Short Story

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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 boys on bicycles.

Published February 16, 2013 by mandileighbean

Hello all!

I present to you a short story I started writing while on vacation in Florida at the beginning of last month.  I am trying to work on being creepy in a subtle way.  Please comment to let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoy it!

bikes

BOYS ON BICYCLES

Mandi Bean

 

By all accounts, the vacation was desperately needed by the Smith family, so the uncooperative weather was especially frustrating and almost painfully disappointing.  Amber felt the sting of missed expectations most keenly as she had deemed the trek to the Sunshine State a necessity because she absolutely needed to feel the baking rays of a fat, sweltering sun fall heavily upon her as she squished cooled, clumped sand between her toes while standing at a meandering shoreline, watching breaking waves.  The sudden, nearly physical yearning for a sandy shore had surprised Amber, but in hindsight, it made perfect sense.  Amber and the rest of the Smith family hailed from the Great Garden State, which had recently been brutally ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.  With rollercoasters claimed by the Atlantic, enacted martial law, and missing pieces of the famous and beloved boardwalk, the Jersey Shore was no longer a place to escape to.  Indeed, many of its inhabitants were escaping from the coastal communities up and down the shore.  The Smiths were no exceptions and for reasons Amber could not explain, she needed a beach.

This inexplicable need did not grasp anyone else and Amber had difficulty rounding up family members to head to the beach.  In the end, only three others decided to pile in the Hyundai with Amber; her twin sister Susan, her young cousin Adam, and her aunt Kim, at whose home they were vacationing.  Adam was a restless kid looking to get out of the house and, being his godmother, Kim wanted to please Adam and her devotion compelled her to come along (Amber believed Kim’s unconditional love and devotion knew no bounds and that Kim would follow Adam to the ends of the earth were it ever asked of her).  Susan’s motivations were not as obvious, and Amber could only surmise that her twin simply wanted to drive.

With Susan at the wheel and with Kim as the co-pilot, Amber and Adam claimed the backseat of the car and thus began the fifteen minute drive east to the ocean.  There was superficial, intermittent chatter but starting, let alone maintaining, a conversation became more trouble than it was worth over the wind roaring in and out of the open windows.  Amber was happy to stick her arm out of the window and flatten her palm so that her hand rode the waves of air; it was worth the annoyance of having to squint against the powerful gales and to constantly and continuously tuck bothersome strands of hair behind ears to keep them from sticking in the corners of her lips and eyes.  It did not matter to her that it was cold (for Florida, anyway), nor did it seem to matter to anyone else.  The windows stayed down for the duration of the drive.

When the Hyundai came to a rest in a slanted parking space, Adam bounded from the car, excited for room to run in a way that only a child can be excited.  The adults hurried after him, up a flight of wooden stairs to a sparse boardwalk, and then down another flight of wooden stairs to the beach.  The beach was essentially deserted aside from a few other small groups of more obvious tourists and some die hard fitness fanatics reaping the cardiac benefits of running in the sand.  Amber, before making it all the way to the chilly sand, sat upon a wooden stair to roll her jeans over her calves and above her knees.  She also removed her flip flops and held them firmly in hand when she joined the others near the water.  Adam raced Kim along the shoreline as Amber and Susan chased the water back to the ocean and then promptly fled from the icy liquid as it traveled back over the sand.  Amber and Susan also wrote “New Jersey” in big, capital letters in the sand, using their feet and toes.  Then, for a change of pace, Adam raced Susan as Kim and Amber observed, occasionally interfering with either runner by playfully using physical restraint to impede progress.  Short of being tackled to the ground, the runners were breathless, laughing and spinning to a halt in the sand as their loved ones hung about their shoulders and waists.

Though everyone was having fun, it really was too chilly for the beach.  The four resolved to pack it in, call it a day, and head on home.  Amber paused at the top of the stairs leading from the beach to the boardwalk to take one – just one – longing backward glance at the sand and the rough waters of the Atlantic.  Sullenly, she unrolled the legs of her jeans and wiggled her feet and toes back into her flip flops.  There was only sea as far as she could see, and the landscape made her feel limitless and full of endless possibilities.  It was intoxicating and she offered up a silent prayer to Whomever Might Be Listening for warmer weather and longer trips to the beach.

But perhaps Amber wasn’t the only one longing for scenic escapes – no matter how brief – because once everyone was safely back inside the car, Kim made a suggestion.  “Turn right at the end of this street instead of left,” she instructed.  “I’ll show you guys where the really nice houses are.”  Susan dutifully obeyed and with all the windows down, the foursome traveled northwest along Ocean Drive.  There was nothing remarkable to be seen at first, but eventually the sprawling hotels and quaint seaside shops gave way to exotic looking vegetation that concealed starts of cobblestone driveways that led to grand mansions, which, at times, could not be seen from the road.  Those homes in view were certainly impressive.

There were stone staircases with wide steps leading up to double front doors from either side, and the doors were made of rich, sturdy mahogany.  There were balconies with thin, delicate-looking iron railings.  There were terracotta roof tiles covering wide, sloping roofs that turned houses into haciendas, complete with cement archways, an overabundances of hues of orange, and which betrayed the historical Spanish influence on the entire state.  The accompanying guest houses were all substantially larger than the Smith family home and truly dwarfed the house of the surrounding residential communities.

Susan was only barely rolling along, operating the vehicle at a snail’s pace.  Open-mouthed, she craned her neck from left to right and back again, incredulously observing the excess of wealth on either side.  Her scan was panoramic so that, at the very least, the driver was conscientious enough not to slam into anything.  That being said, Susan did neglect to look into her rearview mirror as she was so wholly taken by the new and exciting scenery.  As a matter of fact, it was not until Amber made an announcement from the backseat that Susan gave any kind of thought to the rear.

“There’s a car behind us,” Amber said, her neck twisted gracefully over her right shoulder.  She turned forward after a beat and added, “He looks pissed.”

“So what?” Susan grunted dismissively, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted.  She stuck her pale, toned arm out of the open window and waved the following car around, indicating the driver should pass the four-door filled with unabashed looky-loos.  He passed, after shooting Susan a murderous look, and everyone relaxed, as if a useless, creeping anxiety had been relieved.

But that was only because the rear faded from their minds and no one turned to see the bicycle following so closely that the rubber tread of the front wheel nearly grazed the bumper.  It would have been an unsettling sight indeed, especially when the rider’s face came into clear view.  His young face was not innocent as it should have been, but was instead so blank and vacant and devoid of emotion that irrational as it may seem, the boy seemed sinister and cold.  His youth and carefree activity did nothing to dispel the image of evil that lingered about his person, just beneath the surface.

Adam, upon being confined to the car, became restless once more and fidgeted in the seat.  He looked all around for excitement, even for some trouble, and was successful when he looked behind him and saw the young boy.  Adam knew the boy was about his age, but also knew instinctively that the boy was somehow much older.  There was experience and wisdom running through the odd lines of his face.  Adam believed the young boy knew things that young boys shouldn’t know, had seen things young boys shouldn’t see, and had done things no one should ever do, regardless of age and gender.  His tiny body shook uncontrollably and he scooted to the end of the seat so he could whisper in Kim’s ear, “There’s someone else behind us.”

“What?” Kim asked as a reflex, because she had clearly heard Adam and required no further explanation.  She turned around in her seat to look out the back window.  She saw what Adam had seen and then some, because her advanced age allowed her to comprehend and articulate the oddity of the scene.  Laughing without much humor to keep her own fears at bay and to assuage the unspoken ones belonging to Adam, Kim said to Susan, “Wave this kid around.  He’s tailgating you on a bike.”

Susan laughed with genuine humor.  “That’s ridiculous,” she smiled and once more sticking her pale, toned arm out of the window, she waved to the boy.  She quickly wondered if he would know what the provincial gesture meant, and she was about to yell out instructions in an annoyed tone when he sped past the car.  He was moving so quickly and so close to the window that Susan had to pull her hand in speedily, as if she had been dangling it before the open mouth of a hungry alligator.  “What the hell, man!” she roared.  Angry and in need of validation for her visceral, intense reaction, she turned to Kim.  “Did you see that?”

Kim shrugged, merely imitating a cool indifference.  Her voice betrayed her as it trembled ever so slightly.  “Kids can be just as rude or as creepy as anyone else.”  Though it had been chilly, the weather would have been described as downright frigid by Kim, the longtime Florida native, and she rolled up her window fast.  “Let’s just keep going.”

Amber laughed.  “You’re not afraid of an elementary school kid, are you?”  She shook her head slowly, still smiling.

“There’s more,” Adam whispered.  An intense silence filled the already cluttered interior of the car, and their eyes followed two more boys, older than the first, cycling by at an almost impossibly slow pace; it was as if they were not even moving.  The eyes of the boys were just as intently focused as those of the passengers in the car, each party staring the other down.  Kim, Amber, Adam and Susan observed with wide eyes, betraying their fearful emotion without much thought.  The boys on bikes gazed back with a curious detachment that hinted at a complete lack of empathy and as a result, also hinted at a complete ability to terrorize.  Adam started softly crying.  Amber unbuckled her seat belt, slid close to him and wrapped her arms around him.

“Let’s get out of here, Sue.  This place is weird.  I don’t like it.”

“Okay, okay,” Susan responded, slightly agitated by fear.  She made to increase the pressure her foot was placing on the gas pedal, but found that she could not because the three boys on the bicycles had parked themselves directly in front of the car, so close that the boy who appeared the oldest, trailed his fingers along the edge of the hood.

“Back up, back up,” Kim chanted.

Susan shifted the car into reverse and lifted her eyes to the rearview mirror and had to stifle a scream.  More boys on more bicycles were now barricading any possibility of escaping from the rear.  “Roll up your windows!  I’m locking the doors!” Susan commanded, her voice cracking as it reached a level of hysteria never before reached.  For a brief moment, she wondered if she was being silly; they were children on bicycles.  Where was the threat?  What reason was there for the sweat accumulating, or for the increased pace of her heart, or for the tears pricking at the back of her eyes?

Amber, still holding tightly to Adam, had locked the doors and was waiting for the window on her side to complete its infuriatingly slow progress upwards.  She stared through the windows for a pair of sympathetic eyes, for someone who looked as if they might care.  All she could see were these mini monsters, these children with stone faces who were intentionally scaring them.  It did not make any sense and for Amber, that was the worst part about it.  It had been chilly, yes, but it was still sunny.  They were on vacation in Florida, observing how the other half lived.  It was not dark and ominous and they were doing nothing illegal or harmful, nothing to justify such a turn of events.  Her eyes frantically and desperately scanned the surrounding lawns for adult eyes, aged eyes, eyes with wrinkles that belonged to someone who could rush over and demand the absurdity cease and desist in an authoritative tone.  Amber’s eyes only met statues that may have once been human, but could not possibly be human now.  They were adults on lawns, pushing mowers or chatting idly with neighbors, and they were observing the harassment and intimidation occurring before them, but there were no passing looks of disgust or pity.  Their faces were blank and their eyes were pointed in the right direction, but it did not seem as if they were really seeing.

Kim, Susan, Amber and Adam were helpless and all alone.

Only Adam’s soft and horrible moans penetrated the suffocating silence.  Agonizing minutes passed where the aggressors remained absolutely still and the victims only breathed in and out.

Then, suddenly, the boys on the bicycles descended.

On a good week.

Published January 14, 2013 by mandileighbean

dancecentral2

And so closes the first full week of the New Year. As part of one of my three resolutions, I am going to lose a substantial amount of weight by the time 2014 rolls around. To aid me in that endeavor, every week I am adopting a new strategy in addition to my regular routine of walking and counting calories. This week’s addition was incorporating a fun workout, something that is so enjoyable that I wouldn’t realize I was even working out. Such mental trickery has never worked for me, but I must admit that dancing really is an entertaining way to burn calories. The article that provided me with “52 ways to blast your blubber” from The L.A. Times suggested Zumba because it is wildly popular and usually, you can attend your first class for free. For me, I decided to keep it cheap and private, and used “Dance Central 2” for the Xbox Kinect in my own home. Three times this week, with the third time being today, I played this video game while burning calories with a smile on my face. The music was great and the game has a “fitness” option where I can choose for how long I work out, and at which kind of pace (interval, warm up, cool down, crazy-calorie-burning-not-for-the-faint-of-heart). There are other games in the series too (hence the “2”), so I can mix it up.

justdance2fitness

(I hope I look this cool – I know I don’t always feel this cool while dancing)

I must admit that I am having difficulty in getting radio stations to respond to my e-mail efforts. I am incredibly polite and professional in the message, and attach the press release with accompanying art, and a synopsis of the book. It’s only been a week of trying but so far, no go. This upcoming week, I am going to reach out by telephone first. When I called to follow up with one station and spoke with an incredibly helpful woman, she suggested calling producers and/or on-air personalities to begin networking. I figure since that information is beneficial and was obtained over the phone, I better start calling first. Makes sense, right? Wish me luck!

 

I am submitting short stories. I am hoping that now that I am published, there will be a greater interest. I want to dedicate more time to writing and get my priorities in order, especially since I want to be a writer full-time … eventually. I envision myself writing in the upper bedroom of a log cabin by a lake in some remote location preferably in the northeast of the country. Is that weird?

 

I am going to see more of people. I am not going to let work, exhaustion, or other frequently employed poor excuses keep me from living and not wasting one second.

 

I hope someone finds this inspiring.

 

“We will get by. We will survive.”

– “Touch of Grey,” Grateful Dead

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