LP: Bone Machine by Tom Waits
2010 Europe Island Records (?) ILPS 9993, record store staff quote: “of dubious origins”
Favorite Track: I Don’t Want to Grow Up
Welcome ladies, gentlemen, and anything in between, new, or alien: This morning is the start of a 5-day vacation I did not ask for–work just gave me 5 straight days off in a row. And to start the trip off right, i am going to do some free association writing about this novel I have worked on again, off again for six years. Originally, it was to be titled 2020 for two reasons: it was going to be set in the near future (I conceived the idea in 2007) and play off of the idea of hindsight is 2020. Alas, that is only five years away so I squandered that silly opportunity. In theory, the germ of the novel is very similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a movie I don’t actually like) but setting and character-wise is tied to two of my favorite novels: Albert Camus’s The Plague and Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. Of course, i cannot write like those two authors. But I am also potentially going to borrow a similar opening scene like the one in Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.
Okay, let us begin. The following will probably be completely re-written, destroyed, and recycled, hopefully finished and then published. Enjoy!
She rehearsed her cover story as she surmounted the flight of stairs that lead to the top story of the duplex. A thin layer of ice made the top flight of stairs dangerous and Violet questioned the decision of installing the laundry machines in the basement. She knocked a layer of dirty snow off her boots before she knocked on the door. Paint came off of her knuckles.
“What do you want?” a rough voice behind a rough door. Lots of tiny muffled footsteps.
Violet found her mind losing the thread of her cover story already. “Mrs. Dawes? I’m from the university. I’m doing research for a paper. I need a primary source and I thought you’d be able to tell me something no one else can.”
The truth. So much for pretending to be from the newspaper. Wearing her emotions on her sleeve again. Why lie anyways? The truth is just as hard to take as a lie, but at least it is honest.
The door opened a crack and a bulging eyeball inspected the heavy overcoat and hand-knitted scarf that hung down to her knees. Violet felt like she was being sized up or looked over for weapons but her lithe figure and affable countenance passed whatever security check she was given. She heard the clacking of a lock being turned and as she entered she noticed the shoddy workmanship in the installation of the lock. Self-installed. Illegal. What was she walking into?
She followed the woman down a long, dirty hallway. Scuff marks covered the lower half of the walls and bits of plaster stuck in the garish carpet. The woman walked with quick steps toward the growing noise beyond a pale blue door.
“Ryle! Jenner! Ezekiel! Harriet! I told you to stop that!”
The racket only increased. The apartment was tiny and crammed. Four roll-out sleeping bags laid on the floor beside a disheveled bed next to a couch used more as a storage shelf than for sitting. Violet didn’t see any children but heard them in the kitchenette whose door was closed. The woman fell heavily on the bed as if the short walk exhausted her. She offered Violet no where to sit.
“Every year it is a new student. You have questions, but you have all the wrong ones.”
Violet started to take off her coat but left it on. She pulled out a moleskin journal and opened it flipping past pages of her terrible handwriting. She knew she had lost a quarter of her notes due to her penmanship and promised herself to write steadily this time. Mrs. Dawes could give her the biggest clue to the mystery.
“I hate to bother you, Mrs. Dawes. And I understand that this is a sensitive situation for you so I want to assure you that I am not prying into your life to sell it to some rag paper or fifteen minute blurb on the radios. I am probably like you: strong-willed, keeps to my own, and wants to know the truth–“
“You are too young to be like me,” Mrs. Dawes answered flatly.
Violet cast her eyes around the room. Everything looked like it had been hastily packed up and thrown in boxes that would break long before they made it down the staircase. A photo album rested on top of some folded blankets. Mrs. Dawes watched her with cold eyes, her brow wrinkled in concentration.
“I was a child when the Isolationist movement happened. I remembered watching it on the visionset and asking my mother lots of questions. She answered many of them, but there was always one she didn’t answer. I grew up fascinated by those times and have spent hours outside of school in the stacks and reading room of various libraries reading what I could, but, as you know, there isn’t much. It happened, the government–no, we the people of the United States–let it happen and then we forgot all about it.”
During this Mrs. Dawes calmly folder her hands into her lap. Something was on the verge of her thin lips.
“I know that you are personally involved with the Isolationist or at least…”
Violet put the notebook back into her coat pocket. It felt too heavy in her hands.
“It’s always about Victor. You kids idolize the Isolationist like they were some kind of progressive movement. You’re probably wearing their logo on your teeshirt under that coat. Think it is all about being yourself when it is all about abandoning all who love you so you can be in love with yourself. The Isolationists cost people their lives, Miss–“
“Violet. Violet Henson.”
“Miss Henson. They brainwashed my boy. My eldest. He moved away and left us all behind to fend for ourselves. Left me to raise his siblings by myself with no income. Father in jail for life. And you think it is for kicks–to fight the establishment or society or whatever.”
“Mrs. Dawes, I didn’t mean to offend. I’m just trying to get answers–“
“Answers to what. They don’t want anything to do with us. That was the purpose. To leave.”
“I want to get inside.”
“Why would you want to do something stupid like that and why would you think I know how to.”
Violet clenched her hands. “Because you have been there.”
Mrs. Dawes eyes lit up in fury. She attempted to stand up but fell back on the bed with a loud squeak.
“Get out of my house!”
The noise from the kitchen emulated the mother’s wail.
“Mrs. Dawes. I have personal reasons to get involved with the Isolationists. Like you, I lost somebody. And while I am there I can look for Victor if he is–“
“If he is still what?”
Violet suddenly understood that Mrs. Dawes had not heard the latest news. She noticed there was no visionset in the apartment. She swallowed.
“If he is still alive.”
Mrs. Dawes stood about an inch taller than Violet. Her eyes were wide open.
“What do you mean by that?”
“The government keeps a watch on the city. In case, they finally change their minds and come back. A week ago,” Violet took a step backwards but Mrs. Dawes pushed forward aggressively. A wild look had come over her. “there was an accident. The city is in ruins.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The floating neighborhood’s engines failed. It crashed right into the mainland. The smoke and fire has obscured much of the view and, of course, the government won’t do anything to rescue them. FEMA is just sitting idle while people are dying. As you know, the city was built on top of a large plateau and then all the entrance elevators were disabled after everyone moved in. I need to get in to save a life. Maybe two. Will you help me Mrs. Dawes?”