AS THEY DROVE BY the corner pocket park, Marvin Midalka noticed a man in a stained overcoat standing at the corner, hunching against the cold, his hood pulled tight around his head. He held a sign that said “WILL WORK” in bright red, well-formed letters that were all the cardboard had space for. A patched canvas pack leaned against the tree beside him. On its top lay a rolled blanket covered in plastic, save for one protruding end.
“There’s more bums down here than I expected,” Marvin said, shaking his head side-to-side. He looked at Danny Flamion filling the passenger seat. “This Boston weather will show them.”
In ten blocks they had attempted only the slightest pleasantries, no more than a sentence at a time. Marvin blamed himself for that. He struggled against thinking of this off-duty ride with his new sergeant as patrol, especially when he was taking the man to lunch for the first time. Try against it as he might, Marvin scanned the streets and alleys for anything that might need their attention. The good part was that it saved him from as much talking as he expected Danny would want.
“World’s the same everywhere, Lieutenant,” Danny drawled out the window, “but the view depends on the ground a man’s holding. For the homeless, it’s ugly.”
In Last Night At The Vista Cafe, I return to matters of the heart, exploring the interiors of my everyday characters in the hope that readers will recognize their situations as much like their own. I try to take a worm’s eye view of the bonds, attachments, and trials of lovers and friends, family members, even those that grow in the chance encounters between strangers. The common dilemmas that affect all of us, that I feel so deeply in side myself, are what motivate me to write. I try to describe each situation with careful attention to the details, sometimes even small ones, of character and place. When I feel successful, it is because I have shown my characters’ foibles, stumbles, and reasonable triumphs with a bit of nuance, realism, compassion, and – this is most important – scrupulous honesty. In everything I read I love richly detailed evocations of very personal situations. That’s what I aim for in my writing.
Here are the previews. As grist for the mill, you may see bits and pieces of these stories on the pages of this blog:
In my title story, a reclusive man tries to get through the closing night of his favorite restaurant and say goodbye to the staff, particularly the salty waitress who has ministered to his wishes every Friday night for seven years. She offers him help he is reluctant to receive, but she is persistent.
In “Southern Comeuppance,” a police sergeant breaks ranks to give his new lieutenant from up East a lesson in how to deal with a homeless man on a cold winter’s day. The homeless man gives him lots of help.
In “Bones,” a long-divorced couple reaches an unexpected closure as they talk on the phone about burying the family cat. It is not the closure that the man would prefer, but it’s what he tries to realize is the most he can expect.
In “Her Way,” a somewhat imperious but gracious mother, on her deathbed but still sharp as a tack, struggles to show two generations of her large family the right way to die. Conflict simmers in the room, but help comes in an unexpected way from an unlikely source, especially in dealing with a recalcitrant son.
In “Flat Tire,” a college teacher stuck on the side of a mountain road is bailed out by a former student, a young Indian man who has outgrown him in several important ways, especially in dealing with disappointment.
In “Movin’ Up,” a working class girl struggles to decide whether a well-to-do college boy is interested in more than her body. With help from her grandmother, she strengthens herself against her alcoholic mother who hates “college boys.” The young woman must make a decision about what she is going to do.
“Lost And Found,” a man looking for directions home feels threatened by a posturing gang of young men at a gas station in a poor neighborhood. Again, unexpected help (a thread in my stories?) comes from what he thinks must be one of the most important figures in that part of town. In the process he must deal prejudices he did not think he had toward the young men and the powerful figure who arrives out of seemingly nowhere to help him find his way.
In “Jenna’s New Refrigerator,” a man visiting his crotchety old uncle for perhaps the last time must deal with the return of desire for and from a cousin with whom, long ago, he nearly tread on dangerous ground. Much to the irritation of his uncle, who knows why his daughter is late getting home and where she has gone, she at last arrives for their reunion. She has a big surprise.
In “Last Chance,” a son plays golf with his father for what is certain to be the last time (another recurring theme?). The son must deal with his robust father’s weakened state and request for the truth about an old lie. Faced with the biggest challenge of his life, the boy must make an irreversible decision.
In “Her Bower Bird,” a man with great affection for a woman he describes as a “flutterby” because of how she comes and goes and the shortness of her visits, learns why he is her bower bird and what he must do to keep her without keeping her.
In “First Passage,” a teenage boy must deal with his first great lesson: the death of his best friend whose illness he cannot accept because of what he believes to be its origins. Though it appears to be about his relationship with his friend and their group of friends, it is also about his parents and an older man in the neighborhood.
In “Milt’s Advice Booth,” a man repeatedly mistaken for someone else when he has breakfast in his favorite restaurant starts playing along with his misidentification as a therapist. Eventually he must face the danger of being discovered.
Like my stories in Filling Up In Cumby, I hope you find them to be morsels for savoring one at a time…if, of course, you choose to buy the collection! If not, this blog will be, I hope, a place you come to talk about reading and writing.