I love my writers’ group. The camaraderie, the talent, the way having a weekly date keeps me exercising a part of my brain I don’t always get to use. Even if I never write that novel or collection of short stories, the act of breathing life into characters, crafting words into stories, brings comfort to me. I can still do this. Not always well, granted. Sometimes the exercises result in mechanical results, sometimes a glimpse of inspiration wanders in. But writing is always better than not writing. Tonight’s exercise did not bring me new ideas. Nonetheless, writing, focusing, creating, reading, to be lost in words for a time – all that inspires, regardless of the outcome.
The assignment was a combination of the theme, “Church for sale,” and using 14 random words within a story. What I wrote feels contrived and cliché, but then again, it almost always does so let me rephrase: it feels like an exploration of what I really want to write, a first draft maybe, or a summary of what might be interesting in more talented hands. The proverbial shitty first draft. So here goes.
Callie arrived late, just slightly. He’d already taken up a table, plugged in his laptop and his phone, both drained, no doubt, by the constant texts, Facebook notifications, Twitter updates, calls. She waved, ordered a soy latte, shoved a hand through her disheveled hair, tangled from the wind. Outside the café, hollyhocks battered the window, pink flowers bruising with each smack.
“Hi,” she chirped at him.
Don’t chirp, she scolded herself.
And don’t ask him about the other women.
And don’t drop that line about how finding out has soured your once-sweet memories.
Definitely don’t think about how he’s played you.
Or cave into the self-loathing that being played has triggered.
Steel yourself against those fathomless brown eyes.
Do not recall how he used to look at you after, your head on his arm, your hand stroking his chest, his hair, his cheek, all defenses dropped.
Do remember those were not exceptional moments for him.
Don’t, don’t, don’t be hateful.
Because you have to work together.
“Do you want anything?” she asked as she sat down. He’d ordered nothing, just sprawled out, plugged in. He shrugged and reached for her latte.
“Not really,” he said. He took a sip, set it down, pinned her with his gaze. “Look at this.” He turned the laptop toward her so she could see the unique visitors number rising.
“Great,” she enthused. The top post was one that Laurel had written. “I need water,” Callie said. She bolted up, stepped to the condiment table, poured water from a pitcher, lemon and ice tumbling into her glass. Deep drink. Deep breath.
“Great,” she repeated as she sat back down. “So,” she said. “So.” He looked at her. She glanced at her latte. “So did you and Laurel have a thing?” she heard herself ask, sure of the answer already, mentally adding another notch to the tally.
He shifted his gaze to her. “What?” he asked.
Callie knew this trick.
Steadying breath. She had a right to ask.
“Did you and Laurel have a thing?” she asked again.
His mouth opened. “Did Laurel and I have a thing?”
He looked at his computer screen, shook his head, turned back to her. “There was a dalliance,” he shrugged.
Her stomach pitched. But she managed a grin. “So, the site’s doing well?”
He shook his head. “Callie,” he began. Then stopped.
Callie arched her eyebrows. “Yes?”
He shook his head again. “Nothing.”
Exactly, she thought. Nothing.
Later, driving home, she saw a For Sale sign and turned in the direction of the arrow. Maybe she’d buy a house, she thought. Maybe she’d start a new relationship with some real estate. At least if it depreciated in value, Callie thought, it would be strictly financial, not emotional. Another sign, another turn and there it was, not a house, but a church. A small one, roughly the size of a two-bedroom, with a “For Sale” sign swinging in the wind.
She pulled her Sentra against the curb, dug in her purse for gum. Peppermint exploded in her mouth, stifling the leftover coffee breath. She strode to the church door, hands in pockets, stood on the porch – was “porch” the right word? Callie thought. It’s a chuch, does it have churchy names for pedestrian places? – and after a few moments admiring the metal work and stained glass, pulled a hand from her pocket and knocked.
She knocked again.
The wind picked up. A piece of hair caught in her mouth, stuck to the gum she was still chewing.
Jesus, Callie thought, pulling the gum from her mouth and the hair from the gum.
It was at this moment the door swung open.
“Hello,” a bespectacled bald man said. He wore a dark robe and white collar. Callie stuttered, “Hello,” gum still in hand. Memories of Catholic school flooded her.
“Are you open?” she asked.
He wrinkled his face at her. “Open?”
The wind brought honeysuckle between them.
“Come in,” he said, holding the door wide.
Later, of course, she’d realize it was a dream. But at the time, the comfort of confession seemed so real. At last, someone to tell the whole sordid story to. A clear punishment, a series of Our Fathers and Hail Marys, then absolution. It was only when she woke, the scent of honeysuckles coming in through her own open window that Callie remembered the guilt, the regret, was something she still had to live with.
Absolution was not yet forthcoming.