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 at this  point it’s more of a character sketch. 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 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. Dinner was always at six.

A few times she forgot to change the lock back. After-dinner-tired, she might slouch upstairs around nine o’clock to encounter the obstacle. This is the story of how Rose Kennedy learned to pick locks. She even slept outside the door once, rising before her grandmother woke up to spring it open with a bobby pin. The next step was to carry bobby pins all the time, which she remembered most days. She figured that would be easier than getting into the habit of double-checking. After a few months she knew exactly what to do when she locked herself out. Eventually she moved onto picking combination locks and car doors, just for the hell of it. She never discussed this with anyone.

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. She would only chat to men if they started first, controlling her soft voice to be even meeker. 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 a keen awareness of cultural impoverishment she picked up in 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. Not a real bar — it’s a folding table façade wrapped in white green gingham, tended by a woman with no clue how to mix a drink.

Rose orders a vodka-soda and realizes she knows the bartender from somewhere, maybe a friend of a friend. She introduces herself as Laurie and takes a shot as Rose crosses the halfway mark on hers. Laurie leans delicately against the table; it might collapse even against the weight of her slight body. Though they’re both of legal age, the women exchange the smiles of partners in crime. Their drinks taste 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 said.

Nearly-2AM-Rose stumbles out of the warehouse, almost falls on her knees. She picks herself up with the scrappy dignity of the drunk, gripping a faux fur shawl 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 suffocating sadness by November. Now she doesn’t mind so much. It’s early September, time to fold up the summer and stow it in a forgettable place, admire the leaves before they lose their gloss.

The taxi will arrive soon. As Rose edges toward the curb, she hears a muffled banging noise from across the lot. She 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, slamming their extremities against its ceiling to get the attention of a bystander. “Oh fuck” she says to nobody.

She ducks behind a parking meter as the taxi moves in, watches it cycle twice around the perimeter before exiting. Now the lot is empty. It almost feels serene. Rose keeps her gaze fixed on the sedan. Black glowing under a halogen lamp, it’s a pretty conspicuous place to conduct somebody, she thinks. Her fingers locate three pins tucked inside a velveteen pocket. Clutching them in a tight fist, she rises from her stooped position to begin a rescue mission.