In 1995 I abandoned my family to spend five weeks in Eastern Europe. It was one of those salmon things---returning whence I was spawned, aligning with cabbage and pickled meats and opulent spires. My delusional nobility leading me back to my people. The Freisingers and the Rajunises and the Petlechs.
While in Prague, I got to read at a legendary salon, the Café Viola. I read a story with the working title “Facebow” which explored the lives of three girls on the cusp of adolescence. Two of the girls were sisters and the third was a neighbor who metronomically switched allegiance from one sister to the other. It was a romp through the nuances of female cruelty as I myself had experienced them in the shadow of Junior High. The story was in an early draft phase and I relied on the ironic, humorous aspects of awkwardness to move the tale along, slapping madcap anecdotes against each other: whap, wing, wallop.
Good thing I tickled the crowd’s funny bone, too, for in my nervous haste, dashing down Narodni Street, my pages flapping loosely in a manila folder, part of the story had, unbeknown to me, flown away. Think of all the going-to-class-in-your-underpants dreams you’ve had. The humiliating scenarios you might envision before an interview for a sought-after position. There you are, in the spotlight, the crowd somewhat attentive, and you realize, halfway down the final page that what you are reading is not, in fact, the final page.
Since then I’ve slogged through multiple drafts of “Facebow.” The story is now titled “The Circle” and I’ve recently plunged back into it, hoping to polish it up once more before finally sending it out for a home. I’ve kept this one with me a long, long time. Most of its siblings (I’ve corralled the lot of them into a collection called “Twenty-six Poses and Other Positions on Love”) have married off. Flown the coop and found purchase between the covers of some journal or another. But not “The Circle.”
I wonder if perhaps I’ve projected my Viola Café embarrassment onto it. As though The Circle were a ne’er do well boy who grew up to live in my basement. The same way an overprotective mother might guard her slacker son from potential disappointment by ignoring underachievement, perhaps the way I’ve dealt with my hubris-gone-awry is to pretend the story is better off in my file cabinet than out in the world.
As seems to be the case with quests, what I got out of my sojourn in 1995 was huge, but not at all what I set out to find. My ancestors were a dysfunctional, somewhat unlucky bunch steeped in scandal and misstep. And I am their legacy, a chaotic late-blooming dreamer swimming forever upstream.
Read "The Circle"