that I don't have to IDENTIFY with anything, the whole idea of identity is illusion (the three great illusions are space, time, & self).

But ya know, I really appreciate the comments and I'm thinking maybe I will work on this some more, let more of this story come, and if I do, I'll post it here and let ya know!

Anonymous said...

that was a great little story--you should try and have someting published

laura said...

okay bert!!
love,
ernie

Mushy said...

You, my lady, have a gift, and I love that little piece that you've shared with us in blogdom.

If it were a book, and I hope it is, I would buy it just to have you grab at me, tease me, until there was no more to beg for you.

Wonderful writing.

A fellow East Tennessean - Harriman.

Mushy said...

You, my lady, have a gift, and I love that little piece that you've shared with us in blogdom.

If it were a book, and I hope it is, I would buy it just to have you grab at me, tease me, until there was no more to beg for you.

Wonderful writing.

A fellow East Tennessean - Harriman.

the Contrary Goddess said...

hey, thanks Mush!