On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings the caregiver arrives at eight. By eight-fifteen I’m out the door for my walk. There’s a trail about five minutes from Trina’s house. The path runs adjacent to a canal, which leads to Buffalo Bayou, very naturey. I walk out for half an hour, then turn around and come back. This time of day the shadows are long and the breeze is fresh, though humid; in Houston summer, always humid. The tat-at-at-at of woodpeckers and the songs of mockingbirds drift from the trees and bounce off the back fences of the homes that border the open area.
As my feet crunch along on the path, my thoughts turn to the novel I’m currently working on. My main character is a blend of damaged child and bully. She claims to be helpful when she’s really manipulative. She doesn’t recognize the line between concern and intrusion. She’s intriguing to write and I enjoy having her in my head. But I worry that her dark complexity is too heavy for the plot, which is lightweight, meant to entertain. Is this a bold contrast or a foolish one? I’m at the point where I usually panic—I need to see the ending, and I don’t. This happens every time, and I know what’s coming. In the next week or two a full picture will pop into my mind, either during that coming-awake period at the end of a night’s sleep, or when I’m out walking—and then I’ll know where I’m going, how my characters will grow, or not grow, and how I’m going to weave it all together. But until that happens, I press on doggedly, faithfully.
A frog, no larger than the nail of my thumb, hops across the path. Tiny frogs are cute. A couple and their dog ambles toward me. We exchange good mornings. A heron flaps and rises from the narrow muddy stream to my left. Considering the number of dogs out here, the place is pretty clean. Houston dog owners are polite. Oh, and look, some kind master has cut a square hole in his fence so his dog can observe the comings and goings on the trail. Hello dog.
Several days ago my sister, Resi, asked me to send her a copy of Urban Legend: Cats (the title says it all). The plot is a simple one—a paranoid hypochondriac sneaks into her neighbor’s cat-infested house, snatches cats, and distributes them among her friends. I wrote it ten years ago and it needs some updating and editing, which I’ve been meaning to get to. So I asked Resi to give me a month or so to clean it up. But the manuscript’s an unwieldy beast, so many extra words that I’m horrified I ever allowed anybody to look at it. Unnecessary phrases, long explanatory passages, redundancies—oh my. At the beginning of this process it weighed in at a hundred and fifteen thousand words. I’m a sixth of the way through it and I’ve already cut ten thousand. After this run-through, I’ll do it again, and then probably once more. By the time I’m finished, it’ll be sharp and lean. It's a very funny book.
I’m on the home stretch—past a school, past a street-repair site. This is typical—they’ve dug a large maw in the dark earth; the large pipes are stacked to the side, ready to go in; and adjacent to this mess sits the replacement grass, which they won’t be ready to put in for at least two weeks. Sitting in the hot sun for at least a week, the pallets have already turned brown. A man stops his leaf-blower when I go by, and I wave thanks to him. I rush in from my walk, take a shower, throw on my clothes. The mall is twenty minutes away. If I’m at the mall when the stores open, I’ll have forty minutes to do some damage to the credit card, and I’ll still be home by eleven, when the caregiver’s shift is over and mine begins.