Publisher’s Note: With today’s official release of The Bee-Loud Glade, we thought it would be enlightening to ask author Steve Himmer to provide an outtake from his debut novel. The following excerpt did not make the book’s final cut for reasons that Steve outlines below, and aptly illustrates the critical decisions and revisions that many novelists make throughout the creative process.
Author’s Note: In the final version of The Bee-Loud Glade, the protagonist Finch is delivered to his new life as a hermit by replying to what he thinks is a piece of spam. In this alternate version, Finch instead discovers the job opening through a classified ad in the newspaper, while venturing out of his house after a long time indoors.
I enjoy this scene at the grocery store, with Finch out in the world, and was sorry to cut it. This quiet moment—with Finch in public yet totally absorbed in his own bubble—gives a suggestion of who he will become.
In the revised, final version, Finch is more desperate, perhaps, and more dependent on technology as his connection to the world, so it’s a different kind of isolation. I worried that if he was able to head out to the store so easily, at ease in the world, there was less reason for Mr. Crane’s offer to appeal to him later. And the idea of spam appealed to me, too, because it’s so ambiguous—a classified ad is obviously in every copy of the newspaper, but an email may be “genuine” spam or it may be an email sent just to Finch and only disguised as spam. The creepiness of that, and the Schrödinger’s cat-ish ambiguity of the technology, felt important to where the story was headed.
One morning among identical mornings—a consistency I’d come to cherish—I wondered how it might taste to eat deviled egg yolks in the seeded trough of a cucumber. I woke with that image bright and clear in my head, so maybe it came from a dream. Such an insignificant impulse, and the combination turned out to be less than delicious, but that ridiculous gustatory desire changed my life. There were no cucumbers or eggs hiding in my apartment so I went out for the first time in weeks. I didn’t bother locking the door because if the eviction crew came they’d have their own keys (though why they hadn’t used them before, who can say) and if anyone else came and forced their way in they’d only take the appliances I wasn’t using. Also, I didn’t know where my keys were.
Halfway to the market at the end of the block, on a quest for cucumbers and eggs, I realized my T-shirt was both backwards and inside-out. I suspected it was the same undershirt I’d been wearing the day I was fired, and that I’d spilled on it at some point and turned it around to hide the stain from myself for some reason. The smell of my body must have built gradually enough for my nose to adjust and not notice, because the people I passed made sour faces and pinched their nostrils shut and one woman pushing a stroller while jogging stopped short on the sidewalk and gagged. I pictured myself through their eyes and noses, rancid and ragged and crawled out of a cave—I really did think that, “crawled out of a cave,” as unlikely as it may seem. Out in the world, in the sunlight, I felt the time that had passed in my darkened apartment and the state I’d slipped into in isolation. I was reminded that I have a body, one that can be seen by other people, one that was visibly not working during work hours and clearly hadn’t been for some time.
The store’s cucumbers looked a bit spotty, but during my years at Second Nature I’d gotten used to real plants and produce looking less-than-perfect beside our hyperefficient replacements. I chose two waxy cukes straight enough to be hollowed into slick green canoes, then found myself a carton of eggs, and on impulse while waiting in line I grabbed a newspaper out of the rack thinking I’d catch up with the world since I was already out in it.
I bought a big coffee from a counter in the market then sat outside on a bench before heading home to my culinary inquiries. I grew so engrossed in watching cream swirl that my coffee went cold before I’d taken a sip, but I drank it anyway because the day had grown hot and it was even more refreshing that way. I scanned the news and the sports, but most of the stories seemed to be adding to stories from previous days and didn’t make sense without already knowing what they were about. Trying to dig out the crossword puzzle—it hadn’t occurred to me yet that I had no pencil or pen—and juggling the paper along with my coffee, I dropped the classified section and it floated to the ground in slow motion (I swear!), fluttering like a… well, like a prayer flag again.
The sheets landed flat on the grass, spread out wide, and as I reached down to retrieve them a particular listing caught my attention. It wasn’t any more visually exciting than the items around it, it didn’t have a fancy border or extra large type, but it grabbed my eye like a magnet reels in iron filings:
WANTED Quiet, contemplative outdoors enthusiast for full time employment — daydreamers and introverts encouraged to apply. Competitive salary and excellent benefits. Lodging and all meals provided.
I read the listing again and again, folded the paper, put it down, picked it up, unfolded it, and made sure the ad still said what I’d seen. I wondered if it was a medical experiment of some kind, like the ones I used to see advertised on the bus ride to work. I wondered, too, if it was joke, or a con-artist fishing for victims, even a cult. But although I allowed the skeptical part of my mind to run through all the worst cases it could, I knew right away the ad was for real. I felt as if it had been written, had been waiting, for me and me only to open the paper and find it.
A more cynical person, a rational person, would assume such an offer too good to be true. To me, it seemed too good not to be true—who but a dreamer would devise such a wonderful dream? And who but a dreamer would be willing to admit they had done so by announcing it to the readers of a major newspaper? But providence was in my hands, and I believed in the ad and the local phone number it offered.
I walked home in more of a hurry than I’d felt for months, imagining myself at the center of glorious ventures, watching forests for fire from high in a tower or accompanying explorers to the world’s farthest places. All I needed to do was call. But when I reached the phone in my kitchen, I couldn’t dial. I spent the rest of the day with the paper before me, folded and torn so only that one listing showed. The light changed as afternoon passed, and long shadows crawled across my apartment while I stood paralyzed. My former coworkers at Second Nature were logging off for the day when at last I summoned the courage to lift the receiver up to my ear, only to be reminded my service was cut—the harsh hum of dead wires roused me from my coma, and jolted me back into action. So I scrounged up some change from around my apartment and walked back to the payphone by the market.
After four rings a man answered and gave me an address in a part of the city I’d seldom seen—high hills and higher houses upon them, mostly new money and enough of it to conjure glowing green yards and bright swimming pools from what had been rough, barren ground a few decades before. Some of the bigwigs at Second Nature lived there, but none had invited me over.
The man on the phone asked me to come the next morning at nine o’clock sharp (he actually used the word “sharp”) then excused himself and hung up.
I smoothed my one suit as much as I could with a cast-iron pan warmed up in the oven (using the burner is faster, but leaves black marks on the cloth). I briefly considered cutting my hair, but since I’d never cut it myself before and had come to like the look of it longer, I only brushed it and clipped at the parts of my beard that stuck out more than the whiskers around them.
I did a passable job cleaning up, but had I known what Mr Crane wanted in an employee, had I known what this job would entail, I might have saved myself all that effort not to mention a painful burn on my thumb. Had I cut my hair neatly or shaved off my beard, had my suit been clean and well-pressed, it might have cost me the job.
Lead photo source: Ossian’s Cave
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Himmer teaches at Emerson College in Boston, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and is on the faculty of the First Year Writing Program. His stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Hobart, The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, Pindeldyboz, PANK, Emprise Review, and Everyday Genius. He also is a frequent blogger on writing and teaching, and edits Necessary Fiction, a webjournal from So New Publishing, a press based in Eugene, Oregon. His debut novel, The Bee-Loud Glade, is currently available for sale here, on Indiebound, and wherever eclectic books are sold.