Trim, Trim, Trim: The Art Of Tightening

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Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

 

This chapter needed trimming and tightening. See what we cut and what we saved. (Some of the stuff we didn’t chop may not seem important now, but it will be later.)


Chapter 11 “FINAL”

“Did you call the church?”

Mallory’s words were loud enough for me to hear but quiet enough to not draw our daughter’s attention. Sophie sat at the table pretending to eat while I fried a couple of eggs. I rarely ate breakfast, but I needed some energy after the long drive home.

Instead of the usual cartoons, we had the TV turned to the news. The tropical storm, now larger, was headed to Tampa. I glanced out the window toward Sophie’s swing set: blue skies and green palms, still as statues. The swings weren’t even swaying, it was such a calm day. I leaned down to see the oak trees. They, too, stood tall and unmoving.

I shook my head. Weather forecasters.

Some storm preparations might be in order soon, but the first order of business was breakfast. The lack of cartoons made Sophie an even slower eater than usual.

“I called the Church.” I turned my attention away from the meteorologist’s patented Doppler radar and back to my eggs, ignoring the colorful array of animated swirls on the TV. “I got their answering machine.”

“They have an answering machine? And nobody answers at, what, 9:30 in the morning on a week day?” Mallory grabbed the newspaper and took a seat next to Sophie.

“I know, it seems weird.” I slid a spatula under the eggs and slid them onto a plate. “I can drive over later if they don’t call back. I guess they’re busy with, you know . . . church stuff.”

“I guess.” She opened the paper and glanced at it, then laid it down. “Are you sure that’s even a good idea? I mean, what are they going to do?”

“I don’t know what they can do.” I shrugged, picking a fork out of the drawer. “But it seems like a decent place to start. The Church has ideas on dealing with . . . exorcisms.”

Mallory bristled at the mere mention of the word. When I mentioned it upstairs, she insisted Sophie was not possessed. I agreed. But it still launched a fight.

“It’s just an example. They have rules for dealing with these types of things. If this is even one of these types of things.”

Silence.

“Look.” I laid my plate on the table and sat down. “You and Sophie play around the house today. Do some gardening together, have some relaxing quality time. I’ll go over and see the pastor at Our Lady Of Mercy and see what he thinks.”

“He’s going to think we’re crazy.”

“Yeah, well.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Honestly, wouldn’t that be the best possible outcome?”

Mallory narrowed her eyes.

“To have somebody with a clear head listen to all the information and decide that there’s nothing to it, and that we’re just being ridiculous?” I cut into my eggs. “Man, that would be music to my ears. I would love to hear we’re being hypochondriacs or whatever you’d call this.”

Mallory lifted the paper up again. “Just go. Try not to get yourself thrown in the loony bin while you’re gone.”

I smiled. “I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise anything.”

I volunteered to do the breakfast dishes so the girls could get an early sat on the gardening. When the church didn’t call back right away, I started in on the pile of work on my desk. After a few hours of updating reports, I took a break and allowed myself to do a little searching on the internet, looking for possible solutions to our situation. Mostly I found websites that were obvious scams, each one looking hokier than the last, but there were a few that had possibilities.

“Help For The Hopeful.” A simple black ad with white lettering, like a chalkboard, appeared when I searched paranormal activity solutions. A small white cross adorned the ad’s middle, blinking like a tiny neon light. Something about the ad seemed remarkably understated and honest. As I went to click on it, the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Dan, it’s Sarah. I saw the updates you posted. Thanks for doing those. I know you’re supposed to still be on vacation.”

I leaned back in my chair and rubbed my neck. “No problem, boss.”

“Everything okay? You sound tired.” Sarah was a good manager, and I appreciated that, but this probably wasn’t a social call.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Sophie woke up in the middle of the night.”

“Oh, I remember those days. Okay, well thanks again for updating the reports. You gonna get ‘em all in today?”

I glanced at the clock on my computer. Almost noon. “I think so. If not, I’ll finish them over the weekend.”

“Awesome. I really appreciate it. Try to get some sleep!”

“Will do.” I said, hanging up.

I pushed away from my desk. Somebody from the church should have called by now. I got up and walked over to the back window.

Mallory and Sophie had been planting a border of small purple flowers around some palm trees on the terrace. Mother showed daughter each step, taking time to ensure it was done properly. I smiled at their matching hats and gardening gloves. Sophie appeared keen to learn everything, although she clearly enjoyed some parts more than others. Digging with the hand spade was one. Patting the dirt down around the newly nested plant was another. Mallory had to redo more than a few plants after Sophie jammed them into their new home.

It looked like the project was having the desired effect—relaxation.

The clock on the cable TV box read nearly one o’clock. I definitely should have gotten a call back from the church by now.

The back door swung open. Dirty but happy, the gardeners stomped their feet to knock the mud off.

“Are you two finished?”

“Pretty much.” Mallory nodded, taking a large glass and a small plastic cup down from the cabinet. “We’re taking a break for lunch.”

I thought for a moment. Between eating, finishing their planting, and cleaning up with a bath, they would easily be busy for several hours. I grabbed my car keys. “I’m going to run out and take care of some errands.”

She poured a tall glass of tea and glanced at our daughter on the door stoop. “Did the church call back yet?”

“No, not yet. I think if I just show up, they’ll have to talk to me.”

“Sophie, stomp your feet. Knock the dirt off.”

Our daughter jumped up and down, landing as hard as she could. Mallory turned her attention back to me. “When are you going?”

“Right now.”

She nodded. “Okay. Be careful.”

I kissed her, then I reached down and picked up my dirty daughter. “I’m going out for a few minutes.” I gave Sophie a peck on the forehead. “You be good for mommy!”

She threw her arms around my neck. “Can I come with you?”

Putting her down, I squatted next to her, smiling. “I think you would be a big help if you came along, but you need a bath first, don’t you think?”

“No!”

Of course not.

“How about some tea and . . .” Mallory rattled a colorful cellophane bag. “Some potato chips?”

That got Sophie’s attention. “Chips! Can I have a peanut butter sandwich, too?” She sprinted into the kitchen.

So much for going with Dad.

“Whoa! Let’s wash our hands first.” Mallory tapped the kitchen faucet. “Get your step stool.”

As Sophie made an abrupt U-turn, I stood up. “I’ll be back in a bit.”

Mallory gave me a wink.

The drive to Our Lady Of Mercy was a short one. When I had been required to go every Sunday for the eight weeks before Sophie’s baptism, I found the earlier in the morning the service was, the less traffic and the fewer churchgoers I had to endure.

I grew up going to Catholic schools. As a kid I attended Mass with my family every week, but when I went off to college, my attendance dropped off. I’d still go to church with Mom when I went home during the holidays, but as the college parties went later and later on Saturday nights, sleeping in became the Sunday morning ritual, not Mass.

Eventually, I stopped going all together. “I’m not a ship without a rudder,” I once joked to my mom. “I’m just a ship without a port at the moment.”

She did not like the comparison.

When the time came to get my daughter baptized as a Catholic, I was required to join a local Catholic church and attend services. Our Lady Of Mercy was closest to our house, so they won.

It had been almost three years since my last visit. Sophie and I attended the 7:15 service for a couple of weeks after her baptism, since we were always both always awake long before then, but that was probably it. As a result, I did not expect much of a reception. I wasn’t even sure we were still on the mailing list.

Our Lady Of Mercy wasn’t like the large gothic church I knew growing up, and I kind of looked down on them a bit for that. To me, churches needed to be a bit more ornate to have the full effect.

As I parked and walked up to the main office, children played on the recreation equipment. A slide and some swings, it was part of their preschool program, but Our Lady Of Mercy did not have a school. Even this late in the year, it was still hot and muggy outside. Plus, it was probably getting ready to rain. Tropical storms will dump days and days of rain, but they like teasing a little first. Some of the prettiest, calmest, sunny days would happen just before the storm, giving no idea of the shit that was about to start. That’s why there are so many of those old Spanish galleons sunk off the coast of Florida—the weather looked great the day they set sail.

I opened the office door and stepped inside. The cool blast of air conditioning was immediately refreshing. I had already broken out in a light sweat during the walk from parking lot. I glanced around the reception room. Same couch and chairs from three years ago, and the same table full of magazines. Probably the same magazines.

The priests’ offices were just through the next door, but first I had to chat with the lady behind the reception room’s little window—Mrs. Clermont, according to the little fake wood placard. She wore horn rimmed glassed and her little round head was tied in a tight hair bun. A blue pen stuck out from behind her left ear and a pencil protruded from her right. She was practically a cartoon character. I halfway expected her to turn sideways and become super thin, like she was drawn on paper.

At the moment, a large woman was occupying the space in front of Mrs. Clermont’s window, so I picked a spot on the couch and sat down.

The magazines were typical churchy fare—nothing you’d probably read at home—but a small stack of this week’s church bulletins sat off to one side. Skimming through one might give me a little insight into the current affairs of Our Lady Of Mercy, allowing me to appear more engaged than I actually had been. I picked up a paper bulletin and flipped through it. The usual: Mass times, a bake sale, a clothing drive for St Vincent DePaul . . .

I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to the priest, or even how to begin.

Are you unlucky if you go to a winery and almost get killed by its owner? Or are you lucky that you narrowly missed being hurt?

Are you lucky to have escaped a car fire, or are you unlucky to have been in a burning car at all? It sure didn’t feel lucky that day, to be stuck on a hot bridge in the sun and heat, with a fussy child and no place to sit down, nothing to drink. We missed the cookout and the pool party.

When something bad happens, it doesn’t make things better to say that it could have been worse. That’s not happiness, that’s just the avoidance of misery. There’s a difference. Was I supposed to tell our daughter that no matter how crappy things get, they can always get crappier?

I gazed at the bulletin, but my thoughts were elsewhere.

We could have easily been overcome by fumes if I hadn’t made driven into the emergency barriers when the car burst into flames. That wasn’t luck. That was a decision.

It might have been luck at the winery, though. I couldn’t account for that. And with the doctor at the hospital, when Sophie was born, there was a fair amount of luck with us that day.

I sighed. Maybe it was luck in the car fire after all. Hitting the saw horses could have made me lose control of the car. It almost did.

Folding my arms, I pressed myself into the couch.

In movies, fires take a while to get going—because the actors need time to say their lines. In reality, a fire in a house takes just seconds to start, and within minutes the whole house is consumed. The videos of Christmas trees burning in living rooms were a real eye opener. So was the frat fire in college, when we accidentally burned down a rec room during a dance because the chimney was clogged.

Smoke gets everywhere, and it gets there fast. That was the real killer. People in fires don’t burn to death, they asphyxiate on smoke. I knew that, so I plowed my car into the traffic sawhorses. I would not put my daughter at risk.

But by taking her out of the car and standing on the side of the road, we were at risk again. Cars speeding by weren’t looking for people in the emergency lane.

I shifted on the couch. It was all too confusing, too interwoven between what someone might see and what someone else might want to believe.

Which is where a man of faith might come in handy.

“Sir? Sir, may I help you?”

The lady behind the little window was addressing me. “Yes.” I got up. “Yes, thank you. I need to speak with . . .”

I drew a blank. I didn’t have a name of a specific priest that I wanted to talk to. I hadn’t been here in almost three years. I had even forgotten the pastor’s name.

Crap.

I glanced down at the bulletin in my hand. The list of services showed which priest was doing each Mass. I read the first name I saw: 11am, Father Joe. I looked up at the woman. “Father Joe, please.”

She scanned the paper schedule on the desk. “Do you have an appointment?”

I debated whether to lie or not, if that might get me in today instead of getting rescheduled to another time. Tough call. Mrs. Clermont probably wouldn’t look kindly on things if she caught me in a lie, and then she’d be less helpful. I wanted to talk to somebody today. Now.

“Well, I called, and, uh, I didn’t make an actual appointment, because . . .”

“Father Joe is in Venezuela on a mission right now.”

“ . . . because Father Joe is in Venezuela on a mission.”

She lowered her head to peer at me over her reading glasses. “I see.”

I shifted on my feet, clutching the bulletin.

Drawing her finger across the schedule, she stopped on a highlighted square. “Well, he will be back Sunday. Would you like me to schedule you for a time with him next week?”

“Ah, actually, I was kind of hoping that I could just come in and talk to, you know, whoever was available right now.”

She glared at me. “But you don’t have an appointment.”

“Uh… no.”

“And you don’t want me to make an appointment for you?”

I looked over at the priest’s offices. “Is it possible to just see whoever’s available right now?”

The cartoon lady shook her head, staring at her schedule book again. “Everybody’s pretty booked up today.”

Doing what, I wondered. Not tending the proverbial flock.

I took a deep, quiet breath. Showing my frustration wouldn’t score any points with Mrs. Clermont, and she seemed to be the gatekeeper. One misstep and it might be weeks before I saw anyone. Beads of sweat formed on my brow.

But everybody has a boss, and nobody wants the boss to get a bad report about them. Maybe that would get something going that way. This route certainly wasn’t working.

I cleared my throat. “Mrs. Clermont—”

The woman glared at me. “I’m not Mrs. Clermont.”

Cringing, I closed my eyes. Of course you aren’t.

“She’s out sick today. I’m just filling in.”

I forced a smile. “Volunteering?”

She smiled back. “That’s right.”

Rubbing my temple with one hand, I tapped the paper bulletin on the counter with the other. “I really feel like there should be somebody, some priest, that I can talk to.”

Her chair springs groaned as she rocked back. “Everybody’s booked with people who made appointments.” She delivered the words with a jab.

“Well, I’m glad God keeps such a regular schedule,” I said. “What do you do when an emergency happens?”

She leaned forward. “We pray.”

I squeezed the paper bulleting in my fist, out of sight from the substitute troll. “Okay.” I backed away, heading for the door. “Thank you.”

“I can still make an appointment for you.” The chair springs squealed and her little round head poked through the window.

I stopped. “When would it be for?”

“The earliest is next Wednesday with Father Joe, but you can see Father Martin on Tuesday, or Father Raul.”

Tuesday. Almost a whole week away.

“Let me call you back about that.” I tried to sound sincere. And nice. An appointment a week away might end up being better than nothing. I thought about going back and scheduling something as a fallback position. But I really needed answers now.

I pushed the door open into a light drizzle. Covering my head with the bulletin, I headed to the car, passing a sign.

“Confessions today 12 noon – 3pm.”

Confession. I shook my head. What poor bastard is going to come all the way over here in the rain just to say he swore too much this week? Confession. The church’s way of spying on its members in olden days, getting them to tell all their sins and gossip to a priest.

A priest.

I stopped.

Yeah, confession.


Original Chapter 11, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 “Did you call the church?”

 

Michele was almost whispering at me. Savvy was pretending to eat her breakfast, and I was frying a couple of eggs. I rarely ate breakfast, but it might be a long day and I wanted to have some energy after the long drive home.

 

Instead of the usual cartoons, we had the TV turned to the news. The tropical storm, now larger, was headed to Tampa. That might mean some storm preparations were in order, but the immediate order of business was getting Savvy to eat. The lack of cartoons made her an even slower eater.

 

Michele asked again. “Did you call the church?”

 

“I did,” I answered, turning my attention away from the TV weather man’s patented color Doppler radar and its swirling arrays of color. “I called them. Answering machine.”

 

“A church has an answering machine? At, what, 9:30 in the morning on a week day?” She was incredulous. She took a seat next to Savvy.

 

“I know, it seems weird,” I muttered. “I can drive over later if they don’t call back. I guess they’re busy with, you know… something.”

 

“I guess,” she grumbled. She looked over the newspaper, then laid it down. “Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, what are they going to do?”

 

“I don’t know what they can do,” I admitted. “But it seems like a decent place to start. I mean, the Church has rules for dealing with… exorcisms.” Michele glared at him over the mere mention of the word. Our daughter is not possessed! She had insisted in that when I mentioned it upstairs. I agreed. But it still launched a fight.

 

“I know. It’s just an example. They have rules for dealing with these types of things.” Then I quickly added: “If this is even one of these types of things.”

 

Silence.

 

“Look,” I began, “you guys play around the house, do some gardening, have some relaxing quality time. I’ll go over and see the pastor at Our Lady Of Mercy and see what he thinks.”

 

“I’m not so sure. Do you think this is even a good idea? They’re going to think we’re crazy!”

 

I sat down across from her. “Honestly, wouldn’t that be the best possible outcome?”

 

Michele looked at me quizzically.

 

I explained. “To have somebody with a clear head listen to all the information and decide that there’s nothing to it, and that we’re just being ridiculous? Man, I think that would be music to my ears. I would love nothing more than to put my head on my pillow tonight knowing that we were being hypochondriacs or whatever you’d call this.”

 

Michele lifted the paper up again. “Just go. Try not to get yourself thrown in the loony bin while you’re gone.”

 

I smiled “I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise anything.”

 

I volunteered to do the breakfast dishes so the girls could get an early sat on the gardening. When the church didn’t call back right away, I started in on some work in my office. I updated and posted a few sales reports, then I took a break and allowed myself to do a little searching on the internet, looking for alternate solutions to our perceived problem. Mostly I found websites that were obvious scams, each one looking hokier than the last, but there were a few that had possibilities.

 

“Help for the Hopeful,” one said. It was a simple black ad with white lettering, like a chalkboard. A small white cross adorned the ad’s middle, blinking like a tiny neon light. Something about the ad seemed remarkably understated and honest. As I went to click on it, the phone rang.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Dan, it’s Scott.”

 

It was Riley, from work. “I see you’re updating the sales reports. Thanks, for that, pal. I know you’re supposed to still be on vacation.”

 

“It’s no problem,” I replied.

 

“Everything okay?” Scott asked. “You sound tired.” Riley was a good manager, and I appreciated that, but this probably wasn’t a social call. Besides, I was still irritated about the church not calling back yet.

 

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “The kid woke me up in the middle of the night and I couldn’t get back to sleep. You know how it is.”

 

“Oh, I remember those days. Okay, well thanks again for updating the reports. You gonna get ‘em all in today?”

 

“I think so. If not, I’ll finish them over the weekend.”

 

“Thanks, pal.” Riley said enthusiastically. “I appreciate it. And get some sleep!”

 

“Will do, Scott.” I said, hanging up.

 

I pushed away from my desk, looking at the wall clock. Almost noon. Frustrated at the lack of a call back from the church, I got up and walked over to the back door. The little ad for Help for the Hopeful still blinked on his screen.

 

Michele and Savvy had been planting a border of small purple flowers around some palm trees on the terrace. I watched out the window as mother gently showed daughter each step, taking time to ensure it was done properly. They wore matching gardening gloves and matching hats. Savvy was very keen to observe everything, although she clearly enjoyed some parts more than others. Digging with the hand spade was one. Patting the dirt down around the newly nested plant was another. Michele had to watch carefully to make sure Savvy didn’t pack the dirt too hard and bind up the roots.

 

It looked like the project was having the desired effect: relaxation.

 

Good. That’s what we need right now. 

 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling relaxed at all. I looked at the clock on the cable TV box. It was almost 1 o’clock. I should have gotten some sort of call back from the church by now.

 

Michele opened the back door. Dirty but happy, the gardeners needed some tea.

 

“Are you two finished?” I asked.

 

“Pretty much,” Michele replied. “We need to take break for lunch.”

 

I thought for a moment. Between lunch, finishing their planting, and cleaning up with a bath, they would easily be busy for several hours.

 

“I’m going to run out and take care of a couple of errands,” I told Michele.

 

“Did the church call back yet?” she inquired.

 

“No, not yet.” I replied. “I’m sure they will eventually, but I think if I just show up, they’ll have to talk to me.”

 

“Stomp your feet dear. Knock the dirt off,” Michele said to their daughter. Savvy began to jump up and down, landing as hard as she could. Michele turned her attention back to me. “When are you going?”

 

“Right now.”

 

She nodded. “Okay. Be careful.”

 

I kissed her, then I reached down and picked up my dirty daughter. “I’m going out for a few minutes,” I said, pecking Savvy on the forehead. “You be good for mommy!”

 

“Can I come with you?” Savvy asked.

 

I put her down and then squatted down next to her, smiling. “I think you would be a big help if you came along, but you need a bath first, don’t you think?”

 

“No!” came her answer.

 

Of course not.

 

“How about some tea?” Michele interjected. “And some potato chips?”

 

“Chips!” Savvy shouted. That got her attention. “Can I have a peanut butter sandwich?”

 

So much for going with Dad.  

 

“Let’s wash up first,” Michele instructed. “Get your step stool.”

 

As Savvy made an abrupt U-turn from the kitchen to over where her purple step stool, I stood up. “I’ll be back in a bit,” I said. Michele gave me a wink.

 

The drive to Our Lady Of Mercy was a short one, especially on Sunday mornings. When I had been required to go every week for the eight weeks before Savvy’s baptism, I found that the earlier in the morning the service was, the less traffic and the fewer churchgoers I had to endure. Since I always got up around 6am anyway, attending a 7:15 mass on Sundays was no problem. I always got a good parking spot. Nobody liked going to church that early except for old folks and farmers. That was fine by me. The 10 o’clock service was usually standing room only, and the area restaurants would be jammed by 11:15, but at the early bird service, I could get there and back without a hassle.

 

Like a lot of folks, I had grown up in the Church and as a kid I attended Mass every week with my family. I went to catholic school from first grade through high school, attending Mass pretty much every week for those years, but when I went off to college, my attendance dropped off. I would go to church with my mom and dad when I went home for the holidays, but as the college parties went later and later on Saturday nights, sleeping in became the Sunday morning ritual, not Mass.

 

Eventually, I stopped going all together, even though I always considered myself to be an active and participating churchgoer in my heart. “I’m not a ship without a rudder,” I had once joked to my mom. “I’m just a ship without a port at the moment.” She did not like the comparison.

 

Therefore, when the time came to get my daughter baptized as a Catholic, I was required to join a local Catholic church and attend services each week for eight or ten weeks. It had been almost three years since my last visit to Our Lady Of Mercy. I wasn’t quite sure when I had last set foot inside the building. Savvy and I attended the 7:15 service for a few weeks after her baptism, since we were both up at that time, but that was probably it. As a result, I did not expect much of a reception. I wasn’t even sure he was still on the mailing list.

 

As I made the short drive to Our Lady Of Mercy, all this was on my mind.

 

It was a small church campus, with just a few buildings. It wasn’t like the large gothic church I had known growing up, and I kind of looked down on them a bit for that. To me, churches needed to be a bit more ornate to have the full effect.

 

As I parked and walked up to the main office, children were playing on the recreation equipment. A slide and some swings, it was part of their preschool program, but Our Lady Of Mercy did not have a school. I observed the kids as I made his way to the church office door. Even this late in the year, it was still hot and muggy outside. Plus, it was probably getting ready to rain. Tropical storms will dump days and days of rain on you, but they like to mess with you a little first. You’ll have some of the prettiest, calmest, sunny days, with no idea of the shit that was about to start. That’s why there are so many of those old Spanish galleons sunk off the coast of Florida – the weather looked great the day they left.

 

I opened the office door and stepped inside. The cool blast of air conditioning was immediately refreshing. I had already started to sweat just from the short walk from the car. I looked the reception room over. Same couch and chairs from three years ago, and the same table full of magazines.

 

Probably the same magazines…

 

The priests’ offices were just through the next door, but first I had to chat with the lady behind the reception room’s little window. Mrs Clermont, according to the little fake wood placard. At the moment, a large woman was occupying the space in front of the window, so I picked a spot on the couch and sat down.

 

The magazines were typical churchy fare, nothing you’d probably read at home; but there was a small stack of this week’s church bulletins. That seemed like a good idea. Skimming over it might give me a little insight into the current affairs of Our Lady Of Mercy, allowing me to appear more engaged than I actually had been. I flipped through one. The usual. Mass times, a bake sale, a clothing drive for St Vincent DePaul…

 

I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to the priest, or even how he was going to begin. How do you describe the events we had been though and not sound crazy? It wasn’t like anything bad had actually happened, after all; it was that bad things seemed to frequently happen nearby…

 

Are you unlucky if you go to a winery and almost get killed by its owner? Or are you lucky that you narrowly missed being hurt?

 

Are you lucky to have escaped a car fire, or are you unlucky to have been in a burning car at all? It sure didn’t feel lucky that day, to be stuck on a hot bridge in the sun and heat, with a fussy child and no place to sit down, nothing to drink… we missed the cookout and the pool party.

 

Michele got a convertible out of it, though. The insurance check made a nice down payment. That put me as the Navigator’s primary driver, a nice upgrade from the Escape. More room, and leather seats.

 

When something bad happens, it doesn’t make things better to say that it could have been worse. That is a naïve and simplistic view. You shouldn’t be happy just because the worst possible things didn’t happen. That’s not happiness, that’s just the avoidance of misery. There’s a difference. What was I supposed to tell our daughter? That no matter how crappy things get, they can always get crappier? That’s the life lesson to take away from all this?

 

No; the lesson is, no matter how bad things get, the strong usually survive. Luck favors the prepared. We could have easily been overcome by fumes if I hadn’t made the decision to drive into the emergency barriers when the car burst into flames. That was not luck; that was a decision.

 

It might have been luck at the winery, though. I couldn’t account for that. And with the doctor at the hospital, when Savvy was born; there was a fair amount of luck that day…

 

Then maybe it was luck after all in the car fire. If the emergency lane hadn’t been under construction, would I have been able to pull over into it? Yes. Much more easily. Was there a way to say that the sawhorses were helpful? I don’t see how. They were definitely in the way, and I certainly considered driving past them to pull over. Seeing that they stretched on forever, it just limited my options and made me feel like I needed to stop now. Where’s the luck in that? Hitting the saw horses at that speed could have made me lose control of the car – it almost did. That could have sent us into the water below, to wrestle our way out of the seat belts so we didn’t drown… if we weren’t knocked unconscious on impact!

 

In the movies, fires in houses or cars take a while to get going. That’s because in the movies, the actors need time to say their lines. In reality, a fire in a house takes just seconds to start, and in minutes, the whole house is consumed in flames. The videos of Christmas trees burning in living rooms were a real eye opener. So was the frat fire in college, when we accidentally burned down a rec room during a dance. Smoke gets everywhere, and it gets there fast. That was the real killer. People in fires don’t burn to death, they asphyxiate.

 

I knew that. So I plowed my car into the traffic sawhorses. I would not put my daughter at risk. But by taking her out of the car and standing on the side of the road, we were at risk again. Cars driving 70 miles an hour weren’t looking for people in the emergency lane, and as the smoke from the car fire blew across the road, it impaired other drivers’ ability to see. That could have caused a wreck further down the bridge. Where’s the luck in that?

 

It was all too confusing, too interwoven between what you wanted to see and maybe what you wanted to believe. Maybe that’s where a man of faith might come in handy.

 

Just then I heard someone speaking to me.

 

It was Mrs Clermont.

 

“May I help you?”

 

“Yes,” I said, getting up. “I need to speak with…”

 

I drew a blank.

 

I didn’t have a name of a specific priest that I wanted to talk to. I hadn’t been here in almost three years. I had even forgotten the pastor’s name!

 

Crap!

 

I glanced down at the bulletin in his hand. The list of services showed which priest was doing each Mass. I read the first name I saw: 11am, Father Joe.

 

I looked up at Mrs Clermont. “Father Joe, please.”

 

The lady looked down at her appointment book. “Do you have an appointment?”

 

I debated whether to lie or not, if that might get me in today instead of getting rescheduled to another time. Tough call. Mrs Clermont probably wouldn’t look kindly on things if she caught me in a lie, and then she’d be less helpful. I wanted to talk to somebody today. Now.

 

“Well, I called, and, uh, I didn’t make an actual appointment, because…”

 

“Father Joe is in Venezuela on a mission right now.”

 

“…because Father Joe is in Venezuela on a mission.”

 

“I see,” she said. “Well, he will be back Sunday. Would you like me to schedule you for a time with him next week?”

 

“Ah, actually, I was kind of hoping that I could just come in and talk to, you know, whoever was available right now.”

 

She looked up at him. “So you don’t have an appointment?”

 

“Uh… no.”

 

“And you don’t want me to make an appointment for you?”

 

I looked over at the priest’s offices. “I was really just kind of hoping to talk to somebody now, you know? Is that possible?”

 

The lady looked down at her book again. “Everybody’s pretty booked up today…”

 

Doing what, I wondered. Not tending the proverbial flock.

 

I knew my frustration would show; that wouldn’t score me any points with Mrs Clermont, and she was apparently the gatekeeper. Piss her off, and it might be weeks to see a priest in his office. Now I was starting to sweat from tension.

 

But everybody has a boss, and nobody wants the boss to get a bad report on them. Maybe that would get something going. This route certainly wasn’t.

 

“Mrs Clermont,” I began.

 

She looked up at him. “I’m not Mrs Clermont.”

 

I closed my eyes. Of course you aren’t.

 

“She’s out sick today. I’m just filling in.”

 

I smiled weakly at her. “Volunteering?”

 

She smiled back. “That’s right.”

 

I sighed. “I really feel like there would be somebody, some priest, here right now that I could talk to.”

 

She leaned back in her chair, making its springs groan. “What would you have me do? Everybody’s booked with people who made appointments.” She delivered the words with a jab.

 

“Well, I’m glad God keeps such a regular schedule,” I said. “What do you do when an emergency happens?”

 

She leaned forward. “We pray.”

 

Terrific. You win, lady.

 

“Okay” I said, nodding. “Thank you,” Then I turned to go.

 

“I can still make an appointment for you,” she called after me. I stopped.

 

“When would it be for?”

 

“The earliest is next Wednesday with Father Joe, but you can see Father Martin on Tuesday, or Father Raul.”

 

Tuesday. Almost a whole week away. That’s too long.

 

“Let me call you back about that,” I said, trying to sound sincere. And nice. An appointment a week away might end up being better than nothing. I thought about going back and scheduling something as a fallback position. But I really needed answers now.

 

I pushed open the door. It was starting to drizzle. I covered his head with the bulletin and started to walk to the car, passing a sign.

 

“Confessions today 12 noon – 3pm.”

 

Confession, I thought, shaking my head. What poor bastard is going to come all the way over here in the rain just to say he swore too much this week? Confession. The church’s way of spying on its members in olden days, getting them to tell all their sins and gossip to a priest.

 

A priest…

 

I stopped.

 

Yeah, confession!


ANALYSIS 

Both versions are about the same, losing stuff that just wasn’t needed.

We see the family being very loving to each other. That might be needed earlier in the story.

And we set up the fact that Doug is wrestling with what to do.

Now the fun starts!

Now:

head shot
your humble host

Let me have your comments. The next chapter will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Trim, Trim, Trim: The Art Of Tightening

  1. One picky thing….the word “shit” in the storm description isn’t working for me. It doesn’t fit what I’ve painted in my head for some reason. Hell would work better…? I found it pretty jarring for some reason (and I swear with the best of ’em, so not sure why. Maybe just incongruous with the family feel of the earlier part of the chapter?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. Putting a kid in the story kind of made me scale back on the swearwords. Occasionally one slipped through, but there were more in the original and I am making a conscious effort to remove them from the final. I don’t think it will be a big deal when where the other but I’m like you – they just don’t seem to fit

      Liked by 1 person

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