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Choose Your Own Novella march 9 2004, 04:44 am
submitted by: normal mc

Editor's Note: Okay kids, here's the deal... this is the start of a short story or novella, if you'd like, that I've been staring at and unable to continue with since, oh, November. I know we have maybe 5 readers left here at ARF, but humor me. What I'd like to do here is this: you read this first. After a week, I'll come back and post a comment with three ideas on which way the story goes next. Then you all vote, I then go with the most popular choice and write the next installment. Sound like fun? fuck it, we're doing it anyway...

Did I tell Alison I loved her last time we talked?
You didn’t.
Are you sure?
Yeah, you were in a hurry.
I could have sworn I did.
I was there, you didn’t.

That’s the kind of internal dialogue one engages in when he/she has a near-death experience. To be more specific, that’s exactly the internal dialogue I had with the specific self of mine that remembered things precisely as they happened, about three nights ago, when a loaded 9mm was stuffed in my mouth.

It’s a different kind of dialogue if you were, say, dying of AIDS or something equally as degenerative. You have the time to tie up loose ends, to make the calls and the I love you’s at the last minute and you have time to take your dog for a walk one last time. That’s what really bothered me above all else. The dog.

I had the dog almost 5 years, which I guess is 35 years in ‘dog’ years, but we know that to be fuzzy science, so let’s just say he was 5 years old. I had a five-year-old dog, since he was a puppy, and he was the sort of dog that is impossible for people to get to know. He took after his owner, Ali used to say, and I chose to let her comment go. She was wrong, on a number of levels. I let her believe it was clever when we all know, even in passing and without really knowing her or her sense of humor and wit at all, that it was not clever at all.

The dog. Yeah, no one liked the dog. The dog liked me, and I respected him but he didn’t make himself available emotionally to me. We didn’t play fetch, I didn’t rub his belly and make dog talk – who’s my killer, who’s the big dog on the block, that’s right, you are – and I never taught him to shake, roll over or any of that. He was my dog, I fed him, he shit, I took him for walks and he let me think in silence.

I had never heard him bark. Not once.

So since no one liked the dog and since he barely liked me it seemed, I worried, with a 9mm in my mouth, who would take care of the dog? Ali wouldn’t. She couldn’t, it could break her in half.

So there’s that, the dog issue. And worrying about what I said to Ali last time we talked. And there was nothing else. I didn’t actually come to terms with my impending mortality at that point, and I wasn’t at peace either. But it didn’t click – I wasn’t in tears, I was not shaking. I thought about my dog and my girl. That’s typical male behavior, yeah, but not when you are about to die.

I still can’t believe I didn’t think about sports.

3 Nights Ago

The chapter stop reads ‘3 nights ago’, but I have to go back a bit further. More specifically, I’ll go back to the morning of the day three nights ago. With me? Good.

That morning, it was a Friday, I remember waking up to the most annoying of trends the 20th century had to offer – a wacky morning zoo. I still don’t know why I allow myself to wake up to that shit when I could just as easily switch the alarm to ‘ringer’ instead. I wake up almost daily to this retarded nonsense, except of course for Sundays when I prefer the organic wake-up. (In football season, my body clock always wakes me just in time to run to the bodega for coffee, smokes and the newspapers and get back in time for the 1pm games).

So the drive-time, wacky morning zoo was on and not content to lay in bed for a few minutes and stomach this crap, what did I do? I hit snooze. I relive this incredibly moronic routine at least three times before I summon the courage to actually turn the radio off, get out of bed, throw on my bathrobe and find a cigarette. Then there are the days when I think I turned the alarm off, only to be shocked back into reality while sitting on my red pleather ottoman by that same fucking DJ and his ‘hey, what the hell was J.Lo thinking?’ shtick. It’s not pretty. I always hit the alarm hard, sometimes I just unplug it completely, not so much because I am mad at it, but I am mad at myself because I don’t have the foresight to simply turn it off correctly in the first place or switch it to ‘ringer’ the night before. This whole dance of pain happens every morning and it is a wonderful way to start the day.

The dog loves this. He perks up when the radio kicks in, watches intently as I reach for the snooze, then in the corner of my eye I watch him nod off with me in unison. Somehow, I think he thinks that the next time it might be different. Okay, he does take after me in this regard, but I think this is inherent in canines across the board. Not learned behavior. One day things will change, my planning the previous evening will save me from the same routine the next morning, I am optimistic like the dog in this instance. I wake thinking ‘today is the day’, then by noon or so it turns into ‘today is the day before the day, gotta get ready’. But nothing ever comes.

This particular Friday wasn’t anything special, nothing out of the ordinary. I awoke to the ‘Friday morning fart song’ the first time, the second time I was greeted with a non-funny Dubya impression. Coffee was prepared before it rang again; I caught the forecast (snow all day, heavy) then I unplugged the alarm and finally threw it out. I didn’t have a job anyway, why was I waking up at 7 again? I mean, 7:23?

I fed the dog. The buzz of the can opener reminded me of nothing and holds no symbolism for later in the book. I brought it up because it happened, I did feed the dog, and it did make noise. That’s all.

The phone rang. The phone never rings this early and if it did, I don’t think I would have picked it up anyway. Bad news this early, has to be. I let it ring, waited for the machine.

No message. Wrong number.

Three inches of snow had fallen overnight. The shades were down, my apartment had four sources of light now – cigarette, coffee machine indicator, answering machine light (not blinking) and my laptop. Sitting in the almost dark was never eerie; I had never been the type to get spooked. Music always sounded crisper, conversations were deeper and more lucid, and cigarettes tasted better in the dark. I moved across the room unhindered by the lack of light, I knew my apartment’s layout completely, and hit ‘play’ on my stereo. I knew I had left something mellow in there from the night before, and was pleasantly greeted by the ever-soothing tones of Phil Collins. I found my way back to the ottoman, took a few drags and wondered whether or not it was too early to go buy more smokes and a newspaper.

The phone rang again, fuck it, who is it? It was Ali. She has a job, that’s why she is up this early. She wants to ‘do breakfast’. I don’t do breakfast, as I have reminded her a few times (earlier in our relationship, when I had a day job) yet still she persists. I have to admit I was hungry though…

Do people really shower this early? I mean, I used to, when I worked. I worked in insurance, phone support, pseudo-dress up – very casual. I was there for 4 years. This will come into play later. Anyway, I rubbed out the cigarette, rubbed one out and took a shower.

The dog has this issue when I come out of the shower: he stares at me like I’m someone else, someone he’s never seen before. This is immediately after I get out of the shower now, dripping wet, right before I reach for the towel. When I get my hair dry, he suddenly recognizes me and his defensive stance collapses into a kind of bored realization - ‘there will be no vicious attack this time’.

Nothing was clean; I slid into a wrinkled pair of cords I had worn for almost three days straight. They were rank as all get-out, and they were a bit stiff, but its only breakfast. She was lucky I was showered. Shirt, had to find a clean shirt… flannel screamed at me all warm-like, so I found my lucky blackwatch plaid and threw on a ball cap.

Breakfast was at the diner at the corner of Ponus and Wavenly. It was a real shithole, Dale’s, and I avoided it at all costs. Not being too picky, usually, this place was another type of filthy altogether. All vinyl, the walls, the cushions, the waitresses’ hair. It was a mess. Next-door was your prototypical garage. Al’s had towed my car a few times, and I had been lucky to have the titular ‘Al’ service my auto on a number of occasions. Come to think of it, I think Al is the only one who works there. He’s almost always at Dale’s when I have the misfortune of being there. I have never met Dale, not sure if the dale who this diner is named for in honor is still with us, nor do I care. Ali had a habit of calling this place ‘D’s’ which bothered me. Do you need to shorten a one-syllable name? No.

Ali was waiting, as she always is for me, and she had a cup of coffee waiting for me. This is comfort level I enjoy about our relationship, one of a small few – she knows my tastes and plays to them. Two butts were in the ashtray, sitting in the outer perimeter of the dish leaving only ash in the middle. She learned this from me.

The waitress was stalking me; she knew Ali was waiting for someone. She stared at me from the counter. A deep, cold stare that I could describe as ‘the type that shills one’s soul to the core’ if I were more descriptively inclined. The snow had killed any drive-by traffic at this hour and the place was empty, leaving me and the impending excitement of my breakfast order as the primary focus for our waitress. Although I had only been in there two minutes, her stare felt like forever. In reality, the truth is I had barely sat down before ‘Flo’ browbeat a Belgian waffle order from me.

It was the kind of tension that breaks most men.

That’s a bit of an over dramatization. It was uncomfortable to say the least. I sat, she sat. I lit one, she followed. Sip, sip, inhale. Exhale. Sigh,

“Did you try to call before? Before you got me?” It hadn’t dawned on me to think that until just now. It’s amazing the type of questions or epiphanies one has when confronted with a silence that shouldn’t be there.
“Why didn’t you leave a message?”
“I was at a pay phone. I dropped my cigarette and some asshole was screaming for me to get off. I had some change, so I called back.” Okay. Fair enough.
“Ah ha.”

Then we came to the point in the conversation where she was supposed to keep going. Tell me why I was invited to breakfast.

“What are you pregnant?”
“No. We haven’t fucked since Thanksgiving.” She was right, I acted surprised.

To be continued...?

comments...   add a comment...

dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
comment no. 1

I'm wondering why she invited him to breakfast. Norm, tell us more!

blackwidow 1056 posts
comment no. 2

This is like one of those bits of a story that they run in Cosmo magazine, only to bring you up to the juicy point and then quit, so you have to run out and buy the book just to find out what happened.

Except...there's no book to buy. *sob*

dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
comment no. 3

There SHOULD be a book to buy! Norm, get on that!

one4k4 1071 posts
comment no. 4

Yes! Can I draw the harlequin novel cover for it?! :)


normal mc
normal mc 7472 posts
comment no. 5

Well, maybe I'm shooting too far ahead here, but why don't we start with a title? Them based on the title, you can mock up a cover... then I can finish the novella!

Woo hoo! We figured it out!

gnomeloaf 942 posts
comment no. 6

This whole experiment is like Charles Dickens, only I can read it without thinking "Damn, I really want to be doing something else right now."

blackwidow 1056 posts
comment no. 7's been a week, what are our choices? Does the story go on, or are we left in the lurch?

one4k4 1071 posts
comment no. 8

Lunch? Oh, wait, you said Lurch. Made me hungry.

normal mc
normal mc 7472 posts
comment no. 9

anyone have any plot points, developments, etc. to incorporate into act 2?

dj tanner
dj tanner 4789 posts
comment no. 10

Why did she invite him to breakfast? I want my answer, bitch!

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