22 December, 2005

The Things I do For Food

I have a dumb short story to share with you. While I was living in Paris, I had the wonderful opportunity to tutor a wonderful family in English for a few hundred francs and dinner. I told them I wrote from time to time; they were justifiably incredulous. I said, let’s make a deal: gimme an extra dinner, I write a story with what’s-her-face (names changed to protect the innocent) as the main character. I did, I ate, here it is.

Of course, as any good teacher, I then used the damn thing as a tutorial tool. What a pompous ass.

In the spirit of wholesome good nostalgia, I have only edited what I pencilled in the manuscript (ah, the days of manual writing).


The Battle of the Snooze

Paris, 20 December, 1997

The Princess E. lived on the sixth floor of an apartment building in the seventh arrondissement in Paris. One non-descript morning of a non-descript November in a non-descript year, she woke up thinking in English.

In truth, she tried her hardest to resist waking up. Well, no, she tried to wake up, but she just didn’t want to. She hit the snooze button repeated, but nine minutes later the alarm would scream, “Get up! Work to do!” It wasn’t until after the first six or seven snoozes that she began to decide that it was odd that her alarm should scream. On the ninth scream, 81 minutes after she had planned to wake up, she realized that in its screaming the alarm clock spoke English. She hit snooze once more, and arranged herself in an uncomfortable position, ready to catch the clock in mid-scream, to see if it really spoke to her.

But she fell asleep. This time, as if in revenge, the alarm did not scream after nine minutes. This time, she dreamed. In English.

She dreamt of Chicago. She was riding in a Mercedes Benz convertible on Lake Shore Drive. The top was down and all of the thirty or so people in the car were wearing sun glasses. There was music playing on the extraordinary stereo, a song that seemed to be ever song she had ever heard in every style of music she could imagine having experienced. The music was loud, so loud that it bounced off the high-rise buildings along the lake and shot out across the water. It was so loud that it would certainly have burst her eardrums if she weren’t dreaming. She was holding her ears, like everyone else in the car, but that was because of the extreme cold, not the music. She suddenly noticed the snow. It was summer, though! When the car passed beaches, she had envied everyone reveling in Chicago’s great strip of fake nature. Suddenly, even as she was thinking about the warm sand and plastic debris of urban beaches in summer, the snow cleared and winter left. Yes, it was hot now. And summer. Of course it was summer! She had never been to Chicago in winter. As she said ‘winter’ to herself, the snow and cold air came back. She looked up at the great ugly high-rise apartment building they were passing at that moment, with its yellow brick that probably looked warm in the lakefront summer light. Now it looked salty and cold. Salty? No, that was the asphalt in front of her, in front of the car, cracked and white with cold and road-salt, steaming hot. She looked up at the building again, and was blinded by the light of the sun which seemed to come from everywhere. The building had passed, and summer was back. She quickly formed a hypothesis, and pictured herself explaining it in a room full of well-fed men stuffed into stained shirts and ties: “In Chicago, along Lake Shore Drive, it’s always winter in the shadow of a high-rise.” The music was awful now, representing the worst of all the music she had once loved and listened to an untimely death. But she couldn’t convince anyone to change the station or turn the radio off. They all loved it. They. Who were these people, anyway? She didn’t know this many people in Chicago. Or, more precisely, she didn’t know this many people in Chicago well enough to be riding in a car with loud music with... Half of the people in the car didn’t seem like car-riding, loud-music-listening, sunglass-wearing-type people anyway. And how did so many people fit into such a small car, anyway?

Lake Shore Drive had never seemed so long before. The Hancock Tower loomed in the distance, as it had for what seemed like the last half-hour. Was this dream trying to become a nightmare? She looked over to the lake, thinking it may calm her, and noticed that it was divided into patches of storm and calm. She was suddenly in front of the assemblage again: “In the wintry shadow of a Chicago lakeshore high-rise, the water looks stormy and wave-torn.” Wave-torn? Poetry had always been a dream to her. In the calm patches of the lake she envied the sailboats and swimmers. In one of the wave-torn patches, in which those tearing waves seemed to grow as high as the buildings on her right, she saw a long sleek speedboat crack itself in half trying to jump waves. As the sportily-dressed passengers flew through the air, she remembered it was only a dream. No one else in the car had noticed the incident, so she paid no attention to the screams. The car suddenly took an exit, and she though she would now finally discover the object of their trip, but after many twists and turns the car ended up back on Lake Shore Drive. She thought to ask the driver where they were going, but it was then she realized that everyone in the car but she was driving. She decided to sit back and enjoy the music, which was all right now, but this idiot next to her on the other side of the car was babbling on and on, and she couldn’t hear a thing, not even him. She was too polite to tell him to shut the hell up, so she tried to listen to what he was saying. But it was too hard. She was too tired, and getting carsick. She was once more in front of the assemblage, but she had nothing to say. She saw herself there, up there all alone in front of several bunches of people, with nothing to say. She stammered to herself for a few moments, then heard laughter. But it wasn’t the hideous men in the audience who were laughing, it was the people in the car. She looked at the crowd in the car, and they looked back at her. They were laughing, and she wasn’t. She tried to figure out what they were laughing at. It wasn’t the music, and they weren’t looking beyond her at something happening on the beach.... was it something about her, something she wearing? Had a bird shit on her clothes? Clothes! She wasn’t wearing any! She twisted and turned, trying to avoid the indiscreet eyes of the people in the car and along the bed, but she only succeeded in severely messing up the sheets.

She opened her eyes. There was bad music coming from her clock radio, and her mother, the Queen D., stood in the doorway laughing at the tangle of sheets, pillows, and princess. It was 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing to do today.

Writing a short story seems rather tame when I think of the things you would actually do for food. Naughty things come to mind, naughty indeed.
Oh, my darling, you know me all too well!
Naughty things for food, eh? ;-)

I love the ending of this story...
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