Not Watched – From “Nice.”


Many of you know that I have been working on the manuscript for a novel.  The book is called Nice.  Here’s an excerpt (taken from the very middle of the book) that I am posting for the prompt by Mary of dVerse Poets Pub on invisibility. The story takes place in the summer of 1968.  Photo above is of a light sculpture by Jason Martin.  (Sorry for length!)


Every hour on the hour they had a fifteen minute rest period.  It was a time when all the screaming, splashing, marco poloing, stopped and grown-ups, with their strange dry strokes, puffy backs and silken bathing caps, swam slow laps.  You had to be over sixteen to stay in the water.

Like the other kids, Les sat along the edge of the pool, waiting for the whistle.  A boy with red hair, older than her but clearly below sixteen, slipped silently from the ledge across, and ducked beneath the water, his body an expanded wriggle beneath the blue.

She felt the whole poolside watching him, holding its collective breath till he pulled himself up onto the pool’s opposite side, head sleek as an otter, water shimmering down his back.  Everyone, in relief and pleasure, readjusted their bottoms, hid their smirks.  It was as if they had all fooled the guard.

Then Les felt herself alone again, herself the watched one.

She hadn’t talked to Arne all day, but she knew he had been keeping an eye on her,  even as he pretended not to.

What had she told him?  Why had she said anything?

It was because of the grass.  She’d heard him and Jasper talking about it when she’d been hiding in the bushes beside the patio.  She hadn’t meant to hear, she just had, and then when she went down there, she knew they had done it, the way they looked.  It was so crazy, Arne smoking grass, Arne, the math nerd.

She’d wondered whether maybe it meant that he was different from what she’d always thought; that maybe he was normal, human, someone she could actually talk to.

But it was stupid to think that.  Because he wasn’t any different.  He was the same old Arne.  And now she had said something to him, something stupid.

Bruce Beebee was at the pool too, Bruce from school.  Bruce, who didn’t even belong to that swimming pool, Bruce with a streak of white stuff down his nose, a deep tan everywhere else, sitting on a picnic table at the snack bar with his brother.  He was not directly looking at her either; yet she felt his looks all the same, and in his looks, she felt this change in herself, a change that showed as much as his thick white streak, only the streak looked almost cool, and she couldn’t think of herself as cool, not even this changed self.

She answered his not looking at her by not looking at him, crossing her arms over her chest, keeping her eyes down towards the water.

Arne hulked by Bruce’s brother.  She had forgotten that they knew each other, and Jasper too, and they were all standing or leaning on the picnic table talking, Jasper eating a frozen Snickers bar, Bruce listening to them, holding his tennis racket between his legs, two palms pressed against the racket part.

She wondered whether Arne was telling them something, telling them what she had said.

He wouldn’t–she knew he wouldn’t–and yet, with the echo of his telling in her mind, she couldn’t stand not looking at them any more, not being looked at in return, and she got up from the side of the pool and walked slowly towards the girls’ locker room, feeling in the boys’ not-looks the pucker of her bathing suit inside her buttocks, and she hurried her walk a little, though she still aimed for nonchalance, not wanting to reach down and tug the suit loose, not with them not watching.

The locker room was immediately cool.  It smelled of wet paint and wet toilet paper and dank chlorinated concrete, all tinged with Coppertone.  She sat down on a short blue bench by a wall of wooden cubby holes.  The surface of the bench was knobby with repeated paint jobs.  She ran her finger over a speckled place that someone had already started to peel.

How could she go back to school in the fall? She hadn’t even thought about that part.  Her mom might not notice anything, but kids would.

Now two older girls burst in, falling over each other through the bright doorway, the flesh of their stomachs rolling over their bikinis.

‘Did you see that?’ they laughed, ‘what he did?’ ‘I almost died.’

They laughed themselves to the mirror, which for a moment, they seemed to embrace. They were closer there, their warm baby oil seeping over her.  Then the dark-haired girl dug into an open cubby and, finding a tube of lipstick behind some rolled-up cut-offs, coated her lips in ghostly lavender.

The other girl, whose hair was lighter, messed with a brown paper bag folded around a half lemon.  Leaning against the mirror, she pulled one side of hair back above her ears and squeezed juice over it, combing as she squeezed and picking at the pulp and seeds that clung to the wet strands.

“Jesus, this stuff is shit; does it look horrible?” she said.

“No more than usual,” the dark-haired girl said.

The other scowled.

“Just kidding,” the dark-haired one laughed.  “Come on, it just looks a little wet; that’s all.”

They re-tied each other’s bikini tops.  As one tied, the other looked at herself in the mirror, trying out a selection of smiles.  Beneath the smiles, the floating triangles of cloth re-centered themselves.

Les looked down at the bench, conscious of her own breasts.  Nothing like these girls, but different from what they had been, no longer a simple ribcage of breath.

Could she tell them?  It would be like telling her friends, only they weren’t her friends, so it would be better.  She would never have to talk to them again.

“This really weird thing happened to me–” she could say.

She tried to imagine them leaning into her like they leaned into the mirror.

‘Some people might think it was cool,’ she could say.

Leaning into her, listening to her, not even noticing after a bit that she was actually one of the younger kids.

She would like that.

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23 Comments on “Not Watched – From “Nice.””

  1. Brian Miller Says:

    goodness k…on one hand not wanting to be noticed for what she went through but want to be noticed so that she had someone to talk to…to tell…for them to lean in and accept her…not even notice her age….

    so this is from the novel you are doing edits on now…i am intrigued…is this part of the reworked section you did in the beginning or later…

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      This is just smack in the middle really. I chose it because it seemed to fit the prompt. I re-wrote a little just now–it’s amazing how many extra words and awkward phrases one manages to fit in. Thanks, Brian. Your interest means a lot to me. k.

  2. Mary Says:

    You’ve captured my attention, K! Excellent and realistic dialogue, and that isn’t easy.

  3. Grace Says:

    A very engaging story K ~ I enjoyed the characters, the scene & their thoughts ~ I wonder what Les has experienced or is changing into ~ Looking forward to your completion ~

  4. You show us a lo of depth in her character just in this little snippit–well done–good luck on the novel–it is such a long haul!

  5. hedgewitch Says:

    Interesting to see the object of so much work on your part…the writing is to quite a high standard, lucid but nuanced, and you have really presented the way the young mind works very authentically. I see why you didn’t want to give up on this one, and I also see why you do so well with poetry–you have a very tactile, real imagination. Your character is fully three dimensional, even in just this short excerpt.

  6. Snakypoet (Rosemary Nissen-Wade) Says:

    Oh, this totally engaged me, and now I want all the rest!

  7. kaykuala Says:

    Beautiful take K! Les seems to have lots of questions on her mind.This is a measure of a good thriller building up a character from the number of unanswered questions. Good luck to you Ma’am!


  8. First of all, a poets prose is always with poetry.. The story captured me from the first row. To both want to be seen and not.. I think no matter that’s what it is growing up…

  9. claudia Says:

    i love how you give us a feel for her… love all the little details…the smells you embed as well… can’t wait to read the whole book k.

  10. Brendan Says:

    The painful awareness of difference is lavishly painted out here, stroke by stroke, scene by scene, gesture by gesture (so many fine ones) — maybe this is how all writing begins, with the sharp edges of separation like the edges of an alphabet forming. The poet’s eye for heightened detail comes through wonderfully. Now what will this child-woman awaken to?

  11. lynndiane Says:

    Fits the visibility/invisibility topic perfectly…she not looking at them not looking at her…felt like i was back at the pool in younger skin, K!

  12. Steve King Says:

    There’s such a richness of detail in this, and it all holds together with the voice you’ve given. Every part of it is polished and interesting. I remember the summer of ’68 so well. What interests me in this snippet is wondering how the characters would grow and develop in the midst of all the changes that were unfolding at that time.

    Your writing is very refined. Within this small narrative are many seeds, in a manner of speaking, that will no doubt grow into a compelling story. This piece leaves me in suspense and with high expectations for the next page. I look forward to more. This is very good.

    Steve K.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Dear Steve, Thanks so much for your comment. I am very pleased to hear that as this is very much mid-narrative–and not a part that I thought had very much momentum, but I chose to post it because it seemed to fit the prompt, and was not a spoiler in terms of the book. The story does very much use the interchange of the events between the characters and the bigger world events — it begins with RFK’s assassination. It was a packed summer. It was a hard calculus for me – many people don’t have direct memories and I had versions where there was much more direct back and forth between the events–but now it’s a little more subtle I think, hope. I do wonder if people who don’t know who Humphrey or McCarthy or Nixon or the Daley will get much from some parts, but I’ve tried to keep the references to a point where they don’t stop the momentum (such as there is any!) and also aren’t necessary. Of course, the war overshadows everything, MLK’s assassination too, to a degree. It was a very intense time. Thanks again. k.

  13. A grabbing tale. Her conscious effort to be invisible in their gaze, yet also conscious of being seen and gazed at and talked about. The character sketch is wonderful… it could be any teenager. The need to talk powerfully comes out of your well chosen words that are a product of her thoughts. I really liked it and I wanted to read more.

  14. hypercryptical Says:

    Intriguing tale of teenage angst and a good omen for your book!
    Anna :o]

  15. Truedessa Says:

    I think this fit the prompt perfectly, I really enjoyed reading this and it peaked my interest as I wanted to read a bit more. Best of luck with this project. Let us know when it is complete.

  16. grapeling Says:

    Well I tried to comment from my phone but evidently that got eaten. I’m so glad you’ve taken time to edit this piece. You’ve absolutely nailed the voices, the tremulous nature of being young ~

  17. shanyns Says:

    Thanks for sharing! Love this.

  18. janehewey Says:

    almost painful to read. I mean that in a positive way. Your title, combined with this bit of your story, has me curious to read more. It reminds me how many times over the course of my life that I’ve dearly wanted to be invisible… and more clearly the times I’ve wanted to be partially invisible. Thanks for sharing, k!!

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