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:
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.