One More Weblog in the Blogosphere -- Why?

One More Weblog in the Blogosphere -- Why?

My name is Steven Doyle (although I usually write under the pen name Manuel Royal). For a while, in the late summer of 2011, I got paid to write a fiction column for an online newspaper, the Smyrna-Vinings Patch (owned by AOL).

Essentially it was a loosely-plotted serialized novel, in the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Armistead Maupin (but without the use of talent), set in the area of Vinings, Georgia (just outside Atlanta), where I live.

The column was called "Welcome to Smyrnings" (the name being a combination of the towns of Smyrna and Vinings). It lasted nine brief weeks; eighteen installments. At least half a dozen people I know about read it at some point.

Then I parted ways with AOL. I thought that was it for the column, which seemed a shame, since I'd done some of my better work there (admittedly, it's a low bar). Unfortunately, since AOL owns every word published on its sites, I can't do anything with the 35,000 words of column on the Patch.

However, someone close to me requested more installments (or episodes, or what-have-you) for special occasions; she liked the characters. My ego couldn't resist such a request. So, I've done a few, and as I do more, I'll put them here, starting with Episode 019.

A note on the title: SPLAND of the SPLOST would make sense if one had read, in the old column on the Patch, Episode 12: SPLAND of the SPLOST. It's not terribly significant to the overall story (except insomuch as it reflects the occasionally-used theme of little adventures happening in mundane circumstances).

Anyway -- if you happen to be one of my six loyal readers, and you'd be interested in seeing further misadventures of my hapless characters, please start with 019: Week End. (The blog software automatically puts the most recent post at the top, but you can click on any post in the archive.)

Or start wherever you'd like. It's a free blogosphere, for Pete's sake. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

021 Valentine Complex

February 14, 2012

Valentine Complex: SB + PM

Shane was feeling a little sick from trying to read his list in the car.

His Aunt Moira Belle pulled into a space and put the Interceptor in Park.  "I won't be a minute."

"Can I come?"  Shane unbuckled his seat belt.

"No, just wait here.  Play with your thing."

"Right here in public?"

"Your phone, Boy.  Play Angry Birds."

"Auntie, that game makes me seasick."

"Oh, for Heaven's sake."

Shane held up his notebook.  "I'll work on my checklist."

While Moira was in the Post Office, Shane looked over his list.

VD Checklist

Sleepshirt— mostly almost done

Card—check with Babcock—done

Flowers—check with Aardvark

Fancy Tsunami Tiramisu desserts—pick up

Candy—check.  I mean, done.

In fact the candy was done twice.  He'd gotten his order from See's by Groundhog Day, eaten the whole box, and had to reorder.

He pulled the sleepshirt from the paper bag between his feet.  The silk-on-silk embroidery was tricky, but he almost had it finished.  He opened his kit and started filling in the colors in the rose he'd embroidered on the front.  Almost done.

This was the easy part, really.  Shapes and colors in representational art came naturally; he liked using a dozen different shades of thread to create texture.

The hard part was the goddamn letters.  They were slippery things that kept jittering around in his mind's eye.  Shane'd had to get Wishes to proofread when he penciled them.  He'd embroidered them first, just to get the hard part out of the way:

I spread the petals

To admire their loveliness,

Searching the calyx

To its inmost depths.

Wishes had come up with that.  Shane wasn't sure what it meant, but it sounded sexy.

Moira was taking her time.  Shane put the finishing touches on the rose, trimmed all the loose ends, and put the sleepshirt in its gift box for Parmie.

This would be their first Valentine's Day together.  He thought back.  In February 2011 they had their first big fight, after Shane slipped and dislocated his shoulder while painting her name on a water tower. 

Police were involved, the judge made him pay to have "PAMRELIA" removed from the tower, and he lost the job Wishes had gotten him at Office Max.  Wishes quit in sympathy.

God, that whole February sucked.  Good thing it's a short month.  Every time he'd tried to talk to Parmie, he only made it worse.  It was like—

That was like running in molasses.  Or like the great molasses flood.  January 15, 1919.  Boston.  Did I get the candy?  He checked the list again.  Check.

God Bless Auntie Moira Belle.  By March of last year, she got fed up with Shane's hang-dog depression, gotten together with Parmie's mom, sparked a fat one, and talked about men.  Somehow that led to Parmie driving Moira to Shane's house.  Parmie stayed the night, and after that things were good, but rocky, until the shameful events of May 6 and 7.  Poor frogs.

He marked through mostly almost done and wrote done.  He looked at the list for a while.  I coulda just marked through the mostly almost and left the done.  Nothing's ever perfect.

Almost nothing.  He held up his phone and found the picture he'd taken of Parmie on the night of her birthday.  She was wearing the dark red Baby Doll he'd made for her.  Even on the small screen he could see the flush of excitement on the upper slope of her breasts.

Shane had re-injured his shoulder that night.  Worth it.  Wish she'd call right now.

The phone came to life with "Rebel Rebel".  Yes!

His Caller ID picture for Parmie's number came up.  In this one she wasn't wearing slightly see-through lingerie.  Instead she was modeling her graduation gown and mortarboard cap, holding up her framed D.V.M. diploma.  She'd been naked under the gown, but nobody would know that by the picture.  Unless Shane told them, which he didn't usually do.


"Hey, Shane."

"Baby, I was just looking at your picture."


"Girl, I'm gonna hit that like a tiramisu tonight.  Tsunami, I mean."

She sighed.  "Not tonight, Hon.  I just euthanized a raccoon, and I'm cramping.  I think I passed a clot, and I'm in a bad fucking mood.  I came home early and ate half those cupcakes.  Sorry."

"Parmie, I'm gonna bring home a cheeseburger and some rings."

"Oh, Shane."  He heard her breathing for a moment.  "I'm sorry about Valentine's."

"Screw it, we'll have Valentine's Day any day we feel like it.  You're more important than the stupid calendar."

"You're a sweet man, Hon."

"Guess you're wearing panties, then, because of the clot thing?"

"Yeah, among other things.  Panties and a huge pad, it's gross.  God, Shane."

"Just making sure.  You could never be gross.  Not to me, anyway.  Maybe to a bunch of other people, but you know what, screw those people, right?"

"Thanks.  I feel a lot better."

"You know I love you.  Happy VD."

"You're not right in the head, Boy."
* * *

Valentine Complex: MBC + TG

Most of Moira Belle's correspondence for her Precious Stuffs business was electronic, but she kept a P.O. box as well.  Usually she checked it once a week, but lately it'd been every day.  She found excuses to be on South Cobb; she'd even gone into Big Lots.

She put it out of her mind all through a morning picking out fabric with Shane, but then gave in to temptation and pulled into the Post Office.  She left Shane in the car, and briefly felt an urge to go back and crack the window, as she would for a dog.  Not that Shane was stupid, technically, but he got distracted.  Bless his heart.

There was only one item in the box; but it was the one she'd been waiting for.  There wasn't any return address, but it was postmarked Flin Flon, MB, Canada.

She pressed the button on her switch stiletto and slit the envelope.  Inside was a heart-shaped card.  On the front was a cartoon of a big shaggy dog, his tail a wagging blur, aggressively licking the face of a red-haired woman.  Beneath the picture was the caption "I WUV YOU SO VEWY MUCH!"

She opened it; on the inside page it said, "AND I'M SOWWY FOR DWINKING OUT OF THE TOILET!"

There was a  brief handwritten note.

Queen of my Heart.  I miss you.

I learned two things today: 1) Turns out Canada does extradite to the U.S.A.  BUT — 2) I can't find any indication that anybody's after me.  Not FBI, not GBI, not even Cobb County.  Even though I successfully took part in a criminal conspiracy.

Moira, am I on your Wanted list?  I can come back now, but there's no reason to unless you want me to.  (Except to get to where the temperature gets above freezing sometimes.)  I want to take you out for Thai.  (Seriously, they have none here.)

I got a new email address:

Just one word NO and that's that.  One word YES and I am pestering you again for as long as you want.  I will flutter around you like a moth and drive you crazy.

You told me not to say it, but I love you.

Your Felon


Moira read it three times.  Damn it, damn it.  I'll be 50 before he turns 30.

That summoned up a warm flood of memory.  A few months ago, a night full of wine and music, candles in a dark room.  After hours of free-flowing talk she'd discovered Tyler was born in the same month as her daughter.

The angel on her shoulder saying she should call him a cab got shouted down by the devil in her cleavage telling her to unhook her Merry Widow and live up to its name.  She had whispered to him, "I wonder how many times 28 can go into 49?"

He'd immediately started off, "One and three quarters, they're both multiples—", so she'd stopped his mouth with hers.

She looked at her watch ring.  Ten minutes she'd  been standing in front of her open post office box.  Latent tears prickling behind her eyes, a sweet pain in her center.  Also, a throbbing she couldn't ignore.  Damn that boy.

 * * *

Valentine Complex: RB + CB

Ronnie's phone rang.  "Huh; nobody I know, or else it'd have a signature ringtone."  She lifted herself partway out of the water to reach the phone.   "Number looks familiar.  Anyway it's local.  Hm."

Cherie took advantage of the opportunity to kiss Ronnie between her breasts.  "Let's see who it is."

Should have turned it off.  Ronnie didn't want to talk to anyone now.  She wanted to concentrate on her slippery wet naked Kiwi girlfriend, and forget about everything outside the huge tub they were soaking in, and the hotel room she'd spent a week's pay on.

She settled back down onto Cherie's lap and took the call.  "Hello?"


It took her half a second to place the voice, then it all came flooding back.  What the Hell?  "Lamar Carmichael?"

Cherie's eyes widened; her mouth gaped.  Ronnie held a finger up to her lips and put the phone on speaker.

"Hey, Ronnie, how've you been?"  Lamar sounded a little drunk.  "How's it, ah, how's it going?  Did you go to Dragon*Con?  I looked for you."

Ronnie pointed at the phone, mouthing What the Hell?  Cherie shrugged.

"Yeah, I was at the con, Lamar.  So, did you hook up with some chick and make her go on a scavenger hunt?"

"You know there's nobody but you, Baby."  He was definitely drunk.

How to respond to that?  "Lamar, you shouldn't call girls when you're drunk, it's a terrible cliché."

"Oh!  Right!  I'm sorry, Ronnie.  Hey!  Happy Valentine's Day!"

"You too, Lamar—no, look.  There's nothing between us!  That was seven months ago, and we parted ways, you understand?"

"Yeah.  Sorry."  He sounded about ten years old.  And drunk.

"Just, ah, take care of yourself, okay?  Don't call me anymore."

"Okay.  Oh, hey!  Ronnie?"

Cherie mouthed, Hang up.

Damn it, she couldn't do it.  Mom's phone etiquette training.  She held one finger up, giving Cherie what felt like a sheepish smile.  "What, Lamar?"

"If I come see you, can I get you to kick me again in the testicles?"  He pronounced it like Hercules.

"Look, I'm sorry about that, Lamar.  But you understand why I was upset."

"'S'okay!  That means we have a connection, like a soul thing.  We share a soul thing, Ronnie, I knew it when I first saw you in your Mrs. Peel leather."

"We don't have a soul thing, Lamar."

"You can boot me in the nads every year, Ronnie.  We'll call it Violence-Time Day."

Cherie was holding her hands over her mouth, trying not to laugh.  She was tilting backwards; Ronnie tightened her legs around Cherie and held her upright.

"Lamar, take care of yourself.  Gotta go."

"We got a soul thing, Ronnie!"  He sounded close to crying.

She hung up and turned off the phone.  "My God!  I never hung up on anybody before!"  She tossed the phone out the open door onto the King bed.

Cherie let it go and laughed out loud.  "Poor Lamar!"

"Poor Lamar nothing.  Just be glad he isn't calling you.  C'mere!"  She squeezed Cherie with arms and legs.  "Forget about him.  I've got you where I want you."

Cherie wriggled around, trying to get her knees under her.  "Oh, is that it, then?  You're doing your judo on me, Mrs. Peel?"

"Yeah ...."  Ronnie looked down at her, their faces almost touching.  Cherie's dark eyes filled her vision.  She wanted to say, I love you.  She wanted to say, You're mine.

They kissed for a long time.  48 seconds, said the clock in Ronnie's head.

A thought.  "Let's turn your phone off too."

Cherie smiled.  "It's off."

Her phone started playing "Jennifer Juniper".  Both girls looked at.

"'Kay, maybe not."  Cherie untangled herself from Ronnie, leaned out of the tub and grabbed her phone from the floor.

Ronnie spotted the number on the screen.  "Oh, my God."  She reached over and tapped the screen on Cherie's phone twice, accepting the call and putting it on speaker.

"Cherie?  Baby?"  Lamar was sniffling a little.  "Cherie, you are a full fathom of cinnamon-brown Heaven!  Take me back, Baby!  I'm sorry!"

Cherie addressed the phone.  "Sleep it off, Mate!"

"We got a soul thing, Baby!"

Ronnie turned off the phone and tossed it over on the bed with the other one.  "Jesus Christ."

Cherie leaned back, submerging completely except for her breasts, and came back up, spitting water, still laughing.

Ronnie shook her head.  "I can't even be mad at the idiot.  If he hadn't tricked me into coming to Georgia, I wouldn't have you."

It got quiet then, finally.  Ronnie looked at Cherie and let the clock in her mind fade away into background noise.  She looked at Cherie; Cherie looked back, until it had been quiet long enough.

"I love you."  She'd never said it.  She drew closer, pressed her face against her girlfriend's, cheek to cheek.  She whispered.  "I love you."  She pulled Cherie's body to her, using all her strength.  "You're mine, you're mine, you're mine."
* * *

Valentine Complex: PW + TS

Paulo fed the last bite of French toast to Mounted Patrol Officer Tricia Steeple.  "Oh, I like a woman who likes her French toast.  Officer Steeple, Baby, meu coração. "

"I like it the way you make it, Con."  Steeple, curled up on her bed, was completely out of uniform.

"More juice, my love?"

"No, you little misdemeanor factory, we have to get out of bed."

"Mas por que, meu querida?"

"'Cause the judge expects you at nine, that's por que.  Move your ass.  No, I mean get up.  Crying out loud!"
* * *

Valentine Complex: DW + BC

Aardvark Willitt came home, as always on Valentine's Day, without companionship but with a bottle of Frangelico and a carton of cream.

There was a package on the front porch.  He picked it up; shoebox size.  The return address was in Toronto.  "The Cornell Family".

He sat down on the bench and looked at the package for a while.  He pulled the lockback off his belt and slit the paper covering the box.  Started to open it, then stopped and took it inside.

He took his time blending the Frangelico and the cream.  He sprinkled in some cinnamon and nutmeg, poured it over the rocks and topped it off with Coke.  Not his favorite cocktail, but it had been Brian's; he'd called it Angel on My Shoulder.

He opened the box.  On top was a note from Marion Cornell, Brian's mother.

Please believe me, until today I didn't know about these.  I finally emptied out the storage unit and came across this box.  I hope this mailing address in Georgia is still good.

Brian's father and I should have been there when he died.  I'm so grateful you were there for him.

Please forgive me.

Beneath was a stack of square envelopes, tied up with ribbons, each one bearing a Valentine heart, the name Darryl, and a date.  14 February 1994.  14 February 1990.  He counted twenty, going up to 14 February 2013.

Aardvark took a deep drink, and thought about it.  August, 1993.  At the hospice, Brian had been out of his head for days before finally drifting away for good.  If he'd been saving all these post-dated Valentines for a surprise, he'd waited too long to say anything about it.  Their last lucid conversation was some damn trivial nonsense, and he'd always felt cheated since.

He opened up 1994.  There was a Polaroid from years earlier; the two of them in some Toronto bar on New Years.  With an internal lurch, he realized it was the night they met.

Name's Darryl.  They call me Aardvark.

Who does?


Everybody else, mon ami.  I call you Darryl.

The rest of the night, and all the liqueur, he spent going through the first nineteen envelopes.  Every envelope held a snapshot and a handwritten card.  Every card was headlined, What you mean to me.

He changed out the stack of LPs on the stereo a couple of times.  He read the first three cards in three minutes, then stretched it out between envelopes, waiting longer and longer, letting the memories carry him back like an ocean current.  Every picture, every word in Brian's sprawling, looping handwriting, brought it all back.

Not only memories; the words were new.  After so many years, he heard Brian's voice again.  His silly rhymes, his stupid puns, the French he always threw in to show off.  The more Aardvark read, the more he felt Brian next to him, curled up on the sofa, talking in his smooth tenor, emphasizing his points by drawing out the words until he was almost singing.

Finally there was only the last envelope, 2013.  Under the date was written, Last Words, Mon Ami.

Aardvark put it all back in the shoebox, the unopened envelope on top, and stuck it in his fireproof document safe.  He turned and put his back to the wall, hands in his pockets, and stayed that way while the last of Quincy Jones' The Quintessence  played out on the old RCA Victor.

It was paling toward dawn outside; about time he hit the rack.  Aardvark closed his eyes and waited until he felt like moving.  He drew in breath; his chest rose and expanded until it felt like it could burst.  He let it out in a long sigh.  "Jesus Christ, Brian, you wasn't even 30."

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