First Chapter of My Thesis Novel, Continued

When I woke up it was already dawn. Khaki colored housing developments surrounded us on both sides. Nikolai was still driving in the same posture and at the same speed, as if only a minute had passed since I'd shut my eyes.

“Where are we?”

“Outside of Chicago, Alexander.”

“Call me Alex. How far do we have left?”

“In nine hours we will come to Pennsylvania. Should we stop for breakfast?”

I looked out my window. Lights were coming on in the homes we passed. I wanted to peak into these homes, materialize suddenly and walk their carpeted hallways as the people of Illinois began their day. How many brothers, right now, were fighting with their sisters? How many couples were kissing good morning, and how many were already sniping at each other? How many of the homes were filled with high-pitched shouting, with shaggy, slobbering dogs and the smell of almost-burnt toast? I wanted to know. I wanted to hear what talk radio stations they were listening to, what everyone’s plan for the day was.

“Sure, Nikolai,” I said. “Let’s stop at a diner. I feel like a blueberry waffle, and maybe some bacon.”

“Yes,” Nikolai said. “Bacon.”

We found a place called House of the Hungry Pancake. It was exactly the dive I had hoped for. Nikolai sniffed the smoky air like he didn’t like the atmosphere, but I didn’t care. I was starving.

Our hostess seated us in an orange vinyl booth. I took out my pack of smokes and offered one to Nikolai. He shook his head no. I shrugged and smoked without him as we waited for our waitress. “There are flies,” Nikolai said, leaning toward me. “It is January, and there are flies in this restaurant.”

“So?” I said, tapping the ash off my cigarette. “Flies add to the ambiance of a good greasy spoon. Without flies, this place might as well be a bland TGI Fridays.”

“Flies are not clean. Every time they land, they shit.”

“Don’t we all, don’t we all. Where the hell is our waitress?”

Our waitress appeared as if on cue. She had sleepy green eyes and blond hair tied back in a ponytail. She looked around eighteen, nineteen years old.

“Miss,” Nikolai said, tapping the table with one of his thick fingers. “There are flies in this room.”

The waitress cocked her head. “Flies?” she said.

“Flies,” Nikolai replied, his forehead creasing. The waitress looked around the restaurant.

“I don’t see any,” she said. “Are you, like, ready to order?”

“Sure,” I began, “I’d like waffles—”

“A fly sits on your head as we speak,” Nikolai said.

The waitress took a step back from our table. Nikolai was right. An obese housefly was sitting on her head, nestled in the golden strands of her hair.

“That is fly shitting on your head,” Nikolai shouted.

The waitress swatted at her head with her ordering pad. The fly didn’t move.

“That fly is shitting on your head, and soon it will be flying back to kitchen, where it will shit on our food. Your food, too, perhaps.”

The waitress looked at me. She blinked.

“What? What is he talking about?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “He’s been driving all night. Could I have waffles, bacon, and a cup of coffee, please?”

“Sure,” the waitress said. She wrote something down on her note pad. “What about you, sir?”

“I want nothing from this place,” Nikolai said. “It disgusts me.”

The waitress blinked some more, looked at me again, and fled back to the kitchen, her blond ponytail swishing through the air. “She did not listen,” Nikolai said, sitting back in his seat and crossing his arms. “She does not understand flies.”

I stubbed out my cigarette in the ashtray and smiled.

“What’s your problem? She’s not running this place.”

Nikolai hunched over his coffee. “That is no excuse. Any job worth doing is worth doing well. I would not be surprised to find hair in our food, maybe spit even. They do not understand Decay. They do not understand that their laziness is allowing Decay to creep across the world.”

I looked around. How long would our order take? I wanted to eat before we got kicked out.

“Are you listening, Alexander?”

“Sure. Decay is winning. The world is going to hell.”

“No, Decay is not winning. Not yet. We must fight it every day. We must be vigilante and strong.”

“Easy for you to say,” I said. “You’re built like a brick wall.”

“Here I am not talking about physical strength.”

Our waitress arrived with my coffee and food and dropped it off as quickly as possible. Nikolai didn’t even notice her this time. His blue eyes gleamed. I dug into my waffle and tired not to look up, worried that eye contact might set the Russian off somehow.

“Your grandfather has fought Decay all his life, Alexander. Even now, as you cram that waffle, he is resisting Decay. He fights it. Even as his body prepares to shut down, he fights. You, Alexander, should learn from your grandfather’s tremendous example, even if he can no longer speak to instruct you.”

I poured more syrup on my waffle. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll do my best.”

Nikolai sank back into his booth seat. I cut up my waffle into chewable pieces and started to eat. Nikolai closed his eyes. No matter what the bearded Russian said, he looked exhausted.

“Did you know my father?” I asked.

“Yes,” Nikolai said, opening his eyes. “He was eight when I began to work for your grandfather.”

“What was he like back then?”

“He spent much of his time alone, making things. He did not like other people, but he had vast imagination. He lived in many worlds no one else could see. Even so young, he was true artist.”

I pointed my fork at Nikolai and grinned.

“You do work for my grandfather, don’t you?”

The Russian nodded.



Blogagaard said...

I love how hyper-aware posting parts of my fictional work makes me. It's as good as having six editors looking over your shoulder.

Something dirty said...

I like it. Not sure where it's going.

Blogagaard said...

good, SD. If Dave Eggers is on a war against the cliche, I'm on a war against boring, predictable plot lines.

Clurg said...

I'd damn sure read more.

I kinda wan some waffles, too.


Clurg said...

What's this war you talkin' bout?

Blogagaard said...

You ever read Dave Eggers "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" , Clurg? He writes like he'll be shot if he uses a cliche. Sometimes he tries too hard to avoid the cliche, to determental effect. What should be you reading a story becomes you trying to figure out what the fuck he's exactly saying. It is a powerful book, though. It has a stapler at its begining. A drawing of a stapler.

Clurg said...

Thanks for the explanation. I'll have to check it out. I didn't start reading contemporary authors outside of nonfiction, Stephen King, and Clive Barker until about two years ago.

I've been trying to catch up on a lot.

Something dirty said...

once I tried to go a whole day without cliches or irony. It was impossible! I quit in disgust and tried not to think about it.

2 themes I see in your work, Dave:
1. waffles
2. smoking

am I right?

Some Future Dissertation said...

In his third novel, the waffle image came to represent to Oppegaard the quintessential flux (hence, "waffle") between fluidity and stasis, between batter and iron so to speak...

Blogagaard said...

SD, Who smokes in "Knocking Over the Fishbowl"? I dont' recall...

Also, I'm changing Alex's meal to pancakes thanks to this feedback. Why limit myself to one tasty breakfast dish? I do like diners, though. I've been on a lot of roadtrips, sat in a lot of diners. They are one reason america is great, sometimes, when it isn't busy sucking. Someday I may also use eggs benedict...

Blogagaard said...

Oh. Wait. Bob smokes a cigar. Forgot about that.

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