I have written a novel called Yes Donor that I'd like to do something with. Please enjoy a sample, below, and contact me with any suggestions, criticisms, praise or advice.
The sport coat I am wearing today began as a joke. Never in my wildest imagination did I believe it to be something I could grow into. However, as dogs do with their owners and vice versa, I had gradually become just like it, even if against my will. The once droopy arms fit snugly now and the ridiculous olive green elbow patches match my eyes. As a kid, I’d throw the jacket on while addressing other heads of state at make believe international meetings. It was a jacket I could talk an evil dictator out of war with.
My uncle left the jacket at my parents’ house one holiday or another when I was little. I hid it for weeks, pretending with a voice lower than I thought I was capable of that he had dialed the wrong number when he tried several times to retrieve it. Finally, my Uncle stopped in unannounced one particularly foggy afternoon. He had expected an empty house, laughing loudly at the doorstep with a woman I had never seen before. Inside, he found me sitting at the head of the kitchen table, wearing his green jacket and a red face.
“Hey, P.” He said, waving the woman away from the kitchen. He wanted to ask why there were so many cups of water at the table but knew better. I wanted to know why a woman I had never seen before was wearing his favorite scarf. And why she smelled like really old food.
“Keep it,” he said, and tip-toed out of the house.
It wasn’t his in the first place. He bought it from a second hand store in Buffalo when he worked as a toll bridge attendant. A hand sewn patch on the lining of the jacket just below the breast pocket read “Johansson.” When I asked about the two movie ticket stubs and miniature bottle of gin I found in the other pockets, my parents said they must have belonged to the previous owner, this “Johansson fellow.” My uncle moved in two months later, staying just long enough to find a new job and explain that Aunt Emma didn’t want to see him anymore because of “mutual differences.”
While the rest of the jacket has seen better days, the patch remains in mint condition. Perhaps Mr. Johansson, forgetful in his old age, referred to the name tag when in a bind. How easy it could have been for him to duck under the cover of his neatly tailored coat before answering a simple question like “What’s your name?” There, at least, he could mask the embarrassment he felt as he struggled to remember the simple and important things.
Beneath the name is a phone number but I lack the courage to call it. I’d hate to find out that the jacket I’m wearing belongs to a dead man. It must. Buckley never growled at the jacket, a good sign if the stories my grandparents told were true. A pet wouldn’t get near a bed somebody died in, one of Grandpa’s nursing home mates had said. The tireless scrubbing of Uncle Steve must have washed any remaining death away. Infidelity, however, doesn’t wash out quite as easily.
On fifth street, the winds were picking up. The first was startling, whispering a soft, chilly command everyone else was already obeying. “Move,” it quietly directed. I started down the street toward the first of many record stores in town. In my bag, beneath a few spare pens, was a short stack of freshly printed résumés. I took the topmost copy out, examining it for any critical errors.
My zip code lacked a number, but the rest appeared passable. I was, after all, hunting for work I could potentially be “overqualified” for. It’s a term I’ve never quite understood, a label stuck to a dangerous person who harbors plans to take over the establishment and poison its entirety with his absurd ways. All I want to do is be surrounded by discount records and easy-to-steal concert posters. My parents could sleep easily knowing I am capable of at least stomaching the American workplace and my landlord could finally keep from asking me about the comic book I told him I was commissioned handsomely to write.
I recalled the application for Bert’s Music I filled out a few nights back. Two questions kept me up well into the night.
Question One: What makes you the perfect Bert’s Music employee? Originality is what they’re looking for, but much like Bert’s actual records, it must be genre specific and cater to a particular crowd. They already had a Mr. Reggae, wreaking of incense and always catching his red, yellow and green wristbands on protective plastic CD cases when sorting. Every row had its gatekeeper. Mr. Rock, with his streaming, beanie covered hair. Ms. Electronica, always dancing and clad in shirts she made herself. Mr. Metal, a mute because of his love for live shows and detest of associating with normal people. Ms. Jazz, a spectacled college student who chipped away at her fine arts degree while Dizzy Gillespie puffed through the store speakers.
The earthy corduroys I was sporting, coupled with a worn striped polo shirt and Converse All Stars, made my role at the record store terribly confusing. If anything, I was Mr. Experimental, caught between an attachment to Sun Ra and early Herbie Hancock and classical as performed by modern composers. Two roles I am unable to play, even under the wing of the best acting coach in the country. Opting for the part of Mr. World Music, I entered a nearby department store, eyes glued to a sterling fedora worn by a legless manikin in the display window.
When the bells dangling from the door handle finally stopped, it was dead silent. An exceptionally tall woman floated in and out of some distant aisles while a clerk calmly cleared his throat from behind the register. I passed a rectangular table covered by neatly folded sweaters. Beside it, atop a cardboard painted block, were four full-sized manikins. None of them had arms and the fourth lacked a head. This was customary in the retail world. I was the only one staring at the maimed models. Perhaps manikins are what’s left of crash test dummies after their family-sized minivans and wagons are launched into brick walls.
“Can I help you find anything, sir?” Asked an angelic voice. Her words filled the stale air of the room like perfume. I could not pinpoint their source. Turning back to the sweaters, I saw her black hair draped over the grey sweater I had pulled from the pile. Her arms extended and crossed almost mechanically, the grey sweater turning to liquid in her warm embrace. It was folded and repositioned in five seconds.
“Sorry,” I said. “I bet you’re tired of cleaning up after people.”
“It’s alright,” she replied. “What are you looking for?”
“I’m just browsing,” I said, searching frantically for a clever response to the question and finding nothing.
Her hands, as though sculpted by some great artist long dead, traced the price tag of a pair of sandals. Recorded birdsong--the sound of Spring according to Macy’s department store--interrupted our quiet conversation.
“I am so tired of those birds,” she said. “They chirp every minute, it’s like I work in a giant, broken cuckoo clock.”
It was the fist time I noticed the birds. Again, I dug for a comment that would have her in stitches. Even with new material, the theme of birds, all I could muster was barely worth mustering at all.
“You mean they’re not real?” I asked, the second-half of my question cutoff by the screech of some large bird of prey.
“What?” She said.
“I said, why are there no complete manikins?”
She glanced to her right, acknowledging her handless, footless, expressionless colleagues.
“I don’t know, seasonal shedding I suppose.” She tried to hold her giggling in, as if she owned this much wit at all times. I laughed for her, demonstrating that is was alright, even for us seasoned professionals of humor.
“Are you looking for work?” She asked, shifting abruptly into professional mode and noticing the topmost résumé, peeking out from my half-open bag.
“Not really,” I lied. “I’m a cartoonist.”
“Wow,” she replied. “Your job is ten times cooler than mine.”
I reached for the Fedora, earning some time to build up my make believe career. With the tan hat fit snugly around my head, I prepared my next sentence. It’s quite fun, but I prefer real life.
“Do you like that hat?” She asked. “Sorry, what were you saying?”
“Nothing,” I said, “just preparing to sneeze.” I found the nearest florescent light fixture and stared at it until my nose itched. A mild sneeze filled the shallow hole our conversation had begun to dig.
“I do like the hat,” I admitted. “But forty dollars seems steep.”
Her gaze wandered playfully down her sky blue dress and into the cups of her hands. She extended an arm toward mine.
“Give me the hat,” she said, gesturing with a gentle wave. She could of asked for my wallet and I wouldn’t have hesitated.
Under the cover of tropical birdsong she stapled a new price tag to the bottom of the hat’s brim. She sized up her work, biting her lower lip in disapproval. With one seamless motion she took thirty dollars off the price of the hat and left a deep aching sensation in my chest.
“I suggest bending it up a bit,” she said.
“How about I stain it?” I offered, feeling the inside of my bag for a pen. She nodded, returning to her box of sandals. I scanned the store for peering eyes. A new pair of shoppers strolled in, greeted immediately by a sleepy-eyed staffer. They exchanged a few soft remarks and his face brightened. He turned and began walking, the top half of his body barely able to keep up with his eager legs. The two shoppers were now customers and he knew exactly where to lead them.
The inside of the hat was lined with light green fabric, an easy target for price-lowering sweat stains or factory defects. I made a few dull swipes of the pen across the fabric but the result seemed too artificial.
“What should I write?” I asked. “I’ve never defiled a hat before.”
“Hand it to me,” she said, again extending her lean arms. I placed the pen in the inverted hat and passed it to her. She wasted little time, scribbling a signature or discount code in one of the folds on the underside of the crown. Her front teeth let go of her bottom lip. She was satisfied.
“Take it to the counter and say you found it this way,” she directed. I tried the hat on one last time, imagining it on a guy who knew everything there is to know about contemporary didgeridoo artists. Instead of thanking her, I pinched the brim of my new hat, tugging it down just far enough to shield my eyes with a shadow that reached my chin. I winked like John Wayne would have, but the gesture did not escape the drawn brim of the hat.
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll have to come back for some sandals.”
I approached the clerk, still wearing the hat. He cleared his throat before making some lifeless compliment and scanned the hat without even peeking inside. I told him it was a gift and wisely refrained from explaining, though I’m not sure it would have mattered. He moved with the same animatronic motions I associate with Disneyland. Right on cue, he pulled his head up to smile, revealing two levels of perfectly manicured teeth. His eyes, however, did not change, still half-squinting and begging to be elsewhere. I declined his bag offer and pulled the hat back over my head.
On my way out, I looked for the woman in the blue dress. In her place was a neatly stacked column of sandals and a sweet, herbal fragrance. Just outside of the store, I paused to read her scribbled note on the inside of my hat. Seven numbers, as though scribed by the most meticulous calligrapher, were lined up in perfect single file order. Atop them, like the roof of an ancient pagoda, rested her name. It was underlined with one sweeping, hooking motion that curled at either end as though kissed by fire.
Mr. Johansson would be proud. His jacket had a date with a discounted hat.