Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo - Day 1, Part 1

Yes, National Novel Writing Month. The literary equivalent of a marathon, except at the end people don't congratulate you, they just wonder why you haven't showed your face in the light of day for an entire month.

Here's my profile:

The goal: 50,000 words; quality/consistency/plot unimportant. That works out to 1,666.6(repeating) words a day. Of course you can work extra hard on the weekends to average it out. I'm VERY good at that...

Anyways, here goes.

Rafael watched the water pouring steadily through the cracks in the window. Instinctively, he knew he ought to get up, throw a towel down, maybe try to fix the thing, but he couldn't be bothered. The rain hammered at the windows, cascading down the ancient, bubbled glass. Every so often, a car would rush by, splashing the panes with grime from the street that soon washed away into the deluge.

Twenty days of rain in June, a flood of biblical proportions. A truck rolled through the puddles, sending a tidal wave against the windows. The trickle surged into a flood, and with a heavy sigh, Rafael pushed himself away from the bar and limped across the room to throw a few towels down to mop up the growing pool of dirty water. It was only five in the afternoon, but outside the headlights of the cars flashed across his eyes like searchlights, briefly illuminating the yellowing walls of the cafe. He grimaced at the thought of having to paint them.

He jammed more towels into the window sill and, his leg aching, sat down heavily in the chair by the door. The wood creaked as he leaned back, ancient nails complaining at the strain. Another thing to fix. A stab of pain shot up through his knee and he winced, digging his fingers into the joint. Sailors always used to say that rain made their old wounds tighten. After a month of rain, though, surely that stopped? He fished in his pockets for an aspirin but only came up with an empty tin of mints and crumpled packet of cigarettes. There was one left, but he set it on the table. Maybe the rain would stop in the next hour.

At the other end of the cafe, a fat man snored and shifted in his sleep. Rafael leaned around the pillar to stare at Jorge, dozing fitfully in front of a half-demolished plate of sardines. The edge of the table rose and fell on his swelling stomach with each sonorous breath. A half-empty glass of beer slid back and forth with each movement, like a drunken crewman on a boat pitching in heavy weather. Rafael sighed, and dragged himself across the room to rescue the plate and glass before the inevitable happened.

He eased himself into the chair across from Jorge and watched the glass slide back and forth, each time coming closer to the edge of table. Bubbles spiralled lazily up through the amber brew as it tilted back and forth. Jorge slept on, oblivious, as was his habit. Nearly every day he came in, and nearly every day he slumped into the same nap, same chair, same position. His wispy Fu Manchu mustache and beard, gold-rimmed glasses, serene demeanour and brightly patterned silk shirts gave him the appearance of some latter-day Confucius, dreaming peacefully after a long day of doling out proverbs and golden nuggets of wisdom. A battered leather diary lay open in front of him, stained with coffee rings and grease prints.

Resisting the temptation to read the sleeping man's work, Rafael carefully gathered up the dishes and brought them back to the kitchen. A small tower of dirty dishes leaned at a precarious angle in the sink. He peered around the kitchen, searching for Clarissa. An unshielded lightbulb flickered in the back corner, illuminating the twin white cables of her earbuds. She sat with her head down on a countertop, hoodie pulled over her head, heavy metal blasting out of the headphones. A cafe full of the unconscious. Rafael considered waking her and decided against it. She'd spent twelve of the last twenty-four hours in the place anyways. He pulled a stool up to rest his leg and began rinsing the dishes, scrubbing half-heartedly at the crusts of bread, congealed pools of oil and dried grains of rice.

The water began to spurt fitfully out of the spigot, and he gave the pipes underneath a firm kick. Another thing to take care of. He pulled a sticky note off pad tacked to the wall and pressed it to the u-bend. It joined a collection of such notes appended to various malfunctioning appliances; the flickering bulb, the flaky pilot light on the back burner, the broken back door latch held together by a rusted fork, and the wheezing pump on the back of the prep refrigerator. Clarissa claimed that it was giving her cancer, and Rafael was hard pressed to find a counter argument as it slowly bled out coolant day by day.

The dishes done, he hobbled back to the bar and reached under it for the bottle of Jameson he stashed behind the . The first two rocks glasses he pulled out were dusty and distinctly marked with fingerprints, so he tossed them in the bar sink and grabbed a wine glass that dangled from the brass rack above the bar. He poured a slug and then, thinking it looked lonely swirling around in the bottom of the glass, added a handful of ice cubes and topped it off. He rummaged through the drawers for an aspiring, reached into his pockets before remembering he'd already done so, and took a small sip. The whiskey stung his chapped lips. Why were they chapped, when it had been raining for a month? He drank glass of water to soothe them.

His eyes wandered across the rows of empty tables. The chairs stood in haphazard lines, but he couldn't bring himself to the go and straighten them. All the lights were on, at least, although in the back corner a metal lampshade seemed to hang at a particularly precarious angle. Some of the faded sepia photographs and line drawings of Rio, Salvador and Olinda had been knocked subtly off the level; he reached out to straighten the nearest one. A faint buzzing sound leaking through the speakers reminded him that the stereo was still on although the CD had finished playing. He conducted a desultory search for the remote, then dragged himself over to the system and stabbed spitefully at the power strip with his cane, shutting it off with a harsh electronic squawk.

The cane was preferable to the aluminum crutches he'd been dragging himself around with, but it made him feel like a relic, a piece of driftwood washed up on the beach and bleached in the sun. Not that he'd seen the sun for days. It was an antique; like the cafe, he thought. Like himself, in some ways. It was made of Pau-Brasil and had an ochre sheen to it. The top had been carved into some kind of animal years ago; a bird of some kind, or was it a fish? Age had battered it beyond recognition; his father had had a bad habit of dropping it, and once left to roll around the bottom of his boat for over a month. His grandfather had apparently stolen it from a colonel in Bahia, a story which Rafael was almost positive was fabricated - he had probably stolen it, but more likely from some old farmer passed out in a bar - but liked too much to dispute.

He took a handful of olives from the bowl set out on the bar. They were good olives, from the Armenian store; he made a mental note to get more. They were addictive, these things. As soon as he'd scraped all the meat off of one, he felt compelled to eat another, until the woody taste of the pits forced him to spit them out. The whiskey and olives had made him thirsty, and he downed another glass of water. Outside, the rain kept falling. Bored, he turned to espresso machine. Every time he got bored, he made espresso. He'd had a few today already...two? Three? It put him on edge but at least he didn't fall asleep like Jorge and Clarissa.

He filled the portafilter with espresso and tamped down the grounds with practiced flicks of his wrist, moving with the unconscious grace of muscle memory. The feeling was oddly satisfying, like turning a key in an oiled lock or cracking knuckles. A thin jet of boiling water sprayed out of the portafilter as it brewed and he quickly leaned all of his weight against the handle to jam the leak shut. Another thing that needed fixing. He slammed a Post-It on the machine and swirled the espresso around in the demitasse. It'd brewed too thick and dark, and he could see a few grounds suspended in it, but he didn't care enough to fix it. He sucked it down black, no sugar; he liked it better with sugar, but sometimes he drank it black out of some obscure obligation. The whiskey and the coffee gave him a dizzy, hyperactive feeling. His leg throbbed, and he realized his phone was ringing.

When he fished it out of his pocket, he stared for a moment at the animated church bells dancing on the screen. Five thirty in the afternoon. It took him a moment to remember where he had to be. Before he left, he set an eggtimer in the kitchen to wake Clarissa in a few moments. Truthfully, she'd probably pick herself up the instant he left. Could she really sleep with that noise blasting into her eardrums? He nearly knocked the coat rack over as he grabbed his jacket. He'd almost made it out the door when he remembered his wallet and had to limp back to grab it from the kitchen.

Outside, the rain slid down his collar despite his best attempts to turn it up against the downpour. His meter had expired when he arrived at the car. He hadn't received a ticket, though; an amazing piece of luck. His knee stiffened as he eased himself into the driver's seat, and for a moment he sat, biting his lip, eyes closed, leaning against the window. An ambulance roaring by with sirens on full startled him from his reverie.

With a groan, he turned the key in the ignition. Time to go to the funeral.

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