I’ve signed the contract (!!!) for my fourth novel The Rocky Orchard. While my editor works on it, I’ve continued to play around with the idea for novel #5. Here is a new excerpt:
“Seriously, you’re about the tenth person I’ve run into in the four blocks from the art building,” I said to Rob.
“Well, hello to you, too, Sunshine,” Rob said. He shuffled his feet, just once, like he always did, then combed his fingers through his amazingly thick hair, like he always did. It was that gesture – the fingers through the hair – that got me. Every time. It brought out something weird and maternal that I didn’t even know was there. I just wanted to… I don’t know, hug him or adopt him or follow him around and make sure that nobody hurt him, ever.
“Seriously, I think I belong at a bigger school. I think I yearn to be anonymous,” I said.
“I don’t think the coat is doing you any favors,” he said. “Not if you want to be anonymous.”
“Oh my God. Not with the coat again! Haven’t you gotten enough mileage out of this coat?”
“I think the horse got enough mileage out of the blanket before they even made it into a coat,” he said. “Really, I’m counting on an early spring.”
“It’s a good thing I’m not sensitive or fragile or anything cause this would be deeply wounding to me,” I said.
“Are you taking an art class, by the way? I didn’t know you were taking an art class.”
“No, no art class. The art school cafeteria has these amazing bran muffins.” He stared blankly at me. “They warm them up for you.” I fought back a tear. Crazy that I was so powerfully moved by the idea of someone warming a muffin for me.
“Bran muffins,” he said, deadpan, as if to indicate this was one of the most puzzling things he had ever heard.
“Don’t judge the muffin. You can judge the coat, but you cannot judge the muffin,” I said. There was another “me” that stood outside of myself. I watched myself as I stood on that exact spot near the far corner of the freshman quad, under the eternally gray sky, wrapped in the coat that Rob loathed. I found it amazing that I could appear so normal. The whirl inside of me did not show.
“Promise me that you’ll give me the coat as soon as the weather warms. I’m going to personally donate it to Salvation Army. No way I can face the possibility of looking at that coat again next winter.”
Next winter. It was when he said “next winter” that I knew. Right then, I knew.
There would be no “next winter” for me. I would not be coming back.
I thought of the painfully poignant play “A Memory of Two Mondays” where Arthur Miller tells the story of a young man who goes to work in an auto parts factory to save money for college. The young man is passing through, working alongside an entire group of people who will remain. He and another co-worker are charged with cleaning the filthy factory windows. The passage of time is told by the light on the stage set, which gets incrementally brighter as more of the windows get cleaned. The light shines into the dismal scene. The young man’s mood, like mine, gets brighter and brighter as the light changes and he knows that the end of his time is near. He also knows that those he leaves behind – the bitter, the resigned, the angry, the uncertain, and even the completely content – have a bond, a sense of community, that has never included him.
“See you at dinner?” Rob asked.
“See you at dinner,” I said.
Bottom photo: from Chicago Critic, “A Memory of Two Mondays”