Here are the first ten pages of a short story I’m writing, about a couple who go to Las Vegas and get married.
Jacob sat slightly higher at the table than his friend, Sunny, with whom he was speaking. Sunny’s hands were placed flat on either side of the cloudy orange tabletop as he listened intently to the dream being recounted.
“She was waiting for me in the back of a small restaurant, kind of like this one, at a table, opposite an empty chair, and her friend Barbara sat to her left. She was smiling a hidden kind of smile as I walked up to her.”
“You could walk, in the dream?”
“Yes,” nodded Jacob, “and when I sat down Claire leaned back and crossed her arms, like this.” He folded his arms against his chest and tilted his head back, peering at Sunny through distrustful eyes. “I don’t remember how it got started, but I had a book in front of me, uh…”
After ten seconds or so, Sunny said, “A textbook? A paperback?”
Jacob raised his eyes to meet his friend’s. “No. A schedule book, you know, a—what do you call those things?”
“A day planner?”
“Yeah, one of those, all filled with events and plans. Every day had a box filled with notes, the entire year was mapped out for us with dates, vacations, parties, family visits and stuff, even big celebrations like New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I kept flipping through the book for the best days, and reading the day’s events to her, trying to convince her, but she didn’t smile or move really.”
“Convince her of what?”
“I don’t know,” he laughed. “Impress her, maybe. To make her fall in love with me.”
“What was Barbara doing?”
“She might have been helping me look for days.” Jacob stared down at his plate, at the half-eaten pile of french fries and swirl of ketchup. “I woke up before Claire gave me an answer.”
Sunny followed him past the counter and register, then helped push his electric wheelchair over the ridge in the doorway. They listened to the Classic Rock station on the ride home while Jacob nodded to the music, throwing punches at the air and shouting, “Alright,” when the songs got good.
“God bless you, brother,” Sunny waved out the window and sped away, the taillights blinking on in the blue evening haze. Jacob watched the grey Chevy shrink and blur into the stream of humming vehicles, then spun and motored up the walkway toward the ramp and front door.
All he had to do for the rest of the day was shower, get dressed, eat dinner, and go to sleep before ten o’clock. His job at Makermart required him to be there at six sharp so he could scan the boxes after the flow team unloaded the morning deliveries. After work he had basketball practice on Wednesdays and Fridays, and if he didn’t get enough sleep he’d be drowsy and lagging on the court.
The simple task of showering and putting on clothes took Jacob approximately three to four times longer than an able-bodied person. Once he completed this process, he checked his phone, and seeing no new messages or calls, wheeled over to his desk, removed a bottle of tequila and plastic lime from the drawer, and commenced watching an episode of Attack on Titan on his laptop. A team of warriors flew through the trees raining hell on a malevolent giant who had the power to regenerate his limbs and organs. Jacob poured another shot, threw it back, and squirted some lime juice in his mouth. His thoughts drifted to Claire and the dream again. There may be some truth to it, he thought. Sometimes he felt like he was trying too hard, and if she wasn’t into it, so what, there’s plenty of fish in the sea. Then the green of her eyes washed over him, melted his indifference into a renewed determination to win her. “I love her,” he’d say to himself, “but she better know I’m liquid metal.”
The boxes dropped onto the conveyor and slid over the silver bars, the worn cylinders roaring, then faintly whistling, as the cardboard rolled past, and Jacob’s coworkers loaded the pallets on either side of the line. He used his manual chair there since it was easier to maneuver in close quarters. Once a pallet was ready to go out to the floor, the worker would raise a hand and he’d shoot over and scan the bar codes on each of the boxes. Not the most awesome job in his opinion, but at least he could listen to music, and the people weren’t all unbearable.
“But it don’t make no difference,” he sang under his breath, “Cause I ain’t gonna be easy, easy. The only time I’m gonna be easy’s when I’m, killed by death…”
“What you listenin’ to today, Jake?” his friend Shane asked, but he just kept singing and scanning the boxes.
When ten-thirty came around he grabbed his lunch and rolled outside to the employee smoking area on the south side of the building. Early December in Milwaukee, the clouds of vapor billowed out from Jacob’s lungs as the turkey sandwich on his lap began to freeze. He watched the cars gliding past beyond the creek encircling the hill on which the Makermart sat, and let his eyes drift down to the icy water. The edges were frozen, jagged white borders constricting the dark green current, winding through the dense woods before the highway. He didn’t move for a while, only sat, listening. Then, at ten fifty-five, he quickly ate the frosty sandwich and wheeled back in to help stock and zone items on the lower shelves.
The Dial n’ Go shuttle picked him up at two and took him straight to basketball, and his mother’s friend, Susan, the woman he lived with, picked him up from there. “How was practice?” she asked, folding the wheelchair and preparing to stow it in back of the van. “You look exhausted, did you eat your lunch?” Jacob hoisted his right leg inside and reached out to close the passenger door, pausing a moment to consider answering her question. “Never mind, then,” she said when the door slammed shut.
“I got you those elbow sleeves you asked for, the kind with the pad. They’re on your bed,” she called from the kitchen.
His head bowed, almost dropping on the empty plate. “How many times have I told you—politely—to stay out of my room?”
“Oh, I know…” Her attention focused on the task at hand, cracking and straining the yokes out of five large eggs for Jacob’s dinner omelet, part of a high-protein, low-calorie diet he’d started for basketball, and to help him get “insanely ripped” by New Year’s. “I thought it’d be easier than having to carry them yourself. Couldn’t help seeing those empty bottles in the trash. I wish you’d quit drinking so much, young man.”
He raised his head, stared wide-eyed at the ceiling. “Nine years, I’ve been old enough to drink. I’ll be—”
“Thirty years-old in March,” she finished the sentence with him, rounding the counter with a plate of turkey bacon and a glass of milk. “Please take it under advisement,” she smiled gently, “you drink enough tequila to drown a mariachi band each week.”
“And she’s racist, too.”
“Winters are rough sometimes,” she said, returning to the kitchen. “The soul tends to weep and yearn for light. Spring will be a time of waxing joy and renewal.”
“I’m happy to hear that, Susan.”
He deliberately waited until 8:05pm to call Claire. She picked up the phone after one ring. “Hey, Jacob!”
“Claire, how’s it going? How was—”
“Not bad, you know—sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt. I’m in the middle of inking the next SkyWench issue and it’s stressing me out.”
Jacob paused a second. “I saw the sample pages on your blog the other day. It looks amazing.”
“Well, thank you, sir. Should be one of the best ones yet. Now all I need is some readers.”
“Would you want to have dinner with me Saturday, at my place, maybe watch a movie after?” He almost added, “I can cook a mean roasted chicken with sauvignon blanc,” but kept his mouth shut.
A few hours passed, and Claire said, “Sure. I’d love to. What time should I be there?”
“Eight, eight-thirty. I’ll start cooking around eight.”
“Sounds great, Jake,” she said, possibly smiling. “I’ll see you, Saturday night.”
After work the next day he hit the gym, but not too hard since he had practice the day after that. He wondered if Claire might want to go to his game Sunday. Depending on how their date went, asking her to the basketball game could be a smart move, but if he came on too strong she might brush him off like a charity case who got too clingy. “Cute little Jacob,” he groaned, pulling himself up into a seated position on the workout bench. “He thinks Claire’s gonna be his girlfriend.” Opposite the incline and decline presses, a woman in dark grey spandex pants and a sports bra was doing alternating curls and watching herself in the mirror. He eyed her for a moment, checking out her body. Curvy and muscular, a large chest but not huge, a moderately pretty face, and straight black hair. She caught a glimpse of him, glanced at his shoulders and arms, and smiled. He smiled back, then her eyes moved to the wheelchair parked beside his bench, she flashed a confused expression, stole a glance at his legs, and turned back to her own reflection. Jacob lied down and started his next set.
Tired, tired, tired. So tired of this… Waking up to pitch black alarm, smelling filth in a soiled diaper, dragging self out of bed, washing, grooming, dressing, for another day like every other God-damned day. Another day of crawling. Susan loves, cares, and toils for him. Sunny loves him like a brother. Claire laughs and gazes at him from time to time, soft beaming starlight in her eyes, soon to fade, or fall, displaced by cloud or shadow, unknown amusement shaping lips into a grin.
“Hold up, let me scan those,” he barked at Richard, who’d started jacking up a pallet near the back of the truck.
“Sorry, Jake. Kind of want to get these done in a hurry. They should let us scan our own boxes, it’d be way faster.”
“Management wants it this way,” he said quickly.
“You’d be out of a job though, huh?”
“And what a tragedy that would be. Kay, you’re good to go, Dick.”
Half of practice was drills, exercise, and strategy, while the second half was a scrimmage game. His team went all out during practice games unless they had an important real game in the next few days. Sunday afternoon they were playing the West Allis Porcupines, so no one on Jacob’s team was very worried. The scrimmage began as usual in a fun, even brotherly spirit of good-natured competition.
“Once in a while it’s the right play to pass the ball, lame legs.”
“I’ll make sure to tell your mom that later.”
“At least Jake actually makes a shot sometimes, Danny.”
“Yeah,” his teammates laughed.
Jacob spun and launched down the left side of the court, hoping to snag a rebound and sail the ball to Nick or Max for a shot. He locked chairs with Elliot at the three-point line and fought to break free, but by then his team had possession, storming up the court where Max lobbed one in from under the basket.
Susan waited in the parking lot at four, folded his chair, stowed it in back, climbed into the driver’s seat, and started the van. “Your friend dropped by today,” she said quietly. “She left you a comic book. Said you’re cooking her dinner tomorrow night?”
He rolled down the window, spat on the pavement, and rolled it up again. “Is that alright?”
They already had the soy sauce, vinegar, and carrots at home, but they still needed soy beans, soba noodles, and salmon filets, so they stopped at the EarthWay grocery by their house. He had found the Ginger Salmon recipe on a gourmet cooking site, he told her, and thought a Japanese meal would go well with the film they were watching, plus Claire liked anime, sushi, and some Shibuya-kei music. He appreciated Susan taking him to buy the groceries. He also appreciated her finding someplace else to be tomorrow night from seven o’clock onward, so he and Claire could have the privacy they’re entitled to as responsible, non-threatening adults.
The comic she’d given him, the latest issue of SkyWench, wasn’t her best work, although Jacob respected what she was trying to do. Previous issues focused more on the clashes between Mina’s skyborn clan of sister warriors and the rock-dwelling Scorporanths that fed on human beings, often indulging a nigh unquenchable thirst for human spinal fluid. In this one all she did was fly from mountain to mountain on her Sordes, with a few of her warriors, on a quest to locate a floating island where the land was fertile and the Scorporanths couldn’t reach them. Mina ends up finding it, then changes her mind, saying life there would be, “A thunderless dream, and hence a virago’s nightmare.” Claire’s other readers might enjoy it, either way he intended to keep any negative opinions to himself.
She showed up just after eight while he was grating the carrots. On his way to the door he hit play on the stereo. He had considered listening to an album that he knew Claire liked, Stereo * Type A or This Will Destroy You, but before he started cooking went with Use Your Illusion I, not wanting to look overeager to make her happy. She stood on the doorstep, smiling, for a couple seconds, and he said, “Hey, Claire. You look… Hazardous.”
Black sweater unbuttoned down the front, white v-neck t-shirt, faded jeans, frayed at the bottom, over a new pair of sambas. No purse in her hands, gently resting at her sides, and a calm, radiant, almost sarcastic look in her emerald green eyes. Dark brown hair streaked with blonde fell over one side of her face, curled slightly beneath her chin, and flowed in a crescent to the back of her neck. Pale rose lips, round above with softly dimpled corners, delicate, ivory cheeks, and the faintest freckles on a nose sloping bravely from the quiet shadows round her eyes.
“Invite me in at your own risk,” she said impatiently.
He poured her a glass of the Merlot that Susan drank, set it on the counter in front of her, and resumed prepping the ingredients. Most of the tables and counters were about half a foot lower than usual, part of the renovation done after Susan bought the house. In spite of this, and the feature of Jacob’s electric wheelchair allowing him to elevate or lower himself somewhat, he couldn’t shake a nagging embarrassment as Claire watched him cook and talked about her friends, the work they were doing, their plans for the future, and hers, which were more like vague wishes really because she still didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she’d rather live overseas and teach English than keep slanging shirts and keychains at the mall, and listening to the same fake-azz pop songs all day.
“Don’t you have to speak a foreign language to be able to teach overseas?”
“Not really. Besides, I could always learn.”
“Where would you want to live?”
“Europe, China, South America…”
“Why not Japan?”
“I think most people already have a working knowledge of English there. If not they probably don’t need more teachers.”
“Wouldn’t you miss this place? Milwaukee isn’t the best city in the world, but it’s way better than Chicago, or St. Louis.”
Claire laughed a single, ecstatic, “Ha,” and let her head fall on her forearms, lifted it again, and finished her wine. “I just know my life here has been a tragedy.”
They ate quickly, laughing now and then at each other’s jokes. The salmon was delicious, perfectly cooked according to him, though Claire thought it was too well done. “I agree,” she told him, “couldn’t be better.” The tv in the living room emitted an obnoxious buzzing sound when the previews started. He nearly fell out of his chair trying to get to the entertainment center to adjust the wires. Unplugging and plugging them back in fixed the problem, and the film began. The Wind Rises, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. He’d almost chosen Ninja Scroll, but after some deliberation ordered this one, not wanting to risk Claire getting freaked out—uncomfortable, rather—due to the abundant violence. The movie amazed her right away, she slid over next to Jacob, who’d moved from his wheelchair to the couch, and put his arm around her.
“Farewell, Mina,” he called from the doorway, instantly regretting it until she turned, laughing, and blew him a kiss. Later, as he was falling asleep, he assured himself that it was better not to have asked her to go to his game on Sunday, better still not to have made any plans at all. Their date was good. Maybe in a few days he’d call her again.
The game was a blowout, as expected. His team, the Badgers, dominated the West Allis Porcupines for a 43 to 17-point win, then Jacob and a few of the guys drove to a nearby sports bar for burgers and beers.
“I’ll buy the drinks today, boys,” he said as they rolled up to their table.
“Why you gonna do that, Jake?” asked Nick.
“I feel like being nice, since when do I need a reason?”
Danny eyed him for a second.
“In that case I want the most expensive whiskey they’ve got,” laughed Tyler.
“Did you get lucky last night, bro?” asked Danny.
Everyone at the table stopped talking, and looked at him.
“I told your mom to keep quiet about tha—”
“Yeah, yeah, just answer the question.”
He stared back at Danny and looked around at everyone. “None of your business, but yeah, I had a date last night.”
All the guys said, “Oooooh,” and started making dumb jokes, when the server walked over.
“You sound like a bunch of tween-age girls,” he yelled. “Look, the waitress is here.”
They ate, talked, and laughed for almost two hours, watching the Admirals and some other games on tv. Jacob and Danny drank shots of Jack until Danny threw up a little on his plate and disqualified himself. At home later, Susan asked how the date had gone. He declined to answer, only said, “Thank you,” and wheeled into his room.