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Noon

The sun lay heavily on Vic Wallace as he got out of his car. Normally, it wasn’t like him to notice this. But when the weight of the sun squeezed a few drops of sweat from him, he could help but realize; his shirt was going to be wet and rank if he didn’t get inside soon. Picking up his pace a bit, he yanked open the door and let the air conditioning pull him in. He had made it.

Once inside, he stopped a moment to check things out. It was good to be cool again, and good to be able to be cool. The sunglasses came off in a slow, practiced motion that greeted the guard at the desk as if he were a friend. But there was no recognition back, as the guard studied the movie listings in the paper. ‘Yeah,’ thought Vic, ‘We all have our plans’.

He made his way to the elevator slowly, not wanting to be any earlier for his 12:15 appointment than he had to. ‘When you’re seeing your shrink, it’s best not to look desperate’, he reasoned. It was no big deal that the doors took forever to open and took forever to close after he slipped in. The button for the fourth floor was lit through the whole ride, and when it went out Vic couldn’t help shoving his shirt into his pants with his thumbs. He habitually had to look good.

At the front desk, the same young blonde greeted him as always. He smiled softly, and then harder, forcing her to smile back. He didn’t know her name, but she was cute. “How are you doing today?” “Good,” was all she could reply, and her eyes fell from his with slight embarrassment. He got her, that’s what counted. “Victor Wallce to see Margaret.” “Sure, just wait over there.” With his mission complete, he slowly found his way to a dirty chair and sat down.

Waiting did not become him. He found himself fumbling with his cell phone, wondering if he had time to make a few calls. Deciding he didn’t, he found an ancient Newsweek that held his interest for a short while, until Margaret called out his name. It was time to wander back to her office.

As he plunked himself into the soft chair, everything seemed disinterested. The beige walls hummed with fluorescent light, unaware that he was even there. Margaret sat down in her big desk chair and carefully broke the silence.

“So how are you today, Vic?”
“Great! I’m feeling a lot better!” His largest grin erupted, but he could tell it wasn’t working. It never worked on Margaret.
“Before we do the check-in, have you given some more thought to what we talked about last time?”
“Yeah, I, uh …” Vic hated being at a loss for words.
“OK, then, let’s do the check-in. How has your mood been?”
“Nothing special, one way or the other.”
“Have you been drinking?”
”No. Well, a little, once in a while. Nothing heavy.”
“You can handle that?”
“Sure, I can.”
”Any women you’ve been pursuing?”
“No, not a one.” He was glad to be able to give one right answer.

Margaret paused for a moment. Vic was as evasive as ever, and she couldn’t believe a word he said. He seemed incapable of any kind of self-examination, and only responded to being shamed into something. If only she could offer him a lollypop for being good, she thought, as she sighed much more vocally than a professional should.

“Let’s get to the heart of things, shall we?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve said before that your mother is a bit … well, that she has never said she loves you.”
“Whoa, wait a minute, I thought we were here to talk about my drinking!”
“I know you’d never be here if it wasn’t for the courts. That doesn’t mean I will let you off easy.”
“What does my Mom have to do with that!?”
“I think it might have a lot to do with it.”
“You said that … you blamed her for my getting angry, too!”
“I never blamed anyone. I’m telling you that you need to address the core problems in your life.”
“Like my mother, you mean.”
“Not just her, but your inability to form a relationship with a woman.”
“I just haven’t met the right one!”
“Perhaps. But I’m not so sure about that.”
“Ah, Christ, you never believe me!”

Margaret didn’t want to make Vic angry. She pulled her head back and away to study him a moment. She could tell he was on the edge of another outburst. It was the fidgety hands and deep frown that convinced her. She spoke carefully, with a flat monotone.

“Vic, I’m not here to accuse or blame anyone. I am here to help you find the real cause of your problems.”

Vic sighed. The fight drained out of him quickly. Margaret was a woman, and he never could stay mad at a woman. Once she stopped challenging him, he simply deflated.

“Allright, so let’s talk about your parents a bit.”
“Fine.”
“They are from Gdansk, yes?”
”Yeah, they’re Polacks.”
“From a big family as well, right?”
“That’s what I was told. I was born here, you know!”
“But they never had their family over here.”
“Nope. I never met most of them.”
“That had to cause her a lot of grief, yes?”
”Look, what do I know? Yeah, she always got even more silent at Christmas, if that’s possible.”
“She never went back to Poland, did she?”

“Jesus F***ing Christ, it’s always Poland! I’m an American, damnit! I was born here!”
“You’ve said that, Vic. But you still have to know something about your heritage.”
“Mom and Dad never talked about it, OK? They’re f***in’ immigrants, they came here. They wanted their kids to be American, and that’s what they got.”
“Are you proud of what your Dad accomplished?”
“Hell, yes! He had nothing when he ran away, and now he has his own business and crew!”
“Plumbing, right?”
“Yeah, he was a steamfitter before he fled.”
“1970?”
“Something like that.”
“They didn’t talk about this with you, did they?”

Vic squatted in his chair, feeling very small. He hated talking about Poland, and had no idea how he got into this. But if it took everything in his body to get out of it, he would. Slowly, he unwound his arms and started chopping them through the air.

“Listen. I don’t give a f*** about Poland or any of this. My parents made their choice, and I’m damned happy about it!”
“Why did you change your name?”
“Because who the f*** can pronounce Wallachinsky?”
“Are you running away and hiding?”
“My parents ran, damnit! The commies were going to kill them, for Christ’s f***ing sake!”
“And you don’t want to know more about any of this, you won’t even ask them?”
“It’s not my business! Jesus, can’t you see this?”
“I can. You’re an American, and that’s enough for everyone.”
“You got it!”

Margaret sat back, and looked at the clock. Barely 15 minutes had passed, but she was fed up. Vic wasn’t going to go anywhere he didn’t want to go, and there were so many important places he wasn’t going to even think about.

“Vic, I don’t think this is doing any of us any good. I think it’s time you stop seeing me.”
“What? You mean, I’m fired? We’re breaking up? What do you call it?”
“I don’t think this is productive at all. Don’t worry, I’ll sign the papers for the court. You already have your license back, right?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Then there’s no point in you screaming at me for asking the obvious any more.”

Vic didn’t know what this meant. He was somewhat relieved, but also very scared. Margaret was making progress, but he didn’t have the guts to let her know that. Now it was going to end, so suddenly?

Gradually, however, his steel blue eyes started to sparkle again. He was out, it was all over. A cold breath came out of his mouth as he realized he’d gotten away with something, yet again. He had out-witted the system, and he had out-lasted Margaret. He was free, which was all he ever wanted. It was all he was ever told to want. He rose mechanically, gently testing the strength of knowing he was still on top.

“Well, then, I guess that’s that. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Vic. Take care of yourself.”
“I always do.”

And with that, he made for the door as quickly as he could without appearing to flee.

The elevator took forever to reach the first floor. Vic slid his sunglasses on to avoid looking at a woman with a young baby in a stroller who somehow got in first. It made the cramped box seem dark behind the shades, but that suited him. He didn’t want to look at anyone. Vic nervously drummed the ‘Door Open’ before he had his chance to escape. He made it to the outside door in a flash.

Shoving the door open, he found himself outside in the heavy and hot air. A thin trickle of sweat instantly rolled down his side. Vic was very uncomfortable, feeling out of place in this air, in his clothes, in his own skin. But he knew how to fix that, too.

With a well practiced motion he pulled his phone from his pocket and hit the voice dial. The word “Office” wimpered out, and he started for the car. In a few moments, he was on the line with his secretary, Anne, who never quite knew what to make of this attractive yet distracted man with so many talents.

“Anne? Hi, it’s Vic. No, I think I’ll work from home today. I can get a lot done there. Yeah, put it down as a half day. Sure. I’ll see you on Monday. Bye!”

In one simple motion, the car door opened and the phone went into his pocket. His keys came back out, and the door closed as the engine started. The air conditioning was on full. Vic sighed heavily for a moment, and threw the car into reverse. His car felt safe and personal; it was easy to relax inside. As he threw it into drive, he knew he had to take it easy; he could not afford any more moving violations. ‘Stay cool’, Vic thought, over and over. ‘Stay cool, let’s get home’.

The simple bungalow he lived in wasn’t far away. In just a few moments he had his car into the garage, and in a few moments more he had his body in the couch. He knew he had time to himself, so he didn’t mind dripping with sweat. He unbuttoned his shirt, and opened the briefcase he dragged from the car.

Selling insurance came easy for Vic. He could lay down on the couch and get back to all of the people who were loose ends for the week. They all loved him, and he knew it. He gave it to them straight, and made sure they got what they really wanted. It was that simple. All people ever asked of Vic was that he give them what they needed, and he was happy to oblige.

He knew many salesmen in the office who were so much more uptight. Most of them were always trying to upgrade someone into something they didn’t really want or need, just to make quota. Not Vic. He could just lie down on the couch giving people what they needed. It didn’t take long that way, and he could rattle off 5 or 6 in an hour. That was the secret. Spending precious minutes on something that might not get sold anyway was time that could be spent on the next person who really needed his help. Besides, he had a lot more repeat business than most of them, and that was what he pointed to with pride. That was where it showed that they loved him.

In just two and half hours Vic had finished everything he wanted to for the week. He wasn’t about to start anything new, even though he enjoyed his work. Today was different, and he had his fill. He wandered into the kitchen, and opened the Tylenol next to the fridge. He didn’t have a headache yet, but he knew it was best to be prepared before going out all night. Swallowing the pills with what was left of a bottle of Gatorade steeled him and alerted every cell in his body. They all responded with a sudden wave of drooping tiredness that washed over him as the Gatorade washed down. Every part of him knew this routine. A quick trip to the couch, and it was time for a long, long nap.

His couch was comfortable, but had a few seams in the leather that always cut Vic the wrong way. This kept him from getting the kind of recharge he would need to be up all night. Worse, there were always dreams that came with the fitful turning. They kept his mind focused on all kinds of grand delusions rather than the simple task at hand.

This time, he dreamt that he was the President, and had managed to win a major war against terrorists. He was giving a speech to a large crowd, and everyone was cheering and waving at him. The details were garbled and unremarkable, but the sea of ecstatic people could not be missed. They loved him, because he could get things done that no one else could. Through the dream Vic yelled and growled about how great it was to be an American, and each time the crowd loved it more.

When Vic woke from his nap, he felt refreshed enough. But it was still rather early, and nowhere near time to go out. He was hungry, but didn’t feel like moving yet. He switched on CNN and tried to be interested in all the petty little problems and details people were talking about. None of it made enough sense for him to be bothered by it. He found himself dozing gently for another hour before hunger overtook him.

He went to the kitchen, and found something in the freezer to microwave that appeared to be dinner. He figured he’d have more later, but he had to have something now. Even if he never learned to cook or really took any enjoyment from food, but he knew he had to eat something. It was getting dark enough out that he mindlessly flipped on the lights while waiting to be told it was dinnertime.

Vic stood at the counter, wolfing down the flaccid lasagna with green beans. He washed it down with the Gatorade that was left, and made sure he had a few more glasses of water with it. After today, he had to be ready for a big night. After this, it was time for a quick shower and the careful selection of something to wear that wasn’t too casual, wasn’t too nice. That, and perfect hair, and he was ready in half an hour.

Remembering how careful he had to be, he decided it was best to go no further than he could walk. That limited him to a friendly but divey neighborhood watering hole, the Highland Sports Bar. It was a good place to pass the time, and the women were usually not bad looking. Besides, it was cheap.

The five block walk was an unusual pleasure, since it had cooled down so much from the day. Darkness suited Vic well, and he could almost count the way there by the streetlamps. Pools of light caught him smiling, ready at any time to work his charm. But there was no one along the way. The neighborhood was so much quieter at night, and it was easy to slip by unseen.

When he got to the busy corner the bar squatted on, he had a chance to look in the windows first to see if anyone was there. It was very quiet, with only a few well-soused regulars occupying their regular places. Oh well. ‘The night is young,’ he thought as he slid through the door and over to the bar.

“Stoli Coke?” the bartender greeted him, namelessly, as if each person was nothing more than a drink to him. Vic nodded, and said, “Yeah.” His wallet came out and a twenty slipped out to sit on the bar, a sign he was in for a long haul. But the bartender knew that anyways, and slid the tall glass over while picking up the bill in one motion. Change came back with plenty of ones for a decent tip; it was the routine.

Vic sat there for a while, nervously working his straw. The sugar and alcohol felt good as it drained down his guts, but he had to pace himself. He briefly went over to pick up the newspaper that had carelessly been tossed at one end of the bar, and busied himself with that through at least two rounds. The passage of his life was being measured by liquids.

Suddenly, a young woman came in. She was a bit short and dressed in sweats, but also blonde and rather cute. For some reason, she was alone – women never go to bars alone, Vic thought. She sat at the other side of the bar, and ordered some kind of mixed drink that looked syrupy and thick. Vic gave her a moment to be settled, and studied her carefully.

Her hair was cut rather short, in a way that suggested a professional, salary type woman. She obviously had an independent streak to her, and didn’t appear to be out of place by herself. There was something about her that made her look … difficult was the best way to put it. Not the kind of woman who would easily be won over. He thought that it was this challenge that made her look more attractive to him, but a few moments watching her drink level made him realize – no, this is a quality woman.

He felt like a predator, keeping his eye on her so carefully without staring, and the feeling didn’t suit him at all. Still, it was part of the game. Yet there was something about her that unnerved him, something different.

When her drink got low, he motioned to the bartender, who silently knew what to do. Taking a five from Vic’s pile, he made up another one of the same concoction and presented it to her. “This gentleman would like to buy you a drink.” Vic nodded slowly, a practiced motion, not betraying how nervous he was. She smiled back, and tilted her head toward the empty seat next to her. Wow. She invited him over before he had to find his legs to make the walk.

Vic moved far more slowly than his pounding heart wanted to, holding his drink in his left hand. He didn’t want his right hand to become cold. He measured the distance between them, and when it was just right he smiled out his perfect teeth.

“Hi, I’m Vic.”
“I’m Maddy. Nice to meet you, and thanks.”
“Nice to meet you. Looks like it’s just us and the regulars.”
“You’re not a regular here?”
“No, not really,” Vic lied, “It’s in the neighborhood, so I come in once in a while.”
“You live around here?”
”Yeah, real close. You?”
“I work at the hospital.”
“Nurse …” Vic caught his mistake quickly, “Or doctor?”
“Doctor, thank you. Yeah, I know I look young for that!”

Vic caught his breath a moment. He nearly screwed up, and he was right – this wasn’t an ordinary woman. Her bright blue eyes betrayed something deeper. He had to be more careful. He finally sat down in the stool next to Maddy, giving him time to collect himself.

“You must be pretty smart to make it through Med School so quickly!”
“Oh, I dunno. I know what I want, and I do it, is all.”
“I know what you mean, I’m the same way.”
“What do you do, Vic?”
“I sell insurance.” He couldn’t believe he was telling the truth so easily; usually he said he was an executive. “It’s a good living.”

Maddy studied Vic’s hand on the glass as he took a drink.
“You have a pianist’s hands.”
“Oh, yeah … I guess so. I studied for 12 years.”
“Really? Are you good at it?”
“Pretty good, I guess. I can still play.”
“Did you ever do anything with it?”
“Not really. It was all my Mom’s idea, to make me a well rounded person.” Vic clenched his teeth realizing that he brought up his Mom while trying to pick up a woman. What was it about her?
“I love piano music, myself. Chopin, Liszt, ragtime, too, like Joplin.”
“I’m sure I play some Chopin if that’s what you’d like.”

“I’m sure.” Maddy smiled broadly at him. “I can see you have a salesman’s instincts.”
“And I can see you have a doctor’s piercing look!”
Maddy laughed. “Yeah, well, when you’re a woman in a big hospital, and you’re in charge, you can’t take anything from anyone.”
“You get a bit tough?”
”Yeah, but that’s why I like to come in here and just be ‘Maddy’ for a while, and not ‘Dr. McGowan’.”

Vic paused a moment, unsure if this was the right way to go. But he was curious.
“McGowan? Irish?”
“Irish and German, that’s me. You?”
”Wallace, Vic Wallace.”
“That’s Scottish, yes?”
”Well, it was Wallachinsky. I changed it.” Vic couldn’t believe he told her this already.
“Why did you change it?”
“I dunno. I was tired of standing out so much. I like taking the world as I see it, not as it sees me.”

Maddy’s glance fell for a moment. She wanted to change the subject.
“So, Wallachinsky is Polish? Like Chopin?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“When did your family come over?
”In 1970. From Gdansk.” Vic stopped caring about the details he was letting slide, and even stopped caring that he had no control over the conversation.

Maddy took a long drink and cocked her head. She was clearly collecting her thoughts. Vic felt a bit helpless in the silence, but only took a drink himself.

“Vic, was that the big riot in the shipyard? Your parents came over after that?”
“Yeah, my Dad was one of the … leaders, I guess.” Vic had never met anyone who knew about this before, and he was deeply embarrassed. “How do you know?”
“I studied this, in college. The fall of Communism and all.”
“Well, it didn’t fall fast enough for us.”
“So they escaped?”
“Apparently. They don’t talk about it much.”
“Why not?”

Vic had to breath out a moment before answering. He found himself falling into a deep pit, a hole in the ground. But it was safe in this burrow, and once the feeling that he was falling ended with a mental thud, he felt great. For some reason, it was a good and warm and safe place to be.

“They came here to start over. They wanted to be free. They didn’t want the past to hound them. They’re Americans, and their kids are Americans. We’re all free, and that’s good enough for all of us.”

Speeches like that weren’t like him at all. He felt like his Dad for a moment, and the thought scared him. His Dad never won anyone over with a smile and a few words; he made his way through life with strong arms that were slowly fading with age. Vic never wanted to be like that.

“That is a great story, Vic,” Maddy said softly. She put her hand on his hand, both gripping the bar importantly. “You’re such an example of what this nation is all about. I really admire you.”

Vic looked over at his drink, which was now empty. So was Maddy’s. Something had distracted him, but he had no idea what. He motioned for the bartender, who wandered over on this slow night.

“You want another, Maddy?”
“Sure.”
Vic turned for a moment. “She’ll have another, and I’ll just have a Coke this time.”
“OK, will do,” said the surprised bartender.

Vic looked over at Maddy, and was surprised to see her smiling so broadly she blushed. They kept talking for another two drinks, rolling gently between whispered serious and laughing out loud. Stories, jokes, but mostly the values they shared in freedom and being lucky to be Americans billowed into the air. Vic couldn’t believe he happened to meet a woman who understood what he was talking about, even before he said a word.

Eventually, Maddy felt herself become tired. She grabbed both of Vic’s hands and told him, “Listen, I had a long day, but meeting you made it a lot lighter. But I have to go to bed now.”

Vic paused for a moment. He had planned to take her home, to have her for the night. But he couldn’t bring himself to even suggest it.

“I’d love to see you again. Can I have your number?”
”Sure!” answered Maddy, and she pulled a pen out of her purse and wrote across a napkin. “Call me anytime, I’d love to see you again, Vic!”

She handed the napkin to Vic, who took it as if being delivered communion. He gently put it into his shirt pocket, keeping it close to his heart. When he looked up, he felt more than saw Maddy lean into him. He closed his eyes and kissed her gently, then hard. His hand slid up her arm and to her shoulder and pulled her in even tighter. He didn’t want this to end.

Slowly, Maddy pulled back. Her smile was like a mysterious iconic painting; warm and loving and clear that she meant it deep in her heart. Vic found himself returning it, an unfamiliar pull at the corners of his mouth that kept his teeth hidden. Vic’s hands slid slowly back to hers.

“Goodnight, Vic. It was great to meet you!”
”Goodnight, Maddy. It was great to meet you, too!”

She slowly got up, and released his hands. “Goodnight!” she whispered again, and slowly pulled her purse up her arm. Vic’s eyes followed her to the door, not caring how strange his stare must look. At the door, Maddy turned, and silently mouthed it again, “Goodnight!”.

When Vic turned back to the bar, he realized he had half of a Coke left in front of him. He downed it slowly, giving Maddy a chance to leave without being followed. His instinct to be cool had kicked in again when she left, thought he wasn’t happy with it.

In a few moments, he left his tip on the bar and got up. The walk home was light and mysterious. The streetlamps suddenly seemed more important than the dark spaces between as they lit his way home. It wasn’t until he got to his front door and turned the keys that he felt his feet hit the ground again. He was, after all, alone. Very alone. Not at all what he planned.

Vic shuffled for a while, but eventually found himself heading in the direction of the couch. He was going to throw himself into it, but instead sat down with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. He thought of turning on the tube again, but instead let the silence close in on him. In a moment, it was as deafening as any bar.

Vic got up and went to the kitchen. In a corner of the cabinet, there was a bottle of Luksusowa vodka that had been sent to him as a Christmas present by an uncle many years before. He took it out, looked at it, and thought about chugging it straight from the bottle. Instead, he brought out a tall, narrow glass, and half filled it with the clear fire.

Without returning the bottle to its proper place, Vic wandered again. This time, he found himself seated at his small kitchen table, a tall glass of vodka in hand. In a flash, he saw his Dad in the same silent, sullen place as he had been so many times throughout Vic’s childhood. This bothered Vic, but he didn’t move. He was going to drink this all down tonight.

As the warm feeling spread from his stomach to his chest and then his brain, Vic felt like saying something. He always talked his way out of trouble, and even though there was no-one there now; it was just what he did. In between sips, he found himself just muttering words of half-encouragement, like a soused coach at halftime on for losing team:

“Maddy. She is something. But God … I can’t be tied down with a woman like that. Besides, what kind of woman will drink with you all night and not go home with you? You can do better than this, you can pull yourself together. Just don’t let her get to you. Just don’t think she’s everything, ‘cuz she’s not …”

Eventually, he gave up trying to coach himself. When his glass was empty, he got up from the table to put it away. The pull of his shirt yanked at the napkin with her number on it, still in his pocket. Fumbling drunk for a moment, he stopped to pull it out. “Maddy …” As he walked over to his bedroom, he took out his wallet and plugged in his cell phone by the door, and carefully placed the napkin on top. He knew he would find it in the morning. He then finished his solo wanderings for the night, carefully putting his clothes into the hamper and collapsing into bed.

When Vic woke up, it was past ten o’clock. The curtains were closed, so it wasn’t a problem at all to sleep in past his usual time. He wasn’t badly hung over, having prepared well, but he could have felt better. A quick shower and selection of clothes sent him back to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal and some aromatic coffee eaten entirely in silence.

But all of this was done in a walk carefully around his phone and the napkin on top of it. He went out of his way to avoid it on his way to the kitchen. Once he was done with a bachelor’s breakfast, he couldn’t avoid it any longer. He turned the corner into the hall like he was spying on it, and saw it was still there. With a slow shuffle, he went over and picked it up. “Maddy 555-8390” was written in careful and large letters across the whole surface. There it was.

Vic studied the number, the name, and the deliberate way it was written for what seemed like forever. He couldn’t help noticing the light coming in the open windows of the living room. And with one practiced motion, he opened his cell phone, and dialed. It wasn’t until the wait for the ring that he noticed his heart pounding.

“Hello?
“Mom?
”Victor! It’s been so long. How are you?”
“I’m good, Mom, how are you?”
“Let me get your Father. Feodor! It’s Vic!”
“Listen, Mom, I have something to tell you.”
“Oh, you’ve gotten another promotion?”
“Hello, Victor.” It was his Dad’s deep voice.

“Hello, Dad. No, listen. I’ve uh … I met someone. I met a woman.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” Mom was always quicker.
“Is she Polish?” Dad still held out hope.
“Feodor! Now, let him tell us.”
“She’s Irish and German, her name is Maddy.”
“See, an all-American girl. I’m happy for you.” Mom always had her own ideas.
“I really like her, and I think you will too.”
“That’s wonderful! How are things at work?”
“Oh, not much new, I guess.”
”Well, your father is doing well.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“Except the taxes went up again.”
“They always do, Mom.”
“The city has their own ways.”
“Listen, Mom, I … uh, I gotta go.”
“It was nice to hear from you, Victor.”
“Nice to hear from you, Mom. Dad. Bye!”
“Bye!”

He had not idea how he got out of the bitch-fest so easily this time, but he did. Then again, he had no idea why he wandered into it. Vic just stood there a moment, unsure why he was doing anything, including breathing. But that’s all he did. Breath for a moment. Put the phone down and breath.

Slowly, he felt as though he had to do something, and for the first time since he met Maddy he walked over with confidence. This time, it was to the living room, where a small Yamaha electric keyboard sat with a stool in front of it. Vic plunked himself down on the stool, and turned on the unit.

It took a few moments of steeling himself, and massaging each hand to consider what he would play. But there was only one thing that he had ever done which he was sure had pleased his Mom. It was usually during Christmastime. She would stand there silently smiling like an icon of the Madonna in pure ecstasy. The memory never dimmed, as if time itself stood still.

Vic attacked the piano, and sounded the first three chords of Chopin’s Military Polonaise in A. The force of it bounced off of every wall and lifted even the sun that came in the windows, filling the room with passion and sound and grace and light.

He started at a careful march tempo, a pace just so. Gradually, however, as he found himself leaning to be higher on the keyboard, he was winding himself up like a toy truck. By the time he came to the first repeat, he was nearly twice as fast as he started. Passion and fire had replaced grace. The keyboard bounced with the ferocity of his attack, and his hair flew in and out of his eyes. He was determined to pound it out, to make it work, to put aside any doubts that anyone had that he was capable.

Vic felt a tear hit his left hand, and suddenly he stopped. It was as though he had forgotten the piece, which he never would, or was deeply confused. But then, another tear fell, hitting the keyboard at high C. In the moment it hit, Vic heard it ring out in his mind. It was a wrong note, not in the score. The dissonance attacked the warm and brilliant notes still echoing off the walls and chased them away. A moment very suddenly ended.

It was all he could do to not pound the keyboard with both hands, but Vic felt he was done with it for now. Every bit of energy he had was spent. He got up slowly, wondering what he was going to do on another Saturday alone in his house.

Gradually, he shuffled around, and thought about the streetlamps he walked home under. He felt so great that moment in his life. But now it was light out, and the streetlamps were off. Still, he couldn’t help himself as he headed for the front door and opened it.

It was nearly noon, and the sun was high overhead. It was getting hot again, and the glare hurt Vic’s bloodshot eyes. He raised an arm over them rather than go get his shades. He wanted to see where he was last night, he wanted to get that feeling back. But for a moment, he was nothing but blinded. Blinded and cut off.

The feeling sat on him hot and thick. But he didn’t feel lonely anymore. For the time being, this was good enough.

4 thoughts on “Noon

  1. Erik,

    I just started reading (found your blog through the article on minimalism).

    Do I see a typo in the first paragraph?

    But when the weight of the sun squeezed a few drops of sweat from him, he could help but realize; his shirt was going to be wet and rank if he didn’t get inside soon.

    Could help but notice?

  2. Alright, I hope you don’t find my barrage creepy, these being my very first comments on your site, but the compulsive editor in me is taking over. I’ll go with the assumption that a writer will appreciate it, and throw all suggested edits at you. When that’s all said and done I’ll tell you how I liked the story:

    Deciding he didn’t, he found an ancient Newsweek that held his interest for a short while, until Margaret called out his name.

    That should be:

    Deciding he didn’t, he found an ancient Newsweek, which held his interest for a short while until Margaret called out his name.

    …because it’s a non-restrictive clause.

    ”No. Well, a little, once in a while. Nothing heavy.”
    ”Any women you’ve been pursuing?”

    ”Yeah, they’re Polacks.”

    ”Look, what do I know? Yeah, she always got even more silent at Christmas, if that’s possible.”

    ”Yeah, real close. You?”

    ”Wallace, Vic Wallace.”
    ”Well, it was Wallachinsky. I changed it.”

    ”In 1970. From Gdansk.”

    ”Sure!” answered Maddy,

    ”Goodnight, Maddy. It was great to meet you, too!”

    ”Victor! It’s been so long. How are you?”
    ”Well, your father is doing well.”

    –See the curling of the quotes.

    ”Yeah, but that’s why I like to come in here and just be ‘Maddy’ for a while, and not ‘Dr. McGowan’.”

    Ditto. Also, the period goes inside both single and double quotes.

    “Then there’s no point in you screaming at me for asking the obvious any more.” — not anymore?

    The word “Office” wimpered out, and he started for the car. –it’s “whimper”

    He unbuttoned his shirt, and opened the briefcase he dragged from the car. –Shouldn’t it be “had dragged”?

    Even if he never learned to cook or really took any enjoyment from food, but he knew he had to eat something. — Remove “but”; change “if” to “though.”

    The sugar and alcohol felt good as it drained down his guts, but he had to pace himself. — change “it” to “they.”

    Vic had to breath out a moment before answering. — breathe, not breath

    “They came here to start over. They wanted to be free. They didn’t want the past to hound them. — Did you mean “haunt”?

    They kept talking for another two drinks, rolling gently between whispered serious and laughing out loud. — whispered serious?

    At the door, Maddy turned, and silently mouthed it again, “Goodnight!”. — no need for period.

    When Vic turned back to the bar, he realized he had half of a Coke left in front of him. — omit “of.”

    He always talked his way out of trouble, and even though there was no-one there now; it was just what he did. In between sips, he found himself just muttering words of half-encouragement, like a soused coach at halftime on for losing team:

    change to

    He always talked his way out of trouble, and even though there was no-one there now; it was just what he did. In between sips, he found himself just muttering words of half-encouragement, like a soused coach at halftime for a losing team:

    Breath for a moment. Put the phone down and breath. –it’s “breathe.”

    It was usually during Christmastime. — Christmas time.

    And that’s all she wrote.

  3. So that was a decent story. You know how to pour out fluid paragraphs that follow the character closely, though I thought many sentences could have been better polished.

    One thing bothered me, and that was briefly getting into the secretary’s head, to reveal she thought Vic attractive, distracted, and a handful. The problem is that the interaction was over the phone, and it seemed artificial to have an entry into the thoughts of the person behind the voice over the phone. She is too remote, and too peripheral to the story to have thoughts of her own, that we need to know. So I thought you could have made him attractive, distracted, and hard-to-manage through some channel other than this faceless secretary’s impressions over the phone.

    There also seems to be a gap in the narration, because nowhere do you explain that Maddy and Vic momentarily left the bar.

    “She slowly got up, and released his hands. “Goodnight!” she whispered again, and slowly pulled her purse up her arm. Vic’s eyes followed her to the door, not caring how strange his stare must look. At the door, Maddy turned, and silently mouthed it again, “Goodnight!”.

    When Vic turned back to the bar, he realized he had half of a Coke left in front of him. He downed it slowly, giving Maddy a chance to leave without being followed. ”

    Did just his eyes follow her to the door, or did he step outside briefly? The reader may be a bit confused over what exactly happened there.

    Another point: I thought the conversation between the two of them was a bit too naive for a classy physician to be that impressed. Or was he such a looker that she didn’t care? These people are in their late twenties or early thirties, I take it. But they’re acting a bit like teenagers. Is this just a manifestation of Vic’s emotional immaturity? A bit unrealistic for it to be so perfectly mirrored by Maddy’s.

    I also felt the ending unraveled a bit from the story’s cohesive narrative up to that point. I could follow almost all of Vic’s thoughts and experiences throughout the story, but in the end, I couldn’t experience any empathy with what was going through his head as he was playing the piano. I felt that the passage was supposed to be climactic, but it somehow wasn’t.

    Overall, you’ve got some solid skills though!

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