#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 24: Writing filth

I was talking to my friend Ally last week after a month of noncommunication thanks to our busy schedules. She asked how the writing was going, and I honestly told her that my NaNoWriMo projects is now just a collection of episodic scenes featuring my main characters. I’m hoping that I can stitch them together like patches into a quilt later when it’s time to make Nobody’s Hero a real book.

She told me that she’d let me go so I could either write or sleep — she’s on the West Coast, so by the time we had gotten to this point in our conversation, it was almost 11 p.m. my time.

“Yeah, I’ll probably write,” I said. “Not sure what, so it’ll probably be some kind of sex scene.” 

She started laughing when I explained that my writer’s block is usually cured by writing a one-off piece of filth (if you’ll excuse the old-fashioned term for healthy eroticism).

“So at this point, this entire book is going to be filth.”

I have two friends who are published erotica authors, and I give them all the credit in the world for it. First off, they had the guts to self-publish. For another, they were able to turn those silky pieces of “easy” writing (at least for me) into a slinky dress of a book that keeps the royalty checks pouring in.

Meanwhile, here’s what I wrote that night after hanging up from my call with Ally:


He made good on his promise to give her something to blush about the next day, but it wasn’t necessarily for the reason she had hoped. The night before had been one of both self-abandonment and self-consciousness. At one point he had bound her wrists to the bedframe with his tie, but no matter how tantalizing his lips were against her stomach and — other places — all she could think about was whether her deodorant had held up.”

 It’s definitely not the dirtiest thing I’ve ever written (a post-college long-distance relationship built on Skype conversations helped hone my smut-smithing skills), but it’s indicative of the character I’m developing. After all, we rarely abandon who we are deep down when we get into bed.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 23: Cooley’s broken heart

This all started when Cooley decided to drown his sorrows in gin. He had broken his own heart — taken it out of his chest, held it out for a dame, and then pulled it out of shape in front of her when she sneered at it. After witnessing these two months of vulnerable stupidity and stupid vulnerability, a friend recommended they go out for an evening of classy cocktailing. In the darkness of a speakeasy, the kind with a hidden door, no windows and a high risk of splinters from the bar, he finally felt at peace. His heart still hurt, but the four martinis and club chanteuse’s rendition of “Glad Rag Doll” numbed it so it could start to mend.

#NaNoWriMo2018 Day 16: The origins of Handel

When Anne woke up the morning after meeting Handel, she had two questions: how many tequila shots had she done, and why had she told the bartender she had a nice rack?

She hoped the answers would somehow explain exactly how she had fallen so hard for the Boy with the Blue Tie.

Anne first saw him from across the packed room, his face, neck and torso appearing in quick flashes between the legs of the pole dancers on top of the bar. At first she thought the abnormally well-dressed guy was watching the same cutoff-clad dancer as she was — then she realized he was watching her. While debating whether to shimmy through the crowd and introduce herself like the fresh-out-of-college adult she was, he made the choice for her and parted the sea of tees and jeans with his oxford shirt and silk necktie. And there she stood, feeling dumb and underdressed in her shorts and sweater.

He said his name was Handel, as in the violin composer. She remembered her best friend in high school playing Handelian concertos on his Stradivarius. Of course, Anne’s Handel wasn’t the Handel, but he did make her as weak at the knees as a Music for the Royal Fireworks. He asked her if she would like another drink, and they retreated to the outdoor patio where the music was softer and the air cooler. There was also a much thinner line at the outdoor bar, which meant the whiskey and cokes flowed freer — as did the tequila.

They talked until Anne’s roommate Lindsey came by with her boyfriend. She was swaying heavily, and Anne knew that meant it was time to go. The Boy in the Blue Tie was just so charming, a welcome change from the panderers and drunkards that usually made a pass at her on a night like this one. Handel treated her with courtesy and let her set the pace of their flirtations.

“Thanks, Mike, but I’ll stick here,” she told Lindsey’s boyfriend. “You take Lindsey home.”

Mike clearly looked concerned and insisted that she come back with them so she wouldn’t walk the three city blocks alone. That was when Handel offered to walk her. Any other man offering the same favor would have been regarded with suspicion, but Mike and Anne alike found themselves trusting the Boy in the Blue Tie. The last thing she recalled was taking a third tequila shot while watching Lindsey and Mike walk out the gate and onto the street. Handel was whispering something in her ear, and she liked the feeling of his hot breath on her skin.

The next morning, all Anne had to remember the rest of the evening by was a phone number sloppily scrawled on her forearm and a headache that split her head in a clean line between her eyes. She was in her own bed, alone, with no sign of anyone else sharing it with her. That was good. Mike and Lindsey were snoring in the room next door. Also good.

Then she saw the cerulean silk tie hanging off the back of her chair.

 

Handel spotted Anne right away. She carried herself with the same faux confidence to cover up the despair of joblessness that every other just-graduated-college adult bore. It wasn’t his intention to get her drunk, but there was little else to do at the bar. And she kept pulling his tie, like she thought it was a cute game of flirtation.

Which it was.

When it became clear that her roommate had abandoned her, he walked her three blocks to her apartment. As they walked in, he could hear the wet smacking sounds and moans coming from behind a closed door at the end of the hall. The only other open room had to be hers, so he quietly led her across the threshold and to her bed. She immediately curled up in a ball on top of the down comforter, the pillows framing half of her face so she looked like a mask upon a satin cushion in a museum. A thing of simplistic prettiness. The moon was low — it was almost 6 a.m. — and the cornflower sky made her fair skin glow with dawn.

Handel didn’t take much time to look at her. From her desk he took a felt-tip pen and wrote his number on her arm. She stirred slightly, giving the last number 2 an oddly angled tail. Before leaving, he left his tie draped on the back of her chair. If he had interested her while at the bar (and if she could remember it), she would want to meet up to at least return his tie. And if he hadn’t or she didn’t? Well, there were other ties in the world.

This was the first time I wrote about a character named Handel, who no longer resembles anything represented in this short vignette.

Vignette: City love

Her love for her city had always lied dormant and deep, buried in her core like the marrow in her bones. But then she found him in the city’s chaos, and that marrow had bloated and broken its bony shell to become a blush illuminating her cheeks like the rosy sunrise over the lake.

Chicago northside skyline at dusk

Poem: Time on his arm

He wears time on his arm
Literally, artisically, devotedly.
Not as a watch that slips on and off,
Slows down and speeds up,
Inexplicably stops one day
(it just needs a new battery…or maybe a repair shop).

No, he’s got Dali clocks under his skin.
Minute hands, hour hands, Roman numerals
Tangle among flies and flowers and dreams,
And tie together with vines that bind around his forearm.
A permanent reminder that time is impermanent.

So how funny is it
That whenever that surrealism-swathed arm
Wraps itself around my waist,
Offers itself as we walk down the street,
Extends to hand me a drink
Or reassuringly squeeze my knee,
Time seems to stands still.

(Or at least I wish it would.)

 

Vignette: “Let’s play a game”

“Let’s play a game,” she said. She had worn the right dress for this — the blue cotton one with buttons down the front, a tie around the middle, and a hem too high to be office-appropriate.

He smiled, leaning back on the bed and licking his lips at the thought of what might be coming. She was something in this light, in this heat. In heat, in general.

“I ask a question, and you answer it. If I think you’re being honest, I’ll undo a button.”

All he could think about was what might be under the dress. All she could think about was how much she wanted to pull the thong out from between her asscheeks and itch under the lace of the bustier she was wearing.

“Sure,” he said, not even asking what kind of questions they might be.

“Favorite place you’ve ever been?”

“Turkey,” he said. “You asked me that on our first date.”

“I asked you about your favorite place that you traveled to,” she said, hiding how impressed she was that he remembered one of her mundane ice-breaker questions. “Favorite place in general.”

“Is it pandering if I say ‘right here, right now, with you?'”

“It won’t earn you a button.”

“Then I’d probably say in the garage, working on my dad’s car with him when I was a kid. We’d spend weekends restoring this old T-Bird he bought for $500 from some guy in Fresno.”

She smiled at the thought of him smudged with grease and handing tools to his father, half submerged under an old Thunderbird. Then she cleared the thought of him as a child out of her head while she undid the second-to-top button of her dress.

“What, not going in order?” he asked, hoping the gap would give him a peak at her skin.

“My game, my rules. What are you scared of the most?”

“Snakes,” he said. “You know, wild ones. Pets are fine.”

“OK, Indiana Jones,” she said, undoing another button, this one at the bottom of the dress.

They continued like this for nine more questions until only one button — the one just below her breasts that kept it all together — was left.

Here it was, the point that she both feared and couldn’t wait to get to. The reason she suggested the game in the first place. She let his eyes scan up and down her torso, taking in what he could see of the black lace bustier and matching underwear. When they finally landed at the light pink bow now visible between the edges of her dress, she asked the final question.

“Do you love me?”

The way his twisting, falling stomach somehow echoed in his face told her that he had lied in his answer to the second question.

 

 

 

Poem: My morning

I want so much
To tell you about my morning.

I woke up looking at you,
Feeling your breath rise and fall
Through the mattress.
And then I pried myself out of bed,
Laced up my running shoes,
And let my feet carry me as far away from you
As my heart didn’t want to go.

Meaning I got to the elevator.
No, the front door.
Then you let out this snore that meant
You’d still be there, asleep, when I got back,
So I let myself step out and onto the sidewalk.

Every other runner tries to dodge the waves
Lapping up on the path,
As if they’re trying to avoid a starving monster.
I like splashing through them.
They only want to come play, too.
So whatever clings to my sneakers and holds on,
I’m happy to take with me.

I went three miles before my lungs were on fire,
Then turned around.
Ran another and walked another.
And ended up at the beach.
Our beach.
The one with the small cafe that’s open for odd hours
And serves margaritas on the rocks without salt,
Just the way you like them.

From there I can see our house.
It’s not much, but it’s home.
Home, sweet home.
Mi casa es su casa.
Insert cliche here.

And I imagined you sleeping there,
Lungs expanding and contracting,
Not burning up like mine.
Skin cool and caressed by the linen,
Not gritty with salt and red with sweat like mine.
Brain preoccupied with dreams of her,
Not thoughts of you,
Like mine.

There was a butterfly buried in the sand,
A victim of the playful waves that just wanted to feel
What wings were like
And crushed them in their wake.
The same way I feared my love
Had crushed you.

Except it wasn’t sand that you buried yourself in.
It was a misery that you named after me
Then a woman you knew before me
And will know after me, too.

Because when I came back,
Gritty from salt,
Dusty from sand,
One hand cupped around a broken, buried butterfly
That I wanted to use to show you I finally understood,
And my other hand turning the doorknob,

You were gone.

Monarch butterfly partially buried in sand

Butterfly buried in sand, as found at Ohio Street Beach in Chicago on July 7.

 

Short story: Septimus

I don’t mean to sound like Hemingway when I tell this story, but he got it right when it came to war. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that war is the death of love and the absence of decency.

Evanna and I were very much in love. That’s not her real name, of course, but even though she’s gone, I don’t want to betray her memory. We met in bootcamp before being shipped out. If she told this story, she would say it was sunny and warm — one of those all-American days where everyone has a hot dog in one hand and a slice of watermelon in the other. But I’m telling it, and I’ll say it was a downpour day, where the mud swallows your boots whole and the rain soaks right through your fatigues so you feel like you’re swimming rather than marching through the compound. Squelch, squelch.

We didn’t know what was in store, and at that moment, we didn’t care. Evanna — Evie, I’ll call her, because that fits her personality far better — Evie and I locked eyes and never once looked away. Of course, we couldn’t tell anyone. It wasn’t allowed anymore by the time we joined the ranks. I heard it was once, but that was long ago before I was born. Before Evie was born.

Still, there were nights where the explosion of nearby fire fights were our lullaby and the shouts of our fellow women crooned us into a frenzy. Those were the nights our hands would touch while we were sleeping in our beds — our separate beds. Just that little bit of contact, that little bit of intimacy, was enough to get us through the most chaotic nights.

We weren’t always the ones in the tent those nights. I remember, God love her, Evie bringing me a Styrofoam mug of hot cocoa one night when I had watch duty.

“It’s the desert,” I said when she handed it to me. “It’s 95 degrees and I’m in full combat fatigues.” The last thing I needed was a hot beverage. But Evie knew that.

“I wanted to give you a little comfort, you dope,” she said, sarcastically frustrated. That was something about Evie; she had the patience of a lamb but the wit of wolf.

I looked down into the cup of instant cocoa and see little clumps of pink and blue goo floating on top.

“What the hell is that?” I asked, playing along in our game of mock annoyance.

“We didn’t have real marshmallows, so I raided the Lucky Charms,” she said. “It might not be perfect, but it’s hot cocoa. It’s comfort.”

So we sat in the dirt together, taking hits from the hot chocolate and avoiding sporadic hits from enemy artillery and hiding our embracing hands under the sniper rifle I had trained on the horizon.

No one caught on, much to our surprise. If they did, they never said anything. The women in our unit were good people. Except for Babs; she had a mean streak wider than Midcountry. It didn’t stop her from being a good soldier, though. She saved Evie once from a landmine. Sometimes I wish she hadn’t. It might have spared Evie from what eventually did happen to her.

On the dawn of our last day on tour, a dozen or so insurgents stumbled upon our camp. You could tell they didn’t intend to fight, but what else could they do when we had already started shooting? Evie was out behind the tent, doing her tai chi or whatever she did at sunrise every day. When Babs fired the first round, Evie snapped to action. Unfortunately, she had sacrificed protection for flexibility and had left her Kevlar vest and helmet in the tent that was now on fire from a grenade.

There was nowhere for her to run, so she found me. I covered her in a makeshift foxhole we dug in the sand, sheltering her under my body as I shot into the desert. We were down to three insurgents when a grenade landed in the foxhole with us. God bless us, it didn’t go off, but it gave us the fright of our life and we scrambled out, right into the line of fire.

We somehow evaded the AK-47s, but it wasn’t the end. Someone yelled that the enemy was down to one, but he was somewhere out there, hiding or running away. After almost 20 minutes of staying low — Evie and I had found refuge between two supply crates and the mess tent wall — we started to come out of hiding. Foolish us, we thought the enemy had run off; there was no sign of movement.

“We lucked out,” said Evie, smiling. “I guess we’ve got good karma, because we really lucked out.”

“Thanks to all that Buddhist stuff you do,” I replied. “You know, your tai chi outfit almost got you killed.”

“’Almost’ being the operative word,” she smiled. “But you saved me. You really did.”

Knowing we were still in the confines of the crates, she leaned in to kiss me, something that we had done a lot of the night before after the raging party our bunkmates had thrown for us. In fact, we had gone a little far the night before; it was pure serendipity that no one walked around the back of the mess tent.

At precisely the moment her lips were half an inch from mine, the last insurgent resurfaced and decided to fire of another round.

It hit Evie in the side of her head.

There wasn’t much that we could do other than get her to the nearest hospital. The man who shot her was long gone, using the scramble to get her to safety to run away. That’s what we could all guess.

That was before they removed the slug engraved with Omni-Corp’s logo from her cheekbone, which had shattered, bone fragments and shards slicing her sinuses and nerves to bits.

So when you ask why I’m here, I guess it’s because of that. Omni-Corp killed Evie. It wasn’t the bullet or the blood loss — although the surgery almost did kill her. It was when the doctors found traces of me all over her body from the night before, our last night together, and knew exactly why Omni-Corp had sent out a sniper to take care of one of their finest. And because the doctors were obligated to put it in the report, I was brought in for questioning and tortured until I admitted that Evie hadn’t just borrowed my clothes. That we were not only comrades in arms but also comrades in the arms of each other.

When Evie’s reconstruction surgery was complete, they didn’t let me see her. I wasn’t even allowed in the hospital. After my interrogation, my injuries were critical, but they sent me an hour away to a different hospital to get cleaned up. Our squadron was forbidden from speaking to either of us. We were both discharged from the service, but almost a year apart so we wouldn’t find each other on the boat back home.

I found out about Evie’s death by complete accident. My mother had died, and I was at her funeral when I saw a headstone bearing Evie’s last name, which was rather unique. Two men were at it, and I asked if either of them knew her. Just from the way one put his hands in his pockets, as if trying to stuff a memory away out of sight and mind, I knew.

She was buried on the coast after “complications related to her injuries” had killed her. Complications, I learned later, that involved a long rope and an overturned footstool.

Since then, I’ve tried to be like Evie, looking at the sunny side of the rain cloud, but I’ve failed. The human race is one fucked up bunch of animals; love this way, don’t love that way. I guess that’s why I go by the nickname ‘Septimus’ from that Virginia Woolf book; after his friend, his other half, died in the terrors of war, Septimus didn’t have any hope left. I have no hope, but I keep trying to get some. Maybe one day I’ll be able to rejoin the human race and not see them as vile and dictating. In the meantime, I still drink cocoa with Lucky Charms marshmallows on hot days because I need to know things might get better. I need that comfort.

Vignette: “Promise me”

“Promise me just one thing,” she said over the crunch of Pringles between his teeth. She waited for the swallow, the contemplation over eating another.

Then she took advantage of the way his heart was facing her as he reached for the tube to strike it with her arrow:

“When you’re done with me, please tell me in no uncertain terms.”

Blink, and you would have missed the micro-hesitation of the chip en route to his mouth as he was forced to consume her words first.

“Why do you think I’d be done with you?” He asked, popping the Pringle in his mouth and letting it rest there. He waited for it to get soggy, except her request had left his mouth dry. How did she know that he knew he couldn’t let go, long after his hands had given out? It was like the cliff side of her had formed itself like handcuffs around his wrists, refusing to yield no matter how hard he tried to wrench free.

#NaNoWriMo2017 Day 3: “Like a Fish”

Martini at the Drifter, a speakeasy in downtown Chicago

The Drifter is one of Chicago’s oldest operating speakeasies and a favorite place to catch a 15-minute act, order a cocktail from a deck of tarot cards and fall head-over-heels into candlelit inspiration.

“Any vices?” he absentmindedly flirted.

“Fuck yeah,” she smiled into her martini. “I drink like a sailor and swear like a fish.”

And he fell madly in love.