Well, there are just 5 (!!) days left in this month, and so I have just 5 (!!) days to reach my 50,000-word goal at NaNoWriMo. At the moment, I’m at 44,107 words, so I have 5,893 words to go. I think I’m going to make it…
So I thought I’d just share another short excerpt from my novel-in-progress. Enjoy!
Also, have you read this post? It’s very important…
Now, on to the excerpt!
The next morning, Simon enters the café to an audience. Oh, it wasn’t obvious that the regulars were watching out for him to arrive, but they most certainly were. George had come in at 6:00 as usual, and then Rita showed up, followed in quick succession by several other busy-body types, all nursing their coffees and lingering over their toast. Those with tables by the windows would glance casually out at the street every few minutes before turning back to the watching room and shake their heads.
I watch all of this without a word, but I am mightily amused by all the interest in a stranger. Then again, strangers who don’t make a beeline to the site are an oddity, and word has gotten around about Simon’ activities yesterday. After he left the café he headed to Ellen’s, and asked about the room for rent. She studied him carefully before giving it to him. She reported to Arlene that Simon had paid for three months in advance, so it did appear that he was here for a while.
Ellen turned up one piece of interesting information which kind of confirmed my suspicions of the day before. She asked him if he was looking for work in the area, and he said no, that he was looking for “inspiration”.
“Inspiration?” Ellen asked him. “For what?”
“My painting,” Simon told her.
“Oh. You’re an artist?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Simon confirmed.
“And you’re looking for a quiet place to work?”
Simon smiled. “Well, sort of. I’m actually really interested in these mountains – they are something else. I mostly paint rocks and stones, you see. Actually, I don’t recall the last time that I painted anything else, really.”
“Rocks and stones. I see,” Ellen regarded him with some confusion. “But, aren’t rocks and stones the same thing?”
“Well, sort of. But not really. Most people do think so. Rock is the material, you see, and stones are made of rock,” Simon told her. “Stones are also smaller than rocks, and tend to be smoother and maybe even changed or engineered by humans to be used. Like in construction, for example. Rocks that have been broken down and altered can be called stones. But they’re still made of rock, so they’re actually still rocks.” He smiled at her expression. “Listen, in a nutshell, here it is: all stones are rocks, but not all rocks are stones.”
Ellen looked at him some more. “I see you’ve spent some time thinking about this.”
“I have,” he confirmed. “I admit it.”
“So – are you a pothead?” Ellen asked him.
“A… what?” Simon started to laugh. “No, ma’am, I am not. I promise you.”
“Maybe, given your artistic interests, I should have asked if you were a stoner.” Ellen told him laughing now herself. She later told Rita that she should have known better than to even ask the question: she said that Simon’s eyes were as clear as glass and as reflective as water, and it was obvious that although he was a bit strange, he was far too clear to be any kind of drug-user.
“Yeah, ‘stoner’ would have been better,” Simon said smiling at her warmly.
So Ellen had agreed to rent him the large room facing the mountains, and she let him clear out most of the furniture so he could set up a place to work. After moving stuff around and unpacking a few things from his backpack, Simon headed back in to town where he did some shopping for the basics. Claire at the market reported when she came in to the cafe that Simon bought some soap, deodorant, socks and water. I am sad to say that I paid attention to his shopping list. I resolved to get a hobby as soon as possible.
At a little bit past 8:00, Allison clears her throat significantly and makes a slight gesture with her head, and everyone makes an effort to look especially casual. Simon comes in, looks around and spots me. He grins, gives a small wave, and looks for a table. The only free one is quite close to the counter so over he comes, nodding at people and saying, “Morning” as he passes. Everyone nods back, looking supremely disinterested and I mentally roll my eyes.
“Hi Terra,” he says. “It’s a bit busier in here now than it was yesterday.”
“Yep, mornings are always packed. So, are you interested in breakfast or just coffee?”
“Both – coffee and breakfast. I hear from Ellen that your Lori does a mean omelette.”
“That is a fact,” I say. “What do you want in it?”
“Ummmm, let’s see,” he says. “Cheese and bacon, for sure, and maybe some mushrooms? And spinach, if you’ve got it.”
“I don’t got it, sorry.”
“No problem. I don’t really like it, I just feel like I should have something semi-healthy in my eggs, you know, seeing as I pack them with cheese and bacon. I suppose the mushrooms will just have to do, huh?”
“I guess so,” I tell him. “And you’d best take your coffee black with no sugar, seeing as you had two butter tarts yesterday, and goodness knows that is more than enough sugar for the whole of this week…”
“Aw,” he says looking heartbroken. “I can’t have coffee without sugar. Tell you what – I have my coffee with sugar, and later today I only have one butter tart.”
“No deal,” I inform him, “because I do not have a single tart left.”
“Drats,” he says. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to sample something else from your bakery. What’s on the menu today?”
“Brownies, an apple tart, and toffee muffins.”
“Toffee muffins!” he exclaims. “Really? Oh, now I have a problem, because I am definitely going to need two of those.”
“Oh, dear,” I tease him. “Well, I guess no sugar tomorrow. Though I was planning to make some more butter tarts…”
He groans mockingly. “Man, this next three months is going to be bad for my waistline, I can tell.”
I laugh, and then notice that everyone is looking at us, and remarking how well we are getting along. I suppose we’re flirting, and here I am, doing it in the middle of the damn café, after telling everyone that I have no interest in this guy.
George is looking smug, Ahanu mocking, and Rita’s looking like she’s dying to get over to the Beauty Box and start chatting. I pull myself together a bit and say in a more formal tone, “So, I’ll get your omelette, and I’ll be right back with the coffee. Unless you want to get it yourself.” I nod at the pot on the machine. “Just over there, and keep track of how many coffees you drink and let me know on your way out, OK?”
“Yeah, sure,” he says and wanders over to the coffee machine. As he does, there’s a flurry of movement in the middle of the room as Rita moves at roughly the speed of light, and meets him at the machine.
I briefly consider helping him out somehow, because it is pretty obvious that he is going to be questioned in a way that will make the Spanish Inquisition look positively pleasant, but then I figure he’s a big boy and I leave them to it. Besides, I have to admit that I’m curious to see how he handles Rita and just how much she can get out of him. Wajiwa always said that Rita could get anyone to tell her anything, if only just to beg for mercy and get her to go away.
“Well, good morning,” Rita begins and Simon lifts his eyes from the cup of coffee he’s pouring.
“Good morning, ma’am,” he replies. “Can I pour you a cup of coffee?” he asks, lifting the pot.
“Yes, thank you,” she says and he carefully pours the liquid and asks her, “Shall I leave some space for milk or do you take it straight?”
“Milk and sugar, if you please,” Rita says and he pours and spoons in both before handing her the cup. Her fingers curl around it and she contemplates him for a moment. He looks back at her, calmly, head cocked to one side in a way that reminds me painfully of Wajiwa.
I push the thought away and Rita says, “So, Ellen says that you’re staying for three months? And that you’re an artist? You paint mountains or some such?”
“Word travels fast, I guess, huh?” Simon says mildly. “But yes to all three, ma’am.”
“So do you only paint mountains, or do you do other things?”
“Well, it’s not actually the mountains that interest me so much,” Simon explains. “It’s the rocks.”
“The rocks?” Rita asks him. “Actually, Ellen did mention that, now that I think about it… she said that you paint rocks?”
“Yeah, they’re incredibly complex. Most people look at mountains and get all caught up in the landscape. But they don’t really see the individual stones and rocks, you know. They don’t take in the shapes, the stress lines and fractures that show their age and where they’ve been, and how they’ve been formed over time. The flowers and foliage that grow on them are gorgeous too, and I love the sky above them. I think they’re beautiful, really, but it’s a missed beauty. Stones and rocks tell their own stories, and I try to bring them all out.”
Rita looks bemused. “That’s – interesting.”
“Yes, that’s what most people say when they hear what I do.”
“And is there a – a market for these kinds of paintings? Paintings of rocks and stones with lines and grass growing out of them?”
“No, not really,” he says. “But I get by. Plus I bartend and I have my plumber’s license, so I have no trouble getting work and saving up some cash. Then when I have enough, I can travel and paint.”
“So, you just work between bursts of inspiration?” Rita says. “I guess you’re kind of a rolling stone, huh?” and she laughs at her own joke.
“Yes, ma’am,” Simon replies politely. “That’s how I like it.”
I decide that’s about enough and call over to them, “Rita, stop harassing my customers, would you? Because of him, the income from the bakery is going to double over the next few months. And I need a new car, so don’t you mess around with my profits, you hear me?”
Everyone laughs and Simon gives me a small wink. Rita sniffs and does not look remotely abashed as she sweeps back to her table. The ladies waiting for her there put their heads together and start to talk in low voices. I know deep down that she means no particular harm, and from the look on Simon’s face, he does too.
He sits back down again with his coffee, sipping and looking out the window as the café empties in an almost solid wave. I guess now that the show is over, everyone’s ready to head off to work. Within five minutes, the café is empty except for me, Simon, and George.