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.”

Cruise control

This is something I scribbled one morning after driving before dawn, getting stuck behind a professional driver on an otherwise empty road and trying to understand why I was the one in a rush. I’ve cleaned it up a bit since that first draft, to try to tighten it. It’s still not there, but it’s closer. It could use some more description to give a better sense of place and time of day and to put the reader in the car and give a peek into the main character’s mind. I don’t think it conveys strongly enough the main character’s anxiety and how maddened they are by the nonchalant speed of the professional driver. In other words, it’s skeletal. But a good skeletal, the kind that can be built on and would hold up.

The “TCP-XXXX” decal on the back of the black SUV before him signaled this was a professional driver. Someone sent to chauffeur those well off enough to not need Uber even before Uber was ever around. He usually tried to steer clear of professional drivers. They drove for the money and too often to take care. But he had no choice here on this single-lane street away from the main road.

Anyway, what was this driver doing here before dawn driving slower than the speed limit? No way they had a passenger. Maybe they couldn’t find the pick-up spot.

Still, they didn’t seem to notice that he had nosed up behind, to nudge them along or out of the way. If they did, they didn’t seem to mind.

Eventually he let his foot off the pedals to stop from switching between gas and brake. He let the car roll as the road sloped downhill and ramped back up. The distance between him and the professional driver didn’t change. They must have let their foot off the gas too.

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.

Still dark then

He was one of the ones who woke before the sun returned. As he walked to his car, he thought he heard — were those waves? Or a large truck rushing along the side streets? He looked down to where the road ended into the dark expanse where the light left the sky. They were waves. He could hear the rhythm of their whoosh. As he looked down, he saw a runner. Not unusual for this time of day, especially here where every weekend was a 5k or triathlon. But this runner stood out for the hobbled gait. He got in his car and, while it warmed, wrote a text to his still sleeping girlfriend about the waves. After he put his phone, he looked up to drive off and saw the runner pass on the sidewalk to his left. He u-turned the car to turn left on the road behind him but remembered the runner and slowed in case he would cross. But he turned instead. But there was another runner on the opposite corner who did not turn and did not stop but crossed into the street as though unaware of the car that had it not stopped would have run over this runner. How lucky for this runner, he thought, that there were the waves and the other runner that he did not hit this runner. He wondered if this runner knew too.

Soup and Burger

She liked how the cold bit at her cheek on nights like this when she could feel its lips. On these nights, the colors contrasted, the yellow of the taxis huddled against the black sky. Everything in lamplight. She wondered if it might snow.

She sucked in as if from a cigarette. “So where to now?” Rachel asked her friends also clad in dark jackets and bright heels.

“Well, do we want to go to another bar, or a club, or– ”

“No,” Nellie said, interrupting Jasmine, who side-eyed to say, “Or weren’t Adam and Elisha having a party?”

“Tomorrow night,” Rachel said.

“Oh yeah, okay,” said Jasmine. “Or we could get food and figure it out?”

Rachel’s mouth tightened. She should have eaten the wings they were offered. But she didn’t like how her fingers still stuck even after wiping them with a napkin, and she didn’t want to deal with waiting in line for the bathroom just to use the sink. At the same time, she was too hungry and it was so early, that she knew she wouldn’t be able to sit down somewhere to eat and not order anything with fries.

“How about Soup ’N Burger?” she offered.

Nellie mmm-ed and Jasmine’s eyes brightened and her hands raised like she had been inflated.

Immediately inside the air warmed like the diner and everyone inside were breathing beneath a heavy blanket. It smelled of noodle soups with celery and coffee, and the lights aged the walls yellow like newspaper.

“I’m definitely getting soup,” said Nellie over the percussion of silverware.

“You have to,” said Jasmine. “It’s in the name.”

“You don’t have to,” said Rachel.

“On your first time, you do,” said Jasmine, in mock offense to Rachel before facing at Nellie.

“Do I have to get a burger too?” said Nellie.

Jasmine gave one of those long, sharp hums like she was deciding. “No,” she said. “The burgers are just okay. They char them too much.”

“Nooo,” Rachel said in gleeful disagreement. “That’s what makes them good.” Turning to Nellie, she said, “it’s like they were cooked in a fireplace. The soup’s really good too. The cheese and broccoli.”

“I might get an omelette,” said Jasmine.

“Oh with the home fries?” said Rachel in approval.

“I’m definitely getting coffee,” said Nellie, her eyes nudging at the wallet-looking flask peeking from her jacket pocket.

They got a booth against the wall. Rachel had always appreciated that the leather seats weren’t vinyl. She also liked the pictures on the wall of people and places she didn’t know.

When her patty melt came, she dug a fry between the cheese and burger and ate it. Nellie noticed and dipped one of her fries into her cheesy soup.

“Oh, I’ve never tried that,” Rachel said, wide-eyed. “Can I have some?”

Swallowing, Nellie nodded and slid her bowl over. Jasmine took one of Rachel’s fries and tried it too.

“We’re gonna need to get more fries,” Jasmine said.

“And soup,” said Rachel over the fries in her mouth.

The soupy fries sharpened the whiskey in their coffees. They had to drink them black because sometimes, if a cup sat too long, the liquor separated from the milk or cream. This being a college part of town, sometimes the servers looked for that, and sometimes they said something.

Their server hadn’t said anything other than “sure” when, while she refilled their coffees, they asked for a basket of fries and another bowl of soup. She wore a bandana over her hair and looked like Frances McDormand. When she leaned down to take Nellie’s empty plate with her free hand, the way she held the coffee pot above and away from the table, with the kitchen and counter behind her, her mouth slightly open and eyes blank with thought — Rachel wanted that picture framed in her future home, to show her kids and their kids where she had lived once, what it was like.

Arielle Part 6

Laura got dirt roads. She wished there were more around, that this were one. She’d love to tear down a dirt road: field of shadows to the left, a veil of moonlight. But the best would be that humble crackle when a car slows on loose land. She turned down the music anyway.

“You don’t like that song?” said Delia.

“What? Oh, no. I wasn’t sure if it was too loud.”

Delia smiled and turned it back up. She needed her music loud, especially at night. Even this song. Arielle loves this song, and it’s so dumb. The words aren’t even trying. They probably wrote it in high school. Like, “what kind of movie would have this soundtrack?”

“What?” shouted Arielle.

Laura turned down the music and said, “What movie would have this soundtrack?”

“Ohh,” Arielle hummed. She loved these questions. She taught Delia this game; well, her dad taught them. He would ask them to title different parts of their life. She would have told him twelfth grade was “The Year of Blankets.” Tonight would be “A Very Special Episode.”

“That’s not a movie,” said Laura. “You’re supposed to pick a movie.”

“Shit, you’re right. Delia you go, and I’ll think.”

Arielle Part 5

Delia leaned back to pinch the hem of Arielle’s dress. “Where’d you get this?”

“It’s nice, right?” said Arielle, turning back to Delia and brightening. “My mom got it for me.”

“Raquel picked this out? Damn. Since when can she shop?”

“I know,” beamed Arielle. “She didn’t even ask for help, she said.”

“She said,” said Delia.

“That’s what I said,” Arielle breathed. “Yeah, I got home, and it was just laying on my bed.”

“Ew, like how she’d lay out your clothes when you were little?”

“She did it for you too.”

Delia grabbed Arielle’s knee. “She got me a dress?”

Arielle laughed. “No, I mean she used to lay out your clothes too.”

“Oh. Only when I’d stay over long enough that she washed my clothes.”

“Which was a lot.”

Laura glanced back at Arielle through the rearview mirror. She had rolled down the window and was leaning her face into the wind. It was too dark for Laura to tell if her eyes were open. In side mirror, she saw Arielle had her hands out the window, holding her palms flat forward like she could slow them.

“It looks like space,” Laura said.

“Huh?” said Arielle. Delia had turned to Laura too, like she had missed something.

“Your dress. When we pass under the streetlights, the sequins flash like space. Like those pictures they show of what space looks like to an astronaut,” said Laura, lifting her chin as if to bounce the words back to Arielle.

“That stuff scares her,” Delia told Laura.

“What are you talking about?” asked Arielle, pulling her arms in.

“You don’t remember that Sandra Bullock movie and how scared you got?”

“At getting stuck in space. Not about being there in the first place.”

Delia wasn’t sure if Arielle’s lip had curled or the shadows were being weird or the tequila. “Yeah, but if you go to space, you have a chance of being lost out there,” she said.

“That’s not the same. Who do you know’s gotten stuck in space?”

“No one knows. The government won’t tell us,” said Laura and laughed and Arielle and Delia laughed too.

Arielle Part 4

Going wasn’t where she wanted to be right now. She had decided, once she had learned she could bottle life for later, to figure out why this place would become where she was from.

She had seen people talk about the place where someone was from. How it made them who they were. How unlikely it was, but how fortunate they were. When the someone was the one talking about it, it was as if they had just woken up to find themselves made, like they were a bag of ingredients that only needed time to cook and didn’t realize they were already in the oven. How they wished at the time they had known. She wished to know, too, and she would make the time.

She knew she should tell Delia. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t have to like it. She just had to do it. The less sober, the better, she thought.

With her older sister Maribel’s ID — backer by her student ID from North South City College — she bought some mini bottles of tequila and the big bottle of Coke.

After Laura picked her up to meet at Delia’s, they stopped by the bush down the street where Arielle hid her bags.

Delia was playing a video game when they got there. “We’ve got the house to ourselves. They all went to a movie,” she said.

“Cool,” said Arielle, looking from Delia to the TV screen.

“What time are we going to Trey’s party?” Laura asked.

“I don’t know. Taco Bell at like 9 then go?” said Delia, looking to Arielle.

“Taco Belllll,” ringed Arielle, falling dreamily onto the couch beside Delia. Eyes closed, clutching at her heart, “my love.”

“Mexican Pizza?” Delia asked a bit quieter.

“Mm, to share yeah. But I’m getting my own Crunchwrap,” Arielle said and turned to Laura. “Want to split nachos if I get them with jalapeños?”

Laura nodded and murmured while drinking from her water bottle. “Definitely,” she exhaled. “Are we going to the KFC-Taco Bell?”

“I mean, we could,” said Arielle looking to Delia, who paused the game.

“Yeah, we could. It’s not really on the way, though,” Delia said back to Arielle.

“Yeah, but it’s not like Trey’s party is going anywhere. His parents don’t get back until Sunday,” Arielle said.

“It could get broken up like Arthur’s,” said Laura.

“Oh shit, that’s right,” said Delia. “Yo, what was I doing with Joey Sampson that night?”

“Not much after he came his pants,” said Arielle.

“Oh my God, yeah. Because then you had to drop him off after me.”

“I wouldn’t have had to if you still lived down the street from me,” Arielle said.

“I wish I hadn’t traded my turn for Joey Sampson,” said Delia.

“No trading back because I plan on cashing in my turn for graduation tomorrow,” said Arielle.

“Oh fuck,” said Delia and then opened a bottle from Arielle’s bag.

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.