You Can't Do That! Ch. 01byqhml1©
There's usually a kernel of truth in everything I write. In our thirty one years together "You can't do that" is one of my wife's favorite sayings. She knows that it irritates me and I have to prove I can. It took me about five years[I'm a man, we're dumb as rocks, ask any woman]to figure out she sometimes told me that just to get me do something she wanted. Now when she says it I just grin and say "You're probably right." and then she gets irritated.
It's just the average give and take between two almost sixty empty nesters, I'm sure it goes on in every marriage regardless of length.
I hasten to add this is fiction, just something warped that came to me when she said that the other night. I have to go now, this brain surgery is harder than it looks. It would have been a lot easier if the manual had illustrations. I wish now she hadn't told me I couldn't do it.
"You can't do that!"
"What do you mean I can't? How hard could it be? Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Something happens to keep them apart. True love triumphs in the end. Cash exchanges hands."
She snorted. She was on a real roll.
"You don't have what it takes. No skill, no imagination, no experience. Plus, you have no idea what women want. Anyone could look at us and see that. If you tried to write a romance novel, it would probably turn out to be something between a comedy and a tragedy. I swear, where do you get these goofy ideas?"
Hard experience made me drop the conversation. But it stuck in my brain and I couldn't shake it.
The argument was sparked over a Nicolas Sparks movie. We have Netflix, and it's probably the best entertainment value around. For less than ten bucks you can have almost everything filmed since movies and television began at the click of a button, except for the newest movies and the current season of any series.
I had watched an interview with Nicolas Sparks on my favorite TV show, Sunday Morning, on CBS. They did a brief biography, and talked about the enormous amounts of money he was making off his work.
The next week Sheila pulled up one of his movies, and I told her about the interview, and how much he was worth. She looked up from the tv screen.
"Too bad you don't have talent enough to do something like that."
"I bet I could do it if I wanted to bad enough."
Just like that, it was on.
"Please. Just stop, don't embarrass yourself."
I tried to let it go.
"You're probably right."
It started early in our marriage. I had always admired wood carvers. It was near Christmas, and I was watching a show on PBS about German woodcarvers. Their work was ornate, but they had a segment on the apprenticeship program, and showed them carving simple heads.
Sheila came through, on her way to shop with her sisters. She looked at the TV.
"They're really good aren't they?"
"Yes,they are. I've always thought I'd like to try it."
She just rolled her eyes.
"You can't do that. It takes years, and I don't think you have the talent."
It really irked me how dismissive she could be sometimes.
"I don't mean that. I mean simple things, like figures and heads. That's where they start their apprentices at."
"well, good luck with that. Be back in a couple hours."
She was laughing as she went out the door.
I took a newspaper and spread it thickly on our dining room table, went outside and got a block of cherry wood off our woodpile, sharpened up two of my favorite pocket knives, and started carving.
Three hours and another block of wood, and I had a pretty decent Santa head, complete with flowing beard. I cleaned the dining room, put it on a place mat in the center of the table, and went off to do chores that always seemed to pile up.
About an hour after she came home she walked into the living room with the head in her hands.
"Where did this come from?"
"I carved it while you were shopping. Do you like it?"
She hefted it in her hands.
"It has a certain, what's the word, yeah, rustic appeal. I like it. So, where did you get it?"
"Off the woodpile. I really did carve it."
She kissed my cheek and giggled.
"If you say so, honey."
I had to carve something in front of her before she would believe me.
Ten years later my mom needed a new deck. I showed Sheila the plans I wanted to use, and she laughed again.
"You don't have the skills to build something like that. Don't try it, you'll waste a bunch of money and time."
I had changed jobs, and worked for a modular housing manufacturer, starting out driving a forklift and rising to inventory coordinator.
It was a position basically just for me.
We didn't build cookie cutter houses. Everything we built was to the plans of the customer. Of course we had basic floor plans the customer could take and tweak until it was exactly what they wanted. We also built offices, apartment buildings, condos, anything you could plan and build in sections we did.
All this customizing was expensive, especially if you ended up with leftovers. Some of the stuff was generic and could be used in another building, but a lot wasn't, and we'd be stuck with it. I could see it because I handled a lot of the materials, so I started making suggestions. They were laughed at mostly until we got a new plant manager. His biggest concern was waste, and when he saw some of my suggestions, one thing led to another until I found myself with an office instead of a forklift, and a hefty raise.
So, no, I didn't have the skill set I needed, but I worked every day with guys that did. And I didn't spend all those years watching without learning a few things. I hired one guy as a helper and advisor, and built the deck.
It didn't come together quickly, and I made a few mistakes, but when the smoke cleared my mom had a three tier deck, with custom railings, and coordinated flower boxes.
Sheila never commented on it, except to say she wanted a bigger one. I never got around to building it.
Don't get me wrong here. There's a lot of things out there I can't do, I'm not an idiot.
I can't fix your car, or program your computer, but if I honestly think I can do it, I'll try. Of course I had my share of failures, but I like to think I learned as much from them as I did my successes.
So I decided to write a book, just to prove I could.
First I did my research. I was an avid reader. I usually read two to three books a week. Fantasies, how-to, biographies, histories, westerns, classics, pretty much everything but romances. I went to the local thrift stores, and bought Harlequin romances by the bag full. Literally. They had a sale going, for a buck a bag, all you could stuff in. I also bought some Nora Roberts, two Nicolas Sparks, and a handful of lesser known but also successful romance authors.
The better known writers were all right, but it wasn't my cup of tea. The mind numbing repetitive themes in the paperbacks almost made me give up. I had enough images of heaving breasts, oiled loins and ripped bodices to last me a lifetime.
I sat around making notes, outlining plots, character development, location ideas, until I felt like I was ready.
Sheila was used to me being on the computer. We got one late in life and I was still learning how to use it. She used it some, mostly to look up recipes and how-to sites. She had no interest in Facebook, or email. I wasn't much better, so I had to get my son to set it up for me to write.
I worked two to four hours, four or five days a week on the book. I redid most of it several times before I felt it was readable, then redid it one more time. It took four months from start to finish.
When I printed it off it was so thick I had to bind it in sections, three to four chapters per binder. It took five. I presented the first binder to Sheila in October.
"It's the book you said I couldn't write. Read it and see what you think."
She tossed it onto the coffee table.
"I'll look at it later. There's a movie I want to finish. Do you want a pizza tonight?"
I wasn't disappointed. After all these years I was kind of use to it.
She was a nurse at the local hospital. Her official title was training supervisor, basically she babysat new nurses, making sure they didn't kill anybody. She worked a split shift, ten a.m. until seven p.m., so she could work with both shifts. Every few weeks she would work a couple of graveyard shifts, just to keep everyone in line.
I worked from seven until five thirty, four days a week, unless we were behind or I had to prepare for a special project. Home almost two hours earlier, I made most of the meals. I liked to cook, having worked in several restaurants after high school. Usually it was basic fare, but for the last year I had been a bit more creative, getting many recipes off the internet. Most times she appreciated what I made, but once in a while not. She almost never volunteered to help clean up.
We were drifting apart, and nothing I said or did seemed to matter. Admitting it to myself, I saw a future as a single. At my age, it wasn't an appealing situation.
Our love life had dwindled down to once every week or so. No passion, just spread and get it over with. Romantic dinners, an occasional weekend away, nothing seemed to get to her. She blamed age, physical condition, low libido.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd think you're getting some on the side."
She choked on her tea, and went into a tirade about what an insensitive asshole I was. But the next night she initiated a session of lovemaking.
It sucked, because I knew she was just doing it to placate me, but it felt great because it had been awhile.
I sent her some flowers the next day, and she gave me a nice kiss when she got home. Our lovemaking picked up for a little, then she slid back to routine. I resolved to face our age, and realize it just wasn't as important to her as it was to me, and respect that.
She never got around to reading the book. After two weeks I took it off the coffee table and put it with the rest of the folders and forgot about it.
Our seventeen year old granddaughter was with us for a weekend. That happened about every two months, when their parents wanted privacy or a short trip. She actually lived with us for a year when she was fourteen when her parents broke up, it just wasn't a good environment for her.
The divorce was bitter, petty, and way to long.
Her father cheated, got caught, and her mom went for scorched earth instead of mediation. They argued violently about a dog neither wanted. I ended up with him.
Five months after it was over her mother remarried. Seems she was pregnant, and had been sleeping with him long before the divorce. When this came to light it sparked another round of fireworks. My granddaughter ended up with our son.
He had recently met someone, and they seemed to be serious. Kelsie, our granddaughter, seemed to like her. Thank God for small miracles.
I chewed my son and ex daughter in law out for their behavior and how it had affected Kelsie, and interaction between us was pretty frosty for a while.
Sheila took the daughter in laws' side, saying she couldn't stand cheaters and treating her own son rather badly. When it came out she had played around too, I was surprised she didn't change her attitude. Her position was he must have drove her to it.
I was finishing up dinner, we were grilling. Or should I say, Kelsie was finishing. That girl must have a lot of repressed male genes, she loved to grill. Whoever she picked to be her life partner was going to be one lucky individual.
She chattered away about her friends at school, her boyfriend, her college plans. The bitter divorce had left both parents pretty much broke, and college was looking more and more unattainable.
I stepped into the breech and offered to pay, if she went the first year at the local community college. Too many of my friends had seen their kids major in party, and I wasn't going to pay that kind of money for nothing. If she did well at community college, she could transfer to any state college she wanted. I wold pay the tuition, and both parents could pay room and board.
Sheila and I had a pretty big confrontation over it. She wanted to keep the money to pad our retirement. In the end, I actually won. She was not a gracious loser.
Kelsie sat at the computer to check her Facebook. How can they have that much to talk about?
"What's this?" She was looking at the folders I had stored under the desk.
Sheila had joined us. She laughed.
"That's your grandfather's version of the Great American Romance Novel."
"Really Gramps? You wrote a book? Can I read it?"
"Sure. At least someone should read it."
"I'll read it, I promise. I've just been so busy lately."
We ate the steaks, and sat around talking for a couple of hours. It was her time to ride herd on the trainees on third, so she had to get ready for work.
I cleaned the grill while Kelsie washed the dishes. We watched a movie, and damn if it wasn't a Nicolas Sparks movie. I was off to bed and told her not to be up too late, collected my kiss, and
shut the door.
One of the curses of growing old is you hardly ever sleep through the night. It was three thirty according to my clock when I woke up, needing to go. Afterwards, I checked the house to make sure Kelsie didn't leave a bunch of lights on. She was in the living room with just a reading lamp on, crying.
I rushed over.
"Kelsie honey, what's wrong?"
She leapt off the couch and hugged me as hard as she could. I was starting to panic.
"It's so," sob "So" sob "Beautiful! Did you really write this?"
I looked down and saw her holding a binder.
"Yes, baby. I wrote it. It's not a big deal, and it'll be here tomorrow. Go to bed."
She did, but she took the binders.
I thought about it when I lay back down, and was really pleased she liked it. I thought it over, and realized it was perfect for a girl that age. There was no sex in the tale, I didn't know how and didn't really feel comfortable about it, so things were implied, not described.
A month went by. Our lovemaking picked up a bit, and Sheila seemed more like the woman I married.
The phone rang. It was a man I went to high school with, almost forty years ago.
"Pete, it's me, Jimmy Page? Remember me?"
"Yeah, been a long time, Zep. You weren't at the last reunion, so it's been what, almost twenty years? How's life treating you?"
He laughed that laugh that irritated me so much. Some things never change. We called him Zep because he had the same name as the guitar player for Led Zeppelin. First we called him Zeppelin, but of course it got shortened to Zep.
"Oh I'm fine. Look, I want to talk about your book."
He caught me by surprise.
"That romance novel you wrote. It's pretty good."
How did you get a copy of that?" I was looking at Kelsie, she was there for an overnight. She heard the words "romance novel" and suddenly found something interesting in the magazine she was reading.
"My granddaughter showed it to me. I couldn't believe it was you. I guess you never know. I'd like to publish. I own a little publishing company. I could do you right."
I never trusted Zep. Just a feeling I could never shake.
"I don't know, I just wrote it to prove I could."
He tried for several minutes to get me to commit. It struck me he was maybe recording the conversation.
"Let me think about it, Zep. I'll get back to you." He was still trying to get me to commit as I was hanging up.
I hit the computer as soon as I hung up, and he really did own a publishing company. But it was a vanity press. You know, they'll publish anything if you're willing to fund it. If it's any good, then they get a cut of the profits. It was a win/win for the publisher, and a sucker deal for the writer.
"Kelsie, Where's my book?"
"Uh, well, you see, I..."
"Kelsie! Stop eating waffles. Where is it?"
"Uh, I've still got it, but I kind of made copies so my friends could read it, and they made copies for their other friends to read it, and then Angie gave a copy to her cousin on the other end of the county, so now it's going round that high school. Everybody is bugging me for your next one. Sorry, Gramps. But it's really good. You should really get it published."
I tried to frown.
"I'm not too happy about this, but I never actually told you that it couldn't be shared. Let's just call it a learning experience. And I have no idea how to get it published, and don't really know if I should."
She showed a surprising amount of maturity.
"You don't know how good it is, do you? Let me do some research for you, It couldn't hurt. Maybe Nicolas Sparks better be looking over his shoulder."
I hugged her and we laughed, and I forgot all about it.
She called me two weeks later.
"Gramps, I did it. I sent your book off to the top four romance epublishers on the net. All the research says that's the way to go. When it hits, you better dedicate it to me."
We both laughed, and I promised I would.
A week later my computer crashed. A virus from a game site. Research taught me that game sites are the worst, followed by recipe sites, then porn.
I guess more people would rather play games and eat well than watch naked bodies in unrealistic positions.
The recession hit my company hard. It's too easy to pick up a foreclosure for two thirds market value than pay the price of a new one. It got slower and slower, until we were doing rotational layoffs.
Sheila started complaining about me being underfoot, but there wasn't a lot I could do about it. I finally snapped.
"Sheila! Think about this. We're both planning to retire in four years years. You won't even have the luxury of going to work. What are you gonna do then?"
"Volunteer" she said under her breath as she walked off.
I was in no hurry for a new computer. I missed it, but not much. I figured someone would have a hot sale in time for Christmas. So I piddled round the house, doing things I never had time for before.
It was a week I was working, and I had just got home. I was half listening when the answering machine picked up.
"Mr. Smith, this is Nora Holmes with Norbert Publishing. We've been unable to reach you through your email, and we'd like to talk to you about your book, please contact us at..."
I snatched the phone up "Hello, hello, I just walked through the door."
Her tone wasn't really that friendly.
"Why don't you answer you email?"
"I'm sorry, my computer is down. I haven't replaced it yet."
"What? How do you live without a computer? That's ridiculous. It would be in your best interests to replace it immediately, especially if you're going to do business with us."
"Er, yes, you're probably right. Am I? Doing business, I mean."
"That remains to be seen, Mr. Smith. We're interested, but it needs polish, and you need to shorten it by about thirty thousand words. If you agree to work with us on it, maybe we'll offer you a contract. At the very least it'll help you try to peddle it to the next publisher."
"What do I need to do?"
"Get a computer! You'll need a good one. We REALLY don't like making phone calls, so keep up with your emails. We're sending your manuscript back. Follow directions, listen to what the editors say, and send it back to us."
What an abrupt woman. She didn't say goodbye.
I bought a new computer, had my son set it up.
I had him establish a personal email account and password protected it. This was the one the publishers got. I wanted to surprise them all if I actually got published.