I have been in a prosy state of mind over the last week. Re-reading my novel. (Which, by the way, gets worse every time I read it. It's like there are little elves that skitter and twitter and make my manuscript sucky when I'm not looking. I really wish they would just help me with my cobbling.) Then I got a story accepted for publication which gave me a glimmer of hope, fiction-wise; so I've been skittering and twittering and attempting to make other short-stories less sucky. Add my quotidian, prosaic lifestyle to the mix and you've got a prosy state of mind.
That said, here's another fiction excerpt from a story called "Wet Cement." There are two narrative tracks that interweave as the story progresses. Both follow Nathan--as an adult in the past tense and as a child in present tense. The excerpt is an example of the latter. I should also mention that in the present tense, the narrator is given a juvenile voice. It is less evident here than elsewhere. But still, you should know it's intentional; otherwise, you might think me a tad silly. (Or more silly as the case may very well be.)
Simon is Nathan's older brother. Murphy is Simon's oafish friend. Dottie is Simon's girlfriend. The foursome have gathered at a forbidden rope-swing as naughty children will and, in an ill-advised grasp at glory, Nathan finds himself in a spot of bother.
Nathan is hanging from the rope like a horse thief. An idiot horse thief who had been trying to impress Simon’s girlfriend with a circus feat. Only he had underestimated, truth is, everything. He didn’t stop for one second to think what a knuckleheaded thing to even think about. Never mind shoving off the bank and actually doing it.
Murphy is laughing like all get out. Dottie, at least, is telling him to shut up. Someone help him. He’s dying.
Dying? Nathan is dying. What a thought for him. What a pitiful life flashes in front of his eyes. Not even all of it. Just that first time they actually caught Big Bertha and didn’t know how to unhook a catfish, only that there was a special way. That’s what he sees as he hangs, swinging, gasping—him and Simon toting the croaking fish that flopped like mad all the way home for Father to unhook. Nathan is vaguely aware of efforts to rescue him, shouts, wild and fearful. He’s on the verge of something pale, something altogether peaceful. He smiles, drooling, at the image of Father’s disembodied head looking over the back of the sofa at he and Simon and the dripping, croaking, flopping fish. Father looks happy to see them and not like they are going to get whipped for bringing a fish in the house. Mother’s head pops up beside Father’s, to see what there is too see. They’re grinning like kids. Like naughty kids.
Nathan is brought back to panic with a huge, long gasp. Simon yells, “You gotta reach, Natty. You’ll die if you don’t.” On tip-toes and not so steady, Simon stretches a branch towards Nathan’s hands.
Nathan reaches and barely grips the branch. Simon pulls him back to the bank of the gully. He has saved Nathan’s life. For happening so quick, it sure took forever.
“Your face is purple, moron,” Simon says.
This hurts about worse than choking. Being right about to hug his brother out of trembling gratitude and then stiff-armed with a “moron” to the face. He shrugs like no biggie but it is a biggie. It’s a hugie. He had almost died. He is full of love and boiling with hatred. So confusing, still dizzy. He will not cry. He will not cry. Dottie asks him if he is all right and he busts like a dam.
Murphy opens his fat mouth, no doubt to be a giant jerk-wad, some wise crack about the swing or the tears or both. But Simon stops him.
“Just shut up about it, Murph. How’d you like me to send you to the gallows.”
“Like to see you try.”
“Like to see you stop me.” And Simon chases Murphy down the tracks toward Sycamore Street. Nathan is left with Snotty Dottie who’s not so snotty now that she has so recently begged for his rescue.
The two older boys continue on, punching each other in the arm. When they reach the road, they turn left down the Sled Hill.
“They’re going to Finnegan’s Hollow, I bet.” Dottie’s voice surprises Nathan. He had been hoping they could just walk, no talking.
“Sure,” he says, meaning who knows what.
“Were you scared? I mean when you were up there, back there?”
Nathan feels his lip doing that lip thing when you are about to cry after you had already been crying enough. He manages, “Nah.” Like he’s some big tough guy. Like she was not a first-hand witness to the whole blubbery freak-show.
“I was scared,” Dottie says. Her voice is like his mom’s, like Mary’s, he imagines. It coats his insides like Pepto in those commercials. He knows his face is on fire and just looks ahead. His lip has stopped that thing and now he can’t grit the goofy grin out of his cheeks. She says, “Hey Nathan,” not Natty but Nathan, and he stops and turns smack into her puckered lips. They are silky wet like milk and her gloss tastes strawberry. Strawberry milk. Oh boy. Oh boy. Oh man.