Last week, I submitted an application to attend the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference at St. Francis College in September. They requested a 250-500 word writing sample, and so I sent in this brief excerpt from my novel The Crimes of Paris:
Forgetting myself for a moment, I reach across the table and briefly caress Elena’s bare arm. I pull back with a start. She does not open her eyes, she just keeps smiling. And I have a sensation like we’re slowly slipping toward each other. In that moment, I think to myself that perhaps Elena’s solution to my problem of meeting someone here is not so silly after all.
We finish our wine, and I offer to walk her back to the métro at Saint-Paul. As we make our way west along the rue Saint-Antoine, she slips her arm beneath mine with a friendly smile. I squeeze her elbow in the crook of my arm, and suddenly we have a spring in our step despite our tired feet.
— I’m sorry the day has to end so soon, she says as we reach the entrance to the station.
— Me, too. But we’ll see each other again next week, I hope.
— Yes. Definitely, yes.
And then the bises …
I don’t need to have an affair with Elena, I tell myself. All I really need are the good-bye bises at the end of our afternoons together, that whiff of her vanilla-jasmine perfume and the briefest touch of her soft warm brown skin, and the feeling of holding her hands in mine and lingering in the moment. It’s an act of love-making in miniature, the way we say farewell – whether Elena knows this or not. My senses are so heightened to it that it seems to draw out for a full minute, and I savor every second of her. And today – maybe it’s the wine – it feels even more intense, like when you’re close-dancing for the first time as a boy, getting that first noseful of a girl’s perfume. As I move to kiss Elena’s other cheek, I very nearly lift her chin and kiss her lips instead.
But I don’t. And she waves back at me as she descends the stairs, and I watch her leave, happy to have spent the day with her and sad to see her go.
I wander all the way home wondering about Elena.
I was pleased to hear today that I was accepted to the conference, so I’m looking forward to heading up to Brooklyn this fall!
Several weeks ago, I came across an ad for a new novel by the poet X. J. Kennedy called A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer. Just beneath it was a promotion: readers were invited to send Mr. Kennedy an e-mail for a chance to win a free copy.
I’ve taught several English classes using The Bedford Reader and The Bedford Guide for College Writers, which are among the scores of anthologies and writing guides written and/or edited by Mr. Kennedy. But the real reason for my interest was that since my freshman year of college I’ve admired his poems “Nude Descending a Staircase” and “Nothing in Heaven Functions as It Ought.”
I wrote a brief e-mail, noting that I was surely too late to win a copy of his book and instead taking the opportunity to thank him for writing one of my favorite poems and to wish him well on his newest book. After sending the message, I realized that his “new” novel came out last July. I wasn’t too surprised when I didn’t hear back.
Cut to this afternoon at work … The fifth floor receptionist e-mailed to let me know I’d received a package. I went up to get it, and what an unexpected surprise!