Thoughts on First Scene

First Note: You can follow along with the creation of this short story by following the “Short Story 1 tag.


So I finished my first page” or chapter” or whatever. First scene? I’m not consistent with this naming scheme already. I’m trying to not care about the structure too much yet. It’s a short story! My aim is less than 10,000 words. Let’s start and finish something and polish it and call it. But after every page/chapter/scene, I want to write my thoughts about it, because maybe that’ll help propel me.

So how do I feel about this scene so far? I’m going to do bullet points as I read over the scene.

  • It didn’t come out as I thought. The scene changed as I was writing it. I’m sort of happy with that. Isn’t that one of the great joys of writing? To see that strange magic where the tory comes out of you and your brain but isn’t 100% your plan?
  • I am happy with subscription” as an adjective for wine.”
  • Maybe the second part needs to have our narrator looking at dating sites a little, since I threw that nugget in there.
  • I’m developing this theme where our narrator cares more about other people’s stories. They’re almost a voyeur. Maybe they can barrage someone on a dating app with too many q’s.
  • I’m not sure what happened, but things faded” is about as vague a sentence as I can write. Maybe I should punch that up. It’s about friendships. I don’t have to be coy.
  • If I skipped the ads, I could get through most of a podcast” is probably the most heel thing I’ve had my narrator do so far 😎, just to show where the floor is.
  • When describing the woman, I was trying to convey comfort levels. In doing that, I neglected to mention at all what she looked like. There’s no sense of her physical body at all in the paragraph, other than her posture.
  • When describing the man, I was aiming for alluring qualities.
  • I could make the ending of this stronger.
  • I took two weeks between writing it and taking these notes. I wanted to give the writing some separation. And…I don’t hate it? That’s a start, right?

New Short Story - First Page

First Note: You can follow along with the creation of this short story by following the Short Story 1 tag.


I was once again finishing a bottle of cab merlot blend while my parents seemed concerned about my mental health. The subscription wine in my glass didn’t smell like anything, even after reading the tasting notes from the brochure. I’m cold. I should have put some slippers on before the call, and now we were half an hour into a story they’d told before. I excused myself for a second to find them. They were by the couch in the living room, where I’d left them last night. There, I told them. I’m definitely fine. I’m wearing slippers. That was not what they meant.

My computer is distracting. I can keep my parents in a window and have six other windows open, vying for my attention. At some point during the call, I opened my articles list and began reading this photography blog. I skimmed the words while keeping up my end of the conversation. It’s easy. It’s just a matter of practice. You can absolutely do two things at once. After a few moments though, I could feel the energy in their words dissipate. It’s inevitable with video calls. If you don’t volley back just as hard, it feels like there’s nobody there at all.

So I shifted my attention back to my parents, giving them as much as I could for updates. No, I wasn’t seeing anyone yet. No, I wasn’t looking, not really. Was I on the dating sites, as they called them? Only a little. I didn’t like them. Did anyone like them, I asked? Is anyone happy with this? Is it harder for people like you, my mother asked. At first, I didn’t know what she meant. I’d forgot. Why would it be harder? She didn’t want to say it. She dragged out a you know…” for a while. I did clue in. Oh. Right. I told her I guess?” It wasn’t something I thought about much anymore.

Being nonbinary just isn’t that interesting. I’m just not that into myself. I’d much rather hear stories about other people. I read a lot. I like to listen. Maybe I got that from my parents, whose phone calls sometimes sound like job interviews. How do you talk to someone without barraging them with questions? I just wanted to know more.

I was warm. The wine was emptier. I was lonely. Thanks mom and dad.

The call ended the same way it always does. They don’t ever actually want to get off the video, so I have to wait until the conversation dies off and they feel they have to leave. My dad made some excuse about having to make dinner, as if they weren’t going to order from the same Italian place down the road from their house. Well, we don’t want to keep you,” my mom says after 45 minutes. But, they weren’t keeping me from anything. I wouldn’t even change chairs, just tabs. After getting off the call, I did some shopping, some reading. I checked the shipping number for my next wine box. I didn’t send messages to any of my friends.

I’m not sure what happened, but things faded. Maybe I wasn’t interesting enough for people to keep up with. Maybe we didn’t actually have enough in common, and when you took entropy and proximity out of it, it didn’t make sense to keep it up. It’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. I know I could change it with the smallest bit of effort.

My apartment was quiet. I didn’t own any pets. I did own a white noise machine. In the middle of the night, I woke up every night at three am for six weeks before I figured out it was a garbage truck making its rounds, so now there’s a white noise machine on my nightstand. I would forget to turn it on before bed, so I bought a little plug that connected to the internet so I could put it on a timer. If you have a problem, you can sometimes solve that problem with money and plastic. Sometimes, I’m still in my living room at eleven, and I’ll begin to hear this whir from the bedroom. It’s the sound of duct tape covering a leak.

I walk through my apartment. It’s not much to walk through. It’s a living room and a bedroom, a small kitchen, a small balcony. A bathroom, a hallway with a small closet. Everything is somewhat modern and designed, but after living here for a few years it just feels cramped. I can’t buy anything without throwing something away first. It’s not a bad way to live, but it isn’t very interesting. I can’t add to the space.

Sometimes I think, I’m not worth designing something like this. Who is? Who is this for? Someone spent time and money and part of their life to build such a thoughtful, tight space, only for its occupant to be a ghost.

I could buy a neighbor’s apartment. I hate to admit how often I’ve thought about it. It’s the only way to get more without starting over. I go out to my small balcony sometimes. I place my elbows on my tiny railing and peer over at my neighbor’s identical setup. There’s enough room for two chairs and a tiny table. I haven’t done that but they have. If their balcony was mine, I’d buy chairs just like that.

I went to crack a beer but found myself nearly out. What the hell, it’s only seven. I could say I did something tonight by going out. I could walk. The microbrewery wasn’t far. I asked my phone what the weather was like. I put my headphones in. The microbrewery was fifteen minutes away by walk. If I skipped the ads, I could get through most of a podcast.

My elevator doesn’t have that trick where, if you hold down the close door” button, it’ll just keep going to the lobby, skipping all the floors where people have hit the button. I’d heard about this trick on a podcast. I’ve always wanted it to work, but it never does, not in any elevator I’ve tried. A few floors down, someone always joins me. The experiment fails. Before the door fully opens, I pause my podcast. My headphones stay in.

Today, it’s a girl. She’s shrunken. Not small, just trying to not take up space. She’s defensive, worried. She isn’t looking at her phone or listening to anything. She’s looking at herself in the floor-length mirror on the left side of the elevator. I’m on the right, looking at her only a little bit, mostly with my peripherals. She’s wearing a pretty dark red dress, stockings and heels. The heels look a bit chunky and comfortable. She crosses her arms for a moment but then uncrosses them. She checks her hair in the mirror. She’s nervous and maybe cold. I’d be cold. How could you not be cold? You’d be cold in a warm room wearing just that dress.

We reached the lobby and she got out ahead of me. She gave me a polite smile as she left. We were hitting the same exit, so I stayed back and checked my phone to give her distance. It isn’t a race. As I put it away, having looked at nothing but the time that I’d then immediately forgotten, I saw her turning around and heading back into an elevator. Maybe she forgot something, but she looked upset.

I left the building and turned. I smelled cigarette smoke. There was a man leaning near the entranceway. He was lanky and took up space, relaxed, like he owned it. He was the opposite demeanor of that girl. He was looking at his phone, slowly swiping at whatever. As I walked by him, I drank in his features. He was taller than me. His hair was long but tucked behind his ears. He was that sort of tall, dark mysterious sort of thing, a big chin for his features, and strong cheekbones. He looked like he could be a model or an actor, that sort of stupid handsome you can’t buy. The hand that held the phone equipped several rings, all different shades of silver. I could see the hint of a tattoo on his neck, the rest disappearing beneath his jacket collar roll. He caught my attention. How could he not?

His other hand, which held the cigarette, came up to his mouth, and he took a drag. His eyes met mine for a brief moment, likely sensing that I was walking a little too slowly by him, that he was being drunk in. His eyes didn’t communicate annoyance, but recognition. Sure, they told me. Go ahead. I don’t blame you. His eyebrow arched just the smallest amount. I kept it and finally looked away.

Who is my narrator?

So I’ve got some mysterious smoking guy outside my narrator’s building. Something about him interests my narrator. What is it? But perhaps before I figure that out, why would anything interest my narrator? What makes something interesting or curious for them? My narrator can’t just be nobody. They can’t just actually be a camera. They have to have some perspective.

What do you look like, narrator? I think you’re probably smaller than both the smoking guy and his girlfriend. You can be invisible in a room. You wear unassuming stuff, and your disappear a bit behind your crossbody bag. You’re a viewer, and you feel a little guilty about it. You could be a voyeur if you put your back into it, but you know that’s probably not the most virtuous way to spend your time.

I think the narrator is non-binary. The reader will hear I” more often than not in referring to the narrator. Most characters won’t really be talking about them, but when they do, it’ll be with him, her, and them. I hope that isn’t concerning, but I don’t think it will be. I try to pick my character genders carefully. I’ve been allergic to thinking that the default” should be male, and that the default” love interest should be female. I’ve explored gay characters, but I haven’t had a non-binary character in my work yet.

And, sure, this is partly because I’m seeing myself as more non-binary lately. I see the option as more viable to write about. But I also find being non-binary not terribly interesting in and of itself. It answered a question for me about categorization, but that’s about it. And because I want my narrator to be the least interesting character, lets give them some less interesting traits.

I also have a theory that a nonbinary narrator might be helpful for anyone reading to feel attached to that perspective. A strictly male or female perspective may temper things differently for different readers. But that’s not one I’ve explored too much, and I might be wrong.

Their hair is shaved. They wear loose clothes for their frame, usually in an earthy colour scheme. They wear boots with a small heel. They usually wear long skirts and tshirts one size too big. They wear a Fitbit. Fitbits are the boring choice, right? Everyone has one.

If they’re to be a window into this story, I want them mostly harmless. Perhaps curiosity is their vice. Maybe they’re a researcher. Maybe that’s their job. Maybe this isn’t the first time they’ve stuck their nose where it doesn’t belong. Let’s say they work for some politically-neutral think tank and spend most days paraphrasing and citing arguments. It’s maybe a bit colourless as a gig but there’s something to why the narrator would have curiosity” as a primary character trait.

Let’s say they’ve moved away from home recently. Maybe a year. They haven’t met too many real friends in the new city. They’ve got friends online but their meatspace is mostly travelling to work and back, and sometimes attending the odd meetup. They have free time. I think that’s probably important for someone who’s about to get swept up in something. You can’t be too busy and still get distracted by strangers. They’re about to go on an adventure. Maybe they just got dumped and they’re open to something fresh?

So what’s this guy look like, anyway

Writing is a great privilege. I don’t have to fight anyone but me to do it. Writing is like bodyweight exercises. Sometimes the stuff with weights is easier. I’m heavy. Lifting me is hard. Day 5 of putting something together.

Last time, I had this little spark of an idea. I lived in a condo building. Lately, I’ve noticed this guy smoking downstairs, hanging out for a while. A girl who lives in my building comes down to meet him, and they drive off. That’s probably not very interesting by itself. It matters who he is. There’s a mystery box there, maybe, but only if what’s on the other side is compelling. It matters who she is. It should be important not just who she is in relation to him, but who she is by herself.

It matters a little bit less who I am. It could matter, but it could just as well be that the I” in this story is just a cypher for the reader. I’m a fan of that character. It’s a good device, and not one I’ve used in my writing before. My main characters have been the focus of my stories. Maybe it’d be nice to be a little bit more of a camera to something more interesting.

I don’t know if I have a favourite novel, but the Great Gatsby is up there. Nick Carraway is used less as a full character and more as a lens to this world. The characters speak to him and acknowledge him, but his impact on the plot itself is not heavy. Did you know the Great Gatsby enters the public domain on January 1, 2021? That’s cool.

So what’s this guy look like? Heh. Of course. When it comes to do the actual writing, planning, whatever, I drop this text box and look at Instagram for fifteen minutes. Maybe I was looking for him? I think he’s big. He’s some kind of bodybuilder. Physically intimidating, but with a somewhat kind-looking face. He’s bleached his hair a lighter colour than his beard, which is sculptured and well cared-for. He’s handsome and he tries. At first, it’s difficult to tell if it’s boyish or manly confidence. His smile seems genuine and maybe a tad dorky.

Is it strange that a guy who cares about his health would smoke? Sure. Maybe it’s a vape pen? Maybe it’s weed instead of tobacco. He wears these bright shirts you see in magazines that seem obscenely expensive. Maybe that’s more my character speaking? Maybe he thinks it would be insane to spend $400 on a loud, flowery shirt you barely button.

Maybe this guy smiles when he sees me and it disarms me entirely for days. It seems to have less effect on her. Who am I, again? I should figure that out.

Something, maybe

all week, I’ve been waking up at my usual time of around 7am. I zip up a hoodie, feed the cats, look out onto my balcony, and look at this little blank text file. Sometimes I scroll twitter for a few minutes because I’m a sad human who can’t stop, but I’m not sure you can hold that against anyone anymore. It’s a sort of habit I’m trying to rebuild in real time. Let’s talk about a story in the hopes of eventually writing that story. Is this a lame attempt to stave off depression going into the winter months while in the middle of a global pandemic? Duh. But hey, I’m supposed to be a writer. So let’s get to work.

Besides, my favorite show of 2020 is Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!, a comedy about the creative process. Three girls come together to make an anime. It’s wholesome as hell, and you’ll love it. Midori, Tsubame, and Sayaka all have different motivations and challenges for making an anime, and those challenges make up the drama of the show.

And when I think about how Eizouken creative process, you can’t help but try it yourself. Look around, man. There’s stuff to build on. Who’s that guy leaning against your building every other Thursday. What’s he smoking? What’s he waiting for? Your neighborhood isn’t cool, but he is. What’s happening there? He’s lanky and tall. You saw leave the parking lot. He’s got a car. What’s the make? Do cars still define people? They do, right? I don’t drive. That’s what it says about me.

He’s waiting for a girl who lives in my building. I put it together before I see the proof. Sure, of course he is. That adds up. But he waits a long time. Long enough to put the car in the guest parking, not just the entranceway where the delivery drivers park. He knows he’ll be down there a while. He smokes. He looks at his phone. The way he leans is just a little bit mysterious.

I shared the elevator with her once. She didn’t seem excited. Nervous, maybe. But also, sad? It didn’t seem like young love. Or rather, it didn’t seem like the young love I thought I had. I saw her walk up to him. They didn’t embrace. He just dropped his cigarette and stomped it out, and she followed him to the parking lot. What was this?

Hey, that’s something, maybe.

The Best Thing That Could Happen

I fell asleep watching Japanese pro wrestling last night. The drama around wrestling is jagged and stressful, but wrestling matches themselves—especially New Japan’s long main event style—are balletic and methodical. You can really put a few on and get the same calm as custom white noise. I mean, turn the volume down. The enthusiasm from the commentary track may not deliver the desired sleepy time heart rate.

While I was watching this match, I had a singular thought: what’s the best thing that could happen here? I didn’t particularly have skin in this game. If one or the other performer won,” would that mean anything to me? Not really. I was here for the choreography. A match can end in a lot of ways. What’s the best one? New Japan is a confident place, and nearly all their matches end with a decisive victor. But you know what I really love? A time limit draw.

If you don’t know wrestling, there are sometimes time limits. It depends on the company and the gimmick and what they’re trying to communicate. Time limit draws are usually about frustrations about working within the system. It’s a shenanigan under the rare guise of rule-keeping. One performer is a brick wall, the other a wrecking ball, and it’s about the wall falling in time. Can the wrecking ball get its job done? But that’s less interesting to me than a stellar performance not being marred by having to decide a winner.” How do you pick a winner in pairs skating, between the two people in the pair? You don’t. They sit at the kiss and cry and you judge them together.

Perhaps my favorite finish in any match is from 2001. Stone Cold Steve Austin and HHH have this 45 minute epic in February of that year. They sort of do the Rocky II finish, where they hit one another at the same time. Only, they collapse. HHH falls slightly slower, and he ends up on top of Austin. He wins” the match because that’s just coincidentally how pins in wrestling work (so, so many wrestlers have won” matches after being dragged on top of their opponent by someone else), but it doesn’t matter. The whole point was the performance itself.

As I’m letting my mind wander about this new story, I’m trying to look at it from new angles. I rarely think about the endings” of my stories. I make a few characters and try to follow them through an arc. But maybe I need to have something in mind, and that it should be worth the arc. My stories are usually love stories that don’t work out. There’s no real correlation to winning and losing in my stories. I don’t think those concepts are all that interesting. But I do like ties. It feels like the characters make it across together.

So maybe my story has to involve my characters competing for something that ends in a draw. Or maybe it’s something more emotional. They fight one another and get nowhere. Maybe they’re struggling too hard towards the wrong kind of ending, and they come to realize it was the wrong goal for them. Would that be the best ending? They realign their values. They’re together, focused. Is the best ending just a fresh, crisp beginning with renewed focus? Is it just circular like that. Is that too simple?

Contradictions in First Drafts

Denise’s hair is blue. Denise’s hair is auburn. Denise isn’t real. Denise is the only real thing that matters. Olive isn’t real. Lake isn’t real. Frank’s hair is auburn.

Something that snags me all the time is getting the names, genders, personal attributes, motivations, and even ways of speaking of the characters I’m writing. This is a first draft problem I’m sure lots of writers deal with. It’s a lot to keep in my head. It’s a problem for me because so much of my writing doesn’t get past the first draft. I’ve been writing first drafts for the last decade. I’m stuck. I’ve been a first draft writer for ten years. Frank’s hair is blue.

I’m writing about my writing in the hopes that I’ll kickstart a little bit of actual writing. I’ve got it in my head that maybe novels are too big for me right now. I was working on a novel—I Know Your Real Name Now—but the energy for that one ran out. Big unfinished projects weigh on me. It feels like I’m carrying it around, and unfinished novel” becomes a guilt hammer while I’m doing anything else. If you are what you spend your time on, then I’m mostly someone who works and watches movies. Below that, I play video games, do chores, try to work out, and doomscroll like everyone else. Somewhere below re-organize my closet” is fiction writing time. Denise isn’t real but sometimes wishes he was.

In the last two years I’ve gone from writing a good amount to none at all, from feeling very guilty about that to feeling okay. I’ve gone months without writing and it’s been fine. This is actually okay, really. It means I don’t need to write in order to be okay. Writing isn’t an integral part of the being okay” process. I’ve been writing fiction since I was in grade school. I’ve only stopped” in the last few years. And yeah, I’ve done no writing during the pandemic. It hasn’t sparked any creative outlets.

I’m hoping that I’ll kickstart a little bit of fiction writing because I still like it, man. I don’t think I was bad at it. Okay, I’m less than ace at keeping character details 100% straight, and Olive and his auburn hair isn’t going to keep her straight themselves. I’ve got that work to do. But that shouldn’t be the thing that stops me.

1667

I’m not going to write 1667 words. This was a number I cared about at one point. It has a smell to me. It has the faintest whiff of a stranger’s coffee near you, maybe closer to you than your own. Maybe it’s next to your computer and you don’t love how they pick it up and put it down. It’s careless and you worry about it spilling on your machine. You’re trying to write for an arbitrary goal in a mutually agreed-upon location. You don’t know this neighborhood. You don’t know this person. You know they’d never replace your laptop if they ruined it. But what can you do? I type.

I switch from first to second person. It’s annoying and fiddly and wrong and impossible to properly edit later without losing some context. My neck cricks. Your neck cricks now. I know your real name now. It’s me. Of course I’ve heard of him. I’m looking through glass and still see myself, but it’s not me. It’s you. It’s me.

This isn’t anything. You’re practicing typing again. She told you that you can’t be a good writer without reading more. But every time you read fiction, real fiction, your mind wanders to what you could write instead of what you’re reading. This doesn’t happen with the news and blogs and tweets. When I’m doomscrolling twitter, I don’t get creative. I can read hours of blogs and never want to reinterpret the text to suit my own creative flow. But books? Books get splish splashed in.

While half-watching a sitcom, I opened up the library app on my phone and rented out a new Nick Hornby novel. Later, in bed, the seven-day loan syncs the bits to my Kobo, the light and little ePub reader. I read books on my Kobo because the screen is better suited to reading text than any computer display. The loan says I have the book for seven days. It’s a popular book and I got to skip” the line for a week, but if I don’t finish the book in seven days, the bits disappear and appear on someone else’s account. I hope they’re reading it on some dedicated reading device. But I’m snobby about this. I’m assuming most people read their ebooks as God intended, on a Lenovo PC with a swivel screen running Windows 7 from 2009.

If I want to finish the book, I need to read about 60 pages a day. By page 20, I’ve forgotten any of the characters or what they’re doing. I’ve replaced them with my own imagination. What could I be writing instead? My mind lets ideas escape. I’m laying in bed. The only thing I can hear is one of our two fans spinning. It creates enough white noise to feel relaxed. I’m resting on my right side. My right arm is outstretched under my pillow, bend at the elbow. My right hand acts as the Kobo’s stand. My left hand reaches up and taps the bottom of the screen, telling it to go to the next page. I haven’t really read any of the text on that page, and I won’t read the text on the next page. My eyes lazily glide through them but nothing’s really getting through. But I still tap. I still progress. I’m 4% finished the novel by the time I realize I have no idea what’s happening. I’m a little bit more awake now as I swipe back to the last place where I felt I had the thread. Now, I’m only 3% complete. It is very likely I won’t finish this novel in seven days. It is also unlikely I’ll write down any of the ideas I had. I’m falling asleep, though. At least there’s that.

New writing workflow

I made a new iOS shortcut to do quick novel writing a few times a day. But shit, I’m going to have to type in Drafts because Scrivener has a bug in iOS 13. It’ll just capitalize random characters. I don’t know if it’s Scrivener or my bluetooth keyboard, but that’s okay. It’ll be a little easier in Drafts. Less baggage. This is my fourth or fifth time using this script. I read a thing today that suggested the following advice: if closed, knock. That’s what I’m trying to do with this writing practice. So a few times a day for at least 90 seconds, I write some stuff and hopefully it works. If I find myself in a flow state I’ll go longer. If I find it might work in the book, it’ll go in the book. I want to think about the book a little bit more often, and I think a few reminders will help. The Tuesday night writing thing was nice but it didn’t do too much in terms of actually moving the book forward.

So the plan is to write sketches multiple times a day. Try for 5 sketches. 2-3 minutes of writing. None of it has to fit. None of it has to matter.

But once every few days, read them. Filter. Decide if they fit. Re-write them a little to loosely fit a part of the book.

And really, I’m disappointed with part 2 so far. It’s flat. It doesn’t have the electricity that part 1 had. So maybe this’ll help. Pump it with a little chaotic electricity.

Morning Pages, October 25, 2018

The back streetcar door stayed open. Fourth and I were closer to the front and the thing was packed, so we couldn’t see exactly what the idiot looked like who didn’t know about the back step. But enough people were yelling at him that he’d figure it out, or someone would shove him out. There probably wasn’t any room for the person to stand, so they’d have to do that thing where they put one foot just underneath the seat to the door’s right, and the other on the lower railing. They’d have to do that every time the streetcar came to a stop, and it would be uncomfortable and strange and nobody should have to do it. But everyone has,and this person would have to. Unless they wanted to wait another ten minutes for the next one, but who knows when that one would actually come.

I think he’swearing headphones,” Fourth said. I shook my head. Someone was actually going to have to touch this guy or we’d be here forever.

Morning Pages, September 29, 2018

What are you playing?”

This wasn’t a serious question, Fourth thought. It couldn’t be. Nobody asks you this.

Game…boy?” She said, her guard up.

I know that,” the girl said. I mean what game.”

Final…Fantasy VI.”

Wow, there’s six of those?”

Fourth paused. This woman had no idea what Final Fantasy was.

She said Yeah, I’m really into it so…” Her gaze went back to the tilted screen above her hands.

Can I ask you something?” the girl asked.

Fourth took a breath. She closed the clamshell and put the little blue square in her purse.

Have you read the bible?”

Nope,” she said.

You haven’t read it?”

This isn’t happening,” Fourth said. Am I being punk’d right now? No, I’m not yet famous enough for that. Am I being Just For Laughs Gagged right now?”

I’m from the church of…”

Fourth wanted to say No you’re not. You’re here to fuck me. I have a job interview in less than an hour, this a bus is going slower than it should be, and you’re here to fuck me. You were sent here by my enemies to make sure I fail. Who sent you? Who do you work for?”

But instead she said Tell me more about your new god.”

Morning Pages, September 17, 2018

I always noticed its heft. Heavy and tank-like, loud and hot. Steamy. Indolent. Lit by the sun. Low-handing pull chords, some stripped loose from disrepair. The ads are old except for a few. Come and learn this over here. Four rows of two seats in the back, leading to a round set of 7 seats at the back. We sat two rows from the back, as a trio took up every seat. All of them with their feet up, comfortably stretched out for exclusivity. My left hand hung over the seat in front of me. Both hands, actually. My head nearly banged against the steel between my wrists. I was bent over, looking down at my shoes, and the steel beneath, discolored from years of spills. I was hung the fuck over, and we were headed to another party.

Morning Pages, September 16, 2018

Will I even know anyone there?” I asked.

Of course,” Fourth said. You’ll know everyone. You get along with everybody. I leave you alone in a room with strangers, and you’re friends with them in ten minutes. You guys have swapped phone numbers and phone number organization methods. It’s annoying.”

You’re saying I’m annoying,” I said.

I’m always saying you’re annoying, Hall,” she said. I say it 24 times a daylike a clock.”

I’m a good listener,” I said.

You’re a conman,” she said.

Con men have to be good listeners,” I said.

Weather in my writing

I often neglect weather in my stories. I usually say something like It’s nice out” and maybe talk about the sun for a sentence of two (if it’s disappearing), but in general weather doesn’t actually exist. It’s strange, because No Chinook,” A Record Year for Rainfall,” and Skypunch” are titles of my books, all weather-based titles, and all have some kind of weather-related incident, but outside of the phenomena, weather doesn’t really factor into my description. This is introspection, caused by looking out the window and seeing a cool cloud formation while thinking about what to write this morning.

My dad always likes talking about the weather. And early suggestions about what to write about often focused on it. I remember him telling me to try writing a story about some frozen hellscape that happened to an otherwise dry part of the planet, and people have to figure it out. He basically predicted The Day After Tomorrow.” Maybe that did inspire me to write a part of No Chinook, where a weird bit of weather that only happens in Alberta changes the moods of the characters for two chapters. But I remember bristling at the suggestion at the time, thinking, I like to write about relationships, not events. And I still mostly think that, which is why Skypunch probably didn’t work too well. There’s too much plot that isn’t informed by relationships, but by mysterious outside forces I kept vague on purpose. Not everyone can pull of a mystery box” plot, and I don’t think I can. But I can have people kiss and make that complicated. That’s my wheelhouse. Maybe I should just also remember to have it hail when it happens.

Morning Pages, September 2, 2018

The plants draped over the take from the balcony, firing with the cutlery, dangerously close to the extra sauce that arrived unrequested. For another table, perhaps. The hadn’t refilled our waters. The server may have left for another shift at another café, our table taken over by a new man, and he’s forgotten that he now has a table out of section. We’ve been abandoned and the plants are closing in.

Do wethink these parents knew one another or the babies sniffed each other as theypassed and now everybody has to be friends?

My babyis a ten. Yours is less than that. We’re going, charles.

You neversee green cars, especially like green m&m green. This SUV threw me and Ilost my concentration for ten minutes. It was the kind of green they teachchildren in order to know the difference.

And thena man on a scooter passed, being pulled by two large sheepdogs. It was the kindof sight that makes you really question things, like why aren’t more peopleusing their dogs to sled them around town on scooters? Has the mayor beennotified of this practice? We need to have resources for this obvious andamazing new form of transport. Or was this bad? Was he just an asshole formaking his large and furred dogs work on such a warm day for the benefit of hisclever laziness? Should we have this outlawed? Either arrest him or put him incharge of an urban transport committee. Anything in between won’t do.

So yes,people pass by you when you’re drinking expensive coffee. That’s the good part.They pass, you get a brief glimpse into their life, and you fill in the rest.How you fill it in is the cream of this operation. This is how I know I’meither creative or insane: every life I fill in is more interesting than myown.

Just keep writing. This is the part where I’ve run out of ideas but I’ve placed myself in a place with no internet and no way out for a few minutes, so I’ve got to just keep going. I could read but I’m not into what I’m reading right now. I’ll finish it out of obligation but not yet. This is rambling. I’ll delete this later. It doesn’t matter, and I probably won’t even post it on my blog that nobody reads, except that one guy in the Netherlands according to google analytics. How’s it going, Netherlands guy? Anyways, I gave myself until my wife comes back from the grocery store. She let me sit outside with the other men in the food court. This is just how it is. I do feel a little boyfriend benched, but I’ll take it. Sometimes you just take the easy thing because you’re warm and tired. However, it’s best to keep some track of these things so it doesn’t become a pattern. I don’t always want to be boyfriend benched. I want to help. I want to contribute. I want to be there. I want to learn how to write without saying I over and over. Thanks, Pro Writing Aid. You helped me recognize a bad habit. You were worth every penny.

Morning Pages, August 31, 2018

I am a man, but I don’t understand men very much. I write mostly about women, because that’s more where I’m comfortable and interested. The men in my books tend to be cyphers and cameras to more interesting characters. But I should try to write from a male perspective more often. Here’s one attempt, while thinking about men staying within the lines” while also being predatory.


I listen to music and I look at the pretty girls on the subway. Two to three seconds. Any more is awkward for everyone. I want to look. Seeing someone pretty in the morning is uplifting. I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, and the old advice of seven seconds is too long today. That’s a metric that’s definitely taken a blow since I learned it. Milk is about the same price as it was when I was a kid, but back then, you were told seven seconds was okay. No harm done under seven seconds. But today it’s three at best. It feels good to look. I don’t mean anything by it. I might remember them forever or they could be forgotten moments after I leave the train. It isn’t up to me. I can’t help what my mind decides to keep. I can’t help what my eyes decide to fix on. But I can control how long. And I’ll follow the rules. If it’s seven, I’ll look for seven. If it’s three, I’ll look for three. I’ll do what I can. I’ll take what I can. What I get is diminished all the time.

Habit Built

Last December, I began carrying around an A6 Shinola notebook and did my best to write a little bit every day. Mostly, it’s little bullet journal things that happened, or things I have to do. Sometimes it was my calendar, a mood tracker, and a place to just jot ideas and write without form or direction.

There were weeks I’d go without using it. Especially in the first three months. But sometime around March, I found myself spending at least a few minutes with it every day, and now its second nature. It took most of a year, but I don’t go a few hours without jotting something in my little notebook. It’s almost full. I bought an A6 Moleskine to replace it. I’m looking forward to filling another one.

I also write on my surface. It’s nice to have all that screen real estate, and writing with a surface pen is a joy. A few years ago, it became the norm that a screen without touch support seemed broken. It’s beginning to feel like that for screens without good stylus support. There are rumours of the next iPhone adding some Apple Pencil support. I hope that’s the case. The written word is personal. Our personal computers should let us do that.

Morning Pages, July 29, 2018

There wasn’t much dance left, so I went up to the roof to get high.

I sat sat five feet from Jillian, who barely acknowledged me at first. I didn’t much care either. i came up here to be alone, to stare off, and think about anything but the future. I heard her giggle. It got darker. From the roof, he could see lots of other roofs, but not much else. The horizon went on for a while. My first joint was too small to continue, and so I stomped it and started another one. Look, I’m not going to sorry for myself forever, but I am going to feel sorry for myself for at least one more joint.

High School was over. In the span of eight hours, I’d had sat in my last class, gone to my last high school dance, heard the Spin Doctors, and my girlfriend dumped me in front of everybody.

But then it didn’t end. It had happened too early in the night to truly matter. It was an opening act, a reminder that school dances were bottle episodes of drama. Not enough oxygen in the air, and too many people thinking this would be the last time they’d all see one another. It was bound to happen to someone. And I’d been so tossed overboard that I didn’t even know if it had happened to anyone else. Wrapped up in my own story, I wasn’t actually sure what else happened. Did anyone hook up that weren’t together at the beginning of the night? Did anyone else break up? Who cheated on who? Who danced with the wrong partner? Who grabbed the wrong coat, with the wrong note inside? I wanted to know. This dance was meant to close down this school, and to close out some books so others would open. That’s what my English teacher said morning. Close books. Open new ones. Hall smoked and watched the stars.

Morning Pages, July 28, 2018

Tich walked up to Walt. You know what time it is,” she said.

Walt looked at her. He heard the tempo slowing. He scoffed at first.

You always save one for me.” She said. It’s our tradition. Even since sixth grade.”

Walt thought back to their first dance. Mandated. Everybody pair up. It was luck. And they didn’t have to keep doing it. But some dances, he would ask her. Some dances, she would ask him. They never dated. They barely hung out. But every dance, they made sure to have one.

He followed her, and she put her arms around his shoulders and tied up her fingers behind his neck. His hands dropped to her waist.

I love your dress,” He said. You’re fantastic.”

Tich cocked her head a bit and took the compliment like a boss.

So you’re into Lucy, huh?” Tich asked.

You know,” He said, shifting his weight a little with every beat. I sometimes wish this school wasn’t just a pile of who likes who.”

What else is there?” Tich asked. Besides, you’re going to miss that in uni.”

I wouldn’t even know how to ask someone like that out,” he said.

The pace picked up slightly. They still mostly danced like they were still in middle school, but Tich couldn’t help but sway her hips a bit. There’s always that point in a slow song when it becomes faster, and nobody really knows what to do. They’d danced to this one before. It was a classic, from the early 90s. They knew it would slow down again, so they hung on.

Tess showed up out of nowhere and said I’m so drunk you guys.” Walt laughed like an idiot, and it was pretty awkward for a moment. But then he saved it. Fuck, me too,” he said. And they all woo’d like they were hanging out the top of a limo.

Morning Pages, July 13, 2018

Tess passed Jillian in the hallway to the washroom.

Jillian grabbed Tess’ inside elbow. She whispered, I heard you’re holding. Also, did you wax your arms? Holy shit, girl.”

Tess whispered back, I’ve got some weed. You wanna go out back and smoke?”

Oh,” Jillian said, disappointed. I was hoping you had coke.”

Tess hugged Jillian to get a little closer. You do coke?”

No!” Jillian said. I just thought, I dunno, if someone had it, I might wanna try it for the first time tonight. I mean, college is in two months. I haven’t even smoked pot.”

I have pot,” Kate said.

Jillian smirked. You said you had weed.”

Oh my god,” Kate said. Let’s go up.”

Kate meant the roof, so she headed in that direction, but Jillian stayed back. Kate had to give her a little puppy-style come on,” pat on her thighs before Jillian gained the strength to obey. Kate found the door to the roof around the next corner. She pulled the key out of her purse.

You have a key to the roof?” Jillian asked, incredulously.

You don’t have a key to the roof?” Kate said. She realized how this sounded. Jillian maybe wasn’t in the group of people who knew about the key cutting scheme from last year. She apologized.

Jillian followed Kate up the stairs. She’d never seen this part of the school. It smelled different, like static air mixed with outside, changing with every step. The stairs were a different height than the wide staircases on each corner of the school. She almost tripped. But then they reached the door, and she breathed surprisingly refreshing air. She hadn’t gone outside since the beginning of the dance, and Jillian felt unexpected relief.

Have you ever smoked?” Tess asked. Jillian shook her head. Tess told her it wasn’t a big deal, and she probably wouldn’t feel too much. It was just a little bit nicer. Jillian asked about feeling paranoid. Tess calmed her of that and several other quick fire questions. Then she asked if she wanted to do it for real. Then she pulled out one of her three joints, lit it, inhaled, and handed it over.

Take it in easy,” Tess said. You’ll cough if you go too hard.”

Jillian didn’t cough, and felt proud of herself. She’d cough after the third inhale.

Morning Pages, July 02, 2018

Walt sat and drank orange drink. It had gin in it, and maybe vodka? It wasn’t exactly great, but it was free booze. All he’d done is place a cup underneath the spout and hit pour. Someone had spiked it. There were four large orange plastic containers in a row near the gym teacher’s office windows. Had they all been spiked? Walt hoped so. It would make the night a little funnier.

Hall had been gone a while. Maybe half an hour? It was enough time for people to get back to dancing and move on. Walt noted the half life of a major drama event at seven minutes. For that period of time, people milled, gossiped, and walked around worried. More mini fights broke out amongst people who disagreed with what they’d just seen, or which side was right. Walt sat back and watched the fray, not really sure what was happening, until he saw Banks head to one door and Hall get pulled away by Ram’s goons to the other. He figured something happened, but it wasn’t until Jillian came over to talk with him that he learned what happened.

Jillian said, Those fucking drama queens.”

But seven minutes later, it was like nothing happened. The music didn’t even stop. Maybe that was it, Walt thought. If the music had stopped, and the lights turned on, maybe it would have meant something more. But the dance itself just kept going.

Did you know there’s…vodka, I think, in the drink?” Walt said to Jillian, eying the stuff in his cup and trying to figure it out by sniffing it.

I swear,” Jillian said. Those two always have to make things about them. Like, I get it. Break up if you’re not happy, or if your guy is a jerk, but to do it in front of everyone? Like.”

I wonder who spiked it,” Walt said. Jillian sat down next to him.

So you like Lucy, huh?”

What?” Walk replied.

Lucy took the drink from Walt’s hands and sniffed it. Rum,” she said, handing it back, and then walking away.

Morning Pages, June 22, 2018

You may have a conversation go a long time with someone you met once at a bar three years ago, connect deeply on a load-bearing pillar of your personality, and then never speak to that person again. The dialogue will stick with you. What she’ll have said will change how you think. A good house party, like a good book, will alter how you see people for the better. It will keep you going for a long time. A good party is life fuel.

Morning Pages, June 15, 2018

It wasn’t obvious that I should go after her. My romantic gut pushed me in that direction, sure. It was telling me to walk up to her, pick her up, and take her home. It was an instinctive part of my lizard brain. She’s mine, the romantic gut thought. It had been wronged all those years ago and saw an opportunity for the universe to restore balance.

Thankfully, my brain was still in charge. My romantic gut was thinking with chivalrous roots, and none of that was appropriate or practical or smart. She didn’t belong to me, or this new guy. She’d made the decisions that got her where she was. Leaving me was one of them. I had to respect that, because I had to respect her, even if I didn’t fully understand.

So instead I stood in her hallway near a staircase full of her new friends and drank the beer I didn’t bring. It was disgusting. What was this?

Morning Pages, June 12, 2018

The stove handle dug slightly into my back. It wasn’t uncomfortable, I just felt it. I’d put my hand on it before, but it gave. Something about it was weak. Any real downward pressure would dislodge it, and one side would swing down, and it would make the most ungodly noise, direct all eyes in this direction, and I’d ruin the whole party. Maybe I’d keep this in my back pocket as a plan for later. I hoped I was the only one who recognized this weak point.

I’d been camping on this spot for two cycles. First, Finn caught up with me about her job. I barely understood it, a confetti of techno-babble and six sigma spaghetti. She seemed stressed and overworked and not drunk enough. I helped and handed her two as she stood with me, my arm just a little closer to one of the coolers on the other side of the stove.

You’re a good enabler,” she told me.

That’s what casual friends who only see each other during intense dramatic moments in their life do,” I said.

You still don’t know shit about women,” she said.

Morning Pages, Monday, June 11, 2018

Mint green paint on the walls of this place that’s closing at six for a private event. I’ve got fifteen minutes, they say, and then I’ve got to go. And I will go. What am I? Just some guy with a keyboard. I could go home and write but I know I won’t. I’ll go home and the routine will kick in, and that routine never involves writing. It’s all here, in places that close, where I get my best work done.

I’m meek about it. They’ll say, hey, we’re closing up soon. And I’ll usually leave right then. I won’t wait until just before they lock up. I won’t use up every single minute. I’ll take a short breath, and move my stuff back into my bag. I bought the bag to make myself feel more like a writer. It has the style of pockets writers like. Little pouches for pens and chargers and fetish items. The guy who made my coffee asks me about my keyboard. I feel I came off as smug, but it is nice and I like talking about it. And I like typing on it, so long as it’s kurt tweets about tech companies and not my novel. My novel takes a while to arrive. I’ve got to do all the other stuff first. Tweets. Email. Group chat. And then, oh, hell, they’re closing up soon.

My feet hurt. I bought the wrong kind of shoes. These are not writers’ shoes. This is not writers’ tea. This is a writers’ watch, because it’s broken. These are writers’ glasses, because I can look at a screen for 12 hours a day and not tire, even if the novel never opens. They’re closing. I should go. I usually just leave. But I feel like I’m on a roll. I finally crack the damn file. Opening. It bounces. There it is. The last place I left the words.

The music stops. One light turns off. It’s a sign. They’re being nice, but I know the next thing will be someone asking me to go. I pack it up. I didn’t actually type a word. But I saw where I was. I saw my last thoughts. And I’ll think about them on the subway on the way home, where obviously I can’t write because

Writing Novels vs Writing Short Stories

If I’m trying to get better as a writer, good enough that I can enter contests and get published and then rob the Kwik E Mart and become Senator, I wonder if slowly writing novel chapters maybe isn’t the best way to go. Also, winding run-on sentences.

I started out as a short story writer. I’ve written short things here and there. But I’ve never actively done them. But maybe that should change. Maybe it’s better to continuously come out with shorter material than spend years working on a thing that goes nowhere.

I Know Your Real Name Now: Thoughts on Chapter 4

This took me over a month to write. Not because I was working on it the whole time but because I was avoiding it. I didn’t know how to end it or frame it and those decisions paralyzed me. Eventuality, I sat down and wrote the three scenes to conclusion, and then reordered them like 6 times until I got it the way I could at least call it good enough for v1.

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I jump around in time. The Intro takes place with the characters in their early thirties, but three chapters take place at the end of high school. In chapter four, I add some memories. Hall remembers back to grade 8, and another school dance. Banks remembers back to the beginning of their relationship.

But the meat of the chapter happens between those two memories. Tich and Finn have dragged Hall out of the dance after the breakup and they have questions, but they’re also a little self involved. They’re a little rosenceantz and guildenstern. They know our protagonist and care, but they’ve got their own stuff going on. These are my favourite types of characters.

One way I’m trying to build this world is by introducing characters who clearly know the four protagonists very well. They know them better than we know them at this point, (definitely better than I know them) so they become these lighthouses in the story that can help you see a little farther.

Thematically, it’s important that Banks remembers a moment between them and Hall remembers something isolated. The greatest reason she had for breaking up with him was that he treated her like a character in his story. He’s not ready to process what that means.

I Know Your Real Name Now: Thoughts on Chapter 4

This took me over a month to write. Not because I was working on it the whole time but because I was avoiding it. I didn’t know how to end it or frame it and those decisions paralyzed me. Eventuality, I sat down and wrote the three scenes to conclusion, and then reordered them like 6 times until I got it the way I could at least call it good enough for v1.

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I jump around in time. The Intro takes place with the characters in their early thirties, but three chapters take place at the end of high school. In chapter four, I add some memories. Hall remembers back to grade 8, and another school dance. Banks remembers back to the beginning of their relationship.

But the meat of the chapter happens between those two memories. Tich and Finn have dragged Hall out of the dance after the breakup and they have questions, but they’re also a little self involved. They’re a little rosenceantz and guildenstern. They know our protagonist and care, but they’ve got their own stuff going on. These are my favourite types of characters.

One way I’m trying to build this world is by introducing characters who clearly know the four protagonists very well. They know them better than we know them at this point, (definitely better than I know them) so they become these lighthouses in the story that can help you see a little farther.

Thematically, it’s important that Banks remembers a moment between them and Hall remembers something isolated. The greatest reason she had for breaking up with him was that he treated her like a character in his story. He’s not ready to process what that means.

Morning Pages, May 10, 2018

Breathe. You’re a bad person right now. So think.

Am I doing the right thing at the right moment? That’s the hardest question. As I stood there flanked by two friends of friends, my feet planted in soft landscaped dirt, these nice shoes ruined not even by dancing but one too many trips on fake earth, my mind took my attention to some self help guy they brought in to tell us how to live our best lives. He was this slick car salesman type with small eyes and large teeth and a banana in his suit jacket pocket. His talk took thirty minutes but felt like three hours, and I only remembered one line. He was talking about taking what was ours, and how the only real decision any of us could make at any moment was if we were doing the best possible thing right now. And if we didn’t know, then we probably weren’t.

I’m definitely not. But what would be the best thing to do in this moment? Go back in and forget what happened, and just dance? Go after her, find her, change her mind? I doubted it, and felt helpless. Go straight home, pack up, and start over in a new city with a new identity? Always an attractive option.

The air was getting warmer as the sun set. It was eight o clock now. Two hours left in the dance. I could hear the music from the door. And I realized that surrender was an option. Accept what happened, and let yourself digest it before moving on. She’d tore me up in front of everyone. That happened. I didn’t dream it. I wasn’t going to wake up. And I had questions to answer.

Morning Pages April 26, 2018

I’m building a bridge for you. I want you over here. I will use all my knowledge and all my technology to bring you over. I will learn new models and workflows to get you here. I will subscribe to new podcasts to get you to cross that bridge. I will sign up for a flower delivery subscription service to make sure you feel loved and beautiful. I will buy you the trendy headphones. They’ll fit in your ear. They fit just fine in mine.

You’re over there because we don’t talk anymore. We spend our evenings doing our own things. Me with my growing github repository, you with your books and television and bars. You with your new friends who don’t know me. Me with my top of the line smartwatch that can tell you when I’m home. You with your new tattoo and nail art and Justin. Who is Justin anyway? Oh, a guy from work. Okay.

I will hack through this. I will put my head down and find you in a script. I will fiddle with this emulator until you love me again. I will ask you to let me subscribe to your google calendar again. I lost access at some point. I will ask, what’s for dinner, and then I will cook dinner.

You would have loved it, she tells me. You should have come. I wanted you there. I wish you’d been there. But I’d stayed home, building the machine that will fix us.

Morning pages April 24, 2018

Finn and Tich flanked me, as if protecting me from a mob, but we were alone. As we reached the smokers pit, Tich turned me around like I’d been blindfolded at a birthday. In the same swift and slick move, she stuck a cigarette in my mouth and lit it. She stood back and lit one for herself.

Breathe,” she said.

I didn’t know whether or not to obey that.

Jesus Christ,” Finn said. She didn’t smoke, instead taking out a compact out of her jacket to check her face.

I’m so jealous of your pockets,” Tich said, waving her little purse around.

I really like your suit, Finn,” I said. It’s sharp as shit.”

Thanks, bro,” she said.

#I know your real name now - thoughts on chapter 3

#I know your real name now - thoughts on chapter 3

So, chapter 3 is the shortest first draft so far (1500 words as opposed to 2500 for the others). It’s the first chapter with a real plot point, and it’s a big world-breaking one. I wanted it to be punchy and explosive, so I wanted to keep it brief.

One of the reasons I’m writing these thoughts” posts is that when I go back to these chapters for a second draft, I want to remember my motivation for decisions.

So, like, the fact that the chapter starts with the characters sneaking out for a couple of smokes, I think that conveys the late-90s era really well. The big cull of smokers hadn’t quite happened yet. I wanted one character to have drugs, but because they’re high school characters I want to keep it vague as to which drug. And I wanted Ram and Fourth on the opposite side of the room from Hall and Banks when the plot point occurs. It’s important that Ram and Fourth don’t actually see what’s happening.

Something I might go back and add is Ram and Fourth leaving the room during the plot point. Ram is trying to get Fourth up on the roof and has this scheme, but the plot point gives her an opening. But that might also be something I put in chapter 4 or 5.

I read a portion of this chapter back in November, and it played well. It’s almost a comical over dramatic way of doing what I want to do. I could very much see it get muted into something more realistic in subsequent drafts. But for now, I’m enjoying the over the top of it all.

Morning Pages April 02, 2018

Fourth followed behind us, and said I’m going to find my big strong woman.”

She did what everyone did at least once during a dance: make an entire circle around the room looking for one person, then turn around and find they were right behind you. And then, there she was.

I missed you,” she said to Ram. Ram kissed her, picked her up and said my plan is going so well.”

Fourth asked about spiking the orange drink. No, I didn’t do that.”

She asked about distracting the chaperone’s. No,” Ram said.

Did you get the roof key from the janitor’s closet?”

Ram shook her head.

Then how is your plan going well?” Fourth asked.

You’re right in front of me, and you love me,” Ram said. Fourth melted.

Aw.”

Everything will work out,” Ram said. You can’t force these things.”

Ram dropped her jacked on one of the tables near the edge of the room and took Fourth’s hand. I hope it’s a slow one.”

Morning Pages March 31, 2018

I loved the smoker’s pit. It was far and away my favorite spot on the entire school grounds. I made all my friends here. Every major connection I had with people I loved began here. Located just outside and around the corner from the outside cafeteria exit, the smoker’s pit was actually a pit. The land sloped down towards this tree. Picture a small baseball diamond, except it all goes downhill and the tree is home. Fourth called it Deku after some Zelda thing. You could duck at certain spots and nobody looking out from the cement around the school could see you.

I wasn’t in school to excel. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t an academic. I wasn’t much of anything. But I could smoke, and I could crack jokes. That’s pretty much all I wanted to do, and thankfully I wasn’t alone with that goal.

It was normal for everyone to go outside every now and then at these dances, even the people who didn’t smoke. Fresh air was a necessary respite from the fog machine and orange drink sweat. I’d been waiting to see Banks move out so I could talk to her away from it all. She’d gone out with all her girlfriends, but that was fine. I’d just interrupt everything.

Morning Pages March 27, 2018

I like to think of major problems as mountains to climb. There’s the obvious reasons like how things get more challenging over time, and how it’s best to prepare as much as you can ahead of tackling the problem. And there’s the practical everyday advice of taking things one step at a time instead of being intimidated by the overall goal. But the mountain metaphor works on all kinds of levels. The mountain is only something to climb in your head. Not everyone sees the mountain as an obstacle. The mountain doesn’t really care if you climb it or not. And most potent, climbing the mountain does not defeat the mountain. After you’ve reached the summit, climbed back down and gone home to find peace, the mountain is still there.

#I Know Your Real Name Now - thoughts on chapter 2

#I Know Your Real Name Now - thoughts on chapter 2

I finished chapter 2 of the new novel last night. Shoot me an email if you’d like to read it. I already laid out what happens in a bit in a previous post. There are already things I want to go in and change. I want Ram to have more than one scene. And I want the end to pop a bit more. But on the whole, I did what I set out to do with it, which was have a move the pieces on the board” chapter.

I’m trying something different with I Know Your Real Name Now: I’m writing out not just summaries and bullet-points on what I want to have happen before I write the chapter, but I’m trying to make those bullet points line up to a but/therefore” method, so that the narrative has a little bit more tension and velocity.

I’m a dialogue writer who sometimes has description and world-building and plot. This book isn’t going to be any different, but at the very least there’s a structural layer where I think things will work before I write it all. At least there is a plan for more than just banter.

I do like the banter in this chapter.

Morning Pages March 21, 2018

Banks caught sight of Fourth just as House of Pain came on. She waved her over to where she was standing with Tess and Kate. The three girls fawned over Fourth’s dress. There were lots of hugs and woos.”

This moment, early on in the evening, would be Banks’ favourite. Her friends all around her, throwback rock and hip hop playing, she was able to forget what she’d been trying to avoid. She elevated her mind and body to the kind of blissful plateau the low budget high school dance was strangely capable of providing. Every new song kept them higher. Fifteen minutes went by in an instant, but it was a fifteen minutes she’d hold in high regard as one of the brief great happy moments of her life.

I need a smoke,” Tess said, and the whole group agreed. They made their way towards the exit door, which had been propped open by a small brick. The chaperones were supposed to keep this door closed, but it was already stifling in the gym and the fresh air mitigated. Every time a student came and went, a waft of fresh May air gave the room some life. I’m half an hour, the door would be opened fully, and no attempt was made to stop anyone from coming or going.

Morning Pages, March 15, 2018

I haven’t slept well this week. I’ve had a good week, and I’m happy, but I haven’t slept, which means something gave, and it was writing. I wrote two sentences today:

I don’t know if I’m going to make it, but I am going up the mountain.

And also

You fucking shoegazer.”

I like both of them, but, yeah, not much today.

Morning Pages, March 14, 2018

You know my Aunt Erica? She lives in that house on greenwood? You met her a few times, doesn’t matter. She liked you a lot. Always approved of us as a thing. Always wanted me to live my best life. So supportive. She didn’t have kids of her own. Didn’t want them, you know? Some people just don’t want kids. Do you want kids? Doesn’t matter right now. That’s a stupid question to bring up right now. God. Ram, get back to it. Anyways, Erica died last month.”

I remember you telling me. You were really broken up about it.”

Still am,” Ram said. I loved her. Way more than my own parents. Christ, where even are they? Anyways, there was a meeting with her attorney and they read out her last will and everything, and I have a surprise for you.”

Ram presented a key.

Aunt Erica left me her house.”

Oh my god,” Fourth said.

Morning Pages March 07, 2018

Walt and I sat there as three girls came up to us and dropped their coats down on the table we were sitting on. I knew all of them. Olive, Patricia, and Lucy were pretty inseparable. I think they were all a thing.

God these dances are the worst,” Lucy said. I’m gonna get high as fuck. Hey Walt. Hall.”

Olive and Patricia gave polite nods and followed Lucy to the smokers’ exit.

I want to get high with Lucy,” Walt said.

He wants something,” I said. That’s new.”

What do you want?” Walt asked.

My whole life is tied up with her,” I said to Walt.

But what do you want?”

He shifted on the table. A song began to play I knew Fourth would like. I wanted to dance. I wanted everything to be okay. This night was beginning awkwardly, if predictably. Banks would usually split for a bit and dance with her other friends. We’d hook back up a few songs later.

I want tonight to go so well she’ll love me forever,” I said.

Walt paused. I think you’re being a bit dramatic, but I’m not actually sure if you ever haven’t been, so maybe this is all normal.”

I should give her a promise ring,” I said.

You should not,” Walt said. Promise rings are for Christian dorks when they’re 14. You’re 18, and an Atheist. Your people just live together, write common law” on your taxes, and then die quietly.”

Two hundred late adolescents in one small room with minimal ventilation, all wondering and worrying that this is the last day of everything they’ve known. Cliques and friendships and loyalties and teammates, all set loose. Some of us would stay close, but most wouldn’t. Most people move away. Most people go to different colleges, if they go at all. Today was the last day we’d exist like this.

Take it down a notch,” Walt snapped me out of it. I can see you over dramatizing in your head.”

I Know Your Real Name Now - Initial Thoughts on Chapter 2

If you’re interested in reading first drafts of this story as I write it, let me know and I’ll send you individual chapters. Sometimes my morning pages” make it into the drafts, and sometimes they don’t, so send me an email or tweet if you want longer drafts. Chapter 2 will be ready in a few days, and I wanted to get some notes down here.

If you don’t want to know anything about the plot or the book itself, definitely skip this post.

So, I posted about each character a few weeks ago, but I didn’t really explain what actually happens in chapter 1. To sum up: there are four characters in the story, and they’re on the way to the last dance in high school. In chapter 2, they enter the dance and immediately separate. So, in chapter 1 you get the rapport between the four characters, and in the second chapter you see them on their own, with different friends.

  • Fourth runs off first and finds her friend Jillian. They talk about the music at the dance and how to sway the DJ to playing songs they want.
  • Ram finds her wrestling team friends. There are four of them.
  • Banks finds two of her friends, and they are both supportive and present, as a contrast to how the general atomosphere was between her and Hall in chapter 1.
  • Hall is left alone, and before he can follow Banks, is met with Walt, his incredibly sarcastic and negative friend, who likes to sit back and just make fun of things.

Not much happens in chapter 2 either. It’s equal parts a World building” chapter by adding some new characters and showing off the setting in the first third of this book, as well as a way to move the pieces into place for chapter 3. Chapter 3 is where the big thing happens that fuels the entire act.

I want some Hi-C now.

I Know Your Real Name Now - Introduction

I’ve been writing a new novel for the past six months. It’s the first book I’ve written that didn’t have a title right away. No Chinook and A Record Year for Rainfall had titles within the first week. Skypunch started out as a title only for the longest time. My Lover’s Phone was the only title that made sense for that short story. But this new book was just called new book” in Scrivener this whole time.

I Know Your Real Name Now is a story about four characters experiencing the events of three parties decades apart. The first one takes place at the end of high school, the second in their mid-20s at a housewarming, and the last twenty years later, on a party boat, celebrating a major life achievement. Through the three parties, I’ll express how these characters grow apart and find one another again, how betrayals lead to new relationships, and how one person’s memory of events can be very different than another.

A great party is a sort of heaven. One full of people you want to talk to, whose experiences you absorb, and come out feeling like you couldn’t have possibly spent time better. On the flip side, parties can be volatile. Some of life’s greatest moments of drama happens at parties, and everyone is there to see it. Those are great in another sense: pivotal, evocative, and remembered forever.

It’s already my favourite thing that I’ve written.

#It’s All Writing

#It’s All Writing

Why am I talking about apps and stuff when I should be talking about Writing?

Well, there’s morning pages at the bottom of this. It might just be a paragraph but it’s there. I don’t get to write for more than a few minutes every day, but those are often some of the best minutes. I’m an introvert, and every moment I spend with another person takes a little out of me. This time, this writing time, puts it back in. I write, and I spend time alone, so that I can handle being out and about. Without it, I just kind of shut down. It’s not an excuse. It’s just what I’ve found about myself.

Was that the writing? I don’t know. I might use that.

There’s a line in You’re the Worst,” where Jimmy, a novelist and the main character, defends his procrastination by yelling It’s all writing!” And this is bs, obviously, but there’s a small thread of villainous truth in there. Everything you do can be in service to the writing. Your life is a big ship, and it only gets bigger and harder to steer. But changing course is possible with enough motivation and a lot of little changes. So I want to be more a writer, so I try to consume more things that push me to write. I try to eliminate things that really get me away from writing. What I carry changes (I’m writing this on a small Bluetooth keyboard that fits in my lap on the train, when I’m lucky/ruthless enough to get a seat). You exercise more, because you need to breathe to write.

So sometimes the only thing I can think to write about is the app I’m using, or the podcast I’m listening to, or the weird workflow I have for organizing my music library. It may not be writing” or the book” but it is words on a screen, and some days that has to be enough. I’m going to use it as an excuse to put words on a screen.

When I say You,” I really mean me.” All of this is advice I’m giving myself. It might not work for you, or you.” This is a Mr Robot situation. I’m talking to myself, and I’m talking to you, and I’m talking to myself.

Every blog is a Mr Robot situation, isn’t it?


##Morning Pages

This is a third act bit.

Hall wasn’t my real name either. They started calling me that in the seventh grade and because everyone I know in high school knew me back then, it hasn’t changed. Every now and then someone will move to our neighbourhood and join the school, and those people may make friends and fit in, but they don’t have the same kind of nickname history. They don’t basically get renamed without getting much of a choice about it, and have that story get so twisted over the years that nobody really remembers why. Why is Hailey Klepper called Lisa Loeb? Did she wear glasses for a week in 1995? Who knows.

You know what I mostly watch people watch on their phones on the subway?” Banks asked me, likely rhetorically. She was eating those fantastic salt and pepper Vick’s chips and I wanted some.

Porn?”

It’s like, never porn,” Fourth said. I’m not saying I’d want there to be porn on the subway all the time, but like, some porn, you know?”

Some would be good,” I said. Some would make it seem honest.”

Friends,” she said. Everyone is watching Friends.”

Friends sucked,” I said. But I get it.”

Friends sucked,” she agreed. So what is it you get?”

People suck?” I asked, likely rhetorically. Nah, it’s not that simple. Friends is comfort food, easy, and aspirational. I think everyone watches it because they want an apartment that cheap.”

Are you two drunk already?” Fourth interrupted.

Absolutely,” Banks said. And we love you, and are so proud of you.”

Fourth gave us the eye, then walked back to her other friends.

Morning Pages February 21, 2018

This goes in part 2 somewhere, when Hall is high.

You guys are like, the breakfast club of misfit toys,” she said.

That doesn’t even make sense. Those are two, like, incompatible references.” I said.

Look, I’m not here to debate the merits of a clever high school nickname, but that’s what everyone thinks of you guys.”

Well, both of those movies were super successful.”

And full of dorks.”

Yeah,” I said. Why didn’t you just call us full of dorks’?”

Because that doesn’t make sense. You’re the dorks. You can’t also be full of dorks. And also, I didn’t come up with the phrase.”

You totally did. You ruined my life.”

My name is the chilling sound of your doom.”

Mr Freeze?”

Best Batman movie,” she said.

You’re full of dorks,” I said.

Morning Pages February 20, 2018

Anyways, I wrote this earlier today. I’m writing snippets of character moments for the novel out of context. It’ll either fit in the book proper or it won’t, but it all informs how these characters progress:

Fourth found herself a success. She slept less than the others. She read the books. She signed up for business classes and took the lessons to heart. She tracked her time, at first with a spreadsheet template but eventually with an online service she paid for. It spat out invoices she’d send to every client who didn’t pay automatically. She made her clients happy, pulling old school flattery moves like sending cards and flowers on special occasions. She took ram on vacation to Montreal every few weeks to let off steam and treated her like Ram always had wanted to treat Fourth. We treat each other,” Fourth would tell her. You take such good care of me.” It was increasingly untrue.

I Know Your Real Name Now: Initial Descriptions of Main Characters

I used to enjoy adding little bits of first-draft writing to my old blog, so I’m going to do it again with this new book. These bits aren’t edited and will almost definitely change as the book progresses, but they make for a nice bookmark as to where things are now.

I Know Your Real Name Now has four main characters. Here’s my initial descriptions for each.

Hall

Aw, I remember the old you,” Banks said. And then she framed me with her hands. A skinny kid with quick metabolism about to run out, as if you might get your freshman fifteen before making it to college. 170 pounds, 5’9, white kid with okay-cute dark features. But you picked and chewed your nails. You did not know how to take care of your fingers. Straight hair, cut just below his ears, black. Black eyebrows, somewhat thick, not like it is now. Dark brown eyes, but a strong, angular nose, the only chiseled thing on you at the time. Your skin was only halfway healthy, and a little bit freckled, but only if you looked really close. You parted his hair down the middle, like the singer from Savage Garden or the kids from Hanson, but a bit shorter. And you put gel in it to slick it down and it looked halfway like it belonged in 1997. You started combing it back with your fingers almost as soon as I broke up with you. You wore Hawaiian shirts. You only owned two pairs of shoes: one of them were girls shoes, but you wore them to prom because they were your only nice ones.”

Banks

Banks was 5’4, curvy, 130ish pounds. Black and luminous. She was born in Toronto, and so were her parents. She’s third generation, she told me. Her grandparents were from the US. She had the bright cheeks, full light pink lips. She loves those frosted pink Lip Smackers from Claires. Her hair is tight up front, her thick hair tied into two buns, except for on nights when she straightens it (like dances [but not tonight?]). She liked earrings, thin ones that dangled down. She kept her eyebrows thin, her Grey-brown eyes perfectly placed. She wore thick mascara on dance nights, so her eyes would dazzle more. She had glowing skin that radiated under party lights. She liked showing off her shoulders. She usually danced shoulder first.

Ram

Ram’s light brown eyes were close together, and she had a thin nose for her face. She slicked her hair back with thick gel, and would regularly change her hair’s colour from dirty blond to the wrestling teams deep blue with manic panic, but she wouldn’t wear the cap properly and so a bunch of the stuff would always be smeared on her neck.

Her laugh was conquering. She was the strongest person she knew and it gave her impenetrable confidence that she wore like a fur coat. She never hunched, and always took up as much space as she could in any car.

Her muscles weren’t defined in the way you’d see in magazines and on pro wrestling. They were defined like you’d see in strongman competitions and the beefier hosts on the nature channel. You didn’t see glisten and torque when she flexed, but she could pick up the back half of your car and pull it a while.

Fourth

Fourth was a somewhat squat girl at just over five feet. She had wide thighs and thin shoulders, big brown eyes and black choppy hair. She wore old converse to every occasion. She owned three pairs and they were they only shoes she had. In the winter, she wore high top chucks. She wore a beautifully flowy and layered dress that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear it was lit from her belly. It glowed white and yellow. But she still just had the street shoes on. She’d be the most comfortable punk at the dance.

Fourth smiled at me. She had wide cheeks that made her face seem somewhat football shaped, like a cute chipmunk. She credited this on her Japanese grandmother. Glasses only furthered her optical illusion as one of the rescuers, or a Disney animal from the early seventies. It was a face they all loved, and she found herself beloved by people she’d never actually spoken to. Her face warmed the heart and disarmed the teenage cynicism that would carry through for this generation until they died.

#Summer 2017 Update

#Summer 2017 Update

I’ve been updating my blog at sawyerpaul.com every three months or so, but I haven’t actually put out a new Tinyletter in four years. I want to get back into it. You can subscribe and get updates sent to your inbox here.

In 2013, I put out six issues of a serial called Lattice, which was a monthly publication of new writing. It was pretty cool: people subscribed in an iPhone app or through their Kindle and new stuff showed up as soon as I hit publish.” Unfortunately the company that published the app went under and I was left without a platform. I put a lot of work into them and they should really exist somewhere. By the end of the summer, my website will have it all up, readable and downloadable.

sawyerpaul.com has been a couple of things over the last few years. I haven’t always known what I want to do with it. I’ve got a plan now. It’s still a work in progress (cue 1997 graphic), but it’ll be beautiful before the summer is out.

I’m beginning a new season of International Object episodes. If you’re interested in being on the show, send me a DM on twitter.

I’m writing a new novel. It’s about parties, and the drama, sex, and nonsense that happens at them. It’s going to be a comedy. I’ve put parties in all my books and they’re my favourite parts of them, so this is the natural next step. It’s barely begun, but I’ve got some outlining, a few characters. I want to hear party stories from people. I’m looking for inspiration.

Of course, that begs the question. Wasn’t I already writing a new book? Wasn’t it almost done?

Skypunch just isn’t the book I wanted it to be. It’s a lesson for me. The process I used to write the book was a new one for me that involved piecing together several story ideas into one, and it just doesn’t work. There is good stuff in there, but it’s definitely a failed novel. I don’t plan on continuing working on it, but I’ll release it under an unfinished” label, so the curious can get in there.

As for the different stories, Skypunch was the result of trying together several novels I’d begun and not finished between 2012 and 2015. That includes all the writing found in Lattice. Instead of leaving all of it as unfinished first drafts, I tried tying it all together as a saga. Needless to say, it’s a mess. But it’s a book about divorces, so mess” is kind of built into its DNA.

This happens. Not every novel works. I’m not beat up about it, and I’m excited about the new one. I mostly write for myself, but I make these things available in case anyone else gets anything from them. Skypunch actually helped me a great deal. It’s just not that great a book.

Everything We Haven’t Lost, No Chinook, A Record Year for Rainfall, and Skypunch will all be available on this site for free in the next month. You’ll be able to read it in a browser, chapter-by-chapter, or by downloading a file to read on your ebook reader or phone. No Chinook is (and will likely remain) the only title available in print. I’ve been meaning to update this stuff and there’s no reason for it not to be out there.

If you haven’t taken a look at my creative portfolio on Behance in a while, now’s a good time. I’ve recently added two of my freelance clients, Osgoode Hall Law Review and Lakehead Law Journal, as well as some of the podcast art I’ve created over the last two years.

I don’t usually advertise, but I’m currently looking for new projects. If you work for a publication that could use a layout designer, send them my way. I’m open to freelance, part-time contracts, as well as larger ongoing publications.

Subscribe to this blog or the newsletter. I’d really appreciate it. After a few years of tearing apart my online presence, I’m slowly building it back up. There’s going to be good stuff. I hope you like it.

Skypunch — thoughts on the first draft

Skypunch, a novel I’ve been working on since 2012, has finally reached its 1.0 first draft state. At 67,512 words, it’s the longest work I’ve ever made. It’s also the messiest first draft I’ve made, too.

I’ve written two other novels. No Chinook, whose first draft I finished in the fall of 2006(!) was a small and intimate story, and there wasn’t a huge amount of change between its first draft and its final version, which was published in 2008. A Record Year for Rainfall, which today still exists in a sort of beta” form, since I never got it professionally edited, is also still pretty close to its first draft. But Skypunch, I have a feeling, will change a lot between now and when it’s finished.

In fact, it’s already changed a ton during the four years I’ve been writing it. Skypunch began its life as two separate projects. In 2013, I launched an app in the iOS Newstand store called Lattice. It contained new chapters every month of a story I was calling The Moonbow Easy,” which was about a girl who got kidnapped and broke free, discovered a conspiracy, and found new hope in a group of people looking to bring the truth to the people. I wrote six chapters before the app developers told me they were going out of business and my app was going to disappear.

In the fall of 2013, feeling a little dejected, I tried my hand at National Novel Writing Month. It’s always been a good place to begin, since it demands a lot of writing in a very short amount of time, and writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a tremendous way to get everything down. I wrote a story called Corona Gale,” about a woman who stopped a madman from changing time inside an ocean storm. In the course of finishing Nanowrimo, I had half of a pretty decent action thriller.

So, I had about a third of Moonbow Easy” and half of Corona Gale,” but what was I going to do? With Moonbow,” I felt uninspired, feeling the story existed because of an app project I wanted to work on, and was not sure if it would work on its own. With Gale,” I had an action story. Did I really want my next book to be a James Bond-style caper? I kind of didn’t.

In early 2014, I took a hard look at both stories and realized there were parallels where I could thread them together. Thematically, both main characters were going through tumultuous adventures, and I realized that each character had complimentary strengths and weaknesses. I thought about having each woman help the other. It was a fantastic feeling, knowing I had the bones almost all laid out to make one solid novel. I gave it a new title: Skypunch. All I had to do was make sense of it.

Making sense of it took nearly two years.

This is the wrong way to write a novel. With my first two books, I made an outline, and I wrote it. Some things changed, but in general what existed in my head eventually existed on the page. With Skypunch, I threw 30,000 words away and wrote 40,000 new ones. It was a massive effort to make it make sense, to put two universes together and keep everything from falling apart.

So, for one thing, I could not have done it without Scrivener. That thing is a lifesafer, and I’m treating its new iOS app as a reward for getting through this. It will be invaluable for editing. I don’t know how anyone writes with anything else.

For two, I would not recommend this approach. In general, you really do want to know what you’re writing, why, and stick with it. It’s way harder to fix major things later. Get the bones right away, then flesh things out. Because of this, there are definitely places where it feels like two books stitched together. The tone isn’t right everywhere. In one scene, a character has a mom, and in the next, she doesn’t. I’ll fix all these things. But these are version 2 things.

Like my other two books, Skypunch has silly characters. It has a lot of jokes, and a little bit of disbelief. It has just a hint of magic. And it’s also really sad, because I think I write sad books. I write books about people who have been kicked to the curb. I have my characters do awful things to one another, because they’re afraid of it happening to them. My characters have sex, break up, punch one another, break their cars, avoid their loved ones, and sometimes put it all back together. All that’s here. I hope you love it. And I hope you get to read it soon.

#Spring 2016 Update

#Spring 2016 Update

Throughout this winter, I’ve been compiling a first draft to a novel I’m calling Skypunch. This novel has gone by a number of titles in the past few years, and has in fact been entirely other books/stories in that time. As of April 2016, my first draft is around 80% complete. It’s a tough thing to measure, so by that I mean I want it to be a 70,000 word story and I’ve got 56,000 words I’d like to include (the total word count with deleted content is around the 80,000 mark). I’m shooting loosely for a June first draft. At that point, I’ll be handing the draft off to an editor, and we’ll go from there.

Unlike with No Chinook (2008) and A Record Year for Rainfall (2011), I’m going to try to publish Skypunch with a separate publisher. It may not work, and if it doesn’t the book will eventually live here and be available to everyone. But I’d like to give traditional publishing a try. I want to go through the submission/rejection process. I want to speak to agents and editors and have help developing this story.

But I have another reason to try out traditional publishing. Over the years, I’ve amassed a good deal of stories and information from other authors, and I’d like to know how much of it is true. Hopefully, very little will check out. I’d like a lot of my misconceptions get refuted.

For many years, I wrestled with the idea of working with publishers. It could just be some leftover punk idealism, but I believe the literary world would be a little better off if authors controlled more steps in the chain of production. I think it’s better if the final product closely resembles what you wanted it to be. And maybe I’m wrong about this, but from what I’ve heard, a lot of things about your work gets altered on the way to a customer.

In the literary production line, the major steps are writing, editing, publishing, distribution, and marketing. The self-publishing market that’s been propped up by Amazon, Createspace, Lulu, and others, have allowed authors to try to do every step on their own. I’ve gone this route with every book I’ve published so far. It has had the benefit of the final product looking pretty close to the object I want, but that’s mostly about the specific layout of words in the book. I’ve never thought highly of their printed products. Cheap glue, thick bright white paper and glossy covers, and rigid size options can limit the potential of the product.

It’s not like there aren’t great printers out there, but they cost a lot and they won’t print your books one at a time. They’ll print it in the hundreds or thousands, which places a lot of pressure on your book to move units. It also places pressure on you to think of your book as a unit.

As for the distribution of self-publishing methods, it isn’t as rewarding as you might think at the beginning. Not to say anything of the almost invisible sales, it simply isn’t a rewarding artistic experience. If you’re looking to control every aspect of the publishing chain, going with these template services can make your process feel cookie cutter. You still have to write a pithy description and put a singular price point on your page. And it has to sit next to more professional and popular works, which can’t help but make your product seem sad in comparison. This method has never caught on past new authors and it’s easy to see why. It’s lousy.

Of course, trying to publish with a reputable house has its drawbacks as well. For one thing, they don’t have to publish you. There is a gate and you have to be let in. And this hurts the ego, because as you see it they’re rejecting this thing that you love. You spent years writing this story, and all you get is a polite no (if you’re lucky). Also, it’s not just a gate but gates. Your book will get painfully rejected by a team of very qualified list of editors and agents before it’ll ever get rejected by a publisher. And it will, because this is how the process is designed.

And if your book does somehow impress an editor enough for them to work on it, your book will change. Your editor will forever alter it. Your agent will get you to alter it. And your publisher will alter it further. They’ll put a cover on it you won’t like. They’ll write a byline that betrays all the themes. They’ll smooth out the rough parts. And this is if everything works out as designed. This is the best case scenario.

This is how the donuts are made, with collaboration and letting the people who know better and have earned a say have that say. Your editor or agent or publisher may not know or care about how you feel about all this, but it isn’t their job to care. You wrote a story that you love, but that doesn’t mean anyone else will give a damn. It’s the job of editors, agents, and publishers to help a total stranger across the world care about your book. And this is what makes them amazing. I can’t do that. I don’t even know where to start.

I wonder if the problem is that it has to become a team sport. It’s one thing if a project starts out as a team effort, but that’s almost never how a book starts out. Writing a book is a hugely personal and intimate experience and there’s a lot of trepidation handing it over to a team of people who will turn it into something that they believe they can sell.

If this is actually how things are, then I imagine I won’t spend a lot of time in that world. I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d love for it to work.

All you can hope for at the end of the process is that the essence of your story is strong enough to survive the transition. That’s the true test of a great story anyway. How well does it fare in someone else’s hands?

I know a lot of this isn’t right, or based on old ideas with poor context. I want to know better.

But if it does work, and I go through this process and it all works out, I’d still like to see a change in publishing for the sake of the author’s original intent. I’d like to see author’s cuts” of novels where the story as published is 100% author intention, much like how there are directors cuts of certain films. Maybe it would be cleaned up in some copy edited sense, but just without any alterations to story or theme. I’d like to see that text live next to the finished version, the one built out of the original to cater to the widest possible audience.

#Spring 2016 Novel Progress and Publishing Plan

#Spring 2016 Novel Progress and Publishing Plan

Throughout this winter, I’ve been compiling a first draft to a novel I’m calling Skypunch. This novel has gone by a number of titles in the past few years, and has in fact been entirely other books/stories in that time. As of April 2016, my first draft is around 80% complete. It’s a tough thing to measure, so by that I mean I want it to be a 70,000 word story and I’ve got 56,000 words I’d like to include (the total word count with deleted content is around the 80,000 mark). I’m shooting loosely for a June first draft. At that point, I’ll be handing the draft off to an editor, and we’ll go from there.

Unlike with No Chinook (2008) and A Record Year for Rainfall (2011), I’m going to try to publish Skypunch with a traditional publisher. It may not work, and if it doesn’t the book will eventually live here and be available to everyone. But I’d like to give traditional publishing a try. I want to go through the submission/rejection process. I want to speak to agents and editors and have help developing this story.

But I have another reason to try out traditional publishing. Over the years, I’ve amassed a good deal of stories and information from other authors, and I’d like to know how much of it is true. Hopefully, very little will check out. I’d like a lot of my misconceptions to get refuted.

For many years, I wrestled with the idea of working with publishers. It could just be some leftover punk idealism, but I believe the literary world would be a little better off if authors controlled more steps in the chain of production. I think it’s better if the final product closely resembles what you wanted it to be. And maybe I’m wrong about this, but from what I’ve heard, a lot of things about your work gets altered on the way to a customer.

In the literary production line, the major steps are writing, editing, publishing, distribution, and marketing. The self-publishing market that’s been propped up by Amazon, Createspace, Lulu, and others, have allowed authors to try to do every step on their own. I’ve gone this route with every book I’ve published so far. It has had the benefit of the final product looking pretty close to the object I want, but that’s mostly about the specific layout of words in the book. I’ve never thought highly of their printed products. Cheap glue, thick bright white paper and glossy covers, and rigid size options can limit the potential of the product.

It’s not like there aren’t great printers out there, but they cost a lot and they won’t print your books one at a time. They’ll print it in the hundreds or thousands, which places a lot of pressure on your book to move units. It also places pressure on you to think of your book as a unit.

On top of that, self-publishing isn’t as rewarding as you might think at the beginning. Not to say anything of the almost invisible sales, it simply isn’t a rewarding artistic experience. If you’re looking to control every aspect of the publishing chain, going with these template services can make your process feel cookie cutter. You still have to write a pithy description and put a singular price point on your page. And it has to sit next to more professional and popular works, which can’t help but make your product seem sad in comparison. This method has never caught on past new authors and it’s easy to see why. It’s lousy.

Of course, trying to publish with a reputable house has its drawbacks as well. For one thing, they don’t have to publish you. There is a gate and you have to be let in. And this hurts the ego, because as you see it they’re rejecting this thing that you love. You spent years writing this story, and all you get is a polite no (if you’re lucky). Also, it’s not just a gate but gates. Your book will get painfully rejected by a team of very qualified editors and agents before it’ll ever get rejected by a publisher. And it will, because this is how the process is designed.

And if your book does somehow impress an editor enough for them to work on it, your book will change. Your editor will forever alter it. Your agent will get you to alter it. And your publisher will alter it further. They’ll put a cover on it you won’t like. They’ll write a byline that betrays all the themes. They’ll smooth out the rough parts. And this is if everything works out as designed. This is the best case scenario.

This is how the donuts are made, with collaboration and letting the people who know better and have earned a say have that say. Your editor or agent or publisher may not know or care about how you feel about all this, but it isn’t their job to care. You wrote a story that you love, but that doesn’t mean anyone else will give a damn. It’s the job of editors, agents, and publishers to help a total stranger across the world care about your book. And this is what makes them amazing. I can’t do that. I don’t even know where to start.

I wonder if the problem is that it has to become a team sport. It’s one thing if a project starts out as a team effort, but that’s almost never how a book starts out. Writing a book is a hugely personal and intimate experience and there’s a lot of trepidation handing it over to a team of people who will turn it into something that they believe they can sell.

If this is actually how things are, then I imagine I won’t spend a lot of time in that world. I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d love for it to work.

All you can hope for at the end of the process is that the essence of your story is strong enough to survive the transition. That’s the true test of a great story anyway. How well does it fare in someone else’s hands?

I know a lot of this isn’t right, or based on old ideas with poor context. I want to know better.

But if it does work, and I go through this process and it all works out, I’d still like to see a change in publishing for the sake of the author’s original intent. I’d like to see author’s cuts” of novels where the story as published is 100% author intention, much like how there are directors cuts of certain films. Maybe it would be cleaned up in some copy edited sense, but just without any alterations to story or theme. I’d like to see that text live next to the finished version, the one built out of the original to cater to the widest possible audience.

Focusing on the emotional moments between insanity

Whenever I read about the writing process of science fiction/fantasy authors, I see them talking about the human moments” that happen in between all the otherworldly zaniness. I agree that it’s an important element of fiction to ground the plot and characters in real-world conflicts and circumstances. But it also seems a bit like the writers would like to discard the human element entirely. They’re not really interested in telling a human story in an alien world. They want to write about a cool alien world, and the relatable stuff is just there to help keep the reader from getting too lost.

The human element in these stories are really the only things I like about them, though. I only ever get invested in a story when principles get tested in a way I understand. Common enough tropes in fantasy writing are those of strength (not having enough), trust, loyalty, and adherence to an individual’s principles. Okay, these are tropes in most fiction, but they get pressed on in fantasy fiction because it’s often how to tell who we’re supposed to care about.

I’m writing a new version of Corona Gale, and I’ve thought a lot about what I want to have happen. I don’t particularly like how I wrote the mission” Kate Foley went on, to stop (and fail to stop) a madman bent on sailing a cruise ship directly into a tornado (that may or may not have time traveling capabilities). That’s a lot of plot in one sentence, and it played out clumsily. In the new version, almost none of that is going to happen. Instead, I’m going to focus on the human element I baked into it: whether or not she would give up on a budding relationship.

Kate Foley has a strange job that sends her on missions for long periods of time. She can’t talk to anyone about it, but it’s not clear (and I’m not planning on making it clear) if she isn’t allowed, or can’t bring herself to. I’m not really planning on revealing too much about it. It worked as a mysterious token in No Chinook and it can work here (so long as I tear away just a little of the edges). What she does isn’t the point. That it gets in the way of her having the kind of life she might want is.

In a way, it’s a little bit of a can she have it all?” story. There’s a negativity to those stories, because it’s often looked at as anti-woman (men don’t seem to have trouble having it all” in popular fiction). But I don’t think it’ll turn out that way, anyway, because Kate is a bit of a villain (read No Chinook if you haven’t). She doesn’t have many troubles, and she mostly always gets what she wants. But who is she? What does she actually want? Is Ollie it? There’s a lot to unpack in ten chapters.

This isn’t a story about a regular person in a regular world. There’s definitely stuff just off screen. The monster under your bed is always scarier than the monster in front of you. What I like about taking that approach is that fear becomes a roving metaphor for every road not taken, every choice about the future.

Working through Corona Gale and my other unfinished novels

Corona Gale started out as the next chapter in this thing I’m making. I don’t consider it all that successful, in that I didn’t work it through before getting started, and wasn’t able to course correct before it became a bit of a tangle. It’s confusing, and only partially meant to be. I like the story, or at least the story as it exists in my head. But I don’t like how it exists now.

In my head, the story goes like this: Kate is sent on a mysterious mission by her job. She has a conflict: there’s this guy she’s been getting on really well with, but she hasn’t been working for a while and has been able to more or less hide what she does. But she fears being stuck so far away and for so long will blow that, and their relationship. She’s never been able to make anything work because of her job, but she wants to be with this guy.

In my head, we get to know the guy really well, and want to root for them to work out, and for her to be happy.

In my head, she doesn’t die. There’s still a calamity, but it’s an intermission cliffhanger. It’s not the end of anything. The calamity happens at around the end of the first act. The second act is about Kate pulling everything together, solving the mystery, and saving the day. The second act is about Kate as a hero, because for her to be the protagonist of this book, she needs to show a different side of her than I showed you in No Chinook, where she was more or less the villain.

The third act is about the choice of whether or not to tell Ollie what she does for a living. Does she put her chips on the table, or does she continue to try to deceive him? I’m not even sure what direction I want to go, and this book has been in my head for nearly two years.

But even with that, the plot is rather thin. I need to beef up the actual mystery. I need a better villain. And I need a B-story.

This is where Album Yukes comes in. A Record Year for Rainfall was the next chapter after No Chinook, and Corona Gale is the next chapter after Rainfall. I want to insert him in the story in a natural way. It’s been five years since he shut down his blog to be a political journalist, and I think readers of that story would agree that couldn’t last very long. I think he’s actually on a beat here, looking for the truth about a thing he feels could profit him. Album is a great scumbag, and since he was more or less the antagonist of Rainfall, I think it would be fun to put my two villains together to try to save the world (or at least a boat).

People who have put up with my stops and starts since 2012 know that I’m trying to put together a narrative that weaves through several titles. Two of those titles are finished (Chinook and Rainfall), and four of them are at different states of completion (Corona Gale, The Moonbow Easy, Skypunch, and Sprites Jets & Elves). I haven’t forgotten about any of these stories, and they’re all important to me. I’d like to think I’m finally in a state where I can get back to work on them.

But why haven’t I finished these? I think part of it has to do with where I stopped at Corona Gale. I didn’t have an ending (or even a middle) in mind, so I felt I had to leave that one and go somewhere else for a while. These stories all take place in the same world,” and they should connect (if only slightly). I couldn’t finish Gale until I knew where things would go. And now I know. I know where this is all headed.

Morning Pages, June 12 2015

I need a name

For that feeling

When you wait on a crowded platform

Full of people with different belief systems

Mostly in the dogma of forming reasonable lines

And the train

Stops

And the door inches past you just far enough that you feel like its telling you as clearly as a train can

To go right back home

#Morning Pages - June 10 2015

#Morning Pages - June 10 2015

I want to tell you something. I don’t know if I’m the person who should be telling you this. I don’t know if you should know. Maybe it’s because we’re not that close that I don’t know better than to just tell you. But I know this thing well enough. I know that what I will tell you is a powerful thing. I know that it might affect you deeply. You don’t want to sit down for this. You don’t want to be relaxed. If someone were to tell me this, I’d want to be ready to run.

Writing Practice, June 9 2015

She sees through her tears, looking at me with a defeat. It is a new kind of defeat for her, built from exhaustion, bad news, more bad news. I feel she could collapse in this moment, from dehydration or despair. She’s strong. I see the muscles in her shoulders when she breathes, slower now that all of it is out in the open. I’ve told her everything. The worst is over, if learning of it is worse than living with it. If not, then I guess it’s just beginning. Those eyes. Bloodshot. Deep set. The kind that pierce through you, no matter how little you might know her. Not that she’s of a kind. Not that there’s anyone else with eyes like hers. Not that there’s anyone else who now knows what she knows.

Writing Practice, June 8 2015

Don’t learn how to drive. Don’t buy a phone. Don’t buy a microwave. Just eat what they give you. Don’t try to plan for your future. Don’t clean. Don’t worry. Don’t. You don’t need the thing. It is nicer to want the thing than get the thing. Don’t call this number. Don’t pick up your phone. Don’t remember your credit card number. Don’t have a credit card number. Who gave you a credit card? Cut it up. Cut that up too. You’ll be sad if you go along with this. I want you to know, for real, that this incredible offer will bring you nothing but grief. Are you awake? Are you Don’t.

Writing Practice, June 6 2015

Have you heard the word?

Call right now.

I don’t have to tell you about Jesus.

Could you spare a minute to find out more about this special offer?

You know me from the Food Network.

Could you sign this? You’ll get a free piece of premium Tupperware just for signing!

May I call your attention to the wisdom of this knife I have in my hand?

This Tupperware is really nice. You have no idea how nice.

Macadamia nuts. No, listen to me. Look me in the eyes. I have the truth you seek. Macadamia nuts.

Just plug this dingus into your car. Then you’ll know. You’ll know what’s wrong. It’s a very small dingus.

I saw the Tupperware in your cupboard. Your mother, how disappointed she must be. Just take this one piece. You’ll be back for more. I know you. I know your values.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that this pamphlet has all the answers. You know this pamphlet has all the answers.

I know your values.

If you cut meat with just a knife you bought at a store, you might as well give up now.

If you marry me, I’ll take you away from all this.

I’m going to stand here next to a cardboard stand full of pamphlets literally all day. I have the patience of my convictions. No, I literally have nothing better to do. I’ll slowly convince you, day by day, as you walk past me and give me a dirty look, that my patience is virtuous, and that you might one day also like some virtue, and then I will give you the pamphlet.

We’re the same, you and me.

I would use this product even if they didn’t pay me!

I am putting the Tupperware down. I am turning around. If the Tupperware is gone, I will not ask who took it. I will not look for the Tupperware. For all I know, a bird flew by and said to herself, wow, what a deal!”

If it wasn’t for this amazing offer I wouldn’t be here today. This offer saved my life. Do you understand? I was in a very dark place. I was lonely, and depressed. I thought that nothing mattered. But, then. I saw the offer. And now I’m here, sharing the good word. The offer, it is real. And time is running out.

Marry me. I’ll introduce you to my parents. They will see the Tupperware you’ve chosen and be very proud.

What would Jesus do with the information this dingus told him about his car?

We’re not here for very much longer. Truly, none of us know how much time we have left.

This Tupperware. Great handfeel. Even when it’s hot. Especially when its hot. It’s been engineered to

Are you listening? Tell me you’re there. I want to hear you. I want to help you. But I can’t help you if you don’t listen to what I have to say.

You have your credit card out. You know how this works.

Jesus would want you to be happy with this Tupperware.

This knife. You can cut Tupperware with it!

Okay, so it didn’t work that time. But we’re live! Things happen! I promise you, this dingus works. It speaks to your car. It makes you happier with the things you already have.

This knife can cut a car!

Take this pamphlet as proof of my devotion. Don’t even read it. You’ll read it later, when you are alone and it is late. Just take it for now. Just think about it. Shh. It’s going to be all right. Go to sleep.

Wake up.

Go to sleep.

This knife cuts sleep!

Sent from my Windows Phone

Writing practice, June 5 2015

She throws a punch and it lands where she wants. She doesn’t feel like a fighter so much as an archer. It’s so hot under the lights, those big arena blowouts, she doesn’t register impact in her knuckles, the skin of her opponent, the adrenaline emptying out. She’s just hot. The sweat on her is light sweat, not fight sweat.

She jumps back, leaning on her left heel, the farthest party of her from her opponent. She escapes. Her opponent wasn’t phased. Her first punch was true, but it was just one. And when she saw how little her opponent moved, her next move had to be retreat. Her heels worked for her. They balanced her enough inches away from an attempt on her mask.

She did not want to be punched. But she did not want to be punched so much as to avoid the fight. Avoiding the punch was its own reward. It meant points on a board, which came with its own priority set, but in boxing the impetus is so personal. Fewer hits from her opponent meant her face hurt a measure less. Imagine your face now, not hurting. You, like her, would do just about anything to maintain that feeling.

How many times did she have to punch her opponent? This was the question she had hoped one punch would answer. One punch didn’t answer anything. The question now unfortunately became, how many punches before she knew how many punches? This was an odd question. It alluded to a nightmare scenario: She might never know the answer. She might punch this woman across from her with all she has. She might be down to her last punch and still not know. This is the most dreadful part of a fight. She had hit her with a proud force, found fine purchase, and was only left with the knowledge that her power wasn’t enough to even unlock a potential end.

She was afraid to throw another punch.

Writing Practice, May 31 2015

I just hope you are happy.

I just hope you are so happy.

I just hope you are the happiest.

I just hope. I just hope. I just hope.

I want to make you happy. But first I have to know if I am allowed, have the right. If that is what you want.

I want to make you happy but I don’t know what that would actually feel like. Nobody has, to my knowledge, ever wanted to make me happy.

I do not know if you even want me in your life, but I know I do want to make you happy, even if that isn’t something I can picture. They say, visualize your goal. You happy, I can’t see it. It doesn’t form.

I just hope you are happy, even though I cannot help you.

Writing Practice, May 30 2015

Here are the things I do not know:

Whether I am anyone’s hero.

If I have saved anyone without them knowing it, or, if I have done something good without my knowledge or the knowledge of those I helped.

If my actions or expressions of thought have impacted the world in any way outside of those tangible things. I know I have created garbage. I know I have stolen oxygen, and food. I don’t know if I have given anything.

If I am the most impressive person in anybody’s life.

If I have ruined people, led them from the path, broken their faith, inexorably ripped portions of their life into pieces they did not want inexorably ripped.

Whether my ego and confidence has given to more ego and confidence in others; if I have evangelized.

If I had any taste, any at all.

If I have plagiarized not only works but feelings and mannerisms and asides. If I have taken portions of a personality and grafted the piece to myself and wore it for years without realizing I was only pretending to be someone more fun at parties.

If other people had plans for me, and what became of those plans.

What became of my old plans.

If I buy this thing instead of this other thing, how many people in the world have I wounded.

Writing Practice, May 29 2015

Note: This is a re-do of yesterday’s practice. It fills in detail and changes some lines. Yesterday was very much just a sketch, this edges closer to actual short story. Time constraints led to the last paragraph, which is a pretty rough bow.

Danny scoffed at his wife. They’d been married ten years and he’d become better at scoffing at her than he’d figured he would. He could put it on a CV.

It says I have to go.” He held a letter, torn open by a fingernail, the left side of the letter frayed, matching its envelope. It looked like it had been separated by tiny wolverines.

Danny’s wife cracked her neck. Her name was Illis, which Danny once was short for Illinois. He called her by the state whenever he thought little of her, which was a lot. No, nobody has to go on the bachelorette.”

The letter, which he held and had read to her, as she came through the door, waving goodbye to the man who drove her home from work, explained the whole situation. He was trying to explain it to her, but he was doing a poor job out of a pretty high lack of respect. He said, tersely as possible, Do you know that? Do you know that it’s an optional thing?”

Of course I know it. They’re contestants. It’s like a game show.” She put her coat down. It smelled like the guy’s car who dropped her off. Danny knew the guy’s name, too. Ponty. Apparently.

His wife, who had now taken off her shoes and held out her hand, asked to be shown this crumpled letter from a production company neither of them had heard of.

Danny handed her the letter, and said, Let me ask you something. Do you know anyone who’s ever applied to be on this show. You know what? Any show. The Price is Right? Wheel of fortune?”

Anymore, Danny and Illis didn’t like each other very much.

Look, there’s just no way it works that way,” she said, reading the words that stated that this was pretty much how it worked after all.

Illis wasn’t prepared for this conversation, but it happened quickly and both took their shots. Danny never admitted that maybe he submitted himself as a contestant; Illis never admitted that she’s been sleeping with Ponty for years. It was all a little much for a 6pm argument, and perhaps the wrong time for every element. But somehow, in the light through the tatters, it didn’t work out in the end.

Writing Practice, May 27 2015

Sid thumbed the envelope he’d just picked up after having dropped it in a violent panic, the sort of reaction you can’t help but make when they’ve found you, they’ve really found you, and there’s no more running, no way to escape it now because they’ve got you, oh man have they got you. Even if you’re an honest man, the most honest man on your block, and other honest men come to you for advice on how to be even more honest, you still know this feeling. The hair on the back of your neck is there for this purpose. They have no other worldly function but to raise and thereby alert you of the great danger, of the men who have found you and are approaching.

Sid picked up the letter and reexamined the seal. He’d heard of the feel of the thing, hot and charred, as if branded by a previous generations’ hot poker. The simple circle imprinted on a rectangle. Ominous as all get out. Life changing. Some people called it the duty. Some people called it the thing your country did to you. But Sid never called it anything out of fear it would find him.

Writing Practice, May 26 2015

We decided to install a room in our house. It seems selfish, but a lot of couples are doing it these days. The standard apartment of today is around 300 square feet, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for privacy, you know. You’re really in each others space a lot. So we bought the thing. You know, oh, what’s it called? The time box? Yeah. It, um, it looks like a futuristic coffin, all shiny copper. No, it might not be real copper, but that’s what it looks like. The box looks incredibly ahead of its time and also a thousand years old. It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of room in there, but it has a sort of isolation chamber effect where the mind makes it seem limitless. And when you’re in there, that’s the real kicker. It’s like time stops. You go in and tap the button to seal it, and the clocks stop turning. You can stay in there as long as you want, and not only will you not age or tire or anything, neither will anyone else. You can go in there and take an hour or two, and when you come out everything in the world is absolutely the same. That way, there’s no fomo. You can get away without the world moving on without you. Oh, yes, it was expensive. We had to give up quite a lot of our childhood memories to pay for it. But I couldn’t live without it, now.

Writing Practice, May 24 2015

How many dates before you can expect a kiss?

This question leaves out so many elements about personal agency and context that there’s no civilized way to answer it.

How many dates before I can show them my apartment?

The answer is either no dates or a million. Is showing them your belongings something you even want to do? Are you sure? These are your things we’re talking about. Have you considered throwing out everything you own and furnishing anew for this hypothetical person?

Hide the lamp.

How many dates before I can introduce them to my parents?

Your parents will love your new hypothetical to-be, and vice versa. People are nicer than you give them credit for. There’s almost no chance the encounter will end in bloodshed or in the two Dakota’s merging.

Ten dates.

How many dates before I can expect sex?

This question is poorly written.

How many dates before I can get sex?

Worse.

But sex tho

Come on.

okay, okay. I’ve heard three dates. That’s the standard.

If you know so much about this, why are you asking me?

Because I have no idea where I got that information. You’re real. I can cite you.

If you show this advice column to your hypothetical to-be after three dates while asking for expected three-date sex, I’m never giving you advice again.

Okay, so help me out!

Honestly, see question 1. There’s no way to answer this hypothetically. It all hinges on chemistry and agency. They have to like you, and you have to like them, and then you both have to say yes many, many times.

How many times do they have to say yes before I know it’s okay

Until they are annoyed with you asking. Until you have spoiled the mood by being too careful.

How many dates before I can buy them an Apple watch so I know their location and heartbeat all the time?

Bring them one on the first date. Everybody loves me.

Writing practice, May 22 2015

It hits you. You stand before the same memory castle where you store, among other relics, bands you used to like. In the rooms of one drowned memory, a light goes on and a woman appears. You can’t make out her face. You were never good at faces. But you were good at hands so you see her hands. They hold two things: No Doubt’s first tape and a letter. She hands you the letter, and you open it while wondering what she’s going to do with the tape. As you wonder, she puts metal wire headphones with torn mesh coverings over her ponytail and hits play on the waterproof Walkman you got for Christmas in 1994. You see her red cross-red nail polish glisten in the… sun? Is that a sun? She stands outside your memory mansion in the sun. You didn’t realize you’d come back outside. The castle is so far away now, but she is still there. You can’t see her face, she is listening to your old things, and she has handed you a letter. You feel the only way you can.

Writing Practice, May 21 2015

The things you want cost more now. The things you don’t even think about cost more now. There isn’t anything, from widget to stern (though who buys sterns?) that isn’t more now than it used to be. The air is more expensive. The air is canned. What isn’t bottled, will be. What is a simple pleasure today will be rarified upper class luxury in a generation. That fishing trip your dad took you on fifteen years ago costs fifteen thousand dollars now, and won’t even be a thing you can do fifteen years from now. That lake will be drained. Another lake will go in. Then a condo. Then another lake. Then a bunch of graves. Then a lake. That area might be just thirty lakes. It depends a lot on zoning.

But the thing is, these things go away and you only miss them because they were yours, or at least yours for the moment you stood there in that space. They might not have been good. But you don’t think about that. You only think about you, and your memory, and whatever lake as fake as pro wrestling you might take your kid (who hates you, and lakes, and will grow up to be the exact type of lawyer that gets rid of these things, rezoning them as Republican parking lots).

Don’t look into the future. Don’t look under the rug. Don’t open the door. Don’t ask about my real name.

Cassandra Truth

From TV Tropes:

The title comes from the mythical seer Cassandra, whose prophecies were always accurate but never believed due to a curse from the god Apollo, thus making this Older Than Feudalism.

From the final episode of Mad Men. Transcript from Bustle:

I messed everything up. I’m not the man you think I am,” Don whispers to Peggy, and it’s time he came clean to her about what he’s done so far in his life. Peggy, though, doesn’t realize what’s happening. She doesn’t know another Don Draper — she’s never met Dick Whitman. Don presses on, trying to explain to her who he really is. I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name. and made nothing of it.”

That’s not true,” Peggy says back.

Writing Practice, May 19 2015

Wet flecks of sweat and water. Bodies brushing and pushing, arms, feet stomping on feet, on crushed cans, on the cement floor of the earth. Muscles work, calories burned, cell phones dropped and smashed, memories lost, hopefully backed up. Feet hurt because they’re old. Hands feel like lightning turned cold. Hopefully the grid holds. Signing up has advantages. Darkness, then light, then new rainbows of color, so quick a camera loses it. How do they do that with the beat and the lights? Technology, they would think, if they thought about it. Technology. That, and rock and roll. You gotta have rock and roll.

Writing practice, may 18 2015

Leaves caught in the wind hit their faces and bodies. They stood in an electric field, the kind that bisecs suburbs. It was hot out, and dark, and the wind came out of nowhere. Harris and Georgette were exhausted, but she wouldn’t budge. She was going home, and it was only a mile away, but she couldn’t walk and argue.

He didn’t understand. She said, again, for the third time and in a third tone, I don’t care. I just need five minutes. I just need to be in a room alone for five minutes.”

This fight was a rerun. Georgette had drawers of this argument in her memory. She’d had it with everyone who’d ever found out. The wind picked up, grew violent. Trees bent and somewhere close, buckled enough to make a thunder.

He responded with a fist sentence. Why can’t I know everything about you?”

Georgette held one arm with another. She hadn’t brought a jacket and was freezing. Harris offered her his, and she took it. She wrapped the thick boy thing around her like a fire blanket.

Can’t it be enough that I tell you everything but this thing?”

It’s just strange,” he said, trying to quantify it in the realm of normal behavior. The sky darkened around them. In a few minutes, a newsworthy rain would find them. It’s not that I don’t trust you, or want you to have privacy. It would just be better if I knew what the hell it was you did on your own every day in that room.”

Georgette walked and said nothing. Harris balked, but she blew by him. She had an alarming stride. He caught up to her, and grabbed her arm. She roared her reply. I ask you for one thing. One thing! But I can’t have that. I give you and let you and abide you. Abide me! Abide me this tiny alice of time, and don’t think about it, and don’t worry about it, and don’t ask me. Other people, normal people, do that all the time. They let their partner have just a little bit.”

The relationship was over by the beginning of the storm.

I’m sorry,” he said. It’s just too weird. I’d never be totally comfortable.” Georgette heard the words before he said it. She’d heard them half a dozen times before. He didn’t even have to say them. He just had to walk back through the electrical field, back to his side of the suburb.

Writing Practice, May 16 2015

Gerald went on a game show and lost. It didn’t matter to anyone but his wife–the lovely Maggie–who promptly began seeing the winner of the game show, an otherwise unremarkable woman by the name of Beth. Beth was married herself, but her husband wasn’t much for contest winners, and after the show aired felt decreasing affection for Beth. But Beth’s husband–contritely-named Joe–didn’t know Gerald, outside of seeing him on TV that one time. Anyways, he didn’t see a future with Gerald, as what little he knew about him didn’t reveal much to recommend. Even Joe knew the question Gerald got wrong.

Beth noticed Joe wasn’t as into her when she invited him into bed with her and Maggie. Maggie didn’t much care for Joe, as he hasn’t won anything, except perhaps Beth’s heart at one time or another. But she would have gone along with it to please Beth. Joe didn’t share her spring enthusiasm. He moved out and took his dog. Maggie and Beth are still over the moon.

Beth didn’t fully consider Joe’s feelings, but winning does strange things to the heart.

Gerald found himself alone for the first time in many years. He hadn’t grasped the tenuousness of their union. But knowing that his marriage was on the line wouldn’t have changed his answer. Raising the stakes doesn’t make someone smarter. But Gerald became a devoted quiz show trainer. He drowned his wifeless time with trivia. Once he felt confident–all Maggie’s things long since excavated from their leased walkup–he applied to several quiz shows. This was back in the day (or was it off in the near future?) when quiz shows were very popular. He was accepted to all of them. Judges loved his story. They loved how he might tell it. They loved how he might lose more.

Gerald sent a letter to Maggie, telling her to watch as he tried to win her back by being some kind of winner. (This was back when people wrote letters. Or perhaps in the future when all the computers break and we’re stuck with the Post again.) Beth opened it and threw it away. She hadn’t ever done anything that cruel before, but winning does strange things to the heart. Maggie didn’t get to see Gerald win, if he had in fact won. Beth didn’t own a TV, since Joe had taken it along with the dog.

Writing Practice, May 15 2015

Jessie S, the social media addict, the minor Youtube sensation, the crimson-red-head with the eyes that made you forget what elevator you were in, she’d just been on television, man. It seemed somewhat retro and a whole lot of Elvis-in-Hawaii, but she’d been on a game show. She could still feel the tape on her shirt from the oversized faded-yellow nametag. Jessie S” it read in fat black ink, rounded just so that it was a little too obvious a human didn’t write it. She’d been posting about the game show throughout the entire thing. The show was looking for a connected contestant. She was just known enough to qualify. Known enough,” was their exact same phrase. She had two hundred thousand followers.

The game was pedestrian. It was mostly a quiz, but there was also a tornado machine. Jessie S already had a few hundred photos of her on Instagram in that thing. Whateverings,” she whispered to her room. Jessie S–the S standing for nothing–locked the door in her San Fransisco apartment that nobody in the world could afford, and laid straight the hell down on the oversized cheque they gave her at the end. It was made of cardboard, but also of money, conceptually. It represented something, and she’d been suitably excited on TV, though more people would see it on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and other places that were ostensibly not TV, somehow. Mostly, they were different in that nobody who watched her clean house on TV would issue her a direct death threat. She would get those everywhere a keyboard was connected.

The death threats used to come from faked accounts, but the social networks felt pressure from shareholders to protect their users from anonymous threats. So the fake profiles were mostly gone, but that barely stopped the threats. Instead, she just received them from real people with real names, traceable evidence that would legitimately lead back to the real people behind the harassment. Police even arrested some! There were consequences. But there were still so many death threats, all day, every day, and triple on days when anything nice happened to her. She would get a ton of death threats today. She felt them coming as she lay on her giant fake, representative cheque.

Writing Practice, May 14 2015

Her office put her up to it. They even printed out the form. Fill it out, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. She never took a vacation. She didn’t even own a TV. Lana Really, executive and probably one day vice president, didn’t have a lot of good time time. She didn’t know anything about the game, but her colleagues filled her in. It’s great. Each round is unpredictable. You can’t prepare for it.

The prizes seemed strange. Lana could win cool stuff, for sure. There were trips to far away islands. There were makeovers and gadgets. Someone even won a monthly stipend for the rest of their life. She could quit!

Why would I quit?” She asked. I love my job.”

Well, maybe you’ll win something else.

So Lana did it. As with most of her endeavours, she crushed it. Blew past the qualifying rounds. Lana got on the show, and she broke records for time, distance, and three other things she didn’t think they kept score on. She mentioned the company by name three times, and they emailed her about giving her a raise just for all the free publicity. And then she won, and she was congratulated by hunky models and the audience and the host, this beautiful woman with a hairstyle she kind of wanted after seeing it up close (and gabbing about backstage).

But the grand prize was what people really tuned in for, because it was never the same thing twice. The producers chose prizes based on what they felt the accepted contestants would really want, more than anything in the world. They didn’t tell the contestants what the prizes might be beforehand.

The beautiful woman with the incredible hairstyle handed Lana Really an envelope. All she had to do was open it and read the card tucked inside. She could react however she wanted. She could take the prize, or leave it, but she had to say what she was going to do on the air.

She flipped open the card with her excellent fingernail. She was nervous, but the cameras couldn’t catch it. She read the card, and said it allowed, surprised and confounded, alarmed. Bewildered.

I’ve won a family?”

Writing Practice, May 13, 2015

Can I have a minute to think about it?” He asked with sweat, more sweat than anyone but a perverted god could know. Wells, as his friends and boss called him, had spun the wheel. He’d won this contest with guile, luck, etc., and the cameras broadcast on a ten second delay to people thirsty for catharsis. He had a scrape on his knee from a scuffle in the second round. He’d thankfully remembered some grammar rules during the first. And now he was here, in front of the bloody huge wheel.

The game show host, festooned in a ghastly garment of prom blue and neon yellow, holding the thinnest microphone technology could concoct, smiled like a maniac in love. Let’s put sixty seconds on the clock for our winner.”

This was the signal for a commercial break. Even though four minutes of ads would play, Wells still only had one. He knew what would happen. He’d been prompted by an intern backstage about all the options. To even appear on the show, he had to sign more papers than he did for his mortgage.

He knew going in that not all options on the wheel were easy choices. That was the whole idea: Present the winner with a real opportunity, at a real cost.

But Jesus Christ, he really thought it was going to land on new car. All he had to do there was get into an accident–on live television–with his old one, and total it. He would be allowed to wear protective gear, and it was somehow legal (though how was any of this legal? How did this game get so much pull?)

But the wheel landed on Family. It was one of the toughest choices on the wheel, and one of the strangest ones to watch. The premise, which he’d spent the last thirty seconds of his remaining sixty tumbling in his mind, was devilishly simple. If he accepted the prize, Wells would win many millions. But it would go to his husband and children. Wells would have to say goodbye to them, and really to everyone in his life. The game would move him somewhere, and it would be illegal for him to ever contact anyone he knew. The goodbyes made for award winning television, though the network never really named the awards.

Wells knew this was one of the things on the wheel.

Writing Practice, May 12 2015

Gwyn drinks water. She sits in a restaurant. Across from her is a date. It is their first. A little music plays, but she doesn’t hear it much over the chatter of other people here to also have dinner, some of them even on dates. But they probably aren’t on dates like she’s on. Across from her sits a man, and she’s burying the lead, even in her own mind, where this narrative is playing out in real time. The man looks typical enough. He is wearing a light sports jacket, which she has to assume is warm and comfortable and stylish. She doesn’t really know for sport jackets. She only knows that they’re called that because her grandfather liked to wear them at almost every occasion, whether it was too nice or not nice enough to warrant. She is burying the lead, thinking about her grandfather, and she knows she has to talk. She has to talk, because he won’t.

Gwyn’s friend at work set them up. Did she know? She couldn’t have known.

You won a contest?” She asks, desperately. It’s been minutes of her just asking yes and no questions. This man, who looks typical enough, began the evening by motioning towards his mouth and making it as clear as he could that he could not use it. Gwyn, who is wearing a lovely purple and white dress, who tried really hard to get to this unnecessarily tough-to-find restaurant on time, only got to the question she asked through a series of other questions she did not think she’d be asking.

Questions like: why aren’t you talking?

Questions like: wait, this is a choice thing?

In a few minutes, after the man who gave his name by way of his business card (Nate Wells, psychiatrist, phone number, email) she gets over the confusion and moves right onto incredulity. But she wouldn’t get there for a few minutes. She would live in the confusion throughout the entire bread-stick portion of the meal.

What kind of contest forbids you to talk?” Gwyn asks, the words slipping out of her too quickly to mask the judgment. The man answers with his hands. He has not been miming for very long. He is far from good at it. He’d lose as a sober game of charades, which this is because the cocktails are only on their way.

I don’t understand,” she says, not understanding. Not particularly wanting to understand. Not particularly wanting this date to continue, only minutes after shaking his by-choice mute hand and peering into his by-choice mute-but-still-cute brown eyes. Would it be cruel? Would she be inconsiderate to leave at this point?

How long do you have to be silent to collect the money?” She asked, assuming there is money involved. She should have asked if he won the game or lost, or if it was still going. Nate puts up one finger, then twirls it around 360 degrees.

So if you stay silent for a year, you win a lot of money?” She asks. He shrugs, and makes a kind of” hand signal that only kind of communicates kind of.”

She has more questions, she tells him. She can ask them. She can spend the entire evening asking questions, and then probably more nights. And then maybe he would have questions for her, she suggests. She suggests this as inevitable. I’m interesting, she says. I’m confident about this. He smiles at the braggadocio. And in that moment, of her explaining and him listening, they have a moment. It isn’t romantic, but it is enough for her to order an entree.

Writing Practice, May 11 2015

A man holds me a brochure. I palm it and don’t look down. I don’t really know what’s in my hand and won’t until I sit down and get bored. And I wont get bored for a few more minutes, until I’ve fully digested a slap of a fact: I am unnoticeably average. It stings for the reason it should, and the reason you’d guess. Before I entered this room with a disorientingly high ceiling and hundreds of disappointingly low chairs, I did not think I was average. I thought if I put in some considerable effort–and if this effort was focused on fitness and fashion–I’d stand out, be remembered, and perhaps even progress in life the way exceptional people do, in all the serendipitous ways in which they do it.

Other exceptional people have entered times like I just had. They had brochures handed to them. Or was it cigarettes? I wanted cigarettes. In that moment, more than feeling like I’d been sold a lie, I wanted a great goddamned smoke. Smoking would make me stand out.

What I saw was over a hundred other men who’d also thrown dice at this fashion and fitness lie. Stone had done slightly better than others, and better than me. Some relied more on the fashion than the fitness. These mingling men, in person and on their phones, fell for it just like I had. What was the point of working out and buying expensive sart if not to look uniquely better? It made not only all the time and money feel like a waste, but it also cast doubt on my taste. There were at least three other men in my eyeline with the same exact shirt, and those guys looked liked assholes. They probably thought I was an asshole too. They had the right. What fight could I even put up?

Writing Practice, May 10 2015

The boy was ten years old. He sat atop luggage in the back of a lane-wide box van. It was the first time he’d done either thing. The luggage piled so high his head would occasionally bump the ceiling. He had no seatbelt, nothing to strap him down for safety. If the van came to a sudden stop, the boy would probably slingshot into the back row proper, where three older men he’d only meet once. He only knew one of their names. No, that wasn’t right. He knew one name and one nickname. The boy didn’t know the third guy by any name.

The highway was smooth and new and dark. It was midnight. The boy was wide awake. His parents had given him permission to go, and while the exhibition had been mostly a dull disappointment, the ride to and now back was the memorable thing. The men told stories and jokes. The boy heard a lot of words for the first time.

This was the kind of trip that probably wouldn’t be allowed in modern times. The boy carried no identification, and he’d spent half of the $20 his mom had given him on lunch and snacks throughout the day.

He barely remembered the event itself, but the hollow loud sound of air in such a high and empty warehouse-turned-arena was still with him. Every now and then, he tried to make the most himself but couldn’t.

He also remembered the sound of canvas.

The boy wouldn’t talk about this weekend to his friends at school. There was a new game. Nobody was really listening to anyone.

Writing Practice, May 9 2015

Dallas was a boy’s name, wasn’t it? But that’s the name she heard through the glass. She had to repeat it aloud just in case, and because of policy, and because it was a pretty name, now that she’d given it half a second of thought.

Dallas? Like the state?” She said, immediately remembering that it was a city.

Dallas, on the other side, didn’t correct her.

Dallas, on the other side, held up identification. It confirmed everything.

She thumbed at papers and wrote her name, giving Dallas permissions she herself didn’t have. She asked to see the ID closer. It was a colour she’d only seen a few times this year. These were new cards, and were not yet mandatory. She peered close at the hologram and other security details. She had no doubt of Dallas’ authenticity. But there was still a question she liked to ask.

Dallas, are you who you say you are?”

Dallas, who up until this moment had only paid a sliver of slight attention to her–was truly paying more attention to the optimistic pastele palate adoring the walls, the nearby flick of a man’s finger against a magazine, and her own internal thoughts that mostly told her to eat something–opened her eyes and focused. She no longer saw the walls around her, thin plexiglass meant to…what? Protect her? But in this moment the little walls were gone. All colour went quiet. Colours, Dallas learned in this moment, can apparently do that.

Still, her stone cold composure kept up, and she was able to say Yes, of course,” and hear her laugh on the other side of the plexiglass. Dallas wondered what would happen if she’d said no. If she’d told the truth.

Writing Practice, May 8 2015

They were trapped underground, and they felt the weight of earth coming down on their heads. The oxygen in the small stupid space they’d concocted was being too quickly replaced by their own quick, panicked breaths. Their legs were already crushed under rock and soil, and the sound of gravity and leverage meant it wouldn’t be long before both brothers of a famous man were truly buried.

Bye, Torq.” One said to the other. He thought, why did we do this? He’d been thinking that since they’d stopped screaming for help, when the hope ran out and the turquoise stones shon black around them.

The brothers of people you’ve heard of made the news. Every newspaper, checked social media, and information tv in the subway displayed half a sentence or more about a daring and preposterous stunt gone awry. Newscasters and bloggers alike scratched away at the facts and did their best. People with jobs in the field summed up their theories on camera.

The brothers were looking for attention, surely. They were trying to make a statement about something cultural, or political, presumably. They were trying to steal something, perhaps. They knew the truth about something none of us knew the truth about, and tried to do something about it, maybe.

Those boys were murdered,” a woman with too much fame spoke in a room populated with lawyers and hats.

There’s no evidence,” a hat said, not to the woman with too much fame, but just aloud. The hat then said what everyone pretty much thought. They were stupid, and they did a stupid thing.”

Not my boys,” the woman with too much fame said. She was now the woman with too much fame and two buried sons. She was now two things.

Writing Practice, May 7 2015

The watch’s crown winds ten to fifteen times before it snaps and never works again without repair by a man I would never track down. The watch will work so long as I don’t wind it too hard, and it’ll more or less work forever. It holds time for around 8 hours, which means that to keep anywhere near accurate time (and the watch will never be accurate, no matter the amount of effort and care) winding the watch has to be the last action made before bed and the first when I wake up. The watch will not wake me up. The watch will only show the correct date if I wind the hour hands properly. There is no secondary input for the date. It is tied to the same wind as the hour and the minute.

I cannot go backwards in time. I think I used to be able to, but I’m not entirely sure. Someone else owned this watch when that feature worked. Now, if I try to wind backwards, the crown comes loose and eventually is removed. That means the every time the time is wrong (and it is wrong multiple times per day) I have to be careful with how far forward to move the minute hand. It only matters so much, though. If the time is wrong, it’ll only be so until the next time the watch stops. And then it won’t be even close.

Writing Practice, May 6 2015

Jamie stood on both feet, his back arched, his neck cranked, looking way up, his focus on a balcony the floors up jutting out from a thirty story apartment building. Jamie wanted a response. He had no other way in but to yell.

I want my money,” he said to the air above, in the hopes it would carry.

Jamie felt the cool breeze old the end of a storm. The concrete beneath him was still that darker, muddy grey. The building was forty years old, made of unaffordable materials today, heavy brick and premium plasters. Out was a ruin of optimism. If they put a nice building here, the neighborhood will improve. But Jamie knew the second he confirmed the address that had been given to him (that he had taken) that nobody’s money was in this building.

(nobody answers)

Writing Practice, May 5 2015

Murray dug his ass deep in the bench. He was sick of waiting, and he didn’t want a tan. It blazed and he roasted, and if he had any say he’d never come down to the water in the afternoon. His arms took up all the surface they could. The fish was that big.

The bench creaked under his weight. The back of the thing was painted a different colour than the seat, and both needed redoing. It was too early in the spring. The people who would do this work hadn’t yet been hired. There was still threat of snow, even as the sun cooked Murray as he waited. Murray thought about his cat at home and how he’d overfed it in case he had to wait a long time. He didn’t know what might happen. He left a key with his neighbour, to check on the cat in case he didn’t come home that night.

Murray thought about getting this over with, getting on with his day, going home and watching his new TV, maybe sending Denise a message. He’d watch Denver get destroyed and it’d be fine after three beers. Murray felt a bead of sweat hit his eyebrow. It wasn’t even terribly warm, just deadly bright. He’d call the man if he knew the number. He’d get it over with faster if he could.

Murray looked at his watch. It was all scratched to hell, a cheap timepiece from before everything connected. It barely did what it advertised. It was seven minutes late all the time, and no amount of winding or smashing helped. In the brightness, he could barely make out the time.

I’m here,” he heard behind him. Let’s do this.”

Writing Practice, May 4 2015

Aine peered upwards, through her closed eyelids. She opened them slightly, saw sunlight, the long lines of daylight, and rocked to the side. Her eyes rested[Do eyes rest?] on the view of his night table. The alarm clock had dust on it; two months worth of real dedicated laziness on the cleaning front there. She hadn’t set it once, and she hadn’t turned on the radio. It just told the time, and it was beginning to get hard to read.

Next to the alarm clock was a cup of coffee, prepared the night before. Mostly empty, filmed-over and pale, Aine grabbed it and held it under her nose. Lies, she thought. This coffee was three nights old. Where was the coffee from the other night? Another cup sat behind the alarm clock. Aine inspected its contents. Instead of coffee it was gin. Or at least it smelled like gin. Moving both cups kicked up clots of dust from the nightstand counter. She coughed. She smacked her pillow. She was going to get up, and move, and remember what it is she was supposed to do that day. But then she did not, and the dust settled on the floor beside her.

Aine moved the cups to the floor. She’d pick them up if they were in her way. She’d learned that in a seminar. Not with cups, just anything you’d want to remember. Put it in front of you,” the man with the microphone told her and two thousand other people. The man took his laptop out of his bag and put it in front of him on the stage. He took a few steps back and pretended to be an idiot. I won’t step on this. That’d be crazy!” And then he stepped on it, and two thousand people laughed and groaned. Well, maybe with some practice. It doesn’t come easy!” Aine felt practiced with this trick. She used it all the time. Her over the shoulder bag currently sat leaning against the door down the hall, filled with printed resumes. Her beautiful black flats kept it company. These things were ready for her on the day she decided to leave her apartment again.

Trying something new

So once again, Merlin Mann’s voice got to me. On a recent Back to Work episode, he talked about the verbing” of what you say you do, vs what you actually do. This isn’t a new talking point for him, but he came around to a new way of saying it. To roughly paraphrase, if you’re not writing every day, how many days do you have to go without writing before you’re not longer a writer?

It’s been too many days without writing for me.

I’ve been inspired by other writers and their daily writing habits. A post on Seth Gotin’s blog reminded me about re-making habits out of fears. I don’t have to have a plan for a novel every time I sit down to write, and I don’t need to bang out 3,000 perfect words to call it a session.” So, yesterday I wrote 200 words. Today, I wrote 500. Tomorrow, I hope to write more than ten. I’m trying to be realistic, but I also know I’m only really happy when I’m writing, and I owe it to the people around me to try to be happy.

I’m going to put what I can on this blog. I’m going to be shooting for everyday, but not everything I write is going to be suitable for even undiscerning readers. For now, I’m going to have a week delay in what I write vs what I put up. It’s mostly going to be shit, but that’s part of the point.

Structuring thoughts

I want to come up with a writing style that works with both writing on computers and on paper, that allows for versioning of sentences (perhaps with footnotes?) as well as a rating system for how far along a sentence might be.

It would look something like a two-column setup you might see in Scrivener (and, in fact, Scrivener might be perfect for this while on the computer, but I’d rather it work with any app in plain text), where there’s the text itself, and then meta-information that connected first-draft stuff with extra thoughts and options.

Does anyone else do something like this already? I’m not looking to come up with something new just because I think that’s important. I’m curious to find out how other writers structure their free-flowing writing (or, if this is just idealistic thinking).

I really want to just get back into writing. But my methods in the last two years have left me with three half-finished novels about women in peril. I didn’t actively set out to write any of them that way, and I certainly didn’t set out to quit halfway through.

#On Not Using Footnotes

#On Not Using Footnotes

I used to use footnotes in my blog writing, but I stopped pretty quickly once I found out how much it annoyed readers. I also design layouts for a living, and footnotes are pretty much the bane of my existence. I would never wish it upon my worst enemy. Seems like the vitriol is spreading.

Manton Reece:

I avoid footnotes in my writing. Often the same effect can be achieved with simple parenthesis. If parenthesis don’t fit well, entire extra paragraphs are also much more readable. And if it can’t be conveyed without footnotes, maybe the text should be cut out completely, if it is of so little importance to be relegated to the bottom of the article.

What I do use footnotes for now is in Scrivener, where you have the choice of not exporting them. They’re for me, the writer, so I know where I need to expand an idea or remind myself why I wrote something in a certain way. It’s a fantastic tool, but it shouldn’t be for sharing.

While I’m on the subject, I’ll point out that footnotes in print books still have value, because it acts as an analogue link to another work. However, the second you put an actual hyperlinkinto the text of a printed book, you’ve lost me. The web is a constantly changing thing, and that hyperlink is going to have a much shorter lifespan than another printed publication. At least for now, until everyone stops jumping from domain to domain anytime they get a new web designer.

Publishing every keystroke

I’ve been thinking lately about what makes up a draft,” and what should be publically available for other people to read. Every author will have a different idea of what’s acceptable for publication (and what publication” means), but I’m fascinated that more and more granular platforms appear.

It used to be, if you wanted to publish something you needed the permission of a printer, and likely a publishing house, which would cause a certain approach to quality, editing, etc. Today, You can put up any word in any quality you want for free, and the whole world can see it. You can delete it, replace it, cross it out, and pretty much anything you want with the word.

Now (as in recently) there are scripts you can run in Google Docs that will show you a replay of every keystroke. You’ve been able to record your screen for a while now, but this level of drafting-as-art is something I don’t see very many writers signing up for (except myself. I’ll probably do it. I love stuff like this).

When I read this article, the first thing I thought was, somebody out there would have probably paid a lot to see Hemmingway’s keystrokes.

Constraints Inform the Content

I don’t know where the number scheme came from [citation appreciated]. I’ve seen it used in novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, essays, and now tweets, but I couldn’t tell you its etymology. A few scant google searches revealed nothing, so it’s obviously lost to history (I am the worlds’ worst journalist). Maybe it has something to do with wanting to build on paragraphs, not just have them come after one another, but have the 2nd point be inside a capsule called 2,” which grew from the insight the writer came to inside 1.” Somehow this is clearer than just having one paragraph after another. I’ve used it before without fully understanding its point or power, and I’m using it now, understanding just as little.

But I’ve spent my entire life using tools without fully understanding their scope. When I began designing, I didn’t have a clue how to use Photoshop. I did things the wrong” way for years. Some things, I’m still doing wrong, but they work for me. I write in five different apps depending on my mood. It doesn’t work, but I don’t have a better method. So who am I to say how anyone should run their personal publishing platform? I’ve quit more services than most people have ever started. This isn’t what this is. This is exploration. This is rummaging. This is doing things wrong until you find a way, even if it’s never, ever right.

Some platforms have easier hooks than others. Posts on Facebook are especially difficult as they have no obvious way to link to them. You rarely see a blog post link to a specific post on Facebook, because doing so is a massive pain. Twitter has permalinks, but their search is poor. Tumblr is endlessly re-linkable, but authorship becomes questionable (and sometimes entirely lost through no fault of anyone). And while this is about doing something about what you read, it’s the kind of thing writers think about. Platforms inform the content, but maybe that’s better written this way: constraints inform the content. Writing in numbered paragraphs makes this piece conform to different constraints. I feel like I need to make a point every time. I feel I need to leave you wanting to go to the next one (this is how listicles work!)

I want to oscillate to two differing viewpoints about using Twitter as a place to deliver actual capital C content. During the seven years I’ve been on the service, I’ve tweeted about food, nothing, bullshit, important topics of the week, pro wrestling, cats, and politics. This hardly scratches the surface: there’s over 23,000 tweets to my name (say I used all 140 characters for each; I’ve typed over 3 million characters. Jesus). The first point is that Twitter is great at delivering updates and ephemera, but lousy at being a blog; you know, that place where good things are written. From Marco Arment:

I don’t think avoiding Twitter is pragmatic if your audience is there, but it’s also unwise to dump all of your writing into bite-size pieces that are almost immediately skimmed over, forgotten, and lost to the vast depth of the mostly unsearchable, practically inaccessible Twitter archive.

Marco makes a terrific point about Twitter’s archive: it’s awful. Twitter could delete every tweet from 2013 back and nobody would notice, because unless you’re scrolling your own feed it’s basically impossible to get back there. He’s also right about Tweets getting skimmed over. At least from a personal perspective, very few tweets stick with me. They don’t get lodged in my subconscious like a great song, a great book, or even a great commercial. Length has nothing to do with it; certain lines from poems stay with me for years. But I’d be damned if I could remember a tweet from yesterday, even my own. Even though the majority of my writing since 2008 has evidently been on the service, I don’t feel like tweets count.” 

But yet Twitter is my platform of choice when I want to write a sentence.

If you number a tweet, the idea is that there’s more to come. This thought cannot fit into one container, so we’re going to use two. Or three! Or lots. And this is weird, because I’d say almost everyone reads Twitter in reverse-chronological order and thus read this barrage of tweets backwards. That’s more or less where my irk with multiple-tweet arguments begin and end. 

I really like Jeet Heer. I began following him because of my friend Matt Blair, who tweets so well it makes me angry. Jeet tweets in multiples so much he’s put it in his profile. I don’t know how this happened, but myself and several others all seemed to ask him at the same time why he tweeted long, multiple entries to form a single argument rather than write a blog. He replied in his fashion, which can be seen here as a storify. The part of his argument that got me was about footnotes:

21. What Adorno said about footnotes is true of tweets as well: it’s a form for thoughts that might not live elsewhere.

I kinda love footnotes, and I get it. Twitter essays are arguments in a margin. It’s not something I would do, but maybe in the future? It seems like it might annoy people. I don’t want to annoy people, do I? Going by history, that would be exactly what it looks like I like doing. I jump from platform to platform, rebranding, changing email addresses, my name even. There have definitely been people in my life who go screw that guy,” or at the very least where the hell did he go, anyway?” 

But what I really get is that Heer has found a platform that works, even if it’s not the right” one. 

And this is where it becomes a thing I worry about. I have the history of moving around so much because that’s partially what’s inspired me, and this has been a slow poison that’s followed my career. For new readers, all I have is my own word to tell you that I have been blogging in one fashion or another since 2002, and that even my seven-year Twitter account is only one of four I’ve had over that time, two of which no longer exist. I have done well to erase myself. I have done a remarkable job of making people think I don’t care about them or myself.

If I have any excuse for this behaviour, it’s that I have been in search of the best box, and my failure to find it has led to a few revelations about work and art. I thought I found the best container in Lattice, and when that came to a quick end I fell into a sort of depression about the issue. I’m not happy with blogs, twitter, print, ePubs, newsletters, news_papers_. None of it feels like the right thing, like any sort of real culmination of hundreds of years of literary distribution technology. 

My revelation was not that it’s the content that matters, not the container. The container very much matters, because it (say it with me) informs the content. The book I write in Scrivener and put on a Kindle is a different book than the one I’d write on a typewriter and send to a real publisher (in the 50s, presumably). The short story I write on my phone’s keyboard and put up on Wattpad is a totally different beast than the one I speak orally into a tape recorder. And the tweet I save in Onenote to publish later will be a different kind of tweet than the one I write and hit send without once checking to see if something is amiss. And this is a system I would not recommend to any sane person or even to myself. This isn’t the right way to do things. 

No, my revelation was that I’m not a container man. I’m not even particularly sure if I’m a writing man, but it’s what I like to do more than the other things. What’s a little sad is that the blog of all things is the best thing I’ve found. It’s the most versatile, flexible, searchable, and conversely hide-able if it all goes south. But I’m not an expert on this. I only have my own experience. 

I like Film-Crit Hulk. His essays about cinema are engaging, thorough, and humane. But it is infuriating reading him, because he writes in character,” in all caps, third person, and using hulk smash”-style truncation. These things are obstacles to enjoying his work. Now, Film-Crit Hulk has his reasons for writing the way he does, but I still find it annoying. 

The thing is, people find a way. If you really, really hate his style, there’s a chrome extension that removes the all-caps, and even replaces HULK with I” so the sentences read more naturally. I have no idea if Film-Crit Hulk hates this thing, but if I had worked to create a style I’d be a little miffed if people went out of their way to cheat their way out of it. I wonder if that’s how people on Twitter think of Storify, as this hack bolted on to make sense of their arguments on a medium they don’t fully grasp.

These kinds of hacks are everywhere. There are loads of ways to make things easier” to read. Evernote Clearly is one I use from time to time, which I pair with a read-later service (Instapaper). These things are hacks to move content from a place where the author intended to a place you, the reader, prefer. It’s a preference. What I’ve only recently realized is that the writer now has one less thing to worry about. Aesthetics and style are important, but the writer no longer has to worry about cribbing their own sense of style (and perhaps even their natural workflow) to make sure that things look and read fine. Readers (at least the fiddly ones) are going to take care of that. This opens up guys like Film-Crit Hulk, Heer Jeet, short-form bloggers to do what they do best: write really fucking well. 

I used to worry if people could properly subscribe via RSS. I’m not going to worry about that anymore. I’m not going to worry if people like blogs, or fiction mixed with non-fiction, categorization or even particularly the metadata. I’m not going to worry about where the numbers came from. I’m just going to type into this box.

Focusing on the emotional moments between insanity

Whenever I read about the writing process of science fiction/fantasy authors, I see them talking about the human moments” that happen in between all the otherworldly zaniness. I agree that it’s an important element of fiction to ground the plot and characters in real-world conflicts and circumstances. But it also seems a bit like the writers would like to discard the human element entirely. They’re not really interested in telling a human story in an alien world. They want to write about a cool alien world, and the relatable stuff is just there to help keep the reader from getting too lost.

The human element in these stories are really the only things I like about them, though. I only ever get invested in a story when principles get tested in a way I understand. Common enough tropes in fantasy writing are those of strength (not having enough), trust, loyalty, and adherence to an individual’s principles. Okay, these are tropes in most fiction, but they get pressed on in fantasy fiction because it’s often how to tell who we’re supposed to care about.

I’m writing a new version of Corona Gale, and I’ve thought a lot about what I want to have happen. I don’t particularly like how I wrote the mission” Kate Foley went on, to stop (and fail to stop) a madman bent on sailing a cruise ship directly into a tornado (that may or may not have time traveling capabilities). That’s a lot of plot in one sentence, and it played out clumsily. In the new version, almost none of that is going to happen. Instead, I’m going to focus on the human element I baked into it: whether or not she would give up on a budding relationship.

Kate Foley has a strange job that sends her on missions for long periods of time. She can’t talk to anyone about it, but it’s not clear (and I’m not planning on making it clear) if she isn’t allowed, or can’t bring herself to. I’m not really planning on revealing too much about it. It worked as a mysterious token in No Chinook and it can work here (so long as I tear away just a little of the edges). What she does isn’t the point. That it gets in the way of her having the kind of life she might want is.

In a way, it’s a little bit of a can she have it all?” story. There’s a negativity to those stories, because it’s often looked at as anti-woman (men don’t seem to have trouble having it all” in popular fiction). But I don’t think it’ll turn out that way, anyway, because Kate is a bit of a villain (read No Chinook if you haven’t). She doesn’t have many troubles, and she mostly always gets what she wants. But who is she? What does she actually want? Is Ollie it? There’s a lot to unpack in ten chapters.

This isn’t a story about a regular person in a regular world. There’s definitely stuff just off screen. The monster under your bed is always scarier than the monster in front of you. What I like about taking that approach is that fear becomes a roving metaphor for every road not taken, every choice about the future.

Morning Pages December 14, 2013

Sometimes I’ll just ball up. I can’t take the world and I don’t have the fuel. I get the wrong kind of text message from the wrong kind of friend and I’m out of operation for a long weekend. That’s a misfire, a neuron or socket malfunctioning. It shouldn’t work like that. I should be able to brush off things, but there’s too much purchase. I stick.

I’ll just stare out for a little bit and wonder if other people are like this, if this is normal. I ask myself that a lot. Is what I’m doing normal? It’s a kind of ghost calibration. I’ll order food and realize I have no money. Inaction. Things get cancelled. I cancel. I can’t say what’s wrong. It’s just an empty box. It’s just a fog. I want to be able to zoom in and get some detail, hold down a modifier key and feel like a prize fighter. I want to roll weird dice and move upward, and feel like ascension means something. But every step feels like entering a pie eating contest.

Lattice and technical difficulties

I’ve published 6 issues of Lattice. I’m proud of each of them, both in the quality of work I’ve been able to muster, as well as the world-building I’d attempted. I looked at the idea of serial fiction as a way to slowly piece together a much larger object than simply a book. I looked at it as an evolution from the book, to this new thing that could only be done with specific technologies working together. Sync. Push. Subscription payments. Tiny file sizes. Readability on every single electronic device. That’s exciting stuff, and Lattice worked with all of it to create the beginning of something great.

I’m sorry to bury the lead, but this is about what’s going to happen next with Lattice. As of December 28, the app is being pulled from the iOS app store. As of February, lattice.periodical.co will shut down. Obviously, this isn’t something I want to happen. But I’m not in control of the fortunes of Periodical, the company that helps me make Lattice such a great product. I looked at it as a partnership. I provided the raw content—my writing—and Periodical provided the excellent container. They pushed each issue to the iPhone, iPad, and Kindle, the three most popular reading devices in the world, and they created epub files subscribers could download and keep forever, to read on any reasonably modern device in the world. It was great.

Unfortunately, it looks like Periodical is shutting down, which means I have to find a new way to make Lattice work. I’m not going to rush into anything, and I want to make sure that the next platform (or platforms, as will be more likely) I choose will be something that’ll last a long time, and will inspire me to work even harder on this amazing project of mine. From what I understand, readers will be receiving some kind of return on the last month of subscribing, but I don’t have all the details. Contact Periodical if you have any questions. If you are a current subscriber, and have been meaning to download any of the issues for posterity, I’d suggest doing it pretty soon.

I’m sorry about this setback. I really shot for the sun with this one. I simply couldn’t (and still can’t) do the great work the folks at Periodical did by myself. And this is always the risk one takes when forming a relationship. It’s one of the reasons I’ve remained adamantly independent my whole career. I don’t feel like I made a mistake trying things out with Periodical. They made a great product, and offered a terrific service. I wish the best for them.

I know I’m going to leave some readers frustrated. If you’ve been following along with Lattice, you’ll know there are three ongoing narratives that feel like they’re just getting started. Trust me, they are. I have extensive work on all three in the can, and can’t wait to share this interweaving mystery with everyone. So don’t worry, you will not have to wait long to continue reading Skypunch, The Moonbow Easy, and Corona Gale.

How Corona Gale Part 1 and 2 fit together

If you’ve read part 1, you know that it comes to an abrupt and climatic end (there are also a lot of unanswered questions). Part 2 takes place before 1, with Kate Foley in various scenes of her youth. Each chapter is a few years apart, and shows her growing up, facing challenges from her family and two of her boyfriends (though Ollie and Scott appear briefly). Part 2 finishes up just after part 1 begins, so there is a little overlap. 

You can read the story in either order, but the preferred route is Part 1, then 2. That’s why I released them like that. The story may make more linear sense in reverse, however, I think it’s a better story when you get the climax out of the way in the first act. I’d be interested in seeing how other people find it. 

Of course, there is a secret here, and I’ll tell you even if it doesn’t really make much sense out of context: Part 2 may actually happen chronologically after part 1, even though the events cover a younger version of Kate. Whether this is true depends a lot on believing the ramblings of the madmen who causes all the problems. I understand if this is confusing. Read them! That will help things tremendously. 

Corona Gale part 2 will be out at the end of December.

I Used to have an iPad Newstand App

In 2013 I had an iPad Newstand App called Lattice. In total, there were 6 issues of Lattice. I’m proud of each of them, both in the quality of work I’ve been able to muster, as well as the world-building I’d attempted. I looked at the idea of serial fiction as a way to slowly piece together a much larger object than simply a book. I looked at it as an evolution from the book, to this new thing that could only be done with specific technologies working together. Sync. Push. Subscription payments. Tiny file sizes. Readability on every single electronic device. That’s exciting stuff, and Lattice worked with all of it to create the beginning of something great. 

As of December 28 2013, the app was pulled from the iOS app store. As of February 2014, lattice.periodical.co was shut down. Obviously, this isn’t something I wanted to happen. But I wasn’t in control of the fortunes of Periodical, the company that helped me make Lattice such a great product. I looked at it as a partnership. I provided the raw content—my writing—and Periodical provided the excellent infrastructure. They pushed each issue to the iPhone, iPad, and Kindle, the three most popular reading devices in the world, and they created ePub files subscribers could download and keep forever, to read on any reasonably modern device in the world. It was great. There still isn’t a service like it.

Unfortunately, it looks like Periodical is shut down for good, which means I have to find a new way to make Lattice work. In lieu of anything better, I’m just going to publish my work to the web, on this site, for free. I don’t write for a living. I don’t want to turn it into a living. I don’t want to not love it. And if I charge for it, I’m going to want to turn it into some kind of business, and I don’t really want to. So I’m just going to give it away.

I really shot for the sun with this one. I simply couldn’t (and still can’t) do the great work the folks at Periodical did by myself. And this is always the risk one takes when forming a relationship. It’s one of the reasons I’ve remained adamantly independent my whole career. I don’t feel like I made a mistake trying things out with Periodical. They made a great product, and offered a terrific service. I wish the best for them. 

Readers frustrated with the non-endings to the three narratives I wrote won’t find much solace anytime soon. Much of the work will be pushed into a new story, Sprites, Jets and Elves. It’ll read more like a novel than a serial, and the work there is making it seem pretty natural. Thank you all for your support. You’re going to love where it goes.

Nanowrimo and Lattice

The point of Nanowrimo is to write. You set yourself a deadline and a goal, and you set very little else. The deadline and goal are tough, but not unconquerable. 50,000 words and 30 days. Of course, you can do the math and say that’s only 1667 words per day, and writing 1667 words is easy. Yes, it is. Writing 50,000 words is also easy. The tough part is writing 50,000 words that vaguely relate to one another.

Quality isn’t part of the equation. Nanowrimo is a sprint or a gauntlet, depending on how you look at it, but it is not a dance. Nobody is grading you on whether you stick the landing. Having said that, there’s also no rule that says your book has to be bad, either. And if you come prepared, and if you’re confident in your work, something pretty great might just show up.

I haven’t participated in Nanowrimo every year since beginning, but my first one was in 2002. I’ve participated maybe 8 times and finished 4. It’s not a great record but I doubt there are too many people with a perfect score. It’s not something I’ve tried since 2010, but I’m giving it a shot this year for two reasons.

The first is I have a novel ready to write. It’s about Kate from No Chinook, and what she’s been up to since leaving Scott in 2006. It’s not a sequel so much as a new story with a familiar character. All my books take place in the same universe with the same continual timeline (that being this universe, mostly, and this time, mostly), so it’s not crazy that I’ll be reusing characters from time to time. I love it when other authors do this and I’m excited to see where it goes.

The second reason I’m excited to do Nano is Lattice. My nano book is going to comprise one, maybe two issues of Lattice, depending on how the month goes. If I make it the whole 50,000, I’ll split it into two issues. If I fail, I’ll keep it to one. It’s going to be a very rough first draft, but Lattice is the place where people who like my work can get access to it right away , and I want that to really be true. Lattice is in many ways where I publish my beta works. Either way, it’ll be the biggest issue of Lattice yet.

For people who are patiently waiting for continuing chapters of Skypunch and The Moonbow Easy, there will be new chapters coming in January. Having said that, this new book will intersect both of those stories, creating a sort of prequel to both of them. Eventually, you’ll likely see Kate in both stories too. She’s a pivotal character.

Lattice Issue 5: My Lover’s Phone

Issues one to four of Lattice have all progressed two stories forward: Skypunch and The Moonbow Easy. This month, I’m taking a break from both stories to present something entirely different: a partially-true short story about love and technology. I say partially true because I’m drawing largely from personal experience. My Lover’s Phone, which comprises this entire issue, is something that I did not see coming. You hear writer’s talking about a subject demanding to be written, but I never really believed them. You’re in control, right? You decide what happens. And that’s true, but you’re not always in control of what emerges from your imagination (at least, not wholly consciously), and you’re not always in control of what inspires you.

I began writing technology-driven articles last month. I replaced my wrestling column with two longform arguments about placative design and backups. I began writing a third, about Windows Phone, but found myself incapable of writing about it without talking about my partner, who has largely informed my decisions related to technology in the last few years. For years, we would argue about things like Apple products and how technology companies lull people into states of complacency and connectivity in order to take information from them they’d never otherwise indulge. In fact, I found it impossible to talk about technology without talking about relationships with other people. Any argument I wanted to make about any product would inevitably lead to an anecdote about a girlfriend or a friend or someone in my past. So, knowing I had an issue to write, I decided to go with it. I felt there was enough material to mine from my own emotions on the subject that I could fill an entire issue.

Now, I don’t know what to really call this. It’s a short story in four parts, but it’s neither entirely fictional or totally truthful. I’ve stretched facts, distorted time, and moved aspects of some relationships to others in order to make a better narrative. What’s left is something totally unique to anything I’ve ever written before. I’ve taken the truth as raw materials and made a product that’s definitely no longer true, but still absolutely raw and bloody, all because every single relationship in my life has come with a different phone. It’s strange to think about, and probably rote. I mean, relationships come with all kinds of things. Most relationships come with a couch of some kind, but I’ve never placed much currency in that. Phones stick with me, though, since these purchases are often so charged with either brand awareness and loyalty or utter indifference and outright scorn. I’ve known people who have purchased phones for the sole purpose of spiting another person. These things have a hold on us.

And as much as these things are built to connect people, I’m not really sure if they help.

This is unlike anything I’ve written before in structure, too. This is a very loose narrative, with no set idea of time or even characters. It’s not clear when one relationship ends and another begins, or how many there are, or if the narrator is even the same person. Some parts are purposefully obtuse in order for the reader to glean something personal that I can’t figure out in advance. I wrote this story to be a bit like a fun house mirror, but one that probably makes you sad.

Lattice 4: Locked in the Trunk of a Car

So.

This is the fourth issue of Lattice, which is obvious from the numbering but amazing from almost any other angle. I’ve stuck to this for four straight months, over 10,000 words each month of publication-worthy writing. Issue 4 is a landmark one for two reasons: the launch of my article series on contemporary technology, and the launch of the iOS Newsstand app.

First, the app. If you subscribe via the web, you can now download the app for free from the iTunes store and sign in with your account credentials. Just go to settings and tap restore subscription,” and you’ll be able to read Lattice on your iPad, iPhone, and/or iPod Touch. The app looks great and works brilliantly, and I’m incredibly proud to have this thing ship.

Just a quick recap, here are all the ways you can read Lattice as a subscriber:

  1. On the web, using any browser on any device.

  2. On your Kindle, with automatic wireless delivery every month. (Not sure how? Here’s a guide)

  3. On your Kobo, Sony Reader, Nook, or ePub app, by downloading the DRM-free file from the site.

  4. On iOS, with the Newsstand app, which will automatically download new issues right to your device.

That kind of range is incredible, and I’m still floored it works as well as it does.

Second, the launch of my new article series. I’ve recently become much more interested in how technology shapes our lives, and for a few months I’m going to be writing 2 articles a month on this subject. They will take the place of The Heart is Raw, my series on television (largely about Monday Night Raw, a pro wrestling show) for a little while. I love writing The Heart is Raw, and I think it’s the best work I’ve done on the subject, but that sort of column requires regular breaks in order not to be too repetitive. This month, I talk about two trends: placative design and poor backup methods. For those who find technology writing dull, I’ve done my best to keep it lively. I hope you like them.

That brings us to the meat of the issue, two new chapters of fiction. First up, Skypunch. With the gang finally together, Aubry, Rose, and Sabin go off to investigate their first coincidence. Aubry is unsure of what she’s got herself into, Rose is too sure of the coincidence’s major significance, and Sabin is tired. He is a single father, after all. He’s going to be tired a lot. Now, because Skypunch is a mystery, I want to comfort you, the reader, because I know you’ve been through this before. I know you’ve traveled along with a group of people looking for the truth, only to be gravely disappointed by a poorly-thought-through reveal. We’ve all watched eight seasons of a TV show only to go really? That’s it?” I know what it feels like to retroactively loath the time spent with a mystery. I’m going to do my best not to do that.

I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you, dear reader, enjoy every part of Skypunch, and not slog through it hoping to find a great mystery. I want it to be enjoyable from beginning to end. I can promise you that every single question that arises from the early chapters will be resolved once a year. Every twelve chapters, the plot will wrap up and everything will be revealed. I believe that the world I’m building will hold and will continue to spring new adventures for the characters. Even though we’re nowhere even close to the good questions, I just want to get out ahead of it and let you know that, yes, I know how patience can run thin. You won’t have to worry with this one.

Last, The Moonbow Easy gets claustrophobic this month. Odette has been kidnapped and awakes in the trunk of a car. What happens next is pretty thrilling, so the less said here, the better. I’m having so much fun writing this story, and I’m really happy to hear that people are enjoying it now that it’s past the (admittedly) slow beginning. I’ve rewritten the plot of The Moonbow Easy several times now, and I’m still in the midst of figuring out where it’ll ultimately end up. Just last week, I ripped apart the entire premise of why she was kidnapped and started over with something better. That’s the beauty of Lattice, I think: I’ve shipped part of the story, and now it has to work. I can’t stew about it for long. I have to bring the goods. But I’m confident that you’ll love how it all unfolds.

Now that Lattice is available on every digital platform, I want to open up the latter part of the production diary for questions from readers. If you have something you’d like to ask about Skypunch, The Moonbow Easy, or my non-fiction writing, just send me an email, and I’ll respond to you as well as place it in the next issue. I think this space could work similarly to how the back pages of comic books operate. I also may just have a pair of x-ray goggles to sell you.

Just like the Hip say, it’s better for me if you don’t understand.

Lattice Issue 3: Kidnapped!

So.

Lattice is accomplishing three things. First and most importantly, it’s proven to make me write. It creates a deadline and a goal and the structure is that I feel I can crank it out in the time allotted. This issue is around 11,000 words. The last two were 15,000 and 12,000 respectively, which means since beginning this project three months ago I’ve written roughly 38,000 words. This is more than I wrote in all of 2011 and 2012. Yes, I’m proud of the work, but most importantly I’m proud that there is work.

The second thing Lattice has accomplished is a delivery method. I’ve spoken to the developers of the iOS newsstand app and they tell me it is coming very soon. Hopefully by next issue you’ll be able to read this in Newstand, and new issues will appear automatically. But even without Newstand, Lattice looks great on iOS inside iBooks and other epub reading apps. It looks great on Kobo and Sony readers as well. And even though I’m not a Kindle owner myself, their automatic delivery to all Kindle subscribers is the kind of feature writers could only dream of having just a few years ago.

Lastly, Lattice is an ongoing project that will get better over time. Subscribers who have been here from the beginning will continue to get rewarded by new stuff, and fresh subscribers will have a huge amount of content, and this will continue to grow every month. Having made three issues, I’m comfortable with my ability to continue and I’m excited to hear from readers about the new work.

Now, onto issue 3. I called it Kidnapped!’ because I don’t write that many kidnappings (it’s my first, actually), and I didn’t want to bury the lead. I’ve heard from people that The Moonbow Easy is their least favourite part of Lattice. I had a feeling this might happen, because it’s a strange story and Odette is a curious main character. Structurally, not much has happened in the first three chapters, because I wanted to set the scene and show how I might explore a dispirited character. I wanted to have her be stuck in a bad situation based partially on poor decisions made against people who would take advantage of her naivety. Then, I wanted something really bad to happen. This is the beginning of that. I want to stress that this is a story about strength against deception. Have faith (or don’t.)

It’s not at all evident from the first two chapters of Skypunch, but it is going to be an ensemble cast of about five. Here, in S1E3 (that’s season one, episode three), we meet two of the main characters, Sabin and Rose. I focus on mostly on Sabin, a young single father who has taken a position that’s kind of nuts (and only partially explained). Also, welcome to Skypunch. Finally.

I’ve been promising this from the beginning, but the Heart is Raw finally deviates from pro wrestling this month. I wrote an essay about The Killing, my favourite procedural show. I also talked about Total Divas, the new reality show about female wrestlers that is oddly decent. For the other two articles, I discussed Summerslam 1991 and 2013, two very, very different shows (hint, the one with the wedding makes less sense). For the more recent show, I cribbed a little Vonnegut. I think you’ll like it.

For people who follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that halfway through the month I actually gave up on a draft for Skypunch. I wrote chapter 3 from Aubry’s perspective at first, but decided it was too linear and the pace too slow. I have it written, and thought about putting it in the issue as a freebie. Would people be interested in rough work like that? I’d be curious to know.

Remember, two coincidences are never enough.

Lattice Issue 2: Cracks in the Keep

So.

I’m getting a little better at explaining just what Lattice is. The first time I talked about it to someone else, I stammered and stalled so much they thought I was talking about something dangerous. A few times after that, I think I’ve got it down. Lattice is a vehicle. Everything I write goes in it, and depending on the month, this might change. I want to guarantee a few things. The basic structure so far is going to remain intact for a long time. The first issue, released last month, contained the first chapters of two stories (I guess I can’t call them books’), and this month you’ll find chapter 2 of Skypunch and chapters 2 and 3 of Moonbow Easy. Skypunch and Moonbow Easy seem like they’re on the same course now, but they’ll quickly diverge, and one will last much longer than the other. Skypunch is an actual serial novel that will be presented in volumes (hence the S1E2 in the chapter title, marking seasons and episodes), whereas Moonbow is a traditional novel presented in 12 separately released chapters. When Moonbow ends in a year, another traditional novel will take its place.

Just like last month, I’m also including the last four articles in my series of essays about pro wrestling. They’re called The Heart is Raw,” and they’re one part review of WWEs Monday Night Raw” soap opera, one part close reading of a character or moment, and one part emotional catharsis. It’s my attempt to unpack a popular serial fiction while informing my own writing. They are absolutely readable by people with no knowledge or care about wrestling, but probably not for people who don’t like soap.

There’s a bonus short story in this issue, called The Alley.” It’s a quick character study in a tense moment. I don’t want to spoil anything in the story itself, but I’ll happily spoil the context around the story: it takes place in Skypunch. I’ll spoil another thing: Skypunch, Moonbow Easy, No Chinook, and A Record Year for Rainfall all exist in the same universe. There are no self-contained stories in my collection, and they’re all slowly building on the same premise. I’ve included No Chinook and A Record Year for Rainfall as separate (and free) issues in the Lattice subscription because I want people to find the clues. And before you ask, yeah, the wrestling stuff exists there, too.

This episode in Skypunch is Aubry’s origin. As she sits on the back of the ambulance and watches her house burn down, she remembers her upbringing in the various places she’s lived and how she lived there, mostly in relation to her parents. For people who didn’t have much to feel for as she lost her home, this should fill that out.

For Moonbow Easy, our hero Odette gets some good news, then some immediate bad news. We see her cope, and wonder, and wait. Things are going to start happening there very soon. I didn’t plan on doing this originally, but after reading chapter 2 as a standalone piece, I’ve decided to ship chapter 3 alongside it. Chapter 2 is a bummer, and frankly, I didn’t want both Skypunch and Moonbow to be so dreary. So, hey, bonus. Chapter 3 marks the beginning of the story proper, as a new character appears and begins to give Odette the hope she really, really, really needs.

Lattice Issue 1: The Good Coffee

So.

I’ve always liked writing, and I’ve always thought that one day I’d be good enough to get there, to get to a place where my stuff could be packaged in some form and presented wholesale to some kind of public, a percentage of the whole, eager and happy and critical and all those things that fans’ do to products. But as I got older and learned more about the process of taking what I thought was good to the hands of the masses, I realized I did not like the system very much. It wasn’t that so many hands had to touch my work before it became known—though that certainly factored, and continues to factor—but it was mostly the time, the estimates in terms of months and years before the veritable they would be ready to release. They offered money, but took time. It wasn’t something I ever liked. For whatever reason my internal machinery prefers having the time and is happy to forfeit the money. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I’d rather just do the whole damn thing myself.

Another aspect of writing I’ve always wanted to work on is a serial, a magazine of some form, made up of interlocking fictions that exist in the same universe and may even share characters, themes, and macguffins. Old mystery novels had this going for them, and the series was made stronger with each new installment. Supplementary characters would return in later volumes, rewarding the attention of early readers, injecting equal parts nostalgia and excitement. I think deep down we want to see characters come back, even if they’ve fallen down elevator shafts or perished in a fire, even if they were just plot devices.

Knowing these two things, I went looking for a platform that would allow me to write serial fiction on my own, deliver it to as many people as I could, and charge just enough to buy groceries. This is how we are here. I’m using a service called Periodical, and it delivers on its name. Every month (and possibly more often than that) you’ll receive a new issue of both fiction and non-fiction from me. You’ll pay two dollars a month for it. I’ll deliver somewhere around 10,000 words of new material in four categories: a new chapter in an on-going series, a new chapter in a finite series (chapter 1 of 10, for instance), a month’s worth of The Heart is Raw, my essays on pro wrestling (seemingly unrelated, but I think they’re pretty good and you don’t need to like wrestling to read them.) Finally, there will be a piece like this every issue, detailing my thoughts on what I’m writing, recaps to events, and helpful hooks for new readers who don’t want to start at the beginning. This is what the money is for.

This may be a little overwhelming at first, but Lattice is the overall title of the periodical. Inside it are three items at present. Skypunch is the name of the serial fiction, the one that should go as long as this periodical exists. It has no set end, but stories inside it will conclude and begin anew, much like a soap or a franchise. Moonbow Easy is the name of the novel, which has eleven chapters, the first contained herein. When those eleven chapters conclude, a new book will take its place, and Moonbow will be collected into a special issue all of its own. The Heart is Raw is the name of my wrestling reviews, but I promise no viewing of wrestling is necessary to enjoy them. I do my best to write them for an audience who probably doesn’t care about wrestling, but appreciates both high drama and character studies.

I’ve already been asked this question plenty, so I’ll answer it here. Why name the publication Lattice? This is all Dave Eggers’ fault. In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, one of his lengthy soliloquy’s talks about the lattice as metaphor, an interlocking and connecting truth which can strengthen each individual thread. I thought it was the perfect exemplar for what I’m trying to do. Each individual piece may be small, and may communicate something frail, but together it is mighty.

I’ll let Eggers’ words speak for himself. From page 184 of my copy, anyway: The lattice that we are either a part of or apart from. The lattice is the connective tissue. The lattice is everyone else, the lattice is my people…. The lattice is everyone I have ever known…I see us as one, as a vast matrix, an army, a whole, each one of us responsible to one another, because no one else is. I mean, every person that walks through the door… on and on, all these people, the people who come to us or we come to, the subscribers, our friends, their friends, their friends, who knows who knows who, people who have everything in common no matter where they’re from, all these people know all the same things and truly hope for the same things, it’s undeniable that they do, and if we can bring everyone to grab a part of the other, like an arm at the socket, everyone holding another’s arm at the socket, and if we can get everyone to, instead of ripping this arm from the socket, instead hold on to it, tight, and thus strengthening— Then…”

This is my beacon for this periodical. Together, my friends, my subscribers, my fans, my critics, and the people who have no idea who I am but will, we’ll all make this thing whole. I cannot do it without you. I don’t want to. I want to go on an adventure, and I want you to come with me. I want to make you happy and break your heart and make you empathize and this is the best way I know how.

Skypunch begins with a dream, and our hero awakening, sleeping halfway through the day. Their mother interrupts her dream, calls her a sleepy-head. Our hero wakes up. This is the beginning of a long journey, but she has no idea. The dream gives a clue. Our hero Is Aubry Bernadette Callan. She’s 19. She just finished high school. She has college acceptance letters. She has a boyfriend. She has internship offers. One of them is pretty exciting. I’m going to do my best not to spoil anything, but instead explain how I came to such decisions.

Skypunch is going to resemble an role playing video game, or RPG as most people know it. You’re going to come across many RPG cliche’s in the story inter-weaved with soap, and the first one is sleeping in, being woken by a mother figure. RPG fans should probably have a good idea what’s going to happen to the mother. Soap fans may have another idea.

Moonbow Easy is a story about climbing out of a terrible situation. Our hero, Odette, works at her Uncle’s hotel. It’s in a small mountain town and she can’t get out. Her life has fallen apart and she’s stuck, and this story is about her getting unstuck. I know it seems odd that both stories star female protagonists, but I promise that’s a coincidence. My last two stories had male protagonists. If you are a subscriber, you get them for free, and can happily get some male perspective there for the time being. Skypunch will follow several characters, some of them male, so the parallel won’t exist after a few issues.

The Heart is Raw hit its stride this month, after the first month of figuring out what exactly I wanted to do with the column (again, as a subscriber you get the first month of the column free in a separate issue. This thing is—and will continue to be—full of free goodies). I write about pro wrestling from the lens of reruns, therapy, catharsis, and that annoying thing in your life you should have moved past, but can’t.

That’s it for this month. With every issue, there will be a production diary section like this that summarizes things, gives updates, and provides a little help for new readers and reminders for everyone. It’s the kind of thing video games have, but novels never do, even though people put both down from time to do other things.

Lattice will soon be available on iOS Newstand, Android, Kindle, other ebook readers like Kobo and Sony, but today it’s available via the browser. You can subscribe and read each article, and save them to your preferred read-it-later app like Instapaper or Kindle. It’s something I want available in as many formats as possible, and I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.

The Moonbow Easy

I began writing The Moonbow Easy this week. It’s my new novel. I hope to finish it in under 8 months, do one round of edits, and release it for ten bucks this time next year. You’ll be able to read it on anything.

It’s about a girl who works for her uncle in a resort hotel in Colerado. She went to a terrible college with strict religious studies and a crooked student loan arrangement. Under incredible stress to pay back this debt, her uncle takes her in and agrees to square it with her. The arrangement is she has to work at his hotel until the debt is paid off.

Her faith broken, her life frozen in place, and her future bleak, she has a chance encounter with a thief. Their relationship defines the book. They might fall in love. He might kill someone. I’ve still got to figure a few things out.

The Moonbow Easy’s main themes surround the system of schemes, the idea of someone else saving you, and whether or not we can ever really be square with the world and the people in our lives. I have no idea if there’s a market for a book like that but that’s a shitty way to think about writing a book anyway.

A Record Year for Rainfall Beta Release

I’ve come to a point with Record Year for Rainfall that I can’t work on it any more. It’s not done in any sense I’d like to call a release, but it is finished for now. I’ve been writing it on-and-off since early 2008 and I need to work on other things. I’ll come back to it eventually, perhaps once I’m a better writer and can tackle the subject matter properly.

It’s not a failure either, though, since I think it’s fine in the current state. People can certainly read it. A few people have. Why not let more, if they want to? That’s why, instead of throwing it on the shelf, I’m releasing it. I’m calling it a beta release because I don’t want people to think it’s a finished book. But it’s something close to one, and that’s enough for me. The book will be free, and available in ePub and Mobi, which means you can read it on anything with a screen.

I began writing this book in 2008, sitting in a park cafe in Amsterdam. I thought it was a pretty good spot to start a book about Las Vegas. Five years later, I’m still not done. This isn’t uncommon with writers who don’t make a living at the craft, and not even that rare for people who do. However, I’ve reached the point with the book where I need to ship. I’m not finished, and I’m not satisfied with how the book flows, but when I began, I set an absolute ship date. It was my 30th birthday. I’m 30 now, and need to move on.

A few months before releasing this version, it became clear to me the book wouldn’t be done in time, but more than anything my own definition of finished’ became muddled. When is a book done? When is an author ever completely happy with a manuscript? I’m not sure any book ever really is, even if that process is happening only in the writers’ head. While this book exists as an incomplete product, it’s as good as I can make it with my available time and energy, and for the time being, I need to let it go.

I’ve spoken to other writers about this, and they think I’m nuts. But artists in other fields do this all the time, especially programmers, who often release apps before they’re completely satisfied. They ship and iterate. That’s my plan here. This is A Record Year for Rainfall Beta Release 1. There’s going to be another, then another, and another, until I’m finished. In line with most programmers, this release is free, and the eventual finished product will cost money.

The next release won’t come for a while. The whole reason I’m releasing this now is to get the book out of my head so I can do some other things. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve found it too difficult to work on two books at a time. I want to open up new documents and fill them with new ideas, and these ideas need to rest for a bit.

Until that time, I hope you enjoy this release. I hope you’re understanding of the various issues inside (I tried to get most of the typos, but I’m more talking about structure and foreshadowing that may or may not totally pay off). A Record Year for Rainfall is a pretty short book, but I tried to make it messy in a fun way. I hope you like it.

​​

Filling up bars

There’s a lesson video games can teach you: fill up the bars. Filling up the bars is important. Filling up the bars saves the world. These bars would do well to be filled.

I like filling bars. It takes time. It takes what is known as grinding’, and it takes a lot of that. My favourite games–those generally found in the Final Fantasy series—give you so many bars to fill up, you feel like you may never get them done. But that’s fine. I don’t mind the amount of bars. I don’t mind the amount of levels. Bring them on. Grinding is something my hands and my brain like to do. Bars, levels, percentages. It’s all the same.

This is kind of about video games, but it’s mostly about the writing process. It’s a grind. Everyone will tell you that. Every book is an uphill climb. You grind to finish chapters, to finish narratives, to finish draft after draft after draft. You fill up bars; quite literally little bars if you’re using Scrivener. Your page count goes up.

You feel like you’re getting there, but there’s always another bar to fill. Are my characters fleshed out enough? Are my settings painted in a way that you’ll see what I see? Does everything I want to happen, happen? Did I earn the ending I wrote? I make a bar for these things. I try to make it really high. I hope it turns out that way.

Writing about writing

I’m not very good at writing about my process, or processes in general. I know that’s it’s really, really hard, and I have to constantly fight distractions and procrastination. I am a slow writer, but I’m also messy. I have drafts of drafts of drafts and 90% of what I write will never get published. I’m not a perfectionist, but I hold my writing to a high standard. I’m almost always unhappy with what I produce.

More and more, I’ve been writing nonfiction. 100% of what I’ve personally published in the last two years (outside of the re-release of No Chinook last month) has been non-fiction, from wrestling work to paid articles and tech reviews. I don’t find non-fiction nearly as challenging. I generally write in a terse fashion, and that style translates well to opinion on popular things. But I think that can be dangerous, as writing what’s easy won’t work the muscles. Fiction empties me like a good workout. It’s difficult to get out there, but it’s never a regret on the way home.

Changing brands

I’m not very consistent. Since 2006, www.sawyerpaul.com has had fourteen redesigns. It started as an iWeb file, then moved to Rapidweaver, Wordpress, back to iWeb, and then finally Tumblr. I think I’ve had ten or twelve different themes here at Tumblr. I’ve paid for two of them, including this one. My small press, my little business, Gredunza Press, has seen almost as many redesigns and shifts in focus.

I’m worse with my other ventures. As a music journalist, I wrote under three different names, four different brands, and five different websites. It was impossible to keep track. When I changed my online handle from Kyle David Paul to K Sawyer Paul in 2006, I remember Shawn from Broken Dial getting irate at me. Totally understandably, my readership dipped when I changed my name. I had a brand, and I changed it, and people who followed me before couldn’t find me.

I’m perhaps most popular online as a writer of wrestling journalism, and its to people who have enjoyed my work here I’ve been perhaps the worst to. They suffered through the name change the brand change, my random disappearances, my wildly inconsistent shifts in quality (if you ever care to find my archive from 2007 at Pulse Wrestling, you’ll notice some articles that were okay and others entirely unreadable), and too many website changes to count. My recent decision to alter The Footnotes of Wrestling into the new International Object ruffled some feathers, and I’m sure I lost some readers, and I’m sorry.

Why do I do this? I honestly don’t know. A lot of it has to do with avoiding stagnation. If I’m feeling like I’ve got writer’s block, I’ll rearrange my office. I know it doesn’t help, but I can’t stop myself. It’s probably the same with website designs and branding decisions. I know the change won’t necessarily make me write more, but sometimes it does. Sometimes it’s the kick in the ass that I need.

There are benefits to redesigns and focus shifts, of course. You can attract readers who may have never seen your previous work. And I do believe people who like my work will stick with me, will find a way to keep up. The people I tend to lose are casual readers. I have nothing against casual readers, and I don’t like losing them. But I also don’t have a solution to that problem.

I can’t promise I’ll never rearrange the deck chairs again, but I’m feeling really comfortable in my current setup. I’m 1000% happier with the wrestling site now that it’s called International Object and it has its own domain. I’m a lot happier that I’ve gotten rid of the Aggressive Art stuff on this site, as it took away the focus from my personal work. I re-launched my first novel a few weeks ago, and it looks great. I did that to get myself ready for the release of the next novel, which is only a few months away.

Thanks for understanding that I’m totally crazy.

Morning Pages: July 12, 2011

There was a pair of women’s jeans on my apartment floor. I didn’t know where they came from, and I didn’t know what to do with them. I had not fallen asleep hungover, forgotten a wild night with a stranger, a halcyon woman unencumbered by a morning without introduction or pants. My sheets smelled like they normally smelled. A woman would have improved that. When I thought about the number of things in my life that could be improved by a woman, I would have never listed clothes left on the floor.

I sat up, wiped my eyes, and sifted my hands through my hair. I looked down at the pants. My floor was otherwise bereft of slacks, socks, or any clothing. Next to the jeans was key, and a folded piece of paper. I prodded the clues with my foot. The key was heavy, like one owned by successful bankers with expensive, small apartments. I’d only ever seen them in movies. The note was something I needed to pick up. I felt the paper in between my fingers. It was mine, one slice out of a pad I bought for the printer I never used that took up way too much space on my desk.

Writing left by, presumably, a lady, was cryptic and alarming. There were no words (I would have loved to have seen words) and no idea of who had been here. Instead, only a symbol looked back at me; three stars, one after another, stenciled in pencil. I had no idea what that meant.

I picked up the jeans. I don’t think I’d ever held a woman’s pair of jeans before. They were lighter than mine by almost half. The jeans were black, too skinny for any girl I knew. The owner of these jeans was shorter than any girl I’d dated. They appeared to be the jeans of a chic child.

Three stars. I googled. I received a million possibilities. Three stars could have meant anything.

I wasn’t the least bit hungover. I returned from the washroom with a glass of water, eyes focused on the pants and the note. They were in a pile on my bed. I’d felt the need to fold both, to keep them together. They key held the note down. I drank. I felt no more hydrated. My body was fine. I hadn’t been drugged. I remembered ten events before sleep: seven of them involved an internet connection.

My phone was dead. It was in the bottom of my messenger bag next to my wallet and my own set of keys. I’d forgotten about it and let it die overnight. There might be something in there, once it regains life, but I had to have patience.

The annoying red badge above my inbox glowed, as if to tempt me in it’s direction. Two messages were facebook birthday notifications. The third was from Jesi, who wanted to know where I was the night before. The message had been sent at one in the morning, around the time I fell asleep. I crossed her name off the list of people who might have had something to do with this.

Finally, I dressed and left the dorm. The hallway was empty. I locked the door, leaving the new contents behind as I made my way to Linguistics.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 11

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Album sat at his computer. The images were really, really great. Bret had successfully photographed a stampede of cougars into a VIP room. Scores of naked women and sex were caught. The look of desperation and shame on everyone’s faces were sublime. It would make for one of the best posts ever.

There were two problems with the set. The first was that Prince wasn’t identifiable in any of them. This was supposed to be a post about Prince, and his absence cheapened the whole thing. The second problem was that Album could clearly see Tess, and everything she had going. The irony wasn’t lost on him. He felt vindicated. He was at least a little right about her. It got him a little hard.

But could he post them, knowing what it would do to her?

Album looked at his blog. It was his adult life’s work. In totality, Album had caused an enormous amount of trouble. He liked that. He was proud of it. But he remembered the conversation he had with Bret out in the desert. He remembered his stupid idea of turning the blog into a print publication. He wondered what he really wanted out of that.

He didn’t want his words to be on paper. He wanted his words to matter.

That’s about when he called Fane and took the job. He threw in a few exceptions. He wanted a guarantee none of his writing would be censored. He wanted a guarantee that he completely controlled the creative output on the group, and he had 100% creative control on the twitter account. When Fane asked what the hell Twitter was, Album told him it was a dumb fad online, and not to worry about what he wrote there.

Album deleted the pictures. Prince wasn’t even there. There was no reason to publish the collateral damage. He kept one picture of Tess. Her tits were in excellent focus. He saved it into his pron folder.

Album wasn’t a good guy. He liked that about himself. More than anything, he figured he could have fun making Fane’s life hell.

He left a page on the blog. It wasn’t a goodbye so much as a frosty the snowman. He said he’d be back. He said he hadn’t sold out because he was taking a pay cut. He put it all out there. Made secrets public knowledge. Even his own. He complimented everyone he could by name and everyone he couldn’t. To those, he said, they’d know who they were.

He finished with a quote, as he was known to do. He chose it well, something cryptic and revealing, honest and boasting all at once. He took a quote from a Wintersleep song, a Canadian band Bret wouldn’t shut up about that he’d come to love.

At a party with nobody who will love you but the wine

Gobbled pills that the doctor should have never prescribed

Scattered letters to the boyfriends you have never identified with

Surreptitious, spilling kisses you could never quite deny

You will find me in the valleys, in the gullies of your mind

Pigeon blood-red, cut and carat in the eyelids of your blindest memory.”

# # #

Bret stood outside Jenny’s door. He knocked. She hadn’t given back his key.

Jenny opened. Hey,” she said. How’d it go tonight? Feel good that it’s all over?”

Yeah,” Bret said. I feel good that it’s all over.”

Well, come in. Tell me nothing about it.”

Bret held his ground. I can’t come in. I don’t belong here.”

Jenny was confused. What do you mean?”

Jenny, this was a mistake. I should have never come here. I didn’t learn anything. I didn’t grow. I didn’t find out anything grand about life or the universe or my own destiny. I fucked around for a year, and I’m really sorry I dragged you into my drama and messed up your life. If I stay, I’ll just make your life worse.”

Jenny stood silent. She could believe everything she heard, but she hated it.

Bret said, I love you, but I need to go home.”

Jenny slapped Bret and then shut the door. It was emphatic. She didn’t want words. She didn’t want hours of figuring it all out. She didn’t need every answer to every question, even though in the moment she really wanted a few. It was Jenny’s way of winning. And Bret let her have it.

# # #

Bret exited Jenny’s apartment building. He found his car. He saw Tess. She sat in the passenger seat. She was writing a text message. Bret got in the car. He turned on the engine. He turned on the radio, and found a station he liked.

Fuck you green world,” he said. Some of the whores on this rock are going to be all right.”

Tess looked at him with an eyebrow raised. That code for something, cowboy?”

Bret shook his head and changed the subject. What about your stuff?”

Trice is going to take care of it. I’ll come back in a bit. But this is important. Going home means something for you, and I need to be a part of that, I think. And what about your stuff, buster?”

Bret smiled. I don’t have any stuff.”

Tess smiled.

Bret pulled the car onto the road, then onto the highway. He got dust in his eyes. He was used to it.

When he couldn’t see the light of Las Vegas anymore, he asked, Are we going to be okay?”

Tess claimed, I’m okay now. You’re the train wreck. So it’s a push, really.”

Bret laughed. He drove the whole way north, up to the friendly chill that was the 49th parallel, through Alberta, passed the Rockies, past the long forests to the edge, to that cloudy western coast that felt entirely too damn good.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 10

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Fuck, it’s raining,” Trice said, looking out Tess’ balcony window. The sun shone. It was seven in the evening. The desert wind picked up, and short, burst-like sprinkles of wet God fell. We’re going to have to take a cab.”

We always take a cab,” Tess yelled from the bathroom. It’s just a shorter conversation now, that’s all.”

It’s not just me, right?” Trice asked. But there’s been a ton of rain this year.”

You should see it where I come from. Would put this to shame.”

Trice waited impatiently for Tess to finish her makeup. She’d done hers on the way, thinking they were going to leave early for drinks.

Tess came out of the washroom, ready. She plopped the strap of her purse around her shoulder and stood next to Trice, who was shaking her head as several beads of water bounced off the glass.

Come on, pussy,” Tess said. Let’s get this goddamn work over with.”

# # #

Bret sat at Jenny’s dining room table, looking at the website and floor plan for the Palomino. That morning, he’d met Album and handed him his camera. Apparently, Album knew one of the bartenders, who would smuggle the thing in for Bret to pick up once he was inside. They didn’t allow cameras in the club at any time, so it was going to take all of Bret’s cunning to get through the night without getting tossed. It was going to cost him $30 to get in the door, and he’d have to down a few drinks before picking up the point and shoot. There was no way he could have brought a quality camera in a place like that. Album knew he was going to get bad shots. But the best camera is the one you have with you, and bad shots of great things would be enough.

You’re sure Prince is going to be there?” Bret had asked.

For sure. I know he’s going to be there, and I know he’s purchased a good half dozen girls to entertain his entourage.”

How do you know all this? Wait, don’t tell me. I always ask, and I always wish you hadn’t told me. Do me a favor and never tell me anything ever again.”

Bret looked over at Jenny. She was sitting on the couch, watching television. She was the reason he was still in this city. But the fight they’d had the night before had made him question just what the hell he was doing in that apartment with her. Why hadn’t he left? He couldn’t think of a good enough reason to jump.

# # #

Album sat in his apartment in his housecoat and boxers and slippers. He wasn’t old or overweight or sad, but he felt hornier than usual. He felt too horny for jerking off, like the act wouldn’t be enough. He needed a girl. Fuck,” he said aloud. How long has it been?”

His phone rang. He answered it.

Hi, Album, it’s Reggie. Reggie Fane.”

Album smirked. Allo Gov’ner.”

Silence.

Sorry. Always wanted to do that.”

Right,” Reggie said. Look, I’ve got a favor to ask. I’m heading up this new foundation. It’s a nonprofit charity for awareness and equal rights. Sounds great, right?”

Sure, Reggie. Equal rights. That’s the American way, right?”

Absolutely!” Reggie said, sounding more like an excited Christopher Walken than the hardened businessman Album had first met. So that’s what I wanted to talk about. I need guys like you.”

What do you mean, you need guys like me?” Album lit a cigarette with the phone crouched between his ear and shoulder.

Well, you’re smart, young, and you’ve got the kids’ attention. I need a guy like you on my team. What do you say?”

What do you mean, what do I say? I have no idea what you’re asking me to do.”

Right,” Reggie said. Sorry, I forgot you’re not in politics, and i cant speak in nods You’d work for me, as a PR guy. Book meetings. Write speeches. Be part of creative, the think tank. Figure out the road ahead. Starting salary’s forty grand.”

Fuck off,” Album said. I made that in May.”

Yeah, you made that off me, fella, don’t forget that.”

You think you’re the only reason I’m as popular as I am? J-wow’s vag would be very offended.”

I’m sure it would, whatever that is,” Reggie said. Still, it may be less money, but you’d get your foot in the door with a real job, you’d get to travel, and there’s lots of girls in this sort of game.”

Album got a boner, but this being a phone conversation he did a pretty good job of hiding it. You don’t think I get tons of girls being an invisible douchebag with a blog? You must be out of your mind.”

All right, final pitch,” Reggie replied. It’ll be your chance to really change things. You want to be a journalist? Here’s a solid opportunity to make real, positive change in America.”

Shit, Reggie,” Album said, inhaling. You shoulda just kept hammering on about the skirts. That was your weakest point yet.”

Reggie said, I had a feeling you’d say no, but I had to ask. Have a good day, son.”

Album hung up.

# # #

Bret hung up the phone on Album, who had told him the camera was in place. He’d even purchased one of those expensive evdo cards, which connected to the cell tower and uploaded pictures as Bret took them. He did so only after suggesting to Bret that the camera might not make it out of the club alive, and getting the pictures was really, really important. Bret stood across the street from the Palomino, its neon sign almost a bore compared to the others downtown, not to mention the neon ceiling down the street. The Palomino was old, but it made sense a guy like Prince would party here: nobody else would bother him, and he valued his privacy more than anything. Bret had never actually seen Prince in the flesh before. Not that he was any kind of Salinger figure, but Prince was never particularly photographable. He was smart: he never partied out in public, and he had limos take him from private building to private building. Sure, candid shots of Prince existed, but they were hardly in the same numbers as, say, Topher Grace’s vagina.

Bret wasn’t particularly proud of the number of vagina’s he’d shot in his time, and saw Prince as a fitting climax. Finally, a difficult catch, one that would actually take a little bit of cunning to pull.

It wasn’t hard to get into the Palomino. The bouncer didn’t even ask him for ID. Still, the second he stepped into the black-carpeted strip club, and he heard the deep bass and sharp-tongued DJ, his adrenaline shot up and he felt the same old throttle of the work. He wore his cheap leather jacket and busted-knee jeans. He looked like he belonged in a place like this, and he wasn’t alone. The news that Prince was in the building wasn’t lost on everyone, and there were three times as many people in the club as there would usually be on a Saturday night. There wasn’t a seat to be had at any bar or any stage. There were a few clusters of girls standing around, sipping martinis. They weren’t here for the strippers. That, or they were strippers. Bret couldn’t tell. Still, he smiled. The crowd was a good thing. It meant that somebody might make a mistake. Bust a door open, that sort of thing. And if mayhem were to ensue, Bret might be able to get in there, if only for a few seconds. But that was generally all he ever needed.

Bret looked around for a brunette working the bar. There were about a dozen. Album told him that she would be wearing white, but that didn’t really narrow it down, either. The wife-beaters were out in full force with the bar staff. It was a good look for them; sexy and cleavage-powered, yet still screaming I’ll fuck you up.

He gave up, and walked up to one. She leaned forward, and he said the word. The girl ducked down, and when she returned, there was a black bag on the bar. Take it fast,” she said.

Thanks,” Bret said.

Tell Album I know about those pictures,” she said. And I’ll fuck him up for it.”

Bret thought fast. No way. You’re Vanessa, aren’t you?”

She smiled. One and the same.”

I’m sorry you two didn’t work out,” Bret said.

That’s because he’s an asshole,” she said.

That’s true,” Bret said. He is. This is my last job for him. He is an asshole. He had me followed. Ha gave me a nemesis.”

He thought that would make you stupid or something?”

Yeah!” Bret exclaimed. Exactly. It didn’t work.”

Mine didn’t either,” she said. He’s always pulling that shit on people.”

What did he think made you stupid?” Bret asked.

Vanessa poured two shots of Jager and pushed one toward Bret. She said, Working here.”

They threw back their shots. Bret nodded, thanking her again. He didn’t stop to think that maybe Album had been right, because that would be insane. He pulled the black bag down, and pocketed the tiny weapon.

# # #

An hour went by. Tess worked like a dog. Her heels killed her. Her calves were worse. Prince’s entourage was a set of slave drivers, ordering double orders of everything and downing them in record order. Prince himself hadn’t shown yet, and there were two of the dozen or so guys who had eyed Tess bad. They wanted her. She was used to this. She could have been a model if she were a foot taller. She was used to being looked at. She was used to the odd grab, even. But she wasn’t used to being cornered.

Trice had left the room to get more drinks, and these two guys, both buff and tall and wearing tank tops, had had their fill of the strippers. They stood and surrounded Tess.

Hey girl, you want to dance?”

Sure,” she smiled. Let’s dance.”

They put their hands around her and they formed a Tess sandwich. This wasn’t too far out of the ordinary, but two minutes into the song they had begun to touch her, and she had to say something.

Hey fellas, there’s girls over there who you can pay to do anything. I’m just here to serve.”

Damn right you are,” the one behind her said. And you’ll fucking serve.”

Right,” Tess said. So, drinks? I can get you drinks.”

No,” the one in the front said. You said serve. We’re going to use the liberal definition here, aren’t we?”

Yeah,” the one in the back agreed. What he said. Liberal.”

All right,” Tess said, inching her way out of from between them. Line, fellas. I’m just here to get drinks and dance. Let’s keep it cool, eh?”

The bouncer at the door that divided the private room from the rest of the club, his head turned toward the three of them.

All right, be cool be cool,” the taller one said. You’re here to make sure we have a good time.”

I’m not a fucking whore,” Tess stated, as frank as she could. And if you don’t cool down right now, I’m out of here.”

They backed off. For whatever reason, drunken men could listen to reason temporarily. They went back to their couch and talked. Tess was worried, though. She thought of leaving, then. But it hadn’t been the worst spot. She’d experienced far worse. And she could suck it up, for the money. Trice returned with another bottle of Courvoisier for the room, and the two men took their eyes off Tess for the time being.

# # #

Bret had waited nearly an hour, but he finally saw a girl leave the private room. She was a brunette, scantily clad, but too far away for him to really get a good look at. On her way back, he took a zoomed shot and went to the men’s room, closed a stall, and took a look at her.

Fuck,” he stated.

It was a sad coincidence that Trice was there. He didn’t want to cross paths with her again, especially if she was friendly with any strong-armed employees of the establishment. He really didn’t feel like getting beaten again. But that didn’t change the fact that it had been an hour and nothing had happened. Bret had to be more proactive, and he had devised a plan. He’d use the crowd.

Bret returned to the main room. More people had filled the space since he’d first entered. It was mostly women. The strippers must be confused, Bret thought. What the hell are all these women doing here?

Bret spotted a set of cougars at the bar. It made sense. Young girls had little to no interest in Prince. Most people Bret’s age and younger just thought he was weird. But forty-year-old married women with too much time on their hands still found him irresistible. And Bret was about to use this to his advantage.

He bought a martini from the bartender and raised it, getting their attention. Hey beautiful ladies,” he said, trying his best to sound like his married gay friend Gas. To Motherfuckin Prince, am I right?”

They smiled, raised their own martinis, and screamed Wooo!” And then, the one closest to Bret, a stretched-thin fake blonde with fake tits and an extremely gaudy necklace asked him if he’d heard anything, like where Prince would be, when he’d arrive, anything.

Well,” Bret said. Don’t take it from me, but take it from me, you know? I just spoke with one of his fellas in the men’s room…” and he paused, letting them believe that something may have happened in there. And he told me that, well, you see that door up there, just at the end of the room? That’s the entrance to one of the VIP rooms, and he’s going to be in there. He probably won’t come out, so if any of us girls have a chance of glimpsing the man I think we’ve got to really mow that door down. Now who’s with me!”

Again, they screamed. One of them spilled her martini, but most just sipped theirs like the classy sexy fake women they were. Bret had apparently grabbed them just at the right moment of easy drunkenness, because they all started marching to the door.

Damn,” Bret said to Vanessa across the bar. I really did not think that would work.”

If this place goes down,” Vanessa replied, holding up a bottle opener. I’m taking you down with it.”

# # #

Trice sat down on the couch with the one guy who had been really eyeing her. He was Spanish and wore his shirt half open. He whispered in her ear, and she giggled like an idiot. Tess didn’t think of it until they kissed on the couch. Still, it was her business. She’d just brought back another bottle for the guys when she saw it, and thought, Well, that’s her business.” But then the Spaniard’s hand went up Trice’s shirt, and she didn’t stop him.

The problem was, the two guys who liked Tess saw this act and then got right up and headed toward her.

Hey, bitch, you said you weren’t up for anything,” one said.

I’m not, I’m just here to drink and dance and make sure everyone has a good time.”

Well, your friend over there’s giving it up.”

That’s her business,” Tess said. But it’s not part of the job.”

Oh, I think it just became part of the fucking job,” the other said.

Tess thought, is my knife still in my boot?”

The shorter one grabbed Tess by the hair and she screamed. He was rough and his hands were hot with sweat. His breath was filled with drunken testosterone. The taller one grabbed her shirt. They were forceful, pulling her back in between them. Fuck!” She screamed.

Trice heard the scream and got up immediately. She ran toward Tess, but the tall guy inadvertently elbowed her in the stomach and knocked her down. The bouncer approached next, moving slower but with more power. He wrapped his enormous forearm around the neck of the tall guy, pulling him off Tess. The short one held onto her, though, pulling her shirt off and falling back, both of them falling to the ground.

It was at that moment the horde of cougars broke through the door, screaming and hollering and hunting for Prince. And right in the middle of them was Bret, hollering along with them, snapping pictures of the room and everything that moved. The bouncer let go of the tall guy and tried his best to corral the cougars out the door, but there were too many of them. Bret got past him and he saw Tess, topless and on the ground and his heart sank and everything about everything seemed completely fucking worthless.

Tess!” Bret screamed. Time stopped for him. The chaos narrowed. Her head popped up, her arms covering her tits. She saw him and her heart felt like a hundred pounds. He was holding a camera and must have caught her. Everything Trice had told her had come true, and way, way too soon.

Bret What the fuck are you doing here?”

What the fuck are you doing here?” He repeated back.

The bouncer saw this. He squared his feet, and bellowed EVERYBODY OUT!”

The cougars, who had collectively noticed Prince’s absence, were slowly corralled out. The entourage gathered their things and headed out the same exit. That left Bret, Trice, Tess, and the strippers. The bouncer eyed Bret and Tess.

You two,” he said. Come with me.”

They were escorted out the back. Tess put her dress back on as best she could. Bret took off his jacket and wrapped it around her, which was the first nice thing that had happened to her all night.

The bouncer put his hand out. Give me the camera.” Bret complied. The bouncer held it open in his hand, looked at it for a second, then swiftly smashed it against the back brick wall.

If I ever see you here again,” he said. That will be your liver. Got it?”

Bret held his hands up in defeat.

And you,” the bouncer said, motioning to Tess. I apologize for what those men tried to pull. Come back here some night, and I will make sure you get a free drink or ten. We pride ourselves on treating our girls right, and I regret this whole scene. Please forgive me.”

Tess bowed a little. Thanks.”

The bouncer went back in, leaving Tess and Bret alone in the alley.

 They looked at each other, impatient for the other to go first. Tess finally snapped.

Okay, just what the fuck?”

Exactly what I was thinking,” Bret said. What were you doing in there?”

Working,” Tess said. What were you doing?”

Working,” Bret said. Just like you. Well, not just like you. What happened? Why were you on the ground with your clothes off?”

There was a struggle. Two guys groped me and they took it a little far.”

Shit,” Bret said.

Yeah. Now you go.”

I was trying to get pictures of Prince for Album.”

And the women?”

Part of the plan.”

Your plan was to stampede a bunch of cougars so you could sneak in?”

Bret nodded.

Tess sniffed. Okay, that’s a pretty good plan.”

They stood there for a minute. It was getting cold. The rain had stopped hours ago, but there were still puddles in the alley.

Bret asked, Did I save you?”

Tess shook her head. Maybe. It’s hard to say. Sorry about your camera.”

Bret knelt down and picked up the pieces. He pocketed the corpse, and tried to find the memory card. It had broken into three pieces. He wasn’t sure if the evdo thing even worked.

Prince wasn’t even fucking there.”

Yeah,” Tess said. He wasn’t even fucking there.”

Bret kicked the wall in a light, Charlie Brown sort of way. Want to get a beer?”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 9

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Album danced to the dismay of the other guys. He had purchased drinks for three girls, and they were all grinding around him. The beat was slower and sexier, and Album took it as a sign to get real close. The girls complied.

What’s your name, girls?” He asked. He got something back he could barely make out. Three voices in a crowded club, it came out muzzled.

I heard Gretchen,” Album said. Which one of you is Gretchen?”

Three hands went up.

My God, three Gretchens! Let’s get all bad Mormon! Fuck yes!”

Tess sat at the bar. Her feet hurt. She’d danced with Album for an hour, then sat, needing a rest. Album was stone drunk from the beginning, another reason she kept her distance. She’d seen far too many guys have far too many and think they were Brad Pitt all of a sudden, except they ended up acting like Rob Schneider. She thought to herself, Brad Pitt hasn’t even acted in a film where he’s a gigantic douche. I don’t get it.”

Tess took a drink of her beer. She looked out on the crowd. She was happy she wasn’t working tonight, but fuck, why wasn’t she home? She could be in a bath. She could be catching up on her email and magazines. She could be calling her mother. She could be watching a movie with Bret. And then she realized she wasn’t with Bret anymore, and that she hadn’t been in some time. She wondered if they were even friends, or if she wanted even that.

It was at that point Tess missed home for the first time. She missed Bret from home, too.

Album returned from dancing with the Gretchen’s and high-fived Tess.

Can you believe it? They were all named Gretchen.”

Sure,” Tess said, not wanting to bother arguing. That’s crazy.”

Let’s do this,” Album said to nobody.

Tess didn’t reply. He put a hand on her shoulder.

Seriously, let’s do this,” Album screamed in her ear.

Fuck man, you don’t have to yell. Do what?”

Run this town. Your beauty and ability to get in any room in the city, and my website. We can alter things. Fix things. Break things. Whatever. We could totally be in charge.”

Are you offering me a job? What would help run things” look like on a resume?”

Oh, I don’t fucking know. I don’t have a resume. I’m a Blogger for fuck’s sake.”

Well, think of a title and get back to me.”

Oh,” Album spit. His tone changed. And your resume’s stellar. You’re a pretty face in the crowd. That’s what you get paid for.”

Yeah,” Tess said. And I get paid very well for it.”

Album got another beer. Tess tried to stop him.

Hey, it’s only 1am. Don’t you think you should pace a little?”

Fuck off,” Album said. Isn’t it your job to push booze?”

I’m not on tonight. I’m out with you. And you’re an embarrassment.”

Album looked at her. He could have done anything at that moment. But he opted for trying to kiss her.

The slap was hard.

Tess stamped out through to the casino and out the door to fresh desert air. Album didn’t follow her out. He didn’t have anything to fight for. He put the new cold glass bottle against his cheek and shrugged. He checked the score of the Rockies game on the screen above the bar and went hunting for Gretchens.

# # #

Bret awoke to the warm air from Jenny’s lips. They’d slept close, hands clasped, his arm underneath his pillow, underneath hers. Jenny was nude. She was the first naked woman Bret had seen since he’d last been right here, in this bed. He looked at Jenny’s still sleeping face and liked how she expressed no emotion and yet looked happier than any time she was awake. He lifted a few strands of her hair out of her face, and he worried whether meeting Album was the worst thing to ever happen to him.

Jenny made him want to stay, and when nobody’s pulling you in any direction, a naked ex can shake the heavens.

Bret lifted himself slowly out of bed and made way to the kitchen. He boiled water, prepared coffee. It was habit he’d grown out of while alone; the first day he was by himself, he made three times too much. Jenny hadn’t changed where anything was. She hadn’t redecorated or rearranged or even painted. Jenny’s apartment stood silent, without judgment, figuring all along they would get back together.

Jenny came out wearing pajamas. She could sleep naked, but she couldn’t walk around like that. She tried to fix her hair but it wasn’t going to happen. Her face scrunched. She wasn’t used to seeing Bret in the mornings.

What are you…” she stopped. Remembered.

I can get out of here if you want,” Bret said. It was your idea, but I get it if you want to take it one day at a time.”

No,” Jenny murmured, slinking into a chair beside her kitchen table. Is that coffee you’re making? Do you remember where everything is?”

Yeah,” Bret said. He poured the boiling water into the french press. Four minutes.”

So, wow,” she said.

Oh, don’t start that,” Bret said. Don’t act all surprised we hooked up. You wanted me and I had a concussion.”

You have a concussion?” Jenny asked.

Maybe,” Bret said. I should probably go to a clinic today.”

Should I ask?”

Bret blinked, and then thought what the hell? He said, This guy has been stalking me and we got into a fight yesterday before you called and I broke a camera over his head, then I got arrested but the cop let me go because he used to skip the border for weed.”

Jenny’s lips pursed inward. She said, I don’t know if I like your life.”

I’m not crazy about it myself. It doesn’t matter. I’m quitting today. I’ve taken my last shot.”

Jenny perked up. Are you sure about that? I mean, you won’t get an objection from me. But is this what you want?”

Yeah, definitely. It’s an albatross, you know? It really sinks you. I want to do good but I can’t. Every single result from this work hurt somebody. And I just can’t deal with that anymore.”

Well,” Jenny said, getting up, throwing her arms around Bret, and kissing him on the nose. I’m proud of you. You’ve grown a lot in the last month.”

Bret kissed her back. It lasted until the coffee was ready. Bret poured, and they sat. The sunlight came in through one window. It was warm, but not crazy.

Oh,” Jenny said. I remember my dream.”

What did you dream?”

I think we had a threesome with God.”

I’m sorry? We fucked God?”

Yeah, or maybe it was Santa Claus.”

Bret laughed.

You,” Bret said, kissing her. Need a really expensive shrink. You’ve got to get over this old man thing. It’s making me insecure.”

She kissed back.

# # #

It was a hot and dry but sweet summer day. The tourists were out, the signs shone bright against the sun, and everything smelled of good waste. Bret got out of his car and looked up at Album’s apartment complex. He put his sunglasses away and entered, pressed the button for the elevator and waited. He felt solid, like a man with an easy to-do list. Pick up eggs. Place a long distance call. Quit your fucking job.

Bret arrived on Album’s floor and what he saw ruined everything. He saw the back of the camera man, walking away from Album’s door, towards the stairs. Bret began to chase him, but stopped after two steps. Did he really want another fight? What was the point? He was never going to figure this asshole out. He was never going to explain himself. He’d just disappear again. He was another Vegas nut ball, just like Bret in a way. Bret straightened out, and thought, Helping or hurting? Helping, or hurting?

So Bret stepped slowly, and when he couldn’t hear the camera man’s steps anymore, he knocked on Album’s door.

Hey man,” Album said, opening up. He was wearing a kimono. Bret didn’t care why. What’s shaking? You missed a hell of a party last night.”

I don’t care,” Bret said. And then he placed his hands on his hips, and calmly asked, What’s your relationship with him?”

With who?”

You know who. I just saw him leave your apartment.”

Album paused. He sat down in his desk chair and swiveled a little bit. I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

The camera man,” Bret said. The guy who’s been following me around. The guy that fought me in a parking lot yesterday.”

Oh,” Album said nonchalantly. Him.”

Bret shook his head. Christ, Album. Do you have something to do with him?”

Of course. I hired him.”

You….you what?” Bret was confused, and very, very pissed off.

I hired him. To be your nemesis.”

Bret considered storming out right there and heading for the nearest bat store.

All of this, the paranoia that asshole put into me, the fight, the cameras. It was all because of you? Why the fuck would you do that to me?”

Because,” Album said. I needed you.”

Bret wished his eyes could shine bright. He wished he could shoot Album right there and get away with it using cowboy law.

He said, You’re going to explain yourself. You’re going to give me your story. And then you’re never going to see me again.”

Maybe. I was hoping it would last longer than this. All’s well, though. He was getting expensive. I had to pay double because of what you did to his face. I mean, a camera to the head? What were you thinking? That kind of shit’s expensive.”

Bret didn’t waiver. Explain.”

All right,” Album said, getting up. He dragged himself to the fridge and pulled out a beer. He motioned Bret to take it, but he just stood there, gritting his teeth. Album shrugged and popped the cap open on the edge of the counter and took a swig. The second Fane’s photo leaked to the bigger press and you saw what was going to happen, you were like a completely different person. Before that, you didn’t care what lives you affected. It was like your jiminy cricket fucking conscious suddenly woke up. So I thought, what’s going to keep you grounded? What makes you stupid? What makes you think day to day, without any real time to plan for the future? I needed a good camera man, so I hired another one to spy on you. Because you’re the kind of guy who needs a conflict. You need your own personal drama. You need a nemesis, someone who you can’t figure out but is one step ahead of you.”

That,” Bret cut in. Is the most fucked up thing I’ve ever heard.”

Album smiled like a crazed villain. But it worked, didn’t it? You kept working. You stopped worrying about Reggie, you got over Jenny, you didn’t go back to Tess, and you’re still here, taking pictures. It all worked out.” Album took a swig. He proclaimed, I’m a genius. Probably a bastard, but a genius nonetheless.”

Bret’s eyes lit up a little. Actually, asshole, I never really stopped feeling guilty about Reggie. Jenny and I are back together as of last night, and I tried going back to Tess, but she turned me down because I was so far away from having my shit figured out. You know, shit I probably could have figured out if I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every five minutes because a psycho had it out for me.”

Well,” Album said. I guess it didn’t work out so well. Still, you’re still here. You’re still taking pictures.”

Actually, I came here to quit.”

Fuck no. I refuse. You can’t quit.”

You hired a guy to stalk me. You get no say whatsoever in my career path.”

I hired him to keep you doing what you do best. What, you’re going to go back to Canada, back to the job you hated? Back to the cold, rainy, hippie-filled winters of fucking Vancouver? And what, you think Tess is going back with you? Trust me, man. I was with her last night. That slice is Vegas bred, baby. She’s not going anywhere. Though I guess you’re not going anywhere if you’re back fucking that republican bitch. I always hated her. You don’t get it, and that’s fine, but I was your best friend. I knew what you needed, and I was there to provide.”

What do you mean you were with Tess last night?”

Album said nothing. He just smirked.

And that’s when Bret hit him with a left hook.

Album fired back, a hard left to Bret’s stomach. Bret took it in and lunged at Bret. They fell over Album’s chair, knocking his beer over and ramming into Album’s desk. Everything rattled. Bret rallied on Album’s head with quick, hard shots. Album flailed. Neither men were all that great at this, and it quickly degenerated into rolling and shoving and the odd stomach punch.

Fuck, get off me asshole,” Album said. We didn’t do anything. Fuck.”

Bret got off Album. He breathed hard. He let Album up.

Sorry,” Bret said. I’ve been getting into too many fights lately.”

You fucking Canadians, apologizing for everything.”

Yeah, well. You fucking Americans keep trying to fuck everything up.”

Noted,” Album said. Look, I’m sorry if your nemesis didn’t work out for you. It was a weird plan and there was a pretty good chance it was going to blow up in my face.”

Bret laughed. It was the first time he’d heard Album apologize for anything.

I still don’t know if you get it,” Bret said. You mess with people’s lives. You mess with the people who help you mess up people’s lives. Nobody is happier at the end of this process. Nobody is better off with their tits on the internet or egg on their face. Nobody is better off naked and famous.”

I, for one, still think there’s a lot of value in brutal truth,” Album said. And it pains me to see that you’ve lost your appetite.”

Yeah, I think it all just stops at brutal. I’ll be seeing you.” Bret turned to leave.

Wait,” Album said.

What? What could there possibly be?”

I have a going-away present for you.”

Bret turned. What?”

One last job,” Album said.

Oh, Fuck you,” Bret said. I’ll hit you again. In the face. With a brick.”

No, seriously, you’re going to want to do this one. If you’re going to quit on me, the least you can do is accept this. It’s a challenge, but I’ll pay you triple. Consider it vacation pay, severance, and bribe money all wrapped in one.”

Bret wanted to sock Album again, but then thought about the practicalities. He was about to be out of a job. Jenny was broke, too. One more gig might hold him over for a little while. Especially if it was triple. Especially if it was easy.

Who?”

Prince.”

Prince?”

Prince. The artist formerly renamed as.”

Prince,” Bret chewed.

The Palomino,” Album said, swigging.

Bret thought about it. Fine, but this is it. I’ll get him with a couple of strippers.”

It’ll be sad to see you go,” Album said. You were the best photographer I ever worked with. Even if you did suck at COD.”

Bret stated, I thought we were on the same team.” Bret shook Album’s hand, and left. He felt like shit all over again, like the inside of a whore’s boxing glove.

# # #

I’m not working the Palomino,” Tess stated, matter-of-fact-like.

I can’t do this one without someone I trust,” Trice said. It’s crazy money. We’re talking Prince money. Thousands in one night.”

I don’t do nude work, Trice. You know that. Cigarettes. Booze. Free swag. That’s my racket. You and your sister do whatever you want.”

It’s not nude, though. Just the other girls. We’re there to be arm candy for the entourage, to pour drinks and fill up the VIP section.”

Get someone else,” Tess said. I’m getting so sick of this shit, anyway.”

What? This is the life, bitch. This is the fucking life.”

It wasn’t always like this. Not for me, anyway.”

Look, bitch,” Trice said. It’s tons of money. It’s five hours. It’s at the old strip club, so what? What’s the worst that’s going to happen?”

Answer’s no,” Tess stated.

Trice argued with Tess for another half hour, with little give. Finally, she threw up her hands and asked what Tess’ problem was. The problem turned out to be energy. Tess was tired of doing the job. She was tired of removing herself from every night. She was sick of playing a character. More than anything, though, she was scared that she was becoming more and more like the character she put on. She felt like less and less of her woke up every morning, and less and less of her went to bed every night.

Finally, though, Trice did talk Tess into the job. Tess wasn’t even sure what the big turn around was. Maybe she was just sick of arguing the point. Going along seemed easier. And she hated herself for being what she spent the better part of the afternoon arguing she wasn’t.

# # #

You can’t go one day without getting into a fight, can you?”

Jenny pressed a damp washcloth into Bret’s swollen forehead. Back in her apartment, Bret found solace and warmth and all the things associated with a woman once loved.

Didn’t I tell you? I’m joining the Ultimate Fighting thing.”

You’re not funny,” Jenny said, pressing in so he’d feel it.

Bret smiled. At least it’s over. Well, almost over. He talked me into doing one more. But it’ll be for a lot. It’ll tie us over for a while until we both find work.”

Good,” Jenny said. God knows I’ve been trying. I’ve been looking at all sorts of jobs over the last few weeks. I’ve even had the odd interview, but as soon as people find out I was part of Fane’s team, I’m out the job. I’m pretty well blackballed.”

Really? It’s that bad, huh?”

You don’t know what you did to me, asshole.”

They kissed. It was still kind of weird for both of them.

They left the bathroom and Bret sank into the bed, curling in. Jenny followed, crawling over him, planting her face right in front of his.

We’re cute, you know. As a couple. My sister said so.”

Yeah?”

It’s why I got back together with you, I think.”

Your sister?”

Yeah, she was relentless. I told her to ask you out.”

You should’ve. She’s cute.”

But not cuter than me, right?”

Right.”

Because that’s the right answer.”

Right.”

Bret held her for a moment. The room was still and air-conditioned. He could hear the motor coming from the box in the wall, above them. Sometimes he had trouble sleeping, and he blamed it on that motor.

Bret thought of something. Hey, if you need money, I could hook you up with some work.”

What kind of work?” One of Jenny’s eyes squinted.

I’ll call Tess. She can get you into some things.”

Jenny sat up.

No thanks.”

Bret looked at her, puzzled. Why not? It’s good money. Tess tells me it’s pretty easy. And you’re pretty.”

Jenny glared at Bret. Qualifications aren’t the issue, Bret. I don’t want to do that job.”

What? Promo stuff? Why not?”

I just don’t, Bret. Don’t you think I’m a little better than that?”

Better than what?”

I don’t want to talk about it,” Jenny said. But the answer’s no.”

Bret was all of a sudden pretty uncomfortable. Is it because my ex does it?”

No.”

Then what?”

Because I graduated from UNLV, Bret. Because I was the secretary to the Governor a few weeks ago. Because I have dignity, mainly.”

What’s dignity got to do with it? It’s work.”

Jenny put a hand on Bret’s shoulder. Just because you don’t find any dignity in work doesn’t mean I don’t, honey. Okay? End of discussion.”

I… Bret stopped himself. I don’t know how to feel about this. That was some pretty harsh judgment.”

You just told your girlfriend to go be a stripper, Bret. How do you think I feel?”

It’s not stripping. Tess doesn’t take her clothes off. You’re just peddling stuff. Booze. Smokes. That kind of thing.”

Yeah, you’re really selling it. Do you want to watch TV or something? Let’s change the subject.”

Fine, whatever.”

They found their way to the living room, turned on the television. There was nothing but reruns, but they sat in silence for nearly an hour before falling asleep.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 8

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Jenny fell in her mind, through the floor, through forever. She stood still. Nobody noticed where her mind had gone. She looked at her watch to see if it had slowed, but it hadn’t. Her mind marked the moment. Reggie took questions in the background on the giant televisions. Nothing moved slower, but Jenny didn’t know what to think anymore. What the fuck had just happened?

Jenny left the store half embarrassed to have stayed so long. She felt so guilty she bought a pair of headphones she had no plans to use. She floated through the rest of the Ceasar’s mall. She had known about Reggie and his condition. She could have broken this news years ago. She was in on the private meetings. The people around her, if they’d knew, they’d hate her. They’d throw things. They would see her as a villain. She figured Reggie wouldn’t mention anymore on his staff by name, but then again, it was public knowledge. People would figure it out. People look things up. Jenny found a ludicrously expensive clothing store and shuttered herself in a change room with a red dress she grabbed from a rack without checking the size. The hung the dress and sat, leaning against the wall. This wasn’t about her, she whispered. She felt the need to repeat it a few times. Reggie would be kicked out of the republicans for this, for sure. But he would have known that. It wasn’t about her, but she was feeling every decision as if it was.

She thought about that son of a bitch Album, and how this was really all his fault. He’d turned Bret against her. For all she knew, Bret hadn’t seen this. Maybe she could talk to him, maybe commiserate. It may have been all over, but he was the only person she shared this with. She breathed normally, and fished for her phone.

# # #

Bret watched the speech, and was fucking glued. It was the first time in his entire life he wasn’t punished for affecting another persons’ life. He had no name for the emotion he was feeling, so he rounded down to relief. The speech itself was something else, but the q&a afterwards was truly revealing. Fane went on to explain how long he’d been gay (his whole life), why he buckled to societal demands, if he was going to hell, what’s going to happen to his marriage (it’s over), and whether or not he knows what he’s doing is an abominable sin (he’s well aware). He said he plans to spread awareness and lend a hand to the burgeoning gay community. To Bret, it was like watching the moon landing. It was impossible, but there it was. In Bret’s lifetime, no politician had ever spoken like this. At least, that’s what he figured. Bret blinked. How many politicians did he know? He never really cared about this stuff. Maybe they were all like this. But then, the woman on CNN reporting the story wouldn’t have called it crazy historic, y’all.” Maybe there was someone, but certainly nobody in Bret’s periphery. How many assholes had grown a pair and owned up in front of everyone like Fane? In the 80s, 90s, and this broken decade, public figures were sheepish, cowardly, or a stereotype of acceptable behavior; the bold cowboy, the altruistic businessman, the cold, independent woman. We can love money and success, but never each other. We can aspire to greatness, but never pleasure. And here comes Reggie fucking Fane, the man Bret struck down with the only weapon more powerful than money or bombs, and he not only does the right thing by nailing himself to the wall but goes a mile further, effectively ending an era and changing the conversation. Bret had absolutely no idea what to think of this.

 He dressed and hit the street, packing his favorite camera. It was going to be a gesture of surrender. He liked this thing. It felt more solid in his hands than any remote control or steering wheel. The extended focus lens gave it more heft, but more bulk, and there was really no comfortable way to carry it except around his neck like an amateur journalist. He always hated the feeling of bulk plastic against his chest, but at least he wouldn’t have to do it much longer. He was going to find Album, and he was going to hand in his badge.

The revelation hit him the way they always did, quietly, then suddenly, in the night, with no warning. He didn’t care if the governor was cool with his new open gay life, but the speech itself moved something in Bret. He felt solidified. Bret needed out.

He checked his cell phone. No messages. No jobs. He had no idea how Album was feeling. Knowing Album, he was drunk already, enjoying some kind of sick victory. No doubt Album was taking it as such. Or maybe he was just high, sitting half naked in a ditch, spewing bullshit philosophies to whoever doddered by. Album was a weird guy.

Album was high, half naked, and well on his way to being drunk, too. It was noon, and as drove past the Flamingo, he felt like celebrating like a champion. Album found the phone in his back pocket of a pair of sweat pants strewn over a chair, and began to liberally speed-dial together a party.

Hi,” Bret said on the other end.

Pizzane!” Album proclaimed. My hero! My guest of sparkling, pissing honor!”

Listen,” Bret said. Where the hell are you? Where have you been?”

I’m on my way home to organize a party and order some hookers. You there?”

I just left. Look, we’ve got to talk, preferably sans hookers,” Bret said. I have a lot to talk about.”

Album stopped smiling. He was afraid of this. He had the slightest inkling Bret might have taken Reggie’s admission differently than he should have. Album hadn’t properly formulated a plan, so he stalled.

Dude, I’m actually super fucking busy right now.”

Bullshit, you were just about to invite me to some big party.”

Album paced. Yeah, yeah, but not until tonight. You don’t want to be over there right now. It reeks of piss and pot and cum.”

Actually, I spent the morning cleaning the place. It reeks of water lilies and pot and cum now.”

What?” Album yelled. Why would you clean my place? What kind of faggy Canadian gesture is that?”

Truly, we live in a different time now,” Bret said.

 Album stalled. Look, I’ll be home in like an hour or so. Go grab some beer and I’ll meet you.”

# # #

Bret stalked toward the parking lot across from his apartment. It was an old habit from an old paranoid hang-up, but Bret never parked in the same place twice. He crossed the street, and as he entered the car park, he was blindsided, shoved from the side into a black SUV. The blow set off the alarm. His assailant stepped back, and gave Bret room to breath, room to see who he was. Bret’s right arm held his sore left, and saw the camera man, standing cocky.

The camera man must not have seen retaliation as one of Bret’s options, or else he would have tried to block Bret’s right hook, which landed just high of his left temple. The camera man buckled and stepped back, almost down to one knee. But then he was up, faster than Bret thought. But Bret caught him again, a better shot, a cartoon boxing punch straight down the middle of camera man’s face. This time it was Bret who stepped back, and spoke.

Who are you?” Bret demanded.

The camera man wiped his nose, checking for blood. He said nothing, but took out a small camera the size of a cell phone from his jeans. He aimed and took a picture.

What,” Bret screamed. Is your fucking problem?”

The camera man chuckled low, and turned to leave.

Oh no,” Bret said. No. I’m so fucking sick of this.”

Bret charged him, knocking him against a sedan. Another alarm went off. Bret’s shoulder planted into the camera man’s ribs. Bret rammed him against the car several times. Finally, the camera man fought back, dropping his elbow against Bret’s back.

The scrimmage went back and forth longer than Bret or even the camera man likely wanted. Neither of them were real fighters, and the shots Bret made were his first since high school. He felt he could have been stronger, could have hit harder. He should have practiced, but who expects to be jumped? Who expects to be stalked and photographed? You can’t prepare for this shit. All you can do is swing and hope you’ve got something behind it. All you can do is react.

Exhaustion began to set in Bret before surrender, and he found himself wondering if maybe walking away was the best answer. He backed off, caught his breath, and saw his favorite camera on the ground where it had dropped when he’d been shoved the first time. He reached for it, stretched his arm, feeling sure the camera man would lunge at him or shoot him or something. But he didn’t. He stood there and waited for Bret to pick up his bruised weapon. The camera man did nothing.

Tired and in a hard day’s amount of pain, Bret gave the camera man a long look of confusion and pity and submission, and turned to walk away.

Bret stole only a handful of peaceful steps before he heard the sound of asphalt against the camera man’s heels, coming fast. Bret barely turned around in time, but he did. The camera levelled against the side of his nemesis’ face. Bret heard a sound he’d never heard before, something in between a car crash and a balloon pop. Bret’s camera fell in three pieces, maybe four. The camera man’s face stayed relatively intact. Both fell hard.

Bret stepped back like he’d just cut the blue wire. He wasn’t sure what kind of damage a hulking digital camera could do when used as a weapon. He’d never thought to calculate such a thing.

It took Bret a few seconds to realize the camera man wasn’t going to get back up. Bret knelt next to him and hesitantly checked the unconscious man’s pulse. Bret smiled. He hadn’t killed him. Nothing that a couple days of xbox couldn’t cure.

# # #

Bret heard a gun cock right behind him. The cop, a strong, deep-voiced guy with a thick goatee told Bret to keep his hands up.

Holy shit,” Bret said. How long have you been here?”

Whole time,” the cop said, pulling Bret’s hands behind him and feeling out for his cuffs. That was quite a dust up.”

The cop put Bret in his car, told him to stay still, and went back for the camera man. But the camera man was already gone.

Son of a bitch!” Bret could hear from the back seat. The officer came back in.

Fucker was playing possum,” he said.

Bret replied, I’m not surprised.”

You two punks know each other?”

You could say that,” Bret said. I don’t know his name. I never quite understood what he wanted with me.”

You get that in this town,” The cop said.

Why didn’t you just arrest us before we knocked each other loopy?”

Well, to tell you the truth, I’m short my quota this month and wanted to bring you both in myself. I figured it’d be easier to round you up if you were already busted.”

Bret, for whatever reason, was understanding. Even though he knew getting fingerprinted would get him a quick trip back across the border, it was where he was heading anyway. He used to be so worried about the police, but he didn’t have anything here, anymore.

Fine,” Bret said. Process me. But can you be nice about it at least? I’m Canadian.”

What did you say?”

Bret wasn’t sure why he said that. Maybe it was something he’d always wanted to say.

I’m from Vancouver,” Bret quipped.

The cop extended his hand, then rescinded once he realized Bret was still in handcuffs and there was a steel grate between them.

I’m from Spokane,” The cop said. Me and my buddies used to cross the border all the time to get fucked up. Vancouver was always so nice.”

The cop pulled Bret out of the car and took off the cuffs. Shit, I can’t hardly arrest you if there’s no proof you beat up anybody. Something tells me that guy ain’t squeeling.”

Probably not,” Bret said.

Straight out of a Dick Tracy novel or something.”

I don’t know who that is,” Bret said. But thanks for this. You’re probably the nicest guy I’ve met in America.”

After the cop left Bret next to his car, he wasn’t sure if any of it had really happened. Had he really charmed his way out of an arrest? His face hurt. He didn’t know what the hell to think anymore. Which is why this was the worst possible time for Jenny to call.

# # #

Album hung up the phone and immediately dialed more numbers. Tess said Hello,” from the other end.

How’s my favorite ski bunny?” Album asked.

Album,” Tess said. I’ve told you this six times. I’ve never skied before. I don’t even like the cold. It only ever went down to five degrees where I’m from, and it almost never snowed..”

No human can survive five degrees, woman.”

Tess laughed. Celsius, plebeian. We won the war.”

What war?”

We burned down your government building. Canadians are the reason you have a white house.”

I thought that was the British.”

We were British, hick. Sort of, anyway.”

Whatever love, I’m inviting you out.”

Why?”

Because I won. I won a million lotteries. I beat not only that fag politician, I beat the major news agencies, I beat everyone. I’m the king of today, and the king plans on eating out.”

Tess sighed, her fingers itching to curl a phone cord that hadn’t been there for years. You know that tomorrow you’re going to go back to being a pumpkin, right?”

All the more reason to make it count. Why all the hate? I remember us being pretty close once upon a time.”

Album, this whole thing has really torn Bret apart. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed. You can’t expect me not to have mixed feelings toward the devil on his shoulder.”

I don’t recall you being that far from that shoulder yourself. You gave him the same advice, remember?”

Yeah, but that’s been kind of eating at me too. I feel like two people, and I don’t like either of them. You seem to be the only happy person around these days.”

Album wasn’t expecting this, but he had a canned response anyway.

Tess, baby, we were right. That fag’s life, even though, hell, especially because we fucked with it, is going to be better. You saw the speech this morning. He basically thanked us.”

I suppose that’s one insanely egotistical way of looking at it.”

Tell you what,” Album said. Let’s just do this tonight. Take a small shred of pride in my public service, and then tomorrow you can go back to hating me and everything I represent.”

Tess had nothing else, so she said, I’ll put serious stock into thinking about it.”

# # #

Bret didn’t know why he always rushed to be with Jenny, but he had. He chalked it up to her being the one, but why was he still doing it? Why was she still the only phone number he had memorized? What was wrong with him?

He knocked on her door. It used to be his door, too. He used to have a key. His face and ribs still hurt a little, but he wasn’t mad. He was mostly confused as to why she wanted to talk and why he hadn’t taken a cab to a hospital.

Hey Bret,” she said, hugging him. He winced. Thank you for coming on such short…Oh my God, are you bleeding?”

Maybe,” he said. There’s a possibility. I didn’t really check.”

Let me take care of that,” Jenny said, souring her face and pulling him into the bathroom by the entrance. Come in here.”

She put a damp washcloth to his forehead, and he looked down at her and she looked back at him and he only got more confused. The last time he saw her, she was in the hospital, but she wasn’t vulnerable. She’d kicked him out, and Fane had been there. He wasn’t vulnerable then, either. It really wasn’t that long ago, but everything was different.

There,” Jenny said. Feel any better?”

I don’t know,” Bret said. Do you?”

What a cryptic question. What the hell happened?”

Oh, nothing. I feel up some stairs.”

How do you? Never mind. If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. Some girl probably punched you for snapping a shot or something. And you probably deserved it.”

Thanks,” Bret said. It’s been a while since you’ve insulted me.”

Jenny straightened up. Come,” she said. They sat down on her couch, the one she’d bought two months into the relationship that she wouldn’t let him pitch in for.

We need to talk,” she said.

That sentence, Bret knew, was never a good thing. It meant the end of a job or a relationship. There was never a situation where it ended well. But this relationship was already over. He’d already been brought into the cold office to be let go without warning. And there had been no legal hangups keeping them together. Unless she was planning on drugging him and selling his organs and she was asking for permission, he really didn’t know what to worry about.

I think you may have been right,” she said. And I might have been wrong.”

About what?”

What do you think, Bret? Reggie.”

You saw this morning, huh?”

Yeah, but that wasn’t entirely it. My sister’s been a big fan of yours, and she never got out of my ear about you. That probably had more to do with it than the speech, but maybe that was the tipping point. I don’t know. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

More reversals. That line’s usually used in breakups, too.

What?” Bret asked.

Ask you,” she paused. If you wanted to give us another shot.”

Bret couldn’t think from one moment to the next. He was purely reactionary. It was possible he had a concussion.

Look,” Jenny continued. I fucked up. I made a call to hate what you’d done and to hate you. You betrayed my trust and in the process destroyed my job blew my boss’ life wide open. I acted quickly and I judged you. It’s not easy for me to say this, but I did. I compartmentalized you into this box and you didn’t deserve it. I called you the worst names I knew and kicked you out and you had to stay at that slimey blogging asshole’s place. And that’s just it. I still that that asshole plenty. I never liked him. But he poisoned you against me, and what was I supposed to do? Be totally fine with all of it? I couldn’t. I had to react. I had to dump you, Bret. I didn’t feel like I had any choice, and if I could go back, I don’t know that I wouldn’t dump you all over again. But I still regret doing it, and I still want to undo the damage.”

Bret cleared his throat. He bit his lip. He bought as much time as mannerisms could buy. But she still stared, waiting for some kind of response.

I don’t know, Jenny,” Bret said. I really don’t.”

Bret,” she said. I know this must come as a bit of a shock, but I still think we’re right for one another. Don’t you?”

Jenny could never read Bret like Tess could, so Jenny had no idea what little Bret was thinking. He was seriously wondering if he should go to the hospital. But thoughts of putting this relationship back together crept in. And the rejection he received from Tess had painted him red with embarrassment, and here was his ex American asking for another go. How hypocritical could he be? How could he get rejected and then turn around and reject? It wasn’t right, and he couldn’t think straight, so he kissed her. He couldn’t think of anything else to do.

The clothes came off. Bret never told Jenny how much he needed a win after weeks of being pulled apart by this city, or even that he considered her a win.” She didn’t tell him how long it had been since someone had looked in her eyes with entirely animal intentions. They’d come to these conclusions using entirely different maps, but there they were, both in need of air and new life.

Morning Pages, March 17, 2011

\1. I wake up and she’s just about to leave. I get a kiss on the cheek as I lay there barely aware, and I want to say so much in that moment. I want her in my dreams, for us to escape in there and doze. And maybe I dream that she kisses me. Maybe she doesn’t. She might just drink her coffee and dress and look at herself and go. I think I say I love you but I can never be sure. Even if I ask later, when we’re doing the dishes from a dinner she’s made, if I told her that I loved her. She might say I did, not wanting to tear away my own idea of how much I mean it. And if she lies, I hope she is only doing it for me, and not for her own heart, if I have neglected it for more sleep.

\2. We are off by a little. She always wakes before me and sleeps before me. I can never seem to sync up properly. The problem grates on me. There is so much to catch up on, so I never properly catch up on sleep, until the morning, when I regret staying awake for things that are not her goodbye kiss.

\3. I think we’d always like the ability to hit pause and restart. I think that function, above all else, is why men of my age are obsessed with virtual worlds. Undo is a god of a promise.

\4. That’s why Braid is probably the most heartbreaking game ever made. It takes that promise, the ability to affect time for your own advantage, and it shows that even with that power, we can’t quite save the princess. The game is a sonnet of our failure as men to be there at the right time, doing the right thing, making her happier than we actually can. We are all fuckups, incapable of keeping our priorities in check. I am ruined, just like everyone else, because I can’t figure out how to keep that goodbye kiss in my mind all the time.

\5. I have been properly awake at times, but the words never come on those mornings. They only exist in the space after sleep, when I can only really see the shape of her, and she exists in the same space as my dreams. And then I can’t really say them. She might not even be there, and I can’t say them to an empty room, though I wonder if I did if she’d get the message anyway, in another room somewhere away from me.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 7

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Reggie Fane wiped his forehead with the hand towel. He stood in a washroom of a gas station three miles away from the speech, the key attached to a small plank of wood sitting on the side of the sink. The mirror was surprisingly clean, and he could see himself almost head to toe. He ran his fingers through his short, back-gliding hair. This morning, he’d woken nervous. He kissed his wife goodbye. He’d shaven. He’d read the Wall Street Journal.

In the gas station, he felt the bald spot that had begun to inch larger in the last year. He hadn’t paid much attention to it until recently, since he’d stepped down during that first, hollow speech. He remembered what he’d said.

My fellow citizens,” he said. I’m sorry. We’re all sorry. This is an unfortunate circumstance, and I cannot in good faith continue as your representative.”

He thought about the thing Album had told him, the semi-famous line everyone had said to themselves at least once.

Album, he said Buddy, to be honest, you didn’t start representing the people of this fine state until you started fucking around.”

Fane didn’t have any problems with his first speech until a few days after when he’d read an article on Yahoo news that dissected it, declaring it a near-duplicate to congressman Hafferty’s resignation speech from 2003. Hafferty had gone through a similar disgraceful fall.

Fane held the bathroom key. It was firm, like it would last forever. He compared poorly.

# # #

Bret woke trying to remember his dreams, if he had dreamed at all. Breathing slow, blinking slow, Bret sat up and got off Album’s couch. He shuffled to the west-facing window, to the view. He yawned. He’d slept in.

He called album but got his voice mail. Album hadn’t come home, or answered his phone. He called Tess but hung up before the first digital ring. Finally, he looked himself in the mirror and decided he should clean the fuck up.

Bret spent the morning cleaning. He bagged all the loose trash. He windexed everything with a reflection. He took the elevator down and grabbed some pledge and a mop from the corner Walgreens. He went back up, pledged, and mopped. Album’s waste was too much to bear. He had to do something about it.

While he waited for the kitchen linoleum to dry, he looked at the 3x5 on the fridge. It was a shot he’d taken on Vancouver on the skyway. It was a picture of a sleeping couple, their bodies swaying with the train, their heads stuck together in the best low-jack cuddle Bret had ever seen. Their hands were full carrying shopping bags and. The woman held tight to a wrapped bouquet of poinsettias. They were so worn out that their heads collapsed on one another. They could wake up but they didn’t want to. All they could muster was their foreheads touching, but it was all they needed.

He’d taken it without their permission. He hadn’t woken them to see if it was okay. He just snapped.

# # #

Album cranked the stereo on his car. He fucking loved this song.

He smoked a thin joint. He wanted what was left of his stash to last all day. Album wasn’t a gambler. He didn’t celebrate prematurely unless he knew for certain what was going to happen. And the only way to do that was to make sure every outcome came out a winner. He had placed a big, grinning official picture of Fane up on the website. Right next to it was Bret’s picture of the former governor. Underneath, the text read: two nights ago, Reggie Fane came by the headquarters of this site and had a sit down interview with Album Yukes. Although Mr Fane did not allow a tape recorder, he will apparently answer all of your questions at an impromptu press conference later today.”

For half of the day before, album was worried. He’d had the post up all morning, but no other news agencies had reported on the story until Fane himself announced it in a press release. No mention of Album’s site was mentioned on either FOX or CNN.

The fuckers, Album thought at the time. They never credit the bloggers.

# # #

Tess woke with a sleepy grin and a forgetting demeanor. She’d forgotten what had happened the night before. She’d forgotten her dreams. She’d forgotten the weekend job up ahead. She existed, for a pint of seconds, in no place, time, holding no responsibility over anything or anyone. This moment passed and then she remembered everything, which was a much worse moment to face in the morning.

Tess didn’t know how she got himself into these situations, sometimes.

# # #

Jenny slipped through the miles-long mall in Ceasars Palace. Eight stores out of ten were out of any sane persons budget, but it was nice to look at, to sample, to walk away with at least one luxurious item to fold at home among the rest, to know to treat that fabric just a little better, to wash it separately, with the delicates or even by itself. It’s always an extra half hour on laundry day to deal with the few pieces of expensive clothing. It’s an investment in time, not just money. But less and less did Jenny consider time to be much of a currency. She had it in oodles.

Even the stores that would be in any other mall, the fcuk, the Calvin Klein jeans, the browns and fossil, these stores held items most other malls couldn’t afford to stock. The $800 skirts, the $1000 watches were unique to the Caesars mall on this side of the country, let alone the clothing that actually had no price, where the accepted etiquette is to simply not ask before handing over the black plastic.

Jenny was wearing her flat shoes and a flowing, long skirt. Since leaving work, she hadn’t worn any of her professional clothes. She hadn’t charged her blackberry in three days. Her email was going unanswered in longer and longer stretches. She was doing what she considered her version of bumming around, and that included her flats, cute glossy black ballet-style shoes that had collected dust during the upswing in the campaign.

Jenny hazily shopped, viewing item after item, store after store. She picked up a reasonably priced pair of jeans. She almost bought a new pair if sunglasses. She enjoyed, more than anything else, the industrial sized air conditioning, pushing new faux air in her lungs. None of it was real, but none of it mattered.

Jenny browsed through a music store and noticed that they’d begun to sell video games and movies. The number of CDs on racks was dwindling. She leafed through a few of them. Jenny stopped at a Joel Plaskett album, a guy that Bret had raved about seeing live with only 30 other people in Vancouver two years before. As she felt the hard plastic, she felt fir only the third time in her life a consumer sentiment: this product made her miss Bret and his winded ranting of indie pop music. She winced at it, though it might have just been a chill. It was freezing in this mall.

She told Bret to take everything they had. It had worked with the two other boyfriends she’d had. It was simply better in the long run to purge it all. It helped to have no reminders, even if it meant losing something. After a few weeks, she’d be okay. She could touch things they’d shared again, and she could work on creating new memories of the things she wanted to like again. She would watch the same movies she liked in the relationship with her sister, and that movie would become a memory for the two of them. She did the same for music, for television, for pictures.

Jenny decided she would begin this process with Plaskett, because she really liked him and wanted him for herself. She didn’t want Bret to take this one away.

Jenny slipped aimlessly through the mall at Ceasar’s Palace, fulfilling the oft-lame stereotype of shopping whilst an emotionally distant zombie. She hated herself for it. She was just looking at things with no real impetus to buy. First, she had no money with which to buy anything, and for second had nobody to wear anything for. She was out of a job for the first time in her life. Shopping made Jenny lonely, which made her feel somewhat insane. The simple fact of looking at items of clothing made her pregnant with a longing for a month ago, to when she had a boyfriend who hadn’t betrayed her and a still-closeted boss. She found herself missing Bret of all people. She should miss Reggie, but she didn’t. He had never lied to her. He had never been someone he wasn’t.

She knew what had been going on behind shut motel doors in the middle of town. Of course she wished she hadn’t known anything. She knew republicans like Reggie had nothing against gays and were pretty often gay themselves, but kept their images up for the paranoid racist vote. She was fully aware of everything that was planned for the state. Reggie’s entire campaign was going to come true. He had the budget balanced. He was going to pledge money to schools and community centers. He was going to pass several gambling awareness initiatives, which would have aided the cities’ effort in eliminating even more of its sordid past. Most importantly, he was going to rid the city of its underground homeless, the people who lived off the cities’ excess in the canals. It was going to be a bold and brave two years in the seat, but. Nobody came to Vegas to gamble anymore. They came because it was the new Disneyland. He needed to get these initiatives passed. But it would probably never happen now, because Reggie’s entire political legacy would be completely forgotten in favor of one story and one photograph.

Jenny found a Sony store simply because it was there. She perused the mp3 players. She glanced at the digital cameras and remarked on how quickly hers had been made obsolete. She had only bought one last year, and already the new ones got it done twice as well. She wondered what a megapixel was, and decided she didn’t care. She saw the TVs, and saw that four of them were on CNN. One TV had closed captioning, and she saw Reggie’ s name scroll past. And then she saw him, tapping a microphone, smiling, and giving everyone that signature motherfucker eye that she’d taught him on the campaign.

# # #

Fane flicked at his 3x5s, peering at the typed font, instinctively worrying about his pacing, where he’ll take a breath, a beat. He printed the cards out at home the night before. Fane sat twenty feet away from the podium backstage, behind the curtain. The crowd was buzzing. It wasn’t like a rock concert crowd. He’d anticipated a much smaller group of journalists, bloggers, and the people who just like to be present at presentations like this, just in case anything historic happens.

But he could definitely hear them, and if he didn’t know any better he would have to think that as the time for him to speak the crowd bristled and grew monstrously loud. Maybe it was in his head, his ego creating a scene that wasn’t there. The cards in his hands told a much different story than his older cards.

Sir,” a voice said from behind Fane. Are you ready?”

I thought I had another twenty minutes.”

CNN says they’ll have to cut you off if you go over 15 minutes if we wait until the hour. We’re trying to give you some extra time for questions.”

Christ, what the hell for?” Fane asked.

There’s a press conference in Iraq at noon, sir. They have to be live for that one.”

Fuck,” Fane spit. All right. You think there’ll be lots of questions?

I don’t know sir,” the stage manager said. But if you’re planning on saying what Yukes said you’re going to say, then yeah, you might want to take a few questions.”

All right. I’ll be right there,” Fane said.

The stage manager gave a nervous high five. Break a leg sir.”

# # #

Bret sat and thought about the night before, musing the sad notion of ex girlfriend rejection. It was a near-guaranteed transaction, he felt, like taxes. Ex girlfriends were usually pretty susceptible to moments of emotional vulnerability, and Bret often had the good timing to cash in. They were money in the bank. Or were they? Had he always just been lucky? Was Bret just the one unlucky asshole male who couldn’t make it work? Or was it just what Tess said? Was he so broken that everyone could tell, and everyone had given him plenty of distance. Still, he felt embarrassed being turned away from bumping familiar uglies. Whatever the case, Bret had struck out something large, and he felt one of the many emotional bottoms.

At the end of the day, his bedpost mark had been solid. Working a job he couldn’t actually talk about was eerily seductive to the residents of pothead café’s, which was something he didn’t understand but took full advantage of. He chalked it up to the basic attraction of opposites. He wore a suit and couldn’t disclose anything professional, which made it look like he worked for some shadow government organization, some real x-files type, which made him square and the enemy. And there were few things in life more attractive than sleeping with the enemy.

And here in Vegas, well. Being a man with a bevy of cameras and access to one of the most popular celebrity websites around had its apparent advantages. Bret recalled Trice and her protection of her sisters’ pride, and had on many occasions recalled how rare that was. More often than not, he had trouble keeping the attention grabbers out of the shots. He had a drawer at home full of business cards for models and actresses. He had just as many napkins with numbers with no names. Famous by association was high currency in this city. Bret remembered walking by so many well-paid working actors in Vancouver and simply not giving two shits. He rarely saw any display of external affection or devotion from random fans, either. But in Vegas, it was as if celebrities held cures for the plague. How big a difference tax laws made.

But Bret couldn’t have taken advantage of any offers. He was with Tess, and then he was with Jenny, and the whole time he’d been on Album’s orders anyway. What could he have done?

Bret felt sorry for himself, and he felt sorry for feeling sorry for himself, and when that feeling got ridiculous he turned on the television and saw the bright white mug of a man he’d ruined.

# # #

Reggie tapped on the microphone. He’d never actually done that before, but had always wanted to. Like a kid with an unopened Christmas present he didn’t quite understand the shape of. And he felt like a kid, at least twenty years younger. He felt butterflies that come with doing young, foolish things for the first time. He remembered his first kiss, and then the first kiss he actually wanted.

Reggie had given more speeches than he could count, but only three had been about his personal life. The first was over a month ago. It was a typical denial on CNN. The second, a week after, was his confession and resignation speech. It hadn’t been written by him; someone had handed it to him late one evening at his office in a sealed manila envelope. This third speech might be the last time cameras would come around. He knew how reporters worked. This was the last bit of everything he could possible deliver. He owed it to himself more than anything. He’d already apologized to the public, and to his wife, and to his team, even if nobody believed him. But he needed to come clean for himself, and to officially damn the consequences. That’s what Album had told him the night before last. Damn the consequences. The truth was more important than any aftermath. The truth created a new aftermath.

The cameras were fewer in number than last time. The rule of diminishing returns out in full force. Reggie didn’t see Bret anywhere. Was he even press, technically? He didn’t know. Where did bloggers figure into the system? Reggie sort of wanted him present, to bear witness to what he’d wrought. He wanted to illuminate one that he wasn’t the one-note hypocrite Bret knew him for. But Reggie remembered that Album had told him to forget Bret. He wasn’t as important as Reggie made him out to be.

Reggie heard his aid to the right say whenever you’re ready, we’re ready.” He cleared his throat and began.

Good morning everyone. Thank you for coming on such short notice. I’m sure you’re all very busy with news more important than mine, so I’ll keep this brief. As I stand before you, I feel more vulnerable than I’ve felt in my entire life. I’ve been truly humbled these last few weeks. I’ve received emails and letters from hundreds, maybe thousands of great Americans and residents of this great state, both in support and in disgust. I’ve read them all. I’ve had a lot of time. They’ve given me great courage, and I want to return the favor. I want to come out today, as myself, for the first time.

You’re probably all wondering what else there is to say. I mean, I was caught. I apologized. I quit. What else is there? I gave you my humiliation, and I had my wife stand by me as I told you how sorry I was for betraying yours and her trust. But I feel like the speech I gave was less about me and more about looking good for the party. I didn’t write it. Did you know that? I used to write all my speeches. I was good at it. And here I was, reading words designated to me. You deserved better from me. The blatant lack of discipline was untoward and disrespectful to my wife and to the great people of this state I swore to represent. The fact is: I should not have been fucking around on my wife. More to the point, I shouldn’t have had a wife in the first place. To jump straight to why I’m here: I am a gay man, and I’ve been living a lie. I am stating this in public, into a microphone, into cameras, because I want it to be a fucking statement.”

Reggie couldn’t have known, but CNN just green-lit fifteen more minutes to the segment.

Reggie kept going. The silent crowd fueled him.

I felt betrayed by myself. I lived this lie to forward my political career. I was coached very early about keeping it hidden if I didn’t want to get shot. You have to understand, at least a little, about the time. I’ve been in politics since the seventies. When I first ran, I would have been killed. Certainly. I was afraid of being found out, so I got married. That was part of the deal. And don’t read this as saying I don’t care about my wife. She is the love of my life. I respect her dearly, and she deserves far better than me. I can’t lie to her anymore. I can’t put her through this any longer.

I regret so much. Supporting policies that infringed on the rights of minorities. Stating for the record that homosexuality was a sin. Buying into the belief system of extremists. I hated myself, but I knew I had to keep my career. I know part of this will seem hollow. Oh, he’s only doing this because he got caught, because he lost everything. And you know what? It’s probably true. I would have just kept going on. But the fact is, we’re all going to get caught sooner or later. These bloggers and journalists are getting better everyday. We can’t keep these secrets anymore. It’s a new time. The new normal is that if you’re a closeted man in the public sector, you will be found out. These guys are just too good. They don’t know the same boundaries the old journalists did. They don’t respect your privacy, or your place in society. And you know what? That might be a good thing.”

Reggie knew he was backhandedly complimenting the men who took him down, but that was sort of the point. He considered it the gentleman thing to do.

These guys are getting really good at their jobs, so maybe it’s time we got really, really good at ours. We were supposed to be public servants, and I see no reason to hide who we are. Besides, it’s 2006. It’s the future, for God’s sake. It’s ridiculous for us to still be wrestling with these trivial pieces of bullshit anthropology. But it’s easy for me to say because I’ve been caught, right. Well, it’s easy to forget what I’ve lost. But I stand before you all a thousand percent more confident as to my own identity than I have my whole life. And that might not sound like any kind of trade, but I gotta say, it’s something. It’s more. Thank you. And hey, who knows. Maybe this can start something. A dialogue, something along those lines. Because it’s about all of us.”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 6

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Used to be, people like Bret had to mull over hundreds of printed shots in a darkroom. He would have to develop every shot by hand. He would have to stand alone, bathed in red, breathing fumes. He would spend hours and nights, slowly going blind, slowly going insane. Paparazzo work in the old days took time and isolation and the creep stench that never comes off, no matter how many new jackets you bought.

Going digital changed all that. Bret drank a latte in public. His laptop sat open in fullscreen mode. Bret made red-eye changes. Focus changes. He cropped. Converted. Raw to Jpeg. Compressed. Three feet away, a mother fed a plastic-wrapped shortbread cookie to a toddler. On the monitor, John Mayer smiled. Zoomed to 300 percent, you could see the freckles in the loupe.

The freckles would, of course, have to go. Nobody knows that John Mayer has freckles. But the fact is, Bret was doing this dark work out in the open. Much like the suburbs that surround the city, Bret’s work was cleaner than his predecessors. Cleaner, safer, and more productive. White-washed. Bleached. From four-color to full. From newspaper to blog. From dingy motels to custom-built houses. From dank, chemical-filled dark rooms to a cafe with free wifi. Everything moved forward, upward, into an abyss not seen until the next Hollywood interpretation of tomorrow. You don’t know America’s definition of progress until you’ve been to Vegas this century.

John Mayer was a nice guy, Bret could testify to that. Bret had him in the airport. He was hidden in rows of elderly people all waiting for planes back to Florida. He had brought the good camera, the one with the thick lens. For a major airport, the security was incredibly lax on photographers. All the tourists. All the things to take pictures of. That image of rows of people already on slot machines. The idea that seven seconds after landing in the state, you could be gambling. The odd promo girl dressed as a showgirl, handing out discount price-fix ticket/dinner combinations. The slumped brides. The dead-eyed businessmen, hoping to tune all the neon and jingle out of a forced week-long retreat. These things make great pictures.

But Mayer caught Bret early. He’d only got a few shots in before Mayer noticed that Bret wasn’t actually shooting footage of some toddler trying to pull a slot arm.

In the coffee shop, Bret applied contrast to the image. He tried to take away that dark light the airport gave off. People only really wanted pictures of Mayer that could be cropped next to Jennifer Aniston, and people only photographed her in the light.

Wait,” Bret thought. Who am I fucking kidding?”

He forgot about the background, knowing Album would either crop it out or write over it in Paint. He fixed the red-eye. He took out the shadow under Mayer’s chin. He rendered, and moved onto the next shot.

Mayer had come closer to Bret. He knew he should have run but he didn’t. Maybe he’d be able to get away with the tourist excuse, that he saw a random celebrity on vacation and thought a picture would be fun to show the family.

Don’t give me that tourist excuse,” Mayer said, getting close enough to talk. His voice was disarmingly smooth. It bothered Bret. He knew he should run at this point.

Mayer said, I know who you are.”

Mayer got closer. Bret should have bolted. Whenever a celebrity gets too close, there’s a way higher chance of broken equipment or a broken nose. Bret smiled, and played the odds. Bret knew about Mayer, and his reputation with his kind. Mayer wasn’t going to do anything but be really fucking nice.

Mayer said, I can pick you guys out a mile away.”

Bret was caught and beat, but instead of the usual grimace, the usual intention of physical confrontation, Mayer was relaxed. He said, Buy me a coffee and I’ll give you a shot you can actually sell.”

Bret sipped his latte. He cropped the bright background, the useless collateral distractions. Behind Mayer was an arguing family. Behind Mayer were the kind of people Bret’s accidentally embarrassed and ruined. People like Trice’s sister. People like God knows who else.

Bret bought John Mayer a wet cappuccino, then took a picture of him holding it, giving a thumbs up. That ought to give you at least a tenth-page.” Bret gave Mayer a confused look. He still didn’t say much. It wasn’t the shock of being near a celebrity. It was the terrifying notion that one of them didn’t want to maul him.

Mayer shook his hand. Have a good one.” He trundled off. Bret didn’t follow, didn’t say anything.

Bret stood in the airport wearing the same face he wore in the coffee shop, cropping and brightening and red-eye eliminating. Bret had been bowled over by a crooner, and he had no idea how to react.

It was a similar look that he had given to Tess the previous July. Originally, the plan had been to stay-cation Vegas for maybe a month, but they were encroaching on the end of their third. In Tess’ apartment, which used to be their apartment, Bret stood in the living room. There were fewer useless giveaway leftovers. She had begun collecting them after Bret moved out, to fill the spots where his things once were.

When are we getting out of here?” Bret asked.

Tess, balled-up on the couch in a tiny skirt and black tank top, retracted. I’m not the one who wanted to come down here. You did. You thought it’d be good for us. We never see one another, Bret. We don’t see one another and you’re really not happy.”

Yeah, exactly,” he said. So when do we get out of here?”

You’re not happy,” she said. But I am.”

Bret pulled his hands through his hair. He breathed deep, he locked on. This argument had been brewing ever since she’d told him they were staying a little longer.

So what am I supposed to do?” Bret asked, never bothering to stop asking exactly what about this horrendous environment was keeping his girlfriend satiated.

Tess got up and tried to hold him, but he wasn’t having any of it.

I’m serious, Tess,” He said. I’m sick of this place. I’m sick of Album and his fucking website and the damn work.”

Tess removed any play from her voice. I came here for you. Do you understand that? I left everything in my life to follow you. I got a job doing something I thought was demeaning, something that’ll never go on a resume, and I did it so I could afford to be here with you.”

I never asked you to become a promo girl,” he said.

What was I supposed to do? Leech off you like some trophy girlfriend? Fuck that. You know that’s not who I am. But my point was, I sacrificed my home for you. Don’t walk out on this just because you’re having a rough time.”

So what should I do, Tess?” He asked. Please, help me out on this.”

You asked me to come down here, so I did,” she began. I’m asking you to stay. I don’t know for how much longer, but to stay. Be with me. Do whatever you can. Find something that makes dealing with everything else easy.”

Bret had failed miserably at this.

Bret looked down at the thumbnails of John Mayer’s shining nice-guy mug. Bret sipped the last of the latte. He closed his computer. He’d emailed the files to Album. They’d be on the site in a few minutes, this time with a cute story about Coffee. Irony of ironies, Bret had found someone that kept him in Vegas. A few days after their big argument, Bret ran into Jenny at a bar. He was staking out a location for later that night, when he noticed her drinking alone. Tess had been right. It only took one person to make it easy.

# # #

Trice and Tess were eating yogurt on Tess’ balcony.

You think we eat this stuff because TV tells us to?” Tess asked.

What do you mean?”

Tess, scooping out peach and strawberry pieces from the goop, said There’s, like, a thousand commercials with women eating yogurt. It’s all women on TV eat.”

Some of them eat penis,” Trice said.

I think you and I have different cable packages.”

It was midday. They both had a job to do that night, and neither thought anything about either. Fingers at ease, Tess and Trice daydreamed in open conversation, drinking corner store beer, breathing cheap Nevada air.

You would not believe the rent I had to pay for a place half this size where I’m from.” Tess said. She extolled the horrors of British Columbia rent prices.

I don’t get why you can’t come work with me in LA,” Trice said.

It has to do with that thing I was telling you before,” Tess said. Remember when I told you I was from Vancouver?”

Yeah, so?”

Well, it means I don’t actually belong in this country.”

I don’t get what you mean. There’s tons of Canadians down here.”

Yes, but most of them have work VISAs or their kids were born here or something. According to border patrol, I’m on vacation. I’ve been here way longer than I should have been.”

But we work together. You work for the promo company,” Trice said.

Yeah, but they don’t care where you’re from. Hell, you know Katrina? She’s from Russia. Doesn’t speak any English. They let her work. It’s because they pay in cash, Trice. It’s one of the reasons I took the job.”

It’s no problem,” Trice said. We can pay you in cash, too.”

We?” Tess asked.

My sister and I.”

Ooh,” Tess said. That’s why LA.”

Exactly,” Trice said. She’s really serious about this business, and I’m going to do everything I can to help her. Especially after what happened.”

Because you feel responsible for what happened?”

Responsible? Why would I feel responsible?”

Well,” Tess said. You did get her the gig. You were there too.”

But I didn’t take the picture,” Trice replied. And I didn’t put it online for our parents to find. It’s not my fault at all what happened. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love her and want her to be happy, and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.”

Tess thought about how Trice felt absolutely no guilt over her sister, how she was wrong but believed her own story so much she couldn’t see it any other way.

Trice and Tess made their way back into Tess’ kitchen. Do you want a top up?” Tess asked.

Do you have anything besides Ceasar’s? I have to say, I don’t at all understand this crazy drink you people have.”

Tess laughed. I have some orange juice. I’ll use it instead.”

What did you say was in there? Clam juice?”

Clammato,” Tess said. It’s a combination of Clam and Tommato juice.”

It’s disgusting, is what it is,” Trice said.

Maybe you have to be a Canuck to get it,” Tess said, handing Trice the vodka-orange.

Look, it’ll be great,” Trice said, getting back on track. You’ll see. Please come?” Trice elongated the please as far as she could.

Tess paused. That’s not entirely it,” she said.

Trice took no time to clue in. It’s him, isn’t it?” Tess stood still. You’re still in love with that scumbag paparazzi, aren’t you?”

He’s not a scumbag paparazzi,” Tess said, then retracted. Okay, well, he didn’t use to be a scumbag paparazzi. He used to be my…”

Your what?”

It’s stupid,” Tess said. Forget it.”

Tell me, bitch,” Trice said. So I can talk you out of it.”

Tess remembered back to the first time she had said it to him. It was so long ago she had forgotten the details, but had remembered the little things.

Tess said, He was my happily ever over.”

Trice stood in disbelief, as if Tess had spoken a long-dead romance language only understood by long-dead scholars. You want to run that bullshit by me again?”

Tess leaned against the counter, sipping the drink of her homeland. Romance, love, that whole chase, you know? It’s exciting. I had a hell of a run. I didn’t have a ton of boyfriends but dammit they were good ones. Even the shitty ones were good in their own ways. Barry, the hockey player with mommy issues? He was better at driving around aimlessly than anyone, and sometimes that’s really nice. Jerome, the law student who once slapped me for flirting? That asshole could massage like nobody’s business. Jake? Jake was the kind of guy who needed MTV-level drama on a weekly basis or he thought his life was meaningless. But that son of a bitch romanced the shit out of me, and there are still some nights I fantasize about that around the world cruise he wanted to take me on.

Bret isn’t the best at a whole lot,” Tess said, calming down. He makes his mistakes, and he creates situations that only ruin the parts of him I loved. Like, this paparazzi shit he got himself into? I hate that part of him. The worst part is that he hates it, too. He owns his own self-sabotage, but he’s never been strong enough to stop it. The problem is, there was a long time there where I thought I was done with chasing love and being part of that entire spectacle and chaos. I thought I was finished. Bret wasn’t my happily ever after, but he was more than enough to call it a day.”

Trice sipped her Vodka Orange and nodded. I know that. It goes by different names but I’ve seen it. This guy really had it, huh?”

Yeah,” Tess said.

You think there’s still any of that in him?”

That all depends,” Tess said, finishing off her Ceasar. It all depends on how he leaves.”

# # #

Jenny lay down on her bed and remembered the last time she and Bret made love. They’d fallen asleep together. It had been nice, and the memory cast a kind light on Bret. She could never look back in anger on the way they had made love. She nuzzled against the pillow, pressed in, pushing only slightly, the way a cat sneaks into your awaiting, scratch-wanting fingernails. She was still wearing her work clothes, even though she didn’t go to work anymore. Her beige skirt was worn-in, maybe a year too old to still be considered on the best selection in a wardrobe. There were a few too many creases, and there was a stitch coming loose on the bottom. Her feet bare, her legs a little cold, Jenny curled inward, squinting, holding nothing tight but herself.

The phone rang, and she wished it was someone with news. She hated knowing nothing about the next day. Her schedule was empty, and her stomach had a pang. It rang a second time, and almost gave into the machine. Her cold hand grabbed and flipped open her cell, and she held it to her ear.

It’s your sister, spinster.”

Jenny felt urges to loudly cough.

You haven’t called in like a week.”

It’s been kind of a bad week,” Jenny said, compulsions to bitch further be damned.

Please tell me you’re not thinking about Tony.”

I’m sorry?” Jenny didn’t know what she was talking about. The phone felt like wet plastic in her hand, slippery and unnatural and better off untouched.

You know. You can’t help it. Thinking about Tony. Wondering where he is, what he’s doing, what he’s thinking about, is he thinking about you, and if he’ll ever return.”

Confused and tired, Jenny just said What?”

You know, the sad French girls from Kids in the Hall?”

Is that a thing? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

You don’t watch enough Canadian television. You’d think with that ex boyfriend of yours he would have forced you into some of it.”

Ugh, don’t remind me. He made me watch that stupid gas station show from Saskatchewan. He had them downloaded on his computer.”

Yeah, I love that one.”

I seriously do not get your fascination with Canadian television. But, whatever. Why don’t you date him?”

Because he’s yours,” she said. Bret belongs to you.”

Yeah, well, look Haley,” Jenny said, sitting up, tensing her jaw and cracking her neck to the right. He’s not anybody’s but his own now. I’ve made up my mind about the whole thing.”

Haley sighed loud enough for Jenny to get the message. You can’t be angry at him forever. He only did what just about anyone else in the world would do. It’s what I would have done.”

Haley, don’t be ridiculous.”

I don’t like the methods, either,” she said. But you can’t argue with the intent. He was revealing the truth. Isn’t that what we all want out of life?”

Truth?”

Justice,” Haley said.

I lost my job, sis,” Jenny stated. I lost it because of him, because of his particular brand of this justice you’re talking about. Reggie wasn’t a bad guy, Haley. He was a politician. He had to keep certain things secret.”

I don’t get why he had to keep being gay secret,” Haley said. I don’t get people who marry people they don’t love. Hell, have kids with people they don’t love. What’s the big deal? Just be a gay politician.”

Yeah, it’s really not as simple as all that.”

But don’t you at least wish it was?”

What?”

Don’t you wish it was as easy as just saying it, and having that be okay, having a guy get elected just as easily as if he was straight?”

Yeah, I guess so. But that’s not really the point, was it?”

Isn’t it, though? I mean, if your boss was openly gay the whole time, then he wouldn’t have been having this affair, and Bret wouldn’t have taken any pictures, and you wouldn’t be out of a job, and you two would still be together.”

Jenny wiped her eyes and looked at shadows out the window. The slow creep of building reflections on other buildings, reflections of house windows on other houses. In Jenny’s mind swirled fantasies.

If he were openly gay,” Jenny said. He’d never have got elected in the first place.”

Well,” Haley said. That’s the saddest hand dealt, not Bret’s.”

Jenny exhaled. Okay. I give up. He’s the greatest guy ever and I love him twice over and everything will be all right now. Thanks so much Sis.”

Bret was just doing what he thought was right.”

Yes, well.”

Really, sis, put yourself in that position. And I’m serious. What would you have done?”

Haley.” Jenny stamped the name.

I mean, did you know Reggie was gay before the news hit?”

Jenny let a beat go. Yes, of course I knew.”

But you didn’t feel the public deserved to know.”

It’s none of the public’s business. Haley, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

All I’m saying…”

Haley, I know exactly what you’re saying. You said the same thing to me last week.”

Whatevs,” she said.

Don’t say whatevs,” Jenny replied. It’s really unbecoming.”

You oughta talk about unbecoming.”

I’m so glad I don’t live with you anymore,” Jenny had enough of this, of her sisters’ berating to take Bret back.

Look, just promise me you won’t completely close the book. Bret was the best thing that happened to you in a long time. He made you so happy.”

The windows rattled every evening in Jenny’s apartment. Old and loose, the window panes were seemingly held together by oil and string. They shook with the desert gush, and they, and not the thoughts of Bret and their multitude of mistakes that were keeping her from sleeping all week.

Jenny said, I need a few small miracles to happen first.”

# # #

Album Typed.

# # #

Foot on the pedal and wind from above, Bret drove around, circling nothing, hunting nothing. He had a night off. Album hadn’t called him, hadn’t procured his particular talents for the night. There was nobody to steal from, nobody to lie to. Album did this from time to time. He would forget he had Bret in his pocket. He would forget he ran an incredibly popular dish rag site. Album, from time to time, would forget that he was Album and would answer his phone with his real name. On nights like this, Bret took a meager satisfaction in the easiness of his life. He would try his hardest to shelve the drama between him and Jenny, his past life with Tess, and all the lowlife decisions he made. He would stare forward, eyes seeing road seeing cars seeing other people who drove. This American past time of just driving for the sake of fucking driving was something Bret could take home.

His cell rang. It wasn’t Album, but it was about Album.

Tess talked like a Gatling gun on the phone to the annoyance of everyone who knew her. The times she talked about something that genuinely excited her were so excruciatingly difficult to understand it had been the culprit for several severed friendships. Bret had long taken the practice of holding his phone several inches away from his ear, just in case it was her on the other end. You are not going to oh my fucking god believe this Bret. Come the fuck over right now. Your buddy has been up to some major shit.”

She didn’t try to come off as a brainless valley girl, but phones being what they are had that affect on the poor girl. Bret moved the phone closer to his mouth while keeping the audio end at a safe distance. He looked like a fool.

I’m in the area,” he said. I’ll be right over.”

Bret was enjoying his drive. He had no direction, just forward momentum for the sake of forward momentum. He got a little high off the wind, a little sleepy, but not dangerously. Just sleepy enough to calm the voice in his head that his life had as much direction as his ride, that he’d done so much more bad in the world than good, that he’d be doing everyone a favor if he moved to a struggling country to build houses for the disparaged and never come home again.

The voice had been around more as of late. He heard it ping around the back of his head, and was bothered by his ability to place it.

The voice, in not so many ways, said go.

The son of a bitch of the thing was Bret really didn’t want anything to happen to him, and yet he was compelled to let himself get sucker punched every time. It was never a strong suit of his to stay Swiss about something; to say no. The voice was persuasive, as was his surroundings. The neon, specifically, called from around corners. The annoying, wasteful tubes gave Bret headaches, which is why he avoided the strip as much as possible. Which, when he thought about it, pronounced him a resident of the city more than anything else.

Bret parked and entered Tess’ apartment, immediately noticing the new bags of useless crap and trinkets left from the end of nights. One small bag full of lip gloss; another full of disposable razors, another with four copies of a CD by The Kills. One had been opened, left open, emptied. It surprised Bret to see something she’d taken home actually get used. Most of the leftovers were just strewn around like some art project waiting for an audience that got it.

He climbed the stairs and was greeted by sleepy, excited eyes.

I’ve seen that look on you,” Bret said.

What look?” Tess asked.

The one where you could fall asleep at any moment, but you’re still more alert than anyone else.”

Tess smiled. It was a professional hazard, one she took, as with most of her flaws, as a badge of success.

So I can’t believe he hasn’t told you himself,” Tess said.

Tell me what?” Bret sat down on the couch. Tess pulled her laptop off the cluttered desk and sat down next to him.

Bret saw the page, the familiar banner ads and background colors. Albums’ site was nothing special in terms of looks. But people loved it.

Tess scrolled. Bret saw the photo of the governor. It was Bret’s photo.

Did something new happen? I don’t understand.” Bret asked.

Read the article, honey.”

So Bret read the article about the governor he singlehandedly brought down. Apparently, Fane had visited Album in his home. Apparently he’d asked for advice, now that his life was in tatters. Apparently he was friendly, and humbled.

I don’t believe any of this,” Bret muttered, but kept reading.

Fane was disappointed in how he acted after being caught. He was having trouble sleeping. He felt his apology to the state three days after the photo went viral was ham-fisted. Apparently, the speech had been prepared by a cabinet member. It read eerily similar to the one used by the governor of Minnesota from three years ago. His wife stood next to him on the podium, too. Her head was down, too.

Apology theater, Fane called it.

At the end of the article, Album explained that Fane was going to organize a press conference tomorrow. That it was going to be by himself. No telepromptors. No party support.

I don’t believe it,” Bret said again.

I didn’t see it either. But, you know, your friend gets read by lots of people.”

Tess moved the page over to CNN. It showed the picture, with all the limbs, the flash bulb red-eyes, the looks of shame and the beginnings of rage. All those limbs, Bret thought. Fuck, all those limbs. The story under the photo confirmed what Album said on the blog.

Tess switched it over to FOX. To the Huffington Post. Yahoo and Google and the AP all said the same thing.

Well,” Bret said, unable to really piece together an opinion.

I know, right? Isn’t it fucked up that he’d go and find Album?”

That’s for sure.” Bret chewed nothing.

After a moment of staring at the end of the article, Tess asked, Bret? What are you thinking?”

Hmm?”

I can tell you’re worried, or confused, or something. But this is big, right?”

Yeah, I guess it’s pretty big.”

Bret, come on.”

Bret looked at Tess in the same tired, excited way. He learned it from her. Honestly, who knows what this means. It could be some new political ploy. Maybe a desperate attempt to get his job back? I don’t know. I’m not into this stuff.”

Whatever, Bret. The only reason this is happening is because of you. You broke this whole shit wide the fuck open.”

I think I need to lie down,” Bret said, getting up, moving to the bedroom. Tess followed after him. He crumpled down on her bed, the only clean surface in the house. Tess lay down beside him. He looked up at her constellation-looking crackle ceiling, the egg-white getting stained with age and light. Tess looked at Bret looking up.

I ruined the man’s life, Tess,” Bret said. I’m not saying he didn’t deserve to be caught, and that his stupid hammed-up apology didn’t reek of political garbage. But he’s a man, and I ran that man’s face through the mud.”

Tess grabbed hold of his hand. She squeezed.

The worst part is,” he said. This is what I do. I help ruin people for a living.”

I’m not sure it’s really that different from what you were doing before,” Tess said.

Bret turned over, looked Tess in the eyes. What the hell am I doing with my life?”

I don’t know, sweetie. I guess I threw you for a loop, huh?”

Don’t blame yourself. It was my fault we didn’t work out.”

No,” Tess said. I started it. You wanted to leave. You wanted to get out of this city before it ate you up. Before it did to you what it’s obviously done to you.”

Tess said, I’m so, so sorry.”

Bret said seven things in his head but all he did with his mouth was kiss her.

He stopped. She kissed him. They met halfway the third time. They stopped talking altogether. Bret’s hand went through Tess’ hair. Tess’ hand pressed against Bret’s chest, her other hand reaching down.

He opened his eyes once, and just for a split second, just to make sure this was really happening.

Belts loosened by force. Shirts pulled over heads. Bret lost track of a little time.

Tess laid next to Bret after she’d come. Do you want me to finish you?” She asked.

In a minute,” Bret said. Breath catching and all.”

Both wanted the air to be colder outside, for northwestern ocean winds to shatter the desert and create a Record Year for Rainfall. Tess and Bret felt home, and then they felt less.

Okay,” Bret said. They went to work on the issue at hand.

She kissed him. At last, they’d touched again. It had been too long a year. The senses had dulled too much. And yet.

You need to get out of here,” Tess said.

What?”

I’m serious,” she said. This isn’t a good idea. I came to my senses.”

You came to your senses quick,” Bret said.

Look, I love you, but this isn’t going to work.” Tess held her hair back, and cracked her neck.

Do I even need to ask why?” Bret said, sitting up.

Because you don’t know what you want, or who you are. You’ve been damaged, and some of that is my fault, but you need to fix yourself a little before we can even have this conversation.”

But,” Bret began.

Go,” Tess slammed. Just get out of here before I never want to see you again.”

So you’ve written a first draft

Here’s some advice I gave a while ago on the social network that I think bears repeating.Once you’ve got a finished first draft, you need to decide whether or not you want it to be published by a major company, a minor company, or to essentially go into business for yourself. All three options have their strengths and weaknesses, and all three can be considered at the same time if you have a little bit of juggling talent.You say you want to live off of your writing, so the first thing you should do is absolutely ignore anyone who wants to take thousands of dollars from you to publish your book. I can’t go as far as call them scams, since they will do what they claim (generally), but they are certainly profiting off the public’s naivety when it comes to publishing. Here’s a comparison of pricing from what they charge to what it actually costs (actual cost in brackets, generated from other companies and common sense): Let’s take Booksurge, a popular self publisher. For thetop of the line $6000package, (the offer is no longer valid) they gave you:

25 copies of your book (at most, $250) 10 images (free) cover design (varies from 200-400) book formatting (200-300) Online listings everywhere (tops out at 500) book trailer (anywhere from free to 200) Independent review (one should never pay for a review other than mailing a copy. It’s dishonest and cheap) Editing (a quality editor will do a novel for no more than 1000)

Using the top prices out of my examples, it comes to a total of 2,650. I have no idea where Booksurge gets off charges more than twice that. My advice is to stay away from any company would charge more than $2000 for a package deal. And that’s if you want to go the route of having a company publish your book. By all means, send your work to agents and publishers. The only thing you will lose by doing that is postage, and the gains are unpredictable and vast if everything works out. The chances are not great. Even the J.K. Rowlings and Stephen King’s of the world are rejected hundreds of times before breaking through. My advice is to never give up on major publishing, but to never bank on it working out, either. I would also suggest sending your book out to medium-to-small sized publishers as well, but make sure that if you do get an offer that they are little more than something like Booksurge. There are many small publishers out there that do not have the capabilities to edit and typeset your book and expect you to do the majority of the work. Then, there are publishers who will put the book together for you but cannot help with promotions or anything involving the web. These are not necessarily places to avoid, but they are ones you have to seriously think about. You have to decide whether it is in your best interest to give up your rights to people who may or may not be able to help you. Finally, there’s simply going into business for yourself. This route definitely takes the largest amount of work, but it has the strengths of giving you complete control. Authors have the advantage of following in the footsteps of the independent music shift online this decade, and there are tons of routes to self publish and market. What becomes your responsibility is making sure your book looks and feels professional, because nobody is going to buy a book that doesn’t look like a finished product. This is where publishing services like Booksurge come in. We’re working here at Gredunza to create a database of these services so that new authors can compare services, which puts the power in your hand. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to use any of these services, as well. You can do everything in separate stages. Here’s a basic checklist of what you need to do in order to hold your professional book in your hands: A professional proofread and substantial edit. A professional typesetting and layout job. A printer or printing company that will make your book a physical product (if you want to still make physical books) Someone who knows how to make electronic copies of your book (PDF is actually not good enough if you want your book in electronic stores). Someone who can make a website for you (of course, you can always make one yourself for free if all you want is a blog). Someone who can help you book readings and do marketing.

And that’s it, really. You can actually do all this yourself with the exception of editing, because nobody should ever edit their own work (rule #1 in publishing, really).

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 5

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


There are many theoretical things to do in Vegas on a hot, clear afternoon. The first three assumptions are based in the part of one’s brain that never lets go of things it should probably never achieve in the first place–of course there was gambling, cheap sex, and liquor every which way you went. Nothing about the temptations of Vegas were difficult; with enough luck, Bret could play the mid-western fantasy card all week. But these options didn’t appeal to him. It wasn’t that he didn’t revel in the soft-lit fantasy that Vegas promoters spread across the country–that everything stays here, dammit–because he enjoyed Ocean’s 11 as much as anyone else. It was that he had stashed very little precious lucre. So on these kind of days, Bret and Album drove into the desert and turned it into a driving range.

Album had a full set of clubs. He said they were a gift from his father. As Album handed Bret the light, thin titanium driver, he said, My father wanted me to hit things in life. Knock em out. Kick life in the balls. That’s what I got out of it, anyway.”

Bret and Album were out six miles from the city limits, out where the desert could actually produce a quality mirage. There were mountains to the east, but mostly Album and Bret stared at illusionary western horizons. Out here, golf was mostly about hitting rocks into the abyss. Everyone who’d ever done it agreed; though it made the game infinitely more pointless, it was way more fun than paying for it in town.

Album and Bret wore khaki shorts and buttoned up light shirts. They both wore sunglasses. They’d forgotten the sunscreen.

We’re going to burn like crazy,” Bret felt necessary to point out.

Album responded. You’re going to burn like crazy. It’s not my fault your pale Canadian ass can’t handle the sun.”

Album was smoking a cigar. Bret was lighting his up. They were celebrating.

Watch, watch,” Album said. I’ll be the president.”

Album cinched up on his driver and looked back at Bret. We’ll get those terrorists, now watch this drive.” The rock flew a hundred meters and landed on ancestry.

It had been a few days since Bret had been beaten unconscious in a back hallway of the Wynn, and he wasn’t one hundred percent. His jaw still hurt like a son of a bitch, and his sides would be splitting if not for the cornucopia of America-grade painkillers. He took too many, and felt fantastic. It had also been a few days since one of his pictures had incidentally captured Triceen Baldwin making out with a guy.

That fake Christian fuck figured he was safe. Ha!” Album gloated, inhaling the thick Cuban smoke. Six million hits so far. Thousands of pings. Five hundred comments. Page Six wants to advertise with us. I can’t believe you didn’t notice him until we uploaded it.”

Bret picked up a skipping rock from the pile and dropped it to the ground. He said, I was as surprised as you. It’s not like I notice people like Baldwin, generally. He’s not exactly our kind of butter, so I never really keep an eye out. Sides, it was really smoky in there and I was a little distracted at the bar.”

Gina? Was that her name?”

Yeah,” Bret smacked the rock hard. It flew further than Albums’, but nobody was keeping score.

I can’t believe you told her you were a producer from Toronto.”

I know,” Bret said. I’ve never even been to Toronto.”

Album said, I’m not even sure where it is.”

It’s near Detroit,” Bret said. Other side of the lake.”

Lake?”

Bret swung at a smaller pebble. You’ve never even looked at a map east of the Rockies, have you?”

Fuck east of the Rockies.” Album said. Gina sounded hot, you should give me her number.”

I have her card in my apartment,” Bret said. And you should stop spreading the stereotype that American’s can’t even find themselves on a map.”

At least I don’t download Curling championships on Bit Torrent.”

All right, you’ve gone through your Canadian jokes for the week.”

It’s not a joke if you actually did it,” He said, swinging his driver and hitting his stone the farthest so far. Beat that, one, hoser.”

I don’t know if you’d like her,” Bret said. She looked like the kind of girl who would get slurry after a few drinks.”

But you don’t know for sure,” Album said. Besides, not all girls get slurry when they drink. Some of them get bisexual.”

Bret stepped up to a new stone. It looked like it belonged at the bottom of a fast-flowing river, it was so round and smooth. He swung back and his shoulder gave out. He dropped to a knee and let out a fuck,” before grasping it with his other hand. He could feel the muscles rip and bruise. He wasn’t nearly a hundred percent yet.

Maybe it was too early to golf,” he said, coughing.

Album laughed. Take it easy, buddy. You put it all up for the craft. You deserve a few days off.”

The craft,” Bret laughed. Funny. I didn’t realize mercenary celebrity destruction was an art.”

It is when you do it, douche,” Album said. I’ve never seen a pap with your kind of malice.”

Thanks,” Bret said, slowly getting up, rubbing his ribs. I think I’m done for the day. You keep swinging. I’ll stand back and remind you how much the world hates you people.”

Album stood back, rotating his driver in his hand like it was a weapon. He said, What do you mean, you people?”

Bret laughed. It was funny because he couldn’t have picked a more American thing to do with his life, but acting as the conduit between the worshipped and the worshipping left him with few friends on either side.

Album focused on a new pebble near his feet. He toyed with it, kicking it around, looking for the best angle from which to smack it into the sun. He poked at it with the end of the driver. He had no sympathy for the rock. His arms swung back and his full weight went into the follow-through, and wouldn’t you know it, the small little goddamn pebble flew further than any rock either of them had ever swung a stick at.

Can I ask you something that’s been bothering me?” Album asked, assuming no reward was needed for soundly kicking Bret’s ass at their favorite past time. It was very much like Album to win and then immediately change the subject. Bret was used it, so all Bret said as they strode back to Album’s 2006 Lancer was Sure.”

The blog is doing great numbers. That Baldwin shot alone got us front page on Digg and link-backs from TMZ and Huffington. We’re shooting millions.”

Is there a problem hidden in there somewhere I don’t know about?”

Call me old fashioned,” Album said. But I sometimes get the feeling that the shallow celebrity bullshit we peddle is a little impermanent.”

They got in the car. Album turned the key and passed the Zune, attached to the stereo like a baby still attached to its mother, to Bret. As Bret scrolled around to something bearable, he thought This is something I would worry about, not you. What’s the deal?”

Look, I know I don’t care and all that shit, but it would be nice to leave a lasting impression, you know? Something with matter that matters, if that makes sense.”

It doesn’t, and you don’t,” Bret said. Need I remind you it’s people like you who are destroying the newspaper and magazine industry, giving away all this hot gossip and not charging a dime for it?”

I consider it a public service,” Album said, slyly defending the true grit of it.

You consider it a cash grab by your advertisers,” Bret replied. He was right. And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with usurping the old guard. There’s absolutely no future in print or publishing, because bastards like us pulled the rug out.”

Look, I know that,” Album said. I just feel like it would be nice to do something real, something that has lasting impact.”

Like what?”

Album replied, Like, what if we printed out the blog. Published it on paper.”

Bret laughed. Let me get this straight. You’re going to spend money to print out articles that you’ve already published on the website. A website that, and I shouldn’t have to remind you, is bookmarked on every cell phone and laptop in the city. There isn’t a curious person in Vegas who doesn’t check us out at least once a day, and you want to go and ruin it by putting the stories on the same antiquated time delay as newspapers?”

When you put it that way,” Album said. It makes you sound like a dick.”

I don’t know, Album,” Bret said. There’s a time and a place for wacky backwards ideas. You’ve got a great thing with the site. Why potentially ruin it with an idea that’s failing all over the world?”

Album thought about it as they drove. They listened to random samples of music. The songs would last 30 or 40 seconds before Bret would get bored and switch them up. He’d skim to good parts. He’d rate the songs as he went, even though they belonged to Album. Not once on the ride home did they listen to a single song all the way through, and not once did either of them notice.

Maybe,” Album said. Maybe it’s not the idea of a newspaper that’s failing. Maybe it’s just the assholes that run them.”

Bret had no great comeback for that one, so he let it slide. The air, dry and full of dead human cells, silently judged them both.

# # #

Tess sat back on her couch in her living room and looked around at all her cheap, useless shit. Just about everything in her apartment was procured by working one promotion or another. She sat there in her free Playboy robe and slippers and drank her free Folgers instant coffee in a free brown Duracell mug. She had showered using sample-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles stolen from a hotel party a few weeks before. Her apartment was filthy with free. She looked around. She tried to smile about it. I love my job,” she said aloud. But nobody, free or purchased, was around to hear it.

Tess had been surprised to no end when she first found the work enjoyable. She recalled the original pangs of degradation and objectivity; they seemed so antiquated in the face of the sheer amount of control she held. Not that the job was never degrading, and not that she didn’t find herself objectified. What had surprised Tess most was when she found semblances of guilty pleasure in those aspects of the job. She found herself owning the degrading aspects in ways she learned back in Vancouver. Sheer feminist drive kept her in charge. She was able to separate the self of choice with the self of charisma; she allowed only pieces of herself to be seen and sullied. When she worked, her smile was wider than when she smiled genuinely. She wore twice as much makeup on the job than off. Often, she used different names. In the past year, Tess had given dozens of fake phone numbers attached to fake names; Josephine, Irene, Lucy. She played it as she saw it, a great game of masks and chance.

As for the objectivity, Tess had found early on a deep-rooted feeling of compliment. She accepted the idea that people found her beautiful for exclusively surface reasons. This was not the most difficult concept to wrap her head around: she, like the models and the actors and the other women who use their body to make a living, felt righteous in utilizing a god-given gift. But the point she held highest was that she didn’t work promo because she had too; it was voluntary. She once told Trice she’d do it for free if the money weren’t so good.

Holding the problems at bay was sometimes too much for Tess. As much as she would successfully and honestly justify her job with the simplest addition of pleasure, the entire argument fell apart on the nights where pleasure felt forced and thoughts of the public consciousness seeped in. These happened rarely, but one was happening now.

Bret had called her the morning after the Wynn party, and she learned the feeling attached to the old cliché of being beside herself.” She literally felt like she, her real self, was sitting a foot to the left of her professional self. She saw the promo girl that kept a snap-knife in the back of her boot, who was never accompanied to her car without friends, and who would have real trouble letting family disownment roll off her back the way Trice was forced to do. As much as she empathized with Bret, and as much as she wanted to help him with his career and help mend their shattered friendship, she could see exactly why Trice refused to simply let past mistakes go. Tess put inches between who she was and what she did. This shielded her, but it also spliced her up the middle, turning her smiling beauty into something more incomplete than she’d like.

And while Tess’ personal self felt sympathy for Bret and his mistakes, the Tess to the right claimed sly responsibility. She, the hound, once a friend of the fox, had become an instinctive predator, unknowingly giving herself an assist in the checkbox. She hadn’t known what would happen to Bret when she invited him. She was only trying to help, as she’d done a few times in the past. She did know security might be dangerous, and that Bret would have had to be at the top of his game in order to pull through. And he wasn’t, which initially confused her. She knew Bret was nowhere near as good as he had been in the past. The loss of Jenny and the breaking political story took tremendous toll on her friend.

The question she had for herself asking though, was Trice’s revenge something Tess wanted to happen?

Trice’s name appeared on Tess’ phone, and she shook off this personal mind for the time being. She picked up.

You need a ride tonight?” Trice asked, without context.

Tess took a second to answer. I think I’m going to call in dead for this one.”

Trice knew what this was about. She had an answer prepared.

Tess, my girl, your ex got what he deserved.”

Tess cradled back on her couch, legs folded. Her elbows hit knees. She bundled herself as best she could with the phone still held tight. She felt cold and distant, as she often did on days when her big crazy life decision felt unreal and more punishment than epiphany.

 On the other side, Trice offered solace. Tessy, girl. I can promise you two things. The first is that if I wasn’t the one who got him, someone else would have. It was only a matter of time before he got his nose in somewhere he didn’t belong, because that’s his job, okay? It’s a paparazzi’s job, babe. They go where they’re not supposed to, and sometimes they lose out. It was bound to happen sooner and later.”

Tess remained quiet and cold. Not much was ever capable of locking her down. The only other times she’d felt this way were in deeply-entrenched arguments with Bret in the later portions of their relationship, when logic and commerce and happiness got in the way of their happily ever after tour.

The second thing, and I definitely promise this will happen,” Trice said. Is that you will find yourself in this position. One of those assholes will either get you or someone you love in a compromising position, and they’ll plaster that shit everywhere to make their buck. You won’t have any say in the matter except what you might do to the son of a bitch after.”

Tess the professional, Tess the coworker, the clock punching, ass-shaking feign-perplexed short blonde bombshell, she knew this was true. She’d smiled at too many cameras to think otherwise.

And the worst part of it,” Trice continued. The worst fucking part of it all is that at the end of the day, they weren’t taking pictures of us. We just happened to be close enough to some ugly, old, decrepit celebrity. Someone who can’t fake it like we can and can’t apply their own makeup without a fucking crew. We’re just collateral damage”

Tess tongued her cheek. I don’t know we’re that innocent Trice.”

Not the point, bitch,” Trice said.

Tess stammered, but then said, I need you to promise me one thing.”

Sure babe, just tell me you’re coming tonight. I need a friend out there.”

Okay, I’ll come,” Tess said. And I can’t argue with you with anything you said. I can’t really say Bret didn’t put himself in harms way. And I can’t blame you for wanting revenge. I think it’s cruel, and it’s black, and it’s a bullshit world we live in, but these things fucking happen.”

I knew you’d see it my way,” Trice said.

Still,” Tess cut her off. I need you to promise me one more thing. You need to promise me that whatever shit that’s left over between Bret and you is done. He hurt you. You hurt him. You hurt him real bad, Trice. I saw the blood. I saw the swelling. The guy is in bad shape. You did your damage. Just please promise me it’s over.”

Tess had exhausted her goodwill. It was one of those nights where she would close her eyes and picture sitting in her old Vancouver apartment, drinking coffee and reading used books.

Trice, on the other hand, always had an invisible body of extra energy following her around wherever she went. She stepped heavy, and looked firm, like she’d take a swing at you as easily as give you a sample pack of sponsored smokes. This kind of energy became the kind of thing a person came to expect, so Tess was understandably surprised when she heard a defeatist whimper of a sigh come through the phone.

Fine,” Trice admitted. But only because you still have feelings for the bastard, and because I need you.”

You need me?”

As a friend,” Trice said. It’s so hard having a good fucking friend in this city. Everyone is constantly throwing one another down the well.”

Tess, relieved, loosened her limbs, took a breath, and thanked her friend. And then defended herself. I don’t still have feelings for him. I’m just glad we’re friends again.”

Bitch don’t even,” Trice thrust back, then hung up.

# # #

Album dominated his game. He’d learned to claw the controller the same way that gaming world champion guy had, with his index finger on the right side buttons, his middle finger on the trigger and his thumb on the right analogue. It was a painful way to play, but he won with it so often it had to be worth it. He never thought whether it was good for him to torture his hands in such painful ways. He just did it, and he’d made that decision a long time ago. Don’t think too hard. Just do. He listened to NIKE. He listened to them in ways they never intended.

The guy, the voice on the other end of the microphone, the voice with no head or anything other than a moving avatar on screen, he asked Album, If it hurts so much, why do it? Aren’t you here to relax?”

No,” Album replied into the tiny headset. It itched a little against his hair, but he ignored it. I’m here because playing big war games makes me stupid, and I need to be stupid for a while sometimes. Head in the sand shit. You know.”

What?”

You heard me. I do it because it makes me temporarily idiotic.”

Sorry,” the voice crackled. I have no idea what that means, what you’re saying just now.”

Look,” Album said. I’m not trying to be insulting. For all I know you’re doing this because it helps you study for the LSATS. But for me, this is about dull, insipid idiocy. This relaxes me because it shuts my brain right off. It takes so few brain cells to play this game and talk to you that I’m almost in a coma.”

I really don’t know how you can’t make that sound insulting.”

Well, it’s not. Maybe it’s insulting if this is the pinnacle of your mental prowess, but I somehow doubt it. You know? It’s not a bad thing to want to be dumb sometimes. I mean, come on. Scientifically, we’re like 3% off from baboons, right? What do baboons do all day? Shit, eat, fuck, and sleep. God, if only that’s all the world expected of us. But we’re expected to get up early, do jobs we hate, watch bad sitcoms with our boring spouses, and then have boring vanilla sex with them so that we can raise boring, selfish babies. If we didn’t have things like video games that turned us into blithering morons for a little while, we’d all go insane. Some of have…hey, look around, faggot. Some of us have sex, porn, fucking local sports teams. You know, go Patriots and that shit. UFC, beer, reality shows, home improvement, whatever.”

The voice on the other end, he wasn’t anyone Album really knew, but Album kept talking anyway.

Sometimes it’s something we love, like a hobby or a family. Sometimes it’s something we hate, like a nemesis, but it always pulverizes the really genius part of our brains and lets us act like the half baked animals we really are. You know, like the soldier who, while explaining some philosophy he just pulled out of his ass as a distraction method, has successfully snuck up behind you and is aiming a rifle at your pretty little teabaggable head.”

Album’s right ring finger painfully pulled the trigger.

See? Wasn’t that awesome? I may be in it for the stupidity, but I’m still going strong. And I’m better for it. Aren’t you? Aren’t we all?”

Album just heard a click, and the player disappeared.

# # #

Bret hoofed it with hot cash in hand, walking in old shoes and looking through red, pained eyes. He still hadn’t been able to sleep proper since the pounding, but he was rich in layman’s terms. Album had given him two grand in hundreds. They were tight-rolled in a pair of rubber bands, tossed into his hands as payment for his troubles. Let it never be said his line of work lacked greenery.

It was a hot, predictably dry day. He’d enjoyed the golf, and was surprised by the luscious the payout. He knew Baldwin’s picture had won big, but two grand was still a hell of a lot of cash for a single picture, no matter what the royalty. He thought about the idea of blood money. Even as a kid, he’d always looked at money as payment for something sacrificed. Money enticed people to spend time in jobs they wouldn’t otherwise take. Money got people to take their clothes off on a stage. Money was used to shut up a person, or to keep them in line. He remembered the Million Dollar Man, a wrestling character from the 80s, the way he’d maniacally laugh and state everyone’s got a price.” The two grand in Bret’s pocket, that was an insurance policy to make sure he wouldn’t think twice about finding another career in this city. But he was thinking. Money couldn’t stop someone from thinking, only doing.

Bret thought more than once about buying a plane ticket back to Vancouver. With two grand, Bret could buy a one-way to Vancouver International and put first and last on a downtown bachelor. Well, maybe first at least. He could take the governors advice and get out while he still had most of his teeth. He could go back to his life, back to what he did before. He thought about returning to the old job with Gas and Terry, doing what they did, not being able to tell anyone. It drove Bret nuts.

The reasons for coming to Vegas in the first place had all evaporated over the year. The city broke his relationship with Tess. The city turned him into a leprous dealer of megapixel skin. The city had torn his ties with home. He blamed himself, he blamed Album, and he blamed Tess for not bailing out when the time had come. None of this would have happened if they had kept to the plan.

Bret saw a camera store. Perhaps a ludicrously expensive impulse purchase might make the swelling go down.

Bells above the door jingled, signaling his arrival. The store was square, with one island row in the middle with new models. He noticed the camera bags, black with over-the-shoulder holsters, leather models with snaps and cushioning. He noticed the display of tripods, extenders, and water-proof cases. As he shopped around, he looked at memory cards of all shapes and sizes. One 8 gig card cost twice as much as another, with no discernible features to set it apart. Bret saw the wifi cards he’d heard of from other paps, the ones that’ll zap photos over the web as they’re taken. He found them disappointing. It was something to not have to connect a camera, but what Bret really wanted–what all paparazzi wanted–was a GPS camera that would upload shots the second they were taken. That way, even if they were assaulted, they wouldn’t lose the shots. But that sort of instant-upload technology still seemed a few years away, though he’d heard the iPhone might be able to do it when it came out, though he also heard it would have sex with you and turn into a magic carpet.

Bret took a look at the photo printers, book binding systems, software. All sorts of boxes promising fantastic photo editing, management, and distribution services. The camera store sold tablets for Photoshop users, affordable for even teenagers. He didn’t want to think it, but he couldn’t help it; when he was a kid, this shit was expensive.

Two computers with a dozen slots for easy input stood on the left wall, close to the register. People could take pictures and print them right there, right from the memory card. Bret half wondered if the guy at the counter actually had to do anything besides make sure nothing got lifted.

Bret looked at the cameras. He owned three cameras already, but all of them had taken their share of beatings over the course of time. His bulky SLR got a nasty system shock back in November when it was ripped from his neck and tossed by an overzealous Wynona Ryder. The delete” button never worked again after that. His handy little point and shoot was scuffed all to hell, and the screen barely registered. As for the little camera he had with him last time, it worked fine. For some ungodly karmic reason, the clunky piece of spy equipment was the only thing that worked properly in Bret’s life.

In the year since Bret had bought a new camera, features had skyrocketed. Where 6 megapixels was cutting edge in 2005, 9 appeared to be the new standard. Where simple pointing and shooting was once good enough for digital cameras, touch screens and face recognition filled the description cards.

The store was lit bright, well-spaced, and half-empty, but Bret, standing close to the back of the new camera section, saw a man come into the store. He had to look twice to recognize him, and he half panicked when he did. The photographer who had ambushed his shot with Rosario Dawson.

Bret ducked, and watched the man browse the memory card shelf. He was tall and lean. He wore a leather jacket and jeans. He didn’t appear to have a camera on him. Bret circled around to the other side of the aisle. He wanted to confront him, but wanted to cut him off from the exit, first. Bret had meant to find this guy on his own time, but getting him in the daylight in a public store seemed unlikely. Then again, he was a camera man; eventually they show up in camera stores.

As the camera man browsed the new models, Bret moved around the store. As he crept, he heard the employee at the till ask the camera man if he needed any help. Bret saw him shake his head. In a few seconds, he would be right behind him.

He didn’t know what he was going to say. Bret hadn’t been given enough time to plan, but he couldn’t just leave. At first, he thought this guy was just another paparazzi, a competitor. But the balcony left no mystery; he was following Bret, trying to psyche him out.

Why?” Bret asked allowed. He stood behind the camera man. The camera man, he stood still, didn’t turn around.

Why?” Bret asked again. You’ve been following me. I want to know why.”

Bret knew the cashier had heard him. It wasn’t that big of a store. If anyone else had been in there, they would have heard, too, and they would have figured Bret was nuts. Bret watched the cashiers’ eyes. The cashier thought Bret was nuts.

The camera man, he said, Are you sure I’m following you? Don’t you think it would have been harder to sneak up on me?”

You were outside the Venetian. You took my shot.”

I took your shot?” The camera man asked, though it wasn’t really a question than an attempt at correction. His voice wasn’t as low as Bret thought it would be. It had flavour, a slight accent, a little bit of coffee. Bret couldn’t place it.

Bret said. You took a shot of me.”

I see,” the camera man said. You want answers.”

That would be nice,” Bret said.

The camera man turned around, faced Bret, looked down on him. He was taller by a solid six inches. Leaner, too, but older by 5, maybe 6 years. The two looked one another in the eyes. Bret looked with confusion, the camera man looked with ease. Bret didn’t take it as anything. The camera man held all the cards.

The camera man asked, What do you want to know, padre?”

The cashier, he popped his head out from behind the till and asked if there was going to be any trouble. Neither man said anything back.

Bret asked, Why are you following me?”

The camera man smiled. On his cheeks, lines appeared. He was older than he looked. He said, I’m following you because you need to be followed.”

Bret didn’t take long to formulate a new question, though he hadn’t begun to digest the last answer. Who’s paying you to follow me?”

Bret,” he said. You should know right away that I’m not allowed to give you that kind of information.”

Is it the governor?”

What governor?” The camera man asked.

Bret assumed Fane had ties with shady organizations. He was his first suspect simply because he was the most powerful person Bret knew. Is that a no?” Bret asked.

Forgive me for being cryptic, but you must understand that some things take time to surface,” he said. But sleep easy.”

And why should I do that?”

Because I’m on your side,” he said.

Wait,” Bret said. You’re following me, but you’re on my side?”

That’s right,” the camera man said. Now get out of here.”

Who are you?” Bret asked.

The camera man tried to side-step Bret, but he wouldn’t let him go. Bret asked again.

Who are you?”

The camera man tried to get around Bret again, but he kept blocking. An exasperated look showed up across his face, so he pretended to go one way but stood his ground. When Bret moved to block him in the aisle, he received a harsh shove. Bret fell back into the aisle, knocking several cameras off their podiums.

Bret pulled himself up, but the camera man was already at the door. Bret ran out, asking the same question again. He bolted out the door into the street, but the camera man was gone.

Bret’s back was shooting pain. He’d been beaten twice in the last week, and his injuries were piling up. Getting shoved back into rough-edged display electronics didn’t help. He held his sides and doubled over. More than anything, he felt helpless. He was being followed by a man with no name, no clear motive, and who was both faster and stronger.

# # #

As Bret trekked back to his car, he thought about Terry, his coworker back in Vancouver. Terry understood Bret’s departure more than anyone. It had everything to do with the work. Bret needed a change, and Terry suggested the states.

Everything’s easier down there,” Terry had told him late one night. They were out at their favourite bar downtown. The place stank of pot, but they weren’t smoking. America is a cinch. Low taxes. Everything is super cheap. Nobody assumes they have the right to know you, to ask questions. People keep to themselves.”

That would be nice,” Bret had said, laughing. But you’ve got to admit the irony of a gay dude advising his friends to move to America.”

They’ll get their shit together soon enough,” Terry said. They can’t stay in the dark ages forever. Don’t worry; they’ll elect a democrat in the next election and she’ll fix everything.”

Hilary, huh?”

She’s a shoe-in,” Terry said. She’ll clean up the whole mess. And until then, you can lay low in republican paranoia and low gas prices.”

Just for a few months,” Bret said. I love this city. I love you guys. I don’t want to lose this. I just need to get away for a long vacation.”

Terry, he said, We understand. We all do. This job is hard on everyone.”

I’ve got enough money saved up for a few weeks off, but any more than that and I’ll need to get a job. I wonder if I can do something over the net.”

Forget that,” Terry said. That’s the other awesome thing about the states. There’s hundreds of jobs in every city never ask you for tax info. They pay cash and don’t ask questions.”

What kind of job does that?”

Terry thought for a second and then snapped his fingers. Album!”

Album? Like a record?”

No, no,” Terry said. I know this guy in Vegas. Album Yukes.”

Weird name,” Bret said.

It’s not his real name,” Terry said. It’s his avatar.”

Avatar?”

He’s a professional blogger. He does celebrity gossip and shit like that.”

What about him?”

I was online with him a few weeks ago. He’s looking for a photographer. He wants to take his site to the next level. Apparently he wants to pay well.”

Terry, I’ve never so much taken a picture of my mother’s cat.” Bret said, drinking his pint.

How hard can it be?” Terry said. Point. Shoot. Run away. Easy.”

Bret was receptive to the idea, if a little confused about the concept. Where is this Album Yukes?”

Terry took a long drink and said Las Vegas.”

Terry explained that the neon swell of cheap thrills and good old American excess might distract the voice that was telling Bret to burn all his possessions.

It was a stupid, crazy plan that worked until it didn’t. Somehow, Bret had never thought to blame Terry until this moment.

Fucker,” he said to nobody. This is all his fault.”

Bret found the keys to his car and opened the door. He started the engine, still holding his side. His back hurt against the seat. He needed some rest, some pills, and some perspective. He thought about Jenny, and how if he’d just kept his goddamn mouth shut none of this would have happened.

# # #

Fane’s campaign office was all but empty. Banners stacked six by six against the walls, next to picket signs with his name, next to a fold-up table holding bumper stickers and pamphlets, next to a series of laptops for interns and correspondents to do research, across from a series of desks for the paid employees. Four seats away from the bumper stickers, Jenny Kingston was backing up the last of the emails. She was charged with taking all of the server files, emails, jpegs, tiffs, quark files, queries, form letters, all of it, and storing two sets onto to encrypted external hard drives. Jenny sat in her black, plush, comfortable chair, sipping coffee out of a cup with Fane’s name on it. His name was in red. Jenny always thought it should have been in blue. She watched the window on her computer that showed files moving from one drive to another, the same white page floating from one yellow folder to the next. She saw the overall file size. Every single file regarding Fane’s campaign for the primaries totaled twenty four gigabytes. Every single video, photo, and communication during the last eight months fit in a space smaller than her music collection at home. It made Jenny feel old fashioned.

Jenny sat alone, watching the files float. The sun was beginning to go down. The wind was beginning to pick up. Out the front window, Jenny could see a coffee shop and a bar. It was busy. Fuck,” she thought. I could use a goddamn drink.”

Though she’d done her best to conceal her relationship with Bret, several of her coworkers knew the score. They knew he was a paparazzi, and they could do simple math. Once it became common knowledge that Bret had done the stakeout and taken the picture, word spread quick that Jenny might have had something to do with it. The first two days after the blog post had been the hardest. There were literally thousands of emails to defer; everyone went into crisis control mode. Everyone stayed all night trying to fan the flames. In the morning the next day, 24 hours after the post, Fane accepted the fact that it was out there. He called up a republican committee representative that handles crisis involving sexual scandals. The podium of shame came out. A press conference was called for noon. Every major news channel was in attendance. This was the kind of news that could single-handedly carry the 24/7 news cycle through a weekend.

Jenny was a little more than pissed that this story is what finally landed her a panel seat on MSNBC.

It had been three weeks since the incident. The news channels had moved onto other things. They’d scraped them clean. All there was left to do was clean up the office and go back to whatever it was they had all done before.

Jenny had a private meeting with Fane a few hours after the incident. He wanted answers about Bret. He wanted to know how it all happened. Jenny lied to save her job. She had said that Bret had figured out her password and was reading her email. She called him a jealous boyfriend. She told Fane that Bret thought the two of them were having an affair. The lie had everything going for it. It exonerated her from any real responsibility, painted Bret as the sole problem, and flattered her boss.

Reggie had smiled at the lie, at the thought that he was having an affair with his secretary. I suppose that sort of thing has been known to happen,” he said. And I have to give it to him. He smelled an affair.”

Yes,” Jenny said. But that doesn’t forgive him for what he did.”

Reggie asked her, Are you going to keep seeing this man?”

Reggie,” she said. He violated my trust. He threatened my career and he went out of his way to destroy yours. If I don’t kill him, I’ll be showing incredible restraint.”

Jenny had shown incredible restraint. Over the next two days she’d kicked Bret out of her apartment. He’d gone to crash on the asshole’s couch. She threatened to burn all of his stuff, and nearly went through with it. She was white-hot angry, the kind that usually ends with a punch to the gut. That was the other thing. Even though she wanted to beat Bret within an inch of his life, she knew she’d regret it. She had to force herself down from violence a few times. She kept telling herself that she’d regret it. Over and over in her mind, the old childhood motto, violence never solved anything.

Jenny was putting a lot more Baileys in her coffee over the last three weeks.

Slowly, the files ticked along, from one folder to another.

Reggie didn’t have to fire her because the whole office was out of a job anyway. Once the files were finished downloading, she was to take one to Reggie’s house and place the other in his safety deposit box. When that was done, it was done. She was free. The campaign would be officially over.

Reggie was out of a job, too. The representatives of the party had asked for his resignation within hours of the scandal. He remained the governor of Nevada only because there were a few hundred t’s to cross. That was always the problem with being a representative. The second you stop representing the populace that voted you in, you were out. The irony, something Jenny held onto as the only amusing aspect of the whole mess, was that Reggie hadn’t really done a great job of representing the people of Nevada until he started fucking around.

Jenny sipped her coffee, and watched her job slowly transfer away.

# # #

Album had been killed by his own men for the last fucking time.

Goddamn you to the 12th circle, Gary!”

I’m not Gary, I’m Joker143.” Gary said through his headset, two thousand miles away.

Album gave him no quarter. Gary, I don’t care what stupid gamer tag you use. I met you at the Bloggers conference in Miami six months ago. I wanted to smack you and your gay haircut then and I definitely want to smack you now.”

Album,” Gary said through his mic. That’s hardly constructive.”

Constructive, Gary, would be you not shooting my ass when you’re running behind me. Constructive would be you throwing your grenades instead of simply dropping them, so the people around you get blown the fuck up.”

Okay, jeez man,” Gary said. Let’s go again.”

No, fuck this,” Album said. I’m out. I gotta let one out I’m so angry at you right now.”

Album threw down the headset and cranked the music on his stereo from his remote. He tossed the remote down and got up to his computer. It had been a solid four hours since he’d last jerked off, and he figured he was due.

Album worked himself up into a small sweat. It wasn’t going to take long, this one. The movie he’d been watching earlier had saved his spot for him. It was great. The more the years went by online, the easier it was to enjoy whatever type of pornography you wanted to see. Album kept it simple. Fake blonde hair, fake tits, and twins. As Album stroked, he knew it would take him half of next week to get through this particular movie.

He was ready to go. As always, he tried his hardest to keep himself at 9, that state of pure anticipation without guarantee of release. He knew it wouldn’t last, though. He’d known that for years.

Just as he’d reached the point of no return, his doorbell rang.

Album knew he had, like, ten seconds to go. He ignored the bell. It rang again.

One fucking minute!” He screamed, then, like clockwork, got it all over the bottom of his shirt.

Fuck!” He said, hating himself but incapable of helping. Not a-fucking-gain.”

The doorbell rang.

Jesus Christ, one second!” He bellowed. He stood up. He took off his shirt.

He pulled back on the door handle, and couldn’t believe his hazy, weary eyes.

Hello Henry.”

Reggie Fane stood in Album’s doorway, and Album smelled like fast, easy sex.

Album cleared his throat, caught his bearings. The little death held a small cloud over his head, but it was clearing. Um, I don’t…I don’t know who you’re…”

Cut the shit, Henry,” Reggie said in the calmest intimidating voice imaginable.

How did you get my real…”

Taxes,” he said. Can I come in, now?”

Album poked his head out his apartment door. Reggie was alone.

What do you want?” Album asked.

To talk,” Reggie said. Just wanted to talk to you.”

Album thought fast. Sure,” he said. Just let me get a shirt on. Come on in. Make yourself at home.”

Album rushed into his room as Reggie stood in the living room. Reggie looked at the couch. He noticed the half-eaten bag of chips. He saw the game controller with the microphone plugged in. Reggie noticed the stereo, the pile of burned CDs. Lastly, Reggie saw the computer.

While Reggie soaked in the habitat, Album found an old analog recorder. It was illegal to record people without their permission, but if Album hadn’t broken the law as often as he had he wouldn’t be where he is. As he turned the tape on and stuffed it into his pants pocket, he wondered how much he and Reggie had in common.

Album emerged from his bedroom with one thought in his head. He asked Reggie, So, what did you want to talk about?”

It’s fascinating,” Reggie said, waving off Album’s question. That I was taken down by a man seemingly incapable of keeping his own house clean.”

If you came here to insult me,” Album replied. You could have just posted a comment on the blog.”

Reggie smiled. I thought it might be good to meet my maker.”

Album cleared his throat again. What? Are you here to shoot me or something?”

I came to talk,” Reggie said. Though the thought has crossed my mind.”

Album offered Reggie his second chair. He took it and sat. Album sat down on his computer chair.

Please,” Reggie said. Don’t insult me by thinking I didn’t see the recorder in your pants pocket.”

Album gave a quick look of surprise, but was impressed at Reggie’s eye. I guess giant bulges in pants don’t get by you, huh?”

As Album pulled out the recorder and hit stop, Reggie smiled. That was actually somewhat clever, so I’ll let you have it.”

Why thank you,” Album said.

I came here to ask you a few questions,” Reggie said. I’ve talked to just about everyone I know about this situation. I’ve spoken to all the people that work for me, all the people who were pulling for me, and even a couple of my political opponents. I’ve spoken to the press. Some have been sympathetic, and some less so. I’ve given interviews to many people. So, for the sake of context, for the sake of getting the other side, and for the sake of being a better politician, a better representative, I’ve come to talk to you.”

Album heard the governor, but still couldn’t figure out his game. Still, this was a fascinating, terrifying, electrifying opportunity. Album said, I’m all ears.”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 4

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Next to a heavy and grated metal fence, Bret squatted. He squinted, looked forward at the next kill. It was the classic paparazzi conundrum: stay at the fence, or try to sneak in for the close up? Staying at the fence meant fewer shots, but going over often meant getting trampled by security guards, broken equipment, and maybe no shots. It came down to, what kind of shot was needed? How important was it to get close up? Bret didn’t have to answer this question himself. He was surrounded by a dozen other snap-jockeys, and it was only a matter of time before one was dumb enough to leap. In the line of other cameramen hugging the fence, one jumped over and was quickly stomped by a pair of steroid-monthly subscribers in black shirts and earplugs. His camera was tossed back over the fence. It landed between the rest of the paparazzi. The brave, stupid one was escorted through the house and undoubtedly kicked out the front door.

The grey-haired fellow to Bret’s right shook his head after picking up the tossed SLR. Frank, you idiot.”

Bret paid little attention to the other guys, though he was always a little fascinated. Celebrity photography was a maddening position, and he had no idea how people did this longer than he had. How did everyone deal with it? Did they go home to families? Were they all sad bachelors? What papers did they work for? Was their any hope for any of them? Bret felt with the gig until the consequences began to pile up. He wondered what consequences piled up for the rest of them.

The party they were all shooting had a medley of b- and c-listers. It was a smorgasbord, an all-you-can-eat. Reality TV stars, game show contestants, 80s and 90s TV soap stars, and, of course, all their respective spouses. As it usually was, the number of strict nobodies was at a minimum.

Some days, though, it really all depended on who you called a nobody. Some of these people hadn’t been on TV in years.

The grass underneath Bret’s feet was lime green and softer than any real grass could hope to be. Nothing underneath it could be called real dirt, and few people in the vicinity were who you could call real people.

Some days,” the guy to Bret’s right muttered to nobody in particular. I wonder why I’m not in the Middle East shooting real news.”

Don’t talk crazy,” Bret said. Besides, all the great war photos have been taken from that one. Got to wait until the next war and get in within the first three weeks if you want any kind of run.”

Oh, right,” he said, looking over at Bret. Because we have such a drought going on with these twerps.”

Bret said, I hear you, but what are you going to do?”

Bret looked over at the older man, squatting in a similar position, but lower. He wore a black tshirt and blue jeans. His hair was grey but long, flowing down to his shoulders in clean strands. He wore small grey-framed glasses, and sneakers. From his neck hung a matte-black SLR with an egotistical lens. In his hand was a point-and-clicker. He noticed Bret checking out his equipment.

Just got this one,” he said. It’s got an always-on connection. I take the shots, and they appear on the blog within seconds. So even if something like that happens to me,” he said, pointed to the trespasser’s tossed camera, I won’t lose the whole reel.”

It’s funny,” Bret said. Some people still call it a reel.”

Call me old fashioned,” he said.

Bret said, Old fashioned with a wi-fi card.”

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, my friend. And besides, I need something to keep up with the kids like you. This here’s a young man’s game, like being a DJ or a millionaire.”

They both snapped off half a dozen more shots before Bret extended his hand. Bret.”

Hetfield,” the old man said. Pleasure to meet you.”

A moment passed. They both studied the party. Bret looked around at the other photographers. A few were giving up, realizing not nearly enough interesting things were happening.

Some days, it really all depended on what you called interesting.

Hey, Hetfield,” Bret said. You know lots of, um, our people around here?”

Sure,” he said. I know a few. I’ve even seen you around on a couple big runs.”

Good to know I make an impression,” Bret said. But, I was wondering if you’ve ever seen this one guy. He’s really tall, like, almost seven feet. He wears a trench coat. Black hair.”

Hetfield interrupted him. Did you get a picture of him?”

No,” Bret said. He kept vanishing. My boss thinks he’s tailing me.”

Hetfield lowered himself so his knees hit the fake, lime grass. The long gray hair on his head was still, as if he was carrying trays of dishes. His back was so perfect, but his eyes were just as square. He said, No, I don’t know him. But your boss is right.”

The two photographers were silent for a moment. The few remaining on the outside of the fence were still angling for shots of celebrity excess, even though the scene amounted to little more than a Sunday barbeque among friends and spouses. People like Bret and Hetfield were least welcome during these events, less than usual. The truism was ironic but the facts made it no less true: celebrities are only cool about paparazzi’s when there’s product to sell. Standing around drinking coolers and eating burgers did not count as shilling, it counted as hanging out. What, in anyone’s minds, was there to photograph?

Hetfield, he began to pack away his gear. He placed the expunged photographers’ camera into his own bag. To Bret, he asked, Tell me, have you made any wealthy enemies recently?”

For a second, Bret thought the answer was obvious. But it wouldn’t have been to anyone else. Even to another paparazzi, Bret was just a stranger. Even when the credit is given to a photographer, their name is never remembered in the story. People only remember the paper or the website. Maybe the writer. But never the photographer. The credit line is too small, too deep in the names responsible. Although the story would often be useless without a picture, the author of the work rarely gets called in. It was, then, no surprise that even Hetfield, a career pap who knew others in the field, might not have put two and two together.

It took three deep breaths, but Bret finally came out with it.

You remember the news last week? The Reggie Fane story?”

Hetfield nodded.

Bret said, That was my shot.”

Hetfield’s eyes went wide. Fuck, seriously?”

It was the first time Bret had spoken to a stranger about it. It didn’t feel like anything, even though it was the biggest thing he’d ever been a part of.

Hetfield finished packing. You know,” he said. I’ve been in that position, And I know how much of a double-edged sword it can be. On the one hand, you’re probably rich. On the other hand, I’m in no way surprised there’s someone on your tail. You killed a political career, kid. I’m surprised you’re still alive.”

Hetfield stood up, and extended his hand. Bret shook it. Before he left, Hetfield said, If I were you, I’d figure out who the PI is and break it open before Fane’s people get too close.”

Too close?” Bret repeated, as if he’d never heard the term in the last ten years.

Hetfield nodded and snuck away, vanishing quickly through bushes and fence. Bret took one more shot of the party, a wide panorama view of as many of the young and beautiful and old and cosmetically treated as he could. He looked around, pregnant with paranoia at the thought that there would be extinct consequences for what happened the week before. He had thought about losing Jenny, and how that was the worst fallout of any decision he’d ever made, but that it had already occurred. It was eating at him in new ways ever hour, but the happening itself was over. He’d already lost what he treasured most in his current life. He hadn’t had much room for further consequences, for the idea that Fane wanted some kind of revenge, that he was that kind of politician.

# # #

Tess held Bret’s hands. She held them hard, as close down to the armrests on the beach chairs on her balcony as she possibly could. He wasn’t trying his best to escape her, but she still had to sweat to keep him there.

Look,” she said. There’s nothing to worry about. You’ve been through this before. Get a fucking hold of yourself.”

Bret had raced to Tess. He’d told himself that she needed to know this information. She was unimpressed with the news. Tess had hugged her friend, but had little sympathy for his worries.

Tess said, Let me calm you one by one.”

Okay.”

First of all, we don’t need passports to be here, and we won’t until 2008 or something like that. We can run this life for another two years. And we’ll figure something out then if we want to stick around down here.”

Bret nodded. It was cold on the balcony. They both wore grey, oversized Canucks sweatshirts.

Secondly, we don’t need VISAs, because we’re here on vacation, remember?”

Bret had always felt anxious about this part of their alibi. He said, You know, I don’t think that Reggie is going to buy that we’re here on vacation if it was my work that got him in shit, you know? The insipid patrol guards are one thing, but this guy, he’s got it out for me.”

Tess was still a little angry at Bret about the whole thing, though she’d done her best to conceal it. She bit her lip, wanting to strangle him, but also hold him. She never knew what to do with the poor bastard. Against her better judgment, she found herself incapable of properly decking him.

The best she could do was a mild guilt trip. You know, there’s this crazy idea about laying low in a country you’re not really supposed to be in. I don’t suppose you ever fully grasped that concept.”

Bret said, Look, I get that I messed up. I should have never taken advantage of Jenny’s trust. I should have never followed him and taken his picture, and I should have never handed it over to Album. It wasn’t worth it.”

The money sounded like it was worth it.”

I’m not trying to be cheesy here, but no amount of money would have been worth losing Jenny.”

Tess recoiled a little at the weight of being the recipient of that statement. Then why did you do it?”

Tess’ question severed Bret’s vocal chords. His throat clenched. The air around his mouth escaped, and his tongue curled back. Every square of flesh on his body felt this question, and it was one few of them could answer.

The truth was written on his face, but he couldn’t say it. He looked away, into the desert horizon. Bret felt terse, as if he could spit out the I did it because…” but incapable of finishing it. He knew but he didn’t know. His mind was torn in three directions, and none of them seemed right.

It was a double bind,” he said. Jenny told me about the affair, and that left me with two options, neither of them carrying conclusions I would consider acceptable.”

To their right, another balcony. It was empty, but full of furniture. To their left, an empty hanging caged slate of concrete. Behind them, warmth.

Tess said, Well, whatever. You had a fight with your conscience and you lost. It’s done now, and you’re going to have to deal with Reggie at some point or another.”

I’m sorry if you end up getting involved.”

I won’t,” she said. This is your problem. If they even sniff in my direction, I’ll be back home within the day, and you’ll never see me again.”

Unless I go back with you,” Bret said.

You wanted to leave way more than I did. I followed you, remember?”

It had been just over a year since they’d left Vancouver. It felt longer to Tess.

Tess had followed Bret, and it still hurt her a little. They had become friends after it all, but she was always doubtful it had any meaning other than proximity comfort. It sounded silly because it was the United States, but Tess and Bret were largely alone. It was the second set of months, after the fight and after Bret met Jenny that was hardest for Tess. Until then, she flew high.

A moment went by when both of them flashed back a year, to what happened between them and why Jenny was still a sore subject. Tess was happy it was over, but didn’t want to come across as righteous. She and Album had both convinced Bret to take the picture, and Tess had so far done her best to be cagey about her reasons. Like Album, she too believed it was an important piece of journalism and a real break for Bret. But she had also hoped things would turn exactly as they had.

Bret thought about a year ago too, but was not yet in the place to realize that perhaps he had made a mistake chasing and winning Jenny in the first place. Tess wanted him to figure that one out on his own.

Tess loosened the purple hair tie from her wrist and tied her hair back. She cracked her neck to the right. The sound broke their silence. She slid back inside. Bret didn’t follow. He looked out on the new morning, several feet sunken in thought.

Tess returned with one of her business cards. I forgot to mention this yesterday,” she said, handing him the card.

Your name is on the back.”

Bret turned the card over. He read it aloud. Gerald Oldman? I don’t get it.”

Tess explained, My party tonight, it’s at the Wynn’s new place.”

I’ve heard that’s impossible to get into,” Bret said. Well, for people like me, anyway.”

You still got that miniature camera?”

Yeah,” he said.

Good, bring it.”

Bret looked closer at the ID. So I’m Gerald? That’s who I say?”

Tess sat back down on her chair. That’s the thing. You can’t just say it. You have to boast it. The only way you’re getting into that place is with two girls on your arm and an air of disposable thousands. Tonight’s going to cost you a few, but you’re loaded currently so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

What about the two ladies?”

What about them? Find two girls at the bar and invite them in. You’ve done this before.”

Bret studied the handwriting on the card. Gerald wrote his name himself, didn’t he?”

Tess nodded.

Bret asked, Where’s the phone number?”

Tess rolled her eyes back, bit her lip, and pulled back the sleeve on her right arm. Ballpoint pressure and a sweat of ink revealed a number on her wrist.

She said, with her eyes half closed and embarrassed, He didn’t want me to lose it.”

But he was okay with you losing his name?”

That’s the lovely thing about men,” she said. They don’t much care if you forget their names.”

Bret tucked the card away. He thought about the night for a second. Is she going to be there?”

Who, Paris? I heard she might make an appearance.”

No no, not her,” Bret said. Trice. That friend of yours who decided my nose wasn’t broken enough for her tastes.”

Tess still hadn’t forgiven herself for letting that happen to Bret. He’d only partially deserved it, and entrance to this club was her little way of trying to get some more forgiveness out of him. I think so,” she admitted hesitantly. But I’m sure the single punch was enough for her. No doubt it’s out of her system.”

I don’t know if I should go,” Bret said. The last thing I need is someone creating a scene where I’m involved. I’ll get ID’d and blacklisted, and I’d prefer not to have that happen too many times, you know?”

Don’t sweat it,” Tess said, making a deal. I’ll tell you what. I’ll divert her, so she’s never within a hundred feet of you at any time. You can do your thing without worrying about promo girl vindication.”

It’s the worst kind, I’ve heard.”

# # #

Later in the night, after Bret out on assignment, , Album went home and lit a smoke on his balcony. He backed his fingers through his hair and looked out onto his abyss, taking in air and unknown smells. There was no wind tonight. There was nothing to do. He had his blog posts predated for another 24 hours. Bret had come through with a few shots from that barbeque, and that was enough to go on for the night. The first rule of being a professional blogger, Album always believed, was to stay off the computer whenever possible.

Album found his fridge, took out a cheap beer and returned to the balcony. He always thought smoking without drinking was pointless, and that drinking without smoking was the saddest. Drinking, smoking, and popular films; Album drank to that magic combo that kept people like him in business. It had been a few days since Hilton had donned his pages. He hoped the tip Bret had received from Tess in the morning proved right. It was around nine. Album figured Tess would be getting ready, and Bret would be charging his camera.

The drag finished, Album lit another, flicking the remains of old over the balcony onto the night-black parking lot below. He heard music from above. A party was going on. It was loud. The more he paid attention to the music, the more he heard the dozens of footsteps above. Right above him, a raging house party. Bootstomps and bass pounded through. But Album wasn’t an old man yet, and was never much bothered by noice. He smiled and forgot about it. He went back inside and hit the play button on his own system. He grabbed the remote and turned it up.

Album dropped on his couch. He thought back on the day of trying to help Bret move on, how it was probably all his fault but he didn’t care. He had always believed that people dig their own ditches. He’d been doing this for too long to have a thin skin about affecting people’s lives, even those of his friends.

Bret had said one thing that day that did affect Album. Bret said that it all made him want to go back home, but wasn’t sure if he could. As Album sat on his old couch, one leg over another, smoke and beer in the same hand, one foot planted solid, eyes cocked nowhere, he made a bullet list. Three things that bothered him about Bret, things he never really figured out.

    •    What about Vancouver was so unappealing that Las Vegas became a suitable sustitution?

    •    What about Tess was so unappealing that Jenny became a suitable substitute?

    •    What about whatever Bret did before he came here was so unappealing that paparazzi work became a suitable substitute?

These three questions were all one question, and the answer lied somewhere between Album and Bret, since Bret had come to Album in order to make all three moves. Album kept a mental sticky note in the corner of his mind’s eye with these questions. He made another, below it, with the one question that came from these three.

    •    What sucked so hard about Bret’s life in Vancouver that slumming in Vegas was a superior situation?

Album sucked back on the bottle, and peered out on the plains beyond the sharp city. The noise above him drowned out most thoughts, but one stung through. This city was a bleak amusement park aftermath caught up in bad decisions and worse role models. What was Las Vegas if not the bottom of the modern world? What was its purpose, if not to be the giant toilet bowl of America? More and more, Las Vegas failed to live up to its moniker. People openly spoke of things that happened there. It wasn’t scary anymore. And if it was just like any other city, if the planners of City Center were right, then what was the point at all? What did just any other American wasteland offer men like Bret, men like Album, women like Tess? What kind of escape was this?

He finished the smoke. He didn’t look at the stub as it fell. He looked out, and west. There was no sun. There was no moon. He went inside, dropped down to his couch, and picked up his game controller. After a few loading screens, he was elsewhere, snaking through brush and snapping necks of rookie infantry squads.

# # #

Bret smirked an asshole’s smirk. On the way to the bar, he found a pair of girls looking for free cover hanging out half a block away, getting ready in the reflection of a giant mirrored wall. The Wynn had tons of these fucking mirrors. They weren’t lit, so the reflections didn’t look as bad as half the people who tried to see themselves. Bret noticed the three friskers and the signs with red X’s over pictures of old cameras. A woman in a hoodie sweater felt Bret over. She was more aware than the bouncer. She felt more places than the average security. This was a big show; it was important to keep people like Bret out. But Bret wouldn’t be in his position if he failed at getting into the kinds of clubs who would never have him as a member.

He thanked the ladies and told them to go have a good time. He told them he’d catch up with them later after saying hi to a few friends. He never saw them again, and they assumed as much.

He grabbed an open piece of bar and asked for a rum and coke. A pretty, tightly dressed red-head stood next to him with a ten in her hand. As the bartender put the straw in his glass, he asked the girl what she was having. She looked at him, smiled in a way that showed she’d done this before but with faster luck, and told him to get her a Manhattan.

Thanks,” she said, putting the ten back in her purse. I’m Gina.”

Gerald,” Bret said. I’m from out of town, and I haven’t found anything to spend money on yet.”

Gina smiled, and when she received her drink, she clinked her martini glass with his short one. She was the perfect distraction.

They talked for a few moments about Gina’s promising acting career. She had an audition earlier in the day for a zombie movie where she would play the screaming victim that dies in the first four minutes. The audition, she told Bret, was so exciting, because she got to scream and she’s really good at that. Apparently. Bret, acting at his own best as Gerald, suggested that perhaps she should show him how she’d scream later.

Oh, Gerry,” she said. You’re cute.”

Bret ordered another round of drinks. He was doing his best to keep one eye on the growing crowd. At one point he thought he saw Jeremy Piven, but that could have been anyone in Vegas.

Gina was providing a great cover. She seemed genuinely interested in Bret so long as it appeared he had money or influence. To make sure this happened, he told her that he produced movies, which was one of the easiest covers because nobody ever asked what movies a producer has worked on, because not that many people knew what a producer actually does.

What movies have you done?” Gina asked, immediately appearing more intelligent, or at least more opportunistic, than Bret had anticipated.

He said, Mostly, I do Canadian movies.”

Ooh,” she said. Foreign. How edgy.”

She reached into her tiny black purse and pulled out a card. He looked at it and tucked it away. I’ll call you,” he lied.

Why do you keep checking your watch?” She asked.

Time zone changes,” he said. I’m from Toronto. It’s a few hours off, and I still don’t think I’ve got it right.”

It’s 11:30,” she said. He ticked the button one more time.

Got it,” he said, smiling. He’d taken half a dozen shots of the crowd, of models at the bar, at the dancing girls onstage. The problem with the watch camera was he couldn’t see if he had anything quality until he got home.

From across the room, Bret couldn’t see anything. The smoke machines were out. The lights were sparse and dim. The shots were probably going to be awful unless he could get above people and focus. These short, quick pictures were going to give him nothing.

Hey, where are you going?” Gina asked. Bret excused himself. Said he needed to use the washroom. What he needed were better pictures. He wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.

He definitely owed Tess for getting him into this club. He also owed her for letting him vent the last few days. He’d spent Album’s free time, but it wasn’t enough. Time was the most surprising thing lost in the scuffle with Jenny and the governor. He hadn’t realized it had almost been a year since they’d left home until it all happened. After big fits of drama like that, milestones feel more important. It was just time, but it felt less precious, more used, and sullied.

There were plenty of half-wit celebrities. Bret knew groups were better than one at a time, so he aimed wide. The photos would be face-tagged and geo-tagged before being uploaded, so everyone would know where the party was and exactly who was there.

On his way to the stairs, Bret ran into Tess. They’d done this juke a few times before, and none of them felt comfortable. But they still smiled. Tess had work to do, and hanging out with any one man too long meant she wasn’t pushing proper. She shifted away, trying not to look suspicious. She smiled at him like any other club-goer. He looked at her like any other promo girl. It was insulting on both fronts, and both of them felt slimy. It was one thing to perform a job that takes away your character, but to perform a job that makes you forget the character of your friends and lovers is something else entirely.

Bret ascended a spiral staircase to the second level. He passed by another bar and the bathrooms. It was midnight by this point. He looked over the railing, watch-camera pointing toward the masses. He wasn’t the only guy looking down to the crowd. Guys in cheaper suits than Bret’s rental looked around for their dates, or for new ones.

A few minutes passed. Bret waited. He knew he shouldn’t have. He knew he had to keep moving in a place like this. Take on a character. Be Gerald. Tess took great care of him. Bret wondered what she had done with the real Gerald. If anything happened. If she just used him in ways the old man wouldn’t have even noticed. He knew he had to be a brash asshole who could pay for entire women for the entire night. He needed to blow some cash. He thought, where did Gina go?

As he began to leave, he noticed some bright blonde in the crowd below. He stared for a moment. Other men stared. He heard the name, Paris. His eyes focused. Was it her? His fingers found the button on the watch. He did his best to catch her, even without seeing her. He needed to get down there to get anything worthwhile.

Bret moved towards the stairs, but he was stopped. A sweaty, cool arm wrapped around his throat quicker than he could get away. Someone tried to choke him. He could feel the fingers on his back. Rings. They felt like plastic.

Bret turned, trying to get away. He saw her, and got a better look this time. Trice, Tess’ beleaguered promo girl friend, the one who bloodied his nose the other day. Her face was unchanged, clenched, tracing his jaw with her eyes, undressing the skin to the bone, hoping to do nothing but damage.

I can’t believe you’re in here,” she said. This is a private event. No photographers. How did you get in?”

Bret didn’t answer. He didn’t want to be seen. He had to get away from her, far away. He needed to graze by Paris on his way out, and then he needed to get as far away from the bouncer as possible.

Look,” Bret said. I’m sorry if something happened to your sister because of me. If I could go back and take that shot back, I would.”

The apology held no currency. The angry woman’s face stayed stern. Bret backed away, towards the stairs. His back hit something that wasn’t staircase and it wasn’t wall. He looked behind. He ran right into a brick wall of a security guard.

This guy bothering you Trice?” He announced in a full, low voice that boomed above the music. Bret wondered if this wasn’t the plan the whole time, if Trice hadn’t noticed him watching the crowd for as long as he did. Always keep moving, you idiot, Bret thought.

Trice inched closer to Bret. She crawled around, and whispered into the guard’s ear. She had to reach. As she finished, the guard looked down at Bret with an authoritative lack of emotion he’d seen dozens of times before. He was about to ask Bret to come with him. He was about to take him to the front door and kick him out.

Come with me, sir,” he insisted. Bret looked at Trice. If he had known her better, the smile she gave would have meant ten more things than he saw. The smile would have indicated a sort of regret, something indigestible and hard in her stomach, a regret she might have later, even though it tasted so sweet in the tasting. The smile might have been an apology, a comeuppance, a pay, but one not wanted or really deserved. Bret might have seen that smile as something of a handshake, a business transaction with too many feelings involved. But Bret didn’t know Trice, and could not understand any of her little cues.

The guard did not take Bret to the front door, nor did he take him anywhere close to the glistening annoyance of blonde hair that might have been Paris Hilton. Tonight was going to be a bust. But Bret wasn’t worried about that. He just worried where he was being led.

Eventually, through the crowd and the corridors snaking behind the stairs and bars, they found a door. It led to the kitchen, then to the garbage collection room. 90s-era florescent tubes barely lit the cement hallway. In a few moments, Bret saw a door. He could feel the night breeze through it.

Outside?” Bret asked. Before he could finish his word, the guard swung his leg-sized right arm. His fist cracked against Bret’s left ribcage. His right side crunched against the wall.

Another right hand came, this time to Bret’s jaw. Blood coated his teeth, and some escaped his mouth in an ugly spit. He felt like his jaw had been broken. Bret lost the ability to see for a moment, but he felt the next shot to his chest. He collapsed, his knees surrendering to pressure. On his knees, bloody and nearly unconscious, the guard picked him up by the shoulders of his sport coat.

He slapped his cheeks to make sure Bret’s eyes were open. Bret kept them open best he could, but he was seconds from blacking out.

Wise guy,” the guard exclaimed. He had a deep baritone voice, one that might sound nice disconnected from threats of violence. You’re going to wake up in a hospital or a gutter or a police station, and that choice completely depends on the kindness of strangers. The choice you get to make is whether to ever come back here. Don’t think too hard about it.”

Trice…Trice….She doesn’t…” Bret couldn’t make out more than one word.

She isn’t any of your business. You’ve already done all the damage you’re going to do to her. Now, I’m going to hit you one more time, and then I’m going to drag you out to where we dump the drunks and the rapists and the cheats where you belong, you parasite piece of shit.”

Bret tried to lift his arms. He got his right up, but his left arm hurt too much. The right made no difference. The guard was fast and strong and motivated. Bret stood no chance, and in a few seconds was knocked flat out by a straight left to the jaw.

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 3

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Tess’ balcony, though no farther away from the lights of the city than Album’s, faced the opposite direction. Sitting on cheap, gift-bag peach beach chairs, Tess and Bret peered into the desert horizon, looking past the suburban ring, past the highway darkness. There was still a little sun, still a little warmth to the open air.

Bret’s nose bandaged, his blood cleaned off; Tess offered him a drink. Tess had returned to the apartment several minutes after her friend had sucker-punched him, gave him a hug, and became a nurse.

“I’m almost out of clamato juice,” she said, handing him a thick, tall glass. She sat down next to him with her own caesar. She stirred the drink with a spike of celery. But it’s the least I can do. I’m so sorry. I had no idea she was going to do that.”

Outside of the beach chairs, Tess’ balcony contained only hanging plants. Bret didn’t know the names of any of them, and he figured she didn’t either. Only two were green. The rest were red and white and long and probably fake.

Bret took a sip and said, I figured that wasn’t the plan, but what’s her deal? Who is she?”

Tess grinned. Let’s just say she doesn’t like you, and that it’s for a very good reason.”

“Well, it’s not about Jenny, or anything to do with Reggie.”

“No,” Tess replied. It doesn’t. But it does have to do with your camera.”

Bret had to breathe through his mouth for the moment, and the entire time he felt a little high. This made him look surprised when he wasn’t, alarmed when he wasn’t.

Tess continued, slowly drinking her own caesar. It wasn’t your fault, really. But you didn’t help. Her sister, she’s a promotions girl too. She was doing a gig at the MGM during a private gala, dancing topless on an island stage. There were something like three or four girls doing the same thing. It was a big celebrity fundraiser, no cameras allowed; the usual. This was around three months ago. Remember it?”

Bret remembered vaguely. I was there, wasn’t I?”

“Apparently you were,” Tess said. And apparently you’d snuck in some hardware.”

Bret was a good paparazzi partially because he worked for a website. When you work for a website and not a newspaper, you can afford to take pictures with a small camera. Small cameras take poor shots, but they’re easy to conceal. It was a growing fad in the industry, as pocket digitals got better and smaller every year. In a few years, phones would do this job twice as effectively.

Tess said, There was this shot you took that ended up on that wonderful little site of Album’s that got your attacker’s sister in trouble.”

Bret knew the plot before Tess even explained the rest. Bret didn’t take pictures of promo girls, but promo girls ended up in his pictures. They were, by definition, around people with money and influence. The picture wasn’t even of her, but it didn’t matter. Bret still didn’t remember the exact picture, but he had no doubt it was true. Her nudity was the killer. Normal people fade into the internet ether of too much information. Bret had tons of extras in his shots, but very few were nude. While nudity may be the most abundant product found on the internet, nudity mixed with some level of celebrity attracted scandals. With scandals comes fame. With fame came friends and families finding out all about all your secret shit.

Tess said, Apparently the family won’t talk to her at all. They’re totally shutting her out.”

Bret spat over the balcony rail. Shit. This sucks.”

“Look, as much as I wish we lived in a world where it was easy to tell our parents about all the embarrassing things we do for money…” Tess stopped mid-sentence. There was no need to explain the rest. Bret thought about the kind of lies that came out of nudity, sex, or money. He didn’t have to wonder long. Those were pretty much the only reasons people lied.

The wind picked up a little. The sun died a little. In Vegas the chill comes quick. Tess stood up and went inside. Bret followed, comforted by the instant warmth of a cluttered space.

“I feel terrible,” Bret said. More than I already do. As if last week wasn’t bad enough.”

Tess said, It’s terrible, and it’s absolutely because of you, but you’re not entirely responsible.”

They sat down on Tess’ couch. Bret had to move a handful of tiny pink pillows.

“Don’t put those on the floor,” Tess said. She grabbed the pillows, piled them on to the back of the couch.

Bret asked, You want to explain how I’m not responsible for getting her tits on the internet?”

“Well,” Tess said, taking another sip. You took the shot, sure. But Album put it up without fuzzing her out. And I know that sleazy ass left her in there to up his hits. I get it. It’s more scandalous that way. But it’s not his fault either.”

“So what?” Bret asked. We’re going to blame societies’ fascination with sex?”

“No, we’re going to blame all four,” Tess said. Yeah, our society is totally sex obsessed. But there’s only so much you can control that. And you and Album are both sad little products of that. I guess I am too, and Trice, and her sister. You shoot celebrities because celebrities do stupid shit sex-wise, and Album runs a crazily popular blog for the same reason. Me and the girls get paid to make sure rich people buy the right kind of vodka. But let’s not forget the parents, here.”

Tess continued. The problem isn’t that the world is obsessed with sex. That shit’s natural. And the problem isn’t that there are assholes like you and Album profiting off sexual exploits. Profiteering is, well, profitable, and some people will do anything for a buck. The problem is that when parents freak the fuck out over nothing. I mean, her parents are fucking ex-hippies. They used to do that freaky key party shit and hang out half-nude at concerts all the time. At least she’s getting paid for it!”

Bret looked around, tried to distract himself. He used to live here, when none of this stuff was around. Tess had replaced Bret with free things, advertisements, proof of her life as a sexy billboard.

“Hey,” Bret piped up. Why did you get into the promo stuff?”

“I needed money, and Trice had been begging me to come along for weeks.”

“No, I get that part,” Bret said. But I mean, you’re the one who wanted to stay here. That’s why we broke up, right? I was ready to go back home. You weren’t.”

“That seemed to be part of it,” Tess said. But don’t pretend you didn’t just go and fall in love with someone else. How is the republican, anyway?”

“Come on,” Bret said.

Tess held back obscenities. She flexed both biceps and looked for something to stroke her ego a little. Did she leave you? You know, because of the picture?”

“I don’t know,” Bret said.

“I want you to know that I’m not angry anymore,” Tess said, changing the subject away from Jenny. Fuck. I was. I was in bad shape over you, buster. And I’m not afraid to say that to you. I came down here because I wanted this relationship to work, but Vegas killed us. It turned you into a different guy entirely. And you know what? I kinda fell in love with the city, the whole bright, dirty thing. It sorta shines on me, and I think you saw that, and then you didn’t like me anymore.”

“That’s not it,” Bret said.

“It is,” Tess said. Don’t try to pretend you respected my decision to find work down here, to actually enjoy it here. I know we were just supposed to be taking a breather from real life. But people don’t vacation for months on end, Bret. We either needed to find work or go home. So I found work.”

Bret sank a little into the couch, the cushion collapsing beneath him. It was a cheap couch, on a cheap carpet. He moved his fingers across the top to distract himself from getting too deep in with this conversation.

“This city changed us,” Tess continued. You thought it would give us a nice breather from our life at home. Your job was stressing you out and you needed a sabbatical, and I was working at that coffee shop, spinning wheels. We both needed a short uprooting. But it went too long and wore on us. We learned things about ourselves I think we weren’t supposed to learn. Not if we were going to work out together, anyway.”

“You should have come back with me,” Bret said. We would have been okay.”

“No,” Tess declared. I was finally having a good time here. I was finally making friends, making money. Promo work was really fucking fun.”

“Was?” Bret asked. You’re not having fun anymore?”

“It’s slowly becoming work, if you know what I mean. Those first few months, man. It was something else. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have traded for anything. I met so many people, did so many awesome things. I wore some seriously out of this world outfits. And I felt sexy. You know I never really felt sexy in Vancouver? It’s not that it’s bad, but every night isn’t filled with novelty and charm like it was when I started. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Nothing stays shiny and new forever.”

Bret smiled. He liked how Tess still talk about belief systems while not at all talking about belief systems.

“Speaking of work,” Bret said. I was really just stopping by for a quick chat. I actually have work to do tonight. I should probably get to it.”

Bret got up. He handed the glass back to Tess. It held half a celery and a little ice. She followed him back down the stairs.

“Hey, buster,” She said. Come around again when you’re not as busy. We’re still not even close to being done catching up.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Bret said. He thought about telling her he’d quit, but held back because he hadn’t. He knew himself. He knew he hadn’t quit until he actually left town. He decided he’d tell her then, when he got to the city limits. He’d give her a call.

# # #

Rosario Dawson had recently dyed her hair a darker shade of brown, as if that was going to deter anyone. To Album and Bret, it was nothing but a subhead. Maybe pregnant? New hair color reveals clues!

The lobby of the Bellagio was busy and gorgeous. Chiluly glass adorned the ceiling of the front desk area, painting everything below with a colourful reflective glow. The concierge area was crammed with men in suits, carrying briefcases, jacket breasts adorned with name tags above corporate logos.

Just past the lobby lay a huge indoor garden with rare plants and inventive fountains. Thin flutes of water shot from fake plant to fake plant, above and around the bona fides. Families and tourists were taking pictures of the exhibit. Bret fit in perfectly. Nobody would question why he had a giant camera. It’s a cliché, but paparazzi really do hide behind tall plants in hotel lobbies. Bret imagined his kind used to do this was so hotel security wouldn’t bother us while they reloading film, but now it’s really about the sportive elements. Any idiot can walk up to a famous person and take a picture and be a dick. But going in guns blazing leads to a bad reputation and, sometimes, a confiscated camera. Bret preferred it this way. Wait in the weeds for the perfect shot, secure the illusion that nobody’s watching, and then shoot when the moment’s perfect. Anything else felt like amateur work.

Bret saw Rosario walk in through the over-sized rotating gold doors. Tall and lean and healthy in ways only people with money can be in America, she sauntered with confidence and security, which made sense, considering the size of the mountainous, dulcet security standing next to her. She was wearing black slacks and a bright red top and short heels. The way she strolled, holding a glittery-black handbag—without any hint of gait—there was no way this girl was pregnant.

Bret fired off half a dozen shots from across the room, just to see if anyone would notice. Not only did his camera fail to draw any attention, but Rosario herself drew oddly few stares from the mostly bespectacled conference-goers. Maybe they didn’t recognize her with the new haircut, but they also could have had no idea who she was. She sashayed past the group, past the giant plants, into the restaurant at the end of the hall. She disappeared behind the door, and Bret knew he’d have to wait until after the meal to get any kind of quality shot.

    • *

In no culture is taking pictures of famous people a respectable position.

Jenny always said she had a problem with Bret’s job. She would continually argue with him over the ethics of it, over America’s predisposition with worshipping false idols. She would dissect the gossip rag culture, how little of it ever mattered, and how it only made people less interesting. And then they would fuck, because no matter what she said, Jenny was dumb in love with Bret. That his profession disgusted her actually helped in the bedroom, where she found the debasement a reason to smoulder.

To Bret, Jenny was everything wrong with America. She was for privatized health care, capital punishment, and the President. She was pro life, pro gun, and more than a little racist against Mexicans. On paper, they had absolutely no reason to be with one another. But Las Vegas is a weird place ruled by weird logic. The wrong things become irresistible.

And now, she wasn’t sure if she wanted anything to do with him. What the hell was he going to do with that?

    • *

In Vegas, you can lurk behind a fake plant all day long and nobody will bother you, but it gets boring pretty quick. Bret circled around the foyer. He did his best to keep an eye on the restaurant entrance, but something caught his eye.

Bret turned around and noticed a tall man in a grey trench coat. He had just entered the exhibit. He wore black jeans. His hair fell in greasy, unordered lengths, his jaw grubby, whiskered. He looked to be around 40. He skulked around for a minute. He wasn’t heading toward the slots. He wasn’t heading for the world’s largest chocolate fountain. He was sticking around.

The man stopped at a bench, lowered his side-bag, and removed a tank of an SLR, a giant Canon and a white, foot-long lens. He screwed on the lens. That kind of lens wasn’t for macro shots of flora; it was for capturing the sweat of Olympic sprinters.

The camera man pointed that thing directly at Bret.

Bret quickly ducked behind a tree. Did he imagine that? Of course he did. Why would anyone want to take a picture of him? He cracked his jaw, still sore from earlier. He found himself sweating, nervous, simultaneously paranoid and aware it was in his head. All week, he was wondering if someone might start following him. He’d killed the career of a vicious politician, and he knew there may be consequences. But a man with an over-sized cock of a camera? Seemed excessive.

Bret took a quick glance back where the man stood, but he wasn’t there. He scanned the room, but couldn’t locate him. He walked over to the bench where the man stood only a minute before, assuring himself he’d just been a little worked up over nothing. He calmed down, checked his watch. Dawson should be finishing up soon. He began to walk toward the restaurant entrance, but then he saw the bastard again.

This time, the camera man stood closer to the entrance. Bret could barely make him out. But there he was, standing straight, holding up that hulking telescope, aimed at Bret, moving as he moved. Now, he knew this was happening. Bret slowly inched back, into the hallway, away from view. He didn’t want a confrontation. The last thing he needed was another blow to the jaw, either by this man or security.

After a minute, Bret looked back. He made a quick tour around the concierge area, the bar, and the entrance to the casino. There was no sight of the man.

Just Bret’s luck, paying attention to the weird trench-coat guy made him miss Rosario’s exit. By the time he caught her, she was already heading for the door.

He moved as fast as he could, but there was almost no way he was going to get ahead in time. He could also run right up to them and handle the situation like a fucking monkey, but that wouldn’t help anyone.

Rosario hit the gold doors. She was outside. Bret figured he had about 30 seconds before she got in the car. They would have it ready for her. He pushed through the doors, the quick blast of air conditioning startling his eyes.

As Bret walked, he again caught sight of the guy in the trench coat. He was standing still maybe twenty yards away. He faced the doors. He took a camera out of his pocket. He aimed.

Come on, Bret thought.

The camera man was in the perfect position, the one Bret would have loved to have been in if he had a minute over Dawson. Rosario noticed them both. She gave a look of distaste, shook her head, and ducked into her car. It drove off, leaving the drop-off point still filled with people with cameras. Bret counted three other people who whipped out handheld cameras once they saw her.

Bret turned back toward the camera man. He was standing there, stoic, staring straight at Bret. He smirked. Bret began to inch towards him, but he got into an adjacent cab.

He had to make some calls.

# # #

Bret had called Album immediately after leaving the Bellagio. Album told him to meet him at the Veer. He was there looking at apartments, because Album was apparently the sort that wanted to own a condo on a street full of hotel rooms.

They stood in the centre of an empty living room. Devoid of furniture and well-lit, the realtor conveyed, in his surprisingly pubetic voice, This is where you can put, like, a couch, or entertainment unit. Or, I suppose, an ottoman. Anything, really. It’s a living room!”

The Veer Towers were a new pair of condo buildings at the front of Vegas’ new City Center, a behemoth project meant to either push Vegas into the 21st century, or revert it back to the 60s. Nobody was really sure. The Veer Towers were one part the residential plan, along with the Mandarin Oriental building, just south of Veer. Placed behind them from the strip was Aria, a ludicrously expensive hotel to build. Below the Veer Towers was a shopping mall filled with the most expensive brands on the planet.

The joke of it all was just how empty the place was. The mall barely had any customers, though half the stores were still under construction. And the condos were barely sold. It was a conflux of sorry intentions and short term thinking. The people who made these buildings thought there would always be money, but they also thought that people who would want to live in Vegas would also want to be this close to it.

Up on the 23rd floor, Bret circled around the kitchen’s island again. He kicked the cupboards as if they were wheels on a used car. He opened the fridge. He wondered if he was the first person to ever open it. He walked around. He looked out the windows. Beyond the speckle of neighbourhoods, Bret mostly saw desert.

“It’s quiet,” Bret said. You can’t put a price on quiet.”

“The question, of course,” Album said, mostly to the realtor. Is whether it can be loud in here and quiet elsewhere.”

The realtor smiled, doing his best to not scare us off. He had a little sweat on his forehead, and his game face was lame. He was too short to be authoritative, and too young to know better. Bret felt old even looking around this place, even though no one over 40 would ever consider it.

“Can we talk?” Bret asked. Something really weird just happened to me.”

“No, you can’t move in here with me,” Album said. I know you’d want to. It’s nice, right?”

“Sure, it’s fine,” Bret said. Wait, no, that’s not what I’m asking. I quit, remember? I’m quitting. I quit yesterday. It feels nice to keep saying that. Anyways, there was another photographer at the Bellagio.”

Album put his hand on the floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out. He pushed. The realtor took a step forward. Album was testing him.

Album said, Really? Another paparazzi where a celebrity was spotted? Come on, man. That’s not news.” He touched the blinds near the windows and scoffed. Seriously though, these blinds? Are they removable?”

The realtor shook his head, and told us about the remote control that shuttered them, turning the entire apartment into home theatre-quality darkness.

“I don’t think he was there for Rosario,” Bret continued. I think he was taking pictures of me.”

Album hadn’t looked straight at Bret since they started touring the place. He disappeared into the bedroom.

“Hey,” Bret said, following. This is a problem.”

“The problem,” Album responded, fingering the closet door open. Is that there is not nearly enough room in here for a double king.”

Bret said, Seriously? Double King?” He shook his head. You know what? Your frame size isn’t important right now.”

“Frame size says so much about a person, Bret. You should know that. You sleep on a couch.”

“That’s not my fault. That’s your fault. All of this is your fault.” Bret spat. I’m worried about this guy, and you’re picking a nice place to wreck.”

“It’s likely Fane’s man.”

Bret closed the door of the bedroom, just as the realtor was trying to come in. He leaned against it. He heard the faint knocking and um”-ing of an insecure man.

“Do you think Fane’s having me followed?”

“Probably,” Album said. You ruined his career and he has a lot of money. That’s pretty easy math, mate.”

Bret could hear the handle, jiggling. The voice of the realtor was muffled. Album quipped, I am impressed with how little sound comes through that door.”

Bret opened it, and the agent nearly fell in. Bret caught him, and stood him up straight. He patted down his jacked, as if it was dusty. He walked out. Album followed him through the apartment, out to the hallway. It was even quieter, there.

Bret stammered. I don’t know how you can be calm about this. First off, if someone is tailing me, then someone is probably tailing you. Secondly, how am I supposed to be calm about someone tailing me? It’s tailing. I know. I’ve done it. I’ve tailed.”

“I don’t know,” Album said. I highly suggest getting stoned and playing some video games tonight. It will show the guy who’s tailing you how harmless you are.”

Bret chewed on a fingernail.

“What do you think of the apartment?” Album asked.

“I don’t think you should take it,” Bret replied. It’s not you. It’s not anybody. I have no idea what kind of human being this place was designed to make feel at home. Like, you remember those old point and click adventure games from the 80s?”

Album replied, Like, those ones that were just flat pictures you had to maddeningly click on a thousand times before anything happened?”

“Yeah, as I kid I wasted hours trying to figure that stuff out. I gave up. I took up lacrosse instead.”

“You did not take up lacrosse. Lacrosse is not a thing that exists.”

“I did. I played lacrosse all through high school.”

“No, this is serious now,” Album said. If you do not admit that you, along with every other Canadian, has entirely made up lacrosse, then I am calling Fane myself and turning you in.”

Bret, with his hands in his grey hoodie pockets, his feet shuffling like an eight year old who has to pee, he shrugged his shoulders. My point, was, if that apartment was one of those games, you’d click on the window, and you’d click on the walls, and the floor, and, you know what the game would tell you? There is nothing here. Let’s go.”

# # #

It was getting near four in the morning. Tess felt the air on her, closed her eyes slowly, breathing in through whatever pore arched feeling, before letting her back go limp and her feet leave the ground. She sat on a plush black stool, girded permanently to the floor with thick enough metal to hold the obese. The cushion was soft, a burnt dark red kiss that let her sink in a little. It made part of her feel good and left the rest to fend.

Tess’ shoes, bright-silver bedazzled platforms the club demanded but didn’t provide stuck to the bottom of her feet. She’d lost feeling in her heels an hour before, but blood was beginning to recirculate. Her legs, naked and smooth and warm, hugged one another and wrapped around the stool’s cold thick single leg.

She wore a tassel-filled white vest, cut low and with the sides opened up. The outfit, meant to synchronize with the team of other girls than impress or titillate the crowd, looked less like clothes than a Halloween costume for a cheerleader. It was cheaply sewn, its half life barely a weekend.

She’d asked for a tall pint, and by the time it arrived she hadn’t yet breathed enough to down. After almost every hard shift, Tess unwound in a nearby bar. She didn’t always drink, but she always breathed deep. After too many hours of being a prop, she had to reemerge a real person, and that required a few minutes alone. She used to do more yoga. She used to go to a class. She thought, then, about finding a class here, and putting down a deposit and signing a contract. She blinked, her eyes staying closed longer.

Snaked around her index finger was a silver ring, and she liked to clink it against glasses of beer. She loved the sound, how it started high and held longer the emptier the glass. She once had a crush on a bartender simply because he had a silver ring on his finger, and every time he picked up a glass it made that same noise, that same tingggg.

The temperature in every Vegas casino drew inspiration from Disney World, always blowing the same drift of light air conditioning regardless of season or weather. It was a permanence Tess had come to know but never love, as she sometimes missed the surprise climatical turns of British Columbia. That Vegas became cool at night did little for the case that she often?and often in times of slow, post-work reflection like this?felt that she lived in a place without time, without a world surrounding it. Las Vegas reflected the world using various methods, but had nothing to do with it in any way that really mattered. People would miss Paris or Dubai or Melbourne. Tess thought, could the same be said of here?

The drink in her hand was cold, and her hand felt chill holding it, like an ice pack on a sore lower back. It reminded her a little of her old laundromat. It was a block away from her apartment, and she’d learned it was wisest to stay, to make sure nothing was lifted. Even in the warmer months, the laundromat was freezing, which made for a musical chairs of people jumping in and outside to keep balance. Every time her laundry was finished, she’d open the dryer, engulfed in a hot haze. It was so much hotter for having stewed in this freezer of a room, and she would burn her hands on the door. The air would hit her, and her too half would steam as her legs stayed frozen.

Later, when Bret and Tess got serious, she’d bring her laundry to his place, and she didn’t feel two opposite climates on her skin anymore. But here, in a bar tucked deep in the Aria, she could all but touch the hot laundered air mixed with the frozen reality. She couldn’t bring herself to drink, but she held on.

# # #

Bret sat on Album’s couch, high and unhappily distracted. The controller in his hand was proving an unsuitable veil from his guilt. Album was doing a slightly better job with his rambling, a terrible habit he picked up from too many forum posts.

“I’m better with the headset,” he said It’s just a fact. If I can’t control the group, the whole thing falls apart.”

“Winning a fake war is really important to you, huh?” Bret quipped.

Album proclaimed, Only if I get to mess with it. We’re the bad guys.”

“We are? I had no idea. They all look the same to me.”

“You want me to explain the whole backstory of the fourth world war to you? I can. I wrote part of the wiki.”

“We’re not even simulating a real war?” Bret paused for a second. I guess that explains some of the laser guns.”

“There’s a whole religion founded on those guns, Bret. Seriously. I can explain it all.”

Bret shook his head, his hands working independently, moving his character into a position he thought might be advantageous, though he really had no idea. Please, never ever tell me what you mean. About anything, ever. I don’t want to know you more than I do. Understanding Album Yukes, which can’t possibly be our real name, by the way, is not something on my to do list.”

“You don’t keep a to do list,” Album said, missing the point entirely. But fine, if you want to play without understanding the whole ethos behind it all, you go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” Bret said. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

They played in silence for a few minutes. Bret died several times. Album walked over to his fridge and carried a pair of beers back to the couch.

Bret asked, What do I do about Jenny?”

“Is she still taking your calls?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Stop taking her calls. Tell her the whole thing has been harder on you than you originally thought. It’s been too hard. You can’t handle it anymore, and you need some time to think. That time will be all the time.”

“Album,” Bret said, swigging his beer. I cost her her job. I broke her trust. I am the bad guy here. I need to make it up to her somehow.”

“Shit, I didn’t realize she was out of a job.”

“We outed Fane. He lost his job. So everyone who works for him lost their jobs too. Politics, not unlike futuristic ground warfare that doesn’t make any sense, is a team game. We cost like, two dozen people their jobs.”

Album thought about it. Well, that happens Bret. This business has collateral damage. If I had a sackful of laundered money for every publicists’ job I’ve destroyed, I’d definitely have to get that new apartment. There would be no room for the sacs here.”

“My point is, I feel guilty. I want to make it right.”

Album paused the game. Bret thought it was because Album was about to make some profound point about the human condition and the inevitability of deeply cutting into the muscle of those you love most. But he unpaused a second later. It was long enough that Bret took his eyes off the screen, and was unprepared. Alvin’s character snuck up behind him and shot him in the back.

“Aren’t we on the same team?” Bret asked.

“I’m not really sure,” Album said. He let that linger. Then, he finally came through with the advice.

“There is no making this right,” he said. There is only moving on. This is one of those points in your life when you really do have all the choices in the world. You can stay with Jenny and try to make it work and make yourself miserable. You’re going to make all of us miserable in the process too, because being friends with a guy trying to make things work is the goddamn worst. Or, hey, how about you count your losses and move on? Why not try someone new? Or just be on your own for a while? I know you won’t listen to this part. I pegged you as a sad serial monogamist the second I met you. When were you last really single?”

“I think I was 17.”

“Fuck. You’ve gone from relationship to relationship for nearly ten years?”

“Not exactly,” Bret said. All of that was with Tess.”

Album’s mouth hung open, like Bret admitted to never having watched The Shining. Bret knew this, because six months before he’d admitted to never having seen Th Shining to Album, and Album proceeded to freak out, rant for fifteen minutes about how Bret had never lived, then quickly downloaded the movie and forced Bret to watch it twice.

“It’s like you haven’t lived!” Album spat. You were in the same relationship through most of your life? What the good fuck is wrong with you?”

Bret smiled. I loved her, Album. I still love her.”

Album started a new game. He slumped back down, his lumpy, oafish body withered into the couch. He said, It’s sounds to me like you know exactly what you should do.”

“What’s that?” Bret asked, now a little angry.

“Buddy,” Album said. If you don’t know that, you don’t know anything. No explanation of world war 4 is going to help you.”

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 2

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Bret imagined flashes, heard screams. His eyes stayed closed, his hands clasped shut, white-knuckle cold. The scream of militant orders. The commands barked by a tired, frustrated man filled with the most poison.

“I don’t want to just put on the table that we’re getting into face-raping territory,” the man exclaimed. But anyone not pulling their own on this one is getting it from me. It will not be voluntary, and it will be in the front part of the head where I thought your eyes were, and it will be a sovereign nation with a foreign policy and zoning bylaws. And it will be my cock.”

Bret didn’t know how he got himself into these situations, sometimes.

Bret imagined flashes. Bulbs. The old kind, that exploded over a camera, the kind that helped produce that sepia effect, that burn. The crack sound of a dozen of them going off in the face of a scandal. The crisp nightmare crackle of lightning on a forrest.

The voice continued firing orders at other soldiers. Deaner! I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you’re three seconds away from receiving my rifle up your ass. Strafe! Jump and shoot! Jump and shoot! And…you’re dead. You’re better off. You still there? Good. I want you to hear how little your carcass mattered.”

Bret laid there pretending to sleep because he feared the decisions that came with the new day. Bret and Album had gotten themselves into a mess. Album had found a way to profit. Bret hadn’t. Album had been celebrating a great victory. Bret hadn’t.

Bret imagined flashes. He pictured sirens, cuffs, strong-armed silent brutes in the night, hauling him away.

Album’s low-toned growls continued at a leopard’s pace. He screamed, Everyone move! Move move move! I don’t want to shoot my own men but if y’all don’t get over the barrier in time I will turn every last one of you into carpets!”

Bret breathed deep. He tried to fall back to sleep. But he knew it wasn’t going to happen. Today was happening. Decisions had to be made. This vacation from real life, this glittering city he’d come to for escape, was entirely too over.

“That’s it!” Album screamed. You’re all off my team. Fuck you, you’re sorry. Sorry doesn’t win flags, does it? The whole thing’s tits up. To hell with this goddamn mission.”

Bret saw only black, but he heard everything.

Album threw down his controller, hitting Bret’s leg. He sat up, pretending to be startled.

“Shit, brother,” Album said, picking it back up.

That was the last moment before he had to admit every rotten thing.

Eyes open, eyebrows up, head cocked, Bret said, Don’t worry about it. Sorry you didn’t win.”

“The hell you have to be sorry for?” Album said. You Canadians, man. Apologizing for everything ever done.”

“It’s a tick,” Bret sleepily replied, remembering for the first time in months he didn’t really belong here.

Bret took a look around from his spot on Album’s old, beat-up grey couch. The fabric felt coarse and used, like he brought it in from the street. He’d sat in this room dozens of times but never slept here, and the view in the morning was strikingly different. Sunlight actually penetrated through the blinds, coating everything in a dusty layer. It was never a temple, but for the first time it became obvious to Bret just how filthy Album’s place was. Piles of burned DVDs stacked crooked up against a bookshelf full of computer manuals and get-rich-quick volumes. A couple cases of Diet Coke held up a pancake platter of dead laptops Album didn’t have the heart to recycle. The TV was fogged in dust, but you’d never know it from the way Album played. The game was held in the main menu, waiting patiently for Album to pick up the discarded camouflage-green controller.

Bret had slept in his jeans, but not his shirt. It was sitting lazily folded on the coffee table beside him. There was a pile of porn magazines from 1998. Beside those were half-used candles, a ribbon, and an unraveled coat hanger. Bret sleepily thought, what would MacGyver do?”

Bret tried to find positives.

Album ripped the headset microphone from his ear. And how are we doing this morning?” He asked.

“I hate you,” Bret replied. I hate everything I’ve done for you.”

“You don’t hate me,” Album replied. Okay, you might hate me. But you can’t hate everything I’ve made you do. I’ve got you into so many great parties.”

Bret slipped in, You’ve me tossed out of so many great parties.”

“That’s the gig, my friend. Nobody ever said you’d be popular. But you can’t say there haven’t been perks.”

Bret tried to find positives.

“The dames,” Album poked Bret with his elbow.

“Don’t say dames,” Bret said. He put on his shirt. He stood up and stretched.

Album leaned down and grabbed his smokes off the cola-stained coffee table and headed towards his balcony. Bret followed him out. He was met with warm, dry air. The desert air made him feel like he was on another planet.

He looked down at the radioactive land.

Album lit a smoke and said, I’ve got to find a new place. The view is shit and I think I’m beginning to get away with health code violations.”

Bret asked, How long has that pizza been in your recycling bin?”

“That’s what I mean,” Album said. I’m obviously too much of a child to clean up after myself. I need the sort of place where they’ll kick me out if I’m this awful.”

“You could just hire a maid. They have those, you know. For money.”

“This is a thought. Still, though. I’ve got some real cash burning. New apartment-sized cash. This has been a good quarter.”

Bret said, Lots of scumbags doing scumbag things.”

“We’re like Peter Parker, you know? Taking out the bad guys.”

“Sure,” Bret said. You go ahead and pretend that what we do is good.”

“I sure as fuck will,” Album said.

Bret smoked in general, he wasn’t smoking now. Instead he looked out, saw a highway, his eyed focused, trying to see something in the cars zooming away. He felt the concrete on his fingers of the balcony ledge, and dug in, making his fingernails sore with the pressure.

“I’ve got to get out of here,” he said.

Album laughed. Good. I’ve got a gig for you.”

“No,” Bret said.

“It’s an easy one,” Album said. It’ll get you out of the house. Get your mind off things.”

Bret winced. I mean, I need to get out of here.” He pointed down, off the balcony, towards the restless city. I’ve got to accept the fact that this was all one giant mistake. Pick up, go home, and get back to my regular life. It wasn’t as bad as all this.”

Album flicked his cigarette off the balcony. He went back inside. tsst.”

Bret followed, and thought about what he’d just said. It had been over a year since he’d packed up and drove south for a breather.

“I think you’re making a big mistake thinking like that,” Album said. You’re just a little spooked from all the drama. It’s natural. Do a couple small jobs and you’ll forget all about it.”

Album sat down at his computer, opened up his email.

“Besides,” he said. You’re fucking good at this. It would be such a waste to let some two-bit hack with an expensive dick around his neck replace you.”

Bret shook his head. It had been over a year.

“Look,” Bret said. I get that I’m good. But haven’t you ever been really good at something you can’t stand? It kills me a little bit every day.”

add in a further argument here. It needs to go another 400 words, and album needs to really convince Bret. Maybe take out the part where Bret agrees. Hang the scene on album convincing Bret. But it’s too short right now.

“Here, I’ve got a fun one for you,” Album said, ignoring Bret by pointing to a rumour website. Dawson.”

“I’ve shot her before,” Bret sighed. What’s she up to now?”

Album clicked around his email and RSS feeds. Preggers, apparently.”

“No problem,” Bret said. I just need to do a few things first.”

Album found a story refuting the rumour. It’s not a problem either way. Either we get the shot of her with a food baby and give people the photo op, or we get her with nothing and refute everyone. It’s a win-win day for us. Now get out of here. I’ve got more idiots to kill.”

# # #

Bret opened the door with keys he felt he probably shouldn’t own anymore. This kind of drama? This was key-returning drama. The events of the last week would have, in any real relationship, required a public space and a box of mementos, leafing through with fingers, wondering why the other person ever thought enough to organize such a pile. Bret pictured such a box. It didn’t have much he couldn’t burn and leave on the side of the highway.

And yet not only had Jenny not called for such a meeting, she hadn’t even kicked him out. She had needed a few days, and he’d made camp at Album’s, but the key had never been summoned. He was never texted with the address of a neutral, empty bar.

Jenny was there. Bret heard the clinking of dishes in the kitchen. She was cleaning up, and hadn’t heard the door. He shuffled along, hoping to get a glimpse of her before she saw him and the story moved forward. He hadn’t a damn clue what was about to happen, and a single moment of calm would have been nice to hold onto. But she saw him the second he got close enough, through the opening between the island and the ceiling cupboard. The look on her face was not unsympathetic.

“Hey,” Bret said, waving.

Jenny stopped the sink, dried her hands on a brown cloth towel. She rung it and slipped it through a ring hanging from a cupboard. Through all this, she kept her eyes on him. Jenny moved around the island and came inches from his face. Her upper two teeth bit the fat middle of her upper lip. One eyebrow raised, then another. Bret waited for a reply, studied her eyes for clues. They were iron, grey, and straightforward.

Jenny grabbed a handful of Bret’s tshirt and pulled him forward. The kiss was violent. Jenny inhaled loudly, as she always did when she kissed first. Bret waited for the exhale to step back and open his eyes again.

“I… He began to say, but she stopped him. She put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him again, as if to say, shut the fuck up, idiot. I’m not okay with you and I’m not okay with this. But this is what I want to do right now and don’t fucking question it.”

At least, that’s what he took it as. They moved to the couch. Shirts were thrown. Jenny’s nailed dug into Bret’s chest, leaving white marks where the blood recessed.

Jenny undressed on top of Bret. Her eyes stayed open, as if to say, I’m conscious of this, motherfucker. This isn’t a drunk girl with no idea. I am awake to what’s happening, and what’s happening is my decision. You have so little to do with this, but you need to be here.”

Jenny held tight to Bret’s neck. It hurt him. He should have said something. It would hurt the next day, but even then he wouldn’t regret it. The pain warming his upper spine was no match for maintaining the filthy moment.

As Jenny uncorked Bret’s jeans, he calculated the fucked-wrong math: The only reason Jenny was ever in his life was because she hated what he did. That he was effectively ruined her career was the death of all resistance. She shut that out with the expertise of a psychopath, and Bret never knew just how conflicted she was. As she removed the last of their clothes, she had only a small flicker of sadness- manifest only in the sweat on her forehead, tiny drips of regret, surrender, and loathing.

Jenny wasn’t complicated. What Jenny was doing with Bret wasn’t complicated. Sometimes you love what you’re supposed to hate. Sometimes you love what you say you hate. Sometimes you don’t get to decide who you love. Sometimes you don’t get to decide what gets you off. Sometimes you’d just better wish it’s out there, that you can get your hands on it, that they don’t lock you away for enjoying it, and that there’s still a little bit of you left after it’s all over.

Jenny bit Bret’s lip, came, bit harder, and finally let go. The wound would last a week. She collapsed on him, and they lay on the couch, still together, rabid heartbeat on rabid heartbeat. Breathing slowed. Bret held Jenny in a close embrace, his arms wrapping her whole, his fingers rubbing her back in slow, irregular circles.

Bret knew that Jenny compartmentalized him, placed him firmly in the gullies of her mind, away from the decisions to go to college, to work for Reggie, to give to charity and build houses in South America in the summer of 04. He was never sure what his neighbors were.

Jenny inhaled heavily, pushed herself up and off Bret. She found her clothes, and let him watch her put them all back on.

As if he’d only shown up, she said, I’m going to need your key.”

Bret squinted up at her. He felt heavy, and had to really push to roll off the couch. He zipped up. His shirt hung off the back of the couch. He slipped it on. Reaching inside back pocket, he took out his keychain. It only had two keys—the other started his car. He fumbled with the metal circle. Bret bit his nails, which made intricate things like jewelry and keychains difficult and somewhat painful. This one certainly hurt.

He dropped the key in her hand.

“Are we done?” He asked.

Jenny bit the inside edge of her mouth. She shrugged.

“What was that about?” He wanted to ask. He wanted to go into it right then. He wanted to fight the notion that she wanted him out because she was beginning to see how poisonous their relationship had been to the both of them. But he didn’t, because he was beginning to see it too. But only beginning to.

# # #

Bret’s car had desert stains on the bottom and sides. Every part of the bottom few inches of the white exterior shows rough, aged orange, as if it was dipped a quarter way into sulphur. It was an aught Civic with a few too many crumpled fast food bags under the seats from a few too many late night stakeouts.

Tess had called the day the photo hit the papers. She saw Album’s name in the article and knew that Bret was responsible. She wanted to see if he was all right. They had talked for a few minutes, but both were shit on the phone. Tess told him to come over on the weekend. She promised him a Ceasar with actual Clammato juice, smuggled by a friend from Red Deer.

Other than the phone call, Bret hadn’t talked to Tess since Christmas. Considering their circles, it was wild they hadn’t run into one another. Considering their history, it was wilder neither buckled and booty called.

Bret didn’t particularly want to talk about Album or Jenny or even the Governor. He just wanted to sit and listen to Tess talk about her week, which had few chances in any hell of being worse than his. He was happy they were talking again after so long.

As he drove across town, he didn’t notice the city at all. He’d become so used to the sights that they ceased becoming sights. They were just surroundings. That overhanging camera that shoots over Las Vegas in every movie, the one that makes the city seem seductive and in permanent darkness, that’s not at all what Bret saw. Mostly, he saw a half-assed attempt at a beat up town. Shack-style convenience stores. Dilapidated houses that, in a few years, would be bulldozed and replaced by more strip malls carrying cheap tshirts and phone cards. More and more, Las Vegas was turning into any other American city. Only the funny laws and shiny hotels gave it any semblance of distinction.

Bret stopped at a red light. Surrounded by late afternoon traffic, Bret lit up a cigarette, dragged slowly on it, and hung his arm out the window, the cigarette hanging from two fingers.

Beside him, an SUV with a ten year old in the passenger lane idled. The parent, an out of shape father, in the driver’s side, he sees the cigarette smoke billowing up between the two cars. His windows are rolled down. Bret wasn’t paying attention to anything but the light and the fact that the street sign has been cut in half, labelling the intersection ..den st.” The father, he piped up.

“Hey, fucker, keep your cancer away from my kid!”

The light went green, and the idling SUV sped off ahead of Bret. He didn’t get a chance to get a word in. It was a frustrating moment for Bret. Not because he hadn’t done anything wrong per se, but because he was so quickly insulted and forgotten. It was an emotion he was in touch with, but never seemed to get used to. He sat there, mouth half-open, waiting for the chance to turn.

Tess’ apartment building was next to brand new. It went up 30 floors and had a doorman and a gym and pool. As Bret waited for her to respond to the intercom, a woman in her thirties exited the door in her skin-tight workout clothes and a dog in her purse.

The scratchy, barely audible sound of Tess came through the speaker. Hey?”

“It’s me,” Bret said. He heard the door unlock.

In the elevator, Bret sulked against the glass walls. He could see his reflection in every angle. His eyes were sunken. He looked older than he should have. The sun has been unkind to his skin, turned him leathery in his twenties.

Bret knocked on the door. It took a moment, but he heard rustling from the other end. The door opened, and there she was.

Tess was a shining spectacle of unfair standards. She was the kind of girl you crossed on the street and cursed. They shouldn’t make girls as pretty as Tess. Her perfectly straight Korean black hair framed a face you couldn’t beat with photoshop. Unlike Bret, who appeared crisped by the heat, Tess was still pearly white. Her black, reflective eyes beamed at him, both with nostalgia and a little suspicion. He had no idea how she did it.

“Hey,” she said. I have someone over right now. But I’ll shoo her out.”

Tess lived in a boutique apartment with two small levels. As she climbed the stairs to the living room, Bret slowly followed behind, noticing that her worst habit hadn’t been helped. Tess was a promo girl, and constantly took home grab bags, and she had a problem with throwing any of it away. Bret took stock of the clutter as he climbed. Next to the overpopulated shoe rack were three stacks of fashion magazines—all the same issue. On top of the magazines were gift bags, full of unopened trinkets. A cheap ipod knockoff sat on top of one of them, still sealed in plastic. Further down the hall were piles of clear bags with tiny freebies. Signed copies of Rush Hour 3 on HD DVD. Sample sizes of the new Dior. Packets of mystery-scent candles and gum.

The living room was no better. Several blankets covered a leather couch. The coffee table was covered in magazines, plates, glasses, and cigarette packs. As far as Bret knew, Tess didn’t smoke. Maybe she’d started.

In one of the corner chairs sat a brunette. Like most people, she was taller than Tess. Fake-tanned and bejeweled, she was more made up, too. She looked ready to go out on the town in her green summer dress and black heels. The girl stood and purposefully strode toward Tess and Bret.

Tess said, This is Trice. Trice, this is Bret.”

They shook hands. As their hands clasped, Trice squinted. Then, her hand squeezed Bret’s and held tight. She smirked, and took a half-step back, still holding onto his hand. She made that face girls make when they can’t believe what’s been placed in front of them. Guys don’t have this face, and don’t have a name for it. Bret didn’t see that Trice’s other hand was clenching into a fist.

The first punch landed on the right side of Bret’s nose. It wasn’t the hardest Bret had ever been hit, but it stunned him through sheer surprise. He’d never been punched while off the job. The second punch landed harder, and drew blood from the nostril. Bret stepped back and stumbled. He dropped to a knee. That’s when she began to kick.

“Bastard! You fucker!” Trice screamed, flailing her legs, her shins only somewhat blocked by his hands. Shots got through. Drops of blood were left on her boots.

Tess stood in shock, then did her best to pull Trice away. The hell’s the matter with you?” She yelled, trying to get through.

Tess grabbed the backs of Trice’s arms and yanked her back, giving Bret a chance to breath. Tess turned Trice around and came between her and her blood friend.

“What the fuck, Trice?”

“Of all people,” Trice said, beginning to tremble. Of all people, you’d understand. You’re friends with this asshole?”

Bret stood, wiped his nose with his hand, spreading blood on his skin and shirt. He coughed, and asked, Is this about the campaign?”

Trice stood straight and cocked her head, her brow furrowed mean. Fuck you, scumarazzi.”

“Oh,” Bret coughed. This is about something else.”

“Come on Trice,” Tess said. Let’s leave him alone for now.” She turned to Bret. She did her best to appear apologetic. I’ll be right back, okay? Go get cleaned up.”

Trice backed into the stairs and backed down. She left without turning her back, without really blinking. Tess followed her, closing the door behind her, mouthing I’m sorry” to Bret as she disappeared with her friend.

Bret blinked. He opened his mouth wide, trying to survey the damage without having to look at it. He could feel every artery in his body. His face pulsed with adrenaline.

He touched his nose. It wasn’t broken. Through red-tinted eyes, he stumbled over to Tess’ bathroom and turned on the light. The counter around the sink was so full of sample-sized perfumes, he didn’t even know where to start looking for aid. He looked under the sink for some cotton swabs. He found a few in a ziplock bag, and began dabbing the blood from under his nose. He held his head up. He held the bridge of his nose, and watched himself in the mirror. He looked like a poor idiot, a sad punk. He’d just been beaten up by a girl he’d never met, without any explanation, in the middle of the day.

The worst part was, even though he hadn’t a goddamn clue why it happened, he knew it was definitely his fault.

 

A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 1

A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.

Download A Record Year for Rainfall and my other stories in the books section.

Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.


Bret Fould felt a pull. His face close to the ground, breathing in a resemblance of earth, he shifted his weight slightly and reached back. Laying face-down, his torso beyond the gate, Bret couldn’t quite grasp exactly where the steel mesh grabbed his jacket. He inched backward, hoping it would break free, but the cage held. He crawled back, letting his jacket unfurl over his head. He swore and pulled his arms out through the sleeves. The fence held the jacket now. Bret was bare armed.

He inspected the point where the jacket got caught, and with little effort unlinked them. He patted the jacket down, and felt the chill on his arms. The desert was cold at night. That a city surrounded him didn’t help.

Bret decided to wait a minute before attempting the fence again. He checked his camera for dust. The lens cap was on and sealed. It came off too easily sometimes, but not now. He looked around for guards. He took the piece of paper out from his pocket. His handwriting was messy, and no one else could hope to make it out. He was here, trying to break into a private motel 16 blocks from the strip because of a hunch and a breach of privacy.

It was Bret’s job to get pictures of famous people doing infamous things.

The hunch was the thing. His source was his girlfriend, which made things thorny. His subject was her boss, which made things dangerous. Her boss wasn’t a celebrity, but a politician. The source came from her computer, which she carelessly left open on her coffee table while she went to tip the pizza delivery man. The hunch came from a tiny ruby rounded rectangle with a digital shine on it, peering out as an event on her calendar. It was the calendar she shared with her boss, who she worked for as an administrator. It was a different colour than the other shiny objects on screen. That’s what first caught his eye.

The ruby rounded rectangle had nothing in the name heading. But it did have something in the location. It was the place Bret was halfway through breaking into. It was the place that took a small chunk of fabric out of his jacket.

Bret’s job photographing famous people had given him a very specific list of locations to watch out for, like cues in a pop song with a designated dance. If he saw a name from his job out of context, it bristled the hair on his neck. These were places he’d find acts of lunacy.

The name of this motel stuck out in white Menlo type in a very small size. Bret recognized it, and knew it didn’t belong on a politicians calendar.

Bret put his jacket back on. It felt just warm enough, the thin material keeping the perfect partition from the elements. He’d rather the fence pierce it again than get his back. He didn’t want to be bleeding and running. Of course it would be worse.

Bret was breaking the law, but paparazzi broke the law every day. Bail is included in the fee. Bret worked for a man who replaced his broken cameras, paid for his hospital bills, and once placed Bret’s broken nose in the middle of a golf course. He kept Bret full on booze. He kept his bank account full. He even allowed Bret to set his own hours and pursue his own subjects. It was a sweet gig for the right rebel scum.

Bret had broken the same law in the same place before. It’s how he knew which part of the fence to climb under. It had pierced him before, too, but on the back of his thigh. Doing it over and over just made the law seem trite. He hardly considered breaking and entering an offense at this point.

Album, the absolutely made up name of Bret’s employer, allowed Bret these freedoms and benefits partially based off the quality of the work. As Bret crawled under the gate, inched himself past the flora, and put his back to the faux brick, he felt worth the coin. Album believed employing a single exceptionally driven photographer would net him better results than a dreg of half hearted dream destroyers. So far, the experiment proved fruitful.

There were other reasons Album hired Bret, and they were sinister. But we’ll get there.

You probably know the name Album Yukes. If you don’t, you know someone just like him. He runs a blog you read every day, but pretend not to. He tells you awful things about people, and you feel conflicted joy and guilt. You get off, just a little, on the things Album writes and Bret photographs. If you don’t, if you’re not like that, then you may not have much interest in this story. But Album, Bret, and others like them make a hearty living betting that you do.

The ruby rounded rectangle covered the hours of one to three in the morning. Yes, it seemed odd that there was a calendar event on an employee’s computer about this. Perhaps it was a mistake. Bret could peer into every window of the small motel and find no one of interest. But his hunch suggested otherwise. His hunch suggested that this politician hid a lie in somewhat plain sight. It suggested that the politician trusted this lie with a few close people. His hunch suggested that the event existed on the calendar so he could be reached in an emergency.

Bret began checking windows. He walked the aisle on the first floor that connected all the rooms. It was outside, and Bret couldn’t see anyone. He didn’t count on any security; for all purposes, the fence was the guard, and it was high enough to discourage most. As he walked from unit to unit, he kept close to the walls, trying his best to listen. Brick, painted yellow, faded over time, dug into his back; the coarse material grounding Bret, making him feel heavier and planted. He moved slowly. He crouched past open windows. He thought about the buttons he’d have to press in a video game to do this.

Bret would have to hold down the right shoulder button and press X. He’d then have to carefully inch the analogue stick in the direction he wanted to go. It was both easier and more difficult to do this in real life. He didn’t have to input commands in real life, so there was no chance of ordering his body to do the wrong thing. But he had to actually move in a stealthy, controlled way. This was never as easy as it seemed. In many ways, the character Bret played in a video game was a much better physical specimen, even if there was no actual physical specimen to compare.

There was lag in Bret. He hated his lag.

It was possible that Bret and Album played too many video games. If it were a more moderate amount, Bret likely wouldn’t have equated his current situation to a level. But it still made him smile, because he thought it was both sad and clever. He climbed the stairs—heavy, loud metal slats full of holes—and headed to the next set of rooms.

There was a light on a few rooms down. As he inched towards it, past three apparently empty rooms, Bret weighed the chances that he was walking into a trap. All at once, everyone in his life became a suspect. Album tricked him into dating Jenny. Jenny tricked him into looking at the computer. The event was there because they both knew Bret couldn’t help himself.

It all fell apart quickly. Album couldn’t stand Jenny, or at least the idea of her. They hadn’t met. Jenny didn’t want much to do with Bret’s job. Her feelings on it leaned negative. And Album couldn’t even be in on the job. Bret hasn’t told him about any of it, just in case it turned out to be nothing. Bret supposed that Jenny could have possibly known something, but if the simplest answer was the right one, she slipped up. She should have closed her laptop, but she didn’t. Simplest answer being the right one, Jenny trusted Bret not to snoop.

But what if Album and Jenny did know one another? What if Album cocked the whole thing up with her? What if he tricked her? Bret inched closer to the light.

Bret didn’t know much about the Governor of Nevada. He knew Jenny worked for him as an administrator or secretary or something like that. He needed to learn to listen better. He was sure she said administrator but it didn’t often come up. He knew the Governor was conservative and white and stuffy. He knew he was in his fourties, wore good suits, and spoke freely about his religious views. In that way he was typical of the sort of politician you would see in that time: tense about progression, eager to please an older voting bloc, and quick with rhetoric and convenient—though technically incorrect—factoids. Bret had only ever seen him on television, except for one time he walked by a photo op outside the Golden Nugget. There, he saw a slew of journalists using older cameras, stock grades purchased by committee on a budget. All he remembered was smirking like a smug fool. Photos taken with consent were never very fun.

A block away lay a sleeping construction site. Las Vegas fattened in every direction with new lucre. It used to be home to the vicious and lascivious, but increasingly was home to people, stock varieties without mutation. Bret peered out on the shaken plain, knowing oversized suburban sprawl when he saw it. This motel was quaint in comparison. It was a relic of a shameful past and present. Bret would be surprised if it lasted another five years.

Las Vegas was being gentrified, and Bret and Album were helping it along. They made it just a little more difficult for things to stay quiet, and their customer was the suburbanite; warm and cozy, ghettoizing guilty pleasure to a touch screen.

The light of the motel room was a beacon. As Bret peered through a break in the curtain, what he saw shocked him in new places. It wasn’t the state of affairs. Gay sex was rote at this point. Even gay sex involving a supposedly straight, conservative politician was a bit cliché. There had been two decades of scandal and hypocrisy to make it hardly surprising that such a staunch defender of traditional marriage would be caught in the arms of a stronger man.

What shocked Bret was that he was actually here, that his hunch proved fruitful, that it led him to a goddamned bed of riches. He came in with no expectations, and look what he found. It wasn’t even close to the first scandal of its kind, but that was almost better. The narrative was already established. Everyone already knew what to expect out of the bold surprise. And while it happened at least twice a year, it still headlined newspapers and dominated talk radio.

The cap of the lens came off with a snap. It ended up tucked in a jacket pocket.

Thoughts of guilt arose in Bret’s consciousness. It didn’t stop him from shooting, but they were there. They always appeared at this moment. The guilt came in the form of voices, usually what he imagined the celebrity sounded like in defeat. He would hear them plea that privacy is a right, that he was ruining their life. He didn’t know the governor’s voice from memory, so he sounded like Hugh Grant, a man Bret had fistfought outside two seperate restaurants. In Bret’s head, the governor held out his hand, trying to stop scandals from existing. But scandals don’t happen because people do bad things. Scandals happen because people believe there is scaffolding, some constructed apparatus that keeps them from being caught. Scandals happen because nobody is in charge.

Bret took a dozen pictures. They were well lit. Better, they were indisputable. The governor, in shape, tan, sweaty, passionate, and in focus.

Who was the other man, Bret wondered? What was his place in all this? How would his life play out, outed as it were as a peripheral. Bret hoped he would be the most innocent person of all. The governor would be torched. Bret and Album would be decried as scum. Even the people of Nevada would look inward a little and doubt their ability to trust. But this man? He’s the innocent. He’s just here for a good time. Or is it love? Are they lovers? Is it more than a motel fling? Even better. This man will somehow be a hero. He’s the only one doing nothing wrong. These were things Bret wanted to be true.

Bret capped the camera. A job well done and halfway home. Second star to the right. Or it would have been if his phone hasn’t decided to vibrate. Instinct and Internet addiction made him reach for it. He saw Jenny’s face, smiling, half-drunk and under a retro filter. He’d answer later. He’d call her back when he was way clear. He declined the call, but she rang again. He repeated, and then so did she. This was insistence. He turned the phone off and pocketed it, but thirty seconds of delay was enough to shipwreck the enterprise.

The door of the motel cracked open with lightening and loose wood. The lover was standing in front of Bret stark naked and breathing hard. Bret jumped to his feet, and the innocent pursued, his bare feet smacking the cement balcony. Bret reached the stairs, and he did his best to not turn to face the man, to catch a glimpse of his pursuer. He heard the footsteps, but more readily the screaming, the panicked gasps and gasses and pants of a very in shape and justifiably furious lover. Bret’s feet hit fake earth, but he tripped and lost his five-yard lead. The man caught a piece of his jacket. Bret swatted the hand away, the grip loose for real offense, and too few knuckles in play. Bret regained his footing and sprinted towards his original entrance point. He did this instinctively, and within a few seconds realized his mistake. He wasn’t nearly far enough away from his pursuer to successfully climb or crawl under the danged fence. When the thought finally did hit him, he was only a few feet from it, and he was forced to turn and face the man. As he did, Bret smirked; he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t believe he was being chased and possibly—if caught—beaten and humiliated by a man with so wild and long a cock. It was admirable from any distance, even in the dark.

Of course, only then did he realize the way out of peril: punch the poor bastard in the dick. It wouldn’t be hard, he thought. He laughed out loud. He charged the man. It was a gamble, and another heel moment in a series. The guilt kept hitting him, gaining traction and specificity. Not the dick, it said. Come on, he reasoned with himself. You’re a scoundrel but you’re not a dick puncher.

Once again, the guilt was loud but ineffective. Bret crouched before coming into contact with all the flesh, his shoulder hitting stomach, his legs firmly below. He could lift him, or drop him. He could tie him up in a bear hug, but what would that accomplish? What was the goal here? He’d ran, and been cornered. Now, he was fighting, but to what end?

The man grabbed not for Bret, but for the strap holding his camera by his waist. Within a second, he had the lens gripped. Bret shifted gears, swallowed his guilt and—out loud—said fine,” and grabbed the still-hard schlong and yanked. He couldn’t bring himself to actually strike it, and in the panic figured this was the next best thing. For a moment, before the wailing, Bret held onto one shaft while the naked man held onto Bret’s lens. The metaphor stuck with Bret for a long time.

Bret let go of the cock and made a fist, about to go big or go home. He didn’t have to punch him, because the man backed off, Bret’s camera in his hand. Bret held nothing. The man hoisted the camera, his lean, cyclist muscles shining in the dark lawn, and he looked like he was seriously considering smashing the device. Instead, he dropped it lightly to the ground, and cupped his hand in a motion any martial arts fan would recognize. He was telling Bret to come back, to re-enter the fracus, to bring whatever it is he was willing to bring.

Bret wasn’t willing to bring much. He turned and ran. He’d felt the naked man’s strength. He would be pulverized. It wouldn’t even be close. But in the fray, they’d switched places, and now Bret was only thirty or so yards from the real motel entrance, and he’d only need to hop a short vehicle barricade and sprint a short distance to true darkness and safety. So that’s what he did. The naked man did not pursue him. Disarming Bret and standing some ground was enough. He had the camera, so his lover’s secrets were safe. These were things he wished were true.

Away from it all, hands sweaty and sticky with earth, dust, and a little cum, Bret composed himself. He hid in an alleyway, between well-lit suburban housing. The imported wood he leaned on felt like it had never been leaned on by anyone before. It was cheap and thin but structurally sound, as if it was built to whether storms the state would never see. He caught his wasted breath. He blinked and coughed and patted down his clothes. He checked his pocket, to make sure the memory card from the camera was safe. Of course it was. He wasn’t going to risk the best payday of the quarter on a ground war. The flimsy plastic took up a knuckle of space in his hand. He cupped it, returned it to his safe pocket, and stood. He began to walk towards the closest populated street, to hail down a cab that would drive him home, to connection and rest and progress.

A Record Year for Rainfall

A Record Year For Rainfall is a book about becoming unstuck from your own mess. Bret is a paparazzi in Las Vegas, but he’s not from there and doesn’t like what he does. He fell into the work while on vacation from his regular life. It wasn’t supposed to become a thing he did for more than a few weeks. But then his girlfriend left him and he fell in love with someone else and everything went to hell.

There’s a gay politician, only he’s not out and he’s a republican. Bret’s girlfriend worked on his campaign. Bret found out, and took a picture of the man in the act. He gave it to his boss, who put it on the internet. Bret’s girlfriend left him, which makes him dumped, twice, in a city he hates.

The narrative of the book begins here, with Bret on the couch of his employer, a bastard of a celebrity blogger. He wants to leave town, but he already ran away from his life. What would running away from this accomplish?

Bret’s first ex, she’s still in town. She works promo in the clubs. She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing with her life, either. Her best friend keeps pushing her towards easier money with just a little bit more skin.

Bret’s second ex, the republican, she’s still in love with Bret, and wrestles with what he did to her boss.

There’s lots of drugs, running from the police. And there’s a stalker, this creepy guy who won’t leave Bret alone, who keeps taking pictures of him. People get hurt. There’s consequences to every action, and a few of them involve wet, ugly fistfights in alleyways. Bret smokes. He drives around. He figures his shit out.

A Record Year for Rainfall is about getting out of your lazy life and falling back in love, if only for the drive home.

That’s the book.

I’m leaving Tumblr

I just spent 20 minutes revamping some things on the backend of the site and felt the brunt of no fewer than three error messages. This place is just not stable. It’s sad, really. Tumblr was the first website I ever really, really liked. I’ve been on and off the place since 2006, finally settling in last summer and digging in hard.

But what to do? Where does one go? Wordpress? Egad. Blogspot? I’d rather be Amish. Windows Live Spaces?

Morning pages, November 18, 2010

When I can, I sometimes wonder if every mind is as clouded as mine. I don’t think it can be true. How would we have come this far on this little? I feel I have little. My head is an empty room with a few small boxes half-filled with insignificant objects. Some of these objects flicker. Sometimes an object lights up, and I feel something resembling an impulsion. When I am hungry, I am only sort of so. When I am horny, I feel like I’m calling to myself from a hundred yards away in downtown traffic. I barely get the message. People can’t feel like this all the time.

I looked it up online. There’s a few psychological problems that list haziness I’m the mind as a symptom. But I don’t feel depressed or suicidal. I don’t feel afraid of anything or anyone. I mostly just feel broken. I mostly just feel like an outdated and unfinished set of door-to-door encyclopedias.

I’m not good at any job. I’ve never worked at the same place for more than six months. Either I get fired or I quit. When i’m shown the door, poor performance is usually the reason. When I quit, it’s because I’ve saved enough for two months of unemployment and I just don’t see the point of doing the work anymore.

I like the Internet too much. I spend all day in front of my glowing rectangle. Sometimes I’ll read the same story three times and still not remember it in a few hours. Ask the average person what they had for breakfast yesterday and they might not remember. I don’t know where the last month went. I honestly can’t account for the time. I waste my time how most teenagers blow through their first credit card. I don’t want to be this wasteful. I’m sure I could contribute to society in some meaningful way, and I want to. But my mind is hazy. I can’t get past the small room with the small objects. I know enough to know there’s more, because I see people with more. I’m scared to death that the push to be something successful is nowhere inside me.

Book(s) update

So you can count 2010 as another year where I’ve had every single intention of creating a really terrible zero draft of a book in November and then had the will of the universe put a stop to it. Last year it was a job thing. The year before that it was a personal thing. The year before that, I don’t know, probably Twitter.

I will say I threw down a pretty great character graph, and I might take a sketch or two and add it to the pile of things I want to make into my next big project, Pilfer. Spoiler: it might not just be a book.

A Record Year For Rainfall is still coming, of course. All evidence of it on this blog has been erased for a very special reason. I want to make the lead-up for it really awesome. I think people are really going to love the book and I want it to have the best possible chance of success.

T-minus two weeks until the launch of the new Gredunza Blog, where I will be blogging about publishing on a regular again. I’m going to settle into a nice publication routine for a while. I have a book coming out this fall that most people won’t care about, but the people who will, will.

Taking a break from the pulse

I don’t update this site very often, but I’m very alive and present elsewhere, but from here until probably after Christmas, I won’t be. That’s not to say I’m embracing the luddite philosophy–I wouldn’t be me if I did that. It’s just that I have some very important work to do in the next three months, and the constancy of living on the internet has a tendency to hamper true productivity. You’ll see me, and products by me, but you likely won’t be seeing many tweets or useless blog posts.

Here’s a basic outline of what I’ll be working on:

  • Finishing off the wrestling book, International Object.
  • Writing a new novel before Christmas.
  • Finishing a series of articles and videos for writing in the age of electronic ink. These will be available here and on Gredunza Press.

You’ll see evidence of these things over the next little while, but probably little else. These things are more important to me than letting you guys know what I had for breakfast, though I do love doing that on occasion.

Nanowrimo novel 2010

we’re flawed because we want so much more… we’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.” - Mad Men How do you know when you’ve had enough? Enough to start, finish, or simply maintain?” - Merlin Mann

I’ve been thinking really hard lately about over-consumption. Not about food or waste, though those things certainly play a part, but about the time we have in our lives and how we let it go with such crap. And I don’t even mean our hobbies, things we care about. More and more our lives our filled to the brim and boil over with interruptions and fake-important items that we can’t get our work and play and love properly done. So I’m going to write a book about polygamy, and I’m going to try to make it funny but probably it’ll be sad, and I’m going to do it over Nanowrimo.

No Chinook available on Amazon

It may have taken a lot longer than I thought, but No Chinook is now available as a paperback physical specimen of a book on the Amazons dot coms.

Two points of interest: My book is also available on Amazon via them Kindle things, but the two pages are not connected, even though I uploaded them using the same account and there is only one ticket for the both of them.

I have no idea why it says Volume 1. I never put that on the form, and there is no Volume 2 in the plans. For those of you who have read it know it’s a pretty self-contained narrative.

Still, Amazon, right? That’s the promised land! Or something.

No Chinook Chapter 10

No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

As I stood outside of Shawn’s place, I wondered just exactly how many people lived there. I didn’t know any of them. Maybe it was four or five, but it could have easily been twice that. The total number wasn’t important, however. The only thing that mattered right now was how many of them were inside right now. I wondered how many of them knew as much about Shawn as I did. It was a ludicrous idea, but I couldn’t help but feel that they were all probably going to hear what was about to happen.

I knocked. It took a minute, but then a girl answered the door. I recognized her, but it took a second of squinting to focus on the name. We said, Alice,” at the same time. I was guessing and she was helping me out.

Hi,” she said. You were at that party.”

Yeah. I remember you,” I said. You were reading that Anne Sexton book.”

Don’t remind me,” she said. I was still outside. I failed the damn test. I really don’t know what you see in her.”

I’m sorry about that,” I said. If it’s any consolation, people don’t know what I see in my girlfriends, either. Is Shawn here?”

She let me in. Alice was wearing pyjama bottoms and slippers. I don’t think I woke her up. Her black hair was done nicely in a ponytail, and her makeup was done. She held her tea mug close, as if she was gathering comfort from its warmth.

I thanked her and went upstairs. I couldn’t wait for him to come to me. Thankfully Alice didn’t stop me.

I knocked on his door. I didn’t hesitate like I used to. I was always a little unsure about knocking on Shawn’s door. I think it was the thrill of it, but that was gone now. He opened it, and he looked the same. I didn’t know what I expected to be different, but nothing was. His face was clean, he’d clearly tidied up his room this morning, and he was dressed sharply, as if I caught him on his way to work.

Hi,” I said, sounding unrehearsed. He didn’t really know what to do, but right then I felt good that I’d come. For once, he wasn’t in control.

He tried to speak, but I put my hand on his cheek. My thumb pressed against his lips, and he shut them. I didn’t look at him with love because there was no love, but it was a look of affection he didn’t question or fight. He might have been confused or angry, or maybe he’d been dreaming about this moment, but it didn’t matter to me. I closed his door.

My other hand pressed down on his other cheek and I held his head in my hands. I looked at him in a way he’d never seen, and his surprise would have been more apparent had I not been slowly moving him toward his bed. His hands were on my forearms now, letting me guide him to the edge, until the back of his legs bumped up against the mattress and his knees buckled as he sat down. I let go of his face and let his hands touch mine, and for a moment I thought of leaving him like this.

I want you to know something,” I said, taking off my jacket. I didn’t have anything to say to him, so I didn’t say anything. I just took the back of his neck with my right hand and pulled his head up. I was right above him, and if there were something to say, it would have been right then.

Instead, I lowered him onto his back and crawled on top. Shawn looked confused, perhaps waiting for when I’d speak. I was fine with his unease. Without it, I might not have been able to kiss him like I did.

There are fast and hard kisses, and kisses so wide and messy that one can’t help but get dirty, but when I kissed Shawn on his bed then, it was one of those kisses that was going to last for several minutes. It lasted long, but there wasn’t much movement. It was as simple as having my lips on his lips with the kind of pressure that didn’t suffocate but certainly left no room for negotiation.

His hands emphasized his confusion. They didn’t know where to go, and he was shifting from my shoulders to the sides of my ribs to my hair and back. I finally let go of this kiss and he gasped for air. I could have left him here and a point would have been made, but it wasn’t the one I was going for. Simply kissing him wasn’t going to be enough.

He was tugging at the bottom of my shirt, and I took it off, showing him that he was definitely going to get lucky. I kissed him again, shorter this time, but harder. I kissed his neck and he moaned. I hated his stubble and was happy whenever I’d catch him within a few hours of shaving. His face was smooth this afternoon. I could feel his feet rub up against mine. His hands were on my back and when I kissed him again it was as if he’d woken up and was finally ready to accept that I was in his life and wanting what was going to happen.

I’d made love to Shawn enough to know how he worked, and with that template I was comfortable taking over and doing everything right. I knew he liked to have his nipples licked while his pants came off. I knew that kissing the side of his stomach made him crazy. And I knew what he hated, too, like when I used to go for his cock before his boxer briefs were all the way off. These are small things that only a few people in the world knew, and I took my time with them. I savoured Shawn. I did not want this to end quickly. It took me nearly twenty minutes to get us both naked. 

Sex wasn’t work with Shawn. He liked things done slowly, and for the most part, so did I. Still, even at the pace he enjoyed, Shawn didn’t play it by ear. He had a formula for sex. I knew this from the beginning, when he did things in the exact same order three nights in a row. It was as if he’d been taught in adolescence that there was only one way to fuck. I used to entertain the thought that he had a different way of doing things with everyone that he had been with; that at the beginning of every new sexual relationship, he would map out a game plan and stick to it. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that when Shawn took my finger in his mouth and massaged my inner thigh, then scooted down a bit so that pulling on my cock would be comfortable for his arm, that’s likely exactly what he did with Mark and everyone else he’d ever fucked.

For these reasons and others, Shawn never surprised me in bed. He got hard at the same time no matter what, and he always took pretty much the same amount of time to get off. This repetition never bothered me, though. It was a comfort to know that he was a sure deal, that in his routine I was just as much a focal point as he was, that everything happened in a way that felt natural and right, and that it would always end the same way.

He naturally went from stroking and sucking me to asking if I was ready. It was the first thing he’d said since I got here, and I knew it was more from habit than to actually say something about me being here. I turned over and put a pillow between my head and my hands, and Shawn found his way on top. Like he always did, he kissed the back of my neck as he moved his cock into me. He took it slow, taking the opportunity to move his hands around my back and around to my chest. I let out a few choice gasps, but for the most part, the two of us were either moaning or silent.

I didn’t think much while making love to Shawn, but what crept through were random thoughts of other times I’d made love. Flickers of memories of Kate, of Carly, and of a few one-night-stands in college flew in and out as Shawn thrust and moaned. I never really forgot about any of these experiences, and just about every time I had sex with him, they would appear. Shawn kissed my back and upped his pace a little. I reached back and gripped his thigh. I loved the feel of his legs.

It never takes Shawn long to come, but it doesn’t for me, either. Just from Shawn’s touch, I get close. I could feel it building since the moment he kissed me back, and I was on the verge when I could feel him start to buck. His right hand on my shoulder blade, and his left on my ass, holding me in place. My hands begin to dig into the mattress. It’s amazing, when he comes. It’s bested only by its consistency.

Trimmed, clean fingernails dug into my skin. I was right behind him.

We came pretty close together, and I collapsed under him. In the haze, I heard him cry out for a second, and it was nice. I tried to look back with my face in the sheets, but I only got a glimpse of his face. It was a great face.

Shawn laid on me for a minute or two, catching his breath and allowing his quickened heartbeat to sync with my own. After that, he fell to my side and we held each other and slowly kissed. It was as it had always been; as if it just might be something that would never end. Making love to Shawn felt like something I could see myself doing for a living.

He asked what I was thinking in his tiny whisper.

I said, I feel like smoking.”

I feel like this is perfect,” he replied.

Why?”

Because you came back. You’re here and this is all going to be okay.”

He sounded like a hopeless romantic, and it was a little sad to think that I might have said the same thing not too long ago. 

It is, is it?” I asked, not really meaning it to be a question.

For a while there I was afraid, because it seemed like you’d got over me and I had lost you to Kate, but that’s all over now and you’re here.”

You think I’m here because Kate dumped me?”

No, I’m sure you’re not, Scotty,” he said. But Kate was just a reason for you to get away from me for a little while to think things through. Even if you don’t see it now, you’ll figure it out eventually. You were mad at me, but you got over it and you’re back.”

I see.”

And you know that I left Mark. I mean, Kate must have mentioned.”

Sure,” I said. I didn’t want to get into how I actually found out.

Am I missing something?”

I sat up and started looking around for my clothes.

He said, I’m not really sure what I said just now. Weren’t we okay? I was okay.”

I didn’t answer him.

Scott, I don’t get it. One minute you’re all over me, and it’s great, but the next you’re bolting for the door? Talk to me.”

I found my jeans, but Shawn grabbed my arm, so I had to look at him.

I said, You don’t get it, and I don’t want to waste my time telling you.” I shrugged his grip off of me and put my jeans on. Sensing that this argument might leave his room, Shawn found his as well.

So, what? That’s it? You’re leaving? This doesn’t make any sense, Scott.” 

Shawn, I’d like this to have a little silent dignity about it.”

What the fuck does that mean?”

Nevermind,” I said. I began to walk, but he grabbed me again. I turned back to face with with a look of impatience. 

He asked, Can you at least explain to me what I don’t get here? Because I thought I had everything figured out.”

Jesus, Shawn. You’re as smart as you are and you still want me to spell it out?”

His face told me that he did.

All right,” I said. I’ll tell you what you’re missing. Yeah, I was pissed off when I gave you that ultimatum and you stayed silent. But really, I was just kind of confused as to why you wouldn’t pick me given all those pretty lines you used to feed me, but also because of what you said to Kate about us. Shawn, I’ve never been your boyfriend. I don’t get why you’d say that.”

It was wishful thinking,” he said. It was me fast-forwarding to now when you and I got back together.”

There is no us, Shawn,” I said. I sighed, but this was true. There never was.”

What was that, then? What was coming to my place and making love? Tell me what that was.”

I put on my shirt. It felt crumpled, but warm. It was what I needed.”

It was what I needed too. I need you, Scott.”

No,” I said, You really don’t.”

I love you.”

Even though he’d said it over the phone, I was still surprised. It stopped me and made me sit on his bed and look him dead in his pretty brown eyes. Here in this moment I felt I could do anything in the world.

I’m not saying I don’t believe you,” I said. I’m not saying that it isn’t a really sweet notion, and I’m not saying that I never wanted to be with you. I really did for a long time, and for most of that time I believed it could actually happen.”

It can. It can happen now.”

Fuck, Shawn. Just shut up, will you?” My head jerked. Before this moment, Shawn had never outright asked me to be with him. I can’t say it wasn’t flattering, and I can’t say I didn’t consider it.

Shawn,” I held my ground, clenched my fists. This was harder thank I thought it would be. I took a breath, and I remembered that poem. My favourite.

Shawn, let’s face it. I’ve been momentary.”

What?”

I said, This wasn’t an experiment.”

I know that. Maybe it started that way but…”

I said, I give you back your heart.”

What?”

Just let me say this, okay?”

He didn’t know what to do, or what I was doing, so I kept going. I sat down next to him. I said, I give you permission. Shawn, listen. You loved Mark. You had this thing with me, and maybe it was a sort-of love, but it doesn’t matter. You loved him. He’s the sum of yourself and your dream.”

Scott, all I wanted was…” I wouldn’t let him get a word in.

He’s solid, Shawn. The fact is, I really don’t know how solid I am. I’ve got to figure that out, and I really can’t see myself figuring anything out if I’m with you.”

Shawn sat silent, finally getting what had been brewing inside me this whole time.

I came over here tonight to try to get over you, because I’ve never been good at getting over anyone. I mean, I still think about that girl from high school I told you about. I don’t know if this’ll work, but it’s the best thing I could think of.”

Shawn was either holding back tears or fists. Neither would have surprised me at this point.

Look, Shawn, I know this is hard right now. But I think you really loved Mark, and maybe you were looking at me as some kind of escape from commitment or being an adult, I don’t know. But Mark really loves you and…”

How do you know?”

What?”

How do you know that Mark really loves me?”

Can’t I just know?” I really wanted to hit him.

It’s not like I don’t miss him,” Shawn said, and I let him keep going. Parts of me wish that I’d never done it. I mean, yeah, there was something really strong there, and that’s what made me go quiet before. But after you left, I realized how much I couldn’t accept losing you, and if there was any chance of getting you back, well, that’s what I’d do.”

I began to close up. I said, But what you’d realize Shawn, is that ultimately you would have grown tired of me and moved on. I was this idea in your head that isn’t really me, and that’s because you and I never got each other on my terms. I am lots of what you don’t know, Shawn.”

Flecks of Shawn got that. I could tell because I could see right through him.

As for me,” I said, knowing what I wanted to finish. I am watercolour.”

I hugged Shawn, and in the middle of this embrace I whispered in his ear, I wash off.”

Shawn didn’t cry. He didn’t cry because he never did, and I never expected him to. In the end, we all become who we are, who we’ve been, and who we rarely say we want to be. Shawn, in all his handsome, selfish, and satisfying ways, whispered in my ear that he doesn’t want me to ever get over him. Please,” he said, as if I were holding something tangible that belonged to him.

That’s selfish of you,” I said, comforted by his one quality that would always likely be more charming than not. But it’s all right. I probably won’t.”

I kissed him, not with thunder but with all the implications of goodbye I knew how to express, wrapped up in a hug and a kiss. I cried a little, but I tried not to let him notice.

He didn’t try to stop me as I left his room. I inched down the stairs, put my boots back on, and left his giant house.

It was just as freezing outside as it had been since the end of the Chinook, but it was the first time all winter that I’d really felt the chill. I didn’t feel happy, relieved, or even tired. I just felt cold.

I realized, and I realized, and I realized. In the end, I found that most of my epiphanies led to nothing. Much like my spectrum, each realization became less meaningful every time a new one came around. I thought that it might be nice to go a little while before I begin learning new things about myself again.

That’s why I walked the same route to the LRT as I always did after seeing Shawn. It occurred to me that I should find another route to set my mind off course, that I could erase sections of memory that always held me when I walked this street. I thought that if I found a path I’d never taken, I’d be able to clear my head of Shawn, Kate, Carly, Mark, everyone. Maybe if I travelled somewhere new. Maybe if I met some new people. Maybe if I reinvented myself somehow.

But I didn’t, because the path I took no longer signified anything. I kept straight down the same path I had taken every other time. I climbed the same steel staircase that seemed to lead straight up to the clear, wide Calgary sky.

No Chinook Chapter 9

No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

When I woke up in my own bed the next day, it didn’t feel like home. I missed Kate’s body; her slow breathing when she slept, her arm draped across my chest, her leg weighing down on mine. I missed her sheets, her ceiling, her bed. Walking around my apartment felt like purgatory. I’d been out so long I barely registered that my fridge was empty and all my clothes were dirty and my fish was dead.

Considering what happened the night before, I slept remarkably well. It wasn’t that I wanted to sleep alone or that I didn’t want to run down every street I could to look for Kate and Ray. It’s that I knew exactly what was and wasn’t hopeless. There were exactly two things that could have happened. Ray showed up drunk and looking to end his bereavement, or he showed up in and at his best. Kate either left so that she could formally reject him without the public drama, or they got back together. I wasn’t an idiot. It’s not like my mind hadn’t been on Shawn for most of the week. God knows how much she thought of Ray. It was hopeless to try to stop it. It wasn’t hopeless, however, to crash and dream.

Even though I could think about the two of them reconciling, and even though that seemed like the clearest reality, it still hurt just about all over. I still had her nail marks on my back, and I still had her voice in my head. When I poured my coffee, I could hear her voice, telling me to make it stronger. When I cooked my breakfast, she would suggest burning the bacon just a little more. I hated it. I wanted her to be beside me, tugging on my shoulder, leaning on the counter, kissing my cheek and grazing the back of my ass with her thigh. I wanted her there, at my place, telling me that she found my pictures fascinating and my bed snug. I wanted her to be with me, but she wasn’t, and more than likely, she never had been.

I sat back down on my bed and I cried into my hands. It was pathetic, but it’s the truth. I didn’t have to wonder how she could do this to me because it all came way too easily. She called me and said she needed me because I was fresh in her life, unaware of her recent drama. It had all been coincidence before that point, but she knew I wouldn’t reject her. 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Kate had copied something I’d seen back in high school almost to the letter. Josh Randle had dumped Amanda Winters a few times before she shaved her head, and during one of their breaks, we all saw her going around with Matthew Sharpton pretty much the next day. They were inseparable for about a week, and then she got back together with Josh as if nothing had ever happened. I remembered Amanda telling us that Matthew was like a week of beautiful weather in the middle of a deadly winter. We all wondered why she didn’t stay with the nice guy, but wondering never got any of us anywhere. People do what they do. They love who they love. Reason, as I’ve heard hundreds and hundreds of times, has just about nothing to do with it.

What this did was remind me of the night Kate threw her bracelet in the lake, and how unoriginal I found her sense of revenge and drama. I felt I’d lived through far more than Kate, and she was just now catching up to feeling things I’d experienced years before. And at that moment, finally, my spectrum crumbled. The last week’s worth of events had cracked the seams and tattered the edges of my theories, but sitting on my bed in my filthy, empty apartment confirmed its destruction.

Kate was probably the most interesting person I’d ever spent that much time with, but there was absolutely no pattern that defined her. And now that she’d vanished with her ex-boyfriend, there’s really no accounting for any kind of pattern. 

People are happy when things are good. They’re unhappy when it’s shit. Sometimes, they do something about it. Sometimes they go back to the asshole that caused all their problems to begin with. Their position in life has nothing to do with anything. It was unfair, but it was irrefutable.

What it came down to was perspective. Even though I couldn’t picture Kate right now, I could only imagine that she was happy with whatever choice she’d made. Shawn could be anywhere, and he was probably happy. 

My phone rang in the living room. It had to be work. I hadn’t even bothered calling in sick. I banged my shoulder against the door on the way out and looked at the phone. I saw Shawn’s number, and for the first time in over a week, I felt I could pick up and talk to this man. 

It wasn’t that I needed or even wanted him. It was that he couldn’t touch me in the state I was in. The one advantage to being freshly heartbroken is the shell surrounding one’s vulnerability.

We’ve got to get together and talk,” he said, in that way he used to when he wanted to make it seem pleading but really knew I would give in eventually.

I don’t know, Shawn,” I said. I really don’t see any reason to see you. I mean, if you want to talk about things like closure and acceptance, then, well, I’m really not that guy. I’m not going to get over this no matter how much closure you create. No matter what happens, I’ll probably think about what happened between us and talk about it to new friends and girlfriends and boyfriends until they’re really damn sick of it.”

Why do you say that?” he asked. It dawned on me that I hadn’t really been like that with Shawn. I hadn’t been neurotic in the way I was with other people. I hadn’t been as open, either. I was always putting on my best when he was around, and it was as if my fantasies happened in parallel relationships off in other regions of the universe.

This needed to be illuminated. There was something about the brunt descent into sadness that brought the release of truth. I guess you never really got to see the part of me that does that,” I said. I really don’t get over things. It doesn’t matter if they were good or bad. If I love someone, even if it’s ridiculous, it stays with me. That probably makes you happy, knowing that I’ll still be talking about you years after you’ve forgotten about me.”

Who said anything about forgetting you?” he asked, which was sweet, but empty to me in the present circumstances.

Whatever, Shawn. It’s not like any of this is important anymore.”

What’s gotten into you?” he asked, even though I could tell he wasn’t actually asking me at all. Right, of course. Kate.”

What about Kate?” I asked. She has nothing to do with you and me.”

Yeah, she does,” he said. She has just about everything to do with it.”

How?”

Do you know where she is right now?”

What?”

Well, she’s not with you, right?” he asked like he already knew. So where is she?”

I don’t know,” I said. And why do I have a feeling that I didn’t need to tell you that?”

What I’m saying here,” Shawn said, his voice firmer than usual, You need to listen to.”

What is it, Shawn?” I asked, remarkably smarmy. You know where she is? Well, I know where she is. She’s with Ray. Am I right? Did they get back together? Did she fucking use me, Shawn? I figured it out. It took me exactly two seconds to piece it together. I’m not going to get hit with this drama. I’m not in suspense, and I’m not having fun. I’m fucking heartbroken. But that’s how it goes. Fuck the spectrum, you know? It was just naïve and childish justifications for my shit life. That’s it. That’s all it was for me, and that’s all I was for her, and that’s all I was for you, and I’m pretty fucking sick of it all and I’d like to be left alone.”

Shawn cleared his throat. I could hear him sitting down. I could hear the motion in his breath. He asked, Are you done?”

Are you going to make things worse?” I asked. Because if what you have to say just makes things worse, then I don’t want to hear it. I think I’ve got things pretty fucking wrapped up here, and it makes a nice succinct little story to tell at the bars in Europe to strangers with backpacks, and I don’t want any more.” I don’t know what it is about telling someone off, but I felt fifteen feet tall. So will it make it worse?”

Over the phone, miles away, wind, water, and a hundred thousand people between us, Shawn said, I love you.”

Well shit,” I said, and dropped the phone. I dropped the phone, and didn’t pick it up until I could take a few breaths and lean my head against the nearest of my boring, white walls. I heard him saying Are you still there?” because there was no noise between us.

With my hand I clenched the phone so hard it felt like it could break in my hand. I said, shivering, wanting to slam my head through the wall, Yeah, I’m still here.”

Good,” he said.

You know, Shawn,” I began. There were so many times I wanted to hear you say that. Really, I’m serious; there were times I wanted nothing more. But even then, even those dark nights on your patio when you held me, even those mornings in your sheets, those days in the park and at the movies, you were never really with me. But what I really wanted was to escape everyone else’s cheap declarations of love.”

I thought of my last week with Kate.

Then, I thought, I’m finally seeing Shawn as a man. He wasn’t a cute boy for me anymore. He wasn’t something I wanted to hold. He was a man, and that kind of proclamation deserved attention, if only from my own epiphanies. I didn’t know what it meant, that I’d switched his station in my mind. I didn’t know why he was suddenly a man.” But he was, and I wondered if maybe that meant I was over it. 

I said, I wanted you to be mine, you idiot. I wanted nothing mucking up that great thing we had, for it to be that perfect kind of love. My greatest regret about all of this is that I probably loved you, too. But it really doesn’t matter now because there’s no going back to that nice idea of love with you. You’ve ruined that, and that’s all there is.”

I hung up the phone. It was probably the most dramatic thing I’d ever done to someone else.

For the next few minutes, I had trouble doing anything but soaking in the air around me. I felt paralyzed to the point where breathing drained energy. I couldn’t quite see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I focused on nothing. My mind was in a blanket of euphoria and I felt textures not altogether known to me. I felt way too solid, as if there weren’t actually moving parts inside of me. It was completely different from every other feeling I’d ever had. And after a few minutes, I got up and left my apartment to get some fresh air.

It was overcast, and I could feel it in my chest. Maybe it’s just Calgary with its messed up weather, but it’s always affected my mood. As I walked around fairly aimlessly, the low ceiling limited my thoughts of Kate and Shawn. I like to think that at some point, I would have found all of this to be pretty horrible. This feeling of responsibility washed down on me, bringing with it both the gravity of what I’d done and levied some greater control. It was my fault that Shawn ever had any sort of emotional conflict with Mark. It was my fault Kate didn’t fall hard on her own ass when Ray walked out with someone else. And it was my fault for believing their stories so blindly. I never really knew about Mark or Ray, but I went along with it anyway because of what I wanted.

Still, my spectrum was destroyed, and something new needed to take its place. What was left was a sky of opportunity, a blank page torn from a blank book. I finally understood that it wasn’t about what we get to have in life, or how happy we can be, or any of those fucked-up inhibitions people use as excuses for why they don’t think they’ll ever hook up with the people they have pathetic crushes on. It wasn’t about any of that anymore, because the last three weeks I bagged a hot art teacher who had a perfectly good boyfriend, and had amazing sex with a gorgeous blonde that even knew my lame past. 

None of this made me feel good, really. But it kept me from feeling bad, and that would have to be enough for now.

Good memories of Shawn and me flashed through my mind, and I liked that I could still focus on the fact that there were moments of happiness between us. For the most part, Kate’s brief foray into my life had been unbelievable, but I couldn’t help focusing on how well I’d performed. I made them both laugh and think and feel safe and satisfied. In so many ways here, I felt like I was coming out of this situation feeling better about who I was.

I sat down on a half-melted pile of snow at the corner of a stranger’s driveway and pulled out my phone and called Shawn, feeling better about everything.

I’m sorry,” he blurted out as quicky as he could. I’m so glad you called back.”

Shawn,” I began. It’s fine. It’s all okay now.”

Why?” he said, not sounding sure of anything. I mean, what’s happened?”

I was calm. Nothing, really. Listen, what are you doing this afternoon?”

He was suspicious, but hopeful. 

He said, What’s going on?”

Nothing,” I laughed. I just told you, everything’s fine now.”

I don’t believe you.”

Shawn, my ass is getting numb from sitting on this pile of snow in front of a house I’ve never seen before. I would like to come over to your place, but if you don’t want me to I’m sure I could go find somewhere to bury myself for the evening.”

Is it that you don’t want to be alone right now?”

Shawn didn’t get it, but that was fine. It was no longer his job to get anything about me. I said, Sure, lets go with that.”

I got on the subway and listened to Kate’s voice in my head. My eyes were open this wide now because of Kate. I was feeling something powerful that I could not explain. Perhaps it was the feeling Carly had on her bike, leaving town. Perhaps it was the feeling of the dog left on the edge of town. I didn’t know exactly what form of freedom it entailed, but I knew I was at least in the right country.

I wondered if it was possible that I was going through the five stages of grief, and that I was planted in denial. At first I discounted it. I was ridiculous for analyzing myself as being in denial when I felt so clear, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured this might be the case. I hurt in so many places, but it had nothing to do with regret or bereavement. 

The thing was, I may have felt that I had been in love with Scott and Kate at different times, but I had never really been in love with either. I wasn’t lying to Shawn over the phone, but I certainly didn’t love him entirely. There wasn’t any moment where I was completely aware of what was happening. And while there was obviously a period where I thought I could trust Kate, that period of time wasn’t terribly long. It simply wasn’t long enough to warrant any sort of unexpected trust.

While the train sped by black walls and lamps, I looked at nothing and knew that I was probably over-thinking everything, just like I always did. Still, it was the process of seeing every angle and getting every idea that brought me to this strange place. Any self-respecting neurotic would be pissed at both of my lovers, but I sat here only disappointed in who these people turned out to be.

I climbed the stairs of the subway and felt my phone vibrate. While I was underground, Kate had tried to call. There was a message.

Scott, I need to talk to you. I know it sounds stupid and I sound stupid and you probably won’t like it, but please, call me back when you get this so we can get together and talk, okay?”

She must not have been expecting me to have pieced everything together so quickly. I leaned up against a brick wall and called her. It was freezing, but I didn’t think the call would last very long.

Hi,” I said, as cold as I could.

She sounded embarrassed already, as if she’d run over my dog. Hi Scott. I have something to tell you.”

I already know,” I said. A guy at your party told me.”

Silence, then, I guess that’s why you left, huh?”

What good would staying have done?”

I guess you’re right,” she said. Scott, I’m so, so sorry.”

So you’re back with him? He’s moved back in?”

It’s…” she paused, searching for the right way to break it to me gently. It’s going slowly. But I love him. I know that makes me sound weak. Look, most of the time I do a pretty good job of staying tough, but I love him.”

I get it,” I said. You don’t have to explain it to me.”

You were amazing though, Scott. Please don’t take this as anything against you.”

Kate, I’m not mad.”

She sounded bewildered. No offence Scott, but I don’t really see how you wouldn’t be.”

I said, I guess because I never figured it would work out to anything real anyway, you know? Knowing that you’re totally fine ditching me without an explanation just certified it. It’s not about me being in your league or anything like that. I just never saw us together. Frankly, I was never really all there, either.” I paused, deciding for once to let guilt dig in further than it had to. I mean, I didn’t leave you at a party with your ex boyfriends’ ex boyfriend, but it’s not like I didn’t think about Shawn.”

I know,” she said. I could tell when you were. And when I brought him up, it was like I caught you or something.”

I’m not forgiving you Kate,” I said, getting back to the short and the sweet. It’s not going to be like that. We’re never going to be friends, and I don’t really want to ever see you again.”

Scott,” she tried to say something, but I just kept going as if I’d rehearsed it.

I’m not sorry I met you Kate, and I’m not sorry I met you again. I’m not sorry I went dancing with you and paid attention to the kind of beer you liked. I’m not sorry for giving up a whole week of my life so that you could try to get over a guy you’d just get back together with anyway. I’m not sorry I made you laugh and that we had fantastic sex and that I cooked you just about everything I know how to make. I’m not sorry about any of that, but really Kate, but I’m not sorry that it’s done, either.”

Scott, I’m sorry,” she said, and I could tell she meant it because I could hear her voice quiver. In so many ways you’re better than he is. I wish I could tell you all the reasons.”

There aren’t any reasons, Kate. At least, there aren’t any reasons that matter. You made your choice, and that’s fine.”

It’s that final, huh?”

Yeah, it is,” I said, feeling like I’d just stuck myself in a state of denial. Goodbye.”

Wait,” she insisted. I want to tell you my job.”

Why?” I asked.

Because,” she said. Because it means something to me to tell you.”

I wanted so badly to have the courage to say no, because doing that would show her that I would really be able to move on. But I knew I would never really be able to anyway, and what could be more temporarily final than fixing in this last little puzzle-piece?

Sure,” I said, Tell me.”

Kate told me what she did for a living. In my head, her image changed, parts of it becoming cemented. The words she said held incredible weight, but I had no cargo ship to hold it all. Some of it fell. Some of it crushed me. Some of it helped.

I’m still sorry,” she said. But that’s the best I can do to make you understand.”

Kate, I want you to listen to me.” I thought of it all, and what it really was. I’m not mad at you. There are worse things to be than a vacation from the storm.”

She didn’t really comprehend that, but it was okay. Just like her, after a while, everything I said I was saying for my own sake. She said goodbye, and I didn’t expect to ever hear from her until we met again.

No Chinook Chapter 8

No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

I met Mark for the second time at a party I didn’t want to attend. It had been a few months since I moved to Calgary, one city jump from a small suburban town a few hours away where my parents lived—the same town Kate was from. I spent most of my time this past week cooking, fucking, and beginning something that might turn into love someday. I wasn’t completely sure about that yet, but I was happy being in a relationship that wasn’t riddled with lies. It was everything I’d ever wanted. Kate had organized this party at her place, and there he was, all dressed up and ready.

I hadn’t yet spotted Shawn, but knew he had to be around somewhere. He had called Kate the night before to make sure I would not be here, or maybe to make sure I would. Mark must have come along. I was perfectly happy to be drinking in the kitchen with Kate’s friend Stephen, listening to him go on about his ex-girlfriend, but in the back of my mind, I knew that tonight something would happen between Shawn and myself. Whatever it was, I just hoped it that it would be for the best.

The biggest problem with Stacy,” Stephen continued. He had been talking about his ex-girlfriend since the moment he saw me. Was that she took me to the point where I had become so used to her high-maintenance issues that I began to miss the constant attention. I’d lie awake some nights wishing she’d call just so I could hear her bitch about her stupid job.”

Since I’d spotted Mark in the crowd, I had only been paying lip service to Stephen. I nodded in agreement, but kept minimally involved. Mark was talking to some girl, but I was too far away to hear him. It was fitting. Mark had always been on my mind first. I had always seen him first. But even if he did notice me, it wouldn’t mean anything. My name and my face meant nothing to him. For all I know, he’d seen me a hundred times more than I’d seen him, but it didn’t matter. We had no context between us; I disliked him for reasons I’d probably never have the chance to discuss with him. 

Stephen continued, I tried to go out with this girl Marlene, because she was really easy going and that’s what I used to like. But Stacy ruined everything, man. She changed me. I couldn’t handle how relaxed Marlene was, because I’d fallen in love with a smotherer. That’s all I wanted. Marlene didn’t call me for three days, and I dumped her. It was probably the most pathetic thing I’d ever done.”

I realized I hadn’t been listening. What?” I asked, hoping he would clarify.

It didn’t faze him. She was a telemarketer. I was always telling her to find a new job, but she never did. I mean, she hates it, but she stuck with it for some reason. I don’t know. Maybe she thought she deserved it, like it was where she belonged in life.”

Yeah,” I said, keeping one finger on the pulse of this conversation, which was just enough for Stephen to keep going. The rest of me zoned in on Mark. I noticed his wrinkled jeans and half-ironed dress shirt. He was trying to look easy, but he’d put effort into it. His shoes were squeaky clean and white, as if he’d brought them in a backpack and put them on when he came inside.

Stephen said, There are people who move, man, and there are people who don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with being either one, but you can’t bring the two together, because motion will always come between them.”

Motion,” I repeated as if in agreement, realizing that paying complete attention to Stephen would likely result in a headache.

Stephen took a swig of his beer and asked me if anyone had ever changed me. It was a simple enough drunk question, but I think I surprised him.

I thought about Carly. To tell you the truth, I think everyone I’ve ever been with has changed what I want in some way.”

Yeah?” he asked. Well, what about your last girl?”

My last girl?” I wanted to talk about Kate, but the current situation prohibited it. I didn’t want to bring up Shawn either, just in case he was right behind me. Her name was Carly. She really ran me through exactly what you’re talking about.”

She smothered you too?”

Not really. More like she knew exactly the kind of guy she liked and I did my best to fit the mold. Eventually, I just didn’t fit her anymore and she left.”

Stephen put his hand on my shoulder. I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes you want to be that dominant alpha-male who makes the decisions, but when it comes down to it, that’s just not who we are, you know?”

So who are we?” I asked, realizing this particular brand of drunken talk had probably reached whatever depth it was going to.

Stephen, however, looked focused on what he was trying to say. We’re like buildings torn apart by winds and storms. Women, they’re the wind, man. They come along and they blow by us and rip us from the foundations.”

Roughly half of his rant had been slurred past the point of recognition, so I said, Motion eventually tears us apart, eh?”

Stephen shouted, Fucking right man! That’s what I’m saying. Why don’t I get to be in control? Why can’t I be the storm, huh? Why do I have to be stuck waiting for someone to blow me down? That’s not how it’s supposed to work!” The people around us were giving him room, doing their best to be entertained by the spectacle. Stephen continued, I’m so sick of letting other people control my life! Fuck you Stacy! Fuck you!” He pointed at all of us, and then we could all see him shut down. It was quite the sight, watching Stephen slowly crumble into himself.

I put my hand on his shoulder like he had done to me and I said, Yeah man, fuck her.”

Whatever,” he said. It doesn’t matter. She’s gone and there’s no bringing them back once they’re gone. Not with guys like us. We just don’t have it in us to make them want to come back.”

I liked Stephen. He wasn’t afraid to show exactly what he felt, even if it was brash and came out around total strangers. Still, I didn’t want anything he’d just said to ever be right.

I took Stephen outside to get some air, and when he waved me off, I came back and was caught by Kate.

Hey you!” she said, being flirtatious but not obvious. I came to check up on you. How’s the night?”

Kate had done her hair up a little prettier than normal. She had curls coming out of her ponytail, and she was wearing a black dress and boots. This was probably the sexiest I’d ever seen her dressed.

Can’t complain so far,” I said, I just hope it stays its course.”

I felt the same about her now as I had when I’d first seen her at Shawn’s party. She kind of danced when she walked and she talked with her arms outstretched. And just like the last time, she wasn’t really paying any attention to me. She said, That’s great, honey. If you need me, I’ll be around somewhere, okay?”

You all right?” I asked, spinning her around to face me.

She put her hands on my face and said, What a stupid question.”

I let her go, and I turned around and bumped right into Mark. He spilled part of his beer on the floor.

It’s okay,” he exclaimed. It’s only a little.” He tried to rub out the tiny spot with his shoes, and smiled at me with an idiotic toothy grin that told me that he wasn’t being himself.

In this moment, I couldn’t imagine that Shawn would have trouble choosing which one of us to love.

There,” he said. Nothing but spic.”

I hadn’t noticed this before because of the distance and people between us, but Mark appeared to be in bad shape. It wasn’t just his clothes. He had obviously drunk too much; he seemed to have tear tracks on his face and dark circles under his eyes. He backed up a bit to really look at me. Do I know you? Have we met?”

I said, Not really.”

I swear I’ve seen you before,” he said, holding on tight to his beer with one hand and his hair with the other, as if this would help him from falling over.

I tried to escape, I’m sorry, I’ve got someone to get a drink for.”

I tried to escape, I’m sorry, I’ve got someone to get a drink for.”

Did we go out that one time?” He asked. I stopped myself and counted to ten in my head.

No,” I said, We definitely did not go out that one time.”

He grabbed my shoulder, I’m sorry. Really, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to insinuate anything. I was just…”

I said, I get it.”

Oh good,” he said, I didn’t want it to come out like I was hitting on you or something.”

Suddenly, I wondered just how flirtatious Kate seemed when I met her at that party. Had she been hitting on me when she was with Ray?

I told Mark, Trust me, I wasn’t thinking anything like that.”

Well,” he said, My mistake. I guess I’ll just keep looking around.”

Looking around for what?” I asked him, genuinely curious. Was he looking for Shawn? Did he know Kate too? Everybody seemed to.

Can I ask you something?”

It’s a free country,” I said. I did not want to be caught having a heart to heart with Mark. This is just about the last awkward situation I was willing to encounter in my lifetime.

Have you ever had your heart broken?”

What?” I needed to leave this hallway. I didn’t want to know that anything had happened. For once in my life, I much preferred to be blind to the truth.

You know,” he said. Where you love somebody with everything you’ve got, and they take what you’ve built together and just smash it? Has that ever happened to you?”

He didn’t have to tell me anything more. I could picture everything that happened just by looking at his face. Something remarkable had occurred in the few days I’d been gone from my previous life. It was more than I wanted to hear. 

My boyfriend,” he said. He told me last weekend that he’s been seeing this other guy for, like, months now. He said he couldn’t live with lying to me all the time anymore. Can you believe that?”

I didn’t want to know any of this because I was fine with Mark being the stupid asshole that drove a minivan. This image sat well with me. But the moment he began speaking about Shawn, I knew I’d begin to think of Mark as a human being with feelings that could be bruised. These few words he’d just been saying transformed him from a dangerous, unwelcome roadblock to a defenseless kitten. 

Come on,” I said, taking his beer. Let’s get out of here. I think we both need some air.”

I took him outside and tried to sort out the particulars so that nobody would see us together. It was an hour away from new snow; I could smell it. I said, So, what, you were trying to pick up in there?”

Well,” he said, sniffling, I called my friend up yesterday. I didn’t tell her what happened, but I told her that I needed a distraction for a while, so she invited me to her party.”

That was you?” I asked out loud, fitting another puzzle piece together.

Huh?”

Nothing,” I said. I had no idea that he knew Kate, but wasn’t spectacularly surprised. What happened?”

Do you mind walking me to the subway?” he asked. The fresh air’s killed my buzz, and it’s a dead room in there.”

Sure,” I said. It’s this way. Just don’t pull the moves on me.”

I wouldn’t,” he said. You’re nice.”

Don’t mention it.”

Mark told me about Shawn. He started from the beginning, giving it some much-welcomed context. Shawn and Mark were together for two years until the cheating began, if you could call it that. He didn’t know anything about this other guy—only that Shawn had some pretty deep feelings for him that he couldn’t get over. Apparently they’d had some kind of falling out recently, and that had cut Shawn to the point where he couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. I knew all this already, but my version seemed skewed. Small pieces of me felt bad about hurting this guy. A very specific part of my gut began to feel terrible for coming inbetween two perfectly happy people.

Shawn and I just fit, you know?” Mark stumbled a lot, but knew what he was trying to say. I could be honest with him. I told him things about me I’d never told anyone before. God, we were together for so long. What did I do wrong? I must have done something. People cheat for a reason, right?”

I suppose,” I said, feeling like a spy before an inevitable revelation of identity.

Have you ever been cheated on?” he asked.

Just like with Stephen, I had to think back to Carly. Yeah, once.”

Why did he do it?”

She,” I corrected him. I wasn’t exciting enough for her, I think.”

I’m sure that’s not true,” he tried to reassure me. I felt awful. Mark seemed like a perfectly good guy, and it was clear that I was a shit who’d failed to consider the whole arrangement. At some point, I must have thought about Mark and what he could have been feeling. I felt terrible for dismissing him so quickly.

He told me that things weren’t settled with the two of them, and it wouldn’t be right to end it abruptly without letting the feelings settle. It made me feel pity towards Mark, though. I pictured him incapable of handling the end of a relationship, falling apart in his shitty apartment. I couldn’t  help but see Mark as a powerful figure in Shawn’s life, and how important it was to him to make sure things stayed straight, as it were.

Shawn was in love with me, but he didn’t want that kind of black mark on him without at least making some sort of attempt at atonement. He wanted to do it right, because he respected Mark, and while I half-hated the bastard, I admired Mark for being worthy of that kind of respect.

Mark,” I said calmly. I want you to listen to me.”

Huh?” he asked. He looked like a lost puppy.

You’re going to be fine, okay?” I always wanted someone to come out of nowhere and tell me these things. I thought, maybe I’d listen to me this time. You’re going to meet some great guy and forget all about this Shawn character, okay?”

But…” I don’t know if he was trying to interrupt because he didn’t want to hear it or if he had more to reveal. But I’d heard enough and needed to finish this.

No buts,” I said, cutting him off. I know he was great, and for a while it seemed like he might be the one, but it’s over. Things got fucked up and it’s probably just best to wipe the slate clean and start over.”

He said, slowly, Look, I know you’re trying to help me, and this is really nice, but I can’t really believe any of that right now.”

Fuck, I know that much,” I said. I was mostly talking to myself anyways. But it’s still nice to hear, isn’t it?”

It is,” he said. Wait, how do you know my name? I never told you.”

I said, inches away from confessing, Does the name Scott Clarkson mean anything to you?”

No,” he said. I’m sorry. Should it?”

I shook my head. There was no point in even telling the whole truth at this point, because the truth didn’t matter so much as the story. I’d met Mark under sad circumstances, and revealing my role in his misery at this point would only make it worse. I felt bad enough about being the invisible cancer marring his happiness. Nothing would become clear tonight concerning the two of us.

We’re here,” I said. You’ll be okay getting home?”

I don’t know what I was doing at that party,” he muttered. I don’t know what got into me.”

You were looking for the same thing we all look for at those parties.”

Happiness?”

I remembered what Kate had said. No,” I replied. Happiness has nothing to do with it.”

I’m getting too old for this,” he said.

I shook his hand and watched him take the stairs. I said to myself, Me too.”

On the way back, I envisioned the scene Mark had just described, where Shawn broke the news. It must have happened after the night at the club, after he called me three dozen times and for whatever reason referred to me as his boyfriend to Kate. Or did it happen before the club? I had seen him that afternoon. I had asked him to choose between Mark and myself. I had stormed out. Had Mark come over soon after? Had they fought about it? Did Mark see me leave? Did Shawn actually confess everything? Did he tell Mark that he wanted to be with me?

For Shawn to refer to me as his boyfriend, he must have chosen me. He must have cockily assumed that I’d still want to be with him at that point, but that’s irrelevant. Kate knew both Shawn and Mark, so Shawn would have told her about the break up—though maybe skimmed a few details—and Kate felt jealous. 

That’s why she wanted me all to herself for the week. She figured if Shawn saw me, he’d tell me about the break up and convince me to be with him. She wanted me to herself, so she didn’t tell me. It was all making sense.

But I was happy Kate lied to me. I don’t care what that makes me sound like. If it had been a week earlier, I don’t know which one of them I would have chosen. Now, there was no question. Kate had dug her claws into me, and their grip was strong enough to hold me. I felt like I’d do anything for her. This may not have been the healthiest of decisions, and I’m not sure if it was motivated by love or just crazy lust, but I was stuck with her until she retracted.

Stephen wasn’t on the porch when I got back. He must have found his way inside again. I hoped nobody gave him anything else to drink.

I weaved through the halls, unable to find any of the few people I knew. I checked the living room, the kitchen, and the backyard. I climbed the stairs, and finally found Stephen leaning against the railing, breathing steady.

Hey man,” he said.

Hey, have you seen Kate?” I asked.

A little while ago,” he said, But then she left.”

Left?” I asked. Left to go where?”

I don’t know, dude. I just heard about it, but someone told me that Ray showed up and they left together.”

For a moment, I wanted to throw Stephen down the stairs. Instead, I ran out into the street, and nearly got run over by a van. Snow was falling. The street was dark and empty. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I couldn’t save her from anything even if she wanted to be saved.

I looked at the house. I’d spent seven straight days in that house. But at that moment, it was the last place I wanted to be. It was filled with strangers I could no longer introduce myself to. I couldn’t say I was Kate’s boyfriend because everyone probably saw her leave with Ray. I couldn’t say I was anyone’s friend, because I wasn’t. I knew Shawn, only I didn’t. I knew Mark, only he didn’t know me. And Mark was gone. And Shawn was gone. 

I was alone, and the only move I had left was to run as fast as I could all the way home.

No Chinook Chapter 7

No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

 

I cooked breakfast for Kate in the morning as she sat and read the same magazine. Pancake mix dripped off her tile counter. There was flour on my jeans, my sole item of clothing. Outside, a hard wind pressed against the house. It had gained momentum last night and had not let up since.

“I put bananas in them,” I said, bringing the plate to the table. I made twelve, thinking it might have to be lunch too.

“And chocolate chips?”

“Of course,” I said. No healthy meal goes without chocolate.”

“We fucked four times last night,” she said, not mincing words much. Does this mean I have to drive you off a bridge?”

I was in the middle of chewing. I don’t get it.”

“You haven’t seen Vanilla Sky, huh?” She didn’t seem surprised.

“Can’t say,” I said. I had seen it; I just didn’t know what she was talking about.

In between bites she said, Near the beginning, Cameron Diaz exclaims that she had sex with Tom Cruise four times the other night. Tom asks if that’s good. Ooh, these are really good,” she said, switching topics between Tom Cruise and pancakes.” She says that two times is good and kisses him. Wow, what did you put in these?” I hadn’t done anything special. In fact, I wasn’t a particularly good cook. All I’d done was follow the box-side instructions. Then she says three is really good in this sultry little sex-kitten voice. She kisses him again. Tom asks her what four times means. Seriously, you’re cooking every morning this week.” At this point, I simply figured that Ray had been actively trying to poison her food before this, because these were really nothing-special pancakes. She just kisses him, even though he keeps asking. All she says is four is…’ and it’s driving him crazy.”

I’d remembered the scene and where she was headed by this point, but she was on a roll and hearing her go on about something while eating my cooking just sent me over the edge.

“Anyways, the next scene she plays him her music and drives off a bridge.”

I kissed her. Way to ruin the ending.”

She said, Whatever. That was like, what, twenty minutes into it? There’s a lot more than that.” Then she kissed me for the fourth time that morning. It was one of those kisses where we were both in awkward positions, but we held it just to prove that we could.

*

I had a new sense of focus like never before at work. With my article finished almost halfway through the day, I found myself helping out other columnists with their editing. I was doing anything I could to keep busy. It wasn’t that being bored would make me think too much. It was that I felt I had nothing to fret over. I felt free of neurotic worry for the first time in months.

Before the end of the day, the boss gave me something extra to write for the next issue. We were in the middle of a Chinook, he said, and it’d be interesting for the traveling businessmen to have something they could read and experience at the same time. The issue was going to be out in a few days, so I’d need to take this one home to finish.

*

I was down on the floor of Kate’s living room writing about Chinooks on her laptop when I heard the shower running. I stopped writing as a realization came to me: for at least the last day, Kate had smelled of me. I knew it was stupid to think this, but I didn’t want her to shower. I wanted whatever residue crawled between us to stick and become permanent. Other people would know that way. The people who smelled one another would know.

She came downstairs in a long t-shirt and jeans. Her hair was still wet but she left it down. She sat next to me and kissed my shoulder.

“She’s not giving you too much trouble?” she asked, referring to her computer. She does the weirdest things sometimes.”

“Like what?”

“Sometimes she’ll flicker and just turn off. She doesn’t like being forced to do something she’s not comfortable with.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. It’s just a computer.”

“That’s what I thought when I bought it,” she said, curling her hair behind her ears and sitting cross-legged. But it’s got feelings. It’ll only let me check my email at certain times of the day. It’s cracked.”

I clicked on the Internet icon, and Hotmail sprung up. I signed in and winked at her.

“Well,” she said, It likes you better, I guess.”

“Can’t say I’ve got an answer for you. I’m not a computer nerd or anything.”

“Since when?”

“You’re stereotyping me,” I said. I am deeply offended.”

She kissed me. Say that again.”

She kissed me. I said, I am deeply offended.”

Kate laughed. It’s just, you hung around those people at school all the time. You had to have picked up on it, right? I mean, isn’t that why you were with them?”

“You think I did that out of common interest?” I asked.

“Why else do people hang out with other people?”

When Kate asked me that, it immediately made every morning I walked into high school and didn’t talk to her seem like a stupid and immature decision. The closest thing to a good excuse was that as a kid I was a scared little shit who was only comfortable around people who didn’t intimidate me, and as a teenager I never found the courage to try being any different.

I said, It’s stupid now, I know, but back then, I thought there were a lot of rules. Like, rules about who you could talk to and whatnot. My friends filled me in, pretty much, and I never really questioned them. But, who isn’t generally stupid in high school, right?”

Immediately I knew, like I always had known, that Kate wasn’t stupid in high school.

“I can’t say I really regret anything about it,” she said. The back of her t-shirt was wet from her hair. I had a bunch of goals and I went for them. I had some pretty good friends. I have so many great pictures and stories.” I wasn’t anticipating she felt any guilt over having a better four years than I did, but that didn’t stop me from searching that out. But you’re right, Scott. Most people are pretty big shits in high school. They comfort themselves with the idea that they were young and stupid and that makes it all right, but they were just as conscious of their actions then as they are now, you know?”

I didn’t get it. This all seemed to be a direct contradiction of what we’d talked about before. But what about the fizz candies? What about the crap in your teeth?”

“Well, it’s nothing I’d ever consider doing again. I mean, planning and goals and all that stuff is really a giant drag at this point. And I don’t need a few great friends’,” she said, and paused for emphasis, When I can get so many good ones instead.” I had no idea what she was trying to imply.

I hadn’t particularly wanted to share my spectrum theory with Kate, but I knew I couldn’t bring it up anyway as she began to share her own ideas. For one thing, it would make me look exactly like the kind of guy she was talking about, but more than that, Kate would never need to know about the spectrum because she always existed outside of it. 

I was living outside my range, too happy to dwell on theories explaining repression and the unfairness of life. It was being too fair, really. According to my own set of beliefs, this would lead to something terrible.

*

Later that day, we were lying on her kitchen floor.

 “If you look at it this way, you can totally see it,” she said. Kate was trying to show me the giant face of Che Guevara on her ceiling. She told me it was there when she moved in, but Ray never noticed. It had been driving her crazy every time she looked at it.

“Please tell me I’m not crazy,” she said, nudging my shoulder with hers.

“Of course you’re not crazy,” I said. But at the same time, just because you see things that aren’t there doesn’t mean that you’re crazy. You might just be gifted.”

“So you don’t see it either?”

“I’m not gifted.”

“Shut up!” She said. Nobody sees it. Nobody ever sees it. I’m hungry.”

She got up and grabbed some ramen noodles from a cupboard, the kind you can eat without water or heat. Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said. 

“Why did you move away from home?”

I didn’t have to think about it for that long. I said, hated my parents, mostly.”

“Me too,” she replied. Crazy how that works, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“So, what was it?” She asked.

Thinking about my parents was akin to working diligently on a tile-stain in the bathroom of your newly rented apartment. The problem was present before you ever got there, and no amount of effort was ever going to fully remove it.

I said, I think the only reason my parents got together was so that each of them could have someone to fight with all the time.” I stayed down there, on the floor. Through all of this, I was focusing on the spot where Kate saw Che. I mean, some nights they just wouldn’t sleep. Some bill was paid too late or dinner was burnt or the car had a scratch or just some random bullshit that most people would forgive the person they loved for. But that was the problem, you know? I don’t think I ever saw them in any situation resembling love.”

“So they weren’t fight fuckers then?”

“No,” I said. My parents were not fight fuckers. Or maybe they were. I sure as hell hope not.”

“As I see it,” she said, There’s only two kinds of parents. The ones that divorce, and the ones that should.”

She offered me some noodles. I took them.

I said, I can’t argue with that.”

“So that’s why you moved out here to the city?”

“I was sick of home, but they were really only part of it,” I said. I kept looking at that ceiling, thinking, how does someone see people in their ceiling if they’re not crazy? I was sick of the whole thing, really. The high school, my friends there, and Carly.”

Kate asked, her mouth full of raw ingredients, What happened between you two, anyway?”

“I was with Carly for three years,” I said, but then stopped. The actual hours clocked spending time with Carly far outweighed time I’d spent with any other person in my life. And at the same time, it was so easy for her to let go of me. And just when I thought I could maybe make out part of Che’s hat, I had the realization that I might never get over Carly. I might be fifty and still wondering, what if?

“I was really, really in love with her. The last year of school started really well. We were going so strong, and what the hell did I know, right? I thought we’d be together forever. But then she began seeing this other guy. It started as a one-time thing, but then she just kept going. They started seeing each other more and more, and I slowly fizzled out of the picture. She came to me one day and said you know it’s over, right?’ She didn’t care what I had to say about it. She was just making sure I wasn’t stupid about the whole thing. As if I needed an oh, by the way.’ So I spent the last half of school sulking around, mostly hanging out by myself, writing, smoking.”

Kate just stood there. After a moment she said, And then that’s where I fit in, isn’t it?”

I nodded. That’s all there was to do.

*

The next morning, Kate came downstairs in a pink housecoat and a messy, frayed ponytail. She sat down at the table with me and stretched.

“Morning,” she said, detached; squinting. 

“You have to work today?” I asked.

She nodded her head, and her ponytail shook, settling in a way that drove me nuts. She added, But only for a few hours.”

“Coffee?” she pleaded. I pointed over to the percolator, and she smiled wide. I drank my tea slowly and read the paper.

“Jeans with holes in the knees are back,” I said, reading a headline in the fashion section.

“Good!” she said, with more enthusiasm than I figured it’d warrant.

That 67’ mustang that I wanted in the classifieds was sold. Kate came back and asked for the horoscopes and crossword. I’d noticed over the last two days that it was her little thing in the morning. Once she got about seven words in the crossword, she’d quit to make out with me, ignoring her morning breath.

“Want to hear yours?” she asked. It says Aries: you’ve got a birthday coming. The stars tell me that you have been restless lately, and that love has been on your mind. Don’t ignore these feelings, Aries. Something you love may be just around the corner.’ Ooh, Mr. Scott Clarkson, someone just might have a crush on you.”

“Kate,” I replied coyly, it didn’t say someone,’ it said something.’ And it’s wrong. See? My Mustang is gone. Someone bought it.”

“Well,” she said, pouring her coffee, It’ll just have to be a someone, then.”

Kate sat down next to me, took a pen from the utensils’ drawer and studied the crossword puzzle. About ten seconds later she asked what a seven-letter word for pants’ was.

“Trousers,” I said, and she scribbled it down.

The arts section had a feature on a few new jazz bands oddly making the charts lately.     

“Well, shit,” I said.

“What?”

“Jazz was just about the only thing left.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Jazz,” I said, Was the only free thing we had left. And now they’ve killed it.”

Kate sighed, and at that moment I should have probably dropped it. I’m not really sure why I cared. I’ve sometimes found myself rambling on about things I didn’t even feel passionate about. I really could not care less about music, the underground, or the average American. 

“Jazz,” I sighed, as if it were the last time I’d utter the term. They really sped up the process. I mean, I knew it’d have to go eventually; that there would come a time when it wouldn’t be okay for someone to take up an open microphone and belt out 5 notes without a shill for shoes or soda or batteries. Someday, it would stop being about love and become about the mechanics. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.”

“What are you talking about, Scott?”

“This is how it always happens, you know? Every genre gets this treatment. It starts with a handful of jazz singers who get lucky and get breakthrough records in the underground. Those major labels see this happening, and snatch them all up, give them huge advances and big press. Their major label debut comes out, and by the end of the first month, they’ve all sold a million each. This gets called things like unprecedented,’ and these singers are getting praise and press from people who have never covered jazz before, like this guy here. The genre gets big, the radio overplays them, the music becomes the soundtrack to every car commercial in the country, and soon enough nobody can stand it. Poof, dead genre.”

“How do you know he’s never written about jazz?” she asked.

“You can just tell,” I said.

“There’s no way.” Kate sounded like she wanted a fight, but I couldn’t go there. Not this early, not with her. Still, the process of sophomore philosophizing is an easy thing for me; words spray like a garden sprinkler system a child might have neglected to turn off. It doesn’t turn off until the parent braves the blasts of water and turns the tap. 

“You’re fucked up, man.” Kate told me. Honestly, how a guy comes up with that shit at this hour, I’ll never know.”

“It’s kind of automatic,” I said. It just sort of comes out. Honestly. I didn’t even think it through.”

“Like the Brad conversation,” she said.

“The what?”

Kate wrote down squall’ along the bottom of the puzzle, and explained it like this. The Brad conversation. It happens to me at least once a week. Hell, we probably had this conversation back in high school.”

“Brad who?”

She looked at me, pursed lips and wrinkled nose. 

“Brad Pitt, stupid. This is how it always goes, always: there are two girls chatting. One mentions a random celebrity and says how much she’d love to meet him or sleep with him or whatever. Now, the second girl will disagree about this particular celebrity, and mention someone a little more famous. The first girl will disagree with that choice and up the ante again. This volleys back and forth for a few minutes until one of them mentions Brad Pitt, and they both immediately swoon.”

“Okay,” I said, recognizing the story and knowing exactly what would follow. I was jealous of her at this point. I was sure I had come up with this whole spiel. I think I get it.”

“I’m not finished yet,” she replied. Now, a third girl enters the scene, and while the first two girls bicker about their preference for Interview With The Vampire’ Brad or Oceans 11’ Brad, this third chimes in, saying she thinks he is the most repulsive man on earth. The first two girls are all aghast at the statement, immediately defending his infallible acting prowess and unforgettable photo ops. Nothing they say will steer this third girl off-course from insulting everything about the man. Whether she’s jealous or genuine never matters, and isn’t the point. What matters is the consistency of this conversation happening to just about everyone at some point in time. This happens to everyone at least once.”

I had never been on the opposite side of this conversation, but loved that we shared this morsel of basic life philosophy. I said, At least.”

“Oh, one more thing,” she said. There has to be a guy who was either there and kept silent the whole time, or comes in after the third girl had expressed her hatred. When the three girls have exhausted their opinions, they turn to him and ask his opinion, which is one of three choices. This, by the way, is a great way to judge a guy. He can adopt the traditional, homophobic stance of saying hey, I don’t rate guys by their looks,’ attempting to be macho, or he can say that he either finds him attractive or not. It’s the test I use every time, and I won’t date the guy that chooses wrong.”

Her kitchen tiles were cold against my feet and a chill went through me. The tea refreshed my reflexes and senses. My hearing was astute and my sight medically perfect. I had no problems with my sense of smell or touch or taste. I felt empathy, but I knew that empathy wasn’t the correct feeling. Fact of the matter is, I will still never understand women. Stand-up comics that I watched late at night as a teenager had told me to stay away from the whole lot of them, to live in the mountains with my beard and coal stove and beaver pelts. They told me I’d be happier up there, rid of all the puzzles surrounding the opposite sex.

And like an amateur, like someone who hadn’t had almost the same conversation in a different universe, I asked, So what’s the right answer?”

Kate sipped her coffee without taking her eyes off me. Then she snickered and walked out of the room, saying, We’re always kids, you know. I don’t think anyone grows out of saying if you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you’.”

*

After work, I still wasn’t done the Chinook article. I couldn’t think. I was enraptured. When I arrived back at Kate’s doorstep, she handed me a beer. We began drinking at five and by seven were seeing each other in different lights.

“Favourite colour?” Kate asked. Brown,” I said. She gave me a look, just like everyone else does before I explained things. I don’t mean like any brown though. I mean brown as in a theme, like a season or a city. I once read this big story on the UK punk scene emerging in the early seventies out of a very brown’ London. It’s like the idea of a broken-down and listless area where people get pissed off at their situation and do something about it.”

“Wow,” she said. You put more thought into your favourite colour than anyone else.”

“Really?” I asked. Anyone else?”

“Maybe not the guy from Blues Clues.”

“Yeah,” I said, I’m sure he’s got to think real hard.”

“Well, sure,” she replied, Why would you assume that because the show is called Blues Clues that his favourite colour is blue? How do you know it’s not red?”

“I suppose we could call him,” I said, being both preposterous and daring. I’d find him, if she wanted me to. At this point I’d call anyone and ask for favourite colours.

“Your turn,” she said. We’d been playing this game since the third beer.

“ Okay,” I said. Favourite random person on the bus.”

“Oh, toughie. One sec.” Kate uncrossed her legs and ran back into the kitchen. We’d been sitting on the spot where the chair had been before she’d broken it. She said she wanted to get to know things about me that didn’t matter in the least. Banal things. Ice breakers. We began revealing our favourite movies, moved right onto music, sports. Eventually it became difficult to stay in the shallow end of the pool.

She came back with two more beers. These were Ray’s. There was close to a full case when we started. Thanks,” I said.

Kate sat back down and flipped her hair behind her ears. Okay, it’s got to be this one driver I used to see almost everyday. It was first year of university, and I really don’t remember how we began talking or anything, but almost every day I got on the bus, we’d chat. We ended up being pretty close. She told me about her kids and how they were doing in school and how they were almost my age and stuff like that. We really opened up to one another. How about you?”

“This one’s easy,” I said, cracking the new beer open. College. My buddies and I used to call her the emergency wife. It sounds horrible now, and we never said it to her face or anything, but back then it was really funny. She didn’t seem to have a pattern, like the weather. You know, if you don’t like the weather in Calgary, wait five minutes’ and all that. She would be on the bus when we left campus to go to the pub or whatever. She sat near the front, and every time we’d pass her, she’d ask us to marry her. Once, she grabbed Greg’s arm and almost pulled him down into her lap. So this one time Marshal came up with the idea that the last one of us to marry would have to come back and find her.”

Kate was holding back that infectious laugh she’d cultivated. That’s really awful of you guys. She must have been crazy if she was asking you and your friends for it, eh?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t fish for compliments,” Kate said. It’s not attractive.”

I said, I wasn’t fishing for anything.”

She said, Everyone is always fishing for something.”

It was funny, her saying something like that without changing her tone; she managed not to lose any of her half-giddiness. It made it impossible to take her seriously. If Kate had tossed out a general, sweeping statement like that back in high school, it would have sounded deep, maybe even profound. But on the floor of her living room, it carried the weight of a dollar-store birthday card. Kate was never the kind of girl I would expect would have much to say about the universe. She just didn’t have enough scars for that.

*

“Do you think he’s thinking about you?” she asked me during a commercial break. We were watching hockey.

I knew who she was talking about, but asked her anyway.

“Don’t be cute,” she said.

“I don’t know how to be cute.”

She said, But you know how to evade questions.”

“You said we weren’t going to talk about him this week.”

“I said you wouldn’t talk to him. Talking about him is completely different.”

“Why do you want to do this?” I asked.

She said, Because the game is boring tonight.” I knew she probably just wanted to hang me out to dry. Nothing I could possibly say about Shawn could help me and Kate. Recent relationships where wounds are still open are never good news.

She was right, though. The game was boring.

“I don’t know if he’s thinking about me,” I said. Then, I lied. He’s probably happy I’m gone.”

Kate turned the volume down a little. Her legs rested on top of mine, and they were light. She was wearing woollen socks and tights and a hoody. Kate was the most comfortably dressed person I’d ever spent time with. 

She asked me, What do you think he’s doing right now?”

I said, I don’t know.”

“Do you think he’s with that guy? What was his name?”

“Mark.”

“Right. Mark.” Kate sounded sinister, like she’d just found exactly what she was hunting for out in the dark, when most people were sleeping. I wasn’t comfortable with her using Mark as a weapon between us. 

“Kate,” I said, I don’t really want to talk about him.”

Kate turned the volume down zero. We weren’t paying attention at all anymore. Her tights rubbed against my jeans, rubbed against her couch, sunken in from cuddling over the years.

“When was your first kiss?”

“Kate, don’t.”

“Was he with Mark at the time?”

I never told Kate this, but sometimes I was jealous of her. I was jealous because she was capable of moving in circles I had no glimpse of. It wasn’t that she was successful, because I didn’t know what she did for a living. I didn’t know how much of Ray’s decision to leave was her fault, because I came too late. I didn’t even know if she was happy because she always seemed ready to lie. She navigated vessels I could not begin to board.

“Kate?”

“What?”

“Please don’t.”

“I thought you wanted to tell me everything.”

I hated her for her capabilities, so superior to my own. She held keys to doors I didn’t. She saw things I didn’t. My world had some windows into hers, but she had doors into mine. 

“I don’t remember ever saying that.”

“You said something of the sort.”

“Why do you want to know about Shawn?” I said.

Kate kissed me on the cheek and snuggled into my side. I already know plenty about Shawn,” She said. He’s my friend too, remember? But I can’t really picture you two together. I was just trying to understand how it worked, you know? I mean, I told you all about Ray.”

I hated her because I couldn’t understand her, and even though I could have always asked her to explain, I wasn’t capable of trying. 

“You didn’t tell me all about Ray,” I said. I don’t know when your first kiss was.”

“It was on New Year’s. The Millennium.”

I hated her, but I couldn’t help laughing.

She defended herself. What? It’s romantic.”

“Yeah, just like a teddy bear caught inside a claw-operated machine,” I said.

She retracted, Oh, and your first kiss was any better?”

It wasn’t something I understood at the time, but later on I would learn that it was a common thing for guys to ask their new girlfriends about. They seemed oddly unable to let their past be in the past; an inherent kind of male jealousy, I’d soon learn this relationship dance Kate and I were performing was a lot more common than I thought. 

So, knowing I was beaten but not knowing how to avoid it, I retorted: It was spontaneous. Back in the summer, when I met him at one of his parties, he spent most of the night stalking me. I didn’t know he was with Mark. He was relentless.”

I could sense I was already a joke to her. I could see the creases formed by her smile twitching in a sly attempt to hold back her laughter at my stupid cliché.

“He wouldn’t leave me alone all night. And then, he had me cornered, and he said, just kiss me already.’ And I did. I didn’t think about it. He pressed me against the wall as he kissed me back. I knew he was taken and I knew he was dangerous, but the second I kissed him, I was somewhere else.”

Kate’s creases folded out into a full grin, but she maintained composure. 

“I had never kissed anyone like that before. He was almost a complete stranger, but I felt like I was getting to know him just from this kiss. Suddenly, I knew all of his favourite songs and what his writing style was like, and how he licked his stamps. I could taste his favourite drink and knew how much chocolate sauce he mixed with milk, what kind of magazines he bought and when he first started thinking about college. It wasn’t just that I felt like I knew him. I could feel things about him that he didn’t know yet. I knew I could get him to fall in love with me. And I thought I knew how to make him mine.”

Kate’s smile vanished. She looked pained, but then she sat back up and looked straight into me, searching for her own version of the truth.

She said, I hope I find someone who kisses me like that.”

And here was just one more way Kate could shake me. For most of the week, she would be wonderful. She would make me smile in the same way I did when fantasizing about happiness. She seemed to personify so many archetypes of love for me that it seemed like for once, the world would deliver on a promise of happiness. 

At other times, like this one, she’d say something that Shawn had himself said once, and while I’ve learned that people sometimes say similar things in moments of serendipity, it was still hard to completely forgive her for being a little bit like him.

These connections between Kate and Shawn were problematic to my attraction to both of them; I didn’t want to see bits of Shawn in Kate. I wanted them to be completely different, but I knew that would probably never happen, because they both breathed, they both kissed, and they both referred to me when they talked about things that changed their world.

*

It was one of those mornings where nothing needed to be done. We were trying to stay in bed as long as we could. We were hungry but relished resisting the hunger.

“So,” she said, resting her head on my arm, Tell me about your novel.”

“I don’t have a novel,” I said.

Kate tilted her head and looked at me. You spend your days at a computer writing articles, editing articles, reading articles. I remember you wanted to be a writer. That means you have a novel.”

“You’re stereotyping me,” I said.

“It’s early. I don’t have the energy to see a multitude of dimensions.”

“I don’t have a book.”

“Yes, you do!” She exclaimed. Even if you haven’t written it yet, you’ve got one. Fine, forget that you’re a columnist at a lame magazine. Everyone’s got an idea for a novel.”

“No,” I said. I just, I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.”

Kate poked me in the chest, like a kid. Why not?”

“Why don’t you want to talk about your job?” I asked.

She said, That’s different.”

“How?”

Kate hid herself in my arm.

“Hey, come on.”

“Didn’t we go through this?” she asked.

People were most honest after they’d used up every lie when pressed on an issue. I figured she would run out of reasons not to tell me eventually, and until then, I wouldn’t dig in too far.

I said, Yeah, I’m sorry.”

Kate moved a few strands of hair out of her face and looked up at me like a duck, angled and with one eye.

“So?” She asked. What’s it about?”

“It’s lame,” I began, feeling half-embarrassed. I hadn’t thought about this story since college. And it’s not fleshed out and there’s only about a third of it on paper, and I have no idea how it ends.”

“That’s fine,” she said. I just want to hear your story.”

I said, It’s about a hotel. It’s this run-down place on the edge of some town. Drunks and hookers, you know, but there are a few guests. There’s a college professor and a dancer.” I looked down at her, and saw only her eye. The story’s about what happens in a day at this place. There’s general unhappiness inside and out, but a few glimpses of hope are still visible. Like, there’s this kid, he’s 10 or so. He’s an orphan, but he lives there, and he has these dreams of someday owning the place and making it nice. And there are these lovers.”

“Are the lovers people you know?” Kate nuzzled her nose into my forearm. It was so damn cute. Are we the lovers?”

“Sure,” I said. They can be us.”

Kate said, Awesome.”

Kate reached with her lips to the part of me closest to her. She kissed my shoulder.

She asked, Is there a happy ending?”

“I don’t know,” I said. Do you think there should be?”

“Well, that depends,” She said, kissing my arm again, Does the reader deserve it?”

I shrugged, I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well,” she said, By the end of the book, have you put them through enough that they deserve a happy ending?”

“Put them through enough?”

“Yeah,” she said, sitting up halfway. Like, most of any story is suffering, right? Whenever I see a movie or read a book it’s always like that. There’s just this hero or group who go through some peril to get to the end, and that’s like a reward for going through the whole adventure, right? You know, they learned their lesson, or he got the girl, or she got the girl, or whatever.”

I shifted her way, So you think the whole point of any story is to fight and suffer so someone can get a girl?”

“Pretty much,” she said, But I meant that it’s more about the audience. Like, if I’m reading a book, I’m the audience, right? And part of the reason the book exists is to please me, yeah? So, part of the reason there’s a happy ending at all is so that I feel like the book did well.”

“Even if the whole journey is completely torturous to read?”

“Especially,” she said. Then, the ending is crucial.”

Just then, there was a gust of wind through her bedroom window. The Chinook had been blowing all week, but only now did it actually break into the house.

“See,” I said. I hope my book isn’t like that.”

“A torture to read?”

“Yeah, obviously. I don’t want to get that sort of negative response at all.”

I thought; did she open the window while I slept? Did she get up without me noticing?

I said, But it’s more than that. I want people to enjoy every page. Like, why take three hundred pages to get to the happy part? That’s not life, right? That’s not what really happens. Life isn’t just suffering and drama with the happy moment at the end.”

“It is for some people,” Kate said. This derailed me. She was right, again, even if her logic was flawed. I couldn’t argue with her. I wasn’t fast enough.

“Well,” I gave up, I don’t know. I don’t agree with you, though.”

“I think you’re just trying to create this ideal world where there’s only good all the time, some fantasy place with butterflies and cotton candy and pancakes,” she said. I think it’s kind of childish.”

I wasn’t thinking of that at all. I thought: was this one of those Brad conversations? Did it even matter what I said?

“I’m hungry,” I said.

Kate said, Me too, but I have one other question.”

“Only if it involves peanut butter or yogurt.”

She asked me, Do you love it?”

“What, suffering?”

She gave me that look she honed so well. Writing, stupid.”

I said, Sometimes. When I’m on a roll it’s great. It’s like I’m performing the one function I was really meant to do here. Sometimes that muse actually does take over, even when it’s work and I don’t actually care about what I am writing. Sometimes it’s that easy. I don’t even think. I just put my hands down and it comes.”

Kate got closer to me, and we touched again.

“But then, other times, like when I get interrupted or I lose my train of thought, it can totally leave and not come back for days, and I can’t write anything. I mean, I try to plough through, but it all comes out wrong, and I end up deleting it. I can’t ever seem to force it. Like, the entire process is up to someone else and they’re just using me to get it down, you know?”

“I think,” She whispered. You’re not taking nearly enough responsibility for your actions.”

Kate snuggled close, taking in a heavy breath, and seemed, for a moment, to fall back asleep. I could hear people walking down the street, likely pushing strollers and carrying plastic bags. What I was really focused on was Kate’s breath on my chest, her hair brushing my arm and her arm around my neck.

In my head, I was cataloguing images of Kate to save for later, but the snapshots were starting to lessen in number.

“Hey?” I asked. She murmured something. Didn’t you say you were hungry?”

Kate groaned, I’m comfortable.”

“We should probably get up soon.”

“And it wasn’t me,” she said, groggy from the few minutes of unconsciousness. You said you were hungry,”

“I mean, we can’t just stay in here all day,” I said. I’ve got to go to work.”

“Me too,” she said. I’m hungry. Damn you.”

I was hungry, sure, but the real reason I got her up was to ask her something.

“Hey, do you love your job?”

“What?” She asked in a kind of disbelief.

“You don’t have to tell me anything about it,” I said. But I guess I was just wondering if you loved your job.”

“You don’t love your job,” she said, slowly getting up and trying to avoid this. You just said that you hate it sometimes.”

“Yeah,” I said, getting out of bed myself. I was naked and so was she. We both scanned the floor for crumpled jeans, socks, and shirts. But that happens with love, doesn’t it? Don’t you hate it every now and then? I do, but I guess I sort of revel in it. I enjoy the moments when I’m feeling impossibly uninspired, because I know how much I’ve got to fight for it. Love is about passion in all aspects, right? I wonder at which point hate comes storming in.”

“Look,” she said, finding a tank top and throwing it on. I said I wouldn’t tell you anything about it. My feelings towards it are a part of that.”

I found my jeans under her jeans. I handed them to her and put mine on. Come on. There’s got to be parts of you that want to tell me.”

Kate put her jeans on. I found my shirt. We were dressed. We were awake. I had to leave for work within minutes, and she had to do whatever it was she did. But before leaving the room and doing what she spent so much time avoiding in conversation. She paused for a second and said, I really fucking hate it.”

*

I finished the Chinook article. It took me three days and it still felt rushed. Time went by faster for me in places that Kate had yet to invade. I handed it to my boss; he gave me a nod. It wasn’t important, the article. It would cease to be of any value in a few days. Like the strange weather I wrote about, people would forget it in a matter of moments and move onto less trivial things.

*

“Do you even like basketball?” she asked. We were already on the court. It was in the back of an elementary school nearby, and the ground was pretty dry from the warm stretch we’d had over the last few days.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to be convincing, Love it. I used to play it all the time.”

“Liar,” she said, and checked me. She let me go first because she knew I was about to get my ass kicked.

“Did you like breakfast?” I asked, dribbling slowly, trying to get around her and failing. She was really good at this.

She said, It was okay. Not your best one. I liked it when you put the blueberries and bananas in the pancakes at the same time.” She stole the ball from me within seconds. That was a great breakfast.”

“Maybe I’ll make them tomorrow,” I said, trying to imitate her defensive moves, but failing miserably.

“Maybe you’ll make them tonight,” she said, passing me, tossing the ball. It missed, bouncing off the backboard right at me; I caught it. I paused, amazed. I hadn’t played in years, since the beginning of college. Kate was on me again, poking at my sides, taunting me for my complete lack of talent. She said, This reminds me of home.”

“Why?”

“My dad and I lived right next to my grade school, and we’d go play basketball all the time. Every time I’m playing, I can smell that house. I can smell him.”

I said, Home for me was this coffee shop in Strathmore.”

“Which one?” I loved that she asked.

I took a shot and missed. It closed down about a month ago. I went to visit my mom, and I walked by it and saw the For Lease’ sign. It was kind of sad, but therapeutic.”

“Therapeutic?” She dribbled past me and got the shot in. It was early evening. The kids had gone home, and nobody in their right mind would come out at sunset and play on a half-frozen basketball court. We were here because we felt warm and restless.

“Yeah,” I said. I kind of like knowing that the place I called home is gone. I know, that sounds weird, but I’d rather that it not be there.”

“So your parents’ house doesn’t count?”

I gave her a look signifying it didn’t. Then, I took advantage of her inattentive stillness and stole the ball. Hey!” she said. That doesn’t count; I was busy feeling empathy!”

I threw the ball again. It missed, and Kate got to the ball before I did. You suck,” she said. And I did. At least, at basketball. Tell me about this place of yours.” I loved that she was curious.

I said, trying to play defence again, Whenever I wanted to relax and write and be alone and listen to fantastic music, I always went there. It was just this little hole in the wall, but it had old magazines, dim lights, and was run by this loony who had an affinity for Leonard Cohen.”

Kate dropped one more ball in the basket. It was two to nothing, and the sun was almost completely down. She said, So you’d go there to be alone?”

“Yeah, but I’d take people there, too. A few of my friends really liked it.”

“And Carly, too, right?”

I was about to agree with her, but then I remembered that Carly had never seen this place. It was weird, because I had memories of the both of us hanging out there, but that couldn’t have happened. I didn’t find this place until after Carly was gone. Why did I think she’d been there? Was it just that I was inventing an aspect of my past? Carly, in my mind, sat comfortably in one of those couches in the back. But she was never really there.

“No,” I said. I found it after all that.”

So Kate asked the obvious thing. So where’s your home now?”

I told her, as she got another one in and tossed me the ball, that I didn’t know.

She said, Yeah, well, I know how you feel.”

I told her that I knew she did. We both stood there in our jeans and winter coats. It was dark now. The only light in the area came from an archway above a door leading into the school.

I had the ball. She wasn’t trying to get it from me anymore. I eyed the basket, and in a moment of stupendous luck, tossed it right in. The sound from the net was loud. Kate grabbed it and went to the three-point line.

“So,” I said, realizing that she wasn’t done playing yet. What don’t we know about each other?”

She tore right past me and shot. It missed, but she caught it.

Kate said, Are we trying to get everything down?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Well,” she said, shooting. Any broken bones? That’s always a good story.”

“No,” I said. I’ve only been bruised a few times. Can’t say I’ve ever fallen from a great height or been run over by anything, luckily.”

“Luckily?” she mocked me, watching me dribble. How are you lucky if you missed out on those awesome experiences?”

“You amaze me,” I said. I had scrambled for the ball. Kate wasn’t showing any sign of being tired.

“Seriously,” Kate said. Those are stories you can tell over and over and they never get boring.” She stole the ball from my hands. She was so fast, even in a big puffy coat. Like the time I broke my collarbone. I was ten, and I was riding a horse, right? Well, I lost control of it and it took off. I held on as best I could for almost five minutes, but after a while, it was clear I was going to get hurt somehow. The horse jerked one way and I was flung in the other direction, nearly landing on my head. Goddamn, that hurt.”

She shot and missed. I asked, And this is a positive memory for you?”

“Of course,” she said while dribbling past me. I wasn’t an opponent so much as a traffic cone for Kate to play around with. It’s positive because it makes for one hell of a story. I can tell that at any party and get a great reaction. It’s always great for breaking the ice with strangers. Totally works in job interviews, too. Shows perseverance.”

I asked, So you like the memory so much because it makes a great story?”

“Yeah,” she said. What’s wrong with that?”

She missed by a mile, and I ran for the ball, sliding on some ice and falling on my ass. You could hear the crack of the ice below me so clearly. Kate laughed, standing there in the dark. I came back and she rubbed my tailbone in a cute though perhaps patronizing gesture.

I asked, What if people didn’t like the story? Would you still like the memory?”

“But people do like the story,” she said. That’s what makes it so good.”

I said, Yeah, but what I’m saying is that you’re basing the quality of your own memory on other people’s opinions. Shouldn’t it be more about you?”

“I don’t see the point.”

I felt beaten up. There was no way I was ever going to match her at sports or sex or screwy logic. She had enough endurance to keep rising to higher and heavier levels of reason and existence.

I don’t know why, but I asked, So what was your wedding going to be like?”

“My what?” she replied, stopping short. Even the dribble came to an abrupt end.

“I’m just trying to fill in the holes,” I said. You know, getting to know one another.”

“Well, don’t,” she said. And don’t ask me how he was in bed, either.”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” I said.

“Good.”

“You didn’t plan it at all?”

“I said don’t,” she said, continuing the game seemingly without me. She shot and got another in. And no.”

I said, I don’t believe that. Hell, I’m a guy, and I pretty much know how mine’s going to be.”

“Yeah, but what does being a guy’ have to do with anything when it comes to you?” She used air quotes when she said guy.’

“I can’t tell if that’s a knock or not,” I said.

“It’s neither,” she said, checking me, It’s just an observation. You’re not hung up on being super-masculine all the time. It’s cute sometimes. But it’s mostly just strange.”

“So what, you’re the guy in this relationship?”

She thought about it for a second. I guess so. I mean, take the whole guy’ thing as an idea instead of this fixed label and you could just put it on a woman, right? I’ve always thought that anyway, but maybe that’s because I’m a sports nut.”

“Yeah, that kind of makes sense.”

“But,” she said. I’ve always had this little theory.” I shot and hit one, tying it up again. I always thought the whole idea that boys and girls are automatically attracted to each other to be a little naïve, and that maybe things are a little more complicated.”

“I’m not sure I’m getting it,” I said.

“It’s like this sliding scale. Like, on one end is total masculinity, and on the other is total femininity, and neither of these things has anything to do with gender. Me, I’m somewhere in the masculine camp, and I’m probably best attracted to my opposite, which would be slightly effeminate.”

“Like me?” I asked sarcastically. 

“Sure, why not,” she said. And that’s why you were attracted to Shawn. He’s just chock full of an asshole masculinity that’s really sexy, and you just match up with, and everything balances out. Get it?”

“I think so,” I said, But I’m not sure I want to. You’re saying I’m really in tune with him?”

“I guess that’s why I didn’t really freak out as much as you thought I might when I heard about you two. I mean, it’s not like it’s this thing where you’re only interested in guys, right? I mean, sure, that might be the case, but I think most people fall into this grey zone where we need to figure out how much masculinity and femininity we have in us and find our opposites to make it complete.”

“That’s how you figured I wasn’t gay, huh?” I asked.

“That,” she said, And the fact that I’d slept with you before finding out.”

I stopped playing. I’m not sure I like this theory of yours.”

“You got a better one?” she asked, daring, as if she knew I had one in the making. I thought about mine. My spectrum was not necessarily about sex, but about happiness on the whole. I could tell her about it, but at this point, it was like a favourite song. I couldn’t offer it up to criticism in case it was destroyed completely and I was left with nothing of my own.

“No,” I said. I never think about life or love, ever.”

“If you’re not going to play,” she said, throwing me the ball. Then it’s no fun.”

“Seriously,” I said, dribbling again. My hands were beginning to freeze. I just kind of go with everything.”

“Oh that’s bullshit, and I can smell it from here,” she said. You just told me that you had your wedding planned. That, Scott, is not much of a fit with everything.”

She had me pinned. I tried to shoot, but she blocked everything. Fine,” I said. I’m probably a lot more effeminate that I’d ever care to admit. But that doesn’t mean I over-plan everything in annoying detail.”

She took the ball right from my hands. That’s mine, bitch.”

I stopped again. Hey, that’s not fair.”

She laughed and put on this bad southern accent. She said, I just calls em as I sees em.”

“I can leave anytime I want to,” I said.

“Yeah?” she dared me, Go. Get.”

“You don’t want me to leave,” I said, realizing that this was probably not the right answer.

A really serious look came over her face. What I want is irrelevant here. The point is, you won’t go.”

All of a sudden, we were playing chicken, and she had me. If I stayed, she was right about everything. If I left, then I left, and being right and wrong ceased to matter. I didn’t leave.

*

Kate and I were drinking beers on her patio that night; her friends had dropped by, unexpected. There were three of them: Jackie, Phil, and Stephen. Jackie and Phil were a couple Kate and Ray had known from college. They were the kind of friends that only ever did anything as couples, so it was always the four of them. It was like a tightly-cast sitcom with alternating special guests. Stephen was another college friend, and had assumed there would be beer, and was right. We were nearly done with Ray’s stash, and would finish it all off fast. I had run out to grab extras, and had just come back to the porch as Stephen was explaining the foibles of his last relationship.

“See, what was wrong with her was that she didn’t get how important I was to myself.” Stephen talked with his hands. His face was unshaven. His ball hat was old and ratty. You know those girls who give you lots of space and are cool about you really doing something with yourself? Stacy was not like that at all. She just smothered me, right? It was really just like, work, sleep, Stacy. It was work, sleep, and Stacy, over and over. I couldn’t take it. It was too much.”

I felt comfortable in this little group, and it was nice to think that Kate was willing to share her friends with me.

“And it’s not that she was just clingy with my time,” he said. No, she was clingy with everything. I couldn’t visit my parents without her coming along. She’d call me at work every chance she’d get. It was always I was just thinking about you’ or oh, I forgot to tell you this earlier.’ Fucking terrible, man. I tell you.”

I said, Well, I don’t know, but I think that kind of attention is really sweet. She obviously cared about you.”

“She obviously wanted to wear me down until she could wrap her body around me and squeeze,” he said, trying to imitate a giant snake with his arms and legs outstretched. Seriously dude, I’m betting you’ve never been in that situation. You’d know if you were. It’s like, every minute, there she is.”

“No, I’ve been there,” I said, totally elated to be in this conversation with a stranger. I think the difference between you and me is that I like that kind of passionate attention. I like to know that the person I’m with can’t focus well without me. Like, love is supposed to be this all-encompassing obsession, right? I totally buy that, and I love it when I find myself in the thick of it. It sucks when it goes sour, and I feel for you, but I’m sure there was some point in time when you loved it that she’d call every ten minutes to tell you something cute.”

“Shit,” Jackie said, Kate, where’d you find this guy?”

Jackie looked like every best friend I’d ever seen. She was thinner than Kate, and her blonde hair was similar in length. Her jeans were looser, her shoes newer. She smiled less. She was incredibly aware that Phil thought the world of her, and this annoyed her a little. It was clear she loved him too, but she dropped his hand a few times when he tried to hold hers. I wondered how long they’d been together, if Phil had stayed crazy about Jackie, if she had found a plateau and set up camp there.

“High school,” Kate said.

“So you’ve known her longer than us, eh?” Phil asked me, clinking beers with mine. He shifted his weight to face his girlfriend and gave her this weird, scheming look. Phil said, Maybe he can tell us.”

“No,” Kate sharply shot the idea down. He won’t.”

“Tell you what?” I asked. I looked at Kate, and her face became stone.

“Well, we met her in college, right?” Phil said. But none of us ever really knew what she was like before that. Was she the same, or like, a completely different person?”

“Well,” I said. I was different, definitely.”

“I was totally a different person,” Jackie said.

“Exactly,” I said. But with Kate, I think it’s different.”

“Hey, let’s not play the asshole game,” Kate said, glaring at me. I didn’t know what nugget of embarrassment she was trying to hide. Did I know something I shouldn’t? How good were these friends?

I said, smiling, Maybe because I’ve known her for so long, or maybe because I’ve always had this image of her, you know? Like, I’m the kind of person who sets up a mental image or idea of everyone, and that never really changes. So even if she turned out to be completely different, she’s still the same girl that was nice enough to talk to me when I was insecure and just needed a friend.”

Kate went red, but in a good way. She hadn’t expected me to play along this well.

Jackie said, That’s like, the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

Jackie reminded me of the talk Kate gave me when she pulled me aside earlier this evening. She asked me to act like I was just a friend, because she didn’t want to get into the messy stuff. She wasn’t ready to talk about Ray yet, and nobody but me knew about it. Kate told me that Jackie would likely suspect something, but speculation wasn’t fire. It was just smoke, and since she couldn’t stop the smoke, Kate figured it’d be best to just not stoke a fire.

Phil said, So, why didn’t you two ever hook up?”

I was a little insulted to think it was so obvious that we hadn’t.

“Don’t think I didn’t want to,” Kate said. But unfortunately for me, Scott here never really liked me.”

I had learned years before that the secret to blending in with people so much more confident than you was to fake it convincingly. The way to do this was to make ballsy claims that nobody could really refute, ideas that seemed to exist just within a hair of credibility but beyond challenge, like the one of Kate ever having a crush on me. It wouldn’t be difficult to play along with Kate here because I’d danced the same dance with other girls who enjoyed creating fiction of life. What was more interesting, however, was that Kate would try to make anything up at all. Was Kate hiding insecurities? Or was she simply hiding me by going in the opposite direction?

I played along by telling the truth. Hey, it’s not that I didn’t like you, it’s that I was always far too scared to say anything. You were the same way, huh?”

“Exactly,” Kate said. Everyone seemed pleased with this.

The conversation kept at this pace for hours. I didn’t flinch. Nobody suspected that I didn’t belong, and that gave me this great sense of arrival that I hadn’t been able to taste since moving to this city. I came to believe in the comfort I felt at this point, and wrapped myself with it as I would with a warm blanket, like the kind that could soften cold, bare walls.

When the drinks were gone, our guests’ departure soon followed, and as we got ourselves upstairs, I thought about how I’d probably missed out on years of this sort of thing for no goddamn reason at all.

*

“You’re going to love this place,” she said. It’s my favourite restaurant in the city.”

We had just been seated in front of a sunken, black fire-pit. I told Kate yesterday that I had never been to a Korean restaurant, and tonight we sat in a crowded hallway.The food arrived on small trays. Everything was raw. The stove divided us. We cooked as we ate. It’s so much fun,” she said. But, be careful. Once, I only half-cooked a piece of pork and ended up in the hospital.”

“Great,” I said, placing a small, square piece of beef on the grill. It was turning colours within seconds. Should it do that?”

“Yeah, it’s supposed to be quick,” she said, dunking some chicken.

“Morrissey would kill me for this,” I said.

“What?”

“You know,” I said, Lead singer of The Smiths. They put out an album called Meat Is Murder.’ He’s a pretty avid vegetarian.”

“Huh,” Kate said, chewing on a carrot. Never heard of them.”

“Really? You must have heard them at some point. Come on. Does Hang the DJ ring a bell?”

“Is that one of their songs?”

“Well, it’s part of the chorus for one of their songs,” I said.

She said, Don’t you hate it when band name songs after things that have nothing to do with the song?”

“Maybe they’re trying to be artsy.”

“Pheh,” she said, waving dismissively.

I said, Well, who can argue with that?”

“Your beef is done,” she said, pointing with tongs. I picked it up with my fork and dropped it on the small plate in front of me.

“Majestic,” I commented, sarcastically. It tasted like beef, but I still didn’t see the point.

This entire setup wasn’t particularly suited to having a conversation. There was so much attention required for dinner that an extensive conversation was just going to ruin the whole experience. However, Kate had no problem attending to both at the same time.

She said, Did I tell you I was in Korea for a little while?”

“When?”

She said, Just after college. I thought it’d be a blast, you know? Teaching English was supposedly this easy job with free rent and lots of parties on the weekends. So I go, and they gave me this tiny crab-shack of an apartment with three chairs and a bed. It’s way out in the country, right? So it’s like an hour and a half to the closest bar that’s not full of farmers. The kids never listened to a word I said, and the Korean teacher they partnered me with never talked to me. Thank God for online poker.”

I was surprised it took her this long to tell me this story. Leaving the continent for half a year seems like the kind of thing that would have come up much earlier on in the relationship. What other amazing things hadn’t she told me? I played it cool and asked her, I heard these teaching enterprises kept you there for a year?”

“Yeah,” she said. Most people stay for the year, and I’ve heard that most people like it. But it just wasn’t for me, you know? So I saved up enough to not make it a complete waste of time, gave my 30 days, and bolted. Since then, I’ve been at the job I’m at now. It was the first thing I could find.”

“Hey,” I said. Look at you. You’re opening up.”

Kate picked up her chicken with chopsticks and held it for a second. No, I’m just filling in the blanks. The only thing I took away from the experience was an appreciation for the food. Kimchi cures just about everything.”

“So it’s a total meat-fest over there, huh?” I asked, cooking my chicken, turning it with metal tongs. We were both breathing in the smoke,

“Oh my God,” she said, biting into grilled fish. Meat-fest. That’s what I used to call porn.”

“Are the bones still in that fish?” I asked, noticing more and more why I shouldn’t be eating this stuff.

“Yeah, you’ve got to be careful,” she said, laughing. Seriously. Meat-fest. I haven’t heard that in years.”

I said, It does work for porn, I guess.”

“It totally does. Not only porn but orgies, too.”

“Were you ever in one of those?”

Kate said, Hey, private!”

I said, I sleep with you every night. I have wounds that refuse to heal to prove it.”

“So?” she said. Just because you’re in my bed doesn’t mean you get to be in my head.”

“Well, when will that be?” I asked, picking at something that looked like chicken but came from a different tray.

“You want to talk about futures?” she asked.

In between bites, I said, Sure. We’ve talked about everything else.” I was lying. I figured there were at least a hundred crazy stories I hadn’t extracted from this girl. But I could tell that this was the moment where I would learn whether or not Kate had any real plans for this relationship.

“You go first,” she said, obliterating any shot I’d have at this.

“Okay. Wait. I’m not really one hundred percent on what you mean.”

Kate poured some soy sauce on her fish and asked, You don’t have any big dreams or goals that you’ve set out to accomplish? No big mission?”

“No,” I said. I think I knew everything would work out, but I never hammered out any real plan. It’s stupid, I guess, but I left it up to fate.”

I paused.

“That sounded tired,” I said. But I think it’s true. Up until Shawn happened, I really didn’t know who I was. And up until you happened, I didn’t know that there was something wrong with that.”

She said, You’re saying that I’ve screwed everything up for you.”

“Yes, essentially. This beef is kind of terrible.”

“Pour some hot sauce on it,” she said. I understand. Trust me. I know what it’s like to wrap your life around the idea of someone and then have it damaged by a sudden departure.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. So, anyway. That’s me. What about you?”

“Well, I just told you,” she said, grilling vegetables along with pork. It’s all shot to hell, right? I have no idea what I’m doing now. I’m really playing by Ackerman.”

“Ackerman?” I asked. This, I feared, was going to be lame.

“Yeah, it’s this phrase I had in college,” she said. Huh. Isn’t that funny? I haven’t said that since college. Like, I have never uttered it since. But there it is, just slipping out, like leftover drunken memories told the morning your new roommate moves in because you need a story to tell over toast.”

“This was a stupid idea for a restaurant,” I blurted out. What if you couldn’t cook? What if the very reason you left the house to get food at a restaurant was because if you cooked by yourself you’d end up poisoned or dead? What if someone got incredibly sick here because they couldn’t cook and they sued the place?”

“Anyways,” she said, completely ignoring my incredibly valid point. Diane Ackerman came up with this one quote that I just fell in love with when I first saw it. It was in this quote about travelling. Ever since, whenever I’ve really felt this way, I’ve had her to fall back on,”

I stopped picking at the increasingly suspicious meat and paid full attention to her. Kate sat upright and appeared to begin a scene from a very old play.

“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”

I asked, Are you talking about this restaurant or our relationship?”

Kate made a face that told me I wouldn’t be receiving an answer. That was okay. I didn’t want to talk to Kate about the wisdom of stealing quotes from books, or how she probably had it out of the proper context somehow. I didn’t want to challenge her idea of a divine truth. The only thing I wanted was to burrow inside whatever idea she had of the future that wouldn’t be destroyed by oncoming storms. 

*

We were sitting in Kate’s kitchen. The sun had set about an hour ago. Calgary’s days can last forever on a warm day. I’d made lunch. We’d eaten and cleaned up, and now we were sitting there.

“You’ve run out of things for us to do, haven’t you?” I asked.

“No,” she quipped. Why would you say that?”

“Because it looks like you’re thinking of something, but nothing’s coming.”

Kate gave me this look that said don’t be ridiculous.’

She said, I’m thinking of having a party tomorrow night. It’s the end of the week, after all.”

“It is?” It had gone by so quickly, I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t really thought about what would happen afterwards. What was Kate going to do with me now that the week was over? That was a stupid question. This wasn’t it. She wasn’t going to use me for a week and then just take off. It wouldn’t be like that. It wouldn’t make any sense. Even if that’s how it might have started, that’s not how it’d end. She won’t use me. Kate wouldn’t do that.

It was when I saw how naive I was being that I began to wonder if I was in love with her. My sane friends would say that it was impossible. I simply had not been with her long enough for that kind of sentiment to grow in me. To them, I’d say that all of the hours I’d spent with Kate this week would add up to the hours they’d managed to actually be in love. I was in love with Carly, and the feeling I had now was close. This time, it seemed older, more aware, but it was still beating my keener senses down to make room for the sensual escapades of sweaty dreaming. I was suddenly oblivious to the fact that Kate would ever intentionally hurt me, and this, above all things, was love as I knew it. Barring any better guidepost, the best I could do was make sail and hope for wind.

“Kate,” I began, I…”

Kate’s phone rang. She put her finger up to me, like she did every time she interrupted whatever it was I was about to say. 

“Yeah?” she said to somebody. Of course you can come. Sure, bring it all. Will who be here?”

I moved closer to the phone, trying to be cute, spying on her. She grabbed my shoulder with a stretched-out arm and held me in place. She shook her head and widened her eyes and at that moment, I should have known exactly who she was talking about.

“I’ll be in the other room,” I whispered, and left. Her eyes stayed fixated on a ghost I couldn’t see.

I sat down on her couch and thought about our entanglement. They were friends, and somehow she had already gotten the word out about a party. Shawn was never one to stay home, so he would call. This made sense. Regardless of plans, he would invariably call her at some point. He didn’t know I was staying here. He didn’t know half of the situation. This is going to be weird for him. He’d never seen me with a girl. Every moment that I’ve known Shawn, he was it for me. No other girl or boy had been able to sustain my attention until Kate came along. In a flash, I considered his feelings. Just as swiftly, I crinkled these feelings into imaginary paper balls and bounced them off an imaginary waste backet somewhere inside my head. 

Kate put her lips on my neck, and kissed me for a moment before I could think to speak.

“Hey,” I said. I don’t think I want to go to this party.”

She moved down, pulling my shirt to the side and kissing my shoulder. She whispered, Yes, you do. I want to introduce you to the rest of my friends.”

Her arms were wrapped around me, and her hands were working slowly on my buttons. I tried to explain. I said, It’s just that parties aren’t really my thing. I always get uncomfortable and nothing good ever comes of it.” None of this was completely true. 

She pulled the shirt off my back and hugged me tight. She said, No good comes from any party, honey. But good things aren’t really the point of parties, are they?”

“Look,” I said. I’m serious.”

“Scott,” she told me. Quiet.”

She turned me around and kissed my cheek and began to work downward. She didn’t want to talk. She put a finger to my lips and kissed me.

“Hold on,” I said. Are you taking my clothes off just so that I won’t protest this party anymore?”

She nodded her head. That’s exactly why. So shut up and enjoy it, cowboy.”

She put her hair up in a ponytail as she began to kiss my chest. My hands were on her shoulders, playing with the straps of her bra.

Kate grabbed my belt and yanked it out. I told her to stand up, and then I pulled off her top. Jeans were slid off. We landed on the couch, and were at each other in the kind of ravage I’d grown accustomed to since Kate first kissed me near the river. I had quickly learned how she liked to fuck. It did not take long to adjust.

In seconds, we were naked. She was not one for foreplay. Our clothes were deserted in stormy piles on her floor. It was all propulsion, mileage, and damage. Her nails dug into my side and I moaned. My teeth pulled at her nipples and collarbone, and she seemed to purr.

Sex with Kate was a hot wind coming from all directions. I had to give up all other thoughts if I wanted to keep up with her. It wasn’t like being used. She wanted me to be as hungry as she was, but there was just no way I could muster that kind of animal behavour on cue. I left no marks on Kate. I was too weak to draw blood, but she wasn’t.

We fell to the floor together. Kate was on top, her hands tight against my chest, her lips all over mine. Her ponytail fell on my right shoulder, and my hands held her ass. The carpet rubbed against the claw marks, electrifying every inch. She saw the pain on my face, and she smiled that beautiful naked smile that got me in this mess in the first place.

Kate repositioned us so that I was on top, but she gave up none of the control. Her legs wrapped around my ass, and she was halfway off the ground. Every time I tried to kiss her gently, she would lunge her tongue inside my mouth. Kate sped up, but we weren’t synchronized. She grabbed the back of my neck. She wanted to be pulled up, and I yanked back. 

Kate straddled her weight on my thighs and she looked at me, biting her lip. It wasn’t the kind of sex that lasted forever, and it was mostly because of her pace. I couldn’t imagine anyone who practiced Kate’s style of fucking producing a respectable time.

She flipped us again to make it last a few moments longer. She put me behind her. She grabbed the edge of the couch pulled my cock in. I put my hands on her shoulders and tried to keep as close as possible. I didn’t like keeping my distance during sex. I wanted sweat on sweat, grind on grind. People don’t fuck to create babies anymore. They did it to exchange fluids. 

Kate grabbed one of my hands and put it on her ponytail. She wanted me to pull her hair when she came. It was one of her things.

She came. Her right heel came down on my foot and nearly broke it. I lost balance, and we collapsed to the ground. All of the intensity numbed into a dull pain, but the pain was still too distant to think about after what’d just happened. Wow,” She said. That’s new.”

“Which part?”

“We came at the same time,” she said, panting. Not bad.”

“That’s never happened before,” I said. I felt bad about it, but I lied. I may have cried out, but I hadn’t come.

“Well, I’m sure someone’s done it,” she said, grabbing hold of my left hand and giving me a sweaty kiss. 

We lay there for a moment, watching the ceiling fan, my cock still mid-throb.

“To answer your question,” Kate purred, About the party, anyway. We’ve talked about this before. Wouldn’t you rather have a great memory than a great time?”

“Even if the memory is awful?”

“Even then,” she said.

“I don’t know. I guess it all depends on how you gauge happiness.”

“Well,” Kate asked, How do you gauge happiness?”

Kate was agreeing with the idea of my spectrum to a degree, even if her understanding of it went way beyond my theory. To me, the really unmemorable and uncool people had to be the happiest, because that was the only way the universe could be fair. But my spectrum left out the one absolute in life. Life’s really not fair, no matter what theory you use. Life will always slice through you using someone else’s theories. Kate always had the upper hand on my ideas about life. 

Thank you, Kate. You’ve destroyed it completely this time.

“Kate,” I began again, I…”

She put her finger to my lips again and inched closer. She whispered, We’ll have none of that.”

I listened to the still air and realized that the winds outside had slowed. Eventually, we got dressed and finished up the last day, getting ready for this big party.

    No Chinook Chapter 6

    No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

    Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

    Can you get me a beer?” Kate asked. I could barely hear her. With all the people around us, and the electro blaring out from every angle, I had to wonder why people bothered to open their mouths. But people were yelling all around us. Conversations seemed to swell in every direction, indecipherable because of the noise, but not far enough to be ignored. Kate drank Kokanee before, so I figured she’d like that again.

    I can’t believe you remembered!” she said when I got back from the bar. She swigged and clinked me. Thanks, man!”

    After we’d got back to her place, had sex and were laying there, cuddling, she said she wanted to dance. This came out of nowhere, but I went along with it. She got dressed in a low cut t-shirt, black jeans, slip-on black shoes, and off we went. She said she loved this place, how busy it was.

    What kind of music do you like?” she asked as we drove.

    Oh,” I said, lying. nothing really specific. I like whatever.”

    Good,” she said. This place specializes in whatever.”

    Kate had dragged me out onto the dance floor, her beer playing the part of the naked mermaid on the front of ships. I followed Kate following her drink.

    You’re really good,” I think she said, after a few songs.

    Thanks,” I mouthed, but she wasn’t paying attention to my lips. There was no use actually saying anything with the blanket of volume around us. You’re beautiful,” I mouthed.

    She smiled, but I’m not sure she understood. Her hair was down again and she flung it in every direction. She danced with a freedom I never really thought she had to show. Whatever it was she was doing, it gave us some room.

    In no time, we were both sweating. We were at a club that was a flea-market during the day, so the walls had signs advertising used clothing and bargains. Strobe lights and foggy smoke were above us, and we danced surrounded with people wearing an assortment of dress shirts and other club gear, hammered, high, or both, yelling and moving with the music. 

    Are you all right?” Kate might have said. She noticed me looking around, looking uncomfortable. I didn’t come out to clubs that often, especially the underground converted warehouses like this one. Who are you looking for? I’m right here!”

    What?” I yelled.

    I’m right here!” she screamed, and finally I heard her voice. I don’t really know why I was looking around. I guess I was just taking it in, but her insistency forced me to kiss her. It’s not like I needed an excuse at this point, but some things she did prompted me to kiss her more than others. We kept dancing. It was all there was to do.

    My phone kept ringing. It rang just about all night. I let it ring because I wanted Shawn to know that I knew he was calling. I didn’t want him to think I left the phone at home or had turned it off for the night. Every now and then I’d open it up, let him hear a second of music, and then hang up. Kate never seemed particularly interested as to why I was doing this. Mostly her eyes were closed or focused on her beer or on my chest.

    She pulled my shirt and drew me in closer as we danced. Her crotch rubbed up against my leg. No eye contact. As the phone vibrated in my pocket, she cupped it and smiled.

    Don’t get it,” she said. She said this in my ear so loud it hurt. She could have whispered. 

    I couldn’t have known what Kate was generally like after sex, but I figured that if she stayed awake, all she’d want to do was have more sex. Her hands dangled from my neck and she stared right at me, but even then I knew she wasn’t looking at me as a person; there was no intimacy there. Even then, I knew deep down that I was only her means to some end. But wrapped in that moment, she made feel like I had a place. The objectification was nice, actually, because at least it was honest.

    Shawn had used me. Before I’d finally figured it out, I thought it was love. It wasn’t love, this thing between Kate and me. It was carnal, and that was fine.

    Way back in high school, the first thing Carly told me to do was to shut up so that she could kiss me. She knew it was lame, but it still worked. I shut up. This was before I quit smoking; we were smoking outside the school and I mentioned something about wanting to burn the entire place down. I was just shooting the shit out there, but I imagined exactly how I’d do it. Halfway through it she told me to shut up, and that was the beginning of me and her. The entire week after that, all we did was make out under a tree near the parking lot where she kept her bike.

    The first thing Shawn did was kiss me, too. I met Shawn in this bar I wasn’t even supposed to be at. It was late and I was going home, but I didn’t have any change for the subway. I ducked into this bar to break a twenty, and Shawn came up and ordered a few beers. And one more for this guy,” he said, and before I could refuse, he kissed me on the cheek in his joking, frat-boy imitation, and before I knew it, I was sitting beside him and three other guys, arguing about art I’d never see.

    But Kate was different, because the first thing Kate did was show interest in my writing. Even that slight interest made mountains of difference. She wouldn’t kiss me for almost six years. I knew it was no coincidence that she was the one I thought of the most.

    None of my friends called it pathetic outright, but I knew they thought my constant moaning about Kate early in college couldn’t be anything else. I remember one of them saying Scott, trust me. For every guy, there is a girl that got away. The details might be different, but overall it’s always the same story: guy likes girl; girl probably doesn’t like guy; guy eventually gets rejected by girl and bitches about it to his buddies while getting wasted.”

    Now, I could say that they were wrong about this one incident in my life. Kate was right in front of me. She’d kissed me a hundred times in the last two days. The past was just empty context. I was in a world only I knew, but I could share it with her. I could open up to Kate. I could be honest. I could be loved. Also, she’d slept with me, twice.

    She grabbed my hair and bit my lower lip, half-laughing and half-snarled. Her hands were on my hands, my ass, my back, my chest. Her nails were sharp. Of course people stared. I think I was bleeding, but the phone kept ringing. 

    She didn’t stop until she noticed the mark on my arm.

    What the hell is that?” she yelled. I tried to shrug it off, but she grabbed my arm and led me to the entranceway where the music was quieter.

    That,” she said, pointing to the burned mark. That wasn’t there this morning. What happened?”

    I, um,” I muttered, both wondering why I hadn’t thought of a cover-up and why she hadn’t noticed it when we were naked earlier. It was an accident.”

    Really,” she said, not questioning so much as interrogating.

    It’s a cigarette burn,” I said.

    You don’t smoke.”

    No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t burn myself with a cigarette.”

    You did this to yourself?” she asked, equally worried and visibly re-evaluating who she’d hooked up with for the evening.

    Yeah, well,” I said. There weren’t any chairs to throw into a wall.”

    She took a second to process my explanation, and get her own idea of what it might mean. Then she reached into my pocket and stole my phone.

    What are you doing?” I asked.

    What do you think?” she said. I’m checking to see what your ex-girlfriend’s name is.”

    I tried to grab the phone from her. I told her, There’s no girl.”

    Look, I get it. I never asked if you were seeing somebody. I didn’t think you might be going through the same thing as I was. Hey, maybe that makes all of this easier, you know? We’ve got something really big in common, if that’s the case. I just want to know.”

    I stopped lunging for my phone, because I’d just realized she understood something I was only now grasping. What had brought us together was our common heartbreak. It was shitty things leading to good things, and the reinforcement of my spectrum was enough for me to let her flip open my phone and look around for my missed call list.

    I could tell by her confused look that the list required some explanation. I said, Shawn, right?”

    Yeah, but why? What does he want? And why weren’t you answering?”

    I began to head outside, and Kate followed. I knew if this situation got any closer to the truth, we should move the proceedings outdoors. I think he’s mad at me,” I said, trying not to give too much away. I stormed out of his place today. We had a fight.”

    Oh my god,” she said. Are you hurt?”

    Kate followed me. We got to the door and felt the cold night air. I said, No, nobody hit anyone.”

    Then how was it a fight?”

    We just yelled.”

    But you’re guys. Don’t guys hit each other when they fight?”

    Not all guys,” I said.

    Well, you should answer it and get it over with,” she said. You know, be a man about it or something.”

    I don’t want to be a man about it,” I said. I really can’t talk to him right now. Or ever.”

    Kate laughed. I had no idea you were this melodramatic.”

    My roommates in college might have been wrong about every guy having a girl that gets away, but they were right about most other things. Once, Jesse, the only one of them I really liked, told me a story of when he was a kid. He was walking along on the CN railway tracks, about half a mile away from his house.. He was maybe 8 or whatever. These trains come through all the time, and Jesse always got out of the way long before the train came close. Only there was this one time when he felt something completely different. It was the same sort of day as any other, and he didn’t really feel any differently, but for whatever reason, he didn’t move. 

    Some thought rippled through his brain that was much heavier than the average 8-year-old should be thinking: what’s really going to happen to me if I don’t get out of the way? And even at 8, he knew there was nobody around that could really tell him what it would be like to die, or what it would be like afterwards. He knew it would hurt, surely, but it was the after that was the biggest mystery. 

    He still got out of the way long before any real sense of danger set in. And really, he only stayed on the tracks a few seconds longer than normal, and it still took the train a good five minutes to hit the spot where he had been standing. Still, none of that made his childhood moment of great philosophical transcendence any less terrifying. He was absolutely right. It’s possible to know what it would feel like to be hit by the train, but what followed was anybody’s guess. That’s why, when I saw in her eyes that she’d put two and two together and began to dial Shawn’s number on my phone, I headed outside to her car. I sort of had an idea of how she would initially react to the news of my little affair, but had absolutely no idea what would happen after.

    Hi Shawn, it’s Kate,” she began. Why have you been harassing Scott all night?”

    I quickly asked for her keys, and she tossed them to me. I got in, and I could see her inching towards the driver’s side. I was about to open the door, but then I saw her hand pause in front of the window. At that moment, Kate knew everything, and it had stopped her in her tracks.

    This would be my bar story, to be told with slight variances every time I drank with new friends. Drinking with people meant meeting other people, which meant leaving the house, which meant being okay enough to stop crying and get on with life. This imaginary string of events gave me the most comfort. The rest came from knowing that I’d done relatively little wrong. It’s not likely that either Kate or Shawn would be telling their hypothetical future bar friends about how manipulative or abusive I was, and how happy they were now that I was gone. Even though I was the other man in one relationship and the rebound in the other, I figured that I’d played both parts well enough to dispel any blame.

    The funny thing is, the image of all of us in the future made me realize that I was just as willing and knowledgeable as Shawn in what we were doing. I mean, he never did actually leave Mark, did he? It really was just as much my fault that I landed in this situation. If Kate slid into the driver’s seat in a few minutes and told me that she never wants to see me again, it would be my fault. It would be my fault because I wanted to be with Shawn and didn’t tell her, and because I really had no right to be with her in the first place. We belonged on opposite ends of the spectrum, and that’s exactly where we’d return. Her car felt warm even with the engine off. I saw her shadow through the back window, pacing.

    I wasn’t innocent. Sure, I’d tell people I was completely victimized; but even as it all unfolded, I knew I was to blame. Without me, Shawn would probably be happy with Mark, and Kate would be doing something other than having rebound sex. Maybe she’d be going after Ray. Maybe she’d grab his new girlfriend by the roots of her hair and break her back against a wall. Kate was the strongest woman I’d ever met. She could have carried this car home on her back if she got angry enough to do it. I couldn’t imagine her having the sort of sex she was having with me without a certain amount of rage. I could hear feet crunching on the snow outside, behind me. Her reflection in the rear window gave away nothing.

    She hung up the phone and walked to the driver’s side of the car. The door creaked open and slammed shut. There were goose bumps on her arms. She cracked her neck to one side. Still, there was no way I was speaking first.

    All right,” she said. I guess I lost my own bet.”

    What?” In this moment, one word at a time was all I could manage. I know I wanted to explain everything to her before she had a chance to speak, but at the same time knew there was never a chance I had that sort of strength.

    Last night, when I kissed you, I thought that I had it figured out. I mean, sure, I’d been dumped, and yeah that fucking hurt, but I guess I always knew he had it in him to do something like that. Ray was just the kind of character where cheating was part of the package. I should have seen it coming, dating a guy like that, living with him. It didn’t matter to him; he could cheat on you and leave just like that. You still don’t see it coming and it still breaks your heart, but in hindsight, it makes sense. You know what I mean?”

    Of course I knew what she meant.

    Anyways,” she said. When I kissed you, I thought I knew you; I mean, in a way, I’ve known you for years, right? I never stopped to wonder if you’d changed. I just kind of took you at face value.”

    I could see the whole thing coming. She wasn’t good at the long speeches. She wanted to call me a big fucking asshole and tell me to find my own ride home. She would have said the same thing back in high school.

    But people do change,” she said, People do grow up and beyond what anyone might think they could turn out to be, right?”

    I’d caught my breath, and remembered where I stood in my own big mess. So what are you trying to say, Kate?”

    She coughed, and started the car. She only turned on the heat, and I could immediately feel it on my toes. I wish you had been honest with me, Scott.”

    She sounded hurt, but it felt like I’d known what to say to this for years. I’m sorry, Kate. But I’ve been a little windswept here. In the last day or so, you’ve completely blown my entire world apart. It’s easy for other things to lose their importance, you know? It’s easy not to mention something.”

    Oh, like your fucking boyfriend?” she said, blowing the fuse I hoped I would never see ignited. How does that particular piece of information become completely lost in the course of one day? Huh? Explain that one to me, please!”

    Wait a minute,” I said. Shawn is not my boyfriend.”

    Sure, he isn’t now,” she said. Not after you stormed out on him today and did what we did last night and tonight and oh, my God, I can’t believe you. You son of a bitch!”

    She was screaming, but neither of us moved from our seats. We both knew there was so much more to say, and both of us knew that something had to be resolved. Shawn was lying to more people than I thought.

    Okay, fine, here’s some truth,” I said. I am not Shawn’s boyfriend. I never have been. This guy Mark is Shawn’s boyfriend. Yes, I’ve been seeing Shawn, and it’s been happening for quite a while now and I thought he and I were really close. But that’s the thing. It was all sort of in my head, you know? He was just fucking using me, and today when I went over to his place, I pretty much made him choose between Mark and me, and he picked Mark. Do you know why I did that?” 

    She shook her head.

    I said, Last night, I got caught up in the moment in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. You made me feel like Shawn had never made me feel. And you know what that is? It’s the knowledge that there is nothing beyond the surface. You didn’t sleep with me for any alternate reasons, you know? I know exactly what last night was and I’m fine with that because it was honest. That’s why I went straight to Shawn’s. I wanted everything to be as honest as possible.”

    She relaxed, allowing her body to rest on the seat. Is that everything?” she asked. Is this you being as honest as possible?”

    I’m being honest, but I’m not even close to giving it my all. You know, for a while I even thought I was in love with him. Not lately — I’d been doubting the entire situation for some time, but it is like you said, right? Even if you do see something bad coming, you still convince yourself so deeply that everything will end up exactly as you’ve pictured it, and you believe it. Then it hits you that the one you think you love doesn’t love you back, is really just using you for whatever he needs at the time, and when it comes down to choosing who he really wants to be with, it’s the easiest decision in the world.” I flopped back in the seat, unable to find the energy to look at her reaction.

    I’m floored,” she said. I really am. There’s absolutely no way I could’ve known you were this fucked up.”

    Yeah, well, same to you.”

    We both sat there for a minute, just breathing the hot air. I couldn’t see out of the windows. The fog was layered with more fog. If there were cops around, it was a miracle we weren’t busted for hot boxing or fucking.

    Other than Shawn’s strange definition of our relationship, I really did think I had everything figured out. I want you to say yes to something,” she said, calmly. And I want you to say yes to it before you hear what it is.”

    Yes.” I didn’t know what I was doing, but her car was warm and this hadn’t ended up being an altogether horrible experience.

    And you can’t go back on it,” she sat up in her seat, I mean, you could, but it would be really fucking lame of you.”

    Yes, I said.”

    I want you to stay with me for a week,” she said. It felt like an anticlimax. For a second I thought she’d want all of us to fuck or something in order to get it out of our systems.

    Of course,” I said. That’s no problem.”

    And I don’t want you to see Shawn during that time.”

    I don’t want to see him again, ever,” I said.

    That’s very sweet, Scott,” she said, taking out her compact to apply some lipstick. But we both know you will. Still, I think you can go a week.”

    It’s really no problem.”

    Actually,” she added. I don’t want you to see anybody this week. I mean, go to work and do all the things you need to do. Just consider my home your home. Don’t go home. Don’t go to things you can cancel. Get out of your book club or whatever.”

    I’m not part of a book club,” I sneered. What if I had a dog?”

    Do you have a dog?”

    I have a goldfish.”

    She took a long breath and let it out. I want you to let it die, Scott. I want your goldfish to die because you were too busy fucking me.”

    I was never particularly high on the damn thing anyway. It’s just a goldfish,” I said.

    So that’s a yes?” she asked.

    For the seventh time.”

    Kate turned on the radio. More dance music. I kept agreeing with her, thinking how this was all going to work out. This would be the beginning of something I’d wanted longer than anything else. Somewhere, mostly in places where the idea of my spectrum rang loudest, I knew that in no uncertain terms I had allowed myself to be happy.

    No Chinook Chapter 5

    No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

    Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

    I had learnt I’d been accepted to the University of Calgary almost a month before I told Carly. I’d have to move, and in that, I saw the collapse of our relationship. For not one moment did I understand why Carly was with me to begin with; I’d figured it was proximity luck. To put myself at any distance would challenge Carly to sacrifice something, and she was not the type to do so for other people. Anyways, she found the letter, stashed underneath some papers, and was the first to congratulate me. Carly knew it was the best thing that could ever happen to me, and there was no way that I should think of anything other than attending. She said not to worry about her. She said she’d be fine.

    For the first hundred feet past Shawn’s front door, I thought he might be following me. I didn’t look back because I would feel weak, but after three blocks I couldn’t stop myself. Behind me was an empty sidewalk with lazy shovel marks.

    It was after I started walking again that I began to cry. Eventually, I got on the LRT and broke down. The last time I’d done this, I promised myself it wouldn’t happen again, but I was never any good at New Years’ resolutions. I was pretty pathetic when it came down to it. There, in the spaces between thinking about how much of a bastard he was, I imagined all the times the magic had gone out of my life. There were so many momentous deflations, though I’d always attributed them to my spectrum. As long as I could punch a life experience into one end of the dial, I could fragment and control it. It happened for a reason, and things would even out. Even in my sad little state of bawling my eyes out on public transit, I knew that what had just happened made all the sense in the world.

    I missed my stop and decided to keep going. I got off on 17th street and found a corner store. I had nothing to do at home but cry into a pillow, so I decided to go buy some cigarettes instead.

    The place looked like it had been broken into three times in the last week, but then again most mom and pop places in Calgary looked like this since they’d stuck a 7-11 on every other corner.

    Can I get some cigarettes?” I sounded so fucking lame. It had been a while since I’d done this. I’d forgotten what kind I liked.

    The small old woman across the counter just smiled like a grandmother who’d just caught her granddaughter stealing a dollar from her purse. I figured she’d inadvertently embarrass me by asking which brand I’d prefer, but instead she simply reached behind her and grabbed a small red and white pack labelled extra, extra light.

    I gave her a ten, and she gave me my change and said hank you” in the sweetest tone. Then I asked for a lighter, and she almost laughed.

    You’ve never done this before, have you?” she said. And don’t say it’s for a friend’, because I can tell it’s for you.”

    Yeah,” I said, First time.” It was half true, anyway.

    This old lady opened the pack, and put one in her mouth. Do what I’m doing,” she said through her teeth. I grabbed one and held it in my lips. Hold the lighter like this,” she said. So that you don’t burn yourself.”

    We both had tiny blue lighters and I imitated her as best as I could, but I dropped the smoke. It landed on the glass counter. I was glad there weren’t any junior high kids watching this.

    You’re really no good at this,” she said. Maybe you should try quitting.”

    Nah,” I said, smirking for the first time since this morning with the muffins. I’m being bullied at school and if I smoke, people will think I’m cool.”

    I’ve been there,” she said. She couldn’t have been less than sixty. So just make sure you practice at home. And don’t let your parents catch you.”

    After a second of wondering just how serious the other was, I thanked her and walked around to the side of the building. I leaned against the fake plastic siding, and re-lit the smoke I’d dropped at the store. For a moment, I looked at the end of the cigarette, trying to see some truth. I focused so hard on the small flicks of bright red because I thought I’d see some image of Shawn as he should be, or a glimpse into Kate’s mystery, or Carly being less of an uncontrollable fireball, or me being someday capable of getting through a situation without crying on the subway. I concentrated so hard on every hope I had and made a series of stupid wishes.

    I thought about kids from school with scars on their forearms, and how stupid it seemed back then. I thought it was a cry for attention. Maybe it was, but I wished so much to be away from my thoughts that I pulled back my sleeve, turned the cigarette upside down, and cringed as the tip came into contact with the back of my bare forearm. I collapsed and sat against the store wall, wallowing in my self-inflicted pain. I was not made for this sort of abuse. The spot I had stabbed was a lesion of burned flesh, a stabbing reminder that I’d learned nothing.

    The burn hurt longer than I thought it would, but it did the job. The only thing I could think of at the time was how empty I felt, how drained of power. I came to the conclusion that I really was weaker than most people. As I saw the last speck of red drop off the burn, I knew I had spent too long on one end of the spectrum, and it was time to cross over.

    If I wallowed a little while longer, it might guarantee a level of happiness later that I might not otherwise achieve. Something had to happen to even all this out. I knew I couldn’t feel like this forever, because all misery had to be paid off. 

    My phone rang. I thought it might be Shawn, but it wasn’t.

    As soon as I answered and heard Kate’s voice, half the pain went away. But I wasn’t really sure at that point what took its place.

    I got off work early,” she began, sounding like she was walking down the same street whose wall I was backed up against.

    Where are you?” I asked. I almost asked who is this,’ but I didn’t think she’d appreciate it.

    I’m just coming from work. I couldn’t wait to call you.”

    After what happened today, it felt really good to hear that someone couldn’t wait to call me.

    Do you want me to meet you at your house?” I asked.

    No, I’ll pick you up. I’m driving,” she said, sounding great. So the question is, where are you?”

    I’m on seventeenth,” I said. Just outside of the LRT there.”

    That’s scarily close to where I’m at,” she said. What are you doing there?”

    I missed my stop,” I said. I was going to get back on, but you called.”

    Good thing I did,” she said. I’ll be there in like, three seconds.”

    She hung up. I wondered what to do with the smokes. I saw a guy coming toward me with a cigarette in his hand and I tried to give them to him, but he waved me off without even looking. A second guy did the same. They must have thought I was homeless. My hair was a wreck. My jacket was dirty. I threw the pack of smokes in the trash. I didn’t smoke, and maybe with Kate I would have no reason to use them for any other misguided purpose.

    As soon as I hung up, the burn began to hurt again, so I tried to keep my mind on Kate and all the unanswered questions surrounding her. Kate pulled up and smiled as I got in. Then she kissed me and we drove off. She looked refreshed, whereas I could still feel all my new wounds. 

    She didn’t immediately notice the raw circle on my forearm because I hid it from her.

    You want to go out somewhere? I know a few places,” she said. I didn’t know if that meant food, dancing, or something sinister.

    No Chinook Chapter 4

    No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

    Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

    This one night in July, back when I was with Carly, she drove twenty minutes west, outside of town on the Trans-Canada. She killed the power on her bike and we snuck into a wheat field. We had to walk sideways through the first section because the lanes were so thin, but when we got to a clearing in between lanes: she motioned me to lie down. I’d ask all these questions, bullshit teenager questions about life and the universe. She had answers to all of them. 

    To Carly, the sky was a prison door, keeping us all in. We were all here because at some point in time, each and every one of us had done something wrong somewhere else. Like in Dante’s hell, she’d say, some of us suffered more than others, but we all hurt in some way. The point of life, according to Carly, was to snatch the moments that didn’t hurt and hold on to them no matter what the cost. To her, the stars were always teasing.

    Carly would fill my head with all these negative ideas about the world and then light some wheat on fire. We would both stare silently into the crimson flames until she said, See? Suffering. Even a kiss can hurt. Even sex can be deadly. Even paying your taxes can sponsor terrorism. All the great and wonderful feelings we’re promised in this world can hurt us more than a shark or gun or tsunami.” Even then, I knew these were messy philosophies, and if left unchecked would result in a bitter collapse of truth and beauty. I wondered if she said all that stuff so that kissing her would be the only thing that brought me any real joy.

    Carly drifted off in a fog as I came back to the present. It was the next morning, and there was dried blood on my lips. I was in a bed I’d only met the night before. The sheets on top of me were purple, making it hard to figure out exactly where the bruises were. I had a cramp in my left leg. My chest felt collapsed. My wrists felt as if I’d written six novels. Even the roots of my hair hurt. As I opened my eyes, I winced. My wide-open eyes triggered each of these individual pains instantly.

    Kate must have been downstairs or gone. It took me a minute to sit up, and a few more to get my pants on. I took the stairs one at a time, down to the living room with the busted chair and the yearbook on the table, through the narrow hallway to the kitchen, where I found Kate reading an old issue of Maxim.

    I got muffins,” she said, smiling but not getting up. On the table, there was a box from the coffee shop. I reached in and grabbed something resembling a blueberry muffin, sitting down on the other chair.

    How are you feeling?” I asked.

    Better,” she said, as if her confidence had a voice of its own. And, as if her ego had its own voice, she asked, How are you feeling?”

    It was the least I could do,” I said. I mean, I think this makes me a pretty good friend. I haven’t held your hair while you puked after a keg party or anything.”

    I’ll have you know, I’ve never done a keg stand.” I laughed, but she was dead serious on this keg stand issue. She put her magazine down and bent over, her elbows touching her knees. Don’t write this off as a bullet in the line of duty, punk. You wanted it just as much as I needed it.”

    I didn’t know how to answer her, so I just tore some muffin off and chewed. The thing was, I was always conflicted when it came to the right way to go. It didn’t know whether to accept this recent stroke of luck and go with the girl I had pined over for a few weeks at the end of high school, or to see it as some kind of a sick test.

    Sex changes things in ways it always shouldn’t. Last night, I felt so much longing for Shawn; he was never out of my head until Kate kissed me. This morning, all I could think about was this woman reading a boys’ magazine and eating cheap muffins in her pink housecoat and ponytail.

    You’ve finally got a ponytail,” I said. That’s the first time I’ve seen you with one since high school. You remember back when that’s all you did with your hair?”

    Please don’t remind me,” she said, wrinkling her nose. And don’t change the subject.”

    What were we talking about?”

    Let’s get this out in the open right away,” she said, kissing me quickly. We both tasted like blueberries. I didn’t want you to leave today without me talking to you about this.”

    About what, Kate? Last night? I understand the whole thing. You don’t have to spell it out for me.”

    Not last night,” she said. Tonight. I want you to stay tonight, too.”

    This was the moment when it all changed between Kate and me. More importantly, though, it changed how I had to think about Shawn. Having re-met Kate, reminisced with her about our lives, consoled her failed relationship, and even having sex with her hadn’t change the course, really. In my head, I had cheated on Shawn with Kate, but all that it had done was make us even. I had still felt I belonged to him. But now I wasn’t so sure.

    Yeah,” I said, I’ll be here tonight.”

    Kate smiled and stood up. I’ve got to run,” she said, But I couldn’t go until I was sure.”

    Work?” I said.

    Something like that,” and she kissed me again.

    I don’t have an extra key,” she said, suggesting that I should leave with her. In a moment, I was standing on her doorstep kissing her goodbye, wishing her a good day, and watching her drive off. She offered me a ride to the LRT, but I told her I liked taking the long way.

    I thought about finding a way around Shawn’s place. I really had nothing to do today other than start the newest column, but I didn’t want to see him. I could simply walk north a block and turn back at the main street where the LRT was. Going south would be just as easy. But, as I walked towards his place, I neglected to turn. I didn’t avoid his street. I was no longer just the guy Shawn was seeing. I was the guy who was seeing a girl living near Shawn. It was all in my mind, but as Kate said, why not?

    Whatever I had been worrying about vanished the second I noticed that Mark’s stupid van wasn’t in the driveway. As soon as I was close enough to see its absence, I felt happier. Even after thinking through so many scenarios last night, I still had no practical idea as to how the confrontation would happen. But maybe it wouldn’t happen at all, now that I was sort of with someone else. Maybe it would be fine.

    In fact, no cars were in the driveway, which was strange for a house full of people in this city. Sometimes it seemed like everyone had one. I couldn’t tell if there were any lights on, so it was possible that nothing would come from knocking. Still, I knew I had to. I had to be honest with Shawn if there was any chance of it working. I knew, as I had known since Carly, that it was always best not to make the same mistake twice in the same night. It took about a dozen knocks before Shawn came to the door. We hugged and I came in. He was wearing his blue robe; it made him look posh, even though he hadn’t shaved in a few days and had bed-head. He was still sexy in a gruff way, and I followed him into his bedroom and plopped onto his bed.

    Good morning,” he said, kissing me and touching my hair. No gel today?” I shook my head. Well, aren’t we daring? I thought I told you that you always needed something in your hair?”

    You know, I’m not about to obey everything everyone tells me,” I said, trying my best to sound defiant.

    Sure,” he said, Whatever you say. Still, your hair is a mess without something governing up there.”

    It’s fine,” I said. And compared to yours? Can you really say anything?”

    The difference is that you’ve been out of the house and I haven’t. I’ve had no audience to make up for.”

    Like the guy walking his dogs down the road over there?”

    he kissed me to get me to shut up. I rolled onto him and began kissing his neck when he pushed me off and said, Shit. Shit! I forgot to call the model.”

    What model?”

    The guy who was supposed to come into the class today. It was cancelled, but I never called him.”

    Is he cute?”

    As he rummaged through his clothes on the floor in search of his phone, he said, And what does that have to do with anything?”

    If he his, maybe I’ll sit in on it,” I said. Or sit on it.”

    Don’t be cute,” he said. This is serious. If I don’t call him at least a few hours before the class, he’s going to be pissed, and we need him.” Shawn jumped up as he found the phone, dialling. I plopped down on his bed and waited.

    Hey, Damien? Yeah, sorry man. Fumigating. Yes. They’ve got to do it every now and then. Low ceilings, yes, exactly. Can you make it in next week though? Same time?”

    It’s not like Shawn’s bed was ever really made, but it seemed to be more and more unmade after Mark every time I came over. The sheets felt rough and dirty, and none of the filth was mine to take credit for. 

    Great. You’re my favourite guy, Damien. You know it. Thanks,” Shawn said, hanging up and tossing the phone back into the pile of clothes. He came back to the bed and kissed my nose. So,” he said. What brings you to my neck of the woods?”

    Well, it’s a really funny story, actually,” I began, but right then Shawn’s phone rang and he excused himself to the other side of the room to talk business with someone wanting to do something complicated and long-winded with a tuba.

    Shawn usually wasn’t this busy around me, but then again, when I’m around the lights are off and the moon is out. I didn’t usually see him like this, with a phone glued to his ear, checking off errands. 

    In a few minutes he came back and said, Sorry, that should be it for a while, anyway.”

    It’s no problem,” I said, I like seeing you work.”

    You like seeing me work on you,” he said, looking around, noticing how dirty the place was, and deciding that instead of sitting with me he should tidy up a little.

    That too,” I said.

    What were you saying before? About why you were close to my place?”

    He was only half-focusing on me, concentrating on cleaning.

    I’m sorry,” I said, Are you expecting company? I can come back some other time.”

    No, just, I guess I feel like I need something to do, right now.”

    You were with him last night,” I said, playing with the bed sheet. He threw some clothes into the hamper halfway across the room, and tried not to look too guilty.

    Is that why you came?” he asked. I told you before. You can’t push me.”

    No, that’s not it.” Maybe half of it was to do some fighting, even though I had a smaller box of ammunition than before. I was stupid, I knew it, and it had to be best to drop everything and not press on. I’m sorry, I guess I just get jealous. Forget it.”

    I can’t forget it,” he said, sitting next to me and touching my shoulder. I have to deal with this every time I see either of you, and it hurts. It hurts because I don’t know what to do. I thought I did, but I don’t. I’m sorry.”

    He had never told me this before. I thought of collapsing, ripping off all my fingernails, exsanguinating. I put serious thought into how deep the glass would tear into my skin if I were to lunge at the second-story window. I had made horrible mistakes in life, and all of them had to do with trusting my own assumptions. They were never right.

    Had he ever told me he preferred me? Had he told me he was leaving Mark? Had he told me anything I could use as a factual basis to our future? I wanted my eyeballs ripped from my sockets to prevent me having to see him in this moment of uncertainty. Having him right in front of me, inches from my nose, made uncertainty much more inescapable, and much more painful.

    I used to think that all of my rage stayed inside, bubbling up to reach a point when I could not take anything else. I used to think I was one of those people who was like a giant black pot above an ancient fireplace, cooking stew. That stew was everything I harboured inside, feeling I was unable to communicate like a mature adult. I pictured an old hag there, stirring the stewing hatred until she lost control and it boiled over, covering the creaking wooden floors with a sticky mess that would take her all night to rub clean.

    And while this was true to an extent, I knew my stew pot wasn’t full. I had taken my entire relationship with Shawn in stride and never once showed a lack of trust in his word. Someone else had filled it once before, back in high school before I met Kate, and I could feel there was still plenty of room in me for understanding and compassion and understanding. That’s why, when I began to scream and shout and run around Shawn’s room, offering an ultimatum I never really considered giving, I realized I was not the kind of person that had a giant black pot inside them.

    I can’t believe you don’t know yet,” I said, pacing in a fit. How long have I been here, in your room? How many times have we been together, huh? How many times have we fucking made love, you asshole?”

    Calm down,” he said, getting up and trying to hold me. I was having none of it. I continued to point and pace and wreck myself.

    Fuck, man. In my head I’ve been with you for months, and now you just lay it out there casually that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing? Like I knew what you were doing? I didn’t know for five minutes what you were doing! You were with Mark, then I came along, and you liked me better, right? If you hadn’t liked me better, there was no fucking reason for you to waste your time with me. I thought you hadn’t broken up with Mark yet because you lack fucking confidence or timing or strength or someone else to do it or what the fuck ever. I could never figure that out, before, but I guess now I know, right? You haven’t broken up with him yet because you just don’t want to. Is that about right?”

    It’s not that simple,” he said.

    Isn’t it?” I asked. I realize this whole thing is complicated. But my question is easy. Unless you really do know nothing at all, but then all those fucking brilliant things that come out of you are just recycled pieces of garbage you get from lectures. Is that how it is?”

    No, not exactly,” he said, tugging at my shirt. Let me explain.”

    No,” I screamed, shrugging him off. I’m really getting sick of your bullshit explanations, Shawn. So I’m going to say something I should have made clear at the beginning. I really fucking like you, and I thought we could work, but there is this one thing about you I just can’t stand. And you know who that is.”

    He paused, and then, as dramatically as he could, said, I know who that is.”

    Good,” I said. Then you know what I want.”

    I hadn’t come to do this, but there it was, anyway. The culmination of my frustrations with this stupid boy.

    Shawn stopped trying to hold me and sat down to think. He did this sometimes, when something heavy hit him like a truck. He would just shut down and withdraw for a while. It was something I really liked about him, because I knew he was really listening and would take as long as he needed to figure something out. He wouldn’t ever give me the brush-off with anything this serious.

    At that moment I felt terrible, knowing that I was putting this lover of mine in a difficult position, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. Facing the problem head-on, as fast as I could get it together enough to do so, always beat the idea of just letting things continue on as they were. Being with Kate the night before had given me a freedom I hadn’t felt in forever, and with that came the strength to do the obvious and the righteous.

    I looked at my shoes and my hair fell over my eyes, and no amount of sighing or shifting seemed to hasten the process. Shawn just sat there, almost motionless, for what seemed like forever. I went back and forth wondering if he was spinning bullshit or fighting the truth. But the truth was simple, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t it be?

    Finally, I had to interrupt. This should be an easy answer.”

    Well,” he muttered. It isn’t.”

    Why the fuck not?” I screamed, not a foot away from him. What kind of fucked up math are you figuring out? You’ve already made your decision, haven’t you? Didn’t you make it that first night we kissed?”

    I thought I did,” he said flatly, and I looked at him with the kind of vulnerability I don’t believe I ever felt possible. 

    He said, But now, I don’t know.”

    This is when I stormed out. There was nothing else to do in that room.

    No Chinook Chapter 3

    No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

    Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

    Carly, the high-school sweetheart I took to the prom, rode a motorcycle It was a classic number her dad left behind when he split town, and she was riding it the second she got her license. By the time I came around, it was an extension of her; part of her personality. I never really understood why someone would own a bike in a city with so much gravel on the roads and with an average snowfall of a hundred-and-twenty-five centimetres a year. But some of the best high-school moments were when our leather jackets were pressed up against each other as we roared down some black street with the autumn wind rewarding us for getting through the day. There was always this little spot between her helmet and jacket I could kiss and would; I’d kiss it every chance I got. She usually shrugged me off: I’m driving here,” she’d say, but I knew she loved it.

    I’d been in a fair number of relationships for a guy on my side of the spectrum. My father always told me that I needed to find a better group of losers to hang out with, seeing as I’d always date odd girls and hang out with guys my dad found unsettling in ways he would never explain. My father and I didn’t talk too much, but something about what he said stuck with me. As much as I liked my friends in high school, I knew they weren’t exactly the best choice, and while I was really no different, there always happened to be this wall that kept me from being too intimate with anyone I didn’t sleep with.

    Anyways, the thing with Carly was that I was in love with her and she was in love with me. We were going to get married and live somewhere together and be really fucking happy. Neither of us had a clue as to what to do with our lives, but we had at least one constant thing that grounded us into thinking about thinking about the future in a way that was more playful than responsible. Maybe we’d go to college or maybe we’d open up a diner in Alaska and serve the folks up there. It was a nice image, solidified in drifting snow squalls and in our bonding together against this world. It’s not even that we hated the world, really. We just liked each other more outside of it.

    Carly introduced me to every rock band I love. She showed me that greater thinking happened at four in the morning than at any other time of day. I drank my first beer with her, three blocks away from her place in an abandoned house the cops never seemed to pay attention to. I’d be such a fucking mess right now without Carly; before her, I didn’t think I could make a living writing anything. She taught me to stop chewing my nails. It was one of those formative relationships: she remoulded me into something so much better than I was before.

    It was two weeks later; Kate finally called. After the first few days had gone by, I had convinced myself that our meeting was a fluke, that all she’d wanted was a trip down memory lane; perhaps something more sinister. I went to work on the LRT and I told some people there that I’d caught up with an old friend, and I helped Shawn paint his room. Well, re-apply paint, really. All that arguing about what to do, and finally he just decided to paint it the same damn colour. I lived completely ordinarily, almost oblivious to any crazy ideas about Kate.

    I could tell she was crying, but at the same time trying to hold it back as much as she could. I asked her the obvious: What’s wrong?”

    He fucking left me. That fucking prick.” She embellished the Fs with spit and contempt. She sounded like she had a lisp. I could tell she was pacing around.

    When?” I asked.

    This morning,” she said. I wake up alone in our bed, and when I come downstairs he’s packing a bag. I ask him where he’s going. He dodges the subject. I follow him around, and he tries to avoid all my questions. He heads for the door, and I block him. Finally, he breaks down and says that he’s been seeing this girl. Some fucking girl. Can you believe that?”

    I was crushed right along with her. Everything she said broke my heart.

    I couldn’t help but envision the dumbest guy in the world as she kept going: He’s been seeing her for like, a year, for fucksakes, and she was out in his car, waiting to take him up to her cabin where I’m sure they fucked whenever I thought he was off doing business trips. Jesus Christ. I am so fucking angry right now. I trusted him with everything.”

    Immediately, I thought: he knows what she does for a living.

    For a second, Kate sounded like she had more to say, but she just fell apart mid-breath. I held the phone close and tried to hold her up with imaginative will. Any remnants of the Kate Foley living in my memories were shattered now. Kate would have never let a guy walk over her like that. She’d never fall to the floor because the tears came too fast and too hard. The Kate I thought I knew was brutally strong, even if I had her completely made up.

    It was around this time that I began to wonder how much about Kate Foley I really did know. She never talked about her parents or life outside school. I didn’t know if she had any siblings, or if she had asthma like me, or if she’d had an imaginary friend. It was so hard to picture her as a kid. All I had seen was this woman so capable of affecting my stupid, self-centred feelings. And then I saw it. Something about the way she was breathing into the phone told me she was close to the ground. She’d collapsed, but kept hold of the phone. Finally, I said, I’ll be right over.”

    Kate took a couple of breaths to slow down, and said Thank you,” in a mouthy, desperate way that really meant she needed me.

    Finally, when she needed me, everything was in my way. I couldn’t find the sleeve in my jacket for my arm to go through. I couldn’t find my keys. I couldn’t tie my shoes right. I missed the train. Waiting for a train that comes every four minutes is so excruciating. All I wanted to do was run. For a moment, I considered outrunning the train.

    When the train finally reached Kate’s stop, I bolted out the doors and downstairs. It was seventeen below, but my focus kept me warm. I was so preoccupied that I almost missed the car in front of Shawn’s house as I ran right by. But I didn’t.

    Mark’s blue Caravan was parked on the asphalt driveway of my lovers’ house. I couldn’t help but stop for a second, immediately feeling sick. That particular car in that driveway meant that Shawn was with him; deceiving Mark and possibly me. I wavered between the two options, trying to decide which was true. Something about Shawn, perhaps his charm, forced me to think that it was simple cowardice, that he’d have loved nothing better than to dump that jerk and rush to my place. But it was four months since I met him and two and a half since we’d kissed, and there was Mark’s stupid childless minivan parked right in front of me. The one time I met Mark was at a party very similar to the one where I met Kate, only it was in someone else’s house and there was much more alcohol. It was a week after Shawn and I had kissed for the first time, and we’d gotten our signals crossed. When he saw me, he flinched. Shawn froze completely, as if fully aware of the fact that his world might come apart right then, in the middle of some guy’s living room.

    I didn’t think you were coming,” he said, in the coldest tone, and I immediately sensed that he was hiding something. Before he got another word in, this guy Mark, Mark with the minivan, came over to us, wrapped his thin arms around Shawn and kissed him in the way a teenaged girl would. Somewhere behind me, a beer bottle shattered into dozens of sharp pieces, and people jumped. Unable to say anything, I just turned and walked through the front door, cutting my foot open in the process. I limped home, sobbing. Shawn always added far too much drama to my life. 

    The only thing that kept me from crying was the cold; I kept running. I couldn’t linger outside Shawn’s house while his other boyfriend was there. What choices did I have? Causing a scene would jeopardize everything, even if this meant matching Shawn’s flair for drama. I knocked on Kate’s door, panting, doubled over. She answered, crying, though still standing tall. She bent over and touched her face to mine, smiling. We were both spent.

    Are you OK?” she asked.

    Are you OK?” I asked, and she grabbed me by the shoulders, hugging me very tight, I could barely breathe, but I felt I needed to be strong for her. I came to help; she drew strength from my will.

    I’m glad you’re here,” she said, holding me, holding back tears and keeping my shoulder dry for the time being. She let go and said, Come in. I’m a fucking mess.”

    It’s okay,” I said. I understand, totally.”

    We sat down on her couch. The yearbook was still on the coffee table.

    So that was it?” I asked. He just walked out?”

    Pretty much,” she said. He said that most of his stuff was packed up, and he was sorry, fucking sorry that he couldn’t explain it better, but he had to leave.”

    Did you see this coming?”

    I mean, we’d been fighting for weeks now. He’s been away more and more; I guess I know where now. He’s been avoiding me. He’s been eating at weird hours to make sure we never spend any actual time together awake. It’s all so damn clear now. I’m such a goddamned idiot.”

    You’re not an idiot,” I said, feeling like I was reading lines from a book. Everything I said was a cliché. We all do this,” I said. We let ourselves believe in everything working perfectly, you know? We let ourselves fall in love. Even if all the signs are there that we maybe shouldn’t.”

    But it doesn’t exist,” she said. It doesn’t. It can’t. I loved him so fucking much, and I thought he loved me. It doesn’t exist. It’s a fabrication we feed ourselves to feel better about giving everything we’ve got to a guy who sneaks behind your back and gets it on with some slut.”

    She got up off the couch and picked up the chair in the corner. She was stronger than I thought. The chair was huge and looked like it weighed sixty pounds, but she lifted it up to her waist, swivelling it. She let go in mid-turn, and the chair’s bottom-right corner hit the wall. As it landed, I could hear the wood creak. It finally rested sideways, slightly more crooked than before. Kate moved closer, sliding her hand across the top. Then, in an act empty of any grace, she kicked the chair with everything she had, turning it into a wrecked heap of wood and upholstery.

    That was his, huh?”

    No,” she said. We bought it together.” She looked around. We bought all of this together. And while the logical side of my brain is telling me that the receipts are in my name and that means he doesn’t actually get to call shotgun on anything here, it was still an us thing.”

    So you’re going to kick every piece of furniture in here to death?”

    No,” she said. Just that one. That one was his favourite.”

    I smirked, supposing that was fair enough.

    You want to get out of here? I want to get out of here.” She tucked her hair behind her ears and grabbed her coat. She didn’t wait for me as she left, but I followed close.

    With her arms crossed and her pace controlling mine down the increasingly dark and cold street, she asked me if I’d ever dumped a girl. I knew what she was doing and I didn’t like it. I didn’t come here to have her anger toward Ray transferred and flung at me. In these instances it was easy to hate every member of the opposite sex. I began to wonder why I came, but while worrying, I also answered her.

    The only time I’ve ever dumped a girl was in the fifth grade. Her name was Dorothy Myers, and she was my first girlfriend. We were together for six months, from September to February. I mean, we never went out on a date, unless you count watching cartoons together, and we never kissed, unless you count that time during her mom’s second wedding when she hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, but the whole thing was really innocent and nice. Then, around Valentine’s day, this other girl, Nikki-something-or-other, gave me a card a few days before the big day, saying she wanted to be my valentine. This was the only time in my entire life that a girl just came up to me and told me she liked me, and it threw me off so much that I just went with it. The next day, I told Dorothy that I was with Nikki, and she cried, right there in the hallway before home room.”

    Wow,” she said, You’re a real bastard.”

    Don’t worry,” I said. I learned my lesson pretty quick. See, Nikki and I were together a total of two days. The day before Valentine’s Day, I saw her ask Dean Walters to be her valentine, leaving me valentine-less and single, officially, until grade 10.”

    I hope you learned your lesson,” she said, understanding that this was a child’s mistake but still digging at me for it. Don’t drop one girl until you’ve picked up another.”

    Hey, sorry,” I said. I didn’t mean to bring that up.”

    But that’s it, right? That’s the only time?”

    Carly dumped me in a way I found disparaging and sick. The entire affair reminded me of an angry mother punishing a child. I nodded, and Kate looked pleased. I think she was happy to be with a guy who appeared to have finished making the classic mistakes at this point.

    And with that, I found that I did have it together well enough. I wasn’t with the boy, but I wasn’t sacrificing whatever happiness he must have with Mark in order to achieve my own. I was the nice guy. I knew the consequences of my naivety, knew that I needed to be strong alone before I could stand to be with others. Carly’s way of breaking up with me was cruel, but at the same time, it forced me to become comfortable in my own skin. I gained a few abilities that helped me through what I would face now and later, standing here with what I couldn’t even call an old friend.

    I mean, you think you figure out love,” she began, talking mostly to herself. I knew that the best thing to do now was to simply let her talk, allow her this time to vent, and when it was over, say something sentimental and cheesy though ultimately comforting. Words like these never did a damn thing for me, but most people I’ve known ate them up with giant spoons of eager need.

    The path we took held seemingly no purpose. I followed Kate without checking what road we happened to be on. We were in the suburbs, and the houses were old and painted funny colours like all the older neighbourhoods in Calgary. The streets wound in semi-circles, inviting people to wander the city. The sky was dark grey save the horizon. A ring of bright sunlight was visible from all directions between the mountains, plains, and the cloud that blanketed the city in a temporary warmth.

    Kate appeared to be wandering, but only because there were no other options. She took her time, but when an intersection presented itself, she didn’t think before choosing a path. All the while, I thought of Shawn and Mark, and she spoke of Ray and love. You think you’ve got it. That’s what it is, right? The house, the guy, and the job. It’s all there, and it all fits in a package that defines you. It’s as if I’ve shrunk and been placed into plastic boxes, to be sold in the children’s department as a set. Collect the Kate. Collect the Ray. Collect the car and play, you know?”

    I did understand, and I knew that what she was saying was coming from a deep place in the spot one keeps leftover epiphanies, but I couldn’t fully focus on her. Seeing that van struck me as something I needed to fantasize out of my mind. I thought that someday soon, a friend of Mark’s would have to saunter in with him down a street he’d never seen before, listening to his laments about Shawn, just the way Kate did it with me. Mark would wonder if Shawn ever really loved him, and his friend would agree with everything and buy him a pitcher of his favourite beer. He would languish in his heartbreak until the enjoyment of his own sadness had worn off. And then he would move on.

    Kate continued on without my constant agreeable nods. She exclaimed, And my mother, Jesus, my mother loved him! She’s going to be so heartbroken about this. I probably would be too if I wasn’t so goddamn pissed off.”

    I hoped Mark would get over this terrible break up quickly, but I knew this was wishful thinking. I doubt he would take it lightly. Shawn would be leaving him for another guy. The fact that Shawn had found someone better was not the typical lame excuse for this kind of thing. It wasn’t something benign; it would cause wounds. 

    You get what I’m saying though, right?” Kate asked. Appearing to comprehend, I agreed without trying to interrupt. The whole idea that there is one guy out there for you, well, I liked that idea. Maybe it’s immature to believe in something most people don’t, but hey, if it gets you by, why not? That’s what it was for me. No matter what happened in my life, I thought I’d always have him, and that was really nice.”

    I found myself in a curious position. I empathized with Kate, and this was largely because I knew what it was like to be crushed. It was strange hearing very similar words from her. It was like watching my heart break in someone else’s body.

    I thought about the violence that might happen in between Mark and me. I’d pictured the fight before, almost as if my jealousy toward him provoked an interpretative dance. In my fantasy fight, there was broken glass and fire. Shawn wasn’t there, but it happened in his house. We’d break most of the objects in the living room, and knock down all the art. It would be the kind of fight where people cheered, only the house would be empty. I don’t know how it ended, but it wasn’t about winning. My fantasies that included Mark were only ever about confrontation. 

    Kate’s tone seemed to match what was going on in my head. Her thoughts were also turning to more sinister ground. I want to burn everything he owns,” she said. I want to torch it. You remember what I did with the chair back there? Triple that. I’ll hire thugs to beat the piss out of his car. Oh, and the girl? She’s dead meat. I’ll obliterate everything she ever loved about life, man. I’ll do it.”

    I knew it was pointless to actually pay attention to Kate right now. Her current hate of Ray overshadowed all the good things he probably had. These feelings just don’t go away. She was full of fire. In two weeks, she’d feel differently. Two weeks is all it ever takes to turn your feelings right around, if you know how to do it right. Still, I knew what she was doing and why she was doing it, so I let her release it all into the open air.

    I just don’t get how he could love me so much if he was capable of this particular sort of lying. I get the regular lying, you know? I get how someone can lie about how much they love everything but country music, especially in this town. I get it if your hair colour is different and you say it’s natural. I get how you can say that at one point, you were in a rock band that would have made it had the guitarist not been such a dick. All that stuff makes sense.”

    It’s all kind of forgivable in the end, right?” I said, knowing exactly what to say in the right moment. I always found it easy to ride someone else’s rant. The difficult thing was always reigning it in.

    Exactly. But it’s lying about your intentions, you know? I don’t get that,” Kate cried. She sat down, and dropped her head into her curled-up knees. I lowered myself to match. She wiped her eyes, striving to break through her blanketing sadness with as much anger and sweat as she could. She said, That’s when it becomes criminal. That’s when there’s no grace left in your love.” Kate paused for a moment to let some air space out her words. And when there’s no grace, there’s just need, and there’s no beauty in need.”

    There was some beauty in need, but I was not going to bring this up. The sun was going down fast, but you couldn’t say it was evening yet, and when you can’t yet say it’s evening, it’s impossible to speak about evening things. Saying I love you” at five thirty just doesn’t have the same levity it does at nine-thirty, but even that pales to identical words in the morning. This was drunken, easy wisdom, but it seemed to work when applied to Shawn, to Kate, and ultimately to myself.

    What I didn’t get about both Kate and Mark was their apparent inability to discern what was going on in their relationships. I could tell—at least I think I could tell—when Carly began cheating on me. I didn’t do anything about it, but I felt this interfering presence and slowly realized that it was only a matter of time before I lost her. When you’re in love with someone who’s cheating on you, you’ve got to feel it, at least just a little bit. There has to be at least a minimal knowledge that something very wrong is happening, even if the particulars are muddy. It’s in movies all the time, and if something’s cliché enough to be in a movie, it has to be at least half-true. There’s always that scene where the lovers are in bed together or eating breakfast, and you can tell something’s off much sooner than they do. That’s why I couldn’t completely hate Mark. Like Kate, he’s being victimized. He’s about to lose someone he loves, and it’s because of me, and there has to be a feeling of imbalance hinting to a looming, sad end. 

    You’re a good listener,” she said, finally finished. I‘d thought this would’ve gone on much longer. It certainly had when I did it. 

    You’re a good venter,” I replied. You’re not torching his clothes. You’re not slicing car tires. You’re not shaving your head.”

    Who shaves their head after someone dumps them?” 

    Don’t you remember Amanda Winters?” I said, knowing she wouldn’t. Kate shook her head right on cue. 

    Yeah, I didn’t think you would. She mostly just smoked her way through high school. Anyways, Amanda went out with Josh Randle, this biker who rode around with Carly and me sometimes.”

    Oh yeah,” she said, I remember you two were together throughout high school.”

    Yeah, and Carly and Josh were friends, so this is how I know Amanda,” I said, avoiding any conversation-starter about Carly. I wasn’t ready to deal with that particular skeleton-in-the-closet. Josh and Amanda fought all the time, like, every single day. They’d fight, then go somewhere and make up. They were, you know, fight-fuckers.”

    Fight-fuckers?” she said, not quite getting the gist of it. 

    Yeah, that’s what you call those thermal relationships, you know? One minute they’re ripping each other apart with words, and the next they’re tearing off their clothes. There’s never a boring moment around those relationships. These are the best kinds of relationships to watch.”

    I can’t imagine that working,” she said.

    Well, it’s like any kind of relationship. Some work out and some don’t. 

    Did they?”

    No,” I said. But people were surprised that they didn’t. Especially because when Josh eventually got fed up with her, he just took off without telling anybody where he was going.”

    He dropped out of school just because he didn’t want to see her anymore?”

    Nah,” I said. He’d graduated like four years earlier. There was a huge age gap there, but the maturity level was the same. But yeah, he just split, and after it finally hit her that he wasn’t coming back, she disappeared for about a week too. When she came back, she had no hair and three new piercings.”

    I’m almost afraid to ask, but where were they?” 

    One was in her tongue, and the other two were on her tits.”

    For real?” she asked, not fully believing me. How do you know?”

    She showed us,” I said.

    Us? How many people did she show her tits to?”

    Anyone who wanted to see,” I said. She felt like it was a great revenge, because Josh had been this really protective boyfriendwho never let her hang out with any other guys unless he was around.” 

    It was silent for a minute, and that was nice. The sun was finally going down.

    Then Kate said, Are you suggesting I pierce my tits?”

     “I’m not sure you’re the sort.” I wondered then what Mark would do to himself once everything unfolded and he was left with nothing. What section of his body would he disfigure? 

    You’re right,” Kate said. He’s not worth anything so drastic. The broken chair will have to symbolize all of my violence.”

    As Kate and I sat on the grass, I fantasized about how Shawn would break up with Mark. He’d invite us both to his place and sit us down, laying out the whole truth. Mark would weep like a schoolgirl, Shawn and I would achieve an honest embrace amidst the tears. If this were a movie, it would happen like that. 

    In reality, I knew the whole situation would be a little more awkward. Mark would find out through cheaper means, then accuse Shawn of sleeping around, and make him promise to never see me again. What would Shawn do then? He wouldn’t promise anything. He wouldn’t apologize. He’d tell Mark to leave, and then Mark would leave. 

    I’ve got to think,” she said. about how much I really loved him. Was it just safety? Was it just that he was my first big relationship? Was I just afraid to branch out and try other things?”

    At somone’s party in the near future, the three of us would be there; Shawn and I there together, Mark with someone unimportant. We’d bump into one another, and immediately, Mark would know how it was between us. He would see how happy Shawn and I were, concluding that it was best this way, that he never should have been with Shawn in the first place, that the best place for him to be was far away. We would be happy, and Mark would have the common sense to leave it be.

    Kate was wearing a bracelet on I hadn’t really noticed until she started playing with it, passing it between her fingers, like a rosary.

    We’re pretty close to the river,” she said, getting up. Come on, there’s this little spot I love going to.”

    We dusted off our butts and I followed her. I thought about the things Mark would have to give back to Shawn. They’d have to spend an hour or two a week after their big fight exchanging everything they’d ever left with one another. Maybe it would be ugly enough to involve gifts: old Christmas cards, photographs. Nevertheless, wouldn’t it say so much if there were nothing? I knew they had been together a long time, but it was so telling to know that in all that time Shawn never felt comfortable enough to leave a comb or a CD, and because of that, he wouldn’t allow Mark to do the same. It would make the break-up so much smoother, sure, but what it really stood for was a stance against being together. It would be as if Shawn were simply waiting for someone better to come along.

    Ray gave this bracelet to me on our first-year anniversary,” Kate said. Except that he didn’t actually present it to me or anything. It was waiting for me on my dresser. He couldn’t be there because he was out of town for an away game with another school. There was a little note: I love you. I guess it was nice, but the gesture itself was sort of empty. Like, he couldn’t skip one damned game to spend our one-year anniversary with me? That wasn’t important enough? It’s not like he was going to marry hockey or anything.”

    We’re you two getting married?” I asked.

    Maybe someday,” she said. Not anytime soon. But, I don’t know, it was in the cards, I thought.”

    We walked down a small path between two identical houses. The fence on both sides was wire and busted through, as if dogs had chewed it to escape. The path was narrow, and I had to walk behind her. When we reached the end, I saw a field that stretched forever. A row of energy towers stretched up above us, reaching as far as we could see in both directions. On the far side, near another set of trees hiding fences and suburbs, there was a drop. There’s a small river right here,” she said.

    The field was calm. It was this little patch of nature where nothing could be built. Because of the power lines, nobody could ever live here except squirrels.

    I don’t want you to think this is sad, because it’s actually really important to me.

    Kate and I crossed the field and came to the river. The pond was only a few feet across, but it was oddly deep and swift for a half-frozen current. I couldn’t tell if it was coming from or was going to the Elbow. I’ve seen fish in here,” she told me, but she had to be lying. We sat down a few feet from the current. I began to play with the patchy, thawing grass. A Chinook was coming, and would be a a sad little tease for all of us, nature included. Kate kept twirling the bracelet between her fingers.

    Tell me something, Scott,” Kate smiled, hopeful, Am I crazy? Am I overreacting?”

    Not even close,” I said. I’ve seen a few crazy break-ups. Hell, I’ve been in a few. This is not one of them. At least, not on your end.”

    Kate smiled like she used to, when you knew she only had happiness in there. Seeing her frustrated all night showed me that there was so much more to her, but I was happy to see her like I remembered her, even if her hair was longer and she wore skirts.

    I’m sorry if I was mean to you, ever,” she said.

    It’s okay,” I said, and it was. Back when it happened, I was a little hurt, but really, she wasn’t in any way responsible for my feelings.

    Kate began to cry. I won’t regret this, because I feel strongly about it. I can say that I’m sorry. I know that I hate him, now. I know that I can’t forgive him or let him back into my life; I can’t ever let him trick me into loving him, so I have to do something permanent. It was good for a while, and even if that was just in my head, it’s still real to me.”

    As she went on about Ray, it all sounded a little rehearsed, as if she knew some bad break-up song really well and wanted to use the words for her big moment. While she went through it, I looked into the tiny river and pictured getting my own toothbrush for Shawn’s place, keeping a stick of deodorant there, maybe leaving an extra change of clothes. All this fantasizing about a great, brand-new relationship while Kate waxed on about hating her last. I didn’t know which one of us was being more selfish.

    Eventually, it all means nothing,” she continued. It’s all just dust. And this, this bracelet, it’s the worst reminder. So here,” she said, tossing the bracelet into the river. Instantly it was swept up, and in a few scant seconds it was gone. Ever since we’d got here, I‘d been waiting for her to do that. Did she expect me to stop her? Ever since I first saw her playing with the thing, I knew the entire journey was meant to dispose of the ugly little chain. I just didn’t expect it to be so pedestrian.

    I wanted to tell Kate that in ninth grade, Linda Jacobson did the same thing to her boyfriends’ necklace. I wasn’t there back then, but she told me the day after. I thought it was a pretty immature thing to do then, and I felt the same now. But she was sad enough without the knowledge there was no originality in what she’d done.

    The thing was, I imagined people like Kate were everywhere. The popular girl with the popular boyfriend blazed forward out of college, and a couple years later, she’d be miserable. Meanwhile, all the people who couldn’t have cared less about popularity (or couldn’t seemingly do anything about it) ended up striking it rich or having the time of their life when the pressure was off. The spectrum promised that everything would even out, and seeing Kate here all heartbroken in ways others had been before made me more comfortable in my own skin.

    It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong about any of this, Kate,” I said. Because you’re going to be right in your own mind no matter what you do. Even if other people think you’re wrong. But you know what? Other people’s opinions only get you in trouble.”

    And then, Kate did the one thing that made her unique. At any moment, Kate had the power to destroy my entire reality, every philosophy I had ever thought of, and every truth I had believed in, Kate had the ability to crush my world, and when she did, all I could do was hold on to the tiny fragments as best as I could, hoping to have time to super-glue them back together.

    Right at that moment, when Ray’s bracelet was lost in the water and Mark’s car still sat in Shawn’s driveway, Kate did the last thing I ever expected: she fucking kissed me. It was sudden, more akin to a snakebite than anything human. I recoiled, instinctively.

    What are you doing?” she asked.

    I’m sorry,” I said, I just didn’t see that coming at all.”

    Don’t reject me,” she said, suddenlty not sounding all that depressed. Not right now. I need someone right now.”

    I inched forward, knowing precisely what I was doing, what it meant, and who it would eventually hurt. Still, I couldn’t stop. It was everything one version of me had ever wanted. She touched my cheek, and we kissed along the river, below the overreaching clouds. She was an inexperienced kisser; rough, trying to consume me rather than play the situation. Not a minute had gone by before she was on top of me, thrusting her tongue into my mouth. It hurt. It wasn’t special, but she was right: you don’t reject someone who’d just had her world shattered. Sometimes you have to kiss people to let them know that everything is going to be all right.

    After a few minutes, I calmed her down and she began kissing me with recovered feminine grace, though she still kissed like a rookie. I wanted to ask her if Ray was her first boyfriend, but her hair was all over my face and her lips were all over my lips and her breasts touched my chest and her hand was on my hand. I couldn’t think of anything I didn’t daydream about when I was eighteen.

    No Chinook Chapter 2

    No Chinook is my first book, originally published in 2008.

    Download No Chinook and my other stories in the books section.

    In the short amount of time I had after returning home from Shawn’s party, but before I finished writing my article, the phone interrupted everything. It was Shawn and he had news.

    Guess who gave me a call?” he said, playfully. I could see him lying upside down on his couch, wrapping the cord around his fingers, managing to also fill out a personality quiz in some pulp magazine. It was something I’d seen Veronica from the Archie comics do, and for some reason I associated her peronality with Shawn’s whenever I could.

    Was it Jesus?” I asked.

    You’re horrible,” he said, pausing for drama that didn’t need to be there. It was Kate. She called me not long after you left. Apparently, something jogged her memory and she feels absolutely horrible about how she treated you last night.”

    It’s not that she was rude or anything.” She hadn’t been. She had been perfect.

    Well, whatever,” he said, eager to get his point across. The point is, she’s sorry and wants to get together.”

    With you? I don’t think you’re her type.” I said, turning a possibly horrible situation into a joke so I wouldn’t freak the fuck out.

    Actually, she said she wanted to take me to Edmonton and turn me straight,” he said, trying his best to add value to my sad joke. No, stupid. She wants to see you. Tonight, if it’s possible.”

    It’s possible,” I said.

    I know it is. You weren’t seeing me tonight, so I knew you’d be free.”

    I have other friends,” I said, half-lying.

    Well, I would certainly hope so,” he said, I’d hate to be your only avenue of getting out of that hen’s den you call an apartment.”

    Henhouse,”

    What?”

    It’s called a henhouse. You’ve never been to a farm, have you?”

    He snickered in his particular scheming way. Anyways, be there at seven. I set it all up for you.”

    Where?” I asked. At her place?”

    If you can remember where it is.”

    It’s just a few blocks from yours,” I said. Do you want me to come by beforehand?”

    Sure,” he said, I’d like to see you. Mark’s coming over a little after that, but the timing should work out just fine.” I could see him jotting all of this down in his planner. He was meticulous with his organization. It was why he was able to get away with all the things he did.

    Okay, I’ll be there,” I said, and hung up. She remembered and knew who I was, and this might be the worst possible thing to happen to me.

    I had no idea what to wear. This was a stupid conundrum, but really, I had to think about it for a few minutes. I was seeing two very different people from very different lives. I’d have to wear something other than that jacket, but what?

    Last night was perfect. I saw her, and there was no registration. That worked with the spectrum. She wasn’t supposed to remember who I was. The whole evening fit, right down to her slightly using me. And then this! Now she knows who I am? She remembers me as I was in high school? And worse, she wants to see me again? This could only lead to horrible things. She’s going to invite me to a party where everyone’s only purpose is to point and laugh.

    I figured out that I would wear a plain brown t-shirt and jeans, not because it was easy, but because I’d been given a chance to make a new first-second impression. I’d wear nice shoes, though.

    I also had to consider Shawn’s encouragement for this to take place. He had sensed that I had feelings for Kate last night as we lay in bed. Although he had little right to be jealous of anyone I was interested in, it seemed strange that he would aid in any romantic endeavour not including himself. Perhaps this was his way of showing that he was casual, and that until he sorted himself out with Mark I was just a proximity infatuation, or at best a future investment put on hold by an insecure situation. But perhaps he didn’t read into Kate as much as I did, and to be fair and honest I would need to put it all out on the table and make sure that he was okay with this happening, if anything at all were to happen.

    I held both of my jackets up to the window, trying to breathe the outside air into this decision. She saw me last night in my leather jacket, but she was drunk, so I could wear it twice and, oh, hell, who am I kidding? I wear this damn thing everywhere.

    I knew the fantasy of this entire situation was approaching ridiculous heights. Shawn knew of Kate’s boyfriend, knew she was currently off limits, and knew that I had no chance with those odds. He knew that Kate was no threat to whatever plans he might have for me. Surely he thought that he would break up with Mark, and hopefully soon, either by telling him the truth about me or because of some other circumstance that would prompt serious relationship discussions. Shawn had to have it in his head to set everything right, and this situation with Kate didn’t swerve his intentions from the desire to finally be with me. His casual behaviour towards her meant nothing, just as her sincere behaviour around me meant nothing.

    I walked down to the subway, catching people’s eyes as they looked through me, trying to see if anyone was impressed with my choices. I expected and noticed nothing. 

    It occurred to me not too long ago that I thought about Shawn more than he thought about me, and that I put more effort into thinking about our situation than he did. Perhaps I did have a chance with Kate and this thing with Shawn would end up being only a fling with someone unavailable; maybe Kate and I were the real thing and were meant to be. Still, it was best to expect nothing more than an afternoon of humiliation and heartbreak. I would leave scarred, crying, and seeking comfort in sad pop songs while not answering my phone.

    All afternoon, I rehearsed what to say to Shawn when I saw him, but when I knocked on his door and he hugged me and offered me a beer, I’d half forgotten my spiel. He’d cleaned up from the morning and was wearing a blue tshirt and that grey ball cap that drove me crazy. We clinked bottles and sat down on his couch; he reminded me about painting his place next week.

    How about Monday?” he asked. We both agreed that Monday was best.

    What colour?” I asked.

    I’m thinking fluorescent green.”

    Or perhaps a lovely shade of puce.”

    I think instead of painting it I’ll just put up a bunch of pictures of Tom Cruise.”

    I said, If you do, I’m not helping.”

    You don’t like the Cruise?”

    Didn’t I ever tell you? I’m always the third opinion on Tom Cruise.”

    Shawn looked confused, as if he’d never seen this scenario take place.

    The Tom Cruise scenario goes like this,” I explained. There are two girls talking about absolutely nothing. They’re anywhere, at any time. The conversation shifts slowly to movies and naturally movie hunks, and Tom Cruise comes up. The first girl says how much she just adores him, and the second girl agrees, although her descriptions of what she’d do to him are always slightly more perverse than the first girl’s, because girl number two is always hornier than girl number one. Then, another girl comes over and those first two ask her her thoughts on the matter. But in a shocking twist and in total rebellion to the clearly established preference, the third girl chokes on whatever she’s drinking and says Are you kidding? Tom Cruise is such a fucking creep.’”

    You know,” he said, I think I’ve been there before.”

    Everyone has,” I said. And I’m guessing you’re the second girl.”

    You probably don’t want to hear what I’d do to that man,” he said, swigging his beer.

    So what did you mean by her memory got jogged?’” I asked, regaining my footing and moving ahead to the truth about Kate.

    Shawn didn’t know, however, or he knew and was holding back secrets. She didn’t tell me,” he said. She just said that it hit her sometime after you dropped her off. She said she felt horrible about not remembering, and wanted to make things right.”

    Things were right,” I said. Everything was exactly as it should have been.”

    Shawn gave me a look. It spelled out that he had no idea what I was talking about.

    She was a lot more popular than I was in high school,” I continued. Actually, I wasn’t very popular at all. I only had a couple of friends, and none of them were qualified to be valedictorian, or even spend more than a few hours out in the sun. But you know that part. Kate didn’t notice me most of the time, you know? I saw her every day, and I’m sure that sometimes, she saw me too. Most of the time, there was this wall between us that I didn’t have the courage or nerve to break through, and eventually I forgot to try.”

    So what are you getting at?” he asked.

    I said, So last night, when she didn’t remember me, it made all the sense in the world. Who would remember someone they barely had any contact with?”

    I guess at that point Shawn picked up on the subtleties in my vocabulary because he began questioning them. What do you mean about the barely?’”

    Huh?” I muttered, not terribly eager to get into the whole thing, but at the same time needing to know he was okay with any prospective scenario.

    You said barely’ and most of the time.’ You’re playing coy, Scotty boy. Did you two ever…?”

    No,” I interrupted. I mean, I wanted to, but I was too afraid. Like I said, there was this barrier, this wall that I…

    I know that one,” he said, brazen and clearly over whatever pitfall he’d encountered. It’s that desire to go get something you completely fear, because it might screw up every belief you’ve ever had about anything.”

    Yeah, that’s sort of exactly it.”

    The spectrum of popularity and happiness was a theory I scrambled together in high school as a way to get over the sense that the universe was terribly unfair. My idea was that the more beautiful or smart or popular someone was, the less happy they’d be. The uglier, dumber, and more lonely people were compromised by having an excessive amount of happiness. Even if they were depressed, they’d still be generally happier than that smart, pretty girl or boy you might come to be jealous of. To me, this levelled everything out. By judging people not just on their exterior features but also on their thoughts and feelings, everyone was measured against a ruler of equality.

    The reason I say most of the time,’” I continued, Was because there were a few moments in our last year that Kate and I shared. It almost ruined everything I had ever believed in. It almost ruined my spectrum.”

    What kind of moments?” he asked.

    I should have had to stretch my imagination to fill in the hazy memories, but like anything to do with Kate, they were fresh and complete from too many painful nights spent awake thinking about how things always go wrong. I was in a class with her, and that one particular day she was sitting right beside me. We were writing a test, and I finished early. I reached into my bag and got out my notebook where I wrote my ideas and poems and short stories and began jotting some things down. I was halfway through a story about an actor moonlighting as a boxer, and I was concentrating on his taxing relationship with his father. I was getting really into it, too. I’d probably written three pages in twenty minutes. Ideas were coming left and right. It was probably the most inspiring writing moment I’d experienced so far, but then she ruined it by saying hello.”

    Shawn nodded, I suppose it would be strange for someone who’d never spoken to you before to start all of a sudden.”

    And it sort of pissed me off in hindsight, because it would take me months to finish that damn story and I think I could have put it all down that afternoon if nobody had got in my way. At that moment though, all I could think was that Kate Foley acknowledged my presence and that there was no God. My idea of the world was in place, and my lowly position in it was set and I was happy to know where I stood in relation to everyone else. My philosophy put everyone on an equal footing, I found so much comfort in that. But Kate, man, for a time there she forced me to question the nature of the entire universe. After I said hey’ back, she went one further and asked me what I was writing. I explained it to her, you know, in that way you’d tell someone the description of your job if you had a feeling that they just didn’t give a shit. I downplayed everything and made myself sound like I wasn’t doing anything important. I used to be kind of shy.”

    You’re still shy,” he said. But that’s half of what makes you so cute.”

    What’s the other half?” I asked, deviating from my point.

    Well, that would be your fleeting attempts to make everything whole.”

    I had to kiss him at that moment. That line was one of the things that made me forgive Shawn for being a cheating asshole. I was a sucker, and I knew it, but I couldn’t help myself. He always seemed to know just what to say.

    When I stopped and smiled, he looked instantly worried.

    What is it?” I asked.

    So what’s going to happen tonight between you and her?” he asked, trying the role of bullet to the chest in a dark murder mystery.

    I didn’t know what he meant. I thought back to my previous neurotic ideas about Kate, but couldn’t see how they applied to Shawn in any way.

    Remember what I asked you last night?” he reminded me. I asked you if you liked her.”

    You didn’t ask, Shawn. You insinuated.”

    Was I wrong?” he asked. I couldn’t tell if he was hopeful.

    I kissed him again, only this time he didn’t reciprocate. Shawn was nervous, maybe jealous, and I didn’t want him to feel that way about me. I wanted security and would say anything.

    There’s nostalgia there,” I went on, finding a valid point in my otherwise meandering bullshit. Have you ever wanted to view parts of your life through the eyes of your old friends, or even just innocent spectators? I’ve always loved the idea of that. You get your eyes, sure, but what about everyone else’s? What do they see? Do I look different to them? Do I sound different? I’m a little curious, I guess, to know what she thought of the whole thing now that it’s all over.”

    The whole thing between you and her?” he asked, not sure what I meant.

    Sure, that,” I said, but more than just that month when we were sort of friends. I want to know what she thought of our high school, and if she keeps in touch with her old friends. You know, things like that. I think it would give me a different outlook on what happened.”

    You mean between you and her?” he asked, now clearly being an ass.

    Stop it,” I said. Nothing happened between you and her. I mean, her and me. Kate and me.”

    You promise?” he asked.

    What do I promise?” I had no idea what he was talking about. Shawn spoke more languages than I did. Every word he spoke was aimed at uncloaking whatever I was hiding. Sadly, Shawn knew everything there was to know about me and whatever I meant to conceal. I made myself completely open to him. More and more, I wished he would do the same.

    Just promise that you’re not trying to screw this up,” he said, his hand flirting with mine on the couch. I was surrounded by his sense of ideas and style, but I still held small things over him, if only because I was something he couldn’t resist.

    You’re the one with the boyfriend,” I said.

    Shawn laughed and said, You can be such a bitch sometimes.”

    You can match me,” I said, not letting win.

    You have to get going,” he said, mockingly tapping my watch.

    Well, I wouldn’t want to ruin your date.”

    First Shawn feigned anger, then disgust, and finally pangs of guilt. Then he showed me the door. He knew I had the upper hand in any dirty tiffs we would have so long as I was the honest one and he wasn’t. He kept me away from Mark so that I would never get the chance to come forward. I didn’t see the point to this game, but knew that if I became too honest, I’d ruin my chances of being with him. I felt trapped and typical in the same way the lesser half in an undisclosed number of other relationships with dishonest origins had to have felt. Still, I was in his house and he could kick me out if he liked. His shift in attitude, from completely open to defensive and ready-to-attack, had forced me to alter my plans for him. If he was going to be jealous of some old crush I’d had, then I wasn’t going to stop him.

    I said, just before leaving and without a kiss goodbye: I honestly don’t know what to expect when I get there.”

    It felt satisfying to be catty with Shawn. It was the first hint of something more between us than just easy attraction. We’d almost had a fight there, cut short by Shawn’s restraint. He had to realize it too. From what little he told me of their deal, Mark and Shawn fought incessantly, and I felt jealous of that particular aspect of their relationship the most. A fight always signified the presence of additional emotions at play. It represented our feelings for each other being strong enough to make it worthwhile to quarrel. 

    The same leather jacket Kate saw me in the night before kept me as warm as possible. Carly, my girlfriend from high school, called me Linus” the winter we hooked up because of that thing, but it didn’t stop her from stealing it at every opportunity.

    I don’t know what made me think of Carly as I headed down to Kate’s place. Perhaps it was the warmth in the wind. Carly loved this strange time of year. She thought of it as this beautiful little vacation in hell.

    Kate’s townhouse was painted a wretched shade of rain-torn white and more vines sprouted around it than other houses in the area. It was about a quarter of the size of Shawn’s house. A yellow house was to the left and a pink house to the right. These colours were a strange characteristic of Calgarian suburbs that I’d never seen in the few other places I’d visited. It was like this in most places here. The houses surrounding Shawn’s, however, were the same tan colour as his. I didn’t notice this last night, but she had a small dead garden, tucked away on the left side of her door, with plant markers in the hard dirt probably appearing there by accident. I knocked on the door, and at that moment a bird flew down to the garden and stayed there with its little head tilted to the side, trying to fight the beginning gust of wind.

    Kate opened the door and smiled, but looked exhausted. Scott,” she said. I’m so sorry. I must have come off as the biggest bitch in the whole world last night.”

    It’s fine,” I said. And you were fine.”

    I’m sure I wasn’t, but whatever. Come in.” She took my coat and led me through. Her place was nicer than I’d imagined. She was such a jock in high school that I would have assumed hardwood flooring, but instead there was beige carpeting. On the walls I expected beer mirrors, but several framed paintings and old photographs hung sporadically along the hallway. She led me to her living room and we sat on her aged-green sofa. Perhaps it was her parents’ or a garage-sale bargain. It smelled old, and it didn’t fit with the rest of the place. The coffee table looked much newer; but even it was dusty. It was obvious that somebody in here had serious money.

    I’ve been cleaning all day,” she told me, but this place is so huge that it takes a weekend. I haven’t even begun the upstairs yet.”

    I can see that,” I said. This is the upstairs, then?”

    I know,” she said, feigning defeat. I’m horrible at the domestic thing. If all of us didn’t rotate on the cleaning, and if it was all up to me, we’d be living under a growing mountain of garbage. You remember that Simpsons episode where…” she stopped, and placed her hands on her hips, as if examining me again for the first time.

    What?” I asked.

    You really put yourself together,” she said, looking me over. I felt immediately intimidated, but she went on. I mean, I looked at your yearbook photo today, and I have to say that you have come a long way. I mean, I didn’t remember you last night, but afterwards, when it hit me that I’d been talking like an ass to someone too polite to let me have it, I had to see you again. I had to make sure it was you.”

    Is this why you invited me? To check me out?”

    Sort of,” she said, but then broke into that laughter she had.

    I went with it. So, how many goats am I worth?”

    She put her finger to her lips and gave me a more thorough up and down. You look taller than before, but maybe you’re just not hunching. I like your hair more now that you look like you’re seeing a barber. Your clothes are definitely more fashionable, even if you’re still wearing that same jacket. I’d go with twenty.”

    Sorry,” I said. Daddy says if I can’t net thirty goats I have to join the convent.”

    Damn,” she said, And just when I was thinking I could score some free labour.”

    Well, you could certainly use some,” I said, wiping my finger across the table to pick up the dust. As I pushed through, I hit a a stack of books. I recognized the one on top immediately. 

    So you have been looking through the yearbook,” I said.

    There’s this one picture of you in there, where you’re standing alone against some lockers, looking away. That’s the shot that did it for me, when I knew that it was you I’d talked to last night.”

    I flipped to the picture, about halfway through. My right hand was clutching my left elbow, and I stared pitifully at something off in the distance. Wesley had taken it. She was the yearbook editor, so she would always be around trying to snapshot group photos with everyone smiling, everyone loving high school so much. Sometimes, though, she’d find people alone and shoot them differently. My picture showed longing, she told me afterwards, but she never explained what she meant. I didn’t long for anything then. At that time, all I really cared about was smoking.

    You just happened to be looking through your yearbook and recognized me?”

    She sat a little closer and looked at my picture. Okay, little confession. Ray remembered you. I came in last night, and he was home already.”

    Ray’s the boyfriend?” I asked.

    Yeah. We had a fight last night, because he bailed and went home without saying goodbye. He didn’t even give a good excuse, you know? It was really rude and put me in this awful mood all night. During the fight, though, I mentioned you, because you were there to take me home when he wasn’t, and out of nowhere he blurts out that punk from high school?’ Can you believe that?”

    Wait,” I said, Ray went to school with us, too?”

    Ray Salinger,” she said, and then we mouthed, Captain of the football team” together, both sarcastic. Of course she was dating Ray. Everything about that made sense.

    Anyways,” she continued. After he went to bed I rummaged through my old boxes and found our graduating yearbook, there we were, wearing bad clothes and looking all cheery. I mean, everyone except you. You just looked like you wanted to get out of there.” She looked up at me. Kind of like you do now. Is something wrong?”

    I thought I might start crying. I wanted to be home and holding on to something soft and warm and inanimate. Nothing,” I said, This is just coming as sort of a shock, you know?”

    What, someone from high school remembering who you are? It was only a few years ago.”

    I suppose it’s good,” I said, retracting my point. I didn’t want to insult her by telling her about just how right it was that she didn’t remember me the night before. I’m sorry,” I said, Can I use your washroom for a second?”

    She pointed me down the hall and I shut the door, sat on the can and held my face in my hands. This should have been nostalgic and nice, but instead it was terrifying. Suddenly, I was glad to have known Kate for only a few scattered hours in high school. If she had ever invited me to her house or out on a date, it would have been so much worse.

    Sorry,” I said, returning after a minute, Asthma, I think.”

    That’s right, you had asthma,” she said. See? It’s all slowly coming back.”

    While in the bathroom, I figured I could handle this situation in two ways. I could act as if I was still interested in Kate Foley, still woozy when thinking about how beyond me she was, or I could treat this as an occurrence outside of my reality. It didn’t take long to figure out which option to choose. My life revolved around Shawn/was directed by Shawn. Kate was someone I once fell for in impossible conditions, but she was now someone with the insight to perhaps let me in on some things I’d done wrong. The situation was not really so much bigger than I felt I could handle; I didn’t need a panic attack. I looked at my face in the mirror, and watched my eyes scanning the reflection. And then I went back.

    What was high school like for you?” I asked, You know, now that it’s all over and you can look back at all of it.”

    She closed the yearbook and got up from the couch. Come with me,” she said. She stepped into her brown winter boots and threw on a coat. She was much faster than I was. I left with my shoes untied.

    Down the street was this tiny convenience store selling dirty magazines and chewing gum. She asked, Do you remember those old Fizz candies?”

    Yeah, I loved those.”

    Me too, they were my favourite.” She knelt down by the candy wall and picked up a string of them. Remember when you were ten and they used to stick in your teeth and it would take half the afternoon to suck them clean? I loved doing that so much.”

    She bought the string. It cost a quarter, which seemed to be about the exact same amount I paid for them as a kid. We left the store and she handed me the string after popping one herself.

    See, the sucking part is the same as I remember,” she said, exaggerating the whole process more so than any commercial actress. And when it breaks and all the fizz comes out, that’s still really cool.”

    I popped the candy in my mouth and chomped down immediately in order to catch up with Kate.

    But then, when all the liquid is gone and all there is left are the tiny little rock parts, they get stuck in your teeth.”

    Yeah,” I said, feeling something surely not intended by whatever factory produced this stuff. Jesus, that’s annoying.”

    I know!” she said, excited to share her annoyance. You can’t get it out of your teeth right away. It’ll still take all day, and now that we’re older, it’s so fucking awful. How did we ever like this feeling, right?”

    I thought for a second about prying two fingers into my molars and scratching at the stuck debris, but that that would be way too gross for Kate to watch.

    This,” she said, opening her mouth wide to sell the effect, Is how I feel about high school.

    See, I’m surprised,” I said. From where I stood, you were having a great time. You were always laughing or gossiping, always focused on whatever it was you were doing at that moment.”

    Well, sure,” she said, tossing the wrapper into the trash. While I was there, it was my whole world. I did everything I could do. But you didn’t ask me if I liked high school while I was in high school. Opinions change. I mean, look at you. You probably hated the whole institution, but now you’re curious about it, wondering if I had just as awful a time as you did. That would be a nice picture, right? Acting happy but really decomposing inside? I liked it while I was there, but what else do you do? I didn’t want to spend four years wishing I was somewhere else. I mean, I’m sure you regret doing that, right?”

    I’m not sure my opinion has changed all that much,” I said.

    Well,” she said, at least one of us is full of surprises.”

    This shit is still really annoying. Is there nothing we can do to get it out?”

    Kate smiled. There’s only one way,” she said. We have to get really drunk.”

    This made absolutely no sense to me. I said, I’m never going to get your way of thinking, am I?”

    Just shut up, will you?” Kate took hold of my hand and didn’t let go for a few minutes. I was surprised until I realized that this is what she’d done with her girlfriends. Still, this was only the second time we’d ever touched. 

    The first time, she hugged me in the hallway of our high school, beside my locker. I’d stopped her to wish her a happy birthday. She smiled, but there was more to her smile than just appreciation. It felt like disclosed information. Other than that first time she’d talked to me, every other meeting had been semi-private. On her birthday, she looked around quickly, and I later assumed she must have been checking to see if any of her friends had seen her with me. This cloaked me in shameful self–consciousness which would take years to shed. After she’d looked around, I grabbed my backpack from the floor and took out the story I’d been writing; the one she had interrupted. It was done, and at the time I thought I’d finished it because of her. It was signed For Kate’ on the front cover of all the loose-leaf. It had cost six dollars to do the binding at Kinko’s, but it was always about the thought, anyway. She read the signature and smiled a little longer than she was used to, and then hugged me. I remembered everything about it. Kate didn’t throw herself at me like some girls did when they hugged boys. She took a step forward, placed her arms around my shoulders slowly, and held me really tight. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept my hands at my sides. I tried to hug back, but before I could completely do it, she was finished. Thank you for this,” she said. I don’t know if she ever read it, but I hope she didn’t.

    She let go of my hand after a moment, and then we walked three blocks in a direction Shawn had never taken. 

    The thing is,” she said, trying to sound like she’d been talking about her life this whole time, when really for the last three blocks we agreed that at some point in time we should trick Shawn into chewing some Fizz. I wanted to ask you the same thing. I mean, I haven’t really talked to anyone I went to high school with but Ray in almost a year, and even then it was just at parties and when I ran into them at the pet store.”

    All your friends work at a pet store?”

    Just Rachel,” she said. I didn’t recall Rachel. But there is that curiosity you get, right? When you experience all the same things with a bunch of people, you have to know how everyone else felt?”

    Like when we got math tests back and, even if we didn’t know the person next to us, we’d ask what they got, right?”

    Yeah,” she said, Same thing, just on a bigger level. Man, all of a sudden you’ve got me wondering if everyone hated it as much as you did.”

    In general, I’ve found that nobody admits to liking high school after the fact,” I said. It’s like a social standard, like pretending that we care about movie stars. I mean, unless they’re the ones planning the reunion, I can’t imagine a single person who lives in that kind of past.”

    She asked, Celebrities are planning our reunion?”

    No, I’m not sure who’ll be doing it, but they’ve got to be .” And then, quickly, You’re not planning the reunion, are you?”

    She said, trying her best to pose like a pirate, I was thinking about buying a parrot and an eye patch and telling everyone I spent every year since graduation thieving the high seas.”

    Only if it doesn’t get in the way of me convincing everyone that this is, in fact,” I paused, thinking of a way to play along. I shaped my hands into a gun and pointed at her freckles, A stickup.”

    And right then she laughed like someone who’d just fallen head over heels, which was the way she’d always laughed. I remembered that about her best, and I loved that bit of her. I’ve found that not every girl can fall down laughing at some stupid joke and make it sexy. Kate’s laugh never wavered. She must have spent thirty years in some past life as a lounge singer. She had it down.

    Come on,” she said, My favourite place in the world to get completely fucked up is right over here.

    The bar was a converted corner-house. As we came up to it, I noticed the forgotten backyard, and the white plaster adorning the side. It had one of those flat roofs, and two unassuming doors at the top of a few steps. It was called Pete’s,” possibly the most harmless name a place like this could have. Inside, the bar was littered with foreign beer posters and TSN on the TV above the booze. She’d taken me to a sports bar. It’s not that I hated them, but I never liked to surround myself with a male crowd dedicated to spending every Friday night indulging a passion towards sport scores. The Hip were playing, and as soon as we entered, Kate shook her fist in the air and yelled Thirty eight years old, never kissed a girl!” The bartender gave her a wave. The few people over in the corner paid no attention to her.

    My dad made me listen to these guys for ten years straight,” she said, sitting down in a booth and talking with her hands as if she were explaining some great war. Whenever we’d get into his Thunderbird, they’d be cranked the whole way. He always told me that each piece of music is written for a certain place, a certain time, and a certain person. He said The Hip wrote their songs for when he and I were in the car going one-forty down the highway.” She saw the bartender coming around and hollered, Two Kokanee’s, please.”

    About a minute later she asked, You like Kokanee, right?”

    Sure,” I said. Whatever’s good.”

    So what do you do?” she asked. I could have sworn she’d asked that same question the night before.

    I write a column for a weather magazine,” I said.

    Is that fun for you?” she asked. I didn’t know if she heard me, or if any answer I gave would have been reciprocated. She always had a gun loaded up with responses before I even had a chance to speak.

    It gets me by. It’s interesting doing it in Calgary, because the weather is kind of insane here. I’m also working on a novel.” This was half true. I’d been working on a novel for about two years. It was nowhere near done and I had no intention of finishing it anytime soon.

    So you actually ended up being a writer? That’s fucking crazy.” Our beer arrived and she clinked hers with mine. Congratulations. That’s great.”

    Thank you,” I said. She was right. The beer helped with the shit stuck in my teeth. It’s hardly earning me Pulitzers. I’m a total nobody right now.”

    Nobody is anybody at first, right? What are you working on now?” she asked.

    I’ve got an interview with some guy who tracks tornados in two weeks.”

    That’s kind of cool. Like that movie…”

    Yeah, I’m sure that’ll come up at some point.”

    So you think it’ll be a fun interview?”

    Um, I don’t know. I guess. I mean, it’ll be as fun as you’d figure talking to a guy about the language of tornados would be.”

    The language of tornadoes?” she said, mocking me.

    Yeah,” I shrugged it off. The language of tornadoes. It’s this book he published. That’s why we’re interviewing him. I read it, and it was kind of philosophical. The idea was that everything’s got a language if you get deep enough into it.”

    Huh. Interesting,” she said, likely regretting having gone down this road in the first place.