July 13, 2007

Fiction Friday: Gerry's life changes

This week's theme: Pick one item from each column. Roughly sketch out a short scene that includes the character you selected and the situation you selected. The script generated the following for me: A lady with 30 cats is fired in a very public way and tears up a plane ticket. This scene involves Gerund Maplethorpe, a.k.a. Gerry, who was my character sketch in last week's [Fiction]Friday.

If it was the fourteenth, it would be the red cat with blue spots today. Gerry hefted the bag with his dinner--a frozen fettuccine Alfredo, a pack of Oreos, and a six of Sam's summer ale--and pushed the store's squeaky screen door open. The August evening wafted warm flower smells at him from the corner florist just shutting up for the night. Was it eight o'clock already?

He turned left and let the door slap shut behind him. The shopkeeper, an old Chinese lady with a stooped and vaguely smelly husband, hated the clap of her rickety door on the peeling frame, but to Gerry it was the sound of childhood summer. He couldn't help but grin as he walked away and listened for the grind of the door's spring as she pushed it open to glare at his back.

Instead, the surprising rumble of a motorcycle shook the quiet Queen Anne street. Gerry had seen plenty of Harleys around Seattle, but up here the street seemed to have nothing but Subarus, Jettas, and Camrys. He stopped to look, keenly aware that any outside observer would perceive him as the snobbish elitist suburbanite in khakis tsk-tsking the bad boy on the bike. Really, though, he just wanted to get a look at the guy who slept over at the goth yuppie chick's house a couple nights a week.

As he expected. Thick arms, heavily tattooed, mostly black ink. Black beanie helmet--why bikers thought that looked good, Gerry hadn't figured out yet. Long, black hair creased with gray and kinked out from the wind. His jeans looked new, but his black tank top had seen better days. Maybe better decades. The bike pulled up in front of the florist, and the guy slid off and stomped over and grabbed a bundle of red roses. He looked all around--Gerry figured he didn't want his biker buddies seeing this--and caught Gerry's eye for just a moment. Gerry turned and continued strolling down the street, trying not to walk too fast or too slow.

He took inventory of the neighborhood, counting the new scratches in Mr. Walsh's car, counting the uncollected newspapers at that yellow house, seeing that Bill still hadn't taken in his garbage can from last Thursday. Almost at the end of the block, he paused and looked across the street. Not the red one with blue spots. Gerry checked his watch--yup, the fourteenth. Goth Yuppie Chick always put out the red cat with blue spots on the fourteenth, but today her porch bench was empty.

Not in three years of walking past her house had Gerry seen that bench without one of her thirty stuffed toy cats on it. She hadn't moved out--her Jetta was parked neatly in the driveway and her front light was on. But was something wrong? Gerry found himself frowning, and he wondered why he might care about this woman he'd never met. Sure, she was cute in a dangerous non-khaki sort of way, but...

The Harley rumbled past him into the driveway and stopped with one wheel on the smooth, spotless lawn. Gerry knew he should turn and walk away, go home and shut himself in like every night in the four years since college. As the biker slid off his bike once more, the bundle of roses clenched in his paw, the door of the house swung open with a sudden crash, knocking over the wooden bench where that red cat with blue spots should have been.

The smell of exhaust and gasoline mixed with the odor of some sweet flower nearby, and Gerry stood rooted to the sidewalk, the day's warmth rising from the pavement under him. The goth yuppie chick stormed down from her porch, her thick, black boots clunking hard on each wooden step. Her airy blond hair billowed up as she charged at the biker, who now held out the roses more like a shield than a gift.

"Chris--" the biker sounded lost, pleading, hopeful.

"Don't," growled the goth yuppie chick as she stopped dead right in front of the roses, "Call. Me. That."

"Come on, baby, you know I'm only teasing."

"Yeah, well, don't."

"OK, OK. Jesus, Crystal, what, you on the rag or something?"

"Yeah, brilliant. Witty, Ricardo, always real funny." She stood staring at him, oblivious to anything else. If it had been a cold night, Gerry thought maybe she'd be snorting steam like you see horses do sometimes. Not that she looked horsey. Not at all. Her blond hair had one long, deep purple streak down one side, and it framed her beautiful face and complemented her dark eye liner in a way that was more than sexy. She had smooth skin, pale but not unhealthy, and a glint in her petite nose looked like a diamond stud. Gerry found himself transfixed.

"Well, whatever. Here, these are for you, baby." Ricardo said it as if he were handing over the most valuable thing in the world and he was the most generous guy in the world.

"Fuck you." Crystal held up a couple of pieces of paper, but Gerry couldn't see what they were. "And who are these for? No, wait. Let me read them." Crystal dramatically whipped the papers under Ricardo's nose and held them up in the fading evening light. "Ricardo Montez. Southwest Airlines to Las Vegas, Thursday August fifteenth." She paused and gave him a piercing , momentary look. "Very nice. Seating group A. And the other one: Sheri Lopez... huh, the same flight. And look, both paid for by Ricardo Montez."

"Look, baby--"

"Fuck you, Ricardo. I saw the hotel reservation, too. You really should hide this shit better. I needed a pen. I looked in your desk drawer. Duh."

"Come on, baby, Sheri's just... you know. She means nothing. I love you. I think--hey, let's get married. I mean, it's been four years, right?"

Gerry watched the expression on Crystal's face go from anger to incredulity to disgust to outright rage.

Ricardo continued. Unwisely, Gerry thought. "Four years today. That's why I got you these." He held out the roses again. "I thought hey, roses, romantic dinner, maybe pop the question finally."

Crystal hissed, "Then fly off to Vegas the next day with the new artist." She held up the papers and tore them slowly end to end, side to side, five times, six times, then let the pieces flutter to the grass. "That's what I think of your marriage proposal, you dick." Then, slowly, she took the roses from his hand and dropped them to the driveway. One big boot came down on them hard, grinding them into the pavement. "That's what I think of our relationship."

Then, quickly, more quickly than Gerry realized, Crystal had pulled something from her back pocket, slipped around Ricardo, and was pouring something all over his motorcycle. "And this," she said as she stepped back to look at the motorcycle, "is what I think of you." She put the flask back in her back pocket and pulled something from her front pocket.

In an instant, Gerry realized three things: First, that the smell of gasoline was floating to him, very strong on the evening breeze. Second, that the breeze was coming from the direction of the motorcycle. Third, that what Crystal now held in her hand was a disposable cigarette lighter. Apparently, Ricardo realized those things at the same time. As the spark failed to light the flame on the lighter, Ricardo yelled something unintelligible and lunged at Crystal, knocking her hard backwards into the small shrubs bordering her porch. She fell hard, and Gerry worried that she might be hurt. He took a half step forward but stopped. What could he do?

"Crazy bitch," Ricardo said as he stood over her. He turned to his bike and put his helmet back on. "I'll send Johnny over for my stuff next week. You're fucking fired. Don't come into the shop no more." He mounted the bike and rode off up the street.

Gerry waited until the sound of the bike had disappeared entirely. Crystal wasn't moving, slumped in the shrubs. After looking both ways, Gerry crossed the street and paused at the edge of the driveway. Normally he'd just walk on. Normally he wouldn't have stopped to watch that ugly scene in the first place. It was like something from Springer, but right here a few houses away from his own. And real. And now Crystal was sobbing quietly, still lying in the bushes.

Gerry put down his bag and stepped gingerly closer. "Uh..." He winced. What should he say? "Uh... hi, I'm a neighbor of yours..." No reaction. "Hey, are you OK?"

Crystal lifted her head. A streak of crimson now crossed the deep purple in her hair, and Gerry saw it was blood from a new scratch on her forehead. He couldn't tell what was in her mind as she looked at him in the thickening twilight. He took a deep breath and stepped closer, holding out his hand to help her up. "You're bleeding." He pulled her out of the shrubs.

Crystal shrugged. Tears had tracked down her cheeks, collecting dirt from her fall and splotching her face. Gerry wished he had some idea how to tell her she looked entirely beautiful to him in that moment. Her pain, her embarrassment, her vulnerability--they all made her suddenly human, suddenly someone he thought he could have a chance of understanding. Crystal stood, looking down at the crushed roses with an emptiness in her eyes.

Without really knowing why he did it, Gerry knelt and picked up the flask and the lighter. He poured the last bit of gasoline from the flask onto the roses and lit it, watching the low flame spread over their red and green. He stood up and stepped back next to Crystal to watch the roses curl and shrivel, and he was only partly surprised when Crystal slipped her hand into his.


paisley said...

that was great.. i loved it.. i love watching the neighbors fight... and since i don't have any anymore.. it sure was nice to get a front row seat!!!!!

Dale Challener Roe said...

That was really good. I've used this exercise for other groups in the past and it's always interesing to see what people some up with.

Paul said...

This had me hooked from beginning to end. Good idea and some great writing.

Anonymous said...

what a great read. I was hooked right from the beginning, but I think she should have torched the bike.

Lyn said...

You write really well. Kept me engaged the whole way. Good story line - not sure I believe the hand in his at the end, but maybe some other set up for the future? Yeah, I thought she was going for the bike :-) Interesting to see how the story develops. Lyn, thanks for popping by Bloggin' Outloud

Anonymous said...

This is very polished and it reads very quickly. I like the "witty, Ricardo" it reads "Ricky Ricardo" at first glance.

Lots of fantastic details here and I love that he completes her task.