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  #1  
Unread 12-27-2019, 08:19 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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It was hard to do things like a family with her father gone. Some nights when it was too hot to sleep and the steamboat was docked down at the Tennessee River, Louann and her mother would walk the younger children down to see it. The little ones would run on the dock while her mother sat on the riverbank, not caring that the grass was wet with dew, and leave it to Louann to make sure her brothers and sisters didn't fall into the river and drown.

Louann was seeing Billy before her father ran off. Billy took her to the movies or they walked down to the Seventh Street Drug Store and he'd buy them both a cone of chocolate malted ice cream. He'd hold his up and say “Call me Billy Sunday” even if it made no sense because he wasn't eating a sundae and the names weren't spelled the same. Everyone in town said Billy was a sweet boy and a good worker and they thought he and Louann were on their way to getting married. Louann didn't go to school anymore. She got a job at the Krystal Burger. It was the first time she'd ever earned her own money.

Louann first saw Tommy at the Krystal Burger. He'd come in and while she took his order she'd look at his hands. He worked in an office instead of at the plant and his hands were soft and almost as pretty as a rich girl's. Tommy finally asked Louann to go out with him and soon they were a steady item. Sometimes they'd meet during his lunch hour and walk over to the park and sit beside the star magnolia. He'd tell her about fancy restaurants that sold roasted duck and Russian tea and different kinds of fish with foreign names. Louann made sure she had the day shift on Fridays. At five o'clock she'd hurry home and wash the meat grease off her skin and put on some perfume. She bought some colorful dresses that had frills on them. Tommy always showed up before she was ready. He'd sit at the kitchen table and talk to her mother and she would talk back to him. She seldom talked to anyone since Louann's father left. When Louann and Tommy were leaving her mother would hold her arms up like a child wanting to be picked up and Tommy would give her a long hug.

Tommy started taking Louann to his favorite club. “The Palace” had a Cuban band. He already knew how to dance and soon she was as good a dancer as he was. The guys in the band said she looked Cuban because of her dark skin and long black hair. They'd stay at the club until the band stopped playing, then walk to their favorite hotel down near the dock and make love until they were exhausted. Afterward, Tommy always told her he loved her and she'd say, “You're too smart to have to ask me if I love you.” He would lay his head on her lap and ask Louann to stroke his hair. When he fell asleep she'd lift his thin shoulders and put his head on the pillow and cover him with the hotel's thin blanket. Billy came by the Krystal and told her he was going to Detroit to live with his cousin. Louann didn't go down to the bus station to see him off.

One night at “The Palace” a couple they hadn't known for long sat down at their table. The man's name was Joseph, not Joe, he said. His wife Betsy was well on her way to being drunk. After the introductions, Joseph ordered drinks for everyone and waved his hand toward the dance floor and said, “What are you waiting for? Go dance.”

Louann took Tommy's left hand in her right and they began to slow dance to “Embraceable You.” Before the song ended Joseph tapped Tommy on the shoulder and said it was his turn. Joseph was big and his beard was thick and scrapped against Louann's face. He wouldn't let her leave the floor when the song was over and when Tommy tapped him on the shoulder Joseph shrugged him off and pulled Louann against him even tighter. Tommy turned away without a word. Louann watched him walk back toward the table. “Please come back,” she thought as hard as she could, hoping Tommy would feel the force of her thoughts. “Come back for me,” she thought and was the only one to hear her plea.

Louann didn't know how long she and Joseph danced. It was hard to keep up with time in “The Palace.” She finally grew so exhausted she rested her head on Joseph's shoulder and he spun her through a final song. Tommy wasn't at their table. Betsy shrugged her shoulders and her head lolled from side to side when Louann asked where he was. Louann waited over an hour but Tommy never returned. Betsy continued to drink and Joseph took Louann's hand and held it under the table. He talked about how much he enjoyed taking vacations in Florida and Mexico. Louann watched him talk until he left to go to the bar and she grabbed her new handbag with the clasp decorated with pieces of ruby-colored glass and hurried out of “The Palace.”

It was nearly a two-mile walk and Louann's feet were worn out. Standing on her front porch under the yellow bug light it took a minute to find her key. When she finally got the door open Louann saw her mother sitting on the couch. She wore her old house dress. Tommy's head was on her lap. She stopped stroking his hair and looked up and smiled and said, “Shh. He's a light sleeper.”

Then she whispered, “You've broken his heart.”

Louann didn't say a word. She went upstairs and sat on the side of her bed. Later she heard her mother come slowly up the stairs and go into her bedroom. Louann wanted to go out and take her by the shoulders and say that the more a person needed from another person the crueler they were. Instead, she sat on her bed all night and thought about what should be questioned and what should be accepted the way it was. She thought about the money she'd spent on frilly dresses. She thought about Billy, poor dumb Billy, who had gone to Detroit to escape her. She took a deep breath that hurt her chest and wondered how much Billy had paid for his bus ticket.

Last edited by John Riley; 12-27-2019 at 08:26 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 01-13-2020, 08:31 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Any takers?
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  #3  
Unread 02-06-2020, 10:08 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Any takers 2?
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  #4  
Unread 02-10-2020, 03:37 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi John,

I think this is very well done, both in it's structure and execution.

There's definitely a retro feel here. The steamship at the start, and the drugstore ice cream dates are what suggest this to me. Though here I'm largely informed by movies, and googling I see that there's still a steamship on the Tennessee river today, and drug store ice-cream is a still a thing.

Lack of communication seems to be the theme here. Tommy doesn't ask if Louann is OK dancing with the stranger. "Tommy turn[s] away without a word." In response to her mother's accusation that she's broken Tommy's heart, Louann doesn't explain, "Louann didn't say a word". In fact, she's considering leaving town rather than explaining. The mother also doesn't communicate, doesn't ask. Alongside this, I guess, is the theme of relationships ending. The father leaves the mother. Louann leaves Billy. Tommy thinks Louann has left him. And in a sense, Tommy leaves Louann (with the stranger) and Louann's mother leaves Louann (taking Tommy's side). The story ends with Louann considering leaving everything behind.

The relationship between Tommy and Louann's mother is well set up with the details about him coming early and the mother hugging him and this sets up the mother subsequently taking his side and not asking her daughter about what happened, and leaves the reader (well me) to consider what's going on between the two of them. The mother perhaps still emotionally affected by the loss of the husband looking to Tommy for something. Tommy, in some way, looking for something in the mother.

The one thing that made me pause when I first read this was the transition between Billy and Tommy. I read that she's seeing Billy, then she's seeing Tommy, and I don't know if she's seeing them both at the same time or, if she ended things with Billy (or Billy with her) when Tommy came along, or if she left Billy before Tommy even came along: we're told she was seeing Billy before her father ran off, so perhaps she finished with Billy when/because her father left.

I learn towards the end that Billy leaves town because he's heartbroken, so I guess she stopped seeing him (but whether because of Tommy or beforehand, I still don't know), but maybe a sentence in the 2nd or 3rd paragraph to make that clear would be worth considering. This might also be a way to extend the lack-of-communication theme to the break-up between Billy and Louann. And since Billy left town and at the close of this story Louann is considering leaving too, this parallel might be strengthened by some detail of how Billy is left heartbroken.

best,

Matt
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  #5  
Unread 02-12-2020, 09:52 AM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
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John,

There are some wonderful touches in this. I liked Louann washing the grease from her hands before her meetings. That was much more telling than the frilly dresses. And I'll offer the suggestion that since it is from her point of view, the kind of frilliness and the type of cloth would add to this detail of affection. And of course hands are so important in the story – a wonderful device – showing Tommy's status as well as his later moral frailty. And for her to notice their condition shows a woman's quality of observation as well as what class she comes from. She is not put off by nails edge is grease, but by the delicacy "pretty as a rich girl's."

The dynamics of the bonding is interesting here. The abandoned mother and daughter – each coping in their own way. The temptation here would be to ramp up the attraction between Louann's mother and Tommy, and it might be worth trying this.

The element that seems to be your way into the story, the steamboat in the beginning, gives the reader a time and place, but little else. Since Billy is off to Detroit on a bus, it also drew me a little to think of a steamboat still being in service. Of course there are all kinds of boats on the Tennessee river, and a couple might go there to see anything at all – sunsets?

I think the end lacked some punch – which is what you were aiming for I believe. Has she heard from Billy? If she has not that is also significant.

Well crafted and few hitches. Nice work, as always

—R
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  #6  
Unread 02-14-2020, 04:39 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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Thanks for commenting, Matt and Rob. This is something I've had a long time. I don't know if it will ever be right. It was prompted by a story an older lady told me years ago. The setting is mid-century America, Tennessee in particular. The theme is abandonment. What I wanted to capture is the way so many of our emotions and needs and desires mingle in the air, so to speak. How everyone is motivated by need, whether they are conscious of it or not. I hoped that Louann is a little more conscious of it at the end and perhaps some wisdom will grow. It's damn tough to pull off, though, and I appreciate your feedback.

Best
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  #7  
Unread 02-17-2020, 07:10 AM
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Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
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Hey John. Interesting story. The others have said all the good stuff so I am just thinking about the hitch. I think it is the closeness between L and T is set up so believably that you need more for Tommy to misunderstand between her and Joseph before the dancing. Maybe something Joseph says or symbolizes at the table that Tommy can believe is a thing between them. The silence when Tommy tries to cut back in and the depth of her surrender to the situation doesn't feel exactly right with her character that actively signaled to Tommy in the early days of their connection (despite Billy's "claim") and the freedom she exercises in their Friday nights that is hinted as mutual and with agency on her part. I don't know. Maybe that isn't it, but some small thing is missing still. It is a tough trick. It is close.
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Unread 02-22-2020, 10:55 AM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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This story is different than what I usually write. As I said above, it is derived from a story an older woman told me when I was younger. In her version, her mother slept with her new boyfriend. She touched me deeply with her story and my desire was to tell her insides more than the fact her mom screwed her boyfriend. I've noodled with it for years and don't know that I will ever make it work. Trying to write stories such as this one makes me focus on Chekhov and that is a choker.

Andrew, you've put your finger on what is wrong. Simply put, we don't know enough before they go dancing. It needs something more. And Billy needs something as well. I don't know what it is yet. Patience is all I have at this poem, hopefully.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Best
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