Speed Dating – Part 1

Slowly Rick garnered the pertinent facts about Maricela. She came from a large family where education was a priority. All five of the Howard siblings had at least some graduate school time or professional training under their belts. Maricela was an intellectual prodigy and had gone to college entirely on grants and scholarships. She’d been a natural scholar, the acknowledged golden child of any seminar class. Ironically, his parents moved briefly to Brookville when Maricela had finished up her undergraduate work there; they’d just missed one another.

She worked as a financial advisor with an ethical investments firm, a job she loved since she began there eight years ago. She had been promoted twice and refused the next offer for further advancement, preferring to keep close to her individual clients. Her field of expertise was alternative energies and fair trade. Maricela firmly believed the phrase sustainable and responsible investing was not an oxymoron.

She’d had one, failed, live-in relationship. When she discovered his coke habit she ended the relationship. “It wasn’t just that he lied to me about how much he used,” Maricela explained. “And it wasn’t the way I found out: catching him in the kitchen over the butcher block, for God’s sake. He promised he’d ease up on what he was using, but I know too much about how much fun partying is.

“Speedy drugs weren’t ever my thing. They just made me nauseous and I preferred alcohol anyway, so it wasn’t like I felt holier than thou. It was the way he wasn’t willing to stay clean, and how cagey he was being about the realities of that fact. He kept pretending he was in control of his habit and lied about how much he did. Typical user behavior. It was the set up for more hiding and bullshit stories that eventually made me end it.”

The tone might have made Rick suspicious, because in the voice of the wrong woman it sounded phony. Worse, it sounded like what someone with a martyr complex might say. But Maricela was simply stating the facts. Her ex hadn’t wanted to be honest about needing to snort coke; and Maricela was unwilling to settle for a relationship based on prevarications.

Maricela’s friends held her in affection and quite often in awe. Despite her formidable brainpower her personality was easy and accessible; there was nothing of the intellectual snob about her. She’d cohabitated for the last 3 years with a long time friend named Sarah. Together the two of them had rented the converted loft space.

When Sarah was diagnosed with cancer the prior spring, Maricela put her own social life on hold in order to be there for her friend. That was the reason why she’d been out of the dating pool. It had nothing to do with an unwillingness to engage with other people. On the contrary: a deep commitment to the people she cared about led Maricela to prioritize how she used her time.

Almost every bit of information Chris and Sybil had offered to describe Maricela turned out to be accurate. The only piece of information they’d gotten wrong was her choice of alcohol. Instead of wine, most of the time Maricela drank near beer.

Rick noted all of these things and thought, This woman is someone worth getting to know, no matter where it leads. Surprised, Rick actually asked himself if he’d be willing to just be friends with her if the physical chemistry didn’t pan out. He was even more surprised when the answer to that question was, yes.

“I’m not being coy about bringing you home with me, you know,” she informed him one day; the two were having lunch. “Trust me on this one. In my earlier days we’d already be there! But Sarah’s really sick. She’s going through chemo, and the procedure is quite simply hell. It’s really important right now that we keep the apartment as germ-free and sterile as possible. You understand, right?”

“Sure,” Rick said, and hesitated. “No, actually, I don’t. I doubt if I can even begin to understand. I don’t think I’d know how to handle it if someone I was close to got cancer,” he admitted. “Or if I could be as supportive.”

Maricela turned what he’d said over in her mind and shrugged. “She’s my best friend. I sit with her when she’s awake half the night throwing up because the poisons in the chemotherapy mean she won’t keep anything down for long. The other half the night she can’t stop crying because she knows she’s getting weaker and weaker, and feels sicker and sicker. She’s really terrified that this is it, she’s going to die, and in the end all the chemo and medical attention in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference. She’s scared maybe she’s putting herself through hell for nothing. And me along with her.

“Next,” continued Maricela relentlessly, “Sarah lost her hair. It was coming out in patches so Sarah had it all shaved off. Then she went through this awful period where her face puffed up. Her skin was reacting to a combination of the drugs, and she couldn’t go out in bright sunlight because of allergic reactions to some of the other meds. And when you’re a friend, all you can really do is just, be there. It’s not your sickness or your pain.

“Trust me. When you see it, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

“The only thing you can do is fetch the bucket, get a cup of herb tea, and offer to do the shopping. Just being there for your friend and not being afraid to do that little extra helps more than anyone imagines. A person with cancer needs you to be normal, because nothing else in their life is any more. Nothing else around them will ever be the same again. I won’t go into the gruesome details about the bouts of depression Sarah endures, but picture your blackest, darkest thoughts. Magnify those by about a thousand and maybe you have some idea of how deep the depression of a person with cancer and on meds is. A cancer patient doesn’t know if it’s her or the heavy-duty medications doing the talking, or thinking, or feeling all those awful things.

“Every day becomes a big surprise, and not one you want to wake up to. Are you going to manifest new symptoms? How’s the old mood going to be, will you feel incapacitated or can you function again? What fun tests, and diagnostics, and medical procedures do you have scheduled this time? What will the news be, and how are you going to be able to bear to hear it? There was a phase where all the test results were bad; every one of them was really horribly grim. Sarah started going in and out of depressions where she couldn’t stand to be around anybody at all. What she was feeling, the agony, the fear, and exhaustion finally overwhelmed her.

“It’s not a question of staying supportive,” Maricela repeated. “Cancer survivors travel to hell and back. All I do is let her know I’ll be waiting there each time she returns.”

Rick listened to Maricela with both admiration and dismay. “I’m not so sure. I’d be scared I’d react the wrong way and make things worse,” he persisted. “Or that I wouldn’t be able to face someone else’s illness. I don’t know if I’d be up to being supportive.”

He looked at Maricela’s face as he admitted that, afraid to see her light brown eyes darken. But he didn’t want to present himself in a false light, especially when compared with the relentless clean light of her frankness. Only honesty was admissible.

He was silent, thinking about all of the relationship games he’d so willingly played over the years. One set of games to get close enough to climb into bed; another set to extricate himself from the mussed up sheets afterwards. When he realized she was waiting patiently for him to talk, or to remain silent, just as he wished, Rick surprised himself for the third time in an hour. He opened his mouth and as if in the third person, Rick heard himself really talk.

“I don’t know what I’d do if someone I loved was ill, much less going to die. I’ve never been in that situation! My mom was always great. She’d make home made chicken soup with egg noodles, nothing fancy, but it was like the great home remedy for anything that ever made a little kid feel bad. I would pretend to have a really, really bad cough, just to get her to make it.

“It’s the only dish I ever make for someone on a regular basis.” Rick was thinking out loud; silent, Maricela listened without judgment as he began to peel away protective layers.

“My mother made soup, but it was about emotional support. When I make it for anyone it’s, soup. The emotional support’s what I get, by recreating the atmosphere of my mom. It’s never about doing something for another person at all.

“Jesus! Why didn’t I ever notice this before? For me,” his voice was almost at a crawl. Maricela actually leaned across the table so she could hear him without having to interrupt to ask him to speak more loudly. “For me, relationships were, are, something to have fun with. It’s all speed dating. I never put much energy into the mutual support aspect of it, beyond being honest and not cheating on a girlfriend as long as we’re together.

“Jesus, cancer!” Rick shuddered in his chair at the mental image of watching a loved one waste away, or bearing witness to a beloved person’s features distort with pain. “Maybe my life style as a Good time Charlie was actually good protection. It always worked pretty well, as long as I wanted it to. Well.” He looked away to the back wall of the bar, refocused on the present and the woman listening carefully at the other side of the small table. “And you? How did you survive those years in the jungle?”

– from my short story “Speed Dating” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available in paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

Broken In

An hour later Jeff could no longer see clearly in the increasing gloom of dusk. A thorough search of the grounds hadn’t revealed any gopher activity. Jeff wasn’t reassured; he examined the wire fence line separating his lot from the edge of the forest and found it badly bent in places. The fencing had been rolled out from a long heavy roll of reinforced wire, and twists in one section affected the entire fence line. Jeff repaired it as best he could. Before he was done, he decided he’d check the perimeter each weekend.

A month later his peace of mind hadn’t increased. On the contrary, a deep unease kept growing. There were nights when Colleen didn’t wake him up by barking; he slept badly anyway. Jeff was unused to feeling disquieted, and it took a long time before he was willing to even admit to himself that the feeling existed.

On Saturday afternoon he headed down into the cellar. Ostensibly he wanted to check the heater, but his unease had stubbornly gone on growing unchecked. It was as if the weight of worry was breaking down and into his brain, too, like a growth of cells going rogue, lurking, a cancer of fear and vague suspicions.

The cellar’s double lock and bolt were firmly in place. Relieved, Jeff unlocked them and opened the door leading down into the basement. He felt for the light switch on the right wall. “See there, nothing to worry about,” he told himself aloud. His triumph retreated immediately upon realizing he couldn’t see. Well, bulbs did burn out and it had been months since he’d checked.

Actually, Jeff couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone down in the house cellar; the garage contained a laundry corner and the kitchen had a pantry. The only things in the little basement were packing boxes and old belongings he hadn’t found places for when he’d moved in. Those were all stacked on a long worktable at the back of the cellar in a room originally designed for power tools.

Jeff got a flashlight and extra bulbs from the top shelf of the hallway closet and descended the thirteen cellar steps in the light from the upstairs hallway. At the bottom he switched on the torch and ran the light over the walls and the hanging light cord. He frowned: the cord hung as it always had, but there was no light bulb in it. Jeff thought back but couldn’t remember if the bulb had burned out and he’d removed it and simply hadn’t replaced it; it really had been too long since he’d been down here. But he was holding a bulb now, and he grimaced and screwed it in.

Still no light. “What the..?” Jeff said out loud. The hairs at the back of his neck rose when Colleen barked from the top of the stairs. “Come here, girl!” he ordered. She raced down the steps, tail wagging. Jeff was reassured when the dog didn’t growl once she was in the cellar.

He played the flashlight over the small main cellar room but aside from the kaput light cord nothing looked different. This was troublesome though; he needed an outlet for a light down here. The circuit box was in the other cellar room. Maybe the switch for the main cellar room had gotten tripped somehow.

Jeff thought some more. There was an outlet at the back of the wall behind the stacks of his boxes. If need be, he could run a cord from there. He pushed open the door to the smaller room and gasped.

The room was ever so dimly lit up by a night-light in the cellar wall. The home’s previous tenants had needed it for their toddlers, and Jeff had left the discarded night light down there with his unneeded belongings. Boxes were in the exact same order they had been in when he first stored them, but they were stacked against the opposite wall. Someone had completely cleared the worktable. It was as if mischievous elves had executed a moving exercise in his absence.

Colleen wagged her tail at him but was otherwise unimpressed with the uncanny room. Jeff’s hand trembled as he held it an inch over the ridiculously tiny night light bulb. The little pink light was too hot to touch; it had been burning for days, if not weeks or months.

Jeff used his sleeve to protect his hand and turned off the light. When he got back up to the top of the stairs he double-checked the dead bolt on the cellar door. He was breathing much harder than climbing the simple thirteen steps back up into the house warranted.

He reviewed his actions of the past few weeks, going back for the past few months; the light could well have burned that long. Jeff was seeing someone new, and spent Saturdays over at her place. It had to be when the punks decided to play their practical joke. He’d been on a long project at work and had put in late hours. Perhaps that was when they broke in. But Colleen would have been in the yard, and surely would have barked at the intruders. Jeff recalled the words of his neighbor Jeremy, telling him how the dog barked incessantly all day long.

Jeff didn’t sleep at all that night. For once he allowed Colleen to sleep up on the bed with him. He lay with his arms wrapped around the collie trying to feel secure. Every time he closed his eyes he met the faces of Charles Manson and the Manson Family, x’es carved into their foreheads, eyes staring out in insanity and darkness. Those eyes contained pools as black and drained of light as his cellar. Creepy crawly, Jeff thought. He shivered. Creepy, crawly, creepy, crawly, creepy creepy crawly crawly… Jeff groaned and pulled the dog closer to his body. She whined for him to let her loose, but remained lying where he held her. Creepy, crawly…

The cellar was the only place Jeff found anything rearranged indoors. It didn’t stop him from inspecting the house. Jeff would tour it before leaving for work, trying to convince himself it was secure. He compulsively checked in the evenings both before and after it became dark.

Jeff couldn’t shake the image of the Manson Family. He sensed a family of deranged drug addicts, perverts tossing his house for the fun of it, breaking him in for something. It had to be a gang, a group, a motley crew. Jeff couldn’t decide if it would be worse if they were highly organized, or simply random criminals.

A week later the wire of his fence line was deliberately cut. It had rained since the fence was sabotaged; search though he might, Jeff found no footprints. One weekend he found chewed rubber balls scattered throughout the entire back lot. Were some neighborhood kids throwing balls at his windows, or at his dog? Was that what was going on?

Hulton Archive / Getty

– from my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available as paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

 

The Gift of Gab

I’ve belonged to a writers’ group for two years. How did I survive so long without the company of my crazy peers and fellow wordsmiths? I have no idea what I did before I hooked up with these people.

In my group you find: Short stories. Essays. Erotic (really erotic) poetry. Autobiographies. Journalism. Novels. Urban fantasy. Flash fiction. Song lyrics. Wistful thinking (this is how a member explains what he writes, and I love his description).

We come together to share and critique works-in-progress. We use writing exercises to loosen up our creative muscles. And we’re committed to public readings.

Two roosters singing at a microphone, isolated Stock Photo

A little café named Wir Sind Babel was one venue. A brightly lit coffee house with marble floors and comfy chairs was another. And the last one…. well, that venue gets a blog post all its own.

An Irish pub I’ll call The Blarney Stone seemed like the ideal spot. The bar’s slowest weeknight was the perfect time.

We could use a side room for our event. The space looked like a library room filled with bookcases, a perfect setting for our brilliant words. Even better, the owner promised us  if we could total 50 people we’d get the main room – and he had a microphone we could use! They often feature live musical acts and the entire bar was already wired to hear us. Sweet!

A Toast Master offered to be our MC. He’d read short bios to introduce each reader. We printed up fliers for the tables and info sheets to hand out ahead of time. It was all perfect…

Doesn’t this sound too good to be true?

That Tuesday we arrived with high expectations. The bar was packed. Our side room grew too small for all our friends and guests, but the main room had filled with patrons who, sadly, were not there for our earthshaking literary creations.

Every chair was taken and people sat and stood everywhere. Waiters and waitresses had to slither their way with plates and drinks through the crowds. Then we realized our side room had no door, and that meant no barriers against the noise levels that kept increasing.

No worries. We were as cool as the collective cucumber, because we had the ultimate secret weapon: the microphone. The first reader began to recite her piece.

And then the m crophone we were loan d began sh rt ng out w th ever sec nd sente ce and nex with ev ry thi d word. It g t wors . The m ke beg n to let o t awf l and ear splitt ng sccccrrre eee ee ech hhhhiiiing fee eeedb ck. We checked that the batteries were fresh and the wiring solid. We tried holding the mike in different parts of the room, closer to our lips, away from our mouths, up in the air. We recited louder, and then more quietly; none of it made a difference.

At that point every writer in the room knew we’d been rat f cked. Without saying much (not that we could have heard one another anyway over the noise in the pub) we had that group moment of grokking that this evening would not be the literary triumph we’d all awaited.

The first reader gamely made it through her piece. The second reader performed in a different corner of the room. By the time it was my turn to read I lay the mike down on the pult and basically yelled out my piece, observing every pause, emphasis and careful nuance I’d practiced.No one heard a word over the pub din.

But I am so very proud of all of us. We observed grace under pressure. We went forward despite impossible conditions (and false promises made to us). We made the best out of the debacle… and it really brought us together as fellow failed performers.

The pub owner got more than fifty extra paying guests on what was his slowest night of the week! I’d like to say he bought us a round of drinks to make up for it. I’d really like to say that our words triumphed over noise decibels. But no, that night the gift of gab got stuck in a malfunctioning microphone.

Microphone Stock PhotographyMicrophone Stock PhotographyMicrophone Stock Photography

Our next public reading is in a month, and it will not be held in an Irish pub. The first moral of the story? To get over stage fright, sometimes you have to scream. The second moral to the story? Don’t mess with writers, because at some point we will write about you and what you did.

We’ll be back at the newly renovated Wir Sind Babel. The date is Thursday, May 22. Doors open at 1900. Hope to see you all there!

NOTES:

http://www.wirsindbabel.de/selbst.html

Eckladen Uhlandstrasse 26 am Olgaeck /70182 Stuttgart
0711-620 2118

Images courtesy of dreamstime.com

Hit & Run 4

Inevitably Joe’s determined curiosity widened to include the rest of the world. As his medical condition worsened, his parents curtailed family outings without saying a word or ever referring to the involuntary confined nature of the shorter vacations. “Any chance of a trip somewhere exotic, Dad?” he asked, once. He saw the anguished looks and exchanged, entrapped glance they shared over his head. Joey never asked again.

Joey’s queries toned down and became more secretive. On his way to the public library, he discovered a table covered with stacks of old postcards in a junk shop. Joey fanned out sanitized images of capitol cities and stared transfixed. He fingered the old thick cardboard and posited himself there, an alternate Joe someplace seen by him only in his imagination. He knew kismet had randomly assigned him the death card.

Perhaps a few freebies were in the mix as well.

Some magazines had coupons for glossy brochures of vacation getaways. He filled out coupons in his careful script and sent them off. He started writing away to travel agencies and to the embassies of foreign countries.

Descriptions began pouring in from around the globe and woke a deep hunger in him for all the things and places he’d never get to see. His reading matter shifted to books about exotic locales. Joey did weeks of research on the wide, wide world in the library’s travel and geography stacks. He read about Europe first, and next he planned to move on to Africa, and South America, and Asia, last stop the Antarctic!

Lou found an application sheet his brother had hidden. “A new opportunity for a new life …Whatever your origins, nationality or religion might be, whatever qualifications you may or may not have, whatever your social or professional status might be, whether you are married or single, the French Foreign Legion offers you a chance to start a new life…”

Lou went on reading, incredulous. Joey had filled out the forms right up to the paragraph indicating that selection for the Legion was carried out in person near Marseille, and that the applicant had to be physically fit to serve at all times in all places. Lou put the form back in the desk and never told his brother he’d seen it.

– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available as paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my posts Hit & Run 1, 2 & 3 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.

Hit & Run 3

He entered magazine contests and it didn’t matter what the prizes were. Mrs. Bocci was the first housewife in their neighborhood to own a brand new Maytag dishwasher. He won an extra dryer, which his parents passed on to their aunt and uncle for Christmas that year when his newest cousin was born.

He loved the surprise of each free gift. Sur-prizes, he called them. Joey sent away for samples of things just for the hell of it. He had the time; what else was he going to do with all those hours stuck sitting in his wheel chair? His family received the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. A through Androphagi. He kept Mom in perfume and the rest of the family in soap and shampoo. Any time a new product came out, such as the first mint toothpaste, Joey ordered it. The Boccis were always the first ones on the block to try any of them.

His past time took on epic proportions. They didn’t just have free food samples to try. Joey ordered free animal feed samples too: packets of birdseed. Hamster food. Gold fish pellet food. Pouches of cat food and dog food, even horse feed. His parents finally told Joey to stop with the animal feed already; they couldn’t even have any pets because of the danger of allergies or infection from scratches. Joey’s dad donated it all to the local animal shelter.

Once or twice a week the mailman delivered a package containing free items with company logos. Joey would read about a new product being promoted and bing, the coupons were clipped and filled out and in the mail before anyone could stop him. The Bocci household received free tote bags, baseball caps, tee shirts and socks and other products. Actually his parents didn’t try to stop him from sending away for those items once they realized how much money his obsession was saving them on clothes.

He won a ride in the local weather helicopter – and because he couldn’t fly because of air pressure and collapsing sinus issues, Lou and Mr. Bocci went in his place. Now that was cool!

Here the tale ended abruptly, the silence Margaret’s cue to ask questions. It didn’t matter what she asked, really, as long as it gave Lou an idea of what she wanted to hear about next. “Was he persistent or just incredibly lucky?”

“Margaret,” Lou explained patiently, “no one was ever stupid enough to call Joey lucky. But yes, he had a run of luck where it seemed like the Universe was giving him a break to make up for the crap cards he’d been dealt just by being born. He really did have fun entering contests and winning stuff.”

“What’s the coolest thing he ever won?”

Lou frowned. “I just told you: the helicopter ride. At least to me and my Dad it was the coolest,” he amended, yielding to the apologetic look on his girlfriend’s face. “And he won fourth prize in a contest for a new Pontiac. My parents took the cash from that one and put into savings bonds. That money helped put me through college.”

“It was okay with Joe? He didn’t want the money for himself?”

“Well,” Lou said slowly, “by then his lucky streak was running out. Joey hid it from the rest of us. He’d started getting weaker again instead of stronger… He didn’t have a whole lot of time left. And I think he was trying to win money and prizes for us to make up for the gap that would be there after he was gone.”

Margaret sighed and hugged her boyfriend. “Jesus, Lou. How could your family stand it?”

Lou shrugged. “We didn’t get calloused or anything, but it wasn’t like any of us didn’t know the end was coming. We just kind of… went on as we had been. What else is there to say? Joey was the glue for a broken situation; it was broke from the minute he was born. He was the glue holding the entire family together in spite of everything.”

“I just think, I mean, I can’t imagine how you all dealt with it.”

“Margaret, I never cease to be amazed at what people just deal with when they have to. How did my family deal with stuff? We just, did. Until we couldn’t any longer. When Joey went in the hospital the last time we thought it was temporary, just more of the usual batteries of tests. When his doctors found the tumor I think everyone knew that this was going to be it.”

“At least you all had each other. Your family was so strong!”

He looked at her with a strange expression. “Babe, that’s the whole point of what I’ve been telling you. We weren’t strong. Joey was! We were people he was supporting through his illness. The only thing we had in common was the DNA connection. Joey was never related to anybody I could figure out, not really, unless it was some kind of genetically defective super hero who hasn’t been invented or born yet.”

– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my posts Hit & Run 1 & 2 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.

Hit & Run 2

Joey sat in the school library for hours. He hid there during recess and lunch periods, but the sounds of everyone out on the playground came through the open windows. Hearing the sound of other children shrieking was bad, and as Joey listened he tried to imagine it came from children somewhere far away. When he did see them the distance apparent between what they could do and what he could not was too terrible. He would perch at the dark wood of the windowsill, holding himself upright and steady with one hand as he watched. Children in groups skipped ropes, chased balls, played tag. The teacher with recess duty wore a light jacket and an expression of endless weary patience. He or she sometimes called out across the tarmac, “Hey! That’s enough of that, Loreen!”

Unseen and unimportant, from the high window Joey observed when the teacher rushed to the aid of a fallen child or broke up a playground fight. He hated it. Watching reminded him that no one would ever need to run to prevent him from doing something he shouldn’t; watching only reminded him that he couldn’t run.

Joey moved to a table where he could sit with his back to the windows. Determinedly Joey closed his ears to the cries of his peers playing outside the walls and forever beyond his ken.

Eventually Joey made his way through all of the school magazines. He began to take the bus to the public library. After school Joey sat among the adult publications where he felt less excluded. Around him sat members of his home city’s increasing homeless population, noisily turning pages and keeping a careful eye on their oversized bags of belongings. There were a few students, or grown ups coming in to claim the copies of recent novels they had put on hold, and every so often a class of younger children arrived for reading hour. Otherwise though, Joey could feel like he was simply another library user, ageless and without handicaps.

This was when he discovered adult magazines with their endless advertisements for write-in contests, coupons to win prizes, and teasers to learn more about great deals. Joey flipped pages hunting for things to win, things to present to his parents. Joey wanted, Lou said thoughtfully, to present them with distractions from the nonrefundable item they’d brought home from the hospital: their youngest son and his damaged body.

– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my post Hit & Run 1 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.

Write A Revolution

Interview with self-published author Jadi Campbell

Posted by Steve on December 2nd, 2013

Hit & Run 1

Lou became a different person when he talked about his dead brother. Each time he mentioned Joey’s name Lou’s own plain, pleasant face would animate. It was as if a locked cabinet door suddenly swung open, each time letting out bright treasures long stacked up and locked away for safekeeping.

Margaret learned not to interrupt the flow of memories; when she asked too many questions the stories might derail. Plus Lou tossed out medical terms that meant nothing to her. She had no idea he knew so much about medicine and genetic diseases.

She preferred the details about what his days with Joey had been like. “We’d sit on an old couch in the rec room and watch TV,” Lou recalled, and it took shape as he spoke. It was yellow and brown plaid and really ugly. Mrs. Bocci had covered it with a clashing afghan, luckily out of sight down in the remodeled cellar. Lou and Joey watched television down there in the darkened room, drinking cokes and eating candy bars. Or Lou did; Joey had to avoid sugar as his parents and medical team tried successive diet regimes to control his myriad conditions.

Lou and Joey were exactly the same height, and they had the same features. The boys were monozygotic, what they call identical twins. They were truly identical. Only 8% of twins are monozygotic, and double births like Lou and Joey make up only 3 in every 1,000 deliveries worldwide, regardless of race. The chances of a fertilization ending in monozygotic twins are the same, for every population everywhere, all around the world.

Really cute twins Royalty Free Stock Photos

Lou’s voice took on a slightly lecturing tone as he recited each fact about Joey and his life. Margaret ate them up. The more facts he imparted the smarter she became, both about the topic of twins and about her boyfriend. With fraternal twins, Lou told her, the most frequent occurrence is brother/sister births. In identical or monozygotic twins, brother/brother births are the rarest births of all.

When the boys were out together in public it was more than obvious something was wrong. Clearly Joe was confined to a wheelchair or needed to use a cane to walk. If the viewer didn’t see the handicaps, though, Joey and Lou were identical. Without the cane or braces in plain sight, it was only when Joey coughed that someone could identify which twin was which.

As they aged they would likely become more alike, with the same IQ and personality. How twins are brought up, whether in the same house or separated at birth – that factor makes surprisingly little difference. Of course, the fact Joey was born with congenital defects complicated the math equation for the prediction. But the boys loved being twins; it was cool. Because of his brother, because of Joey, Lou was automatically special. While Joey was still alive, Lou stopped wanting to be an astronaut. For a time he wanted to go into genetic research.

Margaret went home each evening to sleep that was attended by strange dreams. Cells replicated in her dreams, forming up on the left into a perfectly regular human shape. On the opposite side, a tragically beautiful über-human took form. The gestalt was unquestionably male. But then the contour of the image blurred and curled at the edges, unable to hold his ideal form.

She woke up thinking about Lou and his frail, pale double.

Margaret began looking at Lou with different eyes. He simply wasn’t the same person as before. Lou hadn’t changed, of course, but his past and the absent twinned half that had been tragically cut down by illness, the part of him inexorably gone was the part Margaret found mysterious. The lost duplicate cells were of endless fascination for her.

In the hours between dates with Lou, Margaret daydreamed about her lover. How many other seemingly ordinary men and women might there be in the world, persons who seemed so common on the outside, all of them with their secrets and old tragedies. How many people had strange cloned or parallel universe doubles, tragically vanished and never to be retrieved? Maybe, she mused, maybe we all have doubles we sense on some strange level, and we mourn them without ever realizing it. When we talk about the search to find your soul mate, maybe what we really mean is your other half, the part you lost in some earlier life. And when you meet again in the current incarnation, you come together to be whole without even recognizing it’s happened. It’s just your missing twin, whom you’ve refound.

She scoffed at herself for such fanciful notions, but Margaret was a little bit envious of her boyfriend’s past history. Strangely, his incompleteness made him whole. Lou wasn’t a decent guy with a good if boring career. He was somehow so much more than the sum of his parts, both those existing and the ones that had vanished. Or maybe especially those parts that were dead. Not only did Margaret observe Lou with new eyes; she really saw him for the first time. Margaret began to fall in love.

– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my posts Hit & Run 2 &  3 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.

Photo courtesy http://www.dreamstime.com

Just Riding Around

“No one must ever come here,” Danny commented. Jilly was focused on the forest floor and didn’t answer, but he was right. The carpet of woods was undisturbed, and the trail she and her brother were following was unmarked by old boot tracks from anybody else.

Danny stopped to sit back on his heels and look up into the clear sky. The sound of Jilly’s woodpecker was louder; either they’d gotten nearer, or else the bird (or whatever was making the noise; he still wasn’t convinced it was necessarily a pecker) had flown in their direction. Tap tap tap tap thwock tap thwock. He stood back up. “Come on. Let’s go find your not-bird.”

Obediently Jilly followed, too happy with the day and the peace in the woods to respond to the comment. The trail narrowed, and the siblings walked single file without making noise as they followed an occasional tap thwock. The noise was less frequent and had stabilized itself to a point somewhere not far off.

Jilly looked behind her to see if she’d missed anything back down the trail, and promptly ran into her brother. Danny stood in the middle of it, concentrating on something ahead.

“Someone lives out here.” He pointed left. The trail rose a little, and they stood on the only point where the building could be seen clearly at all. Jilly squinted; she would need glasses soon, but so far nobody had noticed. Jilly’s quick wits compensated for what she lacked in visual acuity. Jilly narrowed her eyes into slits until she made out a dull brown building. It was a small hut, and the builder hadn’t bothered to clear out any of the trees or surrounding underbrush.

Danny and Jill went nearer, moving more slowly but intensely curious. Danny didn’t say anything as they kept following the trail. He ignored the No Trespassing sign nailed to a tree; Danny knew his sister hadn’t seen the other signs either, all warning they were on private property.

The trail ended abruptly. They stood at the edge of a wall of brambles, towering 4 feet above their heads. The screen of thick blackberry canes shielded the cabin from sight. Sharp points grabbed onto Danny’s knap sack when he went nearer, and he shrugged the pack off his shoulders and set it on the ground as he searched for a way through the thorny wall. The surrounding ground was awkward with rocks.

“We’ll never get through this,” Danny said.

“Over here.” His sister had found a path cunningly cut into the bramble, low enough that an adult would need to duck down to see it at all. The two children were just the right height to make out the path, visible only if you were searching for a way through the thicket. Jilly and her brother made their way into the low brush, moving carefully to avoid getting snagged.

They came out on the opposite side of the briar hedges and discovered they were close to the dwelling. It was constructed of smooth planks of wood and had a single door that was closed, and no windows. Jill moved back to the trees beyond the cabin, still looking for her bird. She vanished almost immediately into the darkness created by shadows of the tall trees. Danny circled around the side of the cabin.

He stepped into a messy clearing filled with wire cages, some of them with busted wire netting, all of them empty. Other than the ground under the abandoned cages, nothing had been cleaned or cleared. He discovered another, smaller hut almost completely hidden by the bushes and saplings crowding back into the forest.

There was no longer any sound of the hammering. “Told you there wasn’t a wood pecker,” Danny began to call after his sister. Before he could finish the words a shrill yapping drowned out his voice.

Danny shrieked and something banged against the hut’s inner walls. It went on banging without pause, as if a gigantic creature with fifty frantic scrabbling legs climbed up the wall in a desire to attack him. The yaps didn’t let up for a second. Things were hurling themselves against the planks, rabid with anger. For a moment the clearing was suddenly, terribly still, all sound sucked out of the day and into the creatures trying to break their way out of the cabin.

Danny glanced wildly around the clearing. He ran over to the cages and put his weight on the nearest one to see if they were stable enough for him to climb up out of biting range. He was testing the surprisingly thick wooden frames when the cabin’s owner stepped out in front of him.

Danny wondered why the burly man was wearing boots on a warm day, but the shovel the man carried took up his attention. “What’s your name? What do you think you’re doing?” The adult went on talking without waiting for an answer.

“I’m Danny Tarbery,” Danny answered. “I was just riding around, out exploring, that’s all.”

“Danny? Why, that’s my name, too.” The man came closer. “Danny. Dan. You can call me Big Dan. Little Danny, you’re a long ways from town for exploring.” Danny swallowed hard and tried not to make a face. Big Dan smelled unbelievably bad. It was a stench of very old sweat, the crusty plaid shirt he wore, and the mud caking the shovel and his boots with a combination of earth and partially decomposed swamp grasses.

Big Dan was directly in front of Danny but he didn’t stop coming. Danny backed up until he was cornered between the man, the cages, and the cabin. He stumbled a little as his body touched the back wall. The dogs became aware of his presence against it outside and Danny felt the boards yield. They threw themselves against the wood over and over, the movements harder and more insistent.

The man bared his lips and brown teeth showed in an incongruously attractive smile. He flicked almost white hair out of his face and never let go of the dirty shovel. “What d’you think you’re exploring for?”

There was a pause inside as the canines heard the older man’s voice. The thudding began again even harder. Danny literally felt them as they scrabbled up and down the other side of the thin planks. The frame and walls shuddered; the dogs were rabid to get outside. Danny began trembling, and couldn’t stop.

“You had to come looking even though the road out there has a bunch of No trespassing signs, right?” The owner pointed in the direction of the dirt track, clearly indicating it as the road in question. “You saw the signs, don’t pretend you didn’t.” He looked at Danny, calculating. “Boy, how old are you?”

“My step father’s waiting for me,” Danny began.

He heard the snapping of brush littering the ground off to the right on the far side of the cabin. The door to the cabin creaked as it opened and there was silence for four seconds. The air filled back up with shrill barking. Danny listened terrified as dogs sniffed the air and dashed towards where he stood trapped against the back wall of the cabin.

Calmly the man with the terrible smell turned and called out, “We got a visitor here. Stop!”

Danny watched in incomprehension as three dogs, far too small to have produced the huge amount of chaotic noise, immediately stood at attention. He wanted to laugh, but he was too scared. “Chihuahuas?” Danny said.

(Photo from Wikipedia)

– from my short story “Just Riding Around” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.

An Interview with Standoutbooks

Author Interview: Jadi CampbellPosted on July 20, 2013 by // 2 Comments

Tell us about yourself…

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What is your name?

Jadi Campbell

Where are you from Jadi?

Upstate NY; then the NW; and finally, Europe. Home is now a 1,200 year-old village near Stuttgart, Germany.

What do you do when you are not writing?

Ideally, travel. In my daily life I enjoy physical activity, exploring the cultural offerings here, cooking, and reading.

Do you have a day job as well?

I’ve been a massage therapist for 25 years. The intense one-on-one work is the perfect foil to the solitude writing requires. Also, working deeply with other peoples’ mind-body-spirit process provides a wonderful source of material for my stories.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

I like each part of the writing process, so on days when new ideas aren’t coming, I’ll edit work-in-progress, or write blog posts.

Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Shakespeare. As a child I saw a college production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The theatre was filled to capacity, so my sister and I sat on the edge of the stage. When Puck sprinkled magical dew on the sleeping humans, we were showered as well. The drops that hit my skin were real to me! From that moment on, I was hooked. Later in college I studied Shakespeare and revere the way he knew us in all our foibles and flaws… and loved us in all our humanity anyway.

Tell us about your book…

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Book title

Broken In: A Novel in Stories

Genre

Broken In may be read as a novel or as individual short stories.

Can you summarise the book for us?

In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. On a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash.

The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Small acts have a huge impact, and people are connected in ways they never imagined.

How did you come up with the title?

Broken in can refer to comfortable shoes. It might be the way new employees learn the ropes, and how we adapt to our lives. But it’s often ominous, and signifies the theft of what we value. Each of my characters is forced to react to loss or the challenge of adjusting to being broken in, one way or another.

Is it going to be available as an ebook only or are you planning to print it too?

Broken In is available as a paperback and also as an eBook with Kindle.

How are you planning to price your book?

The paperback is £6.98 ($11.95) and the eBook is £2.49 ($3.99) on Kindle. The pricing in Euros is equivalent. These prices mean my book is reasonably priced for everyone.

Can you give us a little taster?

Here is an excerpt from “Looms Large” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories.

Judy reached the wading pool. Parents young and old dangled tiny children by their waists down into the shallow water. Other adults lurched, strangely hunched from the back. She walked past and saw the tiny people gripping index fingers and attempting the great walk of the upright, little feet between those of their parents, everybody’s legs sloshing happily through the water. At least 70 children had to be crowding into the pool: the surface was a dazzling panorama of tender sunbonnets in every possible color and configuration of flowers and cartoon characters.

Finally she found Steve. He’d been waving at her for some minutes to get her attention. Judy waved back. He’d laid a large brown blanket on the grassy verge at the edge of the lake. Tree shade just covered half of the blanket.

The park lawns were filled with bodies seeking the heat like winter creatures coming out of a long hard hibernation, but everyone was in a good mood. A family had claimed the next section of grass. The mother determinedly lay on her stomach with her breasts nestled in a pillow and her chin propped on the backs of her hands. Her entire concentration was focused on a popular paper back mystery opened on the blanket in front of her.

Her husband was left to supervise their children. A boy sat just above the water by two little girls in matching lime green swimsuits. The sisters bobbed inside bright orange life rings as they played in the lake. Their father was propped on his left elbow, leaving his right hand free for the beer hidden in a stubby can cooler. “Keep to where I can see you,” he ordered, but he wasn’t too concerned. He was sure they would be in less danger of getting drowned than they were in of being trampled. “If you go in deeper, you don’t go in without the life rings!” Okays drifted up the lawn towards him and all three turned back to their games.

“You wouldn’t believe the road traffic!” Judy gave Steve a hug and set down the food she’d carried halfway around the lake looking for him.

“You wouldn’t believe the traffic here on the lake front.” Steve yawned loudly and stretched back out on the blanket. Judy nudged him with her foot as she unpacked the lunch. “Hey. Don’t go to sleep on me, I just got here.”

“No chance of falling asleep with this racket,” Steve assured her. It was true: the water out in the deeper part of the lake was filled with people swimming or floating on air mattresses, while closer to the shore line a hundred small children laughed and splashed and shrieked. They made a joyous sounding, truly loud racket.

It fit the afternoon though, the languid mood of summer time when shadows move slowly across park lawns and picnic blankets. A slight breeze riffled the water into little waves; each one would send small children shrieking excited back out of reach for a second or two. On blankets and towels all around them people turned on their sides like sunflowers following the rays of the sun, or curled like large sleeping cats. The mother remained absorbed in her paperback mystery. Her husband’s head lolled where he’d fallen asleep still propped on his side.

Steve and Judy played Old Maid, and Judy kept winning. She’d figured out a system for cheating as a child, and couldn’t stop laughing as Steve became more and more frustrated with each hand he lost. “Just one more round!” he kept insisting.

A low, insistent shriek broke Steve’s concentration. It was similar to the piercing sounds made all afternoon by the lungs of the small children who filled the park. This one sounded different, though, a wail preceding the announcement of a disaster.

He dropped his hand of cards and the blanket bunched as he jumped up. Steve got to the water just as the little boy lost the life ring he’d pulled away from his sister. The little girl gurgled and vanished under the surface. Out in the water the bright orange ring bobbed, now empty. The little boy stood up to his neck in the lake shrieking. The ring floated further out and away. His other sister began to scream; only she and Steve had seen what had happened.

Their voices were drowned under the hundreds of other shrieking, laughing children, tinny radio music and the baseball game being broadcasted on a loud speaker, all the chatter of a hot summer afternoon on a waterfront in a city park.

Steve ran into the lake. He swam in the direction of the floating life ring, hoping the little girl had sunk somewhere in the general vicinity. When he reached what he thought was the point where she’d gone under, he began to dive.

Visibility was murky under the surface. He swam with outstretched hands and eyes searching desperately for signs of a body. Something kicked him hard in the cheek, and Steve resurfaced choking. The small child snug in his life vest simply paddled on past Steve in the water and flailed with skinny arms; he hadn’t even noticed the adult under the surface. Steve gasped in more air and dove again.

This time he was luckier and spotted a lime green object wafting in the under current. Steve grabbed her by the first part he could clutch, which was her shoulder strap. He swam back to the surface with strong strokes. Steve pulled the child’s head into the crook of his arm and made his way back to the shore.

When he emerged from the lake everything sounded far away at first, as though God had pressed a button and the world had been put on mute. With a rush his hearing returned, and the sensation of his own raspy breathing. He felt the water running off of his clothes as he lay the child on the grass and felt for a pulse. She lay as limp as a deboned fish.

Steve pumped her chest and turned her body onto the side. The lake water she’d swallowed came up in a sudden gush, and the child began to cough. Steve let out a high laugh with a feeling of exhilaration: she was alive after all. She arched her back to take in new breaths of the air. As she breathed in Steve felt his vision come tunneling back, whistling in with her new air. Her lungs expanded and compressed, and the colors of the world dimmed and glowed brighter along the ragged edges of each one of her breaths. The multiple layers of colors in the kites flying overhead, the fluttering sound they made in the suddenly windy afternoon, the breeze creating gooseflesh over his entire body, and the shadows flying back and forth over the edge of the water were almost unbearable.

Nobody except Judy witnessed the rescue. There was simply too much other activity in the lake and on the shoreline. The child’s parents listened in dozy incomprehension as the girl’s little sister and brother hysterically tried to explain where she’d gone. Incomprehension turned to puzzlement, and to horror. They scanned the lake surface, frantic by the time they finally spotted Steve resuscitating their daughter. They rushed over, the father’s eyes spilling with tears even though he could see she was going to be fine.

“She’s alive? How could I have? What sort of parent? In just a matter of seconds?” He spoke in fractures, unfinished questions, knowing there could be no answer to the enormity of the monstrous disaster that had almost happened. His muscles shivered in hard spasms, matching Steve’s.

Steve had begun to shake so hard that he had to sit down abruptly, almost falling on the child as she tried to sit up. The father grabbed Steve by the arm and helped him sit while he pumped his hand over and over, a wordless thank you. Everyone except Judy was crying.

Let’s talk a little more about your story…

Who is your favourite character in your book and why?

My favourite character is Gabe Burgess, the bartender at JJ’s. Gabe is adopted, and comes from a mixed background. One month out of every year, Gabe travels the globe looking for his roots. He comes to see the world as his home and that he’s connected to everything, everywhere. Gabe never stops questioning or attempting to see the world as it is. He’s the sort of human being I would most like to know, and to be.

How did you go about developing your characters?

While they aren’t based on actual people, I write characters who are real. Readers should pick up the book and identify themselves and people they know in my characters. To begin with a character, I flesh out with emotions and a background, and give them a situation or event to respond to. What interests me are 3-dimensional characters; you will not meet good vs. evil stereotypes in my stories.

Is there anything you’d change about your novel?

I learned so much writing this first book and hope the books to follow will reflect that fact. But, no, I would not change anything. Once I decided to publish, I had to let go of my book and send it off into the world!

Tell us about your publishing journey…

Why did you choose the self-publishing route?

I spent over a year trying to find an agent, without any luck. The one agency kind enough to write me a detailed response explained that with the advent of the Internet they couldn’t keep up with requests. Where they used to get 100 letters a week, they now receive 200 queries a day. It was clear that I’d need to find another route to publication!

I did a lot of research and it felt right to try self-publishing. My desire to see my work in print pushed me to take the risk.

Did you make any mistakes along the way?

Is there anything you’d like to recommend to other authors?

Yikes. A marketing plan is vital. Like most writers, my weak point is self-promotion. (My words should speak for themselves, right?) I am still figuring out that piece to the puzzle and am slowly getting better at it.

Have you used any professional author services?

What was your experience with them?

No. However, I belong to a terrific writers’ group and get steady feedback from my peers.

Is this your first self-published book?

While this is my first published novel, I wrote for over a decade as a European Correspondent for international massage magazines.

Criticism/Feedback

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I took a writing class in college and the professor was clearly bored. We were a group of insecure young 18-year-olds, and her indifference was devastating. I would rather have a sincere critic than someone who just doesn’t care.

In terms of the best compliment, I have been told that dinner wasn’t cooked and conversations were delayed so that my readers could finish just one more page of my story! The second best compliment was that the story stayed with the readers long after they finished the novel.

Book marketing

How do you market your work? What avenues have you found work best for your genre?

I have a blog at jadicampbell.wordpress.com and use it as a platform to build an audience and community. I email my contacts with information and updates as well. And my writers’ group does public readings several times a year.

Going forward

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m working steadily on my next novel. In it you’ll meet a former cult member and a therapist with a fear of flying. A collection of short stories is also in the works and receives all the tales that don’t seem to fit anywhere else for now. The blog has been surprisingly fun (and way more work than I ever expected). The huge world of bloggers out there constitute a generous and fascinating community.

My husband and I are avid travellers and impressions from around the world have found their way into all of my stories. I write about universal themes, sometimes in exotic settings, with characters we can all relate to.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Writing is like breathing for me. I’ve wanted to write since the age of 6. It’s given me enormous joy and satisfaction to make that dream a reality. All readers are welcome!

Broken In: A Novel in Stories is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

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Bronwyn

Bronwyn

Co-Founder and Head of Editorial at standoutbooks
Bronwyn is in charge of our editorial services here at standoutbooks. You will generally find her helping our authors perfect their work. Unsurprisingly, she loves reading and is always on the lookout for that next great book.

Comments

  1. Bronwyn Bronwyn says:

    Thanks so much for talking to us today Jadi. I am sure that everyone will enjoy reading about your experiences as a self-published author as much as I did.

  2. Congratulations, Jadi on a great interview. Your characters are *very* memorable and I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

    Reposted from Standoutbooks:

    https://www.standoutbooks.co.uk/author-interview-jadi-campbell