I decided I’d share my current writing project as I create the novel: The Moon Under Water.
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 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 – I simply didn’t want to waste them. And I’ve already created the ending, so I know where I’m taking the reader on a journey.
The Moon Under Water
As I leaned against an ancient banyan tree, I gazed across the lonely horizon at the deep channel traffic crossing lower Tampa Bay. I wondered how a massive steal barge leaving a frothy dead wake behind was kept afloat on choppy seas as it navigated to eventually pass underneath the tall arched Sunshine Skyway Bridge before it would venture out onto the vast blue Gulf of Mexico. Closer in I had watched a white fiberglass fishing boat cruise into the rectangular shaped harbor buttressed with a sturdy concrete sea wall as the plump captain navigated it past Spa Beach, a sliver of land near the original Million Dollar Pier; it was dimpled with gossiping palm trees, covered with soft sand, and the exact spot where during the roaring 20’s set a solarium where they believed, at the time, nude sunbathing and a Lucky Strike promoted good health. The fishermen docked the boat into a long marina slip that was shaded by a group of sabal palms. They were greeted by a curious great white egret with a dagger like beak. They pointed down at curved dorsal fins that emerged and disappeared past their boat and between mooring balls above the calm emerald green waters. They were likely bottled nosed dolphins that swam back out within the salt waters as the tide receded. I nodded. They were dolphins for sure, because the native Florida bull sharks had sharper edged dorsal fins. But the aggressive bull sharks could have easily been nearby me hiding beneath within the murky shallows; as they constantly hunted for stingrays, bony fish, dolphins, and even other bull sharks. I looked up into the milky sky that was quickly being blocked by gathering gray 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 remained silent as tourists and locals strolled past me; it appeared to intently stare down at me with its pale yellow eyes. And then I smelled the pungent odor for approaching rain, the temperature had cooled, and then a familiar rumble under my flip-flops encouraged me to seek shelter. As I moved away I was reminded how birds, wild animals, sensed the future before humans. We humans are a foolish species, we take foolish chances. It was still possible that year for one of Mother Nature’s giant storms to menace 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 old red bricked 5th Avenue NE; it had been built after the 1921 Tarpon Springs hurricane and had miraculously avoided the wrecking ball in the 1984.
St. Petersburg was a moist mid-September hot; the afternoon storms were welcomed by locals. A good breeze with a temporary heavy rain with window pane shaking thunder seemed to cleanse the area. As if the city had been pressure washed by God for thirty minutes, and for an hour everyone went to their quiet place and calmed-down, and then the bright sun would reappear as life emerged like blooming orange blossoms as if nothing weather related had occurred. If you’ve lived at the latitude long enough, you would know The Higher Power doesn’t turn the heat down until the hurricane season had ceased at the end of November. Like a misunderstood Rothko painting, for a specific reason, a nautical hurricane warning flag was a bright red square with a black square at the center. Those violent storms were rare enough to mark time, and were bestowed with first names like Andrew, Rita or, even an innocent sounding one, Katrina. It had been over a decade since 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 to the area, they respected the storms, and they judged every structure based on the singular thought experiment wondering if they could survive inside the man-made structure during a hurricane landfall. I 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 moved between parked cars, past lost families, and under the maroon colored canopies that protected the restaurants dinner guests, and sweating car valets, and then up the thick stairs covered in intricate tile work past the teenage hostess who ignored me.
“Well, man,” he said. He tapped his hand on the well-worn bar. “I bet you need a Guinness?”
“Absolutely,” I said. As I appreciated the the one modern convenience all Floridians appreciated, air-conditioning. “But Alan, why are you bar tending?”
“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. “I see…”
“Not likely,” Alan said. He wore rectangular wire rimmed glasses and appeared physically fit for a man north of seventy years, he scanned underneath the bar and grabbed a Guinness glass. “We’re Welsh.”
“Hey, Rob,” Kate said. She was a middle-aged red-head originally from working-class Boston. “Not splittin’ tips with the likes of him, never mind him, I know how to pour Guinness, it’s a process.”
“Ah, well lad, I gave it my all,” Alan said. He laughed, he shrugged as he handed over the tulip shaped glass to Kate. “Have to get back to Susie.”
“Godspeed,” I said. “Don’t keep her waiting, prevents divorces.”
I sat on a rickety wooden stool without a back rest near the front double-doors, next to a square pillar with a dark brown lacquered finish at the sharp corner where the bar’s marble top turned west. Above me were a line of rarely used glass beer mugs stenciled with rugby club logos hung on sturdy hooks. I glanced to my left and back out the windows as the crowd quickly cycled past the thick front columns before a wide porch along a path set between occupied tables and chairs.
It was easy to spot the tourists, a local would never stop to read the restaurants menu. As the rain drops increased their pace, a few hearty souls foraged inside and cautiously approached the bar area. Kate encouraged them to venture over to the bar.
The Moon was not like the rest of Beach Drive. It was different, it was an old school different within a downtown 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, painted off-white with a gray metal roof, set on a rectangular piece of land that local real estate developers would now have bargained away with their collective souls to obtain. But in the 1990’s it had been the site for an abandoned assisted living facility the bank had been desperate to unload.
“You know,” I said. I watched the Guinness’s nitrogen filled light brown bubbles turn black. “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, you sounded like a gay redneck,” Kate said. She wiped away a prior patrons mess. “You need to work on the accent.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry, I was over my head…”
“Funny, inside we get mostly regulars, like you, outside we get the tourists,” Kate said. She put her hands on her narrow hips. “Thank god for them, I think this bar is to dark for them.”
“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 bar, a public house George Orwell would have loved.”
“To funny,” Kate said. “But I hope we have good season, I need to make some money.”
“You will,” I said. “They’ll be back for the season, month or so, like the tides, and remind us how important they are from wherever they made their money.”
“Hope so,” Kate said. She waved over at some new patrons. “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 dark beer. “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 waved over at the new bar 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. “They’ll be back, rainy seasons almost over.”
“Please god,” Kate said. She tapped me on the forearm.
“Thank you, you’re the one that always takes care of me.”
“Ah, you’re my priestess confessor,” I said. I shrugged as I sipped the beer and contemplated the menu. “And I grew up a Protestant.”
Kate grinned at me as she moved over toward the cash register, and started to chat-up the young couple. Another bartender, Jane, strolled up to 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?”
“Thanks, Jane, you got them?” Kate said. She blew me a kiss as she walked toward the back kitchen doors. “Gotta run.”
“No worries,” Jane said. “Thanks, Kate.”
“This place is bizarre, I’m good for now, maybe a half Fish and Chips, later,” I said. I winked at Jane. I nodded toward the front doors. “You never know what’s coming in here.”
“Yeah, maybe after your second Guinness?” Jane said. She gave me an inquisitive look. “The Moon’s its own spaceship, nothing like it here, I never know what’s coming through those doors, either.”
“I guess that’s what a proper bar offers,” I said. “A safe place for the weird, for the lonely to hide.”
“For sure,” Jane said. She crossed her arms and leaned back. “Just ask Edwina, or Kate, but I think Saturday nights, that’s when they all come out.”