This week is Little Miss White Cloud’s 30th birthday. For those of you who don’t know who Little Miss White Cloud is, my novel Twenty-Five at the Lip is dedicated to her. The character of Valerie is partly based on LMWC, Morgan Aguilar (Welker) who I worked with at Sunstar Paramedics in Pinellas County Florida. Her 30th birthday would be on Thursday, September 3rd and so this week on the 3rd and 4th (Thursday and Friday) Twenty-Five at the Lip is free on Kindle and any Kindle-enabled device. This means that if you have a tablet, smartphone, computer, Kindle, etc. and have the free Kindle app downloaded you can get the novel I wrote and dedicated to her for nothing.
In addition to this I’m offering a promo of Don’t Look Back in Anger which has a couple of Valerie cameos in it. We could all use a little more Valerie in our lives after all and so I chose a section that sort of holds your hand in the transition from Twenty-Five at the Lip to Don’t Look Back in Anger and Valerie is there to drag you kicking a screaming over the line.
Oh, and there is even a connection to Tuesday’s Gone in Don’t Look Back in Anger. See if you can find it when it’s released in early 2016 🙂
Don’t Look Back in Anger is the story of Scott Carter, an aspiring novelist and newspaper writer for the Providence Journal who goes on a cruise with his family in Alaska. Scott has had a number of setbacks in his adult life and has developed some psychological ticks as a result. As we will come to find out, he isn’t the only one with some distress. Enjoy!
Day One – Into Anchorage
Scott sat slouched, with his feet out across the floor toward the picture window viewing the tarmac. He had been staring at the knotted laces, faded cloth, and worn rubber that made up what were left of his sneakers. Allowing his mind to drift against the backdrop of his iPod, he could feel the still rising sun against the back of his neck and in a way it had been chasing him since he’d left Providence. Now in Chicago, it was an hour earlier than it was back home thanks to the time change, and he was looking at another couple of hours before he could board another plane for the second relay jump to Seattle. There he would sit another three hours with his brother who would be coming in from Arizona. The two of them would be meeting their parents at the baggage claim in Anchorage.
His back groaned at him for his lack of consideration in positioning. He was forcing himself to try to relax but the inability to ignore the dirty airport bacteria he knew to be crawling over his skin made this impossible. Everything he touched felt sticky and everyone who coughed, sneezed, or scratched in his vicinity made him nervous. Airports were dirty places and every science fiction story about plague or terrorist act seemed to have something to do with them. People coming and going, spreading their germs and viruses, all of which were apparently migrating to Scott Carter at O’Hare International. He scratched the back of his neck imagining a parasite crawling under his skin there.
Scott’s stomach still swirled from the bagel he’d bought at T.F. Green in Rhode Island, as well as the gin and tonic he’d purchased on the plane at the absurd hour of six a.m. But he didn’t care what time it was considering what he’d been through. The occasional drink before noon wasn’t so much a surprise to him now, and he hated flying – hated it. He wasn’t sure if it was the turbulence, cramped quarters, the popping of his ears or just the lack of control over his own mortality, but when that fasten seat belt sign came on he gripped the arm rests just a little tighter.
He wore a corduroy blazer with denim on the elbows and a pair of Levi 501’s with a tee shirt embossed with a charging bull against the flag of Spain. He’d bought it as a tribute to Hemingway. At this point, his life had been shaping up to be like something out of a Lost Generation novel. A staff writer for the Providence Journal, he had hardly reached the dreams he’d set for himself in the literary world. Occasionally, he’d pick up a piece for the Providence Phoenix, a free publication centered around the underground aspects of the Rhode Island art and music scene, but that hardly brought in anything extra for him. The sideline was so he’d have a bit more freedom in style than what his editor at the Journal expected.
What had started out as a love of writing in middle school had turned into a nightmare. Writing for the school paper had been an interesting experience, but the demand to deliver wasn’t there. Blurbs about last Friday’s football game against South Kingstown, or the theme for the junior prom was hardly newsworthy. He wanted to create, and envisioned himself an artist in words. If he wasn’t the quintessential example of a starving writer, then he at least wore the persona very well. He drove an old Toyota, complete with the rolling seat belts that traveled up along the track by the door. His clothing was a cross between an artist and an old man: argyle socks, sweaters and corduroy.
In his grandfather’s gun safe sat three manuscripts, safely tucked away in case his apartment were burglarized. Nothing very noteworthy at least in the eyes of Scribner’s, Bantam, or Crown. Like every good suffering artist, he’d lined the cork board with the rejection letters until the tacks holding them tight were not long enough to pierce the paper and cork. He reminded himself that it was all part of the process and that eventually the right agent, editor or publisher was going to stumble across his parcel, found crooked in their inbox, and fall in love with his work. They’d send him a check and plead with him for another four titles. Then he’d sign his name on the dotted line. He’d be a true writer then.
Instead the thin envelopes continued to pour in. The fat one never came. His fingers were sore from typing and his tongue friction burned from licking envelopes, and as a result he was surrendering himself to a life of monotony in the newspaper. And who could tell how long that career would last in the internet age? In another ten or twenty years nobody would buy newspapers and that would put him in his forties if he was lucky. While it worked for him now he knew he’d need to figure out something else quickly, but he knew that all he wanted to do was write.
Mr. Hemingway was right, Scott decided. Journalism was a good way to get started, but it was best to get out before it corrupted you. He was on call most hours of the night, if something happened he’d be called to go out and get the information for the paper, but it wasn’t just the Journal that would send him out. His uncle Richard had recently sent him a text message in the middle of the night reading
Police standoff in Borden City. 88 Belmont Avenue.
Scott had a leg up on some of the other newspaper reporters. His uncle Richard was the senior dispatcher at Bristol County EMS and often sent him messages about big incidents he heard over the scanners in the dispatch center. This was a benefit to Scott as it afforded him a head start when the action started. Television and newspaper media sat by scanners waiting for incidents, but Scott could get a tip from his uncle and be rolling to the scene while radio silence was still in effect.
“Thank’s, Uncle Rich,” he tapped into his flip phone keypad. He grabbed his steno pad and digital camera and rushed out the door into the night.
When you get on scene go 2 the ambulance and tell the crew who U are.
Borden City was the heroin capitol of the East Coast and the constant crime and police activity was a sure bet for a decent story. It was easy enough to find the location as the flashing lights from the police units lit up the neighborhood and people had begun to gravitate to the scene in their bathrobes to see what was going on.
Scott pulled up around the corner from Union Hospital and slung his press pass around his neck. He palmed the camera, stuffing a standard and a telephoto lens into his jacket pockets in case his contact couldn’t get him close enough. His steno pad in hand he briskly walked across the street and over two blocks seeing a few police cruisers whiz past him, their blue and white lights flickering.
He came upon the back door of an idling ambulance with two women sitting in the back. The first had cropped dark brown hair and glasses, and the other was blonde. Both were sitting on the squad bench with their boots on the side of the stretcher. They didn’t seem to be too interested in what was happening in the front of their rig.
“I’m fucking hungry,” the blonde said. She opened her purple backpack and rummaged through the contents inside, pulling out a package of pink marshmallow Snowballs. The brunette feigned a heave, gesturing with her finger down her throat.
“Ug, how can you eat that?” she asked.
Scott wrapped his knuckle against the metallic door frame and the two girls, who Scott could see where about his own age looked up.
“Hi, I’m Scott,” he said.
“Richard’s nephew?” the blonde asked. Scott was taken back, never a believer in revealing his sources, especially if it was a member of his own family.
“Uh, yea,” he confirmed. The blonde smiled and offered her hand to him.
“I’m Valerie,” she said.
“Crystal,” said the brunette.
“So what’s going on?” he asked clicking his pen and flipping open the steno pad.
“Some idiot has barricaded himself in the house and is telling the police he’ll shoot if they try to take him alive,” Valerie said.
“Sounds intense,” Scott said scribbling the information down on his pad. “How come you’re not watching from the front?”
“The guy inside says he has a gun, and if he starts shooting we want to be behind metal, not glass,” Valerie said wrapping the knuckle of her tattooed arm against the metallic panel of the wall behind her. Scott nodded.
“Probably a good idea,” he said.
“I just hope if he does decide to start shooting he puts the first round under his own chin,” Crystal said. She made gun silhouette with her thumb and forefinger and stuck it under her chin and played like she had just shot herself, tossing herself against the back of the squad bench. She played dead for a moment and then clarified, “That would save everyone a lot of trouble.”
Scott shrugged and peered around the side of the rig at the scene before him. Ahead of him he could see the array of police vehicles, as well as a SWAT unit with police armed with shotguns and automatic weapons, all pointed in the direction of the house. He snapped the telephoto lens into the camera and snapped a few shots of the SWAT team as well as the front of the house.
Within a few moments the police had the area taped, and so that he wouldn’t be sent back to the other side of the police barricade Valerie and Crystal allowed him to crouch in between the back of the ambulance and the cab. They shut the back doors so as not to draw attention to themselves. Before too long other news outlets had begun to materialize, but Scott had gotten the scoop first.
In the end the man surrendered, with no shots being fired. As they soon found out the man had no gun in his possession Scott’s front page story ended up being a blurb on page eight, his photos never used. It was this sort of disappointment that heralded his career.
Before him, the flight he had been waiting for blinked up onto the tracker board, Continental 517 to Seattle. So far it was on time, but Chicago was famous for delays and he took no stock in what the electronic board claimed as he nestled himself deeper into the nylon fibered terminal chair. Looking down at his feet he made sure that his carry on messenger bag was still wrapped around his ankle by the shoulder strap. He was a bit neurotic about knowing where his bag was as he had his laptop and scribble pad resting comfortably inside. The contents of this bag were the most valuable items he was carrying, not just in monetary value but because it made up the early life stages of his fourth novel attempt. Pleased with his progress, Scott had only intended it to be a short story but when the muse calls to you, you answer her.
An attractive woman in a white blouse and thigh length skirt rushed by him on her way toward her own destination and Scott allowed himself a glance at her as she continued past. He admired the sway of her hips and the manner in which she kept her hair pulled tightly back in a bun. A business woman, he presumed, placing the mental tag on her as she hurried on. Not even a blip on her radar, he thought to himself.
In a way that was fine though. As an artist he wanted a sense of publicity maintained in some degree of anonymity. He always envisioned himself tucked away in some forgotten New England town hammering away at a masterpiece, unbeknownst to the world, all the while his work receiving laureates of praise as the gratuities poured in. At the moment he was unknown to everyone, but maybe the madman scribbling’s in the red messenger bag at his feet held something. He checked his watch. Nine A.M. in Chicago meant ten A.M. in Providence: time for a drink.
He unwound his foot from the coil of his bag and lifted it feeling the tug of his computer. Checking around the direction the business girl had gone he hoped for one last glance, but she afforded him none. There she went, out of his life. He sniffed his nose and ran his fingers over the scruff he’d left on his face that morning so as to acquire an extra fifteen minutes of sleep. He was glad to see her gone in a way. Having decided she was a business woman, he could put her in the same category as Bridgett, and he had no desire to relive that experience. Guilty by association.
He shuddered and his hands felt sticky. A hand sanitizer station mounted on the wall called out to him and he coated his hands with the alcohol based liquid. Rubbing it over his hands and covering every square inch he gained a sense of relief and he felt his equilibrium return. He twitched his neck feeling a jolt run the length of his spine and his body relaxed a little. Keeping his hands open and at his side he made a mental note not to touch anything. They were clean, wonderfully clean, and he wanted them to stay that way.
After a walk, he found a pub opening up. Its lights were on and the metal grate had just been raised to invite in customers. Hesitant, not wanting to appear too eager he paused a moment before he caught the attention of the man behind the counter.
“We’re open,” the man said.
Scott entered the little pub, side stepping the upturned chairs on tables and made his way to the bar. He felt a bit sheepish asking the barman if they were serving, because his fridge at home never needed to know the time to provide him with a beer.
“Are they open?” Scott asked nodding toward the taps.
“Absolutely,” the barman answered with a grin. “What’ll it be?”
He’d hoped for a microbrew of some kind from the Chicago area, but this little hole in the wall seemed to cater only to the big name brands; Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. The imported selection seemed to offer a few more possibilities, and he settled on a Boddington’s.
The wiggle of the business woman played again in his mind. He tried to put her out of his mind but her perfect stride played on a loop in his mind’s eye. Bridgett had been that looped image once and he had been hooked from the beginning. She had given him a solid year and a half, and that was a solid piece of time only in the way that seasons are born and die at each other’s brink, and only in the actual dates that measured their time spent together. Eighteen months and six days. Within that time frame they met, conceived, were married and divorced.
She had come from an upper middle class family, and received a full ride to the University of Rhode Island on a softball scholarship where she’d received her degree in business management. She spoke well and dressed provocatively enough to get your attention, but not lead you to suspect you might be able to take her to bed on the first date. They flirted in glances across a crowded club, but in his own reserved quiet way, Scott did not make an attempt to speak to her. It was on his way toward the men’s room that she reached out, taking hold of his elbow, pushing the question:
“Are you going to talk to me, or just keep eyeing the merchandise?”
He was embarrassed for a moment until she leaned back against the bar, tilting her head to get a better look at him. Most of the time his harmless looking demeanor got him the heave-ho in any flirting situation, but it seemed to be working for him this time.
“Bridgett,” she offered extending an almost flaccid hand. Torn between his desire to use the bathroom and talk to her, Scott hesitated before remembering to offer his own name to her.
Their initial courtship lasted five months in which time they spent innumerable hours together. It past them by in a blur of concerts, dinners, road trips and lovemaking. They saw almost no one beside each other and enjoyed the comfort of each other’s places of residence as a barrier to the corruption of the outside world.
The marriage itself was a gesture of good faith from Scott, and in all fairness to Bridgett, the pregnancy scare was hardly a scare at all after her gynecologist confirmed that she was in fact pregnant. Scott felt immediately trapped and panicked, sitting in the exam room with her, and when the news came his mind raced looking for a way out. Bridgett sat stoically in her paper gown, the butterfly tattoo on her ankle garnished with a braided bracelet. Scott’s impulse was to run screaming from the room out into the lot where his car sat waiting, but the reality was too much for him to so much as blink. Once outside, with instructions to begin the pre-natal vitamins, Bridgett broke down and cried, sobbing into her oversized sweatshirt. He knew there was no running from this.
The ceremony was largely improvised, thrown together over a period of two weeks in secret and only attended by a handful of family and close friends. A friend of the family, doubling as a temporarily ordained minister presided over the occasion in the chapel at the state park in Bristol. The day was warm with blossoms sprouting on the trees and a spring breeze wafting through. The reception was held at his family’s back yard in Portsmouth, a simple affair complete with paper plates and plastic cutlery. His father Harold, the soon to be grandfather, manning the grill and the running and joyful shouts of the small children playing basketball.
When the baby stopped moving, Bridgett became concerned. At first she thought it was sleeping, but after several days of feeling nothing, the anxiety overcame her and she called Scott at the office and told him to meet her at the doctors. They had been married only four months and Scott had long since decided that was why the marriage had failed. Their history had not prepared them to deal with a major loss. They didn’t know each other well enough. With the shake of her head, the doctor told them everything they needed to know.
It was then that Bridgett’s behavior began to change. She became moody and short with Scott and after several arguments they decided that the combination of work and marriage required that something be given a break. She took a leave of absence and stayed at home, in their shared two bedroom apartment. It did her some good in a way because she was able to relax more and the arguments decreased dramatically. In a way though, she was still not the same person.
First the affection stopped. No more random hugs or kisses. No messages to say that she loved him and wanted to hear his voice. They stopped going out together and spent most evenings quietly in separate areas of their apartment. They stopped making love and Scott chalked that up to a lack of desire to fall into the same situation they’d just gotten out of. Eventually, they stopped going to bed at the same time and as could be expected, they stopped sharing a bed all together after that. She asked him to move out because it would give her space. Gathering his things, he couldn’t help but sense some kind of finality to everything. He worked slowly making sure that he had what he needed, just in case this was the last time he’d be in their apartment.
Being served with divorce papers at the office made his stomach sink down to his knees and he began to sweat. Accomplishing nothing for several hours, he stared at the manila envelope with his name scrawled across it in someone’s unfamiliar handwriting. The return address professionally inked with an attorney’s name he did not recognize, but knew what their role was for. The longer he waited to open it, the longer things might last he reasoned. It was fortunate in a way that they had so little together. No house, and certainly no children. There was no shared car, but he was expected to pay some kind of alimony because she was out of work. It was the worst check he ever had to write.
His new residence was a third floor efficiency in East Providence. A yellow building with paint chipping from the window sills, and roof in need of repair. It was hot in the summertime and drafty in the winter. His bed consisted of a futon he’d salvaged from a friends garage and he placed a few random pictures on the walls, nothing reminding him of her. His refrigerator consisted mainly of beer and a box of baking soda left open to ward away an unpleasant odor.
Perhaps the worst part of living newly single was listening to the couple next door. He didn’t know what their ethnicity was specifically, but reasoned that she was either Pakistani or Indian, while he was Caucasian. They were nice enough people, but it was the sounds creeping through the paper thin walls at night that drove him to tears. Damn the half-rate architect who built this shack, he thought to himself regularly. It wasn’t just the creaking mattress that kept him awake, but every gasp of air and blip of intercourse conversation that made him feel more a spectator than a neighbor.
But then again, they were nice enough people, so it wasn’t worth bringing up in the hallway before their morning commutes. The futon offered a degree of comfort, and it did have the TV. It was also closer to the fridge where the beer was kept. The thought of calling Bridgett entered his mind from time to time, but he’d received one packet of papers from her attorney already, and rather than get another containing a restraining order he decided to let her go. Sitting by the paper shredder in the living room, he spent a night shredding pictures and love notes, cards and tangible memories against the backdrop of the couple next door in the throes of intercourse on their creaky old mattress.
Don’t Look Back in Anger Copyright © 2015 by James Windale