It’s only the second day of National Novel Writing Month, but I’m off to a running start. As of 2 pm, I’m sitting on just over 5,500 words. Some of my fellow WriMo buddies have been congratulating me on the output, but I keep reminding them that I have a LOT of work to do this month, so I need to get as far ahead as I can as early as I can so I have room to skip days later if I have to. And I’m almost certainly going to skip days, because my schedule is packed.
Still, I’m really happy with the word count so far, and while the writing is awfully rough, so far it feels more easily revisable than the manuscript last year (which I still love but which is still a terrible, terrible mess — the stories this time are stronger earlier, which will make for less work later).
One thing I particularly like about this book project is the form: I’m not just doing a novel-length story cycle, I’m actually doing a cycle of cycles, so by the end of this, I could run the whole thing as a four-part book or split them up into four related but independent chapbooks. Which I might do.
Anyway, the stories so far…. And this year, as last year, I’ll be posting my weekly excerpts according to whatever stories I’ve worked on during the week. So what you’ll see here are not whole stories but some selections from the stories I’ve worked on so far. Unlike last year, though, none of them are titled, so I’ll just label them by the main character.
from Museum Stories: Amanda, with amazing legs
The next Sunday, she was back again. The weather was cooler and she wore some baggy satin button-down and a floor-length skirt. Her frizzy hair was back in a thick braid. I almost didn’t recognize her until she turned toward the camera and I spotted the mole on her forehead.
The crowds were thinning and she was staying later, so I locked the security door and focused on whatever screen she occupied. After twenty minutes wandering through the Asian wing, she slipped into the small Egyptian room, dimly lit for mood as much as to protect the antiquities. The Egyptian room is designed like a fake tomb, so it’s at a dead end. I watched her poke her head around the doorway, checking the faux-stone hallway leading to the tomb. Then she found the camera in the high corner of the room and stared right at it. She moved slowly to the center of the room and squared off against the camera. Then, very quickly, she bent to her toes and came up holding the hem of her long skirt. Her panties, if she wore any, were in shadow, but I could see most of her upper thighs, white in the soft lights of the room. She turned her left leg, bending her knee outward to show her flexed calf. She lifted that foot and stretched, her quads crawling up her thigh in a slow ripple. She turned her foot in a circle. The bone of her ankle caught the light.
The camera panned and I fumbled for the controls. When I got it aimed back at her, she was smoothing her skirt. Then she left.
from Museum Stories: Gina, the art historian from Indiana
My daughter is big as me, almost, and she’s only eight. She’s huge. My mother is like that, too — six foot when she’s depressed, bigger when she’s not. I’m the runt in the family. My parents warned me. But who listens to parents. They’re like negative role models: I will do everything they did not.
But then my mother called. She said, “Krista tells me you’re letting her play football.” I told my mother to butt out, but she was right, I was letting Krista strap on the pads. No — I should say “we.” We’re letting her strap on the pads. Conrad hates it when I don’t include him in decisions — even the sentences I speak he wants in on.
So I told my mother we are letting Krista play football. It was her idea. She’s big enough, that’s for sure.
And my mother said, “I suppose she’s you’re daughter, Gina, but I must say, I’m a little surprised.” I told my mother to butt out again, and then, just because I can’t leave these things alone, I started in on my whole gender-equality lecture. But she cut me off and said, Gina, Gina, I’m not arguing about that. I just thought you’d remember what happened when you were in school.”
And she was right, my mom. I did remember, though not until just then.
* * *
This woman in the gift shop reminds me of Belinda, from ninth grade. Thick black curls, glossy under the track lighting. Soft lips, dark lipstick. A narrow nose. Bright green eyes. It was all the same. Her breasts are smaller, I think. I can’t see well through the glass display counter, but I think her hips are fuller. But she reminds me a lot of Belinda.
I don’t remember the name of the other girl. Francine? Something like that. She didn’t kill herself, she just drifted away, so we all forgot her name, or what she looked like.
from Zoo Stories: Philip, with the ex-friend in Indiana
Philip had started out stoned. And he got a little drunk and a little more stoned, hiding in the restroom at the back of the zoo, before any of it happened. All that damage, all in one night, between the exchange of a two bills for a joint and the last long hit, blue smoke sweet on his tongue and a hard little knot in his throat, his boss out there somewhere, thinking the loose teenagers, not the staff, were doping it up behind the monkey cages.
Philip bought a three-dollar soda in a paper cup. He handed it to Jim, who stood beside him with his back turned to watch a group of girls. Philip bought a second soda for himself and then they stepped away down a staff-only corridor even though Jim wasn’t staff. A pair of vets stood in the other end of the corridor, whispering and gesturing. They saw Philip and Jim coming and slipped through a doorway, segregating themselves.
Total word count as of this post: 5,553 words.