I‘ve had a few weeks now where my posts have been more of the nonfiction bent, and while that is all well and good, I do spend most of my writing time telling stories–fictional stories, that is. This week, here’s a short snippet of a new story that I’m working on. I’m writing this one as I begin the sequel for my first novel, Still Dreaming, and since they both deal heavily with books and libraries, it’s proving to be a nice overlap! Meet Sol. He’s the newest addition to my host of characters, and here, he’s out for a walk in Kensington Gardens in London:
Sol wandered through the park with his hands in his pockets, passing picnickers and rovers like himself. It was a fairly nice day, all told, though he would have liked it a touch warmer without the breeze. The sweater vest that he had thrown over his collared shirt wasn’t keeping out the late August wind as well as he had hoped. But he hadn’t planned on walking through the park, and he certainly hadn’t planned on walking longer than a few minutes. Now more than half an hour had trickled by and he was no closer to deciding if he was going to stop walking and go home. He wasn’t even sure if he cared which direction he was walking now. The Kensington Gardens were more expansive than he originally thought, but he was only mildly surprised that he hadn’t reached another edge of the park by now. His thoughts spun out and away in lazy, ambiguous circles.
He sat down on a nice grassy knoll near a grouping of trees, stretching out and propping himself against a sturdy trunk. With one hand, he flipped open the book that he had brought from his shelf at home.
“You never read in the park.”
“I can try new things, can’t I, Mari?” he answered, trying to find his place. He frowned, remembering that there was no bookmark.
“You? New things?” she smirked, pulling thick, curly hair over one of her shoulders. “Your last new thing was a 1946 printing with a binding repair job from 1960. And that definitely doesn’t count as new.”
“So I’m more distinguished in my taste for collecting books. What of it?”
“I’m saying you don’t like new things.”
“And you are right.”
“Why are we here, then?”
Sol patted his pockets until he found his reading glasses.
“Come on,” she prodded.
“I was thinking about what you said,” Sol replied, slipping the glasses over his ears. He tapped the cover of the book. “No man’s an island.”
Mari glanced at the copy of Robinson Crusoe beside him and raised her eyebrows slightly.
“Now that’s not a victory yet,” Sol went on quickly. “I still don’t know what that means.”
She nodded with a small smile on her lips, looking out at the park. He was about to settle back into his book when he heard a raised voice nearby.
“Yes. I think it would be most agreeable if you’d come down.”
Sol looked up and around. The first voice was a child’s, and it seemed to be coming from the trees. He twisted a little and saw a woman dressed in full jogging regalia standing at the base of a large spreading oak. Her headphones were tossed over one shoulder. Following her sight line, he could see something up in the tree, mostly obscured by the branches. After an alarming snapping noise, he sat up and started to pack away his book.
“Careful, now. Mind yourself.” The woman’s voice was still calm, but he could hear a note of concern beneath it.
He started to get up, slowly, thinking of how the sun was going down and of a warm place on the couch in his living room. Before he had decided what he was going to do, he was standing at the base of the tree, a little surprised at himself.
“What’s the trouble?” he asked, peering up into the tree.
The woman shifted on her feet.
“The poor tyke’s lost,” she told him softly. “Climbed up the tree and can’t get down.”
Sol looked up. A little girl was perched on a thicker branch quite high up, arms wrapped around the trunk in a death grip. The wind rustled the leaves as it passed and played with the hem of her blue dress. He waved to her hesitantly.
“Um. Hello,” he called up.
“Hello,” the girl answered in a squeak.
“Now—” he cleared his throat— “What a fine climbing tree this is.”
He thought he saw the girl nod slightly.
“Why if I was your age, I’d be up there in a flash. How’s the view?”
The girl didn’t answer.
“Erhurm. Well, you better come on down now.”
“No, thank you.”
Sol glanced at the woman beside him and she shrugged. He was vaguely aware of a small noise beating away nearby.
“Your mum and dad will be worried,” she told the girl. “Come along. It’s just a little ways down.”
“I can’t.” The girl began to cry.
“Oh dear,” Sol muttered. Mari nudged him with her elbow. “Now…there’s no need for tears. We’ll have you down in a minute.”
“She won’t budge!” the woman said to him. “I tried everything I could think of.”
Sol looked at the small figure huddled in the tree. He wasn’t sure what he could do. He didn’t know much about children. Only what he had read, of course, and vague memories of when he had been one. Mari prodded him again, glancing up at the girl.
“You know,” he began. “I’ve heard that Peter Pan is around here somewhere, in this very park. Did you know that?”
The girl nodded, sniffling.
“When I saw you up there in this oak, I thought I had found Wendy. You wouldn’t be Miss Darling, would you now?”
“No. My name’s Deirdre.”
“Deirdre. What a fine name.” Sol turned his thoughts over. “Are you good at pretending, Deirdre?”
She shook her head.
“Nonsense. I’m sure you’re a natural. How would you like to be Wendy? We can go find Peter together.”
He didn’t get an answer from the top of the tree.
“Now, it’s very simple. You’re going to fly down from there.”
The woman looked over at him, skepticism stamped on her features. He held up his hands, hoping she would bear with him.
“You know how to fly, don’t you?”
Deirdre sniffed. “Pixie dust?”
“Yes, good. All that’s left are some happy thoughts, right? So let’s hear one.”
“A happy thought?”
“Yes. Fire away.”
Sol cleared his throat again. “Yes, I suppose that’s all right.”
“Good. Now, for each of those thoughts, you can fly down one branch. Just one, now.”
“Yes, if you like.”
The girl pried herself from the trunk, latching on the branch beneath her so that she could slip down to the next. There, she stopped, freezing again.
“Another happy thought, dear,” the woman called to her.
“Daddy,” she said quietly, loosening her grip a little so that she could reach for another branch.
“Puppies.” She stopped. “I already said that one.”
“I’ll allow it. Climb down another branch.” Sol waved magnanimously.
Slowly, almost painfully, the girl crept down, muttering words each time she stopped. Sol caught “rainbows,” “sugar mice,” and “new wellies,” and wondered how such a bizarre combination could make someone fly. Finally, she reached the lowest branch and the woman helped her to the ground, brushing some of the bark from her hair.
“There, love! You made it. Do you know where your mum and dad are?”
Deirdre wiped her eyes and nodded.
“I’ll take her,” the woman said, tucking her headphones into a pocket. The small, tinny noise that he’d been hearing died away. She smiled at him. “That was brilliant.”
Sol shrugged. “No, not at all. I wasn’t sure if that would work, truly.”
“Thanks anyway.” She leaned down to the little girl and asked her to lead the way back to her parents. She looked back at Sol before they headed down the path. “Glad you stepped in. Cheers.”
After they had left, Sol started back towards where he had entered the park.
“Ohhh?” Mari teased. “I thought you didn’t remember that one.”
“I told you. I don’t like new things. Old things are simply best.”