This story hails from the early millennium. I set this story of two misfits in Seattle during the vintage years. Sadly, this story never received publication anywhere, even though I featured it on author websites.
Mary & Nate
How they met…
Mary hasn’t lived in Seattle long enough to appreciate sun breaks. Rain falls from the sky in sheets while gusty winds creating a wash n’ dry effect.
She huddles near the doorway of a record shop where she sold her old Neil Diamond records, but didn’t have much luck with the other ones. In fact, the rude clerk with the ring dangling from his nose and a mean tattoo of God-knows-what dancing menacingly on his biceps, scoffed at the records. “No one listens to these anymore.” Then he slammed the records down on the counter causing Mary to scurry out of the store.
The wind shifts directions and now the rain soaks Mary’s plaid vintage coat. She stuffs the records under her coat and prays for the bus to arrive. It’s already five minutes off schedule, most likely because of this lovely Seattle weather.
Finally, she spots the bus coming over the hill– a squawk of brakes announces its beastly presence. Pulling her wet hair into a pony tail, she shakes water off of her useless umbrella. The bus comes to a halt and lets out a mechanical fart.
Mary trips on the stairs and plops down absent mindedly next to a young man wearing thick glasses and a trench coat. She drops a record and the young man picks it up and stares at the cover.
“I didn’t know anyone still listens to old Barry.”
Hands shaking, the man gives the record to Mary. She glances at him and a slow smile spreads across her dripping face.
“I’m a rarity.”
He responds, “You don’t say.”
“I sold my Neil Diamond records pretty easily. The clerk called Neil kitsch, but he scoffed at me when I showed him my Manilow records, the jerk.”
A family of crows rummaging through the garbage grabs Mary’s attention. She gazes out the window, while the man stares at her profile.
He finds her attractive, even refreshing and he prefers glean of the raindrops that drip from her nose, her glasses, and cheeks.
“So if you like Barry so much why are you selling your records?”
“I just moved here, I need rent money and I’d like to break away from my past.”
The man wonders why she would say something like “break away from my past.” She doesn’t look like someone who has lived a sordid life. Yet, new people move to Seattle all of the time, starting over as they say. Some of them rode the bus where the young man in the trench coat, although hardly a detective, pried their life stories out of them.
“So where did you live before?”
Mary studies the young man’s face. She likes his deep brown eyes even if they are hidden behind those glasses. Perhaps, he is one of those computer nerds that will graduate from college and earn big bucks or just a lowly sci-fi bookworm. She can’t tell, but he appears genuinely interested in her and she feels flattered.
“I moved here from Detroit. I worked as an editorial assistant for a publisher of dictionaries. Now I’m a freelance word collector.”
“I’ve not heard of that profession before, a word collector. I’d like to talk more, but the next stop’s mine.”
He pulls the cord and the bell rings, announcing his presence to everyone on the bus. He turns to Mary and blushes. “I forgot to ask your name.”
Flustered, Mary drops another record on the floor. Nate retrieves it and gives it to her, his hand accidentally brushing against hers.
“Mary Jones, just plain Mary Jones.”
Nate makes his way to the bus exit and shouts, “I’m Nate. I hope to see you around.”
Mary yanks the hood of her coat over her face while other riders gawk at her. She wonders if they know her status as a thirty-something virgin. Word gets around. Although she hardly resembles the Maid of Orleans, she does possess a freshness that shouts purity like a sell-by date on a package of chocolate chip cookies or a carton of milk.
And then later…
Hidden behind her pink umbrella, Mary dashes down the stairs of a library. She crashes into Nate. “Hey, watch out!”
Nate pulls the umbrella away from Mary’s face. “Hey it’s you, just plain Mary Jones, right?”
Mary grimaces, “Who else would crash into you. I’m a walking accident these days.”
Nate smiles shyly, “Do you believe in kismet?”
Mary fixes her umbrella. “No, but I could quote the dictionary definition for you.”
Nate chuckles, “Don’t bother, some words don’t need an explanation. It ruins the magic.”
“Oh, really, are you trying to put me out of work?”
Nate spends another day of drudgery in the basement of the library. When he’s in one of his imaginative moods, he pretends that he has been condemned to a medieval dungeon for life, for loving a princess from the wrong fiefdom.
But in reality, Nate’s work involves a bit of slicing and dicing of videotape covers, which he then slips into library-approved plastic covers. The older man sitting next to him, a British expatriate and a lifer, places stickers on the covers. Nate whistles under his breath while the older man studies Nate’s face for telltale signs of amore.
He nudges Nate in the arm. “You seem in a chipper mood today.”
Nate slides another tape into its new home. “Really?”
The older man continues to study Nate’s face. “Ah, I bet you met a woman!”
Nate blushes, “Why would you say that?”
“I’ve been around and I know what’s going on here.”
Nate chokes and clears his throat.
The older man continues his inquisition. “It’s okay with me. It’s not like this job will light your fire or anything.”
“Why should I light anything?”
“Nathaniel, my good chap, you’re still a pup. You should take advantage of that fact or end up an old bloke like me.”
Nate chokes, “I’m only in my thirties and have a long way to go.”
“I said the same thing at your age and then time passed me by as the old cliché goes. It’s like a train wreck, really. One day you wake up and you’re fifty-five!”
If only I were a bubbly blonde supermodel…
Meanwhile, in another part of the waterlogged city, Mary lounges at her kitchen table staring at a small computer screen. Occasionally she types in a paragraph or two. She grabs a copy of a fashion magazine, pores over a story and tosses the magazine into a bin.
She shakes her cramped legs as she pries herself away from her computer and she heads over to her miniscule bathroom. She stares at her face in the mirror and glosses her lips with flaming red lipstick then she washes it off. She ties her dishwater blonde hair back into a bun and she tries out several seductive facial expressions, but finds that she resembles a hardly erotic Mary Poppins.
She scowls at her reflection. “Oh, blast off Mary Jones.”
Then as a spontaneous act, she sprays shaving crème on her reflection in the mirror.
The excitement builds…
Six months later, Mary and Nate talk quietly at a table in the corner of the library. Mary glances through a large reference book. Her eyes peel away from the book and wander to Nate’s face.
“So how long have you worked here?”
Mary drops a pen on the floor. Her long hair brushes against Nate’s shoulder when she bends down to pick up the pen. They both shudder. Nate feels embarrassed about his thoughts about doing the deed with Mary in the library.
He shakes the thought out of his mind and returns to Mary’s question. “I’m not a lifer yet.”
Mary feels perplexed not comprehending why working at a library is such a undesirable profession. “You act like there’s something wrong with working here. I think that it’s a noble career hanging around all of these words.” Mary’s voice crescendos “Imagine!”
“Sshhh! Don’t get so excited. It’s really not that dramatic.”
Mary gawks, “Are you joking? So where did you say that you worked?”
“In the dungeon.”
“And what do you do again?”
“You know very well what I do.”
“Then, show me your work.”
Mary grabs few video tapes off of a shelf and she takes them to the table where she examines Nate’s work. She grins at him.
He frowns, “I don’t know what you’re getting so worked up about.”
Mary hugs a videotape to her chest. “I need something to live for.”
The obligatory thrift store scene…
Later that afternoon, Nate and Mary find something, at least temporary to live for. They race their shopping carts across a vast thrift store. They come to a halt at the hat rack. Mary reaches for a black watchman hat. “Ooh, I like this one. It’s so mysterioso.”
She yanks it over Nate’s face.
“Why did you do that?”
Mary guffaws. “You look like a bank robber. See I have this fantasy along the lines of Patricia Hearst.”
Yanking the hat off, Nate tosses it at Mary. “Sounds pretty Marquis de Sade to me.” He reaches for a straw hat covered in daisies and he daintily places it on his head. “I think this one shows off my feminine side quite nicely.”
“Yeah, if you’re over sixty and hanging out at a church function.”
Nate imitates an old timer, swaying his frail hips. He cops a Southern accent, “Or maybe I’m one of those southern belles.”
Mary shakes her head, “Those belles have large pointy chests and they’re always heaving so that virile men will notice their chronic femininity.”
Nate removes the hat. “I do declare you know a lot of words, young Mary.”
Mary removes her pink trench coat and replaces it with a plaid wool hunting jacket. She stuffs her trench coat into an overstuffed shopping bag.
She glances at Nate, “All in a day’s work. Not bad for twenty dollars. And it’s not like I ever dreamed of being a fashion plate.”
Nate’s crooked grin shines up his face. “You don’t know how refreshing it is to hear you say that.”
“Yeah, I’m not into living a vacuous existence.”
“There you go with those difficult words again.”
Mary socks Nate’s arm. “What is it with you and my vocabulary? You work at a library so study the dictionary one of these days.”
“I work in the video department and everyone knows that people who watch movies don’t read books.”
“Where did you hear that? That’s insane.”
The Venus-Mars Fly Trap…
They sit on two ends of Mary’s couch as if balancing a seesaw. Nate watches a sci-fi film while Mary studies a huge dictionary. Mary glances at Nate. “Look, here’s that word again!”
Nate ignores Mary. She sulks and watches him across the expanse of the couch staring at the small TV screen, completely absorbed in the boring film.
“So is the movie almost over?”
Nate gawks at Mary, “I thought you were enjoying it.”
Mary wonders if she and Nate are on the same planet, much less the same room. She hasn’t even watched the movie. Hasn’t he noticed? If she was enjoying the movie, she wouldn’t be poring through a dictionary during the movie.
“Not really. I never cared for Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
Nate blows his nose and wipes his eyes on his sleeve. “But it’s a classic!”
Mary pushes her glasses up on her nose. “Maybe, but I prefer something that’s not so cheap.”
“But that’s the whole point!”
“Oh, I know. I like Ed Wood and stuff like that, but this one doesn’t do anything for me.”
Nate stops the tape. “To each her own. And the answer to your question is yes, it’s almost over, or was, but it’s no fun watching it alone.”
Nate gazes at Mary. He doesn’t quite understand the flush expression on her face. She doesn’t seem perturbed by his passionate response to the B-flick, but she seems turned on. He’s never seen her like this before so all of a sudden he feels nervous, tense and as if he’ll lose control.
“So what do you want to do?”
Mary coyly tilts her head. She can think of lots of things to do, amorous things, if only she had the experience. Her cheeks burn with her blood, her stomach turns somersaults and her mouth feels suddenly dry as a desert. Nevertheless she scrambles across the couch and closer to Nate. She leans towards Nate hoping he will plant a nice juicy kiss on her parched lips.
Nate pulls away. Mary advances, kiss me you fool. They lean in for the kiss, but their glasses crash into each other.
“Now, why didn’t we think of removing our glasses first? That really smarts.”
Removing her glasses, she checks them for cracks and rubs her eyes. She feels tears of pain, and laughter, she isn’t sure what, welling up in her gray eyes.
Nate polishes his glasses and he looks sheepishly at Mary. “Why can’t we just do this like normal people? It can’t be that difficult.”
“That’s because anyone who’s still a virgin at our age isn’t normal.”
The couple tries to kiss one more time, but fails. They give up. “We can just be friends… Certainly we are not flowers of desire, fountains of love and the stuff that knocked the socks off of troubadours.”
Mary snickers, “Most certainly not.”
What does Mozart have to do with it?
A week later Mary decides to stop by the library and visit Nate. She listens to one of Mozart’s operas blasting out of her walkman as she bounces down the street. She pretends that she has been transported to the classical era, Vienna to be exact. She wonders what words they would have spoken then. If men or women collected words the way she does now and what were the buzz words at that time?
Meanwhile, Nate emerges from the library. He sees Mary a block away and sprints down the stairs. He shouts at Mary, but she ignores him. He can’t see that she is listening to her walkman. Is she blowing me off? Why? He can’t kiss her like a troubadour? It’s not that he doesn’t want to, it’s just that…
He shouts at Mary again waving his arms frantically hoping she’ll notice him. Everyone else notices the crazy man in a plaid hunting jacket running down the street shouting and waving his arms, like Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny, but not Mary Jones.
Finally, Mary looks up and sees Nate. She smiles, waves and dashes across a busy street, not noticing the traffic. She can’t hear a thing, except Mozart in slow motion and all she sees is Nate calling her like an angel from the abyss. A car swerves Mary and honks at her. Another car glides towards and hits Mary. Her body flies upward then lands on the street with a slight thud. The driver leaps from her car. Pulling out a cell phone, the driver frantically dials a number.
Nate dashes into the street stopping traffic. He scoops Mary’s unconscious body in his arms and carries her to the sidewalk, tears flow down his face. He pulls the headphones off of Mary’s head as Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro pours out into the world. At least it isn’t Manilow.
Moments later an ambulance tears down the street. Nate holds onto Mary’s hand and he trembles as the medics approach.
Nate studies Mary’s serene face. He sees their short time together flickering on a screen before him, the day they met on the bus and Mary felt embarrassed about her Manilow records. Then he sees the day that they spent in a thrift store updating Mary’s wardrobe with vintage clothes and the plaid hunting jacket that Nate borrows from Mary because they are roughly the same size. He recalls all those little things that aggravates him, but also all those things that turn him on.
A medic gently taps Nate on the shoulder. Nate shrugs the Medic off and plants a kiss on Mary’s lips.
The medic gently pulls Nate away from Mary. “I think that she’ll be fine, but we need to take her to the hospital.”
Obligatory sappy nostalgic scene…
Nate nods as more tears flow down his cheeks. This is worse than a bad hair day. He thinks of amusing thoughts to cheer himself up such as Mary’s obsession with words or her taste in movies-foreign films. Godard, Bergman, Fellini… He would’ve never discovered those filmmakers on his own, not even working in the video dungeon where he never paid much attention to his work. Now, a whole new world opens up to him.
A Near life experience…
Mary wakes up in a hospital bed. She feels somewhat bruised, but alive. She feels different and special because of all the medical attention she has been receiving. She looks around for Nate and wonders when he’ll emerge from the din and chaos that surrounds her. She wonders what would’ve happened had the car killed her. What would happen to Nate? Oh, what maudlin thoughts!
That evening, Nate holds Mary’s hand. She gazes sweetly into his face, the way an exhausted child might before falling into a deep sleep. Nate seems more mature and stolid than usual. She wonders how her own experience has transformed him. She wants to make a joke, but refrains for the moment because he looks too serious.
“What’s up? You look different.”
Nate blushes, wondering how he looks different. Mary continues to stare at him. “Yes, you really look different.”
Nate’s signature grin spreads across his face. “So do you.”
“Near life experiences will do that to a girl.”
Nate confesses, “I kissed you while you were unconscious. I thought it might be my last opportunity.”
“Honey, take a closer look. I’m hardly Sleeping Beauty.”
“Was it good for you?”
“Kiss me again while we’re both awake.”
Nate crawls onto the bed and leans into Mary’s face which rests on a pile of pillows–just like Sleeping Beauty in her glass coffin. He plants an awkward kiss on Mary’s lips, but a kiss nonetheless. And Mary enjoys it for what it’s worth.
She sighs, “They say that it gets better with practice.”
Nate laughs, “In that case, there’s time for me yet to kiss you like a troubadour.” He crawls under the sheets and embraces Mary.
She giggles, “Oh, those words! Why must you say such large words?”
Translated from a short video script
c 2006 (rewrite 2010) Patricia Herlevi