Friday, February 5, 2010

Suddenly Falling from the Sky

(((Author's note: I am taking a great online writing course right now at a local community college. As part of the course a recent lesson had us trying something called "Galumphing" as a way to free up the creative energies of the writer. Long story short it consisted of three columns divided into boxes each with some element of a story. The task was to take an element from each column and create a story around it. I hit "bank", "man's suit", and "science teacher" for elements of my story. Also added to this story is a character called "Martha" who literally caught frozen Hell as the brunt of previous writing exercises getting sprayed with slush and icy water countless times. Just to satisfy my strange mental karma I added her to the story just to give the character a major break, I think. I wrote the first draft Thursday morning and posted it to the class board with my usual multitude of famous typos. Sheer obsession forced me to do a second, then third draft. What finally emerged is something that while I'm not crazy about it I have spent far too much time on the thing for it to sit on my hard drive. Of course, such a situation requires me to inflict it on my friends.)))

Looking into the bathroom mirror Joe Brown saw the face of a man hopelessly mired in a dreary and empty life. He knew it was his reflection but it seemed different, it seemed frozen in place, its universe forever confined to the narrow boundaries of the bathroom mirror with nothing behind it but a faded tile wall. It occurred to a part of Joe’s mind that such a tight and barren existence was a far worse Hell than any fire and brimstone that any preacher could describe. But there was no denying that everything that he was and felt looked back at him from that mirror, except the eyes, they seemed to mock him. They were the same eyes that a few years ago looked upon an unlimited vista of possibilities.

Joe had been the head of the biology department at a small but respected college holding responsibilities over both students and important research far greater than many older and more established men in similar positions. Standing by his side was a supportive and beautiful wife who he had known since high school and who he thought was actually the better, more important half of their union. Her charm had opened the doors to important research grants that had once been the exclusive domain of higher-ranking universities. Those same universities, seeing a rising star, courted him on a regular basis promising him unlimited research funds, the best students, and acclaim from his peers if he only became part of their team. The man in the mirror grimaced when he thought how it had all fallen apart in the space of a few weeks.

A promising but undisciplined and unethical student had been for months altering the data on a series of important experiments to achieve the results wanted. Peer review discovered the discrepancies and the resulting investigation destroyed his reputation. Joe was relieved of his duties as department head and upon further investigation was removed from the college for not providing better oversight of his students.

Joe, still looking into the mirror, had long ago accepted that he had let his ego get in the way of proper procedures allowing his favorite students to run far too much of his department while other universities stroked his ever growing ego. As his life collapsed his wife, stunned by this change of fate, revealed that her feelings for him had died years before. She told Joe about the affair she had been having with another professor for almost a year and with this turn of events it was time for her to leave. After the meteoric rise, then fall the best Joe could do for work was a position as a science teacher at a second rate private high school teaching spoiled rich kids that had been tossed out of every other private school and whose rich parents just couldn’t see them being forced to attend public school with all the lower dregs of society. Joe’s days were spent giving lectures to disinterested scions of the school’s wealthy benefactors who at best ignored his monotone speeches by either sleeping or talking on their cell phones.

After work he would board a bus for his apartment and let the drone of the wheels rolling on the pavement lull him into a stupor. In his trace-like state Joe was almost able to ignore the faces of those who rode the bus with him. Very often when his consciousness wouldn’t slip into oblivion for his ride back home those disinterested faces would morph into those of ex-wife, former friends, and students who would all begin to remind him of how his inflated pride had destroyed him.

At night sitting on the small patio attached to his apartment his only relief was the comforting conversation of his neighbor as she sat on her patio next his. Her life had fallen apart in its own right and during those melancholy evenings they would each help the other hold onto a small measure of sanity in the mist of a cold, indifferent world. While they did provide a measure of comfort for each other to make it through the long days and nights, they also knew that they held each other back. Neither felt free to make more of their strange and lonely friendship but neither could find the strength it took to face life again and move on. Each night as they retreated to their separate apartments they both hoped something might drop from the sky to free them from their barren reality. Only time could help them both now and they prayed that they could last long enough for help to come.

The months continued to roll by and Joe could feel his life slipping away. Another winter had arrived and the cold gray sky above him was threatening to unleash an icy storm. Standing at his bus stop the wind whipped across his chest feeling like the bony fingers of the Grim Reaper trying to claw inside his cheat. He had long since come to the point that he would welcome such a cloaked specter as long as it he came with the offer of sweet oblivion.

Right before he bordered the bus for the ride back to his apartment he stopped into the nearby dry cleaner he used to pick up his suits. The small man at the counter who was the owner was an ill-tempered sort who thought his clientele were all out to get him. Sometimes the little man would rave about grand conspiracies between his them and his competition, which was always lurking in the shadows spying on him. About the only reason any of his customers stayed with him was because of his cheap prices, semi-decent service, and convenient location next his bus stop. Given the aggravation with the man, when Joe found that mixed into his cleaned and pressed suits was a suit that did not belong to him he resigned himself to the unwanted addition and made plans just to find another dry cleaner soon. Upon returning home Joe hung the unwanted suit up in his closet and planned to ignore it hoping that the owner of the dry cleaner might realize the mistake allowing him to return it without issue.

A few days later a particularly troublesome student spilled chemicals on his clothes two days in a row forcing Joe to pull out the misdirected suit, which at least did fit him. As he slipped on the jacket the next morning Joe felt the strange indentation of some object sown into the liner of the jacket. Unable to concentrate as the day progressed because of the item he took a moment between classes to cut a small hole in the liner and pulled it out. The item easily slipped free from the secret pocket with Joe realizing it was a safety deposit key for the main branch of the bank that he passed by on his bus ride home. The rest of the day he pondered what it meant with his curiosity reaching such an extreme that he got off at the bus stop in front of the bank to go find out what was inside the safety deposit box. His curiosity was reinforced by the simple fact he had nothing to lose.

No questions were asked by the bank employees and within minutes he was sitting inside a small room with the large deposit box on top of a table in front of him. The key easily turned and Joe opened the lid to find thousands of dollars jammed tightly inside. Along with the cash were account books from overseas banks with a small fortune in everyone. The answer to the question about who had sown the key inside the suit was also found inside the box. Instructions from a now deceased mobster to his equally deceased son, Joe remembered reading both were killed in the same “accidental” explosion several years ago, told of how to access the money using the passwords and numbers without having to reveal himself.

Frozen in place, staring at the money and slips of paper on the table Joe knew that a crossroads had finally come to him. He could play it safe and close the box, walking away from the potential trouble it could bring and go about his life. Or he could take the money and run figuring a sudden bullet in the head a few years down the road was far better than just safely wasting away. That single sharp moment hung for almost an eternity as he came to his decision.

Joe emptied all the meaningless tests and papers from his lackluster students out of his briefcase and filled it with the money and papers. He returned the now closed and empty box, thanked the clerk for his time and strolled out of the bank oblivious to the snow and sleet that was falling.

Back at his apartment Joe waited finding it a new and unanticipated Hell; he sat on his small patio waiting for the lights in his neighbor’s apartment to come on. When they did he quickly walked back inside and out to the hallway to knock on her door. He knew she would find it unusual for him to be so excited and asking her over to her apartment. For all the time they knew each other they had only seen the inside of the other’s apartment once or twice. Their relationship was never romantic, just two people sharing the unhappiness that was trying to engulf them. But at times Joe did feel a spark of something real between them that went beyond their shared misery, or at least he hoped.

When she came to the door she was drenched from almost head to toe in icy water and he refused her pleas to be given a few moments to clean up before coming over. Moments later in his apartment he showed her all the money and explained what the account books meant. She stared in disbelief and was caught completely off guard by Joe’s next statement.

“Martha, we have both been looking for an opportunity to leave this life behind. We’ve dreamed of something falling from the sky to save us and this is it.” Joe reached out and took her hand and being stunned she said nothing.

Joe pulled her close looking into her eyes finally realizing their beauty. “This is it Martha this our chance, leave with me right now.”


Holte Ender said...

Martha certainly deserved a break and let's hope that Joe has learned his lessons and treats this new opportunity with the respect it deserves. I wonder where they go and how do they rebuild their lives?

sunshine said...

Being a Sicilian... :P I know that this guy is headed for trouble by taking that money.
I think that the dry cleaner gave it to him on purpose. To get it out of his store. Perhaps he will come looking for it soon......


goatman said...

Give me a subject . . . now a verb and an adverb. How about consonant then a period. A conjunction and a pronoun then a semicolon and an infinitive. Wallah, a sentence with no thought given whatsoever.

I hope that you didn't have to pay for that course!?

Beach Bum said...

Holte Ender: I'm a sucker for happy endings. There is far too much insane crap in the world now so I figure I can at least end most of my stories on some sort of upturn. I left the ultimate answer to the question Joe asked Martha up in the air though.

Sunshine: I had to add just what you mentioned about the money bringing trouble after thinking about it. That was a damn good point Laura, such money would not be abandoned for long. Another good point is the dry cleaner, he would have had to have a relationship with the dead mobster's son to even have the suit to begin with?!?!?! WOW! Believe it or not that didn't occur to me at all! Of course I wrote this draft last night at work. Yea, I sat on my butt last night and screwed off, don't turn me in, please.

I did mention Joe thinking about whether it was worth taking the money over the possibility of a "sudden bullet to the head" but I didn't consider the everything.

That was fine analytical thinking about the workings of La Cosa Nostra, since you are Sicilian please tell the Godfather I meant no disrespect and to not put a horse head in my bed.

Goatman: Yes, I did and the instructor is a published novelist and a very nice lady.

Middle Ditch said...

You are a natural. Now make this story into a script and let Martha future in it too so we learn a little bit more about her. I could actually see this work.

Word verification was a hard one: frougmvy

Am I the only one who says the letters out loud when typing them in?

Randal Graves said...

I can't believe you didn't make Joe give all that money to the local megachurch. How is the right reverend supposed to scoot around town in only five luxury cars?

Good stuff dude, I dig endings like this where the reader can only speculate about what happens next, but I wouldn't mind actually knowing what happens next.

David Barber said...

Everything has been said above mate. Spot on writing and I agree with Randal, I wouldn't mind knowing what happens next.

Well done, David.

P.S. Obviously a course well worth the money. Keep it up, buddy.

goatman said...

My only point with the last comment was that there seem to be no end of tricky gadgets presented to those wishing to be writers or improve upon their writing skills. I am sure that the nice writing-lady has the best of intentions and that you will learn something from her;
but your stories are interesting in their own right and need no tricks to be put together into a readable form -- with a bit of trim of course. The last post of your viewing an early-morning meeting in the parking lot is prime example (I still can see the two waving their arms excitedly as they relate alone and unseen,as they assume (can any of us actually be alone and unseen outdoors these days?)they are.) Your ability to present a scene and have it create lasting images in the readers' mind is a gift. A bit of work on the "parking lot confab" story could create a nice short story although you may have to go fictional with some of the details and plot layout to expand on the situation and make it more than it actually was in reality. And that would be my advice if I ever teach a class on writing --yeah right!-- write what you know and see, then elaborate.

I of course am no writer. As I presently read Franny and Zooey, as a final wave to Mr. Salinger, I am humbled by a truly good descriptive writer and realize that I will never measure up and will not try to outdo the masters.
I typically buy my spark plugs rather than make them in the lathe, as an example.

Teeluck said...

Very interesting...I enjoyed every word...

Oso said...

I'm glad you made it up to Martha!
I've always loved that name, there are so many cute Martha's running around.
Well running around avoiding me.
Good story bro.

Hill said...

What Randal said...

Really good stuff, Beach.


Beekeepers Apprentice said...

I think they moved to a small (but inhabited) island somewhere...or maybe Mexico, somewhere on the coast...started up a little tourist shack, and sold shell necklaces and fish tacos. They spent the rest of their lives beachcombing in the early mornings and selling schmaltzy stuff to the travelistas into the late evening.

Oso said...

Bee I remember getting fish tacos in San Felipe 4 for 1.00

the kid may have been working for them while Joe and Martha were off beachcombing.

Beach Bum said...

Middle Ditch: If I can get motivated enough for another draft I'll add more about Martha. Like I explained she was in a previous set of exercises and caught Hell being splashed with icy water at a bus stop.

The word verification is a pain but some people keep trying to post spam and it at least slows them down.

Randal: Thanks, and I like those endings as well. Never had a safety desposit box so I have no idea that actual procedures to get into one. If I find out I need to change it I can make the bank a self-service storage area.

David: Its a great course. I have some idea of a story where Martha doesn't leave with him but I'm going to have to think it through.

Goatman: No worries my friend. I enjoyed the creative technique the professor gave us because there are times when all the planets and moons align in my house with everyone occupied and no one screaming my name but I can't really get going with anything. Now the professor said we should drive on through and write even though we may hate what we are typing but this creative trick she showed really was fun.

As for couple meeting secretly in the parking lot the hospital where I work has more cameras on campus than Orwell's London in "1984". Security knew about them from the first and I'm actually surprised some that no one was sent out to check on what they were doing.

Teeluck: It was fun but just a few minutes ago I found a couple of typos, they drive me crazy.

Oso and Hill: Thanks guys!

Beekeeper: That is not only where I could place them its sort of my own little expat fantasy.

Oso: In my travels I love those little food stands. One that sticks in my head was a jerk chicken stand on the Dutch side of St. Martin. Damn bus driver was doing 50 miles and hour around hairpin turns and we didn't stop. Tried to go back but never did.


Very nice, Beach.

Reader is left to imagine whether Marthat leaves with him or not.

Might be a good idea to leave it at that, Beach. Reader writes his/her own ending. More romantic? :-)

Beach Bum said...

Hill: I saw Joe and Martha down on St. Martin a few years ago. I promised them to keep their ultimate fate secret.