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My Name is Darla
By L J Hippler
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
“My Name is Darla” is an excerpt from chapter 17 of my novel, Cathedral Street a story of three brothers who have only extraordinary courage in common. The novel follows them through the factories, boardrooms and neighborhoods of Baltimore in the last quarter of the 20th century. It’s a story of revenge, bold dreams and, above all, quiet faith.
He refused to drink at all when he was training. Tommy didn’t even care much for beer. But this one tasted very good. It was easier too, asking the barmaid for a simple National-Boh rather than a time consuming mixed drink. The Catonsville bar had never been this full. Tony Mott was their hometown football hero. And their hero had just won his first amateur fight.
The squat, pock-marked bar-maid had not signed on for this level of stress. She looked to be on the verge of a breakdown and slammed down the brown bottle as she passed, as if it was a baton in an Olympic relay. Old man Wilson turned to stare blearily at him and began to ruminate on why the place was called American Bar and not The American Bar. “Just is,” he whispered in conclusion, shaking his head. “Just is!”
That's when Tommy saw her for the first time. His initial thought was that she really didn't belong there, not in American Bar. She came in with a tall, thin man who had long black hair and a goatee. They were the last two Joe Groser, the owner, had let pass before he barred the door. Joe couldn’t remember the exact number of people allowed by the fire code but he knew they’d passed that number tonight.
She was tall, blond and somehow stately. She wasn’t twiggy-like, not like a model; but her body was one that certainly stood apart from the more mesomorphic ones generally populating that area of West Baltimore. She wore a tan leather jacket over a simple beige sweater and jeans, wore them as if they had been designed especially for her and for that night. The man had on only black jeans and a dark gray T-shirt despite the bitter cold.
They were arguing. Tommy couldn't hear them at all; but their body language told the story. The man's left hand was out, wide and flat. His eyes were angry and accusing. He stabbed at his palm with his right index finger as if noting irrefutable points on a clipboard. Tommy noticed how the woman took a drag on her cigarette with the presentation of each new point, making it a point of her own to be uninterested. Then she'd seem to lift herself, refuting his arguments with what must have been well chosen words, hurled back at him along with the expelled smoke. In two minutes the exchange was over. The man brushed by the bouncer, flung open the door and was gone, thin, black hair waving petulantly behind him, a final exclamation point.
She edged closer to the bar to use the ashtray. Tommy could see that she was still angry but it was controlled. Her anger was part of the environment like the cold and the noise. He was still riding a wave of post-fight relief; and that first beer on an empty stomach was kicking in with a pleasant buzz. Old man Wilson was angling desperately into Tommy’s space with his empty glass, waving it like a distress signal at sea. It was an excuse to leave his spot and sidle down closer to the woman. Well, not a damn thing to lose, he thought.
He was noticing things about her as he got closer. He noticed that she had a National now, that she had lit a second cigarette, that she was still angry, and that she was the most exciting thing he had ever seen.
He took in a breath and asked simply,” You doin alright?" Had he dropped his pants and mooned her, the expression of disbelief and disdain on her face couldn’t have been much different. Nothin to lose, man. Nothin to lose.
"Am I doing alright? Is that what you asked me?" Her voice inflected a tone higher with each syllable. She was testing the soprano range by the time she got to "me". He shrugged and kept his own voice low, conversational.
"Yeah, like in general, are you doin alright?”
The blond woman exhaled forcefully, fire-hose stream of tobacco smoke. But it was directed away from, not at him. Tommy read the gesture as de-escalation to a condition of Severely Annoyed and launched a second attempt.
"Me, I'm doin all right. I fought tonight. I stayed on my feet. I'm drinkin a beer. I feel real good. So, I asked how you're doin."
For a second she eyed him carefully -- diamond merchant inspecting a zircon. She took a sip from the long necked bottle, buying herself another second to consider. "You lost," she said. "I saw you."
"I lost but I did okay. I'll do better when I get more fights."
"Your ears are all swollen. You're going to look like Mickey Mouse in the morning." She looked away and took a long drag on the cigarette. Tommy looked serious and gently touched his left ear.
"Man. I think you might be right."
She turned back, incredulous, but then smiled at him for the first time. "Oh, I know I'm right."
They both laughed. It was a very good laugh. It was an ice is broken, glad you showed up, damn, I'm glad that's over laugh. It was cathartic. It was what they both needed.
"Looked like you were havin a tough round yourself with Fu-Manchu there. Is he your boyfriend?"
"I don't have a boyfriend."
"Oh yeah. How could somebody be as pretty as you not have a boy friend?"
"You know, we were starting to have a nice talk here. Don't spoil it."
"Okay." Tommy downed the last sip of National and gently placed the glass on the bar. "You look really nice and I wanted to talk to you -- really, that's all. Look, I can say this cause I'm goin home now and cause I feel good and cause I'll probably never see you here again. You are very pretty. And you know how to talk. And you know how to dress. To me, you're like one of those women who work in the big office buildings on Redwood Street, cept you have a personality too."
"My name is Darla," she said softly, not offering her hand, not looking up.
"Mine's Tommy Miller."
"Do put some ice on your ears, Tommy." She looked up and smiled then, a real smile, a warm smile. "Really. Okay?"
He waved nonchalantly and began the process of shouldering his way out just as the first beer-oiled testimonials for Tony Mott began.
Copyright L J Hippler 2007
Site: Cathedral Street
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|Reviewed by Dawn Anderson
|It's very difficult to believe that Cathedral Street is your first novel..Your writing skills are incredible. You have a way of drawing the reader in and wanting more.|
|Reviewed by Regis Auffray
|Nicely done, Larry. This is very believable. Thank you for sharing. Love and peace,
|Reviewed by Jerelyn Craden
|Once again, LJ, your work is immediately engaging, commanding and alive. Is this really your first novel? -- Jerelyn|
L J Hippler