Monday, April 28, 2014

Chapter 23 / Lipstick / rewrite


In which I revise Chapter 23 to make it more pertinent to the novel, and move the story along. But I keep the same title . . . 

“Nice wheels,” said Jaime, circling Annie’s new car. “What is it again?”

“A Lexus. Hop in, I’ll take you for a spin.” 

“Let’s go to Random Salad! I’ll get my wallet.”  

Jaime went back into her house, and Annie adjusted her sunroof. She loved adjusting the sunroof, and she loved this perfect May day with air so sweet you could grab handfuls of it and everything in bloom, from skunk cabbage in the swamps to apple blossoms in the orchards. Chloe jumped into the front seat and Annie returned her to the back, carefully covered by Orvis, and gave her a dog biscuit to stay there. With the luxury of a weekday off, she and Chloe had been looking for a friend to take along for the ride.

“It smells new,” said Jaime, inside the car. “I thought somebody died in this car.” 

“That was the Toyota pick-up. Father Paul has blessed Lipstick in case she had bad vibes. And she is practically new. It took three auctions, but she’s worth it.” 

“I never thought I’d see you in a four-door sedan.” 

“I could trade it in for something else, but it has a standard shift and it’s red. I never thought I’d own a red car in my life. Plus the low mileage. A little old lady drug dealer must have owned it.” 

Pues. Did they have any Subaru Legacys?”

“That might be a stretch. But if you need a pick-up, they have lots of trucks.”

Annie focused on turning onto the road for Random Salad and then said, “So, what’s the dirt?” Jaime was always good for some gossip.

Jaime shrugged. “You have a boyfriend who bought you a car.” 

“—You’re kidding! People talk about this?” Annie felt herself start to flush.

“And your car is nicer than your bosses’. 

“They can afford new ones!” 

Annie heard herself, defensive. Last week, when she had driven Lipstick to work for the first time, everyone had come out into the parking log to look at her car. They just stood up and walked out—production first, then the ad guys, and finally editorial. They admired the gleam of the finish, the sunroof, the four cup holders. It had been another fine May day, and no one had gone inside until the phone rang. Tina had looked like a thundercloud.   

“Seriously,” said Jaime, “what’s the deal? How do you feel? Are you OK with this?”

“The deal is, there is no deal. He puts his money where his mouth is. I desperately needed a car. Andrew said, leasing a car is a bad idea. I will buy you a good car, at an auction. It happened. 

“If anything feels odd, it’s that: I have a problem. He solves it. Did I tell you the latest? Andy and Carlos drove the car up. I was still at work, so they took a walk to look at the view. 

“Remember Tom, the guy with the obnoxious Labradors that always spoiled our walks? Well, the next day, Tom started installing one of those underground electric fences. I said to Andy, ‘What did you say to him?’ He was vague. He said, ‘We said “hello.”’”

“Is it like dating the Godfather?”

“I’m trying to think of what to sic him on next.” 

Jaime thought for one beat. “The town board.”

“Excellent. But to answer your question . . . no one’s ever solved my problems before, and I never expected it, and I don’t expect it now, but if someone offers . . . do I have to say no?”

“Well, if you put it that way . . . no. And if you break up, the car is still yours?”

“Everything’s in my name. Including the damned cell phone. He just pays for them. Or somebody pays for them. A law firm in New York handles his money. An accountant writes his checks, so he won’t forget. I wish someone would write my checks.” 

“And this law firm was OK with his buying a car for some woman upstate.” 

“Apparently. I think if he had wanted to buy me a red Lamborghini there would have been a meeting. And perhaps a return to residential treatment. But five thousand bucks was well within the budget.”

“Well,” said Jaime. “Pues.” 

Pues indeed. Is he buying me? He doesn’t ask anything in return. Not anything I wouldn’t give him anyway, even if I were leasing a car.” 

“You’re still not sleeping together?”

“No.” 

“Amazing,” said Jaime. “And smart,” she added quickly.

On a quiet weekday at Random Salad, Katrina, the owner, was at the cash register and Tessa, her right-hand person, was stocking shelves. They stopped what they were doing and came out to look at Annie’s car. 

“Your boyfriend bought you this?” said Tessa. “Cool!”

“Second hand,” said Annie. “At a car auction.”

“Doubly cool!”

After shopping, Annie and Jaime sat at a table on the porch with coffee and scones and Chloe. 

“He likes Chloe?” said Jaime, who was a cat person and tolerated Chloe because the dog was catlike. 

“He’s dated before, Jaime. Married once. Had a compa├▒era in Cusc├║tlan. He has some understanding of women. He sees that Chloe is part of the package.”

“So,” said Jaime, relishing the subject, “the question is, what is he getting out of this? No sex. We live in a godforsaken Republican backwater where everything closes before dark. He doesn’t garden, or even drive. I mean, you’re cute, Annie, but . . .”

“He likes to go dancing at the No-Name. Last weekend Vikki and the band let him solo on ‘I Can See Clearly Now.’

Jaime frowned slightly, perplexed. 

“Johnnie Nash. 1970s. We love that stuff. Andy set it down an octave. He has a great voice, and he looked . . .” Annie gazed past the parking lot to the field where Katrina grew some of the produce she sold . . . “happy.

“But I have two theories,” she said, looking back at Jaime. “The project theory . . . in the ’80s, Cuscutlan was his project. In the ’90s, it’s Annie. I asked him, and he said no, that wasn’t the case. But what is he going to say, ‘Yes dear, you’re my Liza Doolittle.’” 

“Maybe he’s ready to be truly altruistic. I mean, you’re not going to win him a Pulitzer. Are you?”

Annie shrugged, making her eyes big. 

“What’s the other theory?”

“The story theory . . . for Andrew, everything—almost everything—is story. He meets me, and a new story begins. So he follows it, to see what will happen. How the story will unfold.” 

“—Until he finds a new story. Annie, that’s sad.” 

“Right now, it’s interesting. And he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t like me, Jaime, it’s not all theoretical.” 

“You guys are nuts.” 

“Yup.” 

Copyright (c) 2014 Debby Mayer


Thursday, April 17, 2014

In another author's words . . .


Dear Readers, 

I almost have that next chapter ready. In the meantime, here is George Held's review of my memoir, "Riptides," published this month in Wilderness House Literary Review, an online quarterly with an annual "best of" print edition. I stand here amazed, to be discussed in the company of Camus and Goya. 

Rev. of Debby Mayer, Riptides & Solaces Unforeseen  
(Rhinebeck: Epigraph Publishing, 2013).  
Paper; 245 pp. $14.95. 
review by George Held 
Dying 
With ever more Americans caring for ailing parents, spouses, and 
partners, and even more requiring medical care at spiraling costs, 
Debby Mayer has written a book that will grip its readers by the shoulders and compel their attention from beginning to end. In Riptides & Solaces Unforeseen she tells the sobering story of the decline of her partner, Dan Zinkus, from diagnosis to death from brain cancer, from early May to late August 2002. 

This is difficult material for a writer to handle without self-pity, undue self-consciousness, or even turning maudlin, but Mayer, a novelist and journalist, is as fit for the task as Albert Camus for telling his catastrophe story The Plague. In fact, Mayer’s tautly controlled style and spare use of modifiers brings Camus to mind, and her book has all the understated tension and suspense that enhance his novel. Thus when explaining why she doesn’t “feel singled out” by misfortune, she recalls two high-school friends who died in accidents and says of their funerals, her first, “I can still see the faces of their mothers. One could keep her chin up. The other had to be helped from the church.” These three masterful sentences have no more than nine words apiece, and only “faces,” “mothers,” and “other” contain more than one syllable. These sentences have no qualifiers other 
than “the” and the personal pronouns “their” and “her”; the middle 
sentence consists of only six monosyllables. This sort of terse, measured writing allows readers to draw their own conclusions, invoke their own emotions about facing death. 

That is, Mayer tells how she faced the death of her life partner and 
gives insight into how Dan, 56, faced his own death, when he was clear- headed enough to do so in the course of his debilitating illness and the battery of medications he took to allay its symptoms. Once a physically fit, good-humored, exacting man, he fights the good fight against an inexorable killer, and Mayer touchingly but unflinchingly shows him deteriorating, “his symptoms get[ting] worse every day.” Facing surgery, he must 
struggle to sign the consent form: “Dan takes the pen, stares at the paper another couple of minutes, and then begins to sign his name. This takes an additional minute as his traditionally tight dollop of a signature wanders, wavering, across the entire sheet of paper.” The strain in performing this normally simple act signals decline but completing it  also represents a small victory, maybe one of the “unforeseen solaces” of the book’s title. 

But all victories in the battle against terminal cancer are pyrrhic, and however resourceful Mayer proves in getting Dan the best treatment available in the Hudson River Valley, where they live, she can never be sure that it is the best treatment, and she offers a number of vignettes of medical incompetence that might have goaded Goya into illustrating them in  a series of ironic drawings. In the race between caregiver and death, there is only one winner, Mayer learns, and she teaches us how she ran the race even though, she tells a concerned friend after Dan dies, “‘I’ve been alone 
since May 30 [when he was hospitalized], it’ll be the same, only different.’” As a close friend puts it, “the transition’s been going on all summer.” 

In fact, Riptides is a narrative about and a meditation on dying, that which everyone, sooner or later, experiences oneself or in the loss, sudden or slow, of a dear one. In Mayer’s case, she loses the love of her life in four months. Fast or slow?—you be the judge. Mayer will let you be. She takes 245 pages to tell her tale of loss. Too short or too long?—you be the judge. 

I’d say it’s just right: short enough to avoid melodrama or obscurity, long enough to flesh out Dan’s and her stories to most readers’ satisfaction. “Satisfaction” might be a strange word to use in this case, but because Mayer is an artist and has written personal nonfiction that reads like a novel, she leaves readers with that elusive sense of catharsis only art can provide.
Copyright (c) 2014 George Held