First Chapter of My Next Novel…completed two years ago

(Yep, did everything I teach my students not to do…revise and re-write before finishing the whole thing. Got caught up in the details and lost the story. But it’s back now, and the only thing I’m keeping is the first two chapters…with a lot of changes to the second one. But not to the first one. Nothing like something really depressing before the laughs begin. Don’t normally post something until it’s finished, but this is finished. Posting this in the same spirit as telling everyone you know that you’re quitting smoking so that you’ll feel guilty as hell if they think you’ve ever set fire to one again. I like doing these things to myself.)

There were so many to choose from. A maze of flavors, sizes, and brands. Some in glass tubes, metal tubes, plastic wrap, cedar boxes, plastic boxes and metal containers. She would have felt confusion if she had been able to feel more than just the passing of one pointless moment into the next. Just get the most expensive one.

The woman with the streaky gray hair was patient, but Mona was beyond caring how anyone treated her. There was a time when she would have gone out of her way to be condescending to this woman who looked so matronly dignified with her grandmother looks, the gold chain dangling from her glasses, the neat black sweater over white blouse. Professional looking in a grandmotherly way. But working in a tobacco shop attached to a supermarket. There was a time when she would have pointed that out, rubbed it in good with bitchy remarks. But not now, not anymore.

“What’s the most expensive one you have?” Voice flat, uncaring. The woman nodded, opened the lid on a wooden box and gently lifted out a chocolate brown shape that reminded Mona of a penis from a long-ago lover―if fuck for the night could be called lover.

“It’s a Cohiba Robusto. Cuban. The most expensive we have.” There was reverence in the woman’s voice. For a cigar. But it was the most expensive. It could have been a thousand dollars. She had plenty of room on her card.

It was $35.99.

She had a thirty-six dollar cigar.

Big deal.

Now for the wine.

***

How simple the world becomes when you’re no longer a part of its color and noise. No roller-coasting between joy and pain. Decisions become easier because they don’t matter, decisions like selecting the wine for this special occasion.

Simple. The most expensive.

Forget labels with dates and wineries and logos. Forget Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz and all that crap. Forget red, white, rose, sparkling or dry. Forget body and aroma.

Go for the most expensive.

$49.99

Some bald asshole in a black turtleneck eyeballed her as he leaned against a kayak propped up in a display pushing a new line of wines called Nature Hound. There was a time when she would have been offended by a wine called Nature Hound and still more offended by the crass commercialism of the brightly lit display in a wine store with subdued lighting, teak and rosewood walls, tasteful art and muted music. But not today, not anymore.

$52.79

Today, not even the asshole by the kayak with the cocky eye slant could offend Mona. She was beyond that, long and far beyond. But he did look a little like Roger. The shape of his skull. Poor Roger.

$47.98

By the time she’d met Roger she’d been so far gone she’d long forgotten what it was to feel anything. Like his cock inside her. And his weight bearing down on her body. Things like passion and excitement, joy and exuberance. Pain.

$137.99

It had all seemed so mundane, acted out to a boring script. So boring that she hadn’t even tried to fake an orgasm―just lay under him like a plastic doll with an artificial cunt. Not that he’d noticed. None of them had noticed. Why would they? Maybe they’d been looking for a plastic doll, a place to release their sperm where it had no consequence or meaning.

$109.77

She couldn’t even remember their names. Except Roger’s. He’d been the last. After him, she’d stopped having sex. That was over a month ago. She went for long walks, day and night, but not because she enjoyed walking. She just walked. She stood outside store windows gazing in and seeing nothing. She went to movies and stared at screens that might well have been blank. She drifted in and out of bars, floating through clothing stores and past perfume counters. Nothing caught her attention. Nothing interested her.

$350.00

A ’91 Vega Sicilia Unico. It was red. It was $350 dollars. She bought it.

Now for the hardware store.

***

The smell of oil-soaked burlap and machinery lapped her nostrils with a vague undertow of saw-burned lumber. A botched attempt at re-creating the outdoors through volume and wide walkways, but more like dark alleys leading off from the domed atrium at the store’s entrance. The screech of a deck saw aisles away under a dizzying high ceiling, shelves stretching into heights beyond reach, casting shadows on the concrete floor and dark shapes in the empty spaces of out-of-stock goods—a sense of the subterranean, of life in the catacombs and caves of home improvement. The balding man with the round head and frog eyes was trying to impress her with his manly knowledge.

“Nope…” All authority and conviction, holding the yellow rope in his hands like it was a living thing, a rare and exotic snake, holding it like a gift. “…not the kind of rope you’d want to bungee jump with. Would be like falling on a steel cable. It’s…”

“I’ll take twenty feet.”

More than enough.

 ***

The aroma of honey-earthed leather. Or was that earthly honey leather? Honey leather? And earth? An odor from her childhood. Her father’s expensive cigars. Her mother’s complaints. “All my dresses, my evening gowns for God’s sake, smell like your damn cigars!” The whole house smelled of cigar, even the guest rooms. It was the scent of Mona’s childhood.

Wisps of cigar smoke drifted through the room like velvet clouds. Not a bad cigar, but the wine wasn’t all that great for $350 a bottle. On the other hand, nothing had the full body of life for her anymore, the bouquet of interest in the next moment. But the wine had given her a decent buzz, enough of finish this. Just finish it. She reached over her head and tugged the rope. Taut. Strong. No give. Wouldn’t want to bungie jump with this.

It was clear to her now why she’d bought this condo, the room, with its wooden beams in the ceiling, strong enough with the steel eye hook to hold her weight. Sweet dirt and leather? Cherries and honey?

No note. Why bother? Who’d read it?

None of the men she’d fucked would read it. Not even the women she’d fucked. Not her parents if they were still alive. If she’d still had a sense of humor she would have cracked a smile. Buried them in separate graveyards so they couldn’t argue in death. She hadn’t smiled then either. Just done it. There was no one around to complain. She had their money and the house full of guest rooms and no friends to fill them, the way it was when her parents were alive. She’d sold it.

None of it could have filled the emptiness that defined her life for no particular reason. It hadn’t bothered her that her parents had been assholes who’d dedicated their lives to making each other miserable and she hadn’t minded the smell of cigars or the emptiness of the big house, the barrenness of two acres of manicured lawns that went unnoticed and unused by anyone but the grounds keepers.

And now she was going to hang herself, end the absence of pain. But what was this happening in her stomach? Something weird going on down there, but it wouldn’t matter in a few moments. Kick the ladder. Stop dwelling on a pissy life.

Her stomach churned. She ignored it.

There was no reason for her to feel this way, no reason for the emptiness. She wasn’t depressed. She wasn’t disillusioned or disappointed. She’d never been abused or ignored. Though not happy, she wasn’t unhappy. She’d simply stopped feeling. Man’s cock, woman’s tongue—it was like her cunt was deaf to touch. She was ice with blood vessels. She didn’t particularly want to die; she just didn’t see the point in living a life that was no more than a flow of moments with none more compelling than the emptiness of the moment before.

She was going to throw up.

Standing on the metal stepladder, noose around her neck, thinking her last pointless thoughts, and she was going to throw up. The warning taste moved from her stomach into her esophagus, into her mouth—bile, acid, the shitty wine. No. She wasn’t going to die with a mouth full of puke. Not that way. She lifted the rope from around her neck. Stepped carefully down the metal step ladder, walked steadily to the bathroom and fell to her knees over the toilet. It started immediately. With every heave and explosion of vomit, she felt a presence budding in her womb. Why hadn’t she suspected this before now? Why did she not seem to mind this? Carla Harvey, a mother? The plastic sex doll, a mother? Warmth flowed through the icicles of her being, leaving pools of…what? She suddenly felt the promise of something interesting. She tingled inside. Tingled. This was something that had never occurred to her, something she had neither wanted nor not wanted.

This was surprise.

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