Saturday, June 4, 2016

Re-releasing the "In Sixteen Bars" Stories (In the Category of Want What You Have)

I had the pleasure a few years back of writing a number of short stories for a friend’s e-zine, In Sixteen Bars. My friend – I’ll call him Dan – accepted stories inspired by songs, a worthy muse. I had finally gotten off my ass and started writing fiction for pleasure again, and the challenge of using music to inspire me had appeal. Dan offered to suggest my first prompt, and I accepted, curious to see which song he would pick for me. At that point, we had not known each other long. I first met Dan on Twitter, but I and my husband became friends with him IRL (that is a texting abbreviation for "in real life") when he moved to the area for work, and a mutual Tweep introduced us all at a Tweetup. Dan and I share an age gap as well – he is more than two decades younger than I. Our musical tastes had the potential to differ profoundly. But I well knew his music acumen even then; music is Dan’s passion. So the first story I penned for In Sixteen Bars was inspired Dan’s writing prompt.

His response after reading my submission was, “Holy hell, Kim.”

Dan had chosen the original release of Valerie, by the Zutons. I was familiar with Amy Winehouse’s cover; it’s a beautiful song.

Well sometimes I go out by myself
and I look across the water

And I think of all the things, what you're doing
and in my head I make a picture…
      “Valerie” by The Zutons

You can read the lyrics in full here. The song’s peaceful beginning darkens as the narrative progresses, and as I delved deeper into the imagery, the muse began to whisper lovely, gruesome words. In my head I made a picture, then I wrote it down. Dan’s words in the email, “Holy hell, Kim,” delighted me. Whatever he had expected, I had surprised him. In truth, the story surprised me, but that is the pleasure of creative writing.

In Sixteen Bars accepted seven more stories over the life of the e-zine, a very enjoyable time for me. Dan has since taken on larger, more exciting, new projects and closed his site down to protect (I presume) its contributors from copyright infringement in the absence of actual oversight. The publishing rights to the stories revert back to me, so I am going to use this space to revisit the stories, perhaps tweak a line or two, and share them again. I’ve been chastised by others for giving too much of my creative writing away on the internet, but, in truth, I have relinquished the drive to find financial success as a writer. I just need to write to stay sane. If someone out there wants to make a screenplay out of one of the stories, make me an offer. Really.

In the meantime, the story that follows is my cover of Valerie. Let me know what you think.


Short Fiction by Kim Norris

The picture in my memory never fades. I can still see her shimmy-shake, her back to me, looking over her shoulder, sly smile playing across her lips redder than her hair. Sunlight glinting off the lake’s surface backlights her form. Green water frames the strawberry tendrils that flutter in the breeze around her face. She pulls the sheer blouse over her head and then down, baring her shoulders, laughing and moving to the music. Valerie turns to face me, breasts swaying with the motion of her moves; hard, pink nipples arching upward.

"This portrait is supposed to be a still life," I tell her.

Throwing her head back, she laughs, "then why play music?"

I say, "You look beautiful." Valerie just smiles.

She quits shaking her tits and slides the blouse all the way down her arms. It drops in slow motion, the breeze catching the tissue-thin fabric and holding it aloft. Next she undoes the top button of her Daisy Dukes, then the zipper; she slides her hands down her thighs from the inside, and the shorts drop with more respect for gravity than the shirt had shown. Valerie's eyes never leave my face.

Slowly, she lowers to her knees onto the checkerboard tablecloth spread at the water's edge. I have a green bottle of red wine, white grapes, and a yellow rind of cheese preset, just so. Deep purple cushions and one white rose complete the composition. She weaves her shoulders and thighs around the setting, poised on one arm, calves crossed at the ankle. Strawberry tendrils flutter in the breeze around her thighs. Her lips curl up, just so, enigmatic, sexy. If I could ever love a woman, I would love Valerie.

Starting with her lips, I begin to paint.

After, we drink the wine and eat the grapes and cheese; the wine loosens her tight muscles, and the cheese and grapes need to be fresh for each sitting. We do this as the canvas dries. We have an understanding that she should not look at the unfinished work; her idea, and I respect it.

For seven sunlit days she stretches before me. I empty my savings to pay her tithe. The striptease she performs makes me hot, no matter which paper-thin blouse she shreds in the breeze. When I reveal the finished painting to her, she offers to fuck me for free, but I have not yet learned to love a woman.

The next time I see her face, it’s a mug shot. Valerie does not smile; her hair is longer, lank. She has been drinking, but I only know this because her “lazy” right eye leans inward, which only happens after a few glasses of wine. Her left eye looks defiantly into the camera. I learn her surname is Nesbit, and it feels like a non sequitur. The knowledge of her lover’s existence does not crush me as I fantasized it would. Her list of current misdemeanors amuses me.

On the shore of the lake she had committed more devastating crimes for my art. Still-life became stop-motion. The light never failed. “Come on over,” Valerie said at the beginning of each session. I kept my space and captured her, my paintbrush lips on her watercolor skin, a canvas bed, framed and taught. The distance between our bodies gave us time to dry between each act of incompatible passion.

I last saw Valerie in a picture  hanging on the wall at the opening of my first show. Naked, in living color – green, gold, strawberry, and the memory of our vice. Watercolor, sunlight-dappled lake, pink skin stretched across red and white checkers, green bottle of red wine, just so beside white grapes and a yellow rind of cheese. A purple pillow and white rose where a lover should lie. Strawberry tendrils flutter in the breeze around her head, which, in my painting, is still attached to bare beautiful shoulders. When I learned what he had done, how he beheaded her… I wished…oh fuck how I wished…

…that I could love a woman. It would have been Valerie, Valerie. God help me, it should have been Valerie.


**End Note: My Pandora Radio keeps kicking up versions of Amy's "Valerie" song. It knows I have been Googling; searching the lyrics. I should be creeped out, but nope.

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