“Now its time for so long...”
It's time, peeps. It's been a long time coming, and I've put it off for as long as I could. But it's time.
Time to say goodbye to Prose.
It's been fun. Truly. But I never focused on building my presence on here as much as I should have or would have liked to. If I was already an established writer, I'd like to think that things would've been different. I would've loved to do challenges on here every week, or a post a day. But I can't.
For a long time, I had this notion that anything I wrote needed to be something that I could a) market and b) showcase. That was the intent of this page originally: to be a portfolio of sorts for my writing. As my writing journey progressed, my goals changed. I moved away from prose, thinking that the problem was my weak writing, and hoping I would be able to find better, or indeed any success, in other mediums I tried screenwriting and I tried comics. The fact you don't know my name from Adam should give you a hint as to how my forays into those mediums turned out.
Disappointed and tired, I put the pen/laptop down for a bit. Did some good ol fashioned soul searching. And at the end of it all, surprise surprise, I found myself back at the beginning.
The deep desire to see my name on the cover of a novel I wrote in a store shelf somewhere...That desire never left me. So I jumped on the wagon again.
Its been an uphill battle, writing a prose novel again after five years (I've written plenty of other things in the meantime, but not a novel). I had forgotten how daunting of a task it truly is. That last novel, I finished in a month. Day in, day out, I wrote like my life depended on it. I had quit a perfectly good job, and I doubted my decision and my skill with every word I typed and every paragraph I struggled to complete. I was hungry then. I wanted my name in lights, so to speak. But more than that, I had a hole in my heart that I desperately wanted to fill. I thought success as a writer would fill that void in me.
Now, five years older, with a handful of more wrinkles and more than a handful of grey hairs on my head, I no longer have that void. I'm no longer as hungry as I was then. But that yearning, that longing, is still there.
And so, though life gets in the way, I continue to go up that hill. Sadly, that trek doesn't leave much room for Prose anymore.
Thus, we come to the end of my journey on this weird little site. To everyone who ever took time out of their day to read my words, from the bottom of my heart...Thank You. I'll be tagging most of you, just to make sure you all see this post. But come the end of the month, this site will self-destruct.
Though I don't use it much, and Lord only knows how much longer it will stay afloat, I do have a twitter, if you'd like to follow that (https://twitter.com/E_R_RBane)
To all who remain here, I wish you the very best of luck on your journeys. I know its tough, but keep going. No matter how many times you stumble or fall, get back up. Doesn't matter how long you stay down, and believe me they'll be plenty of times when you'll want to stay there a long time, just make sure you get back up. Always.
A Study in Fiction
I had never entered that library looking for a book that had not been assigned to me. It was strange to go up to the librarian, every traditional stereotype of the profession made manifest: hunched back, huge bifocals hanging safely from an eyewear retainer, a steadfast duty to maintain silence at all costs, to ask for help.
In a gruff voice, which barely hid his disdain at having to do his job so early in the morning, he asked:
"So, uh, what book are ya lookin' fer?"
I had no idea what title I was looking for. All I had was a name. The librarian's furrowed brows plunged lower, as silent moments passed without an answer. My pubescent throat squeaked out the words:
"Conan Doyle. I'm looking for anything by Arthur Conan Doyle."
His fingers moved with a nimbledness that both impressed and surprised. I could hear the creaking of the old mouse as he scrolled down the screen.
"Got one," he said, pointing to a shelf on the right hand corner of the library. "Third shelf."
I thanked him and made my way to the shelf. Like a hunter on the trail of his prey, I moved past chairs and tables, hoping to find my prize at the end. With my finger, I traced the spine of volume after volume, until finally...
A Study in Scarlet.
I'll never forget that cover: Barely half an inch thick, a front cover that looked almost like a flag with two orange bars and a creme one at its center, a small penguin encapsulated in an oval towards the bottom. I took the book in my hand, holding like a precious heirloom, and sat down at an empty table. I opened its pages and, for the first time in my then fifteen years of life, I read a book...for fun.
From the opening words, "being a reprint from the reminiscences of John H.Watson, M.D, late of the Army Medical Department," I was mesmerized. In Sherlock Holmes, my teenage self found a kindred spirit. He too was a loner, a man who generally shunned the company of others. I knew this to be far from the norm, and had felt judged for it myself. But here was Holmes, a brilliant man, a hero, who didn't care what others thought of his habits. In those crinkly, water stained pages, I found purpose.
I dedicated my life to forensics, fulfilling my dream of working in a crime scene, Ironically, by that time, I had found another dream...
Through the Magic Door was a book like I had never seen before. Sir Conan-Doyle selected books from his library and lovingly spoke about them. The eloquence that permeated the book made me fall in love with words and stories. And it was there that this man, who I had never met, and could never hope to meet, with the power of his words alone, changed my life once again.
In other words, reading changed my life.
“I’m a detective, Dad.”
You are seven years old.
The clock strikes ten.
Two shots. Two bodies.
One scared, lonely little boy.
I am seven years old.
The clock strikes noon.
One body. Unmoving.
One scared, lonely little boy.
Alone, and in tears,
you make an impossible
Alone, and in tears,
in my heart, only a
You turn pain into purpose.
I turn pain into excuse.
The winged creature goes through the window.
You find a symbol, become a legend.
I see that symbol and I am mystified.
"Who is he? What does he do?"
You've turned pain into purpose,
made perseverance out of despair.
Some might find it silly,
but I don't care.
I see your exploits on the silver screen.
I am no longer a boy, not yet a man.
I view your legend in a whole new light.
With my brother and father beside me in the dark,
in my heart and mind I utter the words:
"Yes, father. I shall become a bat."
The Road to 100
Toying about on my profile, it seems that I have written 82 (now 83) posts for this strange little site. At some point early in the year, I set up a goal for myself: do something, anything, creative once a day. Didn't have to be a sprawling epic novel or a beautiful drawing, it just had to be creative. That was it. That was the criteria. And for a while there, I was doing pretty good. I was written and doodling at least once a day. And then...
I was so sure that a script of mine was going to be picked up for an anthology series. It wasn't. I've been semi-seriously persuing writing as a career for almost five years now, pitching and submitting stuff here and there. And I wish I could tell you that, over time, the sting of rejection is lessened by experience, but I can't because, spoiler alert, it doesn't. Not even a little bit. Paradoxically, it actually stings a bit more.
Like, I've been doing this for five years already, why isn't this happening for me yet?!
Slowly but surely, though, I've gotten back on the proverbial horse. Just today, I completed my second comic book story (I've written dozens at this point, but this is the second time I have collaborated with an artist to complete a finished product). You can check it out here, if you're so inclined: https://globalcomix.com/c/memory-lane-a-golden-years-tale-/chapters/en/1/
And now, after seeing that 82 number on my profile, I've decided to set another goal for myself: 100. The big one-zero-zero. There's something oddly magical about that number, isn't it? Perhaps its because it has become so synonimous with excellence and completeness in our lives. 100% is the best "A" grade you can get. Leaving no stone unturned, no quest unquested gets you a 100% clear rate on a video game. Having 100% of something usually means that thing is wholly complete. Maybe that's why it appeals to me so.
Anyways, my goal now is to hit 100 posts by the end of next month. Why that date? It's the day marking the half way point of the year. Seemed appropriate. I don't know. *Shrug*.
With every incoming post, I'll have a little countdown marker at the end, to show my progress to this totally random, and hopefully achievable, goal.
Hope you come along for the ride.
A New Leaf
(Because I'm fancy...or pretentious. One of those two.)
When I first started writing, I did so with an almost reckless abandon. I didn't care for structure or grammar, I just got an idea and I ran with it. Enamored, as I was, with mysteries, my first tales were very much in that vein: stories that didn't so much wear their Sir Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe inspirations on their sleeves, but practically had them tattooed on their foreheads. In those days, I didn't really believe in editing. I had this idea that the first draft of a thing is that thing at its most pure. And while I do still hold that there is some truth in that, I've also come to appreciate, and down right love, the process of editing. But in those early days, I didn't really do that. At all. Sure, I proofed the stories--badly, I might add--but that was the extend of my "editing." Full of that reckless abandon, I started to look around for places that might accept submissions. To my utter delight, I found one of the world's oldest mysteries magazines, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, accepted unsolicited submissions. So I submitted almost every early, crude tale I churned out. Soon thereafter, I found out that a writer who holds a special place in my heart (Denny O'Neil) had a few of his stories published in the magazine. This gave birth to a semi obsession: I, too, wanted one of my stories to be featured in the pulp-filled pages of that illustrious publication. Of course, understandly, and predictably, most of those early forrays into short stories were met with rejection after rejection after rejection. I fell into that old trap: "They don't like the stories, so I must not be a good writer." But I persevered....For a while, anyway.
There came a point where I kinda gave up. I grew so disheartened, that I stopped submitting stories to them. I didn't give up writing, you understand, I just stopped hoping that EQMM would accept any of mine. But then there came a turning point in my relationship with writing. Up to that point, I had seen it as nothing more than a hobby. It never occurred that I could work hard enough to turn the hobby into a career. Until it did. I had written a whole book by myself. Me. The guy who didn't read Harry Potter back in middle school because he was too intimidated by how big the book was. That guy. That guy wrote an entire, honest-to-goodness book. And, god help me, I wanted to do it again. So that reignited my desire to submit stories to EQMM. And I did. And again, I was rejected. But something was different this time. Around this period, I had begun to pitch novels and children's books. Those received plenty of rejection notices too. But among those cookie cutter rejections, I received a reply that I have kept to this day, and I kept it because of a few simple words. The agent I pitched the story to said she liked it. It wasn't right for her, but she liked it. I hadn't heard that before. Not from an agent. Not from anyone, really. And it meant the world to me. Ironically, as I had submitted two pitches to her, I found out not two days later that the email, nice and encouraging, was also a form email, and not the personalized missive I had at first believed. By that point it didn't matter, though. The words had their effect. So I kept pitching and submitting...For a while, anyway. Fast forward a few years, where I kinda gave up on writing prose and focused on script writing, to present day, where I have rekindled my love for prose and I'm about to redouble my efforts to get published. Now, I've told you ALL of that, so I could tell you this:
What you'll find below is a story I've recently submitted to EQMM. There are times when I truly believe in my stories, when I really feel like they have a genuine shot at getting published. I have been wrong 100% of the time so far. So that's why I am posting this particular story here. With this story, though I love the premise and I am satisfied with the overall plot, I don't feel too confident about it. There's something that doesn't quite feel right, but there was nothing I really wanted to change or edit, so I submitted it. Maybe you can spot the flaws, see the trees for the forest, as it were.
You would not find it if you weren’t already looking for it. It’s not marked on any map, digital or otherwise. There are no reviews for it online nor are there any social media pages dedicated to it. Directions vary, depending on who you get them from. Some mention the convenience store with the domino players gathered outside on a square red table, each player with playing pieces in one hand and cigars on the other; everyone remembers the weird palm tree shaped like a hook. Almost no one mentions the arrow sign, mainly because its so faded and broken down that the only letters visible are “EW.” Not exactly the most welcoming of invitations.
Still, if you heed all of the landmarks, all the twists and turns, you’ll soon find yourself on a gravel road, steep and bumpy, snaking its way to the top of a mountain where, nestled underneath luscious tropical trees and overlooking the town below, you’ll find the infamous little restaurant.
The smells welcome you long before you open the screen door, pass through the waterfall that is the bead curtain, and step on to the creaky floor. Fried oil. An almost overwhelming mixture of all manner of tropical fruit. Beer. Liquor. More beer. If you manage to make your way through the labyrinth of chairs and tables that make up most of the place, you’ll find yourself among the best seats in the house: the stools at the counter. It is there that you will find, rain or shine, Monday through Sunday, the heart and soul of the place.
To call Dori Cabrera the owner would be a disservice; the woman build the place, its highly curated menu, and its rustic decor, almost all on her own. She had no formal culinary training to speak of, only that which is passed down through generations, the kind of knowledge that’s seldom captured in any text, but is nevertheless preserved almost intact. She took this inherited wisdom and, like all great masters, made it her own. But as impressive as her culinary skill was, it was the proprietress herself that was the real attraction.
Dori was not a particularly warm person. Charm was hardly a tool in her personal repertoire. She was neither unattractive nor unpleasant. It was not the ebony sheen of her long hair nor the verdant glimmer of her eyes that drew people in. Undoubtedly, her sizable frame, with its hefty arms and shoulders, appealed to many of her patrons, but even these could not explain the crowds the place often drew. No, the honey that sent so many flies buzzing to her restaurant was, in a word, mystery. Every movement, every gesture exuded an unfiltered aura of the unknown. And then there was the burn. It was a terrible mark, this burn, scarring the whole right side of her face, its origins never discussed or revealed and therefore a constant source of curiosity and gossip.
Dori was, to every patron, a riddle to be answered, a problem to be solved. Her past, and even her present, was a blank state. Each customer that passed through the beaded curtain, sat under the large palm fans lazily rotating away, came with the hopes of solving the mystery that was Dori. They never would, of course, but Dori, whether intentionally or not, had a way of making everyone think that they could. And, since few things are so seductive as possibility and hope, they kept coming back again and again.
This, then, is how things stood for Dori on that muggy, rainy morning.
On a normal day, the rain wouldn’t have been much of a deterrent to the usual, zombified breakfast crowd looking for greasy fuel and caffeinated, liquid power to wake them. But on this day, the air full of wet grass and creeping fog, deter them it did. So it was that only the must ardent fan, or hungry patron, found themselves at the place.
An elderly man, who had been there as the doors opened, sat in a corner, meticulously drinking his coffee while browsing his newspaper. Two tables to the left of him, a teenager kept glancing at the novelty cat clock on the wall, all the while shoveling spoonfuls of farina in her mouth. Across from the teenager, on the other end of the restaurant, a woman watched raindrops as they raced down a window.
At her usual post, Dori kept herself moving, always busing herself in one way or another. In that moment, green, crisp bills deftly flowed from one hand to the other as she silently mouthed some numbers. She swiftly replaced the bills in their appropriate spots on the register, closing it with a clang so loud, it pulled each of the customers out of their own little worlds. The embarrassed Dori made an apologetic gesture, and was about to busy herself once more when a new customer entered.
Hard as she tried, the customer could not help but drip all over the floor. With a rough hand, far more rugged than her petite figure would suggest, she put her umbrella in the holder by the door. In a measured, delicate motion, she removed her coat and folded it over her forearm. The place was quiet enough that everyone could hear the clickety-clack of her heels as she swayed her way to the counter.
It was unusual for Dori not to offer a greeting to a new customer, regardless of how perfunctory it often was. But this new customer gave her pause. The lady took a seat directly in front of Dori.
“Morning,” she said as the golden bangles on her wrists scrapped against the marble counter.
Dori reached for a menu and was about to hand it over to the lady, but the lady held up a hand in protest.
“I know what I’m having.”
“Oh, alright. What can I get you?”
There was a measured pause from the lady, as though she were sifting through the words in her mind, careful to pick out the perfect combination.
“Ropa vieja, por favor. With a can of Old Colony. Grape, if you have it,” said the lady with a smile. The smile turned into a wicked sneer when she saw the effect the order had on Dori.
A large part of Dori’s allure came from the fact that no one quite knew where they stood with her. Her face was stoic to a fault, but in that moment, it became as malleable as clay, shifting itself with shock and surprise.
“I’m sorry, we don’t make that here.”
“But you do know how to make it, don’t you?”
“Yes, but…I’m sorry, who are you?”
The lady placed her rough hands on the counter, tapping her bright, curved nails on its surface.
“Old Colony. Grape.”
The command, for her tone left no doubt that the words were not a request, returned Dori to her naturally stoic state, if only for a moment. She headed into the kitchen, almost shoving the swinging doors clean off their hinges.
Seeing the doors flung wide open, the kitchen staff anxiously waited orders from their boss. The strange fire burning in her eyes, a thing foreign and never before seen, made them all understand that something wasn’t right, but not even the bravest among them could muster the courage to ask what was wrong.
Pushing a pimple faced teenager aside, Dori reached into a chest freezer and pulled out a purple can. She slammed the freezer’s lid and walked out of the double doors.
“Who are you?” said Dori, barely hiding her disdain as she slid the can to the lady, the cold metal scrapping against the marble counter.
The lady slid it right back.
“Could you open it for me, please? Just had these done,” she said, showing off her glossy nails.
Dori’s growl was barely audible, but audible nonetheless. She opened the can and held it up for the lady to grab.
The lady took the can and drank from it.
“I haven’t had these since I was a girl.”
She turned over the can in her hands, fondly looking at the purple mascot, a stylized colonial American of some sort. Growing up, she always thought it was supposed to be Christopher Columbus. The memory made her smile, but only briefly. She noticed Dori’s burning gaze and put the can down.
“It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is who you are.”
Dori clenched her teeth and fists. The scar on her face throbbed.
“Either you tell---”
The lady looked around, taking stock of the restaurant.
“Nice place. Is it yours? I assume its yours.”
“Lady, I’m going to give you---”
“Ah, there we go. If you want a name, let’s go with Lady, okay?”
“Are you saying I’m not a lady? That’s rude…”
Dori banged her fist on the counter. The customers looked up for the second time, but she didn’t care to apologize this time. A venomous look from her removed any curiosity the outburst had aroused in her patrons.
Whether it was fear or tardiness, the teenager eating the farina hastily threw a few dollars on the table and rushed out of the place. Dori registered the movement, but didn’t shift her eyes from Lady. To Lady’s credit, she didn’t shy away from Dori’s scrutiny either. In fact, she seemed to revel in it.
And scrutinize Dori did: from the brown curls to the round nose and plump lips, she searched every detail of the oval face, with its ebony skin and strangely elegant profile, in the hopes of uncovering the woman’s identity in the wells of her mind’s memory. For though she did not know who this Lady was, it was obvious she knew Dori.
She let out a deep sigh, trying to regain her composure.
“Just…please. Just tell me what you want.”
Lady picked up the Old Colony can, swirled it around in her hand like a fine glass of wine. She smelled it like one too.
“You know how they say that the past comes back to haunt you?”
“Past?” the word was almost wrenched from Dori’s throat, so quietly did she utter it.
“Yeah, the past. Well, guess what?” She paused to give Dori a chance to guess, but wasn’t really expecting Dori to take it. Instead, Lady grinned a toothy grin.
The word echoed in Dori’s head. Her hands trembled slightly. The more the word reverberated through the chambers of her mind, the more her hands shook. Without realizing it, she found herself touching her scar. The heat radiating from it snapped her out of her trance.
“I remember that,” Lady pointed to Dori’s scar. “I was there.”
She was there.
Dori Cabrera let out a gasp, as though the words had morphed into an arrow that Lady plunged into her very heart. Despondent, zombie-like, she shuffled to the kitchen. The doors didn’t fly open this time, they simply moved like a slow wave being pushed by Dori’s body. Again, the workers in the landlocked galley looked up from their stations.
But there was no fire in her eyes now, only a vacant, dead stare. Somehow, that look was even worse than the fire.
“Boss?” croaked the pimple faced teenager.
She didn’t shove him aside. She barely noticed him as she grabbed a bottle of rum and a glass. She fixed her eyes on the bat mascot on the bottle.
“Listen, uh, everybody. Let’s call it a day. Go home.”
Elation and confusion spread through the faces in the kitchen. She expected them to move faster, given the offer of a day off. But when no one moved, a sudden rage, born out of the turmoil in her heart, let itself be known.
“Go home! NOW!”
The staff scattered to the winds.
Dori came out of the kitchen and repeated her words, with a slight variation, to the few customers remaining. Lady, of course, knew the words didn’t apply to her, and so she continued to sip from her can.
Chairs scrapped, footsteps fell.
Lady suddenly grew conscious of the emptiness of the place.
Dori sat on the counter and poured herself a drink. It was ten in the morning, but, in her heart, it was well past midnight.
“I was careful. I thought I was anyway.” She took a deep swig of the rum. “You’re barely thirty. I got this scar twenty years ago, so I assume you’re the same little girl who used to steal the guava paste from my kitchen---your kitchen. How did you find me?”
“You really want to know?”
Dori emptied her glass.
“Not really. Why are you here?”
Lady dangled the empty can in front her like a pendulum.
“I’m sure you know the reason.”
“I don’t. If it was justice, the cops would’ve been here instead of you. If it was revenge, I wouldn’t be here. Unless, that is, you planned on taking a personal approach…”
Lady didn’t look away from the can. Slowly, her rough fingers crushed the metal drink.
She kept compacting it until all that remained was a flat, silver disc. She placed it under her index finger, propping it up like a football ready to be kicked into field post, and flicked it, whether by design or happenstance, directly on to Dori’s drink.
Dori fished out the football and tossed it aside. While a moment before she had been staring at Lady’s face, Dori was now staring down the barrel of a gun.
“Personal it is.”
“Yes, it is. Yes, it is.” Lady lowered the gun, put it on the counter, well within her reach. “But not yet. First, tell me what you’ve been up to these past twenty years.”
“Indulge me. Unless,” Lady’s eyes darted to the gun, “you’d like to expedite the proceedings...”
“What do you want from me, Lara? I’ve been looking over my shoulders every day for the last twenty years! Suspicious of every car that drives behind me too long, afraid of a knock at my door in the middle of the night followed by the words ‘police!’ That’s what I’ve been up to!”
Lady did not react to the outburst. She remained impassive and receptive.
Dori poured herself another drink, each savored sip tempering her rage.
“I don’t regret it, if that’s what you’re hoping to hear. I’m not sorry. At all. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed it, or that I even liked doing it. It happened. It had to happen. Lara…”
Dori considered reaching out to Lady, but her hands did not leave her glass.
Lara, with her index finger, slowly spun the gun on the counter, as though she were turning back the hands of a clock.
“It took me years,” she said, her eyes going around and around with the gun, “to realize it was you, you know? That image of a woman, walking away from the farm, crumbling under the flames, her hands on her face, showed up in my nightmares for a long time. I wondered, day after day, what kind of person would do that, would set another person on fire?”
Dori raised her eyes from her glass, tears welling up inside them.
Lady put up a hand before Dori could get out a word out.
A silence lingered for some moments, broken only by scattered drops of rain, hitting the windows and shingles of the roof.
Eventually, Dori placed her glass upside down on the counter. She walked to the kitchen doors and stopped. In the glass windows of the doors, she could see her own reflection and Lady’s behind her.
“Just do it,” Dori commanded. “I deserve it. You have every right. Every right. I was never a saint. Even before…I was never a saint. Who is, really? But after that day, twenty years ago, I tried, really tried, to do some good. I was a decent cook, so I used that.
“Worked here and there. Saved enough money to build this place. I hire, almost exclusively, people like me, people looking for a second chance.” Dori’s words faltered for a moment as she saw Lady’s reflection reaching for the gun.
“P-people who have paid their debts, who deserve to start anew, but are seldom given a chance to do so. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last twenty years.” These last words were delivered with a solemn acceptance, a readiness for what was about to come…
The sound of the chair scraping against the floor startled Dori, who let out a rather uncharacteristic yelp.
“He was an awful man. An awful husband and an awful father,” Lady said, gently dropping the gun in her purse. “But he was still my father. I felt this strange, compelling need for revenge, I guess. When I came here, I thought, I hoped, that you were going to be some ruthless killer. That would’ve made it easier for me to…For me to do what I needed to do. What I thought I needed to do.”
Dori turned slowly. Lady was walking away now. The rain had come back, hard. She pulled out the umbrella from the holder by the door.
“You saved us, in a way. I know that. He would’ve definitely killed Ma. And me. Maybe even you, too. But, I can’t thank you for it. I can’t. What kind of person would it make me if I did? I will thank you for all you did for us, though. All the memories.”
She opened the screen door, letting the wet, cold air inside. She watched the curtain of water fall from the grey sky. There was something almost mesmerizing about it.
“You don’t have to look over your shoulder anymore, Ms. Adora. You don’t have to be afraid of the shadows. You’re safe. From me, anyway. It was nice seeing you again.”
The umbrella popped open, its bright colors deflecting the waves of rain.
“Stay,” said Dori. It was a request, a gentle, almost motherly supplication.
Lady lowered the umbrella.
“You hungry? I think I have some beef in the kitchen. Its been a while, but I think I can still make that rope vieja the way you like it.”
On upon hearing the words, Lady suddenly looked like a six year old on Christmas morning. She shut the umbrella, shook it off, and returned it to the now empty holder. She took her seat at the counter again.
“You got anymore Old Colony?”
“I sure do. Be right back.”
Lady watched Dori as she stepped into the kitchen.
“Hey, I meant to ask, what’s the name of this place?” shouted Lady.
The rain came down harder and harder, the sound drowning out Lady’s question. The wind howled, rattling a rusty sign outside the door to the restaurant. It must have been something, once upon a time, that sign. Flashy and bright and unmistakable. The years had taken away much of its lustre, but there were, even now, underneath caked copper and mildew, hints of its former glory. The sign, shaped like a peppermint leaf, hung from a rod over the front door. Every once in the while, a faint gust, subtle yet powerful, made the leaf turn.
Grey Haired Young Buck
When I was a kid, the adults held all the power. Giants towering over me, they controlled what I ate, where I lived, what I could or could not do. For a long time, all I ever wanted to be was an adult.
No one takes you seriously when you’re a child. No one took me seriously, at least. You’re a cute little tyke at best, an annoying tiny nuisance at worst. I wanted to be an adult so bad.
“Do you shave?” asked a friend of mine as we walked the halls of our high school. I wasn’t fourteen yet, but yes, I did already shave. Years went by and, like most things that happen gradually and therefore escape daily notice, I suddenly realized something had seemingly happened overnight: I had gotten older.
I am fourteen, standing in line among the throngs of hungry students like hormone-ridden dominoes. A girl standing in front of me turns around, looks me over. I’m embarrassed by the attention. I’m wearing my green JROTC uniform. Most of my classmates hate wearing it, but I love it.
“Are you new?” asks the girl, her voice tinged with a pleasantness that I haven’t quite heard before.
“I am a Freshman. Does that count?”
Her eyes grow wide.
“A Freshman?” She looks me up and down again. There is a twinkle in her eye that my innocent teenage doesn’t recognize. “I could’ve sworn you were a Senior.”
I awkwardly laugh it off. I don’t know if she expected me to say anything else. But I certainly didn’t.
“Oh, are you looking? You should date him,” says the co-worker as he points to me. He is speaking to a lady next to me.
The lady, in almost immediately, shakes her head, her plump, pale cheeks slightly flush.
“Oh no, no. He’s too young.”
The co-worker strokes his beard.
“How old do you think he is?”
She looks at me. “Oh, he looks like he’s thirty five.”
“How old are you?” he asks the lady.
“Oh, I’m 42.”
He asks me my age. I’m still processing the words of the lady.
I had always wanted to be a grown-up. But now, in that moment, I begin to realize that age is no longer the abstract, almost meaningless number it used to be in my childhood. The number has significance. It is important. A measurement, however inaccurate, of how much experience and knowledge a person is supposed to have.
I clear my throat.
“I’m twenty one.”
She has just turned 21. I am 25. She is short, spunky, and peppy. From afar, perhaps, she could be mistaken for a girl. But a closer examination reveal curves that leave no doubt: she is most certaintly a woman. Her golden hair drapes her back a few inches past her waist. She is the first real friend I make in that city. Her laugh and smile, her big, blue eyes, are a much needed salve to my loneliness. I start to find my first grey hairs on my head. I am, for a long time, disgusted at myself.
I am an old man now. What the hell am I doing falling for a girl four years younger than me?!
I am in an office environment once again, after two years of leaving it behind. I am no longer the youngest member in the section, as I had been years ago. Though I am, annoyingly, still seen as such by the members of my new team. They are 44 and 54 respectively. I’m still “the young buck.”
I hadn’t given much thought to my age.
But then I saw Her. In that moment, the weight of all my grey hairs, which number in the double digits now, makes itself fully known. I am enamored by her from the moment I see her, desperately wanting to learn all about her.
I take an intern under my wing. She is 21. We get along beautifully. I laugh and talk with her in a way I’m not really able to with my coworkers. I am more open with her than I have been with any person in a work place for a long time. I am dying to tell her about Her...And I do. I share with her my worries about being too old for her. She laughs it off.
“Girls like older guys. Besides, how old is she?”
I confess that I don’t know her age. She is very petite, her olive complexion flawless. I later find out that she is 27. I still feel strange. I feel ancient when compared to her. My grey hairs on my head number in the double digits now. They’ve even invaded my beard. The bags under my eyes are so big, they no longer qualify as carry-on baggage. I am utterly smitten by her, but I worry that she’ll think of me as creepy old man. I am 32.
Like A Dog Chasing Cars
I know its going to sound like I'm bragging--okay, maybe I am a little--but this challenge, for me, isn't really a challenge.
I've never been one for outlines or planning. I just...go. That's not to say that I make everything up as I go along, of course: I almost always have either a beginning, a middle, or an end, but the greatest joy I derive from writing, the best thing about sitting down to pen a story or a novel, is the journey. Sometimes I have a place to start, and so I work to an ending. Other times I have a destination in mind, and so I must work backwards to reach the starting point. Seldom do I start in the middle.
That's my writing process in a nut shell. So this challenge? Easy peasy.
Its where I feel the most liberated, the blank page.
There are rules, sure, but within those rules? The possibilities are endless.
I have so much fun doing all these challenges on Prose. I feel like I'm really uncumbered when I write pieces on here. I really just...go. I don't have to worry if anyone is going to read it. I don't have to worry about summarizing my stories into neat, marketable packets for some intern in a publishing house to read and delete. I can just...write.
I can't tell you how freeing that is.
And yes, ideally, that's how all your writing should be: free and unfettered, full of your deepest feelings and beliefs, without worrying whether or not it will be enough to get your foot in the professional publishing door.
Rejection after rejection makes it harder to write like that, though.
Increasingly, I find myself asking: "What's the point?"
See, I think we have a set number of times we can get knocked down before we stop getting up. As life goes on, we get hit and hit and hit and hit...Some of those blows make us stumble, some make us go down hard. I hit the mat every time I get a rejection. Every time. But, to continue with the boxing metaphor, I'm up on my feet after a few counts.
Lately though, it's taking longer and longer to get up.
And I don't know how long I have until I stop getting up altogether. I don't want to think that way, but I can't help it. I get in the ring, and I confidently tell myself: "You got this, kid," Its not arrogance or bravado, its just a belief forged from hours and years of work. I know I can write. I know it. I know that I'm a writer. But why is it proving so hard to let others know it?
Because every rejection isn't just a powerful blow that makes my knees buckle, it makes me question everything: my form, my training, my will. Everything. I'm at a point now where the very act of sitting down to write, putting on the gloves as it were, makes me tremble.
But when theres no crowds watching, no referee, and no bell? I just swing and swing, dancing around the ring without a care in the world. And its great. My shoulders aren't heavy with the weight of expectations, my feet arent bound by the shackles of hopes and dreams; I'm just free to be me.
I wish that was always the case.
07 March 1926
All good things, as the saying goes, must come to an end.
I am not, as my good friend is wont to point out, an emotional man, but even I must, however relunctantly, admit that leaving the old room fills me with no small amount of melancholy.
The story of the place is, in some regards, the story of me. How many illustrious personages have walked up those oft throd steps? How many nefarious individuals have rapped on that very door? How many desperate men and women, having nowhere else to turn, made their way to this busy street?
Empty and quiet, the smell of tobacco, the pungent sting of a dozen reagents still linger in the air. I cannot help but chuckle at hole-riddled wall. Naturally, I offered to have it repaired, but the new owner would not have it. A patriotic chap, from the looks of it. Victoria Regina indeed.
And yet, as I take one last look at the old rooms, I cannot say I will miss it, or all the adventures that were born there. I grow weary in my, shall we say, advanced age. The thrill of the hunt is no longer an invogorating tonic, but an impotent salve. I do not crave it anymore. Indeed, I have no desire to prove myself the better of my peers, though I use the term rather loosely, of course.
I cannot, with any real certainty, pinpoint the moment when that longing for the strange and the bizarre left me. I am, however, at peace with it. My good friend cannot comprehend it, of course. He, in his own inimatable way, once put it as "Mozart walking away from the piano." Cannot say that he is wrong.
But I have seen, and done, too much. My seven percent solution placated the demons for a long time, but there came a moment when I knew I must wrestle with them on my own terms. And so I have. I do not have any intention of going back.
Thus, do I go to the shores of Sussex, towards my little cabin, where I shall spend my days in scientific enquiry and tending to my precious bees.
But who knows?
Perhaps there is still an adventure or two left in this old man's deerstalker...
Always the Moth
"So you're the moth, not the flame,"
said the TV dame.
I am the moth,
What keeps me from being that all consuming flame?
What's to blame?
Is it body or is it face?
Am I lacking in charm, wit, or grace?
Maybe I am meant to be alone,
to reap seeds that I have sown.
"He doesn't like us,"
you all say, as I keep you
Will there ever come a day,
be it near or far away,
when I'll be able to finally claim:
"I am not the moth, but the flame?"
Dangling on a String
I hate it.
I hate it so much.
No matter the place, no matter the time, as soon as I hear those lyrics...
"Hope dangles on a String."
I am sixteen again.
For the first and last time, I am in love.
"Like slow-spinning redemption."
You're working the ticket booth.
I know you work there, but I didn't expect to see you.
"Winding in and winding out."
I hide behind a pillar.
I see you every day in school, but this is different.
"The shine of it has caught my eye."
You are Mary Jane, I am forever your Peter Parker.
So many things I want to say...
"And roped me in."
It's almost unbearable, this feeling.
Intoxicating. All consuming. Divine.
"So mesmerizing, so hypnotizing."
You are, for better or worse, the standard by which all others are judged.
Sometimes I wish that wasn't the case.
"I am captivated."
Years went by, but finally, I told you everything.
We shared kisses, embraces, and a bed.
I knew from the moment I saw you, you would be trouble.
Joy, heartbreak, happiness, bitterness, and sorrow.
#Poetry #Love #Challenge.