Let me preface this with explaining a hobby of mine. National Novel Writing Month occurs every November, and participants sign up with the intent of writing the rough draft of a novel of no less than 50,000 words. That’s right, 50,000 words in 30 days. And I’ve done this for seven years now, meaning that I have seven unfinished novels lying fallow on my hard drive. Will they ever go beyond their state of incompleteness and unrefined states? Only time will tell, but since I had only entered this as a hobby with no expectations of becoming serious with authorship, well, my participation in NaNoWriMo has definitely reached my expectations. And we’ll leave it at that for now.
This is the first chapter from my 2008 attempt, in which I had reached the 50,000 word mark (something that I’ve only accomplished four of the seven times), and it does have a beginning and end (making it one of the two that actually ends instead of just cutting off at 50,000 words) but it lacks some of the parts that I had wanted to put in the middle. Also, a word of warning is that I’m copying and pasting it directly from the original Microsoft Word file, so any mistakes I had made in my rush to type are still there. Without further adieu, here is the synopsis that I had posted on my author profile, the cover I created for it, and the first chapter.
Ben Hogan never expected his marriage would fall apart, shortly followed by his life. Now he finds himself in a little old bungalow that’s doing the same, and everyone he knows seems to want to help rebuild. But all Ben wants is the life he used to have, and that’s hard to get with everyone else having a different plan.
“It needs a little work here and there, but it’s perfectly livable.”
Ben Hogan only nodded silently at his realtor, then he tilted his head up to examine the ceiling. He took note of the yellowish tinge, a coloring most likely from years of smoking by some previous owner. There was also a hole near one of the corners where it looked as if a hook had been set into the plaster but had at some point been yanked out forcibly.
The two men had spent the last hour poking around the house on a second, more critical look. To say it needed a little work here and there was on the verge of being an understatement. Ben had taken mental note of the scars left behind from the years of multiple changes of ownership and the neglect that comes with not living in a location long enough to care for it. The house was indeed something that a person could live in immediately, though, which was what Ben needed and soon.
The realtor watched as Ben ran his finger along the window sill, ponder the dust that collected on his finger, then look out onto the small, open porch just out the front window.
“So, how long will it take to put together an offer?” Ben’s voice wavered with a mixture of trepidation and forlorn acceptance.
“All you have to do is settle on a price,” the realtor coughed into his closed fist. “Then it only takes a few minutes to just plug all the information into the contract and fax it off.”
Ben nodded again, then asked, “What do you think I should offer?”
“That’s not my decision,” the realtor smiled. “Offer what you think they’ll take.”
This wasn’t the answer that Ben wanted to hear, but he knew it was the one he was going to get. It had been quite some time since Ben had last purchased a house, and the two that he had previously owned were chosen by the woman who he had just recently divorced.
They were, as she said, the perfect homes for their growing family.
“How about you give that number a little thought, Mr. Hogan,” the realtor suggested, patting Ben on the shoulder. “There’s a few things I need to pull together and look up on the house. These foreclosures can sometimes have a few surprises, so maybe you should stop by my office tomorrow afternoonish.”
“Yeah,” Ben’s voice cracked. “Yeah. I can make it around, say, three?”
A grin spread across the realtor’s face. “Should be plenty of time. And I’ll, uh,” he paused to take a quick glance around, “I’ll recommend a good house inspector. Just in case. I mean, looking around she’s got good bones, but it’s still smart to bring a professional to check things out.”
“Yeah,” Ben sighed. “Yeah, that’s probably smart.”
“So,” the realtor stopped there.
“So,” repeated Ben.
“So, you first, Mr. Hogan. I need to lock up behind us.”
“Ah. Yes. Of course.” Ben gave a half-hearted chuckle and headed for the door. His realtor, unsure of what the joke was, chuckled along with his client anyway as Ben exited the house.
After locking the door and securing the key, he turned to find Ben slowly backing away from the house.
“Is everything all right, Mr. Hogan?” he inquired.
“Yeah,” Ben sounded vacant. “Yeah, I’m just taking it all in. I didn’t think I’d actually find something around here, much less this fast. This whole thing was just so, well, fast.”
The realtor smiled warmly and patted Ben on the shoulder again. “Mr. Hogan, I can’t pretend to be able to be able to fix all of your problems. But I can say that I’ve got a good vibe about this house. It’s been sitting on the market for a bit, and houses have a way of finding the right owner. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Thanks, Greg.”
Ben turned to watch his realtor get into his sedan and drive off, then took one more look at the house. It was a single story, hunched low to the ground with a shallow pitch to the roof, with paint peeling from the exposed rafters along the side of the house and around the windows. The front porch was tilting slightly, and all along the house was an overgrowth of unkempt bushes, flowers, and vines. He took note of a dark spot in the white trim by the porch where there had once been a fancier house number, now there was just a pair of nondescript mailbox numbers on the eave above the porch marking the twenty-eight.
Ben sighed. It was a far cry from the sleek, modern mansion protruding forcefully from the side of a hilly lot in Linden Hills that he was still living in with his ex-wife.
He looked at his watch. It was close to seven, and he hadn’t had dinner yet. And he knew all too well that to expect dinner on the table at his current address would be a little far fetched.
He turned toward Main Street, only a half a block from the modest home he was hoping to purchase. Even though Ben spent each of his weekday work days here in the city of Hopkins, it was very rare that he actually ventured to the downtown area. The intersection of Sixth Avenue and Main, where he could see the front of the house he had just toured, was apparently the eastern edge of the small downtown area. He took one last glance back before making his way west down Main.
Actually, there was just one establishment that he had ever been to in the city, and one quick glance at the sign caused a twinge in his stomach that meant he knew he wasn’t up to stepping in to the Tavern on Main again.
Instead, the obviously Irish bar called O’Connor’s Brew Pub that was directly across the street from the Tavern on Main seemed more welcoming. It was Ben jogged across the street and stepped in through the front door and found himself going down a narrow hallway past a cramped kitchen to get to the bar itself.
“Seat yourself, hon.” The voice startled Ben a bit, and he turned to where it had come from. The waitress who had given him the greeting was in her forties, had a mound of red hair piled on top of her head in a sloppy bun, horn-rimmed glasses, and was wearing what looked to be the employee uniform, a green polo shirt with “O’Connor’s Brew Pub” in golden script above her left breast and a pair of khakis.
“Um, is there a booth or something away from the front windows?” Ben was glancing around the bar as he asked.
“Yeah, if you go to the opposite end of the bar, there,” she cracked her gum and pointed, “there’s a couple of booths by the big TV.”
“Thanks,” croaked Ben. He made his way to the other end of the bar, taking note of the three people there. Two men, each slumped over beers and on opposite sides of the skinny horseshoe shaped bar and a young blonde woman stood at the ready to serve them. All eyes were transfixed on whatever television above the bar seemed most interesting, and all three seemed equally bored.
Ben picked a booth on the edge of the dining area and sat facing away from the bar where he had a view of the large television on the back wall. There was a baseball game on, which Ben had negligible interest in.
He had barely taken his seat when the waitress sat down across from him and slid a menu over to him.
“I’m Carol, and I’ll be taking care of you,” she spoke with that thick Norwegian twang that Minnesotans had been saddled with as a stereotype. “have you been here before?”
“Oh, uh, no,” Ben’s voice cracked a bit. He didn’t look up at Carol, but instead opened his menu.
Carol reached across the table and pointed out a flap on the interior. “Well, then I have to point out our home brews. We’ve got four beers that we brew right over there,” Carol’s finger guided Ben’s eyes to large copper vats behind a large glass window across the room, “and I’d be happy to recommend one of them. What do you usually drink?”
Ben blinked at the vats, then looked back down at the menu. “Any light beer should do,” he said.
“Well, we’ve got the Streetcar Light, if you’d like to give it a go.” Carol planted her finger on the description of the beer in the menu.
“Sure,” stammered Ben, paying more attention to the deep red nail polish on Carol’s finger than the menu. “That sounds all right.”
Carol began to stand up. “You want a pint or a tall, hon?”
“Better make it a tall,” Ben sighed.
“Of course,” smiled Carol. “I’ll be back with your beer and to get your order in a moment. Just holler for me or Jeannie up at the bar if you need help with anything.”
“Sure.” Ben’s eyes never strayed from the menu as Carol walked over to the bar.
The menu was mostly what one would expect to see on a bar menu; it was mostly burgers and grilled meats accompanied by fries and a selection of deep-fried appetizers. Unique to the menu were two things: the Juicy Lucy, a Minneapolis area creation consisting of a hamburger patty filled with cheese, and a section of classic Irish dishes to fit with the theme of the bar.
Ben was still half-heartedly perusing the menu when a coaster and tall beer was placed in front of him. He looked up to see Carol taking the seat across from him again.
“Come to a conclusion, there, sweetheart?” Carol had her hands folded on the table and a sweet smile on her face.
“Not exactly,” started Ben. “No, not really at all. What’s good here?” For the first time, Ben looked up and straight into the waitress’s eyes.
“Well, there’s two ways to look at it,” Carol paused to snap her gum, “one is to suggest my favorite, which is the shepherd’s pie. But that really requires a nice, thick Irish stout to accompany it, so the other is to suggest what goes with the beer you ordered, which would be one of the burgers.”
Ben looked back down and found that Carol’s fingernail was tapping at the Juicy Lucy. “That sounds good, then,” he placed his own finger tip to tip with hers.
“You won’t be disappointed,” Carol chirped and planted her hands flat on the table to push herself up. “You want to go with the sautéed onions on that, hon?”
Ben took a hold of his beer and took a big pull, smiling as he set the tall, curved pilsner glass back on the table. “Surprise me,” he said, “I like your judgment in beer, so I’ll just trust you on that one.”
Carol snapped her gum and smiled back. “I’ll have that right up,” she called over her shoulder as she turned to head to the kitchen.
Ben took another pull from his beer and turned his attention back to the television, but found that no matter how hard he tried he just couldn’t bring himself to care about the baseball game. Instead, he looked around the bar at the random signs posted, most advertising various beers that are probably served at the bar and some random signs collected and placed on the walls.
He was intrigued by a particularly large sign apparently taken from a London Underground station when Carol crossed his field of vision and sat down across from him once more, placing a plate in front of him.
“Dad picked that one up from an auction. I guess they closed that station or something,” she had guessed correctly what Ben was looking at.
“Your father?” Ben asked, not really acknowledging that his dinner was in front of him.
“James O’Connor,” was the reply. “God bless his soul, he opened this place when I was a kid. My brother and I own it now, and Jackie got himself into brewing.”
“Um, okay,” Ben replied kind of flatly. He was waiting for the waitress to leave so he could eat undisturbed.
“You don’t mind if I just sit here for a moment, do you?” Carol snapped her gum again. “It’s a bit of a slow night and I’m always interested in customers I’ve never seen before.”
“Well,” Ben wanted to act on his impulse to tell her no, but, “I suppose I wouldn’t mind the company. Just pass me the ketchup.”
Carol laughed a bit and reached for the bottle. “Of course. So, how about your start with your name, hon?”
“It’s just Ben,” was the reply as he took the ketchup. He unscrewed the top and tipped some of the condiment onto his plate.
“All right, ‘Just Ben’,” Carol added a little snicker at her joke, but Ben only ate a fry in silence. Carol continued, “What brings you here?”
“Food.” Ben really had no intention of getting really engaged in a conversation.
“Ah.” Carol sat back in her seat, glanced at what was going on behind Ben at the bar, then looked back at her customer. “Well, it looks like I’m needed. And maybe when I come back we can talk about that tan line on your ring finger, hon.”
Ben was reaching for his burger, but stopped to study his left hand and the thin white line where his wedding band had been not long ago. Quietly, he ate around half of his hamburger and drank the rest of his beer before Carol returned to the seat on the other side of the booth.
“Sorry I was a bit forward there, hon,” Carol seemed sincere in her apology. “It’s just that I couldn’t help but notice that there used to be a ring on that finger there, and I’m guessing that it has something to do with how quiet you are.”
“Yeah, well,” Ben stopped and swallowed. His voice became very soft. “Yeah, well, as I said I’m just kind of here for the food. If you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all, hon,” was Carol’s reply, her voice also sounding softer. “Can I get you another beer to finish up with, then? A tall or short, hon?”
Ben looked at his beer, his eyes flickered to his left hand briefly. “I guess I’ll have a tall,” he said.
“You’re not driving tonight, are you hon?”
Ben smiled. “No, I am not.”
“A tall it is, then.”
Ben hardly touched his food until his new beer showed up, which was quietly set down by the bartender. He finished his dinner without interruption, and no sooner had he set his crumpled napkin on his plate did Carol swoop once more.
“So, what else can I get for ya, hon?” Carol again had her hands folded on the table.
Ben looked at his beer, nearly finished, and considered staying for just one moment. “No, I should be good,” he replied somberly.
Carol lifted her hands to reveal a small slip of paper on the table. “Okay, Just Ben, you can just settle up with me at the table here. And be sure to come back and try that shepherd’s pie. I’ll be back in a few.”
She stood up and walked off with Ben’s plate, leaving him to lift the tab she had left. He noticed that she hadn’t rung up the two beers, putting the charge at just over ten dollars. Sighing, he opened his wallet and pulled out a twenty and a five, placed it on the table, and downed the rest of his beer.
On his way out, Carol got him to slow down by questioning him with, “Do you need any change there, hon?”
Ben only waved and shook his head.
“Well, thanks for stopping in. And come back.” Carol was chipper and snapping her gum once again.
Ben pushed past the door and found that the night had become dark, yet still warm. He was surprised at how many more stars he could see only a few miles out of the central city. He turned to his left, away from the house, to the light rail station that was a few blocks south of the bar.
It was the very line that he had been taking to work every day. If he got the house, that would come to an end. He could just walk to work, one of his primary reasons for looking for a house in Hopkins. His wife was leaving him with the sport ultility vehicle that they had purchased a few years ago, but he was debating whether to sell it. Or at least park it for a while to save on the insurance. He hardly drove as it was, and to have such a beast of a vehicle seemed a little redundant.
Ben scanned his transit pass at the ticket booth and sat by his lonesome, awaiting the next train into Minneapolis. The sign said he had a seven minute wait. It seemed longer, the time slowly ticking as all the new changes rushed through his head. There was his wife, who he felt like he knew even less. His children who weren’t speaking to him. His bank account, which was being drained for a down payment on the house. And work.
Work was, thankfully, still a constant. His only constant. The train stopped, its air brakes hissing and the electric wires above it snapping, and he sat on the side of the car that would allow him to get a view of his office building as he passed.
There it was, a trio of ten story buildings cropping out of a small, flat suburb. It seemed silly to call them office towers, as he could easily see the real towers of Minneapolis in the distance from his own cubicle, but in this setting they were absolute giants. And it was fitting, as the company that occupied them was also an absolute giant.
The light rail train slid quietly past the buildings and paused at Ben’s usual station. A few people who appeared to be office workers shuffled on, but it was nobody he recognized.
And then, in a blink of an eye it seemed, he found himself at his West Lake station. He didn’t know if he had slept briefly or if the ride was just so familiar that he didn’t even notice it.
As usual, Ben opted against taking the bus that connected with the station and would drop him off only a couple blocks from the house and it was, as usual, a short walk around the west shores of lakes Calhoun and Harriet.
And there it was. 4316 Linden Hills Boulevard was a monstrous concrete, glass, and wood outcropping from the side of the hill. The light on the sun porch overlooking the lake was on, but Ben could not see his ex-wife. He reached into his pocket for his keys and sighed. He was home again, home again.