Many years ago, I wrote a novel that takes place in Longview, Texas. It was originally titled RODNEY PEED, but I changed the name for obvious reasons. The novel remains “in the drawer,” and although I know it’s flawed, I really do hope one day to rework it. As part of our week on “scenes that didn’t make the cut,” I present to you the opening of my unpublished novel, SEPARATE BEDROOMS:
The day that Rodney peed himself began like all the other days of his adult life: he woke up early, of his own accord, stepped out of his bed into house shoes and shuffled down the long hallway to the kitchen. He sat at the table in his pajamas and enjoyed a slice of I.V.’s crumb cake with a cup of Sanka. Nothing remarkable happened. The kitchen was quiet, excepting the hum of the air conditioner, but he could feel some kind of a low buzzing activity, in his mind and in the air, as he thought about the party. He imagined his house filling up with people, and it made him feel excited but uneasy.
From then on, his Saturday routine veered off in a loopy direction. He woke Peggy at 8:00, which was terrifying, but she’d insisted on it the night before, and he left her alone to get herself up and moving. Party or no, it would be slow going for Peggy, who didn’t care for mornings. Then he turned his attention to his own self, showered and dressed and waited for Peggy to tell him what to do next.
At 9:00 I.V. arrived in her clean white uniform, giving the morning a weekday feel, which was wrong. When he heard her ring, he cut off the burglar alarm to the front door and let her in.
“Morning, Mr. Rodney,” she said.
“Morning, I.V.” He pointed at the corner where the brick walkway met the house. “Should I sweep along there?”
“I’ll do it,” she told him.
He stepped back and studied the bricks under his feet. “I think I’ll sweep,” he said. He found the broom in the garage and took it with him out front where he got to work, kicking up dust and cobwebs, until he was sure the bricks were quite clean. When he was done with the front stoop, he circled around the house to see if there was anything else outside that needed doing. It was still morning, but the air was hot and heavy and fixing to break a hundred degrees, and in all the front yards that he could see up and down the street, the grass was beige and crispy, in spite of all the automatic sprinklers. Swinging the broom like a baton, he went back up the walkway to the front door and rang for I.V. to let him in. He handed her the broom and went to the kitchen again. While I.V. washed his breakfast dishes and wiped down all the counters, he sat at the kitchen table and watched cartoons. But by then it was getting on 9:30, and he figured it was probably high time to get the show on the road. He went down the hall to check on Peggy, bringing her a big glass of Coca-Cola on ice because that was how she started up every day.
“How you coming along?” he asked her. She was still in her bathrobe, looking muddled and draggy. The TV was turned up loud to the same superhero cartoon he and I.V. had been watching in the kitchen.
“Somewhat,” she answered.
“I swept up around the front door. What do I do now?”
“Just hush and wait for me.” So he hushed and went back down the hall to the den. He planned on sitting down in the recliner for only a minute to read something from the Reader’s Digest, a story to distract him while he waited for Peggy. What was strange was that later on, when he would run all the occurrences of that peculiar day through his head, he never could recall feeling tired when he’d gone into the den and stretched out in the chair that morning. Nevertheless, he must have been sleepy because he dozed off after only a page.
Okay – I’ll stop right here because I read recently that inexperienced writers often make two mistakes that are especially irritating, and if the story were to continue, you would soon see that I commit both of those crimes, back-to-back within a few pages: (1.) A dream that serves as foreshadowing, and (2.) A moment in which the main character looks in the mirror and the reader gets a careful physical description. Yeah, sorry. I’ll spare you that part. So blah, blah, blah…
He had been worrying lately about what life would be like now that he wasn’t going to be working anymore. The week had certainly been out of the ordinary, and he’d found it unsettling to have so many people focusing on him. He spent most of it trying to answer the question everybody kept asking him over and over: What are you going to do now with so much free time on your hands? They didn’t seem to mind that Rodney didn’t have an answer for them. They just smiled at him and acted like he’d won a big prize.
Yesterday afternoon the folks at the company had got together and set up a party for Rodney in the conference room, to wish him well on the last day he would ever work at his desk or drink coffee in the office kitchenette. He came home and told Peggy all about how they patted him on the back and gave him the best send-off a man could ask for, complete with “for he’s a jolly good fellow.” Made him feel like a movie star or something.
Jean, his big-boned, big-haired, big-hearted secretary, had ordered a full-size double layer sheet cake from Vy’s Pies, and she and the cake took up more than their fair share of space in the room that was packed full of people and chairs. Jean had spent most of her day tying balloons up to anyplace she could get hold of.
“Speech,” someone said, and Rodney, who everybody kept calling “the man of the hour,” stood up, holding a paper plate with a piece of cake the size of a brick, and meant every word he said next:
He thanked everyone for coming. In particular he thanked Jean for her thoughtfulness and for the balloons tied up everywhere and for all the years of good typing and filing and such, and when he said that, she got up and boo-hoo’d her way across the room and hugged him hard and heartfelt, and that loosened things up a bit. Then he told them that he would surely miss working there. He would miss it every day, he said. For the rest of his life. He pulled a handkerchief from his pants’ pocket and told them about the first time he ever stepped foot in that building all those years ago. As Rodney continued his speech, one man checked his watch, while another slipped out quietly because he had somewhere he needed to be. Rodney, getting caught up in memories of former times, reminded them all that the very spot where they were standing had once been a storage room where all the company records had been lined up alphabetically by client in ledger books, full of figures, handwritten in pencil. Can you imagine, he asked, shaking his head, that we did all that record keeping by hand? Then he wiped his eyes, raised his cake plate, and thanked everyone for the nice party. The current boss, Glen Marshall, whacked “the man of the hour” hard on the back, knocking him off balance and sending his plastic fork to the floor. Glen declared loudly to everyone present that Rodney didn’t realize yet that the very best years of his life were just beginning.
“Here, here,” everyone said. “To Rodney,” and they ate cake.
When the room emptied, Rodney and Jean went back to his office to collect his things. All he had was the leftover cake in a big box and a smaller carton that contained his personal items: a framed pictures of his wife and son, a “World’s Best Grandpa” mug, and a framed cross-stitched prayer that read, “I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way 23:10,” a going away gift from Jean that sounded to Rodney a little bit like dying.
Jean walked him to the door, handed him a the party balloons, and hugged him again.
“Sure am looking forward to the big event tomorrow night,” she said. “I guess this idn’t good bye at all, is it?”
Rodney walked out alone across the parking lot, aiming his feet to pop the hot, little black tar bubbles that had come up in the joints between the concrete slabs. Opening the back door of his car, he put the boxes on the seat, pushed the bunch of balloons in, using two hands to stop them from escaping, and slammed the door to shut them in. Then he climbed into the car with them, feeling as if he had a dozen floating heads looking out the windows in the back seat.