Fiction: The Arc of the Plot

As Julianna Baggott said in class:

  1. Breathe in.
  2. Hold it.
  3. Hold it.
  4. Just a little longer.
  5. Release.

Funny, yes? But oh my, so true. I look at the stories and sketches I’m writing these days and they each have that basic arc. It’s such a simple lesson. One worth sharing.

 

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Living The Dream: 21

 

SEPTEMBER: SUPPORTIVE FRIENDS

“Do you have a shotgun?”

“Did you kill it?”
“What happened?”
I poured the French Roast one at a time and answered, “we went to bed.”
The café broke out in laughter; all began talking at the same time. The two tables were full of locals, with newspapers, empty paper cups, plates of bagels, and the various phones and hats they all carried. Eight chairs, seven gray-haired men, and one four-year old little girl in pink. She held court between the snake stories. Mark and I’d gotten off lightly apparently. One local woman had a rattlesnake climb into bed with her. I’m glad that wasn’t me.

The guys all had different ideas as to what we could/ should do next time. No one had the definitive answer that I heard. But here goes, the ideas included but were not limited to:

Shotgun.

Rope on a stick to lasso the bastard.

Metal buckets with lids.

Cats keep away mice and rats, and therefore the snakes don’t come over for dinner.

Clean up piles of lumber and trash. (Little did they guess that I was pretty anal about that already and didn’t need any excuse.)

Wire mesh under the bus to keep out all kinds of critters.

Cat-litter spread around the perimeter.

And again, get a shotgun.
I poured coffees for the regulars and made lattes for the tourists. The café business was slowing down after my mid-morning rush. I took a breath and carried on cleaning, dusting, and catching up. I drank another cappuccino. The two glass doors had been propped open and a soft crosswind took out some of the various odors, not all were that pleasant let’s say. I wiped down the shelves and took a cloth to the shelves full of small colorful silly gifts for those passing through. I looked at my notes. Matthew, a local mechanic, had drawn a sketch for how to make a lasso out of PVC pipe and baling wire. He’d drawn a cartoon of Mark and I chasing down a posse of snakes across the desert. I wanted to frame it; he’d done such a great job. Frida was asleep outside in the back yard of the café, under the elm tree with her favorite blanket and toy near by. She’d been on quivering guard all night long and the poor thing was exhausted. I checked on her every so often but she barely moved.

The morning passed peacefully and for that I was glad. I scanned the paper, looking for jobs for Mark. He’d hate that, but he’d need to do something soon. I couldn’t support us both on what I was doing. I thought of asking at the restaurants but couldn’t face that either. I leaned against the counter and daydreamed.

 

“Hi. Is Anne around?”
Andrew, the birthday boy, stood in front of me with his hat in hands, politely letting me gather myself. He’d pulled up in the driveway in his 4Runner, the engine still running. I checked the calendar and told him she’d be back in the morning but not before.
“Can I help somehow?”
Andrew shook his head but sat down on one of the wooden stools in front of me, his truck forgotten. His long white hair hung loosely and the blue Levis and denim shirt were much more worn out than at his party the other weekend. He wasn’t in his Sunday best, I guess.

“I don’t know, Jenny. It’s my sister; I’m worried about her. Anne’s so good at all of her community outreach stuff, I wanted to ask her help.”
“What’s wrong? Is there anything I can do?” I poured him a cup of coffee out of habit and sat next to him. I turned down the music. He sat quietly for a moment, thinking to himself before he started to talk.

“It’s the rescue. She’s drowning in debt but won’t ask for help from anyone. I don’t think she can keep going for much longer unless she gets some money together. I don’t know how. We’re all the family there is, we don’t have anyone to turn to. Mom’s ancient and doesn’t even recognize us any more.”
“So you thought of Anne? How come?”
He glanced at me. “I forget you’re still new here.”
“I’m not. I’ve been here almost three months now,” I said indignantly.

He laughed, “no offence, but that’s not so long, is it? Anyway, Anne’s put on fundraisers before. I thought maybe we could do one for the sanctuary.”
“I want to help. I don’t know how, but I’m sure I could do something. What does she need?” Ready to get involved as usual, I couldn’t keep my enthusiasm in check. I tried not to bounce in my seat.
“Mostly it’s the financial stuff, paying bills, buying supplies for the dogs, paying medical bills as they come up, maybe even making it into a non-profit.” He grinned. “Well, that’s what I’ve come up with so far.” and he tied his hair back and out of the way. His moustache drooped and dipped into the coffee.
“What’s she been doing until now?”
He sighed deeply. “Nothing. I told her to set herself up properly when her husband left, but did she listen to me? No, I’m just her older brother.”
“Mark’s been helping over there, mending fences and stuff. It’s not really what he’s good at. He’s more of a musician than anything else. But he’s good on the computer. Maybe we could do the Internet stuff for her, work on the accounts and look into some marketing?”
“Louisa doesn’t like getting people involved in her life. We’d have to get her okay first. But is it hard to get the non-profit stuff done?”
I shook my head and sipped coffee and grabbed notebook and pen. I started to write down ideas free form. “I’d think it’s probably just lots of details, setting up the different roles and that. We could do it so she has the final say on mission statements and that, but we organize how to deal with the money side of things. If Mark or someone could write some grants, then…”
“She’d be okay? I don’t want her to lose everything in the meantime.”
“Oh, right, that wouldn’t help her out right now.” I stood up and called to Frida. She trotted up the steps and lay down next to Andrew’s boots, and started to lick the one nearest her.
“Been cleaning out the stables,” he explained as we watched my dog.

I wrote down about grants, sponsors, fundraisers, and asked, “When Anne’s done other events, how does that work?”
Andrew added some more sugar and talked about the tavern hosting various shows over the years, with silent and live auctions, music all night long with the local bands each getting a set or two before the community jam towards the end of the night. “For one woman with a back injury, we raised about six thousand, and that took care of her mortgage and those kinds of expenses. The hospital covered the medical bills since she was under the poverty income levels.”

“Do you really get that much support here? There are not enough people, surely?”
Andrew laughed, “I know it seems that way at times, but there’s another four hundred or so folks living out in the mountains, and most of them are artists and writers and sculptors and woodworkers. They all bring their own creations to auction off. The musicians play with each other and with their reputations they bring in more of a Santa Fe audience, the families bring the kids, and it’s pretty incredible.” He had the sweetest smile right then.

I petted Frida. “Let’s do it, a fundraiser then, and in the meantime, Mark and I can work on the long term legal stuff, finding us, I mean Louisa, sponsors. I’m up for it. I’ll tell Mark later today, okay?”
Andrew put his hand on my arm, and still smiling, simply said thanks.

 

The four of us sat at the corner table in the tavern. Papers and pens lay scattered among pints of half-drunk beer and untouched iced water. A bowl of tortilla chips was brought over by the waiter. He left us to it after checking we didn’t need anything for a while. We all talked over each other, one idea after another. Anne took down notes as to names of artists and galleries. I wrote their suggestions for media coverage, which papers and the specific journalists to approach. Radio stations, online yahoo groups, Facebook, all the different social networks came to mind. Mark scribbled his own ideas and questions to follow up on for finding the bands. Andrew stood up after a while and stepped outside to smoke, with Mark following his lead. Anne and I took a breath and stopped talking. The calm felt good. I set the pen down. I breathed in deeply and let it out slowly.

The tavern was empty. Then again, for a weekday afternoon, I should know to expect that by now. Anne drained her first pint and ordered another round, with a plate of nachos for the group of us.
We sat in an easy silence.

The drinks came. The men didn’t.

“Cheers.” she toasted me. “Welcome to Oliver. You’re truly a part of this place if this is how you spend your time off.”
I tipped my glass and took a sip. “Yep, I feel like I can help out. I know Louisa. If it had been anyone else, I don’t know that I’d be as keen as this, to be honest. But I like what she’s doing up there. Maybe I can help set up a website, tell people about the specific dogs looking for homes.”
“She’d do well with a monthly newsletter to keep us in touch. She’s not good with people, that’s for sure, but I’ve known her with these dogs, ones you’d think should be quarantined because they’re so unpredictable. But she works with them, teaches them manners, and finds them homes. It’s such a shame her husband left her, but I reckon she’s happier without him.”
“Really? Why?”
“It wasn’t his dream, you know? The ones that don’t make it out on the land, well, usually one or the other is just going along with it to keep the partner happy. After a while, hauling water, or chopping firewood, or waking up to a raging windstorm, it gets old for some.”
“Not me. I love every minute of it. I didn’t know I would, but I do. And Mark’s been amazing too. He’s so great with the pup, and with getting his hands dirty, all the while he’s grinning and giggling and whistling to himself. I’ve not seen him this happy before. It’s pretty amazing.” I stared out the window and we watched Andrew and Mark chatting away, big smiles on their faces, non-stop back and forth. Mark pushed his curls out of his eyes and tied a bandana around the unruly mess, as he stroked his goatee absently. He finished his pint as he listened to the older man. Andrew’s faded denim shirt glowed in the direct afternoon sunlight, and his weathered skin suited him just fine, so much so that I imagined my boyfriend in his seventies looking somewhat like his new friend. I smiled to myself and turned back to Anne. She was reading her notes distractedly, fiddling with a strand of hair.

“Where’s Graham today?” I asked suddenly.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Something about the fire department, taking out a new volunteer to check for wildfires. He said they’d be back late afternoon sometime. We’ll see.”

She shook her head and focused on writing reminders to herself when Mark wandered over. He took a seat next to me just as the nachos arrived. He helped himself, humming away as he ate. I watched them both.

Living The Dream: 13

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

 

JULY: WET DOG

“Frogs? Do I hear frogs?” I murmured in my dreams.

Mark woke up with a startle. “Frogs. What the hell?” He jumped out of bed, almost knocking Frida to the floor. She yelped and sat on my lap as I tried to work out what was happening. Outside the sky was a dark grey with the sun only just lightening everything up enough to make out the basic blackened shapes and silhouettes. He pulled on his jeans and boots.

“Come on. It’s raining.”

It was true: That thundering sound wasn’t an imaginary waterfall, rain was slamming down upon a metal roof. I stood up excitedly. At last. Monsoons. Mark called out to Frida and they charged out the front door. He was laughing out loud and running around, with our pup barking and howling along. I got dressed and stood on the steps. It was pouring. Torrential rain, they’d not been kidding when describing the monsoons. The driveway was flooded, the trash bags floated under the trees. I ran down the steps and stood arms spread out and head turned up to catch the raindrops in my mouth. Within minutes I was soaked through. I took my shirt off and stripped to my skin. What was the point of wearing anything? This was a shower like none before. Mark laughed and copied me and we ran around in only our boots, thoroughly naked we skipped through the storm.

“Let’s try to find the frogs.” He stood and turned slowly, listening intently. “That way, I think.” He pointed to the west and I followed, holding his hand as we slipped. Frida kept stepping in front of me, asking to go back. I sent her out from under my feet. I ran with rain pouring off me. A stream, or a waterfall gushed in the distance; I couldn’t make out where. Mark jogged ahead, stopping occasionally, and then changing direction slightly. He stopped next to the arroyo. That dry sandy beach of ours now had a river running full speed down the embankment, taking branches, rats’ nests, and who knows what else with it. The rushing water was so loud he had to shout. I still didn’t catch what he said so he pointed.

On the banks I spotted the frogs. Tons of them, all echoing each other to some internal rhythm, one moment deafening, and the next a silent pause before they started up the chorus again. These were the voices that had woken us both up. I stared at them, absolutely thrilled and fascinated by their shapes and sizes. Where did they come from? Did they live in the dirt all year, waiting for this? The rain slammed into us continuously, I was drenched, my hair stuck to my head, and water ran into my eyes. I blinked.

“Want a bath?” Mark stuck his mouth next to my ear. He nodded down stream at our beach.
I grinned, “we might as well, we’re already wet.” I followed him down the rocks and he found a spot that curved up and past three huge rocks, making a pond. We curled up against each other and shouted sweet nothings.

 

“Where’s the tent?”
I walked next to Mark as we headed home to warm up and make breakfast.

“I don’t see it. Do you?”
The sandy campsite was now a sodden mess of twigs, our trash bags, and a couple of cardboard boxes that had lodged themselves in the bushes. No tent. We looked at each other and then downstream. Mark nodded once and set off into the mud. He searched down the arroyo for some ten minutes before he came back with a piece of fabric in hand. Emerald green, wet, and muddy.

“Was this it?” He held it out to me to inspect.
“It could be. But what about our clothes? Did they wash away too?”

“I don’t know. What else did we have in there? Oh, my ties and nice shirts were in a sports bag, a box of photos and letters, some books, oh and that box of vinyl too, damn. Could it really wash away something that heavy? Come on let’s go, it’s your stuff too, you know?” He paced impatiently, scratching his beard.
I waited a moment and offered, “We’ll look for everything when it stops raining, okay? I’ll help.”
Mark looked around helplessly once more and shrugged his shoulders in defeat. He held my hand though as we paddled through the streaming rain. The door stood open, as we’d left it. Mark went in first as I took off my boots and hung them out to dry. The sun peaked out from behind dwindling cloud cover.

“What the hell?”
The bus was wrecked. Furniture overturned. Fridge open. Books scattered and at least one was half-eaten. A pile of puppy shit sat in the middle of the hallway.

“That dog of yours.” He looked around furiously. We couldn’t see her. I called and called but Frida didn’t come out. I stepped back into the bedroom. The covers were shaking.

“Mark? Come here, will you?”
“What is it now?”
I pointed at our bed.

“Oh baby,” was all he said. He sat on the edge and started talking to her soft and low, calling her name, talking to her as I had that first day. She stopped shaking and the lump under the sheet slowly wriggled towards his voice. Her head stuck out and she stared up at us both dolefully. Her big amber eyes blinked. Her ears were flat to her skull. Her terrier brush-like fur was soaked and droopy. She shook as I folded back the sheet and reached for her.

The rain slammed against the roof of the bus suddenly, one last attempt before the sunshine returned, and she flinched but came out finally and sat between us, leaning into the warmth of our bodies and craving our touch. I looked at Mark over her head. He shrugged.

“Now what?” I echoed.
“We clean up, one of us does, and the other can stay with her. I guess we don’t leave her alone in storms any more.”
I stood up. “I’ll make us some coffee then, you stay here. Here’s a towel for you both, catch.”

 

We spent the morning enjoying the rain, the dog, and finally, remembering to enjoy each other. Mark made us a fire in the woodstove, as I still didn’t do a good job with that. Coffee in bed, we chatted about the solar and what we should do. Mark decided that we could work it out ourselves. What’s so hard about it, right? A panel, an inverter, and some batteries. Yep, we could do that for ourselves. Frida had finally left us alone to curl up on her own bed but one eye kept watch at all times.

The driveway was a muddy river. The porch had held up, and the bench had stayed dry enough for us to sit outside and we listened to the buckets overflowing, drip-by-drip, all from off the one little tin roof. We now had ten five-gallon buckets of our own water – it was a pretty satisfying for a start in self-sufficiency. The rains finally stopped but the clouds hung around. The mountains hid from sight in a lingering dense fog.
Mark went back inside, putting away mugs and coffee pot, and generally cleaning up after me. Frida came outside and joined me on the bench. Mark listened to the radio, only to come tell me that another big storm was on its way.

“This afternoon,” he said as he sat next to us, looking around the mud pit we called home.

“Is it time for a motel?” I offered with a grin, tying on my boots, hoping he’d agree.
“You want to bail on us? Go back to your townie ways?” He teased.

I nodded. “Yep, no shame in that as far as I’m concerned. It’s just for a night, it’s not like I’m giving up and moving back to the city, you know. You’ll quit before me.”
There was an uncomfortable pause before he laughed me off and stood up. “All right then, let’s go.”

“Now?”
“Yep, why not? It’s stopped raining. I’ve drunk three cups of Joe and I’m raring to go. So let’s go, right?”
I grabbed my backpack and cowboy hat as I closed the door behind us. Frida followed me closely, still scared.

“You drive.” I threw him the keys with a grin.
“No, you drive. I’m tired of driving all the time, it’s your turn.” Mark whined as he picked up a guitar and followed us.
I raced to the car, jumping over some puddles, splashing through others, and claimed the passenger seat. Frida ran after me and climbed into the back seat. Mark stood there, staring at us all warm and dry, and climbed in with a shrug and then a brief smile. He nodded to himself.

“Okay, okay, girls. I’ll drive. You wouldn’t know how anyway.”

 

“Hey, do you need a ride?”
Mark pulled up next to this figure stumbling along Harold’s Way in the mud. He turned. I tried not to gag. His eyes were both swollen shut, his mouth dripped a fine trail of blood and his face was a mass of eggplant bruises. He held his right arm close to his torso. I looked at Mark, shaking my head frantically. Too late, the man was coming up to my window. He leaned down. Frida growled from her back seat.

“That would be great. I’m trying to get to the clinic in town.”
“Okay.”
Neither of us knew what to say exactly. We drove slowly through the mud, occasionally slipping off to one side or the other. Thank God for four wheel drive. Finally I had to ask,

“Hmm, are you okay?”

The man turned to face me. I wish he hadn’t. Frida leaned next to me, none to happy with sharing the car. She grumbled deep and low.
“It looks worse than it is. Are you two the ones out by Dieselhead?”
Mark nodded as he drove. “Yeah, why?”
“Well, don’t tell him that you picked me up.”
“You mean, he did this to you?”
“No, but he arranged for me to leave town. He wants me gone.” The man shook his head and mud flew everywhere. Luckily he’d stopped bleeding. His jacket was soaked through and his jeans were caked in layers of clay and sand. He smiled at me and I saw beyond the yikes-factor. He had a friendly open grin, with only one tooth was missing.

“Thanks for picking me up. I don’t know that I’d have made it out of there on my own. Most people drive past me.”
I had to wonder why but I didn’t ask. Not directly. “Really?”
He turned back to watch where we were going as he started to talk about living in Oliver. He’d been in town for some eight or so years from what I could gather, and never as a popular man. “To start with, they thought I was a Narc. Now they think I’m going to steal whatever’s lying around.”
“Are you?” Mark sounded quite firm, most manly for a second.

“No, I’m not. And you just helped me out more than you can imagine. I’d not do anything to you, or your place, honest.”
I believed in his messed up logic. I think we’d just paid our insurance dues. He told me about the trailer he’d rented being burnt down in an accident in March, and since then he’d been couch surfing around the area.

“But I think I’ve run out of places to stay. Did you say you have a space? Extra studio or something? I could trade you.”
Mark said that no, we’d lost our tent on the floods, had our own place, but thanks for offering. It was all quite polite of him considering the situation. The car started sliding to the right as we crested the one small hill. I clutched Frida a little too tightly and she yelped. We drove down an embankment and into a riverbed. A creek rushed past my door. Great. The car stalled out. It started to rain again. Great. Mark gave me a look of frustration and stepped outside to see what we could do. Not much by his helplessness of his shrug. I opened the door, stepped shin deep into cold water, and joined him. Reluctantly. Our wandering hitchhiker sat inside and stared at us through the glass. I turned my back on him. I whispered to Mark. He went back over and asked the guy to get out and help us.

After checking it out from all angles, Mark had a plan. The three of us searched the road for loose rocks and stacked them around the tires and made a ramp back onto the road. It kept on raining. Frida started to whimper again so I put her in Mark’s seat with a scarf of mine to suck on. She watched me through the window.

The ramp was built. Mark got in. He started it up. The car didn’t move. I fell in the mud. Like I said, it was great.
We all sat in the car not knowing what to do.

A Dodge truck drew up beside us and stopped in the middle of the road, and the Hitchhiker flinched but said nothing. A young couple – did I really just say that? They were in their twenties at least, but anyway they both climbed down and introduced themselves, telling us how they lived a few miles past us, way out at the end, and rarely came out. They were pretty friendly, nice, you know? Three young kids peered out the truck windows. Frank and Debbie were homesteading, home schooling, and basically staying home. We were lucky; it was their regular trip to Santa Fe, bad weather or not, they always drove to town once a month. He pulled his cowboy hat back on and shrugged on a denim jacket. With leather gloves, Frank took out a ten-foot chain and tied our car to his bumper. The Hitchhiker hung back, being very low key for a man with a smashed in face; you’d almost not notice him. Debbie climbed into their truck and with only a second glance she pulled us out. Mark whooped it up in glee and Frida barked in distress. I let her out and she ran over to Mark to make sure nothing was wrong with him. He petted her as he took out his wallet to pay our saviors.

“What? No chance. We’re neighbors, that’s what we do. Help each other out.”
“Well, can we invite you all over sometime?” Mark offered.

Frank held out his hand, “We’d be honored to do just that. We’ll stop on by some afternoon with the kids. Do you both have kids?”
“Not yet,” said Mark.
“No plans,” I said.

Frank smiled at us both a little uncertainly. He unhooked his chain. “Well, okay then, you can follow us out to the highway if you like. And you’ll see us again. Pleased to meet you both.” He shook our hands. Debbie pulled on her sunglasses and gave us a wave as she waited for Frank to climb into the Dodge. She slowly drove off and waited for us to catch up.
I looked around. “Where is he?”
“Who? Oh, right, yeah, where is he?”
I looked over at the car and Frida had jumped back in through a window. I walked closer to check on her. She was alone. Our hitchhiker had disappeared. So had my wallet.