Work in Progress: Magicland — June Gloom

I’ve been working on this one since last summer. I blew it up once, and I’m in the middle of blowing it up again. A smaller blow-up, not like the first one when I removed the main character. After that blow-up, I finished a draft in the fall. It was fine, but it didn’t click. It felt like something I’d be proud to have written in high school, maybe early college.

I let it sit like that until a couple months ago. Then I went over that first draft for the first time, really, as a reader. I cared for the writer only insofar as I wanted the writer to have written something better for both of us. I marked the shit out of that draft.

Since then I’ve been trying to flesh out the story, writing new scenes to sketch out the story and dialogues to learn the characters. I’m narrowing in on the story, though it’s really more like penciling a sketch to be painted over and over into a texture.

Anyway I’m thinking this is the opening scene. At least it is chronologically, even if I just started writing it yesterday. I’ll share more soon.

June Gloom gone astray, Isa thought she heard someone say as they boarded the tram to the park. Dee must have heard the same because they started saying something about clouds, though Isa only half heard.

June Gloom, she loved to hear her mom say the words. Her accent bent the j into a y to make the words sound like two slugs of water, the dun-dun of a verdict sung without sentence. The sun is still behind the clouds, she would say. You’ll see it later.

Isa almost said the words herself to quiet Dee, who was still bitching about clouds as they pulled up to the park.

“What are you expecting anyone to do about the clouds?” Wendy said instead.

“Well,” Dee began in one of their mock-huffs that maddened Wendy but delighted Isa, “they could put a dome over it all.”

“But wouldn’t they have to close the park for a long time to do that?” said Jane, who was still getting to know Dee and many times missed their point.

“You’re dumb,” said Wendy. “If they put in a dome, they would have to pipe in A/C, and it’d smell like an office building in there.”

“Have you ever even been in an office building?” said Dee in a sneer sprinkled with eagerness that Wendy was in a mood to play along.

“You mean like a dentist’s office? Yah.”

Dee pretended to be affronted, dropping their mouth into a low O to sound a weakened gasp. Walking before them, little boy with a clear Winnie the Pooh backpack with red straps turned to ogle Dee, who ballooned their cheeks and trumpeted an elephant blow that nearly bowled over the boy but, as the boy twisted over his feet to fully face Dee, his parent picked him up from the ground and turned him around without looking for the source of the sound.

“They’d have to get rid of the birds,” said Isa. “And no fireworks.”

“Fine fine. No dome, no fun,” said Dee. “But is it even the happiest place on earth without sun?”

“Maybe there’ll be sun later,” said Isa.

“And if not?”

“Then I’ll buy you a blanket, little baby,” Wendy interjected. She was the only one of them tall enough to level with Dee.

“Deal,” said Dee. “I can wear it as a cape.”

“You better not make it smell like ass. I’m gonna be borrowing it tonight,” Wendy said.

“Why?” said Jane. This would be her first summer out west after moving in the middle of the school year. Also she still wasn’t sure what kind of more than friends Dee and Wendy were.

“Because it gets cold once the sun goes away,” said Isa. “But at night is the best time to be here. All the lights. It’s like a movie.”

“That’s because you can’t see all of it,” needled Dee. Turning to Jane, “they use the lights to pick out what they want you to see and hide the rest,” and back to Isa, “it’s basically photoshop.”

“Well, it works,” said Wendy, back to Isa’s defense.

“I know,” moaned Dee. “Relax. I’m not trashing Disneyland.” Nodding to the Jane he came to calling New Jane to her face, “it’s good to be aware of.”

“Jane’s never been here. Just let it her enjoy first,” said Isa. What she had wanted to say was, It’s my birthday, shut up please. But she didn’t want to be that person. “Look. They’re opening the gates.”


Couldn’t hurt as bad, the belt being intertwined

Get your belt, she said to him. Her mouth was as straight and tight as the arm she had reached out to point to where the belt was. Like he didn’t know his own closet. 

He had more than one belt though. And this time she didn’t say “get the belt.” “Get your belt” left things a little open to interpretation. He wasn’t dumb enough to get the nylon or braided cotton ones. She’d either have him go back and get the belt, or he’d get the buckle. Not the church belt; it was stiff in the way kids’ dress clothes always are from not being used enough to be broken in. He had two broken-in leather belts. One was braided and the other was wider. He preferred the braided one. He told himself it couldn’t hurt as bad because the belt being intertwined had to take out some of the sting.

He handed the belt to his mom. He shoved it carefully at her with the restrained defiance of anyone who’s already in punishment but isn’t sure when that punishment will end. 

Thank you, she said, clipping the words at their ends like that time she had asked him to get some papers out of the glove box to her car when the police had stopped them. 

She handed the belt to the boy’s father, who had been seated at the kitchen table while she stood. He had taken few bites from his plate in the time since she had first found the boy, who had forgotten to lock the bathroom door and should have known he’d been in there too long. They didn’t look at each other in the exchange.

Come here, the man said, bending in his chair to eye level and motioning the boy to his lap. The boy marched over and bent over his knee to face away from his parents.

This hurts us more than it hurts you, the father said between times. The boy turned back to see his mother who was looking at his father through tears. I’m sorry, he heard her say after he stood up and his father had walked away, leaving the two of them there with her clutching the boy’s head against her belly.

By Tom Hanks

A made-up story

“I would like to write a book,” Tom Hanks said.

With a casual finality, he flicked an arm, the hand of which made a pleasant splat when it landed atop his crossed knees. He gave a closed-mouth grin and tilted his head. It jittered, like he had once again stumped Meg Ryan and was watching for her to smile sideways then stare at him in admiring bewilderment. He lifted his eyebrows and glanced to the side and then back in response.

“Well, I was thinking short stories…. Of course people read short stories outside of The New Yorker. There is….”

He leaned forward, one hand on his knee, the other in the air as if holding Yorick’s skull. Beholding it, “There is The Kenyon Review,” Tom Hanks said, italicizing the words aloud. “There is The Paris Review. The Susquehanna Review.” Sloping forward in his seat to face full attention, “Have you not reviewed the reviews?”

Pleased, Tom Hanks leaned back, knees again crossed. His socks matched his slacks just so. Still, that grin.

“No no, these would be my stories, but these wouldn’t be my stories,” he said and this time underlined the words, folding his fingers into his chest. “They would be stories I make up. Now they may be, uh, inspired by events in my life. But they may also be pure imagination. I don’t know yet, I haven’t written them.”

He looked down as he smoothed the front of his shirt in preparation. When he looked up, his lips parted into a smile.

“Well, you know, I thought Steve Martin did it,” he said. “And whatever reasons he would have had not to do it, he did it anyway. And whatever reasons people would have had not to read it, they did. So I thought, why can’t I do that too?”

Tom Hanks stilled himself in the mirror.

Boiled over

She forgot about the boiling noodles. But it wasn’t even that she had forgotten about them. She hadn’t. But she hadn’t forgotten about the sausages either, which needed turning, or the cookie tray that needed to be lined with aluminum for the bread that needed to be put in the oven that needed to be set. The bread. The bread needed a light buttering and some seasoning that she needed to take out from the cabinet above. Oh above, where the fan needed turning on so the oil from the skillet didn’t smoke out the apartment and set off the fire alarms and make her get out the fan instead of, shit, the noodles.

Traffic patterns

It can’t wait, though. It’s work, she wanted to yell to the billboard. Work doesn’t wait. It doesn’t fucking work like that, she found herself now shouting.

Her hands choking the steering wheel, her eyes staring at the red light like the asshole that it is, “you smug bastard,” she exhaled. “You don’t know. Or do you?

“What do you do when you turn off? Do you know when you’ll turn back on? If you do“ — a car honks — “I have a follow-up question about sitting alone at red lights, but we can come back to it.”

When the days didn’t have names

A sketch

Those days it was like the sun rose to find them. Like it needed to get as high as possible to peek at where they were, to wake them. But they would stay hidden. Blankets pulled over heads and legs dangling across the bed.

The house that had been loud was now silent except for the birds and the lawnmower out back. It smelled like warm wet. Like a good day for bees and flowers to be together.

Once up the day had begun, but not yet. Now was still sometime between yesterday and today, which was really tomorrow. And tomorrow was closer to the first day of school, which wasn’t today but sometime not far away.

Too bad it rarely rained. The days always felt like they’d never end when it rained.

Screw top

The towels didn’t fit on the usual shelf of the linen closet. Usually, usually they did. Not today. For whatever reason, not today.

So today Todd took a sledgehammer to — actually, he didn’t take a sledgehammer to anything. He doesn’t own a sledgehammer. He lives in an apartment, that he rents, has his whole life. The fuck would he need with a sledgehammer?

Sorry. But no, no sledgehammer. Screwdriver. He took a screwdriver to the shelves, cranking them away from the wood boards they clung to, clawing some onto them as he wrenched them away.

He didn’t know why he felt sorry for them. Well, he did. He knew he’d be throwing them away, never to be used again. Not that they were of much use now, having warped with the wood.

Poor bastards. They lived out that medieval torture rack. That was literally what they were made for.

They were also like parasites though, embedding themselves in something else. Not that it was up to them. They might have thought themselves some type of exotic top, meant to befuddle parents to the delight of their kids, who couldn’t get them to spin either but were in it for the trying.

Then some asshole pulls them out of the box. Away from the others, who are cheering for the top that got its day and die down at the crushing whir. They don’t know the sound, whether it’s laughter. So they listen until it stops and imagine how great to be used after so much waiting.

Poor, poor bastards. He threw them away anyway. Unscrewing then, he had stripped their tops.

The way home

a mood story

He decided to draw a map. If he mapped out his mind, he’d find a way out. Eventually, he figured, he would need to redraw it, on a large canvas, tracing across the continents of papers beneath. For now he started with what he felt to be the center. That room inside himself with no windows but a cot.

The room was walled by darkness. It surrounded him like water. He could see himself staring at it from the cot. He was sitting on its edge, bent, elbows on knees, hands clasped.

He stood and walked forward. It seemed like the only way.

Once he crossed into the darkness, he heard himself step in puddles. He could feel it too. Each step as if tapping into and through to another side, and immediately falling onto a shallow bottom. But he had the sense it wasn’t all puddles below. Only where he stepped.

He kept on. He liked the patter of it. He began to decide where to step — or leap or lunge — based on the sound he had made and now wanted to hear and next and on.

Dop dop-dop dop dop dop-dop dop dop dop-dop dop dop…

Dop-dop dop-dop dop-dop-dop dop dop-dop dop dop-dop dop…

In time he forgot the map and stepped on, as if he had never known anything else.