Fiction Friday: Tough Defense Part 3

Tough Defense Part 1

Tough Defense Part 2

Charlotte exhausted that wave of positivity, riding it straight into her afternoon. Her next meeting, though, was looming in front of her, and she was going to need more confidence than today’s brief interlude with Stuart had allotted her.

“Charlotte?” her intercom crackled.

“I know, Lisa. You can tell Mr. Lester I’m headed to the conference room.”. Lisa, that was it, Charlotte thought, glad she finally remembered someone’s name without having to consult the placard on the desk.

Charlotte took a deep breath and sighed out the window for the second time that day. Without dwelling too much on where she was going or to whom she was going to speak, Charlotte forced herself to the conference room.

As she approached, her stomach began to twist. She could see him lounging in his chair as though waiting for an old friend. The gaudy gold jewelry he wore contrasted sharply with his crisp white linen suit. That, Charlotte thought, is a poorly executed disguise, and it is all you need to know about a man like that. His overwhelming cologne felt like a sucker punch when she walked through the door.

“Ms. Malloy, it’s so good to see you,” Mr. Lester leered. His accent was thick, an amalgamation of languages gleaned around the world. Charlotte tried not to think about how he’d acquired it.

“And you, Mr. Lester. Now, I spoke with the prosecution this morning, and they-”

“Ms. Malloy,” Lester tutted. “So formal. There will be time for business. Life, well, life is too short. I want to talk about more pleasant things. Like you.”

It was this part of the conversation that Charlotte dreaded the most. Despite her novice status as a defense attorney, she understood that no client should know anything more than her name and office location. She’d known Andre Lester long enough to know that she wasn’t about to volunteer anything. He could probably find out for himself if he wanted it badly enough. The thought crossed her mind that he probably had. Suddenly the conference room began to feel smaller. Charlotte tried not to look panicked, but the plate glass separating her from the her colleagues seemed to be getting thicker and thicker until the forms of errand boys and paralegals began to blur.

“Ms. Malloy, is something the matter? You look ill.” Lester appeared concerned, and indeed he was. He needed his defense in top condition. A change in attorneys would disorient the jury, and he couldn’t afford that. Not again. Besides, he hated to see an attractive woman in distress. It never occurred to him that he might be the source.

“Yes, I mean, no, Mr. Lester. I’m perfectly well. Now if we could discuss your case, I have a meeting across town in an hour. And you know the traffic here.” Charlotte faked the confidence she didn’t feel.

“But of course, Ms. Malloy. Fine, we can discuss this, what you call, situation.”

* * * *

To be continued…

Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved.

Fiction Friday: Tough Defense Part 2

Tough Defense Part 1

“Good morning, counselors,” she lied, stepping into the conference room.

Stuart Chapman, the lead prosecutor, and his co-counsel stood to greet her.

“Don’t get up gentlemen. This meeting shouldn’t take long.”

“As you know, Ms. Malloy, our offer is very generous. We have clearly allowed more leniency than is due a client of this…kind.” Lance Rivers, the co-counsel, was the very picture of a legal parasite. He was too short for his attitude, and his face was drawn and pale. The hollows of his cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes lent him more ferocity than anything his dim intellect could have conjured.

All Charlotte could do was stare pointedly at Stuart. Why was the co-counsel doing all the talking?

“I’m very well aware of what you’ve offered my client,” Charlotte said. “But we’re not interested.”

At this, Stuart’s confidence flickered. She knew he’d not been expecting this from her.

“Now wait a minute, Charlotte,” he began. As quickly as he was caught off guard, he just as easily reassumed his composure. “Lester made that man disappear. He couldn’t pay up, and Lester, well, God only knows what Lester did with him ’cause now we can’t find him. You know as well as we do that this is a sweet deal for a guy like that.”

She cut him off, “Mr. Chapman, we have studied your offer extensively, and we find it unacceptable. End of story. What you see as a generous offer my client sees as patronizing injustice. I’m sorry, fellas. There will be no deal struck here today. See you in court.”

Before they could object, Charlotte retreated to her office. Small victories proudly won, she thought. She may not have a clue how she was going to defend her client, who was obviously very guilty of the crime of which he was accused, but she had won the first of what she hoped would be many small personal victories to come.

* * * *

To be continued…

Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved

What’s Right to Write On?

The impulse to write is not one that is easily manipulated. Anyone who’s ever tried to write anything will tell you that. When something wants to, or needs to, be written there’s no stopping it. It nags and claws until it forces us to put it down for others to see. But that impulse doesn’t always include a starting point. Sure, we might have the idea itself, but how the idea gains coherence is our responsibility. And lucky us.

Add to that the impossibility of a first page, and the task at hand becomes phenomenally difficult. There is something alluring about the purchase of a new journal, a new place to put ideas, a new place to be something new. And there is always the potential that with each new journal we begin we will become better. Better writers, better readers, better versions of ourselves. More honest versions of ourselves. The possibility is there if only we will embrace it.

But what happens when we accumulate too many different vessels of possibility? Do we experience the pen-and-ink equivalent of an identity crisis? Do we become overwhelmed by the limitless possibilities we’ve allowed ourselves by virtue of each journal? Do we become less productive as the result of so much promise?

Or does each book contain different aspects of our personalities? For example, perhaps the sixty-nine cent spiral-bound notebook contains our minimalist thoughts, the ones we have when we’re put out with the world for being so materialistic. And maybe the fifty-dollar leather-bound journal embodies the thoughts we have when we’ve finished a volume of Shakespeare or Chaucer or something with equal literal weight. The small canvas-covered one positively exudes our words in praise of positivity, and the one with The Beatles on the cover, well, that one’s just for fun.

Some of them are too pretty, too delicate, too important, just too too to tarnish with our humble words, and some have been filled to their absolute last page. Regardless of the type of journal or notebook, the possibilities are never limited based on abundance of choice. The possibilities are only increased for different parts of ourselves to have expression they might now otherwise have found. In exploring different types of journals, we can discover new facets of our own personalities and maybe find that we are more capable than we ever thought we were.

Fiction Friday: Tough Defense Part 1

Charlotte sighed out the kitchen window. These moments in the morning were the only ones she could truly call her own. She studied the mother dove on the tree branch overreaching the deck. “If only,” she thought. She chugged the dregs from the coffee mug, took one last whiff of the fresh roses she’d cut, and slipped on her heels. The day stretched out before her, and Charlotte knew exactly what it held. It was going to be a long one. On her way out the back door, her heel caught in the spool of wire by the table. Oh Kip, she thought. Not another project.

This case had come to her in what she assumed was the usual way. Before the divorce six months ago, she never had need for cases like these. But come to her it had, and she was now the lead attorney on the case. Generally she found rhetoric thrilling; proving a point in court sent shivers down her spine. When she was with Darren, she had been able to pick and choose which cases to accept and which ones to hand down to the junior partners. She chose only the meatiest ones for herself. She would indulge herself in late nights of frantic research and early morning coffee-fueled client meetings because these things were intrinsic to who she was. And she was great at them. But this case. This was positively one for the junior lawyers, and now it was just Charlotte.

Kip had moved in with her shortly after the divorce. Not as a reaction to the split, but as one of those circumstances of cosmic import over which we seem to have no control. Ever since they were kids, Charlotte had been close to her sister, so when Kip arrived on her doorstep just days after Darren moved out, Charlotte really hadn’t been that surprised. She would never admit it to Kip, who took all sentiment as an invitation to make herself permanently at home, but Charlotte was glad for the company. In some ways, Charlotte envied Kip’s bohemian lifestyle (she’d never had that artistic wandering impulse herself), but most of the time it made her appreciate her stability. At least it had when she’d had it.

“Good morning, Charlotte,” the receptionist (was her name Elizabeth? Liz?) greeted her as she walked through the door. She mumbled something under her breath and darted over to her desk. Despite the fact that she had been at the firm for a few months, the names of the people in the office still managed to elude her. She would never admit it to anyone, but Charlotte saw her employment there as temporary, a stepping stone. It was a newer firm in one of the shining glass buildings downtown. Charlotte saw herself in one of the more established firms. She liked the heft of their name anchoring hers on her business cards, the clout they allowed her both in the courtroom and out of it. But news travels fast in the legal world, and what had happened between her and Darren had spread like wildfire. Charlotte couldn’t help reminding herself every now and then that there had been a time when she could have entered any law office in the city with her head held high. She would dole out condescending looks to lawyers at other firms as if to say, “It’s nice, your position here. At least it’s something.” At the time, her status as half of a power couple lent her a sense of entitlement. They had been featured in society magazines, every picture flawless, exuding success through the ink on the page. Little did everyone know that the relationship behind the perfect haircuts and the immaculate clothes was more porous than the paper on which their accolades were printed.

There is no time for this, Charlotte coaxed herself. Today was the day she would win. She had to.

* * * *

(To be continued…)

Text only ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved.

Fiction Friday: Small Victories

The call came in at the newspaper reporter’s desk late on a Sunday. Finally, he wanted to meet.

Stanley had been waiting all week for this. He had been relentless in his attempts to secure an interview with this guy, but to no avail. No problem, Stanley thought. When I finally get my day, he won’t know what hit him.

Now was his chance. He was going to get his story (and what a story it would be) independently. The days of being marshaled by the senior reporters were over. This was the story that would prove Stanley’s journalistic mettle.

“I’ll show them,” he thought to himself. “Now they’re gonna see what real reporting looks like.”

Stanley decided not to return the call immediately. He’d waited; now it was the other guy’s turn. Stanley could play this game for a week, longer if he had to. It made him feel powerful. The ball’s in his court. He’s holding all the cards.

Two days after his office received the call, Stanley decided the time had come. He picked up the phone receiver with dampened palms. Don’t blow this one, Stanley-boy.

Stanley dialed carefully so as not to reach a wrong number. He waited less than patiently as the phone rang once. Twice. A third time.

“Good morning,” said the female voice at the end of the line. Her sunny enthusiasm made Stanley cringe.

“Yeah, I’m trying to reach your manager about doing a grand-opening piece for the newspaper. I wanted to see if I could talk to your clown…”

“Uh, his name’s Ronald,” she returned.

“Yeah, whatever, when can I talk to him?”

“Let me check.” Stanley thought he could hear the gum smacking through the phone. His sense of cut-throat confidence wavered.

“Be here tomorrow around three,” she said after a few minutes.

“Three? That’s the soonest? You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me.” Stanley didn’t have time to wait. This story could be crucial to his future here at the paper, and he couldn’t afford to bungle it.

“We’ll see you then at three tomorrow?” she asked. She either didn’t hear his question or, more probably, was choosing to ignore it.

Stanley put the phone in the cradle and sat back in his chair. After the debacle that was the high school talent show story he really needed to redeem himself.

When Stanley arrived the next afternoon, he walked through the door of the shiny new McDonalds, and the smell of French fries slammed into him. Happy meal boxes littered the tables, and children ran amuk with their little plastic toys. Now this was what journalism, real journalism, was meant to feel like.

*This writing is based on a prompt provided by Writers Digest circa February 11, 2011. For more information on Fiction Friday, see the Fiction Friday page.

Text ©2011 Jessica Cocita. All Rights Reserved.

A Prompt Writing

It was a strange engagement. But she had her own reasons for wanting to go through with it. And so did he.

She waited for him at that bar on Third Street. A friend of a friend had referred him. She had been assured that he could get the job done. They’d never met before, but somehow she knew she’d know him when she saw him. The bar smelled of smoke and rain and made her feel claustrophobic, and if the flourescent light above the bar kept flickering, she’d lose her nerve.

“Another?” asked the ever-attentive bartender. He wasn’t used to seeing women in his bar; he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d served one. She was a newcomer to the place and as such was worthy of suspicion. Her appearance did nothing to bolster his confidence in her. Her wet hair was matted to her forehead, and her mascara had run just enough to make the dark circles under her eyes noticeable.

“No thanks,” she said. “I’m drivin’.” Eventually I will be anyway, she thought.

She took a long drag on a bummed cigarette. She’d picked a poor day to quit. She could quit tomorrow. All this would be over tomorrow. Today was a day for a smoke. She finished sipping the gin and tonic she’d ordered over an hour ago. She shouldn’t even be here. She should have left half an hour ago. Where the hell was he? She didn’t have all evening to wait. She did have a schedule to keep, places to be, things to do…

She was seething by the time the bell atop the door jingled.

Funny, she thought. Seems kinda outta place in a joint like this.

“Did someone call a tow truck?”

“It’s about time you showed up,” she sighed. “I’ve been waiting forever. My car won’t start, and I have an engagement at a gallery in ten minutes. You know I’ll never make it in time to give my opening speech, and even if I did I couldn’t give it looking like this. Do you know what kind of important clients…”

“Will you be payin’ with cash or credit?” he interuppted. “If it’s credit, I’m gonna need to see some ID.”

*This story is based on a prompt (at the top in bold) provided by the Writers Digest website circa January 28, 2011. I can’t be serious all the time. : )

Is Nothing Sacred?

They say there’s nothing new under the sun. But they say a lot of things, some true and some not so true. (What do they know? Who are they anyway?) Perhaps, though, they’re onto something.

In a world in which we have so many avenues to communicate with each other in order to generate new ideas, where have all the original thoughts gone?

Several decades ago American muscle cars prowled the streets as guys of all ages panted after them. But all good things must come to an end, and so the muscle car slipped into our collective memory, a rusting piece of nostalgia. Until recently, that’s where it stayed. Apparently now is the time for resurgence of these particular cultural relics, albeit remodeled shadows of what they were before. Never mind their sounds, emissions, or the fact that they’ve now morphed into semi-family-friendly cars; we have managed to clumsily resurrect that which was probably best left untouched and untarnished. Where are they with a good cliche when you need them?

We do this with movies (Footloose), cartoons (Scooby Doo), and songs (for an example, select any newer pop song containing a remix of an early 90s hit in the background). We also do it with written ideas.

Writers are inspired by other writers, and we begin to generate what we perceive to be original thought. That’s until we consult the original only to find that we have, in fact, produced a copy, a retelling of another author’s thoughts. And who knows: maybe that author copied another author ad infinitum. As writers we walk a thin line between original thought and cheap imitation. We create fascinating dialogue via social networking and coffee house conversations, yet somehow we don’t conceive anything new independently. Just when we think we’re onto something, we find that someone else has beat us to the punch. Am I saying there is no original thought going on? No. Do I believe that there are original people generating original ideas? Of course. But I also believe that somewhere along the way we get lazy, and it becomes easier to “create” that which has already been created.

Is nothing sacred anymore? Can we not seek inspiration from others in art, music, writing, design, and entertainment without churning out mediocre counterfeits of our own? They also say history repeats itself. A dangerous thought, this. Creativity beware.

There’s Just Something About a Pencil

I carry a notebook with me everywhere. It’s a habit I adopted long ago that I just can’t seem to break. The things I write in these books often don’t make sense. No matter how hard I try I will never remember when I saw the turkey in the tree. Even more difficult will be trying to remember why I wondered if that turkey liked jazz. Maybe I was listening to jazz and sitting on the patio. Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe there was no turkey at all; maybe it was just a mindless ramble.

Every now and then that happens. I am struck by a thought that seems so counterintuitive, so random that it has to be put down on paper. My favorite books to revisit are the ones that are written in pencil. A pencil is so much more forgiving than an ink pen. With ink, you cross out the mistakes you make, but they are still there. And their powerful glare still reminds me of a failed attempt at something every time I see them. A pencil allows for change. A pencil lets you change your mind when you decide that what you’ve written is not at all what you meant to say. The sharpening of a pencil indicates progress.

In some ways the writing I’ve done with a pencil reminds me more of my actual life than any other writing I’ve ever done. So many changes. So many times I’ve said things only to realize that they only made sense to me. Sometimes I feel like I’m constantly explaining myself only to re-explain myself a few brief moments later. A pencil allows for mistakes. And corrections.

After looking at old notebooks, I can’t help being struck by how many things have changed since they were written, and the thought occurs to me: maybe there is nothing in life permanent enough to be written in ink.

somethin too consider

we right different from what we talk this much i no to bee true, i’ve even saw it with my own to eyes. in this age of text messaging instant messaging and emailing we always are in such a hurry that it becomes two timely to apply the rules are grade school teachers tried so fervently to instill in us. butt what does that suggest of us what is it about our lives that make them so complicating that we ca’nt construct our writin proper?

HAPPY NATIONAL GRAMMAR DAY!

In the spirit of what has quickly become my favorite (technically) unofficial holiday, I’ve decided to remind myself of why I do what I do. I take consolation in the difficulty of composing that first paragraph. It took nearly thirty minutes, and it was a profoundly difficult undertaking. The final question, however, is perfectly legit and concerning. Why can we no longer be bothered with proper writing? What happened to the formally composed letter? What happened to the ability to write a draft then a second draft and finally a third? I don’t want to get carried away and blame the total dissolution of concern for the mechanics of language on the word processor, but there is something disconcerting about a word processing program that thinks it’s smarter than I am.

I find it disheartening that so many people seem to lack the fundamentals of English grammar. Are schools not teaching it anymore? Why have we forgotten why it’s important to actually write the word you instead of typing the letter u? And why have we started using commas as breath marks, as opposed to their intended purposes?

We used to tell children to mind their ps and qs. We always make sure we dot every i and cross every t. Is it too much to ask that we put the comma in front of the coordinating conjunction? Has the task of properly placing a preposition become so arduous we can’t even bother ourselves to do it anymore?

This post is full of questions to which I will probably never have answers. Maybe I’m one of the few remaining grammarians who think these things are important. Maybe grammar is a dying art. Or maybe not. (Yes, that would be me making full and glorious use of the sentence-fragment-for-emphasis rule.)

For my part I am trying to rid the world of its lack of concern for all things grammatical one student at a time. I firmly believe that being able to express your opinions and thoughts articulately on a page is a valuable skill in every arena of life. And as long as there are those of us who still believe in the importance of communicating in complete sentences, grammar will continue to wield power over the written word.

For the Record

The Morgan Library and Museum in New York opened an exhibit on Friday called “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives.” On display visitors have the privilege of studying the pages of journals and diaries that belonged to authors like John Steinbeck and Nathaniel Hawthorne. It sounds fascinating. But it got me to thinking:

Why do we write things down? Why do we chronicle our lives? And when we do, are we true to who we really are?

I have been a journalist from the very tender age of ten. My first diary had Spottie Dottie (a Hello Kitty character) on the front. It was also kept under lock and key. There was something about being able to decide for myself which secrets to share with everyone and which ones to keep to myself. When I put them down on paper, they feel more real.

In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion writes: “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself…So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking.” We don’t write things down for other people, and we don’t write things down in an effort to preserve our past experiences. We write things down so that we can remember them the way we think they ought to be. If Didion is correct (and I believe she is), these writings are never intentionally useful to anyone but the person who writes them. This is only logical since our lives are most useful to our own selves.

I suppose the stakes are different for famous people who are in danger of having their private thoughts put on display in some library years after their demise. Understandably, they would feel compelled to censor themselves to promote the image they worked so diligently (or maybe not so much) to create. But it has been my experience as a normal person with a normal life and normal thoughts that censoring yourself in your writing is best left undone. Otherwise you revisit the writings later, and you have no knowledge whatsoever of the person you find there. That person is an enigma, a fictional creation that provides no bearing on where you’ve come from or what you’ve been through.

My writings to myself are much more frank and straightforward than they have ever been before. There are no self-imposed limitations or restrictions on what I am allowed to say to myself, and there are no omissions in the interest of future readers. If you seek to know me through my writing, you will know the truest, most honest version of me. If I can’t recognize myself in my own experiences years from now, what was the purpose of writing them down at all?