Six and a half years after I started this project, the feeling of having a virtually complete manuscript (even if only in Microsoft Word format) is like an albatross, a millstone, whatever metaphor you prefer, falling from around my neck. All the weeks and months on end of writer’s block, that must add up collectively to years, have been overcome and will soon (hopefully) be forgotten. So here’s another excerpt just for the hell of it…
Marcus knew, intuitively, when his conversations with Jamie had hit upon touchy subjects. It happened on an early-October Saturday, the East Bay’s version of Indian summer, the two of them freely mixing whiskey and sour mix but trying to drink slow. Erica was gone running some errand, cutting out of their discussion as she often did. Jamie and Marcus sat close, but slouched in nearly opposite directions, Jamie as usual reclining more than Marcus. Marcus had always found the balcony of Jamie and Erica’s apartment a little too grand, almost a showoff piece, the iron railing ornate to the point of bombastic. Jamie agreed.
Now Marcus described a party he’d been invited to through a connection of his brother’s, a bad-dream scenario set in an overpriced exurban bar.
“Where was this?”
“Out near Tracy. Really some time warp kind of shit. Dudes with mullets, interchangeable blondes. Felt like I was in some Eighties glam metal video. And not in a good way.”
“Well hey,” Jamie said, “they’re simple folk with simple tastes. Can’t condemn them for that.”
“I mean, these women all looked exactly alike, practically. It was creepy.”
“That’s when you ask yourself, What becomes of small-town girls? and you get the faraway look in your eyes. Right?”
“What does become of them?”
Jamie appeared unconcerned. “Well, I guess the ones with rich dads go to art school. And the ones with poor dads or no dads do porn.”
“Like the wheat from the chaff, right? But which is which?”
“Never thought you were such a philosopher.”
Jamie knew he was impassive as ever, a wall Marcus couldn’t scale. And he preferred it that way. It wasn’t a lack of feeling for others, let alone for the man he’d loved, in his way, more than any woman, that drove him to be like this; what lay underneath was a kind of fatigue, a part of him rubbed so raw that he had to soothe and protect it at all times.
Not as if his early life had prepared him for this either. From the start he’d been surrounded on both sides by his father, a constant secure figure if slightly remote, and mother, who’d loved him almost too much as a small boy, then backed off. Their concern for him he took as nothing special, simply expected. To him, the circumstances of his upbringing were like water to a fish, he knew no different. Eighteen years of his life he’d lived in a single house, built on top of a high ridge near the end of town, something like a castle by the standards of where they lived. His father, for reasons never quite articulated, had chosen to practice law in one of the remotest parts of California, two and a half hours northeast of Redding, mainly representing various bedraggled characters. Meth cookers and other unfit parents. Jamie had never thought of his father – usually affable, sometimes ill-tempered and sullen – as a humanitarian, and yet in his career the father seemed quite often to embody that role. Jamie supposed this was a classic matter of the more you had, the more giving you could be.
Erica, in her own way at least, could understand some of this. Her hometown may have been the near opposite of his, outsiders joked about Marin County for a reason, but she also knew the false generosity (was it false?) of people with just a little more than they needed. And she knew exactly what she was, a twenty-four-year-old white girl from a nice safe homogenous town. More than anyone Jamie had met she seemed resigned to her place in the world, even comfortable with it. And he’d made his best attempts to follow along.