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Factory of Raw Essentials November 3, 2009

Posted by monty in books.
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angry cat

Here’s Part 3 of the story that leads up to my contribution to National Novel Writing Month.  The picture represents how I feel about churning out another 1,700 words tonight.  Enjoy.

*****

It was not, all things considered, a memorable phone call.  In terms of Garrett’s telecommunications experience, it ranked somewhere above the time his neighbor had called to accuse Garrett of soaping her windows, but below the time The Record Alley called to tell him he’d won ten free albums in their monthly drawing.  But, to be fair, Garrett had envisioned the moment for so long and endowed it with such mythical importance that it would have been anticlimactic even if angels had descended the moment Steph answered the phone.

In his memory, the call went something like this:

“Hi, Steph.”

“Hi, Garrett.”

Two full minutes of whitenoisestaticinterferencesnowonatwoAMtv.

“Well, bye, Steph.”

“Bye, Garrett.”

He was certain he had humiliated himself on at least six different occasions and probably insulted her parents in the bargain.  He had no empirical evidence for this; just a vague sense of disquiet and foreboding, the same as he felt while watching his Algebra II teacher return tests, moving inexorably up and down the rows toward the mathematical Bermuda Triangle of Garrett’s desk.

In reality, the conversation sounded more like this:

“Hello?”

“S-Steph?”

“No, this is her mother.”

“Oh.”

A pause.  To Garrett it felt as long as the missing 18 minutes in the Watergate tapes.

“Would you like me to get her for you?”

“Oh.  Yeah.  I mean, yes, please.”

A rattle.  Muffled voices.  Then, clarity.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Steph.  It’s Garrett.”

“Oh.  Hi.  How’re you doing?”

“Oh, you know, good.  I’m good.”

“Did Matix chew you out?”

For the briefest of moments Garrett considered asking Steph about her hand on his knee earlier in the day, but decided he wouldn’t, in case it had been an accident.

“I’m a little sore, yeah.  She gave me detention.  Told me I was ‘a distraction to the learning process.’”

“Oh, God. She’s a distraction to the learning process.”

Garrett had no idea what she meant, but he had just enough savvy not to ask.  He could hear Steph chewing.

“You’re not eating dinner, are you?”

“No.  Just a snack.  I got back from my game a little bit ago.”

“Did you win?”

“No.  The girls on the other team were huge. Like, Amazon-huge.  We were scared.  Honestly.”

“Well.  I’m sure you tried your best.”

“Tonight wasn’t my night to pitch.  Melissa and I sat on the bench and made fun of the other team.”

“Oh.  Well, I’m sure you did really well with that.  And, if you had pitched, that other team wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

More chewing, and Garrett suddenly found himself in uncharted waters.  Did he ask her out?  Try for more painful small talk?  Hang up, claiming an upset stomach?  Steph, swallowing, took the reins.

“So, I listened to the beginning of your tape …”

She trailed off.  Garrett began to panic.  What did that mean?  He scrambled desperately to attach meaning to the unspoken end of her sentence.  His next words would be like stepping onto the frozen lake near his house in late March: negotiating the right path would get him to the other side, but one faulty step and he’d end up with frostbitten toes.

“Just the beginning?” As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt his boots begin to fill with water.

“Yeah.  Part of the first song.”

Part of the first song. Crap.  Did she think it was so bad she could only stomach part of one song?  Garrett tried to imagine what Bill Murray would say in this situation.  He’d have the perfect joke – the one-liner that would let them both off the hook – but Garrett figured this was not the right situation to begin quoting Ghostbusters. This is what he managed instead: “Oh.  Um.  Did you, um … like it?”

“I liked it a lot.  At least what I heard.  I wanted to listen to the whole thing, but the stupid bus driver saw me with headphones on and threw a fit.  Then, on the way back, Katie wanted to talk about Daniel – you know Daniel McLear, on the track team? – so I couldn’t listen to it then, either.  But it was really good.”

Without thinking twice, Garrett dashed across the lake, hoping he would know what to do on the other side.

“Yeah?  Thanks.  Really.  I’m glad you like it.”

“Is that really you singing on it?”

Garrett felt a twinge of guilt that he hoped he wouldn’t have to pay for later. “It’s really me.”

“That’s so cool.  You’ve got a great voice.”

“Aw, thanks.  It’s okay, I guess.  No one else really wanted to do it, so I’ve been working at it.  I take lessons.  I’ll get better.”

“Well, I can’t wait to listen to the rest of it tonight.”

“Steph, do you want to do something with me tomorrow night?”

If he had taken the time to contemplate that move, it never would have happened.  It was out of his mouth before he even knew he was going to say it, and once it was out, he wished he could immediately reel it back in.

“Like a date?” Her words, he thought, were carefully neutral, and he had no idea if “date” to her was an inviting prospect, or as deadly and pernicious as the Black Death.

“Yeah, but you don’t have to call it that if you don’t want to.  We could just be, you know, friends at the movies or friends at dinner, or friends at, um, you know, hanging out.”  Two pastimes in, and the well had run dry.  One half of his brain continued the conversation; the other half prayed for divine intervention and the appearance of an instruction manual.

“I think that’d be a lot of fun, Garrett.  I’ll let you know in school tomorrow if my mom and dad say it’s okay.  Okay?”

Oh, God, Garrett thought, more waiting. But she had said yes, and that was the important thing.  “Sounds good to me.  So have a good night, Steph.”

“Oh.  Okay.  Well, see you tomorrow, Garrett.”

It was only after hanging up that Garrett heard her disappointment at the prospect of ending the conversation.  And sometime later, in his darkened bedroom, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars and planets that festooned his ceiling, granting it a depth and limitlessness it didn’t possess during the day, that he thought of all the things he should have said.  He tried to recall the positive moments from the conversation so he could replay them on an endless mental loop, but all he seemed able to remember was the awkwardness of his voice in his ears, the drowning man desperation of his thoughts, the way he must have come across like the relative no one else in the family ever wants to talk about, the one locked in the attic and fed through a slot in the door.

But then, as though beamed from the farthest reaches of the universe stretching above him on his ceiling, this thought, which made all the others irrelevant: Hey, dummy.  She said yes.

*****

Current listening:

Moose honey bee

Moose – Honey Bee

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