Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

I want to tell you all a story. I’m surrounded by Kleenexes, movies, blankets, drinks. There’s a cup of tea and a glass of water. I have a few books scattered around, an orange cat resting on the love sofa across and an old black and white film paused on the tv screen. It’s the perfect night for storytelling.
Tonight I went for my walk tonight as all usual. I stuffed a few Kleenexes down my pants’ pocket and threw on my bright red hoodie. It might be cold, it might not, it didn’t really matter. It is I who has the cold, inside and out.
I pace out the interlocking grids of our Westside neighborhood. If you go down far enough to the south, there’s an old stone mansion of Italian Revival Style. I get there sometimes, mostly not, it’s really only a place I peek at for a special treat. I like to visit it most during Christmas time when they put wreathes in all the windows and I can imagine what it was like then, when women wore long dresses and horses did pull sleigh bells. Sentimental, possibly but then again not. I was born too long after all these things to have any memory of them, my mother and father were grown up in the after World War eras, their own parents around for the tail end of one war and participators of the second.
I came around the corner of the far south, devoid of long skirts and a horse, in my pants stuffed with Kleenex and a red hoodie and I took a long look at the stone Italian house. The cupola on top stood up taller then any of the cupolas in the old farm towns I’m used to. You could set up a studio in there, a cold studio in the winter, a sweltering one in the summer. Could anyone breathe up there? The windows looked sealed tight.
Tight enough to drowned a scream? A boyfriend of a country town told me once, with a serious tone and serious face, that an old house in his neighborhood with a small cupola on top was the cell of an unhappy girl who died up there in her glass prison. Her screams could be heard at night, he told me. He heard them himself.
Of course, later I found out he was a pathological liar or maybe it was just being eighteen that annoyed him and he told stories to make it all better, but anyway, the story perked my interest and I take a look at all glass rooms perched on the top of houses. What could be put up there anyway? Besides dying girls. Plants? A desk and paper? A mattress? A bed? A girl? A boy? It was a girl for him, of course. He went to the Army and after awhile, I never heard from him again. So it was girls for him, that screamed. I didn’t hear any screams and I like lighted Christmas trees in the town house cupolas I saw. There’s one off Batavia Avenue just right up the block from me, to the north this time, and they’ve always done a tree up there and on one of their balconies too.
There are other single rooms too, like the single roomed cupolas, and people live in those. A few weeks ago, Jeff and I, in our search for a little house to rent, visited an address listed as a “house for rent.” It was just the first floor of a 1940’s house with decently sized rooms and a cement screened in porch. The house had a second floor. I tried the handle to the second floor and found it unmovable. “Oh,” the landlord countered, “that’s the second floor. You can’t open that door. The renter’s lived there for five years. He works for Nicor. I’ve never heard a complaint about him making any noise.” We went outside. I looked up at the second floor windows. They were covered and still. There was no car out front to speak of the man upstairs. We looked in the empty basement. Nothing of his there either. We went into the two story garage, its roof raising like a bird’s wing. Nothing marked him there either. The landlord commented that we would share the porch with the upstairs man, though he doubted the upstairs man ever used it, except to get to his stairs.
As we drove away, I took another look at this 1940’s second floor, a sort of sagging cupola with four windows on one side and four windows on the other. The front windows didn’t tell a word. There was a screen thrown out on the roof from one window, that was all. The Nicor man must then, with his balding self, crawl out onto the roof with a cigarette and watch for stars and wait for the sea-girl’s call. He wouldn’t measure time by coffee spoons but by constellations turning and the burning stubs of his cigarette butts. He wouldn’t join us in the cement porch shut up by screens. He would remove his own screen and watch the time, listening for the call, thinking about natural gas and bills and meters.
He grew so lazy, he left the screen out and no one noticed. Except for me, driving away from the falsely advertised house apartment, just another apartment. We wouldn’t be taking it. We couldn’t get a dog there, we would be back in just the same sort of thing, having a neighbor we had to be quiet for, I would tend a garden I would have to leave, decorate a house that we wouldn’t stay in. And in the summer, the woods it was surrounded in would drown out light and I would go mad in the small windowed house with the smeary wallpaper and the creaky floors and the bare new chandelier the landlord proudly showed us, complete with hook to hang it up higher. I would go mad and there are no sea-girl’s call or rooftops for me. Not at all.
Pulling out the advertisements today, there were no houses or even apartments for rent. It must be a slow week then. So slow that I took my walk far enough to get all the way to the old stone, Italian house. The windows are still sealed up there. I passed on and turned, my fist full of Kleenex.

(A few notes. First off, my head is stuffed and I might as well be underwater, sleeping. Take care of my verb tenses, I know not what I do with them. Second off, I beat Jeff because since we heard of the upstairs man behind the locked door, we’ve joked about locked up children and the such and we each thought how we could write about it. I won! Thirdly, not everyone who reads this blog has had the leisure time to get a bachelor of arts in literature. I cast some allusion to a poem by T.S. Eliot called “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". It’s worth reading and so beautifully fits my upstairs man. Anyways. Good night.)

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.