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My first attempt at serious fiction. Some comments and questions after the story. ------------------- Musings As he pushed the lawn mower back and forth over eighteen-inch grass, Georges Gilbert Celeste Latourette, George to his friends, was glad he had torn himself from the computer. He invested most of his waking hours in front of it, engaging in constructive pursuits like editing Wikipedia articles, writing impassioned political Facebook essays—read by others with similar points of view, and reading stories at his favorite internet site. Stories about well-adjusted, athletic, clear-skinned teenagers with full heads of hair, who stood up to bullies and found romance with other teens like themselves. He spent countless additional hours secretly playing mindless games and viewing online porn after everyone else had gone to bed, making himself more depressed as he tried to ignore a sense of impending doom regarding the consequences of his procrastinations. George was enjoying the physical activity. Maybe it would keep him from having another heart attack, though that seemed unlikely, given the ice cream binges at his brother’s house, where he had been crashing for a year now, and the desserts and extra portions of somewhat nutritious food at the Lake County Senior Center, three days a week. Extrapolating from his grandfather’s fatal heart attack at age 46, and his father’s at 65, he thought there might be some hope. On the other hand, both of his parents had gotten type 2 diabetes and George had recently graduated into prediabetes. It was hard to stay motivated, and he sometimes thought that an early death would save him from Alzheimer’s and provide some money for his relatives and causes that he supported. The grass surrounded one of his rental houses, currently empty. Much of the grass was somewhat shorter, but the yard was large, like many yards in Lakeview and unlike the meager weed patch surrounding his house in San Jose. This job would end up taking a few hours and two refills of gasoline. George used the time to think about his plans for the yard. There would be a passive solar greenhouse, partially buried and containing enough thermal mass to avoid spending nonrenewable energy and money on heat during the winter, when temperatures sometimes dropped below zero, Fahrenheit. And vegetables, enough to eat healthy salads all year. He was currently making do with overpriced organic produce from Lakeview’s only supermarket and, occasionally, that same produce after it expired and found its way onto the Senior Center freebie bench. He also wanted to set up a workshop in the building behind the house where he was mowing. It would have a woodworking section—George could begin to use the joinery tools that he had purchased over the years—and an electronics section where he could learn how to program Arduino and Raspberry computers to set up a home security system and automation for the greenhouse. The Arduino and electronic components that he had purchased a couple of years ago were still in their boxes, so he might need to buy another nanocomputer to take advantage of the latest technology. Of course he would never do any of those things, just as he would never free himself from his possessions. His house in San Jose was a badly organized warehouse, filled with four dead people’s stuff. Uncomfortable Victorian chairs and fine display cabinets filled with beautiful things that George and Héctor had bought together. The entire contents—paintings, furniture, and junk—of Richard’s parents’ house. And all of Richard’s things. Richard had been a shopaholic, acquiring arguably useful items for twelve years before hanging himself in the hallway, leaving George to deal with it all. George knew that if only he could haul everything to the dump and fix up the house, he would get enough rent money to buy things he liked better, sufficient to fill another house. But, like most of his other plans, that would never happen: it was too hard to let go. He would do to his relatives what Richard had done to him, except for the hanging part. All he needed to do was eat as he had been eating, sleep as he had been sleeping, and take his medicines as consistently as he had been taking them. His name had been a gift, sixty-eight years earlier, from his father, Dr. John Francois Latourette, Junior. It had created problems for him as a child, especially when the principal read it at his eighth-grade graduation. Celeste? Celeste! And badly pronounced, as if he were two Georges. The names were a tribute to his Huguenot ancestor Georges de la Tourette and Georges’s brother Gilbert-Celeste, and to his famous distant relative, Dr. Georges Gilles de la Tourette. The brothers’ great-grandparents had fled from France to Switzerland after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, eventually reaching England. Seeking more freedom and opportunity, Georges and Gilbert-Celeste crossed the Atlantic in 1700 and settled in Manakin Town, Virginia, where they built a house, bought some slaves, and became Americans. The story was a source of family pride—except the part about the slaves, of whom George learned only as an adult. But to George the child, his name had been one more example of how his father wanted their family to be different, better than families that had televisions, drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes, cussed, and had extramarital sex. Families whose dads let their sons use bad grammar, who played catch with them and took them to baseball games. John had wanted George to be better than his less intelligent classmates. When other kids made fun of his name, George told them about his illustrious relatives, which alienated him from them even more. Well, George thought, Dad got his wish. John was an accomplished but pathetic man who passed his lack of emotional intelligence onto his son. He’d gotten his other wish, too. Having heard, “When will you ever amount to anything?” many times as a child, George had fulfilled the implied prediction. But John’s biggest sin was that he never taught George how to have fun or experience joy. How could he have? As he pushed the lawn mower, George pursued his favorite fantasy: going on a one-way trip to when he was a kid, but with the knowledge he had as an adult. This time, he wouldn’t waste his life. He had spent a lot of time in libraries and on the internet to prepare himself. Smarter than everyone else, he would become a visionary teenager, warning the world about carbon dioxide and HIV and standing up for civil liberties and racial justice. He could prevent the AIDS epidemic before it happened and get a Nobel Prize for that. He would get to have sex and romance with guys like the ones in the stories. Put that asshole algebra teacher in his place. Have a perfect put-down for the guy who gave him grief over a sweater that his grandmother had bought for him at a rummage sale. Best of all, after his father used a coat hanger on his bare buttocks, he would say, “Asimov was right: violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” Of course this would earn him another spanking, but he would take the pain without crying. His experience as a BDSM bottom would help with that. He would goad his father into beating him until the police hauled him off for child abuse. Maybe almost seven decades is enough, he mused. People didn’t live much longer than that, anyway. But first he had to straighten out his affairs. He finished the mowing. A good afternoon’s work, but not really progress: the grass would only grow back. He noticed he still had some time to work on his current carpentry project, constructing a pair of garage doors. Attached to the workshop, the “garage” was more like a carport, with a sloping roof and a trapezoidal opening in the in the front. Doors would allow the tenants to store their stuff, as he was keeping the workshop for himself. The work went slowly: George had many nice tools but meager skill. Still, he enjoyed using his creativity to solve problems like putting a door into a non-rectangular opening adjacent to the main building’s eaves. Using a spirit level and protractor to measure the roof slope—not very accurately, it turned out—George tried to visualize exactly how he would need to cut the 10 foot piece of 2 by 10 lumber. The board had to be wide enough to attach just behind the front rafter, but not so wide as to hit the transverse slats supporting the sheet metal. His mind wandering, he looked up at the sky, now a deep gray though sunset was not due for another three hours. He saw a lone goose gliding below the clouds, barely moving except for an occasional wing flap to regain a bit of altitude. Those wings, along with its long neck and extended feet, defined a shape that reminded George of a kite. Very slowly, it drifted north and over the horizon. The dark goose, dark green tree leaves fluttering in an increasing wind, and brownish green of the Warner Mountains contrasted with the clouds in understated elegance. The temperature had gone unusually low for June, but the inside of the truck would still be warm. George climbed down the ladder and blew into his hands to warm them as he basked in the wonder of what he had just seen. Looking toward the garage, he noticed something on the roof. Could it be his brother’s favorite framing hammer? Yes! Having misplaced it two days earlier, he’d imagined it waiting to become a lawn-mowing casualty. He retrieved it and noticed the lack of any new rust. Life was good. -------------------- My first draft of this started with George coming off the ladder and seeing the goose. But that seemed too short, even for flash fiction, and I wanted to explain the significance of "life was good." Eventually, I came to see it as the opening episode of a story, tentatively called Lakeview Chronicles, about a gay senior citizen moving to a small town, finding that he had brought his demons with him (and sometimes fighting them), and finding some moments of happiness. There will be realistic descriptions of the problems and satisfactions of old age, a lot of old people and probably numerous younger characters, hopefully, if I somehow learn how to write credibly about teenagers along the way. Not much action, but less introspection than in this introduction to George's character. No dramatic ending or happy-ever-after, unless I can find a way to make that believable. The story could be open-ended, but episodes will build on previous ones. So, here are my questions: Did the story hold your attention? Would it hold the attention of the kinds of people who read the tales in Awesome Dude? Would this be viable as a stand-alone short story? Any suggestions or other comments—even those like "this was so boring I couldn't finish it" or "I never got to the point where I cared about the protagonist"—will be gratefully received. Thank you! peter