I'm off to Dennis LeHane's Writers In Paradise workshop in St. Petersburg at beautiful Eckerd College. Eight grueling days and nights of workshopping our writing and lectures and presentations and one-on-one training with best-selling authors like Andre DuBus, Stewart O'Nan, Laura Lippman, Tom Franklin, Sterling Watson, and of course, Dennis LeHane.
One of the unique features presented at the workshop is the Writers Idol spot, where the famous authors judge two pages of your writing. There are usually three judges and if two of them hold up their hands while your piece is being read, it means they found something wrong with it or just decided they didn't like it and are pleading with the reader to stop the madness.
I've only been through it twice. The first time Ann Hood stopped the reading after a few sentences when she didn't like the way I called an amputee's stump a stub. Of course my name isn't on the two pages, but you still die in your seat when they raise their hands. The second time I made it through the first page until LeHane stopped it for having too much narrative and not enough dialogue.
Anyway, below is my two-page submission for this year. It's from a short story and not part of the workshop. Elsewhere on the blog page is a poll to vote for when you think those bastards will raise their hands and humiliate me among my peers, despite it being anonymous. Seriously though, when the hands pop up it is usually for a good reason. So vote. It's free. I think I'll go two pages. My wife thinks they'll stop it after two words. I sense a lack of loyalty on her part.
Your Sister’s Wedding Reception
If you sit still on your mother’s yellow and brown paisley sofa, right in the center, and if your face is tan enough and you know you are the middle child, and quiet, then you can understand how you can be invisible.
It is December 1968 and the whirlwind of your sister’s wedding reception weaves about the backyard, the living room, the kitchen, the four small bedrooms and two baths. One of which hasn’t worked for four years.
Your house can accommodate the seven in your family easily, but there are a hundred guests in the backyard. That’s where the warm Florida sun is. That’s where thirty pounds of jumbo shrimp are and that’s where the makeshift tavern is, with enough Black Label beer, cheap liquor and cigarettes to satiate all the adults. With little supervision of the bar, no one notices the missing booze used to inebriate your seventeen-year-old brother, Ed, and his friend Bruce.
Your eight-year-old brother, Charlie, gets into the spirit when, with beer can in hand, he and six-year-old, Frank, march like drum majors on top of the endless rows of parked cars that line both sides of the long street. The neighbors see your little brothers, see the beer, watch as they dent the trunks of the cheap imports, but say nothing. It’s that kind of neighborhood.
You turn around, bored by your younger brothers’ adventures. Across from you, in the orange and green half-price sofa, sits Aunt Dottie, your parents forty-six year old friend who dresses and smells like a twenty-year-old and isn’t really your aunt but that’s what you call her. You have never seen her sober, and now, wedged between your brother Ed and his buddy Bruce, she is as drunk as you have ever seen her.
Eddie nibbles her ear as Bruce slips his hand between her arm and the Carolina blue dress to feel her up. They glance your way, but they can’t see you because, like you already said, you are invisible.
“What’d ya say, Auntie?” Eddie slurs.
“What?” Dottie slurs back, the ash on her cigarette dangling precariously over her best dress from the cedar closet of her double-wide at the Rocky Water trailer park where she lives with Uncle Marty, he not your uncle either.
“Ya wanna do it?” Bruce says. His hand snakes through the lace and silk like a confused gopher.
“It?” she asks.
“It-it.” Bruce says using all of his high school debate rhetoric to convince her. She stares dumbly through you, unable to see your nearly pubescent grin. It.
Eddie manages to work his hand in from the other side to join Bruce’s.
“It,” Eddie says, jerking his head toward one of the four ten by ten bedrooms. Charlie’s is first in the queue. “C’mon, damn it.”
Outside, guests drink, smoke, and laugh while avoiding your hundred-dollar aluminum pool full of rainwater, sporting some kind of green algae. Uncle Marty staggers from the horde toward the house, vodka and ice dancing in his Flintstones glass. The acrid odor of fresh-cut weeds floats in as he slides open the screen door, contemplates, walks through the kitchen, bumps the black Madonna statue, and stumbles toward you—and Eddie—and Bruce—and Aunt Dottie.
He stops by the sofa to stare at the roving hands. Dottie looks up and sucks the burnt filter of her Winston. “What the hell do you want?”