The Silver Year: Chapter 11

Chapter​​ 11

A Garage is No Place to Write a Book



“Walter…” his grandmother Mary tried to​​ gently​​ nudge him from his trance. He was staring​​ intensely​​ into a digital camera at the end of a black PVC tube. At the other end was​​ one of​​ her​​ garage’s​​ fluorescent lighting fixtures.​​ “Walter—”

“Shhh…” He waved up his index figure. “One sec Grandma . . . Ah, got it!​​ I​​ did it!” He jumped up and down looking at the digital camera screen.

“You did what?”​​ she asked.

“I built a spectrograph​​ out of one of your leftover PVC​​ tubes.​​ Come check​​ out​​ how it works.”​​ He waved her over​​ to the instrument.​​ “This end has a​​ rubber cap​​ on it​​ with a thin slit​​ that​​ focuses the light​​ coming​​ in​​ from the fixture,” he said​​ showing her,​​ “then​​ a holographic​​ insert​​ inside the​​ tube​​ diffracts the light, and this camera captures the result.​​ See those green and blue lines?”​​ He​​ pointed to​​ the camera screen.


“Those are​​ mercury​​ electron footprints!​​ They come​​ from the mercury​​ vapor inside the​​ florescent​​ bulb.​​ Electrons can only occupy certain orbital​​ paths within an atom,​​ so​​ in order to​​ jump​​ up to a higher orbital path,​​ they get​​ energy​​ by absorbing light,​​ but only specific colors​​ of light. Then when they jump back down, they emit​​ what​​ they absorbed, and that’s what you see here, a​​ partial​​ mercury​​ emission spectrum. Every element has a unique one​​ and it’s how​​ we​​ identify​​ what something​​ is made of, even​​ faraway​​ planets​​ and​​ stars.​​ It’s like these little electrons are saying...” he continued in a high-pitched voice, “Hey,​​ I might​​ be small, but I still play a big role in your world.

“That’s great,”​​ Mary​​ said unimpressed, “but I asked you to fix this light fixture two days ago, not​​ turn it​​ into a science​​ project.​​ How much weed have you been smoking?”

“None Grandma. I​​ promise.”

“Well,​​ when’s the last time you showered or went outside​​ in the daylight?​​ I know I said I wouldn’t intrude, but​​ you sure​​ you’re​​ okay?​​ You’ve hardly​​ left this garage​​ the last​​ two weeks.”

“Yes,​​ just trying​​ to avoid the paparazzi,​​ that’s all.”

“They haven’t been around for a​​ while now. I think they moved on since you stopped wearing dresses.”

“Well, still, I’ve been making some progress on the novel​​ finally,​​ and I just​​ want to stay​​ focused​​ on that.”

“So this science project has something to do with​​ the novel​​ then?”​​ Mary asked.

“Yeah, research. The main character is​​ kind of​​ a science enthusiast,​​ and I was thinking about using it for a scene.”

“Really…” she said.​​ “Have you figured​​ out​​ what the book is going to be​​ about then?”​​ 

“I’m getting there.”

“I see . . . So​​ what about the​​ trip? It​​ might give you something to write about.​​ It​​ leaves tomorrow in case you forgot.”

“I know​​ Grandma,​​ but​​ after a lot of thought,​​ I’ve decided​​ not going is best. I’m just starting to get​​ a​​ grip on​​ my mental health​​ again​​ and​​ the stress​​ of a trip​​ might​​ make me lose​​ it​​ for good, and I sure don’t​​ want​​ that to happen in​​ a​​ foreign​​ continent I’ve never been.​​ Also, although I do want to go to Europe someday,​​ on​​ a bus tour​​ is not the way​​ I want to see it, nor did Amber in her heart.​​ So for myself,​​ and in respect to Amber,​​ I’m​​ staying​​ here​​ until​​ the​​ novel is​​ done.​​ This garage will become to me what Thoreau’s​​ cabin was to him.​​ I need​​ to​​ isolate myself from the​​ world and​​ journey within,​​ not​​ be vacationing​​ in Europe on someone else’s dime​​ on a trip that​​ was​​ never​​ truly​​ mine.”​​ 

“Well,​​ no offense,” Mary said, “but​​ you don’t seem to be​​ making much progress​​ ‘journeying’ within​​ from all​​ the​​ noise​​ coming out of this garage​​ lately. Sounds​​ more​​ like​​ learning​​ the drums​​ and building science​​ projects​​ to me.”

Walter laughed.​​ “Like I said,​​ I’m​​ just starting to make​​ progress​​ with the novel. Then during breaks, yes,​​ I’ve been taking advantage of Mom’s old drum set.​​ I’ve also been sharpening my French​​ too.”

“For​​ the trip?”​​ she asked

“No, so I can finally read that copy of​​ Candide​​ in French​​ I’ve had on my bookshelf forever. I’m also giving​​ Swann’s Way​​ a shot. Amber always wanted me to read it, but it’s proven even more difficult​​ to do​​ in French.

“Hm,”​​ Mary​​ said eyeing him skeptically.

She then​​ began walking around the garage, a virtual maze of​​ open​​ boxes and crates​​ crowded around​​ the​​ drum set​​ and Walter’s​​ injured​​ camping​​ cot​​ he’d set up​​ for napping.​​ His​​ grandfather’s old​​ woodworking​​ station​​ had also been cleared off​​ for​​ science experiments and aspirations​​ of​​ a novel​​ one day​​ arising​​ from​​ his​​ sporadic and​​ sloppily-written​​ journal​​ entries, what he​​ was​​ counting​​ as​​ “progress”.

“You​​ found​​ your mother’s old records,”​​ Mary said looking​​ into one of the​​ open boxes. “Where​​ were they?”

“Up in the rafters where I found​​ grandpa’s hat.”

“I still don’t understand your fascination with​​ that ugly thing. You look like a construction worker​​ you know.”

Walter and the​​ absurdly bright orange fedora​​ from his dorky dad costume had become almost​​ as​​ inseparable​​ as his bellbottoms. Like his bellbottoms, the​​ hat, which was in antithesis to everything rock star,​​ had​​ taken​​ on​​ a​​ denotative meaning being​​ that it​​ demarcated the death of Quinn Quark​​ and the beginning​​ of​​ the search for himself. But​​ also​​ like his bellbottoms,​​ the hat​​ concealed a part of him he didn’t want the public seeing: his face. However, in regards to​​ passing​​ cars​​ on his evening walks, he was more visible than​​ ever,​​ the most important tip he’d taken away​​ from​​ recently​​ reading​​ Stephen King’s​​ On Writing.

“Oh my, look at this,”​​ Mary​​ said pulling a​​ framed​​ photo​​ out of​​ another box. “My little​​ boy​​ scout.”

“I wouldn’t​​ call him​​ little,” Walter said looking at the picture of his younger​​ self.​​ “Looks like he​​ ate​​ another boy scout.”

“Oh,​​ that​​ was just baby fat.​​ You​​ were​​ just a late bloomer, that’s all.​​ This must’ve​​ been​​ taken a few months after​​ you​​ moved here. Look at those pudgy cheeks and your always perfect​​ uniform you ironed yourself.​​ You’ll always​​ be​​ this​​ chubby​​ little​​ boy​​ scout​​ to me.​​ I think he’s who you​​ should​​ get back in touch with. Remember how happy you were?”

“Because I’d just been​​ wrenched​​ from the clutches of hell,”​​ Walter said.

“And​​ here you​​ are again,” Mary said,​​ “yet​​ now​​ you’re refusing to be saved.”

“What do you mean?”​​ he​​ asked.

“Do I really have to spell it out?​​ You​​ may be brilliant​​ Walter,​​ but​​ sometimes​​ that​​ brilliance​​ blinds​​ you​​ of​​ what’s most​​ obvious.​​ If you’re trying to escape Quinn Quark, why​​ stay​​ in​​ America​​ where​​ you’ll always be chained to​​ him​​ when you have​​ an​​ opportunity to go​​ somewhere you’ll be free of him? Isn’t​​ that​​ what you’ve been saying you want all along?​​ And​​ I know you don’t believe in​​ God​​ anymore, but​​ I’ve been praying for you,​​ and​​ I​​ think if you’d open​​ your​​ mind to it,​​ you’d see this trip​​ is his hand reaching out for you.​​ It wouldn’t be the first time he’s intervened​​ to save​​ your life.”

“Grandma,​​ you​​ realize people​​ mostly​​ go​​ on these tours to​​ party, drink, and fornicate, right?​​ I’m not sure God would approve.”

“We don’t know God’s will.​​ The world is full​​ of​​ temptation,​​ yet the world​​ and its temptations are still God’s creation, and they are here for a purpose,​​ and that purpose is​​ not to hide​​ away​​ from them.​​ Enemies​​ are better beaten with understanding than ignorance. And my shielded​​ upbringing​​ was​​ helpless​​ once​​ temptation​​ entered​​ your mother’s life, temptations I never understood, and perhaps judged too harshly, which only drove her further into them and farther away from me.”

Mary​​ came out of the maze and stood in front of Walter with a record in her hand.​​ “Your mother’s favorite,” she said handing it to him. “I couldn’t remember it until I saw the​​ little man lady on the​​ cover.”

Purple Rain​​ was her favorite record?” Walter​​ asked.

“At the time​​ she was pregnant with you, yes.​​ She used to play this almost every day, and every time this one filthy song came on, she’d sing it at the top of her lungs just to spite me because I​​ had thrown away the record so many times.​​ After​​ the​​ fourth or fifth time​​ she rebought it though,​​ I gave up​​ and​​ made her listen to it​​ in​​ her​​ room​​ only. But every time that song came on, the door would fling open​​ and​​ out came​​ your mother​​ dancing like a stripper, sometimes in nothing but her underwear with her tatas and big belly hanging out, just screaming that song as loud as she could.”

“No​​ wonder I am the way​​ I​​ am,”​​ Walter said laughing.

He​​ then went to a record player in the garage and​​ dropped​​ the needle​​ on the last song of the first side​​ of the record. “Was it this​​ song​​ Grandma?” he asked.

“Oh yes,​​ that’s it,” she said as soon as it started to play.​​ “It’s​​ scarred in my memory for life.”​​ Mary​​ then​​ brought her hand to her face​​ and sighed as if she was going to cry, but didn’t.​​ Walter had never seen his grandmother cry.​​ “Funny,” she said,​​ “I don’t seem to mind it as much​​ now.”

“I guess there’s a lot I still don’t know about my mother,” Walter said.​​ Never in a million years would​​ I have​​ guessed​​ Purple Rain​​ was her favorite record.​​ I​​ would’ve thought​​ Tapestry​​ or something like that from the few songs of hers I’ve heard.​​ 

“Yes, I much preferred her music,” Mary said. “It was so sweet in contrast​​ to her behavior​​ sometimes, but​​ I think​​ I was somewhat to blame for that. Deep down​​ though,​​ she was more like her music, and​​ by​​ George​​ was she smart​​ and had a heart of gold.​​ She was always​​ trying to help someone or save something. From the time she could walk she​​ was always bringing​​ home​​ stray cats and injured animals to adopt, or rallying for this cause or​​ protesting that one,​​ none of which I ever really understood. Again, I wish I just would’ve been a little more open-minded,​​ then maybe she would’ve opened up​​ to me​​ more.”

With tears in his eyes because he was bought to them so easily now, Walter went to his grandmother and hugged her like a firm handshake.​​ This​​ was how his grandmother always​​ hugged. Coming from a family of​​ awarded​​ Marines​​ and athletes,​​ she was not a​​ small or​​ fragile woman, and​​ her resolve​​ and stamina​​ to the service of others​​ was unlike any person​​ he​​ knew. Even at the age of seventy-five, she still worked nearly forty hours a week​​ as a​​ rehab​​ nurse at Torrance Memorial, a post she’d been serving in longer than​​ he​​ had been alive,​​ despite being able to​​ easily retire​​ two​​ decades​​ earlier.

“Walter...” his Grandmother​​ said​​ into his ear​​ after kissing his cheek,​​ “I love you, but you’re wrong. A​​ garage is no place to write a book. Also,​​ Amber​​ was going on this trip so she​​ could find inspiration to write​​ a​​ book.​​ So if you’re​​ really​​ trying to escape Quinn Quark, write​​ a​​ book, and pay respect to​​ her, I don’t see​​ how you​​ have any other option than going, unless I’m missing something?”

“No,” Walter​​ replied​​ into her ear, “you always seem to catch everything​​ Grandma.​​ I love you too, more than anyone. If God exists, you’re​​ his​​ strongest proof,​​ and​​ I don’t want you to ever think you did anything other than perfect in raising me.”

“Thank you,” she said. “But​​ you mind turning off the music now?”

“Yes of course,” Walter said and lifted the needle.

“So did I convince you?” Mary asked.

“Yes,​​ I think you did.​​ Or perhaps God did.”


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