The Art of Mirriam Neal

say yes to november

This year, NaNo is staying up until three-thirty in the morning and sleeping in until twelve, being woken up by a family member bearing a cup of coffee, turning the computer on, and pounding out 3,000 words or more if I can per day. It’s a messy bed and 1989 on repeat and staring blankly at the screen, interspersed with bouts of furious typing. When my brain is sucked dry, I read a biography of Grace Kelly or chat with encouraging friends. I have 14, 500 words at the moment and I hope to have 17,000 words by three a.m. I’m racing my friend Kyla to the 50,000 word finish line, and so far we’re neck and neck. I’m choosy about where I let my competitive tendencies take me, but I’m giving this one free reign. (I WILL beat you, Fournier.) Anyway, it’s five days in and I have over forty pages, so it sounds like a recipe for snippets. Enjoy the peek into my novel, and let me know how yours is coming along!

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I hate drowning in public. Hate it. Everyone can watch as I suffocate, as I gasp for breath and come up empty. I’m a circus freak. The Drowning Man.

Star of the show.//

It’s strange, to miss the sound of my own voice.

I miss the sound of my music more. Well, any music, really. Not just mine. I miss being able to put in my earphones and listen to my iPod. I miss my record player and the scratchy, crackly sounds my old records made. It always reminded me of the squeak between steel guitar strings. I’m not sure why.//

I take a deep breath, and blow it out, watching the smoke disappear in the cold air. I flick the cigarette butt into the trash and continue down the street. The sidewalks are packed, and every freaking window has a Christmas tree behind it. Halloween was a week ago, people.

They do love their holidays.

I step out of the way of a teenager on a skateboard, and I vaguely hope he finds an icy patch somewhere. Maybe it would help him watch where he’s going in the future.

I’ve never had good luck. It’s for that very reason that I believe in luck. It has to be a real thing, because sidestepping the skateboarder puts me in the path of a guy in a hurry.//

Humans are heartless creatures. Me included.//

A trickle of air sneaks into my lungs and my head clears. I can see who helped me of the street. At first, I think it’s a woman. After a few seconds I can see no, it’s a man wearing more makeup than my sister on Halloween.//

“There’s a cab waiting,” I say. “Go.”

“What’s your name?” she repeats.

Maybe she is a ditz.

“Hyde,” I say.

“Like, hide and seek?” Her mouth puckers a little, like someone expecting a sip of water and getting a sip of lemon juice instead.

“No,” I say. “Like Jekyll and.”

It takes her a second, but then she realizes what I said. She smiles again, and it strikes me oddly, her standing here in pastel pink with a violin case, on a street corner surrounded by concrete and glass. And me.

Well, concrete and glass.//

I settle back down against the pillow, at once both so grateful and so shattered that all I can do is stare at the screen and watch as a hurricane tore apart a hotel and Humphrey Bogart proves that even the worst guys can do the right thing.//

“Stop bossing me around.”

“Then stop wanting to do dangerous things.”

I tuck some hair behind my left ear. “Oh, I forgot to mention, as soon as I thank Hyde, I’m going skydiving. Without a parachute. In Peru.”

“Ha, ha, ha.” She sneers, but it’s half-hearted.

Our arguments are usually that way; we don’t really mean them, and they fall short of anything actually cruel.//

One of my favorite things about living in a big city is that it truly never sleeps. Even now, at three o’clock in the morning, people are everywhere; holding hands, walking dogs that Fred barks at, or carrying large shopping bags from 24-hour stores.

I stop to smile at a white Christmas tree flaunting shiny red ornaments and twinkle lights in the window of Macy’s. The tree is probably twenty feet tall. When I was little, Dad would bring me here, sometimes with Kayla, and we would watch as the staff put up ladders and decorated the tree for Christmas. They did it the day after Halloween, and Dad would always say it was too early. I was happy to celebrate Christmas all year ’round – it couldn’t begin too early for me.

I still feel that way, for the most part. I’m happy with two months of Christmas. Snow, hot chocolate, Christmas lights, red and green everywhere I looked. Even now, there is a Salvation Army worker dressed like Santa Clause, waving his bell up and down, up and down, on the street corner.

I can remember what the sound of that bell was like. I can remember Christmas carols, I can sing along with them. But the thought of not hearing them, ever, brings hot tears to my eyes.//

My heart thumps impatiently between my ribs. “I wanted to say thank you. For yesterday.”

“You did thank me yesterday.”

“But I was – I was kind of dazed.”

He laughs. “Yeah. You were.”

Fred pulls against his leash until his front paws are off the ground. Hyde tilts his head and studies the dog. Then he gestures toward him with the two fingers nestled around the cigarette. “What, no sweater?”

“I feel sorry for animals in sweaters,” I say. “It’s degrading.” I glance down at Fred, then back at Hyde. “I’m kind of surprised, though. He likes you.”

“Well, he’s a first.” Hyde takes a drag, lowers the cigarette again. “You’re welcome.”//

Fair skin, a dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her eyes are baby blue in a heart-shaped face, her lips are pink and soft. Her blonde hair is as light as the rest of her, thick and soft. She looks like a very young black-and-white starlet.

“Take a Polaroid,” she suggests. “It lasts longer.”

I smile. “Polaroid film is thirty dollars for three shots. I don’t think so.”

“Do you own a Polaroid camera?”

“Nope.”

“Then how on earth do you know how much film costs?”

I shrug. “I know things.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” She flips a switch on the machine. A red light turns on. She eyes me again. “Do you know other stuff?”

“Most people know more than the cost of Polaroid film.”//

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