The Scrapbook

As I walked into the Dog House the first person I saw was Dean, directly facing me from the other side of the nearest table. There were two others with him, both seated by the windows, and Dean pushed the fourth chair out with his foot as a way of inviting me to sit down. I did. I was actually looking for my brother Jimmy, and though I knew there wasn’t much chance of learning anything from Dean and Co. I didn’t have a whole lot else to go on at the time.

“This is David,” said Dean, introducing us, “and his brother Kiernan.”

“Hmm.” I answered. “That’s funny; I’m looking for Jimmy.”

“Jimmy’s his brother,” said Dean to his buddies. “Haven’t seen him,” he said to me.

“No?” I said. Like maybe I couldn’t decide whether I believed him.

“Didn’t even know he was out. He’s out?”

“Yeah,” I said, “couple of weeks now.”

David and Kiernan nodded along. They didn’t seem to like the page we were on. Didn’t look like they wanted to skip ahead, either.

“Well, he always turns up,” said Dean. Nice and genial sounding.

A waitress turned up at my side, asking me what I wanted. I didn’t like the look of the remains in front of the other three at the table. Watery traces of eggs still on the plates, dingy looking forks with the tines all bent out of shape, and partial pieces of what looked like burnt bacon. Cloudy glasses filled with tepid looking water. The whole place smelled like old food. Greasy.

“Coffee and toast,” I said. “Dry.” If I wanted more grease, I figured I could just wave it back and forth in the air a few times.

“That all you want?” asked the waitress, tapping her pad with the eraser end of the pencil.

“Yeah, that’s it.”

She wrote it down on the ticket, nodding, and then left without saying anything else.

“He ain’t a big eater,” said Dean to his friends, “or maybe he doesn’t like the looks of the food.”

“It’s good food,” said Kiernan. “I eat here all the time.”

“He usually likes things a little more upscale,” said Dean, laughing as he nodded towards me.

“Not like Jimmy.”

I didn’t like that, but let it pass. I wanted to hear what else he might have to say. The waitress brought me a cup and then poured the coffee at the table.

Dean and I talked for a little while; or rather I sat there and listened to Dean. I thought he might know something; he usually did. He’s also a big talker. Usually it wasn’t much worth listening too, or it was more than I wanted to hear, but he was good at keeping himself informed and right then it was information I wanted. So he talked, going on and on about how bad business was lately, about which I only wondered how he could spend so much time sitting on his ass in a grubby diner crammed in between a warehouse and an old taxidermy shop. I didn’t say anything about that, of course; I was hoping he’d get back around to Jimmy.

The waitress brought my toast, soggy with butter. I shoved it off to my left.

When Dean saw how bored I was getting, all of a sudden it was ‘Jimmy this’ and ‘Jimmy that’, but it was all old news, stuff that happened twenty years ago and was of absolutely no use to anybody now. David and Kiernan listened, but then they looked like they were used to listening. Dean was about to start in on another story about school when a gal from a nearby booth walked up and stood next to our table.

“You’re talking about Jimmy?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Dean. “His brother,” he added, nodding at me.

“This is Meghan,” he said to me.

“I worked with Jimmy,” she said, naming a place over on Fourth Avenue South. “He didn’t show up last week. Didn’t call, neither. Nobody knows.”

“Isn’t that—” started David, but Dean came in a little louder.

“You’re Jimmy’s type, aren’t you?” he croaked, looking her up and down. I looked at her looking back at him: long, dark hair. Big chest. A little on the short side, just like Jimmy. Thing of it is, Jimmy liked his girls tall, not quite so well stacked. Dean was trying to plant something, alright, and I could see David knew it.

“Yeah, well, he liked me. We saw each other a bit. He’d already had some trouble with a girl named Val, who also thought she was his type. But she wasn’t. Val didn’t like finding that out.” Meghan sounded like she was trying to put the mark on this woman Val, but it was she herself who sounded bitter.

“What else you got?” asked Dean, beating me to it. Though when it came right down to it, I still thought Dean knew something himself. From what he wasn’t saying. I looked at David, who staring a hole right through his plate.

“I’m working on a graphic novel about us,” she said.

“A what?” asked Kiernan.

“It’s like a comic book,” I said. “For grown-ups.”

“What do mean by ‘us’?” I asked her. “You and Jimmy?”

“More than a comic book,” said Meghan, and reached over to her booth and grabbed a thick pile of construction paper. It was all held together in one of those binders we used to use for school reports. She pulled over a chair from another table and sat down next to me at the end of ours.

“You gonna eat that toast?” asked Kiernan.

“Nope.” I answered. “Have at it.” He reached for the jelly.

Opening up her book, I could see that she’d put quite a bit of work into it. Not that it looked all that great. It was more like a scrapbook than anything else. There were polaroids and pencil sketches on thin tracing paper falling out all over the place, and when she opened it up she needed to put her hand over the entire page to keep it all in place. Some of the drawings were in color, some were in black and white. Maybe half of each page was pictures, the other half was dialogue, usually in a seven or eight word column at the bottom center of the page. From the page we spent most of our time with, I couldn’t tell whether the pictures were meant to illustrate the text, or whether the text was meant to describe the pictures, or really even what was supposed to go with what.

I’d lost track of time, so I looked at the clock on the wall above our table. The hour and minute hands were attached to the nose of a cartoon lion, like they were whiskers. Seemed to me that a few hours earlier they would have been in the right place. Time is a sleeping tiger, and every clock is a mask.

The scrapbook wasn’t all about Jimmy, or even her and Jimmy. In fact, I don’t remember any pictures of him at all. Maybe he was in some of the dialogue, but I hadn’t taken the time to read that. The whole book seemed dedicated to her own various obsessions, which meant mostly herself. There was one big picture of her that stood out, really dark, so that it was hard to tell where her own black hair ended and the darkness of the surrounding background began. Her face was a little out of focus, but that looked like it was intended. You could tell she was looking down, as if she were sad. Featured so prominently, it seemed to me the image she liked best. Below it were lines of a poem. But there were other pictures on other pages, some of them in color and a whole lot brighter. There was one, a tall, thin rectangular crop that had her standing in a doorway. Then I realized she was actually lying on her back. She was covered in seashells and flower petals, artfully arranged. Looking at one stretch of skin below that chest I had to guess she was naked underneath. Shells covered her breasts, but there was what looked to be a rose bud as well—fronting for a nipple, obviously. Or was it the real edge of her left areola? Maybe even the nipple itself, I really couldn’t tell. Was she trying to reveal something, or was she hiding? And there was so much stuff here; it was enough to drive anyone crazy. No wonder Jimmy left.

I pushed the book back towards her. Not that there was much room left at the table. David was still stuck on his empty plate, like he couldn’t believe it was still there. Kiernan kept glancing over at Dean, like he needed help with his math homework or something.

“Sorry I don’t have time for the words. Nice pictures.”

“Thanks.”

“But you haven’t seen him?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“And you don’t have any real reason to lie to me now, do you?”

“No, I guess I don’t.”

David reached down to tie his shoe or something.

“You think he might be with this other gal? Val?”

I was looking at Dean, looking out the window.

“Yeah, maybe.”

It was David I should have been watching.

Comments

  1. Quin,

    Most excellent. Wondering if the mention of a graphic novel might throw the thing a little out. What would the story look like if it were simply a scrapbook, with no mention of the graphic novel (unless of course, you intend this bit of writing to be the opening of a graphic novel, in which case, “meta” away…).

    But love the characters, love the pace, love the – well, all of it.

    Am I showing my stupid face again, though, if I ask if there is a sequel to this scene?

    JOB

    • Quin Finnegan says

      No, no, you’re certainly right about that. The scrapbook makes sense (to me), but not calling it a graphic novel. It’s another from the Noir file, and needs work. I’ve contributed so little to the blog of late that I’m trying to pull my weight around here a little more … Thanks for reading, and commenting!

    • Oh, see, the graphic novel thing was my favorite little touch from this vignette, because of course she would call it a “graphic novel.” Scrapbooks are for housewives.

      • I’m willing to be persuaded, but at this point, without any further development of plot, characters, etc., it sort of stands out begging questions with a tin cup.

        JOB

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        I like ‘graphic novel’ for a different reason: Up until Meghan utters those words, I don’t think the facts of the story give us much of a clue about when, from the 1930s to the present, the story takes place. And the hard-boiled narration (even if the setting and narrator are more soggy than hard) suggested to me that the story was set some time between the 1930s and ’50s. But then Meghan says, ‘graphic novel’ a term (and a concept) that wasn’t coined until the 1970s, and didn’t become common until more recently. It jarred, and that made me chuckle.

        But Expat’s reason is good, too, and compatible. It’s more self-dramatizing to create a ‘graphic novel’ of one’s own life, than a mere ‘scrapbook’. And it’s more telling (and sad and funny) that the item Meghan considers a ‘graphic novel’ is in fact more of a scrapbook.

        • Southern Expat says

          Right. I can see the narrator getting distracted in his own wry amusement at her aspirations for this collection of sketches, which wouldn’t necessarily come across if she just called it a scrapbook. And the point is that he’s going to be distracted, right?

  2. Quin Finnegan says

    Thanks to all. One day the story will be worthy of your comments! It amazes me that you’ve all captured the various tensions in play in writing … the decade in which it takes place, for example, or Meghan’s self-involvement … Angelico, “soggy” captures the parodic intention I began with, lo so many years ago. Thanks again!

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