Page 1

Undesirable Decisions Act 1, Scene 2

Holder of Deliverance (Chapter one) page 7

A letter from the Founders! Page 2 Review of the Yarny writing software! Page 5

November 2011


A LETTER FROM THE FOUNDERS To our dear readers, As you can see, we have some major changes coming to Starving Pen. We love technology, and we want to create the best online literary magazine experience for you. In order to do this, we will be experimenting with different technology and software that we have available to us. Please, bear with us as we figure out any and all glitches, and get use to the new technology. If you notice a glitch, have a suggestion with the site, or like/dislike something we are currently doing, please, tell us. We can’t fix problems we don’t know about. We’re here to give you the best online writing experience. Let us know what you would like to see, and we’ll do our best to implement the changes. We appreciate your understanding, and cannot wait to begin working on our next edition (coming to you December 1, 2011)! Until then, flip through the new Starving Pen and enjoy! Courtney and Danny Starving Pen Founders

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TABLE OF CONTENTS Writing Resources: Get Yarny by Courtney Said………………………………………………………page 4- 6 Holder of Deliverance (chapter one) by Devin Reynolds…………..………………………………………….page 7 - 17 Undesirable Decisions (Act 1, Scene 2) by Danielle Fletcher………………………………………………….…page 18-21 Trip by Thomas Walton……………………………………………………..page 21-24 Possibilities by Caitlin Bragg………………………………………………………..page 24-29

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For those of you who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! I, like thousands of individuals, participate every year. The challenge is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. I’ll admit, when I participate I rarely plan on actually making it to the final. However, I’ve decided that this year will be different. I have (what I think is) an awesome plot, realistic characters, an outline, and an idea of how to begin. My one problem, when writing large pieces, is organization. This year, I don’t see that becoming a problem. This year, I’m using Yarny. The Pros I discovered Yarny on the NaNoWriMo sponsors page, and decided to give it a try. I fell in love almost instantly. The site may not be perfect, but it definitely has a lot to offer. Here are some of my favorite features!  The Text Editor. Just like Google Docs, Yarny saves all of your writing as you go. You don’t have to worry about losing your flash drive, or being unable to work on your story because you don’t have your laptop with you. It’s all saved right online! I don’t have a laptop at the moment, so I use a lot of different computer labs around campus. I’m also notorious for losing flash drives. Yarny allows me to access and work on my story from anywhere!  Tags/Snippets. These are located on the left side of the screen. You can tag sections of your writing with keywords, and then search by those keywords at a later time. Snippets allow you to take a chunk (big or small) of your writing. I plan on making each individual chapter a snippet. You can then rearrange the snippets or put them into groups (ex: action scenes, plot twist clues, etc.).  Versions. That’s right. Yarny will keep track of your different versions of your documents. Maybe you decide change something in your story, and then decide against it. With Yarny, you can go back to the other version, without the hassle of trying to remember exactly what you had written before.  People/Places/Things. This is by far my favorite feature of Yarny. Before I start to write, I make extensive character backgrounds and biographies. I also make detailed descriptions of different settings in the story (ex: a bar, someone’s apartment, etc.). Yarny allows you to do this keep all of these profiles in an organized fashion. You can even set up groups! Currently I have my characters separated by main characters and supporting characters.

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Said, Courtney

Get Yarny

The Cons I believe that the pros of Yarny far outweigh the cons. However, as I mentioned before, the site isn’t perfect. Here is a list of a few of the cons I’ve found while working with the software.  Internet Only. For me, I would count this as a plus because I tend to only write in places with internet connection. However, I could see why this would make some users a little hesitant. Being able to access your story only when you have the internet can be a little limiting.  No font changes. This is probably my biggest frustration. If you haven’t already guessed, I like to be extremely organized when I write. However, when on Yarny it is not possible to bold, italicize, or underline parts of your writing. You also cannot change your font style. The font seems like a basic Times New Roman, but I would like to have the option to use something different. These features would come in handy, especially when creating character backgrounds and other lists.  No Firefox. I love Firefox; it’s my favorite hands down. However, Yarny Beta has not been tested to be compatible with Firefox (yet) so if you’re using it as your browser; you run the risk of your work not being saved correctly. It is compatible with Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Safari though, so you are still presented with a wide range of browsing options. You can find Yarny at www.getyarny.com . While there are a few features I would still like to see added to the software, Yarny is quickly becoming one of my favorite writing resources. I would highly suggest checking it out!

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(Don’t forget to read The Holder of Deliverance Prologue in our October issue!)

After two months, not much in my life has changed. Spending January in New York feels like living in the Ice Age. The space heater barely keeps my studio apartment at livable levels; I have to wear a sweat-suit and three blankets to bed most nights. It’s hardly bearable, but it’s the best I can do. Despite the freezing weather, though, I still look for theaters putting on shows in the city. An Off-Broadway theater near my apartment is staging a production of Doubt, and I had read the script obsessively for several weeks before my audition. For once, I was confident that I might actually have a shot at the spotlight. But despite that, I didn’t know the source material nearly as well as my competition. I was up against many career actors and university students that studied theater, and I came to New York only straight out of high school. Many of them were die-hard Shanley fans, and many had acted in other productions of Doubt before. Naturally, my performance left a lot to be desired. The director never called me back. And nowadays, it’s getting even harder to take time off to search for smaller productions holding auditions. Employees at the café I work at have been leaving, so I’ve been saddled with their hours, too. Work is becoming my life, not just my source of income. My nights are haunted with dreams of brewing coffee and making the same sandwich repeatedly for hours. I get no respect or recognition; I’m becoming just a permanent fixture in the city, one of the many cogs that run the lumbering, rusty machine of monotony. I have to get out! I have to escape this daily madness. The deeper I get into this way of life, the harder it is to get out. Every morning, I wish I could look myself in the mirror. In what little free time I have, I talk to my few old friends from back home. They’re the last connection I have to something still familiar. “Are you having any luck with your auditions?” “I’m not really having auditions anymore. I’m just working most of the time.” “Why don’t you find another job, man?” 7


Reynolds, Devin

The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

“I can’t, not now. It’s too hard to find another job in this economy, and I need the money badly.” “You’re not going to get anywhere in life thinking like that!.” I know. They tell me many stories about my old friends that have moved on to bigger and better things. They’ve gone to college and met new people. They’re having fun classes, are finding internships, and are getting married. By comparison, my life is dull, but I can still tell them about the white woman. Every time I see someone wearing a white coat, I remember her. Though the months have pacified my curiosity for the woman I saw outside my window months past, they have done nothing to kill it. Every day I wonder what became of her. Every day I wonder if she was ever really there in the first place. One day, I receive an untitled e-mail from someone I’ve never met. I’m used to getting junk mail, but this is different. He claims to know one of the friends I’ve been talking to, but doesn’t know me personally. He’s heard of my story of the woman in white, and wants to hear more. I don’t hesitate to share the story with him. His reply is confusing. “You might be interested in this.” He gives me the link to a website. When I try to follow the link, though, my browser tells me that no such website exists. “The link doesn’t work for me,” I message back. Only a few minutes later, though, I get a message from the postmaster telling me his address isn’t valid. In frustration, I push the keyboard away. None of my other friends are online, so I head to bed. A few days later, I’m pushed to my tipping point. After only being able to stand so much more bickering and arguing, I snap. A few broken plates later, and my boss sends me home early amidst awkward stares and silence. I’m surprised that I wasn’t fired, but a small part of me wishes I had been. I need to pay my bills, of course, but I can hardly stand this life anymore. Losing my job could be just the push I need to take control of my life. It’s the first Monday I’ve spent at home in a long time, and after I cool off, it feels nice to just wrap up in a blanket and watch the television for a while. I become quite content at finally being able to relax and not worry about work. Later in the day, I warm up some leftover pizza and sit at the computer again to check my mail. I haven’t gotten anything new back from the stranger that contacted me yesterday, but I check his link again. Maybe the server was just down.

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Reynolds, Devin

The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

But, still nothing. I refresh the page a couple times, hopeful, but to no avail. It must really have been a wild goose chase to begin with. Leaving the browser, I toss my paper plate in the trash and turn on the television. A show about ghost stories is on, so I let my mind wander as I lean back in my chair. Half an hour later, out of the corner of my eye, I notice the flickering. My browser window is opening and closing rapidly, over and over. Faster and faster. I grab the mouse, and just as I do, the window suddenly stays open, and a website loads. It’s a forum. It’s called “HAVEN,” and the only description of the website is a short header at the very top, in small white text. “There were 2538 of these Objects, but 2000 were lost. The remaining 538 must never come together. Ever.” There are several hundred members listed, but only one subforum with a small number of posts. The posts only go back about a month, even though many of the members have been registered for years. I explore deeper with bated breath. Most of the posts are completely nonsensical. Some are just random jumbles of letters and numbers, others are using a slew of code words I don’t recognize. It’s as if the members here are speaking in their own unique language. Of what I can understand, I read stories of men suffering fates worse than death, descriptions of worlds beyond human comprehension, and evil creatures seeking to destroy humanity. It’s a sanctuary of horror, paranormal stories, and conspiracy theories. Then, I get to the thread entitled, “Snow White.” When I click on it, I’m immediately presented with a scanned picture of a rough sketch of a woman. She’s just like I remember her—perfectly straight hair, clean white robe. The picture was drawn very hastily with some kind of coal pen. It’s messy design is unsettling, but I know it’s her. The artist wildly sketched big, hollow circles for eyes. As I should have guessed, the post that goes with the picture, and the posts following, are complete gibberish: “Ikb suj evos rkyetj ki ljjno, okhjsuagw uvo djjg ikttklagw hj. As uvo djjg fkagw v wkkf qkd ki sbmagw sk fk ok lasukys hj gksaragw. Ukljpjb, A hvgvwjf sk uvpj rkgsvrs lasu as slarj mjosjbfvm. A latt fjorbadj sujoj agrafjgso ag vo hyru fjsvat vo A rvg ebkpafj.” Frustrated, I make a profile on the forum to ask more about the white woman. But, even after making a profile, the forum won’t let me post for some reason, telling me I haven’t gained enough “experience.” When I finally look out my apartment window, I’m shocked to find it already dark outside. I thought I had only been online for a few hours, but my clock reads past

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The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

midnight already. Suddenly, I notice just how tired I am. My whole body feels sluggish from the stress of the day, begging to be put to sleep. I leave my computer, and sidle over to my bed. My head is spinning with questions about the website, but I’ve finally found a lead about the white woman. I fall asleep not long after my head hits the pillow, though, replacing the nagging questions with silence. I’m awakened by my phone suddenly ringing. Startled from my peaceful dreams, I turn to shut off my phone’s alarm, sighing in contentment when the sound stops after pressing the button on the side of the phone. Sleep begins to overtake me again when I hear the faint voice. “Are you going to answer?” I sit up abruptly, realizing I’ve answered a call. I quickly grab my phone and press it to my ear. “Hello? Who’s this?” The window by my bed is still dark. Why would someone call me so early in the morning? “You’ve been staring at that page for a while. Something on your mind?” From my pillow, I can see the faint glow of my computer screen from across the room. The “Snow White” topic is still open. “Who is this?” I ask again. As I begin to fully wake up, my sleepiness turns to confusion. “That’s not important. I’m just wondering why you’re so interested in that woman.” “I’m wondering how you got my phone number.” “Don’t you know your computer saves all of your information in once place? It’s not that hard to find someone’s phone number nowadays.” In my daze, I can’t be sure whether he’s telling the truth or not. “You should be a bit more careful about how you put yourself out there,” he goes on to say. “Who is this?” After the third time of asking, he heaves a sigh, knowing he can’t avoid the question any longer. “If you must call me anything, call me Undertow.” I recognize the username as one of the posters on the forum. A regular, based on the number of posts I saw under his name. “What do you want, Undertow?” 10


Reynolds, Devin

The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

“I am also very interested in Snow White. I thought we could help each other.” “Why should I trust you?” There’s a long silence on the other line. As my mind begins to clear, I become keenly aware of how sleep deprived I am. My entire body begs me to rest. But, I fight it stubbornly, waiting for him to say more. “This isn’t about trust, is it?” he finally says. “It’s about finding the truth. You’re different from other people. Alienated from others. Everything seems different to you. Like you’re looking into the world from the outside. You feel different. And you are. You were born to Seek.” A chill runs up my spine, and suddenly I feel more alert, and I sit up straight in my bed. “I don’t understand.” “You and I are alike,” he tells me. “We both need to know, we need to Seek. I have the answers you’re looking for, and you have the desire to learn them.” The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I don’t need anyone to tell me that his offer is suspicious, but I’m eager to know more. “And why should I trust you?” I ask again. “You don’t have to. You just have to have faith that I have what you want.” A gnawing feeling is rising in my gut. My skepticism clashes with my curiosity so violently, it feels like I’m going to boil from the inside out. There’s no way I can trust him for sure, but I know that he has the best chance out of anyone to tell me more about the white woman. “I live here in New York,” Undertow continues before I can say anymore. “If you’re willing to meet me, I can tell you everything you want to know. I can tell you what I know about Snow White.” How convenient that he lives nearby. Every single aspect of this conversation is suspicious, but I’m far past that realization. My desire to get answers from him is tearing me apart. Is it worth risking my life over? How much do I really want to put on the line for my answers? “You know it’s a risk,” Undertow goes on. “But, this is your only chance to get your answers. You can turn down my offer. You can put safety first and stay home, but you’ll never know the truth.” After a short pause, I say, “How much would I be missing out on?” He chuckles softly. “More than you can possibly imagine.” I grip the phone with white knuckles. I think back to earlier today, when I got so fed up with my work, and what’s become my normal life now. Then, I think about the mysteries that lay ahead and how they might change my life. “Where do you want to meet?” 11


Reynolds, Devin

The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

I expect a satisfied laugh, but get only a flat—albeit satisfied—answer. “Glad you came around.” By the time I arrive at Riverside, the sky is beginning to turn a very faint purple. It’s almost seven in the morning, far earlier than I’m used to getting up. I’ve gotten little sleep, and the cold air is particularly biting. Frost cakes every surface, and the trees around me are like ice sculptures. The park is beautiful in the summer, but now, it’s desolate and frozen. A few strangers are wandering the park, even at these hours, but it’s mostly deserted. On a bench before me is the man I’m looking for: an older man with a worn leather jacket and winter cap. He’s got a cigarette in his mouth; I can barely make out its glow from this distance. When I reach him, he doesn’t even seem to notice me. He’s staring off to one side, lost in thought. Even when I clear my throat and shuffle awkwardly, he doesn’t flinch. “Undertow?” I ask hesitantly. “Quiet,” he growls, without turning his eyes toward me. His voice is completely different from the one I heard on the phone. Earlier, his voice was clear and patient, but now I only hear a gruff, tired tone. And, I come to realize, he doesn’t look as if he’s thinking deeply, but as if he’s listening closely for something. I try to listen too, but I hear nothing but the cracking of the frozen branches in the January wind. I shiver and draw my hands inside my heavy winter coat. Undertow finally looks up. “You actually came. I’m surprised.” “I had to.” “Remarkable show of trust for a Seeker. Anyone with a halfway decent amount of sense in them would have stayed home.” I’m struck by a sudden surge of anger at the blatant insult. “I thought it wasn’t about trust!” “Of course it is,” he laughs. “You have to have trust to risk your neck for something like this. Otherwise, your life doesn’t mean much to you. Seekers should always look after themselves.” “That word again,” I shoot back impatiently. “When are you going to tell me what it means?” He removes his cigarette from his mouth and glares at me intently, setting off my already frayed nerves. He leans forward slightly and whispers, “How many Objects do you have?” “Objects?” I answer, impatiently. “I remember reading about them, but I don’t know what they are either.” 12


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He narrows his eyes skeptically as he looks me over, but soon after throws his cigarette to the ground and stomps on it. “You’re not even a Seeker, damn it! After I came out all this way!” “What are you talking about?” I try to ask, but Undertow inexplicably explodes. He rises from his seat, throwing his hands in the air and shouting into the darkness. “Of course, why would an experienced Seeker throw his caution to the wind to meet a stranger? Only an ignorant, naïve little kid would do something so stupid!” “I don’t understand,” I whisper, backing away from him. I’m now shaking both from the cold and from fear. I knew it was a bad idea to come out here. Undertow hears my whisper, though, and advances on me. “I figured you’d have to be a Seeker if you found our website, but no, perhaps that was naïve of me. One look at your lack of a proxy or even a decent firewall should have been obvious.” A lump rises in my throat. “That’s how you got my phone number, isn’t it?” “I told you that you had to be careful.” He starts to walk away, shaking his head in disappointment and leaving me alone in the cold. I hesitate for just a moment, and begin to feel angry. He promised me answers, and despite his temper tantrum, I still wanted them. I had grown weary of hearing the word “Seeker,” but no other explanation. I begin to follow him. “I thought you were going to give me answers.” “No, I wasn’t.” He walks faster to try and outpace me. “So, it was all just a lie?” “I didn’t say that. I just thought you were someone else.” “Why did you want me to be a ‘Seeker’ so bad, Undertow?” He spins suddenly and grabs my arm tightly. I flinch and try to wrestle away, but he holds on too tightly. He holds on so tightly, I’m afraid he might break a bone. “So I could have beaten you and made you show me your Objects!” he hisses. A foul odor washes over me with the fog of his breath, and I recoil. This was a huge mistake. How could I have believed such a raving lunatic? I was so obsessed with one mystery that I let myself get tricked by a madman. It wasn’t too late, though. If I could just get away… But, I don’t have to try and escape. Undertow lets me go. “You’re not a Seeker,” he says quietly, his anger receding. “None of this concerns you.” He reaches into his pocket for another cigarette as he steps away and lights it quickly. He seems lucid now, and he watches me calmly and patiently, as if waiting for me to say something. I have another moment of doubt. I know that I saw Snow White, and I know that others saw her too. For better or worse, Undertow knows about her. I can’t leave yet. 13


Reynolds, Devin

The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

“When you told me I was different,” I start warily, my voice still shaking from fear, “I was so sure that you were right. I’ve had this gut feeling for years, that there’s something mystical about this world I don’t understand. I notice things that other people don’t. You said I was a born Seeker. What does that mean?” He gives me a bored look and blows smoke through the air. “Like I said, I thought you were. How do you know you’re not just being paranoid?” “I’ve seen her,” I reply quickly. “Who?” “Snow White.” Undertow lets his cigarette slip out his mouth, and it fizzles in the snow under his feet. His boots crunch in the snow as he steps over to me. “You’re a liar!” “Am I?” He stands much too close to me as he sizes me up. He scans my face carefully, looking for a tell. His breath washes over me again, and I feel sick to my stomach. It’s not the smell of smoke. It reminds me of the stench of garbage, or more accurately, of rotting flesh. My face pales, but even with his nose just inches from mine, I refuse to back away. “You want to know, right?” I finally ask him, fighting my nausea. “I could beat it out of you,” he answers, but I stand my ground, trying to keep my hands from trembling. “It would be easier just to talk.” Undertow glances to each side, as if checking for eavesdroppers. Still, there is no one near us, but the park is being lit more and more by the minute. Early morning joggers are out now, and we are clearly visible from any angle. Seeming to take it as a sign, he backs away just a little bit. “I wasn’t lying,” he whispers grudgingly. “Our world holds secrets impossible to imagine without experiencing them for yourself. But they are dark. And disturbing. You shouldn’t Seek out of boredom. We do it because we have to. You’re just a naïve kid, standing at the water’s edge and wondering what’s down in the depths. But there’s nothing but terror down there. And there’s no turning back.” “I already know that,” I say impatiently. “The most well-kept secrets are never that simple, or that pretty. But, I know there’s something there, and that irresistible feeling to find it will always be there. I want to believe.” He reaches into his pocket and withdraws his third cigarette. He doesn’t light it, but keeps it cupped in his hand, protecting it from the cold. “But you don’t. Not yet.” 14


Reynolds, Reynolds, Devin Devin

The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

I’m so close to the answers I can taste them, and I’m starting to feel warm. The shivers have subsided, and I almost feel like I’m cooking in my winter coat. “I’m not going to warn you again,” Undertow says with barely a breath. “Then don’t.” He twirls his cigarette in his fingers and gives me a sad look, pausing for several seconds. He finally lets out a long sigh. “Seekers are a very specific kind of person. Normal people get thrills collecting things that have some sort of value, like baseball cards or jewelry or what have you. Sentimental or expensive, they’re just mundane things. But, Seekers collect Objects. “You can’t tell something’s an Object just by looking at them. They can be anything. A sword, a letter, a thumbtack. Some of them aren’t even material things that can be touched. We gather them, but they must never come together. The Objects are all parts of a set. Five-hundred and thirty-eight parts. Even we’re not sure what exactly they are, but they don’t belong. They are a part of this world, and as old as it, but they are something else. They belong to something much greater.” “Do they do anything?” I ask breathlessly. “Some of them do, most of them don’t. Most of them couldn’t be told apart from everyday objects no matter what you did with them. But you can feel them. You can feel them pull at you, as if they’re trying to get your attention, as if letting you know that they don’t fit in with everything else. And, you can’t destroy them. You can tear them up, you can burn them, you can throw them into the ocean, and you’ll still wake up with them on your desk the next morning. And, you think that maybe you just imagined destroying them.” For some reason, the stench is all around me now. I can almost picture a rotting corpse lying under my feet from how strong it is. “So, why Seek them?” I choke out. “The same reason people explore abandoned houses and search for ghosts. The same reason you came out here to talk to me this morning. The pull. The longing to know. The desire to be a part of something much bigger than—and yet a little part of— yourself.” “What happens when they come together, then?” I ask. “Is it the end of the world?” “It’s probably not that simple. It’s something you have to ask the End.” “Who is that?” The man grunts in frustration, and the overpowering smell abruptly disappears. “I can’t answer all of your questions. You just won’t understand unless you’re a Seeker.

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The Holder of Deliverance, Chapter One

Now, I held up my end of the deal. I told you what Seekers and Objects are. You’re going to tell me about Snow White, right?” I nod. I’m honestly skeptical about the answers he gave me, but a deal is a deal. “I saw Snow White about two months ago, here in New York. She was standing on the street outside my apartment for weeks. Then, when she finally disappeared, I saw a message on the wall where she had been standing. It said, ‘Why does the pendulum swing?’ Along with a number. 232.” He scratches his chin. “I see. Anything else?” “I tried to talk to her once, but she never said a word.” With everything he had told me, I expect him to be angry over the small amount of information I have. But, quite the contrary, he seems pleased with what I’ve given him. He smiles and says vaguely, “Very interesting.” “What can you tell me about her?” I dare to ask. “I don’t actually know that much about Snow White. That part was a lie.” Crestfallen, I hang my head, and he eyes me with interest. “Are you in love?” he remarks. When I shoot him a wary glance, he just laughs at me. “I’m not making fun of you. A lot of Seekers sound that way.” “I thought I wasn’t a Seeker,” I retort. He just gives me that smile. I’m almost sure he’s taunting me at this point. “We are all looking for the truth, Seeker or no. To figure out what’s real and what’s not. But the more we Seek, the looser our grip becomes on what’s part of our world and what’s part of Theirs.” “…Theirs?” I ask hesitantly. He rummages in his pocket for a piece of paper. “You don’t just find the Objects laying around,” he explains. “You saw some the stories when you visited the website. They’ve been gathered from various sources, and are questionable at best. When a new story appears, it might lead to an Object. Or, it might not. We just have to keep trying until we get it right.” He extends the paper to me roughly. “Take it.” “What is it?” “I’ve been looking for this Object for some time. After sifting through the bullshit, I’ve gathered enough clues to give it a decent shot.” I push the paper away with one hand. “I’m not after an Object. I just want to know about Snow White.” Unexpectedly, he grabs me by the front of my coat and lifts me off the ground, and I have no chance to defend myself. I claw at his arm, but he’s much stronger than me. I can do nothing to resist.

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“Only a real Seeker can understand!” he shouts in my face. “If you must seek the truth, you have to take it all the way! You have to get dirty! Or else you’ll wind up dead.” He drops me and shoves the paper into my hand before I can argue. “Take it. And don’t trust anyone.” I call after Undertow as he walks away, but he stops responding to me. This time, I let him go. He disappears around some trees, and then I am alone in Riverside Park, his paper in my hand. The sun winks over the trees to the east, and I suddenly cringe. The day has finally begun. I have to go to work soon. Another day of monotony. But, at the same time, I know nothing is going to be the same. I have every reason to doubt what Undertow told me this morning, but the gnawing feeling in my stomach is driving me forward to seek more answers. I feel as though this was something I’ve been meant to do from the beginning. I have to seek the truth. There’s another world out there waiting for me. I look down at the page in my hand. Some of the notes are handwritten, and other notes are printed words that have been clipped out. I start to walk back to my apartment, slowly and deliberately, giving myself time to read the notes along the way. It begins, “Go to any mental institution or halfway house you can find. When you reach the front desk, ask to visit someone called ‘The Holder of Change.’

17


(Don’t forget to read Act 1, Scene 1 in our October edition!)

Rhonda Covington Ophelia Hale Jonathon Avery (In this scene the stage setup is divided up into two sections. In the beginning there is only one spotlight and it is on Rhonda and her mother. Rhonda is at home sitting on the couch in a terribly bad mood while she is filing her nails. Ophelia who is Rhonda’s mother is at home drying dishes with a towel in her kitchen sink.) (Ophelia picks up the phone and dials her daughter’s phone number.) Rhonda: (Hears the phone and greets angrily) what?! Ophelia: What?! (Softly) That is no way to greet your loving and charismatic mother. What’s wrong pumpkin, did you and Larry get into a lovers’ quarrel? Rhonda: Not exactly… Mom you remember that important bit of information I was telling you last night? Ophelia: Of course I do that’s why I was calling you in the first place, so is it a boy or a girl? Rhonda: Mom, how can you be so clueless when it comes to having children you had me, Koby, Sandra, and Clarice. I don’t know anything like that yet, the appointment this morning was just to let me know if I was pregnant or not. It wasn’t to find out the specifics of my baby. I don’t find that out till next week on Thursday on my next appointment. Ophelia: Well you don’t have to be a brain scientist to know how to have a baby dear. (Looking sad or hurt) And it wasn’t my fault I never learned anything while I was pregnant. I spent most of my pregnancies on my back. Rhonda: Gross mother! I don’t want to hear about you and dad’s sex lives. Ophelia: That’s not what I meant pumpkin, (Looks up reminiscing) though that is partially true… (Snapping out of it) What I was saying is that pregnancy is hard. You spend most of it with pains and aches. You learn everything from yourself and the experience of others who have been through the same situation that you are right now. 18


Fletcher, Danielle

Undesirable Decisions

Rhonda: Well all I’m saying, is that I’ve had plenty of time to prepare for this moment. Ophelia: Whatever you say dear... Now what other information were you referring to? Rhonda: Well last night remember me telling you that I wasn’t sure Larry was the father of my baby? Ophelia: Yes and do you remember me saying to keep your mouth shut? Rhonda: Yes well, I didn’t… (Speaking fast) Now before you say anything let me finish. Larry and I went to get the results from the doctor, and all of a sudden Larry starts talking about not starting a family yet, and he was being so obnoxious to the cute doctor that I just lost it, and it came out like word vomit. Ophelia: (Calmly) Can I speak now? Rhonda: (Looking confused) Yes? (Rhonda cringes away from the telephone as her mother yells at her) Ophelia: (Angrily) are you insane! How could you tell him that? Now who’s going to take care of you for nine months! I am too old and too tired to have a baby at this age… Rhonda: It’s always about you isn’t it? And I’m not insane mother. I just couldn’t stop myself. He was trying to tell me to get an abortion, like I had no say in what our decision was as a couple… Ophelia: You married him and you promised to stay true to this man, I’m not showing you any sympathy. You’re the one who cheated on your husband. Rhonda: I know, I know but it just makes me so mad, I can’t believe I married that egotistical bastard. It was just one of those spur of the moment type of things, (laughs while saying) which you know you’re going to regret doing later but you do it anyway because it seems like it will be lots of fun. Boy was I wrong. Ophelia: Aren’t you the least bit sorry for what pain you’re causing him? I mean does marriage not mean anything to you child? I raised you better than that. What have I always told you when it comes to cheating? Rhonda: (mimicking her mother) “If you’re going to cheat on your man make sure your on birth control or you use a condom, just so you don’t get caught dear.” (Coming back to the subject) I do feel bad mother, but it’s not like he was calling me, telling me it was all going to be okay. He didn’t even call me to tell me he loved me. He made me feel unloved, and I needed someone to talk to. That day I went to my biology class and I met a boy named Jonathon. He was so hot and I couldn’t help myself. He was deliciously yummy and he began flattering me, telling me I was beautiful. That day we just kind of hit it off. He invited me to go to Vegas with him and I said yes. Now let me tell you one thing. They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I’m living proof that it doesn’t happen that way. I mean it’s not like I can just take the baby back to Vegas and complain that they lied. 19


Fletcher, Danielle

Undesirable Decisions

Ophelia: That’s ridiculous dear, if you’re going to do that you would need to Fed ex the baby. They have that new promotion if it fits it ships. Besides they would never let you just give it to them, believe me I’ve tried. What this all comes down to, is whether you’re affair with Mr. Yummy is worth losing Mr. Crummy. Rhonda: Well it was a great night and when I say great I mean GREEEAT. I can remember it just like it was yesterday (Gazes off into space.) Ophelia: (sighs) my daughters a whore… Rhonda: (Comes back down to earth) what was that mother? Ophelia: Oh, nothing dear. So have you contacted Jonathon to let him know that you’re pregnant with his love child? Rhonda: Uh no, not yet I mean he has three children with his high school sweetheart. I don’t think he’ll be too thrilled to find out he has another one on the way. And besides I don’t exactly know what the right way to contact him is in this situation. Ophelia: What do you mean you don’t know how to contact him? I would think you would call him and let him know. (Getting carried away) This is life changing information and he needs to know as soon as possible. It’s not like the time you killed your sister’s goldfish and flushed him down the toilet without telling her what happened to him. Rhonda: Mother, I am not retarded I just don’t know how to approach the subject. A call is just so impersonal. Ophelia: Well there are other ways you can go about this situation. Rhonda: Mother, it’s not like I can just to post a billboard next to highway 87 saying, “John this is Ronnie from college I’m pregnant with your bastard baby.” I mean that’s sure going to catch his attention, (playfully) unless it’s bad news to him and he changes his identity and moves to Mexico. Ophelia: This is not a joking matter young lady, this is your life. Rhonda: I know mom… (Pauses) You know that’s not the worst part of the news I had today. Ophelia: Good lord, what happened? (Knock at Rhonda’s door) Rhonda: Hey mom, can I call you back there’s someone at the front door. Ophelia: Okay pumpkin but you better call me back. Last time you said you would call me back but… (Rhonda hangs up just after the second knock at the door.) You didn’t. Well I’ve never been so disrespected in my life… (Ophelia exits the scene from the right side of the stage) (Rhonda gets up to answer the door. When she opens the door she takes a step back as Jonathon steps inside of her home. He has a black eye. He smiles at her while her face is in shock.) 20


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Undesirable Decisions

Ronnie: Jonathon, what the hell? Jonathon: (ignoring her question) so, want to hear something funny? Ronnie: Right now really isn’t the time for that Jonathon. It’s a good thing you are here there’s something I really need to tell you. I was going to call you when I got off the phone with my mother, but since you’re already here why not make the best of it. Jonathon: (Ignoring her again) so I’m in the deli getting my special, when I notice your husband coming toward me. I waved at him and you want to know what? Your husband gave me a surprise present that’s nonrefundable. (Points to his black eye) Now what I want to know is what great honorable thing did I do this time to deserve such a noble present? Ronnie: Well that’s a long story… You might want to take a seat this may take a while. (End of scene 2)

21


The rain soaked morning that greeted the hangover was embracing and limiting to the still lingering and detrimental effects of a bottle of bottom shelf whiskey and illadvised social maneuvers. The damp scent of the resort parking lot was an adjustable change of pace from the air conditioned compartments tinged with a hint chlorine emitting from the over-chemicaled indoor waterpark contained within the gigantic faux wood complex, within which contained far more pre-pubescent middle class children than the 21st birthday party had expected. Too much afternoon outside of a Sunday school and not enough 1:00 am passed out in a strip club. By the time the first two of the participants stumbled out of the rear first-floor patio door the typical patron-chaperone parental at the park were sailing comfortably through the Bloody Mary to Daquri transition; watching the thieves of their youth splash through the Cryptosporidium infected waterpark. After an all too necessary cigarette for the addict and the all too required silent judgment of the abstainer, forced to stand idly by in the damp morning cold, the duo began the journey home. A semi-careful trudging through the winter-hardy shrubs and final pockets of spring snow, ensuring not too much damage to the decorative shrubs, but just enough to avoid stepping in the parking-lotdirty end-of-season snow, led the duo through the black tar parking lot. Few words outside of small talk grunts understood only by haggard American 20-something’s with y chromosomes were spoken. Amidst a sea of shining contemporary model minivans and SUV’s showcasing the boundaries of middle and upper middle was the chariot a witness would have identified to be the automobile of the recently legal and ubiquitously poor public university student. Big and unquestionably American, sporting 4 doors and covered with a red’s red. Naturally the lone car in the lot built before the 21st century and after the 70’s. A roadtrip vehicle’s roadtrip vehicle. In no time the single vehicle caravan was escaping from the tourist-trap-family-vacation-hell and onto the Midwestern highway flanking the resort. The early morning humidity had not cured the hangover, and now returned from the fresh air and back into another climate controlled bubble it was beginning to make itself increasingly manifest. The escalating lucidity of the moment’s sober reality hammered away both literally and figuratively inside the suspect’s skulls. Any 9-5 Joe would be very nearly limited to the government backed caffeine or something similarly watered down by “FDA regulations” and pumped full of subsidized sugar. However, a student free from the fear of unemployment (although a methodically approaching reality) imposed by random drug testing, is afforded to maintain indulgences of the more taboo plant-based luxuries in exchange for an embrace of faux-poverty and awkward social Trip Walton, Thomas interactions during holiday’s with the regular “Joe’s” with whom they are genetically linked. So it was not long after the red car backed out of the parking spot that the “stash” inventory from the previous night was meticulously calculated and evaluated. Drunks do not respect much of anything including, but not limited to, the future, past, and present. 22


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Trip

Marijuana is not completely exempt; but its hangover cure-ability and status as fellow intoxicant sporadically acts as a social worker protecting it from drunken abuse. And now as only vaguely drunk humans they thanked their former selves for either being too drunk to locate or too smart to smoke their supply. The bullshit line was the latter; the former was closer to reality. The copilot pulled one of the cigarette papers out of the package. The orange colored and not white, the white packages were domestic and very much shit when it came to arguments of quality, an important lesson to be learned. The actual task of creating a smoke-able device was the trouble. It was like not fully learning how to tie your shoes, saying fuck it and wearing Velcro for years then randomly trying again. Not entirely sure of a definitive start or finish to the process; the joint so much didn’t come into existence as the paper and plant learned to live together, at least until things got a little shaky. It wasn’t as though there weren’t more papers, there were, but a combination of embarrassment at the driver witnessing his failure and the roller’s obsessive fear of repeating failure, the current project was given the green light despite the vaguely completed state. Flakes of extra paper burned off landed in the copilots lap; fortunately fluttering ash scenes are typically in vogue. Hits were considerable effort to exhume, the system was faltering, and the melting pot was boiling over. Not a complete failure, but definitely a landslide victory for it. As guardians and investors in the situation the mutual decision was made to end the experiment and the remainder was doled out in personal increments with the hitter. Pilot and copilot exchanged turns with the metal pipe that resembled in shape and function a normal cigarette with all the charm and functionality of a crack pipe. Now the ride was different. Not drastically changed, not some foreign land, but more cinematic. Like watching a scene with movement, their brains calculated, took account and adjusted more methodically for the changing scope. Everything became novel, surreal with it still being so evidently real. The situation was no longer the stark sober reality, and sometimes consciousness dipped into a darker state and sometimes it was much lighter and hopeful, but a neutral monotony was comfortably abolished. The objective was not to get stoned and stupid; there was a comfortable level to be reached. 3 hours of music and Midwestern bluffs before getting back to a city where tests awaited to be crammed for and projects that required a week now required completion in hours. So when a deer jogged out of the forest through the ditch and onto the shoulder hearts fluttered but did not stray as the brakes were evenly applied. Textbook execution of driver’s education methods by the first actor in the situation. The deer appeared to stay on the shoulder, but with the demeanor of unpredictability nature affords wild animals. They slowed slightly but did not completely stop and after the present cognition reevaluated the situation they began to reaccelerate, more aware and reactive of a bevy of hypothetical scenarios that might occur in the next 30 seconds. Their reactions only altered slightly when the animal took two steps further onto the empty lane opposite. Seeming tentative and aware of the red car, the deer did not appear to bear any more threat than an adult human timing the traffic so as to get across quickly. It still did not completely adjust their actions when a yellow car emerged from 23


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Trip

around the turn in front of them. Perhaps had they sensed the driver ahead on the road had been fuming over a lack of speed and reliability his third rate cell phone was exhibiting they might have taken an extreme cautionary move. Or if they were akin to his current mental state, exhibiting stress from some kind of tumultuous era , perhaps romantic or social shortcomings which we humans are so unfortunately prone to, particularly amongst that demographic. Even prior to this and the slight shortcomings of modern technology, they may have done something extraordinarily reactionary. A move that leaves all actors stunned at their impeccable and immortal luck. A move that would have forced the derelict driver to question the validity of his complaints about the fairness of the world and reevaluate his misplaced feelings of ineptitude with situations thankfully out of anyone’s control. So it was to all parties involved a surprise when the oncoming driver looked up and saw her standing in the middle of the road and was left as the only remaining primary actor in the situation; as she herself, rather than immediately retreat, appeared to be possibly exhibiting some sort of existential test for the driver barreling towards her…or maybe she was immovably frightened by circumstances beyond her evolutionarily developed cognitive skill set. The former is bullshit; the latter was closer to reality. After seeing her standing the height of his car in the very rapidly diminishing distance the driver veered, maintaining the road rather than dive the diminutive yellow car into the steep ditch or even attempt to stop. He only had time enough to meet the glance of several previously unaccounted for objects. Items of particular importance included but were not limited to: 1. Pair of headlights (handling the situation quite well) 2. Pairs of eyes (disconcertingly processing current circumstances) The two giants came together and the 45mph red blur was thrown sideways by the supremely undersized yellow blur going 60mph. As 60mph was slowed on impact the driver, seatbelt invalidated after retrieving the frustrating phone from the backseat, ejected from his seat. Immediately before testing the thickness of modern windshields he did not have much time to transition from his previous state of muddled confusion. His life didn’t flash before his eyes but a lot of former emotions did and the only image he could recall was the surprisingly touching scene from “Willy Wonka” when the elevator burst through the ceiling and into the sky. He could not help but find it comical until he found it nothing at all. 45mph rolled into the ditch after the driver’s door took the yellow car like water takes a knife. The passenger door took the steep shoulder drop off as cellphones, ash and paraphernalia flew in whatever directions velocity deemed fit. She watched as these two giants took each other on, aware she had survived a potentially end-game scenario. The wheels were still turning on the upturned red car and she wondered whether this meant anything in regards to the life of the unnatural beast. Other cars began to slow and stop. As people emerged her evolutionary skill kicked in and all signals suggested fleeing. She transected the road and dashed through the ditch and into the open field; the ground still damp from the early morning rain.

24


I sit down at my usual park bench, remove my lunch from its brown paper bag, and wait. Right about this time, that’s when she usually shows up. I look at my watch— twelve-noon. A cool breeze lifts the hair on my neck, and I shiver. *** Here she comes, right on time. She sweeps down the walk in a blue dress—that wonderful blue dress! Her eyes light when she sees me, her dark curly hair bouncing around her shoulders, and she rushes to give me a kiss on the cheek. Her lips are warm against my cold flesh. I offer her half of my sandwich, which she takes with a nod of thanks and a smile. “You’re too good to me, Tommy.” “Not at all, I just wish you’d let me take you out for a proper dinner. We’ve been having these lunches for weeks.” It’s true; I’d first met her right here on this bench in the park. She works at an office somewhere around here, but that’s all I know. That—and her name is Mary. “I don’t think so, Tommy. Now just isn’t a great time for me to be seeing someone.” I should take this as her final answer, but I’ve learned through the years that coercion sometimes works. I pull her closer and give her my best puppy eyes, “Come on, Mary, just one drink then. You keep turning me down—you’re gonna give a guy a complex. All the ladies, they keep askin’ me, ‘Hey, Tommy, when you gonna take me out?’ And I gotta tell them, ‘Ladies, my heart belongs to another, but this broad, she won’t give me the time of day.’ And these skirts, they says to me ‘You can take me out, Tom, I’m a sure thing.’ And I say, ‘Ladies, ladies, I’m sorry, but my heart belongs to the woman in the park.’ I tell ya, Mary, those girls don’t do well with disappointment, and if they can’t have me themselves, they at least want to hear that you and I are together. Their romantic little hearts can’t take it if we’re kept apart.” She looks at me. I tilt my head and give her the baby eyes that make women swoon. She looks away and I can see her caving, as all women eventually do. “I don’t know, Tommy…” “Come on, doll, just one drink. What harm did one drink ever do to anybody?” She gave in. I could see it in her knees. “Alright, Tommy, just one drink. Let’s make it quick.” We make our way out of the park, and across the street to this bar I like to go to in my off time. Heads turn as we push through the door, and this little blonde number rushes toward us. “Is this her, Tommy? Is this the girl?” “Yeah, Lola, this is her.” I squeeze around her, and lead Mary to the bar. “Gin, on the rocks.” I nod at the bartender. “Actually, better make that straight up. What are you havin’, Mary?” 25


Bragg, Caitlin

Possibilities

“I’ll have a rum and coke, please.” The bartender pours our drinks and slides ‘em to us. Sinatra croons on the radio and time glides past. We talk a long time, the other girls in the bar throwing her jealous looks, and before we know it, we’re on our 3rd or 4th drink and feeling a little heady. “I’m glad you came out with me tonight, Mary. I was beginning to think I was losing my touch.” “That could never happen, Tommy. I’m glad I’m here, just so long as my boyfriend doesn’t find out. He’s got a bad temper.” The bell rings as the door opens, a man comes striding toward me and before I have a chance to grab my pistol he’s pulling his arm back and… *** I take a bite of my sandwich and watch as the woman from the park pushes a baby stroller down the sidewalk in a yellow sun dress. As she passes my bench, the baby tosses his rattle onto the pavement, but the lady doesn’t seem to notice and keeps walking. I hop off my bench and retrieve it. “Miss! Excuse me, miss!” She stops and turns toward me. “I think your baby dropped this.” She looks confused for a moment and then turns and walks back toward me. “How old is he?” She looks confused once again. “Who?” “Your son…” I gesture toward the baby carriage. “Oh! He’s not mine! No, I’m just watching him for my sister. He’s my nephew. I’m not married.” Relief floods through me—she’s single, and obviously wants me to know it. “Oh, well when does Aunt…” “Mary.” “When do you get off baby-duty, Mary?” “Around 10:30 this evening. Why don’t you meet me for a drink?” She hands me a matchbook with the name of a bar painted on the front of it and turns and struts off, the baby carriage speeding along ahead of her. I meet Mary at the bar from the matchbook and it soon becomes clear who’s in charge. She’s a woman who’s used to getting what she wants—a woman who’s treated like a princess and expects nothing less. But tonight isn’t about a relationship for Mary. Everything about her presence tonight screams sex—from the red dress that conforms to her body like a second skin, to the crimson paint upon her lips which whisper to me even when she isn’t talking. She tells me nothing about herself, and I come up wanting. She is a mystery, but I’m in the mood for a romance. Later that evening, after a number of drinks at the bar, we find ourselves back at my place for a night cap. Mary is stroking the exposed skin above her collar bone, a drink in her free hand, and I’m alive with anticipation. Soon her hot lips are on mine and we’re tangled in the sheets. It feels like an eternity since there was a woman in my bed, but Mary doesn’t stay for long. She gets what she wants and she’s gone when I wake in the morning. *** 26


Bragg, Caitlin

Possibilities

I peel the plastic wrap back from my turkey sandwich, watching the woman strut down the sidewalk in a tight red dress, her heels clacking on the pavement. What a babe! She comes within shouting distance. “Hey doll, wanna hop a cab back to my place?” I whistle under my breath. She turns, stares at me with sultry eyes, and struts toward me. I act cool, but anticipation stirs in my jeans. She stops, hand on her jutting hip, and beckons me forward. I lean closer—eager to see what she has to say. Before I know it’s happening, she backhands me with a sharp snap and a quick spreading pain. *** I pull my usual lunch from yet another brown paper bag and observe. She sits across from me on her usual park bench, her curly brown hair pulled back into a quick up-do. She, too, pulls her lunch from a brown paper bag and I watch as she takes a bite of the sandwich that emerges. Her fingers make soft dips in the flaky bread—her red lipstick leaves a trace of pink on the white particles of the bread where her lips make contact. She gazes across the park and I look away quickly—concentrating on my own sandwich. I wish I could talk to her. I see her every day in this park, her hair and her dresses vary, but her presence never falters. I wish I had the nerve to talk to her. *** The soft white bread of my turkey sandwich slides down my throat as I admire the woman on the bench across from me for yet another day. She is intently reading a dogeared, worn looking book. Her eyes scan the pages and when she comes to the end of one, she turns it eagerly, as though she doesn’t already know what will happen on the page to come. The green dress she wears hugs her tightly, her brown curls drape around her face like curtains framing an elegant French window pane. I have this overwhelming urge to talk to her, but every nerve in my body screams in protest. She sighs as she turns the next page, a tear glints in her eye, and I see her chest heave. Jumping from my seat, I hurry over to her bench and sit beside her, offering my handkerchief. She accepts it and sniffs “Oh, thank you. I’m always such a mess when I get to this part.” I look at the cover of her book—A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. “That’s a sad book—poor people grounded by even poorer circumstances.” She wipes her eyes and returns the hanky. I know! I always cry when the father dies—It’s just so sad that he doesn’t get to see his own daughter born. Sorry, I’m a bit of a mess.” She wipes her tear-streaked cheeks and flashes me an apologetic smile. She is just so beautiful, even with black smudges ringing her eyes. “I’m Tom by the way.” I hold out my hand for her to shake. She takes it and gives me a bright-eyed smile “Mary.” The wind picks up and she shivers slightly. “It’s getting a little cold. Would you like to grab a coffee? There’s this great little shop just across the street.” “That sounds great, actually. Lead the way.” She closes her book and stows it in her handbag. I have a moment of hesitation, and then offer her my arm. Thankfully, she takes it and saves me the embarrassment of having to blame it on a nervous twitch, and I lead her across the quiet street to a quaint little coffee shop. The walls are plastered in movie posters—Humphrey Bogart’s aging face stares down at us from the wall beside our booth, and a million blonde bombshells speckle his many suited arms. 27


Bragg, Caitlin

Possibilities

We order our coffee and the waitress hurries off behind the counter. There’s a moment of awkward silence where neither of us dares to speak. I break it with a question I had often wondered before. “Do you work around here?” I ask as the waitress brings over two steaming mugs. “I’m a secretary over at the bank. I take notes and write letters for Mr. Crawly— make sure he sends his wife flowers on her birthday, that kind of thing. What about you? I think I’ve seen you eating lunch in the park before.” I hesitate—some women have a strong reaction when I tell them what I do. It seems every woman wants to be an actress. “I’m a theatre producer; my office is just across the street. I eat in the park most days—even in winter if it’s not below freezing.” I pause for the predicted reaction, but she just sips her coffee coolly. “That sounds like a rewarding job. How did you get into that?” We sit in the shop and talk for hours—the waitress refilling our mugs with increasing impatience, until finally she comes over and tells us her shift is about to end and would we like to pay now? I hand her the 50 cents for our two cups, and leave her a dollar tip. Mary and I slide out of the booth and head for the door. Out on the sidewalk I realize how late it’s gotten. The sky is dark and the air has a bite to it. My stomach growls. “I don’t think that coffee quite did it for me—care for some dinner?” She takes my arm, “I’d love to.” We walk down the sidewalk together— the curve of her body leaning into mine, guarding against the cold. Her beauty is distracting—the way she purses her lips when she looks over the menu, trying to decide what she wants. We order. The waitress brings our food, we order a couple of drinks, and with the gentle nudge of the alcohol, she opens up. “I’ve seen you before…sitting in the park. In fact, I came every day, eager to see you. And every day you sat and ate your sandwich, perfectly oblivious in your world and completely unaware of mine. I tried to get your attention a few times, but I didn’t want to be too forward. I hoped that one day you would ask me to dinner, and today you finally did—and here we are!” She smiles brightly, and I can’t resist but to tell her the truth. “I did notice you, Mary. I watched you every day with your books, and your multicolored dresses. It just took so long to gather the nerve to ask you out.” I pause and wipe my mouth with the corner of my cloth napkin. “I’m sorry you had to wait so long.” “I’m not.” She reaches for my hand. The band strikes up a familiar tune. I accept her hand and stand, lifting her from her chair. “Shall we?” I bow to her like an old gentleman—I’m feeling giddy this evening. It has nothing to do with the many cups of coffee I drank, and everything to do with her presence. I lead her out onto the dance floor—she places her free hand on my shoulder, and we begin to spin. The trumpet plays a dizzy tune, and our feet take flight—we are the only two in the room, this woman and I. Her green dress whirls around her feet, her hair blown back with centrifugal force, and her face tilts slightly upward—a smile teasing her red lips. I could live my entire life and never again see such beauty. The music swells and I spin her in and out on my arm—we go for a dip, and I fancy myself a movie star. I lean in and lightly touch my lips to hers. I’m not as smooth as I thought, and soon we are lying in a heap on the dance floor. Embarrassed, I flush and begin to pick myself up, but 28


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Mary bursts into a fit of laughter. Her laugh is not small and bell-like, but loud and rising like the trumpet that plays on, unaware of our clumsiness. We pick ourselves up and continue to spend the night floating across the dance floor—lost in our own world of romance and possibilities. Too soon, it’s time to go home. The busboys wipe down the tables, the waiters remove their aprons, and the band finishes up their last song. The manager comes over and to tell us it’s time to go. His words fill me with reluctance, and I hesitate to turn away. “How long have you two been married?” He asks as we gaze for one last moment into each other’s eyes. She keeps her gaze on mine, tucks my hair behind my ear, tells him: “Five years today,” and leans in to kiss me. I pay our bill and tip the band, without whom this night would not have been so magical, and we make our way out into the cold. We hold hands as we walk down the sidewalk in the chilly night air. I offer to get her a cab, but she insists that we walk together, and so I do not object. I lace my hand through hers, attempting to transfer some warmth into her icy fingertips. We walk for half an hour, talking of all manner of things, such as marriage and family. She wants three kids and a big white house in Connecticut. I always imagined living out my days in this city as a bachelor, but looking at her makes me reconsider. We end up in front of her apartment building, and it feels as though the day has gone on forever, but not near long enough. “This is me.” She looks up to the third floor of the building and points at the first window from the right. I hold it in my sight until I have it memorized, holding on to something so it does not slip away. She turns to me, lifts her chin, and lays a kiss on my lips. Her fingers tug at mine until they are parted, and I watch her slip through the door of the building. I watch until the light in her window appears, her shadowy figure filling the frame, and I think to myself—I could spend the rest of my life with this woman. *** The woman sits on a bench not far from mine, her nose buried in the dog-eared book she always carries with her. Her hair shines in the sunlight and the air seems ripe with possibilities. I take a sip of my coke and set the glass bottle on the ground beside me. Gathering my courage, I walk over to say hello.

29


Starving Pen November 2011  

second edition of the Starving Pen Online Literary Magazine, published November 1, 2011

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