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The L-Word (working title)

by McAllerton 

Posted: 30 July 2011
Word Count: 643
Summary: Work in progress, need comments before going further.

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“Can you remember what you were doing the day before we met Larry?” She lifted her coffee cup to her mouth with both hands and looked at him through the steam.

Over her shoulder he saw an elderly couple walk through the front door of the diner. They were covered in fur. Huge fur coats down to their ankles and big round fur hats. They shuffled to the counter like they’d walked in from the bear sanctuary in the National Park.

She was smiling but he could see uncertainty in her mouth. He noticed the spidery lines that were gathering around her eyes as she passed her prime. Crockery clattered around them as a waitress cleared tables. The mid-morning rush was dying down.

She loved to do this, he thought, it was one of her things. There’d be a lull in the talk and she’d come up with a task. It felt like homework.

“Gina I don’t know. How about you?”

“Sure I do. It was my birthday remember? You said you wished we’d met the day before, then you could have bought me a present. I worked my birthday in that shitty diner. Another goddamn twelve hour shift being looked up and down by greasy truckers while I put plate after plate of burger crap in front of them.”

“You’d want to forget a birthday like that.”

She smiled a little. “Jesus that was the lousiest job I ever had.” She glanced around the room then back at him with nervy flicks of her eyes. She was waiting for something more.

“Let me think,” he began, looked away, tried to remember, tried to think what she wanted to hear. The grizzly bear couple were sliding into the table behind Gina, grunting and squeezing their fur-clad bodies along the vinyl seats. “So yeah, what was it six months ago? I was probably having one more shit day too.”

He spooned sugar into his coffee. Buying time. Now Gina was staring at him. He stirred the coffee.

“I just got to thinking,” she said. “We were both going along doing all the usual things. Drinking coffee, working, talking, eating and we didn’t know, did we? What was going to happen next. It all changed just because I went to Sarah’s party after my shift. I didn’t want to go, I was exhausted. Then we met. I met you. You met me. And here we are. This might not have happened. We might not have happened.”

Larry remembered the party. Her lush friend Sarah, pressing her gin-soaked thigh against him in the kitchen while her husband did Travolta impressions in the living room. Gina caught his eye over Sarah’s shoulder while she poured herself whisky and tipped her glass at him. Sarah told him it was Gina’s birthday then slumped onto a kitchen chair and passed out. Half an hour later he and Gina were swaying back to her place.

The male grizzly was slurping coffee and shovelling apple pie and cream into his beard. Somewhere in there he must have a mouth. Larry couldn’t concentrate on what Gina was saying. The fur people were talking now, grunting to each other.

“Larry? Don’t you think that’s amazing? Think about it. Millions of people living their lives, going along their own way and having chance meetings with other humans that change their lives forever.”

“Yeah Gina, it’s amazing.”

They were watching TV that night. At Gina’s. Mountains, glaciers, forests, lakes. Her head on his shoulder. Two bears lumbered along the shore of a lake. Her hair on his cheek. His eyes drooped. His head fell. He woke with a start.

“Hey Larry. Come on, let’s go to bed.”

She took him by the hand to the bedroom. Dark shapes hulked in the corners of the room.

“Hold me Gina,” he whispered.

He fell into her arms.

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Comments by other Members

apcharman at 01:05 on 31 July 2011  Report this post
It's great writing, Mark. There's a very strong feeling for pace, and the interaction between internal world and external world is well crafted. My personal reaction to the MC is not so good though. I just want to slap the man. His girlfriend's engaging and he just feels like he's marking time-til-death. This is purely a personal reaction, though, because I think we're into Carver territory, are we not? (not my thing) To that degree this is well executed & very readable. Personally I just wish it would go somewhere a bit more dynamic, or profound.


McAllerton at 06:33 on 01 August 2011  Report this post
Thanks Andy. Yes it's very Carver and consciously so, as I like the way he both focuses on apparently irrelevant details and leaves many things out. His short story, 'Fat', is a great example. So this piece was a bit of an exercise, trying on a style. I'll think about making it more dynamic, as there isn't really any drama, which leaves it flat I guess.

Becca at 11:10 on 02 August 2011  Report this post
Hello Mark,
the ghost of Carver is with us again! I love the image of the bear people and the way they hold Larry's attention while Gina is trying to 'engage' with him. I see Larry as being full of uncertainty.

A couple of technical points:-
'...the day before we met Larry?' When did they meet Larry and who is he?
'...the day before we met, Larry?' the comma after 'met' means Larry is the name of the one addressed.
'...uncertainty in her mouth.' Did she have her mouth open and was he looking into it, or do you mean something more along the lines of her lips and what she was doing with them suggesting uncertainty?
'...as she passed her prime' means she was passing it right at that moment, isn't the idea more like because she was past her prime she had crows' feet?

Love this '... shovelling apple pie and cream into his beard. Somewhere in there he must have a mouth.'
Well, so far, it's good writing, will there be a time though when you send Carver away and take on your own writer's voice? [lol]

apcharman at 22:30 on 04 August 2011  Report this post
Hi Mark,
Well, given the target you are aiming at, I think this is very successful. It is certainly skilled writing and I'm in the odd position of admiring your craft, even though I'm not keen the result!

A few detailed technical points. The first sentence describes Gina "looking through the steam" of her coffee at the protagonist, but because this is the first sentence my immediate assumption was that the woman looking through the steam would be the protagonist. Having to make that adjustment in POV is uncomfortable.

You have two sentences juxtaposed with similar structure but very different time-scales; "He noticed the spidery lines that were gathering around her eyes as she passed her prime. Crockery clattered around them as a waitress cleared tables."
This has the odd effect of making it seem like either the lines were gathering at the speed of the waitress gathering crockery or vice versa.

I found that "gin-soaked thigh" did quite work because I pictured a wet thigh, which I don't think you meant.

What I really liked was the proximimty of profoundness, without ever any conclusions being drawn. Ambling lives, ambling bears; the conversational philosophy of what might and might not have been.

I have a sense that you are playing with notions of time; life-times captured in moments, is that right? If so, would it be better to get it more in focus?


Indira at 10:30 on 05 August 2011  Report this post
Hello Mark,

I like your writing - the story's interesting and intriguing and gives the impression of being profound. But I end up feeling that I am not quite sure what the story is about. Whereas, with Carver, even while the details appear to be commentaries on the characters and the social norms of the place, there is a sense of story. Or perhaps I have just reread many of them often enough to feel that way.

Regardless of Carver, I found this sentence pivotal in your story, but then, felt, perhaps that I am wrong: 'tried to think what she wanted to hear'. Does she or does she not want to hear something, is her question a test of his engagement with their relationship, or is it her way of staying engaged - I couldn't really make out and I feel I should in order to get to the heart of this story, this relationship.

I do look forward to seeing where you will take it.


BifferSpice at 11:49 on 19 August 2011  Report this post
i really like this. carver is pretty much my favourite short story writer, so you're preaching to the converted with this one you do a good job, and i like the bear people. it all links and holds together, and has a natural pace to it. good job

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