Sunday, August 27, 2006

Second Chance at First Love - Part 3

Welcome back to our ongoing story. If you missed any so far see Part 2 and Part 1. Here we rejoin Bill at the Staff Meeting.

The Staff Meeting

The morning passes by quickly as I focused on the tasks that needed to be done. Now it’s staff meeting time. I gather up my project reports, get one more refill in my coffee cup and head down to the gathering room. I survey the group consisting of the usual suspects: “The Boss; the boss wannabes “David”, and Karen; other co-workers “Carl, Bailey, James, and the lovely Barbara”. All are in their politically assigned seats. I too honor the pecking order and pull out the chair pre-designated for my use and ease up to the table. The large clock on the wall indicates ten fifty-nine as the last two attendees show up. The quorum is set – let the agenda begin!

“Anybody see that Tiger’s game last night, what a cliffhanger!” The boss offers attempting to get the meeting off to a comfortable informal start. This usually loosens everybody up and promotes the free exchange of ideas, if there is any bouncing around within someone’s noggin at the time. After a few folks offer some lame comments and small talk about the game and the weather, the business at hand starts, prompted by everyone directing their attention to the printed agenda. This is another vehicle that tends to keep things moving along in a structured manner. That and the fast approaching lunch hour usually keep these meetings short and on point.

After completing a couple of continuing project report items, my eye brows raise slightly upon reading entry number 3: “Arrival of new corporate staff for a briefing”. It looks like several newly hired employees would be flying in today from Headquarters in New York to get a field orientation at our site. “They must be a few notches up on the food chain to warrant the expenditure of travel funds”: I conjecture to myself.

Carl offered himself up as the sacrificial lamb by asking: “Who gets the honor to go out an pick their holinesses up?” In his usual sarcastic manner.

The boss looks Carl squarely in the eye with a “sacrifice accepted” expression on his face and responds: “Well, you do Carl, …, and also take Bill along with you. Their plane comes into Metro at Twelve-Thirty so you guys better get started.”

I glance up with a “just getting hit with the dodge ball look on my face”; however everyone was already dispersing and hooking up for lunch adventures. I had no one to vent my objections to except Carl who was just staring at me with a big smile on his face.

“Well, its not like you have a lunch date, do you Bill?” Carl offers in his sarcastic way.

“No, I don’t, but I can easily think of many other activities to do like maybe a root canal or two rather than tagging along with you to woo the out-of-towners”. I offer in a dejected reply.

“No pain, no gain”: responds Carl with that big grind still plastered across his visage. “We better get started like the boss man said”: as he slaps me on the shoulder and starts off down the hall to get the keys to the company’s 12-passenger van.

“Do you have the list of visitors?” I turn to Carl and say. “Not I that I really care who they are, it is just a way to try and get into the task at hand since it isn’t going away”.

“Of course! Otherwise we would look like a couple of bozos!” responds Carl with a still broader smile and another slap on my shoulder.

“Well give it up buddy.” I don’t want to fall asleep from boredom on the way to the airport.” I respond. It is my turn to give a slap on the shoulder. Holding the email containing the list of visitors up to my eyes, I absentmindedly click off the names in my head:

“Leon Clawson”, a HQ Senior Vice President acting as the good Shepard along with the rookies:
“Michael Lewis”.
“Maria Desoto”.
“Camille … Sanders!”

The Van Trip

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the van with the air-conditioning blowing in my face through the center and side vents on the dashboard. Carl was babbling on about how we would be stuck babysitting this crew all during their visit.

I was still recovering from seeing the last name on the list. From time to time in the past I would contemplate on my reaction to encountering Camille in the present after so many years of separation. Would the moment be filled with passionate kisses and more, or just be drowned in emptiness and sorrow? How would she react to me? Our time together was so long ago, but not so far away. I would sometimes find myself driving through the old neighborhood attempting to invoke fond memories.

As cycle after cycle of white flight to the increasingly distant exurbs had continued, blacks filled in behind them. With the spread of the auto factories to distant states and even overseas, the heavy migrations from the South had subsided and even reversed. The results were additional cycles of blighted neighborhoods joining the legacy of Hastings Street as Detroit’s population shrank and shrank.

Alas the neighborhood had changed … for the worst: most of the trees were gone; half of the houses were torn down or derelict with only weed overgrown lots remaining. My house and Camille’s still stood but just barely. Both showed crippling wear and tear and seemed to yearn for someone to pull the plug. It had been quite awhile since I had last made that side trip into the “old hood”.

My work specialty is statistics and I start wondering how many Camille Sanders are there in the world? How many live in New York right now? How many could be available and eligible to hire on at Robbins & Clark? Probabilities within probabilities within even more probabilities: perhaps one in ten million, one in a hundred million … it seems like a fool’s errand. I didn’t even know what Camille’s major was in college or even if she finished or even started for that matter? I only remember that she had plans to go, but we were both only sophomores in high school when she and her parents moved away. We kept in touch for a few months, but gradually faded out of contact.

“Oh well, speculation would confront reality in less than an hour.” I thought.

Carl’s banter finally seeps into my consciousness: “Earth to Bill, Earth to Bill. Hello!”

I fold up the email message, turn it over in my hand a couple of times then look over at Carl, but still absentmindedly fiddling with the note. “You loss or something?” I utter attempting to throw him off balance so that he wouldn’t start interrogating me about tripping out after reading the names of the visitors.

“Hey, my man, it’s you that seems to be loss”, he says, adding: “You look like you’ve seen a ghost! Recognize a name on the list?”

“I’m fine”: I say trying not to sound defensive. “Maybe, I didn’t get enough sleep last night, and your wonderful driving and boring conversation just put me out.” I continue using my best deadpan expression.

“It’s time for us to look sharp my boy. We’ve got visitors to pick up and asses to kiss!” Admonishes Carl with a wink, and sly smile.

As they approach the exit ramp for Metro, Bill re-checks flight arrival information via his cell phone and discovers that out of the blue, incoming planes are starting to stack up and their visitor’s will be delayed at least half-an-hour!

As Bill relates this tidbit Carl groans: “Well that’s just great. I say we stash this buggy and wait in the comfort of the airline lounge near baggage claim eh? We’ll get the newbies to foot the parking bill. I’m sure their expense account can cover it.”

Carl pulls the van into short-term parking and the duo proceeds to the airport lounge. A check of the arrival big screen confirms that it will be another twenty to forty minutes before touchdown.

Bill orders an iced-tea and thinks about the list of names, of one name in particular: “Camille Sanders”. In fact she had been occupying the recesses of his mind since he first saw the list. Actually, had she ever really left his consciousness since this morning’s dream? He hears Carl whispering wisecracks about the physical attributes of various flight attendants as they transverse the walkway outside of the lounge, but Bill is not really paying attention.

After about thirty minutes, the screen post: ”ARR Gate 15B” next to the flight number of their visitor’s plane. The email indicates that Mr. Clawson will call Carl’s cell phone when he gets off of the plane, and sure enough, about a minute later, Carl’s pants pocket starts buzzing with one of those irritating ring tones. After checking the caller-id, Carl pauses to compose himself, then says” “Hello Mr. Clawson, welcome to Detroit. Mr. Williams and I are near baggage claim. I have a gray suit on and Williams has a brown sports jacket.” After a brief pause and a couple of nods: ”Okay, see you in a few minutes”. Carl pockets his phone and turns to Bill. “Well, it’s Showtime, let’s look professional or something”!

They settle up their tab and saunter over to the baggage claim area and wait. Bill finds himself starring at the people on the escalator coming down from the arrivals area. His eyes dart from face to face; trying to pick out one from his past, his first love.

Suddenly a group of four seeming connected folks appear on the escalator, two males and two females all dressed in typical business attire. The first male is white, middle-aged, around six feet, wearing a tailored three piece suit – obviously Clawson. The second male is a tad bit shorter, a lot younger, also white, wearing a well-worn, off-the-rack dark blue suit – that would be Michael Lewis. Trailing slightly behind the males are two thirty-something women. The first one is around five and a-half feet tall, Hispanic looking, light brown skin tones in a dark green business dress – must be Maria Desoto. Bringing up the rear would have to be Ms. Sanders. She is standing slightly behind Desoto making it difficult to get a decent look at her features. She is slightly shorter than Desoto, wearing a dark black business pants suit with a red silky scarf. Her hair is close-cropped and straight. Skin is dark brown. I can’t make out any detailed facial features as yet.

Well, that's the end of Part 3. Stay tuned for Part 4 when we see the identity of that fourth traveler!

Monday, August 21, 2006

New Short Fiction Contest at Clarity of Night

Clarity of Night has a new Short Fiction Contest. This is flash fiction folks with a word limit of 250! You'll need to get on it ASAP since the contest closes on midnight August 29th. Good Luck.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Second Chance at First Love - Part 2

We continue our story with William awakening from his dream. If you are just joining the story, go back to Part 1.

The Wake Up

The boundary between dreamland and reality is hard to discern. The chill of the November air is replaced by the warmth of my bed covers. The diminutive child has transformed into two hundred and ten pounds of … lets just say a mid-thirties pajama-clothed man. The old neighborhood setting has morphed into the smallish bedroom of a smallish apartment in a concrete and paved over jungle with trees relegated to oversized pots used as landscape highlights.

The dawn of a new day feels like a mini-resurrection, the death of sleep yields to the rebirth of awakening. I stretch my muscles extending my arms and legs sideways encountering only bed linens and air; there is no sign of another warm, soft body anywhere under the sheets. A sigh of relief instead of resignation washes over me! I had recently broken up with my current girl friend and, as yet, had not ventured forth testing the waters for new conquests. Perhaps that’s why thoughts of my first love permeated my dreams?

The end of my current relationship led to a sense of liberation instead of sorrow or wounded pride! It felt good not having to leave someone else’s apartment in the early morning hours, making my way back home in the dreary darkness; or worst, having the awkwardness of wondering when she would get up, get dressed and leave my place. I was always uneasy just lying there cuddling too. The only person that I recalled enjoying just snuggling with was my first love. Those were the days before sex, where nearness and touching were pleasures enough.

Today, there are no excuses to make, no need to comfort some else’s ego, no strained “I love you”. I have only to get up, take care of my bathroom routine and get to work.

Yet, as I thought about my dream, a smile reflexively came to my face. I guessed that’s because the past could always be perfect, since you didn’t have to deal with the players in the here and now. Their virtues could be elevated and their shortcomings minimized. The “you” of your past and the “she” of her past could be manipulated like puppets on a string.

“I wonder what Camille’s doing now?” I conjecture, finally getting out of bed.

The Drive to Work

Every time I get ensnarled in a traffic jam on the Chrysler “expressway”, I think about relocating to downtown Detroit. The new town homes near the river look great, but come at a steep price. The stagnant traffic flow liberates my eyes to glance around at the mix of old and new buildings and vacant lots that line the freeway in its due south trek toward downtown.

I remember Hastings street that used to be here. Long ago, it was a street lined with bustling shops and busy traffic, intersected by tree lined residential roads. A vibrant community populated mostly by Black people. A variety of folks from those whose ancestors came up from the South via the Underground Railroad a hundred or more years ago, to the people who had themselves only recently made the trek up north. All jammed together in this part of town from Grand Boulevard to almost the Detroit river. My grandparents on both sides of my family had roots there and businesses too. As a young lad they would often intrigue me with stories of both struggles and good times relating to Hastings street.

Although Michigan was never a so-called Slave State, and never had any segregation types of laws on the books, there was indeed prejudice. We had our share of problems and a couple of nasty riots mixed in. However, things begun to ease up as the 1970s turned into the 1980s. The “White flight” phenomena had just about run its course and the city of Detroit had become mostly Black. Now even the close-in suburbs were gaining in Black population triggering another surge of white people on the move. Alas, the expanding opportunities for Blacks to move up and out to all parts of the city and beyond also meant the dilution of places like Hastings street. Long before its fate was sealed by the construction of the Chrysler highway, Hastings laid mostly abandoned, its once vibrant shops wasting away, its once crowded residential side streets lined with burnt out hulks and dead trees. It fell without a fight, without even a whimper to benign neglect.

A honk of a car horn shakes me out of my reverie, as traffic seems to finally be getting back to an acceptable flow. “I may yet make it to work on time”: I thought.

The Start of the Work Day

As I walk into the offices of my employer, I hear: “Good Morning Mr. Baker. There will be an eleven o’clock staff meeting in conference room B”.

I turn and smile at the receptionist and respond: “And a good morning to you Miss Jones”. My gaze lingers on the receptionist’s face focusing in on the pair of bright red ribbons in her hair. Continuing to walk, I almost bump into Carl, one of my co-workers.

“Hey, watch where you’re going there Bill” said Carl as he quickly sidesteps me while balancing a cup of coffee. Seeing where I am looking, he adds in a lower tone: “Hmmm, starting to get the hots for Gail huh?”

I abruptly stop and turn toward Carl: “Uh, … No! I’m just thinking about … about the up coming staff meeting.” The words seem to spurt out in short burst. I turn back to Gail, managing a weak wave, then give Carl a glare, and go on my way toward the sanctuary of my cubical.

Sitting down at my desk and switching the computer on, my mind wandered back to those red ribbons in Gail’s hair. “Its not Gail that I was starting to have the hots for”. I pondered, as my thoughts drifted back to my dream.

I was shaken out of my reverie by a beeping sound emanating from my workstation. My eyes focus on the accompanying proclamation indicating that I have twenty-five new email messages. “Oh well, time to tote that barge and lift that bale” I think as my fingers stretch toward the keyboard.


Next we will join Willam at the Staff Meeting

Friday, August 18, 2006

Writing Contest at Storyglossia

Check out Storyglossia for a short story contest. There are no theme restrictions, word count should not be greater than 7500, there is a ten dollar submission fee and entries are due by October 1st. Check out the site for all of the rules and guidelines. Also check out the various stories already published in their ezine.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Second Chance at First Love - Part 1

I'm going to post my latest short story as a series of parts. "Second Chance at First Love" is a story about of young love – young boy meets young girl, share memorable childhood, but drift apart during high school when they are separated as one family moves away. They both sort of drift through life and love until a fateful meeting brings them back together fifteen years later. This is their one second chance to get it right.

And now for Part 1

A Second Chance at First Love
Robert H. Ball, Jr.
(all rights reserved)
The Dreamscape

All things are possible in the dreamscape: one can experience the full spectrum of emotions from endless joy to endless agony or worst endless nothingness. The void is the most terrifying prospect of all. Of not being able to conjure up any images: neither of ecstasy nor of pain. As I toss and turn in this nether world a small flicker of light appears in the distance. I mentally stretch out toward it with all of my inner strength. Grasping the glowing splinter, I plunge into the light.

I suddenly found myself standing on my front lawn of long ago. It’s my parent’s house, circa mid-1950s on a typical Detroit, Michigan neighborhood block. There were big trees of elm, oak and maple, in every front lawn, with a mix of single-family houses and two-family flats. A diverse mix of young families with children, senior citizens, widows, spinsters populated the area. Both whites and blacks trying to get along in the prosperity of post World-War Two city life. In this the Motor City, a plethora of automobile factories were booming on a twenty-four hour schedule straining to place at least two cars in every driveway across America.

However, all was not love and happiness. The whites were being urged toward the developing suburbs with a whisper that “the neighborhood was changing”. The blacks were being encouraged to move up and out of Black Bottom, and the near east and west sides to the bigger houses north of Grand Boulevard being vacated by the whites. Just like the bookies and numbers-runners, the real estate hacks and developers were making money on all sides so long as the people kept moving.

Just such a move was taking place before my very eyes across the street. The older white couple (I don’t remember their names though my parents talked to them from time to time) had moved out last week to a suburb called Oak Park. Today, a brown-skinned family was moving in. What I took for the man of the house had arrived with the moving truck and had been directing the unloading of furniture from the huge trailer. Just then, a station wagon pulled into the driveway. The woman of the house, a slightly plump motherly looking figure, got out, moved around the car and opened the passenger-side door. Out jumped a little girl! As an observant nine-year old boy I had seen many girls, though we had only a few on our block. I usually took a dim view of them since they didn’t like to play ball of any kind, wrestle, or even enjoy monopoly. The bigger ones at school however, liked to chase the younger boys like myself and try to beat us up. Although they couldn’t hit very hard or even run very fast, it was embarrassing to get caught and worked over by them.

At first I waited, to see how many other children would join her, tumbling out the big car. None! It appeared that she was an only-child like me! In these early days of the so-called Baby Boom, only-children were a rare breed, almost like a deformity of some kind and were often treated as such.

I felt compelled to introduce myself! Drawn by her twin long pigtails that were trailing behind with bright red ribbons dancing in the crisp November air and the strange sway of her hips, I found myself getting up, looking both ways, then crossing the street in a brisk fashion.

I glanced back over my shoulder to see if my mother was watching … hmm I thought, “she was always watching – as with all good moms she had eyes in the back of her head as well as telepathic powers”. Undeterred, I continued onward. In point of fact, she had been watching, but instead of calling out and admonishing me, she just smiled to herself as she saw me catch up to the little brown skinned girl.

As I got closer, my pace slowed down and second thoughts started to creep into my mind. My propensity toward shyness was taking hold. Then suddenly the little girl stopped, and turned to face me! She had a big smile on her face that got even bigger as she looked me over like I was a tasty treat or something. My shyness really kicked-in and as a result stopped me in my tracks. Undeterred she exclaimed: “ Hi there! My name is Camille, Camille Sanders, what’s yours?”

I kind of just stood there in silence for what seemed forever, then finally uttered: “William, … William Baker”. Sounding more like an apology than a proclamation.

As we stood there gazing at one another, her mom also stopped and turned around to face us. She also had a smile on her face and said: “Hello, my name is Mrs. Sanders, and we are new neighbors”. I could see her eyes suddenly look up and pass me. Following her gaze, I turned around to see my mother standing on our front porch. The two women looked at each other for a few seconds then exchanged friendly waves. I excused myself and went back across the street to join my mom.

That awkward beginning was the start of a seven yearlong friendship between only-child and only-child. It turned out that Camille didn’t like to play ball games, but she did love to wrestle and play long sessions of monopoly!

Camille, my first love …

First Love: between a young boy and a young girl.

First Love:
That came and went do to events beyond their control as families moved away.
Therefore love still strong at the end.

First Love:
Sharing puberty together.
Where holding hands,
Light soft kisses,
And the occasional squeezing of small firm breasts
Would suffice for ecstasy.

First Love:
Unclouded by game playing and manipulation,
Unclouded by real sex,
Unclouded by marriage, in-laws and other conflicts of adulthood,
Unclouded by children of our own.

First Love: remaining innocent and perfect in reflection.
In Part 2, Bill awakes from his dream and faces the day.