Okay, so we here at MojoFiction are actually in the midst of writing our second novel and we hope to have it finished … some day. It’s the story of a Chicago girl trying to make her way in the world despite her tendency to get in her own way of doing so, including getting herself fired from every new job every six months and turning away boyfriends even faster. So when she receives a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s yet another roadblock to happiness. There’s more, but we’re still writing it. What follows is the tentative prologue to the story. What we would like to do is, one, introduce you to our new work-in-progress, and, two, politely ask for your opinion on the prologue. Does it create an interesting character? Is it confusing or lacking? Those sorts of things. Any brave heart who makes it to the end will be rewarded with a cookie, which, as you know, are those things the internet gives you for visiting a website (so you probably already have one). No comment is too harsh, unless it’s something like “Please stop blogging.” That would be mean.
NO ONE EVER accused Alice Gwen Morgan of verbal restraint. Her enemies called her tactless, foul-mouthed (though she never swore), heartless, stupid, dummy-head (that was third grade), and when she wasn’t around, or they thought she couldn’t hear, retarded. But they never called her speechless. Her friends simply called her Alice the Merciless, because she could, and would, skewer even the most pure-of-heart soul with her constant stream-of-consciousness observations on life and the world she lived in. It didn’t matter if the object of her attentions was a stranger, a relative, or even a boyfriend. Alice always spoke what she perceived of as the truth.
This often led to awkward relationships.
Take Alice’s fourth serious boyfriend, poor Philip Rosen, a nice-looking, but clearly naïve young man. When he was twenty-two and Alice was twenty-four, they started dating. Because her last relationship ended badly, as usual, Alice tried to be considerate and think really hard before speaking. But during their first night together Phillip, in the midst of passion, harmlessly asked if Alice if she “liked it,” to which she replied that she did not particularly like it but she was going along with it to be polite and maybe if his manhood had a little more girth like her previous boyfriend’s there might be a little more going on – not that there was anything wrong with his penis, but, really, it was like comparing a straw to a potato.
Then there was her first job, right out of college, in the IT department at the Fossell Advertising Agency in Chicago. She had been there two months when Ben Fossell called her into his office to figure out why his computer screen kept blacking out. Seeing that she was an attractive young woman, Mr. Fossell decided to play matchmaker.
“Have you met my son, Nathan, yet?” he asked. “He’s in our accounting department. Wasn’t interested in advertising, but one day he’ll be keeping our books.”
“Oh, yes,” said Alice, “we’ve met. He’s nice and he does like his numbers. I like numbers, but not accounting. But have you seen those new Cisco routers? There’s something a girl can like.”
“…No, I haven’t,” said Mr. Fossell, who then did some routing of his own to bring the conversation back to his original purpose. “My son is single, you know.”
“Oh, I wish,” said Alice. “He’s handsome but he’s been dating that new guy in the mail room. What’s his name? Bradley? They’re cute together and normally I wouldn’t complain but when they wouldn’t stop sucking face at the bar last night I pretty much had to go home. Never go to a gay bar on margarita night. Did you know they have a drink there they just call ‘The Hairy Chest?’”
Unfortunately, that job only lasted about fifteen more seconds. But what a glorious fifteen seconds they were as Alice tried to figure out what was wrong with Mr. Fossell’s suddenly twitching facial muscles and the rapid reddening of his epidermis.
Alice’s parents, being, by definition, parents, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary with their little girl until the second grade, when, unexpectedly, the school called them in for thirteen parent-teacher conferences. They assumed she just liked to talk a lot – surely a good thing for a developing child. The problem wasn’t really the talking but the brutal honesty, and the school principal was not sure if Alice’s teacher, Mrs. Henriks, would even bother to come back from the psychiatrist this time. The Principal recommended seeing a behavioral specialist who could guide little Alice along the path to normal social interactions.
According to the specialist, the problem probably began sometime before birth. Alice’s father, Peter Morgan, had been thirty-seven when he finally got her mother pregnant, after years of trying. The specialist speculated that, at his age he had probably passed a random gene mutation that resulted in an extremely mild case of Asperger syndrome, if it could even be called that. Nothing to worry about in general, but the social awkwardness she was likely to experience as she grew up could impact her for the rest of her life. However, a few years of expensive weekly sessions would probably go a long way to curing that.
Naturally, Alice’s parents, being parents, didn’t want their daughter to be her own worst enemy as she grew into an adult. But they didn’t want her to think she wasn’t normal either, because, as far as they could tell, she was perfectly normal. So they decided to go full-on with the behavioral specialist.
Around that time Alice’s mother discovered she had breast cancer. Suddenly, all other considerations, including Alice’s social issues, were secondary as the family spent their time and resources fighting the awful disease. Unfortunately, the cancer had already spread beyond her breasts by the time it was discovered. Despite all their efforts, Alice’s mother died eight months later, only one day after Alice turned nine. They celebrated Alice’s birthday in a sterile white hospital room where Alice told her mom that the only present she would accept would be her mommy getting all better so they could go to Disneyland together and see Snow White and all the real princesses that she hoped to be like one day. There would be no point in going if Mom wasn’t there. Then Alice blew out the lone candle on a chocolate cupcake she held gently in her hands. Her mom smiled at her, said “Happy birthday,” and closed her eyes. Twelve hours later her body stopped fighting and she passed away.
Alice didn’t speak for the entire following day, or for several days after. But she was a smart girl and tougher than her teachers and her behavioral specialist and even her parents could have guessed. She knew she would see her mom again in Heaven so, even though she was sad, she didn’t worry. She also knew her dad needed her very much because he stopped spending time with his friends, even giving up his Thursday night bowling league (Mom called it the Beer-ing League); he stopped participating in church functions; he sometimes became cross over the smallest things, though never with her; and he cried softly in his room when he thought she was asleep for the night.
On one such night, after her father fell asleep, Alice sat up, thinking long and hard about the ideal way to make her dad a dad again. She knew from television that, aside from their children, men loved sports more than anything in the world. Surely, her dad would not be able to resist sharing his love of all things athletic with his only little girl.
She started small by asking her dad if she could watch a baseball game with him because she loved baseball ever since a few days ago when she and her friend Lisa played baseball with some other boys at the park and when Lisa threw the ball to Eric he missed catching it and it smacked him in the face, making everyone laugh except Eric, and she wondered if that happened in real baseball. Her dad, after asking her to slow down, take a breath, and organize her thoughts, said he would think about it. He must not have thought too long because that Saturday they were on their way to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
It was mid-May, warm enough to go without coats, but her dad made her wear one anyway because he said Wrigley Field is always twenty degrees colder in the shade. He was right, but the hot dogs and nachos kept them warm while he explained every aspect of the game to her, including the Cubs propensity to lose. She was about to tell him that it wasn’t as exciting as she hoped, as evidenced by that manager who kept walking out to the mound to replace Cubs pitchers every inning as if there was nothing else to do on a warm May day, and even though her dad was obviously enjoying himself maybe next time they should try a fast-moving game, like soccer, when he showed her the game-day program and she discovered baseball stats. Over the next few innings she absorbed every number of every player on both teams, fascinated by the meaning of statistics when applied to potential performance. When her dad wanted to leave after the seventh inning stretch because the Cubs were down by four runs and would not be coming back, Alice informed him that, if the numbers were correct, the short stop was due, as long as the top of the order could set the table, you know, get the ducks on the pond and all that. Mystified, her dad sat back down. Five batters later the Cubs had tied the game on a bases-clearing triple that landed just inside the right field foul line and died in the corner.
When they were done screaming their brains out with the crowd at the excitement of the play, Alice’s dad wrapped her up in huge bear hug. Encouraged, she immediately asked if they could attend more games this summer and her dad enthusiastically agreed. But while she felt good about the first steps in her dad’s recovery, she didn’t think that sitting around watching baseball games would be enough. If her dad was going to heal all the way, they needed to get busy.
One week later, the last week of school, Alice brought home a sign-up sheet for a summer co-ed soccer league. Her dad wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but she told him she would probably make lots of new friends, which, according to the school counselor, would be good for her social interactions. She also pointed out that the team needed a coach and she had already volunteered him for the job, telling the administrator of the league that he had dreamt of coaching soccer all his life and would be happy to helm any team his daughter was playing for. Even though Alice had never seen her dad so confused before, he agreed to coach the team.
They won the summer league easily on the spectacular play of their star forward, Alice Gwen Morgan. Like a chess player, Alice saw every player on the field at once, gauged their foot-speed and direction, and determined the best possible moves and their immediate outcomes, including where she would place the ball to slice it between the defenders and to her teammate with the best angle on the goal. She did this without thinking about it; the instinctual play presented itself and she acted on it.
By the end of a summer filled with soccer and baseball games, Alice thought her dad was back to normal, or as normal as a man who lost his wife could get. But that didn’t stop her from enjoying their father-and-daughter-take-on-the-world lifestyle they had built up. In fact, Alice couldn’t imagine a different life. When she turned twelve, they bought expensive bicycles and rode them through Lincoln Park, along the lakefront in Chicago, and up to Wisconsin. When she turned sixteen they ran a half-marathon near Champaign, Illinois and hiked Mt. Whitney in California. The summer before she left for college, they went canyoneering in Utah. Her dad hurt his leg halfway through the trip, so they had to turn back, but he was fifty-five so Alice didn’t mind because she figured at fifty-five those kinds of things started to happen.
Her dad also had Vickie at home now. He had met Vickie when Alice was thirteen and married her when Alice was fifteen. Alice liked Vickie because she understood the situation from day one, so she always let Alice and her dad have their adventures together. Now that Alice was off to college, she decided it was time for her dad and Vickie to have their own adventures together. Alice was proud of her dad and happy that she could help him enter middle-age without incident.
When Alice arrived at college, with her whole life ahead of her, like a door open to an exciting but frightening wilderness, she suddenly realized how much she missed her mom. She thought her mom would have been proud of her daughter, not only for taking care of Dad, but for successfully making it out of high school without destroying the delicate lives of too many of her fellow teenagers with her curious social skills. So, on her first night in her first dorm room during her first year in college, Alice did something she had waited almost ten years to do.