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  1. Opening Scene - Introduces the protagonist and setting, establishes core wounds Sooner or Later You can run on for a long time, Run on, duckin’ and dodgin’, Run on for a long time, Sooner or later God Almighty’s gonna cut you down. — Traditional American Gospel Mrs. Evelyn Doherty had a standing appointment with Madame Theresa every Wednesday at one-thirty PM. She was a faithful client and never missed a scheduled reading, unless she was on vacation or unwell, which rarely happened. “Are you ready, Evelyn?” Madame Theresa asked in a tentative, encouraging voice, one finger resting patiently on the back of the final card. The Tarot were laid out in the familiar ten card Celtic Cross spread. A silk cloth lay draped across the table, a tangle of purple and yellow wildflowers dancing across an azure background. The Tarot cards, tawny with age, seemed to drift and stir as if floating in a pool of silken flowers. Mrs. Doherty leaned forward and pressed her eyes closed in concentration, her lips turned downward with anxious trepidation. In her right hand she palmed a smooth calcite stone that she favored for her weekly readings, pale blue like a robin’s egg. She was a devoted spiritualist and in the hierarchy of her small, comfortable life, Madame Theresa held a position just below President Nixon. The answer to her troubles, she knew, depended on this last card. She need not have been concerned. Although the hidden card remained a mystery to her, Madame Theresa was quite confident in the outcome. Her parents christened her Thérèse, after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, The Little Flower. Madame Theresa was her professional name. After her mother died, her father favored his nickname for her. At night, holding her close, watching the rhythm of her small body rise and fall with each breath, he might lean over and whisper in her ear “ti flè an mwen” in his native Creole — little flower of mine — but Tess was the name she grew up with. Thérèse was as foreign to her as the Saint of Lisieux herself. She studied her client from across the table. Tess recognized the familiar cropped navy blue jacket with white trim, the same prim, light-blue ruffled blouse underneath. The jacket’s elbows were shiny from wear. Mrs. Doherty wore her hair in a tall beehive hairdo. A thick braid wrapped around the middle held it in place. She was an ardent devotee of L’Oreal’s Smoky Pearl hair color and under the soft pendant lamp her hair shimmered with a blue-gray glow. The column of hair was leaning to one side and several stray wisps were trying to escape. Tess suspected Mrs. Doherty wrapped her head in a scarf while she slept. Staring into the top of the glowing bouffant, she resisted the urge to reach across and part the nest of hair and peer within. She imagined revealing a tiny, hidden universe; milky-white clusters of secret thoughts and emotions tangled in a quick, chaotic rotating dance. She was as familiar with Evelyn Doherty as a therapist is with a patient, tending to her needs, acting as her emotional advisor. She knew how to interpret her expressions and quiet mannerisms, and, if she was honest, to manipulate her naive, uncomplicated fears and desires. Growing up an only child, her father taught her how to wield her empathy with precision. Working alongside him in the sideshows and small-town carnies, dressed in her adorable sailor suit, spotting and luring the marks. An innocent compliment, a sympathetic look, calculated to arouse a desired response. Pay attention. Listen carefully. Two bits for a reading. Two bits for a glimpse into the supernatural. A good night’s work rewarded with Italian ice, her favorite flavor cherry red. He trained her to go after women mostly, preying on their superstitions and maternal instincts. Draw them in. People are fragile, they yearn to tell their secrets. Find their weakness. Reaching out with her slender fingers, taking hold of their hand, she led them to her father’s tent. She would wait outside, listening for the signal, a metallic tap followed by a low harmonic pitch, the ringing sound that meant the mark had handed over their money. Don’t be hasty. Never argue. Even the dullest mark can turn on you. Watching her client’s expression, her patience turning to irritation, Tess suspected that even inside the demure, well-mannered Mrs. Evelyn Doherty there was a secret buried inside her that even Tess herself was unaware. Mrs. Doherty opened her eyes at last and nodded. Tess revealed the final card. “Ah, the Seven of Cups.” “Is that good?” Evelyn asked, eyes opening wide, an uncertain smile on her lips. “Oh very good. Cups, as you know, represent emotion, and the Seven of Cups here symbolizes confidence. Confidence in your emotional life.” Tess pointed to the individual symbols on the Tarot card. “Look inside the cups. You see the snake, that’s passion and desire. The tower here, that’s strength. And the treasure, that’s abundance.” She traced her finger over the card in the sixth position. “Now, the Four of Wands, that’s the spiritual stability we discussed, combined here with the Queen of Swords.” Tess closed her eyes and lifted her chin in quiet meditation. “Yes. Yes, I’m quite sure. Patience and confidence.” She tilted her head to one side, as if listening to a distant voice. “Lester’s not having an affair. It’s clear from the cards chosen for you. Be patient, give things time to resolve themselves. You say he’s been tired lately, uninterested?” Evelyn nodded, the tiny lines at the corners of her eyes squinting in concern. “You know, it’s not unusual for older men to lose interest from time to time. Perhaps he’s working too hard? Too much on his mind?” Tess had seen pictures of Mr. Doherty. If he was stepping out, he was paying for it. And he was too tightfisted for that.
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  7. Sample of Prose Narrative OPENING SCENE: Introduces protagonist, his personality, and attitude, the setting, and minor characters in his life. The black and white wing-tipped feet of Richie Dodge scuff Arcadia, California sidewalks. He trudges from one curb cut to the next, though careful not to scuff anything above the soles. Faces peer out at him from a shop window, not because of his hipster persona, when hipsters are sort of called hepsters some thirty years after beatniks had their run, but because their images hang captive from posters among three walls. Richie answers their stares with a running critique. Ace of Base—they’ll never be the next ABBA—and The Spin Doctors—who thinks an audience actually wants to hear a thirty-minute jam—and some grunge band—who sacrifices originality for its art; looking and sounding like any other grunge band. His reflection in the glass opposite Soul Asylum prompts a shrug. His tie, hand-painted vintage flash with a flamingo perched on bent leg in blue and orange pastel, hangs sloppily from an unbuttoned collar and dangles over pressed linen trousers below his belt, a pet peeve almost as bad as when the tie sticks out from beneath his collar behind his neck. He runs a hand through his product-styled hair and pulls it straight over his head. When it settles, he’s created a piled-high pompadour, fitting for the anachronistic life he lives. Pressed against the window of the shop, now closed, he cranes for the bins of used records, older vinyl, from the ’70s, then the ’60s. Accepting skips and scratches as part of the act, he copies them to cassettes to save wear and tear. He’s yet to pick up a CD, untrusting of the latest tech fad, though they’ve been around few years. If I invest in those, they’ll change in a couple of years to little tiny things the size of a quarter, he argues with skeptics. It’s not real music anyway. Some digital code standing in for analogue. His eyes widen with Lulu’s Something to Shout About LP leading the row and hopes they have a few Petula Clarks he doesn’t own yet. He’s got twelve already. Looking to the folds of his wallet, there’s stitched leather and a lining of some fabric but no cash. His wages go to vinyl. It being Thursday, he’ll pick up his paycheck, in person, on Friday and come back for Lulu on Saturday after cashing it … in person … with a bank teller. The 21st century looms, and Y2K scares surface among the population, but he pays no heed. He doesn’t even own an ATM card. The pocket planner he retrieves from a trouser pocket, the one opposite his wallet, summarizes his latest downfall. Lauren, 7 pm proves the evening didn’t disappear. Her name’s there, in the May 7 block with an arrow extending three weeks to present day, May 27. He scrawls an X through the 27th, across the entry, Lauren 8:30 pm. Richie flips the pages back to April and studies the 14th day hoping he’s somehow lost track of the years. But it’s still 1993 and his birthday on the 14th still marks his 29th year, the last throes of twentydom. He curls his lip, like Elvis, and tucks his tie into his shirt, like a military man would. His wingtips lumber up a flight of stairs while he fumbles for keys and taps a shoulder on the door that tends to stick. At the open refrigerator, Richie’s roommate for the past year, Drip, stoops and rubs his arms for the cold, wearing just boxer shorts and a white v-neck t-shirt, the Drip Cosgrove walkabout T, Richie calls, Drip’s choice attire around the place. Drip turns with the scuff of Richie’s feet over the black-and-white checkerboard tile. “Du—e!” Drip says, somehow never able to finish the full word “dude.” “You’re home early.” Drip fidgets as though he’s been caught pilfering import CDs at the swap meet, fumbling a cup of yogurt. “No, Drip,” Richie says, “right on schedule. As usual.” Drip’s girlfriend, with her kinda short hair for a cute girl, Richie had once confided in Drip, stands behind the open refrigerator door, bare feet on the tiles. Her face peeks from around the side. “Hi Nancy,” he greets her with a comic-book sigh. “No way, Du—e,” Drip says. “Dumped again already?” “Of course,” Richie says, “It’s been three weeks.” “Wasn’t the one before that—?” “Three weeks, tambien, Drip.” “And you been going with this Laurie chick how long?” “Lauren,” Richie corrects. “She was sickeningly adamant about getting it just so when I met her at the mall. I was looking for that Felix the Cat watch.” “Yeah? What else? Details!” “His arms are the clock hands.” Richie sticks his arms out to demonstrate, one at his side, one straight over his head, three o’clock. “That’s how he tells the time.” “No, Du—e. Details about Laur-ie—en.” “Not much else to say but yes, three weeks it has been.” “She didn’t even have the courtesy to throw off the average,” Nancy says, still tucked behind the refrigerator. Drip nods and grins dimwittedly. “Sorry, Richie,” Nancy says. “Are you, like, okay, Du—e? Drip asks. “I feel kinda sick,” Richie says. “I’ll be in my room. Where’s the newspaper?” “The personal ads?” Nancy asks. “The want ads,” Richie replies. “Go on-line,” Nancy says. “They’ve got updated jobs and even personal—” “I like the print media,” Richie says. “Rough day,” Drip says. “You get fired again too?” “Uh …” Richie says, thinking a moment, “no.” “Did you quit again?” Nancy asks. “No, not yet,” Richie says. “You gotta find a happy zone, Du—e.” “I’m looking,” Richie says. “I’m trying. “Seek and he will find,” Drip pronounces. “Ye. Shall,” Richie corrects. “Right!” Drip punctuates by pointing index fingers from each hand at Richie. “That’s the right—” The refrigerator door escaping his grasp cuts him short. Richie meets Nancy’s eyes. She drops a cup of yogurt, splattering Greek-style over her toes. Richie’s eyes wander from the spill to her waistline. “You surprised us,” she says, “you got home early.” “Yeah, Du—e,” Drip says, “you, umm, did.” “Huh, what?” Richie asks, unable to hear over Nancy’s pink and orange polka dotted panties. It must be the case she’s wearing nothing else. She crosses her arms over her breasts. “Dots,” Richie says in a state of mesmerism. Drip covers her panties with a folded newspaper. “Oh,” Drip says. The top half of the newspaper unfolds and opens to full size. “You need the paper, don’t you? Seems like we got us a Mexican stand-off.” “Sorry,” Richie says. “I didn’t mean to see your dots—” Nancy looks down at her arms covering her breasts. “No I mean—” he tries to explain, gesturing to her undergarment pattern. He turns his back. Drip rolls the newspaper into tube and hands it to Richie, who takes the paper without looking backward. He’s off like the anchor in a relay race. # After two weeks washout from the Lauren event, drip asks, “When’s your last day here?” “Two more days out West, then off to New Hampshire. “You don’t have to move to Canada just cuz of her.” “I think the U.S. annexed New Hampshire last year.” “Why New Hampshire?” “I was planning to move anyway, eventually, somewhere. It’s a long story.” Richie draws a breath and says, “I’m from New Hampshire.” “Yeah, that took a long time.” “That’s the abridged version. See, I grew up in New Hampshire, but after college, I got bored, so I took a job in New York.” “Cool! What was the job?” “Collections at a rental agency. What’s not to hate? I used to sit around Saturday nights depressed, because I knew I had to go to work on Monday morning. Still, I figured I was in like Flynn when my next job was at a radio station in Ohio,” Richie says. “But too much news and talk—” “Not good for a du—e musically inspired” That was my reasoning when I came up with these creative on-air lead-ins when no one was looking.” “Recite.” “Little think pieces I forgot as soon as they aired. One was during a local election, and I say, ‘Everybody talks about politics, but no one’s talking about poli-fleas.’” “Nice.” “I used to think writing a book meant writing in a book. Until a librarian yelled at me for it.” “Wow.” “And the guy who founded the station got a posthumous award from some civic group. I mentioned to our listeners posthumous awards must not be that prestigious, because I’ve never seen the winner show up to accept it.” Drip ponders a moment. “I think that was the one that did it. I was fired more than ever. And I’ve been fired a lot time.” “I know. I read the sacred scrolls. But how’d you end up here?” “In subsequent chapters, I fled west and continued fleeing, job after job, until I ran out of country. That brought me out here to California, to strike it rich. Having not done that, I can’t afford to go to Hawaii, so I’m on my way back East.” “My usual plan is to quit my job without any prospects of getting a new one.” “It’s good you got a plan. “Different strategy this time. I got a job lined up. Working for that political group I told you about. A friend of mine got me in. Deidre. I think I’ll like it, government work. Excellent gold-brick potential.” “Does she know about your ambition, lack thereof?” “She’s always helped me out, ever since junior high. If missed a class, or several, she got me the notes—” “Whoa, unrighteous. You shouldn’t hose your friends.” “It wasn’t like that. Not really. And if people wanna do stuff for me, who am I to deny them?” Richie says. “It would be rude. Besides, they won’t trace me back to her. It’s government work; I’ll get lost in the morass. Or I’ll join a union.” “What do you know about government stuff?” “Haven’t I just stressed my skill in subterfuge?” “I dig onomatopoeia.” “And apparently alliteration.” “You did it again, Du—e!” “As for the job, with the right amount of diplomacy, I can talk my way into and out of almost anything.” “What if you can’t?” “It’ll mess with the time-space continuum. You see, that day has yet to come.”
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