Monday, August 2, 2010

Fiction Mondays: Work in Progress

As promised last week, today I've got parts of a new story, fresh out of editing.  I think I'm becoming a better editor, and as a result my stories are getting leaner and (I think, at least) better.  Here's the opening of a story, currently titled "The Wolf," about two men who hear from their long-absent mother only on holidays, and what happens the day they don't.  The title is only temporary, until I think of a better one.

Sam stood by the kitchen counter, slicing a loaf of Italian bread into half-inch cubes when Dave came in holding the blue three-ring binder. Sam kept cutting, as though this task required his complete concentration, and didn’t look up at his brother until he had chopped most of the loaf and swept the cubes into a glass bowl. He carried the two ends, which he had not diced, to the table. He sat down and handed one to Dave.

“This is good bread,” Dave said, sinking his incisors into the round piece and tearing it like it was a piece of meat. “It’s really crusty and chewy.”

“It’s from the bakery in town. Need any butter, or olive oil?”

“No, that’s all right. Plain is fine.” Sam looked across the table, not yet starting on his bread. He had a habit, carried over from childhood, of watching Dave eat first, at least for a minute or two. It was strange, like seeing himself eat. Once, when he was very small, Sam even managed to convince himself that by watching his twin, he could fill his own stomach.

Dave had let his hair grow long and his beard had filled in, so they didn’t look like each other as much as they once had; for Sam, it was like seeing what he would look like if he lived outside for half the year, without regular access to hot water or a barber. It wasn’t that Dave looked dirty—the Park Service expected him to be presentable and professional—but Sam could see his discomfort in dress shoes, his glances into the backyard like he could not wait to get back out. Sam took a bite of his bread and looked at the tabs sticking out of the binder, each of them labeled. He wondered if it had gotten much thicker than the year before, or if it was just his imagination: considering the information inside, he wouldn’t be surprised if he dreamt it into a larger, more mythical collection.

“Do we have to break out the binder already? That can’t wait for dessert tomorrow?”
The binder is Dave's record of everything they know about their mother, from the phone calls to photographs of strangers who might be her.  This next scene is Sam's last memory of her before she left, and is one of my favorite scenes.

Rhea sat them both on the kitchen counter, the spot where she always placed her sons when she prepared them to leave the house; every morning she would have them sit there, Sam on the left and Dave on the right, to inspect their faces and fingernails.  It was the same counter where she gave them haircuts, looking from Dave to Sam to ensure her work was even.  Tonight, she sewed their shirts together, a seam that began two inches above the waist.

“Don’t move,” she said.  “If you wiggle around, the stitches might come undone.”  She took an ashtray from the kitchen table and examined the cigarette she had left there a few minutes earlier.  Satisfied that it was still lit, she took a long drag and regarded her sons.  “I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner,” she said. 

She finished sewing and tugged at the seam a few times before standing up straight, pleased with her work.  “Get your pillowcases,” she said.  “And hop down together, would you?  I don’t want to have to sew you up again.”  The twins shuffled off of the countertop and shambled, conjoined, down the hallway.  When they returned, Rhea told them they were going with the neighbors, that she would see them when they came back later that night.  She kissed each of them on the forehead and said she loved them, shepherding them outside.

Three hours later, after an evening of wandering the neighborhood with Margaret, the woman next door, and her children, the boys returned home to find their father sitting on the porch, drinking whiskey from an empty jam jar printed with Tom and Jerry cartoons.  The porch light cast sharp shadows across the lawn, the only illumination on the dirt road.  Sam knew almost instantly, before Margaret even put her hands on their shoulders, that he would remember this moment for the rest of his life, the exact instant he and his brother, fused at the waist, transformed into pair of motherless freaks.

So that's about the first half.  I'm really happy with it so far, but like I said, the title is giving me some problems.  I am open to suggestions.

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