"You look a bit ragged today, Frank." This was where the script, at last, left off, and they were allowed to improvise. Pete counted change. Francisco counted on his first sip of coffee, which eked into him like humidity.
"You know, you’re the only person I let call me ‘Frank.’"
â€œShouldâ€¦Iâ€¦consider myself lucky then?â€ Pete let the lilt grow in his words as he counted the mess of bills and coins Francisco handed him.
Pete looked up from the drawer, then his hands broke a roll of pennies on the black battered rim. â€œIâ€™ve always considered myself lucky.â€ He nodded once, then the change in his grip broke through its paper prison and fell against the cheap metal of the cash drawer.
The metallic applause annoyed the hell out of Francisco. He winced according to his perturbance, and his teeth suddenly tasted bitter. â€œJust donâ€™tâ€¦call me Francis.â€ He pushed the words through his tightened lips. The name, the power of a name, held too much control over him. It was a dangerous dominance, like Lilith in the Garden of Eden. â€œEnna Gadda da Vida, Babyâ€ started to weave through his mind, when Pete rescued him a moment later.
â€œEven I know Iâ€™m not that lucky. I may be able to call you â€˜Frankâ€™, but the Pope couldnâ€™t save me if I called you Francis.â€ He chuckled, made obvious by his head bobbing grossly over his spastic chest. He quickly recovered from his own joke when he saw Franciscoâ€™s eyebrows arch in distaste.
Pete somehow thought the joke was a lot funnier than it was. Usually, his humor was diabolically funny. Everyone has an off day, Francisco rationalized, or else Iâ€™m just not getting it.
â€œSo, anyway back to the question,â€ Pete looked especially inquisitive, â€œwhy do you look so ragged?â€
â€œBecause itâ€™s a good day.â€
â€œFrank, I think I know you pretty well, but sometimes you make no sense.â€
â€œNot a good day to me, a good day to them,â€ he spat and swept his hand melodramatically across the room. â€œSunshine. No, not only sunshine, but rain, then sunshine. The worst kind of sunshine. Thereâ€™s just too much fucking newness everywhere. Iâ€™m stuck in a goddamn Disney cartoon.â€
Pete almost dropped the cappuccino he was working on, â€œHey, hey, Frank, take it easy on the profanities.â€ Francisco retreated, then Pete gentled his darting eyes. He leaned over to Frank and said, â€œLook, this is a family establishment, and these Disney-type days are great for business. Besides, even you could use an occasional good day.â€
â€œI want nothing to do with â€˜em,â€ and Frank slouched up even more, as if to take advantage of his own shadow.
â€œNo, no, no. You donâ€™t really mean that,â€ Pete said with dismissal.
â€œYes.â€ Pause. â€œReally.â€ Francisco looked at him earnestly.
Pete looked around; he hesitated, then said, â€œWell.â€ Another hesitation. â€œI guess that can be arranged.â€ Frank let go of a puzzled look, then Pete slopped another cappuccino in front of him. â€œHere, this oneâ€™s on me.â€
Frank lifted the wide-brimmed cup weirdly to his lips, and as the froth left him with a thick mustache he tasted the faint sense ofâ€¦dried egg yolks? At least, thatâ€™s what it tasted like.
â€œWhat kind of flavor shot is this?â€ he questioned.
Francisco looked up and foundâ€¦
Toby, where did you unearth this? Circa 1997?
What a gift from the past. I suppose Part III hit some sort of road block?…. I won’t name names.
Fun. Speaking of forays into the past…
This Word document survived multiple hard drive crashes (thanks to diligent backups) and it doesn’t have the original creation date saved in the document properties anymore, so memory is the only record of how old it is. 1997 sounds correct, as I remember being in Manhattan and not out of college yet.
I rediscovered it when I was recently going through all of my old files, trying to clear old, unneeded stuff off of my computer. I found the document “frank.doc.” When I opened it up, it took me a while to remember exactly what it was. Funny how memory works, and the past can totally hijink you when you’re least expecting it. I’ve been in a nostalgic mood ever since. We’re going back to McPherson this weekend, so it intensifies the anticipation.
If I remember correctly, J.E. and I hatched this plan…or were Shotts and Peters involved in this too? J.E. started things out with the first entry, and I created the second. We handed it off to Peters, and, if memory serves me correctly, he added the next page. However, I think instead of the electronic copy, we received printed copies via post. No blame to go anywhere, I just remember thinking, “Man, I don’t want to type this all up.”
I’m sure I have the letter Peters sent with the next installment somewhere. Maybe Peters even has it on his PC. Or I could be imagining that last set of events, and the only thing that is really true are residual electronic bits left on my hard drive.
I had a lot of fun reading this, and it makes me realize the energy we have in a certain stage of life and how we didn’t even realize it. Makes me want to sit down and put pen to paper and harness the energies. How often do I invest in things that I don’t even have a memory of later? Another reminder that creativity is always a worthy investment, even though it takes more energy than sitting in a theater or going to Blockbuster to rent a movie.
I’m all for continuing this experiment a decade later. How about you, Hollow Men?
Who writes the next segment?
I’m in. Looking back, JE set the bar pretty freakin’ high. I am sure whatever I might have penned then should remain lost to the ages. I say we set a deadline to move this thing along; perhaps one week between posts, tops, and the person writing hands it off. What say ye?
I think both sections are very engaging. I think it is interesting to see how each person’s personality comes out a bit. Probably more obvious on the outside than if you wrote a segment.
A one week turnover may be difficult for me once school starts, especially since I started back up over the summer with an online children’s book writing critique group, but I’ll give it a run.
Pete, the clock starts ticking today…
Definitely my personality circa 1997. I’d like to think I’m a little more subtle now.
Anyway, looking forward to the next installment. One week is fair if we all we expect is a paragraph. No way could I write the kind of volume above in one week now.
Just did a search on my hard drive. I have some old stuff on there but no frank.doc. Thanks for your diligence Toby.
Just back from a week away, and finding this now. How tremendous, to get this glimpse of J. E. and Toby from over a decade ago. Dark, brooding, caustic. It’s all there. The world of rain and trench coat and banter and self-loathing and artistic blockage.
I somehow remember this project, or at least some part of it, or talking about it as a way to keep in touch. A sort of blog before the blog.
I look forward to reading the others, which I will turn to now.