Shaun Levin

Archive for the ‘Story’ Category

Awkward Waiting

In Story, Writing on September 27, 2020 at 2:28 pm

This is the continuation of a previous post.

The agent’s friend comes home and he has one more day to stay in the house with the agent’s friend, husband and their three children (not four).

“Are you hiding in the garden shed?” she texted.

And just as he’s staring out the window, a hummingbird – he sees it, at first he thinks: butterfly, one of those big orange butterflies he’d seen the other day when he and his schoolfriend had been sitting in the garden, rusty orange with brown spots on its wings, but this is a hummingbird! a small bird – is it a hummingbird? hovering over the flowers, beak inserted into a purple flower, moving from one to the next, taking what it needs to take, hovering mid-air by flapping its wings, staying like that the way a kid might doggy-paddle to stay afloat.

For him there is an awkwardness to waiting. He’s awkward around waiting. Waiting makes him awkward. It’s awkward – waiting. Waiting? It’s awkward. It’s an awkward kind of waiting. Awkward waiting. And so he waits for his agent’s driver to come and pick him up for lunch.

“Half an hour,” the agent had said (it wasn’t). “He’ll bring you to the restaurant.”

Then it fills the house: a screech. He has never heard anyone scream so loudly. It’s as if the agent’s friend is possessed. A shout physical in its violence, a roaring, lashing out. It is ugly. He is sitting in the kitchen waiting for the driver when the scream tears across everything. Like an earthquake, no, more personal: a punch. Am I remembering something? he thinks. Was I shouted at with such – as if a monster had been unleashed. Awful. And afterwards the man had come downstairs as if nothing had happened, as if a monster had not been unleashed. The child had tried to defend himself. The other child had been in the kitchen and while the man shouts and the child tries to defend himself – but I, but I – the other child walks around the kitchen in a state of shock, waiting for it to be over.

The man had shouted things that he does not now remember, but it had something to do with the child pushing. “See what happens?” he’d screamed. “You push and you push and then look what happens.” If the man could hear himself he’d be shocked. It is, he thinks, the kind of shouting to call social services for, but this man is the agent’s special writer, a man who brings in a lot of money for the agent, probably more money than any of the other writers, and definitely more than he’ll ever earn for his agent.

What the agent’s friend doesn’t know yet is that a video of his teenage son is going viral online, a video of him yelling abuse at another driver and being filmed by that driver’s passenger. The words are sexist and arrogant, misogynistic, entitled, something so ugly that again he cannot remember what was being said, but what he will remember is the boy, a teenager of about 16 or 17, leaning out the window, arm on the side of the car and gesturing to his own car, referring to its price – was it 100,000? half a million? – the boy was out of control, on some kind of drug. But maybe not, maybe the teenager was as sober as the agent’s friend had been when he shouted “you push and push” at his child upstairs.

On the flight back to London he talks to the woman next to him who is flying to Rome. They talk about Barcelona; she was there in June with some old college friends. She’d stayed on for a couple of days after they’d all driven down from the Basque Country. He thinks: What have I learnt from this trip? What have I gained or lost or been through? Where is the character development? Soon I will be back in my life: the gym, work, love There’s a lover who will be happy to see me.

Jewish New Year

In Story, Writing, Writing Exercises on September 18, 2020 at 11:02 pm

His agent’s daughter invites him to a party in the afternoon. He says he will do his best to make it but that he isn’t good with crowds, especially crowds of new people. New people and their children, although he does not say the latter. She comes to pick him up after the party, after everyone has gone home and only she and her boyfriend and their kids remain, the two sons still in the pool. The older son is wearing a wet suit. A friend is staying over, a young boy who is a whizz at ping-pong and with whom they play a brief game of doubles: the writer, the agent’s daughter’s boyfriend, and the older son.

Earlier that day, him and an old school friend had met up at LACMA, walked around the Japanese Pavilion, then gone for lunch at a place just up from the museum complex – a huge restaurant where they ate oversized plates of Caesar Salad.

His agent introduces him to a writer who is doing well, and the following day he and the old school friend go out for dinner with the writer. The writer comes to pick them up from the agent’s daughter’s house where they’ve been having afternoon tea, or the local equivalent, or the local equivalent of sherry before dinner. They drink hibiscus coolers. In this tiny world of interconnections, the agent’s daughter and the writer who is doing well have had an affair and so are jovial with each other.

Jovial is a word his agent had used at a lunch that week, to which his wife had said: “You never use that word.” To which the agent had said: “I should use it more often. It’s a good word.”

“I’ll pass,” the agent’s daughter says, when they suggest she joins them for dinner, him, the old school friend, and the writer who is doing well.

“Suit yourself,” the writer says.

“I’m going to have to redefine my narrative,” he thinks to himself as he sits by the pool the following morning, giving a big thumbs up to this way of life.

A friend had written to him: It’s about saying yes more confidently to what you want to be doing and the more you do that the more you drown out the distraction of those things you would otherwise be wanting to say no to. The friend calls to say that someone had said yes to her, a university department that had just hired her to teach a class in fiction. This yes-saying is contagious, he thinks. It feels good to be in the company of others who are being said yes to.

The cleaners come that afternoon to work on the house he is staying in, three women, perhaps a mother and daughter and the daughter’s friend, or perhaps three friends. The man who owns the house, a writer of movies who, too, is doing well and is now on holiday with his husband and their three children (or was it four?). The women dust the shelves, mop the floors, wash the clothes left by the couple and their children, climb a ladder to wipe the lampshades.

He is hungry but wants to wait for the women to leave before he eats, before he goes back inside from the garden and pool to make himself a snack. Later that evening he’s expected at his agent’s house, where, for a Jewish New Year dinner, various members of his family have been invited, along with other writers he represents.

“I feel imprisoned in this house,” he’d said to his friend.

Stranded in the suburbs.

Under house arrest.

When he was at school, he’d read a book my Raymunda Hawa Tawil (was that her name?) a Palestinian fighter and politician who had been under house arrest for a very long time. The book was green and had a picture of her or of her house on the front cover.

The cleaner says big houses are easier to clean than small ones, although he cannot remember the reasons she gave. She used to work for Will and Jada Smith. She’d been to Spain, driven with her husband from Sevilla to Portugal, then stayed for a day in Ireland where she didn’t like the cold. She’s been in California for 26 years. Tomorrow, she tells him, there won’t be much traffic when the Jewish people have their holiday. She also works for a Catholic lady from Switzerland who is married to a Jewish guy.

At the agent’s house for Rosh Hashanah dinner, all types of herring: Danish, cream, chopped and some chopped liver, too, which he does not eat. The herring he eats. It’s the kind of herring he ate and liked as a child, always there on the table at holiday meals: Passover, New Year, and probably there to break the Yom Kippur fast, along with a glass of milk and soda water. Present at this dinner are: the agent’s adult son and his young girlfriend, and the son of this son, whose mother is not the girlfriend. They all talk about family, about this one and that one, and how he, the writer, has written a book that is going to be a great success.

The conversation does not linger on his book. It shifts to the crisis in Syria and to stories of shoplifting: the agent’s son had stolen chocolates in Paris, the daughter used to take money from her mother’s handbag. Tomorrow is Friday, then the next day will be the day he goes back to London. He will be tired and will sleep on the plane. When he gets home, he will try to stay awake and if there is sun, he will sit in the sun to synchronise his body clock. He will go to the gym and then the following day he will go to Liverpool, then come back from Liverpool into Yom Kippur, after which he will return to his new book, the one he has just started writing.

What journey are you beginning now? Write about the journey that is starting in your life now.

from notebook entry dated 3 Sept. 2013 (aka Early Utterances from a Writing Life)