|backside of the NY Public Library. Beginners not welcome. ;)|
I finished my writing course at NYU a few weeks ago. On the last day, I hung out after class with another student to ask the teacher about the future. I wanted to know what path she recommends: take more continuing ed classes or pursue a masters degree.
The teacher paused and said, "Well. Graduate degrees are for intermediate writers. Beginning writers should learn the basics of the craft before pursuing a degree."
I responded, "Oh so get published first?"
And she said, "No, not published. In the middle. It's really competitive to get into graduate school and writers should try to build up their portfolio before applying. Especially for scholarships."
Wait a minute. Is she talking about me? I'm a beginner? Didn't I just finish taking her Fiction 101 class? Surely this makes me intermediate. And didn't she just hear me read my short story? It was totally awesome!!!
"Does that make sense?" she asks.
Oh my goodness. She is talking about me. It can't be. Or can it? She would know a beginner writer from a seasoned one. She wouldn't be telling me this if she thought I was anything else. The idea sinks in. I'm a beginner. I'm not that awesome. I pick up my bag, thank her for her time and walked out of class. It stings a little. Better to hear it now I guess. Nothing worse then a writer with an ego.
So with that, here's my beginners attempt at a short story. Fiction 102 here I come.
Head Over Heels at the Public Library
New week. New words. Deb hunches over her spelling list, pencil in hand, marking the ones of interest. Deprive. No, too depressing. Avoid. Too easy. Academy. Pretty good. Finally, the bonus word. She shrieks with excitement when she reads it. Her little brother Ralph grabs her pencil and says, “Shh. We’re going to get kicked out again.”
“But look!” she tells him, “One of the words is ‘googolplexian’! Love this word. It’s the largest number.” Deb sighs and looks out the window wondering about the enormity of googolplexian. She thinks about making up a googolplexian jokes. Having a googolplexian friends. Getting a googolplexian answers wrong on a test. Just the thought forces her to bite her middle finger nail until it bleeds. The taste of blood jolts her attention back to her assignment. She finishes while humming, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stronger.”
“Geez Deb. Keep it down.” Ralph says. He waves at the volunteer shelving books across the library.
As Deb rolls her eyes at Ralph, she notices Tommy Clutter walk into the library and sit a few tables in front of them. She can’t believe her luck. Finally a chance to be with him outside of school. But she must get rid of her librarian-in-training brother somehow. He’ll shush their entire conversation.
Ralph pushes a stack of books towards her and says, “Will you teach me how to shelve these?”
Deb picks through them saying, “Already read it. Read it. Read. I’ve read them all. No. Go find some one else to teach you. Like that lady.” She points to the woman he waved to earlier. She pushes the heap of books back to him.
“Do it,” she says.
He stacks the books biggest to smallest. Then arranges the books by color. He is taking forever. Just go. Finally, he decides to arrange the books by author’s last name. Deb wants to scream by the time he gets to Seuss. She rocks back and forth on her chair instead. When everything looks in order, Ralph takes a deep breath, picks up the books, and walks across the library to fulfill his dream. He doesn’t look back.
It works. Ralph’s out of the way. She’s on a lucky streak. She decides to go for it.
“Hey, Tommy Clutter. Psst. It’s me Deb.”
She hopes he won’t mind the disruption, being how serious he is about his academic career. He’s never been late for school since kindergarten. Perfect attendance for 7 years straight. As if this wasn’t enough to woo Deb, he has a self-imposed uniform that really melts her heart. Everyday it’s a white shirt, khaki pants and red all-stars. So refined. So committed.
Tommy takes his ear buds out and turns around suspiciously. His face is alien like. Generous forehead, narrow mouth. He’s out of this world. Deb searches for the perfect conversation starter. A question about the homework perhaps. His thoughts on googleplexian. No. Something flirtatious. A quote from Romeo and Juliet? But it needed to be something more current. Something to make him laugh. She got it.
“Tommy Clutter! Did you ride the bus here? I did. The M104 line. It was so crowded. I actually said 3 swear words out loud and no one heard me.”
Tommy looks down at the ground straight faced. Deb starts laughing hysterically until the chair she’s sitting in tips back completely. And on the way down with her arms flailing, Deb shouts, “Fuuudge,” as her head hits the sharp corner of the table behind her.
She stands up quickly and says, “I’m totally fine everyone!” The only person who noticed is Tommy. His eyes widen.
“I think your head’s bleeding,” he says.
“It’s not.” She sees the blood dripping on her shirt, but feels nothing.
“Uh, you are.”
“Wouldn’t it hurt more if I was bleeding?” She feels the top of her scalp to find the cut. She’s both shocked at the amount of blood it’s producing and how well the conversation is going.
“Ouch,” he says and puts his ear buds in, stuffs his books into his backpack, and runs down the stairs to the first floor.
Deb rushes to balcony and with blood dripping in a steady beat onto the floor below she says, “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow!” She watches him slip out the building.
And for a moment, Deb stands alone, in the center of the library, in the center of the Manhattan, in the center of the universe, hoping this isn’t foreshadowing every love story of her life. But in the back of her brain, the part that wasn’t bleeding, she knew it was.(If you're curious, click here to see the first draft of this story.)