Friday, August 03, 2007


This post, like the previous one (FIRST KISS) is an excerpt from a scene in my first novel, A Brief Affair. The aforementioned affair that developed between the kisser and the kissee, is about to experience a major change in its focus.

Your thoughts on how to improve my pitiful prose would be appreciated.

Bayou Bill


by Bill Fullerton

Mark tensed at the familiar sound of Gwen’s footsteps approaching his room. Not for the first time, he flashed back to their blow-up the day before he left town. He still couldn’t understand why she wanted him to write her or why she’d gotten mad and started to cry when he said, no.

Once home, he succumbed to the memory of those tears and sent her a hand printed, three-page letter plus several cards. Despite that capitulation, he wasn’t sure what sort of reception awaited him. When he called last night to tell her he was coming back, she sounded happy and said she'd come over to see him after supper. But who knew what things would be like face-to-face?

All tension vanished the moment Gwen strode into the room. Her bright smile and cheery, “Hi, stranger,” sent a clear signal that his previous postal insensitivity was forgiven.

After a quick kiss, she stepped away from his grasp, pulled off her long monk’s cape and draped it over the back of the bedside chair. It was like watching a present being unwrapped—a very appealing present in a beige, cable-knit sweater, khaki mini-skirt, and brown boots.

He watched as she shook out her short brunette hair. Wispy bangs framed her face with its peach-tinted skin, perfect nose, soft, brown eyes, and very kissable lips. Either she’s gotten better looking, thought Mark, or I’ve missed her more than I realized.

Gwen moved into his arms. "So, did you miss me?"

"Only desperately.” Their lips met, halting conversation.

Afterward, she sighed and laid her head on his shoulder as their bodies became reacquainted. When she opened her eyes, Gwen noticed an unmade bed on the other side of the room.

"You have a roommate?"

"Affirmative. His name is Jessie Johnson and he seems like an okay guy. Says he was a tunnel rat with the 4th Division. He sure looks the part: short, wiry and careful. Went down one tunnel too many and got an eye messed up which is why he's in here."

"Where’s he now?"

"His mother stopped by on her way home. She works at Macy's. They've gone down to the day room to smoke."

"And then they'll come back without warning which, I'm afraid, puts a damper on the reception I had planned for you.”

"Not to worry.” Mark stroked her hair. "They’ll be back for her coat, but then she’s got to leave or miss her train. After that, Jessie's promised to make himself scarce."

"So you two have been plotting, have you?"

"What can I say? Us old beat up 'Nam vets have to stick together."

"Well, in that case, why don't we go out to the lobby for a while? I want to tell you about some stuff that happened while you were gone. And if it’s all the same to you, I'd rather not be interrupted by the return of Jessie and his mother."

A few minutes later, they were outside the ward in a dimly lit sitting area near the elevators. While an occasional person got on or off the elevators, no one came over to intrude on their privacy.

Gwen sat at one end of a well-used green couch. Something told Mark she really did want to talk, not make out. To avoid temptation, he leaned against the edge of the windowsill across from her. He glanced out at the traffic on rain-slick First Avenue and waited. After a moment's hesitation, Gwen cleared her throat and began.

"While you were gone, I broke up with Johnny, for good. He'd started dealing dope, not working at a real job. He knew how I felt about drugs, and why. So I told him we were through, forever, and gave him his ring back.” Her words came out in a series of low, rapid bursts.

After what seemed like an endless silence, she continued. "After crying and feeling sorry for myself, I suddenly realized I'm in love with you. I don't know when it happened, maybe the day you kissed me, but all I want is to be with you, forever. And I know this all sounds crazy, but I love you so much, I'd marry you today if you wanted to."

She fell silent and waited, apparently hoping for some reaction. There was none. Silent and motionless, Mark stared over her head into middle-space, then turned and looked out into the cold, January night, and tried to think of what he should say. She just broke up with Johnny, and yet says she’s ready to marry good old Mark. Not that the idea of marrying Gwen didn’t have its appeal. After all, she was smart, cute, fun to be with, and great in bed.

But something just wasn't right with this picture. It wasn’t a question of her being sincere. There was a guileless honesty in her voice. Still, he wondered if her priority was to marry him or just to get married? Was she in love with him or with some idealized notion of marriage?

"Gwen, I’m not sure you really love me. Maybe you're in love with the idea of being in love. Maybe you haven't gotten over breaking up with Johnny and need me to come in on the rebound. Who knows, you--."

Gwen broke in, "Mark, I'm in love with you, not with some idea. After breaking up with Johnny, it just came to me that I've been in love with you for, I don’t know for how long. But now I know why being with you always made me feel so special and why I've always loved making you feel happy. And I have, haven't I?"

There was a momentary silence, then with the faintest trace of a smile, he said, "Yes, you've made me very happy, both in and out of bed."

The smile left his face. "Look, let me spell this out for you. Like I've said before, I like you, I really do. In fact, I like you a whole lot. But, I don't think, I don't know, if I love you or will ever love anyone again. What's more, I think you're just infatuated, for whatever reason, not with me, but with some sort of dramatic, battle-scarred, soldier-type character I'm supposed to play.”

Mark turned away from the window and began to pace. "I'm not clear on all this myself. But to me, love is trust. Back in 'Nam, in the bush, you learned fast who you could count on, who you could trust. The only problem was your friends, the people you could trust, had a nasty habit of leaving fast and for keeps."

He stopped pacing as his mind focused on other times, other worlds. With a shake of his head, he looked down at Gwen. "Ever since getting back, it's like my emotions have been muted, been numbed. Even with my family or old friends, I sometimes find myself thinking about what it will be like when they're dead, when they've left me, so to speak. It's just..." his words trailed off.

“But Mark, I love you. I would never, could never, leave you."

Mark heard the plaintive note in her voice—could see the concern on her face. But could he ever be sure of her? After all, they’d started dating, and then making love, while she was still engaged to Johnny. Now a few days after dumping him, here she was. "Maybe not," he said, "unless things didn't go your way."

She started to protest, but he changed the subject. "And then there's the reality that I'm a half-blind guy who can't drive a car and hasn't even finished college. In here, I'm one of the few guys under a hundred. But, what would you think of me in the real world? I guess that also bothers me."

"Well, none of that bothers me.”

"No, it doesn't seem to," he admitted, with a half-smile. "I guess that's one of the reasons I like you, Miss Kaplan. That and your great legs."

Gwen smiled but said nothing, just sat in the dim light and stared up at him like a confused and anxious puppy. Hell, it was worse than her crying. "Look, Gwen, I'm sorry to sound like such a jerk. It’s just that, I’m not sure if what you feel for me really is love. As for me, I don’t know if I love you or, like I said, whether I can ever love anyone again."

He paused, and then broke the tense, serious mood. "Now at this point in the proceedings you may be asking yourself, just what in hell does this goober know? That's a fair question. So for what it's worth, here's what little I claim to know. I like you, a whole lot. And I like being with you, a whole lot. And I'd like to keep seeing you, a whole lot."

“Me too,” said Gwen. She stood and pressed her body against his as their lips met. It was a long, languid kiss. As the tip of her tongued darting around inside his mouth, her fingers toyed with the growing bulge inside Mark’s pajamas.

When the kiss ended, she looked into his face. "Well, Mr. Cahill, since that’s the case, I promise that from now on, you’ll be seeing a whole lot more of me, a whole lot of the time."

They returned to Mark's room to find a slender, young black man and a well dressed, middle-aged, black woman leaving. "Mrs. Johnson, Jessie, glad we caught y’all," said Mark. "Mrs. Johnson, I'd like you to meet Gwen Kaplan. She's the nursing student over at Bellevue I told you about who worked here last summer."

Mrs. Johnson gave Gwen a warm smile and extended her hand. "Well, I know you're glad to have this charming young lady coming to visit. Hello, Gwen, I'm Olivia Johnson. You don't happen to know of a nice black student nurse for my Jessie?"

"It's good to meet you, Mrs. Johnson," said Gwen, shaking the delicate hand. "Actually, one of my best friends at school, Ann Elmore, is black. We both worked here last summer. Mark’s met her and says she's cute."

"Fine, fine," said Mrs. Johnson with a chuckle. "Be sure to bring her with you the next time you come over to visit."

The young black man standing behind her sighed with feigned exasperation. Then he smiled at Gwen. "Hi, I'm Jessie. Don't pay any attention to my mother. Since I've gotten back from 'Nam, her only goal in life has been to get me married."

"Well, it would do you a world of good," replied Mrs. Johnson with an indulgent smile.

"Maybe so," said Jessie. "But right now we've got to get you out of here. You’ve already missed the early train."

They all said goodbye and Gwen promised she'd try to get Ann to come over with her sometime. As the Johnson’s headed down the hall, Gwen and Mark walked into his now empty room.

After Mark assumed his usual position on the edge of his bed, Gwen sidled in between his heavily muscled legs. She slipped her hands behind his neck and cuddled close, pressing her breasts against his chest. After a long kiss, she nibbled on his ear and whispered. "Now about that welcome back reception I had planned."

As Gwen’s fingers began the teasing process of opening the fly to his pajamas. Spellbound, Mark watched as she extracted her prize, then looked up at him and smiled. Moments later, all he could see was the back of Gwen’s head, all he could feel was the warm, sweet pressure of her mouth engulfing him. Every welcome back should be this good.

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Anonymous Thursday said...

Your dialog really sounds authentic -- like you've spent days and days just listening to the way people talk.

I do have one small critique, however. The first couple of lines feel just a bit clunky, as if you knew where you wanted to go with the story and were in a hurry to get there.

1:41 PM  
Blogger Loquacious Me said...

I agree, the first paragraph felt a bit stilted, but then everything smoothed out and flowed nicely. Well done!

6:15 PM  
Blogger Bill Fullerton said...

Thanks to both of you. This story is an adaptation of a scene from my first novel. I turned it into a short story by fiddling with the opening paragraphs. I should have fiddled a bit longer.


8:27 AM  
Anonymous Kathleen Frassrand said...

I really enjoyed this piece. I have two critiques:

1. When you are describing Gwen, it felt like an adjective dump. I think that there is too much description, too close together. It felt forced.

2. I know it is a short story, but it felt a bit "tell-y" when Mark was going into his feelings about love and 'Nam. The discussion felt very "tame", when I thought there should have been more emotion from Gwen. I would think that she would be cutting him off, and pleading her case more. She came across as very composed and understanding, when I suspect that tensions were actually running a bit higher.

Overall, I really enjoyed this piece, and I hope that you will continue to expand it. If you do, you can really take some of Mark's "telling" and use it as character building throughout the story.

Nice excerpt! Thanks for sharing.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Talia Mana said...

Hi Bill

I'm going to preface this by saying I'm not a romance genre reader for the simple reason I don't enjoy romance. Only a small number of romances appeal to me, and if I may be blunt this one didn't. I recognised the characters as being from your novel (although I confessed I'd forgotten more than I remembered) so I realised it wasn't necessarily a complete story, but an excerpt as you described.

For me it lacked tension. I know there is some conflict between the characters but for me it needed a bit more edge to it.

At first the dialogue was great but then it started to get a bit heavy. People don't usually talk in so much detail when explaining their feelings. I'm a psychologist and my clients don't usually go into so much detail. That's especially true in couples. They tend to have their own language or shorthand and tend not to "explain" so much. That's even more true of men. Woman talk about feelings, men talk about what they think. And men look for solutions, rather than processing all their thoughts.

I hope this helps, and as I said it's not a genre I am fond of so that is certainly colouring my view

I almost think you should be writing a detective noir novel (or whatever the term is). Elements of it have that feel about it, but maybe that's just me. It sounds old-fashioned as if it is set in days gone by
Good luck

11:47 PM  
Anonymous twizzle said...

I like it. Though I'm thinking the title should be Attack of the Preying Mantis. But then, I'm probably thinking like a fish. ;)

1:29 PM  
Blogger Elrena said...

I tagged you with a writing meme! Here's the link if you want to play:

8:07 AM  
Blogger Marilyn said...

Very nice Bill. I almost felt as though I was there in the room with them (err..maybe that's not such a good thing).

I know next to nothing about writing or even critiquing but the one thing I noticed is that Gwen seemed to 'recover' very quickly from Mark's comments. I'm just not sure that's realistic. Either she's not completely genuine in her feelings, or she's just as wary as he is of being in love and hiding with her lack of reaction to his comments - which could be seen as quite devastating were she really and truly in love with him.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Jerry Waxler said...

Hi Bill, I came by to check out your blog, because of the comment blitz, and noticed a couple of things right away. For one thing, all these critiques. That's handy, using your blog as an online critique engine. Very cool. Another thing is picking up on the Vietnam vet theme. Since you said in your bio that you're a boomer who has been blown up, I'm going out on a limb and guessing there is some memory work here. That really interests me, how writers work their life story into their writing. If you have anything to share with my blog readers about inserting life into writing, stop by my blog and share your thoughts.

Best wishes,
Jerry Waxler
Memory Writers Network

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

I thought most of the dialogue was quite good, but I do want to second Talia's comment about the lack of tension, and Kathleen's comment that story seemed "tell-y." I picked up on both of these things as I was reading.

5:56 PM  
Blogger VirtualWordsmith said...

I like how raw and honest the writing is here. As my dad used to say, "It may not be pretty, but it's true."

8:22 AM  
Blogger Nita said...

I too stopped by because of the AW comment blitz, although I didn't join it. I've read this piece 2 or 3 times looking for comments to make. The first read through I just enjoyed. But, by now all of the useful comments have been made and I have nothing to add. Pretty brave of you posting here in your blog for everyone and their brother to read and comment on.

2:07 PM  

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