Light Drawing, “Poseidon” 1979 © Eric Staller
The Westhaven Writers’ Club’s second Writer’s Voice workshop session had just ended and Nathanial Crum was hounding the Big Guns as usual, disrupting the usual order of things. Every other mannerly Big Gun, Noteworthy, and Wannabe was holding to the unspoken rule, keeping to his or her place within the post-session environment. The Noteworthys were talking excitedly amongst themselves in the middle of the room and the Wannabes were drooling all over themselves in the back.
In the greater scheme of things, the Wannabes were angling for positions within the group of Noteworthys, those writers who had been published in multiple magazines and had a novel in progress. And the Noteworthys had their eyes on prestigious positions within the group of Big Guns, those writers who had one favorably reviewed novel—and perhaps the incidental compilation of short stories or poems—published by one of the major book publishers.
Any Noteworthy or Wannabe could attend as many classes, workshops, events, or mentoring programs as they liked and could reverently approach any group above their own—if they had something unquestionably valuable or intelligent to say or ask—but full acceptance into a group had to be earned. The Big Guns who remained members of the WWC generally did so either because they couldn’t quite get that second novel completed or because the community service aspect of it looked good on their resume. All Big Guns were required to mentor others and had earned the right to be as irreverent as they liked.
That is the way the WWC worked underneath its welcoming and beneficent exterior, and those new to the club were typically timid Wannabes who were eager to please and soon picked up on and embraced the unspoken rule. This was not the case with Nathanial Crum, who had burst onto the WWC scene over six months ago, a Wannabe with more talent for being a pain in the ass than for becoming a good writer. He was patiently tolerated on the surface and underneath it he was grumbled about. He received pained smiles and polite excuses begging leave of his bumbling, fanatical presence by all except the majority of the Big Guns who mostly quipped and turned on their heels.
Long before now, had Nathanial been other than the obtuse sort he seemed, he would have realized that ingratiating fraternization equals acceptance and polite tolerance equals rejection, and he’d have gone on his way. Instead, he seemed to persist all the more madly. He’d spent a considerable amount of money thus far on WWC classes, intensives, various events and monthly workshops featuring guest writers from around the country. All his instructors had thrown their hands up and pushed him through their courses as quickly as possible just to get rid of him. Now, he’d completed all the steps required to register for the mentorship program and register he did, thought maybe he’d like to attempt writing a novella.
No Big Gun wanted to mentor Nathanial, for it would be far too time consuming and probably come to no worthwhile end. They knew better than to seek help from the next level up, the Program and Operations Administrator, who was too unfamiliar with Nathanial to see their complaint as other than childish. So they called upon the Big Cheese Big Gun to relegate the task of mentoring Nathanial to one of the Noteworthys. The Big Cheese smiled, picked up the phone and called the Noteworthy he was mentoring, Abigail Fitch, and assigned her the task. He thought it a delightfully tortuous additional way in which Abigail could earn her Big Gun stripes. Abigail deigned to reveal her indignation, thanked the Big Cheese for the opportunity and dutifully sent Nathanial the standard, cheery acceptance e-mail welcoming him to the novella mentorship program.
She’d told herself mentoring Nathanial would be a good learning experience that would be invaluable in building her character. But by the time the third Writer’s Voice workshop session rolled around, Abigail had hatched her own plan for deliverance. Post-session, she would invite Nathanial to the Starbuck’s up the road under the guise of discussing his mentorship with her, outlining expectations of both mentor and student. The Big Cheese Big Gun had broken the rules and so would she, by being straightforward with Nathanial, by telling it like it is, that his presence at the WWC was disruptive and that he should consider a writers’ club better suited to his personality and particular needs if he was intent on pursuing writing further.
When the third Writer’s Voice session was over, Abigail watched as Nathanial scrambled to get the last of his books together and begin to make haste toward her. She suppressed the urge to run and stood her ground, braced herself, smiling weakly as she watched him approach. He really was a pleasant-looking fellow and she thought it unfortunate that he was blessed with enthusiasm and cursed with ineptitude. Twice, on the way toward her, he dropped the same folder and bent to pick it up quickly, never taking his eyes off her. The poor thing was so used to people running from him. Abigail felt bad for him until he opened his mouth and began to blather. She interrupted him, “Nathanial!” He stopped. She paused. “Nathanial, let’s discuss your mentorship over a cup of coffee, shall we? Follow me to Starbuck’s up the road?”
Nathanial was so excited he could only shake his head yes, repeatedly yes. He followed Abigail out the door and each of them headed for their cars. Abigail arrived at Starbuck’s in about five minutes, ordered a grande caramel macchiato and sat at a table near the door so Nathanial would be able to find her with no trouble. She waited for twenty minutes, got up to leave and saw Nathanial just coming in. He saw her and waved, ordered a cup of plain black coffee. She sat back down, exasperated, and watched him balance books and wallet as he paid for his coffee and hurried to her table.
“Where have you been?” she asked, irritated.
“Ah…,” Nathanial hesitated. Then he gathered himself and said, “Well, I remembered Starbuck’s as being south of WWC and so I turned left at Skillman and then I remembered it was north and I turned around.” He put his coffee and all his books and notebooks on the table and sat down.
“I see.” Abigail paused, waited for Nathanial’s usual nonsensical rattling, for the face contortions and flailing gesturing, but he remained silent and still, looking at her intently. She frowned. Perhaps he was different out in the world. She shook off the idea and cleared her throat, and nervously launched into her rehearsed spiel.
For a minute or two, Nathanial just looked at her as she rattled on. Then he looked down and began to scribble on his napkin between sips of coffee. Abigail was painfully aware that she wasn’t doing well. She stammered and squirmed and screwed up her face and used her hands too much as she fought to keep her thoughts in order. Telling it like it is to someone’s face was so terribly uncomfortable and difficult, absolutely not her thing. She thought she must look ridiculous doing it, but she had to keep going. Soon it would be over. Nathanial would go on his way and the Westhaven Writers’ Club would return to normal.
By now, Nathanial had finished his coffee and his napkin scribbling and he pushed the napkin across the table in front of Abigail. She stopped her spiel, shaken, alarmed. “What’s this?” she asked, her face a fierce wall against this strange intrusion, this awkward moment. Nathanial said nothing, so she looked down at the napkin. There were words on it and she began to read, her hands still frozen mid gesture.
Abigail looked up at Nathanial amazed. The tension that had been building and overwhelming her dropped away, and she burst out laughing or crying, Nathanial wasn’t sure which, until she said, “Oh, God, Nathanial, what a riot! What a relief! I loved it!” Her eyes were all sparkly. He smiled nervously. “So what happened next?” she asked.
“Well, Saucy Girl was mad,” he said, “But I picked up that carnie’s BB gun and I shot in a circle around the red star and it fell out, which is the point, to shoot out the red star. That’s the secret, you see. I already knew it, to shoot around the star, not directly at—”
“Yes, yes, I know!” Abigail grinned. “So what’d you win?”
“I won that little girl a panda bear as big as she was,” Nathanial said, smiling. They both laughed. Then his eyes softened and he said to Abigail, “You know, I’m really looking forward to working with you.”
“Likewise,” she said.
ABOUT NAPKIN FICTION AND ELECTRIFYING PHOTOS
NAPKIN FICTION: See other napkin fiction at Esquire’s “Napkin Project.” Esquire mailed 250 napkins “to writers from all over the country, some with half a dozen books to their name, others just finishing their first,” and got close to 100 back. What an awesome concept! I’m still working my way through the list of 100, and so far, if I had to pick one to recommend, I’d give you “Luna Green” by R.T. Smith. Amazing writing, and man.
PHOTO CREDIT: In 1979, “Poseidon” was crafted outside of the United States Courthouse in downtown New York City. Artist Eric Staller enlarged a photo of the Greek sculpture “Poseidon Soter at Artemisium” and mounted it on a board with a single strand of holiday lights. He then turned the lights off and on while lowering the light-enhanced Greek god cutout to the ground. To capture this image, he used a tripod and left the camera’s shutter open for several minutes.
Missalister’s “Nathanial Crum,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#182 – Cheese” Click here for more on prompt #182 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.