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More Stars Than There Are in Heaven October 15, 2009

Posted by monty in Uncategorized.
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writing-man1

To get the obvious out of the way first, I solved my technical difficulties by purchasing a new MacBook Pro.  In my defense, the good folks at the Apple Store diagnosed my problem as a fried logicboard, and after having a couple people look at it, the consensus seemed to be that inoperable keys would soon be the least of my problems.  So, problem solved, at the cost of $300 a letter.  Righteous.

In the interest of the late hour and my general weariness, I’m going to share something I’ve written previously.  Coming up on October 20th (next Tuesday, that is), the National Council of Teachers of English are hosting/celebrating/sponsoring the National Day of Writing.  People from all over the country are submitting pieces to NCTE to be posted in online galleries which are, I believe, open for public viewing.  I submitted an excerpt from the novel/short story/ill-defined narrative thing I started working on in the summer of 2007.  It’s always been in the back of my mind to finish the thing, so maybe giving it a public airing will be the impetus I need to get off my lazy, procrastinating arse and hop to it.  Anyway, here’s my submission.  Enjoy.  Regularly scheduled programming should resume (fingers crossed) tomorrow.

*****

Excerpt from something I think I’m calling The Reason the Night Is Long

Even though Garrett had never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, he imagined that the waning minutes of the carnival shared much in common with the last few moments of his high school’s lunch period.  Revelers pinballed their way from locker to locker, amped on soda and fast food (juniors and seniors) or pizza and chocolate milk (freshmen and sophomores), highfiving frantically, eking out every last shred of gossip, determined not to let the party die until they woke up to the hangover of 6th period.

Garrett stood before his open locker, staring at the cassette tape where it sat on the shelf and attempting to tune out the cacophony that swirled around him.  The five songs he had recorded from The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder were now etched on the crinkly black audio tape of that 90-minute Memorex cassette, their titles scrawled in longhand on the insert and their sound quality just shoddy enough to pass muster as a live recording.  In less than five minutes he’d be handing it to Steph on the pretense that it was him, it was Garrett and his amazing band, unbelievably talented for a group of 16-year-olds, bursting with ambition and promise, and because all girls secretly longed to be with a sensitive musician, this tape would be all it took for Steph to fall madly in love with Garrett.

And yet.

It was only now, on the cusp of his deception, that Garrett began to question the ethical machinations of this handoff.  There were, of course, logistical questions he had tentative answers for (Would Steph recognize The Smiths’ music?  He didn’t think so.  Would she want him to sing for her?  He’d claim stage fright.), but now he felt the first pangs of guilt.  He was lying to her, after all.  Deceit was hardly the most auspicious way to begin a relationship, but what other romantic gambit did he have?  What else would set him apart from the other hormonal boys vying for her attention?  His athletic ability seemed to indicate that he suffered from some sort of inner ear disorder, and his gifts with pen and ink extended only as far as stick figures and unfortunate-looking cats.  As for his own looks?  Average, all the way around.  In an era when Tom Cruise was the standard of male beauty, he was disappointed to look more like Tom Hanks.  So, cassette it was, and Garrett figured, if fortune decided to smile favorably on him for once and grant him a date or two with Steph, he could always claim the band broke up amid a flurry of egos and substance abuse.

Decision made, Garrett didn’t find the actual execution any easier.  The tape seemed to be pulsating with radiation, or emanating some odorless, yet undeniably toxic, gas.  Before he could change his mind, Garrett swept it from the shelf and thrust it into the breast pocket of his shirt.  He buttoned the pocket, patted it once in reassurance, grabbed textbook and binder, slammed his locker, and spun the combination lock once for good measure.  It was only a few short steps to Spanish II, past the drinking fountain and the pungent restrooms, but Garrett wanted his journey to elasticize, to stretch out before him like a country road, his destination the pinprick where asphalt meets sky, so impossibly distant he could only imagine what it looked like.

Garrett maneuvered his way through the boisterous throng, stopping completely whenever someone even remotely stepped in his path, pausing once to look around for an imaginary pencil he had dropped (wondering, at the same time, if he could get away with pretending to lose a contact lens, and then deciding the fact that he didn’t wear contacts would seriously impede the success of that ruse).    He reluctantly watched the doorway of Room 52 loom ever closer, more imposing than the monolith in 2001, and if anyone in the future would ever dare to tell him he couldn’t know what it felt like to be a death row inmate on his way to the chair, Garrett would respectfully have to disagree.  And then he was there, stepping through the open door before he lost his nerve.

He saw her as soon as he walked into the room.  She was sitting at her desk, the one right in front of his, and he almost wished she wasn’t.  An unexpected absenteeism (due to some benign intervention, of course; a tooth cleaning, maybe?) would have provided Garrett with the excuse he needed to forget the whole plan.  But no, there she was, standing out radiantly against the backdrop of Mexican travel posters, sombreros, and chili peppers spouting motivational slogans.  She was writing something, her neck bent, hair swinging gently with the movement of her Pilot ballpoint across the page.  At fifteen, the long-distance marathon runner of Garrett’s romantic vocabulary hadn’t yet caught up with his sprinting, short-distance hormones.  Once it did, he might have described her hair as a molten, honeyed waterfall; her eyes as depthless cerulean pools.  As it was, he knew all it took was one sideways glance from her to turn his heart into a jackhammer.  Two days ago she laughed at something he said and lightly touched his wrist; for one brief moment the cafeteria bleached in a nuclear sunburst, and he was terrified that he was going to wake up on his back, staring into the concerned faces of teachers and paramedics.

But there she was, and there he was, with three minutes to spare, and a heavy burden in the breast pocket of his shirt.

What if she didn’t want to be bothered?  She looked serious.  She looked busy.  She looked –

At him.  And smiled.  Garrett had just enough time to register the words Aw, crap, skittering spiderlike across his consciousness, and then he was walking toward her, just wanting to get it over with, to end the feeling of cotton in his mouth and flames in his cheeks.

He swung into his desk in a way that he hoped looked debonair.

“Hey, Steph.”

“Hi, Garrett.  How – “

But he was talking, much too fast and much too loud and right over the top of her and he felt terrible and knew it looked at least as bad as it felt, but it was too late to stop.

“So my band and I were recording something the other day, just, you know, out in my garage, we live in the country so we can, like, jam and no one will be bothered, and we recorded a set of songs, I think they’re pretty cool, not, you know, radio-ready or anything, but not bad either, and I thought maybe you’d like to have a copy?”

And he could hear the faint pleading at the end of it, and it was a question, but he didn’t wait for an answer, didn’t want an answer, just wanted to get rid of the cassette in his pocket that now felt as heavy as the lead shot Mr. Palmer had handed around in Earth Science one day.  He reached to pull it out, but he had stupidly buttoned the pocket, and he fumbled with the flap, nearly wrenching the button from the fabric in his haste.  He ripped the cassette from his pocket, thrust it toward her like he was waving a crucifix at an approaching vampire, and felt absolutely zero relief when she took it.

Instead, he was greeted with the absolutely crushing certainty that she would immediately see his deception for what it was: a scared kid feebly trying to impress a girl who was way out of his league with a tape he had recorded in his parents’ garage because he thought it might sound like a real band.  That’s what it was and that’s who he was and if the universe knew anything about what it was doing, he would be found out immediately.

“This is you?” Steph asked, flipping the cassette in her hands.

Garrett was so surprised not to be immediately struck dead by the hand of karmic retribution that he wasn’t sure what to say.  He had been expecting her to take one look at the cassette, utter a laugh pitched at the perfect midpoint between disgust and disbelief, and then fling the tape back at him – the perfect form he had seen her model on the pitcher’s mound now directed at him, rocking back on her right foot, arm at first seeming to reach out to him in welcome, then lancing skyward but not stopping, continuing its 360-degree rotation until it was once again extended toward him, a near-invitation, a quasi-beckoning, but instead the tape would leave her hand with a shriek, rocketing toward him, the audio tape itself, caught at the point of departure on one of her exquisitely painted nails, unspooling behind its plastic case like a shimmering black snake.  The fact that that didn’t happen nearly froze Garrett’s vocal cords, and it was only by a supreme act of will that he got them moving again.

“Um … yeah.  My friends and I.  We’ve got a band.  That’s us.”  He gestured to the tape in her hands, seeing the name he had scrawled across the label – The Newspaper Taxis – and wondered if she’d get the Beatles reference.  He wished instead he’d chosen something more manly: The Hairy Chests; Oozing Testosterone; Toolbox.  Something, anything to counteract the guilt and embarrassment he was desperately trying to choke down like cough syrup.  The Newspaper Taxis.  What was he thinking?

“This is so cool, Garrett.  I can’t wait to listen to it.” Steph opened her binder, and Garrett swore he could smell roses, vanilla, and dewdrops on 6 A.M. summer grass.  She unzipped her pencil pouch and tucked the tape carefully inside.  “It’ll be safe in here.  I’d hate for anything to happen to it.”

“If it gets broken, I’ve got, like – “ Garrett struggled for a number, unsure how many tapes fledgling bands would just happen to have around the house.  “– at least a couple hundred more.  At least.”

“Don’t worry.  It’s safe with me,” Steph said.

“Yeah?  Cool.  Cool.”

“You know something, Garrett?” Steph began.

And the bell rang.

Steph wheeled around in her desk as the post-lunch tumult immediately winked out of existence.  It was plausible to think that Ms. Matix, the Spanish teacher, had not only been in attendance at the Spanish Inquisition, but had probably assisted in its planning and execution.  No one wanted to test her notoriously limited patience.

Verb conjugation was, as usual, on the day’s menu, but Garrett was too preoccupied to pay anything but half-hearted attention to the lesson. You know something, Garrett? Steph had asked.  NO! he wanted to shout.  I don’t know!  Ms. Matix, could we please pause this delightful discussion of irregular verb forms so Steph can finish her thought?  If I have to wait until after class or – heaven forbid – longer, I’m going to go muy loco! Please.  A minute is all I need.  Let us work with partners.  Let us go outside.  Let her ask to use the restroom so I can conveniently have bladder issues at the exact same moment.  Please. Pleasepleasepleasepl –

Garrett didn’t realize he was muttering quietly to himself until Ms. Matix interrupted his mantra.

“Garrett.” She never yelled.  There was no need.  Her voice was the sound of a cell door sliding shut, forever.

Garrett’s eyes snapped immediately into focus and his formerly Steph-plagued brain went tundra-blank. “Ms. Matix?”

Me ver después de la clase.”

“What?” He heard his voice crack, jumping an octave in the space of a single syllable.

“See me after class.  Por favor.”

And the lesson continued.

Damn.  Now there would be no chance to talk to Steph after class.  And today the softball team was away, so there’d be no talking to her after school.  That meant either waiting to talk to her tomorrow, or somehow accessing previously unplumbed reservoirs of strength and calling her.  Which wasn’t going to happen.

As despair seized his heart, he felt an echoing pressure on his knee.  Slight, timid, there and then gone, but pressure nonetheless.  He quickly looked down and saw Steph’s hand retreating back to her desktop from where it had alighted for the scantest of seconds on Garrett’s knee.  Long enough to pass him a message in the Morse code of body language.  Garrett supposed it could have meant anything, but he chose to believe it meant this: It’s going to be okay.

And he knew he’d be able to call her, after all.

*****

Current listening:

Lord st

Lord Cut-Glass – Self-titled

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Comments»

1. Amanda - October 15, 2009

I like this part of the story. You should post the beginning with the description of Garrett’s garage. That has some of the best imagery that I have read in a story. You always were great at writing.

rcm - October 17, 2009

Maybe one day. I posted this whole thing on the old blog, and I don’t think I have many new readers. I figure most of the people who’d want to read this have probably already read it. If there’s enough demand I’ll post it, but so far yours is the only comment. So it’s probably not likely.

2. Stephanie - October 27, 2009

I would like to read the rest.


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