WIP – Part 2, story 10

A few days later, there was the quarter, and there was the creature.

He was only three inches tall. I didn’t get a good look at him that first time. It was only in the following months, as he grew more careless, perhaps convinced that I was not as observant as the other human who loudly moved about the house, that I actually gathered enough detail to describe him well.

Three inches tall, knobby, like a twisted branch, and his skin was mottled. His ears were tipped in purple so deep and dark that they faded delicately into his black hair. He would have blended right into a shadow had an observer not been looking directly at him when he moved. His eyes were solid black. It made reading his expressions and moods as we later became friends difficult, but I liked the way they stood out on his face. We would discover later that he blended perfectly into the shadow my hair created against my neck – black hair and skin dark enough to create few if any highlights. We were almost a matched pair if you took away the distinctly twig-like appearance of his body and the purple highlights he was sporting.

“Hello,” I murmured one morning when I saw him skirting the spine of Great Expectations. I had briefly thought of pulling it down to read that morning but decided ultimately that I did actually want to know what was going on in the world. The book had stood there, half pulled from the shelf and nearly flush with the edge of the shelf, when he crept from the shadow over the volume next to it.

I watched him clamor up the spine of Middlemarch easily. Like Spider-Man, his hands seemed to naturally adhere to the cloth binding of the book he was descending, and he was soon on the shelf, edging around the Dickensian spine carefully, his bare feet just fitting on the space between pure air and leather.

He jumped so at the sound of my voice that I reached out a hand next to the shelf so he wouldn’t fall. There was the slightest of pressure on the edge of my palm, one bare foot had barely landed before he was leaping back to the Eliot, and he was gone, disappeared before my eyes could even process what I had seen.

“I only wanted to say hello,” I whispered to the empty room, sure that small, purple-tinged ears could hear me somehow.

“Love, have you seen my cufflinks?” Henry asked from the bathroom. “Well not both of them.” I could hear him fumbling through the small dish of accessories on the vanity. “I seem to have one but the other is gone. Is it on my table?”

“No, I don’t see it.” I answered, shuffling through the detritus of his evening reading, water glasses and eye drops. “Did you leave one at the office?”

Henry’s tall bulk blocked the light from the bathroom. He was fastening another cufflink – not the normal plain gold pair with a small leave embossed on its face – to one wrist distractedly. I found my husband to be a handsome man. Others have told me he’s too imposing, too tall and broad and bear-like, but the skin around his eyes is gentle and soft, and he smiles easily through a smattering of beard.

“These will do, I suppose, but can you take a look today?” He was across the room in a moment, one arm wrapping around my waist and the other my shoulders before he dipped me and smacked a kiss to my cheek enthusiastically. “You always can find the things I misplace, absent-minded professor that I am.”

“Of course,” I said with a smile as he set me back on my feet. “I’ve got to run into the library, but I’ll have a look when I return.” Henry winked and released me with a gentle squeeze.

My day was structured for once, and I was looking forward to it more than normal. My computer was silent on the desk in the study where it had been mocking me for days, and I wanted out of the house with a project on my hands rather than to be derided again by Siri and her peers as they railed against my procrastination.

A few more minutes and Henry was out the door, and my bag had a stack of books piled in the bottom, a sweater for what was sure to be an over air-conditioned library, and at the bottom, a light snack that I’d have to smuggle past the dragon lady at the front desk.

I volunteered regularly enough to have my own plastic pin with my name cut into the blue front in sharp relief. The guards had gotten over formalities months ago and called me Penny instead of Mrs. River. And the circulation kids had been pulling new releases for my previewed glances for years. No matter what I did or how much I was there, Mrs. Devonshire would not bend. As head librarian, she policed all comings and goings, check outs and check ins and made sure that no rules were broken.

How this single woman managed to strike such fear into my heart, I couldn’t explain.

I was completely convinced she hated me.

She’d probably sniff the stupid apple and crackers out before I even reached the circulation desk and then slipped past her into the back room.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when I slammed the door to the old red Fiat in the driveway. Later I wondered if I hadn’t heard another breath hitch as I dropped the bag unceremoniously onto the passenger seat, but at the time I pretended it was just the wind.

We lived on the outskirts of a big town. There were shops, restaurants and easy access to the main thoroughfares to get into a nearby city. But there were also quiet tree-lined streets with sidewalks, and further out, silent, meadow-lined streets with no sidewalks so that I could claim country living even if those meadows butted right up against a freeway. The town itself was as depressed as the economy. On a sunny day, it was almost adorable. But this was New England in the fall, and days were usually borderline grey.

The streets were empty this morning. Leaves muddled the gutters and the sky threatened rain but aside from a damp chill to the air wasn’t actually dropping anything on the car. I pulled into the library slowly, smiling and waving at Mrs. Kalry as she slowly made her way to her own vehicle, one hand on the car beside her for balance. The window was up so I could pull past without getting a full update on all the grandchildren. I dawdled gathering my things until I saw her car door slam before slipping from the warm exterior with my tote clenched in one hand.

I had to get research done for a commissioned piece on the local holiday festival that was only weeks away now. The city magazine wanted five hundred words on the traditions and the history of the carnival that included costumes and a parade with small children caroling through the town. And I had to return all the books I had been hoarding for six months. I was starting to get dirty looks from the other volunteers.

“No coffee in the research room, Penelope. You know the rules.” Her crackly voice voice followed me past circulation.

“Just water, Mrs. Devonshire,” I answered with a timid smile. Like I would break her precious rules that openly. I dropped the seven hardbacks on the desk and pushed them towards Kelly to check in while I slipped the now empty tote into my purse.  Henry would crack jokes later tonight about how the bedside table looked downright sad without its towering stack.

My hand clenched momentarily around the handle of my purse, snapping the ribbing together unexpectedly. A small gasp made me glance over my shoulder, but no one was there. The research room called my name, and I thought little more of it as I turned towards the microfiche disks that would hold the town records I was after. Hours would pass before I looked up again.

That’s the only reason he stepped out of my purse, I think. He was so sure that I wouldn’t notice – that I wouldn’t see movement from the corner of my eye let alone see the small figure creeping from the darkened corner of my bag around the edge of the ribbing.

He sat down slowly, back to my bag, and stayed under the shadow of the dark leather, blending in perfectly with wood of the table and the camel-colored wall behind him.

I did everything in my power not to move, not to jump, not to turn my attention from the words flying by on the screen in front of me. We stayed that way for an hour. Me pretending not to see him and barely moving. Him looking around the library from his fold of my purse. I got next to nothing done except hitting the print button whenever I saw a year I thought was relevant and hoping no one made off with my stack of papers.

This was by far the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me and nobody would ever believe me.


Online Dating…but for friends and books

The most glorious thing about living in NYC is that I get the opportunity to actually meet a lot of my online friends in real life or IRL as the kids call it these days. It started practically the moment I got here with brunches and coffees and invitations to birthday parties for people I only knew by pseudonyms in boroughs and neighborhoods I was completely afraid of and convinced I would need a cab to keep myself from getting both lost and shanked in the process of getting to and from the party.

I am from the Midwest. Any neighborhood I didn’t already know or hadn’t been walked through by a friend was potentially terrifying to me for the first month I lived here. Don’t judge me. I’m now that person who walks on dark streets with her headphones in and a preternatural sixth sense when another human being is within ten feet of me.

In addition to quickly becoming a regular rider of the NYC subway and navigator of the bus system, the friends I had only known through 100×100 pixel avatars and pseudonyms soon became my closest friends. Two years later, I’m still doing this. I collect friends I make through the internet the way other people date online. They get to know people. They go on dates with many of them. Then they whittle it down to one person to date. I just never do the whittling.

It’s kind of awesome.

I have friends here in NYC from every background both professional and personal. They work in all kinds of industries and have all kinds of interests. The great commonality seems to be that almost everyone I catch in my net of friendship is a big fan of books, so when a new friend looks me in the eye and says, “Rachael, you absolutely have to read this book,” I take it very seriously.

I’ve been known to stop at a bookstore on the way home and pick up a copy even.

Sometimes when I don’t have the time – or the $25 a brand new hardcover costs (so many of my friends work in the book business and rave about brand new releases they get to read for free and then I get all jealous and it’s sad) – I just wait until I come home and download it to my e-reader.

I have a Kobo. It’s awesome. They do not sponsor me in any way, shape or form, but I talk them up to everyone I know. I am pretty psyched that I basically buy e-books from my favorite Brooklyn bookstore, Word, instead of the evil monopoly named after a large river in South America. And the interface is really friendly and paper-like. It’s great. You should get one.

This is all a really long set up to tell you a simple fact: I just finished reading The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld because Erin Morgenstern told me it was beautiful. And she was right. The book is incredibly beautiful. It deals with the worst ideas, most inhuman topics, and brutal people in stunning, gorgeous ways.

I couldn’t stop reading it even though there were definitely times that I desperately wanted to abandon it. I got off the train last Friday night and went to meet some of those online friends for drinks completely still stuck in the scenes I had just read. They were so disturbing that I dwelled on them all night, talked them over repeatedly with those friends, and sighed about how I still wanted to finish reading it.

And I just want to thank the internet for bringing this now IRL friend into my life. For that moment when I saw a notification scroll past above my right hand when she followed me on Tumblr as I was reblogging away. And then the pop-up on my phone when she followed me back on Twitter. And I giggled a little bit because I’m a total fangirl (which she already knows so it’s not embarrassing to put it in type…she kind of wrote an awesome book) and because I am notoriously unrestrained in the number of times a day I post to social media platforms. I hit the tumblr limit with regularity. I can never believe that cool people choose to keep following me when I know that my feeds dominate their dashboards regularly.

So thanks internet. I’m glad I met you back when I was 14 and picking out my first email address.

Yes I still remember it.

No I will not tell you the horrifically sappy thing it was.

Thanks for introducing me to what I fondly refer to as the Bookternet and awesome bookish folks (and cats). I stopped into Community Bookstore on my way home tonight and purchased a copy of The Magician King from Tiny. It will be my next bookternet recommended read.

You’re pretty great Internet. And I kind of love the home you’ve made for me.

Reading books…Reviewing books…Silent City

Crime and mystery novels are not normally my genres of choice. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good who-done-it, but I’m more likely to grab a little literary fiction or fantasy when set loose in a bookstore. But when I heard that best selling and critically-acclaimed comic writer Alex Segura was publishing his first full length novel – a crime novel – I had to give it a chance.

Silent City wades into the seamy underbelly of Miami and the Cuban crime world peopled with gangsters, drug cartels and money laundering. After an opening chapter with the brutal abduction (possibly murder) of a young woman hot on the trail of murderer-for-hire the “Silent Death” perspective shifts to Pete Fernandez as he is drawn into finding the missing woman and uncovering, once and for all, the identity of the mysterious fixer of Miami’s mob families.

The story is peppered with characters unable to hide their weaknesses from friends and readers alike, a mystery spanning years and, in the case of our main character, generations, Miami’s rich cultural makeup, and the families we build outside the families we’re born into. I really enjoyed the characters, even when they gave me few redeeming features of their own, and the story drew me in and hooked me.

Silent City was a quick read. I finished it in just a few days, and by the time I was reaching the climax, I was turning off the television and flying through the last twenty pages just to know what happened to Pete and all his friends. If you’re looking for something engaging this holiday season, or you have a relative who loves a good crime story, I definitely recommend picking this one up at your local bookstore.

With the subtitle “A Pete Fernandez Mystery” on the cover, I’m hoping we’ll see another book out of Segura sooner rather than later.

A Story: Knots in the Rain

Kate’s arrival at the bachelor party is not just accepted – it is expected. I see my brother’s eyes light up when she saunters into the hotel bar in stilettos and the same black dress she had on at the rehearsal dinner a few hours ago but that has somehow gotten far sexier in the last hour. Maybe it’s the whiskey Sam has been plying me with for that hour. I mean, this is Kate. She’s practically my sister.

The other groomsmen hoot and holler and she gets swept off her feet, literally, as they lift her into bear hugs and toss her around the room from man to man. Eventually, she’s deposited on the bar stool between Sam and me, and I manage to grin at her over the rim of my glass.

“Thank God, my love, I thought I’d have to drink alone.”

Read more of this post

#Stories: A Perfect Partner

“Why are you here?”

“Because you’re here. I want to be where you are.”

“Do you realize how insane that sounds?”

“I love you. Why is that insane?”

“Because you are spending your entire weekend sitting next to me in an outpatient treatment room, and this is the first time I’ve spoken to you in the last two hours.”

She plucked a thread from her sleeve and flicked it to the floor with a twitch. From the corner of her eye she saw his eyes follow the thread and a slight tick in the skin over his cheek. She had used the same fingers to flick his joints repeatedly, checking for reaction. Her body was reclined on the padded leather chair, arms crossed defensively over her chest, eyes closed against the bright sunlight attempting to pierce the eyes of every single patient in the room but missing all of their visitors who sat with their backs to the windows.

Bringing both hands to his head with slightly jerky movements, he stood and turned towards the window with the weight of her eyes on his back.

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know, Henry. I can’t be in charge of your every waking moment. I’m not your keeper.”

Too many hours with an IV taped to the back of her hand, and an oxygen mask over her face had made her grumpy and impatient. While the volume of her voice was soft, the harsh tone with which she spoke gave away her swiftly waning patience with this man standing before her.

He could have just dropped her off. He could have pulled up to the entrance downstairs, put the car in park, helped her into the lobby, and turned around and left. But no. He had parked, carefully shuttled her fragile body to the outpatient lobby and gone back out to move the car to the longer term parking that was far from the entrance and come back in.

He had no books. He hadn’t even brought headphones with him.

He just sat there across from her treatment chair staring at her and waiting for his instructions.

This was always going to be the problem. She should have cut him loose when he started waiting for her through her yoga classes. Couldn’t he find something else to do with his time aside from waiting for her? It drove her up the wall – constantly waiting for her to give him a directive, constantly waiting for her to tell him exactly what she wanted him to do with the next hour of his life. She wouldn’t be there forever.

He blinked and there was a slight hum from his chest.

“You made me. You tied my circuits together and threw the switch. You are my mother. I exist only to be with you.”