Momentary Lapses

This blog was created during a momentary lapse, a period when I'm stuck in my writing and trying to jog something loose in my brain or push myself so close to deadline that I can kill, without remorse, the beloved opening or headline or quote that is keeping me from moving forward. Most of my posts here will have to do with writing, including occasional Favorite Writing Quotes (FWQs). Please share yours, and your comments, too.

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Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Friday, August 15, 2008

Portia's View

This story was originally written as my first assignment in the NYCMidnight Writers short-short competition. My group had to write a 1,000-word max story in two days with a designated Genre (open), Primary Location (rooftop of a skyscraper) and Object to include in the story (video camera).

I decided to take advantage of the Open Genre to try something more artsy-craftsy than my usual style. I spent much too much time on the opening (and had to cut most of it), then had to rush the ending. The result was a total head-scratcher.

I liked enough about the story to work at it, though. This is the revised version. Enjoy.


Summary: When a celebrity platypus comes to call, Craig and Miriam find the best view from the tallest building in New England is from the outside looking in.

Craig leaned on the parapet of the John Hancock Tower, arms wrapped around Portia, his wind-chapped features creased in an idiotic smile. Miriam panned left, filling the frame over his shoulder with a clutch of sailboats bobbing and weaving on the Charles.

“Did you get it?” Craig shouted over the roar of the rooftop ventilation units.

“I didn’t get much of Portia,” she screamed. “You’re too close.”

He stepped back half-a-step and Miriam zoomed in on the stuffed platypus—taxidermically-stuffed, not some plush cuddle toy—framed against the view across the river to Cambridge. Portia’s broad front feet, webbed between the curved claws, rested on the parapet. Her duck-billed snout pointed to the Great Dome of MIT.

“Got it!” Miriam slipped the camera into the pocket of her shoulder bag. “Now let’s get out of this blasted wind!”

Craig gathered up the platypus, belly-to-belly, one hand cradling the skull, the other cupped just above the tail. He followed Miriam across the roof to the relative shelter of the elevator shaft. She dropped down, knees raised, back to the wall. He eased down next to her. Portia’s glass eyes, spaced wide on either side of a duck-billed pout, glared at Miriam as if blaming her for the indignities of the past three days.

Portia the Exploring Platypus was a celebrity, a world-traveler with a website chronicling her jaunts around the globe by llama, pedicab and catamaran, jetpack, polar icebreaker and Humvee. The latest video showed Portia snowboarding in the Alps. (There was no record of her subsequent flight from Zurich to Boston, tucked under a seat in Craig’s carry-on tote, nesting on a pile of dirty shirts and boxers.)

“How much time do we have?” Craig draped the platypus across his lap, a position Miriam had yet to occupy after two week’s separation. “When does Frank have to lock up?”

Miriam’s cousin ran the Hancock’s maintenance crew, one of the few people with access to the highest rooftop in New England. They’d been up here before, and it had been her idea to pose Portia against the view in each direction.

“We’ve got till four, more than an hour. We got all the good stuff.”

“Let’s see.” Craig shifted closer to Miriam, his chin tucked against her collarbone as she flipped open the screen on the videocam.

She ran the tape from the beginning, a shot of them sitting on the floor of their cramped Brookline apartment, Craig waggling Portia’s front feet at the camera.

“Hello, this is Craig and Miriam from Boston,” he said. “And this is our famous friend, Portia the Exploring Platypus. She’s visiting us after a lovely holiday in the Swiss Alps with our friend Gerhard. Come with us as we go exploring with Portia.”

The shot cut to Craig holding Portia, the Hancock Tower looming in the background. “That’s our first stop,” he said. “We’re going 800 feet up to the top of the biggest freakin’ mirror in New England.”

Miriam paused the video. “You’ve definitely got a future in TV—sales.”

“Everyone’s a critic. Keep going.”

“Okay, here’s the first side, the northeast. There’s the State House in the distance...”

“Bo-ring. Nice and shiny, though, huh, Portia?”

“See, a little closer in, the Public Gardens? See through the trees?” Miriam pointed with her little fingernail. “That’s a swan boat.”

“I bet she’d love that.”

“Here’s the southeast...”

“The way to escape—planes, ships, trains and automobiles.” Craig wiggled his butt. “There’s a beach on Cape Cod, Portia, calling our names.”

“Speaking of escape…”

“Whoo-hoo! Fenway Park.” Craig boosted the platypus to the level of the video screen. “Hey, Portia, want to take in a game while you’re in town? Or look! Sailboats! That’s cool.”

Miriam froze the screen and lifted the camera closer to Craig. “You look goofy. Cuddling a platypus.”

“I’m not cuddling her, it.” He eased the platypus off his lap and took the camera from Miriam. He studied the image of himself, arms around Portia, gazing across the river. “You’re right. I look goofy.” He flipped the power switch and the screen went black.

“We’d better go.” Miriam rocked to her feet and for the first time sensed the tower swaying under her. She stared at her shoes till the rooftop stopped moving.

Craig stepped out from the shelter of the elevator shaft. His eyes swept the roofscape lined with mechanical hulks, bristling with coils and antennae, and crowned with a satellite dish. “It just hit me,” he said. “This is the view nobody ever sees. I’ll take the camera this time.”

Miriam held the platypus out stiff-armed against the backdrop of generators, ventilators and whatfors, the life system of the sleek façade. Then she turned sideways, cuddling Portia belly-to-belly, one hand cradling the back of her skull, the other cupped just above her tail.

“Craig!” she called. “You didn’t look goofy. You looked happy.”

“Yeah?” Craig crouched behind a capped pipe large enough to hold the camera. “Sit down against that square gray thing!” He crossed to her side. “I’ll take Portia.”

Miriam’s smile stiffened. She dangled the platypus by one paw. “If you want.”

“Don’t move.” Craig jogged back to the camera and propped Portia up on her hind feet against the pipe. The Record light flashed on.

This time, when Craig dropped down by her side, he pulled Miriam onto his lap. “I think I can cut back on my travel,” he said, smiling and waving at the camera. “The new guy’s ready.”

“That’s great.” Miriam waved at Portia. “I think I’m ready, too.”

* *

There’s a new portrait on the website of Portia the Exploring Platypus. She’s hunkered down by a rooftop elevator shaft, in a pile of clothing, nesting.

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