Short Story (Introduction) No. 2
Warm Hands, Cold Heart
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This is the second iteration of another style I have played with: the short story introduction. As I wrote in my previous post, Short Story (Introduction) No. 1:
Below you will find the tip of a narrative iceberg. Jutting out clearly and visibly, it is the end of an indeterminate story’s beginning. From here, candidly, I know neither its length nor its path nor its makeup. In this experimental post, I only present what I have penned; the rest lies below the surface, obfuscated by the murky waters of ideation.
If enough readers deem what follows compelling, I will finish what I have begun in a subsequent post. I will ascertain interest via qualitative and quantitative feedback: comments/messages, clicks of the supposedly-algorithmically-significant heart icon, and this survey.
If a misfire, onto the scrap heap it goes! In writing, you must kill both your darlings and your urchins (so Faulkner has advised). I hope to emulate famed psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s example: “When I work I have no sunk costs.”
Either way, I defer to the wisdom of the crowd.
Without further ado:
Above: Soft white snow covering the hard, mean, concrete jungle.
New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.
—E.B. White, Here is New York
Jack blithely strolled down Park Avenue. In his gloved hand, he fondly fooled with the big suede ribbon that bundled the gift-wrapped Macy's present. Adjusting his scarf and fiddling with his cufflinks, he walked with a quick, relaxed gait across the side street amid the splendor of the season.
The sky was a hard sheet of blue, the air tasted like ice water. It was Christmastime, his favorite time in the city.
His city, New York.
Sidestepping the snow and salt now accumulating on the cracked sidewalk, he muttered a "Thank God," thinking how fortunate he was to have worn his rubbers. He had a habit of saying a little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things.
In the winter, his rubbers were a necessary companion, they always fit snugly over his shoes, protecting them from the unsavory elements and unwelcome debris that inevitably dirtied the white city snow.
Now on 69th Street, Jack continued to amble up the Avenue, absorbing the beauty of radiant Christmas trees that greeted him at every corner. These trees, a common fixture on his walks uptown to work, reminded him of the import of this holiday. It was a holiday that salvaged him from his ruined state, a state of exhaustion, a state of stress, a state of depressive rumination about everything around him. In the midst of this depression came Christmas, similar to a glowing beacon warning of the rocky shoreline, it rescued him from crashing, truly crashing into the emotions winter in New York stirred up inside of him.
Hitting 74th Street, Jack made a wide turn East, towards Lexington. He traveled to and from work in a specified manner, working his way easterly at intervals of five blocks.
He was not exactly sure why he did it; perhaps it brought him comfort, perhaps it reminded him of that day when he met Marcy in the Starbucks between Park and Lex. It wasn't a habit as much as an obsession. He was finicky in that way.
Oh well, he thought, another story for another day.
Loosening his scarf and turning his cufflinks, Jack briefly stopped in the Starbucks. He offered a warm, toothy smile to the barista that came across more like a wince. Nevertheless, it was an earnest, transparent stab at warmth.
He languidly said, "Large coffee, please, four sugars and a drop of milk, no more, no less."
He ordered with the ethereal detachment of one who knew his worth, of one who measured it in dollars and cents instead of love and contentment. He fiddled with his wallet to access these same crisp dollars and polished cents; the coffee had cost more than he anticipated. Things always seemed to in New York. It was as though the city demanded more from its cramped inhabitants—emotionally, physically, financially…
Grasping for his coffee, he quickly took a long, satisfying sip, sluuurp, and lapped up the creamy froth from his lips.
God that's good, he blissfully thought.
Eager for another, he quickly returned the cup to his cold, waiting lips. There was no better time in his day. Warmth pervaded a body made cold by unfeeling indifference. He could almost taste the halcyon days of yesteryear.
As he sipped, he became immersed in the warm sensation that seemed to thaw his cold vessels. He drank, and drank, and...
"Damn!" he exclaimed, as he furiously dabbed his now stained scarf. Frustrated, he hastily unfurled his scarf from around his neck. Jamming it into his lined pocket, he crumpled it, forming creases in the newly cleaned and pressed bit of cashmere.
Reeling and dropping the already watered-down coffee, Jack stormed out the door, knocking into the metallic chair—clang—as he darted from the counter. With a whirl of his overcoat and a sharp, bothered glint in his eyes, he stomped out the door and down the stairs to the street.
How quickly things can turn upside down, he thought. In a day, in a life.
Immediately the frigid winter wind brushed over his now bare neck—glacial needles being shoved slowly, deliberately into his trachea. Fighting this new foe, ten fingers and two cufflinks shoved into his lined pockets, Jack stormed down 74th toward Lexington. He dodged the oncoming bursts of pedestrians, making his way towards the hustle and bustle, the rank steam of Lexington. At the corner, he saw the insignia of the Salvation Army overlooking the chaotic frenzy of the Avenue.
Even before he heard it, he anticipated the Salvation Army's accursed, godforsaken bell ringing. Fucking charity. Eyes peeled for the idiot in the Santa suit, Jack, claustrophobic in the now oppressively close crowd, toyed with his cufflinks and dashed out of the horde...right next to the bell-ringing Santa.
"How much they payin' you to stand like a fool out in the cold?" dared Jack.
"I...I...I do it for free...It's for charity, mister," replied the shabby Santa, bedecked in the threadbare suit.
"Some charity," said Jack, extending his gloved hand as if to drop a coin or two in the basket. Unfortunately, he did not see the boy running for his family, carrying a hot dog drenched in blood-red ketchup.
Then—wham—the boy's hand, and hot dog along with it, collided with Jack's very own gloved hand. Recoiling from the awaiting basin, as if bitten by a snake, Jack saw the damage done to his gloves.
"S-Sorry M-Mister," stammered the boy, "Me-Merry Christmas!" as he offered an uncertain smile.
Jack looked carefully at the boy — stained shirt, a dirty red patch over his right kneecap, a lopsided smile.
It's not worth it, he thought.
"Get the hell away from me kid," Jack retorted.
No good deed goes unpunished.
He watched the boy scurry down the bustling street toward his mother and father, a youngish couple, the type whose eyes did not retain that glint over the years. He knew the type well; he and Marcy both knew it. That was them a few short winters ago. Before everything had changed.
A line from a novel he was reading interrupted his reverie: “Sadness was part of the hard work of manhood…”
Possibly to be continued. I await your input.
If you enjoyed this introduction, read another:
The Best of the Rest
Some jolts of joy and a bit more levity are in order. This week’s Best of the Rest again lists whimsical delights that elicited a chuckle or cracked a smirk:
🧙 This pithy, grim synopsis of The Wizard of Oz
⚽ The most poignant rendition of “Truly Madly Deeply” these ears have ever heard
🥤 One man’s uplifting quest to curb his addiction to “fizzy drinks”
Per my about page, White Noise is a work of experimentation. I view it as a sort of thinking aloud, a stress testing of my nascent ideas. Through it, I hope to sharpen my opinions against the whetstone of other people’s feedback, commentary, and input.
If you want to discuss any of the ideas or musings mentioned above or have any books, papers, or links that you think would be interesting to share on a future edition of White Noise, please reach out to me by replying to this email.
With sincere gratitude,