Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Chances Are: Three Chances

Since this is a five-Wednesday month, the recap will be next week.  Makes more sense that way.  So enjoy a short story now.

When I was editing my story "Second Chance" I saved the stuff I deleted into a separate file so I could preserve it, sort of like deleted scenes on a DVD.  I cut the story from about 140,000 words to 107,000 words, so plenty of stuff got cut.  One of the last scenes to cut was also one of the last I wrote!  I came up with this scene the same night I finished the first draft.  It's a coma fantasy where three versions of Steve/Stacey meet in a bar and what happens to them.  Eventually though I decided the story was too long so at almost 3300 words this had to go.

I'm not sure how much sense it will make, but here you go:





I open my eyes to find myself in a strange place.  It’s really dark and it smells really gross.  There’s a counter and behind that are all these shelves with glass bottles on them.  The labels are for weird drinks like Smirnoff and Jack Daniels that I’ve never heard of.  No Coke or Pepsi or Dr. Pepper.
On the other side of the counter are some stools.  There’s an old man sitting on one.  He looks kind of like Grandpa Jake, except he’s fatter and his skin is gray and he’s smoking a cigarette.  Grandpa used to smoke too, but Grandma made him stop.  I can see why; cigarettes smell yucky.
Even though I’m across the room I start to cough.  The old man turns to look at me.  His face is all wrinkly, like it’s melting.  His eyes are a pretty blue, though.  He frowns at me.  Then he says, “What are you doing here?”
“I dunno,” I say.  “Where am I?”
“Somewhere you shouldn’t be,” he says.  “Not until you’re older.”
I remember what happened before I fell asleep.  “Is this Heaven?”
The old man laughs.  It’s a scary laugh.  I start to shiver as he says, “This is about as far as you can get from Heaven.”
I back up, running into a door.  I turn around to grab the knob.  I try to turn it, but the stupid door won’t open.  It’s locked or I’m just too little to get it open.  I rattle the knob, hoping that will shake it open, but nothing happens.  I’m trapped!
I start to cry then.  I want out of this dark, smelly place.  I want to go home to Grandma and Grandpa.  I want to climb into my bed with my cute stuffed monkey, Maddy sleeping below me with her thumb in her mouth like a baby.  I want things to be the way they used to be.
Someone puts an arm around my shoulder and I scream.  A lady’s voice says, “It’s all right, sweetie.  We aren’t going to hurt you.”
I look up and see a woman kneeling beside me.  She’s really pretty, with eyes just as blue as the mean old man, only they’re nicer.  Her hair is dark red and curly.  Her lips are dark red too.  She smiles at me and runs a hand through my hair.  “Hello, Stacey.”
“How do you know my name?” I ask.  Then I remember seeing her before, in the mirror at Dr. Macintosh’s office.  “Who are you?”
“I’m a friend.  My name’s Stacey too.”
“It is?”
“Uh huh.”  The nice lady named Stacey stands up.  “Are you thirsty?”
“Yes.”
She leads me over to a stool at the end, far away from the mean old man.  He’s watching us, still smoking his gross cigarette.  The lady says, “Could you put that out?  You’re going to make her sick.”
“I don’t take orders from you.  Either of you.  I was here first.”
“Please?  She’s just a little girl.”
“It’s not like she has to worry about lung cancer.  Not anymore,” the old man says, but he puts out the cigarette.  “Happy now, sweetheart?”
“Yes,” I say.
The lady goes behind the counter.  She takes a mug down from a shelf.  She sticks it under a tap, filling it up with something brown and foamy.  After the mug is filled, she puts it down in front of me.  I stare at it, remembering what they said at school about not taking treats from strangers.  “Don’t worry, it’s just root beer,” she says.
“Teacher says we aren’t supposed to take treats from strangers,” I say.
The old man snorts.  “She has you there, toots.”
The lady’s face turns red.  Her lower lip trembles.  She’s going to start crying soon.  I pick up the mug, taking a sip.  It tastes like root beer.  “Tank you,” I say with Maddy’s lisp.
“You’re welcome,” she says.  She walks around the counter, but she doesn’t come sit by me.  She goes over into a corner, sitting in a booth by herself.  It’s so dark in the corner I can hardly see her.
“You have to be careful with that one,” the old man says.  “She’s really sensitive.”
“You’re mean,” I tell the old man.
He laughs back at me.  “I sure am, princess.”  He shakes his head.  “How old are you, kid?”
“Ten.”
“I used to have a daughter your age.  A pretty little girl who looked up to me, thought my shit didn’t stink.  You know what happened to her?”  I shake my head and shiver.  The old man probably killed his daughter.  “Her mom took her away from me.  Wouldn’t let me see my own little girl.  I was her father, damn it!”
I jump when the old man slams his fist on the counter.  I run across the bar, over to the booth where the lady is sitting.  I climb onto the seat, into her lap.  She puts an arm around me, making me feel safe.  “It’s all right,” she whispers.
The old man goes behind the counter.  He takes a bottle from off a shelf.  He doesn’t bother with a glass; he drinks right out of the bottle.  Grandma told me and Maddy it’s naughty to drink out of a bottle like that.
“Don’t mind him,” the nice lady says. 
“I wanna go home,” I say.
“I know, but we can’t.”
“Why not?”
“It’s kind of hard to explain.  Do you know what Purgatory is?”
“No.”
“Well, it’s this place between Heaven and…the other place.  It’s where God sends you to wait until he decides you’re good enough to get into Heaven.”
“But I am good!  I’m not naughty like Keshia.  She’s mean.”
“That’s not up to us,” the nice lady says.
The old man comes around the counter.  He goes over to the door.  He tries the knob too, but it doesn’t work for him either.  “Maybe we’ll be able to get out of here soon, now that the gang’s all here.”
“What does he mean?” I ask.
“That’s hard to explain too,” the nice lady says.  She thinks about it for a little bit.  “You know that my name is Stacey too, right?”
“Duh.  You only told me a couple minutes ago.”
She smiles at me.  “Right.  There’s a very special reason for that.  You see, you used to be me.”
“Did not.”
“It’s true.  Do you remember that shot the nasty doctor gave you?  The one that made you and Maddy littler?”
“Yes.”
“Well, he gave me one of those shots and I turned into a cute little girl.  You.”
I crawl out of the lady’s lap.  She’s just as crazy as that Grace lady who came to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  “That’s not true,” I say. 
“It is true.  And before that, I used to be that mean old man.”
“Nuh uh,” I say, looking from the lady to the old man by the door.  “You’re a girl and he’s a boy.”
“You’re not going to convince her,” the old man says.  “She’s just a kid.”  The old man shakes his head and then he drinks from his bottle.  “Can you believe I ended up like that?  Some little chink brat?”
“What’s a chink?” I ask.
“It’s nothing,” the lady says.  She climbs out of the booth and looks at the old man.  “Can’t you try to be nice?  She’s a child.”
“Oh I’m sorry, am I offending her majesty, Princess Stacey?  You can think what you want about me, but I never slept with my best friend’s girl.”
The lady starts to cry now.  She sinks back down on the booth.  I turn to the old man.  “You meanie!  You made her cry.”
“She’s always crying.  That’s about all she does.”
“At least she’s nice.  You’re just a big poopyhead!”
He laughs at me again.  I hate that sound.  I hate it so much I run at him so I can make him shut up.  But he stops me.  He reaches down to pick me up right from the floor.  I kick and punch at him, but he lifts me right up onto the counter.  He sets me down there.  I can still smell his gross cigarette here.
He tousles my hair.  “You’ve got spunk, kid.”  He leaves me sitting on the counter while he gets my mug of root beer.  He hands the glass to me.  “Here you go.”
I take a sip of the root beer only because I am thirsty.  “Thank you,” I say as Mommy taught me.
“I’m sorry to be so grouchy, kid,” he says.  He sits down on his stool.  He takes out another cigarette.  Then he sees me and throws it away.  “Suppose I should probably quit.”
Maybe he’s not such a meanie after all.  He tousles my hair again.  “My little girl was a lot like you.  So sweet, but if you pissed her off, look out.”
The lady comes over to join us.  She pours herself a mug of something, but it’s lighter than my root beer.  The old man clucks his tongue.  “You’re too young to drink that, young lady.”
“It’s just a beer,” the lady says.  “And who’s going to card me?”
“You’re all right,” the old man says.  “Sometimes.  When you aren’t moping around.”
The lady sits down on my other side so I’m between them.  “I don’t mope,” she says.
“Oh sure, that’s why you were sitting in that shrink’s office, bawling about not knowing who you are or what you want to do with your life and all that sh…stuff.”  The old man takes another drink from his bottle.  “Being a cop was too good for you, eh?  You’d rather work in that crappy little store all your life?”
“Not all my life.”
“Well it turned out to be, didn’t it?”
The old man shakes his head and then nods at me.  “This one didn’t even get to have a job.  Poor kid.”
“Poor kid,” the lady agrees.
I stare down at my mug of root beer, but I don’t feel like drinking anything right now.  “Are we really dead?”
“Like a doornail,” the old man says.
“Am I ever going to get to see Maddy again?  Or Mommy and Daddy?  And Grandma and Grandpa?”
“I don’t know, sweetie,” the lady says.  “Maybe someday.”
“I don’t wanna wait that long!  I wanna see them now!”
I start to jump off the counter, but the lady stops me.  She takes me by the shoulders.  “Stacey, stop it.  There’s nowhere to go.  We’re stuck here.”
“This is bull…droppings,” the old man says.  “Why are we stuck here?  I was a good cop.  I didn’t take bribes.  I didn’t put innocent people in jail.  And you might be a whiny little hippie who screwed her best friend’s girl, but it’s not like you were out murdering people.  At least not people who didn’t deserve it.  And her, she’s a little kid.  What the hell could she do that was so bad she gets stuck here with us?  Explain that to me, college girl.”
The lady shrugs.  “Maybe it’s a test or something.”
“A test of what?  To see who kills the other first?”
“I don’t know,” the lady says. 
No one says anything for a while.  I drink the rest of my root beer.  The old man takes a nap on his stool.  The nice lady goes back to her corner.  She sits against the wall, staring into space.  It makes me wish I had my phone.  Then I could talk to Jamie or at least play Angry Birds.  “This is boring,” I say.  “Isn’t there a TV or something?”
“We should be so lucky,” the old man says.  I guess he’s not really sleeping.
“Isn’t there anything to do?”
The old man motions to a green table.  “We could play pool, but she’s lousy at it and you’re too little to reach the table.”
“What’s that over there?” I ask, pointing to the other corner, across from where the lady is sitting.  There’s a little wooden stage with some kind of metal box on it.
“That’s a karaoke machine,” the lady says.  “It plays music so you can sing.”
“I like to sing,” I say.  “I’m going to be a singer when I grow up.”  My face gets warm when I remember I’m not going to grow up, not if I’m dead.
The old man pats me on the back.  “I’m sure you would have been a great singer,” he says.  “A regular Janis Joplin.”
“Who?”
“She was a famous singer when I was your age,” the old man says.  “It doesn’t matter.”
I hop from the counter onto a stool and then down to the floor.  I run over to the stage.  There’s a microphone attached to the box.  I try flipping some switches, but nothing happens.  “How does it work?”
“You got me,” the old man says.  “Hey toots, why don’t you show the kid?  You know how to use the thing.”
“All right,” the nice lady says.  She comes over to the stage.  She squats down next to me and starts to fiddle with the box.  Some lights come on.  “There you go, sweetheart.”
“Are you a singer too?” I ask.
The nice lady’s cheeks turn red.  She looks down at the floor.  I hope she’s not going to cry again.  “I’m not very good.  Not like you.”
“That’s bull…droppings,” the old man says.  “You could be just as good as the kid if you wanted.  If you weren’t so fu…freaking scared.”
“You get scared too?” I ask.  “But you’re a grown up.”
The old man snorts at that.  “That’s debatable.”
“Shut up!” the lady snaps.  She looks back at me, touching my hair.  “Yes, even grown ups get scared.  That old man over there gets scared too, but he just covers it up by being nasty.”
“You want me to come over there and put my foot up your ass right in front of the kid?”
The lady turns back to him.  “Stacey and I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t been so scared to pick up a phone and call your own daughter.  Or even mail her a birthday card.  That’s all Maddy ever wanted from you, to show that you gave a damn, but you couldn’t even do that.”
The old man jumps off his stool.  He slams his bottle on the counter.  He keeps the top of it in his hand, the pointy edges sticking out.  He starts walking towards the stage.  “You’re going to tell me how to raise my daughter?  You’re the one who fucked Grace.  You’re the one who broke them up.”
“I got them back together.”
“Yeah, for how long?  We both know you were just biding your time, waiting for Maddy to break up with her so you could move in.”
“I was not!” the lady says and sniffles. 
“Oh go on and cry.  That’s all you’re good for.” 
The lady starts to shake, her face getting really red now.  “At least Maddy likes me.  She hates you.  You’re just the father who abandoned her.”
“That tears it, princess.”  The old man is almost to the stage now.  He has the pointy end of the bottle up like a knife.
“Go ahead and do it,” the lady says.  “I don’t care anymore.”
She gets down on her knees.  She lifts her head up.  She’s going to let the mean old man hurt her.  “Stop it!” I shout.  “Stop fighting!”
“Sorry kid,” the old man says.  “This has been a long time in coming.”
I’m too little to do anything else, so I close my eyes, hold up the microphone, and sing.  I start to sing the Cole Porter songs Darren and I did for our presentation.  I wish he were up here with me, playing the piano.  I wish he were here instead of this mean old man.
I feel a hand around my shoulder.  A wet cheek rubs against mine.  I hear a girl’s voice singing with me.  I open my eyes and see the nice lady leaning next to me, singing into the microphone.  She’s wrong; she is a good singer.  Her voice is really pretty.  She stumbles over some of the words.  Eventually she stops.  “I’m sorry,” she whispers.  “I don’t really know the words.”
I stop singing too.  “We can sing another song.  What ones do you know?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How about some Creedence?” the old man says.  He’s pulled up a chair.  He’s sitting on it backwards.  The broken bottle is on a table behind him.
“Stacey doesn’t know those old songs,” the lady says.  She tousles my hair.  “I bet you know Disney songs, though, don’t you?”
“Some.”
“Do you know Beauty and the Beast?”
“That’s my favorite!”
“Mine too,” the lady says.  She starts to play with the machine.  Music starts to play.  It’s the title song from the movie.  The words show up on a screen, but we don’t need them.  The lady pats my back.  “You do the girl parts and I’ll do the boy parts.”
“OK.”
We start to sing.  She doesn’t sound like a boy, but it doesn’t really matter.  It’s fun.  It makes me wish I could have got to sing with Mommy.  Maybe I can if I ever get to Heaven.
The lady gives me a hug after we finish.  “That was very good,” she says.
“Can we do another one?”
“Sure,” she says.  She plays with the machine again.  “Do you like The Lion King?”
“Yes.”
The lady points to the screen.  “How about this one?”
I giggle at what she’s picked out.  “OK.”
The music comes on and we start to sing “Hakuna Matata.”  Since I’m littler I’m the cute little meerkat and the nice lady is the big old warthog.  As we sing, the old man starts to shake his head.  “You guys are nuts.”
The lady motions him to come forward.  “Why don’t you come up here?  Show us kids how it’s done.”
“Yeah,” I say.  The nice lady and I start to giggle.  “I think he should be the warthog.”
“He’s got the face for it,” she says.
“OK, whippersnappers, you asked for it,” he says.  He gets off his chair.  I freeze for a moment, waiting for him to grab his bottle.  He doesn’t.  He gets on the stage, taking the microphone from us.  He does a chorus by himself.  His voice is so gravelly and out of tune that the lady and I start to laugh.
I wait for the old man to get mad at us, but he doesn’t.  He starts to laugh too.  We pass the microphone around, taking turns.  Even after the music stops, we keep the song going for a while, until we’re laughing too hard.
The old man picks me up, giving me a hug.  “Thanks, kid,” he says.  “I forgot what that was like.”
“I guess I did too,” the lady says.  She hugs us both.
We’re still hugging as the front door opens.  A white light pours through it.  “The door!” I shout.
“Looks like it’s time to go,” the old man says.
“Looks like it,” the lady says.
The old man carries me towards the door.  As we get near to it, the lady takes his hand.  They stop at the edge of the door.  We look outside, but it’s just white light.  “Is that Heaven?” I ask.
“There’s only one way to find out,” the old man says.
        We step into the light together...

3 comments:

  1. I like the first person present tense. Puts you right into the writing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's trippy Pat. I can see why you cut it, but it's great.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think writers call this "killing the babies," eliminating things that are good but aren't needed. The choice of first person works well here.

    ReplyDelete

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