This week’s challenge – write a story based on these photos from Russia. The photo I chose reminded me of when I was young, dumb and drunk and living in Prague during the early 1990′s. I believe I fell in love no less that three times a week. Also, I played at being a writer, but I had no idea that it took monastic commitment and an innocent adoration of language. I came to the States realizing I wasn’t ready, and that I wanted to be a writer for all the wrong reasons. I just wanted to be remarkable and people to think I was smart. Since then I’ve met remarkable nurses, mechanics, war veterans, stagehands, hobos and strangers who can tell heartbreaking stories of pain, loss, joy, and redemption a sight better than me. They couldn’t write a complete sentence and had never been to Europe. Some of this story recalls when I was a college minor in fiction, playing with words rather than cold chiseling them into a story. Lord, I was clueless, but my hair looked great back then.
A wind passes over the Vltatav, capturing the water’s evening chill, and carries itself uphill and sweeps across my back. I shiver, looking into Yitka’s eyes. She’s unaware and kisses me. I rake my fingers through her black hair, sun drenched strands flow downward.
The moment is endless and I’m falling into her.
“Please stop,” Professor Randall says. “Oh, got. You’re not going to publish that?” He rubs his temple, and squinches his face annoyance.
The story I’m reading, the one I was so proud of, embarrasses me like someone just opened the door one me while on the toilet. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Falling into her? Jesus. Sounds like Freshman Goth poetry. Did you type this on a manual typewriter? Because if you did, I’ll drop you from my class. Swear to God.”
I’m at a second rate state college and the office looks like it. A windowless white walled room with burnt orange carpeting. Professor Randall shares it with Dr. Dencher, the women’s studies professor whom he can’t stand. He’s middle aged, hair marbled with gray and brown.
I’m in an advanced Fiction Writing III course with five other students. When Randall approved me, I thought I had arrived among the elect. Randall had written a book in 1994 that was short listed for a Booker. I had never read it. Neither have the other five students.
“Ok. I’m being harsh. You start off with a nice sweeping opening. I like it. You establish setting, time place. You suggest you’re getting Biblical with girl with dark hair. Then you cop a line that you probably thought you were a gobsmacked genius for writing.”
I did. It’s true. When I wrote it, I was so amazed I almost hyperventilated or was hit with Stendalls syndrome. Yes. I wrote this. Pretentious assholes will use that line to woo clueless Freshman non declared major girls. And they’ll get laid.
“Now continue.” He says.
“I love you,” I whisper.
She turns her head and looks toward the bonfire. We’re partially hidden by the poplar tree’s shade. The others are signing a Czech campfire song, passing the Burčák. “I’m cold,” she says. “I want to sit by the fire.”
I pushed myself off of her and buttoned my shirt. She sweeps the grass and leaves from her skirt and rises. One of her red stockings is down and she pulls it up. She buttons her black sweater and walks over to the fire.
I’m suspended with desire.
Prof. Randall pounds the desk. “No!”
Bile surges in my gut. “What did he do? Give me a concrete action. Show me how someone can be suspended with desire?”
I can’t speak and I don’t dare to. He wouldn’t buy anything I said.
“You’re allowed to use simple phrases like “falling in love” or “I desired her beyond measure”. He pushes himself from the desk, rolling back on the wheeled chair. “Have you fallen in love yet?”
I thought of Mika, my then girlfriend. “Of course. Many times?”
“Ah! There’s your problem. You’re about twenty, right?”
“Twenty one. Many times, you say. Let me tell you something. You only fall in love –once! Afterward, you’re just trying to recapture that feeling. Like the junkie trying the recapture that feeling of the first hit. “
I got it. An old man trying to dispense aged wisdom. Was he really the genius everyone said he was? He tells me I don’t know what love is? I love Mika. I’d do anything for her. She’s blonde, Ukranian. Every guy gunned for her and she chose me. I have wrapped her with my love.
“You,” he points his finger at me, elbow anchored on the table. “Have not fallen in love.”
“Look, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I signed up for fiction class.” I regret what I said immediately. I just blew my recommendation to Colombia. I want to write. Not be like those post grad who end up teaching assistants in their thirties with one published short story in a journal only 400 people read – all professors.
He flicks his hand upward. “I’m just saying. When it happens the last thing you remember is your surroundings. “
“So, you’ve fallen in love?”
“Yes, three times.”
“But you said once?”
“But never the same way. The first was this girl from college. She dumped me. The second was my wife of ten years. The third was my son, when he was born.”
I fell in love with Mika when she sat in in the front row of my Contemporary Literature class. She was the most beautiful girl in the room. I asked her out for coffee and she said yes. She’s said yes to everything since then.
He glanced at the wall clock. “Alright. I want a rewrite. Concrete images only. No fifty cent phrases like “I fell into the wells of her eyes.”
I put my story into its folder and left without saying anything. I go and meet Mika at the student center food court. I stop at the door and look at her, like I always do. Gorgeous among the green tables and yellow plastic chairs. I question myself. Do I love her?
Of course I do. She’s beautiful. She’s like no other girl I’ve ever met. I walk around the tables so I can come behind her, put my hands on her shoulders and surprise kiss her on her cheek. She doesn’t react, but she rarely does. I sit across from her.
“How was your classes,” I ask.
“Fine,” she says.
“You won’t believe the grilling I got today.”
She’s eating a salad, pierces a leaf with her plastic fork. The movement is so artless, common. I see her pretty face, munching away. She’s not listening. I touch her free hand and she’s motionless.
I try to fall into her, but I’m hitting the ground.