Sunday, February 24, 2008

The DC-"Beyond The Seven Seas" Chapter One:

Here's the first bit of the story. Posting it hosed my formatting. I'll get it straightened out. Enjoy. Sections have been added and deleted so please, if anyone wants to see more or less, just holler and I'll oblige. (c:


Chapter One:

The garage-style apartment walls were shaking. The afternoon sun shone through the streaked windows and the green broadcloth curtains dyed the chipped egg-shell white walls the color of old pea soup. There was an overstuffed blue chair in the corner laden with mismatched pillows. Two suitcases stacked on top of each other stood in place of a side table, their warped tops held books bent back on their spines and a forgotten cup of coffee. A floor length mirror stood propped against the far wall and what should have been a coffee table was instead an old door supported by pillars of packing crates from the local grocery store. Sheets of yellow notebook paper, scribbled, rewritten and crumpled beyond recognition tangled together with random pieces of clothing on the slat wood floor and a pale blue clock ticked faithfully on the wall. It wobbled precariously on its nail and as the pounding on the door became more and more incessant the clock finally abandoned its post and toppled to the floor with a crash. The figure buried beneath the dingy denim and patchwork bedspread began to stir. The mattress springs protested as first one white leg and then another surfaced and began to work their way to the cold floor.

“Jesus! I’m coming, I’m coming!” The girl stood up, dragging half the bed sheets with her, straightened her t-shirt and boxer shorts and plodded her way to the door. She wrenched it open and gave a glazed look to the man standing on the other side.

“Rent’s due.” He said.

“What? No good morning Jack?” She said as she yawned widely and ran a hand haphazardly through her waist length dyed black hair. It did nothing to soften the effect.

“Jesus Ilse, its three o’clock in the afternoon and you’re a week late with the rent. Again.” The thick British accent only amplified his disdain.

“Come in.” She said as she picked her way over to the small, round kitchen table stuck in the corner of the room. She gathered all the papers together laying on the tabletop, pushed them into a manila envelope and moved the guitar from the chair to the floor.

“Sit. Want a coffee?” She began filling her electric teapot and rinsed out two blue fiesta ware cups. Jack eyed her with a twist to his thin mouth and sat down. While the water boiled she ducked into the small bathroom, pulled the curtain dividing the bathroom from the kitchen shut and peed loudly.

“You know, a bathroom door would be nice.” She said as she came back into the kitchen. Two spoonfuls of instant coffee went into the cups followed by equal parts of milk and hot water. She sat down opposite her landlord and rummaged around in the front pocket of the brown messenger bag that was propped against the table leg. She pulled out a wad of assorted bills kept together with a hair tie and thumbed through it, counting under her breath. The rest she pulled from a small locked box sitting on the windowsill. Jack took a sip of his coffee and watched her with a look of bewildered disparagement.

“Here. Should be right. And make sure my lights stay on this time.” Jack took the money and gave it a cursory recount.
“Fine. And I’ll get your door put on this week.”

“Funny, you said that last month.”

“I’ll get it done. You just try and keep the noise levels down. Any more rubbish like last night and you’ll be finding yourself a new place to squat.”

“Sorry about that. You know how we get after a good night playing the pitch.”

Jack gave her a sharp look over the top of his cup and finished his coffee. He stood up and adjusted his khaki pants over his middle aged paunch, straightened his glasses and made for the door. Ilse took the cups to the sink and added them to the dishes that still held last nights leftover Chinese.

“See you next month” She said as he closed the door behind him. Jackass, she thought to herself. Jack had been her landlord for almost three years now and she still couldn’t think of a nice thing to say about him. The place had been left to him by his father, along with all the property’s dirty laundry. Jack had taken his charge with gusto and began what he called “renovations” on the old place. He effectively cut most of the larger rooms into several smaller rooms and jacked up the rent for each. The building did receive a new coat of paint when he first got the place but it was beginning to show its age.

The walls in the entry way were plastered with old newspaper clippings and magazine articles highlighting its tumultuous past. The place was a relic of the Second World War as so much was in Willesden Green. The old factory building once used to supply goods to the armed forces soon became a thoroughfare for vagabonds and wanderers. Scars from bomb damage could still be seen if you looked closely enough but Jack had managed to breathe a meager amount of life back into the old structure. The interior wasn’t what you could call welcoming but it was home enough. There was a small table that held the day’s mail and a withered plant in sore need of watering. The three main windows were dressed with sheer, chintzy fabric that let some of the natural light spill onto the dusty steps and railings that led to the upstairs. A small desk and poorly stuffed rust colored chair sat towards the back of the room, usually occupied by Jack and his daily paper

The building was three stories tall and had apartments occupying the majority of the floors. The upstairs was kept as an attic but Ilse had known Jack to rent it out to an especially desperate traveler or two. Her apartment was on the second floor at the top of the very narrow and crooked staircase. The walls were thin but they managed. Her next door neighbor was hardly ever around anyway. He’d stopped by twice that she could remember, once to introduce himself and once to see if he could borrow a screwdriver. She had lent him one though why he didn’t just go buy one down the street remained a mystery. He was the typical young professional that had begun migrating towards Willesden Green, lured there by the promise of cheap rent and a boom in the job market. She herself had landed here by force of accident and lack of options. There weren’t many places she could find that would have rented an apartment to a seventeen year old girl with no real financial backing. She had gotten lucky. The times weren’t great and Jack needed tenants. She’d shown up desperate and homeless and he had agreed. His rates were well more than she wanted to pay but it gave her a place to live and write music with a considerably lower likeliness of being mugged than some of the other boroughs she had considered.

The apartment was narrower than it was wide and three steps across took her to the stack of moving crates that doubled as her wardrobe and she pulled on a pair of jeans and a black tank top. She struggled with the tangles in her hair and threw it into a messy ponytail. Her teeth were brushed in the living room while rummaging for a clean pair of socks and she began adding the usual assortment of jewelry. Most of it was junk that she had found at estate and rummage sales; a silver and blue cocktail style ring, a choker the lady had sworn was authentic something or other --Ilse figured it was a euphemism for a piece of jewelry that had lived in the woman’s attic for too long--but she like the blue and green stones and the out of place conch shells gave it a sense of character. Her favorite piece, however, was the cluttered charm bracelet with ridiculous shoe, tennis racket, Eiffel Tower, toy soldier and religious crosses dangling from its thick and tarnished chain. She picked a few more pieces out of the Ziplock-baggie-turned-jewelry-box and finished her notion of style off with a pair of long silver earrings, a tangle of vintage bead necklaces and her newsboy hat. Her boots were discovered under the keyboard lying in the middle of the room and she grabbed her red corduroy thrift store jacket from the back of the door.

The messenger bag went over her head and across her body and she bent down to pick up the clock. It ticked coarsely as she pounded it back up onto the wall with the heel of her hand. The clock had come with the apartment and it was one of the few things in the place that actually worked. She liked to think of it as a silent greeting from the past tenant to the next--a small way to let whomever know that they were the not the only ones to have found themselves in the company of Jack and his haphazard property. Her lights had a terrible habit of shutting off, regardless of whether or not she paid the bill and the pipes in the building had been so built upon and rerouted that getting consistent hot water was three parts surprise and one part expectation.

She smoothed a wrinkled receipt with scrawled writing that was tacked to the back of the door absently with her hand. She had two hours before she should be making her way back to the pitch for tonight’s Oxford Circus Tube performance—perhaps she could be bothered to talk to this chap about a steady gig. He owned a small restaurant/bar and had come up to her two weeks ago while she had been playing and had introduced himself. He said he was interested in finding a live act and told her to come around if she was available. She didn’t know if she was or not. Her relationship with running all over soggy London for another potential that would never go anywhere had long ago lost its passion. Maybe she would just wait for her record deal.

She yanked the receipt off the door impulsively, tearing the corner and shoved it into her pocket. She would see how she felt about the whole thing after a proper lunch. The instant coffee had started to roll around in her empty and hung over stomach and the fog that comes after a hearty night of debauchery had begun to seep into her brain.

She opened the door with a strong yank--the hinges always stuck when the weather waffled between humid and dry—and headed out into the musty hallway. The neighbor’s cat was out wandering the hall and it looked up at her with a bored expression. “I know.” she said with a small laugh. The cat gave a disjointed swish of his (her? She had never asked) tail and slinked behind the radiator. It was a funny gray and white thing, gangly with a ragged tail and a sweet, albeit disenchanted, disposition. Ilse pulled the door shut behind her and locked it. Her bracelets jangled together loudly as she stuffed the key into her pocket. She took the steps two at a time giving the old stairs something to whine about. Jack straightened his paper with a strict thwack which Ilse took to mean he did not approve but she was out the door before he could offer any further protest.

The weather was uncharacteristically pleasant, especially for April, and she prayed that it would hold. The tips were better when it wasn’t raining. She set off towards the Tube station, walking past St. Andrew’s Church. It was the prettiest building in the Green and the bell that rang out the hour offered a nice enough soundtrack. There were rumors that it was haunted by some ghost or another but Ilse thought it was all a load of codswallop.

The old men at the The Spotted Dog, the local public house where she had spent most of her time when she first arrived would talk of the history before the war, when Willesden Green was used for “baby farming” as they called it. All of London’s unwanted infants would be sent here to be nursed and the stories the men told talked of motherless children long forgotten crying on the hour of midnight for family that would never claim them. The tales would become more elaborate and depressing the more lager they drank—Ilse remembered wondering wryly why every ghost chose Midnight to do their wailing. Why not a more proper hour when people weren’t asleep or sloshed—tiring as the tales became she endured because she didn’t know where else to go and she was too afraid and too broke to find happier company. The regular customers were nice enough and the bartender had let her bring her guitar in a few nights a week. She never made any real money but the bartender would give her all the strong English black tea she could handle and on the nights she stuck around until the kitchen closed there was usually a plate of the day’s leftovers.

She made her way along High Street and nodded to a few of the store owners who were out on their front stoops waiting for the arrant customer to come walking by. High Street wasn’t going to be the same now that The Spotted Dog had closed but it would definitely help her keep some quid in her pocket seeing that temptation was being replaced by flats. The sun was shining meekly through the clouds as she arrived at the Tube station. She had five or so minutes to kill before the train showed up and her head and stomach had begun to sorely remind her that lunch was another half hour away. She could go somewhere closer than Covent Garden for lunch but she was craving the calming vibes of her favorite cafĂ© and that alone was worth the Tube trip to soothe her aching purse after having to pay rent this morning. She sat down and waited for the train to come and pulled her jacket a little tighter around her neck. She had been working too much lately. No one should feel this dilapidated after a night of partying.

She clearly remembered getting to Canary Wharf and waltzing up to the bulky thirty-something leaning against one of the support columns. He was a head and a half taller than she was but she’d punched him in the arm heartily all the same.

“Bugger all!” He’d fumbled the small bag of strong tobacco balancing in the palm of his hand and the rolling paper floated to the dirty ground.

“Oy. Don’t be a git. It’s just me”

“That shyte is expensive I’ll have you know and I had rather ‘oped to smoke it. Not throw it on the damn floor.” He pulled a second rolling paper from his pack and pinched a line of tobacco inside.

“Sorry. How was your night?”

“A’right. Faired pretty well. You just finish then too? Wilson’s o’er there somewhere.” He gestured vaguely behind him as his half-cockney accent drawled around the newly rolled cigarette pinched between his lips. He lit up and the pungent scent of tobacco burned the insides of her nose.

“Yeah, I’m through for tonight. Had a decent run myself. Figured you’d want to walk me home or something” She grinned while he took a long drag on his cigarette.

“Home? It’s Friday night, are you daft? I say we grab a pint.” Ilse waved the smoke out of her face and gave a hearty laugh.

“Now there’s some fateful last words if I ever heard them. Sure, a pint it is.” She shifted the weight of her equipment on her shoulders.

“But I’m droppin’ this pile off first. Not interested in being a pack mule this evening”

“Sounds good to me! Whatever you’re planning…” A distinctly not-British voice cut through the low hum of the station.

“Ay, well if it isn’t my favo’ite septic in London!”

“Hello Wilson. You’re grabbing a pint with us then?” Ilse asked, turning to the tall and ruddy faced boy who had joined them.

“Oh sure. I could go for that. And would you please stop calling me that stupid name, James. Really.” Wilson rolled his hazel eyes and clucked his tongue.

“Well, quit actin’ like such a damn yank and I might” James replied a grin playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Look, I’ll meet you two blokes down at the local in about half an hour or so.” Ilse tipped her hat and scurried onto the train that was just getting ready to leave.

She’d met the boys at their favorite haunt and the night had begun. There were many pints ordered, rounds of them in fact and before she knew it the night had begun to fade into a neon colored smoke filled haze. She didn’t remember getting home. In fact, she was rather surprised to find herself back in her own bed, in proper sleeping clothes when Jack had awoken her that afternoon.

She blinked hard as the rush of air hit her eyes from the arriving train and gingerly stood up. She darted ahead of the other Stratford bound riders and boarded. She chose a seat by the window and pressed her cheek against the cool glass pane. It was dirty and littered with graffiti but it was a welcome relief from the burning flush in her face. Her head had started to swim and she took a deep breath of the passenger-scented air. At first, it had been overwhelming--the smell of people--but she now associated it with what she thought home would smell like. The train lurched to a start and Ilse slid her eyes into the back of her head for a few moments. The soft whisk-whisk-whisk of the train racing past its underground columns lulled her brain into a gentle hum and she slipped in and out of a trance of memories punctuated by the metallic voice calling out the stops.
***

The orange and black remote controlled car zipped from room to room. It skidded around corners, crashed into chairs and walls and was chased by the high pitched laughter of a little girl in house shoes and a scroungy pink nightgown. Her hair was piled on her head haphazardly and she slipped and thudded down the stairs on a precarious tilt as the race car whirred a few steps ahead of her.

“Ilse!” A husky voice echoed from the living room. The girl stopped dead in her tracks and the race car slowed to a pathetic halt. The room hung silent and a cloud of smoke wafted into the room followed by a dumpy looking woman with the same haphazardly piled hair. Her eyes found the little girl posed mid step. Toes turned slightly inwards, heels slipping off the backs of the over large slippers.

“Time for your piano lessons. Get dressed.” The voice was tired and bored. Her mother had ceased taking any real interest in her and had let what she called “practical life lessons in art and culture” in an attempt to “at least give the girl some options” out of force of habit. Ilse glanced at her mother and at the race car and back at her mother, who wasn’t looking at her. Her hands dropped to her sides, the remote clattered to the ground and she turned and slumped silently back up the stairs to her room. She dressed quickly, yanked on her hair this way and that with the bedraggled brush and went downstairs to the main room in the house, awaiting her doom.

The house smelled of dusty furnace and the walls were rusted as the milky February sun streamed against the tightly drawn curtains. The piano teacher arrived and Ilse followed him obediently into the family room and proceeded to sit down at the family’s heirloom piano. The bench was hard and warped from too many well-endowed bottoms sitting at it for hours, beating out tired and stale music lessons. Ilse shifted her weight and opened her lesson book. Mr. Watkins, who smelled of hair oil and heavy washing powder, sat down too closely next to her. The heat of his massive body pressed against her skin and she had an unbearable urge to run. Instead she slid over slightly on the seat and placed her small fingers with chipped blue nailpolish on the jaundiced keys. Mr. Watkins struck down hard and received a pained D for his effort . Ilse jumped and banged her knees on the underside of the piano. The ornate crystal vase from an earlier time lost its footing on the narrow top of the piano and fell. It shattered and the wilted rose and daisy petals relieved themselves of their charge. They stood out against the hard wooden floor and Ilse leapt from the bench to the floor to sweep them away. Mr. Watkins ungracefully joined her. She could hear his knees creaking as he rested on his haunches, his hand grazing over the top of hers a little too easily, resting on her shoulder as he hoisted himself up onto the bench.

“Shall we begin? Chords in the minor scale today.” His voice was high and flat. Brittle. She thought it strange that a person who taught music should be so unpleasant to listen to. Perhaps that is why he taught. A way to supplement what he lacked. She scrunched her toes inside her itchy woolen socks so hard that her feet cramped. The lesson droned on and she numbly followed along. Anything to keep his attention focused on what he was doing. Her feet were clammy and cold inside her socks and she ran her toes along the brass foot pedals absently, pushing down on them as best she could when he asked. She was still just almost too short to reach them comfortably. Mr. Watkins would look at her from the corner of his watery eyes, using whatever pitiful excuse arose to correct the position of her fingers, the bend of her wrist, the angle of her elbows. He made her flesh crawl and she curled her toes again, focusing on the discomfort of the rough fibers, the tension in the middle part of her foot. The reverberations from the old wooden piano made her bones ache. She hated music.

***


6 comments:

Lisa said...

Bravo! This is a very nice start. You have a real knack for description. I like that we've ended with the little girl who decided she hated music, even though we began with her living in London and making a living -- sort of -- at it. I'll be anxious to see where this goes. Great job!

Riss said...

Perhaps a bit too much? I was torn between putting literally the first draft up so I could get more objective feedback on everything and doing some harsh editing. I know there are a few things that I can just cut to the chase with. Anyway, I'm going to leave it alone for now and document all of the comments i get and about halfway through go back and tweak I think. That's what I'm telling myself anyway. Thanks for reading (c:

steve said...

Riss,

Maybe a little too much detailed description, but it's a good start. I thought the standoff between Ilse and Jack was the strongest part. I agree with Lisa that the flashback to childhood at the end of the chapter is a good touch.

Lisa is the one who got me into the Challenge. Tim Hallinan's idea was to try to write a chapter a week, without going back and revising. Of course, if any of us should be lucky or talented enough to get published, we'll be doing a lot of revising.

Welcome to the Dickens Challenge. I'll be looking forward to reading your next chapter.

P.S. I noticed your blog photo was taken in Budapest. One of my favorite fellow bloggers is from Hungary: Szelsofa. She's on my blogroll.

Riss said...

I agree. I think I was suffering from "I need to put something on the page" syndrome. (c: Thanks so much guys-Chapter two is a whole 'nother demon hehe. Alrighty-off to play with the kids and then write. (c:

Ello said...

Wow! You're doing the Dickens Challenge too? Good for you! I've got to find me some time to read all of your chapters. I thought this was real good! You are terrific on details - I love all your little touches, like even how you described how she put on her messenger bag. I think there are places where you probably don't need all this detail but overall I like this! I will be back to read the rest!

Riss said...

Ello,

Thank you so much (c: I agree, in retrospect I thnk I was writing all the details in because I needed to get to know my character a bit and I was using the chapter to do that hehe. It is definitely a bit heavy in parts. Please, feel free to leave other comments I love to hear critics and feedback from anyone who can leave them hehe. I am winging it as I go along and I plan on reviewing every suggestion I get when all is said and done so I can remember what worked and what didnt and how it read overall.

Thanks again and I love your blog (c: I am attempting to write a funny blurb for your contest.

Happy writing!