|Posted on November 19, 2012 at 6:30 PM|
Chapter 1 -- Up In My Bedroom
Quick’s bedroom was awash in a tsunami of library books. Every single one of them was overdue. A weighty copy of The Magus teetered on her headboard like the sword of Damocles. Books on galaxies, ghosts and reincarnation elbowed each other under her quilt. Atlases and the works of Teilhard de Chardin dripped off the dresser and onto the sea green carpet. Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas sulked in a chintz armchair. Federico Garcia Lorca helped to press a tennis racquet. Cervantes napped on the window seat.
In her search for Truth, Quick had ‘checked up’ her card, her mother’s card, her father’s card, a card her dithering uncle had left on her grandmother’s kitchen table. Somehow she never got around to the second chapter of any of the books. It was too late to return them now.
Most of the books had been checked out over spring break. It was now early June. Great Bend was a small town and eventually, any day now, Jewell Kanega, the town’s fiendish librarian, would be down on Quick’s head like a blue-haired harpy; a blue haired harpy who was not above serving a bench warrant for unreturned books. Quick knew this from sad experience.
She sat up in bed and massaged her aching temples. This was Thursday night. Tomorrow was Friday. She had only to get through Friday without being contacted by the Great Bend Public Library or its lawful representative, the Great Bend Police Department, and she would be home free. By Sunday, if her luck held, she would be far beyond the reach of the establishment.
A record dropped onto the turntable: “Quicksilver Girl.” Quick sighed. The song was so her. She truly knew every branch on the tree.
She threw herself onto her bed and tried her damndest to sleep.
Downstairs Quick’s parents were still noisily reuniting, reminiscing, celebrating. Underlying the strident joy, cubes clinked against tumblers. Adults were so phony, so devoid.
Uncle Bobby laughed. He sounded like a jackass. Quick winced. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind by mentally chanting ommm. Surely she could summon the wisdom to untangle this tangled skein of karma that the Fates had snipped.
“Who’s that guy laughing like a mule?” A sleepy voice asked from the bunk below.
“My Uncle Bobby. He’s not my real uncle. He’s my godfather. He used to be Dad’s business partner but they split up. They don’t get along very well but Mom and I love him. He had a daughter named Cyndi who died of polio before I was born so he kind of adopted me,” Quick answered, not because it was relevant but because she thought that history was an important tool in uncovering Truth.
“Do you love him a lot?” Dawg yawned.
“Yeah, I do.”
“Then I’m sorry I said he laughed like a mule.”
“It’s okay. Remember what I said about your Aunt Bathie the first time I met her?”
“You had a point, Quick.”
“Adults. Why is it so hard to love them? God knows, we try.”
“They drink too much.” Dawg rolled over and began to snore.
Quicksilver reached under her pillow for a slim edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets. An engraved invitation held her place at a particular sonnet. She did not need to read the invitation. She knew it by heart. She did not need to read the sonnet. Mr. Kanega, her high school English teacher, had required his seniors to learn it by heart: Let me not to the marriage of true minds…
Quick choked back a sob. It was true – so awfully, irrevocably true. Life was a sad, dreary travesty without True Love. She replaced the book under her pillow. In doing so, she dislodged The Magus. It was a hefty volume and landed with a thud.
“Damn it!” Dawg growled from the bottom bunk.
“Sorry. I thought you were asleep.”
“Quick, you’re going to have to start picking up after yourself! You won’t have a maid, or me, after you’re married,” Dawg bitched, throwing the book onto the overloaded window seat.
“Sorry. Go back to sleep.”
“I’ve been awake for a week. Some people actually had to take finals and write papers. Every time I close my eyes, I see ibids. My flight was delayed. I sat in O’Hare for two hours then we took off in a thunderstorm. Flying scares the snot out of me in calm skies,” Dawg bitched on.
“I’m sorry. Go back to sleep,” Quick soothed her one-time roommate and soon-to-be maid of honor.
Dawg had never been west of the Mississippi. She was in culture shock. Worse, her parents were in Nairobi and would be until July. They hadn’t even waited for their firstborn child to return from her first year of college. When Dawg got back to Chicago on Monday, she would be living in an empty apartment. Dawg hated living in an empty apartment more than flying through thunderstorms.
Of course, living in an empty apartment wasn’t nearly as ponderous as marrying the wrong man the day after tomorrow. Quick’s thoughts turned to her personal predicament. She sought comfort from a small bag tucked into her windowsill.
“Damn it, Quick! Are you smoking a reefer up there?”
“I’m just finishing the pony we started on the way home from the airport.”
“Smoking pot in bed is what got you kicked out of the dorm in the first place!”
Magnanimously, Quick passed the roach down.
Dawg snatched it from her fingers, took it into the bathroom and flushed it, muttering, “Told you that I’m swearing off that stuff. It’s counterproductive, and don’t try to say it’s not. Look what it’s done for you. Drop out of school before finals… Look at this room! Be my luck. Torch yourself on a pyre of overdue library books and I’m on the bottom bunk! Just my luck!”
Quick almost laughed but at the last minute decided not to. After all, she was brokenhearted and her best friend did not care.
“Jeez! Quick! Your parents are just downstairs!” Dawg harped on, climbing into bed and slugging her pillow.
“Dawg, we are in Great Bend, Kansas, population fifteen-thousand uptight and white establishment zombies. We could light up in the middle of my parent’s cocktail party and they all would compliment us on rolling our own cigarettes!”
“That is the clear, sharp thinking that got you kicked out of our dorm room,” Dawg muttered.
“Ommmmm,” Quick droned, peering into her soul to find tranquility. She would not snap. She would not feel anger. The crickets squeaked. The highballs clinked. She cleared her mind and made it a receiver for the clear, Aquarian Transmission.
“Quick, I’m sorry. I’m tired and pissed at my parents. I didn’t mean to take it out on you,” Dawg apologized, after a moment.
Quick gathered the nearest books into a safe pyramid then dropped them semi-gently, one by one onto the floor. “It’s okay. I couldn’t sleep anyway. My whole life is zooming down the tubes, and fast. I’ve been up to my ass in bad luck since spring break. Like these library books. I just know that our bitchy librarian is scribbling up a bench warrant so they can take me away in handcuffs first thing tomorrow morning. It will ruin my wedding, and you know how Walt has been bitching about this big expensive wedding – he says I’m not mature enough to get married. He’ll freak out for sure when they take me away to the slammer for overdue library books. This time, I bet he won’t even go my bail!”
“Maybe he will. Your dad seems like a nice guy – when you’re not around.”
Quick took her fingers through her crazy, curly mop of hair and sighed. “If I hadn’t been kicked out of the dorm, I wouldn’t have had to live in that moldy basement apartment to finish out the semester. If that apartment hadn’t been haunted, Tizz wouldn’t have been sleeping with me when my parents drove up to surprise me for Easter. If the damned school had not spitefully given out my new address, my folks would have never found me, much less discovered that I’d been kicked out of the dorms for smoking.”
“But only for smoking tobacco. The nuns bought the cigarette story. That was a piece of luck. You pinched the letter to your folks out of the mailbag on the first try. If that’s not luck, I don’t know what is,” Dawg reasoned.
Quick was having none of it. “If my parents hadn’t barged into my apartment on Easter morning, if Lil hadn’t started screaming and if Walt hadn’t started chasing poor Tizz around the apartment, beating on him in his nakedness, I would never have told them that we were engaged and getting married in June!”
“Day after tomorrow.”
“Don’t!” Quick held her spinning head.
Dawg sighed. “Look, Quick, this isn’t about true love. This is a simple case of pre-wedding jitters. We studied this in Psych. You’d know it if you’d ever gone to class. Dad told me that he puked every morning for a week before he married Mom.”
“Your parents hate each other.”
“But they’re still together.”
“I feel nauseous.” Quick slung the book of sonnets onto the window seat and folded her pillow over her eyes.
“What are those squeaking things? They’re driving me nuts.”
“My parents and their friends.”
“No. Out the window.” Dawg made a shadowy gesture towards the open screen over the window seat.
Completely stymied, Quick listened intently before grinning. “Crickets.”
Dawg sat up fast. “Bugs? Where are they? I can’t sleep with bugs squeaking around! Can’t you roach fog them or something?”
Quick giggled. “You can’t kill crickets. Where would your karma be if you went around murdering Jiminy Cricket?”
“Somebody must have murdered them in Chicago. I’ve never heard anything like this. Like fingernails on a blackboard!” Dawg pulled her pillow over her ears like a deerstalker hat. She tied it with the belt from her robe.
Silence, except for Uncle Bobby, and the crickets, descended upon the bedroom, but sleep eluded Quick. Wide eyed, she wrestled with angels and demons; she pondered the mysteries of love.
Dawg, on the other hand, was bummed by the pillow-proof crickets. She sat up and threw her pillow hat. “Just back out. Your parent’s can’t force you to marry someone you don’t love. They aren’t evil.”
“I don’t know. They’re pretty medieval when it comes to pre-marital sex… and on some level, I do love Tizz – maybe truly.”
“He is a hunk.”
Quick nodded then sighed, long and hard. “At first, my attraction to him was purely carnal. We were so shallow back in our sophomore year, but then we had Mr. Kanega for American Lit. When Mr. Kanega taught Walden, it was an awakening for our whole class. Tizz began to take his column in the Panther Tales seriously. He walked off the football team in protest over the crew cut rule. Mr. Kanega told me that Tizz alone, of all his students, saw the world through Thoreau’s eyes!”
“‘Simplicity and clear vision,’” Dawg quoted Emerson, reverently.
“Right on, Dawg. That’s when my love for him matured. I no longer saw Tizz, my scruffy neighbor boy or Tizz, the captain of the football team. I saw Tizz, the Old Soul, the transcendental pilgrim. I burned for him. When I developed the hots for his soul, as well as his body, there was no stopping us. We didn’t need a piece of paper to say what we meant to each other. We became one. That’s what I told my parents – after they stopped hollering and chasing us around.”
It was Dawg’s turn to sigh, just as gustily. “So, Saturday morning you get the piece of paper. Then you can live happily ever after without your father beating up on Tizz in his nakedness. Is that so unlucky? I never had a boyfriend at all.”
Quick closed her eyes and dealt her thoughts like cards in a mental game of solitaire. Dawg spoke the truth. All that she said was in the deal, but Quick was dealing from a short deck and only Quick knew it. There was a part that she never told:
The itch was gone the morning after she had scratched it. The fire was out the morning after she had kindled it. The case was cured the morning after she had doctored it. She didn’t talk it around. She didn’t like to think about it. She felt as shallow as a finger bowl at a cajillion-dollar-a-plate fundraiser. True love was supposed to be an ever-fixed mark, not a shooting star.
Quick squinted and peered, although her eyes were closed, far into the mystical reaches of the netherworld. Past the silver and blue shores of Narnia, past the fireworks that bordered Never-Never Land, beyond the patchwork circle that was Oz, there was a web, somewhere, somehow; a black and silver web woven across the void. A scrap of that web was embedded into every soul that had ever been, or would ever be. Humanity was strung out, soul to soul, across that web, like dewdrops on moonlit gossamer. That web was the universe.
Somehow, somewhere, Quick had snaffled a line in that web. It had happened about the time she’d started sleeping with Tizz. It was then that her luck had curdled. “I must go to him,” she said softly.
“You went to him,” Dawg muttered from between clenched teeth.
“Words failed me.”
“You puked in his peonies!”
“That was the Boones Farm. I must see him tonight.” Quick threw back her quilt.
In climbing out of the top bunk, she started a meteor shower of library books. Dawg ducked, swore half-heartedly, and tossed them onto the window seat.
Quick slipped into the bathroom where she washed her face, brushed her teeth and threw on a pair of faded blue jeans. Topless, she ran to her dresser and took a white cotton t-shirt from the drawer. Over this, she donned a chambray shirt that had ‘Quicksilver’ embroidered in silver thread just over her breast pocket – Dawg’s handiwork.
“Didn’t you hear that lecture your mom gave you about the no-bra thing? You’d better put one on!” Dawg called across the room.
She mumbled through a mouth full of bobby pins. “Dawg, I am an A cup. What’s the point?”
“He’s a teacher! What if he calls your mom and tells her that you’re going around town without a bra?”
“He won’t notice. He never sees anything but books and lecture notes.”
“But what if he does?”
Quick glanced at herself in silhouette and gave herself a secret thumbs-up. “It might do him some good.”
“I thought you had only spiritual hots for him.”
Quick took a pick to her mop of blonde curls then anchored it down with six or seven more bobby pins and a tie-dyed bandana. “This is what I need to clear up. Am I spiritually hot for him or is it carnal? I owe this to Tizz. I need to be sure. Tizz could be having doubts, too!”
“Tizz gave up everything for you. He traded his MG for a secondhand bug. He’s clearing the land for you!” Dawg protested.
“All of my life, I have been drawn to this one man. I can’t… Look Dawg,” Quick said, taking a small wooden chest, carved with larkspur and daisies, from her top dresser drawer. “Here is every hall pass he ever wrote for me. See? He wrote funny stuff on them. For: La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Signed: The Knight. Don’t you see? Mr. Kanega is my courtly love; the one man who would slay a dragon for me.”
“Tizz has blisters on his hands for you.”
Quick was busy rummaging through a half unpacked suitcase. “But if Tizz isn’t my soul mate I shouldn’t marry him. If it turns out that Tizz is my soul mate, then I must say goodbye to my mentor. I made these for him, in Eagle Point Park by the sacred Indian springs, last semester, as a token of all we have been to each other. I must give them to him before I marry another.” Tenderly, Quick opened a small ceramic box and took out a string of beads.
“Love beads? Teachers don’t wear love beads! Is this the clown you’re mooning over?” Dawg asked, holding up an open yearbook, turned to the faculty page.
“I told you not to look him up! He’s all different in person!” Exasperated Quick snatched the yearbook and threw it to the back of her impossibly cluttered closet.
“He wears a bow tie?” Dawg gestured to heaven.
“It was a joke. He was protesting the dress code,” Quick lied.
“He is forty-thousand years old!”
Dawg threw up her hands. “Same difference. You’re only eighteen.”
“Tizz may not be your soul mate but he does have hair!” Dawg did not mean to be spiteful, it was just that Quick was beautiful and she was not. Beautiful girls never saw the charm of beautiful boys. Beautiful boys never looked at Dawg.
Quick fished a pair of tennis shoes from under her bed. A cobwebby copy of the Golden Bough came with them. She tossed it onto the heap and laced the sneakers as she talked. “He has hair. It’s just really blond so it doesn’t show up in pictures. All of his sisters are blond. He has five sisters. He’s not married because he has bad luck. He was engaged to our gym teacher but it fell through. My mom says that his mother and sisters made short work of her. Mom used to babysit him and his sisters. See, all of the Kanegas have bad luck. They’re famous for it. His father died in a famous freak accident when Mr. Kanega was still in grade school. All of his life, the poor guy has had to work to support his family, because he’s the only boy. Mr. Kanega’s mother works at Duckwalls. She’s in charge of the fabric and sewing section. She’s a bitch on wheels. My mom told me that, and believe me, my mother is the woman who wrote the book on bitchy, so she knows what she’s talking about! Mrs. Kanega brings home all the fabric that nobody buys, then makes her daughters sew their clothes out of it. Then they have to wear them until they wear out! Even if they go out of style!” Quick grimaced.
Dawg frowned. “Thoreau would have loved that.”
Quick scoffed. “Not when he saw how nothing matched. Look at his pictures. Everything he wore was white or black. Classic. I hate mismatched stuff. It’s so depressing. My mother says that most women are looking for rich, tall guys; not poor, short English teachers. So see? Cotton and I have that bad luck in common. It might be a sign. Anyway, forget that year book picture. Appearances don’t count.”
“Then wear a bra!”
Quick stood on the window seat and raised the window screen.
“What are you doing?” Dawg hissed, coming out of her bunk.
“Sneaking out my window.”
“You can’t do that. It’s dangerous. I thought you were afraid of heights.”
Quick shot a glance at the dark ground under her window then looked away. She took a grip on the window sash. “Tizz and I have been sneaking out since we were in sixth grade. I’ve been doing this so long, it doesn’t bother me… much.”
“Don’t you want your car keys?” Dawg asked, jingling the keys.
“I have to walk. My grandmother lives next door to Mr. Kanega. I can’t park my car anywhere near there. If someone sees my car, they will ask Grandma or Uncle Fritz about it. You know how Uncle Fritz loves to rat me out to my folks.”
“Walk? You’re going to walk? Just walk? Outside? In the dark? Alone? Walk?” Dawg was at the window, trying to coax Quick back into the bedroom.
“This is not Chicago, Dawg.” Quick stepped onto the porch roof.
“Wait! What if he’s a pervert? You’ll be all alone with no bra!”
“A pervert? Cotton Kanega? He blushes at the earthy parts in Shakespeare.” Quick shook her head at her friend’s naiveté, stepping nimbly across the porch roof then climbing down the trumpet-vined trellis.
Quick Fixes, this romantic comedy by Shakey Smith will be available for purchase in digital, print and Kindle formats on November 22, 2012.