The first chapter of my children’s book Ginger, the Ship Captain’s Cat
The first chapter of my children’s book Ginger, the Ship Captain’s Cat
I’ve had these two introductory paragraphs and the final action scene done for years. Now I’m finally going to write what comes between.
As soon as I finish Jake Calcutta story #3 next week.
Mossie had bought me a very nice pair so I would, as he said, “look the part of heroic best man” at his wedding. I doubted a pair of shoes could manage that without oodles of help, but it was Mossie and Clare’s big day. Who was I to argue?
Excerpt from a book I plan to finish someday.
The massive door slammed. “Hey, Plum!”
“Hey yourself, Plum!” His uncle and aunt had been making up nonsense greetings for as long as he could remember. Never with others, just between them. Fruits meant happy, good news, his uncle’s wide smile and his aunt blushing.
“Where’s my princess? Or did she get promoted to empress by now?” Bets giggled as she ducked behind Momma’s chair. Betsy squealed as Quentin gave her hair a tug over Beth’s shoulder.
“What are you hearing?” His uncle sat behind him and looked over his shoulder toward the trees.
“Just the wind.”
“Saying anything I oughta hear?”
“Nah.” He was always a little embarrassed when his uncle asked about the things he heard. Not because he was mocking, but because he wasn’t.
“Alright, then. Keep me posted, eh?”
“Sure.” He couldn’t help smiling. His uncle was the biggest man he knew and yet he seemed small. No, not small, quiet. Young. Something like that. To look at him you’d expect a bear or a bull, but he was more like a cat, a big friendly cat.
Another reason to hold your horses (and wallets.) This is nothing like I’ve ever written before. It is an experimental stream-of-consciousness romantic mystery novella. What’s it about? It’s about 20,000 words oh ho.
Here’s the sample from the back cover:
The hand on my knee was firm. Then, it was crushing. Then, it started to slide the kneecap right off. Despite the pain, I didn’t cry out; in a bizarre comedic moment I wondered if the thing shoved against my ribs was called a ‘silencer’ for more than one reason.
Another survival tip for you, kiddies: no matter how funny you find yourself, don’t smile when the bad guys are interrogating you under physical duress. They don’t like it, and things go downhill fast.
Mr. Big (as in the leader) gestured vaguely toward the bathroom hallway Siobhan had gone down (where was she??) and Mr. ReallyBig the thug dragged me from the booth and shoved me ahead of him down the hallway toward a greasy door at the end.
I had a little more experience with being meekly led to the slaughter, and I wasn’t walking to my own funeral this time. Better to be shot in a room full of people than in a dirty alley (or maybe the alleys in Galway aren’t dirty; I didn’t remember) or down by the ocean where they’d never find you.
I say I had experience with the concept. I had none with the execution of it. I jerked away from Mr. ReallyBig and ran for the door. Which was locked. I think. I don’t know; it wouldn’t open.
The pain in the back of my head was amazing. At first I thought he’d shot me; then I realized he’d just slugged me with the gun. Not enough to knock me out; contrary to what you see in the movies, that takes more than a light tap. But enough to make me reconsider my flight and, instead, bend over with my head between my hands. I’m no tough guy, I’m an academic, remember?
The apartment was bigger than it looked in the photos online. Real estate must be cheaper in a small town than in the cities. I didn’t know. I’d never lived anywhere but one big city and apartments were even more expensive than renting a small house. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I guess if you’re willing to pay for the benefit of not having a lawn to mow, someone might as well take your money.
I also wasn’t used to having the super live offsite. Though she wasn’t the super, she was the apartment manager. Or owner. I should get that straight. She and her husband lived down the street in a nice little house by the lake.
“Right up the road if pipes burst or you lock yourself out,” Mrs. Wright had said. Mr. Wright was housebound so she had taken care of our business arrangements.
“Now, there’s lots of young men for neighbors, dear, but they’re polite and well-behaved or I wouldn’t have them. So you just make yourself at home.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wright. I’m not worried about them.”
One eyebrow twitched, and she smiled.
“No, I supposed you’re not. I’m off, then.”
Maybe her intuition works better than mine. Maybe I was advertising more than I realized.
No young man was getting anywhere near me until my heart grew back in the hole left by the young man I’d just left forever.
Never believed in situational ethics. While I sympathize with Jean Valjean, he was still a thief. There are plenty of grey areas in life. Honesty isn’t one of them. Honesty is binary: anything you do is honest, or it’s not.
People make mistakes, sure, but if someone steals, and then all they do about it afterward is feel badly, they’re a thief. It’s a fundamental character defect.
A half-penny candy becomes Enron. I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating. Bend the twig and get a crooked tree.
Someone who’ll steal is bent. Bent is bent. Thieves aren’t known for veracity.
Bent is bent.
So when I say “it’s been bothering me,” what I really mean is that you can directly attribute some of this blathering and confusion to the severely disrupted emotional condition I’ve been in since I discovered that someone I feel strongly about, and could feel more strongly about with only a hint of a nudge, didn’t share my rigid moral character.
If that doesn’t make sense to you I suggest you don’t waste any more time on this tale than you already have.
If it does, you’ll know what it costs me to admit I stole something once, and why I’ve locked the memory away.
Knob turned, I listened for any sounds.
In the absolute still of the church Niall’s breathing behind me was louder than anything behind the door.
I pushed it open and stepped into the dark.
Accidental stumblings indeed.
As the lights blinded me, I don’t know who was more startled when we collided, me, or Conor Dubin.
I whipped around as the church door slammed. My glimpse of the spot where Niall had been standing was now a glimpse of a heavy wooden door.
Then, it was the inside of the storeroom door, and I was on the wrong side of it with some people I desperately wanted not to see.
“I should say, that is, I meant to say, I removed something and I would like you to put it back.”
He hadn’t added up from minute one. It was only getting worse.
“And the reason you can’t return it yourself is what? They don’t know you took it and you’d like to keep it that way?”
He blushed. Actual pink-in-the-face blushing.
“While it’s more, well, complicated, yes, complicated than that, you could put it that way.”
His predilection for circuitous expression was annoying. And apparently catching.
It pushed him back against the chair.
“What do you mean, why?”
“I get the broad strokes. Give me the details. You said there were details. Share them.”
The sweating and blushing continued. The predilection didn’t.
Since you’re unlikely to consult a map, nor to find it if you did, I’ll waste a bit of ink placing Milford House properly.
While not precisely in the village, it had long been given resident status due to the enormous donations by its builder to the church. Tradition being what it is ’round here, it’s hardly surprising that, more than two centuries later, privileged status persists, despite the fact that the original benefactor died within a decade of building his grotesquerie, and the church long ago sold off the organ, expensive paneling, and gilt whatchamacallits. Since it no longer functioned as a place of spiritual enlightenment (though some in the village argued that it never had) the trappings seemed irrelevant, except financially.
That’s not especially helpful, geographically, is it? Perhaps this will help: head south from the village square, such as it is (apparently the founding fathers felt inadequate for a full square and opted for the three-sided version known elsewhere as a triangle) until you pass the last house on the left, and the last pub on the right. (Just watch for traffic from the former to the latter. It can be sudden and inconsiderate of the casual passerby.)
Now, passing the copse of birch, you’ll come to an enormous iron gate. An enormous ugly iron gate. Unless you’re better traveled than I, you will never have seen wrought iron so horrifically misshapen. Its designer had clearly asked its builder for something expressive of the modern era, which 250 years ago wasn’t a pleasant sight when translated to wrought iron. I could draw you a sketch, but I’ll save us both the weeping and ask you to trust my eyes: it is ugliness, captured for all eternity.
Not just ugly, but useless. The gate is the only portion of the fence ever completed. My guess is that the iron-worker had a reputation to think of and packed his things off to a job which wouldn’t sully his artistic vision further.
There it sits, a gate, partly ajar, where it stuck so long ago no one alive recalls ever seeing it fully open, or fully closed.
The worn dirt path around the near gate post eloquently describes how locals have dealt with the gate from time immemorial. Or at least since the gate stuck, which might be the same thing.
Having done all these things; that is, started at the square, walked past the last house and pub, eyes sharp to avoid a trampling, and skirted the hapless gate, I thought I’d finish the journey, being only a dozen yards from the front door.
It seemed the perfect opportunity to finally test the head of my brass walking stick on the dense brass plate installed beside the door. I’d often thought of it, walking past the old pile, but felt one shade too silly at the thought of knocking on what I knew to be an empty home.
The solid rap and slight rebound were satisfying. Worth the wait, that was. Ah, life’s simple pleasures.
When you’ve lived in Iddington a while you’ll see what I mean.
The door opened in what I can only call a perfectly reasonable manner. No lurching. No timid peek-and-open. No fumbling with locks or latches. It just opened, as so few people seem to be able to arrange with their own front doors.
“Yes?” He proved himself as capable of standing as of door-opening. Just standing, without intent, subterfuge, or agenda.
I looked for an expression and felt as if I were looking at myself. It the ping-pong of conversation it was clearly my shot, and I took it.
“Yesterday in the post, I thought I saw a glimmer of sanity in your actions.”
“And you’ve come to stamp it out?”
Apparently my explosive laugh startled him. He stepped back, then regained his position at the door.
“No, not at all. I’ve come with a bellows to inflame the village with the stuff. There’s been precious little sanity here for decades.”
He eyed me. I can’t say how, precisely, he eyed me. It took me years to read the tiny signs even his face couldn’t hide.
“Best come in, then. Obviously no point standing on ceremony in these parts.”
“Excellent. No point standing, period, if you can sit.”
He stiffened slightly. Not that his face changed, but the swing of his hand to open the door hitched ust a little; the twist of one foot to step away paused ever so slightly before continuing.
“Yes. Well. Perhaps. This way.”
He stepped back from the door, and I stepped into a room full of packing crates, boxes, and the natural detritus of movers and moving.
“Go straight on through.”
Straight on through meant, as far as I could tell, toward the bright light coming from an open door between uncurtained windows, two rooms away.
I could feel him behind me and didn’t pause to look at the labels and scribbles on the boxes. Head down, I marched straight on through like an obedient school child.
Outside the door, it took a moment for my eyes to readjust from crossing the darkened rooms. A table was obvious. Chairs were not.
He stepped around me and walked toward the steps leading down to the garden from the stone porch we stood on. Spinning as he’d done at the post, he stuck out a hand in what I can only describe as a childishly nervous manner.
“Pearce. Kenyon. That is to say, family name Pearce pee ee aye arr cee ee, given name Kenyon, which I shan’t spell.”
Taking his hand I opened my mouth but he cut me off. “No need, no need. I asked around after your performance in the post. My acquaintences in the city were quite clear who you are.”
“Ah. And yet you invite me into your home. How gracious.”
And for the first time, he actually smiled.
“Stuffing. Nonsensical. Writers aren’t all fools. You may yet prove to be in the minority.” And, after the briefest pause, “Perhaps.”
His handshake switched from tentative to firm, resolved.
Without letting go of my hand, he stood for a moment, face wrinkling around the eyes and nose, and then he laughed, a bright, hearty, right from the boots laugh.
Releasing his hand, it was my turn to step back, startled. Laughs are infectious things, though, and I couldn’t help myself but to laugh as well, even without yet knowing the punch line of the joke.
Despite the lifetimes of water under bridges, I can clearly pinpoint that as the moment the greatest friendship of my life began.
And just in time, I might add. Iddington was about to drive me nuts until Kenny dropped in.