So here begins the serialization of my first novel The Price Is Bright. I had always thought that serialization was one of the cool things of modernist (and earlier) fiction, that whole novels would be published piecemeal before the book came out, and wanted to do something similar here on Green Spot Blue. But publishing has changed a lot in the last few years and serializing a novel on a website is probably not something most publishers are going to find desirable though I believe that there is no reason one could not still sell a book even of a entirely serialized novel. In any event, I did not feel that I could ask other writers to consider letting us serialize their novels if I was not willing to do so myself.
We plan to post new installments every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I hope you enjoy it and without further delay present The Price Is Bright.
Apricot and rose hued horizon, likeness of rain-waiting leaves, and a few too many clouds are ants all over the blue honeyed sky which remains once dawn has drawered it’s colors. He leaves Amsterdam under the same sky as was above on his arrival. Though when he arrived he didn’t have the ghost of silky blood sheen on his hand. It is really not there he keeps reminding himself. Nor is the cuff of his shirt soaked with a dusky red. That shirt has been sent to the bottom of the Amstel river and the blood coating his hand since scrubbed off. He will not do a Lady Macbeth but the smooth slick sensation still resides on his skin, and he feels almost as if he will drop his suitcase and so changes it from his right to left hand. He is far from where he began this trip. The destination was desired, but the means of his transit was unexpected. So that:
He moves slowly along the avenue in front of the train station. If any muggers were awake, he would certainly be within their crosshairs, with his tentative gait and suitcase like the universal scents of prey. But it is too early for such hunting on the streets, all the jackals are sleeping off a night of rolling drunks in the red-light district, quiet in their own stupors.
He misjudges the curb, stepping off and into a twist of ankle, and now is marked as one of the wounded herd. His clothes are too new and pressed to allow one to think him a member of the hippie throng which are slowly becoming the ornaments along the edge of the station square. He is lost but from his eyes it is plain that he is not expecting any sort of rescue as they do not dart about in anticipation of locking on to friendly faces. He moves now to find the street tram stop. He holds a piece of paper which has the name of the pensione where he has a room for his stay. As he wanders the streets, he notices that the city seems unusually quiet, remembering then the world cup and posits that the city, indeed this entire nation must be sleeping off the celebrations following the two goal victory of Brazil which has sent their team into the final against West Germany. This explains why there are so few bikes on the road and the lack of traffic on the canals.
Passing the Heineken brewery to his left, he finds a street tram stop and sits on the bench and waits. It is an hour before one comes and by its lethargic pace, he gauges the depth of the national hangover to be very deep indeed. Even at such a sluggish chug his ride is short and he feels foolish for wasting the money on a trip he could have easily made on foot. His funds are not endless, and he must be careful in his spending to ensure he can stay long enough to complete his objective. The pensione is called the Oscar Wilde hotel and sits on a small side street near a broad canal. The proprietress is barely awake, her nose hovering over a steaming cup of Turkish coffee, the scent of cardamon overpowering even the odors of disinfectant which linger from repeated past cleanings (none of which could have been in the recent past). She does not ask for his passport, but happily accepts his week’s rent in advance, which money in hand has proved tonic of her ailments and stimulant enough to have her roll her shoulders back and straighten her spine and hand him his key.
–Should you require any additional services, please do not hesitate to ask, she says. If I cannot provide it myself, I am sure that I can procure whatever monsieur desires.
–Thank you, he says. I will certainly keep your kind offer in mind.
–Da rien, she answers.
She has mistaken him for a Frenchman. He does not mind.
After a nap and a birdbath, he dresses and exits the pensione and heads down along the canal. He appears to meander, an aimless walker but after a long stroll he ends up where he had planned, at the post office. He opens the large dark wood and glass doors and walks to the row of public telephones. In the center of the room is a small fortified island of dark wood where the operator sits. She is obviously too alert to be a fan of the Oranje.
–Hello, he says, offering a tired smile.
–Hello, she responds, too affected by boredom to even fake a smile.
–I would like to place a collect call to the United States. He resists the urge to mime this, knowing most Dutch have at least an elementary grasp of English.
–Over there, please write the number first please, she directs him to the pen and pad and then after he has written it down, pointing to the bank of phone stalls. Any which you desire, I will ring it once I have the party on line.
He picks one slightly off center to the left from her location. He sits in the stall and waits until a low ring begins, and lifting the handset, hears static and then the US operator.
–May I have your name please, she says.
–Hold please, she says. Then a minute later, says to him, I’m sorry there was no answer at this number. Is there another number you would like me to try.
–No thank you, he says, a deep frown spreading from his face inward, taking hold on his throat and gut. He hangs up the handset and turns to leave. He sees the operator motioning for him to approach, pulling air toward herself as if to create a current which will deliver him to her desk.
–Usually it would be one guilder for the time, but I will not charge today. You are American? Perhaps tonight you take me to dinner, and I get to practice my English and then next time you need to make a call there is no charge again. She smiles this time and it almost looks as if it were a real smile except for the effort she seems to be expending in order to get both corners of her mouth up equally, without which she would be offering a sneer.
He knows this is something he should walk away from, with real speed, but it seems to be some kind of trap she is trying to spring, and he cannot resist the intrigue of it.
–I am finished here at seven tonight. You will meet here. I know a restaurant near, very good prices, very good food, she says.
–Then seven it is, he says. My name is John.
–I know, she responds. See you at seven John. She turns from him to end the conversation, picking up a collection of stray papers from the central desk and taps the stack on one end to align them.
He spins on the balls of his feet and walks out, dismissed until seven.
The restaurant is situated on a corner of an alley and Oudezijds Voorburgwal, a main street along one of the wider canals, and tho walking rather slowly, they arrive from the post office in less than five minutes, which does not provide him with enough time to learn more than her first name, Johanna. He knows she was expecting him and his call at the post office, but no more than that. They are shown to a table at the back edge of the outside dining area, near the alley. As soon as they are seated, she excuses herself to the ladies’ room. He watches her move thru the tables snake-like slaloming between tables as if around cypress knees in a swamp. When he returns his eyes to the table, there sits a short balding man, his age any where between twenty-five and forty, with eyes that seem to perpetually be scanning the crowd passing by on the street.
–What is it you want, the man asks. This contact was not set up for you.
–I know but our mutual friend could not afford the plane ticket, and his feet suddenly became very cold, but we share the same…
–I will need to confirm this, the man says. Enjoy your meal tonight, and in three days, in the late afternoon, you should walk thru the Vondelpark, from the gates on Constnantjin Huygensstraat to the fountain of seven rings, and then back again. Do you understand?
–Yes, John says.
–Good. Order the curry noodles, you will not be disappointed in the food at least. Here is your waiter.
John turns and looks, but the waiter is still four tables over, and when turns back to the table to inform the man of this, he finds himself alone. Johanna does not return either.
He leaves the restaurant. Unprepared for such waiting, he cannot imagine what could take so long. His history is not so expansive that it should take too long to verify his identity and his origins or the origins of this intent behind his trip. He has always been patient and deliberate in his actions since earliest childhood, but now, closer than he imagined to following thru on that idealism inherited from his grandfather, he feels no control over his desires, and seeks something immediate. As he walks along the canal, he cannot fathom how to occupy his time while he waits. He contemplates just holing up in the Hotel Oscar Wilde until time for his stroll thru Vondelpark, but such inactivity is not in his nature at his age.
When he pulls back from these thoughts, and looks, really looks, he finds that he has entered a street with houses that feature large picture windows on the ground floor. Not the usual, Leavittown sort, but commercial floor to ceiling windows, illuminated by pink or blue or red neon strips. Though some have a decidedly more rundown look, with aluminum and plastic lawn chairs, which would remind him of the South Carolina beaches where he spent many of his summers growing up if not for the single red light bulbs showering them in timid illumination. His notice of the girls in the windows is ancillary to their environs. Their motions of finger and hip-out enticement do little to stir him as at 20 he has already become cynical about sex despite the revolution many of his contemporaries have taken up feverently. He has never been one so open with presenting for the females of the tribe. But here he finds it’s all about presentation. And some of the girls are either much more desperate or bold as their displays are of the intricate folds waiting to grip him rather than the cliched fingers curling wave and kiss puckered lips. These certain others have put their fingers to much different motions involving entirely different lips. He stops without meaning to before some such advertisements, and for all their glistening activity cannot help but think that the sexual revolution must be so bad for business as to create such extreme attempts to close the deal.
Were it not for his own predicament of the limited nature of his funds and the now seemingly unlimited duration that awaits him to pursue his goals here, he would gladly contribute to the local economy since he has always preferred such exchanges over the more mainstream currency of emotional involvement required for carnal transactions. Truth is, he cannot be bothered to care that much, and despite the proclamations of the sexual revolution, he finds such emotions are still generally the currency required.
He leaves the colored windows and returns to the Hotel Oscar Wilde, settling into his bed still hungry. He does not get up in the morning, laying under the covers and drifting in and out of sleep,mildly aroused by the rough cotton sheets against his skin. It is during one of these times when he has fallen back to sleep that he wakes to find the proprietress of the hotel in his room.