A Good Finish, and Big Plans

Like what I’ve done with my “Town Tales” the last month. Kind of made it up as it went along — started the first post not knowing exactly where it would lead, and after finishing the scene after five posts, decided the format was nearly perfect. Five posts, about 1500 words altogether, is enough to meet my development goals for a character, and (perhaps more importantly) keeps me from rambling. It’s a format I’ll likely revisit in the future.

Speaking of that future, I’m making a commitment today to participate in the National Novel Writing Month challenge in November 2015. The “fencing team novel” I’ve been developing in this blog will be re-worked, improved, and amended — and finally get a title! There’s much planning to be done in the next 304 days (he types, hoping he’s done the math correctly), and chapter six needs to be drafted, starting tomorrow. But I’m going to be ready for November 1, and by the end of that month I’ll have something that looks like a coherent, complete draft.

Let me end this year by thanking all of my readers (whether you’re an official follower or not). This blog has never been about numbers — it’s communication that motivates me. Even having one person take the time to click the Like button for one of my posts is inspirational. I thank you for the inspiration, and hope you enjoy the work I plan on doing in the coming year.

Review

A year ago at this time, I set goals for my fencing and this blog in 2014. A quick review shows that many of those goals were missed.

Wanted to fence in eight tournaments, but only participated in six. Had I not served as an emergency referee for the September meet, I probably would have found a way to work in another competition in November or December. Did expand my horizons by traveling up to Canada last month.

Indicator’s still in the negative double-digits, and I have yet to score consistently with parry-ripostes.

Twenty-three blog posts were seven short of my goal.

Not happy with the results, and seems to me that taking three months off from the sport over the summer really limited what I could accomplish over the year. There’s going to be times over the summer where competing and drilling won’t be practical, but taking an extended break is a mistake I don’t plan on making in the coming year.

Oil Change, Part 5

Rubber crushing gravel on asphalt. Jen recognized the sound of her car’s engine, turned to see it pulling outside the front entrance. Stopping. She turned back to the younger man behind the counter, who seemed anxious to hear her next words.

“Thanks for taking me in, on short notice.” She fastened the zipper of her jacket, pulled it up to her chest. Handbag slipped off shoulders, pulled back up. “One thing about that no-label policy of yours — haven’t caught your name yet.”

A pair of black eyebrows lifted. “‘s it matter?”

Jen shrugged. “Of course it doesn’t.” She lowered the handle of her handbag onto the crook of her elbow, stuck her hand inside, retrieved her keys. “Which is precisely the reason I want to know.”

The young man snorted a laugh, and extended his right hand across the counter. “My real name’s kinda boring, so why don’t you call me by my friends use — Double-J.”

“Double-J.” Jen took his hand. “Good to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

Jen turned, keys shifted to right hand and handbag slung back over her left shoulder, and walked swiftly out the front entrance, towards her car.

Oil Change, Part 4

“You sound pretty sure of yourself.” Jen lifted the handle of her handbag higher onto her shoulder. “Tell me, when they ‘let you’ graduate in the spring, will they make you a regular employee here?”

Writing notes on a paper laid flat on the counter, the young man glanced up at her, the rest of his body remaining still. fwhrr fwhrr. And then he lifted one corner of his mouth into a toothless smile.

Jen patted her chest below the left shoulder. “Everybody here has name tags. Lefty, Derrick. Tommy.”

“Timmy?”

She hadn’t been sure about that last name. “Right. You’re the only person I’ve seen here without a name tag. Is that because you’re still in school?”

The young man lowered the pen he was holding onto the counter, and lifted his head until it was level with Jen’s. “You said you were a manager at the Stop and Shop, right?” Nod. “Betcha that means you’ve got more than a working understanding of labor laws?”

Jen shook her head. “Hey, I’m sorry, didn’t mean — ”

“It’s OK.” The young man waved a hand between them, lifted his chin while keeping his eyes focused on Jen. “I just needed to know what the ground rules were for this conversation.”

He pointed with his thumb behind him, in the direction of the garage. “Lefty, see, I’ve been living with him since I was seven. Started hanging around here after school, and started helping out. Small stuff at first, inventory and cleaning, fetching tools. But I paid attention to what everybody was doing, learned a few things. Few years ago, started doing oil changes — Lefty’d pay me twenty bucks for each, off the books. When he saw I was good at it, was ready to move on to brakes, tires, steering — this is the part, by the way, you’re not supposed to ask me how old I was at the time — Lefty comes to me, says time to make you a regular employee here! And I says, sure thing — but I told him I had one condition.”

The young man leaned forward, pointed to the vacant area on his upper left chest. “I ain’t wearing no name tag. I don’t do labels, then or now.”

Oil Change, Part 3

“So you’re in school?” The young man responded with a look that seemed intent to push her away. Compression wrench, frrwhrr frrwhrr.

Swipe the moustache. “Graduate this year. Got enough credits now, but there’s some stupid state law, says I have to stay enrolled, even though I don’t need to.”

Glance back at parking lot, still empty. “Well, I hope you’re wrong. About the bridge, not the election. I know a lot of people go back and forth between here and the city each day, that bridge would save everybody a lot of time.”

The young man leaned back, with a smile as insincere as a gift card wedding present. “They ever build that bridge, this town would die within three years.”

frrwhrr frrwhrr

“Die? Wouldn’t the town grow?” She had seen management reports, projections of revenue in the region for the coming decade. “Be easier to commute to the city.”

“Yeah, but there’s a lot more towns closer to the city, they’re already growing.” New store being planned east of the city, pending municipal approval, ground breaking in spring. “Those towns, they’ve already planned for expansion. This town, Bark Bay, they’re putting all their hopes on maintaining the status quo. And as long as Stephens’ in office, that’s exactly what we got.”

frrwhrr frrwhrr

Oil Change, Part 2

“Bridge?” The young man behind the counter stroked his moustached smile. “Sorry miss, you gotta better chance a’ winnin’ a NASCAR race in that sedan a’ yours, then them buildin’ that bridge anytime soon.”

Jen ripped from the blue vinyl rectangle. Compression air wrench bursts from wall behind the counter. She handed the aquamarine check to the young man, as she glanced at his breast. Plain gray sweater. “Isn’t Stephens retiring next year?”

Dismissive shake. Orlando Stephens elected thirty years ago. “Nah. He’ll die in office ‘fore he retires.” The young man put the check in a drawer under the counter, pointed past Jen’s shoulder. “They’re finishing up, pull the car out front in a minute.” Stroke the moustache. “Pretty good chance that’ll happen — no way he loses next year, no way.”

Jen hefted her handbag onto her right shoulder. “Thanks. Isn’t that businessman, Hutchinson, running against him?”

“HA!” Jen heard more accusation than amusement. “If he was gonna do that, he wouldn’t sold that land, where that bridge would go. I know the Hutchinsons, they’re just as happy to stay in that big ol’ house onna hill, count their money. The old man, he don’t wanna get his hands dirty playin’ politics, ‘sides, he knows he ain’t gotta chance ‘gainst Stephens.”

Jen glanced back at the empty lot. Hammer, hammer, compression wrench. “How you know the Hutchinsons?” An open area of gray sweater on his left chest like an empty pool table.

“Daughter. I — ” he blinked — “she’s on the fencing team, at the school.” Point off her left shoulder. Hydraulic lift, descending.

Oil Change, Part 1

“Miss O’Connor?”

Sitting on a chair in the customer waiting area of Lefty’s Automotive, Jen O’Connor, healthy and hefty and in her mid thirties, lowered the magazine she was reading onto her lap and looked up at the young man standing on the opposite side of the register.

“You’re all set.” The young man swiped thin black hair off his face. Like Jen, a few inches over five feet, broad-shouldered. He waited for her to reach the counter. “That dashboard light weren’t nothing, just an annoying reminder to go to the dealer and pay too much for scheduled maintenance.” He turned a piece of paper smeared with grace in her reading direction. “We changed the oil, like you asked. Also wrote down everything you need for the maintenance — Lefty’s prices are pretty good, save you a couple hundred over going to the dealer.” He tapped the paper. “That’s what you owe today, and here — ” tap tap — “is what we’d change for everything else. Drop it off in the morning, we’d have it ready for you by 5. You work in town?”

Jen shook her head, as she laid her vinyl handbag on the counter. “Nah, my office’s in the city.” She retrieved a blue-covered checkbook from the handbag. “I’m a manager at Stop ‘N Shop, come out here once, maybe twice a week to check on the store in town.” She checked the amount on the paper, began writing a check. “Sure wish they’d build that bridge — make these trips a lot quicker.”

Cleaning, Part 5

Seeing Dr. Jasper pause, The Bird replied that she wasn’t worried about what people would say about him.

His paternal eyes widened, gazing down at her in the dentist chair. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “So tell me — what does worry you?”

The Bird blinked, and said she was worried that he’d leave. Just like the pediatrician she’d liked, she added silently, or her mother’s gyno. The lawyer who helped with their easement problem with the state. The chef who opened that great restaurant, and left the next year. Professionals don’t stay in a little town like Bark Bay, her mother had told her. They get bored, or their spouses get fed up. But what Dr. Jasper was describing sounded a lot worse to The Bird than boredom.

“Really now?” He glanced up at the ceiling again. “Leave, after working so hard to establish myself in this community?” As he shook his head, he leaned over her and looked down at her. “No, my little bird — I have no intention of abandoning my practice.”

With a muffled laught, he nudged himself away from his leaning position against the chair, stood upright, and without looking down pressed a lever on the floor, the chair lowering and its back rest rising in a single mechanical motion. “You do realize, that you are perhaps-th the ONLY teenaged girl in Bark Bay who looks -th FORWARD to s-theeing her dentist-th.”

The chair stopped its mechanical movement, and The Bird, glad at hearing the sound of Dr. Jasper’s lisp again, rose from the chair with a broad smile on her face.

Cleaning, Part 4

Sth-o, let me guess.” Dr. Jasper rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger as he gazed up at the ceiling. “Have you been hearing rumors-th at sthcool?”

The Bird nodded from her reclined position in the dentist chair, said her friend at fencing practice, his name was —

A firm shake of Dr. Jasper’s head stopped her before she uttered Rune’s name. “It doesn’t matter, the who that is. This-th friend, did he call me the Tooth Fairy?”

The Bird blinked. She told him she’d heard there was a Tooth Fairy in town, a “real” one (she flexed the middle and forefinger of each hand at that word), since she was eight, hadn’t known they’d meant him until a couple years ago, and didn’t know exactly why they called him that until — that afternoon at fencing practice.

“I see.” Dr. Jasper nodded, his eyes peering straight down. A laugh percolated in his torso, rose to his mouth, but could not escape past his lips. “Odd, isn’t it, the lifespan of rumors, how they evolve, from urban legends to half-learned truths, until finally the truth emerges, like a butterfly from its cocoon.”

The Bird nodded. Either he’s lost his lisp, she thought, or she was no longer noticing it.

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “You’re one of the ones who’s worried about me, aren’t you?” She nodded, as he retrieved his hand. “That’s because you’ve heard how people in this town talk about people like myself. You’ve heard their fear, their suspicion.” He looked down at her, smiling. “I wish I could tell you that those words, those aren’t what’s in their hearts. And for some people, that’s true. But the reality is, for some people, what’s actually in their hearts — what they are capable of doing when motivated by fear — is actually far worse than what is in their words.”

Cleaning, Part 3

“I sth-see it all the time, bright-faced boys and girls devolving into sth-sullen young teens-th.” Dr. Jasper sounded more concerned than annoyed. “But those teens, I can tell by their body language — ” he pointed with his left index finger at the corner of his left eye — “the look in their eyes-sth — that they don’t want to talk. They feel they have nothing to sth-say, or if they do, they have no de-sth-sire to tell their dentis-sth.”

He leaned over The Bird and lowered his left hand, the fingers tapping her right shoulder. “But your eyes-sth — there is life in them. They are looking for someone who can be trusted, a pers-sth-on who will lis-sth-en to the words of her mouth.” He stood upright, his head deftly missing contact with the overhead lamp. “Sth-o, tell me — issth there something you want to tell me?”

I guess so, said The Bird, hesitating like a child about to dive into a cold pool.

“Isth something wrong with you?” The Bird shook her head. “Your mother?” Another shake. Dr. Jasper widened his eyes. “Would it be sth-omething that I already know?”

The Bird opened her mouth, but caught the words before she could speak them. Dr. Jasper blinked, then glanced quickly over to the peroxide hygienist, who promptly excused herself and left the room. As the door closed behind her, Dr. Jasper turned, leaned his rear against the side of the dental chair on which The Bird reclined, and turned to look down at her.

His smile seemed paternal, it seemed to The Bird, which, as the thought came to her, seemed somewhat odd, seeing as how she had never been the recipient of a truly paternal smile, having never met her nameless father. She wondered whether she could instinctively trust such a look. Dr. Jasper had always been nice to her, of course — but she was about to stop being his patient.