I just saw the word prolepsis in a book review, and it made me think. Narrowly defined, it means stating a thing as true before it actually is (“dead man walking” would be a classic example), but more generally it refers to foreshadowing.

You know, like reading a novel that starts “It was the summer that changed my life.”

This struck me, because I never do this, which was certainly not a conscious decision.

Also, I just did do it in what I posted a few minutes ago. So, encountering this word made me think.

One way of looking at it is that I shouldn’t do it, because I don’t do it — that’s done by writers who are different types of writers than me. This is obviously not a valid basis to make any artistic decisions.

(As always, I take inspiration from Robert Altman, who spent the last chunk of his career in movies deciding which projects to film based on, “Well, I’ve never done that before.”)

And I think the foreshadowing fits here, because this is the first thing I’ve written in decades where the narrator isn’t Marshall or third-person me. And Mike, the narrator, worries very much about the future, and he would tell the story that way.

Or possibly it’s just because I wanted to juice things up a bit, to reassure readers that the torturing of the characters (so often recommended these days by web-based fiction experts) will soon begin.

The story started here. The torturing is coming soon.

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part three

(This story started here.}

“I sort of got into a fight today,” Sharon said quietly.

She had been silent for a few minutes before saying this and I’d started to doze off, but I raised my head to look at her.

I’d been exploring some areas of her body with pretty close attention over the previous hour or two, and I hadn’t seen any bruises.

“Please don’t tell me I have to go out and beat somebody up to defend your honor,” I said.

She examined my face, squinting in the dim light from the window. We’d been together for a few weeks at this point, long enough for her to start to learn some ways of telling when I was trying to be funny.

We were lying in my narrow bed. She was naked, and I was wearing my T-shirt and boxers. It was a warm night, and the sheet was only pulled up to her waist. In the moonlight, her golden skin looked like it was glowing, and her pale eyes seemed to have no pupils at all.

“It wasn’t a real fight, with fists,” she explained seriously. “It was with Professor Potter. He’s had trouble with a student who lives in U-town — she doesn’t always show up for class, hands in her assignments late, that sort of trouble — and he started saying things about U-town, things which aren’t true. I didn’t know whether I should, but I raised my hand and I said that it’s not right for him to generalize in that way, since I live in U-town and I’m always in class and I always do my work.

“He said something about people who live there are all freaks, and I objected to that, too, but then some people started to laugh, so I sat down.”

She looked, for her, really upset. She never cried, but she looked pretty unhappy. I suddenly knew that the next thing which had happened, which she didn’t want to say, was that somebody had mentioned me, in connection with the category “freak.”

“People don’t understand about U-town, I guess — people who haven’t been there.” I shrugged. “I’m curious about it myself.”

“You are?” she said. “You could come and visit, if you want to. Would you like to?”

I nodded. “Yes, absolutely. Whenever is good for me to come.”

“You could come tomorrow, tomorrow night,” she said. That was Friday, when she’d be going home anyway. “Craig will be making his baked fish for dinner — it’s really good.”

“I don’t want to impose–“

She smiled. “He’ll make extra.”

This was typical of us. We could talk frankly about war and peace and psychology and music and everything else, but when it came to each other we always tiptoed, as if the whole thing might turn out to be as fragile as a soap bubble.

Well, our weekend in U-town put an end to that, and to some other things as well.

When I woke up in the morning, with Sharon wrapped around me like a very friendly octopus as usual, I wondered about something.

U-town, quite famously, had no telephones. How was Sharon going to let her brother know that company was coming and he should make more of his excellent baked fish?

After my last class, we walked together to the bridge as we did every week, but this time, instead of giving her a goodbye hug, I started up the bridge with her. She took my hand as we walked up the incline.

We’d never held hands before, and, knowing her, she had thought long and hard about making this move. She might even have drawn a line down the center of a page of looseleaf paper, using a ruler to make sure it was straight, and made a list of pros and cons.

She didn’t look at me as she took my hand, but I was careful to squeeze her hand as we walked, to let her know that this was okay (to say the least) with me.

I suddenly wondered how her brothers were going to feel about us sleeping together in their house. Obviously she was a college student and not a kid, but brothers can be weird about that sort of thing, and I knew they were a very close family.

Well, I’d deal with that if it came up. The important part to me was that she was bringing me to meet her family. She’d never talked about her parents and I’d always had idea that they were dead, so meeting her brothers was a pretty definite statement that I was her boyfriend. And she was my girlfriend.

I squeezed her hand again as we reached the top of the bridge. In the back of my mind, always, was the question of my parents. Thanksgiving break was coming, inevitably, and I know they expected that I would come for a visit, for the long weekend.

Well, that was weeks (fewer and fewer weeks, of course) away, and here I was nearly over the bridge to U-town and I wasn’t even paying attention.

More to come…

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i’m consistent, at least

Well, at least I’m consistent

I just posted the second part of my new story. It’s called “In Bed,” which seemed amusing since the first part was called “In Class.”

Possible amusement aside, it occurred to me that this was, by some standards, moving quickly. One minute Mike and Sharon are classmates, the next minute they’re in bed.

But, as I think about it, this is always my preference. Some people like to go around and around and back and forth about Will They Get Together or Won’t They? (while there’s often no real doubt about how it’s going to end up).

But, as I wrote about a while ago, I get bored pretty quickly with the courtship stuff — I think couples get much more interesting once they’re actually together.

So, Mike and Sharon are already in bed.

Now we start to get to the good stuff.

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in bed

(This is part two. Part one is called “In Class“)

Sharon ran a finger across her chin. “I grew a beard for a while,” she said thoughtfully, “a nice little Van Dyke. But it seemed to make people nervous for some reason, so I got rid of it.” She shrugged.

This was fairly typical of our pillow talk. I’d quickly figured out that either Sharon had the driest and most absurd sense of humor I’d ever encountered, or she had no sense of humor at all.

I had also learned very quickly that it hurt her feelings when I laughed at things she said. Not that she cried or anything, but she frowned a small, baffled frown. I quickly recognized that this frown came from frustration that, once again, her attempts to behave normally were not working out.

We were sleeping together two or three nights a week. Never on the weekends, though. She always went back to U-town after her last class on Friday and returned for her first class on Monday morning.

She would always ask the day before: “Would you like me to stay over tomorrow night?” If I said yes — and I’m pretty sure I never said no — she would come to school the next day with a very small suitcase in addition to her school knapsack.

Our pillow talk was never romantic. We talked about all sorts of things, but there was no mention of love or anything like that. This was just as well — I had no idea whether I was actually in love, or if this was just amazed gratitude that I had found somebody who was willing to be with me.

After a while, I began to think that this might be true of Sharon also. After all, she was beautiful (in my opinion) and smart, but she had no friends, at least at school, and I got the impression that she didn’t have a lot of friends in U-town either. When she talked about her life there, she talked about her two brothers and the old man they lived with, but there was never any mention of friends or a social life.

When she’d started to take off her clothes that first time, I had thought that she was just “easy,” one of those college girls you hear about who sleeps around a lot. But no, she didn’t sleep around — she was obviously with me. We went to movies together, we had lunch together on days when we had our breaks at the same time, and on Fridays she would wait for my last class to be over so I could walk her across the city to the bridge to U-town. Then we’d hug and she’d say, “I’ll see you on Monday.”

By the way, I could write a book about what it was like to go to the movies with her. She was often baffled by commonplace things and frequently misunderstood key plot elements. This was obviously inexperience, not stupidity, and she always listened attentively to my explanations. Part of it may have been that she’d never seen a movie before (she explained that there weren’t any movie theaters in U-town), but it was more than that.

There were rocky moments, of course, starting with our first morning together.

I woke up and felt like I’d managed to get wrapped up in the bedclothes. I was almost completely immobilized, but I quickly realized I was wrapped up in Sharon.

I didn’t remember how we’d fallen asleep, but now she seemed to be on all sides of me, as if she was trying to be a one-person cocoon. My arms and legs were pinned, but I knocked my forehead lightly against hers a couple of times and said her name.

She opened her eyes, very slowly, and focused them on my face. And then, almost inaudibly, she said my name.

Not the name I had told her, not the name that everybody at college knew, not “Mike.” She used my original name, the name I’d been born with, the name I’d left behind (far behind, or so I’d thought) when I’d arrived at college.

My stomach got tight and I felt like I was going to throw up. I forced myself not to cry (there had been quite a bit of crying the night before — all of it by me). She saw and felt my distress, and quickly unwrapped herself from around me, obviously wondering what she’d done wrong and how she could make it better. She didn’t say anything; she just looked stricken.

Seeing her distress, I decided I needed to think less about myself and more about her. None of this was her fault, after all.

I took her hand. “Mike,” I reminded her.

“Mike,” she said slowly. She repeated it a couple of times, as if trying to fix it in her mind. Then she met my eyes. “I’d like to do this again,” she said very quietly.

The mystery, though, was where she had ever learned that name in the first place. After she left, after I’d said that I also very much wanted to do this again, I lay in bed for a while and considered this.

There was no explanation that I could think of for how she’d learned that name.

I even toyed with the idea that she’d been sent by my parents to seduce me. But that was obviously not true — if my parents had decided to send somebody to seduce me back onto the right path, they would have sent a guy, definitely not a girl.

I reminded myself that, yes, there were mysteries and more mysteries, but I had just spent the night with a girl, a really nice girl who I’d had a crush on, and, while it had not exactly gone as I’d envisioned it, she seemed to want more.

If I got my act together and stopped crying so much, I might even end up with a girlfriend…

Okay, it was much too soon to be thinking about that, but I lay back and stretched, reminding myself to enjoy this moment.

(More to come.)

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papa in paris, and slang (old and new)

1. Two articles about Ernest Hemingway recently reminded me of how careful we have to be about taking people and things at face value.

The first is an opinion piece from the New York Times which, among other things, repeats Hemingway’s own statements about how poor and happy he and Hadley (his first wife) had been in Paris in the 1920s.

The second is a review of a book of Hemingway’s letters from that period, which makes it clear that they had not been particularly poor or happy, and that Hemingway’s loudest assertions of how great his marriage was came when it was actually falling apart.

2. Also from the New York Times: “Slang for the Ages

That reminds me of one of the Nero Wolfe mysteries, where he’s taking to a character who’s something of a neighborhood sharpie, and the guy uses the word “sennight” (meaning “week”).

Wolfe, of, course, stops the conversation cold in order to ask where this guy had learned “that fine old word.”

The guy asserts that it’s “making the rounds” — everybody is using it these days.

“Extraordinary,” Wolfe says, and regular readers will easily be able to tell that this fact is, for Wolfe, the most interesting part of the whole case.

3. Oh, and here’s a good piece about the word “unique.”

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in class

(This one just said, “Enough with the movie trailers — start to tell me today! Please.”)

I wanted to talk to her the first time I saw her, but I didn’t. We had the same journalism class, and she always sat in the same seat, right up front. She was always on time, always prepared, and always awake. Somewhat different from me, I must say (and from most of the rest of the class).

She usually wore slacks and a sweater, and I never saw her wear jewelry or makeup.

She seemed pleasant and smart, but nobody ever talked to her. This was probably partly because she was a “teacher’s pet” type, but I think mostly it was because people thought she might be an alien.

She had ordinary human features, with a strong jaw and prominent cheekbones, and a fairly deep voice (which probably had a lot to do with my attraction to her – I’m a sucker for a woman with a masculine voice). Her hair was blond and shoulder length.

But her eyes were an odd gray color, and her skin was gold. Not gold like human tan, but pale gold like the gold crayon I’d had in the set of 64 that I’d grown up with. Her skin was absolutely without blemish or irregularity, as if she’d been spray-painted, and she apparently had no hair at all on her face, arms, or hands.

Okay, as you’ve probably been able to tell, I’d been studying her pretty closely. She didn’t react to this, unlike most girls. Even when I moved my seat so it would be next to hers, she just gave me a quick smile.

I could hear some other people muttering comments, mostly about a “freak ghetto” being established in that part of the room. I ignored them, and Sharon didn’t seem to notice. As always, her attention was focused entirely on the lessons.

I knew her name was Sharon, because the professor called on her quite often — usually when he’d grown tired of our meanderings and wanted to get the correct answer so he could move ahead with the lesson. I knew that her last name was Golden and that she lived in U-town because her full name and address were written, in very precise handwriting (of course), on the cover of her notebook.

Then, one day, the heavens aligned in some unusual way and I was actually a minute early for class.

There was a note on the door, saying that the class had been canceled for the day. I stood glaring at it for a moment, then I went down the hall to the men’s room. I wasn’t mad that the class had been canceled, just that nobody was there to appreciate my punctuality.

As I came out of the men’s room, I ran into a friend (well, an acquaintance, really) and we talked for a minute or two, and then I walked back down the corridor and past the classroom. I noticed that the note had gone missing from the door (which was probably somebody’s idea of a joke).

I glanced into the room as I passed, and there was Sharon, in her usual seat, notebook and pen on the little desk in front of her. She was the only person in the room. Waiting patiently for a class that was never going to start.

Well, okay, I was never going to have a better opportunity to start a conversation with her.

I went in and sat next to her. She turned and smiled at me, but she looked somewhat perplexed. “It’s odd,” she said slowly, looking around the room, “that so many people are late all on the same day.”

“The class was canceled,” I said. “There was a sign on the door, but I guess somebody took it down.”

She nodded thoughtfully, then she frowned. “Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”

I nodded. “I saw the sign before it was taken down.”

She nodded again and closed her notebook.

“Would you like to go get a cup of coffee?” I asked. “Together?”

She smiled. “That would be nice. Thank you.”

I held out my hand. “I’m Mike.”

Her handshake was firm. “I’m Sharon.”

The cafe was a regular student hangout, across the street from the campus. The college was in a busy commercial area of the city, but I did wonder how much business the place did between semesters. Pretty much everybody I ever saw there, employees and customers, was a student. There were about fifteen small, round tables — most inside and a few out on the sidewalk.

Sharon took a table (outside, which would not have been my preference) while I went to get our coffee. When I brought the steaming paper cups back, she thanked me as I sat down. Because she always dressed so properly, I thought that being a gentleman and buying for both of us would be a good move (also, it was the first opportunity I’d ever had to be a gentleman in that way).

As I sipped my coffee, she asked what other classes I was taking. I thought this was just making conversation, since we didn’t really know much of anything about each other, but she asked a lot of follow-up questions, as if she was adding data to a mental list of all the classes, professors, prerequisites, and so on.

She was particularly interested in a class I was taking on the psychology of art, and I offered to show her the textbook.

She stood up. “I appreciate this. Let’s go.”

Dorm life wasn’t really an option for me, so my parents had rented me a tiny apartment — basically just a room in a rooming house. It wasn’t on campus, but it was just a couple of blocks away.

“I hope you don’t think I lured you up here for immoral purposes,” I said, attempting a joke as I closed the door behind us.

She smiled pleasantly. “That would be fine,” she said. She reached down and took the hem of her sweater in both hands, pulling it up over her head. Under it she wore some sort of feminine undershirt thing (it may have been a “chemise,” but I’m not completely sure), which she also removed, laying it carefully on the back of a chair, next to the sweater.

Her skin seemed more and more improbable the more of it was revealed. Even her nipples were exactly the same color as everything else.

Naked to the waist, she unbuttoned her slacks, then she paused and looked at me, still smiling, apparently wondering whether she had misinterpreted the situation, since I hadn’t moved a muscle.

I burst into tears.

(More to come. I have a pretty clear idea where this one is going, and I have the ending written already — though of course we’ll see if that’s really where the story goes.)

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