Lunching with Justin

Reply Sun 30 Mar, 2008 05:34 pm

Having a good memory for actual dialogue is one of the best ways to create fresh dialogue that seems natural. So, I am not surprised to hear that you have excellent recall.
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Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 07:38 pm
Lunching with Justin (cont.)

We stopped for lunch in Gloucestershire.
'Before you embarrass yourself, I just want to let you know that it's not pronounced GLOU-SESTER-SHIRE. Just as Hampshire is not pronounced HAMP-SHIRE, just as Leicestershire is not pronounced LEE-SEST- ER- SHIRE. I know how you Americans are 'hooked on phonics.'
'I think I can handle it, thank you very much- although as always I do appreciate your concern for my dignity.'
Have you see this cathedral?' Justin had asked me. I told him that I hadn't. 'Your experience of England will not be complete until you do- it's that historically significant.' So we followed the winding roads to the spire that dominated the center of the city and spent our time there laughing as Justin imitated a tourist's walk through one of my photographs.

The drive to Wales was shorter than I had expected and as it was a beautiful day, I found myself regretting its end. The fields glowed green and gold framed in squares of late afternoon sun interlaced with reaching shadows. I was silent, entranced- I'd never seen anything so beautiful. I hadn't spoken, but Justin must have seen me looking out the window as I drove. 'You should read Houseman. This is what he was writing about when he wrote of his time as, 'A Shropshire Lad.'
'I will,' I responded simply.

'I can tell you're a reader. What American authors do you like?' he asked me. As I hesitated briefly, thinking, he continued, 'I ask because I hate to rely solely on the discretion of literary criticism. It's obviously biased toward commerce- they say to themselves, 'Let's resurrect this author,' dependent what they think they can sell at the time, and so that is who they put forward. I'm interested in hearing what a literate American reads based on perceived merit.'

'Who do you read?' I asked, curious but also unwillling to bias his opinion with my own.
'Novelists or poets?'
'I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on either or both,' I answered.
'In terms of poetry, I'd say Robert Lowell most interests me at this point. I've been rereading Eliot, who I'm sure you remember is an American who came to England and did his most acclaimed writing here. I'd read him at seventeen, but I wanted to reread him with forty years of maturity under my belt. I don't know that he holds up all that well. Of course in this country that would be deemed to be heresy, but it's what I think.'
I nodded, determined to reread Eliot.
' And in terms of novelists,' he continued, 'I have to say that I think Carson McCullers definitely has something to say and I like the way she says it.'

I swiveled around in my seat to look at him and said, 'I can't believe it.'
'Why, is she that reviled in your country?' he asked.
'Not that I know of- it's more that I can't believe you've read her. Most Americans are not even aware of who she is- I'm surprised an Englishman is.'
'Do you like her?' he asked me.
'I think moreso than any other author - her work has informed who I am,' I told him simply.
'I knew we had something in common,' he told me smiling. 'Another female American writer from the south I like is Flannery O'Connor. As a musician I like her experiment with language and rhythm. She was weird though, wasn't she?'
I could only nod as I drove realizing I'd met my kindred spirit.
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Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 07:52 pm
You put a whole lot of good technique together here! The small but highly evocative visual images that create a fuller setting in the reader's mind. And the leaner, but very natural sounding, dialogue. You brought this segment of the narrative so much to life that it could stand alone as a complete story. Bravo! By the way, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER is one of my favorite books. I used to use it in the classroom, and, therefore, I must have read it at least five times. It only got better each reading. And Flannery O'Connor is, I think, the most consistently powerful writer of short story that the U.S. has produced. I, too, would like to talk books with Justin!
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Reply Mon 28 Apr, 2008 05:24 am
Thank you Miklos- I tried to put some of your advice into action here. And I'm happy with it too- so again- thank you.
Yes, it was so wild when he mentioned those two authors. Both of them I hold very close to my heart and just feel that their work shaped me in a positive way. I don't think one can give an author a higher compliment than that.

I'm glad you'd like to meet Justin. I spoke about you to Justin last night. I was telling him how helpful you've been to me and explaining how we'd first spoken to each other about doing a house swap. I told him that when you come to England next summer- it'd be wonderful if we could all get together. I DO think the two of you would have a lot in common and would enjoy meeting each other to talk books, music, life philosophy...whatever.

Just so you know - it looks like I've found a mews house in Wells- to possibly rent. So we won't be out in the country again, at least not to begin with. I was for it - but both of my children were against it - and with petrol prices the way they are, I do think it's an extravagance (environmentally and financially) we should try to avoid. But Wells is a wonderful little city to live and walk in so I'm excited.

Thanks for your kind words on my story.
Reply Sun 8 Jun, 2008 02:39 pm
I hadn't any notion of how the cottage might look or be situated, and in fact, hadn't thought to ask, so when we arrived, I was happily surprised. The small, stone cottage sat behind the large main house, both of which were situated on top of a rise we reached via a road which wound up and up until it felt as if we had ascended into the mist of the enshrouding clouds.

It was good to get out of the car. Pearl, who I'd nearly forgotten, bounded out the car door as I opened it and rushed to the garden at the edge of the rise. I followed quickly, endeavoring to catch her before she ducked under the split rail fence and escaped, but was stopped dead in my tracks by the view that had unfolded before me. The entire valley was spread out below us, a green and silvered expanse of solidness in the distance. It seemed to emerge, degree by degree from unsubstantial air.
I breathed in deeply and exhaled slowly, smiling. At that moment the sun came out sending shafts of light descending confidently to the ground on which we stood.
Justin had appeared behind me, 'Lovely, isn't it?'
'Yes,-you hadn't said..'
'I wanted you to experience it first-hand without the insertion of my own personal bias.'
'Well, thank you for that. It's breathtaking.'
'Yes, I heard the breath you took in as I came up behind you.'
He had lit a cigarette and was inhaling deeply himself. I decided to leave him to his own pleasure and asked, 'Do you have the key? I'll unpack if you hold Pearl and give her a few moments to relieve herself.'
He nodded, handing me the key, and said, 'It will give us an opportunity to get to know each other, yes, Pearl?' he asked, petting her. She looked up at him trustingly. I handed him the leash and headed to the car to begin unpacking.

When I entered the cottage, I was impressed anew. The interior bespoke comfort and taste without ostentation. I took my bag to the sole bedroom and returned to the kitchen, taking note of the bottle of wine and vase of flowers on the counter as I opened the refrigerator and cupboards to determine what we would need to purchase in the village.
I checked my watch to ascertain how much time we had before the stores closed. It was only a little after 7:00. It was Friday; I knew SPAR would be open until at least 11:00 pm if not 12 or 1 am.

I walked back out to the fenced ledge where Justin and Pearl still stood surveying the valley below. As I approached, Pearl strained the leash to reach me. 'See how much she missed me?' I asked, smiling at her. Seeing me smile, she strained more determinedly at the leash.

'She equates you with food, survival, and maybe exercise. If you're counting on anything else - as in love - you are sadly deluding yourself. I feel it is my duty, as someone who respects you, to make sure you aware of those facts, in case you're not. Although, it shouldn't make her any less dear to you,' he added stroking her fur. 'She is a beauty- I can't deny that,' he continued looking into her eyes.
'Yes, there is a sweetness about her,' I said, agreeing and petting her myself. 'And a loving spirit, and extreme loyalty,'...I looked at him smiling facetiously.
He snorted as I asked, 'Are you hungry? We need to get some stuff in town, but if you're hungry we should eat out- as it'll be quicker.'
'Let's eat out,' he said decisively. 'I could use a drink....or two...is pub fare agreeable?'
'Sure,' I answered as I took the leash from him and walked toward the cottage.

We arrived at the King's Arms just in time to place our order for food. As we ate, the band slated for that night's entertainment arrived and began setting up. Justin noticed the lack of a fiddler and asked, 'Did you take my violin out of the car?'
'No, it's still in the back, why?'
'Depending on their genre of music - maybe they'll let me play with them,'
he said returning nonchalantly to his food.
'So, you can just ask them if you can play with them - these people you don't even know?'
'Sure, it's called musicianship. It's like a brotherhood. Watch and learn.'
And he walked up to the people transporting amps and other musical equipment into the pub and apparently came to an agreement, because as of that night, he was a part of the band.

When we returned to the cottage, it was after midnight.
'I'll cook tomorrow night, as you drove today,' he said. 'Where do you want me to sleep tonight? The bedroom's yours of course,' he said looking around the living room. 'Do you think that folds out?' he asked visually assessing the length of the sofa.

'You know more about the place than I do, Justin,' I answered, eyeing the sofa myself. I walked over and removed the cushions. 'No, it's not a fold out. It looks too short for you to sleep on. '

He looked me square in the eye. 'I can take the cushions off and put them on the floor and put sheets over them.'

'Okay, and here's a blanket,' I said picking up a blue blanket that had been placed in a basket under a side table. 'Look, it has beautiful snowflakes on it.'
'Um, I think those are paw prints- I think it's a dog's blanket Miss. But maybe that's appropriate. What do you think?'

I laughed. 'I've yet to figure that out. Let's just try to make each other as comfortable as we can- how about that?' I asked him smiling.

'Yes, okay - let's have a beer and a scrabble game. I think that might be a good beginning.' He set up the scrabble board as I opened the beers. I handed him his and he said, 'You go first.'
I arranged my tiles and placed them as Pearl settled herself in a corner to observe.
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Reply Sun 8 Jun, 2008 03:43 pm
Actually, Hampshire IS pronounced "Hampsheer". It is not like Gloucestershire ("Glostersheer") or Leicestershire ("Lestersheer") in that regard.
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Reply Sun 8 Jun, 2008 04:08 pm
Thank you contrex for your continued interest (even though you don't enjoy my writing)- but my point in this story was that, me being an American, he thought I would pronounce it phonetically and say, Hamp-shIre (long I) as it is spelled, instead of Hamp-sheer (long e).
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Reply Tue 10 Jun, 2008 09:24 am
Good new installment! Your average sentence is growing longer, almost always a good sign, in prose as well as poetry. Having longer sentences as one's base, allows one to use the occasional short sentence for emphasis. Paragraphs--and whole stories--have a rhythm, just as sentences do.

Really like the theme of brotherhood of musicianship. I think you could have gone a little further into that as it reveals more of Justin's best quality--thoughtful companionship.

I saw only one nugget cliche--"stopped dead in my tracks." Hard to avoid these; they have a way of sneaking in, when the writer's mind is swept up in telling the story.

Watch out for the use of concepts, rather than specific words. For instance,

"...green and silvered expanse of solidness" starts very handsomely, almost poetically; then that vague word "solidness" crashes the party. Also the first part of the phrase is delightfully light; "solidness," though indistinct, is very heavy. It brings down the lovely sentence.

I really like the sentence, "It seemed to emerge, degree by degree, from insubstantial air." The sentence has the sound, as well as the meaning, of revelation.

Brava, Aidan!
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Reply Tue 30 Sep, 2008 10:29 am
Hi Aiden,

I am sorry it took me so long to come back and thank you for your lovely story. You did a delightful job in overcoming 'over the shoulder' criticism to get your tale told... Razz All the places and the emotions were very real in your descriptions, choice of metaphors, pauses, and whatever.... I am Not a critic, but I kinda like justin- he's quite a character, but with good manners and respect. Hope you are doing good....
Reply Thu 19 Feb, 2009 03:44 pm
Hi ol lady - I'm sorry it took ME so long to come back and thank you for your lovely compliment. Been very busy - and have not even had the urge to write one single line until today.
I'm glad you like Justin - I do too. Yes, he's quite a character and a very entertaining friend. He's doing well, by the way, I'll tell him you said hello.


I woke the next morning with a stiff neck having fallen asleep in the deep and comfortable arm chair I'd been sitting in. Pearl was curled around Justin, her head tucked into the crook of his neck, and as I stirred and struggled to turn my body to rise from the chair, she looked at me defiantly.
'Pearl,' I whispered, hoping to move her without waking Justin.
She remained where she was. 'Pearl,' I whispered more emphatically and slightly louder, and Justin stirred. He looked over Pearl's head and smiled at me. 'At least somebody loves me,' he said patting her haunch, as he whispered into her ear, loudly enough for me to hear, ' don't you move a muscle...she's just jealous.'

I smiled as I rose from the chair and moved to gather Pearl's leash from the hook beside the door.
'So nobody slept in the bed after all- what a waste.'
'Yes, three beers and one game of scrabble and you were out for the count,' Justin advised. 'You looked so snug and comfortable, I couldn't bear to move you.'
'That is a great chair - I wouldn't mind having it,' I said, bending to put on my shoes.
'Looks made for you- right size, complementary color. I'll ask my friend if she'd part with it. Maybe you could buy it off her.'
I snapped the leash onto Pearl's collar and opened the door.
'We'll be back within the hour. Feel free to go back to sleep- I may- after I walk her.'
'I need to get some practice in,' he said, throwing off the blanket and rising from the cushions on the floor. 'And I need a cigarette and to clean my teeth', he grimaced as he pulled one of Pearl's hairs from his mouth.
'See you in a bit.'

As we approached the house after our walk, tremulous notes poured through the open door and into the morning air.
Justin was standing in the middle of the room, violin at his chin.
'Practising your vibrato?' I asked, kicking off my shoes.
'What do you know about vibrato?' he asked, obviously taken aback.
'I told you - I took lessons for a while-'my teacher advised vibrato as a technique to loosen my wrist.'
'And so she should have,' he nodded to me, holding out the violin.
'Play something for me.' He motioned for me to take it.
'You have got to be kidding,' I said, shaking my head and refusing to take the instrument. 'Like I'm going to play the violin for a professional violinist? No, thank you.'
'Go on. You can't be any worse than my seven year old beginners,' he encouraged, continuing to hold the violin towards me. 'You play the piano, you can sing- I've heard you. You're obviously musical. Play something.'

I was tempted. I hadn't held a violin in years. I wanted to see what I could remember. I took the instrument and held it to my chin. The fingers on my left hand instinctively found the second string. The bow felt comfortable in my right hand. I played Mary Had A Little Lamb without a hitch. He clapped. I continued with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I could feel myself beaming.
I looked up at him, he was beaming back at me. Without thinking, my fingers found the notes for Full Moon. I played it twice. It had always been a favourite.
'Will you give me lessons?' I asked as I reluctantly handed the violin back to him.
'It would be my pleasure,' he stated. ' A mature student who already reads music and has a good ear is a boon to any music teacher.'

I made pancakes that morning and he insisted on washing the dishes. He didn't rinse. Appalled, I took each dish from the drainer and rinsed the soap off before drying them.
'Why are you doing that?' he asked, watching me.
'You have to get the soap off Justin -or the residue will affect the way the food tastes on the plate.'
'I didn't know that,' he conceded. 'I've not washed very many dishes, ' he explained. 'Will you give me lessons?
'It would be my pleasure,' I answered.

As we left the cottage that afternoon, we stood surveying the view of the mountains in the distance. I held Pearl on the leash as Justin finished a last cigarette before getting into the car.
' I'll never forget this place,' he said.
'Yes, me neither - beautiful, isn't it?' I responded.
'Certainly, beautiful yes, but that's not why I'll always remember it,' he sighed, exhaling smoke.
I looked at him curiously, waiting for him to explain.
'I'll never forget this place,' he said mashing his cigarette between two fingers before looking up at me and continuing,-'I'll never forget this place, because it is here, in this very place- that I learned how to rinse.'

Laughing, I put Pearl in the car and we drove down the mountain.

Reply Thu 19 Feb, 2009 04:11 pm
Greetings, Aidan!
This is very good. You have deepened the dialogue between the narrator and Justin, AND you have begun to take fuller advantage of your author-reader dialogue. You keep confounding the shallower, but more predictable, expectations of the reader and providing, instead, a witty turn. Most readers love to be teased with like this--in a friendly context such as this story. Brava! I'm so glad that you're back to this piece. Best wishes from the Land of Snow!
Reply Thu 19 Feb, 2009 04:40 pm
Miklos! I'm so happy to hear from you - I was just about to get worried. I know that you sent me your new e-mail and I know I have it somewhere and I was going to write...but you know me and how it is.
Anyway - I'm so happy to hear from the land of snow.

All our snow is gone - I walked up in the hills through the last of it on Sunday - we had over a foot up there at one point - the road by the gliding club was drifted over so that when I walked on it I sank in up to my hips. Pearl was hopping like a kangaroo through it - smiling, smiling, smiling- we had to get up on the rock wall to walk- I was in heaven.

I don't know what clicked today - but something did and I even think I have a poem from one word.

Hope you guys are well - I know I saved your new e-mail and I will send you some pictures soon.

Love to you and Lynne - rebecca

PS = thanks for your comments- as you know - I appreciate and value your help so much.

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