Stars, Dragons, and Peaches

night sky with starsIn the sophisticated world where we writers dwell (because you know, writers don’t just live, we dwell), we spend all day thinking about art and language and who sells wine at the cheapest price. We also create special vocabulary for the sophisticated things we do, like publish books. One of those vocabulary items is “front matter” which consists of several pages located in the—wait for it—front of a book. That can be various things, but front matter will always include the title page and copyright page, and if you want to thank your mother for doing without food so you could buy paper to write, there’s the dedication page, and so on.

This week I wrote the front matter for the book of short stories I’m in the process of publishing. The book won’t be out for a couple of months, perhaps, but it’s moving along, and next week I’m going out to talk to a cover designer. The book is named for the first story and is thus called I’d Tear Down the Stars. Below I’m providing the opening few paragraphs of the first three stories in the book (title in bold), so you can see some of what you’ll be getting, when at last the sun beams down on the dawn of that glad day.

I’d Tear Down the Stars

The oldest memory she had was of people riding seahorses and eating almonds. It couldn’t be a real memory, of course, but when she went drifting down through recollections, of childhood back in North Dakota, of the blue swing set in her grandparents’ yard, of her father getting stung by a bumblebee, which she was told happened when she was two years old, the people on seahorses seemed to come before all of them. What this mysterious memory was she didn’t know, but she dreamed about it sometimes. She was dreaming now of the seahorse riders, moving through blue waves, as she slept on the bus crossing the Coahuila desert.

The bus hit a hole in the road, bounced, and shook her. As the dream faded away, recent memories swirled into its place: buying the last Beatles’ album, feeding a homeless dog, watching the war in Vietnam on TV. Liv came fully awake now and looked through the window at the darkness outside. Yes, she was in Mexico, her first time in another country. Off the roadway a white house stood, with a single light above the door casting a pool of light on the white wall of the house and on the reddish earth of the ground in front. A bicycle leaned up against the wall of the house. Otherwise, the night was moonless and dark, and the desert was mostly invisible. The sky was brilliant with stars, like powdered sugar blown ferociously onto dark cloth, leaving the sky with swirls and splotches where the stars were more dense. Liv had never seen such a thing, and it was almost frightening to imagine the enormity of it.

See the Jungle When It’s Wet with Rain

Sometimes a house on fire is the most beautiful thing you ever saw. I don’t mean it’s good for a house to be on fire, but bad things can be beautiful. I’m not a poetic guy, either, but maybe you could compare some fires to a dragon, like fire has different colors the way a dragon does, it keeps moving and changing, like I guess a dragon would, and sometimes you can get pretty close to it without really knowing it’s there, and then all of a sudden it’s huge in front of you and scares the shit out of you. It’s my job to kill that dragon. When it lands on a building, I walk in there with an axe and a hose, and we’re gonna stay there until one of us is a pile of black ashes. For ten years I’ve been a fireman in Cape May, New Jersey, right here where I was born and lived without a break. We’ve got a lot of old wooden houses here in Cape May, one of the things we’re famous for, all those Victorian bed-and-breakfast places, but man, those wooden houses can burn the hell up in no time.

As a fireman, you run into some unusual things. I’ve seen a man stand naked outside a burning building, holding a TV, not even notice he wasn’t wearing anything. I’ve watched people throw furniture out windows, I’ve seen fires that burned odd colors, like green, and I’ve run into buildings where bottles started to explode. I’ve had some weird experiences, just part of the job, but the weirdest thing I’ve run into in ten years was something I didn’t even notice at first.

Use My Blood

The man at the rest stop in Virginia offered us some peaches he had bought back in South Carolina. I took one for me and one for Meghann, and the man started telling me about the little town he’s from in Maryland, a fishing village. I thought about how nice that would be, to live in a village on the coast, eat fresh fish off the boat. I could probably learn to like fish if I lived like that.

When we went back to our own picnic table, Meghann said, “You liked him, didn’t you?”

“Yes, he seemed pretty nice,” I told her.

“You don’t know, Mom,” Meghann said. “A stranger at a rest stop could be a psychopath.”

Was my teenage daughter watching over my love life? “Well, we didn’t set a date,” I said. “He just gave us a couple of peaches.”

“Maybe they’re poisoned,” Meghann said.

“Maybe,” I replied, and bit into one of the most delicious peaches I thought I’d ever had. I sat there looking out at the pine trees and thinking back on the past week, on how unlikely it was that I was sitting there in Virginia with my daughter.


Stay tuned, blog dwellers.

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Filed under Giving Birth to a Book (That's Why I'm Screaming), Writing While Living

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