A couple of years ago I purchased three “How To Write Fiction” books from Amazon.com. They’ve been resting on my shelf, untouched, since they arrived 3-5 days later. I’m digging in, one random exercise at a time.
Writing Fiction Step By Step by Josip Novakovich
Chapter One: Ideas
If you have experienced an unrequited love, write a scene in which your love is requited. But since there is no story if there is no major problem to be solved, imagine some new obstacle for the relationship. Perhaps the lover has recently accepted a new job in a new city far away and you cannot afford to quit your job and move there, at least for now… Or perhaps the lover is a drug addict and will stay with you only if you buy her drugs (and you hate drugs), but you can’t imagine being without her.
On my third trip to the bakery I detoured over to the flower shop for a single red rose.
“Simple and elegant,” the lady said.
“Could you leave on the thorns?” I said. “It’s more poetic that way.”
I drove slowly in front of the pie shop, looking hard through the window to make sure she was there and her brother was not, which was usually the case on Saturday afternoons, but you never know. He wasn’t and I swung the VW around back into the shade and parked beside her Honda. I sat and stared straight ahead at the back of the building. Her parents owned the bakery. The lot was otherwise empty. There wouldn’t be a better time.
It was mid afternoon but the sun was already settling behind the storefronts and trees up on Market Street, which climbed the hill toward the north, and it was hot, everything scorched and crackling, concrete and glass radiating heat back at the sky. The metal door handle was hot, too, when I pushed against it, and the glass was warm. A string of bells on the other side clattered and clanged and air conditioned air and the smell of sweet pie crusts and baked fruit washed into me as I entered. She stood up from her seat at the table near the end of the display counter where the register was and she looked over and smiled. The place was empty.
“Oh? Another piece of pie?”
“No,” I said. “Maybe. What’s good?” The rose was in my left hand, behind my back. I tapped my forefinger against one of its thorns.
“You seem to like apple,” she said.
“It’s my favorite. It’s America’s favorite.”
“And maybe a coffee. With a little ice.”
I had been aware of Kim since PE class in high school when one morning she arrived on the football field with the rest of the girls to join us boys for warm up laps on the track before the coaches segregated us again for badminton or volleyball or whatever. Kim wasn’t a cheerleader or prom queen — she was too beautiful. And too beautiful to date any of us. Her boyfriends were always a couple of years out of high school. She was delicious and sweet and well out of our grasp. I can conjure that first glimpse of her in her gym outfit whenever I like: She limbers up before the run, her shorts suggesting more than they hide, a lock of hair loose from the bundle falling over an eye and across her cheek; she smiles at something someone nearby has said and she tucks the loose strands back behind her ear. Then she pauses, waiting for the coach, hands on hips, her t-shirt pulled tight. Somebody coughs.
I could conjure that whenever I wanted to, like I said. But I rarely did. It hurt too much.
“You’re lucky,” she said, “This pot is fresh and so’s the pie.”
She placed both on the counter and punched at the register and this was it, here it was, the moment, that moment, whether I liked it or not and I didn’t like it. Somewhere halfway between the door and the counter I had changed my mind. She was out of reach, absolutely, and I could feel my face burning and knew that what came next was going to be far different than what I had imagined on the ride over from the flower shop. There was a rose in my left hand behind my back. In front of me was the girl the rose was meant for. Her lips — pink, rich, full — were just beginning to part, drawing a breath in order to speak, white teeth-glint behind the pink of lips, the little mole on her upper lip as dark as her hair, her eyes, wide and blue and deep, fixed on the register window as the total rings but beginning their instantaneous flick up and out to look into mine, her brows framing them from above, rising almost imperceptibly in preparation for the glance. The rose still hidden behind my back. Would I be able to open my wallet with one hand? Drop it on the counter, reach in, pull out some bills, hand them over, return the wallet to my back pocket? Lucky it was the right pocket and not the left. Did I have three ones? I didn’t have three ones. I’d have to pull out that ten, hand it over, take the change, fold up the five and the two ones I got back from her (and drop the quarter in the tip jar), stuff the bills back into my wallet, fold it up and return the wallet to my pocket with one hand tied behind my back. I was sure I could do it. I had a reputation. I’d play it like this. I’d say, “Today is one hand tied behind my back day.” And she’d say, “What?” And I’d say, “Just to make the day interesting, I decided to see if I could get through it with one hand tied behind my back. Do everything one handed.” And she’d say, “What about driving? I thought Volkswagens were stick-shifts.” And I’d say, “They are, but I’m a talented one-hander.” And she’d say, “Is that safe?” And I’d smile and say, “So far it is! But now I’m stuck. Can you help me with this pie and coffee to a table? I can’t carry both.” That way she’d come out from behind the counter and I could turn and keep my face to her and the rose hidden behind. Maybe fold it up and stuff it in my pocket with my wallet? Worry about that later, what to do with the rose. This plan could work.
Finally her eyes came up and met mine to tell me what we both already knew, that coffee and pie costs $2.75, like always.
“Funny thing about the light in here,” she said.
“Oh? Did you know today is one-handed…”
“Yeah,” she said. “When the sun sets behind the stores on Market, the shade makes the windows up front like mirrors.”
“Like mirrors?” I turned, keeping the rose out of view. There was me on my side of the counter, a single red rose close to my chest, t-shirt, blue jeans, docksiders, and her off my left shoulder behind the register, a lock of hair loose from the bundle, falling over an eye and across her cheek, hands on hips pulling her apron tight, waiting. I coughed.
“Yeah, like mirrors. But? Are there thorns on there? Why would they leave the thorns on there?”