Over the past week I have been working on my second attempt at a novel. I wrote my first nearly two years ago, and I kept the manuscript totally hidden while I wrote. Since then, it has sat untouched in a drawer at home, begging for my attention. Alas, my attention is here. I decided it might be fun to post the first chapter of this project, working title The Failed Novel (self-prophecy, perhaps?). I have written roughly 15,000 words so far, and my discipline has been waning. My hope is that sharing will help to fuel my creative ambition. This chapter may or may not make it to the final book (I think it will, though) and/or it may be altered or come at a different point. But, as it stands, this is the first chapter of my second longer work of fiction. I hope you enjoy.
It was half past four, in the deep night of early morning, when Loraine woke into total stillness and knew that she was going to die. Not that she was dying, presently speaking, but that her death was inescapable, and in that sense, always occurring; death was pushing against her life, and life pushed back in futility. Eventually this struggle would end, and Loraine would no longer exist. After months of disturbing her daily life, striking at the most inconvenient moments, bringing her to the brink of catatonic despair, this perturbation had finally settled as a fixed, but nonetheless discomfiting reality in her psyche, and she accepted it. At this point, a second thought sidled up to the first, and she knew undoubtedly that it would have to be by her own hand; she was going to kill herself.
Her body was still asleep. Nothing in the room moved except her inaudible, waking eyes. She stared up into a sheet of total darkness. It was actually her bedspread. She threw the down comforter off her head, and the light from the streetlamp outside her window pierced her eyes; her pupils contracted in disagreement, a tight sting. She massaged her eyeballs gently behind their lids, blinked rapidly, and looked once more out the window, wincing at the light. She was going to kill herself. She felt a bead of sweat drip from behind her ear, and she pulled her hair up above her head, tying it off into a rustled nest. She stood and walked to the window. She was going to kill herself. She spun a handle at the base of the window, and the glass rose outward into the night. Warm air spilled in at her thighs, naked below the hem of an oversized t-shirt printed with the silhouettes of two blue bodies, runners with shadows of pink, sprinting for a finish-line under the words, “Park County 5K.” She felt sweat run down the side of her spine. She was going to kill herself.
She had to. It was the only way. It wasn’t that she wanted to die, necessarily. Of course, she did—to an extent. Without trying to explain the positively inexplicable, let’s just reduce it to this: Loraine was sick, and she had finally come to that most final point of realization, that the only cure was death. How? Pills. Razor. Gun. She looked at the window—defenestration.
In the alleyway just below her apartment, cats were picking through the cans that had been set out the night before in preparation for trash day. The air from outside smelled like ass, so she shut the window. It wasn’t helping much anyways; her room remained the obstinate oven it always was. She took off the shirt she was wearing and fell, naked, onto the bed. The top of the comforter was cool against her moist back. In the corner of the room stood a small fan with a heavy and tired head that tilted just slightly toward the floor, like a reprimanded child. She watched it sitting there, and considered getting up from the bed again to go turn it on, and then she remembered it was broken, and she wondered why she hadn’t thrown it out the window to the cats—defenestration. Lorraine let her head fall to the side, her neck was tight from her ear to her shoulder, she had slept on it weird maybe, and now her levator scapula was cramping.
Words in latin, recitations like breath; she had been studying diligently for the GRE all summer. She was “fucking sick” of New York, “The whole scene was pretentious and predictable.” Grad school was her ticket out. A steady doctoral fellowship in a Fine Arts program with a mild teaching schedule. She pressed the tips of her fingers deep into the tissue of her neck, and pulled down into her shoulder. The rest of her body had fallen back to sleep. Her feet lay dead over the edge of the bed, and every now and then she would involuntarily flick and crack her right big-toe.
She was a bio major in college. She had done well in high school, one of the artsy type kids, but with a steady head on her shoulders. She could paint and draw because her mother could paint and draw. She read big thick books as a high school senior. Though her mother was something of an artist, at least corporately speaking—she designed logos for an off-brand peanut butter company and a local air-conditioning supply store—nobody in her family was very bookish, except her older and only brother. Her dad was a mechanic, turned adult learner, turned engineer. He spent most afternoons in the yard or the garage, or on the sofa watching television. Generously, she often chose to remember him in the former state, tinkering with an old engine in an oil-stained, grey, collared shirt.
Her brother was a clerk at Blockbuster Video, and he spent the better part of his off days reading in his bedroom— the basement of their parents home; whenever he finished a book, he would toss it her way. There was no logical continuity to it; Tolstoy, Sartre, Dickens, Freud, and, during her last semester, Moby Dick—which motivated her to choose Biology over English. It wasn’t just that she found the novel insufferably dull and boring, which of course, she didn’t. It’s just that a Wikipedia page informed her that Melville hadn’t really gained much recognition for his masterpiece during his lifetime, and she wanted a steady income. So, Biology.
In retrospect this choice was rather arbitrary, she figured. Neither Biology nor English afforded her much in the way of monetary affluence. She could teach or pursue graduate school, and ultimately she would do both, but after four years of cell structure and mitosis, she decided she would rather be a poor artist than a poor scientist. None of this was true, of course. She was an exceptionally intelligent young woman, and, had she recognized it as a viable path, she would’ve become a surgeon at the top of her field, part of an elite team of researchers who would discover what they would name “the base cure,” a treatment that can and does cure any disease by introducing what we might simply call, given its scientifically esoteric nature, “balance” into the digestive tract.
But she decided to move to New York get her MFA in Art History. It was a noble decision, not borne out of personal ambition, but a rather humble desire to live-well and deliberately. “It’s a lifestyle choice,” she told her father, who was less than thrilled about her new trajectory. “It’s about reconsidering those things we automatically assume are essential to the basic American’s lifestyle. Who says you need a mortgage? Kids? 401(k)?”
Now, staring dazed out the cracked window at the ever-present street light that hovered like an impassive moon just at her somnolent eye-line, she wasn’t sure what she had traded it all in for.
Her neck felt better, and she started to doze as she continued to massage the loosening fibers, and as the light outside the window lost to her torpor, images of her inevitable death once more occupied her slumbering mind.
She was walking naked across a mirror of frosted gray water. Every few miles, patches of white sand protruded from the still, glassy surface. It was a desert of crystal ocean. The sky above curved with the earth. She thought maybe she was in the outer atmosphere of the earth’s surface. Land had pushed itself out toward space. The troposphere and stratosphere had dissolved, and she could see shooting stars, ceaseless in the dull white sky. Her feet didn’t sink into the surface, but as she stepped the water rippled. She watched as a circle of water expanded out diametrically, colliding with the small islands of white sand.
Something descended from above her and came to rest, hanging, just behind her head. She could feel it’s presence, the hairs on the back of her neck tickled and twisted, and suddenly she felt like she couldn’t breath.
Her throat was constricting, closing. Her trachea hardened into stone. She tried to take a step forward, but she was stopped. Something had her by the throat. She tried to swallow, but she couldn’t. She reached for her neck and felt the rough body of something coiled around it. She tried to swallow again. It tightened–she didn’t resist. She looked down at her feet. She was hovering now, several feet above the still surface. Blood trickled from her neck and ran down her back and her chest, it ran over her breasts, across her stomach and curled around her thighs. The streams slithered leaving crimson trails until eventually a single bulb of blood gathered at the tip of her toe. It shuddered there for a second, and then it fell and splashed in the surface below.
The red expanded in the clear water, and then slowly and persistently, the glassy surface was transmogrified into a lake of red. Loraine watched as the crimson stretched like poison over the surface of the earth, coagulating in the dust of the white shores. Then with a jolt, Loraine was pulled upward, the sky filled with silent lightning all around her, and as she watched the red blood overtake the last of once crystal waters, she closed her eyes and started to cry. And she was smiling.
Loraine woke again, covered in sweat, her heart racing. She sat up in bed and saw the sun was coming up, illuminating the smoggy grey of the city sky. There was a pounding from the entryway to her apartment. She slipped from her bed and, rubbing her eyes, picked through the scattered piles of clothes on the floor around her until she found a thin, jersey robe and pulled it on. It felt disgusting on her wet skin. She tied in in the front. Someone knocked once more. She reached up and touched the soft, oily skin at the back of her neck, beneath the loose strands of hair that fell from her auburn bun–rope, she thought. And the knocking continued.