JULY 26, 1967
The country club was breathtaking in its decorum. The lights were low and lazy, and tissue paper made into large bows hung from the lamps above each table. A table was set at one end of the room, and a skinny bald man was behind it, spinning records and talking into the microphone.
I have to stop here to remind those of you reading this that in my youth I had no idea these sentences were considered “passive.” The country club was… The lights were… A table was… a skinny, bald man was… It’s also about as “telling” as you can get. Let’s fix this: Large tissue paper bows hung from low, lazy lights. At the end of the room, a skinny, bald man spun records and spoke into the microphone. (Now, I just need to alter my blah descriptions and create an interesting image.)
“Here’s one we all remember from Glenn Miller!” he called out enthusiastically.
We sat down at one of the tables (Susan insisted we take one with a light pink tissue tablecloth), and looked around.
Almost the whole town was there, decorated in brilliant colors, making the small room look like the inside of a rainbow. I felt dizzy just watching everyone up on the dance floor, the colors mesmerized me so.
“Listen,” Susan said to us in a tight whisper, “I have this really weird feeling that someone’s going to spike the non-alcoholic punch again this year, and I don’t want to have happened what happened…remember?…before.”
“No, I don’t remember…what happened?” Bobby asked Susan, his face close to hers.
“Someone at this table got really, really sick.” I told him.
“Oh yeah?” Bobby asked. “Who?”
Susan looked at him intensely.
“You?” he asked, then started laughing. “I think I remember that! That was when I was going out with Lisa…and she started to really put you down bad…” He stopped laughing, “I mean, she felt really bad for you…oh yeah, we all did.”
Susan glared at him.
“I mean…we all felt awful…” he continued.
“Not as awful as i did, I can bet. Oh goody! They’re playing The Twist. I’ll forget you ever said anything mean and spiteful if you join me, Bobby!”
“Okay!” He looked relieved, “We’ll be back.”
I’m not sure what I was trying to capture in that scene. It seems like a lot of unnecessary chatter. Everything mentioned in a scene needs a purpose, or why put it in the story? The spiked punch is pretty lame, too. C’mon, little miss author, you can do better than that. Let’s add to the tension and drama. Create conflict and draw out the characters’ personalities. Move the story forward with some creepy foreshadowing.
They left, and I glanced around the room, then I took a peek out the window. I could tell a storm was brewing, and it frightened me a little. Once, during my childhood, we had an exceptionally severe storm. The glass from my bedroom window burst in, and glass flew everywhere.
There are still little scars on my arms and legs from that day. I was wise enough to have hid my head in between my knees, so my face was spared. Even though the scars have faded immensely, I still see them as painful reminders of that awful day.
This time the sky had darkened so that the mood seemed to refuse to shine, and although the storm probably wouldn’t pick up for another day, I was nervous.
I was also feeling a little nervous about Jake. I wanted him to hurry up and get here. I wondered what might have happened to Neil. His car broke down? A fight with Leslie? Or…I didn’t want to think about the third possibility. Not that I feared Neil had been hurt. It was just that Neil isn’t exactly all-together there, and sometimes he can do really stupid things.
I thought about the shadow. Pure imagination, right? It was all an illusion of my mind. I had thought that it may have been Neil, in fact. Neil likes to hunt, even animals that are out of season…like deer. I know someday he’ll get in trouble. But then again, nobody is completely innocent.
We are all hunters. And some of us are the hunted.
Here, once again, I end the scene with a hint…but I still haven’t moved the story ahead from the last time I tried to use a “creepy sign of what’s to come.” I’m taking too long to get to the story. Heck, I still don’t know what this story is about yet. And by now I should have a fair idea. This scene needs some major love from its creative manager. I still don’t know what I had in mind when I first wrote the story, but I have a fair idea of where I want to go with this, so I’m sticking with my gut right now.
The party committee had transformed the country club into a Hawaiian Luau. One side of the room contained a buffet with fruit, seafood, and a neon pink punch. Life-size cardboard stand-ups of a woman in a coconut shell bra and a grass skirt and a man in swim trunks adorned the wall on the other side of the room. The faces had been cut out so that people could poke their head through for photographs.
Gorgeous tissue paper flowers fanned the walls and tables. A gray-haired guy in a suit jacket and jeans crooned into a microphone while a band of old fogies played behind him.
“Groovy,” Bobby said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Oh, c’mon,” said Susan. “I think it’s kinda cute.”
“They’re playing Glenn Miller. I don’t wanna waltz or whatever. I wanna twist and shout.”
I glanced around the room at the guests. Everyone was overripe. The youngest people besides us were the town clerk and her husband. And my mom had graduated high school with them.
“Let’s blow,” Bobby said. “I can think of twenty other places where Geritol isn’t the drug of choice.”
“Not yet. Jake isn’t here.” Leaving without him wasn’t an option. He’d be livid if he found out I split.
“Okay, you stick around and wait for your man to show, me and Susie-Q here are gonna find some other haunt.” He grabbed Susan around the waist and pulled her up over his shoulder. “See you later, alligator.”
Susan pounded on his back, laughing. “We have to stick around, Bobby. We can’t leave Nora by herself. Besides, I wanna dance to at least one good song.”
He dropped her gently back on her feet. “Sounds like there’ll be no dancing tonight, then.”
As if on cue, the band played a rendition of Chubby Checker’s The Twist. Susan grabbed Bobby by the hand and dragged him to the dance floor. Bobby mouthed, “Save me,” and I laughed.
As I people-watched for a bit, my eyes drifted to the front doors. Jake would never stand me up, but he’d also never consider how foolish I’d feel coming here without a date. I always put on a good front. No, I’ll be fine, you go have fun. When really my heart was fragile as a toothpick.
I thought about the person in my backyard and wondered what they’d been doing out there. I should’ve gone out and checked. Or sent Bobby to look. But I’d been scared. Scared to cause attention to myself, or scared to know?
I slipped over to the doors and peered out through their windows. The wind had picked up. It howled against the building. Leaves hustled down the street, empty soda cans and discarded cigarette butts chased behind them.
We’d have another storm soon. Tonight, perhaps. And Jake would take in my goosebumps, my chattering teeth. “Scared of a brisk breeze?” he’d ask. “Poor, poor, ‘fraidy cat Nora.” And he would make everyone else grin and laugh, disguise it all as loving teasing. A long time ago, I might’ve thought his banter was meant to be endearing. But now I knew it was a small prick in my skin. Prick, prick, prick. Enough to hurt, but not enough to make me bleed. Enough for everyone to say, “You’re so lucky to have a guy like Jake who loves you so much.” But not enough for me to agree.