Roman Holiday (an excerpt)

roman holiday

And as she fell asleep, Denise remembered.

The European spring had been brilliant, unplanned to the last mishap.  Twenty-three kids from Mr. Marshall’s History and Civics Class, off to conquer Europe.  They had saved their pennies all year and a month before graduation had set out to boldly go where no eighteen year old had probably ever gone before.  In fact, given the complete lack of planning and supervision, it hadn’t gone too badly.  They lost Ms. Reynolds and most of their luggage in London, missed any number of buses and trains, had four cases of food poisoning, one serious illness, two and a half arrests and a traffic accident.  They lost tickets, they lost passports, a couple of times they were robbed and Jerry Painter got stabbed in Seville.  There was one serious drug overdose (the rest were minor), six or seven declarations of undying love, at least two fistfights, somewhere around nine cases of post-virginal depression, one pregnancy and one defection.  And that didn’t include all the minor scrapes, bumps, arguments, tears and swearing.  Stranded in Amsterdam, the bus happily chugging away without them, Mr. Marshal quietly gave up and took to drink and so, by the time they got lost in Rhiems, Mr. Marshal’s friend Call-Me-Janet was spending her days clucking and Wendy Sherwood and her clique were running the show.  It became Lord of the Flies with museums.

Yet the spring had indeed been brilliant.  Everything was new and they were immortal, fearless gods and goddesses with bright big eyes and smooth skin.  They knew everything, saw everything, tasted, smelled and felt everything.  And Europe did its best to help them.  Hot humid days, sticky to the touch, and nights dark and silky, shivering with promises.  Unknown narrow streets shadowed in grey stone and smooth cool white marble.  Holy chanting churches and painted pagan rituals.  Strong spices, sweet fruit, dark eyes and lisping vowels.  Their families and bedtimes and televisions oceans away, they reverted to adolescent savagery.  They ran mad over the cobblestones, each catastrophe binding them closer together, until they became a primitive tribe.  Teenage warriors marauding across the continent, looting with their senses and brawling with their emotions.  Their passions bubbling alive, their nerves high and open, dripping with hormones, they fought and danced, laughed, sang, kissed and hated.  Then they all sobered up and went home.  All of them — except Denise.

The next morning Denise woke up early.  She brought her coffee out to the cool of the balcony and watered her plants.  It was going to be a hot day, and she wondered what to wear.  Amsterdam had been hot, brilliant-sunshine warm, not like Paris, close and muggy and irritable.  It had rained in Paris and the group couldn’t get away from each other.  The hotel smelled of onions and old pee.  Karen and Denise, fighting with Wendy and flung out into the streets.  Long overcast walks and chilly dingy cafés and the crying cold midnight at Jim Morrison’s grave.  She stopped it there.  That was ahead of it; Amsterdam was first.  Nothing she remembered could remember Amsterdam.  Jerry Painter slumped over his shoes, drooling.  Tammy Tamara dancing in the streets with the German boys.  No, it was all blind stoned and stumbling on black beer and harsh sweet smoke and the night she pulled Wilcox — he was still Wilcox then — through the hot neon streets, kissing and touching and watching, until they couldn’t stand it anymore.  In the hard shadows of some brick broken alley they groped and grabbed and slipped down the stones like thickening oil, twisting and pulling at their clothes until they were on the ground.  Then, barely on top of her, their tightened adolescent energies simply overflowed against each other.  That she remembered, and moved slightly in her chair: the weight of him on her.  She teased him unquenchably, holding herself to him, provoking and promising, watching the want of her in his eyes. And he so loved her, like a warm sleepy puppy.  He wrote her sweet notes and poetry.  She still had them — somewhere.  He opened doors for her and gave her advice, secretly planning his – uh — their future.  And she loved him back, but not that way.  She knew that, even at the time.  She loved him because he was nice, because he loved her, because unconsciously he taught her how to be adored, how to be enjoyed, and how to use power — not hers — she already knew that — his. The male power of him moving through a crowd so she could see, dominating the background so she could win arguments.  The tall shoulders beside her that made it easier to wait on a corner or walk at midnight or swear at cab drivers.  And she showed him the power of the secret, more intimate than desire or sex or love itself.  The secret shares a single soul so holy you dare not speak its name.  It entangles and binds two people together so completely that forever, they are never alone in the world again.  But that was later; that was Paris.  She finished her coffee and set the cup down.

“Spanish blue dress, red purse and sandals,” she thought, “Generic Italian: simple, cool and sexy.”  The dress touched in the right places but didn’t cling, and the sandals had enough heel to tighten her calves, but she could still walk easily.

She stroked her shin and decided against another cup of coffee.

“And not too flamboyant” she thought.  After all, she didn’t want to scare anybody.  But then she needed a hat, wide brim with a red band, to match the shoes.  That was for Cat.


Available as an individual story here or as part of The Woman In The Window collection at Amazon


Fiction (Jasper Conrad …)

This is a gateway drug to the fiction of WD Fyfe — an excerpt from “The Last Romance of Jasper Conrad.”

jasper conrad ...

The last sun tip was over, pulling all the long shadows away with it into the water.  They had walked up the hills above the sea, their own shadows gliding and sliding ahead of them.  Now they stood near the top, looking out, and there, at their feet strings of stars appeared in the frail blue water with trails of moving silver chasing them like ribbons.  First one, then more and more.

“It’s the fishing fleet,” he said softly.

And as she watched the boats, the real stars dotted into the sky above her, point bright, one and one.  Each light dipping its finger in the shivering water.  And slowly in the accumulating darkness, there was no horizon, no sea, no earth — and she was standing in the sky, surrounded by the heavens.

“Listen,” he said.

And there was music, carried faint along the warm evening breeze.

“It’s from the radios on the boats.  They’re bringing you tomorrow’s dinner.  Let me show you something.”

She didn’t move.

“There,” he said and turned her shoulders.

Down by the bay, lit by floodlights, the Roman ruins stood like great candles in the collecting night.  And as the solid white lights traveled up the hill, she could clearly see the ancient city, where it had stood.  It was real, like endless time, alive in front of her.  And she could just see him, dark outline and close to her — close enough, if she fell, tumbled into time and the sky — he could catch her.

“That’s where your friends are going to be,” he said, motioning to a glowing row of gauze colored tents, stuck in the tumbled columns.  And as if on cue, a set of huge headlights flashed out and cut lines high into the darkness.  The faint music from the boats swallowed whole by the diesel motors of the approaching bus.

“Oh,” she said and turned away.

As the noises died, he found a place in the clear night overlooking the bay.  Two broken shoulders of stone, smooth with time and picnics and half lit by the far-off nearest floodlights.  He spread the blanket and knelt over the basket.

“Bread, cheese, wine, olives and what i-i-s-s-s probably fish.  Not quite a drunken Bulgarian Luau, but we’ll get by.”

“What is this?” she asked, actually speaking directly for the first time since the night had come over them.

“Hmm, Ferguson’s idea of a picnic, I think.”

“No, not the food.  This.  Is this like — uh — something?”

He couldn’t see her face clearly, but her voice was urgent and her hands, white, were moving between them in the light.  She leaned forward.

“There isn’t like something going on, is there?  You wouldn’t do that to me?” she was shaking her head.

He understood, thought and decided.

“No,” he said completely.  She slipped back into the half-light.

The night was warm, like a shawl across her shoulders.  She could feel it tucked into her.  The music flickered, there and gone and again, melody low, recognizable pop tunes in unrecognizable languages, aroma sounds carried on the air.  She could taste the night on the glistening olives, black and invisible, and on the sharp cheese that he handed her directly from the knife.  And she heard his voice without the words, dark and full, deep like the wine.  Its whole taste on her tongue, blending with her, blending with the night, spreading through her with no before or after, like conscious sleep.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I come up here at night and just wait.”

“For what?  Wait for what?”

“The moon,” he said.

“Is there a moon?”

“There’s always a moon, Frances.”

“You know what I mean.  Here…now?”

“No, not tonight,” he said quietly.  “No sense waiting for it.”

They sat for a moment, and she tucked her feet underneath her.

“What are you waiting for, then?” she said.

“Don’t know.  How about you?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t think I’m really waiting for anything.  Everything that’s going to happen to me is just going to happen.  It’s not like I want very much — a nice house, garden, children, someplace to do some good for people.  What everybody else wants, I suppose?”

She’d misunderstood the question, but he didn’t care because she was going to tell him what she wanted to tell him — either way.

“Okay, then, what do you want now?”

She shook her head in the darkness, unaware that he could barely see her.

“I don’t know.  I like the law.  I like research.  I like what I’m doing.  But it’s just.” She weighted her words, “I’m going to miss all kinds of things just because I don’t know what they are.”

She stuck her glass into the light between them, and he splashed more wine into it.

“People like me — women like me, don’t have very much – okay.  We look good, not just good like attractive, our lives look good, and they are.  But nobody ever thinks about us.” She laughed sadly, “We’re the ones who get missed.  Overlooked.  It’s like our whole lives are clean and correct and nobody ever gives us a second thought.  You know what I mean?”

He did, but he wasn’t about to tell her she was doomed, and that was okay, too, because she didn’t wait for him to answer.

“I’m going to be a good lawyer.  I’m going to be a good mom, wife, everything — whatever – a good — a good person.  And I’m willing to do that — all that stuff.  I just don’t want to end up with nothing.”

There were noises coming from below them, hard sounds that were stirring up the evening down there.  She felt them, felt annoyed by them, rushed by them.

“Just – just because I’m ordinary doesn’t mean I can’t have something.  I look around and I see my life and I know how it’s gonna go.  I can see it.  I’m gonna settle in and it’s gonna be so-o-o easy.  Career, children, grandchildren even, houses, cars — all that stuff — probably end up saving the whales or feeding the orphans or something like that, and sometimes I’ll even be able to convince myself that it’s all good enough.  But I’m gonna know it isn’t — secretly, I’m gonna know, and one day — one day — I’m gonna wake up and it’s gonna be too late.”

She paused, but there was no silence.  The music and the people noise from below was more now, larger, lapping up the slopes like rising water, impossible to ignore.

“The thing is – the thing is – I don’t even know what I’m looking for.”

She stopped again to swallow.

“But I’m missing it.  And now…”

She took a drink.

“Now.  Here’s this perfect night – we’re having this perfect night.  I’ve never had anything like this.” her voice trailed off so she could look into the darkness. “This is the most romantic thing that’s ever going to happen to me.”

He moved slightly so he could see her in the light.  She wasn’t looking at him, so he couldn’t really see her face.  But she saw him move and turned her head.  The light caught her eyes and they were shining in the dark, glistening with emotion.  She parted her lips and swallowed, aware of him.  Then, she lifted the wine glass and took a long drink.

“God!  I don’t know where all that came from.  You must think I’m just this total poor little rich bitch.  Way too much drama.  I’m not like that.  I’m really not.  It’s just the wine and…I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t even think about saying you’re sorry.”

She laughed and sniffed and turned her face away from him.

“We’re going to have to go soon, aren’t we?” She said, waving vaguely at the night.

“Not really.  It depends on how sick you want to be when the horde gets back to the hotel.”

“I don’t really care,” she said, leaning back.

But she was quiet after that.  Embarrassed.  Aware that the mood was crumbling under the persistent pulsing music and the vague voices and scattered shrills of sound that crawled in the air around them.  They sat together for a while, feeling it die, and when it was impossible to deny that the night was gone, they left.


My Bookshelf


Books are complicated things.  They are like perfect lovers, hiding in plain view, keeping their secrets carefully between the covers.  When we speak of them, they hold our gaze with memories, but we never tell the whole story – do we?  We cautiously avoid those delicate evenings, getting to know each other; the stolen afternoons; the nights, together alone in the darkness, page after page until, exhausted, we sleep.  And those tiny lies and excuses we make to shut the world out when we simply can’t resist one more intimate embrace.  Our books are the sly smile we have when we think no one is looking, and they belong to us, just as we belong to them — sworn sacred to be faithful.

Last week my eBuddy CJ Hartwell went to her bookshelf and ….  She tells a better tale than I do, and you can read it here: Hartwell’s Books.  But she showed us her books and told us more than who they are.  It’s a fascinating idea to look through a few reflections to see ourselves because the truth is nothing reveals who we are quite as clearly as revealing the things we love.  So I went to my bookshelf and discovered — it was mostly ex-lovers — long kept and long remembered – from a time so young and strong I may never leave it.

Glory Road – Robert A Heinlein
I found this book in a used bookstore when the world and I still had a use for such things.  This is a love story, thinly disguised as science fiction.  I confess it took me a few years and few readings before I could appreciate that.

A World Lit Only By Fire – William Manchester
The history of medieval Europe without the hard-sleighing of scholarship.  I take this with me every time I go to Europe.  It’s not the Europe I see — but the one I imagine, cleverly peeking out of the stones and the streets.  Lost footsteps, echoing across the centuries.

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I grew up a prisoner of the vast North American prairie.  Ivan and I know what it’s like to be lost and alone in the inescapable wilderness, and we also understand that sometimes there is no glorious, indomitable human spirit.  Sometimes there is only survival.

History of England for Public Schools
My father’s textbook, circa 1930.  I still use it to keep those pesky Stuarts kings in line.

Tai Pan – James Clavell
This was a best-seller when I was a kid, so I read it.  Then I read King Rat; then I read Shogun; then I read Noble House, etc., etc.  I keep Tai Pan because it’s a better adventure than King Rat and not so long and involved as Shogun or Noble House.  Plus, back when I had visions of being a scholar, I thought “The Duality of Character in the Novels of James Clavell” would be a marvelous dissertation.

Shibumi – Trevanian
Nicholai Hel is a skilled assassin who has spent half a lifetime isolating himself from the madness of the modern world, but … it intrudes – it always intrudes.  So, the question remains: can we ever truly separate ourselves from the faceless somebodies who think they have a better idea for the world?  Probably not, but we can become such a badass nobody messes with us.

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
A wise person once said, “To believe in the heroic makes heroes.”  This is the third, fourth or even fifth copy of a book I won as a prize in grade school.  I keep it because I might be too old to believe in Tarzan, Treasure Island or Sanders of the River (Not!!!) but Bilbo Baggins is a good place to hide my hopeless belief in heroics.

Cabbage Town – Hugh Garner
This is a novel so out of print and out of fashion that you have to fight with Google to even find it.  It’s Canadian literature from before CanLit became a closed shop and people like me didn’t have to go to America and Great Britain to get published – but I’m not bitter.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve spent my life doing what I do.

And two extras:

Dutch-English/ English-Dutch Dictionary
I keep this handy for when Google Translate runs amok.

The Woman in the Window – WD Fyfe
Of course, I have my own book on my bookshelf.  D’uh!