Friday, October 9, 2009

Fiction For Friday

I realized this afternoon as I wracked my brain for something interesting to write about that it had been a pretty unexciting week overall.

I also realized that over the course of the last year, I had written nearly fifty short stories and one-act plays as a kind of exercise to "limber up" so I could finally write the novel I've been thinking about writing since high school.

The scary part is, I honestly don't know if I'm good enough to be a serious writer... I think that's why I haven't seriously sat down and written "the big one" yet... I don't know if my characters as I write them are real enough. For the type of story I want to write, it's not worth even starting if the characters themselves aren't believable to the reader.

So I think over the next few weeks, I'm going to post from the collection of stories I've written as exercise over the last year... a few of them I submitted to online literary magazines, and a couple of them were actually selected, and posted online. You would think that's a positive sign, but as I read through some f the other selections on the websites that had "published" some of my work of the last year, I realized that there were a LOT of really bad writers out there who were having their horrendous work showcased on the same sites that had chosen mine.

I guess where I'm going with this is I'm asking those of you who read this blog to tell me if my writing sucks, or should I really sit down with my outline and just write the damn novel already. Please be honest, you can leave anonymous comments below, so I'm hoping that you'll be cold and brutal if it's really bad.

Enough explanation.

Here's this Friday's story:

CONFIDANT a short story

The evening I confessed to Kathy, finally conceding some portion of culpability for the wreckage of our marriage, her hair is piled high and tight, tied off like a bale of wheat--so I have a good look at her face as I'm telling her. When I get to the heart of the matter, the Nicolson's former au pair, I see the tracing of a tiny smile.

In black stretch pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt, Kathy's new look is clean and precise. If I didn't know her story I'd probably cross the street to find out. From her cute mousy ears hang clusters of tiny pearls. As I'm talking, laying it out thick and flat and ugly, her head trembles so imperceptibly that I wouldn't notice but for the tremor of her earrings; when I'm all done confessing I can't decide if these are the freshwater pearls I bought her for our second wedding anniversary or the cultured pearls she treated herself to the week our divorce took hold.

It's so cliche to tell one's former spouse of indiscretions with the neighbor's hired help, in this case a bookish Irish au pair. But it's Sunday night, the end of another hand-off weekend, and frankly I'm bored. Jessica, our three-year-old, the only real fun in the place, is asleep, which is how I carried her in, strapped in tight and slumped left in her car seat, delivered straight from my mother who was glad to get rid of her for a change; actually scolded me for running so late. Now I'm standing in Kathy's renovated kitchen, sipping green tea, standing closer than we have in months. On the hefty butcher's block island between us is a cinnamon scented candle--unlit, thank God--and a full set of carving knives. Despite a sign on the refrigerator that says "Welcome to Our Smoke-Free Home," and Jessica's bedroom just sixteen paces downwind, Kathy is on her third cigarette. She's smoking 100s again--which explains the weight loss--and using her saucer for an ashtray.

She's puffing a good cloud, but she doesn't look stunned or angry, though she hasn't spoken a word since cigarette number two, when I casually said as I closed the door to Jessica's bedroom. "I screwed around on you once." Now a part of me wishes I'd kept my mouth shut. Kathy, though bright and beautiful, has never been an entirely level-headed woman; I'm suddenly concerned that a quick pile-up of crushed lipstick-tipped filters may prove as threatening to my health as the proximity of so many knives.

"So what's the deal? What am I, your therapist?"

"I thought you'd like to know."



"You fall and hit your head again? Find a church," she says. "You think I care what you did?"

I shrug.

"Why now?" Kathy says. "Who cares now. Why me?"

"Because we're friends."

"I'm not your friend."

"Yes, yes you are."

"No I'm not. Tonight or any other night."

"And we're co-parents. And confidants."

"Confidants? Ha! Me and you?"

I nod and smile.

"I don't know," she says, "Sounds creepy."

But I keep nodding. I nod a slow up and down, while she nods a steady side to side, her cigarette trailing smoke. "Confidants?" she says. "That's your reason?"

"Scout's honor." I say and snap the scout's salute.

"You're not making this up?"

"We did it on a pile of coats."

She flicks and puffs. "That's pretty disgusting."

"I know."

She blows smoke straight down at her cup. "I don't think I need to know anymore."

"Your mother, and that guy she was with, you, Frank, Susan--you were all in the next room."

"I see. Well, I'm glad I don't remember. Was this before or after Jessica?"

"Jessica was with us, yes. Bundled up like a papoose."

Kathy releases a cloud between us. She coughs, then chokes. "Thank you, Jared. I'm experiencing such pleasant flashbacks of searching for you with a wet infant in my arms. How nice."

I nod and sip my tea. "I was sure someone would hear us. She was a feisty one."

Kathy stubs her cigarette into the saucer. "I don't need to hear anymore."

I nod. I listen to my heart while she studies me with the eyes of a juror. "Which earrings are those?" I ask.

"None of your business. How was she?"


"Your very first Au Pair...?"

"It was too hurried," I say.

"But was it ecstasy, Jared? Truly?"

"It was close."

"And worth the price, I imagine."


"Worth all of this, all of us?"

"Of course not," I say.

She's locked on, rapid blinking. I'm guessing she's had some kind of make-over that has made her eyebrows exotically charged. "So now what? Where do you head from here?"

"Me?" Though I'm sure she means us, our redefined relationship. I like the way she outlines her lips.

"After she presses charges," Kathy says. "What's your defense? She was homesick?"

"Who's pressing charges? No one is pressing charges."

"Not yet, but you never know, she might. Statute of limitations is on her side, not yours."

"She never would. Not now. Why would she?"

"Jared, when's the last time you spoke to the girl?"

I shrug.

"Then you don't have a clue what she's thinking or where her head is at. She might wake up tomorrow with a change of heart and an overwhelming need for redemption."

"Redemption? I don't think so."

"It happens."

"No. She wasn't the goody two-shoes people thought."

"Do her parents know?"

I shrug.

"Suppose they find out?"

"She hates her parents."

"At that age, we all hate our parents."

I sip my tea and swallow. "I never did. I never hated my mother or my father. " I glance down the hall. "And Jessica won't hate hers."

Kathy says, "Watch your step is all I'm saying. Wait and see. Live and learn, Jared. Eventually your little Irish friend will confess. She'll have a nasty fight with her mother or her father, maybe her boyfriend. She'll use you. She'll give you up. You're mackerel. You're cheese. You wait." She sets her saucer on the block. "Are you prepared to go to jail?"

The question hangs between us for a three count. It's a dumb question that leaves a knot centered behind my eyes.



"Look at me, dear."

I'm rubbing the flesh above my eyes, creating a shield with my hand. "What? I am looking," but I'm not. I'm studying the off-color of the wood on the handle of the chef's knife. "You know," I say, "you really shouldn't be loading those in the dishwasher. The dry cycle ruins the wood."

"Jared? Have you spoken to Paul Feldman?"

"Paul? Yes. I was in his office yesterday."

"You might ask his advice," says Kathy.

"About this? But why?"

"Christ! Because she's seventeen."

"Eighteen now. Almost nineteen."

Kathy frowns and leans, pressing both hands flat on the butcher's block. "Seventeen, Jared! She was a child. A child."

"Please stop saying how old she was. I know how old she was."

"She could still file charges. It's not too late. If she had a mind to. If someone persuaded her it was the right thing to do."

I touch the back of Kathy's hand. She glances off, the muscles in her neck tight. Down the hall, Jessica coughs.

"Excuse me," Kathy says, jerking away. Our daughter sputters into her wake-up cry as a house full of phones sound off like a dozen chirping birds. Kathy says, "Get that, will you, Jared? Pretend you belong here." And she leaves me standing right where I am.

Be honest... tell me if the characters weren't "real" enough.
See you all Monday.


  1. Although I could never be 'cold and brutal', in your case there is absolutely no reason to. You are an exquisite writer, and each character was vividly real. So....."sit down with your outline, and write the damn novel already". (And don't forget me when you're famous.)

  2. I have to say I really enjoyed reading it. The characters are well written and the story is detailed and catching. Had me at the end waiting to hear what happens next. I read all the time, it is a true passion, and I have to say Jonathan, I would definitely pick this up and read and be hard to put it down til I reached the end. Keep writing. You have the skill and talent.

  3. I love reading everything you write Jonathan. You have a real talent for it. By The Way....I'm still waiting on the ending from that story you were writing on MySpace. "After The Fall" You wrote a few entries and then left us all hanging.

  4. Lynn, I bailed on that one, because I didn't think anyone was reading it!

    I'll have to re-visit that one and see if I can't come up with an abbreviated version with a decent ending.

  5. No I just wait with baited breath for you to finish stuff. From now on, I'll be more vocal! lol