Lot’s Wife, Chapter 2: A Nanowrimo Novel

by Hugh

I’ve started to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month, aka nanowrimo (wherenin mad people try to write a 50,000-word novel in a month). I’m asking for help proofreading it, using Bite-Size Edits. Could you, would you cast your grammarian’s eye on a sentence or two?

I’ll post the proofread stuff here once in a while I guess. Note: proofread is no guarantee of any kind of quality!

***
Lot’s Wife: Chapter 2

“It was very kind of you to offer me a ride,” she said, opening the door. “And very nice of you to drop me off here.”    

I told her it was my pleasure and that I would happily give her a ride any time.

I blushed as I said it, “I mean…”

“Yeah right,” she smirked at me, scrunching her nose and making one of those non-committal faces so I didn’t know whether she thought it was funny, or suggestive, or what, but she certainly didn’t chastise me.

“My husband just left me,” she said. “What sort of woman do you think I am?”

“An attractive one,” I answered. “But I didn’t mean…”

“You men,” she said and patted my knee. “Only one thing.” She gathered her bag. “See you around! And thanks again.”

She opened the door and got out into the rain. Before she slammed the door shut, I called to her, “Hey, I didn’t get your name?”

She poked her head back into the car, looking genuinely surprised. “You want to know my name? Really?”

I was taken aback. It was as if she’d never been asked the question before. She blinked at me, looking fragile for the first time, finally looking like a woman whose husband had just left her, finally looking like she was upset.

“Of course I do,” I said.

She seemed to think it over for a few seconds. “You can call me Iris,” she said.

Then she smiled again as if it were all forgotten.

“My name is Oscar,” I called out as she shut the door, but it was too late; she was already running under the awning to a grocery store. And then she vanished inside.

***

Iris didn’t want to know my name — not then anyway — but I’ll tell you while I have your attention: my name is Oscar Writh. I was thirty-one when I met Iris (I’m a bit older than that now, but not much), and I worked then part-time as a dishwasher, which I guess I should explain. People wonder about it. The pay is terrible and the hours are bad, but I like washing dishes, and it’s something I’ve done for years. I like it; it’s comfortable and not demanding, and the requirements are clear. Dirty dish becomes clean dish. It’s very simple and requires little judgment, just diligence, and that’s something I appreciate.

When I am not washing dishes, I am a musician and composer of the kind of music that no one likes to buy, and only a few people like to hear: atonal improvisational stuff, the sort of stuff that is “big” in Japan and parts of Germany. Or at least, the kind of stuff that gets me flown to Tokyo and Berlin (or: Osaka and Munich) once in a while, and paid decent amounts of money (for a dishwasher) to give performances and the odd lecture about finding music in the everyday, and other esoteric kinds of subjects that handfuls of people clap about when I am done. So, I wash dishes for money and create music that sounds an awful lot like an industrial kitchen to fulfill the needs of my soul.

This is important because I had been working on a piece called “Lot’s Wife” for the past six months. It was the most ambitious work I’d ever done, certainly the most draining.

I’d always been fascinated by that poor nameless wife of Lot, who gets one mere line in the Old Testament, but who has always been to me the most arresting character in the whole book. She breaks my heart. The one who got turned into a pillar of salt for the sin of looking back. You’ll remember, God is about to rain fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah, the twin cities filled with iniquity–not 10 citizens are deemed good among the people there. Some angels come to take Lot and his family out of Sodom and warn him, Look not behind thee, neither stay thou in the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. The fire and brimstone comes, Lot and his family are whisked safely out of the city, and what does Lot’s wife do? She does what I would have done. She does what we all want to do. She looked back.

I can’t help looking back. I’m doing it right now.

But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

That’s the first and last we hear of Lot’s wife, bless her soul, in the entire Bible, save for Jesus’ entreaty that we remember her as an example of what not to do.

But I’ve always wondered if Lot even conveyed the instructions from the angels to his family. Did he even tell her not to look back? As for Lot, well he made some questionable choices, wasn’t the best father, and yet, he never got turned into a pillar of salt. Unlike poor, nameless, Lot’s wife.

Oh, about the car: it was borrowed from my friend, Paul Whinstone, a biblical scholar at Concordia University, an ex-Jesuit (yes, they still exist) who played in a Dead Kennedys cover band. That’s completely irrelevant, but I wanted to make clear that dishwashing, atonal improvisational music and car ownership do not tend to coincide very often. That’s completely irrelevant, but I wanted to make clear that dishwashing and atonal improvisational music and car ownership do not tend to be found together very often.

***

I ran into Iris again a week or so later, at the grocery store where I’d left her off. She was examining grapefruit.

“Hello,” I said.

“Oh, hello, it’s my rainy-day taxi driver, Oscar.”

“How do you know my name?” I asked.

I was just happy that she was being so friendly, so I didn’t press her on it. I assumed–with a dash of pride–that she might have known of me from my music, as outlandish an idea as that was. Eventually we found ourselves at a cafe just down the street from the grocery store and not far from my little apartment.

We chatted pleasantly, about art and music–nothing personal. After a while she said, “Oscar, I was wondering if you could do me a favour?”

I said of course.

“It’s a strange request.”

She wanted me to take a bag to her husband. She hadn’t spoken to him since he left her on the corner, but she had something of his that she didn’t want any more.

I guess I was skeptical and asked her “Why me?”

She answered: “I think it’s easier if a stranger does it. I don’t want to see him. And I don’t want to ask someone close to do it; it’d just be strange. And, well, it just seems like if you have a car, it might be … but don’t feel obliged.”

It would be another chance, a few more chances to meet Iris. A drive to a house in Westmount, or TMR perhaps, ring a doorbell, pass a bag over to someone. What could be easier, right? Right.

***

It was a grey October day close to Halloween, the trees had just in the past week shed their yellowed leaves, and I had that nostalgic feeling I get every time the seasons change. I thought of old girlfriends, long-past sadnesses, and the strange sensation of growing older, but not wiser, something that had just recently begun to preoccupy me. It was a Kafka sort of day, when everything seemed a little off kilter; I had the faint desire to weep, though not about anything in particular. So I was already in a bit of a strange mood when I came upon Iris at our meeting place, a bench in Jeanne Mance Park.

She was sitting alone, with a huge, black suitcase at her feet.

She wore a woolen hat, a blue pea-coat, a striped scarf. Her nose and cheeks were rosy with the cold.

“Hello Oscar,” she said as I approached, standing. She looked deathly serious, like she had looked when I asked her her name.

I started to lean in to kiss her on the cheek in greeting, but she stretched out her hand to shake mine.

Chastened and a little stung, certainly disappointed, I pulled up and nodded formally as if she were a headmaster or an army officer.

“Here’s the package,” she said, all business.

“I see that. It’s smaller than I imagined,” I joked, but she did not smile.

“And here is the address,” she handed me a folded piece of paper. “The directions are there–exact directions, very specific directions–so make sure you follow them.”

I opened the paper to find tiny writing in black ink with what seemed to be a paragraph of directions; I couldn’t quite make out the letters.

“Where is it I’m going?”

“It’s on the paper,” she answered waving a hand at me. “I have to go, Oscar. I am sorry.”

I tested the handle of the suitcase; it was brutally heavy.

“What’s in here?” I asked.

“Thank you again. This means a lot to me. Goodbye, Oscar.” She turned and started walking away.

“Do you have a phone number?”

“So I can tell you when the mission is accomplished?”

“No.”

“How will I find you?”

“Don’t worry about that, Oscar.” She kept walking without looking back. “I’ll find you.”

***

I lugged the case to the car. It was unbelievably heavy, and I had to rest it on the ground several times before I got to the car. I struggled to get it in the trunk, finally succeeded. The car sagged noticeably with its cargo. I installed myself in the front seat to examine the directions Iris had given me.