“Drink Pixie” Second Draft of Beginning

The new title is “The Art of Dressage,” which will make more sense once you read the whole story. Titles are the hardest part in a lot of ways; I often don’t come up with the title until I’m doing the final edits. Here’s an updated version of the first part of the citation two posts below:

The girl stopped to make a note on her order pad as she walked away from the table full of businessmen. She had her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth as she wrote; this only made her look even cuter. The men weren’t even trying to be subtle about staring at her butt.

She finished, looked up at them, then her perfect eyebrows went up in surprise. “Why, Mr. Jenkins! Haven’t seen you in forever! Where have you been?”

Jen stifled a smile as she watched Frank’s chest puff up. “Hey there, Claire! Jennifer here has been introducing me to all this crazy Asian cuisine up and down Buford Highway. Real good; but I tell you, all that spicy food gives me strange dreams.”

She actually put a hand up to cover her mouth when she giggled. “But it’s all so delicious.” She turned to Jen. “Welcome to Indigo. I’m Claire; it’s nice to meet you.”

“Jennifer Welch.” Up close, Claire was a little too old for pigtails: maybe thirty-two instead of the twenty-four she aspired to.

“What’s new in the wine cellar?” asked Frank. He and Claire launched into an animated discussion of of various wines’ attributes.

Claire noticed the glaze in Jennifer’s eyes first. “Not much of a wine snob? Really, it’s a point in your favor.”

“I’m a schoolteacher. Most of the wine I drink comes out of a box.”

“I’m sorry, babe,” said Frank. “I forget not everyone’s as crazy as me.”

“I don’t mind; order whatever you want.” And the wine was delicious, all buttery and not sour at all. Jennifer threw her wavering commitment to vegetarianism to the wind and ordered a steak. Good thing Indigo was the kind of place so classy it had a girlfriend menu, without prices, or she’d probably have to pretend to feel guilty.

While Frank was in the bathroom, Claire came by to pick up their salad plates. “I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”

“It’s fun to see Frank in his element.”

“Well, I’m happy for you. It’s nice to see Frank starting to get serious.” At Jennifer’s confusion, “I mean, you’re actually age-appropriate. Late thirties?”

“Just turned forty.”

“Most of the women—well, girls—Frank’s brought in here are about twenty-five, and wear about half as much clothing as you. He’s very handsome for an older guy, but come on.” Jennifer toyed with her wine glass for a minute or so after Claire walked away, before deciding to decide that Claire wasn’t trying to put her down.

So this is partway there: the first paragraph isn’t as clumsy, and the rest of it is a tiny bit tighter. It still needs work, especially the first paragraph: Claire needs to be shown to be aware that she’s being observed even when her back is turned. Because as we’ll discover, Claire plans, and doesn’t make mistakes–or so she believes.

“Drink Pixie” First Draft of Beginning

Six months ago, I sketched out a quick outline of this story. Here’s the first draft of the first few paragraphs:

The girl stopped to make a note on her order pad before she walked away from the table full of businessmen. She had her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth as she wrote; this only accentuated the cuteness of the rest of her. All the men weren’t even bothering to hide that they were staring at her butt.

She finished, looked up at them, then her perfect eyebrows went up in surprise. “Why, Mr. Jenkins! Haven’t seen you in forever! Where have you been?”

Jennifer stifled a smile as she watched Frank’s chest puff up. “Hey there, Claire. Jennifer here has been introducing me to all this crazy Asian cuisine up and down Buford Highway. Real good; but I tell you, all that spicy food gives me strange dreams.”

She actually put a hand up to cover her mouth when she giggled. “But it’s all so delicious.” She turned to Jennifer. “Welcome to Indigo. I’m Claire; it’s nice to meet you.”

“Jennifer Welch.” Up close, Claire was a little too old for pigtails; maybe thirty-two instead of the twenty-four she aspired to.

“What’s new in the wine cellar?” asked Frank. He and Claire launched into a long discussion of of various wines’ attributes, each person more animated than the other.

Claire noticed the glaze on Jennifer’s eyes first. “Not much of a wine snob? Really, it’s a point in your favor.”

“I’m a schoolteacher. Most of the wine I drink comes out of a box.” She got the giggle and the covered mouth again.

“I’m sorry, babe,” said Frank. “I forget not everyone’s as crazy as me.”

“I don’t mind; order whatever you want.” And it was delicious, all buttery and not sour at all. Jennifer threw her wavering commitment to vegetarianism to the wind and ordered a steak. Good thing Indigo was the kind of place so classy it had a girlfriend menu, without prices, or she’d probably feel guilty.

While Frank was in the bathroom, Claire came by to pick up their salad plates. “I hope you’re enjoying yourself.”

“It’s fun to see Frank in his element.”

“Well, I’m happy for you. It’s nice to see Frank starting to get serious.” At Jennifer’s confusion, “I mean, you’re actually age-appropriate. You’re what, late thirties?”

“Just turned forty.”

“Most of the women—well, girls—Frank’s brought in here are about twenty-five, and wear about half as much clothing as you. He’s very handsome for an older guy, but come on.” Jennifer toyed with her wine glass for a minute or so after Claire walked away, before deciding that Claire was genuine and not trying to put her down.

So the point here is to show rather than tell that Claire isn’t just a perfect little pixie–or rather, that Claire appears to be both a perfect little pixie and something a little deeper. The first half of the citation gives us the perfect pixie, and the second half the (apparent?) depth. So far, it’s clumsy: the first paragraph especially needs work. But that’s just part of the process.

“Drink Pixie” Commentary

I kind of ran out of drama there towards the end. The story centers around character: Claire the perfect ice queen. She’s not really an ice queen: she’s very superficially warm and friendly, which is what makes her a great posh waitress. But nobody ever gets very far with her. She has moved to Atlanta and made a lovely, classy life for herself; so when Donna, who’s trashy and a liar, makes her way into Claire’s life, Claire is at first torn, between a human connection and the potential threat to her classiness Donna represents, then angry because Donna turns out to be a grifter/blackmailer.

There’s another reason, down deep: Claire is jealous of Donna for being pregnant. Maybe Claire can’t get pregnant, or maybe she did and gave a child up for adoption long ago. So when Claire finds out that Donna’s not pregnant, and is faking it because it’s making rich Bruce want to marry her and take care of her… no, it’s just not a strong enough motivation for murder. It’s motivation in that Claire figures out that if Donna is going to fake being pregnant, she’s going to mess up Claire’s life, too. But why is Donna faking the pregnancy, if once she meets Alex she decides she wants to trade up? It’s just too complicated, so that detail needs to come out. Or maybe it’s Elle who lies, and who tells Alex that Donna’s not pregnant because she figures it will make Alex think twice about taking up with her. This adds additional pathos to the story because Claire (offscreen) can confront Donna: “y0u’re a big old liar and you’re going to mess with MY life, too,” and then Donna hotly denies it, and a fight starts and Claire takes her down more or less by accident.

Or a still better angle: Claire, when she came to the city lo these many years ago. left behind a husband and a kid in the rural hellhole. She just walked out one day. The kid, or the husband, is ugly or disabled or somehow problematic. Claire is still technically married: she can’t ask for a divorce because she doesn’t want her old life to track her down. Claire’s not her real name, either. So it makes more sense to have Donna show up at the restaurant without having got back in touch with Claire beforehand. Claire is confronted with decompartmentalization at work, which is what makes her so upset.

Now the conflict makes more sense: Donna has money, in the form of Bruce–and more, if she can trade up to Alex. And that’s what Donna wants, is entry into Claire’s classy world, in order to find a better-looking, wealthier sugar daddy. Claire a) knows Donna can’t pull it off, b) doesn’t want her classy friends finding out just what trash she used to be, and c) doesn’t want the husband tracking her down, for a host of reasons: she owes him child support, he’s just an embarrassing redneck, whatever. So Claire is mad because Donna busted into her life, she’s worried because she doesn’t want her old life catching up with her, and then when she hears (from Alex) Elle’s lie that Donna isn’t really pregnant, she realizes that with Donna around, she’s always going to be under a threat.

So what tips D/M off is the neatness of the crime. Someone calls Donna: this turns out to have been from someone who is a regular patron of the restaurant. Two hours later, Donna is dead in some very neat way: no blood. But Donna’s a slob. D/M keep confronting Claire with evidence about her past, but she won’t budge; until she finds out that Donna really wasn’t not pregnant. Then her nostrils flare again.

Short Story Concept: “The Drink Pixie”

There are two men in this story (Alex and Bruce) and three women (Claire, Donna and Elle). Claire is a waitress at the sort of posh Atlanta restaurant I never go to. She is thirty, petite, lovely, extremely professional and never gives in to the many attempts by her loyal clients to find out anything at all about her personal life. Alex is one of these clients: he’s a Silver Fox type who usually dates women Claire’s age but who shows up at the restaurant with Elle this particular night. Elle is older and classier than Alex’s usual type: she quizzes Alex about Claire and Alex is forced to reveal that he really doesn’t know that much about her. Claire recommends a new wine to Alex, who chooses it.

Halfway through dinner, a very sheepish Claire asks a tiny favor: her childhood friend Donna and Donna’s new husband Bruce have come to the restaurant, and Donna has revealed that she’s a few months pregnant. Could Claire possibly ask Alex for two drams of wine? Alex, being the expansive sort he is, insists on buying Bruce and Claire a whole bottle and inviting them to his and Elle’s table for dessert. Donna is Claire’s age but harder-rode and much more femmy; Bruce is close to Alex’s age and notably unattractive, though well-heeled. Alex likes people and he and Bruce have some random thing in common: hockey fans or whatever. Alex also clearly finds Donna attractive. Elle is bemused by all this; Claire is extremely discomfited, especially when Donna alludes to the fact that she knew Claire way back when. This scene is told from Elle’s POV.

A week later, Alex is back, this time without Elle. Claire is back to perfect pixie mode, but in the meantime, the other four have gone out again. Alex has found out something else about Claire, who grew up with Donna in some backwoods hellhole. Claire is so upset that her nostrils involuntarily flare; Alex realizes he’s gone too far and backpedals, but now Claire is pure robot. He leaves her a huge tip. This scene is told from Claire’s POV.

Ten days or so after this, Diana and Mustapha come to Alex’s office and show him a picture of Donna, who has been beaten to death with a cane or similar object. They know he talked to Donna two nights before, for quite a while. Alex says that he doesn’t like to kiss and tell, but Donna was trying to get him to start an affair with her, and that he was tempted enough to make out with her before, but this call was him explaining that he just didn’t feel comfortable with someone else’s wife. He’s horrified about the murder but being the smart guy that he is, he figures they must have excluded Bruce as the suspect if they’re talking to him. This scene is told from Diana’s POV.

Now an interview with Bruce, who is distraught. He is in Donna’s bedroom in their shared house. It is notably a pigsty: Donna is one of those people who leaves a trail of chaos behind her. They confront him with the fact that her death nets him a million dollars. He asks why he would want to kill his child? Mustapha’s POV.

Next D/M talk to Claire in her flat, which is perfectly neat and harmonious, a little glass booth in the sky. Claire is unfailingly polite and doesn’t try to flirt. She says that yes, they were old friends and had recently got back in touch, and Bruce had grown on her a little, and she was very excited about her friend’s pregnancy. Who would kill a pregnant woman? They ask her for an alibi. Claire does horse dressage at the poshest club around: this is where all the considerable money she makes goes. She was there for most of the critical period. This scene is told from Mustapha’s POV.

Now Elle, who says she knows Donna wasn’t actually pregnant. Donna forgot to flush and there was a tampon in the bowl. She was a little jealous of Donna, because Alex clearly fancied her, but she told Alex that Donna wasn’t pregnant and smart Alex got suspicious and dumped Donna. Diana’s POV.

Now an old posh Southern lady at the horse club. Of course Claire was there that night, though she seemed unusually frazzled. All the ladies love Claire: she’s so classy! Oh, goodness: the dead woman was here just the other day, came to see Claire, who wasn’t there yet, then when Claire did show up, and Donna was about to sit down to tea with some of the ladies, and Claire got visibly upset and dragged Donna out. All this was about twelve hours before Donna died. More of a third person omniscient POV.

Now Claire, one more time. D/M try to rattle her, but she’s a perfect pixie–until they bring up that Alex, upon being threatened about having lied by omission to the police, admitted that he told her Donna wasn’t really pregnant. She claims to have told Bruce, but they know Bruce didn’t know: he wasn’t a good enough actor. But even this doesn’t rattle her much, nor does the recap of what the cops know. Claire remains calm, perhaps hinting that what might have happened might have been self-defense.