I have a short story coming out through Holum Press pretty soon. Here’s a bit from another one I’m working on — I guess this is more of a character sketch so far. A real plot’s about to happen …
When Rose was a little girl, she’d lock the door to her bedroom whenever she was inside it, even though nobody ever bothered her. It was the first thing she did when she came home from school. Tiny feet pounding the stairs, backpack swinging from one thin arm, breathless by the time she readched the end of the hall. As soon as she slammed the door behind her, she’d click the knob upright. Then onto watching TV or drawing with colored pencils and construction paper. Dinner was always at six.
A few times she forgot to change it back. After-dinner-tired, Rose might slouch upstairs about nine o’clock to encounter the obstacle. This is the story of how she taught herself the lockpicking arts. She even slept outside the door once, waking up before her grandmother to spring it open with a bobby pin. That would be easier than getting into the habit of double-checking every evening. And she’d never tell her granny. The next step was to carry bobby pins all the time, which she remembered most days. After a few months she knew exactly what to do. No one ever saw her.
Rose at the bar, age eighteen, didn’t move with the ease you’d ascribe to a seasoned lockpicker. Sometimes too clumsy, sometimes so self-conscious it would break your heart, controlling her already-meek voice to be even softer. Usually she would chat to men if they started first, though her small talk would make you laugh. Rose ordered red wine and scotch when they were around. When she danced people watched her.
At twenty-three she drank vodka and club soda with lemon. She danced less and slept past eleven most days. Her ennui was underwritten by a sense for cultural depthlessness that she picked up in college. She thought she hated everything.
Tonight Rose visits an abandoned warehouse adorned ostentatiously with fluorescent paint, psychedelic patterns and bloated cartoons stretching themselves across the corners of the big main room. Here she comes, picking delicately toward the place where a few early partiers hang in a flock, eager to drink. Not a real bar, a folding-table construction watched over by a young woman who has no idea how to mix a cocktail.
Rose orders a vodka and soda and realizes she knows the woman from somewhere, maybe a friend of a friend. This “bartender” introduces herself as Laurie and takes a shot as Rose crosses the halfway mark on hers, leaning against the table which would collapse against the weight of even the slightest bodies. Both of legal age, but they exchange the smiles of partners in crime. The drink tastes like a dividing line.
All-grown-up Rose still knows how to pick locks. This will come in handy soon but she doesn’t know it yet.
At sixteen she prayed for the end of her boredom. “Please, God, let something interesting happen.” A friend asked her if she could enjoy life without looking for significance in everything. “You can’t just tie everything up in a metaphysical bow of meaning,” he’d told her.
Rose stumbles out of the warehouse, falls on her knees, picks herself up with the scrappy dignity of the drunk. She grips a faux fur shawl of dingy taupe to her chest. Pink and silver bangles nearly slide off her right wrist. She thinks she lost her shoes but they’re in a velveteen backpack slouched halfway down her spine, and anyway it doesn’t matter: she’s getting a taxi to her apartment.
The car will arrive in approximately five minutes. She waits in a parking lot, observes the season’s first chill of fall. Rose used to hate this moment of the year, back-to-school time, the early nightfall stoking grim feelings that would flower into smothering depression by November. Now she doesn’t mind so much. It’s early September, time to fold up the season and stow it in a forgettable place.
The taxi will arrive in two minutes. As Rose edges toward the curb, she hears a jarring rhythm from across the lot. She’ll spend the rest of the night learning about the sound, but even as a new day breaks, she’ll have no idea how important it is to her future.