Tuesday, July 21, 2009

WiP Wednesday: First Impressions

It's Wednesday, so I think I'm due for another excerpt from my as yet untitled WiP. I'm thinking of "Carnival of Illusions" for the working title, but I'm just not loving it.

I thought of posting the second chapter, but it's much longer than the first, so instead of subjecting you to 2800 words, this bit is short and sweet, and a scene I had a lot of fun writing.

In this scene, Mara, the MC, has traveled to Paris (c. 1901) in the guise of a boy to find her friend Alex. She spent the previous night in a smelly, crowded church and is looking for the cabaret Alex is supposed to be working for. She knows she needs to stay on her toes around these Parisians, but she can't help flirting with one of them...


Next morning I am out of that church as soon as they open the doors. The sky is a murky dishwater color, threatening rain. The woman who slept next to me last night said that to find Montmartre I need to cross the river, so I take the first bridge and repeat her directions in my head. By midday my stomach is growling.

Thanks to Piero I have more than enough coin for a few loaves of bread and some cheese. At least the baker's girl who sells it to me knows of Hystérie.

"It's one block up and two blocks away from the river." She looks me over with a sly smile. "The one with the nude women holding up the lintel. You can't miss it."

She is right. The facade takes up a third of the block. I'm sure I'm at the right cabaret, with its concrete nudes for columns, and I know I'll find out about Alex soon. But it is still early and places like this don't open until late. If I just sit and wait I'll be run off by the neighbors in no time, who are already giving me suspicious glances. Out of my bundle I pull my violin and bow and I play the first song Alex ever taught me.

I play outside, all day until the afternoon-- songs I know and songs I've heard streaming out of taverns and cafes since I entered the city. I get brief looks from the neighbors but no one tells me to move along. In fact, most of them seem oddly interested in my music, staring at me only long enough as if to assure themselves I'm not someone else. Eventually I start to make songs up, mixing songs I know with the Parisian ones I've learned. When a skinny older man with dark stringy hair walks up the street and unlocks the front doors, I stop for a moment and look at him. He glances at me and I see him stiffen. But he bends his head back to the door, unlocks it and heads into the darkness within.

Going back to my playing comes easier the later it gets and I have an audience. More people pass by on their way, some coming home from work, others streaming in and out of the blue door to the left of the grand main entrance with the nude columns. These gadjo are the ones who give me the longest looks, the most intense, searching stares. No one on the street has tried to give me any money, and no one from Hystérie has told me that I am not wanted. I know I'm doing Alex's old job, and I'm hoping someone inside will notice.

Just after I finish the rest of my cheese and bread and start to play again, I think I've finally found my mark. I slow my tempo down as I look him over. Attractive, young, well-dressed and he doesn't look like he's in a hurry. He's not too tall, not too dark, not too handsome, but there is something about the set of his chin and his bearing when he addresses the others who head into Hystérie. They treat him like a boss, or the money. My song changes to a melody I heard a woman sing while she hung her laundry yesterday, but I give it a Romani flair and really put my body into the bowing.

All of a sudden I wish I'm not covered in grime and wearing boy's clothes, that my hair is clean and flowing down my shoulders. But it's working. He comes closer with a puzzled look on his polished face and claps when I bring the impromptu ballad to a close.

"Lovely. Does it have any words?" His voice is deeper than I expect.

"Not yet." I'm not trying to hide my own voice from him. I want to intrigue him, make him tell me what he knows about Alex. "Maybe you could help me write some."

He steps closer, eyes and mouth wide. "You're a girl."

"Yes. Last time anyone checked." I start up another song before my words catch up to him.

"I know that song." He is really listening to it, drumming his fingers in time. "Our last Gypsy violinist used to play it."

"It's an old one," I lie. It's really one that Alex and I made up together a year ago. "Your last Gypsy violinist? You don't have one now?"

"Not for nearly two months now. He vanished in the night, taking some valuables with him." This young man is watching me closely now, so I can't reveal my surprise. Alex leaving his job wouldn't explain why Lucia hasn't heard from him. And I doubt he took anything. He is always so far above whatever anyone thought of him. Especially me.

"So the position is open?"

The gadjo stares at the way the trousers hug my hips. At my voice, his eyes flash back to mine and he smiles. "I think it's just been filled."



Suzanne said...

What a scene! You can tell it fell right out of you. Authentic and lovely.

Icy Roses said...

Mmm, I love your writing. Excellent dialogue. And I have a secret affair with the present tense. :-)

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Nice detail here. It feels like Paris. Have you by any chance been to Europe? I know you haven't been to 1901.Grin.

Best regards, Galen

Imagineering Fiction Blog

TereLiz said...

Suzanne, thanks! This part really did flow right out of me. I wish the rest wasn't being so recalcitrant, grrr...

Icy, I used to adamantly anti-present tense, but the more I read of it lately the more I like it. This character just screamed to tell her story in present, which works, since she's not one to ruminate on her decisions, and I wanted to have that immediacy that third just doesn't provide. Thanks for your compliments.

Galen, how do you know I haen't been to 1901? ;) Actually I haven't been to Paris since I was two (Army brat), but I would love to go back. I lived in Germany for six non-sequential years and loved it. Not sure I appreciated things as well as I should have-- I remember crying at the Leaning Tower of Pisa because the cafe we ate at with its gorgeous view of the Tower, had no strawberry ice cream. They did have excellent pizza, in case you were wondering. ;) Thanks for reading!

Galen Kindley--Author said...

I spent four years in Europe, as part of my 20-year Army career. All of it in Stuttgart. Two years ago, we went to Italy. One of those stops...Pisa. Small world, huh.

Abby said...

I've been trying to read this all day, but Blogger or Internet Explorer or maybe it's just my computer, but one of them keeps kicking me off and giving me an error message. So stupid. Grr!

*deep breaths* Moving along...

I love this! Of course. :D Can't wait to read the finished product. And despite putting off reading Hunger Games because of its present tenseness ;) I'm finding that I really like present tense and I thinks it's really cool you're doing your story that way. The last three books I've read have been in present tense and now I'm itching to give it a try.

Thanks for sharing, Tere!