Editor's Note: For the first time in the history of the San Mateo County Fair, a 300-page anthology has been published that includes more than 100 stories, poems and essays from writers who submitted award-winning work for the fair's literary contest. The idea was the brainchild of Bardi Rosman Koodrin, a San Bruno resident who runs the fair's literary contest, and the anthology, titled "Carry the Light," features work from many Peninsula writers.
This excerpt is from an urban fantasy novel set in Tuscon, AZ, about a woman on the run who realizes that her new location may be more dangerous than her last.
From p. 307, “Monsoon”
With a nod to the manager, I unsling my guitar and put it through its paces. I’d never admit this to anyone--it’s too personal--but I named the guitar when I got it. It’s a Fender, so I named it after one of my rock gods, Springsteen. I love naming things. When I was a kid, I think I named every plant in the lawn and half the kitchen appliances. My wheelchair is named Phil.
I’m midway through testing my amp when I look up and see Jack perched on a bar stool. He’s a cowboy tonight, which isn’t saying much. The man changes faces like most women change shoes.
“You look blue as a memory, darlin’,” he says, nodding at my hair.
I just had it done today, a brilliant cerulean. I’d say it brings out my eyes, but everything overwhelms gray.
“Must be a sad memory,” I respond, trilling through a minor scale. Jack always makes me want to play in minor or flat. There’s something about him that brings you down. Whether it’s down to earth, or somewhere lower, is personal opinion.
“All memories are sad, that’s part of the deal.” He looks at his whiskey, no ice no water. Even if I didn’t know who he was, I’d recognize him by his drink. No one gets whiskey here; they only stock the lousy stuff.
“They aren’t all sad,” I protest, though more than half of mine are. “What about birthdays? Vacations? Hell, what about weddings?”
He peers at me under the brim of his black Stetson. His eyes are gray today, mirrors of my own. He doesn’t do that to me often; he knows that I find it unsettling. About as unsettling as I find that Stetson. It’s never seen dirt, looks fresh from the box. While Jack never smells precisely bad, he’s not exactly what I’d call clean or fresh, if you get my drift.
When he’s done inspecting me, his eyes go back to the drink. He takes a sip like it’s communion and swirls it in his mouth before he swallows. “Weddings, birthdays, any of the good days…they’re about hope. They’re about not knowing what’s in store, but wishing for something better. Once you’re looking back, that hope’s gone like smoke and mirrors.”
“That’s a bleak way of looking at things.” I meld into some Bob Dylan. I’ve got to keep an eye on my songs around Jack. I tend to drift to the blues.
“A girl with a positive outlook on life doesn’t get ink like that, darlin’,” he nods at my arm, studying it with a counterfeiter’s eye. I get an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. One of these days, he’s not just going to take my eyes, he’ll come as me completely. Maybe that’s part of why I remake myself so often, to keep him on his toes.
I glance down at my left arm. It’s not exactly bunnies and rainbows. What it is, is a staircase, heaven to earth, Jacob’s Ladder on the flesh. Crumpled at the base, is a small broken body. Could be a man or a woman, it depends on how I feel on a given day. Most days I think it’s a woman.
Ignoring his comment, I let my fingers go from Dylan to a punk rock version of “I Can See Clearly Now.”
“It’s not always about the hope,” I tell him when I’m done and setting the guitar up in its stand. “Sometimes things justare good.”
I wheel up by the bar and he passes me my usual cup: mostly sugar and cream, a dash of coffee. I met Jack the day I moved here, long enough for him to know I like coffee that tastes like hummingbird food.
He twirls a cigarette between his long fingers, rolling it like a quarter. I’ve never seen him smoke but it seems like he always has a cigarette at the ready. Maybe he used to smoke, or maybe he’s just waiting to start and wants to be prepared. For all Jack’s figured out about me, I don’t know much about him. Probably because he’s a new person every time I see him, besides the whiskey, cancer sticks, and his disconcerting inclination to use my eyes.
He always shows at my gigs though. I don’t know if he’s here every night or if he comes for me. Sometimes he’s old and sometimes he’s young…sometimes he isn’t even a ‘he,’ though that’s rare.
The first gig, he heard me play Springsteen’s “Jungleland.” His mouth grew soft, wistful almost. He flickered then, couldn’t hold his face, and I saw desert-tan skin and eyes like a bottomless glass of his favorite drink. After that, I always recognize him and I always play “Jungleland” for him. He’s held his face after that first time, but he’s not so good at the eyes. Every so often, I can make out the flicker of liquid gold.
There’s no sign of it now, as he leans his elbows on the bar and looks down at me. I’m used to people looking down at me, even people like Jack, so it doesn’t bother me.
“You think it’s going to be a good one tonight?” I ask him. He’s got a feel for things like that, whether from some supernatural sight or a grifter’s ability to judge a room.
He sucks his teeth for a while as he thinks about it. One cowboy-booted foot taps on the floor and I notice that he even has spurs. Never one to go halfway, that Jack. “It’s going to be one to remember.”
“Guess that means it’s going to be sad,” I swig down some more of the coffee, now that it’s cooler, “Being as that’s how memories are.”
“You’re too young to be such a smartass.” He gives me a quick, lazy, grin. “You’ll be great, darlin’, you always are.”
Excerpted from "Carry the Light" with the permission of Sand Hill Review Press, the publisher. The book is available for purchase for $12 on Amazon.com.
Constance Fay currently works as an engineer in Belmont.
To see all of the excerpts published on San Bruno Patch, visit the "Carry the Light" anthology topic page.