Vodka and Iggy Pop

Charlotte has been ignoring him for the past couple of hours since he started talking to Dionne, which has been a nice change of pace. Currently, she is standing on a small stage made out of plywood watching a musician tune his guitar, which he can’t hear over Iggy Pop belting, “I am a passenger. I stay under glass. I look though my window so bright. I see the stars come out to night … and everything looks good tonight. And I ride and I ride and I ride!”

Charlotte takes swig of nearly empty bottle of vodka dangling from her hands. She looks at the musician’s ass as he bends over to adjust his amp. Paul hears the guitar squawk over Iggy. The musician stands and says something to his friend. His hair is graying at the temples, but he is in shape and dresses a little too young in tight jeans, lace-up boots and a flannel shirt. Charlotte brushes her hand across his face, the gesture lose and sloppy, like the vodka is actually having an effect. Can dead people get drunk off of real alcohol? Paul frowns at the thought as Charlotte turns to look at him.

“He’s hot,” she mouths.

Paul rolls his eyes and goes back beer.

“Are you sure I can’t get you anything to eat?” Dionne says. She is standing behind the bar with her back to the small stereo system shoved onto a shelf next to less popular bottles of liquor — Campari, Port, St. Germain, Creme de Cacao and a bottle that has a drawing of an artichoke on it.

“No, I’m still full from lunch.” He pauses. “But I’m going to have to switch to water after this. I can drink more than three without getting drunk.”

Dionne seems pleased with this, so he plays to it. “It’s gauche to get hammered. We don’t do that in my family. We get pleasantly buzzed and then go to sleep. Who wants to nurse a hangover in the morning anyway?”

“I agree.” Dionne looks at his glass, then back at him. “I don’t even drink.”

“You don’t?” He feels like a jerk now.

“No. I stopped drinking when I was seventeen and got pregnant.”

Now it’s Paul’s turn to have a moment of doubt. He looks her up and down.

“You have a kid?” he says.

She nods. “Does that turn you off?”

Ah. She’s testing him.

“No, not at all. I just wouldn’t have guessed. You don’t look like a mom.”

“Moms don’t have to look like moms. I’m not a middle-aged woman looking for meaning in life. It’s just one part of who I am.”

Paul thought about this, and he understood. “Yes, a lot of people pretend. Think that’s what they should be doing. It’s what society expects for a person of their age and status.”

“Well, I’ve got no status. I’m working in a bar.”

“I like that you’ve decided to just be yourself.”

She eyes him. He wonders what sparked the distrust suddenly.

“How old is your kid?” he asks.

“She’s ten now.”

“What’s her name?”

“Marcelle. Marcy for short.”

“Cute.”

“Thanks.”

He rotates the beer in his hand in a contemplative manner. He’s a hypocrite. He lied to Dionne earier about being related to Hetta Iyer to impress her. He’s made a lot of mistakes today.

“Dionne?”

She moves towards him and positions herself so that only the wooden bar separates them. There’s a man on the stool next to them. He’s leering at Dionne’s breasts. Paul shoots him a look. The man turns away.

“I owe you an apology. I wasn’t being honest when I first met you.”

She raises an eyebrow.

“I’m not related to Hetta Iyer. I went to see her for a different reason. A personal reason.” He clears his throat and glances at Charlotte. She’s stroking the musician’s hair as he turns the pegs on his guitar to tune it. His eyes are closed and he seems to be enjoying her touch, if only on a subconscious level.

“Anyway, I led you to believe I was related to her, which probably made you think that I’m loaded.”

“You said you were her son.”

“Yeah. I know. I’m not. I’m sorry. I live in Brooklyn and am getting my PhD at Columbia in Religious Studies. A friend of mine said I should introduce myself to Hetta for research on my paper. She said that Hetta could help.”

“Another lie,” Dionne says. “You think I can’t tell? I’m not stupid. I knew you were lying the moment I met you. And you’re lying now.”

Paul opens his mouth and closes it. The music on Dionne’s Spotify suddenly dies and he can hear the musician’s guitar as he strums a chord. then another. There is a distinct hum of voices in the bar too, conversations between friends that he could not hear before. “I don’t know you well enough to be totally honest on that point,” Paul says finally.

Dionne snorts. “Well, let me know when you’re ready.” She gestures to the stage. “Your friend over there has drank $80 worth of Vodka. That’ll be on your tab.”

Pauls’ head snaps up. The beer is cold still between his hands, and the pads of his fingers are numb. “You see her?” he says.

“Yes, of course I see her.”

“Are … are you the only one who sees her?” Paul stammers. No one else has seen Charlotte, not even July though she says she can feel her presence.

“I don’t know. You tell me. Do you see her?”

Paul nods.

Dionne watches Charlotte for a moment, then turns to him. “I guess you’re being haunted then, right?”

“I think so. I mean, half the time I think I’m just schizo.”

“No, you’re not crazy. She’s there. I can see her.” Dionne’s eyes narrow. “But she fades in and out. Man, she’s working that bottle hard.”

Paul sees that Charlotte is taking another swig of vodka. There’s only a couple gulps left. She spins the cap back on and starts dancing to phantom music, her head swinging, black hair swaying. A marigold loosens itself from the side of her head and flutters to the stage.

“I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Looks like you need an exorcism.”

Paul pales.

“Just kidding,” Dionne says. “Is that why you went to see Hetta Iyer? Did you think she could help you get rid of her?”

“I did … a friend of mine who’s a medium told me that she was a demon-slayer.”

Dionne laughs. “A demon-slayer? That’s interesting. I doubt that, but I do think the woman has some special abilities, though I’ve never seen her in action. She’s an odd bird, Ms. Iyer.” Dionne looks like she’s thinking. “She gives off this weird vibe.”

“What sort of vibe?”

“I don’t know. It’s sort of a vibration that doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever felt before. It’s in a different tune — a note I’ve never heard. Most people emit some kind of energy, you know, and it has a sound that you can feel in your body.”

July had said something similar to Paul once, though she described it more as a halo of light that she called an aura.

Just then, Paul’s phone rings. He knows it’s his. No one else would use the intro to House of the Rising Sun as their ringtone. Except, the sound is coming from the stage where Charlotte is. Paul pats his jacket pockets. “God damn it. She took my phone.”

Paul stalks towards the stage. The musician looks up, startled as Paul reaches toward Charlotte. “Give it back,” he growls.

She smirks. “Uh-oh. Got you to talk.”

“Hey, man, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the musician says.

“Not you, her,” Paul says. He’s one too many beers in to care if he sounds crazy. “Charlotte, give me my phone.”

She sifts through her pocket and takes it out just as the House of the Rising Sun stops playing. A missed call pops onto the screen. She waggles the phone in the air and makes a sad face. “Is this the only way I can get you to pay attention to me?”

“You seemed fine with your musician friend here.”

“Hey, buddy, my name is Max,” he says. “Now, will you please get off my stage?”

Max and his musician friend are glaring at him, but Paul is far away, ears burning with rage. He snatches the phone from Charlotte.

“Whoa!” Max says. “What is this? Some sort of magic trick? How’d that phone appear in your hand suddenly? Dionne, did you hire a magician?”

“Looks like I did,” Dionne says with a smirk on her face.

“Don’t take my shit,” Paul says to Charlotte. He reaches over and snatches the vodka bottle out of her hands. “And stop drinking for gods sake. We’re done here.”

“Holy shit!” Max says. “Did you see that Dionne? The guy just produced a bottle of vodka!”

“I did,” Dionne said.

Charlotte tilts her head up and looks down at Paul. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying right here with Max.” She licks Max’s neck in a long stroke upwards and wriggles her tongue in his ear. Max doesn’t notice, his eyes still fixed on Paul in disbelief.

“You’re disgusting,” Paul says. “If you want to stay here, that’s fine with me. I don’t want you around anyways.”

“So, that’s what this is about. You’re sick of me.”

Paul clenches his jaw, turns and stalks towards the bar. He grabs his bag, rifles through his wallet and puts $100 on the counter. “It was good knowing you,” he says to Dionne. “Sorry for the trouble.”

“No trouble,” she says, still smirking.

He puts his hand on the door to push it open, but he hears Dionne again. “Hey, if you want to talk more, you know where to find me.”

Paul feels shame. He wants to be normal. He doesn’t like making a spectacle of himself, but with Charlotte, he can’t help it. She eggs him on. And the fact is, the longer she is with him, the more strange people he’s been meeting. First July, then Hetta and now Dionne. All of them seem to have some sort of magical quality about them. Has he become a magnet for the weird? He can’t imagine what could possibly happen next.

“Thanks, but unless you can help me get rid of her, I don’t have much to talk about,” he says to Dionne. Then he opens the door and slips into the moonlit, autumn night.

 

American Spirits

They drive in silence along the winding country road. Paul glimpses the Hudson river on their right. It is wide and cold looking, battered with autumnal leaves and sunlight that slithers on its surface. On the opposite side are power lines and trees just beginning to show their branches. Once and awhile they come upon a crooked mailbox and a sagging house with a truck parked out front. Sometimes there is a boat and an American flag too. The country dulls his mind, as if its peacefulness is a lure to suck his energy and spit it back into the neighboring botany. The car traces a pond overgrown with algae and weeds. Charlotte gazes straight ahead, navigating where necessary. She can do this without a map.

“You need gas,” Charlotte says.

She’s right, but he hates how she knows this without looking at the gauge.

“There’s a station in the town of Hudson. It’s only a few miles away.”

Paul sighs and flips on his blinker. The approach to the town is not fast enough for Paul. The exit spits them out on a country road that weaves past mostly Victorian homes, splintered with a bank and an auto repair garage. He comes to a stop sign and waves a car through. The asphalt is cracked. “I have an idea,” he says suddenly.

“I knew it! You always know how to work out a problem,” Charlotte says. “What it is?”

“I’m going to go back to see Hetta Iyers again. I need to be more persistent.”

“I agree. You shouldn’t have given up so easily.”

“No, I shouldn’t have. Let’s stay in Hudson tonight. We can figure out how to approach her again tomorrow. Sometime it’s better to sleep on these things.”

“I don’t sleep.”

“No, you’re just naturally brilliant.” Paul is being sarcastic, but Charlotte doesn’t notice. Instead, she says, “I am. I’ve gotten so much smarter lately. It’s like my brain is growing.”

Paul doubts this, but doesn’t want to argue. He steers the car into a BP and shuts the engine off. He waits for the attendant, then remembers this is not New Jersey and he has to pump the gas himself. He gets out. It’s chilly now, so he zips his coat up and quickly begins to fill the tank. Charlotte opens her door and gets out, heading towards the gas station.

“Hey, where are you going?” Paul asks.

“I have to use the restroom.”

“No you don’t.”

She flips him off and continues walking. Paul frowns. She’s up to no good. He glances at the pump, the digits are working their way up towards $40. He taps his foot on the asphalt and looks for Charlotte inside the station. Through the glass windows, he sees her walking past the cashier and towards the refrigerators against the far wall. She turns left, and then his view becomes blocked by a pillar. Paul wonders what in God’s name she is doing now, though he hopes it isn’t what he thinks it is. He wishes he could get in his car and drive away, leave her there to hitch a ride, but it would be counter productive. She’d just get pissed at him and make his life unbearable for the next week, deprive him of sleep by talking all night about how he doesn’t love her anymore and how he’s happy she’s dead.

The nozzle clicks. He pulls it out and hangs it up, then strides inside the gas station. The cashier looks up as he steps inside.

“Gotcha some peach iced tea,” Charlotte says loudly from the fridges near the bathroom.He mouths please don’t. Why can’t she just listen to him for once?

“Do you want some chips too?” Charlotte asks. “Or there’s hot dogs over there near the coffee machine.”

Paul glances at the clerk. Of course she doesn’t hear her. She’s playing Candy Crush on her iPhone with manicured black nails, which click on the screen in a steady rhythm. She is wearing a sweatshirt screen printed with a wolf howling at the moon that hangs like a tree skirt around her rotund figure. The fluorescent lights hum overhead.

Paul wants to tell Charlotte to put the iced tea back; but he doesn’t want to cause a scene. And if he started up with Charlotte, the cashier would no doubt think he was insane. She might even call the police, which has happened before. He turns to the cashier. “I’ll have a pack of American Spirits and a Snapple.”

The clerk nods and turns away to grab a pack of cigarettes on the shelf behind her.

Charlotte hurries by carrying a bag of chips, Paul’s iced tea and a Coke. She sticks her tongue out at him as she pushes the door open and slips outside. A cold wind gusts into the gas station. He watches as she hurries back to the car.

The clerk shivers. It’s the sort of shudder that comes on suddenly and for no reason.

“Kinda chilly all of a sudden,” she says.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Paul says. A lot of people shiver like that when Charlotte is close. “Can you add a Coke and some Doritos to my bill?”

The clerk squints at him. “Sure, but I need to scan ‘em.”

“Well, why don’t I just leave you twenty bucks instead?” He slips the bill across the counter, takes the cigarettes and a pack of matches.

“That don’t count. My boss said I gotta scan ’em.”

“Consider it a gift then,” Paul says.

She opens her mouth, but before she can say anything more, Paul is headed back towards the car. Charlotte is already in the passenger seat, munching on the chips and slugging the Coke. Paul tosses the cigarettes in the back seat with the half dozen other packs.

“You should smoke those,” Charlotte says.

“When you stop stealing, I’ll smoke all of them.” Paul starts the engine and accelerates quickly, the tires shrieking as he turns left towards Hudson.

Tomorrow at Dawn

I do a language exchange with a friend in Paris. Today, she introduced me to this poem by Victor Hugo titled “Demain dès l’aube”, which translates to “Tomorrow at Dawn”. It was written for his daughter who drown because she didn’t know how to swim. It’s really a beautiful poem with some great imagery of the French countryside.

Here it is in French and English.

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.

*

Tomorrow, at dawn, in the hour when the countryside becomes white,
I will leave. You see, I know that you are waiting for me.
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain.
I cannot stay far from you any longer.

I will walk the eyes fixed on my thoughts,
Without seeing anything outside, nor hearing any noise,
Alone, unknown, the back curved, the hands crossed,
Sad, and the day for me will be like the night.

I will not look at the gold of the evening which falls,
Nor the faraway sails descending towards Harfleur.
And when I arrive, I will put on your tomb
A green bouquet of holly and flowering heather.

hugo

NaNoWriMo – Why? … Why?

It’s day 7 of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I have written 10,328 words of my untitled story. I fell behind towards the end of the week, mostly because I just run out of steam (working full-time, plus my Sci-Fi II Gotham Writing class, plus life stuff). But I did write 2,000 words today. I’m hoping to match this tomorrow, or if I can, I’d like to get to 2,500 words to make up for my lousy performance earlier.

I hope what I’ve written makes sense. I have been going back over it. I think it does. Well, I’m not 100% sure actually …

So how do I feel about this challenge? Tired. Not sure the story is any good. Making the word count every day is REALLY tough. But I made it through the first week. I’ll take one week at a time.

The most difficult part is that my story is not yet written in my head, and sometimes thinking of “what’s next” on the fly is just impossible. I have to put down my “pen” and walk away for a bit. Usually, when I first peck out a scene it is not nearly as fleshed out as it ought to be. So, there’s ample opportunity to add a lot more description, action or dialogue.

Well, I’m seriously utterly exhausted, so I think I’m going to drown my brain in Starz’ DaVinci’s Demons and call it a night.

For those of you out there who are also in NaNoWriMo self-induced hell, keep writing …

NaNoWriMo is Insanity

It’s National Novel Writing Month, and I have begun the NaNoWriMo challenge, which is to write a book in a month. That’s 50,000 words, or 1,667 per day. Now, I admit that sounds like a lot. On a good day, I’ll write 500 words and on an above par day I’ll write 800. So, that’s basically doubling my best. Seems somewhat impossible when I consider this.

And what of the quality of the writing? I had one NaNo veteran tell me she was never able to actually use much of what she’d written. It was simply too stream of conscious, and the gaping holes were too large to patch up in the revision process.

Someone else advised that if my characters are braiding each other’s hair, I’ve got a problem.

Well, firstly, I’m not much one for plotting out my books in advance. I usually know the first third, and the end, but how the characters achieve it, I’m not yet sure. I am also afraid of choosing a story that I have spend some time with because I don’t want to write it badly — so not one that is too precious.

Where I’ve netted out is a half baked idea that is pretty zany about immortals, foxes and shoplifting ghosts. I know what you’re thinking — Whaaa? Yes, I feel the same way, but a seed can become a much bigger story, something greater. Right? Gads I hope so.

It’s day three, 8pm EST and I have 5,800 words. I’m confident I can at least write another 300 tonight, though 500 would be awesome. In spite of the drive for word count, I’m going to keep reminding myself to stay on track, that I must have well-developed characters, stakes and agency. I can’t make it too easy for my characters, or have the story veer off into predictibility.

They cannot braid each other’s hair.

So, I may be posting excerpts here on flashfifteen.com. If for any reason, simply to stay motivated.

Wish me luck. Off I go …