After finishing the last chapter, I was able to go back to my chapter list and restructure. When the reorganization was complete, suddenly it didn’t feel like I was writing a 600-page novel anymore. It looked a lot more like 350-400.
Having a finished draft by the end of the summer suddenly feels a lot more feasible.
In other news — It’s still cold. And I have to drive an hour to get to work.
Something happens when I drive in the winter. My wife has a tendency to leave stuff in my car. Trash, mostly. Unimportant mail, grabbed as we drive away and never retrieved. Gum wrappers. Actual gum, just, on things. Empty plastic bottles. The thing about an empty bottle with the cap on in a cold car is, it contracts. Crinkles up a bit. The air shrinks. So when you drive for a while, and the car gets all warmed up, the air inside starts to gradually expand again until — PAPP! — the plastic un-caves, reforms, reconstitutes, and almost inevitably scares the crap out of you.
There was a particularly thick and therefore loud bottle under my passenger seat for a few months’ time a couple winters ago, when we drove back to Ohio to bury my brother-in-law. I think it was a Gatorade bottle, actually, probably one I was saving to use as a water bottle later. After the viewing at the high school, we got in the car and were driving away, feeling like all kinds of shit. Everything was especially surreal. Like, nothing was landing, nothing was making a mark. Music on the radio didn’t prove poignant or memorable, it was a gray Ohio day same as most Ohio days. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but the emptiness of significance was palpable to me. It was my old high school, too. I hadn’t been back there since I graduated, but being there didn’t resonate. There was no nostalgia, or animosity, remembrance or remorse. The office was an office, the lunchroom a lunchroom. Hallways felt neither big nor small. I couldn’t remember my old locker numbers. There was sorrow in the gym, where they had position the casket up by the stage, expecting a big turnout, which they got. But outside the gym? May as well have been anybody’s high school, or a dentist’s waiting room, or the DMV.
Then the car achieved critical warmth, and the bottle went off like a firecracker, and my wife and I jumped out of our skin, and after the piquing of our adrenaline subsided — we smiled. And I’m not especially one to see signs, to interpret tea leaves or see shapes in the clouds as runes of the other side. But I could not deny, in that moment it felt like Ben was in the car with us.
Tonight, on my way to go teach, I got treated to a little pop from an empty water bottle. Same after I was done teaching, driving back home.
I miss him. I wish he’d gotten the chance to read this novel. I would’ve loved to know what he thought about it. Especially the baseball parts.
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