This is an excerpt from a work in progress that I read aloud to a group of local writers a few nights ago. I’m not sure what to make of their reactions. The story is about a couple who have three daughters and then adopt an orphaned nephew, about how he was orphaned, and about how the main characters adapt (or fail to adapt) to their new lives. The husband is telling the story. That’s about all the context I gave the group. You’ll be jumping in well after the story begins. What I usually most want to know is if you would keep on reading. Feel free to comment if you’re so inclined.
My mother always told me I was too broody for my own good. That was her term. I used to think she’d made it up until I looked it up in Merriam-Webster’s. She meant it in the non-chicken sense, I’m sure, although I suspect she first used it on the farm in her own youth to describe the hens that provided fresh, brown eggs for the family. With me, she meant it in the formal sense of being contemplative, with the emphasis on the second syllable, I suspect. Moody.
It was the same way I had come to think of Olivia in our short acquaintance. (I realize it’s a stretch to call it an acquaintance, but there you have it.) What else could an artist be but broody and soulful and deep, with passion lurking just below the calm, mirror-smooth surface? I had seen her smile only briefly when she plucked Billy from the restaurant. I wanted to see her do it again.
I slept until 9 a.m. and I knew it would be a good two hours later that morning before Margret and the kids would arrive. She would do her best to avoid the height of the morning rush hour traffic, so I had until at least 11 to indulge myself. Emilie had already taken up her spot by the pool.
This wasn’t the first time I’d let my fantasy life get the better of me, I have to confess. I don’t know if I really thought I could go through with it this time, or if I really thought I could do it without getting caught, or if I really even thought about it at all. I suspect I didn’t. One thing I have learned is that in fantasy there are no hurt feelings, no unwanted pregnancies, and no diseases. No recriminations, no ruined careers or lives, and very little remorse. It’s too bad fantasy sometimes become reality and it’s hard to know where the line is. I showered, put on some shorts, a T-shirt and my old huaraches, and took off in the Renegade.
Olivia’s was the last shop in a long section of them along the main drag. It was just before the commercial center of the village turned into residential and then, quickly, countryside. I stopped in Monroe’s Bookstore to look distractedly over the magazine rack before picking up a Trib. Next stop was across the street at The Mug on The Alley, where I ordered two regular Large Decafs to go. Right next door stood Portraits by O. I walked in with the Trib under my arm and the two coffees carefully balanced in one hand. A little bell rang as I closed the door, and immediately I heard the voice from the day before, calling down the stairs to my left. It was Billy.
“She’ll be right down,” I heard him say. Groggily? Maybe. It was hard to tell.
“No hurry,” I said back up the stairs. I looked around. Simply framed portraits covered most of two sides of the little room in the front of the shop, which was no more than ten feet by ten feet if you didn’t count the staircase. There were high school senior pretty girls and handsome young men, older couples in anniversary photos, children in all sorts of traditional poses, baseball teams, softball teams, soccer players. A doorway to the right led down a hallway, where I supposed the studio awaited. The back wall, behind a counter that held a small computer monitor and a clutter of papers, sported what I took to be the digital, manipulated interpretations of what O saw through her lens.
I heard footsteps on the stairs and slowly took my eyes from one of the more disturbing images. I turned to find Olivia watching me from the staircase. “Can I help you with something?” she asked.
“Oh, hi. You’re Billy’s wife, right?”
“Yes,” she said. “Olivia.”
“Right,” I said. “We met yesterday at Carlito’s.”
“Oh, sure,” she said, taking the last two steps into the room. No smile. “You’re not really his old friend at all, are you?”
“No, I’m not. How could you tell?”
“I know all of Billy’s old friends. Both of them,” she said.
“Both of them?”
“Sando and Mikey. The other guys you were drinking with.”
So she had paid attention, at least a little bit. “Yeah, sort of. Say, I noticed your sign and just wanted to see what your shop was like. I’ve done a little graphics work myself. In advertising.”
She looked insulted. “I don’t do commercial work,” she said. “Mostly portraits. Some straight, some of them I digitize and do things with.”
I turned back to the digital wall and took another look. I could see what she meant by “things.”
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