- See more at: http://blogtimenow.com/blogging/automatically-redirect-blogger-blog-another-blog-website/#sthash.UVsgb4Gv.dpuf Erin's Alter Ego Writes Books: March 2013

Saturday, 2 March 2013

My short story submission to NYC Midnight

Hey guys, how are you doing?

Things have been busy in Erin-land (aren't they always?). I've crossed the 50k word threshold with my new book, test reading a few others, plotting ways to take over the world with my husband, been on vacation, AND I've entered a short story contest for NYC Midnight, which I've just submitted.

Now, with NYC Midnight's short story challenges, you get assigned a genre, a subject, and a character, and you have a week and 2,500 words to do it in. I usually try to do these to stretch myself as a writer and do something a bit different. They tend to be fun.

This time, I got comedy, a scholarship, and a music teacher. Because I was in Wellington when I got the assignment, I nearly forgot about it until Friday night. Whoops. So I sat down and wrote the first thing that came to mind. It's not a comedy (the situation might be, but there's no laugh out loud part, so I don't think I'll progress, but I quite like what I wrote. I tried a few things here to be a bit different, and it's not bad for a few hours' work (okay, it was about seven hours of work, but who's counting?).

Here's the story. If you want to give me feedback, please respond in the comments and let me know - I'm always trying to make myself better as a writer, and as I said, I'm trying to do something a bit different. Enjoy.


Glassical Music

Brief Synopsis: Given no other choice, Kevin Baxter resorts to playing an unusual instrument when he auditions for a full scholarship to New York City's finest arts high school.

There they are, just ready to be sold.
My Nana's crystal stemmed wine glasses sparkle tauntingly as I open the cabinet.
Gently, I pick one up. I know there are five dozen crystal stemmed wine glasses in total, most of them sitting under several layers of dust. After everything that happened with my family, they were never pawned off. It is nothing short of a miracle that they are still here. Nana's no longer here to defend them. The only thing keeping them from being the next thing sold is the fact that Momma had simply forgot about them.
“How much d'ya think they're worth?” I ask. “Ya think it's enough for that keyboard?”
“That keyboard” being the one I found at the very pawn shop where most of my family heirlooms were sold for pennies for each dollar they were worth.
“Nana loved them glasses,” Shawn, my nine year old brother, whines.
“She ain't drinking from 'em now,” I shush. I grab another and another and start to fill up a busted cardboard U-Haul box I found on the walk home from church. It will be big enough to carry all of these glasses to the pawn shop, hopefully without breaking one.
I have to hurry before Momma gets home. I arrange them inside the box.
“You takin' all of 'em?” Shawn can be really annoying.
“Yea, now shut yer trap,” I growl.
I give him another look that silences him. When Shawn wants to, he can close up like a Venus Fly Trap I once saw in science class. And with the way his mouth was gaping a moment before, he probably did catch a fly.
“Now, help me get alla these ready.”
Between the two of us, we fetch each glass, dust it, wrap it up in yellowed newspaper, and place it in the box. It takes a bit longer than I would've liked, but I guess that's what happens when you're trying to protect sixty fragile wine glasses.
I pick up the box with a grunt. It is surprisingly far heavier than I would ever have thought. Each one of them is made of thin, clear glass, with an impossibly skinny stem. But sixty of those can add up to a pretty heavy load.
“'K, you stay here,” I order. I open the front door and use the box to prop it open as I gingerly make my way through.
“But Kevin...”
“Shawn!” I exasperate. “Stay here. Granpa'll watch you.” He is asleep on the couch, but Shawn isn't stupid enough to cause too much trouble.
My kid brother watches me with too-wide eyes as the door closes behind me.
Now, by myself, the weight of what I'm doing hits me, and I sway slightly. I am suddenly lightheaded. I don't want to sell Nana's wine glasses, but how else am I supposed to get money to pay for a keyboard? The audition for LaGuardia Arts High School is in a week, and I don't have any way of practicing a song for it. And I have to be the best, because the best performer gets a full ride to the school. And with my family's financial troubles, that scholarship is my only hope of going to LaGuardia.
If I got in.
I'm actually not too worried about getting in. Before he died, Dad taught me how to play the piano on this old vertical piano he got from a bar on the lower East Side that looked like it was from the 1920s. It wasn't a great piano, missing a key from the lowest octave, but it had 84 other keys you could play. Dad even tried replacing that missing key with a wooden Jenga piece.
It turns out that I have perfect pitch and can play the piano by ear. I don't even know how to read music. You just play a song and I can match it, after a few tries. Granpa had been disappointed when Dad told him what perfect pitch was (“He ain't practicing to be a baseball pitcher? What the hell is a boy going to do with music?” he grouched.) but I could play like like a concert pianist.
When Dad died, my family suddenly found itself without a breadwinner, so they sold the piano for a hundred dollars.
And I suddenly found myself without a piano.
That was all right up until a few weeks ago. I was able to practice at my junior high, because they have their own piano. But now, school's out for the winter holidays and I have auditions for LaGuardia coming up in a week. So I need an instrument, fast.
I also don't think Nana would mind supporting her eldest grandchild.
“C'mon, Kev,” I tell myself aloud. “You can do this.”
The bell to the pawn shop jingles as I enter, that high pitched tingle a reminder of my guilt. I trudge up to the counter and softly put the box on it. Behind the bullet proof glass, the cashier regards me through half-lidded eyes.
“Kevin Baxter,” he says, giving me a toothy smile. My family has been here so much in the past four years, he knows us all by name. I just never bothered to learn his. “What brings ye here?”
I take out one of the glasses and show him. “I wanna sell these,” I say. “Please.”
He raises an eyebrows and inspects it.
“There're sixty,” I add, hoping that the number entices him.
He glances at me, and slowly, achingly, he sifts through the box, as if he doesn't trust that I'm telling the truth. “I'll give ye thirty for them.”
I blink, unsure if I heard it right. “Thirty?” I ask.
“They're worth at least two dollars!” I actually think they're worth a lot more, but I'm not going to tell him that. I'm trying to negotiate, but all I really want is enough money for that keyboard.
“Thirty dollars.”
I gulp, and I self-consciously glance at the wall to my right. An old Casio keyboard is looking back at me. Its keys look like it's giving me a toothy grin. A sticker on it says $45.
“Either thirty or nothing,” he drawls. “Take it or leave it.”
I glance back at him. I could sell them and see if I could find another keyboard. But I don't know how many options are left to me and the Casio is the cheapest keyboard I've seen. I've been looking around.
I'm about to say yes, when I see his finger twirling around the rim of the glass. I remember my Nana doing that when the glass was full of red wine. She'd make this haunting noise just by dipping a finger into the liquid and then running it along at that thin edge. The fuller the glass, the higher the note.
Music. It's music.
“I'll leave it,” I say, picking up the heavy box.
Next week is going to be very interesting.

I try not to notice all of the eyes that are staring at me.
I'm sitting in the hallway next to the stage door of LaGuardia Arts' auditorium. There's about fifteen other kids my age here with their parents looking at me like I'm a huge joke. They're all dressed far better than me with their clarinets and violins and tubas sitting on their laps. One kid even has a gigantic harp.
Like me, they've already warmed up in another room. Like me, they're just waiting to go in.
“Are you for real?” a preppy kid near me asks.
“Are you 'n asshole?” I ask back.
His eyes widen in disbelief. Apparently no one has ever called him that before. I sit back, satisfied.
“Kevin Baxter,” a kind voice announces.
“Here!” I call out.
The woman with the clipboard looks at me and blinks confusedly for about fifteen seconds before answering. “It's your turn,” she finally says. And she moves aside, giving me enough room to push my cart into the auditorium.
Every bump and every turn feels treacherous as I push my way out onto the stage. I can imagine taking a turn too quickly and spilling everything onto the floor. And while I have perfect pitch, my singing voice isn't enough to get me in. My church choir can back me up on that.
“Number 439,” the woman with the clipboard announces. “Kevin Baxter.”
The lights bearing down on me are bright and impenetrable. I see six silhouettes in front of me, all teachers from the music department at LaGuardia Arts. They'll be judging my audition, determining if I'm good enough to be both accepted and if I'm good enough to receive the full ride scholarship into the music school.
I swallow nervously. Was I supposed to do an introduction? I'm not sure.
“H-hi,” I said. “My name's Kevin Baxter.” Idiot, the lady already said that. “An' I'm going to play 'Hallelujah' on my...my glasses.”
Even saying it aloud makes it sound more ridiculous. My cheeks burn.
There's no response. In fact, I can actually hear a cricket somewhere in the back of the auditorium, which momentarily disorients me. Why haven't they gotten rid of the cricket for these auditions?
This is for my future. This is for solving all my problems. Including tuition to the top magnate arts school in the city.
I bend over my cart, to Nana's sixty wine glasses filled with varying levels of water. I had arrived to the school early so I could spend hours tuning my so-called instrument. It's amazing how just a drop of water can make the note sound off. I'd arranged each glass, fashioning something like a piano on my cart. I even added food coloring to create “black keys”. While there are only 60 keys here, far less than the piano I grew up on, I know what I'm doing.
I dip the tips of my fingers in a bowl of water and start to play, letting the music flow through me. Even though I am used to it after a week of practicing, the notes blend together, making a haunting, minimalistic version of a song I know these music teachers have all heard before. Other kids'll be playing complex, hard songs that makes their fingers ache and their lungs deflate.
My hands are flying above each rim. I have to move fast, even though each note is slow, melancholy. I know that every pitch is perfect, every note is hit right. Once around the rim for longer notes, quick swipes for shorter notes, just like I practiced all last week. I pour everything I have into the music, letting it roll over me and out to the audience. Ninety seconds. That's all I have to impress the music teachers and show them that I know music even better than they do. Ever play using wine glasses? I thought not.
Then, after it feels like no time has passed and everything is drained out of me, I finish. I allow myself a smile.
The judges are silent. Aren't they supposed to say something, to give feedback? I was expecting something else. Not silence like this.
That damn cricket at the back of the auditorium is back, playing his own music which sounds oddly like, “Weirdo, weirdo, weirdo.”
“Thanks,” I say, and I nod my head in an awkward bow.
I wheel off my cart, not even caring if I spill a few drops now. I'm done. If they don't like what I did, then there's no further point in anything else I'm doing. Once again, I ignore the shocked expressions of other hopefuls and their parents, and I head straight to the bathroom to pour out the contents of each glass. It's time to pack up and go home.
They are meant to announce who got in and who got the scholarship today. After the music teacher's silence, I know what the answer is. No and no. I should've sold Nana's wine glasses when I had the chance.
I take my time cleaning up, because if I have to suffer through any more stares or crappy comments, I'm going to break, just as if I drop one of these glasses. It takes me longer than I expected to wash, dry, and pack up sixty glasses, even though I've done it many times before in the past week. I don't want to face the truth.
When I get out of the bathroom, the results are posted on the door to the auditorium.
I look, but I don't want to. I don't want my dreams to end here, but I'm compelled to look.
There it is. My name on the accepted list. I widen my eyes and read again. I'm at the very bottom of the list, what does that mean? Oh. I'm not at the top. I'm not the one who has received the full scholarship.
My eyes are wide now, and it's not from shock. It's because I don't want to cry in front of these people. Others are shrieking happily that they've been accepted, and one lucky person doesn't have to worry about the steep tuition fees. But I do. This is even more cruel than if I hadn't made it.
“It's unfair, I think,” a voice says beside me. I turn my head and a man is smiling at me. “I tried convincing them that someone of your exceptional talents should be given a full scholarship to LaGuardia. We need more diversity, more innovation in order to stay relevant to the present. Someone like you.”
“Oh,” I say.
“I'm Dr. Forrester,” he says, “and I teach music theory here at LaGuardia.”
“Oh,” I repeat dumbly.
He gives me a grin. “You know, my wife's family owns a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue, and they're looking for a new dish washer. After seeing the way you treated those wine glasses, I think you'd be a perfect fit. Not a single one broke when you were wheeling that thing out onto the stage.”
He slips me a business card, and I glance at it. D'lish is the name of the restaurant.
“If you want to come in for an interview, I think we can offer you your full tuition here and plus some more. Plus,” he adds with a mischievous smile, “there's a piano there you can play to entertain dinner guests.”
He claps me on the back. I'm stunned.
“Just give her a call at that number and she'll bring you in for a chat.” He smiles at me. “Be seeing you around, Kevin.”
Just like that, he leaves me alone. It takes me a few minutes to process what he has said. But it feels genuine. And for the first time in a long time, it feels like my dreams are coming true.
I look down at my box of sixty wine glasses, and a slow smile spreads across my face.
“Thanks, Nana.”