Romance

“It’s romantic in the park at dusk with the street lights on, isn’t it?” he said.

She said, “You want to go spooning?”

“No, the only spooning I want to do is with my ice cream.”

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Nerves

I’m nervous as I’m editing this second book in the Incomplete States series. The series’ first book, Four On Kyrios, was straightforward for the most part. This book, Entangled LEREs, is well-named, with entangled stories and characters. It reminds me of Slaughterhouse Five meets The Sound and the Fury, Cloud Atlas, and Lincoln in the Bardo. Editing becomes intense for me. I imagine readers asking themselves and the book, “What’s going on? I don’t understand.” Makes me want to revise it to make it clearer and more linear.

The muses push back against that impulse and insist that I don’t change anything. And there it goes, I’m cringing and sweating, thinking, what am I doing? “Trust us,” the muses urge. In response, I hold my head and rub my forehead and temples, and think, pitting desire to change things against the muses’ directives.

The muses remind me, “You’re in the middle of the series. Don’t make any major changes until you’ve gone through all four books.” Right, because the mud settles later, and it all becomes clearer. These are mysteries in mysteries, all part of the concept and story. Yes, I remember writing these chapters and battling the muses about it back then.

Man, it makes me nervous, though. My jaw hurts from gritting my teeth. Should a writer have such a love/hate relationship with their muses and the novel in progress? I remind myself that I was going all in, that, yes, I knew when I was writing it that it would be way out there. I remember those battles with myself from back then. I hope readers can get through it and find the effort rewarding. Even as I nurture that hope, I remind myself, I write for myself. I’m my only guaranteed audience.

I think it’s time to call it a day.

Wednesday’s Theme Music

This song’s release and popularity in 1975 began changing my thinking. While I’d always tried to see others’ point of view, I often failed, and slipped easily into the comfort of being me, sure of what was going on, and surer about how others live. I had some inklings that all was not as I thought from newscasts about riots, war, politics, and social upheaval, and I knew from friends, movies, and reading that lives often appear to be fine on the outside but it was rank darkness behind the scenes.

Then came this Janis Ian song, “At Seventeen”. As a boy, I thought the girls had all of the breaks. They controlled it all. We boys were the ones struggling with social graces and talking to girls. I didn’t know what it meant to a girl to meet a boy who seemed to like who and said he would call her, and then didn’t. I didn’t know what it meant for her to watch others being chosen, or how difficult it was, coping with body changes, and struggling with social perceptions and self-perception.

Life is usually more nuanced, layered, and complicated than many realize. We think everyone is the same, that all words mean the same, that every action carries the same weight. That these things aren’t true are lessons I keep learning and forgetting.

Living for Two

In family lore, that first one was a tragic coincidence. Sitting in the waiting room, he stopped looking at anything, diverting focus to that day, doing the math that he’d done before. He’d been six, so almost fifty years had ridden by. Memories of that day sharpened, expanding in his mind. Running across the street, he’d only seen a sliver of turquoise and chrome after the car’s tires were screaming with braking noise and its horn was blowing.

He’d not felt anything. It’d been like flying off a swing and sailing through the air. He remembered seeing one of his red Nikes leaving his foot. “That’s all I remember,” he used to tell people who used to ask. Not many asked any more, halle-fucking-lujah. Truthfully, when he cracked the vault open, he remembered it all. Didn’t like telling people about the pain like a glove closing on him, or the view from above as people ran to his bloody body, and his sister’s screaming and sobbing. He’d need to be a masochist to enjoy remembering that day. No, thank you. Lost in that day to all but the family was Pancake’s death, like him, hit by a car, but unlike him, failing to survive.

That’d been the first time. Second was ten years later, when he’d had pneumonia, missing all of December. Most of the second and third weeks were spent weaving in and out of consciousness and delirium. When he emerged, they told him that Butterscotch had died. While that loss saddened him, they were relieved, because they were sure that he was going to die.

His third near miss was while he was in the sandbox. An IED took out some of his squad. As the scrambling to cover and save them commenced, three rounds went through him. He lived. Back home, though, someone shot and killed sweet little Crystal with fur like black velvet and emerald eyes.

This time —

The nurse called his name. He was led into the doctor’s inner sanctum. There he was, tall, black, and elegant behind his desk, managing to be solemn and smiling at once. “Please sit,” the doctor said, as he was doing it. The doctor was always courteous and polite.

He said, “You look concerned, doctor.”

“Because I am,” the doctor said with a smile flash. “It appears that all pancreatic cancer has vanished. There are no signs that I can see of it at all.”

It should have been good news, but he felt sad. “I’m not surprised. My cat died this morning.” He’d meant to say, “of cancer,” but he’d truncated the statement.

“Your…cat?” Puzzlement flickered in the doctor’s light brown eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“So am I,” he distantly said, extending the logic of what he was experiencing. The doctor spoke more, and he listened and responded, but mostly he was thinking, should I get another cat? If I do, and something else tries to kill me, the cat will probably die. I’ll live, but is that fair?

When he stepped into the California sunshine on the quiet street, he’d decided. He’d already killed four cats. That was enough death for him. As he started his car, he acknowledged, his decision made him very, very nervous.

It was a miracle that he saw the little flash of movement as he pulled his BMW out of the parking lot. Slamming on the brakes, he stared for seconds and thought, “What the hell was that?” Then he knew, it’d been a cat. 

Rushing out of the car with sudden urgency, he found the little gray fellow under a bush. Looking up at him, the cat opened his mouth and wailed before jumping into his reaching arms.

He held the animal against him. A deep purr replaced its meow. With the feline against his chest, he closed his eyes. “I promise you, I’ll be very, very careful,” he said.

The cat chirped back. Resolve coursed through him. Of course, he’d be careful. He had no choice.

He was living for two now.

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