This week, a blast from the past.
Okay, it’s from the past. ‘Blast’ has yet to be determined.
This is one of the first serious short stories I wrote. I’ve edited just a bit, restructuring some particularly clunky sentences, but overall it is as I originally wrote it, including what was determined to be the fatal flaw according to the creative writing group I was a part of at the time.
Long on tell, short on show.
‘Show don’t tell’ is one of the cardinal rules of fiction writing, and I penned this little gem with complete disregard for it. They were gentle in their criticism, but the group let me know that my approach was, in their opinion, a failure. I counted it as a success, and I still do.
Is it the best story I’ve ever written? Hardly. But I wrote it for a very specific reason. Someone I was close to had been caught red-handed having an affair. His wife was a wonderful, beautiful woman, and I struggled to understand what could have possibly led him to cheat on her. He had children with her and claimed he still cared about her, but he needed…well, more, I guess. To explore the idea further, I decided to write a story about it.
Maybe it’s not great fiction, but it met my need. Granted, that’s a selfish sort of motive for writing, but it’s valid, nevertheless.
I’ll return to The Dark Calling next week. This week, enjoy reading my failure of a foray into the world of fiction.
When the desk clerk handed Jacob the key card to room 214, he also gave him one blank sheet of the hotel’s stationary. He smiled in an inexperienced sort of way.
“Special night?” he asked.
Jacob looked up from his checkbook. He was having trouble subtracting the numbers. He stared past the clerk for a moment and then brought his vision into focus on the name tag. Steve.
“I’m sorry, Steve. What?”
“Oh, well, the room and the orders about the wine, Mr. Abrams. I was just wondering if you had a special night planned.”
Jacob smiled. He closed his checkbook, slid his pen into the fold and deposited the whole thing in the breast pocket of his coat.
“I hope so, Steve.”
Picking up two envelopes, Jacob pivoted and made his way through the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel.
The lobby was connected to a small Italian restaurant, which the hotel owned. At the point of connection were twenty tables occupying one whole corner of the lobby. The restaurant had out grown itself, it seemed, and poured out into the hotel. Jacob made for one of the tables. He glanced at his watch as he walked. 2:47 p.m. There was no one else there, so he had his pick. He found a suitable one towards the west wall and, placing the key card, the sheet of hotel stationary, and the two envelopes on the table, he sat down.
He arranged each item on the table. He pushed the key card to the center of the far side. He lay the two envelopes parallel to each other on the left. He lined up the sheet of paper with the envelopes and placed it beside them, on the right. And then he remembered he would need a pen.
He pulled his checkbook from his pocket, and the pen from within. Then, returning the checkbook, he shifted his weight in the chair and settled down to write on the sheet of paper.
He wrote the following:
Meet me at the Ambassador at nine.
He folded the paper twice so that it would fit neatly into one of the envelopes. He paused for a moment before scooping up the envelopes. He recorded a name on each. On the first, he wrote “Karen Abrams.” On the second, “Vicki Liner.”
Then he waited.
He half expected to just know. Perhaps he believed some sort of revelation would come upon him there in the lobby and all his doubts would be washed away. Salvation. Hallelujah.
But even there, with the key card and the note and the orders for the wine and Steve smiling at him from behind the desk, he didn’t know which envelope to slip the key and note into.
There was a right thing to do. He believed that.
Karen still loved him. He believed that, too. And he loved her, but marriage had not been what he expected. On the first night of their honeymoon, they’d promised one another their lives would remain spontaneous. They would not become like so many other married couple. They would not sink into routine. Their lives would be different.
And yet, that very morning she reminded him to take out the garbage. She made scrambled eggs and bacon because it was Thursday. He knew what shows they would watch when he got home from work, their lives now thoroughly in sync with the damn TV guide. There would be no cocktails. No wine. No romance. It wasn’t the weekend. And, as always, she kissed him on the cheek as he left.
That kiss made him want to scream.
His unhappiness was magnified by her apparent contentment. He failed to understand how the course of their lives was enough for her. Did stability mean so much? And, if he were being completely honest, he would have to admit he’d lost respect for her. The woman he married wanted more.
But he believed that there was hope. Thin and frail, but still there.
He was afraid, of course. Being practically minded as she was, she might not see the beauty of such a gift. She could very well scold him for wasting money, reminding him that they owned their own bed in their own bedroom. She might be more interested in how much the wine costs than in how well it tastes. She might not be pleased at all.
Worse, she might not be passionate.
On the other hand, there was Vicki and the sweet, if taboo, promise of unfamiliar human touch. Jacob met Vicki when she audited his ethics class the previous semester. She taught English. They spent many afternoons talking and sipping coffee after class. She made it clear to him, clear without words, that an invitation of this sort would be accepted.
There were, as there always are, complications. Rumors fly on a college campus. Two professors, one of them married, in a room at the Ambassador—not the best of situations. Theirs was a conservative school. The administration despised scandal. And Jacob loved teaching.
But when he closed his eyes, he saw Vicki, not Karen. He saw the way she would look at him, her eyes half closed and her mouth slightly open, lips pouting. She wanted him, and he wanted something.
How far out onto the limb would he be willing to walk?
He thought about flipping a coin—let fate decide. Then he considered asking Steve, the desk clerk. Perhaps there was some innocent wisdom in his inexperience. Or maybe he should just shuffle the envelopes, close his eyes, and pick one. Maybe he wouldn’t use the room at all. Maybe indecision was the best option. Maybe he would just go on being miserable.
He turned his wrist over and pulled back the cuff of his sleeve.
Standing, he gathered both envelopes, the sheet of stationary and the key card. He walked back through the lobby toward the doors. On his way out, he made eye contact with Steve.
“Good luck tonight, Mr. Abrams. Hope things go well.”
Jacob looked away, out the main doors.
“Me too, Steve. Me too,” he said.
But he didn’t know what the hell that meant.