Commune of Women is a novel about six women, trapped together in a small room, who must use their slender resources to survive and prevail by sharing everything: their hope and fear; their food; and their life stories, which grow deeper, darker and more intimate as the days pass.
Today’s post is an excerpt from my novel in progress, Fiesta of Smoke. In this snippet, Hill and Calypso, who have just met for the first time, have dinner together, then sit bantering at an outdoor café. The manuscript for Fiesta of Smoke now numbers 926 pages and I’m working hard on the closing chapters. So, back to writing. I hope you enjoy today’s excerpt!
For those who may have missed them, a synopsis of Fiesta of Smoke can be found on the January 5, 2012 post, the Prologue, on January 8, an introduction to the protagonists Calypso, on February 3, Javier, on February 20 and Hill on March 2; Calypso and Hill Dine was posted on March 14; and More of Calypso and Hill, on March 30.
The waiter, in cut-away coat and long white apron, brought them more drinks and added the saucers to the growing stack. Calypso pulled her fox coat more tightly around her shoulders.
“This is the last one.”
“Good. Then I’ll take you for a little late night snack.”
Calypso laughed. “Is this how you woo women, by over-feeding them like geese destined for pâté?”
“I don’t woo women.”
“Meaning I’ve never been married and I’ve never had a really serious relationship. Not since I was a very young man, anyway.”
“You obviously expect me to believe that. Perhaps I can con you into believing I’m a virgin!”
Hill cupped his big hands around his glass and frowned down into it, his lower lip curled down toward his chin in a pout. He looked like a caged bear, five minutes overdue for feeding.
“Okay. Alright. I believe you: I am the first true love of you life.” Her tone was cajoling, humorous.
“Damned if it doesn’t look like it.”
“Oh Walter, you’re being silly. We’ve just met!”
“Don’t call me that!” His body jerked as if she’d stuck him with a pin.
“If you love me, you’ll let me call you Walter, Walter,” she cooed.
Hill rubbed his chest, feeling for the watch case. What are you babbling, you dolt? For God’s sake, Hill! Have you lost your mind? He shook his head wearily.
“I feel that I am destined to love you.” He said it with a sigh and a resignation that flustered her.
“Are you serious, then?”
She sat back and gazed at him in astonishment.
“But Walter, I can’t love you. I’m in love with someone else.”
It amazed her to have a serious conversation over the possibility of a love affair with a nearly 300-pound man whom she had known for an evening. Yet it all seemed quite natural, really. She felt as comfortable with Hill as if she had known him for an eternity.
“Walter, I think we’re both a little drunk,” she said reasonably. “Let’s try this conversation again another day and see if we don’t feel like complete fools.”
“No,” Hill said firmly. “No. I want you to tell me about him.”
“Him. My rival.”
“Your rival? Hill, that’s positively medieval.”
“Nevertheless. . .”
“I don't want to discuss it.”
“But you must!”
“Look, Hill. I know this is all great fun for you, but I really don’t feel like dragging him out like a plaything for you.”
“It is not fun. It’s awful. I feel like a fool. I’m smitten, and I haven’t any idea what to do about it. Forgive me if I’m making a fool of myself -- I’m an amateur.”
Calypso planted her elbows on the table, ran her fingers up along her temples and buried them deep into her hair, staring at Hill.
“I admit that I do feel a strange attachment to you, as if we’d been friends forever. But love, Hill? It’s preposterous.”
“Not if you remember Egypt, where we were lovers . . .”
“Brother and sister, more likely. That I might admit to . . .”
“Even as your brother I lusted after you.”
“Hmmm -- thirty-five hundred years of unrequited incestuous adolescent horniness. Maybe it’s time to grow up.”
“I’m thirty-five hundred years older now, and that’s led to a maturity and savoire faire that may have been lacking, previously. Tell me about him.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Please . . .”
“You’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Any crazier than you must think me?”
“He doesn’t love me, really. I think.”
“Then he’s the crazy one!”
“He’s married and has three children.”
“Worse and worse. Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“I wish I knew. And lastly, he’s Mexican.”
“Mexican! I knew it -- you’ve fallen for some Latin Romeo. Or Romero, as the case may be,” Hill groaned. “Don’t tell me any more -- I’ll tell you. He looks at you with inscrutable black eyes and tells you hair-raising stories about narrow escapes he’s had. He wears skin-tight sharkskin pants tailored in Tijuana and a vest, with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel, underneath. His nose, in profile, is like the beak of a hawk and he pronounces your name ‘Caleepso’. How’m I doing?”
“A couple of direct hits.”
Hill spat out a vague monosyllable. “Psuuhhh -- it’s the description of every gigolo in Acapulco. Maybe you are crazy -- or naive.”
“You're not being fair. This is different . . . ” Her eyes were filled with tears, he discovered, and she seemed genuinely distressed but Hill was remorseless.
“That’s what they all say: it was different with me. It’s me he really loves. You’re too old to fall for that crap.”
Calypso gave a little shriek of pure rage and stood so quickly that her chair toppled backward. “You are insufferable! You know nothing of the circumstances! Good night, Mr. Hill.” Snatching up her bag, she spun to her right and strode away.
Hill sat momentarily stupefied by this appalling turn of events. When he leapt up and began to run after her, however, the waiter came after him, shouting for his money. Hill ripped his wallet from his pocket and, pulling out an unknown quantity of franc notes, threw them back over his shoulder and kept running, under a hail of French explicatives.
His brief hesitation had given her a head start and she was already far down the quai. He could hear the rattle of her running feet on the pavement and was amazed at her ability to sprint in high heels. He lumbered after her in desperation and only caught up with her as she was hailing a cab at the entrance to Pont Neuf.
He threw himself into the cab behind her and slammed the door, shouting to the driver, before she could object, “To the Ritz!” At the same instant, his peripheral vision caught the running figure of a man. He turned in time to see a pale face, momentarily flooded by a streetlight, glaring frantically back at him. Then the cab lurched forward.
“Who was that?” “Who was who?” she asked sullenly, pulling herself into a ball on the far end of the seat.
“Looked like someone who wanted to get your attention.”
Calypso didn’t answer but Hill could feel the recoil slam through her body. As the cab sped toward Place Vendôme, he reached over and touched her arm gently.
“Somehow I’m going to make up for my appalling rudeness. I’m not sure how but I’m going to start at the bar at the Ritz. I’m going to listen very patiently to your story and I’m not going to say another asinine thing about it. I’m sure it is quite different from any I’ve heard before, despite what I might have said to the contrary.”
“Go to hell, Walter.”
“And as a token of my good faith, I give you freedom to walk out on me at any time, without trying to stop you again.”
“You’re giving me my freedom?”
“After you tell your story.”
“But I thought I already had my freedom. How careless of me.”