Wednesday, July 7, 2010

One Night Goddess

[Originally written in 1998. © Brendan Hodge]

The party was exactly as Geoff had feared it would be. He stood in a corner of the living room, across from the big screen television on which some interminable sports game was playing, tightly clutching a bottle of Samuel Adams. The stuff was not particularly to his liking, but he could not bring himself to commit one of the other two sins available: cheaper beer in cans or cheap wine in plastic cups. Around him, people dressed more trendily than himself discussed foreign films and best sellers. The subjects were hardly beyond him -- he prided himself on being current and literary -- but he found their viewpoints pedestrian and dull. Say something real about the symbolism of Umberto Eco or the color theme in Kieslowski’s trilogy and their eyes would glaze over.

“Carl said you went to college back east?”

Geoff glanced at the woman who had spoken. He didn’t know her, if she was from the office at all. Perhaps she was some other friend of Carl’s.

“Yes. Hamden College. In Vermont.” Geoff tried desperately to remember her name. He knew Carl had introduced her to him. She seemed subtly out of place among Carl’s group. Her hair was golden and she had allowed it to grow down her back in long waves of curls, making her stand out from the other women with their dusty blond hair in short, secretarial cuts.

“That’s a beautiful place to have gone to college.” Geoff nodded. Sara. That was the name. “What did you study?” she asked.

“Literature,” Geoff replied. He was rather proud of the way the word alone could halt whole conversations with its musty, academic weight.

“How wonderful! Older or modern?”

He was surprised by the enthusiasm of her response, but wary as well. Throughout college he had lived in terror of those well meaning but overly effusive women -- often elementary education majors -- who “knew nothing of literature but loved to read”. He took a sip of his beer and instantly regretted it. Really, how people liked such bitter stuff he just could not understand. “Modern British. I wrote my thesis on Philip Larkin.”

Sara’s gaze became unfocused for a moment. “‘High Windows’?” she said after a moment. “‘Church Going’?”

“Yes!” Geoff found himself setting aside his bottle in excitement. He hadn’t met someone who knew his field since he graduated four years before, and even then there were few enough who cared about it.

“Did you ever read much Gunn?” she asked.

“Some. ‘Black Jackets’ ‘My Sad Captain’ Others. I wrote a paper in sophomore year.”

“War poetry?”

“Graves, Sassoon, Owen.”

They moved slowly out of the living room, swapping authors and favorite lines, and took refuge in the kitchen. Sara rummaged through the ice chest of beverages till she found a bottle of pale red wine. They sat down, facing each other, at Carl’s kitchen table and Sara poured them each a plastic cup of wine. Geoff watched her as she did so. He couldn’t guess her age with any certainty. Perhaps as old as thirty, as young as twenty-three. Her eyes were a pale blue, almost grey, and though she smiled as she poured the smile did not reach her eyes.

“So, do you have a girlfriend?” she asked as they both sipped their wine.


For a moment they were both still, caught off-guard by the implication of the exchange. Then Sara burst out laughing, almost choking on her wine. Geoff contained himself just long enough to take another sip, then burst into laughter himself.

It was 11:06 by the kitchen clock when one of Carl’s other guests stumbled beerily into the kitchen and began to rummage loudly through the ice chest. Geoff and Sara exchanged a silent glance, and by mutual agreement rose and left. Out on the sidewalk they breathed in the cool evening air of late September in Santa Monica. There was a breeze blowing in off the beach, and the smells of salt water and washed-up kelp were bourne upon it.

Final Rites

[This was originally written in 1996. © Brendan Hodge]

When I was younger I always thought of my grandparents’ house as “The House With Plants In It”. I’m not really sure why. We must have had at least as many, even then, before any of us kids were learning magic. Any family of Walkers has plants coming out of its ears, a fact my sister Lizzy decries loudly whenever it's her turn to water them. But Grandma and Grandpa’s taste finished developing some time in the Fifties and hadn’t changed since; there were at least a dozen large, bulb-shaped bronze pots hanging from large black hooks in the living room ceiling. Our house isn’t like that at all; most of the plants are in the yard, safely out of harm’s and the rug’s way. I always used to imagine I was walking into a jungle when I entered their house. But all that had changed. The plants were dead or dying, and Stepmom always hushed the twins before we knocked on the door, even though they knew better than to disturb anyone.

Grandpa always lay in the back bedroom, half awake and half asleep. Maybe sometimes he was asleep; half the time he never said a word the whole time we were there. Or maybe there isn’t any difference between awake and asleep when you’ve had as many strokes as Grandpa had.

Grandma was always the one to answer our knock; Aunt Catherine, Dad’s youngest sister, always seemed to be taking her turn at Grandpa’s bedside when we got there. Grandma was usually in a pretty bad mood when she answered the door, muttering curses under her breath. Cliche has it that a kid hears the words he isn’t supposed to use from his father, but in my case it was from my grandmother. She could out-swear most of the boys in my high school class, which was saying a lot. You could hardly blame her though. It drove me crazy just to be around the back bedroom for a few hours, and she had to be there all the time. Frankly, I don’t know how she kept as sane as she did.

We usually got there around noon, which meant the first thing we did was go to the dreaded back bedroom to give Grandpa lunch. The only time we could really be sure he was awake was when he was eating, so that’s when we usually made our visit. Grandpa would be lying in the hospital bed they’d bought for him, looking like a thawed out version of the Iceman, and Aunt Catherine would be getting his lunch ready. It was always something that had been mashed into a disgusting looking pulp, but then, Grandpa’s teeth couldn’t handle anything that wasn’t. I’m not sure he could taste things very well anyway. I certainly hope he couldn’t.

Some Old Stuff

Well, I haven't exactly moved on using this blog. But since it's preying on my mind at the moment, I'm reposting two of the better stories I wrote back in the day.