Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sunset, sunrise

Since the wild west class has now ridden off into the sunset and an ample mourning time has transpired, I suppose it is high time to put some fresh writing back into the world. The other day, I started back on the novel I set up last summer, writing the following bit. It's invigorating to be writing again.

For those who follow me, the agent hunt continues for Borrowed Horses, AKA novel #1, but I have more full MS requests every week and I'm hopeful that soon those requests will turn into an actual agent. Time will tell. For the mean time, though, there's plenty to write.

(Some background: Thirteen year old Robert, the protagonist, is trying to figure out what has happened to his older brother Sean, who abandoned his two children and disappeared. Robert is going to the high rise apartment building where Sean lived in hopes of finding clues to where and why he went.)

The air in the building was suffocating. Judging from the smell of old sweat, mildew, and urine that hung in the air, Robert guessed the air conditioner had been broken for some time. He wondered how long. Weeks? Months? Years? Robert pressed the call button for the elevator. It was sticky and a thin level of grime made it difficult to make out the arrow. An old lady came up and stood next to him, dark skinned and very prim in her flowered housecoat and wire-framed glasses, with a small canvas bag of groceries hanging from her arm. A white man came in behind her. He wore no shirt and continuously mumbled something Robert couldn’t hear. His hair was long and bedraggled, and his chest was dirty. If his mother was there, Robert might have taken a step closer to her, but here there were only strangers. The man was standing so close that his arm brushed Robert’s sleeve. His words were all hissing, the volume dropping and raising like a man in an argument with himself. The black woman only stared forward, waiting for the doors of the elevator to open and let them in.

No one spoke, and the only sound was the squeaking and rattling of the elevator as it approached. Anger began to rise within him again: Sean had no right to do this, to make him come here. “Whatever, geek,” his brother would say if he were here. “You came here on your own—I had nothing to do with it.”

You left, and now I have to pick up the pieces.

The elevator door opened and Robert, the lady, and the shirtless man walked into its box of stale air and flickering lights. Robert pressed the button for the 17th floor and silently prayed the elevator would make it that far. A fourth person, a girl with a nose ring and purple hair, squeezed through the doors as they closed and punched the button for the third floor. “Sup, Matilda?”

The older lady nodded at the girl and then stared at the elevator doors.

The girl turned to Robert. “Haven’t seen you here before.”

“I’m, um.” Robert faltered. “I’m looking for my brother.”

“OK, I’m-Um. I’ll let you know if I see him around.” She grinned broadly, and Robert wondered if she was making fun of him.

But would it matter if she was? Would it change anything? She might know something. Robert cleared his throat and tried again, “Sean Baxter. My brother Sean.”

The girl’s smile dropped a little. “Sean, huh?” She looked at Robert quietly for a moment, as if sizing him up, then shrugged. “Haven’t seen him.”

Robert stared into the corner of the elevator so he wouldn’t have to say anything else. Stupid, he thought. Stupid to think some stranger on a rusty old elevator would know something.

The doors opened and the girl stepped out. “Catch you later, I’m-Um,” she said, laughing lightly.

Robert felt himself blush, but concentrated his gaze on the graffiti covering the walls. Most of it was unreadable, the letters curved like scimitars and ending in arrow points. He had the sense again that he needed a whole different school to understand this city. What he could read was profanity, some of it misspelled and some not really all that profane, “eat this” or “suck it.” Sometimes an adjective added more color, “suck it hard.” With an elevator this slow, hadn’t they had time to come up with something better? And did these ghost people, the ones who had written these things, always carry black markers for this purpose? Did they wait until the elevator was empty? If he were to pull out a marker now, say, and write “F you, Sean,” on the panel by the door, would the lady or the shirtless man say a word against it?

His eyes traveled over the panel, reading note after note, until he saw it, there, in the corner, the tight cramped writing that he’d know since childhood. “The pilot is dead and we’re all going down,” Sean had written.