Our second First Impressions for the month of August comes from Zoe Byrd who you can find here. Author Dianne Salerni will also be critiquing this first page so do hop over and see what she thought at her place. This is the first page of FINDING HOME.
He was sitting on the front steps of the Laundromat when I pulled up to the curb. It wasn’t his usual spot, so I had to wonder what was going on. We had been doing this dance for the past four months. Sunday mornings I would arrive at 6 am, he would be walking out and would return for his things in about half an hour, if we passed in the doorway we’d say “hello,” nothing more really. It wasn’t that I wasn’t attracted to him, I was; I didn’t want to be a nudge. (I think you can find a more elegant way to say this.) It was just too early in the morning for conversation, and he didn’t have the look of a big talker. This morning was already different. It was January and far too cold to be sitting on cement steps at this ungodly hour. I got out of my car and went around to the trunk to retrieve my laundry bag thinking, “He must be freezing his butt off. What’s going on?” ( I probably wouldn't put the narrator's thoughts in quotations. You could put it in italics - or not. Readers? Any thoughts on this?) Hefting my laundry, and moving past him on the steps, I nodded and said, “Good morning.” He smiled as I passed him.
The temperature change upon entering the steamy room was always a bit of a shock in the winter. The condensation on the front windows almost obscured the view of the road. The room itself was lined with front- and top-loading washers and dryers. Vending machines containing tiny boxes of detergent and fabric softeners stood in the corner. Interspersed with tables, a row of multicolored wooden benches ran up the middle of the room.
It became evident why this morning was different. Not there to do laundry, someone else had invaded our turf. When I entered, the drunk was kicking the change machine. His evening pursuits not having worn off, he was still pretty hammered. In search of a warm, dry place to crash, he wandered into the all night Laundromat. He stopped what he was doing and stumbled around the room grasping onto machines for stability as he approached me. I didn’t even get to unload my bag before he made a play.
He looked to be in his thirties. A red and white oval on the left pocket of his navy blue shirt said “Steve.” He most likely hadn’t changed his clothing between leaving work and hitting the bar. Considering he was covered in the crusty remnants of old food and motor oil, and reeked of stale beer and cigarettes, he was probably in the right place. The blackened grease and oil imbedded under his fingernails and the creases of his hands were further evidence that he had most likely not returned home to clean up before heading out after work. He had a thick mustache and a dark mane of tousled hair. He wasn’t much taller than me. As he approached, I did what I had been apt to do for several years now; I sized him up. I watched how he moved, gauged his weight and height to my own, and looked for ways to physically unbalance him if I had to defend myself. I slipped my hand in my pocket to feel for my key ring, which was always equipped with a canister of mace.
He slurred his first question. “Hey, what’s your name? You got a few bucks I could borrow? I gotta get some smokes.”
“Nope sorry, I only brought enough to do the laundry. I wasn’t expecting to run into anybody.”
“Pretty girl like you should always expect to run into somebody. You should come better prepared.” The cloud of fetid alcohol through which he delivered his observations was becoming nauseating.
“I did come prepared, to do my laundry. So why don’t you go take a seat and I’ll do that.”
“Aw c’mon honey, don’t be like that. I been striking out all night. I just wanna talk. Maybe later we could get to know each other better.”
“I don’t think so. I would really like to just do my laundry, but if you don’t think you can go settle down over there, I’ll just take off.” Leaning heavily on me he put his hand on my shoulder. I shrugged him off and pulled my keys from my pocket. I said, “Look man, I don’t want to hurt you but I’ll spray you in the face and then I will kick the living shit out of you. So keep your hands off me and go sit down.”
“Bitch, I was just trying to be ni…” He didn’t get to finish his statement. Not without a certain amount of stealth my previous acquaintance had come in from the stoop, grabbed my inebriated admirer by the collar, dragged and slammed him into a chair. He pointed at him, silently ordering him not to move. I hadn’t even heard him come in. As I gathered my things to leave, my guardian moved back to the front steps. I went outside and sat down next to him on the cold cement stairs.
I was truly grateful. I hadn’t been looking forward to a physical confrontation. I said, “Thanks so much for your help in there. I really appreciate your waiting until I got here. I’ll come back later, so don’t feel like you have to stay.”
“No, I will stay. He’s not safe.” Despite a sufficient grasp of the language, he spoke with a strong, distinctly Asian accent. In stark contrast to how he handled my aggressor, he appeared timid and looked at his hands whenever he spoke.
I said, “I know, so I’ll leave and come back, no big deal. I’m sure you have things to do.”
“No, stay-I’ll also stay.”
“Thanks. That’s really nice of you.”
Still gazing downward, he smiled and bowed his head further. “You’re welcome.”
“My name is Tsering.”
I smiled and pointed my thumb over my shoulder saying, “I suppose I should be thanking him too. It’s good to finally meet you.”
He returned my smile. “Yes, it has been some time.”
My first thought is that using the drunk to get the guy to protect the girl to get them talking seems pretty cliche to me and lasts too long. I saw it coming right away, which is okay, but it sets up a certain expectation. Show me some new way that hasn't been done before to get these two characters to talk to each other, well now you've got me really interested. Does that make sense? Anyway. That said I'll just add that the end of the first page is perfect. It feels like the first meeting of two people who have been sizing each other up for a while. I like it!
Readers, what are thoughts?