I rewrote Chapter one of my novel-in-progress, Dreaming of Eve. This is the old Chapter one, which I've kept for comparison purposes. The new Chapter one does away with all the banter in favor of a more action-packed scene. Let me know if you like this version better. The new chapter one is at http://t.co/V8Jz37uz
Awake. Lynn opened her eyes to the sound of a man screaming. She rolled over to rub Alex’s back. The scent of his sweat was intoxicating and familiar. She shushed him softly. Light filtered into their small basement windows. The sheets were tangled, a common consequence of lovers leg-locked in nightmares.
In the morning she felt closest to Alex. There was often a disconnect in the words between them: too many, not enough, words falling into cracks and getting lost in dark alleys where they couldn't find their way back to the subject at hand. But in this waking moment he spoke with his body, clinging to her as if he needed her to breath, as if she were not separate from him but a sinewy continuation of his circulatory system. Sometimes, when he clung to her, his eyes fluttering in dreams, he was lucid enough to kiss her, hold her ever more tightly, and she felt like they were two heartbeats in one body.
Lynn hated to leave him to his nightmares but she had to get that girl out of her head.
The dream wasn't supposed to go like that. Before, it would end with her swaying with the tree, wind dancing with limbs, leaves twinkling, and so many stars shining that the sky gleamed like a razor's edge. Or she would pick berries from bushes in a field under a bright white sky in a field covered in white daisies, and the strawberry's juices would be so copious they ran down the sides of her hand, streams of red in a blindingly white sky. Or a hundred other things, but all of them filled with color and motion and joy. True, there was the matter of those creepy eyes. They seemed to be asking something of her, something urgent. What she sought she couldn’t say, each nocturnal journey raised too many questions. When she dreamed something new in her deja vu world, was it really new? The ancient eyes in a young face had been a feature of the dream since she was a child. They’d been creepy at times, ominous even. But not nightmares. Not ever.
The apartment consisted of little more than one room: no separate bedroom and the kitchen was only differentiated by its seventies-inspired avocado-green linoleum.
By the bed was a two-shelf bookcase. The bottom shelf held a motley assortment of journals. One rested on top of the shelf. It was cloth-bound, the size of a photo album, and defaced by paint pens. Lynn didn’t care for fancy journals that drew attention to their contents, but a quality binding was important to her, and the homely sketchbooks tended to fall apart over time. She flipped past the drawings of exotic lizards, packs of gazelles, and other fauna she’d captured from the dream. Normally the tan, lauging girl in her dreamworld was the pick-me-up that gave her the strength the face the shadows and chilly winds of Oakland. But today the dream haunted her. She was always haunted by that familiarity, but she’d never been able to know for sure. Dreams drift away.
Deja vu in a dream. It gave her the strange sensation that the fictional world in her head went on when she was awake. Deja vu made the dream feel real.
The owl came together quickly but it didn't capture all that the dream created in her. What else could she remember? Rain. She drew a cloud over the owl, and a puddle beneath it.
The screaming stopped abruptly. Alex was sitting straight up in bed. He said nothing but his tan brow was wrinkled in dismay. She glanced approvingly at the long scar across his chest. It reminded her that they were the same, both torn, both permanently unhealed.
Lynn thought, God, I hope I am bleeding.
Not because she was a masochist. Her period was a week late. As she stood naked on the bare concrete, she wished her sheets were stained.
When could it have happened? Curses. It could have been that night, the bar was slow, few drinkers and an hour til last call. In the unisex bathroom. Alex thrashed into her like an angry little boy finally given something precious he was allowed to break. It would have been hot if she hadn't gotten caught. If she hadn't been fired.
Still, she was hardly the type to keep meticulous records of her eggs' suicidal leaps into her vaginal canal. She tried to put it out of her mind.
She closed her eyes to see if she could eke out any last strains of the dream. When she opened them, Alex was watching her.
He said, “I don’t know how you can remember them all.”
She closed the journal but did not put it aside. “It takes practice.”
“Still. I never remember any of mine.”
“What were you dreaming about. Just now.”
He didn’t say anything at first. “I don’t remember.”
“Fuuuuuuuucking liar.” She smiled viciously.
No need to go to the bathroom for the bad news, because a woman knew when she had that "special" pain that her "special friend" arrived. Better not to think about it. Her period would start today, surely. Instead she let spill the half-blank pages of her journal. The owl needed some stars. The dream was as much about the night and the rain as anything else. And the beast, something headed for her. But she wasn't sure what to paint for that.
Her doodles had grown bigger and bigger. There was a nervousness to Lynn, like there was some giant painting in her waiting to burst forth, floating like nausea.
lex arose gleaming and perfect and greeted the day with a glass of scotch. This was not a daily habit but it was more often than she would have liked. He claimed it was the news that made him drink. But Lynn knew it was the war. He hadn't been the same since he returned. If she asked him about his drinking he'd launch into a tirade about the power plant in Sacramento. Some people in Sacramento didn't want the power plant built at all, and some river group was even suing---bad for the fish or something. People had been protesting for years and they had been building the damn thing for years. It hardly seemed like “news” anymore. But Alex had a thing for rivers.
In a burst of energy uncharacteristic of Lynn at any waking hour, she dragged a dusty metal box out from under the bed. Some of the paints inside were too dried to pry open, but the tubes of acrylic were like new. She squirted some black and some blue directly onto the wall, and mixed them with a big brush. She was going to need more. Lots more.
There was a tin of blackish-brown latex she’d used to paint the bookcase. She wasted no time in getting the rollers and paint tray Ty had stashed in the utility closet adjacent to their space. Could she add a tube of acrylic to this latex paint? They were both water-based, and she needed a blue tinge. To hell with it, she thought, and squeezed the blue tube into the blackish murk. She also pushed aside the dresser, exposing a long span of wall by the bathroom door.
Alex seemed even more lost in his abundance of shaggy black hair than usual, a little more hunched over than the morning before. She imagined that de-evolution had kicked in. By months end he would be a monkey and by next year she would be sleeping with a shiny wet amphibian.
A ringtone played Kraftwerk. Alex answered. “This is the third time you've called. This is a cell phone, you know.” He gained energy as he built up a fury. His teeth flashed a vicious smile. “I don't know anyone named Lynn. If I did; I'd tell you. I understand you're just trying to track down a bunch of bums who don't pay their bills. This Lynn person is probably a total deadbeat. But you really should stop calling here. You won't find a Lynn. Best of luck.” Alex tossed his phone into the lump of sheets.
“You're getting good at that” Lynn said.
The roller marks made a fat rectangular gash on the wall. She didn’t cover the whole wall, just enough to make a large, round, dark space by the bathroom door. She ran through the dream again in her head, murmuring it like a song, glad she’d drawn some sketches. What was it about the persistence of waking and the slipperiness of dreams? She would allow it no more. She would capture the eyes that stared at her through the darkness, the stillness of the trees, the movement of creatures she could smell more than see. She wanted to track it, trap it, contain it. Other people made charts and graphs. Lynn would make her checkmarks and notations in leaves, vines, trees.
“What are you doing? Why are you painting on our wall?” He wiped the sleep from his eyes.
“You should eat something.” she said.
He squeezed a spoonful of honey out of a smiling plastic bear and swirled it into his whiskey.
“Satisfied?” he asked.
“Ick. There's no food in that.”
“It took the nectar from two thousand flowers to make this tablespoonful of honey. I'm sure the bees don't appreciate your dismissal of all their hard work.” Lynn stuck all the paint with the roller tray in a plastic bag in the freezer. She’d finish the background later.
There was a loud clomping upstairs, that indicated that Tyree had his platform shoes on and was ready to face the world.
Alex’s corner of the cornerless room was cluttered with tools and an upended road bicycle waiting for dissection. The area was dark except for an intense spotlight aimed at the bicycle's front brake.
Lynn took a moment to evaluate her naked body in the unframed full-length mirror. She could see Alex sitting up in the bed behind her, watching her evaluate herself. The mirror didn't tell her she was pretty. It told her she too pale, too thin, too small. She wished her hair was red or blonde, any color but black. She wished her feet didn't point slightly inward. She wished her eyes were bigger or that her lips were thinner. Even her nose was too small. There just didn't seem to be enough of her. How could she be an imposing presence if the slightest breeze would blow her away? Still she had learned to walk quickly like a city girl, learned the cynicism that made her appear confident. Her clothes were covered in pockets, ruffles and chains. She sewed them herself years ago when her art was less prolific. She felt unworthy of new things but a button here, a patch there, a strip of lace---these things seemed like adornments worthy to the broken thing she saw in the mirror.
His posture drooped, and she thought he looked like the sad tortoise after being beaten by the hare. But he had a certain confidence with his hands. When he wanted something he reached for it. When he grasped something, he held it with certainty. It would not break or drop, his grip was exact.
“Holy crap. Ty’s going to have a fit if you paint the walls that dark.”
“Don’t worry, it’s just this one wall.”
“We don’t have time for this. You have to get ready.”
"Ready? For what?"
"Lynn! To help me fund raise! You said you would!"
“You shouldn't drink this early.” She said matter-of-factly. The smaller brushes were wrapped in a piece of leather bound by a cord. They were not for the smallest details. For that, Lynn would turn to the make-up brushes gifted to her by many well-meaning aunts and cousins.
Alex pressed his warm nakedness against her back and wrapped his arms over her. She paused only to take the glass from him and sip impulsively. It was warm and diluted from the ice cubes that had melted into it the night before.
“Alex. I need to paint,” Lynn said. She pulled away from him to a curvy, bright green loop that started and ended at the floor. Climbing vines and shiny, magenta berries curled off of it. She wiped the excess paint on a stack of bills on the floor next to her art supplies. "How much do you have to raise again?"
On the branch that was painted to look like it came out of the ceiling she added a wide swath of brown. She had two smaller brushes in her mouth, waiting their turn to transform the brown stripe into an owl. The paint underneath was still wet and the colors mingled.
He sighed. "More than we’re going to be able to."
Canvassers always quit, though the night before the Fertile Crescent Wetlands Initiative had lost five of them. It wasn’t the first time he’d begged her to fill in.
"I suppose taking a collection for our water bill is out of the question." Lynn said.
“Look, Lynn, the money for the grant doesn’t come until next week. If we don’t make a fat pile today, I’m going to have to transfer some money from my personal account…”
“So?” She asked. She knew exactly where he was going with this so he may as well get to the point.
“I know you don’t have rent money. And you know I’ll loan it to you but I can’t cover you and the company too.”
“If you’d kept your zipper up we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“You know she’d be happy to give you the money. It would be so easy.”
“No Alex, I’m not going back there. Stop asking.”
“Well you’d better hope we make some serious cash today. No way we can pay the rent if neither of us has a job.”
A car backfired outside and she turned just in time to see him drop his whiskey glass onto the concrete floor. Another side effect of the war. Some of the splatters of it splashed onto the owl, causing his feathers and face to drip like tears. It didn’t matter. She’d have to redo this section after the latex paint dried.
“Are you OK?”
He apologized. He held his head in his hands, but there was no gentleness. His fingers were gripped like claws on his curly black waves. She was torn between anger about the small fleck of glass that had richocheted into her ankle and the fear he might rip out his own hair.
He went to get the dust bin. She did not complain about the broken glass. Their home had no shortage of whiskey or glasses to drink from, despite their economic woes.
The door leading up from their basement apartment into the main house kicked open. Down from the stairs clunked two pink, glitter-encrusted, knee-high platform boots followed by brown thighs covered in pink fishnets followed by a black a-line mini-dress followed by a long haired pink fur jacket followed by Tyree's smiling brown bald face. He had a blunt in one jeweled and bangled hand and a wrench in the other.
Tyree had been Lynn's landlord ever since Lynn answered a bulletin posted at the gay club where she was a bartender until she was fired ceremoniously. Tyree was the best performer at amateur drag night. She was prevented from going professional by her glaucoma-induced enormous glasses and thus, tragically turned to a wealthier though far less glamorous career in real estate.
"Boo!" Tyree said. He was wearing no make-up and his absurdly thick glasses were perched on his bald and shiny head. He had a prescription for medical marijuanna, which he had never smoked before moving to California and was seldom seen without since.
She stared at the wall struggling to sweep out the corners of her subconscious. A flash of lightning. In it, the silver image of a tawny girl straddling a wet tree. It is hot. So hot that the rain is welcome. It cleanses. What was the last bit? Something carved into the earth. But no, it was gone. She threw her brush into the water bucket in disgust. Why couldn’t dreams stay in her head? Pop songs seemed to have no trouble sticking there, why not dreams?
"We can hear you coming, you know," Alex said, running a hand through his shaggy black hair. He swept the glass into the dustbin. Due to the intrusion of their landlord, he rummaged through a pile of pants and pulled out one reasonably free of tears or stains.
"Boo-hoo." Tyree eyed Alex critically but spoke about him rather than to him. "Is Prince Charming handy? I could use a man's touch."
Lynn gave Tyree a long, hard, look. "I bet," she said. "Don't you have some man under that skirt?"
"Shit, girl, you want to know what's under my britches, buy me dinner first. You know that laundry I opened up?"
"The Sit N Spin?"Alex asked. He had thrown on a torn t-shirt that advertised a college feminist group from the seventies. He put a pair of long black, rectangular glasses on his wide nose.
“How's about it, handsome? You think you can come and take a look under Bette Davis's Hood?”
"Do I look like a plumber?"Alex asked.
Lynn sized him up.His hands were most often in their pockets or held behind his back. Right now it was the former. "You could pass for a younger Luigi, sans mustache.
Tyree lit up his blunt and inhaled long.
"What kind of man are you? My momma taught me men are supposed to know these things.” Tyree said.
Tyree grabbed her arm.
"Ow, Ty, that hurts."
"Wait," he said, with a far-away look.
"Don't worry I'll have the rent by--"
"Broken people want broken things," he said.
Tyree traced his finger in the air, outlining who knows what. “The pale cold potion wears a crown. Don't go chasing serpents, trying to fix whats long broken…your hands covered in blood. the trees are barren and beautiful, borrowed words and secret skeletons, a body falling. Like Alice in the sea of tears. Elevator feet"
"God, Ty! You have been smoking too much wacky weed! Elevator feet? WTF." She analyzed her arm for broken skin.
Ty looked up, as if he could see this before her, in this very room "Don't go canvassing today, Lynn." There was sadness behind his chunky glasses.
"Why on earth not!"
But his eyes are in that place again, and his response was not to what she has asked.
"Then you'll be the one broken, bones cracked and consciousness eked away, caught in the miserable garden of your mind, locked in the serpent hole, suffocating in the room of tears." He looked at her: "Don't go Lynn! It all begins today! I have a very bad feeling!"
"Then you shouldn't be eating refried beans for breakfast!" Lynn continued to give Ty an accusatory look.