This is the draft of a story I wrote in almost a single breath, and then submitted to a couple of literary magazines. The rejections were polite. One said that there was not enough development of the secondary characters, particularly the father, and that showing up to a party in the wrong clothing felt too dreamlike; it pulled the editor/reviewer out of the story. The story, as you can probably tell, is indeed based on a dream I had, and I wanted to write it just as I dreamed it, because I don’t usually remember dreams that clearly, but this one I did. There has to be a reason I remembered this one; why this one stuck with me. That’s a common writing mistake right there: a situation may be fascinating to me, but if I’m unable to communicate that to the reader, then my work is not yet done.
Where do I go next? Shop it around to more magazines? Give it a frame-narrative of some sort? Expand it to include more character-moments from the other people in the story? I haven’t decided yet. I’m curious what you have to suggest.
So why am I sharing this with you as the inaugural post on this website? Is this really my best foot forward? Shouldn’t I lead with something more finished? More polished? No. This is what we’re going with. For a few reasons.
First, it’s an illustration of rule #1. If I weren’t willing to make mistakes in my writing, if I were ashamed of them, I’d be a hypocrite to ask you to make mistakes in your writing. Also, just because a piece is missing… something… doesn’t mean it isn’t good. A piece can be full of mistakes, and yet still have that spark that tells you “keep going.” Needless to say, if you want to read more finished pieces, the website is full of them. I encourage you to go exploring.
Second, it’s an illustration of rule #2. The rule says “You must finish something.” But how do you know something is finished? Often the answer is to take time. Writing is like pie. It’s not done until it’s rested a bit.
Third, it’s an intense read and I like it. The ending comes at you like a runaway train, and yet somehow leaves you wanting more. Reading it over now, it feels like a good start. I’ve shared it around, and the people I’ve shared it with have enjoyed it. So I think you will, too. When Erika (my partner in this whole venture) first read this story, she went down a rabbit hole wondering what two beards feel like when they touch. You never know which detail will catch the fancy of which reader. For the record, it feels like if really slack Velcro–you know, that old stuff that doesn’t grip anymore–were ticklish.
I arrive at the party wearing a pair of shorts and a bright red tee-shirt. Despite its four good wheels, the suitcase has been weighting me down as I walk with it beside me. I don’t really want to go to this party, but it is better to be invited than feel left out. The atrium of the building is huge and grey. My dad meets me at the door. He always looked sharp on these occasions—studs shining black and gold, bowtie tied just so, neck a little red from the shaving, but that’s ok. Interspersed threads of grey and black looking elegant as highlights. I guess because I’ve seen him in just a shirt and underwear, this version of him always seems incongruous to me. Maybe it’s jealousy. I never learned to do what he is doing. Our beards do that funny thing they do when they touch. When we pull away, he sneers a little bit at my outfit. There will be somewhere to change. But there is my cousin Arnold, who just had his bar mitzvah a couple of years ago, looking tall and fine. He smiles sheepishly as I go in for the hug but he extends his hand to shake. I start looking around for a bathroom, but he’s leading me by the arm, asking me how my trip was and commiserating that I wasn’t able to even go unpack at the hotel (I’m crashing on a friend’s couch). And now—hey—here is another cousin. I grew up with her, and even though she now works at some bank, I feel really pleased to see her. She, too, glances briefly at my tee-shirt and shorts, then renews eye-contact, as if to ask: really? “Oh, don’t give me that look. As soon as I find a bathroom I can duck into you’re going to see a whole new—“ “Ok, let’s find one.” You can already hear the merry din, and there are slim, elegant women in cocktail dresses standing by the door chatting—like they came out to ‘get some air’ but didn’t find any because we’re half a mile from the front entrance. I feel my clothes like tar and feathers. There is a table topped with brightly colored parcels, and little kids are running around the way they always do, only this time when they fall they will split the knee of a nicer pair of pants than the pair they would usually have on. My cousin pulls me along. Past the table laden with brightly colored presents, another table is laden with huge steel trays, heated by sterno, with meat and grilled vegetables, surrounded by condiments and stacks of plates and napkins and—. I feel a deep growling in my stomach. Carolina is still holding my arm protectively as she asks the woman where the men’s bathroom might be. Is the woman hungry? Does she get to eat the same food we do? How many parties does she have to go to like this in a week? Carolina is saying something to me. I don’t catch it, but she says again: “This way. Where’s your suitcase?” I look around and the growl in my stomach is replaced by the bottom dropping out. The room starts to lose color at the edges and I feel dizzy and panicked and there are goosebumps on my arm. I start running back to the door, and run smack into the uncle just back from Dubai. “How are you?” He always has a smile when we see each other, even though that’s only at events like this. If he sees my outfit his reaction doesn’t reach his face. “I—I need to go.” “But how have you been?” “Oh. You know. Fine.” “And how’s the— the—” I disengage from his hands and run back past the brightly colored food tables, the brightly colored gift-table, the brightly colored clothing of the children gamboling in between chit-chatting young women in brightly colored cocktail dresses, and back out through the doors of the event-space, into the drab hallway. I look in all of those places—under the tables, in the corners, between the guests, but I already know it isn’t there. I must have put it down when I put my arms around my father, and not picked it up again. By the vending machines, right? Just up ahead. I can see the bright colors. My stomach feels like it’s trying to digest an anvil. My eyes water but somehow feel like they are also burning. Self-recriminations march across my mind like a stock-ticker: You moron. You always do shit like this. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why can’t you just pay attention? Everyone in there takes care of their shit before they get to the party and you just waltz in there with your stupid shirt and your stupid shorts and— It’s there. I tackle it like we’re two puppies sporting with each other in the park. All of the fear and misery floods away and for an eternal moment, I feel warm and safe. My breath won’t slow down. My eyes won’t stop leaking tears. The self-recriminations won’t stop ticking across the screen of my thoughts. This is why you lost your job. This is why you had to ask your mom to buy you the plane ticket. This is— I feel hands on my shoulders, and look up through eyes blurred with tears. Dad is there, with Carolina. They came outside—why? To see if I needed help? If I’m alright? How long have I been sitting here? I’m not. I’m not alright, and I don’t know why.