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Strangedays410
June 8th, 2013, 09:48 PM
Was just doing another of never-ending edits on my novel, American Guitar Player. Thought I'd share three short chapters from an odd phase of the storyline. Please share any comments you may have. Thanks.




Chapter Forty-four



“What does that mean?” I couldn’t breathe.

“It means…” The agony came, and I thought she might faint. “His…” Her hand trembled to trace her own hemisphere. “His brain…” Her body swooned, and I pulled it into mine. The full weight hung sobbing from my neck.

“I’m so sorry, baby,” I managed, soaking her hair with my cheek.

“I don’t know what I did wrong. I don’t know what I did!”

“You didn’t do it,” I pleaded, cradling her face; it was awful. “You didn’t do that. You couldn’t have.” Her eyes were not reasonable. “It just happened, baby. You didn’t do it.” It couldn’t be real. It was just like before—I could feel him between us. “Are they sure?”

“Yeah.”


Later… “Hey Miles,” Mrs. Bauer smiled from the doorway.

“Nana!”

“How are you?” she beamed.

“Good, Nana,” he replied. “How are you?”

“I’m great, thank you,” she grinned, and glanced at me. “My, such good manners.”

I half-smiled. “He’s a good boy.”

She pointed at the ceiling. “Is she…”

“Yeah…go on up.”

After a while, Nana came down with Miles’ bag, and the two of them left. Susan came down a few minutes later.

“Do you want a sandwich, honey?” she asked, bopping toward the kitchen.

“Are you gonna have one?”

“No…maybe later.”

I watched her at the sink for a while, wiping and arranging things. Soon, I held her from behind. “Are you ready, Susan?” She kept wiping, tugging my hold in either direction.

“Do you want some eggs, Miles?”

“Susan,” I said quietly. She tried to keep wiping, and I led her away. “Come on, baby. Let’s go.” She sobbed again.



“Average(AG87:AG102)…” Jason murmured, and scrolled a city block to the end of the formula. “They never updated March and July.”

“Nope,” I said. “The report and review look pretty silly.”

“How’d you even catch that?”

“I saw that March hadn’t changed.”

He smirked. “So…out of 4000 cells, you remembered one number…from a month ago.”

“Guess so,” I said, eyeing the guitar propped next to his file cabinet.

“You and Rich…” he chuckled. “Freaks.”

“No, I just remember things—Rich actually understands them.”

“Indeed. So can you make the revisions?”

“Already wrote it up—sent you the email.” I gestured at his screen. “You can change it there, if you want…it’s 11,438 now.”

Trustingly, he entered the digits... “Good work.” …and turned his monitor toward me. “Now let me show you San Bernardino.”

I’d been training with the vice president to write the reports. Evidently, Rich had thought I could be trusted with the numbers. I sat with my pad and pen, and Jason led me through the new county. Anencephaly. His skull had failed to form over part of his brain. He’d been born 20 hours ago…at five months. “…and that’s for every city except Barstow, right?” I asked.

“You got it,” Jason agreed.

They’d asked if we wanted to see him. I had not wanted to see him…but deferred to Susan. They’d brought him to us in a towel, and he’d not been a baby, but a tiny man, with fingers and toes—perfectly formed…nearly.

“Rich had been thinking about adding Fontana,” Jason remembered. “You may want to start doing some digging.”

“On it,” I said, jotting a note. Like a baby bird, his eyes had been purple and shut. He’d had no skin, and little skull. On passing, his face had frozen, twisted…wrenched upward in a terrible scream. I couldn’t get through a minute without hearing it. It was all he ever knew.

“And Apple Valley, you can just use the numbers on the templates.”

“Got it,” I said, hands shaking.

The vice-president paused. “You ok, Miles?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Too much coffee…not enough food.” I’d give anything to have known to leave the room. I’d wanted to be there for her. She may have gotten angry. To this day, I still don’t know where to put it.

“That ought to do it,” Jason said, kicking back in his chair. “Any questions?”

“No sir.”

“Well, I have one. Where are we going for lunch?”

“Good call,” I said. I doubted I’d eat again. He locked his computer, and I asked, “You play guitar?”

Looking back at his axe... “Yeah. I play with some friends…once a month. It’s fun.”

“Nice.”

“You play?”

“Used to,” I replied.

“Oh yeah? I’d have never pictured it,” he laughed. “What kind of stuff did you play?” He’d already started pulling it from the case.

“Little bit of everything, I guess.” I wondered how Susan was holding up at home. I wanted to call her.
Jason played a few chords of Sunshine of Your Love, watching his fingers closely.

“Nice, man,” I almost forgot to say. “You’ve got some good chops.”

“Thanks, man. Still learning.” He held the thing out to me, around the desk, and I thought to decline. I hadn’t touched one in over a year…but took it anyway. Clapton’s solo occurred to me, but I ripped him a fresh one instead…surprising us both. “Holy shit!” my boss laughed. Surprised it was where I’d left it, I pushed it up and down the neck to be sure. He watched, shaking his head. “Why aren’t you in a band!”

“Too busy,” I said, starting to feel something.

He laughed. “Man, if I could play like that, I wouldn’t be sitting behind this desk—that’s for sure. Shaking his head… “Jesus Christ.” If only he knew.

It was like an infected shape inside…jagged …sickening—and I didn’t need it. I didn’t want either of them out of my sight. Miles was lucky not to know. Knowing what it was doing inside Susan made me sicker. When I came in, they slept—she, long and unsoundly, and he, roundly in his sneakers. I only watched from the chair.




Chapter Forty-five


“Da-da!”

“Yeah, dude.”

“Make the Mustang go vroom!”

I looked back at him slyly. “Should I?”

“Yeah, Da-da! Vroom!” He rocked back and forth, and I knew he meant it.

I put it in gear, and bolstered. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, Da-da! Do it! Vroom!”

Before the light changed, that guy appeared in the turning lane, and I went professional. “Police officer,” I said from the corner of my mouth.

“Police officer,” Miles repeated, straightening in his seat. The cruiser made a quick U-turn. The light changed, and I eased the clutch out, checking the coast again. He could hardly stand it. “Go Dada!” I nailed the gas, slamming us back in our seats. The rear end screamed and went sideways—as did Miles…laughing and cheering. I carried the ruckus through second, and then shut it down at the speed limit. “I smell rubberrrr! Do it again, Da-da!”

“No, no,” I chuckled. “You can only do it once.”

“We’ll do it later then, Da-da. Kay?”

“Ok,” I nodded.

Soon, we were at a shop in Huntington Beach. “So that’s what you’ve been up to!” Dean laughed, as we came in. He hurried from behind the counter, marveling at the monkey on my hip. “Are you kidding me right now, dude?”

“What’s happening, man,” I grinned, shaking his hand.

“What’s happening, man?” Miles repeated, extending his.

“Ha!” Dean laughed, shaking it. “And what’s your name?”

“Miles,” my boy said, looking grown.

“Well it’s good to meet you Miles!”

“Good to meet you too!”

Dean laughed. “Dude, he looks just like you.”

Miles made a sour face at me, and shook his head. “No he doesn’t.”

“Ha! Smart little dude.”

“Yeah, he’s quick,” I chuckled.

“So what you been up to, bra? It’s been…what…two years?”

“At least,” I said. “Just chasing this guy around…trying to do that thing.”

“What thing, Da-da?”

$300 later, we left with an old Mexican Stratocaster, a practice amp, and the number of a bassplayer Dean thought I might like to jam with—Jake. That night, Miles and I played guitar. Susan took pictures and made dinner. It had been a week, and I still didn’t know where to put it. They could have taken him away, and we could have had a memorial service. Then we could have gone home. I really hadn’t needed to sit with him all morning.



I couldn’t have paid her to care for more than a week or two at a time. Well…maybe. “What is it that you want me to do!”

Now she was calm, and I was harassing her. “I don’t know, Miles you figure it out,” she said, stuffing his clothes into a bag.

“I’m not figuring anything out. You brought it up.”

“Do what you want. Glad you care about your marriage and your family so much.”

“...she says, on the way out the door. I’m in it for life. You can’t even get through three weeks without burning it down.”

“Unbelievable,” she said, about to go wake him up.

“Why don’t you tell me what you want…instead of playing weird games and bailing.”

“I’m not going to tell you what to do, Miles…you’re an adult.”

“Well you seem to be all full of ideas. Why not share?”

“That’s the problem…right there.”

“What…is the problem?” She shook her head. “Just for kicks…just once…why don’t you tell me what you want me to do—instead of dragging our two-year-old into the street at two in the morning?”

“I want you get a job, Miles…be a dad…and a husband!” ...and started grabbing toys from the carpet.

“Get a job, Susan?”

She started up the stairs, and stopped to make another face. “Yeah, Miles…you know…a career…so you can be a man and support your family.”

“I work 9 hours a day, Susan.”

“Good for you. You should be real proud.”

“What should I be doing then?”

“I don’t know…have some goals? Maybe figure out how we can actually have a life?”

“Any actual suggestions?”

“You’re supposed to figure that out.”

“Well, apparently, I’m not that clever. So if you’re sitting on the answer, why don’t you share it.”

“I don’t know…start a business…go back to school—something.”

“Well that’s…brilliant, Susan. I’ll get right on that.”

“You do that.”





Chapter Forty-six



Maybe all those years, we’d just needed a plan. It would have never occurred to me that one even could plan anything in this life; yet there we were—six weeks, with no trouble. Since she’d carried Miles, this was a record. I was sure we were starting a relationship. In that time, I’d gotten a lot of studying done. Nearly halfway through the GRE Study Manual, I’d secured two recommendations from old professors…one, writing, for whom I’d been a teaching assistant. The plan: I’d take the exams in the fall, and apply to grad school for the spring. Maybe I’d be a psychologist after all.

I’m left-handed, which worked well when she was right. For those weeks, we’d moved as an apparatus, well-toleranced. Indeed, we were planners now. It’d been hard, but we’d waited to get the doctor’s inspection, and a prescription…so we might continue to plan.

Thirsts aside, it was the courtship we’d never had—a ravenous anticipation…thrilling, yet tender. On study breaks, we’d take wanders and walks, and actually talk. We’d watch movies and touch, drinking tea and such. I’d thought we could do it all along.
I was driving my American automobile at noon, when she called.

“Hey, Mama.”

“Hey Da-da,” she grinned from the other end.

Already, I couldn’t get enough. “How are you? …and how’s my pretty stuff?”

“Good as new,” she replied, sweetly. “…ready for you.”

We’d talked it up in fevers. I could hardly wait; she’d never wanted to. “Good. And the prescription’s all set?” …knowing she’d say, ‘you bet.”

The line went quiet.

“Susan?”

“…and what prescription is that, Miles?”

The one you’ve been on about for a month… “Uh…the pills.” Silence—and over the rumble of my smallblock, my stomach churned.

“Why are you saying that to me right now?”

Insensitive. “I’m sorry, baby…I just wanted to ask.”

“Well, no, Miles. I didn’t get birth control pills. And honestly, I can’t believe you would even ask—like I’m dragging you through having a family or something.”

“Wait…what?”

“You know how important this is to me. Why would you say something like that?”

“How important what is to you?”

“You know, I am so sick of you shitting on our family.”

I called back, but got no answer.


At 6:30, they came in, two hours late. “Hey,” I said, rising.

“Hey,” she said, passing. Miles wouldn’t even look at me. They went upstairs and closed the door. I sat down, calculating a repair. In a while they came back down, with a bag over her shoulder.

“Susan.”

“We’re spending the night at a friend’s in L.A.”

“Look…can we talk, for a minute?” She didn’t have one.

See, if such a thing had happened with anyone else—not that it ever could have…but if it had—Tina…Maxine…even Stephanie—it would have been one thing. Susan was special. She didn’t always make good decisions when she was like that.

Her phone would only go to voicemail, and my imagination, to redline. By 10, I was sure they’d enjoyed the comforts of some spacious home. By 2 am, I was certain the owner was enjoying the comforts of my wife. By 7 am, I was convinced my family had met some gruesome end in alley somewhere. At 11, I called Mrs. Bauer. She hadn’t heard from her daughter…but asked that I please let her know the instant I did.

They came in at two in the afternoon. Miles slept on her shoulder. I waited for her to come back down from putting him up. She walked right past into the kitchen, and opened a water.

Elbow-knelt across the island, I opened my hands. “So…”

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey?” I borrowed patience from the right… “Don’t you think you should, uh…tell me what the hell is going on?”

“Nothing’s going on, Miles.” She took another sip.

…and a little more from the left. “You…can’t think that’s remotely normal. Did you get my messages?”

She was rational. “I’m not gonna do that with you, Miles. I needed some space, and went and stayed with Christine last night.”

I waited calmly while she sipped slowly. “And…”

She shook her head, and started toward the stairs. “We’re gonna go up to my mom’s for a bit.”

“Actually, we’re gonna need to discuss this…like, now.”

She brushed by, looking harassed. “I need some space, Miles.”

“You’re out of hand with your space.”

“Excuse me,” she said, bumping past.

“You’re gonna need to tell me something.” She’d already turned the corner at the top of the stairs.

I barely saw her that week. Some nights, she and Miles went to functions. Others, I’d watch him while she went out. The nights she was home, we could either be awkward, or fight. Neither option had anything to do with what I needed…so I left her alone.
“Hey,” she’d say, passing through.
“Sup,” I’d say.

One night, she came home and said she’d missed me, and wanted to hang out later, after happy hour with her friends. “I’ll be home around 8, baby. I’ll call if I’m gonna be late.”

I put Miles to bed around 8:15. He gave up wheeling and dealing at 9. I called Susan, and got declined. I called again at 9:30, and got voicemail. By 10, I was irritated—and by 11, mad. For two weekends in a row, I’d been that guy. I left another message at midnight, asking her to let me know she was alive. At one, she came in hot, and attacked me on the couch.

“What have you been doing?” I asked, noticing the degree.

“Thinking about you,” she breathed.

After, I lay on the living room carpet like a tramp. Up the steps, I could hear her getting sick—a sound I’d not heard in our whole 5 years—and then, quiet. Disheveled, I pulled onto the couch, and dazed into the carpet. Soon, my eyes tuned into her clothes and things strewn about. Stripped off like a child’s, her jeans and undersilk lay half inside-out, three feet away. Why had she felt like that? I picked them up, to be overcome by heart rate. It was as though she’d spilled a bottle of soap in her lap. Hands shaking, I pulled her phone from the pocket. At 7:56, my wife had called plastic Justin.

I poked her in the back, and she flinched. “Sit up.”

“What?” she grumbled.

“Sit…up.”

“Miles, what are you doing?” By the arm, I helped. “Why are you doing that?”

“Sit…your body up…with your head on top…and your eyes…on.” I could barely make sense. She tried to sleep that way, so I poked her again. “Why did you call Justin at 8, instead of coming home? And how did you soak your jeans?”

Suddenly awake, but expressionless… “Sharon asked why he wasn’t there…so I said I’d call him.”

I studied her…but got nothing. “And the jeans?”

“I was…thinking about you.”

“While doing what?”

She rolled her eyes. “Sitting in a booth, Miles…with the girls…talking.”

“So you’re sitting in a booth, laughing with your friends…yet thinking so intently about me—who you’ve wanted nothing to do with—and soaked the bench…Susan?”

“Yeah, Miles.” Suddenly tired again… “Could we, like, talk about this tomorrow or something?”

Two days later, Susan said she was leaving the marriage.

tinacrabapple
June 22nd, 2013, 12:20 AM
bump

Folcro
June 22nd, 2013, 01:02 AM
On chapter 44...

Your craft in dialogue is excellent. You don't just write "he said," "she said," but have the wherewithal to consider what is going on. The result is a lucid flow and believable scene.

Though, I find you may lean on this skill a little too heavily. Now, as this is far into the book, I'm not sure exactly what mood should be expressed as I have little idea from the start what is happening, but I find you were lacking in description. This may fit, if I were to see what came before.

What I would suggest is posting your opening to this book, so we at least have a foundation... perhaps you have already? (post a link to it if so).

Strangedays410
June 22nd, 2013, 04:14 AM
On chapter 44...

Your craft in dialogue is excellent. You don't just write "he said," "she said," but have the wherewithal to consider what is going on. The result is a lucid flow and believable scene.

Though, I find you may lean on this skill a little too heavily. Now, as this is far into the book, I'm not sure exactly what mood should be expressed as I have little idea from the start what is happening, but I find you were lacking in description. This may fit, if I were to see what came before.

What I would suggest is posting your opening to this book, so we at least have a foundation... perhaps you have already? (post a link to it if so).

That may be a little golden nugget you've just given me, Folcro. (You too, Ms. Crabapple. Good looking out!) Thanks for taking the time to give me some input. You know, I didn't give one thought to that, writing that passage...or others like it that are heavy with dialogue. That's an excellent point you've raised. Were you feeling like you wanted to see more description?

No, I haven't posted any other excerpts. I can though, although I wonder how much the opening would help, as the main character moves through so many phases throughout the story, each totally opposite from the last. That's sort of a main theme of the book--change. I'll take a look though, and see what makes sense to post. Thanks again, my friend. The book is so new, I've barely gotten any critiques on it yet. I appreciate your insight.

Folcro
June 22nd, 2013, 04:18 AM
No, I haven't posted any other excerpts. I can though, although I wonder how much the opening would help, as the main character moves through so many phases throughout the story, each totally opposite from the last. That's sort of a main theme of the book--change. I'll take a look though, and see what makes sense to post.

If we were to pick up your book and read it, we'd all be starting at the start. Best take us there, I think. From a marketing standpoint, it really is the most important part of the story. And it makes critiquers (it's a word now) feel more grounded, confident in giving you a solid foundation from which to commence your revisions. Looking forward to more. I do like the idea of it.

Strangedays410
June 22nd, 2013, 04:25 AM
If we were to pick up your book and read it, we'd all be starting at the start. Best take us there, I think. From a marketing standpoint, it really is the most important part of the story. And it makes critiquers (it's a word now) feel more grounded, confident in giving you a solid foundation from which to commence your revisions. Looking forward to more. I do like the idea of it.

I see your logic. I'll post the opening either tonight or tomorrow; I haven't read the beginning in a couple months, and want to give it a read-through first. Thanks again, Folcro!