some fall in love. i shatter.

46 Weeks; 46 Stories

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

46 weeks, 46 stories.

Volume II of the 69 Love Stories Project went into the books last Monday.

Two-thirds of the way across the sky.

It’s been a pleasure and a misery; it’s come easily and it’s been an act of bloodletting. Crossing the halfway mark of this project brought impressions of accomplishment and fear, pride and trepidation, and the certainty that no matter how ugly it may get, I’ll see this thing through to the end.

So upon the closing of Volume II, as with the conclusion of Volume I, I’ve decided to step away from the 69 Love Stories site for the next few weeks. The pacing of one story every week dips deeply into the well of creativity and some time for replenishment is necessary. I’d like to see Volume III, the final set of stories, come into the world with a sense of renewed urgency, with a variation on the excitement that came with the commencement of Volumes I and II.

If you’re here as a subscriber or someone following the links on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know when I’m back and Volume III has begun. If you’re not a subscriber, just click on the link to follow this blog and you’ll receive an email whenever a new story or update is posted. In the meantime, if you’re interested in contributing to the Project, I’d still love for you to get ahold of me and share your ideas. Just click on that ‘Contribute’ link and follow the instructions you find there.

I also want to thank everyone that has already contributed to this project. I’ve enjoyed both talking to you about the possibilities of your artistic contributions and seeing their effects within the stories. For those of you still considering how you’d like to contribute, there are only twenty-three stories left. If we’ve already begun a conversation, I’ll be in touch with you soon with reminders and follow-ups.

And finally I’d like to say thank you to everyone that’s been coming to this site simply for the sake of reading. It means a lot to know you’re out there and that I’m writing for someone.

Thank you.

Gemini and Virgo (#46)

In Stories Volume 2 on March 11, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Mercury Lounge – 2001

Four minutes. Nick kept pushing his way towards the bar but every advance was met with an unseen, crowd-sourced nudge backwards. Four interminable minutes. The long, narrow bar, with its scratched brass railings and its faded black and white tiled floor, doubled as the entry way to the venue in the back behind two thin swinging doors. Even with a capacity of only 250, the concert traffic was enough to pile the drinkers at the bar atop one another. They prodded Nick forward but the drinkers kept repelling him backward.

By that point, Nick didn’t even care that much about the beers anymore; didn’t care about bringing a beer for Steve, back watching Lola Ray perform in the other room. By that point, after four minutes that he’d perceived as forty, it was principle. It shouldn’t be this fucking hard, he thought. His eyes scanned for an opening to get through the three-deep morass, his elbow tried to pry open small gaps, his feet slid into open spaces. An inch to the right, two inches forward, a step back and to the left, a shoulder to press open a small opening. It didn’t matter where at the bar he got, he just needed to get there. A step to the right and just barely forward. Ahead of him, he could see a slim opening to the right of a blond woman sitting on a stool. A push from behind propelled him forward and he angled himself toward the woman, landing half in the gap and half against her shoulder.

“What the fuck?” Nick steadied himself against the bar and turned to the blond, glaring at him with a glass of turbulent white wine in her now wet hand.

“Sorry, got pushed.” The glare lingered even as she looked down to wipe the spilled wine off her hand. “Can I buy you another?” Nick quickly calculated how much cash was in his wallet, hoped his recollection was correct as the bartender caught his eye. “Two Heinekens and,” he turned back to the woman, “anything?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Just the two Heinekens.” In the slim bar space between them, she laid the two wine-soaked napkins that sat like little exclamation points. Nick pulled a ten-dollar bill and two singles from his wallet. Neither one looked at the other, a tiny annoyance and a minor apology dissolving in the noisy, chaotic air around them.

The bartender placed the two beer bottles on the bar and Nick handed the twelve dollars back. He scooped the two bottlenecks between his thumb and middle finger before turning back to the crowd.

“Hey, sorry again,” Nick said, more honestly and less reflexively.

“Don’t worry about it,” Alice said, more sincerely and with less annoyance.

***      ***      ***      ***      ***

 

Mercury Bar – 2006

“So I said to him, ‘If you genuinely think she’s good at what she does, then why give her such a shitty timeslot?’ He gave me some bullshit answer about schedules being in place and that he’d try to figure out something better in the future. I think he’s intimidated by here. You’ve met her a few times, Gretchen. Sure, she can be abrasive but she’s also so fucking intelligent. She might be the smartest person I know.”

Alice had gone on about her office intrigue for the better part of our brunch. I’d stopped paying as much attention after my second Bloody Mary. It’d gone to my head a little bit faster than normal in the early spring sun that shone so brightly and brought so many people out of their apartments. People-watching, dog-watching, thinking about errands, keeping on eye on the guys that sat down around us; all these things could be done while maintaining enough of an ear open to listen for the pauses.

“Yeah, but what can you do?” Such a beautiful stock response.

“I don’t know, I just don’t want to see this thing go down in flames so soon. It’s going to eventually but it doesn’t need to be so quickly.” The only downside to ‘But what can you do’ was the open-ended nature of the question. I’d just given Alice free reign over the next five, ten, fifteen minutes to tell me what she could do. Three mimosas weren’t helping reel in her verbosity.

The table next to us on the small, crowded sidewalk patio had cleared out a few minutes earlier and I watched as the hostess escorted two guys over. They were both cute, even while both looked hungover. The taller one had a cleanly shaved head; the other had short black hair. Both were unshaven and looked weak to the sun behind their aviator sunglasses. The bald one, the cuter one, sat next to me. I heard one thank the hostess and then they stared mutely at their menus. Alice continued to fill the empty air. I sipped the last bit of my drink and she did the same.

Our waiter came by. Alice signaled for the check before he stopped at the neighboring table.

“Can I get you guys something to drink?”

“Two coffees and two Bloody Marys.” A raspy voice from the dark-haired guy.

We paid our bill as the waiter brought drinks to our neighbors. I would’ve lingered to talk with them but they didn’t seem capable of conversation and Alice had to meet a friend across town. As we stood to go, she swung her large purse a little widely, knocking into the black-haired guy and spilling his coffee across the table.

“Oh, shit. I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I covered my mouth, trying not to laugh; the bald friend either did the same or suppressed his nausea.

“Yeah… yeah, I’m fine. I didn’t get any on me.” His speech was stilted, like he was still navigating being human. He looked up at Alice, lingered on her face a moment before turning back to sop up the coffee on his plate. She paused as well, just a second.

“Are you sure? I’m really sorry.”

“Yeah, it’s fine; no worries.”

“Sorry, guys; enjoy the rest of your brunch. Let’s go, Alice.” I knew she’d stand there apologizing if I didn’t push her on. I took a step in her direction and she turned for the street. As we walked away, the bald one finally broke his silence.

“Fuck, Nick. How did we get so drunk last night?”

***      ***      ***      ***      ***

 

Mercury Gallery – 2011

The gallery was even more crowded than Alice had expected. She tried wandering the space but found herself doing more elbowing than wandering in order to just walk straight ahead. The wine from the open bar made things a bit more bearable.

Nick showed up to the gallery two hours after the opening had begun. The space was crowded but that crowd was thinner than he’d expected. The open bar near the entrance caught his eye.

Alice circled the thinning-out gallery for the fourth time, finally able to take in the art more than the people. A second white wine in hand, she walked the perimeter of the second floor. The walls displayed black and white in-progress photos of the small sculptures on pedestals around her.

Nick took his time across the first floor, comforted by his glass of red wine and the chatter of those around him. A handful of photos accompanied each sculpture. He found himself more drawn to the photographs, appreciating the documentation of the process more than the final product. It lent a certain kind of validity to the sculptures.

Alice sat on the black leather bench that stood in the center of the larger second-floor room. The wine had caught up to her a little more quickly than anticipated. Perhaps it was pacing the gallery that did it, she thought. On the wall ahead of her was a large black and white aerial photo of Chicago.

He ascended the stairs with his second red wine in hand. The second floor was practically empty. Nick stepped into the small room to the left of the stairs and exited in under two minutes. In the larger room ahead, more interesting than any of the art, was a blond girl, seated on a black leather bench. She leaned on her knee and her face rested in the palm of one hand. The other held a glass of wine.

“That’s Chicago,” he said, sitting next to her on the black bench. He sipped from his short plastic glass as she cast a sidelong glance at him.

“I know. I used to live there. Not sure what it’s doing in an art gallery in San Francisco when it clearly doesn’t belong to the artist.”

“You lived there? I lived there for almost ten years. Moved away close to two years ago.”

“Sounds like we overlapped for a lot of those years. I got there in 2001 and left last year.” She took her eyes off the photo once again and met his in the shrinking space between them.

“Funny that we meet each other here. I wonder if we ever ran into each other in Chicago. I’m Nick.”

“Alice.”

 

 

 

Secrets Kept Between Them (#45)

In Stories Volume 2 on March 4, 2013 at 11:27 am

Westfall stepped through the thick and well-polished wooden double doors that led from the bright and cold street into the muted light and incense-scented air of the church vestibule. Chandeliers with electric lights disguised as candles hung from the cathedral ceiling while beams remained angled and bent to keep the vaunted structure in place. Sunlight penetrated the stained glass, losing its luster but picking up kaleidoscopic beauty. Shafts of light as varied as the rainbow shot downwards to the red carpet and chestnut pews.

The nave was surprisingly empty for being so close upon mass. From the sanctuary backwards, Westfall counted maybe thirty people in the two dozen rows of pews. Everyone appeared wrapped in prayer; heads down in deferential reverence or craned upwards plaintively for God. They were young and old, alternately tired and filled with life. To Westfall, so removed from churches and religions, they were nearly all intimidating. The sudden compulsion, the crisis of soul that had compelled him through those wooden doors, had not inoculated him from the nervousness of being in the presence of the pious.

Casting his eyes across the back of the room, Westfall spotted an open stretch of pew punctuated by a woman sitting just past the halfway dividing point. Her face looked straightforward, her hands were not pressed together in prayer, her jacket was off, and she wore a comfortable black dress. He found her neither reverential nor plaintive; he found her reserve almost reassuring. Sliding silently into the pew, a feeling of relief entered into him, as if the crisis that had directed him into the church was beginning to abate. The woman looked over at the disturbance in her pew. She smiled at him, Westfall nodded back. Without hesitation and almost without his notice, she took her jacket in hand and slid her way down the pew until she was next to him.

“No need to sit in the same pew and be so far apart, right?” A wry smile and an almond-shaped eye looked sideways at Westfall through the dark hair that fell past her face. “I’m Hanna.”

“Westfall.” He extended his right hand across his body and took hers, noticing her long, cold fingers and the firm grip they took of his.  The chime of someone’s watch indicated that it was 10am, time for the mass to start, but there were no officiants to be found. He glanced at Hanna again; she still smiled. “What brings you here?”

“That’s an odd question to ask someone in a church,” she laughed.

“Is it? Should I have just assumed?” He’d ignored the laugh and only heard Hanna’s fast question, prompting a defensive earnestness.

“No, I suppose you shouldn’t have. I like the space. I like what I find here.” Hanna paused, her lips opened a dry crack. “I like the people I come across. Weak or strong, they’re all looking for support and willing to stoop a bit to find it.”

“Is that what you’re doing here? Stooping down to find support?”

“I’m not exactly a believer, if that’s what you mean. God isn’t the one directing me into this pew every few weeks. I do believe in a spirituality, I believe in a mystery, I believe in something larger than just you and me here, fumbling our way through short lives.”

“But you find strength in this… conduit of spirituality? In the space, in the people, in the contact reverence?” He laughed a little but now she maintained a reverence.

“I do. Somewhat. Yes, I suppose.” A shared sidelong glance as they both looked forward. “But what about you? What brought you in here?” The pensiveness transferred quickly from her eyes to his as she looked toward him and he looked forward.

“An emptiness,” Westfall admitted more readily than he’d expected. “Not a long, consuming emptiness, but a poignant one that struck me this morning and, well, I happened to be passing this church. I’m not a believer either; God isn’t my thing but I sometimes feel like there is something grander to all of… this.” He looked towards Hanna, who now faced him directly. Both wide eyes looked directly into his from below the curtain of bangs. Suddenly self-conscious, Westfall brushed away a piece of his own hair that tickled his right ear. He glanced at his watch. 10:05.

“Do you believe you have a soul? Or that there is such a thing as the soul?”

“Without necessarily naming it as such, I suppose I do. There’s a certain difficulty believing in a bigger scheme without also thinking that components of that bigger scheme exist within us as individuals. So then I guess I’m saying that I felt an emptiness in my soul.” He was as disarmed speaking so openly to a stranger as he was in finding himself in a church on a Sunday morning.

“A poignant emptiness in your soul,” she pondered. “And sudden?”

“Sudden enough. I guess I’ve felt lacking in some way for some time.”

“I know that feeling. That’s part of why I come here for strength, to steady myself against that gap in the soul. Just being in this space, there’s something that helps to fill it in. To understand that sometimes we need a certain amount of faith because life and the world don’t make sense, things don’t add up, and the way we expect things to play out isn’t often the way that they do.” Hanna’s voice had risen and she glanced around in the sudden silence but nobody looked their way. The sun through the stained glass cast a blue haze over her and a red haze over Westfall. Neither could see the color on themselves but each saw the shading on the other. She checked the time on her phone. 10:10.

“I suppose that’s it. Faith. Strength in belief that things want to turn out well. It’s difficult to rely on statements like that when they sound so…”

“Naïve?”

“Yes. Naïve.”

“Sometimes naiveté is just life with the artifice stripped away.” Hanna said it with a straight face but first a smile and then a tiny laugh escaped. Westfall laughed quietly too, hovering close to just being a cough. “I think that statement sounded naïve itself, didn’t it?”

“Just a little.” He laughed again. “Does this service always start so late?”

“No, I’ve never encountered this before. There were no signs about changed times were there?” She looked around but saw nothing; and actually instead of nothing, she saw every other person sitting calmly and quietly as if nothing strange was happening.

“I didn’t see any. I’m feeling a bit more fortified already though, without the service.”

“Are you? Good. Me too. Our little talk has filled in for the service, I suppose.” Again, the smile; slight, wry, maybe a little coquettish, he thought, when coupled with those eyes. He coughed again and smiled more widely back at her.

“Look, I don’t usually come here and I’m feeling a bit better already, so I don’t know that I need to hang around for a mass that may never happen. Just being in this space, feeling what’s around us, talking with you, feeling like your sliding next to me was a chance moment equivalent to my choosing to step into this church… it’s helped me. So I could stay but if you’re interested, I’d be happy to buy you a coffee right now.” He’d broken eye contact for this little invitation and struggled to look back.

Hanna’s eyes were on the crucifix that hung against the wall of the sanctuary. Her eyes were steady, her lips straight; she was seemingly focused on looking through the representation of Christ. And she was silent, exploring a labyrinth of thought. Westfall knew she’d heard him and awkward as it was to now wait silently, knew that she would answer him whenever she came back to their space.

“I am feeling a bit more solid with our talk,” she said, “but I think I’d like to stay for the service, whenever it may start. This conversation has been good for both of us but I don’t make it in here that often and I should stay for what I came for.”

“Okay. I can –”

“I think you should go though. You’re feeling a bit stronger; get some fresh air. This space will be here for you another time. Moderate that filling in of the soul, otherwise you may hurt it.” Hanna took his hand and squeezed it once more. “But meet me outside in an hour. I’ll have that coffee with you. I just need to be here right now. The mass will start soon enough and it’s usually over in under an hour. Get some air, take in the world; that can be just as good as being in here. We’ll talk more.”

Westfall lingered an extra moment before pulling his hand back. He smiled in an odd way that left the corners of his mouth angled downwards.

“An hour? Outside those main doors?”

“Exactly,” Hanna replied.

“It’s a plan.” Westfall stood just as the priest’s robes fluttered into view. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Okay.” He walked away from the beams of light, from the sanctuary, the nave, the cathedral ceiling with the beams that held everything in place. His shoes left little impressions on the red carpet. His jacket held traces of incense. The heavy door felt lighter as Westfall pushed back into the cold sunlight. Before the door shut, he glanced backwards. Hanna looked forward towards the altar with her arm resting on the back of the pew. Her attention was focused in front of her and yet her fingers seemed to wave a little goodbye. Westfall breathed deeply, felt the cold enter his lungs, and felt his body begin to warm that air.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 62 other followers