Friday, May 27, 2011

"The Last Guest": A Different Excerpt

Patience held the glass of wine and a lit cigarette in her right hand, and took her beaded purse in her left. In this manner she walked from Lee Ness and the bar and made her way through the dim hotel. Most of the lights had been put out and Patience moved carefully so as not to trip over anything. There were all sorts of small tables and things in the halls and the lobby. She did not go directly upstairs, but detoured through the kitchen. Mrs Corambis was still there, peeling potatoes for the next day’s lunch. She scolded Patience for carrying a lit cigarette through the kitchen and then made up a plate of bread and sliced cheese for her.

“I cannot carry all of this to my room.” Patience sat down at a corner of Mrs Corambis’ long table. She dragged off her evening gloves and ate while the cook finished peeling potatoes.

“I was a young girl in France,” Patience said. “My family lived on a farm and I spent hours in the kitchen, sitting on a stool just as you do, peeling potatoes with a sharp little knife. I had always cuts on my thumb from it.”

“I use a peeler,” Mrs Corambis said. “Did you have cows on your farm?”

“Oh, yes. We had the Charolais cattle, which are large and muscular and the color of béchamel sauce. They gave excellent milk. When the Germans invaded, they took all of the lovely Charolais from us and we had only the potatoes until the Germans also took the potatoes away.”

“That’s awful, Miss,” Mrs Corambis said. “In Iowa, we raised Jerseys. Red and white. Beautiful cattle, though a bit nervous, if you know what I mean.”

“After they lost the war, the Germans were forced to replace the cows,” Patience said. “They gave Holsteins to France. It is not the same. The Holstein is big and black and white, like a monstrous dog.”

“Does your family still have the farm?”

“No, we came as refugees to Paris in 1915 and never returned to the north, even after the war. Everything was in ruin. Both sides had bombarded the Western front. The land had been stripped of all life, our fields poisoned with blood and cordite day after day. Nothing was left but corpses and ash, Madame Corambis. My father moved to Languedoc where he breeds dogs now. The poodle. Large blonde ones, like the Charolais. But they give no milk, of course.”

Mrs Corambis laughed. Patience thanked her for the bread and cheese and left the kitchen, carrying her half glass of wine through the dark hotel. She had no idea why she’d told that story to the cook. Some of it wasn’t the least bit true. Her father still lived in Paris, and he hated dogs.

4 comments:

  1. Love it, Mr. Bailey. When do I get to read the whole book? You need to write faster! *cough* I have no room to talk... :)

    I think my favorite line in here is: “Oh, yes. We had the Charolais cattle, which are large and muscular and the color of béchamel sauce. They gave excellent milk. When the Germans invaded, they took all of the lovely Charolais from us and we had only the potatoes until the Germans also took the potatoes away.”

    If that's actually true (which you say some of it isn't), it's beautifully sad.

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  2. The bit about the cows and potatoes is true, to the best of my knowledge.

    I have no idea when I'll finish this book. I figure I'm a bit over 1/3 of the way through the first draft, but I keep having all these ideas for things I want to work into the book and I have a growing stack of notes already waiting for revisions. So even if I finish the first draft in a few months, there will be a lot of work in the first pass of revisions just to get all those other ideas into the book (all of which support the major themes so they're all good ideas). So, in short, I don't know when I'll have something I'm willing to let anyone read. Mighty Reader usually gets to see first drafts, but this time, I think, she'll have to wait until after the first rewrite. December? January? No idea. I find that I'm not in a big hurry, either.

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  3. Hey, this is fantastic! The word delightful comes to mind, but there's sadness and depth to it too, so "darkness" seems like the wrong term, but that's how it makes me feel because it's so fantastic. The first paragraph is just enveloping, and the conversation between the two people is sensational and awkwardly real and shows off their personalities and the general self-centeredness of people.

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  4. Raymond Carver said that dialogue should be a series of nonsequitors because people in real life never actually listen to each other. I don't quite go that far in my beliefs, but I think Carver was on to something. I like "delightful."

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