I had the pleasure of being selected for This Broken Shore, a literary magazine; I am going to tempt you all the first few pages of the story:
Chan settles his cup of coffee down a little too hard. Latte bursts from the top like a tiny Old Faithful. Coffee dots the manuscript in front of him, a “romance” from Walter. In this one, a woman delivers a pizza and then a whole lot more to the lonely retiree who answers the door. “That’s not it,” Chan says. “I wish you would write something that would add value to your life. What we think is what we are.”
Walter puffs up his shoulders; his belly strains against the confines of his Cosby sweater. He leans close and whispers. “Chan, that is the value I want. I want to get laid.” He leans back, and in his regular voice adds, “And eat pizza.”
There’s only four of us left in the Saturday morning writer’s group I started during the summer after my senior year. My in-patient clinic/high school English teacher, Walter, who got fired/retired for drinking too much and over-sharing about his non-existent sex life in class, Michelle, a nurse from the clinic who likes to write vampire and zombie stories, and Chan, a Chinese herbalist/grocer who gives lectures on natural cures for behavior disorders in his free time. We started with eight people; the half-life of the group is four years. In two more years, I suspect it will be just me and Chan. Or maybe Walter. I can’t tell which one will go the distance.
“Time to open the store,” Chan says.
Michelle looks at her watch. “My shift starts in twenty.”
Walter shrugs again. “Not like I have any where to be.”
“I’ve got work,” I say, suddenly grateful for the excuse to shove off, get away from them, the Starbucks, and this town I grew up in.
As I walk from the station to the tavern, I let my mind replay over yesterday. Or at least what I think was yesterday, maybe the day before. There’s something about my mind that won’t settle enough for me to sort out my days; they all just sort of run together, like I haven’t slept in weeks and drank too much coffee and maybe didn’t take all the right pills. But I don’t want to think about that. I want to think about Bill Johnson. I’ve written about him for years, imagining myself a lovesick paramour, and he the Ur-male companion, a prototype for love. I practiced my married name Leesa Johson. I composed imaginary family trees for our children. I started the Christmas letter for the year we moved to Colorado. It was all very on paper, the stuff Chan recommends, until Bill walked me home from my evening shift at the tavern.
There was something about the way he appeared under the streetlights which dotted what passed as Main Street that altered my perception. Light, dark, light, dark, like a winking eye, only Bill was lid or maybe it’s the pupil. I can’t remember any more. He talked to me about Kafka that night, the one where the guy turns into a bug. As he moved from the circle of lamplight to darkness, he gesticulated six buggy legs. I suppose that helped too; suddenly, I could see Bill dancing.
As I walked the next ten blocks, the January chill whipping under my coat, I lost the thread of the conversation and immersed myself in an image of Bill and I dancing a waltz. I wore a yellow ball gown with a single rose in my hair. He sported a navy blue tuxedo with tails. I told Joelle about this vision over French fries with gravy at the diner that night.
She snorted her Pepsi through her nose, nearly spraying me and the waitress. “You mean like Beauty and Beast,” she chortled.
“No,” I said. But yes, it was exactly like that.
Joelle regretted the outburst. “So you like him, like him?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
Only it’s complicated. I’m not sure if Bill is real.