fiction excerpt

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 at this point it’s more of a character sketch. A real plot’s about to happen …

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When Rose was a little girl, she’d lock the door to her bedroom whenever she was inside it, even though nobody ever tried to bother her in there. 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 reached 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 learned to pick locks. She even slept outside the door once, waking up before her grandmother to spring it open with a bobby pin. The next step was to carry bobby pins all the time, which she remembered most days. That would be easier than getting into the habit of double-checking. After a few months she knew exactly what to do. No one ever saw her.

Rose at the bar, age eighteen, didn’t move as nimbly as you might expect of a seasoned lock-picker. Sometimes clumsy, sometimes so self-conscious it would break your heart. Usually she would chat to men if they started first, controlling her already-meek voice to be even softer. Rose ordered red wine and scotch when they were around, and 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 the keen sense for cultural vacancy she picked up college. Rose thought she hated everything.

Tonight she visits an abandoned warehouse adorned ostentatiously with fluorescent paint, psychedelic patterns and bloated cartoons stretching themselves across its corners. Here she comes, picking delicately toward the place where a few early drinkers hang in a flock. It’s not a real bar, it’s 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.

Now Rose stumbles out of the warehouse, falls on her knees. She picks herself up with the scrappy dignity of the drunk, gripping 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 slung halfway down her spine, and anyway it doesn’t matter, since she’s getting a taxi to her apartment.

She waits in a parking lot, observes the fall’s first chill. 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 soon. As Rose edges toward the curb, she hears a muffled banging noise from across the lot. She’ll spend the next few hours learning about this sound, but by daybreak she won’t have fathomed the depths of its strangeness. Certainly she won’t grasp its significance to her future.

Rose scans her surroundings, sees nothing. The sound is coming from the northeast corner. Still very much under the influence, she correctly identifies it: someone’s trapped in the trunk of a car, struggling with to get the attention of a bystander. Oh, shit.

She ducks behind a parking meter as the taxi moves in, watches as it makes one slow cycle around the perimeter before turning away. Now the lot is emptied of all signs of life — in fact the scene is totally silent, except for the clamor of the hostage.

Rose turns her gaze toward the sedan. Parked at the furthest space, it’s the only vehicle in the northeast quadrant. Glossy black exterior conspicuous under a halogen lamp, it’s  not at all a well-chosen site for an abduction, she thinks. As her fingers locate three pliable hairpins tucked inside a velveteen pocket, she rises from her stooped position. The rescue mission begins.