As I've decided to do on certain weekends, I wanted to make good on the name of my blog, and post some fiction.
This is an excerpt from a novel I was working on a few months back. I came upon this fragment by chance a few days ago, while searching for something else on my computer. So maybe it wanted to be posted.
If you enjoy this, please feel free to check out some of my finished work, at http://www.writerscafe.org/Alysa%20Salzberg/writing/
And if you don't, feel free to check out some truly great pieces by writers far more talented than I, at: http://www.beguilezine.blogspot.com/
Anyway, here goes:
If anyone owed me a favor, it was my dad, I guess. Over the summer, we’d seen each other a few times, but it was never very revealing. I never said anything to him besides what was going on on the surface of my life (“How’s your sister?” “Oh, she’s trouble, as usual.”), and my father said even less than that about his existence.
We met at cafes, and sat outside in the sun. He’d sip coffee and watch passersby. I felt like I’d climbed into a photograph: this was more or less just the image I’d seen of him day after day when he’d started playing hooky from his job. Only now here I was with him.
I usually had a pain au chocolat. I never ordered anything more because I wasn’t sure either of us could afford it. I didn’t have a job, of course, and I didn’t get pocket money anymore, and I wasn’t sure what my father did to even pay for the little meals we had. I was pretty certain the money was from my grandparents, and that made me feel really strange, that my dad was still taking money from them. It was like he was doing his whole life over, but it hadn’t improved.
My grandparents were nice and I always saw them when I first arrived. I would get off the Metro at the Dupleix station and walk right across the street to where they lived - and my father, now, too. Their apartment was small, and each room had yellow or green walls. It made me feel like I was surrounded by lemon trees. My grandparents were tiny enough for the tiny place, but my father looked way too big for the chairs and small table, not to mention the closet-sized guest room where he slept. He used to sleep here growing up, too, he told me, with his brother Jacques. They’d had bunk beds. Now there was just a narrow twin bed with its head and foot in black metal that always seemed cold. His window looked out on the courtyard and he told me that at night he could hear people’s televisions and smell what they were cooking. Still, his life seemed pretty lonely, though he always seemed cheerful about it.
One day, we were sitting at a café, as usual, and he suddenly said to me, “Are you happy?”
I couldn’t tell him the truth, even though I felt angry enough to scream at him. What a stupid, stupid question. But I thought of him in that little, cold room and I figured it wasn’t like he was doing well, either. The idea shot through my mind of saying, “No! Get a job! Get an apartment! Let us all get back together and live there!” and a million other things, but I really didn’t think it would make any difference. If you’d seen my dad then, you would have known. Before, he used to sit straight even without realizing it, and sort of half-smile at everyone with an intelligent light in his eyes. But now, he hunched and his whole face had a gray color to it, sort of like dust, but it wasn’t that. He was drab and definitely not up to making a living. So there was no point in asking him to do the impossible.
“Claire,” he sighed, before I could get to the end of my thoughts. “Is there anything I can do to make you happy?”
I decided quickly to shrug and ask why he thought I wasn’t happy and then – the idea came to me. The way out.
“Actually,” I said, instead of shrugging, “there is. I have a favor – a big one, and it’s a secret.”
© Alysa Salzberg 2010