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Danny

Here is a short story, or a character sketch really, that I wrote in college. It's eerily similar to a short story I just read, so I'm posting it here for others to see. It's not as developed or polished as the other (published) short story, but it has a similar style and subject. I wonder if this is the kind of thing many young people write. My writing pal Miss Moppet recently discovered that many young people, like her, wrote short stories about people in bathtubs. Go figure.

Anyway, here's Danny:

"I'm really a normal guy," Danny would say to you through the shaggy hair and cigarette smoke, and he'd mean it. "I'm always meeting these crazy people, though. You wouldn't believe it." Danny would need to pause here for a quick suck on his Camel. Then with a trembling, smoking sigh: "Don't know why it always happens to me."

If you were paying close attention to Danny, you'd notice his head tilt back just a bit so he could peer through the tousled fringe of his hair and focus his sleepy hazel eyes on you for one crucial second. Regardless of what he'd seen, he'd flick a glowing ember from his cigarette with the same decisive twitch of the wrist that he had used since early childhood to plant his chess pieces, one by one, on their predestined squares.

But if Danny liked you, you'd know right away, because he'd stuff his left hand into his trench coat pocket, and an absurd grin would creep slowly across his face, revealing his many milk-white teeth, still unstained by nicotine and coffee and wine, and you would be forced to laugh or fall in love with him.

It's worked every time, ever since he was twelve in Peru with that dancing woman, and it worked in high school with his young blond English teacher. These are no fleeting infatuations; the English teacher can be seen lurking at the edge of Danny's college parties, or leaning beside him against a stone memorial in the cemetery drinking beer, or draped over a beanbag chair in his dorm room, twirling her waist-length hair and watching the blue light of his laptop screen, where doors open and slam shut on Instant Messenger. At these moments Danny measures her with a ruler.

"It's wild," he'd tell you between gulps of cheap beer. "I'm an inch taller than her, but her legs are two and a half inches longer. Two and a half inches."

If you Googled him later, just to make sure he really existed, you'd discover his past lives: child prodigy violinist, competitive gardener, slam poet, political journalist. But he would never want to talk about them. In a chat, he'd tell you he'd give you a hundred dollars if you unlocked the secret of his screen name, but he'd be full of shit. Anyway, you couldn't ever be sure it was him on his computer and not the former English teacher in his beanbag chair. On the phone, he'd tell you about jail and rehab. The next time you met, he'd tell you that he once ate an ant and expect you to find that fascinating. If you wanted to talk Hegelian philosophy, metaphysics, astroBuddhism, quantum Christianity, or Spanish poetry, he'd oblige. He'd try to snare you in lassos of circular logic and giggle if you escaped.

And while you worked on that, you might not notice the way he pulled so hard on that cigarette--as if it were the only thing keeping him alive--and the way he could pour a whole six-pack of beer into that frail body beneath the trench coat and stealthily move to invade your physical space while you were deep in metaphysical musings.

He'd ask you about the dirty laundry in the basket on your floor, why you wore it and who had seen it, and he would press you until you were immobilized, balanced evenly between wanting him to leave and wanting him to stay the night. And he would sense it and he would ask you if you wanted him to go, and you would ask him if he wanted to go, and he would tell you that if you wanted him to leave he would stay, but if you wanted him to stay, he would go. And he would giggle and flick his wrist, ashes dropping out of the window, and you would be in check.

And if you asked him about his future instead of his past, he would sigh through his cloud: "Maybe I'll enter a seminary. Or maybe I'll marry my girlfriend." And if you looked at him, he'd shake his head. "Man, it sounds like this fantasy thing, dating my old English teacher, but it's really not like that. We're not even serious. Not serious at all. But she keeps me on my toes." He'd jerk another breath of life from the smoldering Camel caught between his palsied fingers, and he'd be lost from you behind the shredded curtain of his hair.

Comments

  1. Genie, Thanks so much for posting this! It is eerily similar to Dolores, and I love that somehow we were in the same mindset for the writing of these stories. Yours is beautiful. I love the way the emotion creeps in as it comes to the end. You also do really nice job of narrowing the "you" character. It starts off more general and then gets more specific. Thanks again!

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  2. Wow! This really is close to Davin's Dolores story. Strange and beautiful! I have yet to write a second POV story, and I'm impressed at what you've done here. I agree with Davin in the "emotion creeping in." Excellent! Thank you for posting this. :)

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  3. Thanks for reading! It's funny... In this college writing class, I felt compelled to break a fundamental rule of "good writing" in everything I did. It was like I had writing-rules Tourrette's. In this case, it was using second person narration.

    Many of my attempts were embarrassing failures, in which I learned exactly why they say *not* to do that, but I kind of liked this one. And I feel a bit vindicated seeing how well Davin pulled it off, too.

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  4. WHOA! I just Googled the real person who inspired this story. First link comes up with a picture. It's him. He married the English teacher, divorced, joined the seminary, and went to Palestine to build a playground in Bethlehem.

    Truth is SO MUCH stranger than fiction. I remember writing down a lot of true things about this real person and then editing them out or toning them down to make the story more believable. Ha.

    Now I go back to fantasy writing.

    God is a stranger author than Wally Lamb.

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  5. Oh my goodness that's crazy! Truth really is stranger than fiction, I agree. It's amazing how people can change and some never change. I think your 2nd person narration is beautiful. Have you tried submitting this story anywhere? I'll bet you could get it picked up.

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  6. I've never thought to submit a short story or poem. I've been so focused on novel-writing. But maybe I'll give it a shot. I'm always nervous, though, that the real people behind the "fiction" will somehow find out.

    This is why I've stopped writing creative nonfiction and thinly veiled fiction pieces. The truth is always weirder and more interesting, but if you don't say that it's true, it just looks like wacky, unbelievable storytelling.

    True prequel to the Danny story:
    I was in a cafe with a friend, bitching about how every new person I met in college turned out to be a wacko. I said, "I'll prove it. The next person who sits in that chair over there--I'm going to talk to him or her, and we'll find out that he or she is a total nutjob."

    Not five minutes later, in staggered a drunken "Danny" and plunked down on the chair I had indicated, even though there were lots of empty seats. I smiled at him, and he asked to see the Hegel textbook I was studying. I gave it to him, and he wrote me a peculiar, sloppy love-ish note inside the front cover with his phone number.

    That's the kind of deus-ex-machina thing that makes for an interesting true story but a crappy work of fiction.

    But anyway, maybe I'll clean up this piece and submit it somewhere. I suppose a few small publishing credits wouldn't hurt!

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  7. Jeannie, publishing credits NEVER hurt, no. And honestly, who cares if the truth comes out looking like bad fiction? I write that stuff anyway and keep it in a file and later, like now 8 years after college, I read those things and they are actually good and I'm getting some of them published and they take me back to that time and those events like no journal entry ever could.

    I don't think you should stop writing creative nonfiction if you don't want to. At least for yourself?

    I'm going to be doing a short story week over on my Innocent Flower blog soon, and I think it'll be a good thing for all of us working on novels to see the importance of dabbling in short stories and other fiction besides our novels. I think it really opens doors - and publishing something - even if it's a small piece online somewhere in some lit journal, feels pretty dang great. That's some good validation and certainly keeps me motivated to keep going with my larger works!

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  8. Everyone stumbles onto a Danny or a Dolores early on. Things are in high gear at that point and everything is so moving and our hearts and flesh are so tender, so eager for marks and fingerprints.

    Some people just put the pen to paper and come out with similar stories. You know as well as I do that I have one!

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  9. ONE, Esperanza? You have the whole collection. Have you ever tried writing short stories? I find it to be ridiculously hard. But you would come out with some crazy ones. You've had lots of moments with people that just... sum up everything in five minutes or less.

    A trip to Victoria's Secret comes to mind. :P

    Or a British man weeping in front of his mother.

    Or a tragic love story in text messages.

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  10. What trip to Victoria's Secret? There were a lot of them. The one where I bought that thong for Timmy?

    I could write a whole, pathetic book about him. I should do that, it would be great. Sadly, there are only some bits of memories that really stand out, compost for the worms in my heart, I guess. I'm going to grow new and prettier flowers where things once grew.

    a tragic love story in text messages...? What? Seriously, it's lame that others remember my life more than I do. Balls!

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  11. Wow, so many possibilities! No, I was thinking of the trip to VS with a certain poodleheaded hippie. And you could come up with a few tragic love stories in text messages. Maybe one involving a certain Mexican dude's mother and sisters for comic relief.

    By the way, I archive all of your e-mails to me, so if you ever need to look up one of these sordid tales...

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  12. Oh GOD that rat fink bastard, what a fuckin' twat! I had totally forgotten about that visit to VS with Greg. Ass!

    No, let's not get into my past e-mails. It's like I have a stage persona and the real me doesn't need them. I'll leave them alone, for right now.

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