Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fiction Assn #5

In this assignment, we had to write a series of three scenes, with a focus on plot and the beginning and ending of a scene...so a little more preview to my next novel...

Red sucks, she thought.

Li stood outside one of Soho’s nascent, and highly acclaimed, art galleries. Inside the window sat various sizes of canvases, all splattered with the same hue of red. Tired of being disappointed with another rising artist, she dismissed the idea of entering the shop and turned away.

“Excuse me, Miss? Would you care to see a private viewing of the artist’s works?” An English accent projected from the entrance. “I’m not closing right yet. Especially for such a pretty lass.”

Li turned to face the unshaven and messy-maned greeter. The black t-shirt and raggedy jeans confirmed, in her mind, she was facing the artist. Initially tempted to toss a polite smile and walk away, she remained frozen when she caught sight of his troubled, ocean-blue eyes.

But she kept her composure and with a sigh, confessed, “I wasn’t sure if this was an art gallery or a Gap outlet promoting their Red collection.”

“Ah,” he responded with a slight chuckle. “Apparently, your shoes have gotten the best of you on this early evening! I imagine those platforms can only take the concrete sidewalks for so long. Even if they are...what brand, I dare say? Jimmy Choo?”

Now she really wanted to walk away, but how could she let him have the last word? Her mind scrambled for a comeback, but nothing witty presented itself. Perhaps it was the dull headache from too much wine last night. Or perhaps her feet really did hurt too much.

“Sir?” A matronly pair of ladies stepped in front of Li. “Are you the artist? We’d sure like to see your work if you’re not closing!”

He flashed a smile at Li, then took each lady’s arm. “I’d be honored to reveal my artistry to you and your lovely friend.”

Li watched him escort the ladies inside and paused only a moment to reconsider her initial impression of the art. When had she become such an art snob? What happened to that wide-eyed art history graduate who would have given the artist a fair chance to prove his brilliance? Now, her opinion was based on a ten-second review of a window display.

After a few pedestrians bumped into her, Li went away in search of a coffee shop.

***


Ackley Dunstan excused himself momentarily before beginning his private tour for Gladys and Beverly. He poked his head out the door to see the silhouette of the tall, Asian lady wearing a floral summer dress headed toward Sixth Avenue. He’d hope to find her later.

Despite his quicker-than-normal art showing, the tour proved to be fruitful. Gladys and Beverly, smitten by the polite and handsome Englishman, each made a purchase for $3,000 a piece. Ackley was relieved to divest of some of his earlier works.

After wishing his new fans well, and accepting a raincheck for dinner, Ackley locked the doors and immediately got to work on his next project. Dashing to his art supplies, he carefully selected a sharpened charcoal pencil and a fresh Wilko sketch pad. Then he sat down on the floor to draw.

Within minutes, he tore out the sheet and exited his gallery, ready to begin the second part of his project. Intuition made him feel optimistic about his chance for success.

With drawing in hand, the artist headed toward 6th Avenue, in search of a coffee shop. He predicted she would choose “Twilight Java,” his personal favorite. But when he found himself in front of a Starbucks, he was compelled to take a quick glance. Just in case.

He took a step inside, still amazed to see the line up of people in the ubiquitous franchise. Just as he began to feel relieved about not finding her in the coffee shop, he saw her, standing near the back exit. The excitement of seeing her completely erased the relief of not seeing her.

Afraid somehow she might escape, he barreled toward her as she wiped her fingers with a napkin.

“Hello again,” he addressed her back, admiring her long, black hair. “I’m wondering if you might assist me in an experiment?”

She casually glanced behind her, “Are you talking to me?” Once recognizing the face, she added, “Oh, you are talking to me, aren’t you?”

He extended his hand, keeping his gaze intently on her face, “Ackley Dunstan. And you are?”

She quickly wiped her right hand on her dress, in hopes of eliminating all frosting, before extending it.

“Li Vo. How can I help you?” She focused on the man’s eyebrows, in an attempt to avoid direct eye contact.

Ackley brushed his forehead. “I’m sorry. Do I have something on my head?”

Li laughed and looked away. “No.”

“That’s a relief. When I’m trying so hard to impress.” Ackley motioned to an open table. “Will you do me the honor? Can I buy you another cup of coffee? A pastry?”

“No, thank you. I imagine I’ll be up all night, as it is.” Li’s eyes popped as she spoke, seeming to regret her choice of words.

Ackley understood the innuendo and did her the favor of ignoring it. “A dose of Tylenol PM does wonders in offsetting caffeine.”

Ackley gestured for Li to lead the way. As she gracefully floated to the designated table, he breathed in her essence. A lovely essence, he thought.

Once they sat down, Ackley fiercely studied Li’s face. Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Li asked, “Is there something wrong?”

“Incredible. I wasn’t even close.” Ackley muttered. “Quite an embarrassment, really.”

“I’m sorry,” Li interjected, “I’m not following you.”

He laid out his sketching of a face resembling Li. She picked up the drawing, raised her eyebrows, then faced Ackley.

“Is this supposed to be me? Or is this someone you know who happens to look like me?

Ackley took the drawing and laid it on the table between them. “Well, if I were to draw sunglasses on this woman, she’d be a fairly good impression. But I’m not Superman, and have no ability to see through dark sunglasses, worn by a particularly stunning woman outside my gallery. Especially in the evening when the need for sunglasses had long passed.” He studied her eyes again, with less ferocity. “Actually, there’s no way I could capture your eyes. The most talented artist in the world couldn’t capture your eyes.”

She looked away, pulling her hair back, as if in a ponytail. When she glanced up again, she let herself smile at the charming man.

“Your eyes seem too large to come from China. Is that your lineage?”

“No. Vietnamese. My parents are from Saigon.”

“Of course. ‘Vo.’ I once knew a Vietnamese couple with the same last name. I’m sorry not to catch that.”

She smiled at the apology. Most people she met grouped all Asians together. It hadn’t really bothered her, since she grew up in the Midwest and couldn’t tell a German from a Dane.

“I owe you an apology as well,” she shifted the conversation into a confession. “I didn’t give your artwork much of a chance.”

“Are you a critic?” Ackley asked with great interest. “Honestly, it didn’t occur to me that you’d be a critic. Seriously, I’m not trying to bribe you for a great review.”

Li nodded. “No, no.” Li smiled again. Certainly her attitude fit the part of a critic. “Actually, I’m only in New York for a short while...oh, hold on.” Li’s Blackberry beeped. While she typically didn’t respond to anyone while she traveled, she always checked her caller ID to ensure there was no emergency.

“Oh, no. Oh my God.” She furrowed her brow as she read the text message.

“Li? Are you okay?” Ackley gently touched her arm.

She looked up in a daze. “I’m sorry, Mr. Dunstan.” Li stood up and picked up her bag. “But I need to go home. Someone I know passed away. Yesterday, actually.”

Ackley stood up and put his arm around Lis’ shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Are you sure you’re okay? Can I take you somewhere? On my scooter?”

Li gradually became aware that Ackley was holding her. “No. But thank you. You’re very kind to offer. I need to catch a flight back to Omaha, right away. I’m sorry. Perhaps on my next visit I’ll tour your gallery?”

“I hope you do. Are you certain you’re okay?”

“I’m okay. I mean, it’s not a family member or anything. Just someone I knew from being on a committee together. He was a kind, older gentleman.”

Ackley nodded before facing Li and extending his hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you. If only for a few minutes.”

“A pleasure to meet you as well. I’m sorry for the brevity.” Li nodded and briskly approached the exit.

“Li?” Ackley shouted out.

She turned to address her new acquaintance.

“One quick survey question, if you please.” He scratched his head, waiting for her nod to proceed. “Guggenheim or the Metropolitan?”

“What do you think?” she asked, anxious to hear his guess.

“The Met. You’re a Met girl.”

She smiled, waved and walked out the door.


***

“I no understand. You make trip back for dis guy funeral?” Han shook her head as she opened a bag of green tea leaves.

“Mom, I told you already. We served on the zoo’s board of directors together.” Li handed the infuser to her mother, who immediately put the utensil aside.

“You not know how make good tea.”

Li shrugged and sat down, still dressed in the suit she wore to the funeral. “Paul was a pillar of this community. I had a great amount of respect for him. Everyone did.”

“So whaat? You act like you date him or something?” Han looked at her daughter, waiting a response. “You date him? Or something?”

“Mom! No! He was, like, old!” Li threw her arms in the air. “Every time I mention a man’s name, in any context whatsoever, why do you always assume I’m screwing him?”

“Shhh!” Han replaced the top of the tea kettle to begin her own method of steeping. “No raise your voice so loud. I got neighbors, you know.” She shuffled to the table, setting out two ceramic tea cups. Noticing her daughter’s angry expression, she sat down to face her.

“Here’s an idea, Mom. Why don’t I call you every time I screw someone. Then you won’t have to ask.” Li crossed her arms and peered at the dainty woman sitting across from her. Li knew her mother’s delicate appearance was deceiving.

Under her breath Tran replied, “You no need be snippy. I just worry.”

Now Li felt bad. “I know. It’s just that I happen to have a lot of friends who are men. But that’s all they are - friends. We’re not in Vietnam, Mom.” Li placed her hands over her mother’s, and was immediately embarrassed by her own, expensive French manicure. Han’s wrinkled hands and nails reflected years of hard work in restaurants and nursing homes.

“Men and women never be friends. No matter Saigon or Omaha.” Han stood up to check on her tea. “I no trust none your man friends! ‘Cept Jason. I like Jason. He gay right?”

Li could no longer see the point of continuing the conversation. The discussion about men would ultimately lead to questions about her own father, which her mother would answer diligently, and inconsistently. Sometimes Li’s father was an ace pilot for the Vietnamese Air Force. Sometimes he designed airfields.

As Li considered conversation options, her Blackberry beeped.

“Ack! Dat your phone again?” Han resented Li’s attachment to the device. “How can curator be too important? No one dying, right?”

Li checked the “urgent” message from her assistant as her mother opined.

“CALL ACKLEY D TO ARRANGE VISIT TO OMAHA. CELL # ATTACHED.”

The artist had found her, with nothing but a name and a city. She should have been concerned, but she wasn’t.

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