This topic contains 2 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by Anonymous 6 months, 3 weeks ago.
December 4, 2017 at 9:11 pm #346646
So I’ve been out of writing for a while and am just getting back into it. This is one short story out of a collection – all part of the same narrative arc. (I can’t post much of it as they’re hard to get down to PG13.) Unfortunately between other responsibilities, I’m not a part of any kind of community of writers so I don’t always have anyone to bounce my stuff off of. Just looking for some opinions and thoughts.
SOME TRUTH, A FEW LIES
Over the summer, we bought a townhouse south of DC from an old Asian man who insisted we skip the home inspection. I had a power of attorney, but Jake video-chatted in anyway. He said buying a first house was something you should share. He sat there in his dirty uniform thousands of miles away not saying anything. His face was skinny and behind him, on the wall, were crude drawings. You could hear gunshots in the background.
Later, he called again and said, Julie, I’ll be home soon, I know it. I told him that’s what he’d been saying for eight months. There was this delay in the call, and a clicking, so that after you spoke it took three or four seconds to hear the answer. It made everything we said unnatural and distant. He wanted to talk about the house and moving and the future. Jake, I said. Just take care of yourself and don’t worry. All those other things will work out fine. He said, wait and see. Wait and see.
A few weeks later, he called again, from Kuwait, and said he had two weeks of leave. He’d wanted to surprise me, he said, but he couldn’t help himself. I felt like dying. I had a boyfriend, if you want to call him that. We’d been like that in high school, before I ever met Jake, but it was different now. We saw each other at a coffee shop a few months after Jake had left and just sort of fell into bed. That many months of loneliness can do that to you. It felt familiar and I was young. I’m not making excuses. People like to judge me, but they haven’t walked in my shoes and we were never perfect, Jake and I. There was something about it that wasn’t quite right. Ever since I lost the baby. Something just below the surface, if you know what I mean. But what could I do? I told Jake, great. I can’t wait to see you.
I left work early and rushed home to make sure there wasn’t any evidence of my friend. Ben came over after he got off of work and said, Don’t do this. You don’t love him anymore. You said you weren’t sure you ever did.
What can I do? I said. We’re married. I owe it to him. He’s been gone all this time. We just bought a house. He’s trying to do things the way he should. You remember what that’s like, don’t you? Ben said he remembered but that he didn’t want Jake to come. He wanted me to meet Jake at the door with his clothes and say, hit the road. I told him I wouldn’t do that. I told him I would try things for two weeks and then he’d leave and I could decide the best thing to do. I told him I’d call him.
Don’t call, he said. I don’t want you back.
I got in my jewelry box and put my wedding ring back on. Jake came home and for two weeks we drank and watched TV and ate at restaurants and ordered out. I don’t think we cooked one meal except for breakfast. Jake loves cooking bacon and eggs and grits in the morning and so he’d have this great meal waiting for me every morning. It was heaven. I mean, sure it was strange in the beginning. The first night he was home we got in bed together. I expected him to jump on me, you know, but he just laid there. It was dark and we were flat on our backs, shoulder to shoulder, just staring up at the ceiling fan. I only had a double bed so we were really close and I could hear him breathing and we were both awake. I said, what’s wrong. He said he was nervous. That it was strange, like we barely knew each other. I had to climb on top of him then, can you believe it? Once we got started though he did fine. Really fine. That was something Jake never had a problem with.
The mortgage payments hadn’t started yet so we had a little money and we went into DC to look at the monuments. We went to Arlington and I took a picture of him next to the 101st Airborne Division statue. He looked very serious in the picture. We strolled around to where he said his friends were. The plots were still fresh dirt. He didn’t take pictures there. He just stood with his hands in his pockets.
I’d go to work early and when I got home he would be sitting on the sofa, waiting for me and each day the place would be more like home, with more boxes unpacked. He bought a grill and put it out on the patio. For the spring, he said. So we can have cookouts. I kissed him. His mom came to visit once, but it was only for a few days. My parents kept their distance. They knew what was up and didn’t care one way or the other which way I went. My mom had her own problems. The days were slow. I didn’t have any vacation saved up yet so I had to work but I’d sit there at my desk, looking at the clock, waiting to go home and be with him and not do anything – just be next to him. Everything between us felt new and fresh and all the girls in the office spilled tea about it. Most of them knew the score.
Then one afternoon I came home and Jake was sitting in a chair in the living room, wrapped up in a camouflage blanket. It wasn’t like we didn’t have blankets or anything. He actually went into his army bag and got this one out. He sat there, barefoot, with the blanket over his shoulders and his feet drawn up. He didn’t look at me when I came in. This was just a few days before he had to leave.
I hung up my purse and walked over to him. I kissed him on the forehead. He stared at the wall. I touched his cheek, hey, I said.
You left your computer open this morning, he said. I looked in your emails.
You snooped through my emails? I said. I was angry. What gave him the right?
I saw an email you wrote to your ex-boyfriend, he said. And then he looked at me and his eyes weren’t right. They were flat and empty, like catfish eyes.
Oh, I said. It’s not what you think. He sighed then and looked back at the wall. We’re just friends I said. I got down on my knees and grabbed him. He was pale. I got him a cup of water and handed it to him. It’s not what you think, I said. Jake, don’t worry about it. I sat on the edge of the chair and wrapped my arms around his head and buried his face under my chin.
You’re not just friends, he said. I looked him up. I called him on the phone.
Forget him, I said.
How can I forget him? I talked to him.
What did he say? I asked.
Of course he didn’t admit anything, Jake said, but he was scared. You could hear it in his voice. He was afraid.
You sound crazy, I said. We’re just friends. I’ll stop talking to him if it makes you happy. I’ll do anything to make you happy. That’s what I said and I meant it. Right then I wanted him more than anything. Jake got up, half spilling me onto the floor. He kept that camouflage blanket on his shoulders though. He walked to the window and stood there. He looked like he might pass out, and who could blame him? He put his water down on the table. It’s been a good couple of weeks, he said. We had a good time.
It doesn’t have to end, I said.
Jake looked at me. I thought about killing him, he said. I thought about it all morning. I mean I really thought about it, but then I figured, what difference would it make? Either way, I’d be gone, in jail or back in Iraq. I can’t even leave you. Where can I go with two days left? Should I go sit in a hotel and drink? This right here, is all I have, and its s!!t. It’s s!!t. It’s all fake.
Don’t talk like that, I said. I started to cry.
Jake sat down and put his head in his hands. He had this look like, I don’t know, I’ve never seen him look like that before. Like he was totally lost. Tell me what to do, he said. Just tell me what to do. I went over to him on the sofa and both of us were crying and I put my arms around him. Stay with me tonight, I said. We’ll start off tomorrow new. We can do this, I said. I don’t know if I believed it, but it sounded like the right thing to say.
We went to the airport two days later, Jake in his uniform with his bag slung over one shoulder. He was uncomfortable, he said, because he didn’t like flying into Iraq without his rifle but of course they wouldn’t let him leave Iraq with it. I told him not to worry, that his friends would be waiting for him and they’d have it. What about you, he asked. Will you be waiting for me?
I’ll wait forever, I said. We went into the airport and bought two cups of coffee. We sat together with our cups steaming and held hands. He laughed. It was a good two weeks, he said. Right up till the last part. But it was good, he said. He kept touching his face and looking around. He got up and went to the bathroom and came back. He patted his bag and studied the gear he had with him. He was thinking things through, you could tell.
When it was time, we got up and looked at the electronic board. The plane was delayed. He talked to the lady at the counter and she said, tomorrow. It was a long drive, from our townhouse to the airport, so the airline put us up in a hotel. It was a nice place, right next to the airport. We checked in and I said it looks like we get one more night. Jake fixed his eyes on me, said, are we gonna be ok? What happens now? I said something. I mean, I know I did, but I don’t remember what it was.
We sat down on the little sofa in the hotel room and Jake put his hand on my knee and squeezed. He looked at me then, like he was trying to decide something. I looked back at him and knew he was all that I wanted. His plane was delayed. He should have left, but of course no one other than us knew that. Everyone thought he’d left, and so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when my phone rang. Jake looked down at the caller ID. He read it. He leaned back on the sofa, crossed his arms, and closed his eyes.
You gonna get that? He asked.
I don’t know who it is, I said.
Jake opened his eyes and looked at me. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.
December 5, 2017 at 12:55 am #655124
I enjoyed that! Nice character arcs and very complete as a story. I ended up with quite complex feelings about the characters, so very well sketched. I’m not usually fond of dialogue formatted in that way, but as this is (I expect) the complete piece, it’s not too fatiguing. Any longer and I would say use quotes. Nothing tripped me up in the prose. The only suggestion I would give is to slow down the pacing on some points you perhaps want us to dwell a little longer (a suggestion might be the scene in Arlington). It’s very rhythmic, which works in this confessional sort of style, but I found some details were only settling in on second and third reading. Hope that helps!
December 26, 2017 at 5:17 pm #655125
The 101st! My kind of book. Of course I’m interested. Can I just say that I hate it when authors don’t use quotation marks to set up conversations? It could use a lot of editing. It’s very wordy and kind of runs on due to long paragraphs with no break up. Is this the way it came out when you copied it to post it or are you really writing with no spaces? When Jake comes home that’s a big transition and should be set off, maybe a new section. If it’s easier to look at people will be more likely to read it. Also lose the “this”, “this delay in the call”,”this great meal”, etc, the “like”, “like we barely knew each other”, “like we didn’t have blankets”, and all the “you knows” and “I means”. Good start. Now let’s see some action.
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.