This is my current writing project, I’m sharing my unedited initial story drafts. I’ve changed the title from, The Moon Under Water, and a better novel title: A Year Inside The Moon
I know the below has flaws, it will morphe, but I write for the love of the craft.
So, I’m simply sharing in hopes the reader enjoys my artistic process, but also, perhaps inspire someone else to share their art.
A little back story, in truth I’m riffing from my favoriate restaurant / bar in downtown St. Petersburg. And, also, the title comes from a George Orwell essay. If you read the essay, I think you’ll note some similarities in the story.
Below I’ve shared the (updated) first chapter. I’ll share each chapter which are a series of vignettes – I realized there are WAY to many characters to create a typical novel.
A Year Inside the Moon
I remember it was September 11, 2016 as I stood on the hot concrete in downtown St. Petersburg. I leaned my right forearm up against an ancient banyan tree as I gazed out across a grassy park marked at each corner by white painted renaissance themed statuary. Farther out I had looked at the lonely horizon at the active deep channel traffic crossing lower Tampa Bay. It was an undefinable sensation at the age of fifty-one to have realized just two blocks behind me I had finally just stuffed all my worldly possessions into my single bedroom apartment. Closer in, I watched a fiberglass fishing boat that cruised into the rectangular shaped harbor that was buttressed with a sturdy sea wall. The plump captain had navigated it past Spa Beach, which was a sliver of land near the original Million Dollar Pier which was in the process of being architecturally reborn. The beach was dimpled with gossiping palm trees. It was covered with soft sand. And it was the exact spot where during the Roaring-Twenties set an Egyptian themed solarium where they believed, at the time, nude sunbathing and a Lucky Strike cigarette promoted good health. The area smelled like a salty sea as the fishermen had docked their boat into a long marina slip that was shaded by a group of sabal palms. They were greeted by a curious pelican group, and a great white egret with a dagger like beak, they all appeared to have sought after the fisherman’s attention in hopes for a free meal. The deck hand in her rubber boots had pointed down at the calm emerald green waters as curved gray dorsal fins emerged and disappeared past their boat and in between the harbor’s mooring balls. I looked up into the milky blue sky that was quickly being blocked by gathering dark clouds. I noticed just above me within the brown tree limbs and green elliptical shaped leaves a lone dark-winged mockingbird seemed interested in me. But it had remained silent as tourists and locals had strolled past me. But it had appeared to have stared down at me, with its pale yellow eyes as if it wanted to have shared with me a family secret. And then the temperature had cooled, my thick hair was tousled, and then a familiar rumble happened under my flip-flops that encouraged me to seek shelter. As I had moved away, I glanced back up at the solitary bird, and I was reminded how birds, wild animals, sensed the future before humans. I thought we humans are a foolish species, we take foolish chances that could have gotten us killed unless we had a lucky guardian angel on our side.
It was still possible that year for one of Mother Nature’s giant storms to have menaced the peninsula. I was pretty sure the nearby salmon painted Vinoy Hotel would have survived. It was a Mediterranean revival styled resort that sprawled along the red bricked 5th Avenue NE. It was built after the 1921 Tarpon Springs hurricane, and it had avoided the wrecking ball in 1984. It had been over a decade since the hurricane Charlie had menaced St. Petersburg, and those new to the area that lived inside the gleaming high-rises had little knowledge what a hurricane warning really meant. It was an unspoken code for anyone native, or for the longtime residents to the area, as they judged every structure based on the singular thought experiment wondering if they could have survived a hurricane landfall inside the man-made structure. I had shrugged it all off, as the weather was a predicable as my ex-wife. I walked back across busy two-lanes Beach Drive, as the warm rain had begun. I smelled the earthy aroma. I moved between parked cars, and then past two upright concrete lions, and then under the maroon colored canopies that protected the restaurants dinner guests. I walked up the thick stairs that were covered with intricate tile work, and then past the teenage hostess who had ignored me.
“Well, man,” Alan said. He tapped his hand on the well-worn bar. “I bet you need a Guinness?”
“Absolutely, it didn’t take long for you all to get me,” I said. As I appreciated the the one modern convenience all Floridians had appreciated, air-conditioning. “But Alan, why are you bartending?”
“I’m not,” Alan said. He smirked back over at me. “I snuck back to plug in Susie’s phone, having an early dinner with Welsh friends.”
“Oh,” I said. As I walked across the ebony wooden floor boards toward a long line of wooden bar chairs. “I see…”
“Not likely, you’re still a newbie,” Alan said. He had worn rectangular wire rimmed glasses. He appeared physically fit for a man north of seventy-years. He scanned underneath the bar, and he grabbed a Guinness glass. “We’re Welsh, we’re a different breed.”
The Moon was set downtown within a garden district for what was known in the day as, Sunshine City. It was a modest one story stucco building perched six-feet above street level. It was painted off-white with a gray metal roof. And it had been set on a rectangular piece of land that local real estate developers would have bargained away with their collective souls to obtain. Before, when downtown St. Petersburg was shunned by investors, it was the site for an abandoned assisted living facility that the bank was desperate to have unloaded. But then, in the early 1990’s Alan and his wife Susie had taken a risk, and they bought the property, and they had cleared the land of its problems, and they built, The Moon.
“Hey, Rob,” Kate said. She was a middle-aged red-head originally from working-class Boston. “Not splittin’ tips with the likes of him, I know how to pour Guinness, it’s a process.”
“Ah, well lad, I gave it my all,” Alan said. He laughed. He handed over the tulip shaped glass to Kate. “Have to get back to Susie.”
“Godspeed,” I said. “Don’t keep her waiting.”
I sat on a wooden stool without a back-rest maybe five-steps from the front double-doors. It was set next to a square pillar for the long bar with a dark brown lacquered finish. Above me were a line of rarely used glass beer mugs stenciled with rugby club logos that were dangled on sturdy hooks. A young couple had foraged inside just after me, and they cautiously approached the bar area. They found safety within the carpeted Snug section. Kate encouraged them to venture over toward the bar opening.
“You know,” I said. Kate glanced back over at me as I watched the Guinness’s nitrogen filled light brown bubbles turn dark red. “St Pete’s a town, it’s not a city, it’s not a normal downtown, like Chicago, or New York, or your home, Bass-tin.”
“For sure, but its, Ba-ston, as in Boston Strong, you sounded like a gay redneck,” Kate said. She wiped away a prior patrons mess. “You need to work on the accent, buddy.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. I sighed. “Sorry, I was over my head, Boston? New York? How strange, how easy we forget, where were you fifteen years ago, about this time?”
Kate tapped her hand over at me, she understood.
“I was a high school teacher, special needs kids,” Kate said. She had stared over at the couple. She smiled at them. “Be right there, we just sat there in the class, watching the television in total silence.”
“I was waiting on a dishwasher repairman,” I said. I pursed my lips. “I had the television on for distraction. Had a business, a house, a couple of pets, and a young wife.”
“Yeah, life changes, only fifteen years,” Kate said. “Part of the reason we moved, we needed to get a fresh start, you know, get out of the winters.”
“As well, the reason I moved back from Houston, I needed to move back, you know, see places that are familiar to me,” I said. “I got divorced, lost my dog, but, I’m alive.”
“Yeah,” Kate said. She had grinned as she inspected a wine glass for lipstick marks. “Maybe, you could write a country music song?”
I chuckled. I sipped the Guinness.
Kate had moved away from me. She greeted the young couple. They made their drink orders, and they appeared content to have inspected the laminated menu. Kate dutifully completed their drink order. She served them. She greeted other nearby customers.
“Well,” Kate said. “You’re always welcome here.”
“Thanks, I had forgotten the summertime weather,” I said. I pointed out through the windows as it was still heavily raining outside. “I needed to feel the nearby lightning, inside a safe place, mind you. But nothing like Florida electrical storms. I’m sure they scare the tourists, but I missed them.”
“Funny, outside we get the tourists, the regulars, like you now, they come on inside,” Kate said. She put her hands on her narrow hips. “Thank god for them, I think this bar is to dark for them, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, the darkness, just past the front doors scares them,” I said. “But that’s what I like about it, old ceiling fans, couple of silent tv’s up there behind the bar, and Guinness on draft. It’s a proper Victorian themed bar, a public house George Orwell would have loved.”
“To funny,” Kate said. She had waved at the young couple. “Ready? But I hope we have good season, I need to make some money.”
“You will,” I said. “They’ll be back for the season, couple of months or so, like the tides.”
“Hope so,” Kate said. She waved over again at the young couple to make certain they were prepared to order. “Be right there, about burned through my savings from last year, it’s expensive to get old.”
“Yeah, it does,” I said. I sipped the Guinness. “At least you get a richer group these days, the Burg is no longer only known as, God’s Waiting Room.”
“That’s what I’ve been told,” Kate said. She looked over at new guests. “Be right there.”
“They appear thirsty,” I said.
“For sure, hey hun, mind cashing me out? I’m off to my other job,“ Kate said. “I think the rains have chased the rest of them off, any-ways, Jane’s here.”
“Sure,” I said. I pulled out my debit card.
“Please god, get me to November,” Kate said. She tapped me on my right forearm. “Thank you, so far, you always takes care of me.”
“Ah, you’re my priestess confessor,” I said. I shrugged as I sipped the beer. I decided to have contemplated the laminated menu that featured a wonderful curried sauce selection with chicken, fish or beef, and my favorite, fish & chips. “And I grew up a Protestant.”
Kate had grinned at me as she moved over toward the cash register. She started to chat-up the young couple. Another bartender, Jane, had strolled up to stand across from me.
“Hey, love,” Jane said. She was tall, and an unusually thin middle-aged woman. She shook my hand. “You can confess to me, want to make an order?”
Kate had returned near me. She touched Jane on her arm.
“Thanks, Jane, you got them?” Kate said. She had blown me a kiss as she walked toward the back kitchen doors. “Gotta run.”
“No worries,” Jane said. “Thanks, Kate.”
Jane gripped her hands on the bar.
“This place is bizarre, maybe a half fish and chips, later?” I said. I had squinted over at Jane. I nodded back over toward the front doors. “You never know what’s coming in here do you?”
“Maybe after your second Guinness?” Jane said. She had given me an inquisitive look. “The Moon’s its own spaceship, man, nothing like it here. Some, mind you, they push my professionalism. But it’s a good place to work, nice people, and I need to take care of my young children.”
“I get that,” I said. “Professional service, hard to find, or at least appreciate it.”
“I work at it,” Jane said. She stood up tall. “It’s my living, be back.”
Jane had moved over closer to an older couple. She chatted with them for a few moments. She smiled at them. She then checked on the young couple. And then, she moved back over toward me, as she acknowledged an older man leaving the bar. “See ya, Brad.”
“I guess that’s what a proper bar offers,” I said. I tapped over at Jane. “Real bartenders, a safe place for the weird, for the lonely to come hide.”
“For sure,” Jane said. She had crossed her arms. She leaned back against the bar. For a moment she stared over at the front doors. “You can ask Edwina, or Kate, but I think Saturday nights, that’s when they all come out.”
“Oh now, I get squirrelly in my apartment, it gets way to quiet,” I said. I laughed. “I’ve only been back for a bit, but, St. Pete’s wacky. I love that wacky. But they come in here all the time, day or night.”
“It, is, a unique place,” Jane said. She smirked. “You’re right.”
“But that’s what I like about it,” I said. “St. Pete’s eccentric, but it’s not stuffy. I’ll take it, if it’ll take me.”