Sam's living room is in Dinkytown. His lazy chair is the red one to the right of the counter at Comfort coffeeshop, and his footstool is the large rucksack that nobody ever sees him open.
Usually there's only one server at a time at Comfort, stationed behind the bar, and Sam is a little older than the usual crowd but he still tends to flirt with the female servers once in a while. He tips well and that's about all the talking he does, so it's alright. As far as any of them can tell, Sam doesn't have a last name and doesn't have anything better to do. Within five minutes of anyone opening up that shop, he's in that chair.
Sam sits drinking tea, smoking and writing. He holds his cigarettes between his middle and ring fingers so as to be able to keep his pen between his writing fingers. The students who come in to work on their homework and smoke, or the wannabe writers who come to talk about writing and smoke and sometimes write, all regard Sam's dexterity with awe. Sam doesn't ever seem to notice.
The ashtray for that seat lives under the lamp on the table to the right of the chair. The ashtray and table became Sam's ashtray and table when the seat became his seat. And Sam sits, filling notebooks and ashtrays and days in that spot.
Occassionally he gets up to use the men's room, and when he does he leaves the notebook on his table. Today he comes back from the men's room, sits back down in his chair, puts his feet on his bag, and brings the notebook to his lap. He grabs his cigarettes from the table, lights one up, pulls it from his mouth, and then sets his pen in next to it. Before he can write, he sees that someone else has written in his notebook:
what do you write in here all day?
It is in blue ballpoint, just like the pen Sam has been using. Sam feels violated by this only for a moment before deciding that the handwriting is beautiful, and that signing off with "love" makes this girl a bit exciting. Who is April Hersh? He wouldn't mind meeting her. He knows the first names of all the servers so he knows it's not from one of them; she must be one of the regulars in the room. So Sam puts the pen and notebook back onto the table, takes his feet off the bag, and simply stands up out of the chair:
"Which one of you is April?" he says loudly.
The ten or so people in Comfort at that moment look at Sam. One boy wearing black with platinum hair and dark sunglasses perched on his head giggles and says "I'm April 11, are you looking for an Aries?"
"No no, I mean which of you is named April?"
Nobody answers. Either she's gone or she doesn't want to be known. Sam doesn't know what to do except for write a note back. He thrusts his left hand into the large outside pocket his rucksack, fiddles around with his fingers for a few moments, and pulls out a Sharpie pen. He tears out a page of his notebook and writes, in big, bold (he hopes) letters:
How do I answer a question like that?
He decides against using his name our of embarassment, and sticks the note to Comfort's bulletin board, over some of the usual fare of roommate wanted ads and political agitation posters. He sits down glad that he wrote a question, since now April will have to respond, and he'll have to notice her doing it.
To be honest, Caroline is glad that her plans for the evening fell through. It has been a long week, the afternoon certainly just added the kicker, what with Philips blowing up at her about the charts and all.
Now it's raining outside and for Caroline, it's the perfect night to be antisocial with a romanitic comedy in the VCR, a glass of wine by her side, a pint of Ben & Jerry's in her left hand, and a spoon in her right.
Of course, it wouldn't have been so bad to do the same with a couple of girlfriends. But hanging out even with her college friends requires her to be somewhat clever and hip, and tonight she just wants to shut her brain down entirely. Deny her own existence and drown herself in... Hm... Something from the 80s... Okay... John Cusack or... someone else?
Caroline's on her hands and knees wrinkling her nose at the Cusack shelf when her cellphone rings. She's not going to answer it. She's antisocial tonight... well what if it's important? She looks at the caller ID. Angie!
Angie is Caroline's best friend from high school, who moved to New York to pursue the whole acting thing. She got a few commercials as soon as she got to New York, so she never bothered with college, but now all that has died down and in the last 6 years Angie has become quite a proficient waitress. Really, truly, proficient. She waits at nice places. As near as Caroline can tell, she makes about as much in tips in one night as Caroline makes as an office manager job at the doctor's office in a week after taxes.
But she never uses any of that to come on back home and visit her friends, of course. She calls instead, though never on Caroline's home phone; Caroline gets the feeling that Angie is unaware that normal phones exist, she doesn't refer to cellphones as cellphones but just as "phones." If you don't have a cellphone, according to Angie you "only have a land line."
But Angie calls cellphones. She calls Caronline's quite a lot. She might be anywhere at any time -- walking back from work at 2am, sitting on the roof of her apartment building, climbing a tree in Central Park, waiting for the bus -- and if some little thing in her brain makes her think of Caroline, she calls Caroline right there and then. Caroline usually finds it charming, but even when she's not in the mood she'll still pick up the phone out of pure fatalism: If Angie calls it means that the powers that be have sent the signal (seemingly randomly) into Angie's brain that at this time the two of them must talk.
And with Angie, Caroline still never feels the need to be clever or interesting.
So upon picking up the phone she simply asks, "Better Off Dead, or Tapeheads?"
Angie laughs. "Give me some of that ice cream and I'll tell you!"
"Yes ma'am," Caroline smiles, digs a spoon out of the softening ice cream, and waves it before the phone. "Here you gooooo," she sings.
"Okay thanks. Are you alone?"
Caroline says yes through the ice cream that somehow found its way into her own mouth.
"Okay, when you're alone, always go with the more obscure because when you're with others they'll more than likely want the more popular movie. It's just logical."
"Thanks," smiles Caroline, and she pulls Tapeheads from the shelf.
"So why are you alone on a Friday night?" asks Angie.
"Oh I had plans but they fell through."
"With who? I mean whom."
Caroline doesn't want to say, but she's never been good at thinking of lies fast enough. "April."
"Oh man. April April. Ever the independable."
Right. Not going there.
"Sooo, what's up with you?" asks Caroline.
"Not much, I'm sick."
"Uh-oh! what's wrong?"
"I think I have the flu. It sucks, I can't work like this and Friday night is always the jackpot night."
"I'm really sorry. Have you been resting?"
"Not till now! hey, do you have people over to watch Tapeheads with you?"
"No, I just told you I'm alone, that's why I'm watching Tapeheads, remember?" Caroline is amazed. How can Angie remember Caroline is watchingTapeheadswithout remembering why? Angie's brain is a collection of some strange signals indeed. They must all come from cosmic sources.
Angie is saying, "Oh right. Sorry I'm kinda drugged up at the moment."
Oh well, okay then. That makes it make sense. "No problem, what are you taking?"
Angie is not taking things quite the way she should be taking them, which is no surprise to Caroline, and Caroline ends up giving her friend a medical consultation for a few minutes. People always take Caroline's medical advice and it always works. Caroline isn't sure if she's absorbing knowledge at the office or if she just has a natural knack for this sort of thing. As she doles out the steps to recovery this time, her mind again flashes on the notion of going back to the nursing program and being dirt-poor again.
"So what is up with our dear April?" asks Angie. "Why'd she ditch you?"
Caroline always feels that she walks a fine line when she's talking about April with Angie. But it's Angie. High school is thicker than unfinished college. Right?
"Oh there was some symposium today, and April got a chance to talk with one of the professors from out of town or something. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and stuff, really."
"Right," says Angie. "Everything is once-in-a-lifetime, ya know?"
Rather than figure out exactly what Angie means by that, Caroline racks her brain for a way to change the subject. Noooo, not going there tonight. But Angie is already going.
"She said it was a once-in-a-lifetime when she came to New York. And she was here for what, all of a few months, and then it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go back to Minneapolis, really she couldn't finish out the lease with me, really oh no, because it's once-in-a-lifetime. She had to go right then."
"Well the program was a great opportunity..."
"Okay, there are lots of great opportunities, that doesn't mean you take every one. If you base your life on doing things once-in-a-lifetime, you never develop things, you know? You never get to let anything grow like it should."
"You mean like growing toward paying a whole year's rent?" April left Angie hanging with a lease. There is probably more to it than that, but Caroline has never let conversations about it progress further than that point with Angie. She likes to tie it up conveniently in the lease and move on to something else.
"Yeah! one year. I mean come on, New York is a great town, if you don't even give it a year of course you're gonna run away."
"Well, okay," Caroline agrees and that should be the conversation.
But something in her voice must have betrayed Caroline's unbelief, because Angie is somehow still going. Maybe it's the drugs. "I mean, she really did run, you know? Believe me, I saw how she was, there... maybe she came to run, maybe the whole point was just to come and then pick up and leave, I mean she was only planning on a year anyway, but you didn't see how she lived there, I mean the boyfriends and everything, it's not like she was back home..."
Boyfriends? Caroline listens to this and puts her hand to her forehead; she knew this conversation would happen ever since April got back, she certainly hadn't expected it to happen now. But it keeps happening, and some if it is new, and Caroline can't help herself:
"She never really went out with anyone at home, right? I mean she was always shy around guys. Here it was totally different. I swear she had a different boyfriend every month, and she kept bringing them over and introducing them to me over dinners, and I mean she actually cooked dinners, understand, and then it was like as soon as I met them they were history. I thought it was pretty weird, like I was supposed to be testing them out or something for her and I had this really high unspoken standard and turned them all down or something, I mean she never actually asked me my opinion about any of them them. She would bring them over and we'd eat and then two days later she'd tell me oh by the way I broke up with so-and-so. It was bizarre."
"She doesn't do that here..."
"No of course she doesn't! I'm saying it was a New York thing. I don't know, I mean I didn't know her so well when I met her hanging out with you, but it was clear that she was totally different from that here, and I think that she was so busy trying different things that she never actually got to see what she, April, would be like in New York. And when she ran out of guys to try, or other things or whatever, she didn't want to be herself in a new city so she just ran back out of it."
"Sounds like you have analyzed her a lot on this."
"Well it bothered me, especially since I felt betrayed about the lease and all."
"You wanted to figure it out."
"Sure I did! I mean, I act, I know about playing different characters. April was putting on this character here, and it was the weirdest thing, it was like as soon as she brought her new character into the presence of someone who just vaguely knew her as the old character -- eye-ee me -- she coudln't pull it off. She realized the guy she was seeing wasn't for her. Or whatever."
"You said she cooked these dinners?"
"Yeah, that was the funniest thing, I mean her take-out crusades were like the one thing that stuck in my mind when I visited you guys. She cooked really good though!"
"Aw, it would have been some cool stories if she had cooked like disasters or whatever." Caroline was desperately trying to get the conversation out of the psycho-analysis or whatever it was that Angie had just engaged in.
"Oh I think it's funnier that she actually can cook. She's like a secret-identity cooking superhero or something."
Um, yeah. Cosmic signals. "I should have her cook for me sometime over here."
Angie giggles. "You just try that. If you say you've heard she can cook she'll freak out, she'll know it was me who busted her secret identity, and I bet she'll get freaked out just because it's like these two lives colliding or whatever."
"Hm. Well I know that she feels really bad about the lease. You guys really should try to work it out."
"Yeah yeah, so you've said, I don't know. The lease thing I can get over. But I think she's just got to work through a lot of stuff. We had some good talks, you know? we were becoming good friends. And then she up and left."
Well well well, Angie has good old-fashioned stunted friendship feelings. Caroline actually feels comforted. She didn't think Angie was the type to get so hung up about money or a broken lease. But friendship, that is more like Angie.
But all she says is, "Well listen, maybe you should come back here. We'll go to a coffeeshop and just sit and read or something. Maybe the two of you would get to talking again."
"Yeah well I probably won't be able to get there this year until Christmas. I don't want to miss too many auditions, you know, you never know when the right opportunity can come along..."
"Yeah, the once-in-a-lifetime one?"
"Haha. Very funny. I should get some sleep, sista."
Sista, that's a new one, thinks Caroline. "Wait a minute, you and me are okay right? I always feel weird when April comes up."
"Yeah we're cool. Given my medicated condition I probably won't remember half this conversation anyway..."
"Okay so remind me to shut you up next time you try to go off about April."
"Yeah. Right. Sorry about that."
"No problem, uh, sista."
At this, Angie laughs.
"Don't forget to keep drinking water slowly, and not too cold."
Shit, the ice cream is soup, realizes Caroline. At least I got that one bite... She puts the lid on and gets up to put it in the freezer. Her first glass of wine is gone now too, she sees. She pours herself another and settles back into the beanbag chair.
Nothing has happened. After three weeks, nothing has happened with April, there have been no notes on the bulletin board or anywhere else. Every day now, Sam sits in the coffeeshop and smokes more than he used to. Because now he's nervous all the time.
He has not discounted the possibility that April Hersh was just passing through town that day: She left the note in his notebook and went away, to wherever it is she really lives, Dallas or San Francisco or Ottowa or all the way over in St. Paul. Maybe she will never come back into Comfort again, or never come back into Dinkytown again. Maybe it was a cruel joke played by a teenaged girl, or an even crueller one played by a grown-up woman... or a man! Sam has thought out all the possibilities and he's written them all down carefully in his notebook, along with probabilities. It doesn't much matter if April never comes back, though, because the fact that she might is enough to keep Sam on his toes.
Sam is, in fact, a fairly successful fiction writer. It's not that he has nothing to do like the folks at Comfort suspect. He does in fact have a lot to do. His publisher is pushing him for a certain manuscript by May, and Comfort is the place in which he has chosen to write this particular book. He's never written a book entirely longhand before so it's a bit of an experiment. He couldn't bear to sit in his house and write the thing on paper, so early every morning he gets on his motorcycle if the weather's okay or the bus if it's not and heads into Dinkytown. When he can take the bike, he parks the bike a few blocks away from Comfort, puts his helmet and his leather jacket in his old army rucksack, and plunks himself down in the red chair a few minutes after opening time. He's taken the bus a lot this winter, but he keeps the rucksack and its contents with him anyway because all together it makes such a good contraption for a footrest. Without opening the main part of the rucksack, he pulls a notebook from its front pocket and then puts his feet up on the bag and proceeds to write and smoke for 14 hours straight. Sam has a somewhat obsessive personality, which has done wonders for his career. It's no problem for a man like him to focus on one thing for 14 hours.
But now his obsessive personality might be getting him into trouble, because he can't focus on writing anymore. Everytime the bell rings to annouce the arrival of a new customer, Sam's eyes flick upward and he wonders if it could be April. He's even shifted the red chair ever so slightly to enable him to see, by moving only his eyes, the door and Comfort's bulletin board.
At first, after April's note, Sam would get up as soon as anyone female posted anything on the bulletin board, looking for a response. After a few days of coming up empty and feeling the stares of everyone in the shop (They weren't really staring, but Sam was an observer of people and therefore assumed that they were all constantly observing him.), Sam developed a system that he continues to use now. In his notebook, he carefully describes each person who posts anything on the bulletin board each day, and sketches a little diagram denoting where on the board they posted. This way, according to the system, he can scan the bulletin board at the end of each evening when he's on his way out. If there is a response, he can check the location against the descriptions of the posters, and thereby ascertain who April is or at least who she's using as an agent. When an attractive- or intriguing-looking young woman comes and posts something on the board, Sam has taken to drawing a little smiley face next to her description, his own shorthand for "I wouldn't mind if this was her."
The only problem with this system is that sometimes Sam has to use the men's room, and his first communique from April Hersh established that she is the type who likes to make her move when he's not looking. The only way he can see to get around that, without confiding in someone else and seeming pathetic, is to pee as little as possible. And so Sam starts to order less tea throughout the day, which is not appreciated so much by the owner when she serves, but the rest of the servers are fine with it because he still tips just as much as he used to. They've noticed that Sam doesn't flirt anymore and seems a little more jumpy, but they don't think much of it.
The book, meanwhile, is languishing. In order to work well, Sam may observe the outside world, but he must have no vested interest in his own observations so that he is able to fully dive into his writing from moment to moment. But his vigilance for April has ruined this. The best thing would be to find another living room, of course, another coffeeshop... but then he could miss April. As spring starts to show outside, Sam knows it's getting less and less likely that he'll meet his deadline. He's coming up with loads of fascinating physcial descriptions of coffeeshop denizens, along with some sketches of little bulletin boards that he could probably pass off as modern art. But his notebook and his mind is jammed with these things. Not with material for the book.
Today wasn't such a bad day. He got a few story details flushed out. Kirsten is starting to close up, and so Sam takes his leave. It's almost 11:00 on a Friday.
"Goodnight, Sam!" says Kirsten cheerily.
"You goin' out tonight?"
"Yeah, some friends are having a party."
"Great, have fun."
"Okay then, see you tomorrow Sam!"
Kirsten is a nice girl. Sam stops by the bulletin board, looks over it carefully, doesn't see anything. He lights up a cigarette as he steps out into the early spring chill. After he turns the first corner he swings his rucksack from his shoulder into his hand, opens it with the other hand, and pulls out the leather jacket. He shrugs that on, shifting the bag from one hand to the other, as he approaches his bike. He sets the bag on the seat and is about to put his helmet on when he notices a piece of paper jammed under the lining of the seat. The white paper glows in the streetlight, except for where it looks like some marker ink seeped through. He pulls it out and unfolds it. In black marker (not unlike a Sharpie pen, chimes the back of Sam's mind) is written:
one way to answer is to let me read something you've written!
and a note doesn't count as reading material!
"What was your name?" This girl showed a little bit of promise during the novices class and Ryuichi wants to feel out if he's interested in training her a little more closely.
"And why did you decide to take Kenpo?"
"Well, my cousin is into it, says it's perfect for someone who sits at a desk all day dealing with idiots."
Ryuichi is a little amused by this response but doesn't let it show. He uses his words in the same way he uses his Kenpo: he is the one who must control the conversation with this new young woman, and he mustn't allow her to draw him into her style of chatter. He reads her statement immediately as a bait for him to ask her what she does for a living, it's a typical conversational ploy, gets her on familiar ground. But he must make this girl understand from the very beginning that he is the sensei here, and that all the ground belongs to him. She does not yet know anything aside from the few things that he taught her today. She is the mouse.
So he stares down at her, squinting slightly, for about five seconds, and then quietly attacks.
"Who trains your cousin?"
Susan should not be able to answer this easily, because she'll have to answer a name other than Ryuichi's own, which would automatically make the subject uncomfortable for her. And if she answers that Ryuichi himself teaches her cousin, that puts him in an even better position.
It is, in fact what he hears. She hesitates and then says, "Well... You."
"Say master!" Ryuichi is suprised, but only in finding himself in an even better position than he had expected coming into this thing.
"You do, master," is what Susan answers with her head down.
"Pull your head up! Assume fighting stance!"
Susan does so as quickly as she can.
Ryuichi circles Susan a few times, guaging her stance, telling her how her legs are a little too far spread, her back foot is a little too far back for Susan's tiny frame, but only slightly, and it looks like she is a little more aware of her own body than a student normally is after one session. He gets to her face and he sees a fierceness there that looks familiar. But he's already mapped that out as the last question he'll ask.
"Has your cousin taught you anything of Kenpo?"
"And what has he taught you?"
"She only how to find my center, master, and she taught me a few basic blocks in case anyone attacked me on the street."
Ryuichi doesn't care that he missed the gender. That this cousin "taught her a few basic blocks," however, he positively hates. He understands that some young women have taken up kickboxing and such things to make them feel safer on the street, and okay, so this young woman had a chance to pick up some Kenpo blocks from her cousin. This is all well and good for the deadly streets of Minneapolis (which, as Ryuichi loved to joke, are simply festering with unarmed assailants), but it always means that Ryuichi has to unlearn these girls of everything they've "picked up." So, with a sigh, Ryuichi asks Susan to demonstrate these blocks she learned from her cousin, and flinches ahead of time for the shabby arm-flailing he is about to witness.
But Susan has surprised him again. Her blocks are excellent, and even her breathing is right, with key-ups in the right spots and all.
Ryuichi keeps his poker face but now feels he can ask the question that he has wanted to ask all evening. "Who is your cousin?"
"April Hersh, master."
Of course, Ryuichi knew this by the time he got around to asking it; he knew it as soon as she took fighting stance a few moments ago. Of course it's April. The one who started two years ago and is already beating some of his students who have been around the longest. Granted, April is a bit bigger than this tiny cousin of hers, which will make things a little harder for Susan, but if Susan has anything like April's aptitude, Ryuichi's going to have a lot of fun teaching this one too.
Of course, if Susan has anything like April's temper, it's going to be a challenge as well. Ryuichi decides to test that for a few minutes before letting Susan go.
"Assume a relaxed position, Susan."
Susan does so. Ryuichi is amused to see that Susan has adopted an "at ease" military position. Ryuichi wonders if this girl has a military background.
But he delays asking the question. Ryuichi teaches essentially through series of sharp commands alternating with sharper questions. He is therefore extremely careful about the timing of each question. One thing he has learned is never to ask a question right when it occurs to him. Instead he gives each question a few minutes' delay, and therefore is able to plant each question at the moment of its best effectiveness... Or is able to determine the answer without needing to ask the question at all, which means that he can save his breath for better questions, unless the act of asking the question serves a strategic purpose in the training.
"What idiots do you work with?"
"Um, well, um... master, it's more like I work for them... I do tech support. So, I get emails from people who are having problems and then..."
"Yes, I am not some banzai-tree trimmer, I know what tech support is."
Susan doesn't even try to explain herself. Impressive. April would have. Ryuichi is leaning more toward the military-background theory.
"And did your cousin assume I would be willing to teach you just because I teach her?"
"Noooo... Master.... Um, I kind of assumed you would teach me because I'll pay."
Stating the obvious. Score one for Susan: it was not she who had asked to have an extra minutes after the novices class, but Ryuichi himself. So Susan has a hit: back on the attack, then.
"So pay now."
"I said pay now. Your cousin never pays on time. So you pay now."
"But the deal is no payment until after three cl..."
"f*** the deal!" Ryuichi loves punctuating with gratuitous language, it always gets a rise. And Susan's eyes and mouth does open a bit. "You give me payment now or I don't let you into the next session!"
Susan is staring at him. Ryuichi is intentionally looking as angry and mean and large as he can. But despite her gape, Susan isn't silent, not rising to the bait.
And so Ryuichi laughs again. "Do you have any military training?"
Susan doesn't answer the question. "Were you serious that you want me to pay now?"
"Not anymore," replies Ryuichi. Good focus. He doesn't bother her for not calling him master this time; he was a real bastard a moment ago.
"Ah, okay, master. No, no military training myself, but my dad was a Marine."
"Was. Master. He died about five years ago of lung cancer."
Susan nods once and swallows.
"You can go now. On Thursday come for the beginners class, novice class will be boring for you. That's 8pm, you can do that?"
"Okay. And next Tuesday you will bring your payment as well as your cousin's payment. She owes for seven weeks."
Sam has to come up with a plan; he can't let April get away with just reading something and still avoiding meeting him. He has to figure out a way.
While he is getting off his bike the next morning, he is trying to write his next step as in a story. He is in almost the exact spot he was last night when he found April's note when the next paragraph comes to him: Esther. Esther is an old friend of Sam's, who happens to be a librarian at that library that's underground, right by Seward. So all he has to do is give April F and the first four letters of his last name, and then wait for someone to take out some of his books. He's sure it can't happen so often.
He can just talk to Esther ahead of time and explain that he's got to find this person who asked him to recommend one of his own books over the internet or something, because his ego is so flattered and all that. And then Esther will give him the address and phone number that correspond to the card on which the book was taken out.
He'll stop in to visit Esther at work on Monday. Saturday and Sunday, meanwhile, Sam sits at Comfort, pays absolutely no heed to the bulletin board, and begins to write a very intriguing love story for two minor characters in his novel. Sam can feel a whole sequel coming out of these two.
"I have a question," Ben announces out of the blue, as usual. He and Janie are sitting across the table, having dinner together for the first time in probably a week. "Say you weren't married and some author, I mean specifically a male author, that you were reading at the time wanted to meet you just because you were reading his books, would you want to meet him?"
"Whaaaat?" Janie lifts her left eyebrow. She's learned to just wait out Ben's random statements, because it all makes sense eventually.
"Hm. Let me back up. Remember I lent April my library card last week?"
"No," says Janie sharply. April is a coworker of Ben's. It never occurred to Janie to be jealous; she did trust Ben entirely, even when he didn't make sense. April has become like a younger sister to both of them, and Janie loves it... except for the times when Ben really does spoil April. Like he undoubtedly did in this case.
"Ah, okay, I'll back up further. April took out some 10 books a while back and didn't return them and lost some and now she's afraid to go back with her card because she can't pay up. So. There were some books that she wanted to get out of the library last week and she asked me if she could borrow my card and pretend she was you." Ben's voice goes up at the end, with a small flinch. Janie knows he is sensing Janie's reaction.
And so she gives it to him: "And you let her do that? If she can't return her own books, you think she'll be able to return the ones she took out in your name?"
Ben stares at Janie a little blankly and shifts his eyes. "Okay, I did a bad thing. You're right. I'm sorry." He looks Janie in the eye, but only after he finishes talking.
Janie isn't going to let him get away with it that easy, since she senses Ben is only throwing out an apology so that he can get on with his story. But Janie does want to hear the rest of the story. She always does. So, "Fine, we'll deal with that later. So she got books out and one of the authors is stalking her?"
"Well, sort of. It's interesting, he's not one of the authors, he's the only one. She got six of his books out. So I think she's a little obsessive on her end too."
Aw geez, thinks Janie. Even better, April will lose six books and the fine will all land on Ben. But right, dealing with that later, story now. "And?"
"And. So today I checked our home voicemail from work and this author called us. I wanted to play the message for you but I deleted it by accident, I don't understand why 7 is delete and 9 is save, that makes no sense. The guy rambled on for like 10 minutes anyway, says he lives in the area and the librarian is a friend or something and she had called him to let him know that someone took out six of his books at once, even special ordered one of them, and he was intrigued and asked the librarian who took it out. I guess this librarian is a really good friend or whatever because she told him."
"You think so?"
"Of course, yeah!"
"But she did take out six of his books. She told me when she gave my card back." Janie is suprised that April remembered to give the card back. "So it's not like he's lying about that. She even made a list in Sharpie pen of all the books and put it over her desk at work. So she wouldn't forget. She's getting better these days, you know."
"I'm honestly impressed by that, actually. For April." Janie means it, she wouldn't have expected such foresight from April in this. Perhaps this will ameliorate Ben's penalty for reckless loaning, later on. A little bit. Perhaps.
"You know what I noticed, too? A Sharpie Pen isn't a pen! It's a 'fine point permanent marker.' Makes no claims on being a pen, but I always hear it called a 'Sharpie Pen.'"
Janie just stares at Ben with her mouth a little open and her left eyebrow raised. I love this man so much, she thinks. But all she says is, "Thanks for letting me know, dear." She shakes her head and Ben smiles. Exhales.
"Anyway I called this author back, I figured it couldn't hurt. He was excited, you could tell from his voice, he was saying things like how he thinks it's so great that someone took out so many of his books at once and he'd love to meet me!"
"Oh right," Janie is chuckling now, "Because you theoretically took the books out!"
"Yeah, that's why I figured it wasn't just some man stalking April, because he knew I was a man and he wanted to meet me."
"So... He's a gay stalker?"
"No, because I told him it was actually a female friend of mine, and he said fine, then he would meet my girlfriend. And I said she wasn't my girlfriend, and then he asked if she had a boyfriend or a husband who could be there because he was afraid it might be strang if he met her as a single woman. I mean it really seemed that he wanted to keep as much weirdness out of it as possible. So that was an encouraging sign to me."
Janie shakes her head again, Ben of course missed this author's obvious fishing to find out if April is attached. It still seems fishy, but Janie also intrigued, and kind of wants to meet this author person herself. "Well, okay, in the seemingly eternal absence of a significant other for April, perhaps we could suffice? You and I could both meet him with her, to make sure this man is not a psycho or a fake, and that would probably be okay..."
"Yeah, that could be really interesting." Ah, so Ben is intrigued too. "But the whole thing is, I'm not sure if April would seriously want to meet this guy."
Janie raises that left eyebrow at Ben again. His talent for missing the obvious is profound. "Well, ben, you could ask April."
There's a severe wind and storm warning in effect for this afternoon. A blizzard would be alright, but this much wind and rain is throwing people off, and everyone seems to be doing their Saturday shopping in the morning.
Jeff is one of them, planning to get his weekly rations of Fig Newtons, chips and salsa, soda and the like. He always feels like the mothers and fathers who do their shopping at the place look at his grad student fare with disdain, but he can hold his head high because he knows that he'll get all the good stuff from the organic food only, neighbourhood fixture co-op back in Seward.
But first he has to get through this years-long line, sneak the supermarket-branded bags into his little apartment above the co-op without anyone there noticing (secrecy is required to avoid being on the receiving end of an organic food only, anti-big-business lecture), and wait out the storm in his apartment with some Fig Newtons and a beer by his side.
He notices an undergrad that he once taught, buying more or less the same items as Jeff in an adjacent line. Or maybe it's the same line, in the crowd Jeff isn't sure. Following appropriate etiquette for the U, the undergrad (Jeff can't remember his name!) is probably waiting for the graduate student to address him first. Dammit, what is that kid's name? Jeff starts talking.
"Hey, how ya doin'?"
"Good thanks, and you?"
"Good. Crazy weather isn't it?"
The kid laughs, "Yeah. April's great that way."
At the mention of the month Jeff remembers who this kid is. His name is Ryan and he knows one of Jeff's old high school acquaintances, April Hersh. Jeff hasn't seen April in a few months now, which is really his own fault.
"Hey, don't you graduate next month, Ryan?" Jeff is proud that he can throw Ryan's name in there now, what a good TA he must be to remember kid's names a year later!
"Yeah, can't wait!" replies Ryan.
"Dude you made me think of April Hersh when you talked about the month. Do you still hang out with her ever?"
"Oh, I've been really busy lookin for a job and stuff so I haven't seen her for a while."
"Yeah me neither."
For a few minutes, the two men stare at the interiors of their shopping carts as if the cookies and carbonates contained therein were the most fascinating things on earth.
"Oh but you know what I heard?" says Ryan, to break the silence. "I heard she's with some writer she met by passing notes in a coffeeshop."
At this, Jeff laughs. "Oh geez, I bet that was what that was about!"
"The other night she threw a little party for like a few of us, said she was cooking a gourmet meal which I knew was a joke. But she actually bought party invitations like they use for little kid's birthday parties, and she wrote that there was someone she wanted us all to meet."
"Oh, you met this guy?"
"Well no, I had something going on that night and I couldn't go."
"Wait a minute, she cooked?"
"I'm saying, I think it was a joke."
"I don't know, she can be pretty random."
"So random." Jeff muses, "April's great that way."
The two of them go quiet again, smiling into their carts.
Kirsten is a few minutes late for her shift, which ordinarily wouldn't bother Al but today it kind of does, he is having something of a panic attack about finals and feels that every minute counts. He can't focus on studying when he's on duty. Tomorrow is May, he thinks... Geez, I am so dead. He has the dishes washed and all of Comfort is empty except for a couple of high school kids with untied shoes having an after-school date in the back.
He's just starting to bite his nails when Kirsten comes blowing through the door. "Geez Al, sorry I'm late but you'll never guess who I ran into on the way over!"
Al can't guess, he's focused on getting his stuff out of the closet and moving it to one of the tables, where he's gonna set up shop to study.
"Okay fine, don't guess, it was Sam. Our Sam from the red chair!"
"Really? you saw Sam?" Al hasn't seen Sam in a few weeks now, and he gives Kirsten his attention for a minute.
"Yeah! he was just a couple of blocks away from here. I asked if he was gonna come over to Comfort sometime. He said he'll swing by when he gets a chance."
"Wow, I thought he was dead or something."
"Geez Al, come on, he's not that old."
"Yeah but the way that guy smoked..."
"Oh yeah that was the weirdest part! He said he quit smoking!"
"Sam quit smoking?" Al suddenly feels a little shamed about the cigarette on his lips that he's about to light up.
"Yeah, he said he did it for loooove, some chick named April that he's totally crazy about."
"April..." Al remembers something from a few months ago: Sam standing up and asking around the room, "Which one of you is April?"
"What, you know her? they're apparently really serious."
"No, I don't know her..." Al lets the first drag on his cigarette wash away his curiosity, and sets his mind toward preparing for May.
-d1, arp 040502
any resemblances to any of lives of the author's high school or college friends, real or imaginary, should not be construed as indicative of any actual sentiments on the part of the author. fodder is fodder, of course, but it takes on a life of its own when it is processed into fiction. um. for the record.
so, i wanted you to read and think about first impressions before you got my questions into your head. i know it's cheesy, i embrace cheese sometimes. but these are my main questions / concerns:
is it too damn long?
does the story not move along fast enough?
all the subplots are kind of the point, but is it just too boring?
which characters interested you the most, if any?
i think the caroline / angie section is weakest, but what do you think?
do you get the thing about sam entering into the realm of the overheard when he started going w/ april? i never know how obvious to be.
should i have steered clear of writing about a writer (ie., sam)?
do you think sam and april will last? this is just my curiosity.
please bring it on. thanks.
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alanna at keywriter dot org