Forgotten NaNo

Well, the NaNoWriMo deadline has come and gone, and I join the ranks of those swept aside by this unforgiving juggernaut. But, and I pause here just for emphasis, I am continuing on. I’m happy with the concept and the characters, and I have written the last chapter in my head more times then I care to remember.

So, as a declaration of sorts, I’m posting an excerpt from Chapter Two as an undertaking to myself that, unlike countless other endeavours, I will finish this.

As we hurtle toward the end of the year, I’m hoping to increase the frequency of my posts in an effort to start 2006 on Ten Miles with a head of steam. So, keep them eyes peeled for a second movie quiz (since the first one seems to have gone down well), and the return of an old, somewhat vitriolic favourite (D, I think you may know to what I refer).

Grass Kings

Chapter Two

Jacob could hear the pounding of his heart through the pillow. He was failing miserably to clear his mind, but succeeding in letting the perceived irregular beat confuse him. He shifted an arm to elevate his head, but instead of being relieved at this new silence, it only made him wonder whether it was still beating at all. This was it, he was dying, and unless he focused all his energy into willing his heart to keep pumping, he would slip away. It would be over; no mess, no fuss.
He sat bolt upright, as if that final act of defiance would keep death at bay.
Next to him, Thandi stirred from an enviably fitful sleep and murmured a word of concern.
“Just getting some water, go back to sleep.”
Hearing his own words aloud, the ridiculousness of his paranoia made him want to laugh. How often did this have to happen before he could pummel that quiet voice into oblivion? He’d like to see it whisper its insidious words through a bloody mouth. Who’s the one with the fickle mortality now, fucker.
Oh god, now one voice was threatening the other. He needed sleep, needed to blackmail, threaten, seduce; anything just to have it welcome him again.
When sleep finally relented, Jacob dreamt the end of the world. It was like looking at a postcard of Table Mountain on New Year’s Eve, like looking down from 500 feet in the air while all around fireworks exploded, shards of red and blue, fragments of stars. But he wasn’t up on high, and those weren’t fireworks. He was standing on a long stretch of road, watching the Northern Lights leaving, their purpose never understood and now no longer needed. People were screaming; some on their knees with tears of joy streaming down their faces, others in terror. Jacob held out both hands, fingers apart, letting the breeze curl around his arms and brush against his palms. He wasn’t scared, wasn’t delirious or even sad. The last thing he thought before he woke up was this: I’ll miss the wind.

The apartment block would be finished in a few more weeks. Fixtures and fittings were still needed, paint, glass and buyers. Jacob had worked in construction long enough to know pride didn’t come from the satisfaction of seeing an architects dream come true. Nor from being able to stand back and marvel at the perfect mesh of steel and concrete. Satisfaction was an illusion, something used to distract from what was really like hammering a nail into a piece of flesh. He took pride from doing his job well, as a means to an end, nothing more. But without the distraction, he was left open and reeling from the sight of what had been done to Long Street. Still, progress is a juggernaut. If corner bookshops and bohemian clothing stores had to pack up and leave, then clearly no one important wanted them around anymore. With the price of petrol soaring every month, executives wanted to live close to work, and Long Street was in the heart of the city. At least, when the city still had heart. Jacob shuddered as he recalled the previous night. Don’t worry, I know exactly how you feel.
He remembered seeing Sheraton Hotels on CNN, years and years ago. Here’s one in Dubai, and one in India, and one in France. They were like a stamp of approval. The Powers That Be have decided that your city has adequately met our list of requirements, here’s your Sheraton. It reminded him of a joke he’d once made up.
What’s the only good thing about the end of the world? You won’t have to watch it on CNN.
Cape Town had received Her stamp of approval four years ago, and Jacob had fingerprints on every steel support. What was with this damn apocalyptic head space he seemed to have lost himself in?
He’d once been in an office where a huge picture hung in the reception. It was a picture from an early America, a few workers sitting on a steel girder eating lunch with the city as flat as a map miles below them. It wasn’t like that at all. No one wanted to spend any more time up there then they had to.
His thigh started tingling, and it took him a few seconds to realize his cell phone was ringing. He hated the bloody things, despised the invasion of privacy. If the man who composed those ringtones ever had the misfortune of crossing paths with Jacob, he would experience an agony far beyond anything an evil blend of tones and beeps could conjure. It was more than likely a woman anyway. Only a woman could devise a torture so subtle and infuriating. He was the ultimate cell phone grouch, dispensing withering stares to any who dared let it ring for longer than a second. Naturally, Thandi found this endlessly amusing. And naturally, it was her name blinking on the caller ID.
“Hey babes….”
“Jay, my parents want us around for dinner tonight.”
Vernacular economy. That was one of the things he loved about her. Straight to the chase, no unnecessary pauses, no wasted words. He respected someone who didn’t have to butter him up first to get his attention. Small talk is the opiate of the common man.
“And what did your mom give as a reason?”
It also meant that more than five words from her would make him feel invincible. If she deemed him worthy of risking that asceticism, then she must see in him something worthwhile.
“She didn’t. My father phoned.”
Of course, sometimes it just irritated the hell out of him.
“Oh. Any guesses what’s up?”
“And is there a chance you’d care to share that information?”
“But that would spoil the surprise!”
She savoured the words as if each was a burst of exquisite flavour, clearly enjoying this small display of power.
“What time?”
Jacob tried to sound nonchalant, but she had always been better at this game then he was
“Seven thirty.”
“And what if the site needs me ‘til late? We do only have four weeks to finish this, you know.”
One last Hail Mary, for the hell of it.
“You don’t. I do actually listen when you talk in the mornings.”
Damn. A quick reference of this morning’s breakfast conversation. She had three interviews and a story due; he’d relayed with some relief how they’d be finished by six tonight, at the developers request.
“Shall I pick up a bottle of wine on the way home?”
She laughed, and the sound of it was not victorious. Rather, it was the gentle musical ripple of someone who had clearly loved every second of the conversation.
“Thanks Jay. I know this is hard for you, but never forget that I’m yours. God himself would need to look me in the eyes and tell me we’re not meant to be together.”
God, he loved this woman more than he’d ever thought possible. Thandi was an atheist.

“So Jacob, how is the construction business?”
They stood outside on the balcony of the Ndzimande house, the lush green of Constantia lay like a dark sea spread out before them. Thandi and her mother were inside making coffee, an uninspired ruse so that Thandi could answer questions about why Jacob had still not proposed after four years. If only they knew that he’d done so after only six months. And again after two years. She had told him two things that last day, as he knelt in the sand, the sun flatlining behind them; she would never marry, and she would never love any other. He believed her, but he was still scared.
Jacob lit the cigarette he’d been craving for the last hour, and looked up at the imposing figure of Thandi’s father.
“Well, the Phaythe development is almost finished. We’re actually ahead of schedule. Then I just have to oversee some additions to the Convention Centre, before the season ends.” He hesitated slightly before adding, “How do you do it? How do you get up every morning knowing that at best, maybe twenty percent of your day will be positive?”
He wasn’t trying to be difficult; he’d just sensed an opportunity to delve behind that impassive facade.
The Deputy Minister of Safety and Security took a slow sip of his Scotch. If the question had surprised him, he didn’t show it.
“I don’t. I get up every morning thinking that five percent of my day will be positive. That way, I’m rarely ever disappointed.”
If Jacob hadn’t noticed the slight curl in the corners of the Minister’s mouth, the joke would have dissipated in the crisp night air. This was not normally a man intimately acquainted with humour.
“Do you know what I say to myself as I wake up? Before I have even opened my eyes?”
He spoke with such control, a measured confidence that had your attention before you’d remembered giving it. It wasn’t difficult to see why he was one of the most respected and popular Ministers in the cabinet. “Jacob, this is a country gripped by the most devastating epidemic in its history. Yes, there are those who remain unaffected, suburbs where life continues on as it has for the last decade. But this will change.” He faltered for a moment, the misstep by no means an indication of weakness. “I say to myself, what kind of world do I want to see when I open my eyes? And then I remind myself that I am in a position to bring it about. That I had better see that same world when I close my eyes at night, or I have failed.”
The Minister turned to go inside, but paused against the rich wood of the French doors. He glanced back at Jacob and chuckled sadly.
“That may explain why I’ve been struggling to sleep lately.”

Dinner had been a pleasant enough affair, but the expected revelations were never voiced. Jacob had tormented himself on the drive home from work, theorizing a dozen reasons why they’d been invited to dinner, none of them good. And he’d forgotten the wine. But conversation had not just been the polite yet curt sentences he had become accustomed to; he’d actually made Mrs Ndzimande laugh on more than one occasion, and not just the gracious laugh of a seasoned hostess, but a genuine, infectious giggle that left little doubt as to whom Thandi had inherited her warmth from. About halfway through dinner, work had called him and Jacob had excused himself to take the call in the study. He was sure he’d heard raised voices in his absence, but when he joined them again at the table, nothing seemed out of place.
As the car hurtled past reflectors on the freeway, Jacob contemplated the exchange on the balcony. Thandi’s father had always been pleasant toward him, but whether his disposition was authentic, or a guise he slipped easily into, was a more cryptic question. Whatever the nature of their relationship, it certainly did not explain that unexpected flash of candor. Jacob hoped it indicated sincerity, or perhaps the first step in acceptance, but he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that it was something born of guilt.
“What happened back there?”
The amber light from the car stereo made her skin appear luminescent; her head nestled against the headrest, swaying imperceptibly with the motion of the car.
“You mean because things seemed almost normal?”
“No, I mean because things seemed a little heated when I left the room.”
He’d tried to convince himself it had been laughter, or not shouting at all, but he knew what Thandi’s voice sounded like when she was distraught. It wasn’t something that happened often, and when it did it was the kind of sound he’d rather forget, but couldn’t.
“Politics. My father saw the article I did on Zandikele.”
At least he could empathise with her father there. It was one thing to have a daughter carving out a career as a journalist; astute, intelligent and principled. But when she directed that sagacity toward the Minister’s colleagues, well, this was the fire season, and the grass was drying out faster each day.
“And the secret reason behind tonight’s gathering?”
“Oh, that! Nothing, love. I was just stirring. Hazard of the job, remember?”
Her smile should have set him at ease, yet on this hushed Thursday night, with the moon seeking solace behind a nearby line of trees, she had never felt more distant.

~ by tenmiles on December 1, 2005.

5 Responses to “Forgotten NaNo”

  1. I hate you. Whenever I read a story I like, I usually go out and buy the sequel and the sequel to the sequel and so on. This ‘one chapter at time’ business is torture.

  2. well FM, i join you in the rank of the few the proud, the failed. i got nowhere in my story – i think despite it all, i was trying too hard. Though from these wonderful exepts, i feel that you did much better than i.

    remember, there’s always next year. 🙂 what i most proud of you about is that you are going to continue with this – i look forward to more episodes.

  3. I totally blew off NaNo….wish I could say because I was protesting for some noble reason, but alas, it was just because I was too lazy!

    Interesting excerpt! 🙂

  4. So i’m gone like one day and you get up to all sorts of hijinks! Great … slobbering for more now!

  5. FM, you layer unique and fascinating complexities to your characters (e.g., the irregular heartbeat description). It’s a great skill! My one critique would be that after a page or so of expository writing, I’d try to focus on action. For example, you could take us into the dinner and let us live it, rather than only relating it through reflection afterwards.–>

Leave a Reply to jason evans Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: