Forecast is being serialized semiweekly across 42 web sites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, please visit www.shyascanlon.com/forecast.
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Though I missed witnessing the following scene firsthand (off chasing Marshall “Wild Goose” Karuth), I later received a sufficiently nuanced overview, and was able to forge a reasonable recreation of dialogue. It made sense anyway, really. For all Jennifer's progressive politics, there was a strong pleasure principle running through her that manifested in often traditional attitudes toward intimacy. You could arm yourself with whips and ball-gags, but in her book, you stood by your man. Besides, Zara was at the start of her first real relationship, and Jennifer knew it wouldn't be just anyone who could handle her daughter. So after Marshall had left the house and been driven away, Jennifer paid Zara a visit.
“Zara honey,” she called out from the other side of the door. “Can we chat for a second?”
Zara was only partially dressed, and was on the verge, she felt, of assembling the perfect outfit. Moreover, “chats” with her mother usually meant either condescending lectures about personal authenticity or rather repulsive advice about sexual liberation. Zara had made a habit of having better things to do. So I'm sure she hesitated. Still, this would give her an opportunity to silently bask in the warm and, most importantly, private glow of her epiphany about stripping. In the end, that was too rich to pass up.
“Sure mom,” she said, almost cheerful despite herself. “Come on in.”
Jennifer opened the door and, seeing Zara's costume, surely resisted an urge to comment or help coordinate her outfit. Instead she smiled, saying, “You look lovely.”
“Well, 'lovely' isn't quite what I'm going for, but thanks.”
Jennifer sat down on the Zara's bed, and motioned for her daughter to join her.
“Zara first let me say that I think what you're doing is very brave and I'm very, very proud of you.”
Zara rolled her eyes and sat down on the corner of the bed. “Mom,” she said.
“I'm so proud of what a beautiful, talented, strong person you've become, and I just want you to know that your father and I, that you have our full support in whatever you--”
“Mom,” Zara said. “Please.”
“Okay honey I know you don't like it when I talk like that but I just think it's very important that you know you're very special and that your father and I are so--”
“Honey I'm wondering if you've told Asseem.”
Zara registered surprise. Asseem had been the last thing on her mind, just then, and she knew immediately what her mother was talking about, but she wanted to hear it out of Jennifer's mouth. “What do you mean?” she said, and froze in mock-quizzical face. It gave her some time.
“I know this must be the last thing you want to think about but I'm just wondering if Asseem knows about the stripping thing.”
“Men can get a little weird about this kind of thing, and I don't want to see--”
“What, mom, you don't want to 'see me get hurt?'” Zara raised her air quotes into the air like a flag. She was an independent state. “Give me a break,” she said.
Her mother was unmoved. She was used to her daughter's independence. She'd given it to her, after all. She smoothed out a small patch of wrinkled bedding, and asked again. “Zara just answer, honey. Have you told him?”
“Asseem doesn't give a shit,” Zara said, “for conventional ethical frameworks.” She'd been reduced to speaking her mother's language. She hated herself for it.
A tiny smile swam across Jennifer's face. I don't think Zara saw it, but it didn't matter. She'd already lost and she knew it.
“Oh Zara. Oh honey.” Jennifer stood up. She knew she'd made her point. “The world is such a crazy place.” She put her hand on Zara's shoulder and Zara shrugged it off. She walked slowly to the door, and paused before passing through. “Sometimes people really don't know what they care about.”
Zara stared at the floor.
When her mother had closed the door behind her Zara began to pick sullenly at the clothes she'd taken from her closet. Her excitement had vanished again, but she hadn't forgotten her earlier triumph. She'd held on to it, and maybe Asseem wouldn't approve of her decision after all, she thought, but he'd sure as hell have to deal with it. She tolerated the entirely reprehensible people he worked with--that saccharine menace Mr. Stiles--and he'd have to do the same.
Zara stood up and put her street clothes back on. She suddenly had the urge to get this over with as soon as possible. She knew she'd be able to find him down on 5th Avenue, and it would be on his turf, sure, but she'd have the element of surprise working for her. She looked out the window and saw that it was beginning to rain a bit, the wind tossing tiny wet pellets against the glass. Where was her parka? She glanced around the room for the bright, shiny blue plastic shell, but didn't see it. The clothes she'd pulled out of the closet lay limp at her feet, and she kicked them aside, scattering them to see the floor. She crouched down and pulled things out from under her bed, straining to see behind boxes and books and whatever else lay in the way. Nothing. Zara stood and walked to the foot of her bed, where a big chest stuffed with random stuff spilling out and onto the floor stood partially closed. She flung it open and started to dig, but then realized right where she remembered seeing the parka last. It wasn't in her room after all.
Zara ran to the kitchen nook and found it where she'd thought it might be, crammed in the corner of the breakfast bench seat. She heard her mother typing in the den, pulled the parka over her head, and made for the front door. As she walked by her room and caught a glimpse of it she paused, looking in. Clothes lay strewn about, books spilled out from under the bed, and the trunk lid she'd left open revealed a boot she'd been looking for. The room was a mess, a beautiful mess. Asseem would hate it, she thought with satisfaction. Zara stared until thunder sounded, and she hurried outside to join it.
It was raining only lightly, she found, but the wind was strong enough to insist that she lean a bit, shift her weight against it like she was opening a heavy door. The wind had been acting strangely for a few years by then, but it was exceptionally fickle that afternoon. That is, the force was steady, but the direction changed quickly. Since it was strong, everyone on the street had to continually change the direction of their lean, and the result was a top-like look, bodies spiraling around the axis of their feet as though pinned in place and spun, an upside down tetherball spinning to a stop. It was comical, really, and even though Zara knew she looked the same, she looked around and laughed. How could she have known that in just a few weeks she'd marry a man who'd finally pin a name to this weather condition - his first of several credits in the scramble to articulate the quickly changing significance of weather as the world went mad. How could she know how soon she'd be calling it Spindy™? She simply pressed on, or whichever way needed pressing, heading to Knuckle's to tell him the good news before continuing downtown to tell her boyfriend the bad. She'd decided to give it two days. She'd lock her outfit down, develop a routine, and spread the word.
I returned from the awkward near-miss with Marshall just as Zara was approaching Knuckle's stand, and though slightly rattled, got the download from my assistant and quickly pieced together what motivations must have brought her to that spot, and what would move her further. I reclaimed the helm.
Knuckle was helping another customer when he saw Zara approach, and he promptly pushed the man aside. This earned him a cascade of invectives, but he barely heard them, intent as he was on hearing her news and preparing to propose they find another way should there have been a problem. He grinned and stepped back from the counter a bit, allowing her room to work. Zara came up and leaned in, their routine, once rote, now charged again by the new dimension, and he looked her strait in the eyes, like he used to, knowing the skin of her young chest lay just below them, a vanilla blur amid the flood of blue plastic.
“Miss Zara,” he said quietly.
“I'm in,” Zara said. “My folks don't give a shit.” She didn't want to explain her parents' enthusiasm, and Knuckle probably wouldn't understand it anyway. She didn't want to spook him.
For his part, Knuckle knew what a loose arrangement this was, and getting an okay about this out of Zara's own mouth wasn't exactly the work of a Notary Public, but he wasn't going to second guess it.
“How about you start tonight.”
“I already decided to give it a couple days,” she said without missing a beat. “I'm thinking--”
“What about Thursday?” Knuckle said. He folded his big arms over his big chest. “They say it's the new Friday.”
“I know what they say,” Zara said. “Thursday works.”
Knuckle grinned and began wiping down the countertop with his stained, oily rag.
“Most of these bit--most of these girls they just run away. I got to tell you Zara but I think you can handle it. Sometimes the men will get drunk and, you know? They want to dance.” He paused to measure Zara's reaction. She showed no sign of alarm. So far so good. “I keep them off the stage you know but they reach sometimes, you know? And a girl's gotta be able to--”
“I can take care of myself,” she assured him.
“I know you can, Miss Zara. That's why I'm thinking you'll do just fine up there.”
Zara pushed herself off the counter, into the wind. Her parka whipped and fluttered and her red hair danced above her head. Behind her the trees swung around, dressed to the nines in trash.
“I'll come by, what, 8 o'clock?”
“You come by at 7:30 and we talk business a little first before you dance.”
Zara nodded and leaned off in the direction of downtown, her head out in front of her feet until the wind shifted, making her feet go first.
It began to rain harder.
Read the last chapter here. Read the next chapter here.