Thursday, December 5, 11:25 CST
There should be an icon below the body of this update. A quickly doodled image that if you squint just right looks a little like a book and a pen. Click on it, and you should get the text of my abortive NaNoWriMo entry as of today. Which, I'll hasten to point out, I never actually entered, and which currently stands at 2600 words or so.
It's there because it's a relatively fat chunk of content and I needed to test the script. Just a little more tweaking and this should be good to go.
One year later: Three couches, one broken down easy chair, a cheap 13 inch TV, blankets hanging next to the windows. Huge speakers wedged on either end of the largest couch, and a stereo cabinet built of two-by-fours, filled with components which except for the CD player are older than anyone currently living here. It's Sunday, late November. Three in the afternoon. 1500 hours, Central Standard Time. Sam sits in the middle of the couch opposite the one between the speakers. Dead center. It's a plaid-colored couch, or at least this is how he thinks of it, and its surface texture is rough and not altogether pleasant on bare skin. Sam can remember couches like this cropping up everywhere in his childhood, and sitting on it evokes a kind of tactile nostalgia that he can't shake off even when he wants to. He once made love on this couch to a girl who has since vanished from his life in a spectacularly permanent fashion, and that memory has colored all the others - watching Sesame Street at the age of four, opening presents at his Grandmother's house on an endless string of Christmas Days, smoking marijuana for the first and last time in a friend's parents' basement, the particular taste of cheap cigars and pizza. He sits straight, not quite rigid, with his arms spread along the back of the couch. He's staring into the middle of the room where the late afternoon sunlight shafting through the west window is making dust visible and rug luminous. There's a tape recorder in his left hand, and a pile of cassettes still in the plastic wrappers by his right knee. He's been sitting for an hour. When he finally moves, there's something deliberate and controlled about the action. He picks up a cassette one handed, tears the plastic off with his teeth, and opens the case. He lets it fall onto the couch before inserting the tape into the recorder in his other hand and snapping it shut. There's something about all this that reminds you of a guitarist changing a string on stage, or an experienced hunter reloading a shotgun. He takes a breath, pushes the record button, and begins talking. "I wasn't going to write about this. After Jack lost it on the Interstate, I wasn't even going to talk about it." -- An hour after dark: Ford conversion van, red, doing eighty-something on an Eastbound Interstate. We'll call it a 1990 model, give or take a few years. Old enough you know it doesn't have a CD player or a TV/VCR combo slapped in between the front seats, let alone an in-dash GPS unit or for that matter a still-functioning map light. It's not likely the financially destitute students driving this thing stole it, but it's not likely they own it either. It's not even likely they'd consider owning such a gas guzzling monstrosity without either a far more interesting paint job or a far less practical interior configuration. It's late October, and it's cold. The driver's-side window is down anyway. If the van were standing still, like it's going to be in about two minutes, you might be able to hear somebody's schizophrenic mix tape selection of bluegrass and indie rock on roughly its fourth rotation. At 80+ mph, all you get is white noise. Brake lights and a turn signal flare to life, and the van slows and swings to a halt on the shoulder. It's the kind of stop made by a tired parent pulling into a driveway at two in the morning with a back seat full of sleeping preadolescents. Leo Kottke's guitar is briefly audible, in between trucks tearing past in the left hand lane, and then the window cranks up. There's a definite pause. The hazards begin flashing, the door opens, and the driver steps out. He leans back inside, grabs a heavy brown coat of uncertain vintage, closes the door, and pulls the coat on as he walks around the van. Extracting a duffle bag from the rear of the van requires balancing sleeping bags, myriad backpacks, and a guitar case long enough to slam the door shut again. Somehow, he accomplishes this before the confused and sleepy voices beginning to stir inside the van can get a fix on his location. In fact, by the time anyone inside is awake and collected enough to grasp that he's walking away from them, he's a good fifty yards further down the road. If it weren't an exceptionally still night, the shouting probably wouldn't even carry. -- There's no coffee table here. The TV is sitting on top of a fruit crate which has been painted in bright primary colors by someone who had a decent art teacher in highschool and may well possess more skill than ten minutes of cheap tempera on lath are likely to convey. There's a bookcase full of used paperbacks wedged in one corner, the top of which is completely covered in candles and empty bottles. The only other horizontal surfaces in the room are floor, couches, chair, and window sills. The locals are a tidy bunch, or someone has cleaned the place recently, because other than pillows and folded blankets, nothing is stacked anywhere. There are four objects on the floor in front of Amy's couch (the one Sam is sitting on). Sam is not looking at them. "Yesterday, I got a package from Jack. No return address, no signature. All I have to go on is the Santa Fe, New Mexico postmark and the stuff he sent." seamus, no apologies no regrets i guess you know how gone i really am by now if anyone understands why it'll be you this key's the last one left on my chain my dad loves that truck but he never drives it it's yours if you want it (likewise my guitar, which i'd lay good money is still sitting where you left it after you unloaded the van) go to my folks' place and take it then get going i mean it "So a week ago he was in Santa Fe. Or somebody he knew was in Santa Fe and dropped a package for him. Assume he was there; he could be almost anywhere else on the continent by now. He could be on half a dozen other continents. All I'll ever know is that somewhere, he looked at the last two things he hadn't given up, made a decision, and sent them to me." -- Knee-high grass, occasional wildflowers and scraggly cedar trees. Silence broken by songbirds and distant cattle. Somewhere, what might be the rush of truck traffic on I-70, but only if you listen very hard. Some scattered rocks, a man-made pond, and an ancient barb wire fence that has reached a state of near-perfect integration with the landscape. Sam, perhaps a little younger, definitely more sunburned, is perched on the low earthen dam (the one Jack's grandfather put in some fifty summers ago) in the shadow of a cottonwood tree, holding an ancient pole lightly in one hand and slowly reeling in his line with the other. He can hear a breeze he can't actually feel moving through the leaves of the cottonwoods. A yellow pickup is parked near the east side of the pond. Jack's standing in the passenger side door, digging through a tackle box and holding a light bass rod that's clearly seen little use. He's been there for a good ten minutes. There is absolutely no unresolved tension in this scene, beyond the question of whether Jack will find a lure that satisfies him and succeed in attaching it to the end of his line, thus permitting him to begin fishing. In less perfect stillness, Sam might raise his voice enough to carry to the truck and ask, Are you gonna fish or what? He won't, though. He's tapped into the quiet and the sunlight and the water, and so is Jack, still by the Jeep, fumbling with a little gold plastic fish and a nylon line. They're part of things here, and it's good. Jack has succeeded in tying a functional knot. He closes the door with a solid *chunk*, then makes his way to the nearest bank of the pond. They fish for two hours, give or take. They catch and release half a dozen sunfish, a diminuitive bass, and a persistent bullhead. After Sam has returned the bullhead to the water for the third time, they set poles and tacklebox in the bed of the pickup and drive to another pond. This time, some quirk of the mysterious forces that drive the appetites of fish favors them, and they stay until the sun has nearly sunk below the nearest hill and hunger really begins to gnaw. They haven't eaten anything since midmorning's breakfast of cold pizza and scrambled eggs. They're tired, sunburned, and mud is drying on their jeans. They drain the last of the ice tea, passing the dust-coated plastic jug back and forth as they jolt across the pasture on the truck's inadequate suspension. Life is good. It's well and truly evening by the time they make it back to the house. Smack in the middle of sunset and the yard is already in shadow. The yardlight up by the silo is going to kick on any second with that sputtering buzz that always seems so random. Birds are calling and the summer bugs are working up to a full-on symphonic hum. It's quiet, otherwise. Jack's parents aren't home and probably won't be any time soon. As near as Sam was able to tell, they're somewhere in Tennessee with Jack's younger brother and sister. He's glad. He's met Jack's family, and likes them, but the solitude here is welcome. Also, he doesn't want to have to deal with Jack's sister. Jack's sister is fifteen years old, scary bright, and painfully self-aware. He's been careful not to let the thought actually cross his mind, but he's sometimes peripherally aware that she is in love with him. They park on the lawn. Sam carries the fishing gear to the ruined hulk of a garage and sets it just inside the door. Jack disappears inside the house and emerges with a six pack of bottles in one hand and a box containing the last of the pizza in the other. They sit on the open tailgate of the pickup with the beer and pizza between them, and bask in the remainder of the sunset. "This is the best summer place I've ever been," says Sam. Jack nods. "Everybody used to get together out here. Aunts and uncles, all the old ladies who'd outlived their men or just never had one and you knew they were related somehow but you weren't quite sure, the cousins. Summers were the best." "You lived out here then?" "We had a place in town 'til a few years after my Grandpa died. I must've been thirteen or fourteen when we moved out here. Dad was always going to come back home and farm. It never worked out that way, but we kept the place after his folks were gone." "I can see why." Jack nods again, takes a long pull of his beer, and says nothing for a long time. It's a comfortable silence. -- "Heya, L." The sister's name is Lily, short for something but he's not sure what. Everyone calls her L. Or Ell. He's never been very clear on that either. She's built like a collection of sticks and will probably never attain anything that so much as resembles the prevailing ideal of beauty. She is, however, going to be devastatingly beautiful. This knowledge flits around the edges of his mind like some kind of small, dark, secretive bird. If he could focus on it, he'd notice a wicked and purposeful gleam in its eyes. She's the most disturbing fifteen year old he's ever met. "Hey Sam." She's sitting cross legged on the couch that Amy, their newly acquired room mate, has just contributed to the communal furniture pool. She's holding Jack's guitar, and plonking out something that sounds like it might be trying to turn into music. "You're getting better." She makes a face and hefts the guitar as if to toss it at him. If he had not already met her, he'd take this for a bluff. As it is, he catches the guitar easily, sweeps a pile of old newspapers off the easy chair, sits, and starts playing the only thing he's ever personally written. It has a choppy, dissatisfied kind of sound and every time he plays it different lyrics trickle through his brain. He never voices any of them. Jack's voice issues from the kitchen, whence only vague cooking and cleaning noises have so far originated. He's saying something about a concert, but it's drowned out by the guitar. He steps into the living room just as Sam looks up and brings the song to a deliberately jangling halt. "I said, Lillibeth's going to the show with us. I told the 'rents I'd keep her out of their hair 'til Monday. Come get some food." Sam makes a generalized thumbs-up gesture, and looks at Lily. "L, what's your real first name?" "Guess." "Lilian?" "Nope." "Lillith?" "Bzzzt." "Lilliputia?" "Let's go eat." "I'm going to figure this out." Jack only continues to lean on the kitchen doorway and look bemused. -- The television doesn't actually work, and it hasn't for nearly as long as they've had it. At first, they were going to throw it away and find a replacement. After a while, they were simply going to throw it away. It was ugly and nonfunctional; they kept tripping over it walking out of the kitchen. Eventually, they all came to the realization that it served as a kind of protective camoflage. As long as they had a TV - and who could claim otherwise, after all? - they didn't have to *get* a TV. After a month or two, Sam found a fruit crate of some sort to set it on, Amy dug out a cheap brush and some tempera paints to decorate the crate, and they quit talking about it. In terms of consumer electronics, their lives have been remarkably peaceful ever since. -- "What are you going to do with it?" Sam looks up from the tape recorder. "Do with it?" "Well, yeah. Why did you buy it?" "That's a good question." "That's *the* question, isn't it?" -- Chunk-click. "All right, say something." "There's witchcraft in your lips, Kate." "Was that a line?" "Yes." "I thought you didn't do lines." "I think it's ok if I already know you." "In the Biblical sense?" Silence, mild tape hiss, rustling of clothing. "I'm not sure if that's a requirement." "Maybe it should be." "Give me that." Further rustling. A click. -- "Seven o' clock on a Friday, October the twenty-something, AD two-thousand and two. Westward ho, can I get an amen?" "Woohoo. I mean, amen, brother." "Thanks Jack." "No problem. Now turn that damn thing off and find me some tunes." -- -- -- It's an hour past sundown, somewhere on I-80 Eastbound at 83 miles an hour. It's way too cold, but the driver's side window is open anyway. It's been open for the past thirty miles, since sleep deprivation really started to take its toll and comfortable warmth became a liability. Jack's hair, a complete tangled mess, is blowing unsteadily in the resultant wind. If it were as long as it's going to be in six months, it could be said to be streaming, but right now it's in a far more chaotic transitional stage. Besides, you don't really get the right kind of airflow with only one window open. Jack's face is actually going numb. Somehow everyone else in the vehicle is still asleep. The numbness in his face reminds him of being really, seriously, drunk. He knows it shouldn't. He knows this means he's far too tired to be driving. He's somewhere past caring, or at least somewhere past a reasonable caution about his own physical limitations.