Writerly Concerns – That Show/Tell Thing Again

It was asked here by Anonymole (and all over everywhere) when to show and when to tell. I can’t answer that, directly, but I have a few ideas. First, and this is critical to making the show/tell judgment call, here is an excerpt from Charles Ardai’s Afterword for James M. Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress. (The book discovered, edited and published by Ardai.) This is lifted out of context but hits the nail on the head.

“It’s the inherent contradiction in any work of fiction, the one we all conveniently ignore each time we sit down to enjoy a novel: Can we believe what this narrator is telling us? Well, no, of course not – it’s all lies, it’s all made up, that’s what fiction is. But within the fiction, you say, if we imagine ourselves inhabitants of the characters’ world instead of our own, can we believe what we’re being told then…?”

Credibility. With any audience, we need to judge when they will keep their suspension of disbelief going and hang with us, and when they will pull up and say, “Whoa, now. Really?” Here are a few thoughts about show vs. tell.

Ease up on the Minutia – An editor once told me that we don’t need to take every step of every day with the characters. We need to see them in their environment and show them in conversation and interaction with other characters when it matters. Telling is often scene setting, or setting up an important conversation or event. Janie brushed her teeth, threw on her clothes, picked up a drive-through coffee and made it to X in twenty minutes. We don’t need to stand there with her while the toothbrush timer runs down, button her blouse or select shoes (unless we’re showing some character) we need to get her and her hurried state of mind to the next show by getting the basics told.

Ass-U-Me – We might understand something physical or conceptual and ass-u-me the readers do as well. If a doohickey has a name, and only the fifteen people you work with know what it is, either tell what it is (if it’s mandatory to the story), show the doohickey by character interaction, (M in Bond) or drop it. The way Hans Solo used sci-fi slang to sell the speed of his ship in the original Star Wars always drove me nuts. But he glossed over it, the people at the table bought it, so we let it go and ass-u-me whatever the hell he said, it meant fast and he was some kind of hot dog space jockey to pull it off. Great generic transplantable bar scene, though, in spite of the gratuitous techno-babble.

Weather, battles, travel and digressions – If the weather matters, or turns into an antagonist/protagonist, get into it if you must. Otherwise, conditions if they matter told. Think of the intros to Dragnet. Do we really need to know it was a hot and muggy/wet and cold day in Los Angeles when it never really mattered to the ensuing story?
Battles and fight scenes are an either/or. Jim kicked Bob’s ass. Told. Extended blow by blow of Jim kicking Bob’s ass. Shown. Make the call. Do we need to see it, or is it enough to know it happened?
If a journey matters, show it. If not, tell it. Think Huck Finn on the River. “Me and this black dude named Jim, we got up to all sorts of stuff. The End.” No way. How about the Bible? Woops, Jesus is 12. Man, that went by fast. And now he’s 30 something! But those are the story markers. Why waste time on The Messiah helping Joe build furniture and go to Messiah school? TV and all genres of fiction (okay, leave Eco out) do this all the time. Example – “Springtime was cold and muddy in Colorado, which made Texas look pretty good. By early summer a gambler in Galveston had taken his horse and saddle, newspapering didn’t appeal to him, so he thought he’d try doctoring for a spell.” Now we could watch “him” lose the horse and saddle in the poker game, that would be fun, or it needs to come out in a backstory/catch up convo with a bartender or a “saloon girl nurse” so we get the character’s side of it, not ours, but we don’t need to ride across Texas with him if it’s just a ride and campfire trip. And the audience has been primed to accept those things. Ever see or read about a cowboy getting off his horse for a potty break?
Digressions, into characters’ minds or daydreams or god forbid lengthy postmodernism authors and their mindset and philosophy and opinions and preaching ad nauseum. Or endless architecture, seasonal weather, travelogue and set decorating ramblings. Moby Dick and whaling how-to. That is all us  telling and we often need an outside opinion to point it out and defend it or let it go. In Cain’s book mentioned above his digressions into weather and architecture got cut as they did nothing for the story and weren’t in sync with his style. But – in another genre, another style? Judgment call.

Bottom line for show/tell is what happens to characters that we can dispense with and what do we need to show. Test – can you sell it without selling the story short.

Some authors can’t. Every gadget, every garden, the smell of leather and horse and…I prefer people to things, and if properly done we don’t need owners’ manuals for things in stories. Look how easily we accepted Warp Speed or salt shakers as stun guns or scanning wands in Star Trek. There are those who would invent a language for aliens. Roddenberry did not. Nor did he explain his dystopia. It was Bonanza in space. Dress the set, get to the people. Tell, show. This a classic chapter/scene set up since forever. Where are we, and…Action.

Which brings me to: why don’t a lot of (burgeoning) writers like dialog? Ask yourself that. Don’t like people? Aren’t comfortable talking? Can’t hear them in your head? Don’t know how the conversation should go? While you’re at it, ask yourself this: do you buy the leap you’re asking your readers to take by being so uninvolved with your characters? (telling). I faced this in Affable. I wanted Jackson out of the dump he’d landed in for several reasons. How? One line, two? Whatever, is it believable? “Oh my, Jackson is suddenly wearing a tux vest and ponytail playing in a piano bar off the strip and is also the houseboy for the I Felta Thi sorority of upscale hookers. Because they liked him.”

What? Why? How? In a movie it could have been some quick cut soft focus double exposure layers, girls at the dive, Jackson playing, laughing, girls hustling the talent guy, girls at the gas station, BAM. I didn’t have that luxury, nor did I buy it at two or four lines. A chance to reinforce Vegas without a travelogue, put up some strong, independent female characters (important for tone), lots of visual language, some foreshadowing. I could have gone over the top with damp carpet smells, told more scene setting, more sideline character development, bumped my word count, but why? Or simply told the whole thing. Divergence should have a purpose. Credibility and putting Jackson in a position for what’s next. For what’s next to be credible we needed to see it. I needed to see it. I couldn’t have told Savannah as vehicle and persona or Jackson’s improved caste half as well as showing it.

In the next chapter of THG3 I gloss over something that an erotic writer would have been all over for a couple of pages. So what’s important varies by genre. Regardless, credibility and stylistic consistency are the show vs. tell litmus tests. I got that straight from the editor’s mouth.

Advertisements

Looney Lunes #140

This Explains Everything

HALF OF U.S. HIGH SCHOOLS
REQUIRE SOME STUDY
FOR GRADUATION
headline – Los Angeles Times

I’m not taking sides, but that right there explains the current political situation

THG3 – Ch 17 – Affable

Regardless of their price range hookers talk, and it spreads like wildfire. From tricks that are dangerous to what hotels are hot. Word came up from the bottom about the space case kid piano player at the Sea Wind, a place upscale girls wouldn’t work, but a few came to see him off the clock. The kid was funny, didn’t talk hooker smack or ask for favors when he found out who they were. Instead he asked for their favorite songs and sent them off to dreamland low and slow. It was apparent he wasn’t new to after midnight, or how to hang with the late night off work crowd. After they’d taken him to a few two AM breakfasts just to see who he was off the piano bench and found themselves spending too much time at the Sea Wind they went looking for a way to move him.

The tall platinum blonde wasn’t gaudy, but her presence was commanding. Marilyn Monroe as PTA mom, only five-ten without the heels. Cool, aloof, big blue eyes that missed nothing, gave nothing away under often sarcastically expressive eyebrows. Her left hip, parked on the red leather stool that matched her lipstick put her a head taller than Franklin the “bartender”, a short, stocky man with a square head, wiry salt and pepper hair, perpetual five o’clock shadow. A retired enforcer, tenacious, once upon a time dangerous, Franklin managed not-main-room talent and other aspects of a few square blocks of Vegas “entertainment”. He squinted unenthusiastically between the blonde and the polaroid on the bar, the diamonds in his cufflinks sparkled in the dark room like wrist-worn disco balls.

“Sheesh, Savannah…I dunno.” He rubbed his thick neck with a thick hand. “I got these creeps out the wazoo.”

“Billy Joel wannabes, basket case temperamental classicals can’t find work, drunk ex big band sidemen, unemployed music directors waiting on the next has-been to sell out and move to town. Frankie’s carousel of the unreliable and unwanted.” He raised his eyes to hers out of habit to see if there was any insult in what she’d said.

Affable, Savannah. Affable. I hadda look that word up. Know why? ‘Cause Johnny used it all the time to say what he wanted in no-name talent that puts face on the Lost Wages foot traffic. And they’re my unreliable, affable piano players. The shtick is affable. My people know that. Besides,” a big shrug that got a head tilt involved, “somebody misses a shift, nobody misses them, I pay myself.”

“This town is too full of invisible smiles as it is. Do something real for a change. You said yourself what you have in the stable doesn’t work everywhere. Too busy, too flirty, too drunk, too –”

Loud. Everybody is too goddam loud. In the city? Back there you could a find a place, y’know, a quiet place. Somebody there knew how to play piano or maybe some jazz guitar. Somebody understood intimacy. Nobody in this town understands intimacy, that’s what Johnny says. Now…” His big fingers drummed on the bar hard enough to rattle the hostess’ drink garnish tray. “Okay, maybe loud I can do without somewhere and I got nobody.” He looked down the bar at the half dozen top shelf women lined up in silent support of Savannah’s pitch. “Good Golly Miss Molly, I need to meet this kid.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Okay, wiseacre. Where do I put him?”

“The piano in front of the Stiletto has had a cover on it for over a year.”

He checked both ways, leaned into her space like he was letting go of a secret. “People do business in the Stiletto, woman. Johnny’s girlfriend lives in a suite at that hotel and hits all the talent. I can’t put somebody I don’t know in there, somebody that don’t know the rules.”

“Those people leave their women standing around, reading three-month-old magazines in the lobby and looking like a herd of stupid hookers to the cheapskate tourists in that restaurant. Get some plush chairs and cocktail tables out of storage, put them and a cute, affable fag waiter in the anteroom, you have our word the kid will make them happy. Men like their women happy when they’re finished with their other business.” She edged the polaroid closer with a fingernail. “Don’t they?”

Aunty-room?”

“The big dead space full of dusty palms and ratty bamboo and the leaky roof wastebasket stash between the restaurant and the lounge, Lumpo.”

“Ida broke your nose for that ten years ago.”

“Ida cut your intestines out and fed them to you right after. I have other options, I came to you first. Going once…”

“Awright.” He scowled at the picture. “Johnny’s girl’s been putting him on a bitch lately about the Aunty-room lookin’ like that in her lobby anyways.” He blew his nose on a bar napkin, tossed it over his shoulder. “Can you do something about the hair for me? You know how those guys get about hippies and niggers, no matter how good they play.”

“Ponytail?”

“Ponytail is good. Heard Johnny’s girl say she liked that Paul Revere’s Paraders show. Broad can call a bucket of shit a vase of roses and sell it to Johnny, ponytail’s no problem. Kid has any decent bullshit at all, keeps it low key and knows his place, don’t talk politics… It could work.”

“Raiders, Lumpo. Paul Revere and the Raiders.” She twirled the polaoid with her fingernail, a sly smile sneaked out. “I can just see Johnny in a George Washington get up, dancer tights, three-way hat and a powdery ponytail. High heel boots, maybe. You?”

“What Johnny gets up to with that broad ain’t any of my – an stop callin’ me –” He caught her eyebrows, eyes.  “Goddammit Savannah, I’m workin’ with you here. Put a lid on fuckin’ with me, will ya? All you damn women these days… What happened to hookers with some respect?”

“Same thing that happened to broken noses.”

“Fuck a duck…” He followed a long pause with a sigh and a deeper, arms flexed lean into the bar. “Tomorrow, four-thirty, the Stiletto. I’ll have the Aunty-room set up, dust the palms, get the piano tuned. You gotta get Johnny’s squeeze in on this, figure the decorating.” He made a few notes on a bar napkin, stuffed it in his vest pocket. “Lotta goddam work. Your little darlin’ better be right, ladies.” He peered down the bar again, eyebrows knitted together. “All I’m gonna say.”

***

Savannah and a shorter, sun freckled brunette of the same ilk snaked from a red SEL convertible they parked in front of Michael’s cold Coke box, blocking the drive. They helped themselves, gave him a ten, stated their business and waited.

Michael knocked on the window of Jackson’s car in the service bay. When the window came down he blurted “Coupla put your lights out babes…and dude I mean,” looking over his shoulder, “lights fucking out. Wanna talk to you.”

After a brief conversation with the “lights out babes” Jackson backed his car out of Michael’s garage and followed them across town to a two-bedroom apartment on the new, far west side where he was told seven working girls rotated in and out, took showers, changed clothes. Savannah handed him the key at the foot of the iron railed stairs.

“None of them live here, the smaller bedroom is yours.” She tilted her head slighty toward her friend. “Paris you know. The rest are taking you on faith. Keep the place clean, do their laundry or anything else they ask, don’t be any kind of retard with a hard on.” She opened the door of the red SEL, shifted her gum to the side. “Do us right on this, Junior. In this town friends are hard to come by and enemies are hard to lose.” He watched them drive away, sixteen again, Marcus admonishing him to do them right on a lounge piano gig full of big-time politicians as an indirect favor to Amanda Morisé. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. ‘Don’t be that guy. Do us right’.

He took the cash Savannah had given him, followed his instructions to buy a blouse-y white shirt, a black vest and pants, run them through a one-hour dry cleaners and be at the Stiletto a couple of blocks off the strip by four-thirty. And don’t forget the black ribbon for his Paul Revere ponytail.

***

“He doesn’t play any real music. Not that I recognize.”

“You have to listen, he doesn’t run over you with it. That’s Moon River, Johnny baby. I asked him to play it just for you.”

He listened, found the melody at last, sipped his drink. “He knows me already?”

“For a friend, I said. He’s a doll. Look around.” The dead yesterday anteroom had become the pre-lounge for the Stiletto. “Businessmen” enveloped in darkness through the Stiletto’s oak door left behind women, some theirs, some rented, a lightweight movie starlet or two all talking, smoking, drinking, laughing over inside jokes, bumping desert sun-kissed bare arms, jangling bracelets, looking over their shoulders to see if they were being seen. Mixed in with a few tourists and mid-range double knit sport coat gamblers exiting the restaurant it was an oasis in the desert between the rattle of slot machines and dishes and the off-limits inner sanctum.

“Frank tells me this was all his idea, like a present to get the Tarzan and Sambo shit out of here for me.” He nodded, smiled, lifted a glass to someone. “Looks like it cost too much. Tell me what you hear.”

“Savannah brought it to him. Frankie called me last night, asked what we’d like to see in here.”

“We? You and Frank and that mouthy whore did this?”

“Careful, she’s a friend and we did it on the cheap. Frankie got the chairs I wanted out of the old Montrose, had a crew steaming them all night. Savannah and I found the cut glass vases and ashtrays in a box in the poker room and I ordered the flowers.”

“You shouldn’t be friends with or be seen running around town with that whore thinks her shit doesn’t stink. Keep it up with her and I’ll see she has to move.”

“Do that.” Her turn to smile, lift a hand off his arm in acknowledgement. “They’ll find you with a .25 caliber hole in your heart and your dick in your mouth.”

“How, in some crazy dream world, do you see that happening?”

“A man with a hardon and his pants down is the easiest target there is, Johnny. You know we’re the ones really make it all go,” she tugged on his tie, smoothed it back, stepped in so he could feel her breath, “and we’re the only ones who can get close enough.” She smiled, turned away, chirpy. “This keeps up I’ll just have to order new carpet.”

THG 3 – Ch 16 (2) – Shit Grenade

This wraps the broken window nude modeling episode. The short story version of the last two days is here. Further commentary will be a Writerly Concerns. Like Chick Fil A, we’ll be closed on Sunday.

Cambridge, U.K. / Closing in on 1 AM Thursday June 21, 1979

“No ma’am. Really. I mean it, I didn’t ‘fancy’ him. At all.” Deanna had been through the interview three times and wanted to go home. Before the sun came up. She leaned her head next to the police woman’s and lowered her voice. “He’s got a big butt, for a guy. You know? I don’t know about you, but my dream guy isn’t shaped like a pear.”

The WPC taking Deanna’s statement snorted into the back of her hand so hard she dropped her pen. “Very well. You’re not being formally charged with anything, Miss Collings. If you change your mind you might still give us a ring about him.” She handed Deanna her card, looked at Michael and over at the Officer in Charge who nodded. “Pick up your things, Miss Collings. You may go. Mind you, quietly.

Deanna shouldered her way around the swearing and demonstrative arm waving red-faced lorry driver whose windscreen had gotten smashed when the easel dropped into the street and two bored uniformed policemen and on past a no-nonsense looking man in a lightweight tan jacket, leaning a shoulder against the door jamb. He reminded her of someone, vaguely. Seen him around, somewhere? Maybe?

Michael said “Good night” again, this time to the police contingent, found himself alone with the no-nonsense man who had volunteered to help tape cardboard over the broken window.

No-nonsense used his teeth to tear a piece of duct tape from the roll he was holding, held it up to the wall while Michael pushed the cardboard into place. “Busy night for an art teacher.”

“Bloody stupid, skinny fucking cow. Forty pounds to stand about naked, not a thank you of any kind. And I’m done for the window.”

“Insurance will have the lorry’s windscreen, Cambridge city fathers will have this all under the rug to keep you from being the big bad wolf on their payroll, unless there’s a cop with their hand out to the morning press. All’s fair. Off light I’d say, for chasing a lass, drawers around your ankles and all, who wasn’t up for being your Wednesday’s casual. I’ll have the film roll, if you don’t mind.”

“You’ll be?”

“Meyers.” He ran the strip of tape down the side of the cardboard in a quick, smooth motion.

“Well, Meyers,” Michael held the right side of the cardboard up, watched his helper eyeball and tear the tape a perfect length and swipe it across the top in the same smooth motion. “I do mind. I shot it, it’s mine and I’ll have my forty again and more out of her, one way or another.”

“Or…One way or another I’ll have the film. Day’s end, Michael? This window was all of yours needed breaking on a Cambridge summer’s eve.”

Michael took in Meyers out of the corner of an artist’s trained eye. A deceptively offhand, non-chalant, Marlboro man sort. Sandy hair, hard, gray eyes that could have come from Michelangelo’s David set in an outdoorsy tanned face and whose deft economies of movement snapped him to the fact that nude photos of the girl, and some possible extra income from them, weren’t worth a trip to the emergency room. They swapped out holding the cardboard and Michael took a couple of steps to a cluttered desk where he rummaged around, located his camera, popped the film and tossed it to Meyers. “She was just another nude model who turned out to be a bit of bad idea. Who is she to you?”

“I’m told someone across the pond has concerns. Wasn’t sure I wanted the job, seemed like babysitting.” The film disappeared into Meyers’ pocket. “That said,” he tore another piece of tape with his teeth, offered it with a mildly amused expression. “She appears to be a girl who can turn a bit of bad idea into a right shit grenade, eh? Tape?”

THG 3 – Ch 16 – Knackered Mop

Cambridge U.K., Tuesday, June 5th, 1979

“…S…O…”

“You’ll forgive me?”

Deanna flinched, opened her eyes and noticed immediately that he was different. Older. Confident, laid back. A touch of somewhere European in his voice. Funny, baggy clothes and paint splattered vest. His goatee was trimmed but he needed a shave, his eyes deep brown under unruly eyebrows and more unruly bangs that turned into a thin ponytail that flicked to the front of his shoulder when he looked at her.

“A phonetic aberration of Pooh sticks?”

“…N. No.” She watched her last petal float toward the water of the river Cam. “I drop the letters of names. Like they’re attached to the flower petals. Or sometimes, don’t tell anyone, I use pieces of paper. Not big ones. It’s like making a wish and he loves me, he loves me not, all together. Only he always does…Love me, I mean, because it’s seven letters and I start with ‘loves me’. I guess it isn’t like that part at all, is it? If he always does.”

“Just a wish then?” He’d already gotten more answer than he wanted. He pulled a white flower that said stolen from a garden mum from behind his back, held it out over the railing and rubbed it briskly between his palms. A shower of petals kissed the water and disappeared. “More the merrier to help yours on their way. I have a wish.”

“I’ll bet you do. I’m not going to wash your, um,” here were those stupid wrong English words for everything, “vest for you. It might be pointless. I don’t think all that paint will come out. I mean ever.” She pulled back a touch. “And I don’t really have time for anything else. Any thing else.”

“A painter’s vest is his history. When I’ve forgotten what paint belonged to which project I clip out the best parts, put them in tiny frames with bigger prices for the English’s come meet an artist weekend boot sale at a country estate and buy a new one with the proceeds.” He held his thumb and forefinger the width of a piece of paper apart. “And there is a wee small something else.” He looked at her, curiously. “Michael.”

“You or me? Michael, I mean?”

He shook lightly with a contained laugh, nodded at her bag full of poetry and literature books. “A sense of humor is a must if you’re going to fill your head with that.” He seemed to sigh, or maybe it was an even lighter version of the laugh. “I shant ridicule. Art is the wordless man’s literature. Stories bound by a frame, not cloth or leather.”

“There was Blake. He did both. And —”

“From the Greeks to Lyrical Abstraction there have been artists who expose more than one creative facet. Yeats painted to send his mind out to the cleaners. Cummings painted as if Van Gogh spilled paint on a wet Picasso. Morris, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, all the Pre-Raphs got up to everything they could lay hands to. The Twentieth Century is full of them. Vonnegut, Plath, Michaux, Lorca, Cummings again. The tip of the iceberg. The modern pop-art lot believe that all creative outlets belong to them and we’d damn well better pay attention, even if it’s no more than varnished shit in a biscuit tin or a whistle that blows itself. I’ve even been told Sinatra paints.” He leaned both arms on the bridge rail, looked like a relaxed bag of laundry in paint splattered work boots. “Bring musicians into this conversation and we could go on for days.”

Deanna had scrambled to dig a steno pad out of her bag while he talked. “No. Do. Go on, I mean. No! I meant not go on on, like leave or anything, but who did you say?”

“Writer’s who paint are legion. Put the pen away. Pick a century, or an era you fancy, ask an art librarian, not one of yours.”

“Okay. Wow. I will. Thank you, really. I love connections, you know, because core concepts and symbolism, like feminism? They’re spread all across the curriculum, especially in the arts and since —”

“You can thank me by granting my wish.” He remained relaxed, not pushy. Interrupting. A lot. But not pushy.

“Oh? I don’t know…I’m not a genie. Or a pickup whore. So I —”

“Feminist symbolism says you’ve a modern girl’s mind. Your look as well. Thin, pale. Your hair is a bit of a…Statement. All of you creates a…” His pause full of appraisal, hands a foot away from her body on either side, moving up and down. “A uniquely attractive…Surprise?”

“Do you think so? Really?” She bounced her hair with her hand and made a face. “I kind of, well I —”

“What I think, really, is that you would be a perfect change-up to model for a pensioners art class I direct.” He reached out with both hands again, fluffed her shortish jagged layers of hair, tilted his head, looked at her like her mom used to look at curtains or dresses. “Two sessions. An hour and half each. Forty pounds for all. Mm?”

Forty pounds? To let old people paint pictures of me? No shit?”

“You. No shit.” He kept leaning his head, looking at her from different angles.

“Cool! And can we talk, maybe? After? You and I? About art and symbolism and —”

“Yes. Fine. Wednesday a week. Seven-thirty.” He handed her a card. “Come more than a few early, if you don’t mind. Lay of the land and all that.”

She glanced at the card, had no idea where the address was, but she’d find it. “You’re a real artist? With your own studio and everything?”

“I am a real art instructor and lecturer with an old room in an old building furnished by city services where I tell my gran’s neighbor from the oldies home she’s the next Matisse. I occasionally take all their spectacles away and end up with a room full of Monet. You know my name. You are?”

“Deanna. Collings. Collings! Just like you! Except I’m not from here. Well, I am. Now. But, well —”

“I never would have guessed. Miss? It is Miss? Good. Miss Deanna Collings.” He took her hand, gave it a light squeeze. His hands were rougher than she’d imagined. But he did frames and stuff, probably.

“Do you make —”

Michael Collings, Miss Collings. It has been my pleasure. You have an honest face and a sympathetic surname, I’m going to trust you.” He handed her two folded twenty pound notes, looked her in the eye. “Wednesday. Week. Not tomorrow. A week. And again a fortnight.” He raised his eyebrows in that “Got it?” sort of way.

“Okay. Not tomorrow. But a week from tomorrow. And two weeks from tomorrow.” He bowed, slightly, made a goofy sweeping gesture with his hand before he turned and sauntered off. He had kind of a wide butt, but he didn’t swagger or do the guy things with his shoulders or arms or the stoner shuffle or the jock walk. Straight ahead. Some guy, hands in the pockets of his baggy pants, his mind on something else, on to somewhere in such a casual and unusual for Cambridge no big hurry way. But seriously, the Michael guy was taking an extra butt with him. She giggled to herself while she stared at the card.

Michael Collings
Art Instruction
Personal and Commercial Environments
Design and Execution

An address somewhere in Cambridge and one of those long English phone numbers.

Kinda wordy, all that was missing was landscaping, but he probably had a couple of cards with that and more. Artists never made any money until they were dead, so he had to advertise everything he did wherever he could. Blake did that. She’d have to see Michael’s art to see if he’d be worth anything dead, though. Or alive. The goatee with paint flecks in it was gross like all beards. And he did have that kind of big butt which she never imagined artists like Blake having. At all. But forty pounds? Wow.

***

“What the fuck?” Deanna shook the satiny bathrobe Michael handed her when she’d set purse and down and taken off her jacket.

“Can’t have you spoil the illusion by in off the street to nude in front of everyone.” He put a hand between her shoulder blades and gave her a gentle shove toward a DIY four-panel room divider made of old doors. “Did you get my message about loose clothes, no bra, no panties?”

“Yes, but…” She spun around and had to walk backwards because he was right there and kept coming. “But I hate braless, all bouncing around and cold and everything. Unless I’m just home or something. And no panties? I mean how gross is that? I mean it, what the fuck, Michael?”

“Tight clothes and elastic leave lines where a discerning eye would rather none.”

“So? I’m not a nude model.”

He pulled one of the doors almost to the wall in front of himself to enclose her, stuck his head in. “You are tonight.”

“I am not! I don’t do the nudist thing. I did that once on accident water skiing and lost a sixty-dollar bikini. And six weeks of a summer with someone I was in luh…who was important.”

He pulled the screen panel open, stepped right into her face. “Shut it. Now. You took the forty. To model. What did you think they wanted to see? A skinny yank in out-sized clothes? You’ve nothing special to keep hidden away. On a right day you’re no more than a knackered mop stood on end.” His scowl intensified for a few seconds before it vanished when he heard the door. He checked the clock on the far wall. “They’ll be setting their places. Clothes or no clothes, on the stand or down the stairs, as you will. Six minutes.”

She peered through the cracks where the panels joined. Older than grandparents people, canvases of various sizes in hand, pulled easels from a cluster on the far wall. They way they sorted and picked it seemed they each had staked claim to their own. Along that wall and under the tall windows facing the street were worn, mid-thigh high wooden cabinets, eight inches wide at most. The tops served as window sills and a shelf for glass jars of all sizes from test tube to gallon. Some with brushes inside, tip up, some full of colored liquid, and between them what seemed like hundreds of brushes lined up on oil cloth and old towels.

At seven-thirty she stepped around the edge of the screen of doors in the satiny robe. Timid, frightened, shaking but determined. Knackered mop? Insulting her pride to get her naked? Another gamey asshole trick. Mother fuc—

She flashed the Miss Popularity smile that had momentarily resurfaced by necessity and stepped up onto a homemade riser covered in a worn out oriental rug and topped with a faded Victorian bench, facing the room, back to the windows. She slid out of the robe, one knee forward in a move she’d seen in one of Jackson’s old movies. Those stupid old movie afternoons of his had been good for something. Where was he? Godammit, she couldn’t smile like this all night, and big-bottom Michael needed to turn the heater up, something she mentioned through the smile. “Summer” in England was a lie. It rained a little less, there were green plants. The rest was still late fall in the real world.

***

A room full of male and female pensioners, Michael and one Dr. David Childs, Ph.D, had spent three enjoyable hours spread over two ninety-minute sessions with a too thin, starkly attractive, non-speaking naked young girl so frightened they could see it in her eyes. She’d presented them with a vulnerability rarely seen in nude models, something Michael had captured with a camera so that he could paint her himself when he had time, and pop out a few prints on the soft porn side to “friends.” Childs had logged that look as well.

Michael stuck his arm across the doorway, stopped David Childs in his tracks. With his right hand he waved a folded bill in David’s face.“No, David. The Fifty is for the ring to come and have a look. I’ll be needing the forty I’m out for getting her here.”

“You are aware of my delicate financial situation, Michael. Couldn’t we —”

“Ninety, David. Or I’ll call Lady Childs for it and your financial situation will indelicately vaporize.”

David counted out another forty pounds, slapped them into Michael’s outstretched hand. “Beastly excuse for a man you are.”

“Comes with the under compensated instructor’s crown, you know that well enough.” Michael folded the bills and shoved them in his front pocket. “I’ll let you know how she goes.”

David Childs’ eyes said bastard louder than he ever could. Or would. Michael hadn’t much dangerous going for him except an advantage in size, but if it came down to insults leading to blows David was even less. Pushing fifty but younger looking down to vanity and a private bathroom full of magic creams from the women’s counter at Boots. A full head of hair, distinguished touch of gray at the temples and practically invisible rimless glasses. Sallow, pale in an academic way, gone soft or never really been in shape, but a proper weight and dressed in suitable, casual professorial elegance by his wife. A man easily described by pulp novelists as a ‘milktoast’.

He’d had Deanna’s information from Michael, discovered in her records that she would be around at least two more years. He’d schedule her into his rotation at leisure. It might take him a year to work through his current list until she came up, but he would certainly find a place for her. Her hair and look. She’d be his little Bohemian rhapsody, something different than the overworked, over stressed, soft, pale, everyday school or party girls looking for a favorable letter from a distinguished chaired lecturer in their CV portfolios.

Michael broke their genteel version of Mexican standoff, ushered David out, said “Good Night” to his last pensioner and locked the door from the inside. Unlike Dr. Childs, he didn’t have patience, a title, wasn’t well married or have a list of girls to work his way through.

“Michael?” Deanna tossed the robe over the top of the screen in another old movie move. “Are we going to talk about the cross curriculum symbolism? I made some time for us, and a list.”

He unzipped his pants and shoved the room divider open. “Knob bob time best served before wordplay, Miss Collings. I’d ask to have at down below but that’s a right lion’s head you’ve got between your legs.” He reached for her and his pants hit his ankles. Hers were only halfway up when she let go of them to slide out the backside of the screen and shuffled to grab her purse, book bag and coat. Michael almost tripped backing out of the screen, and after two shuffle steps he grabbed the back of a chair, hop danced his feet out of captivity, lunged and caught her. She spun away from him but her feet, still bound by her jeans, didn’t follow. He caught her by the upper arm, dragged her to the riser and tossed her like a rag doll onto the ratty upholstered Victorian bench she’d modeled on. The good news was she’d lost the jeans along the way, the bad news was she bounced off the bench onto the riser, rolled to its edge feet first, and then off. She tried to stay up but her momentum, balance and sock feet were at cross purposes. In an effort to stay upright she clutched at an easel and when she knew it wasn’t going to work and she was on the way down, with or without it, she heaved the easel at one of the tall glass windows in the second story studio. The sound of the window shattering seemed to last for hours.

Michael picked her up, propped her on the riser. “Are you done?”

“Yes. No! I’m finished, not done. I’m not a fucking cake. Are you?”

“A cake? No, I’m not a bloody cake. Well done I am, thanks to you.” He looked through the hole where the window had been while he pulled on his baggy pants and reloaded his shirt tail. Deanna had never heard so many different emotions in the word “shit” before. Maybe it was an artist thing. She heard the not too distant doo-dah, doo-dah of British police car sirens approaching and said it herself.

THG 3 – Ch 15 – Sorry, Wrong Girl

Today I re-read THG3 1 as it sits in the can and decided the heck with it, here it comes, a chapter a day, slop and all. Duck.

Following in the “style” auditions thought, I tried out some epistolary as this all occurred before cell phones. There are a few times in THG 3 where, over three years, letters and packages play a part. But not, as I once envisioned, making up the bulk of it because I was lazy and after all one need research far less if the content is parked in letters home. I find the format confining and demanding, although it is how many famous historical relationships flourished and thrived. As a child of the second half of the 20th Century I folded. Too much work. Voices in dialogue, fine. Too many overeducated people in this tome for me to write all that properly.

Cambridge, U.K., May 1979

Dear Mom, (and Daddy). I can hear Amanda saying “Mother and Father. You are through with baby words, young lady.”

I’m sorry I don’t write as often as I thought I would. I write all the time, just not letters. ALL the time. Cat and Merriam and I worked it out that we use forty-two hours a day, between us. That’s girl hours for studying in one flat, on one day, in Cambridge. I always said school was school and I could handle it, but I never thought it could be like this. It’s the middle of Easter term and that means nothing because it seems like my individual studies run on forever, beyond the limits of term. Some days I feel they run on beyond my own limits. And the weather is miserable again for May.  I can see my breath.

I have finally had to take a few days off, that’s why I’m writing. The days off are because I had to go to the infirmary after an incident at the Red Door. That’s a pub. It’s not far away and kind of small and the food isn’t really food but nasty mush in a chicken pot pie crust with fat French fries and not very cold beer. You would say it was quaint, and tolerable if it was all there was and you hadn’t eaten in a week. Not like that gross shack where Jax took us all to eat monster barbecue when Doug had to get married and you didn’t want to get out of the car. I know you made dad get a map to that place from Jax after.

I don’t know how the infirmary works. I didn’t have to pay them anything, but if they send you a bill or something you’ll know it was me and I really went. It was all because I sent some letters and they came back after too long and I sort of lost it. You know me and beer and everything.

I’m studying things I’ve studied before, only in a different way. How they make us think about things, how they think about them. English literature. Where I am now it happened all around me. But it seems like a lot of people over here don’t even know what they have. First you have to be a Royalist, or not, then you can have a discussion. If you think the Queen is cool, then you hang out over here, and if you don’t you hang out over there and if you’re an anarchist or a socialist  you go somewhere else. If you’re an American and don’t care you have to say that out loud. So I have to say, “I don’t care about your bloody monarchy,” then they go “Oh the Yank lass, she’s alright,” and I can sit anywhere. Weird.

I miss you. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. All of the things I used to have. The little things I complained about I shouldn’t have. I have a sort of friend. He’s a not yet priest, or not yet Vicar I guess, and he told me I should face my darkest shadows with the most ferocity and that meant tell everyone I loved that I loved them instead of not wanting them to love me because it felt like this super monstrous responsibility and I just couldn’t be who they loved all the time. He said people who really loved me didn’t have those expectations or something. I couldn’t listen to him after a while because it took him forever to not be able to unscrew my furniture from the floor. So I love you, Mom. And Daddy, too. And even Doug. I’m sorry I’m such a big mess all the time.

If you ever talk to Mom Anne, if she knows, or you know, or if even Amanda knows where Jackson is, please tell them to tell him to write to me, or tell me where he is. I know I say the same things every time, but all I do is go to school.

Your Loving Daughter (really), Deanna

My Only Deanna,

I love you. I miss you. I worry constantly. I will never understand how you think or how you feel or how you imagine others feel but thank you, at long last, for trying. I sense there is more to “incident at a pub” and the infirmary and a few days off than you and your inability to drink beer. All I can say is please take care of yourself and let us us know how you are as often as time allows. Even the smallest notes mean so much.

I love you, and so does your “father” because you are part of us, not because we have to, or because you have to be a certain way for us. We were so lucky that you were beautiful and healthy and yes, more than a handful at times. Unlike Douglas who was a disaster from the moment of his birth. A physical, smart troublemaker always looking to shake things up. You were our perfectionist thinker with that smart troublemaker gene who wanted to shake things up the right way, who lost her heart somewhere and never told anyone how or why or what we could do to help you find it. Except my mother and she is gone. Yes, you have exerted your brand of mess as well as your brother. It’s different for girls. I know you want to change that entire scenario, but please, for all our sakes, remember how dangerous it is to be a female, even a smart one.

No one hears much from Jackson, including his mother. Anne told me that he had mentioned to her some time ago about possibly finishing school in California, possibly with you. That was the first I had heard of it. You are a long way from school in California, and as far as anyone knows, so is Jackson.

It would be in your best interest to apologize to your Ms. Morisé before inquiring anything of her. Anne and I had lunch with her not long ago and as your brother would say, “She’s not a happy camper.” You should send Doug a note, too. Your sister-in-law is pregnant again. Again! Write or call, any time. I miss you with everything I am.

Love,
Mom

Dear Mom Anne,

I never thanked you for the gloves you sent me in that box with some other clothes from my mom. They’re the only ones I have and I wear them all the time. I never said anything because I was afraid of how you probably feel about me now. I look at everything back home and it’s all a giant, fucked up mess. Everyone is mad. Some are even hateful. I never understood what you meant by that word until now, about how people could be that way. Here I am in England and there’s nothing I can do about any of it. I hope you, of all the people I know, might get how I feel.

Mom said you told her you hear from Jackson less than I write to her. I know that’s my fault. I sent him some letters and they came back and I don’t know why I thought he’d get them anyway. His apartment was empty except for a box of my things. He did send me a Valentine’s rose but his note just said he’d missed enrolling in California. I didn’t know he would do that, go that far away, without saying something. If he doesn’t want to talk to me at all, ever again, I understand. But I need to talk to him. If I send you something for him, can you see that he gets it? Or if you know where he is can you tell me? I need to know he’s OK. And he needs to know that he promised.

Love,
Deanna

Angel,

Jackson calls me to say that he is alive, once every three weeks or so, usually on Sundays. I know he isn’t sick or dead or in jail and that is the best I can hope for and all I have to share. You know as much as I do now. I am not sure if you know that he left a box of his junk in the middle of the garage when he discovered you were going to England, and immediately drove to New Mexico where I was told that someone working for Amanda Morisé found him, half dead and “out of it,” 75 miles from where his car was parked. I have asked for more details but that is all I was told. I believe Amanda knows more than she tells me, I am sure her thinking is that I am better off not knowing. She obviously doesn’t have children. I say that and in truth she has two. You and my son. God knows why, of all the kids in the world, she picked you two.

The last time Jax called he claimed he had left New Mexico and is living in an old, concrete block gas station on the edge of Las Vegas, and playing piano in a run down motel frequented by a colorful cast of criminals. He said he found it “poetically amusing.” His proclaimed intention is to register for school at USC in Los Angeles for the fall semester. If he is in school he will need to have an address to register, then we will all know where he is. If I knew how to contact him I would give you his information, and between us we might both piece together a straight story. But you know my son. He would find a way to weave a tale full of innuendo and vague analogies that would leave us scratching our heads.

Deanna, some things last and other’s don’t. Do what you need to do for yourself, as a woman. Don’t weigh yourself down with what anyone, even my son, thinks of you or what you’re doing. I ran away twice in my life. Once from home and once from a man. It wasn’t any fun either time, but I had to do it. If you come home, come see me. If you need someone where you can say whatever you want, whenever you want, you have my number. I am here. You are my third child, Angel, and I love you. Take care of yourself. We never know what we’re made of until we are forced to find out.

Best always,
Love, Mom Anne

Mom Anne didn’t understand, either. Well, maybe a little. Where was he? Some old gas station in Las Vegas? That had to be a lie. He has to wait, like he said he would. Really. Had to tell him she knew he was upset and she blew it again. Had to know he was okay, that was the big one. Half dead and out of it? That didn’t help. At all. No one understood.

Cambridge, U.K., Mid May 1979

Ms. Amber Free, Ms. Beverly Sealy, Ms. Stacey Skillern
C/O C.A. Morisè
1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower

Dear Ladies of Morisé,

I’m sending this to all three of you. As first my apology for leaving without telling any of you. I understand from my mother there is a big ol’ box of my behavior in the library with “BITCH” written on it in giant letters. I don’t understand myself how everything happened. All I can do is ask for a truce and for all of you to put that somewhere and break it out when I come home. Second, right now and really important, is for you to PLEASE help me. Anne Jackson said someone from there found Jackson, my Jackson, half dead and out of it in the desert, but that he survived and is now missing until he crawls out of wherever he is and calls his mom. I know he and Amanda have something between them, and she wouldn’t just let him go die somewhere being stupid. So please, I’m sorry about everything, but you have to tell me who found him and where he is and how I can talk to him. I have to know he’s okay. I know you’re all mad but he was a big part of what we did and Amanda loves him even when she hates him and you guys know that, too.

Thank you,
Deanna (D.C.) Collings

She received three individual returns in one envelope. The first she opened was on silver embossed and bordered linen Morisé stationary, wow…

Ms. Deanna Collings,

Those of us at C.A. Morisé who were involved, and participated with you in the now closed D.C. Collings project, were all saddened by your sudden departure. Unfortunately, we are unable to assist you further with any inquiries save those related to your materials as outlined in the Mutuality of Use contract. Requests for copies of those materials may be submitted and will be processed in a timely manner.

It is the genuine wish of everyone at C.A. Morisé that your personal, academic and professional endeavors are successful, and that they will bring you the satisfaction you desire.

Sincerely,
Amber Free, Esq.,
Vice President, Legal – C.A. Morisé

Vice President? Legal? No wonder it was so…She opened a card with DaVinci looking flowers on the front, the inside filled in longhand.

Hot Stuff –
You’re right. You really pissed everyone off. Now you want to us to use our resources to help you find your old boyfriend? Personally, I could wring both your necks and slap your faces for your shit behavior. I watched a beautiful, caring woman fall apart in my living room because of you. Before anyone here will ever begin to forgive you as you requested, or consider helping you in any way, you need to find a way to tell Amanda you’re sorry, not us. You could have left us, you could have quit, you could have stuck a knife in all of us, fucked us all over completely. But you should have at least had the courtesy to let Amanda know what was up. She gave you all she had and backed you with everything at her disposal, including us. She made you the shitty little superstar you thought you were. She hung a dream on you, and you couldn’t bother to say, “Sorry, wrong girl?”

Save the stamp, don’t bother to write us again or I’ll be forced to tell you what a shit for nothing little bitch I think you are like I mean it. Duh, genius superstar, I got married before you left.

For all the “Ladies” of Morisé
Beverly Deflande

On a blank front C.A. Morisé all purpose card from Public Relations, in school teachery cartoonist printing

DC –

I asked Glenn if he’d heard from Jackson. He said “no.” I believe him. For some reason he and Marcus think the world of that little Bozo. They say some days Jackson was like an air purifier for their brains. When everyone else tried to make something impossible, Jackson could make it simple. Brought it on home. Took it to ‘choich’. They also say Glenn and I are his doing. I am hesitant to believe either of those tales. However, he always found a way to bring you home when you got too deep in your own bullshit. Glenn and I, maybe there’s something to his and Amber’s “colored bubbles” and music nonsense.

I asked the man who might be my future husband for a favor for someone I didn’t think deserved it because my mother had a sign over the front door we had to read every time we went outside. “There are no exceptions to the Golden Rule”. If mom were still around I could tell her no matter what the sign said, I’ve met some possible exceptions, and you would be close to the top of the list.

You could have done the right thing and put this Mission Impossible adventure of yours on the table in front of Amanda. You could have told her to stay out of it, that you had to do it your way. Told her it was coming, not done it behind her back. She would have understood and probably underwritten the whole thing.

The worst part for me is that I’m the one who signed off on your back door reference letter request. Do you know what that feels like? Being betrayed and betraying as a result? No, I doubt that you do. I hope you come to it, sooner than later. The truth that no one will speak around here is Morisé needs you. Both of you. Warning. Come back with your shit together, or stay gone.

Stace

“Shit together.” Right now, everything fucked up and sideways, just “together” would be okay. Just a word. Not today. Deanna dropped the cards in the big black bag under the sink, fuck the save the planet people, fuck recycling, fuck everything. There was no home anymore. There was no life. There was only sixteen to eighteen hours a day of Cambridge. Except on the days when there were twenty.

No Bloke Around

First, tomorrow I will post pictures of why I have been the web’s worst digital “friend” lately. More importantly – I got to a place with THG 3 where I found Deanna in placeholder mode, being written around, not about. Sad to find yourself so lame. I knew she needed to know this priest-to-be as he turns up as an aside. And I took the opportunity NOT to write in my normal voice, for exercise. No said. Tightly abbreviated action tags. Direct adverbs once in a while (sorry). A new-ish way, for me, to write internal dialogue without “Thought” or “felt” or any of those. Deanna in Cambridge, as a feminist to be, not as an afterthought. LONG READ – See if it moves along at a decent clip.

Deanna’s flat, Cambridge U.K / Early May, 1979

“Fair Deanna’s this way, Father.” Merriam caught Sheridan Wyckstone by the elbow and turned him away from the living room where a heated discussion on global finance was taking place on Cat’s couch, a discussion accompanied by two large, fresh, fragrant pizzas. “We’re none allowed in there and well for it. Boring lot of shit, theirs.” She shouldered Deanna’s stubborn bedroom door open.

“We’ve heard the same said of Chemistry and Divinity, Meri.” Over his shoulder, “Pizza would be –”

“Aye, it would, and sooner you’re on task, sooner it will be.” To Deanna, pulling on a sweater. “He’s his wee bag of tools and no Bible.” Back to Sheridan, up on him. “Earn your keep, Father, or you’ll be eating pizza here in your dreams.” A slide past him, pat on his shoulder. “Few lads have seen this room, and none gone home a’ smiling.” Merriam pulled the door closed on her way out, they heard her door open and close, continued to hear the heated but muted discussion from the couch.

“Paper walls, these flats.”

Startled, “You don’t seriously think, you and I, that this –”

“No,” rueful smile. “No. Tools out and I’m back in the shed with m’dad. Swearing like a pair of sailors gotten together. I was only eight when I learned the where and when and proper volume of it.” He shrugged out of his long divinity school cassock, saw her door missing a hook to hang it on. She took it from him, in no manner carefully folded, and laid it on the thighs of her crossed, bed sitting legs.

“You were swearing?”

“Right. Eight I was. I came out of my chair, mid evening tea, mum says, ‘And where are you off without a word?’ and I say, pointing to my half-eaten plate, ‘Don’t be daft, woman, I’m not done, just off for a piss.’ I can still feel the blow landed on my ear.” He knelt as if to pray, peered under the dresser.

“Did you have your piss?” She wanted to giggle, the first time in months, caught it.

“I did. And another whack or two and a good solid hellfire sermon. Dad got a scorcher of a ‘talk’ from mum, lasted gone half ten at least. I’ll use the best bits of both for guilting sinners from the pulpit when the time comes. Pass the torch from the bag?”

“Torch?” What the –

“Torch. Batteries. Switch it on, light in the darkness?”

“Divinity gives you an electric Jesus?” Bewildered, rummaging. “Flashlight?”

Under his breath, “Colonists and bloody women, I…shit” His hair caught in a dresser crack on the way up, he spun half around on his knees, dumped the contents of a small, dirty, oiled canvas bag out on the end of the bed. Located the stubby, means business blind you in the dark flashlight, held it up with a thumb and finger. “This is a torch.”

“Flashlight!” Giggled. “Kel-lite. A real flashlight. I’m proud of you. We used those in…” No. No stories yet for the priest to be, even as he’d opened the door. Don’t get comfortable, England’s not forever.

He looked for a face-saving response on chance that she’d heard. Couldn’t find one fitting, smart ass or on the fence, spun back down to the floor, pulled the strands of his hair from the dresser, shined the light around. “Do you have a cleaning woman?”

“We have a dust mop with a long handle that goes flat. I’m sure it has some stupid other English name. Merriam sprays lemon oil on it. I don’t like places where creepies can hide. Shoes, under furniture, I need to know what’s… Why, is there something…AHHHHHHHHH.” She screamed, swatted the hair dangling from his fingers that he’d swung up and into her face. “You asshole.” She flushed, picked up a reloaded from the tap Perrier bottle, drained it. “Ass fucking hole.”

His turn to laugh. He took an adjustable wrench, slip joint pliers and a decent sized flat head screwdriver to the floor.

Deanna shifted elbows to knees, knuckles to chin for a better view of whatever Father Sheri was going to do to unbolt her furniture, a task he claimed wouldn’t ‘take but ten’. He could have been John Lennon’s cousin. The same thin, arching nose, round glasses, perfectly straight near shoulder length dirty blond hair with a small Fifties beach bikini ingenue up-flip around the bottom. A face bordering on fishy from profile, the hair then a cartoonist’s affectation. He wasn’t a priest, yet, but Father had stuck to him from Merriam and Cat, long before Deanna’s arrival.

She found the lurid t-shirt he’d worn under the cassock, adorned with a female in very little shredded clothing along with the names of several bands she didn’t recognize in sharp contrast to his air of floaty equanimity and often mildly arrogant, unbothered and above it all priestliness. Unfair. Most of the males she’d encountered at Cambridge, scholastic and townies, plaids and crests and indies, all wore a small hatful of the same air of superiority for reasons she had yet to discover.

***

“What happened to your hair?” Another question from the floor in a long string of them she had answered vaguely, in monosyllables if possible, if at all. The questions followed a pattern. On the heels of unsuccessful grappling with the aging bolts.

“I cut it.” Curt. Obvious. Uninformative. “Do they teach inquisition in Divinity? To sort out possible heretics?”

“Curiosity. You’re different than when I met you fresh. Hardly a heretic.”

“I’m not. I’m the same me. I’m always the same me, no one understands that. It’s not hair or clothes or ‘pretty’, it’s…” Hardly a heretic…more haughty assholeness. “If it will stop the inquisition, here’s my whole story. I was a feminist. Am a feminist. I, well the only reason I’m here is to be a better one.” Please, that should be enough. The thump on the bottom of the dresser was the loudest one so far. Success?

Shit!” Shocked. “Christ on a fucking stick.

“You’ve never met a feminist? I know the church doesn’t give a damn what women think, as long as they’re obedient, but…” She’d been obedient long enough, learned all the British names for tools while she handed them back and forth, dodged his questions, asked her own, and picked up some new, possibly useful strings of profanity.

“What? Obedience?” Mumbled, his brow furrowed, knuckles of his left hand in his mouth. He pulled the knuckles from his lips, bleeding from the three between thumb and little finger.

“It was just a nick, first time. Even second. Nothing, really. But this,” hand up, concerned, angry. “Bloody piece of shit.” Frustration and shoulder slammed into the dresser, nice bobbling save on Jackson’s picture when it fell. Deanna took it, set it on the bed, assessed Father’s knuckles. Skin scraped up into ridges, white tissue exposed, bleeding.

“No bone showing. You’ll live.”

“Plasters?”

Bandaids. And Bactine.” She was back before he’d had a chance to decide what he thought of her ass inside the slightly to outright baggy jeans she always wore, the picture of the guy she’d snatched away and if there was any heretical disobedience value in ‘feminist’ all jumbled together with a little pain.

He reached for her supplies. “I can do it.” Mildly, on the whimpery side of manly.

“One handed Bandaids on fingers and hands never work. They get wrinkly or stick to themselves and then you’re screwed.” She sat, edge of the bed, dropped the bandaging supplies, pulled him down by the wounded hand he offered, pulled Jackson’s picture out from under his butt with the other before he landed.

“Your brother?”

“Hardly.” Her quick gaze full of confused fondness. “My idiot brother got drafted by the Miami Dolphins.” A pause while she set the picture on her nightstand. “American football. He’s two of… Of this guy. You wouldn’t know it, the way he is around Doug and …” She gathered two pillows and the bandages into her lap, dropped his wounded hand on top. He leaned over, kissed her lightly, got a hard shove in the chest for the effort.

“I didn’t believe you and Cat gay for an instant, known her forever. Why the lesbian act? Him?”

“Jesus.” Eyes huge even after her lips wiped with her wrist. “Why the gay priest act?”

“I could be Episcopalian. Vicars have wives. Mum would like me a Catholic. She doesn’t do well with me and other females. Only child, y’see. Dad wanted a footballer, I never had the size. He says if I do go queer for a career don’t tell him. Act keeps the padre groupies at bay…”

“There is such a thing?”

Again. “The picture?”

Long pause, wiping Bactine overspray from his fingers with a Kleenex. “The thing about Bandaids on knuckles, they need to be tight. But you need to bend your fingers. Too tight and your finger turns blue, not tight enough and one bend, kablooey. Bodine always made our knuckle-buster Bandaids. Sport tape and non-stick gauze, antibiotic cream.” She sighed, squeezed his two good outside fingers with a vice grip he hadn’t expected.

“Bodine?” Incredulous. “You keep a picture of a Bo-Deen on your –”

“Bodine was another jock, like my brother. He got his degree in architecture and design, we worked with him all one summer. Well, Jax for two summers, that’s how we… He married a nurse I didn’t really like. Well, she didn’t like us. Amber and me. Well, not me so much, I was always the kid sister cheerleader around those guys. But Amber’s older, and she’s something. All California cool in that wispy, gauzey way. Blonde hair down to her butt like Lady Godiva. Ballet and piano lessons forever. Every move she makes is graceful and floaty.” She floated her hand up trailing an open Bandaid as demonstration. “Blind as a bat without her glasses or contacts. That’s how she met…her glasses. Jax went for my birthday present and…” Choked off again. “She had prescription work goggles, even. Really, really smart. Spacey, too. If she wasn’t cool and beautiful she’d be the biggest nerd…” an internalized laugh, a dash of smile. “She’s a lawyer now. I bet Amanda let her put the Hendrix picture in her office.” Still, his face full of questions. “Hello? Jimi Hendrix? Guitar? Amber has a picture of her big sister and her on either side of him. He signed it. Some concert. Blondie California girls and Jimi. Pretty cool.” Idly, almost dreamily, in a happier place, wrapping his middle finger with a Bandaid doomed to last an hour, less if he continued to work.

“Him?” Frustrated nod to the yellow metal frame on her nightstand.

“Oh…About him,” she tapped the frame’s glass. “I don’t know where he is. He sort of… vanished, after I… I wish,” drifted to somber, further to an inaudible but obvious spark… “What I do know,” disgusted, “is that he would never use a stupid crescent wrench on a bolt unless he was 12 and the bolt was on a bicycle. He’d have taken one look and found a socket that fit, or a box end wrench with a bunch of teeth, not a Japanese one with just six that strips out. I know because I got the cheap tool lecture so many times that summer from him and Bodine you wouldn’t believe.”

“You know tools, do you?” Slightly arrogant, some disbelief. “Then what would you advise?”

“If this was one of our reclamations, I’d know that dresser for the piece of shit it is, and the floors in this place, a couple of planks trashed, no big deal. I’d take a two-inch cold chisel and a five-pound sledge to that bolt and the hell with it when it tore a hole in the floor coming out. Jackson or Amber, one would be behind me, one would be on the floor below waiting and they’d start to pop the flooring when I’d shoved that fucking dresser down a dumpster chute. But since it isn’t mine to dump, and since the vanished guy in that picture would be laughing his ass off at me because I let a fake gay priest in a sexist trash t-shirt kiss me,” she started loading his assortment of tools into the canvas bag, wiping the sweat that transferred to her hands on her guy’s corduroy jeans, “I’ll have to figure this out myself.”

He caught her hand, not aggressive, enough to stop the tool loading. “Wasn’t much of a kiss. A peck, not a right snog.” The smile was genuine. “I’ll go for pizza,” bowing, “if you’ll forgive the misguided personal intrusion,” upright, “and old Stag-nos ‘round the corner will do. Then you’ll tell us about reclamation, my sexist shirt and the rest.”

***

Pizza box mostly empty, Merriam’s glass of scotch and water and Father Sheri’s Danish beer the same, Cat’s tomorrow’s bankers crew off to the pub, Deanna, mouthful of pizza, explicating.

“No, no, no,” fallen crumbs caught with her left hand. “You don’t see. I was their feminist. Amanda’s and Jackson’s. Well,” a thoughtful and polite long chew. “To be clear, I was Morisé’s feminist. And I’d had it with their attitudes, all of them. Amanda’s ‘you’re a sucker, little girl’ and all Jackson’s looks and ‘you stupid whore’ silent treatment.”

Merriam, unusually quiet, letting her talk, sipped scotch. “Sucker?”

“She said I’d never amount to anything pretending to be a feminist if I let every ‘swinging dick with a vanity tickle’ distract me. That was because in Washington, well…” Well, he had been cute, the aide. No, attractive was the big word for older guys. Too attractive. Too well dressed, his perfect suit, the right cologne, had to have shaved once an hour to stay that fresh and too full of perfect teeth and flattery and hands on her elbows and come to dinner won’t you, the Senator insists you share your insight, entertaining, one so young and bright and beautiful, so much to offer. A Women’s Conference, Jamaica, fact finding, issue quantifying, for prioritizing you see, in a few days. Ms. Morisé hadn’t said? No! How regrettable you weren’t informed, but you must. The Senator, pull some strings, get you in, don’t concern yourself with expense…

“And that wasn’t it, the vanity tickle. At all.” Protested louder than required. “I was curious, that’s all. About politicians. And, and…I had some ideas I wanted to…” She groped for some measure of credibility realized might have been lost, more to herself, possibly, than her audience.

“Politicians?” Contemptuously from not yet priest. “All politicians care about any cause – religion, feminism, anarchy, socialism – is how many voters might believe in them and how much time each gets allotted in a speech, and which are dispensable. How that makes you a, um, ‘sucker’ I don’t know, unless they meant it in the…” There was a word he wanted. Sexual? Yes –

“Not sucker that way. But I went. To Jamaica. There was no conference. Well there was, but it was a year earlier, I didn’t really look at the brochure, I was…” Suckered. Distracted. That goddam aide, drove her to the airport, shook her hand like a limp dish towel, the queer, lightweight lying… “He, uh, the Senator, he was already there when I flew down, and he wanted sucker that way, yeah. He said, out loud, he wanted to fact find how flawless my skin would be if I was completely naked under a glaze of coconut oil on the deck of his yacht. Small yacht, but… And I…I spent three days locked in my hotel room. Crescent rolls, coffee and honey butter. Nobody believed me when I got home and ragged on me non-stop. So…I thought that, well, they could all blow me, you know, go fuck themselves and I’d go here, come here I mean, and get smarter and be my own feminist.”

“Known you but a Lent Term and some, love, but I say more than the one bit of arseward forced you into our hands, and far more to the lad than he’s lost, and you were tired of being his pet feminist.” Cat turned her scotch glass, intent only on Deanna’s response.

“I…Well, shit. Okay. I think I was a bitch about it. Some of it. Maybe. Leaving, I mean. And not saying. But look,” flaring, “they didn’t have to treat me like I was stupid all the time and my ideas were too narrow or too broad or too this or too that. Or I needed constant coaching or refining and editing of everything I wrote all the time or reminding me to be a good girl and try to stay out of trouble when I traveled because I fucked up. Some. Probably a lot, sometimes, okay? But it wasn’t on purpose and it, it –”

“It gave you an excuse to run.”

Perceptive little fuck. Was it Divinity, or was it true? Priests were born, not –

“I’ve discovered dad’s bit of survival tool bag for a clergyman in training isn’t fit for fuck all.” He crossed himself, glanced heavenward. “Yes Sir. Had my swearing for the day.” A foul look at his empty tilted bottle, “I’ll have a bloke around about the dresser.”

“The last thing I want is ‘a bloke around’ about my dresser. Ass cracking plumbers and strangers? No. I told you, I’ll get it done another way. But,” shy, “thanks for the pizza. And for trying. Father.”

“Not all tradesman wear ill-fitting trousers. Know a few wear jumpsuits.” The smile again. “My pleasure. You, Hendrix’s Lady Godiva, the Destruction Giant and the mystery musician whose rib you are that kissed your finger when you needed stitches for following his lead…Can’t get that at the local.” Bandaged fingers splayed out past the pizza box. “When I couldn’t get a kiss for three. The power pull of the vagina, perhaps? Something to be considered, feminism as weapon. Or would that be femininity…” Immobile, his look confused.

“Pushing your luck, even for a pious gambler on righteousness’ side, Father. Black bag under the sink, just there,” Merriam pointed with her chin. He pulled until the bag unfurled above his waist. “Perk, lad.” Dry smile. “Chemistry lab supplies.”

“Cambridge repays in strange ways. I’m told the benefit of Divinity is the betterment of mankind’s spiritual condition.” The table trash disposed, his fingertips glanced under the tap and dried on his black jeans. “What could be the benefit, I wonder, of making of oneself an improved feminist?” A wink at Merriam, her eyes rolled, Deanna’s spring immediately over-wound.

“That right there is about some arrogant, snotty shit from a sexist, patriarchal, gender discriminating glorified altar boy would be heretic busting priest. The betterment of womankind, for a start, Mr. Blames his tools, and…”

Cat pushed Deanna back down into her chair, took the beer out of his hand before he could open it, yanked his cassock from the back of his chair and led him, dragged him to the door, opened it for him. “See what you’ve started?”

“Might be worth a listen.”

“I’ve been down this road with her, and you I’d well charge to hear her go on. Think your lot have a corner on the conversion of heathens rhetoric, think again.”