Over the years I’ve read many novels and there are two things–not counting plot, pacing and character–to which I always look forward:
Beginnings and Endings.
Walking through the ailes of “insert bookstore name here”, I notice the cover and the title first, if I’m not familiar with the author. But it’s the opening paragraphs and the last line that seal the deal .
Since the title of this entry is “Start at the Beginning” I thought I would share the openings of the three novels I am currently juggling:
“Here’s to the best accountant in the Alliance and the greatest friend a girl could ask for,” Julia Lopes announced to the crowd of twenty people—assorted coworkers and friends—as they held their glasses aloft in unison. A cheerful murmur of various forms of agreement spread throughout the group. Julia waited patiently for the sound level to lower before she continued. Turning to her left she looked directly at the person who was the cause of this celebratory gathering and said, “Happy twenty-fifth birthday, Darien.”
Darien looked around the room and soaked in the accolades; though her shyness made her secretly wish that she could simply disappear from the room. She beamed with pride, as she looked at her best friend. Whether it was for two years or twenty years scarcely mattered, all that mattered was that today they were friends and Darien owed her just about everything.
When they met during first year at the university, Darien was a social misfit; her daily routine consisted of going to class in the daytime and watching movies on the vidplayer at night. She met Julia by chance at a symposium on optics at a local convention center. It turned out that they were both accounting majors with secret loves for physics. Whereas Darien chose accounting because it seemed a lot safer than physics, Julia came from money and her family had decided that she would be the financial officer for the family business. It mattered little that their backgrounds were vastly different. After a few study sessions and several conventions, they became fast friends.
Making friends had never been one of Darien’s strong points. Even as a toddler, she shied away from the other children in daycare, keeping to her self as much as possible. After her father disappeared—her mother’s choice of word because she couldn’t deal with the face that he, as the authorities so eloquently put it, may have simply abandoned them—when she had attained the highly impressionable age of four, Darien withdrew even further to the point where she stopped speaking. Her mother feared that the shock of the “disappearance” had somehow affected Darien’s learning abilities, but doctors ran myriad tests and reassured her that her precious child’s cognitive skills were growing and a normal rate.
In fact, the doctors grossly underestimated Darien’s increasing intelligence. When she entered grammar school, her teachers quickly discovered that her reading and math aptitude approached genius level. She shocked everyone when she spoke for the first time in two full cycles, during a meeting between her mother and school officials. Darien stood amongst the astonished adults and matter-of-factly announced that she had finished grieving. When her mother died in a municipal bus crash nearly twelve cycles later, Darien didn’t stop speaking she simply stopped caring. Meeting Julia had probably saved her life.
“You gonna say something,” Julia prodded“, or are you gonna sit there with that silly look on your face?”
Darien wished that she alter her molecular structure and disappear like an inert gas. Instead, her caramel colored cheeks turned crimson for all gathered to see. “No. I think you’ve done a wonderful job of embarrassing me on your own.”
Julia leaned in with a devilish grin. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” She proceeded to entertain the gathering with such ribald tales that even Sammy the bartender, who in his day had probably send and heard just about everything, had to cover his face to hide his blushes.
“You want another one, Darien,” Julia mumbled several hours later.
“No, I’m good,” Darien, said slurring her words. “I’m gonna see if I can find the bathroom.
Julia nodded and signaled the bartender. “I’ll settle the tab and meet you out front in a couple of minutes. Maybe between the two of us we have enough cleavage to hail a cab.”
Darien laughed; Julia had enough cleavage for the both of them. She gathered her senses and using every chair and table in her path, meandered her way to the bathroom.
Once in the bathroom she stared bleary eyed into the mirror and reapplied her makeup without having any idea how it had come off of her face. She jumped at the sound of one of the stall door sliding open and a small broken scream escaped her throat.
“Where’s the fire lady?” A scantily clad teen rebuked as she shoved her way past.
Darien couldn’t find her voice to respond before the girl had left the room. She looked into the mirror and noticed bags under her eyes that she could have sworn weren’t there moments before. Suddenly twenty-five felt like fifty-five and she didn’t feel so young anymore.
“We should’ve taken the subway,” Jackson Michelangelo Barrett admitted to himself
after circling the block in his car for the fifth time. The fact is he certainly did know better. Apparently, the five years he had spent matriculating at the City College of the City University of New York had taught him nothing about the scarcity of parking spots in and around the campus during the spring semester. The local radio conspiracy of every Hip Hop station deciding to run commercials at the exact same time certainly did not help his already sour demeanor.
“I’m not saying I told you so, but technically I did.”
Angelo did not bother to glance at his on again, off again partner of three years—currently enjoying a three-month on again renaissance—Maxine Church. She enjoyed pushing his buttons and he refused to give her the satisfaction. The last thing he needed going into the meeting he was about to be late for was to be on edge. As if on cue, the intro to DMX’s Party Up crept through the car’s speakers. Perfect, he thought. He certainly felt like he was going to lose his mind up in there.
He turned right at the corner near A. Philip Randolph High School and prayed that he would luck up and find a spot on the hill between St. Nicholas and Amsterdam. A car pulled out of the parking lot behind the N.A.C. building just as he pulled through the light so he gunned the accelerator lest some sneaky bastard get to a prime spot before he could. Thankfully, he made it to the guard station at the parking lot gate without incident. “You wanna handle this one Max? You know I hate talkin’ to rent-a-cops.”
Maxine looked at Angelo and gave him a smile that was part sex kitten, part devil. “Your mother didn’t hug you much when you were kid.”
Angelo knew arguing with Maxine wouldn’t get him any way so a simply shot back with his own oft used quip. “At least I have a mother.”
“How original. Now just roll down the window, keep your mouth shut, and turn off that goddamned rap music. It’s giving me a headache.”
Angelo rolled down the window. “You know this shit gets me into the zone,” he added before reluctantly turning off the music as he was ordered.
“As loud as you play it, it’s gonna get you into a hearing aid,” Maxine quickly said as the security guard approached the car.
“May I help you?” the guard asked
Maxine leaned across Angelo and showed the guard a photo ID she had retrieved from her purse. “Hi, I’m Margaret Hanson with the Village Voice. My photographer and I have a ten o’clock with Professor Martin over at Sheppard Hall. Do you mind if we leave the car here for about an hour. I’ll leave a key with you if you need to move it before we get back.”
Angelo knew from the sound of Max’s voice and the wonderful view of ample cleavage that she was giving the guard, that getting the spot was a foregone conclusion. He did his best to keep from becoming aroused while she leaned across his lap. Angelo had been lucky enough to enjoy the treats beneath Maxine’s clothes and probably still would be if he had been able to keep his dick in his pants while they were a couple; but that was neither here nor there. He thought about baseball and directed the car into the vacant spot after the guard waved them through.
“Why do you always introduce me as your underling and not as a colleague?” Angelo wondered after they had both been issued temporary ID’s by the Sheppard Hall security guard.
“You better get a handle on that ego of yours before you say something else ignorant,” Maxine warned. “There’s no grand conspiracy, Jackson Michelangelo Barrett. Remember, you’re the one the taught me the most basic aspect of any cover story is KISS; keep it simple stupid. Now if you’re a good little boy I’ll let you pretend to be in charge when we meet with the professor.”
Angelo frowned. When Maxine started using his full name, he felt like a little boy. “You know it’s your attitude that keeps you from being able to hold onto a man.”
“Yeah and I love you too.” Maxine tried not to smile too hard. Sometimes it was enough to know that she had gotten the better of him in an argument. Sometimes.
They stepped off the elevator on the second floor several minutes later and walked directly across the corridor towards a set of large wooden doors. “Have you been in there before?” Angelo asked while holding the heavy door open.
“Yep, freshman year. And the reason why is none of your business.” The devilishly innocent smile had returned.
“Damn. And here I thought all this time that I was the one that corrupted you. Mama told me to watch out for you preacher’s kids.”
“Watch it; we’re on the clock.” She nodded her head indicating Professor Malcolm, who was sitting with his back to them in the front row of the theater balcony.
Noah wrote the word Exodus in the dusty cover of his bible. He thought it fitting that the dirt of the world had settled on the word of God. Noah didn’t read his bible anymore. In the beginning, when he first came to prison, he read the bible all of the time; even on slow days he managed to read at least one chapter or several verses. Over time though, he read it less and less, sometimes going months at a time without lifting it off its shelf. Now it sat there as it would in most homes, placed centrally for effect, but only used in times of personal crisis or distress.
Ever since his first days of incarceration, in the youth facility, Noah’s life was filled with numerous personal crises and distresses, all part of the stigma of catching a bid on a manslaughter rap. As violent as the state penitentiaries could be, the youth facilities could be in many ways more brutal. Young men, regardless of the crimes that led to their incarcerations, were introduced to a world completely foreign to the ones they lived in on the outside. For Noah it was no different. Growing up he had never been a tough guy or a bully. In fact, he was quite affable, doing his best to get along with everyone. When the others discovered he had killed someone they immediately tested his manhood. Several broken ribs later and Noah had succeeded in gaining the respect that he never sought out, but nonetheless needed.
Early on Noah accepted that his bible simply served as a connection to his past, his life on the outside. Had he truly embraced religion he would have been guilty of hypocrisy and then no court on earth would have be able to punish him more than the haunted dreams that were sure to follow. Time passed and Noah was able to put away his hated crutch. Now time had caught up with him, it was time to go home again.
After pulling on his jumpsuit, he went about removing pictures from the walls and placing them into a shoebox. Mostly, the pictures were of Noah and his best friend, Chris, capturing both of them at various stages from Pre School to pre teen. He lingered over the picture of Chris’ sister, Zane, standing by a creek with the sun setting in the background, the light forming an iridescent glow that surrounded her like a second skin. She couldn’t have been more than thirteen at the time, he thought absently. At first glance, the soft hue appeared to be generated from within, and as Noah thought of the inviting smile that curled up at the edge of her mouth, he remembered why the first impression wasn’t that far from the truth. He loved to pretend that her eyes followed him as he moved through his tiny cell. Though he was quite aware that it was only an optical illusion, it did much to cheer him up every lonely day. Writing pads littered a small wooden desk off to one corner and a picture of his mother sat aside from the general disarray, the calm at the eye of a junk storm. A frame facing towards the wall was filled with a picture of him and his father standing in front of a small rural church. He quickly packed the last picture away before returning to the pictures of Zane and his mother, his heart filled with unexpected sadness and regret.
Approaching footfalls turned his attention towards the hallway outside of his cell. “Open up number one-seven-four-two-A,” a correction officer shouted before walking into view of the cell. He stopped in front of the cell as the door slid open. “Today’s your lucky day; you’re finally getting your name back.”
Noah smiled broadly, in stark contrast to the oppressive nature of his surroundings. “I’ve finally achieved my life’s goal, Jimmy.”
Jimmy the correction officer smiled back, his smile was just as warm and honest. “I’m sure your mother would have been proud.”
Jimmy was an older man, probably in his late fifties. Since the time when they first met, he seemed to take a liking to Noah, and always looked out for him or offered a friendly word of advice when he could. He was in every way as Noah imagined that a father should be—stern, truthful, caring, and understanding.
“Cheer up, man,” Jimmy said slapping him on shoulder blades to emphasize his point. “You’re about thirty minutes away from freedom.”
“I’m overjoyed,” the Noah wryly responded.
Jimmy waved his arm towards Noah’s belongings and offered to help with the remainder of the packing. “Let’s get a move on before the warden gets the parole board to change their decision. You know how irrational he gets after breakfast.”
“After,” Noah laughed heartily. Freedom—even a simple thought of freedom—had a way of bringing joy to a man’s day.
So there you have it. I started at the beginning. Hopefully I will finish them soon and have a post title “The Beginning of the End”. For now it’s just write, edit, and write some more.