These are the first few pages of a novel I have been working on for the last month. I have about 60 pages bagged at this point. I'm posting it because I am stuck, and I need encouragement. No one has read any of this one. My other work-in-progress is over 200 pages and I'm stuck on that one as well. If you like it, even remotely, let me know with a gentle push. Thanks.
When I think of you, and you must trust that I think of you always, in every pink lupin, and every blue bag, and in every time I come into the kitchen in the morning, and in every time that the garage goes up and the basement door opens, and in those 15 steps to the first floor, and all these moments and thousands more, I think of you. You must be there, but you are not. You are there until I realize that you can not be. You are a crumb of a shadow and each day I look for you there is less and less and less.
So I don’t turn on the lights so you can stay with me. Oh, the windows are foggy from the cold. There is the window in our bedroom where you would sit and watch the snow parachute to the ground, and the window remembers your nose like a finger painting. A long swipe to the right, and a dab here and there because you loved watching the snow, always too close to the window, like a dog tracking a squirrel. I have not dared to clean it.
I am old, so old, and I know I am weak because my lungs and my heart tell me so. Choked diesel engines, clogged faucets, this is what my body is made of. I can hear it talking to me, my love, one more, one more, one more, one more, it promises me. I don’t have the time I used to have, and I don’t have the tomorrow is another day that I used to have. I am so old. I say things over and over again, and I don’t remember the repetition.
The gun is here, and the house is clean and the papers are signed and away, I don’t remember where. I think it was a month ago, but I can’t say for sure who was there or if I did it all the way you wanted me to do it, but you were so picky, so officious, I am sure I got most of it right. Oh, I knew it would come to this. You told me so, didn’t you? You told me you’d get me after all. You win dear, white flag and hands up and knees down, you win.
You told me I would see you again, I laughed at you. But I saw you that day, and every day, and goddamn if you weren’t right. I may have said this. Your voice was what I went without, and the space you took. The empty chair I spoke to, the empty plates. The single glasses of wine and the shampoo, just one shampoo, just one.
It’s been long enough, I think. Jolene will go on and I will be just a Sunday phone call she won’t have to make. You did so well by her, my dear. I’m sorry I was so clumsy and I did not do hardly anything correctly like a father should and I suffered for it, we suffered for it.
I had a great trip, and I ache to see you. I’m so old, so fucking old. Feels good to curse. I’m angry. I planned on it, you know, getting here, but I’m angry. I had a life, a great life, an extraordinary life most people wouldn’t and couldn’t conceive of. You are so beautiful. The gun is here. Right here in my hand. It won’t be messy, I don’t think, but it will be a few days until someone finds me.
I’ll pull it, the trigger. I will, in a few moments. But goddammit if I don’t feel like there is something else I should hang in for. You would tell me if there was, wouldn’t you? I am listening. I’ve listened this whole time but I don’t hear anything, I don’t hear anything anymore.
I am canoeing. I am on the Susquehanna and it is quiet in my canoe because I am the only one in it. The others are ahead of me and I can hear them, but not often, and when I do, I stop paddling. Its better that they get well ahead of me. I will find them at camp when it is time to find them, but now is the time to be behind them and alone and to let the river take me at it’s speed and no faster or slower. It’s clear, the water is today.
My mouth tastes of mustard, the yellow kind. It’s July, and almost August, and this whole trip could have been over before it started and I would have been just fine with that. None of the others seem to like me very much. I won’t know them or see again in a week. And they are Jewish, all of them, which doesn’t matter to me but I think matters to them.
I am fairly sure that I am alone in this canoe because I am not Jewish. I am here by accident, after all, and here again, alone, by purpose. My parents sent me here because they thought because JOA stood for something other than Jewish Outside Adventures. I think it is Jokes On Adrian, because that’s my name, Adrian. I have a poor sense of irony, but I’m still only 13.
There it is. The patch of forest that our leader told us had been burned down last fall. It’s black and flat and the trees are like burnt matches, crisscrossed over each other as if one might have been trying to protect the other, and so on. Not a single one escaped it. They were older than me, all those trees, but I don’t think of it then that way, because no one so young would think such a thing. I see nothing but burnt trees.
There isn’t much more river to cover today, because this whole adventure bullshit is a ruse. We climb rocks, we do, but never without ropes and nothing higher than 20 feet. We rafted, without the white-water, down a class one sleeper with no drops, no sense of death in the wash. We fell back into each others arms with our eyes closed to build what our leader calls trust. We eat canned spaghetti and we drink powdered milk and I am sure as the Hoover Dam that our leader drinks whiskey every night just to get over us and into the next day.
I swallow because I am thirsty and I taste that mustard again.
What was her name, the mustard girl on the swing, years ago now? She was redheaded and freckled and there were hot dogs and then there was the swing, and me pushing her back again so she swung, from the front, although that isn’t logical, yes, from the front I pushed her. Begins with an M, but she had a nickname, something like you would name a stuffed animal. Bunny. Bippy. Beany. It was Beany.
We spent a summer together somewhere there in the past.
Beany, 8 years old, stopped swinging and her baby blue skirt stopped with her. But she still had momentum to come at me, Adrian, also 8 years old, and to grab my head and to kiss me with her yellow mustard mouth. My first kiss.
Stop daydreaming. You’re far too sentimental for someone your age. You should be pissed off, for being on this stinky river alone and having to eat the shit you call meals, and for sleeping in a damp cocoon with leeches and the tall squirrelly haired kid who can’t pronounce your name correctly. Beany is a great distraction, but you use too much of your brain, and others will sense it, and you won’t be liked because you will think yourself beyond, up and above, and over of it all. Be more simple. Drink your condensed milk and get on with it.
There they are, finally, beached on a chocolate flavored half circle of sand to my right. Four canoes and nine people on the earth. Which means someone chose to be a passenger over rowing with me. I suspect that someone must be Nava.
I steer my vessel up next to the others and no one looks towards me. I beach it lamely, without enough speed and have to jump out into the cold water to drag it properly onto the beach.
The others are emptying their canoes of the last bit of camp-things. Except Nava, who I do see looking at me, from the side of her head with a bit of contempt and a bit of flirt but I cant tell which she intends me to see more of. I chose to see the flirt and ignore the other and I give her a wink. That’s what my grandfather used to do to me, that silent old bastard, to let me know he was in on whatever the secret was, that although he offered nothing verbally, that he was in on it too. I meant to let Nava know that I was in on it, although what we were both in on was murky.
On the very first night of this trip everyone got to know each other in very quick fashion. We were all equally aware that it would be 11 weeks together, and all of us looked for something quick to latch on to. We knew nothing of each other, but the smallest giblet of commonality could erupt a friendship, because we all felt horribly alone and possibly abandoned. If you liked Dungeons and Dragons and I had a friend whose brother really liked Dungeons and Dragons, well then we had a bridge. Simple. I like ketchup on my hot dogs but nothing else. So do I! Ah, best friends. Make allies, identify the weak, the strong, chose a leader and if you are 13 and everyone is just beginning to discover the unspoken, then find someone you could possibly kiss or feel up or cuddle with.
Nava, on day one, came straight for me. I don’t think I was ever uglier in my life than I was at 13. I was chunky, because I was destined to be tall, and for that to happen you need a lot of reserves to feed the fire. Puberty had not found it’s course to me yet, and so I had no…I had a sapling but no forest. I had braces, and I had glasses, and if you asked me then to describe myself in a hundred single words then sexy would not have been one. I had love handles, but they had yet to produce any love and definitely no handling.