The party went on around her and she sat in the center of it, expectant. Her best outfit had been selected, augmented by the newly purchased boots that were too uncomfortable to stand in. A chip from the bowl would make it into her mouth every so often. Her teeth were checked frequently in the mirrored back of her phone.
When conversations drifted close, she listened and laughed in the right places. Occasionally she would interject something topical; the others listened, paused to ensure she was done, and then carried on. Eventually they would drift away to take shots of liquor that gave them unpleasant expressions or to smoke cigarettes whose ashes would drift through the open window. It did not occur to her until later to be embarrassed by her actions or inactions.
Harvey phoned the house line at half past ten, saying he wouldn’t make it. Peter, who owned the house, made the announcement. She nodded somberly along with the others, though inside she drowned. She rubbed her arms, fighting the breeze, and considered closing the window. The tank top didn’t matter anymore.
The option remained to stay the night with Peter, again. She rose to leave.
I had cause to stop and take stock of my fiction writing in the past week not because some particular milestone had been reached (not that I would know the exact date of a milestone anyway) but because I’ve made some happy progress over the last couple of weeks. Having begun to feel as if I’m turning a corner on the creative desert that was the winter, I thought I’d further explore the kind of statistical trivia that my weird, detail-obsessed brain thrives on.
Bearing in mind that I began writing fiction in earnest roughly two years ago in the summer of 2011 (it was late summer, but who’s counting?), I did some very rough calculations and came to the following figure: 375,050. That is the approximate number of words of original fiction I’ve managed to wring from my brain in a couple of years. Now, the number there is a tad misleading for a couple of reasons. The first is that it represents a mixture of both “finished” works as well as a few in-progress items, plus some of one of the larger word count projects was done prior to the vague start date. The second is that it is missing a not-insignificant amount of work and effort. The best I can do is a wide ballpark figure of about 100,000 words worth of screenplay, graphic novel script, and abandoned projects. There are ways I could narrow those numbers down to something reliable enough to get within, say, +/- 5,000 words, but the effort required isn’t worthwhile for these purposes. There is also another probably 25K words worth of world-building for the graphic novel.
Caveats aside, it the takeaway here is that, give or take, I’ve written about half a million words in the pursuit of storytelling in the last couple of years.
With the self-congratulatory milestone marking out of the way, I wanted to take a moment and set the stage for a new kind of post I’m going to try out. For lack of a better name I’m calling them “200 CCs” (CC in this case being the Roman numeral for 200 so I guess technically the title is “200 200” but like I said, lacking anything better…). There will be an associated tag. Basically these are going to be flash fictions of less than 200 words (or 200 words exactly). I’ll make an effort to post one per week. The purpose is to force me to work smaller, to set scenes with punchier, more evocative language and to permit experimentation.
There will be one going up later today and we’ll see if the Tuesday schedule sticks.
When Jana and I started out, pedaling away from her dad’s slumping cottage, the sky overhead was a rich blue punctuated by the white gaze of the sun. We packed plastic baggies of peanut butter sandwiches and a couple of oatmeal cookies into the basket fastened to her handlebars. The thermos of milk went into my backpack, along with a couple of towels, a patch kit, and a foot pump. Jana’s front tire had a bad habit of leaking and we planned to make it all the way to the lake with enough time to swim, eat, and work on our tans before we had to start back to beat the twilight.
The edge of town was a couple miles behind when the muggy air started cutting cold and the wispy white clouds transitioned into glowering black monstrosities like smoky demons leaping off the toasted landscape. Jana and I stopped and had a short debate about whether to press on or turn back. We settled on going ahead because that’s what Jana wanted. The sudden chill tugged tiny white goosebumps along the bare brown skin on my arms and legs, and Jana urged me faster so the exertion would keep us warm. I was just about to shout at her to stop and give up, that I wasn’t going to get in the lake anyway with it being so cold, when the hail started.
Anny’s teardrops hold a single sun each, reflecting the steel sky and the ice-crusted landscape. The cheek the salty drops traverse before falling in slow motion are cherub smooth and dark, soft the way nothing in the world save young skin can be. On the way down, one drop in particular wobbles in and out of perfect spherical roundness, taking on the details of a blue calico dress, a brown and pink parka, a pair of white tights dirty only at the knees, puffy boots.
The splash of liquid on frosted concrete curb is, to a particularly attuned ear, audible in a light blip. Touching on the thin wafer of snow, the warm tear burns through to the drab half-foot wall beneath as if it were molten. It can’t darken the already damp surface of the curb, so instead it shimmers there, a sparkle reminiscent of the evening star.
A crystal city erupts from the pit formed by the falling saltwater meteor, spires of ice and glass, slick roadways of frozen sorrow winding up and around each minute, elaborate library or factory or tenement. A glisten of cold starlight glares across the tiny landscape and from this golden glow emerges a silken horse with wings of silver fire, soaring upward. The boy on the bare back of the beast clings to a smoky mane, his tightly curled hair ruffling in the frigid air, a loose tunic snapping behind him. He flies the horse in a looping arc upward, spiraling to the highest peak of the city, glimmering hooves moving in long leaping strides as though sprinting on an invisible path. The horse strains as it rises, diamond flecks of foam sparkling against translucent hide.
I’m writing this with rain hitting the window and it reminds me of that night we got trapped in your dad’s Tahoe with the dead battery on Westlake. Do you remember? We just sat there and listened to the drops pounding against the roof, holding hands, scared of our approaching curfews and mudslides and lightning and whatever. I think about that night sometimes, the part before we moved to the back seat, and I miss that sound.
I miss a lot of things about us. I miss not fighting over R████. I miss going out and doing things. I miss everything being us against the world instead of us against us. For a long time I swore the brighter days were just around the corner. Every relationship has rough patches, okay? This was ours. If we were meant for each other the way you always say, we’d probably have a lot of rough patches over time, you know? So this was one.
The laminate coating on the steering wheel is wearing through, leaving rough patches that tug at my lycra glove. I’ll have to get that fixed. On the clock: 07:51, which gives me nine minutes; on the speedometer: 141 kph, just above the average I’ll have to maintain to clear the checkpoint on time. I peek at the side mirrors and the cyclist weaves back behind a rig, able as always to anticipate my glances, to keep me from getting any more than a glimpse of her. She’s clad in predictable black leather, lithe where I am bulky, her sleek helmet contrasting with my angular one like a robot from the future chasing a steam-powered relic. That’s not an inappropriate comparison, come to think of it.
Out here in the flats where the lanes are generous and the traffic is moderate I can open up a bit, maybe give myself some cushion. The current stereo track is a shifting tempo experimental number so I tap the Next button and a steady bass line tingles along my thighs. Throttles were made to be opened; my sense of acceleration spreads from my spine depressing the seat back and the decrease of strict control over the wheel from whisper to growl. I draft my way past a courier van, using the slingshot effect to clear one-ninety for just a second or two and make a tight weave between two carpoolers.
I wish I could believe the cyclist is stymied, roadblocked perhaps or forced to downshift out of self-preservation, but I know better. A kilometer and a half of clear space opens before the switchbacks start which isn’t much time to burn but I do it anyway, boosting with a tug on the release valve that flattens me: breasts to armpits, stomach to tailbone, cheeks to ears. Timing the valve screw to lower the boost can be tricky. At these speeds your eyes are unreliable, human depth perception and distance estimation, even decision making, not evolved to compensate for speeds up around 300 kph. On an open stretch, during a land speed test for example, it doesn’t matter. Here, my window and margin of error is measured in meters which translates into seconds and I know the risk of miscalculation is far beyond that of a grisly death. This is a company car, after all.