Summers 11D

Wings walked up to where Jane was standing, her body slumped against the apartment door, hand loosely grasping the handle. More footfalls, voices coming closer. Wings twitched her head — “Is that your mother?” Jane nodded, her eyes closed. “I thought you said — ”

Jane opened the door swiftly, just as Brad and her mother approached the doorway. She caught her mother’s eyes with a look as intense as the tone of her voice. “Didn’t you just text me, say that you were still an hour away?”

Hilda Summers widened her eyes in surprise, as she tilted her head back as if hit with a sudden gust of wind. “I — was going to pick up Brad.” She motioned to the young man on her left, who nodded then turned to smile impatiently at Jane. “But he texted me that he was already in the neighborhood, so we decided to just meet here.”

Jane turned towards Brad, her stare nearly knocking him back. “What’s going on? Why are you here?” But before Brad could respond, Jane felt Wings’ hand on the back of her shoulder. Jane turned, and felt her face soften when she saw the calm in her young friend’s face.

Hilda stepped forward, her feet nearly touching Jane’s. “You are going to let us in, aren’t you?” Jane stepped back and to the side, looked down at the floor as her mother and Brad walked into the apartment. She turned to Wings, standing next to her.

“You should go.”

Wings suddenly looked hurt. “You sure about that?”

Jane smiled, nodded in the direction of the apartment’s living room. “Hey, I’ve got my mother, and my — ” yes, she had almost said fiance, for indeed Brad had proposed last week, but then again she hadn’t given an answer (ah screw it) — “and Brad. My Brad. I’ll be OK. And besides, I think this could be a difficult conversation.”

Wings put her hand back on Jane’s shoulder. “I can stay to help.”

“Just afraid you’d get hurt in the crossfire.”

Wings looked confused. “Girl, I grew up in a ‘hood where there was real crossfire. I know how to take care of myself.”

Jane looked at the hand on her shoulder, then reached up, grasped it firmly with both hands. She leaned forward, kissed Wings on the cheek, then stepped back. “Please. This is something I need to do on my own.”

Summers 11C

A loud electric squak from the apartment’s entry door, followed by Brad’s voice. “Hey.”

Jane looked quickly at Wings, then sat up and walked past her sparse furniture to the intercom. She pressed the call button. “What’s up?”

Jane stared at the silent intercom a moment, before it squaked again. “Not me, yet. Mind buzzing me in already?”

She pressed the call button again, uttered a brief apology, then pressed the small white rectanagle under the speaker. She heard the loud buzz from the apartment’s main entry door, heard the door swing open, then the sound of Brad’s feet stomping on the stairs.

Jane walked towards the kitchen, uttered a silent curse on seeing the piles of mail and dirty dishes on the table. She called to Wings, started to ask for her help — and stopped suddenly.

There was another sound coming from the stairway. A second pair of footfalls — lighter, not as swift as Brad’s. The heavier footfalls stopped, followed by the muffled sound of Brad’s voice, calling down.

Wings entered the kitchen. “What — ”

Jane held up the palm of her right hand, pursed her lips in a silent command for Wings to be quiet. A second voice from the hallway, calling up to the first. Female. Brad laughed, preventing Jane from hearing the second voice. Jane raced to the doorway, reached for the handle but then decided to press her ear to the door. Brad had stopped laughing, had reached the top of the stairs. The second voice called again. “Some day, you’ll appreciate elevators as much as I do.” Jane whispered a curse, as she realized that the voice could only belong to her mother.

Summers 11B

Today’s post visits the Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge once again. For my first time visitors, I try to work the challenge into the flow of the narrative I’m currently developing. At the moment I’m working on a short story called “Summers” — this post will include a summary of the story so far.

Sitting on the couch in Jane Summers’ apartment, Wings scratched the side of her head, and stared back at Jane inquisitively. “So — what’s this other thing?”

Jane shifted uncomfortably in the chair across the coffee table from Wings. “It’s . . . not something I really can talk about now.”

“That’s bull.” Jane looked up at Wings. “You can talk about anything, girl, you just don’t want to.”

Jane shrugged, leaned forward in her chair, towards Wings. “All right, you got me. But I still don’t want to talk about it.”

Wings sighed, her lips curling down in frustration. She grabbed the bowl of chili from the coffee table, quickly shoveled two spoonfulls into her mouth. Jane looked down at her bowl, still untouched, and decided that she wasn’t quite hungry yet.

Wings swallowed. “You want some advice, girl?”

“I think you just gave me some.”

“What’s with all the damn secrets?” Wings lifted her arms, hands up to shoulder height, palms up. “You’re telling your story about being from another world — ”

“It’s not another world.” Jane sounded disappointed, like a teacher repeating a lesson to a difficult student. “When I woke up that day, I was in the same world I remembered.”

“Except you didn’t remember smartphones or laptop computers anymore, and you kept looking for this Unirail thing you think we all use.”

“We do all use it.” She jabbed a finger at Wings. “Even you — you love Unirail!”

“OK!” She waved a hand dismissively over the coffee table. “What I was saying was, you’ve been telling that damn story to everybody it seems, and if you ask me there can’t be anything else you could say that would sound more unusual. But this other thing, it’s clearly bothering you, you keep it in, hold on to that secret. I just — don’t get you, girl.”

Jane nodded, looked down at her chili bowl. She still didn’t feel hungry. She thought about the information she was withholding, about Brad’s proposal. She agreed with Wings, that it was dangerous to hold on to this secret, especially with her mother, who thought highly of Brad, coming into town that evening. And yes, she trusted Wings, knew she could be trusted with this secret. But not now. Jane knew she was responding from a foolish sense of pride, but she couldn’t bring herself to seem that she was following Wings’ advice.

Summers 11A

The radiator in Jane’s apartment knocked noisily, as if trying to banish the spirit of the chill October air. Sitting on the couch in the small living room, Wings pulled at the shoulders of her sweater, bundling its soft fabric against her cheeks.

Jane walked in from the kitchen, with two soup bowls. She extended one towards Wings. “Chili?”

“Freezing.” Wings reached up, let the sweater fall back over her shoulders as she grabbed one of the bowls from Jane, who decided it wasn’t worth the effort to clarify what her question had meant.

Jane’s phone, resting on the coffee table, chimed. She picked up the phone, frowning. Wings looked up at her, concerned. “Problems?”

Jane shook her head. “My mother.” She paused as she read the text message on her phone. “She’s at a gas station, says she’ll be here in an hour.” She lay the phone back down on the coffee table like it was a traffic ticket.

Wings leaned forward. “Why didn’t you just tell her not to come up?”

Jane looked back at Wings indignantly. “I did tell her that!” Her face relaxed, and she sat down in an armchair. “But as soon as I told her about — you know — ”

“About waking up one morning and thinking you’ve just come in from another dimension?”

Jane thought about calling her a bitch, but decided to let her tone of voice convey that sentiment. “How compassionate of you. Yeah, once I told her that, there was no stopping her.”

Wings frowned, looked down at the floor, then back up at Jane. “There’s something else, isn’t there?”

Jane nodded. Yeah, that thing about Brad’s proposal. She hadn’t told her mother, or Wings, or anyone, save Dr. Patel, and she had only told him when he’d asked for a complete list of stress factors in her life.

Summers 10F

Jane blew air through her lips, letting them vibrate audibly. Then shook her head as she remained seated, facing Gary. “Ha.” Her laugh was brief and dry. “You know what’s funny about this feeling I have, that I’ll wake up one morning and everything will be like I remember it.” She turned in her chair, waved at  the monitor on her desk. “No personal computers.” She reached over to her desktop, grabbed her smartphone, held it up for Gary. “None of these things. No Internet, no 4G or 3G or whatever. Totally different transportation infrastructure.” She laughed again, staring down at the floor. “That really is what I want, but when I think about it actually happening, you know what’s funny?”

Gary’s broad oval of a face stared at her earnestly. “Tell me.”

She looked up at him, met his gaze. “I don’t want to forget.” She held up her smartphone again. “About this, or computers, or any of the technology in this world.” She blinked. “I don’t want to think about these past two weeks as some kind of bad dream, because — because this is part of me too.” She stood up, waved her arms in the air. “All of this is so bizarre, and I just want it to stop, get back to normal.” She looked down at Gary. “But if I had to choose between getting back to normal and forgetting about all this, or everything staying like it is now — I’d take the latter.” She beat her palms against her chest, twice. “Maybe that’s why this has happened to me, to make me realize that no matter where I happen to be, I’m going to be who I am.”

Gary suddenly looked confused. “You think somebody’s trying to teach you a lesson?”

She threw her hands down, slapping the outside of her thighs. “I don’t know. Makes as much sense as any other explanation I can come up with.”

Summers 10E

“Look, here’s what I’m trying to say.” Gary leaned forward, his voice lowering to a whisper even though he and Jane were the only people in the CAD room. “I’m sorry you’re going through this difficult time, but what I’ve been thinking lately is that this could be a good thing for you, Jane.”

“A good thing.” Jane repeated his words without feeling.

Gary blinked, shook his head. “Maybe forgetting how to use a computer — it’s like starting all over again.” He pointed a finger at her. “And maybe instead of all this time, working with Arjie to re-learn what you don’t remember — you could be studying for your PE.”

Jane threw herself back into a chair, letting out a gust of disgust. Gary had been on her for years, like her father had before, to get her professional certification in civil engineering. She had never outright refused either of them — she had actually completed all the required coursework, still had the exam application somewhere in her apartment — but had never taken the next step.

She ran a hand from the front through the back of her scalp, her long dirty blonde hair waving past her shoulders. “Can we not have this argument again?”

He held his palm up to her, as if commanding her to stop. “From what you’ve told me, all the engineering work in the world you remember is exactly like it is here. How roads are built, bridge design — even drainage calculations. Jane, you don’t need to re-learn any of that.”

She shook her head. “But I don’t — ”

“Jane, this is our world.” Gary was pointing down with both hands, fingers jabbing up and down as if he were playing an invisible piano. “I know you think you woke up one morning and thought everything was different before that point, but that was almost two weeks ago. It doesn’t matter how much you believe the world should be something other than it is — right now it’s what it is. And I think it’s time you adjusted to that reality.”

One for One

In order to force myself to work on my parry/riposte game (which needs to improve — no, make that exist — for me to get where I want to be), I decided that for my practice bouts, I’m going to limit myself to one attack for each parry I at least attempt. Started that last night, and the results — well, they showed that I have a lot to work on. Need to get back more on my retreats — that’s a simple matter of keeping distance. Not keeping distance is leaving me too vulnerable to straight attacks, and when I do parry, my blade gets bound with my opponent’s on the riposte. If I can stick with this one-for-one committment, I hope to get enough experience to make my parry/riposte at least partly effective.

I’m also abandoning my single-word blog post titles. No way I was going to keep up that committment!

Summers 10D

Gary half turned in his chair, looked up at Arjie, extended his right finger up towards the ceiling. Arjie nodded, his goatee bobbing as if it were hanging on a long wire, and left the room.

“Staff meeting today, in the Wacker room.” Jane nodded at Gary’s statement. He smiled at her uncomfortably. “I’ve got a confession to make, Jane. After I got over the shock from your story — ”

“About not knowing about computers or mobile phones, and wondering where all the transportation technology of the last fifty years had gone?”

Gary blinked. “Yes, that story. Once it became clear that you were sticking with it, that you weren’t on some kind of drugs — ”

She reached out, grabbed his meaty forearm. Gary looked up at her, and saw a face filled with indignation, a face that silently asked if he really meant what he’d just said.

He removed her hand, held it in his firmly. “I had to, Jane. I knew you weren’t the type of person who’d do something like that, but your story was so unusual, I had to know that there wasn’t something — something wrong with you.” He released her hand, which she brought back into her lap.

She cleared her throat. “So, Dr. Patel — ” She let her voice trail off.

“Yes. I knew he works with addicts a lot.”

“Did you tell him you thought I was using?” Her eyes were wide, searing at the edges.

Gary shot back quickly in his chair. “No! Of course not. I told him exactly what I told you — that you just needed to speak with a professional, like him.”

Jane’s eyes continued to burn a moment, as she weighed Gary’s statement. Then she exhaled, shaking her head. “OK. That checks out.”

Summers 10C

[For today’s post, I’m resuming my experiment with incorporating the Weekly Writing Challenge from The Daily Post into the narrative flow of whatever I’m currently developing. This week’s challenge is to tell the same story from two or more unique perspectives. My twist on this challenge is to provide the perspective of three different characters using a different method for each.]

“You know I’m right, Jane.” Gary’s tone was authoritative yet reassuring, the voice of a coach delivering a pep talk to a promising young athlete. “I see it in the way you run the meetings with the city. You’ll be the only one in the room who doesn’t have at least their PE, but you’re in charge. You’re speaking to an engineer with twenty years experience, and you’ve got no fear about pointing out errors in their calculations.”

Arjie had walked behind Gary, the younger man standing with arms folded across his chest, nodding in agreement as Gary continued. “You’re the best CAD operator I’ve ever worked with, Jane, but it’s painfully obvious that you not only have the intelligence, but the interest to be an engineer. And a damn good one at that.” Arjie raised his eyebrows, his nod of agreement noticeably less enthusiastic. “So, you mind telling me — what the hell is holding you back?”

Jane stared back at Gary placidly, as she considered her response. You ever notice, she considered saying, that during those meetings with the city, I’m the only female in the room? She doubted very much he had, for while Gary was undoubtedly insightful and compassionate, he was also notorious for overlooking the obvious. Crasob Engineering only employed two female engineers, both of whom had confessed their professional frustration in private to Jane. They found it difficult to be taken seriously by the city engineers, the same people who often seemed open to Jane’s suggestions. Jane often wondered if her position as “just a CAD operator” gave her an outsider’s advantage not available to a female engineer. Or whether she was just more assertive, more articulate, or well let’s just say it, more intelligent than her colleagues.

Jane wasn’t entirely sure. But she was certain this wasn’t the time to discuss such possibilities. “Nothing’s holding me back, Gary. I just — like being a CAD operator.”

Gary uttered a sound that was something of a cross between a cough and a moan. “Jane, you’re making a mistake.” Standing behind Gary, Arjie smiled his eyes wide, and nodded enthusiastically.

Summers 10B

“Hey.” Jane recognized Gary’s voice as Crasob’s lead engineer walked into the CAD room. She turned, saw his broad oval face smile as he approached her desk. “Wanted to ask you something.” He stopped just short of her desk, and rested his left hand on an open area of the beige desktop. She noted he resumed a habit she had only seen in him, of extending only three fingers down onto the surface — thumb, index, pinky. He curled the middle and ring fingers up into his palm, forming a small fist . She straigtened in her chair, recognizing that Gary only formed his tripod of fingers when he had something important to say.

She pointed to her computer monitor. “Think I’m ready to start working on the Route 20 files. Arjie looked at the test drawings I’ve been working on, says they look good.”

Gary nodded. “He showed them to me, and yes — nice job.” He patted her shoulder with his right hand, the tripod of fingers on his left now tapping the desktop. “But I actually didn’t come here to talk about CAD.”

Jane drew back in her chair, studied Gary’s face. She recognized the same look of eagerness he displayed three years ago, when he offered her the position of CAD room manager. Her eyes widened, her right hand shot up and waved in Gary’s face. “You’re not going to ask me about the PE exam again, are you?”

The tripod rapped the destkop audibly, as Gary pointed with his right hand towards the CAD room doorway. “Jane, you know twice as much about drainage than half my staff out there! When you came in last Monday, with . . . ” He clearly did not know what to say next.

“My condition?”

“All right, your condition. When I saw you weren’t able to continue working on the drawings, I knew I still had to have you review them once they got plotted, so you could catch any errors.”

“They’re not errors.” Gary turned, looked with Jane towards the doorway, through which walked Arjie, his goatee neatly trimmed. “I keep telling you, Gary, they’re not errors, they’re alternatives.”