Good Narrative Principles




The cool streetlight plays on the back of the woman as she rolls over to nip her lover’s nipple. She does it again, just for the sheer pleasure of it. She laughs. He joins in as laughter mingles with a bit of exquisite pain — his soft spot.

They are at motel hard by 202, right near the southbound lane. That’s the way she likes it. Once they’re done, once they’ve said their goodbyes, she can zoom onto the entrance ramp and avoid the tie up that happens one exit north.

It’s a tidy arrangement. Each is married. Neither wants a messy divorce.

They simply enjoy each other’s company.

They have much in common. For instance, they both believe that discovering the child buried inside each adult is the key to success. They share a short-hand for the world and all its “mishagous”. Though I’m using a Yiddish word to describe the nonsense, the constant parade of ego and turf wars that are the drumbeat of their professional lives, both are of Irish American decent. Neither has married within the tribe. She married a handy Italian-American whose Mom was Scandinavian. The Dad was Italian and part of a warm and boisterous family.

She tells the story of her husband’s childhood this way.

Her Husband

He speaks fondly of family get-togethers where a holiday dinner lasted 8 hours. In between there was football on the lawn, girls playing with dolls down in the musty basement. The woman held court in the kitchen while the men hunkered down in front of the TV arguing about the best route from here to there while awaiting for the next course.

By the end of the evening it’s a challenge for the men to roll off the couch and stuff another forkful of anything into their mouths. But how can you say no to all those gooey, creamy offerings that the devoted wives blend, sculpt, bake and arrange for their husbands’ and children’s pleasure?

The kids pounced on the desserts. After all they’ve been outside playing football or downstairs shivering in their fishnet stockings sitting on cracked linoleum.

Finally all that remains is the clean-up. Her husband tells of how his regal, blonde mother skittering the sidelines for most of the day suddenly comes to life. She cleans the kitchen with a vengeance, intuiting the right order of the pots, the natural home for the chaffing dishes, serving spoons and demitasse cups. By the time they leave, her Mother-in-law had someone converted all the resentment simmering around her outsider status into a feeling of goodwill and a promise to do this again next year.

Her husband left those family feasts feeling loved, a full-fledged member of something grand.

Her Marital Issue

In bed she tells her lover about the steady and persistent pressure from her husband to replicate these long, luxurious feasts. He yearns for a lawn to toss a football, a chilly basement that smells just this side of musty.

She on the other hand wears down her heels hunting new clients. Charming and spinning her smile into a request for a proposal. At the pitch her smile broadens but remains warm. By the time the job is done her smile is frozen in a rictus of fury. Still she shakes hands, submits the bill and pays her vendors. And then starts the process again.

She doesn’t want the suburbs. To her it’s just another huge complication, another way to tie her stomach in knots as she races for a train.

Her lover on the other hand only has kind words regarding his wife. He is after all in love with her, or rather, smitten by the idea of her. Her free spirit. Her eccentric childhood.

His Wife

Summers were spent in earnest catching fireflies. Sleeping naked by the window sucking in the night air on a hot night, she swings open the screen and stiffly holds out her hand. The hand clutches an open jelly jar. The firefly, perhaps drawn to the heat radiating from the jar, flies in. The cap snaps shut. Sometimes she remembers to punch holes in the metal top of the jar. Sometimes she doesn’t.

His mother-in-law had a thing about air-conditioning. A negative thing.  But his wife tells him that when she was a child the air sounded so alive on those summer nights as she studied her collection of glowing fireflies in the dark.

It’s Just Business

Her lover rolls on top. Kisses her lightly once on each eye and tells her how to win the next job, the one for his department. She listens, enraptured by his voice, by the calm, steady beat of his heart. The night falls and still they lay there. Spinning their plans. Comparing notes about what his department will buy and how much she should charge.

Her lover’s ideas are grandiose. But she pitches them anyway. Her producer’s cheeks alternate between beet red and chalky white as she hands out the budget and asks for the business.

She’s pleased but not surprised when they win the assignment. It means they’ll get to spend more time together. The sex is great after all. Wonderful. She hasn’t felt that heart-pounding hunger, the fast crest towards orgasm since she was maybe in her teens stealing quick sex in the basement of her apartment building near the sooty furnace.

Their spouses are fine with the additional hours they’re both away from home. The missed family dinners, the no-show at the parent-teacher conferences are all part of the daily grind but leave her feeling tight inside like she’s swallowed a dirty sock.

Their cautious about how they pay the hotel bill and split it down the middle. She pays him in cash. He bills it to his department and changes the letterheads of the hotel’s locations so that no one is the wiser. He’s mastered Photoshop, something he’s been meaning to do for a while, so he can tweak the letterhead location on bills he submits. He’s made highly evolved adjustments to his expense billing so that he might have the flexibility of submitting paper receipts rather than electronic pdfs. How he got away with it and the advantages it’s brought him are only now dawning on his colleagues.

And that’s partially why he smiles. He’s doing what he pleases. He’s given himself the adulthood he’s always dreamt of, circling around the holy trinity of pleasure; women, food and sensual delights.

And she’s riding the opportunity of the moment, like a long generous wave as it curls slowly towards shore.

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