A Walk

This is the second chapter from the “September” section of my novel PUSHING THE RIVER.  Watch for the third chapter next Friday!

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A Walk

“Ellie, what in the world am I doing?” Madeline said.

“You,” Ellie said, “are taking a much-needed break from what you’ve been trying to do ever since Dick left – secure a ‘forever’ future.”

“Huh.”

“And I, for one, am damn glad.”

“Huh.”

“You need the break.”

“Huh.”

“ I think this is a great thing.”

“Huh.” Madeline added, “I think you need the break.”

“OK, Maybe we both do.”

How many walks just like this one had Ellie and Madeline taken over the past ten years, Madeline wondered. How many times had they clipped along on some pathway, beachfront, nature preserve, botanic garden; how many cups of coffee had been sipped in little cafes, student centers, large malls, bookstores, while they deconstructed Madeline’s latest date, possible romance, new romance, budding relationship, full! rosy! cheeked! blush! of ! love! first stagger,

swaying, reeling, crumbling, dissolving, dissolving, dissolved.

The thought of all this exhausted Madeline. She was utterly bored with herself. Bored and worn-out and miserable about how much time, and brain space, and thought, and conversation the whole subject of dating and relationships had consumed, had sucked from her life. She had a nearly overwhelming desire to lie down in the grass, right then, halfway along the trail, right there, in the middle of the sculpture garden, and resolve to stay there, not move, not continue, until something changed. The blades of grass would soak up the late summer sun and caress her with their easy warmth. She would watch the wispy clouds drift lazily across the sky, she would search for the pictures in them, then make stories out of the pictures. The air would turn cool, the leaves would start to change, just barely at first, a tinge of color lost. Cyclists would whiz past her, thinking, “Huh. I don’t remember that sculpture being there before.” The first tiny, barely perceptible flake of snow would drift onto her cheek—

“You’re not re-thinking this, are you?” Ellie said.

Madeline considered for less than half a second telling Ellie what she had been thinking, but said, “Nope. Not.”

“Good. Be here now,” Ellie said.

“I’m all about it.”

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A first draft of this chapter was originally posted on August 5, 2013 with the same photos.

Quantum Leap

The bulk of my novel Pushing the River takes place within the confines of a house, over the course of four months.  As promised, I will be posting a chapter each Friday (oops) from the “September” section of the book.  Here is the first chapter:

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Quantum Leap

It was certainly not her first foray into the parallel universe of online dating. Sadly, it was quite far from it. Madeline had been divorced for more than ten years by this time, and had watched a string of relationships move from interest, to the first tingle of excitement, to the exhilaration of genuine possibility, to the frightening, heady, joyful moment when the roller coaster passes the peak of its climb and in that split second, there is no going back: momentum takes over; it is utterly and completely out of anyone’s control, because at this moment, there is love. There is real love.

And then there isn’t.

After a time, she would be back online, pouring over profiles, scrutinizing descriptions, gathering courage.

There were less than a handful of people in the “neighborhood bar,” each one sitting at a measured distance from the others, making the throbbing lights and disco music seem thoroughly pathetic. Even the bartender looked as if she would rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

A first glance around the room didn’t turn up anybody she thought resembled his online picture. Certainly nobody came close to what her daughter-in-law Marie had called The Underwear Model upon seeing his photo. “Oh! My! God! He’s an underwear model!”

“Do you know if there’s anybody here waiting for somebody? A guy?” she screamed at the bartender, leaning as far as she possibly could over the bar in order to be heard.

“Are you kidding?” The bartender retorted, “Everybody here is waiting for somebody.”

She gestured with her arm, waving her hand around the room in a need-I-say-more sort of way.

“I mean, not that I know of. You’re just gonna have to look.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

And then she saw him. QuantamLeap. Standing in a dark shadow, pressed against the back wall as if pinned there, minutely nodding his head in time to the music in a good-soldier effort to not look as thoroughly uncomfortable as he clearly was. Off-white, baggy, mid-calf length shorts that could have passed for gangsta, could have passed for j. crew. Collared shirt.

(“Collared shirt?” she thought. “I did not see that coming.”) She had pictured: T-shirt. Definitely. Very faded. Possibly with the name of an early punk band, but more likely touting some esoteric, highly left-leaning thing. Noam Chomsky, maybe. But nope, collared shirt it was. And striped. (Striped?)

“Dan?” she yelled.

He was tall. 6’3”, maybe even 6’4”, so had to lean way, way over to get his ear in the general vicinity of her mouth. He nodded, minimally, in time to the music, as if he were not sure he wanted to acknowledge his identity to the person who had chosen this particular bar.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said. Knowing full well that he couldn’t hear a word, she made exaggerated pointing gestures toward the door.

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With the last beam of blue light evaporating across his arm, Dan emphatically pushed the bar door closed behind them. The instant the door was closed, they stood unmoving, still on the stoop, as an exhilaration of relief – to be outside, out of the blue light, out of the inescapable throb of long-forgotten music, out of the scene of utter desolate encroaching loneliness — washed over them.

Madeline said, “Oh my God, I am so sorry,” and laughed out loud. “Oh! My! God!”

There was something just a little goofy about him, the stoop of his shoulders, the enormity of his feet in the ultra-white gym shoes she later learned he had bought that day at Costco. A mortal after all. Thank God, she thought, or he would be too impossibly good looking.

She suggested they walk to a nearby place that she ardently wished she had remembered in the first place — a low-key homage to the 60’s that still sold tie-dyed shirts, incense and bumper stickers in a little shop adjoining the restaurant. It also boasted a lovely outdoor area, a giant screened-in porch strewn with twinkly lights that was heavenly on a summer night.

Though she was less than two miles from the house she had lived in for nearly 30 years, she got lost. Damp with fretful sweat that grabbed at her mauve silk blouse, she surreptitiously scrutinized him for any sign of frustration aimed at her. They had met in person less than fifteen minutes before, so she had no cache of information that could tell her whether his good-natured reserve was just that, or if, perhaps, he had already decided that these two particular people, him and her, would not be seeing one another for much longer on the evening of September 1, 2013. Or ever again.

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A version of this chapter was originally posted on 7/23/13 with these same pictures.

And John Makes Seven

The following is a NEW chapter from the novel PUSHING THE RIVER.  This chapter will be the LAST new one that I post while I write the remainder of the book.  BUT, for those of you who have been confounded and frustrated by my writing –and therefore posting — the chapters out of order: surprise!  For the next ten Fridays, I will post an entire section of the book, one chapter each week, IN ORDER!  I sincerely hope the section will pique your interest and whet your appetite for the completed version!

 

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John and Marie went back and forth – over the phone, via text, and in emails of varying lengths – about how to get John back from Boston. The good news was: John had wrangled a way to do an internship in Chicago in lieu of his final semester of music school, and he would be able to live with his wife once again. The bad news was: this meant he, as well as all of their mutual possessions still residing in Boston (including three feline companions) needed to find their way back to Chicago somehow, just two short months after Marie had made her solo move there. And, all of this had to be figured out around John’s last days to do everything that needed to be done to finish his degree while still in Boston, as well as Marie’s schedule with two jobs plus the full-time job of her family.

For about a week, Marie would dash into whatever room Madeline and Dan inhabited, and plop down beside them. Among a general flurry of accompanying movements and gestures, Marie would say something such as, “What do you think about me renting a U-Haul here in Chicago, driving to Boston to help John pack up and move, then driving back here together? I think the mileage charge might actually be less than the one-way drop-off charge.” But before either Dan or Madeline could form a thought, Marie would jump up, again with a flurry of waving arms, and say, “Never mind! It’ll never work! I can’t take that much time off work. Let alone being gone from…you know…here.” By the time Marie reached the final word of the sentence, she would be at least two rooms away from wherever Madeline and Dan remained, still having uttered not one word.

This happened at least once each day.

Finally, the day came when Marie said, “There’s no other option at all whatsoever except for me to fly out there, one way, rent a truck in Boston, and drive back here together with John.” Madeline and Dan had become so accustomed to Marie’s abrupt departures that they stared at her, blankly and without speaking. “Well?! Come on, you guys. What the hell is wrong with you; what do you think?”

All went according to plan, and the reunited couple arrived one week before Christmas with three cats, four bikes, two banjos, two guitars, two bass guitars. John had a suitcase full of clothes, and his backpack. The remaining space in the truck was filled with an impressive array – and poundage – of amplifiers and sound equipment.

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The closets filled up. The storage rooms filled up. All of the spaces under the eaves in John and Marie’s living space filled up. And with John home for Christmas and for good, seven people went to sleep under Madeline’s roof each night.

When Madeline descended the stairs the morning after his return, John had set up one of his bikes on a stand in the living room, right between the piano and the Christmas tree. “Still on Boston time,” he said. “Couldn’t sleep. Hey, I couldn’t really figure out any other place to set up a bike ‘shop.’ Is this OK with you?”

Madeline did a quick survey of the open tool boxes – two of them – and the assortment of wrenches, bolts, screws and general what-nots that lay strewn across much of the floor. “Of course,” she said.

“No, I mean, I knew you were going to say ‘yes,’ but it is really OK?”

“Yes,” Madeline said. “Really really.”

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My beautiful baby boy, Madeline thought. “You are all growed up,” she said.

“Well. Sort of,” John said, gesturing to the surrounding detritus with his wrench.

What a crazy thing, Madeline thought. You bring these little tiny people into the world, you care for them day and night, day after day, you love them with a power and a ferocity you never could have imagined, you would move worlds to protect them from pain. You do this for years and years. And then you let them go.

You watch them live their own lives with limitless, awed joy. But from a greater and greater distance, because this is the way it is supposed to be.

Madeline is transported years into the past. John has just come home from a day at high school. He takes the gallon of milk from the refrigerator, hoists himself to sit on the kitchen counter, and removes the cap to drink it straight from the jug. “Mom,” he says to Madeline, “will you make me a PB & J?”

She regards the 6′ manchild in front of her, torn between her feeling that perhaps a good parent would chastise John for drinking straight from the milk jug, or would a good parent let it go knowing that John was the only one who drank whole milk in the first place.

“Please,” he added, and the sheepish, ironic expression on his face told her he knew this was an unreasonable request for an seventeen-year-old, yet he relished making it. “Yours are always better than when I make them. Yours are the best.”

Sometimes you have no idea, none at all, which of the most simple, everyday, completely non-exceptional moments might be one that gets emblazoned in your mind for the rest of time. A snapshot of an instance, a place in your life that remains in exceptional, vivid detail – no blurring around the edges of a picture that never fades. Other times, you do know. Madeline knew, right then and there, that the peanut butter sandwich request was one of the moments she would remember all of her life.tay

Top and bottom photos of Taylor Hales, the inspiration for the character of John

Amplifiers pictured with their creator, Jim Marshall

No idea who the bike guy is

 

 

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A Thousand Paper Cranes

OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY!!!  I have decided (thanks to the quiet suggestion of a friend) to return to writing my previously-abandoned novel Pushing the River.  I re-read the 150 completed pages.  I liked it.  I want to finish it. Here, then is a fresh, new excerpt!!

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For much of that fall, Madeline’s communications with Kate were limited to between three- and five-minute phone calls while Kate waited for the bus. Madeline would answer the phone with an exaggerated “Kate-eeeeeeeeeeeeee” and wait for Kate’s echoing “Mom-eeeeeeeeeee.” A rat-a-tat of rapid-fire bullet point life factoids would invariably be abruptly halted by a loud WHOOOOSSSHHHH that announced the bus’s arrival. Kate would attempt to shout something along the lines of “I gotta go!! Love you….” which trailed into an abrupt click. Not a lot of free time in the second year of medical school.

Kate was a self-described Christmas Elf. She loved the season – everything about it – and drank it all in with tremendous delight.

On the first morning Kate was home for her Christmas break, Madeline sat bolt upright and fully awake — as she did every morning — just before 7 am and tiptoed down to the kitchen. As she calculated how much coffee to make for Marie (who wouldn’t drink it) and herself and Kate, she was surprised to hear Kate cough from the back sun room.

She poked her head around the corner and said, “What are your doing up?”

“I always get up early. You know that,” Kate responded.

“Yeah, but I mean, what are you doing? You look like you’re doing something back there.”

“I’m making some flash cards.”

“Flash cards? For what? And by the way, how long have you been up? Without coffee, is my point.”

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“Since six. I figured I’d get up every morning at six and chip away at this. Didn’t want to take the time to make coffee. I knew you’d get up and make it right around now. And see? I’ve already gotten an hour of work done.”

“You always were an odd child.”

“I know.”

“Flash cards for what, her mother asked, knowing she may well be sorry,” Madeline said.

“For the medical boards. You know. The Boards.”

“Just how many cards are in that box, anyway?”

“A thousand,” Kate said.

“A thousand. One thousand. Are you actually planning to make a thousand flash cards?”

“I have another box.”

“If you were a different person that would be a really good joke.”

“Don’t you remember when I was an undergrad, and I used to study in the med library? Don’t you remember me describing to you when those med students were studying for their Boards? Jesus, that was terrifying! It scared the shit out me! I was trying to mind my own business and study, when all around me people were completely losing their shit, a little bit more, and a little bit more, every day. I remember this one guy just wandering around, shaking all over, just wandering. This other guy kept muttering to himself and twisting strands of his hair. And then chuckling! It was seriously like being in a zombie apocalypse.”

“So, the flash cards ward off the zombie-ism? Is that a word? Zombie-ism?”

“I’m hoping. I figured I’d get a jump on this over the holiday break.”

“Geez. Fun times. Ho Ho Ho.”

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“Besides, it gives me something to focus on, apart from the shit storm that’s going on right in my own living room,” Kate said as she snapped a blank card out of the box.

“Now now, you just got home last night. Don’t you think you might want to wait a little while, give yourself some time to experience the shit storm for yourself before you start getting all despondent?”

“Nope. Don’t you think I’ve been listening to you all fall? I think I’ve heard enough.”

“Well, you gotta admit: there was quite a kerfuffle of bus noise and generally high level of haste,” Madeline said.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Didn’t some old guy from your generation say that?”

“Yeah. Some old guy did.” Madeline continued. “A thousand note cards. You know what that reminds me of?”

“Hmmm,” Said Kate, absent-mindedly.

“The thousand paper cranes,” Madeline said. When Kate was in her second year of college, she had gotten very ill. She left a quickly-scribbled post-it note on her dorm room door, announcing that she had left school, and went home. It was serious, and Kate believed – with good reason – that she may die.

When she and Madeline made a trip to Kate’s dorm room to gather some things, they walked in to the dazzling sight of one thousand origami paper cranes. Some had been hung together in long vertical strings suspended from the ceiling, while others were strung in banners, wing-to-wing, and hung from wall to wall. The sight was breathtaking, and magical.

The students on Kate’s floor of the dorm had gotten together, night after night, to fold cranes.  When the number reached one thousand, they filled Kate’s room with their gift that, according to Japanese legend, would bestow great health and long life to the recipient.

“They’re still in the basement, aren’t they?” Madeline asked. “Do you think they can work a second time?”

“Mom,” Kate said, with great gentleness, “this is way beyond paper cranes.”

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