Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 6

October 21, 2014

Mornings were the toughest because Saan never slept enough and caffeine had little effect on him. To keep awake, he chose a seat in the front row but even that couldn’t prevent him from sitting bent over with his head in his arms. Luckily, Mr. Beasley understood and didn’t give him too hard of a time. It wasn’t as if he skipped assignments or played hooky, so aside from looking like a mope, he wasn’t doing much to disrupt the class.

“Saan, can I talk to you for a minute?” Mr. Beasley asked when the bell rang.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m just really tired.”

“Maybe this isn’t my place, but have you gone to the doctor lately?”

“I have and everything is fine.”

“Not mono.”

“Oh, god no,” Saan said. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. Have you thought about scaling down your extracurricular activities?”

“The problem I have is if I’m not tired enough I’ll just be in bed wide awake with my mind racing,” Saan said.

“What do you think of during those times?”

“Nothing. Just the normal stuff. I’ll be okay. I’ll just have to figure out a way to get to sleep sooner.”

By lunchtime he was wide awake and sitting with his teammates at a table in the school’s square. He picked at the grilled chicken salad his mother packed for him but he had no appetite. He felt empty yet his body felt like it was pulling in on itself. But, he knew he needed to eat to have enough energy for practice so he shoveled the salad without tasting anything and gobbled the tuna sandwich and two bananas as well.

Brandon’s eyes blurred from staring at the laptop, each word came out slower than the next. He grabbed his copy of Choke from the bookshelf because it was the thinnest of the five unread books and headed out the door with no specific destination.

He walked aimlessly looking at storefronts in the downtown area. Besides the Starbucks and movie theater, just about everything was a mom and pop shop. There were a handful of barbers and hair stylists, a few dozen restaurants and bars, an Asian food market and even a couple music stores.

Brandon stumbled into Sally’s Books. “New and maybe passed around books.” He went to Tom the cashier to show him the book he walked in with.

“You can leave it with me or lug it around the store with you.”

Brandon opted for the former.

“If you’re looking for anything specific, please let me know,” Tom said.

“I’ll just browse for a while.”

It was impossible to explain why some of the books were in their specific sections, yet, there was a huge selection of books under “Miscellany.”

Brandon tripped over Elaine while he was staring at a large leather bound Steinbeck anthology sitting on top of a bookcase. He tumbled and fell to the ground in a heap. She shrieked and almost ripped apart Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

“I told you not to sit on the ground,” Tom said from the cash register.

She accepted his apology and offer of coffee as well.

They sat outside Rubia’s. She with a latte and he with a double Americano. Unlike the other night, her hair was curly but relatively normal, and she wore a ribbed sweater with tattered sleeves.

“I still can’t believe you made me buy back my own copy of this book,” Elaine said.

“At least he sold it to you for what they bought it from you for.”

Elaine doesn’t keep books. Once she finished something she would announce it on Facebook and offer it to her friend. If she didn’t get any takers within a couple of days, she would sell it to the second hand store. Sometimes, it was a book she bought from there, and after a while, they just let her make trades.

“There’s also this thing called a library, where they’re free,” Elaine said as she picked up her mug.

“Look, when I want to read East of Eden, I want it right away.”

“No one really wants to read East of Eden.”

“Have you read East of Eden?”

“What if I haven’t?”

“Would you like to borrow East of Eden?” Brandon asked.

Back in the loft, Elaine stared at his bookcases and shook her head. She didn’t believe he could find any of his books.

“Where’s Moby Dick?”

“Never read it. Don’t have a copy.”

Pride and Prejudice?”

“Summer before senior year of high school, so it’s down toward the beginning.”

After dinner, Saan saw the Giants were up 7-0 in game one of the World Series and went to practiced jump shots in the backyard with his youngest siblings, who were both adopted. Thirteen-year-old Francesca was white and eleven-year-old Dexter was black. He also had an older half-brother, Cheng, 20, who was in his second year in the NBA and two sisters, Isabelle, 16, and Carmen, 15.

Saan smiled at the memory of a then nine-year-old Dexter explaining adoption to Francesca. Just because you’re both white doesn’t mean mom’s your mom mom. They were good kids. Bright and considerate and happy.

At 8:30 their mother, Erica, came to the court to corral the two young ones for baths and bedtime. She stood slanted with hands on her hips. When the ball bounced to her, she heaved it toward the basket and missed everything. Her children serenaded her, “Airballll! Airballll!” Dexter threw her the ball and she missed again to the children’s delight.

“Don’t stay up too late, honey,” she said.

“Just going into the batting cage for a while. Goodnight, mom.”

He filched a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the pantry that night and took three big swigs before hiding the bottle in an old shoe box with medals and ribbons from elementary and middle school. He chewed on an Altoid while staring at the ceiling fan and waited, but he started thinking about upcoming tests and papers… his teammates who had a hard time reading… Jenna in physics class with the limp… Mrs. Fair and her cancer… Dexter having to explain his white mother and Asian father… the player from St. Mary’s calling him a dirty chink after sacking him… if Mary actually liked him.

He went to the closet and took three more swigs.

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Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 1

October 16, 2014

Brandon Fair kept his car a few seconds behind the small U-Haul truck his father drove as they entered the city limits of Great Falls. He promised himself he would never return to his hometown, but the more he heard about his mother’s cancer the more he felt he needed to be around. Besides, it would give him a chance to finish his Great American Novel, and it wasn’t as if he was doing anything particularly productive in Portland. After finishing his literature degree at UC-Santa Cruz, he moved up to Portland to “get life experiences.” He ended up bartending and hanging out in bars, and he fashioned himself as a modern day Bukowski or Hemingway but without writing anything beyond a few sketches and short stories.

As Mr. Fair turned left on R Street and headed north to their home, Brandon continued downtown to see if there were any changes. His last visited almost two years ago for Christmas but was bedridden by the flu and didn’t leave his parents’ house except to get firewood from the back patio. He didn’t have enough of a connection with the town to recognize any new businesses nor miss any old ones that had closed.

Early on a Thursday night, the streets were bare as Brandon expected, and he wondered if renting the downtown loft would be a mistake. But, he remembered growing up in Great Falls and his parents’ house being too far to walk to any other part of town, and after living in Santa Cruz and Portland, he got into the habit of walking for nearly an hour each evening and he always appreciated it more if he had an actual destination.

He parked his car in front of a pool hall and walked down the block to The Revisionist, whose orange neon sign advertised “Cocktails and Dancing” but the music spilling out the front door was punk rock. It was dimly lit with ceiling fans and a long rail bar made out of a lacquered wood slab, and the area behind the bar sat almost two feet lower than the rest of the place, so if you were standing and the music was too loud, you would have to lean for the bartender to hear your order.

At the far end, a half dozen patrons watched a baseball game with anticipation. A sports bar this was not. Brandon drank there years ago but didn’t recognize the bartender, who wore black and had tattoos on her forearms.

“What can I get ya?” she asked before he had a chance to survey the beer list on an old chalk board.

“What do you have on tap?”

She side-stepped and waved to the taps behind her. “I’ve got these and ten more down at the other end. What are you looking for?”

“I’ll do the Firestone Union Jack.”

“Good call,” she said before bending down to get a pint glass from the fridge.

Brandon looked up at the TV and saw a ball float into right field just beyond the red Levi’s logo, and the guys at the end of the bar whooped and jumped out of their seats. Brandon wasn’t a big fan of baseball but smiled at the dramatic ending.

Brandon checked Facebook and his last status update–Goodbye, Portland. We will meet again…–had several likes and a few questions from friends asking where he was going, which were answered by other friends who already knew. He posted a new status, “Back in Great Falls. Who wants to help me move into the apartment tomorrow?”

His phone rang. It was his mother. “Where are you? Dinner’s getting cold.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you were cooking.” Brandon got up and went outside.

“Where are you? Are you in a bar?”

“Yes. I stopped to have a drink. It was a long drive.”

“Well, get home soon. I made roast chicken and potatoes.”

Brandon lit a cigarette after finishing the conversation with his mother. He looked across the street at another bar with neon beer signs in its windows. It was surrounded by a Starbucks, a movie theater and a few different eateries.

“Got a light?” the bartender asked. She had wild black hair and introduced herself as Kristen.

“I’m Brandon. You’re taller than I expected.” In better lighting, she was also prettier than he initially thought.

“Optical illusion. Uneven floors.”

“True. What’s going on here tonight?”

“Thursdays we have a deejay come in around 10. You new in town?”

“I grew up here but just moving back.”

Brandon ate at the kitchen table while his mother hovered with a glass of wine. She checked the drawers and cupboards, moving a glass or plate from here to there.

“I just don’t know why you don’t want to live with us,” Mrs. Fair said. “With both you and Lizzie gone, the house always feels empty.”

“Ma, Lizzie lives around the corner.”

“It’s at least ten minutes, and it’s not the same.”

“You can drive to her house in less than two minutes,” Brandon says. “And, really, you don’t want me living with you guys.”

“Well, if you ever get lonely, you always have a place here.”

“I know, Ma.”

Brandon received a text message from Dennis Jordan, a high school friend, “Just saw you’re in town. Having a drink at the Cantina. First one’s on me.”

The Cantina was full but not crowded and brightly lit. Brandon found Dennis at the bar sitting between a white-haired gentleman and a younger Mexican woman with round eyes and a heart-shaped face. A few Giants fans celebrated the trip to the World Series with toasts and screams of “Ishikawa!”

“Welcome back to Great Falls!” Dennis said. “This is Bob and Vanessa.”

Bob offered his seat, but Brandon declined and told him he had been driving all day and didn’t mind standing at all. Dennis ordered a round of whiskey, and they toasted Brandon’s return.

“I’m going to need a cigarette after that,” Brandon said as the whiskey hung in his throat and nasal cavity.

Vanessa Silva and Dennis smoked with him outside.

“Thank God it has finally cooled down,” Dennis said.

“Long summer?”

“It was still 90 degrees last week.”

“So what are you going to do while you’re in town?” Vanessa asked.

“I’m moving into my apartment tomorrow, and I’ll figure it out from there.” Brandon looked at Dennis. “By the way, are you going to help me move tomorrow?”

“No can do. I’m sleeping in tomorrow,” Dennis said.

“I can help you tomorrow,” Vanessa said.