Heat

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On fountains.

Published July 7, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s sweltering in my house. I was dripping sweat earlier. I went outside earlier, to try and benefit from the meager breeze coming from the bay, and my outdoor furniture was wet from a storm that had passed by earlier but I didn’t even care. That’s how hot it is.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I think I’m building character.

My life is quiet and small and plain. Again, I’m not telling you this for sympathy or vague reassurance that my life is not the way I perceive it (that just makes someone feel crazy, doesn’t it?). I’m telling you this to illuminate my character, because this realization makes me restless. I always feel like I’m wasting my time and my youth, that I should be doing more, more, more. So I’m taking baby steps to do just that.

On Wednesday, I went to Princeton with one of my best friends. We strolled the campus like we belonged there, despite me being clad in clothes purchased from Old Navy and not J. Crew or Ann Taylor or anywhere else equally as impressive and expensive. Not only that, but an intrusive coffee stain that was too large to be ignored assaulted the lower-half of my shirt in a way that simply screamed I didn’t belong, that I was totally and completely faking it. But I didn’t let my general sloppiness ruin the trip – I’m not that dramatic.

I dragged my patient and impossibly too kind friend to the university to peruse the F. Scott Fitzgerald archives. I anticipated manuscripts and pictures kept under class in a far and quiet corner of the library. I assumed the public had free and easy access to the most personal belongings of a literary genius, but I was so wrong. We had to register, received photo identification cards to enter a restricted part of the library, wash our hands, lock away our belongings, and specifically select which aspects of Fitzgerald’s life we wanted to access. We did this without complaint (which is saying something considering the heat of the day was blistering and my dear, dear friend never intended to spend 150 minutes looking at the personal affects of some dead author), and were shown into a reading room. There, I made plans to visit Great Neck, Long Island for a long weekend (the setting that inspired The Great Gatsby) and to travel to Hackensack, New Jersey (specifically to see the Newman School, which Fitzgerald attended). My friend and I both flipped through a sort of combined scrapbook of Scott and Zelda, compiled by Matthew J. Bruccoli (the only Fitzgerald biographer that matters) and Scottie, Scott and Zelda’s daughter.

Scott’s drama teacher wrote, “Good God, save the soul of the man with the spark!” in reference to Fitzgerald. What a tragedy; what a shame.

We were presented with a facsimile of the manuscript of The Great Gatsby, complete with edits and revisions in Fitzgerald’s own handwriting, not to mention the entire manuscript was handwritten. I nearly cried.

We read letters from Zelda to Scott, which chronicled the beginnings of their relationship, as well as the more tumultuous aspects of the courtship and marriage. I compiled a list of Zelda’s best quotes.

  • … it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent
  • And still I’m so mighty happy — It’s just sort of a “thankful” feeling — that I’m alive and that people are glad I am
  • There’s nothing to say — you know everything about me, and that’s mostly what I think about. I seem always curiously interested in myself, and it’s so much fun to stand off and look at me …
  • … something always makes things the way they ought to be …
  • I love you sad tenderness — when I’ve hurt you — That’s one of the reasons I could never be sorry for our quarrels — and they bothered you so — Those dear, dear little fusses, when I always tried so hard to make you kiss and forget
  • … It seems as if there’s no new wisdom — and surely people haven’t stopped thinking — I guess morality has relinquished its claim on the intellect — and the thinkers think dollars and wars and politics — I don’t know whether it’s evolution or degeneration
  • To be afraid, a person has either to be a coward or very great and big
  • … free to sit in the sun and choose the things I like about people and not have to take the whole person
  • It is odd that the heart is one of the organs that does repair itself

I loved the eccentric, charming and dangerous and alarming details I learned about their love, like how Zelda consulted a Ouija board, and how she blamed Scott for her mental illness but firmly believed he could cure her.

We read Scott’s letters with a painstaking clarity, as we knew of the end he didn’t see coming. It was heartbreaking, really.

I decided the goal is to  write the last chapter of my next book in the Nassau Inn, to truly channel the passion and vibrancy and tragedy of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I found some places I’d like to visit in France, places Fitzgerald went to and found some kind of inspiration, whether for writing or living large.

We wandered around campus for a while longer, sneaking into classrooms, disrupting tour groups, and feeling – even if for just a little while – that grand things were still possible for us.

We ventured into the cathedral on campus and a Starbucks and a book store to beat the heat.

We traveled to Asbury Park for some live music and great company. It was a great day, the kind summers are made of. I intend to have more like them.

I was inspired to write the following short story. Enjoy!

FOUNTAINS
by Mandi Bean

Carlos knew that the equator separated the globe into northern and southern hemispheres, and Carlos also knew that the farther south a person traveled, the hotter the weather became. However, Carlos could testify to the fact, and possibly even prove, that the farther west a person traveled, the same phenomenon occurred. He had lived on the eastern shore of New Jersey his entire life and could say without hesitation, could say with near absolute certainty, that the middle of the state was a burning, boiling wasteland in July – the most uncomfortable Summer month to begin with – and that it served no real purpose. Carlos had traveled west at the request of his fashionable, trendy girlfriend and now regretted it something fierce.

They were traipsing about the campus of Princeton University so that his girlfriend could admire the rich history and breathtaking architecture and blah, blah, blah. It was ninety-three degrees and Carlos was miserable. He felt damp and disgusting in places he didn’t even know could sweat. Still, he took it all in stride, trying to keep his girlfriend happy and blissfully unaware of his discomfort. He said nothing as they walked innumerable staircases to gawk at old buildings and open fields that meant something to someone somewhere, sure, but that person was not Carlos. His mood dangled precariously between “thoughtfully quiet” and “crankily homicidal,” and he offered his girlfriend only interested smiles as she prattled on and on about tradition and excellence and whatever.

Carlos only perked up as they neared the center of the sprawling campus. There was a pool, six inches deep at the most, with a fountain at its center, an impressive, enigmatic modern sort of structure spouting water. Carlos took his girlfriend’s hand and rushed towards it, the way someone might rush towards a miraculous pool while stranded in a desert. But this pool and fountain was no mirage; children splashed here and there, supervised by patient adults who smiled and nodded with a calculated, weary sort of encouragement. Carlos reached the pool’s edge, where wide, flat stone steps led down to the water. He was smiling wide, with a youthful exuberance, and he turned to his girlfriend. “I’m going in,” he stated and sat down to remove his shoes and socks.

His girlfriend offered a sweet smile, totally enchanted by Carlos’ juvenile need to cool and comfortable, by his childish ambitions. He was a beautiful young man with dark features that made him appear to be super intellectual, but in reality, he was nothing of the sort. But his girlfriend, equally as beautiful, was not disturbed by Carlos’ lack of desire for education and all things brainy. It kept her in check, kept a balance in the relationship. “Go right ahead,” she smiled. “I’ll wait here.”

Carlos paused and looked up at her. “You’re not coming in? This heat is brutal.”

She shook her head and seated herself beside Carlos. “It’s hot, but I’m okay. You go in, though. I can’t tell you’re dying to.” She leaned against him for a moment to kiss his cheek. That was all the permission Carlos needed, and he took off, splashing with reckless abandon to reach the fountain at the center. That spewing, falling water was the most efficient way to get cool. He passed the laughing, shrieking children and paused at the base of the fountain. The water fell on him in the most refreshing way and he was content to simply exist, it simply be in a world where water was free to fall where it may. What a time to be alive, what with fountains and pools to keep the intense summer heat at bay. He closed his eyes and attempted to wash away the sweat and sourness of the July sun.

After a few moments, he opened his eyes and leveled his gaze. He was surprised to find another adult, another wanderer about campus, engaging in the same activity. She was gorgeous, and Carlos also noted the way the woman had been equally as daring, had strode in the same way Carlos had, not caring for the onlookers or any kind of judgments. There was only the oppressive heat, and the refreshing relief of the water, roaring down from the fountain and tinkling as it reached the pool surface. They both appreciated the opportunity, had seized it, and now stood breathless, together in their choices and ideology, but separate in their strangeness to the other.

Carlos breathed a simple “hey.”

The woman nodded, and kicked water up at Carlos. That was her greeting; that was it. Aside from the playful smile, she had offered nothing, not even her name. But Carlos was game. He returned the splash. In a matter of moments, Carlos and the woman were doing their best to drown each other. Their raucous laughter and innocent challenges drowned out that of the children and even the most dutiful of supervising parent stole a glance at the two grown adults making complete asses of themselves in the fountain on the campus of Princeton University.

But, as do all things in life, the splashing lost its appeal and became old and tired. Carlos looked back to his girlfriend and found her reading (there was always a book in her over sized bag). He waved goodbye to the gorgeous, wild and free woman he had spent the last ten minutes with. Without really thinking about it, Carlos returned to the studious, safe and responsible woman waiting for him out of the water. He supposed that was the way it was supposed to be, that for every soul willing to get lost at sea, there had to be another anxiously waiting on shore.

As he came nearer, dripping wet and breathless and smiling, Carlos’ girlfriend looked up and barked a laugh. “Am I glad you drove,” she teased, “because you would never ever get into my car like that.”

Carlos bent to swiftly kiss her before she could protest or squirm away.

fountains

 

On storms and stories.

Published July 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Currently, I am anxiously awating the arrival of what is supposed to be one hell of a summer storm. I can hear thunder rumbling low in the distance, like the growl of a frightened dog that begins back in its throat as it backs up and straightens the hair on its haunches to stand at attention. The skies are gray, but the dying sunlight is somehow still managing to poke through here and there so that above looks more like a worn, thin sheet with a bald light bulb shining behind it, like the side of a child’s hand-crafted fort. The oppressive heat that plagued us yesterday and for the vast majority of today has finally started to abate and I am considering taking Jane Eyre out onto the back porch so I can simultaneously read one of my favorite books of all time, and have a front row seat for the storm.

Normally, I like to read one book at a time, but there is so little time and so much to be read, that I’ve decided I can manage two books at a time. I read a chapter a day from Glenn Beck’s Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure and as much as I want from Jane Eyre. This way, I can broaden my literary repetoire and still adhere to my beloved favorites. A major benefit will be feeling inspired – reading other creative work to fuel the dying fire of my own.

Let’s hope it works and I can break free of my slump.

PROMPT: “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

PIECE: Jacob bounced the quarter against the laminate countertop of the bar which jutted out from the wall, but despite all his athleticism and silent prayers, the coin did not go into the shot glass.  Instead, it bounced wildly away from him, rolled off the other side and just beneath the humming fridge.  The fridge was surrounded by a crowd of partygoers who seemed to quite enjoy their prime location – near the drinking games and the fun times while having liquor and beer close at hand and easily accessible.  It could take Jacob quite some time to maneuver through the bodies to the coin, and then return and get the quarter into the glass.  During that retrieval time, his adversary across the bar could easily get his quarter into the shot glass and play would continue on, and Jacob’s team would lose and it would be all his fault.  He would have to endure friendly teasing that would, in time, become annoying and he’d be forced to chug beers as a consequence and normally he wouldn’t mind one bit, but at the present moment, he was already quite intoxicated and vomiting was a possibility.  He couldn’t puke, not tonight, not when Rebecca was standing by the window, making idle chatter with a female companion who seemed utterly bored and boring.  Trying to think quick but the alcohol did slow him down some, Jacob called out, “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

The two teams broke out into riotous laughter, but seemed to acquiesce to Jacob’s request.  The metallic dings of the coins against the counter were silenced and the volume level of conversation increased.  Pleased with himself and smiling, Jacob scrambled over to the fridge and dropped down to his hands and knees.  He turned his head to peer underneath the fridge and his coin should have been right there at the end, bisected by the fridge, half concealed and half revealed.  It was not there, however, and Jacob was baffled.  Where could it have gone?  Did some tightwad, some poor college student, pick it up, not realizing it was a vital component for the intense and competitive game underway?  Jacob rose to kneeling and rested on his heels.  He looked around again, but found neither coin nor culprit.  Sighing heavily, Jacob called out, “Does anyone have a quarter?”

“I do,” called Rebecca from the window.  Mouth agape, Jacob slowly turned his head, so slowly he was sure those around him could hear it creaking.  He turned his head as if he were in a horror movie, turning slowly to try and comprehend the illogical and all too real monster behind him, waiting and ready to pounce.  That’s not what Rebecca was; she was a dream, a beauty, an intellect, a vision.  Hurriedly, he rose to his feet and did his best to walk over to her without weaving and swerving, and thereby revealing just how intoxicated he really was.  Jacob assumed he pulled it off because Rebecca’s smile did not fade as he neared.

“Hey Rebecca, thanks, “ Jacob said as he took the quarter from her outstretched hand and halted to stand beside her.  “Why don’t you come on over and join in the fun?”

“Jake, have you seen these lights?” Rebecca asked, sounding distracted and far away.

Moving closer to the window, Jacob paused a moment to gaze out of the window and into the night sky.  He saw few stars, their brilliance muted by the city lights, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Then suddenly, there was a giant orange flash across the middle of the sky.  It happened again shortly thereafter, and Jacob was near breathless when he said, “I saw that just now.  That’s crazy; how long has that been going on?”

“Since I got here,” Rebecca answered.  “I think they’re getting closer.”

Together, Jacob and Rebecca watched open-mouthed.  The lights were indeed getting closer.  They did not speak, but only stared.

In the morning, both were dead.

P.S. – That storm I was waiting on never arrived; such is life.

On chance encounters.

Published June 22, 2012 by mandileighbean

I love how I write an empassioned entry about my new and strong resolve to update regularly, and then miss a day.  That’s me in a nutshell: weak, but full of rationalizations for said weakness.  I must be incredibly difficult to love.

Wednesday was a great day, though.  I went to Barnes and Noble and though I spent more than I would have liked, it was well worth it.  I purchased a trendy bookbag that perfectly fits the Bohemian – and let’s be honest, sometimes pretentious – style I am currently going for.  I also purchased the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe, a set of sketching graphite pencils and a sketchbook.  One of my summer resolutions is to take up painting.  That is a somewhat daunting feat, so I’ve broken the goal into baby steps: I’ll start with sketching.  My good friend and college roomie is an artist in every sense of the word, and on Tuesday, she’s going to take me sketching with her.  Hopefully she’ll be able to show me the ropes so I can create something decent.  Purchases in hand, I went to the cafe to have an iced coffee because it was hot as hell and to get some reading and writing done.  I did read “The Offshore Pirate” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and wrote a little bit, but nothing I’m immensely proud of.  I’m still working through a dry patch and feeling decidedly uninspired.  I have ideas that have potential, but currently, I am failing exceptionally at executing them.

What I remember most about my time spent at Barnes and Noble was a beautiful man who seemed to sketching out designs on graph paper.  He was using one of those multi-colored pens that changes color when you click it – either red, green, blue or black.  When he sneezed, I said, “God bless you.”  He thanked me and offered me a warm smile, and I gushed as I tried to focus on sweetening my iced coffee (which I completely blotched.  It was disgusting and I threw it out before I was halfway finished. I don’t blame the barista, though. I don’t think I was drinking it fast enough because the ice melted and made it watery).  I stirred in the sugar and made note of his shaved, dirty blonde hair and dark green eyes.  He was of a thin yet athletic build and his skin was tanned from being in the sun.  He was dressed in earth tones and wore a thick, leather bracelet on his right wrist.  He had a trendy knapsack with what looked like a sleeping mat rolled up and stuck underneath the top flap.  I wondered if he had taken a bus to the shopping center.  I doubted he had a car; he would never condescend to such consumerism, or be so ignorant of the adverse effects of automobiles on the environment.  Then again, if he were taking a bus, that’d make him a hypocrite and wonderfully complex.  I had fallen in love with him in the 27 seconds it took me to prepare my coffee with half-and-half and sugar, but turned away from him to find a seat at the bar against the full-length windows.  I could have engaged him in charming conversation prehaps, or at least asked his name.  I wanted him to ask me what I was reading or what I was writing, but I did nothing.  When I saw him exit the store and cross before the windows once or twice, I smiled but remained still, flicking my eyes back to my book or the screen of my iPad.

I’m a chickenshit, is what it is.

Later, an old friend of mine from childhood invited me out for drinks for happy hour and a great hole in the wall in Seaside Heights.  I accepted but with a strong sense of caution because this friend only reaches out when something heavy is going on.  She, regretably, is kind of a hot mess and things have not changed.  I had fun and it was nice to escape from the mundane quality my life is so reluctant to relinquish, but I could not do that every night like she can.  I came home so drunk that I ate rancid spaghetti sauce that had been left out on the counter since before lunchtime.  I awoke with a dry mouth, a pounding headache and a palpable sense of shame.  It was a gross feeling.

Today was better.  I had lunch with my artist friend – she’s also a spectacular musician – and also ran into a very good friend who’s been missing in action as of late.  She’s married, domesticated and wonderfully mature.  She wears elegant dresses and goes out for cocktails with her husband and their friends like a real adult.

This weekend should be just as entertaining.  Hopefully I’ll remember to update as it happens.

The writing prompt I’ve been working on has been giving me real problems.  I don’t particularly think the prompt is all that great, so I am continually and readily disengaging in the creative process.  That ends tonight, though.  I will finish the damned thing if it’s the last thing I do.

PROMPT: Unusual Phobia.
  Create a character with an unusual phobia.  Write a scene in which the character faces the phobia.

The most common fear among human beings is death, followed closely by public speaking.  Then again, it might be the other way around but regardless of the accuracy of the aforementioned statistic, Melissa Grander feared neither death nor public speaking.  The activity which caused her body to seize, her palms to sweat and her mind to waver between insanity and unconsciousness was dinner conversation.  It was not a common fear by any means, and Melissa made peace with the fact with the rationalization that she was not a common young woman.  Exactly what made her so uncommon eluded Melissa and at night, when she lay awake watching the dusty ceiling fan in her bedroom slowly rotate around and around, she worried that she wasn’t uncommon or unique and that she was just weird; simply bizarre.  After all, who can’t hold a simple conversation over a meal?  Who can’t engage in a dialogue over dinner?

The answer is Melissa Grander.  She could not be charming, witty or even responsive while eating.  It was effort enough to make sure nothing spilled and stained her blouse, that her teeth were clear of debris.  To add the societal pressure of being interesting was more than she could comprehend.  Her need for silence at mealtimes left her lonely and alone.  Other than her family who were supportive and understanding, Melissa did not have many friends.  Having to decline every single dinner and lunch invitation led to a notable drop in those invitations, to the point where Melissa was left off the list because everyone knew she wouldn’t come out anyway.  Melissa also knew she could never join in the group brunches, lunches and dinners and could never do so with a romantic prospect, so she stopped dating altogether.  When the occasional male interest made his intentions known, Melissa panicked and aborted the whole thing, assuming that once the young man found out how abnormal she was, he’d be completely turned off.  Who wanted to be a lover and a savior and a doctor and a therapist?  Wasn’t that too much pressure?

All of Melissa’s social interactions stemmed from her weekly trips to the mall.  She didn’t necessarily make purchases, but she flitted around like a regular social butterfly from kiosk to kiosk and department to department, making small talk with various employees who all found her to be pleasant, compassionate and most importantly, normal.  She could eat alone at the food court without anyone thinking twice, and satisfy her need for human interaction in the small, superficial doses she could handle.  It was kind of ideal, albeit sad and temporary.  Would these workers come to her funeral?  Would they send her cards if she was sick in the hospital?  Melissa knew that they wouldn’t, but the fear did not outweigh her fear of conversation during meals.

Melissa was solitary, and as a result, she enjoyed solitary activities.  During her social visits to the mall, she would bring along a book to read near the fountain in the center.  The bubbling and tumbling of the water into the stone basin provided the perfect white noise to drown out the buzz of consumerism around her, so she could afford to become lost in a literary world where she could live vicariously.  She, Melissa Grander, was the young female protagonist with the painted nails and nasty habit of chain smoking, who moved from bed to bed every night and searched for the solution to her looming but not named existential crisis in seedy bars in a big city.  Melissa could be hunting ghosts in an old, Victorian manor, foiling an assassination attempt against some world leader, or falling in love barefoot and breathless while caught in the middle of a surprise summer storm.  Anything was possible for Melissa while she was reading.

Her favorite author was James Prince, a master of the paranormal thriller.  His characters were so authentic and painfully human, despite their supernatural abilities and/or origins.  While the setting and circumstances of the plot were extreme, the themes were perfectly applicable to her humdrum life and Prince’s writing became universal.  She had a large intellectual crush on him and filled idle time with daydreams about chance encounters and resulting romances with Prince.  It was childish and juvenile and at the back of her mind, Melissa realized she was stunted emotionally.  Sighing, she’d close the book and head toward the exit.

One random Tuesday, Melissa was heading out the automatic doors near the salon.  She paused to warily observe the gray, swirling skies and the thick raindrops beginning to pound the pavement.  Her umbrella was shoved beneath her backseat and she hesitated, not wanting to become drenched and uncomfortable.  Her feet shifted in thought, as did her dark, expressive eyes, which widened when they fell upon a cardboard cutout to her right.  It was James Prince, in the most scholarly of poses with his strong, calloused right hand curled about his strong, impressive chin.  His eyes were kind but a million miles away, and a deep shade of brown.  A small smile hung about his lips without actually landing.  It was a beautiful picture and she took a step or two towards it, like she was physically compelled to do so and could not resist.  Underneath the torso of the author was a slit, and beneath that was an entrance form.  There was a contest being held; one lucky winner would be chosen to have dinner with the author, and win a signed copy of his newest book, yet to be released.

Melissa’s breath caught in her throat.  This was incredible; this was serendipitous!  If she entered and if she won, she would have to face her fear!  She could be normal with his assistance; she’d have to shape up for James Prince.
Melissa hurried over and filled out about thirty cards, shoving them mercilessly into the slot, crumpling corners in her haste to get as many forms as she could into the cardboard cutout.  The winner would be announced in one month.

Melissa went to the mall every day and entered again and again.  She stopped making her social visits, completely forgot about her uncommon phobia and was graced with that proverbial eye of the tiger.  She was focused only on winning and the opportunity of being healthy.  The irony that her behavior to do so was unhealthy was lost on her.

A month later, the winner was announced.  Melissa Grander would indeed be having dinner with James Prince.

The big night came and she sat upon a bench on her front porch.  Her hands twitched in her lap and she was barely breathing.  Every pair of headlights that washed over her made her nauseous; the limousine would be arriving to pick her up at any minute.  She had index cards in her tiny bag, each with vague responses to typical questions one might ask over dinner.  Melissa hoped she’d be able to keep it together.  She’d honestly rather die than mortify herself before James Prince, the love of her sad, delusional life.  Sighing sadly, Melissa automatically rose as headlights flooded the drive.  Her moment had come at last.  She gathered her wits and her bag and trotted over to the rear door of the limousine when it was opened from the inside.  There sat James Prince.

“Oh my God,” Melissa breathed.

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