Books are a uniquely portable magic. ~ Stephen King

Friday, April 9, 2010

Marnie's Rung

Fiction Friday

This is the first chapter of the novel (or project, as I continue to insist on calling it) that I wrote for NaNoWriMo. It's sat dormant long enough - time for me to take another look at it - and to give you a peek at it as well.

Marnie's Rung - Chapter One
Josh’s Table

Marnie wrapped her sweater around herself more tightly to ward off the chill. If she’d known Josh was going to make her wait in the car, she would’ve grabbed something warmer. What the hell was taking him so long, anyway? In, out, boom. It should’ve been that simple. She glanced at the door and then at the dashboard clock. Again. He’d been inside four minutes. It felt like an eternity. She shifted her position, put her feet on the dashboard and reclined the seat. She thought about how it would look to Josh if she were reclined when he got back and moved the seat back into an upright position. Legs down. No, up. No, down. She sighed and looked at the clock. Another minute had passed. Come on, Josh. Jesus. He could have at least left her the keys so she could listen to a little music – maybe even have a little heat. But that wouldn’t occur to Josh, oh, no. She tapped her fingers on the dashboard and took a second to enjoy the way her nails looked. They were long enough but not too long. Freshly manicured and painted a maroon so dark it looked black with only the moon for light. She smiled – then looked at the door again – then the clock. Her smile faded. Come on, Josh. You’re scoring some blow, not negotiating world peace. It just shouldn’t take this long.

The neighborhood was old but reasonably well maintained. It was just past Halloween and not yet Thanksgiving, yet the house Josh had entered had a little wreath on the door and multicolored lights strung along the roof of the porch. A few of them had burned out. There were lights strung over the bushes, too, but this had been done in a haphazard manner. Some of the bushes blinked; some did not. The attempt to be festive had missed its mark and just landed on sad and a little pathetic. “Perfect”, Marnie thought. A lifesized faded plastic Santa waved to her. He knows if you’ve been bad or good… yeah… this was probably a good neighborhood in which to keep track of that sort of thing.

Two eternal minutes later, Josh emerged from the house. Marnie took a moment to appreciate his rugged looks before she remembered she was angry with him. She had worked up quite a scowl by the time he’d opened his door and swung into his seat. “What took you so long?”

“I was only in there a minute.”

“Try nine.”


“Well, eight. Maybe eight and a half.”

Josh smiled at her precision. She was cute when she was annoyed. “I guess you really missed me.” She wondered if you could actually hurt yourself if you rolled your eyes too hard. “There were a couple guys there. I had to be sociable.”

“Did it occur to you that I like being sociable, too? And that it’s fucking cold out here?”

“Matter of fact it did not.” Josh’s tone changed from flippant to sincere as he noticed how tightly she was hugging her sweater, and he added, “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t realize it had been that long.” His tone changed once again, “Time flies, and so do I, baby!”

Marnie rolled her eyes. She rolled her eyes a lot around him. Josh was such an ass. A good looking ass, to be sure, but an ass all the same.

Josh reached into his coat pocket and produced a small packet of white powder. “Little taste?”

She nodded, her anger fading more quickly than she’d intended for it to. She’d intended to stay angry at him for a just a little bit longer. But he looked so damn sincere as he carefully filled her pinkie nail with coke, holding her hand to keep it steady. She held her left nostril shut with her other hand and sucked that sweet powder in with her right. She closed her eyes and held her pinkie out for more. He obliged and she repeated the procedure on the other side. It would be so unfair to leave one side out. Josh might be an ass, but he was fair. By the time she’d snorted through her second nostril, that delicious drip had already begun along the back of her throat. She closed her eyes for a second and leaned back to enjoy this. She absentmindedly rubbed her pinkie over her gums, enjoying the way they went instantly numb.

Josh smiled at her. She smiled back. “Better?” She nodded and kissed his cheek.

“Sorry I was such a bitch.”

“We’re all bitches when we’re jonesin’, babe.” She wished he wouldn’t call her babe. “Ready to head back?” he added. “If you were that pissed about the time, imagine how antsy everyone back at the house is gonna be.”

“Yep. Let’s roll.”

The ride back to the house didn’t even take long enough for the heater to kick on. Marnie had stopped complaining about the cold, though. It wasn’t really so bad anymore.

Josh’s house wasn’t so very different from the one they’d just left. It had originally been a double house but he’d purchased what everyone still referred to as ‘the other side’ years ago. There was a lot of space, but the floor plan was weird. Most folks thought that just added to the charm. Josh headed up the sidewalk to the front door. Marnie opened her own door and followed him. She knew she wasn’t living in the 1950’s, but she still thought it might’ve been nice if he’d opted to open her door. It was just good manners, for Pete’s sake. Then she remembered where she was and laughed at herself a little bit. She caught up with him before he opened the door. They could hear music from the porch, but they hadn’t heard it on the street. That was good. No one would be complaining about the noise tonight.

There was a motley crew assembled around the heavy old table in Josh’s dining room. There weren’t a lot of folks who still liked to do coke. The world had moved on to different drugs of choice. This small group had not. They let up a little whoop when Josh and Marnie entered. “What took you so long?” asked Sonya, her eyes narrowed and more than a little bit of suspicion and panic in her tone.

Marnie looked at Josh and debated screwing around with Sonya a little bit. Sonya and Josh had hooked up a few times. In her eyes that made them a couple. In his eyes, that made her – well – it didn’t make her anything. It made her Sonya. The chick he sometimes partied with who sometimes crashed after the party. Marnie decided not to push it. Not tonight. “I TOLD him it was a long time! Asshole made me wait in the frikkin’ car. It was freezing!” Sonya relaxed a little bit upon hearing that Marnie had been treated less than well and her defenses visibly dropped a little bit. Sonya approached Josh and punched him playfully on the arm.

“Asshole.” She said, “Making a lady wait in the car when it’s cold.” The tone in her voice was admonishing, but the look in her eye was pure adoration.

Marnie made her way to the table and greeted the folks sitting there. She pulled up a chair between Cal and Andy. That made Sonya relax even more. This was good. The last thing she was looking for tonight was a lot of drama. “Hey, Cal! What’s the good word?” Cal was out of work. His long term girlfriend had recently left him for someone with a little more money and stability. She took both of their kids with her. He was, what you might want to call, down on his luck. He was also, what you might want to call, devastatingly good looking. What he lacked in education; he made up for in cheekbones. What he lacked in breeding; he made up for in thick wavy hair. What he lacked in money; he made up for in a naturally – almost casually – muscular physique. Marnie always had to make a special effort not to flutter her lashes and blush and stutter when she was around him. He got enough of that. She always just tried to treat him like the nice guy that he was. It wasn’t her fault if this nice guy was attached to a particularly nice ass.

“Not much, Marn. Andy here says there may be some extra work at his shop soon, so I’m hoping…” he trailed off, “you’re lookin’ good.” He added, almost as an afterthought.

“You too.” She answered, avoiding eye contact. She touched his knee and said, “Something will work out.” His jeans were soft and worn and she had to remind herself not to let her hand linger. She didn’t like that he had an effect on her. Good looks were nice, but not exactly something you could build a future on. She tried to hold on to that notion, but it set a thought train in motion. Future. Cal would sure make good looking babies. She could work and support them both and Cal could stay home and be beautiful and take care of the beautiful house and the beautiful babies. It wasn’t such a ridiculous plan…

Luckily, this particular train of thought was cut short by Josh pulling that little packet out of his coat pocket.

Conversation ceased as Josh poured a small mound of the white powder onto an old hand mirror. He carefully cut it with a razor blade into eight thick lines, one for everyone at the table, dividing it as evenly as he could. He cut one of those lines in half, cross-chopping through it with the blade as he did. He used the blade to cut about a two inch length of drinking straw and snorted those lines, first one, then the other. He passed the mirror, the blade and the straw around the table. Most people did the same thing, with only slight variations – it was vaguely ritualistic. Andy snorted the whole line in one nostril, saying he’d even things out next time around. Sonya dabbed at her nose after each snort with a damp washcloth, swearing that the moisture from the washcloth alleviated some of the harsher physical effects of the drug for her. Cal tapped the razor blade three times; no more and no less after splitting his line into two. Everyone had their little idiosyncrasies; their own little personal way of doing things, but the general ritual remained the same.

Marnie considered the folks around the table as the mirror made its first round. She spent a lot of time with these people and considered them to be her friends. But it was a situational sort of friendship. None of them had ever met her family, nor were they ever likely to. If she needed a date for a wedding or a work related event she would never consider inviting Cal or Josh, even though they would both make a great looking and age-appropriate companion. She’d never call any of the women at this table if she just needed someone to talk to. It wasn’t like that. She had called on Andy once to help her move, though. He was the only person she knew who had a truck. People with trucks, she assumed, expected this.

Everyone here was from a different world, and they were drawn together by two things: A love of the blow and Josh’s charisma. And yet… and yet Marnie enjoyed this group more than she enjoyed the people she’d grown up with. She suspected the same might be true for each or them. She felt comfortable here. She knew these people, and they knew her, in a way that was much more than superficial. They’d been meeting like this for years. Different folks floated in and out, but the core group remained the same. And it felt like a family; a beautifully misfit dysfunctional family.

Take Andy, for instance. Andy was a little older than Marnie, Josh, Cal and Sonya. Marnie had always thought he was a lot older, and was surprised when his actual age had been revealed on his birthday last year. Life had been rough on Andy. He ran an auto body shop he’d inherited from his father. He’d worked there from the time he was fourteen. His dad had gotten too far into his love of the bottle to effectively run the shop himself and by the time he was sixteen – the age Marnie first gave any real consideration to cars – he was pretty much running the shop single handedly. He dropped out of school that year and earned his GED several years later at night school. He’d met a girl while attending night school and they fell in love and said love resulted in a beautiful baby girl. Andy was very devoted to them and worked hard to support the three of them, no small feat for an eighteen year old, to be sure. In her eyes, he failed. She packed up the baby and they both moved out while Andy was at work one day. He hadn’t seen it coming. That was twenty years ago, and he’d never seen either of them again. He carried a picture of his daughter as a baby in his wallet. It was worn and faded and a briefly sad expression passed across his face every time he looked at it. She’d be twenty, now. Almost the age of some of the younger girls who came to Josh’s to party.

Andy had the sort of looks you’d call ‘solid’. He was a big guy in every direction; a great big hulking teddy bear. His hair was a fading blonde and it was quite unruly. He had a beard which went ungroomed. Marnie had never seen him in anything other than work pants and a shirt with his name embroidered over the left breast pocket. The black stains under his fingernails were probably more permanent than temporary.

He was possibly the nicest guy Marnie had ever met, but he could never seem to catch a break. Luck seemed to have a bone to pick with Andy, and it was kicking his ass.

On the other side of Andy, there was Joan. Joan was around Andy’s age but wore it a little better. She was a beautician by trade and whoever sat near her at Josh’s big table could count on having their hair stroked, played with, and generally contemplated. She really wanted to get her hands on Andy’s hair and beard and was constantly telling him how handsome he was underneath ‘all that mess’. “For God’s sake, Andy”, she’d say more than once a night, “You could be such a hunk. Is this man not a hunk?” she’d ask of Marnie or Sonya or any other female who happened to be at the table that evening. Stifling giggles at her use of the outdated term with varying degrees of success they would answer, “Joan’s right. You’re a total hunk.”

Joan was married to a cop, which made her involvement in this little group both dangerous and awkward from time to time. She wore her nails wildly colored, her bottle red hair big, and her jeans tight. It would’ve been easy to stereotype her based upon her looks, but to do so would’ve been a mistake. That was one thing time with this group had taught Marnie – don’t be so quick to put people into boxes. Don’t assume you know someone because you know their type. Joan, for example, might’ve looked for all the world like an aging bimbo, but what you wouldn’t know by looking at her was that she was a classically trained violinist.

She could saw on a fiddle with the best of them, and Marnie had heard her do just that, but her real love – her passion - was with classical music. Niccolo Paganini was her hero, idol, and inspiration. She had named her first son Niccolas in his honor. Nobody she knew got the reference and Nic grew tired of having to explain the odd spelling to people. She had wanted to attend school for music and pursue a career in that direction, but it hadn’t been in the cards for her. She sometimes expressed regret over the road not taken, but never bitterness.

Joan passed the mirror to Mike. Mike had been paralyzed from the waist down in the Gulf War. The stories as to how this came about varied from telling to telling. Marnie was never sure if that was because he really didn’t remember, because he really didn’t want to remember, or because he was a pathological liar and an insufferable jackass who had been hit by friendly fire. Marnie liked Mike cautiously. She never trusted him. Something about his eyes didn’t sit right with her. He always seemed to be plotting his next move. Mike was a mean and violent drunk. When he started getting his drink on, Josh usually tried to get him out of the house. That usually did not go well. Everyone else knew to leave, and when there was no one left to throw insults, fists, or decorative knick knacks at, Mike would leave, too.

Kristen rounded out the crew on this particular night. Kristen was a little younger than the rest of the folks at the table, but she never seemed to be intimidated by that. Kristen wasn’t intimidated by much of anything – a point well made by her inclination towards liking to sit next to Mike. She was attending community college and hoped to make a decision soon about where she wanted to continue her education and what to major in when she got there. She was waffling between several incompatible options. This did not feel contradictory to her.

From Kristen the mirror returned to Josh. He let it sit in front of him for a few minutes. “I’m getting a beer.” Sonya announced, “Anybody need one while I’m up?”

“I’ll take one”

“Me, too.”

“Beer me.”

“Anyone else? Kristen? I think there’s some light beer in the back there…”

“Do I LOOK like a pussy?” Kristen replied without missing a beat. “Bring me a real beer, for God’s sake!”

While Sonya retrieved the beer from the kitchen, Josh started setting out the next round of lines. The conversations were easy, familiar, and, for the most part, monosyllabic. The beers went down easy while the mirror made its way around the table once again. Josh, slow and deliberate to Sonya, sniffing at her wet washrag to Cal, tap tap tapping to Marnie, eyes shut and head back to Andy, one big snort to Joan, nasal honking to Mike, quick and shifty to Kristen, meticulous and exacting.

The mirror made two more rounds of the table before Josh’s little baggie was empty. He made quite a show of tapping it on the mirror to make sure everything was out. Then he put his tongue in the bag and licked it clean. Sonya watched him perform this particular little maneuver with just a little more interest than might have been deemed appropriate in more polite company. “I’m gonna make a beer run” he announced.

“No more for me”, Marnie said, standing up and stretching. I wanna go dancing. She raised her arms in the air and did a little grind to bring the point home.

“You headin’ to The Vista?” Cal asked, standing up himself.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”

“Me too. Want a ride?”

Cal rode a beautiful bike. Marley had never ridden with him before. He was so good looking and she was a little high and a little drunk and maybe wrapping her legs around him while 800 pounds of bike vibrated beneath them was a bad idea and “Fuck yeah!” she heard coming from her mouth. “Let me just fix my make-up quick, and I’ll be good to go.”

“You look fine.”

“I have to pee, ok? Geez, ya try to express a little fuckin’ decorum around here…”

Cal smiled and watched her walk up the stairs. Although Josh’s house had many rooms, it only had one working bathroom, and that was upstairs. There were evenings when that became particularly challenging and once up the stairs people sometimes never made it back down. This was not a huge problem, as Josh had several bedrooms. Everyone knew if they couldn’t make it down again, they could crash, as long as they didn’t crash in Josh’s bed. Sometimes someone would think they could make it back down and find out that they were mistaken. That happened a lot, actually. Usually someone else would have enough presence of mind to move them from the bottom of the stairs, but sometimes folks would just opt to step over them.

Marnie went into the small bathroom and shut the door. She looked in the mirror and touched up her lipstick. Everything else looked ok. She shook her hair out and ran her fingers through it. She turned sideways and looked at herself in the full length mirror. She lifted her shirt to reveal her belly, which was flat to the point of being almost concave. She loved this. She had never been this thin before and it surprised her every time she caught a glimpse of her reflection. Cal sure had caught a good glimpse, she told herself as she smiled at the girl in the mirror. She tucked her shirt back into her jeans, jeans which, she was aware, cost more than anyone else at the table downstairs made in a week. She knew this. She hoped none of them did.

She ran down the stairs and found Cal holding her sweater.

“This won’t be warm enough – wear my jacket.” He extended his leather jacket towards her.

“I can’t take that, then you’ll be cold. You’ll keep the wind from hitting me too much. It’s not that far, anyway.”

“If you won’t put the jacket on, I won’t let you ride with me.”

Marnie reluctantly accepted the jacket from his outstretched hand. The fit was big. The collar smelled like Cal’s aftershave. She was heading into a serious danger zone here.


“I was born ready, baby.”

1 comment:

  1. This is your NaNoWriMo??? Did you edit this? It's so good! Not like my free-for-all attempt! Please post more...