Two days into my writing, and I already see some serious challenges. The biggest? That I don’t even know what precisely I’m writing about. And I’m WAY behind. I started yesterday with this image I got in my head whilst staring at the screen trying to decide where to begin. That was it. A scene. A beginning. I started with a character who was enough like me that it wouldn’t be too hard to get her going, but wanted to make sure I wasn’t just writing myself. That’s been working so far, but I’m really making up everything as I go. I haven’t been able to sit and map any plot points or even general themes. Just writing. Which maybe is the point – to not get so hung up on the details that you never get started (typically the case). Here’s today’s edition:
“I did.” My knee hurts, I’m chilled, I want to go inside. I don’t want to explain, and I’m afraid I won’t be able to if I try. But I can see by the look on his face I’m not going anywhere without giving him something. “I met up with Tash and Brian to catch the costume contest at the main stage, but they slipped off in the middle to get beer and I lost them…”
“They left you out there by yourself?”
“Kip, there were hundreds of people there, I was safe. It’s my fault anyway. I told them I’d stay put, and I didn’t.”
“Why not?” I wish he would lose interest already. Pick up your damn book, Kip, and let me go in.
“Because I got bored waiting, and it was starting to get cold out, and I’m wearing practically nothing and it’s fucking cold, Kip. Jesus, we can talk about this whenever. I’m going to bed.”
Here, the puppy face. The stricken look that Kip never has to “put on.” It just appears, sickeningly genuine, any time his sensitive disposition is wounded. And I instantly feel like an asshole. I run a hand from his curly mop of hair down to the side of his face and rest my forehead on his (more for stability and rest than intimacy). “Thanks for caring. I’m just, I feel dead. I need sleep.”
I’m so close to Kip’s face that I can see the deepening lines at the corners of his eyes. He recently lost his boyfriend, Andre, to HIV and has acquired both these lines and a strange veil of serenity about him. It makes it difficult to remember the more reckless and flamboyant Kip of yore.
“I know, pumpkin. But you owe me an explanation later, ok? You look terrible.”
I nod speechlessly, and take this as my opportunity to bolt.
It feels as cold inside the house as outside, undoubtedly an effect of Kip’s environmental crusades. I think after Andre died he needed a new cause, something to take the place of hospital visits and charity events. So our home is always frigid and I can never find a paper towel when I need one (“Grab a rag from the rag bin!” he says, whether my hands are caked in pumpkin guts, or I’ve splattered spaghetti sauce on the stove, or my spilled orange juice is dribbling off the edge of the table).
So it’s cold still, and I climb the stairs to my room. It’s at the front of the house and generally sunny, which is generally good except for today, right now, when it absolutely sucks (but at this point, so does everything but the possibility of passing out in a warm bed). I try pulling the blinds, but they’re mercilessly porous. Damn my desire to achieve a “cozy, beachy feel” with wooden shades.
I went out last night looking remotely like a pirate wench, but without the hat, wig and sword, what I see in the mirror looks more like a punk-rock hooker. With bad hair. I strip off what’s left of my costume, including the fishnets that leave a repeating diamond pattern on my legs. The knee will need attention. Later.
Finally I can crawl under the blankets, and I’m sure to burrow deep. Nothing has felt this good in a very long time. Slowly, my skin starts to warm and the ringing in my ears becomes white noise, and I’m on the verge of unconsciousness with strange visions flitting across the backs of my closed eyelids. So, of course, the phone rings.
I let it, thinking foolishly that it will just be one call. It will go to voicemail. I will be free to dream.
The fourth call does it. I slide partially out of the covers, snatch my purse off the nightstand and dump the contents onto the bed. The screen on the phone says “Tasha.” Of course.
“Tash, I’m alive. I’ll call you later.”
“No, wait, Julie!” She sounds froggy, but desperate. I wait. “What happened to you last night?”
“I don’t know.” The truth. Mostly.
“No, but we went back for you, back to the stage and you weren’t there. Did you go home? Why didn’t you answer your phone? We tried calling you all night.”
“No, I was out. I just got home. Look, Tash, I just drank too much last night, and I’m having a little trouble figuring out what I did exactly, and I feel stupid and tired. I’m going to sleep for a while and I’ll call you tonight? You can come over and we’ll make dinner or something, okay?” I’m back under the covers, phone squashed between my ear and the pillow. No hands.
“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m glad you’re okay.” Even half asleep I can sense the disappointment in her voice. She wanted answers. She can wait. I have to come up with them first.
I pass out with the phone still open against my cheek.
I am, once again, crawling out of the stairwell I’d stumbled into the night before. This time, though, Masquerade is still in full swing. Caped figures slip past each other and girls wearing too much makeup laugh wildly, their short petticoats brushing against me as I enter the current of revelers. I think I’m supposed to be looking for Tash and Brian here somewhere, so I nudge a guy standing next to me wearing a colossal red hat with a wide brim and a massive crimson plume stuck in the band. As he turns, I see that he is The Red Death, and Andre is there with his long arm slung jovially around this character. “Can you tell me which way to the beer tent?” I yell, trying to be heard over the general din of the party.
The Red Death lifts his mask and scrutinizes me for a moment. His skin is like smooth dark chocolate, the whites of his eyes gleaming like haloes around dark, dark eyes. He smiles broadly. “Who are you?” he asks slowly, deliberately. Condescendingly. The two of them whirl off together before I can ask him who the fuck he is, and I’m back at square one.
Before I can contemplate my next move, I run directly into a drag queen. Not grotesque or phony in any way, she is statuesque and striking and dressed as a towering, shimmering rose. “This way, honey, stay in line,” she says, herding me toward a staircase that leads to a tiny door. One-by-one, those in front of me disappear through this door, and I get a growing sense of apprehension as my turn arrives. I pause, looking back, but there is The Rose putting one gloved hand on the small of my back, so reassuringly that I go. The tiny door opens without any help, and I unceremoniously crouch and squeeze through.
The light is instantly blinding. The quick change from the darkness behind the door leaves me stunned for a moment, a wide-eyed dear in the headlights. “And who are you?” The Rose has materialized out of the stage lights. She plunges a microphone into my face, and I search her beautiful face for a little help. Instead, out of nowhere, she lets out a high, startling shriek of laughter, and in seconds the crowd joins her. I can, if I shield my eyes, see a solid mass of spectators, mouths agape, pointing and cackling in my general direction.
I’m not sure why I should be so humiliated, but I am. My face is suddenly burning as I search the stage for the door I’d come through. I feel a drop on my face. It’s begun to rain. The Rose forgets herself and frowns suddenly at the sky. Her makeup begins to run, and the color begins to melt from her costume as she flees the stage. I try to follow, but feel a rumble beneath my boots. For a second, it occurs to me that the crowd must be shaking the stage, that they will rattle it apart plank by plank. When I turn to see if this is true, instead I find their amusement has vanished, their faces dropping and twisting into what I recognize as panic. Following their stares, I understand.
In the distance, growing and rolling between the downtown high-rises, is a wave of floodwaters carrying with it cars, lampposts – urban flotsam of all kinds. The mob below makes an attempt at escape, but they’re packed so tightly that no one seems to be able to move. Before anyone, including myself, can move the waters are upon us.
I feel sure it will be like getting hit by a bus. Or a train.
Instead, the wave, which must have plowed over the crowd, picks me up and lifts me on its back. I ride the wave, without much choice, falling slowly as it dissipates. It drops me at last, soggy, but otherwise unharmed, in a park of roses. The flowers are vivid, but colorless. White roses, all of them. And it begins to snow.
Unphased by the sudden change of weather, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. In the center of the park, there is a wrought iron tower, a winding staircase leading from bottom to top. And at the top, what looks to be a man with a horse. I move closer for a better view.
Not just a man, then, but a knight of sorts. His hair is thin and white as the snow that flecks it increasingly. He wears a bushy goatee of the same color. His face looks worried. Or maybe just confused. He grips his horse’s reins (also white, with swatches in varying shades of grey), and stares, eyebrows furrowed, into the distance. At any rate, he doesn’t notice me.
“Hello?” I call up to him, arriving at the foot of the tower.
I expect him to be startled, but instead, he merely directs his stare downward to where I stand. “Are you cold?” he asks. His voice is gentle and would be inaudible were the park not so still.
“No,” I reply. I hadn’t thought of it until then, but I felt comfortable despite the snow, which was now accumulating on the ground, the rose bushes, the tower.
“Are you an angel, then?” he asks.
“No.” Definitely no.
“Well then,” he starts, cocking his head to the side. “Who are you?”