Olongapo

Draft opening of chapter one of my novel, Olongapo.

 

Black and White

On the other side of the brown river the gray town trembles in a dull watercolor of shimmering heat waves. He’s crossed this bridge dozens of times and though the view never changes, it feels like he’s seeing it for the first time. Smog, dirt, and dust mix in a loose conglomeration that coats everything in a fabric of oppression. Squat cement buildings, some painted in subdued tones of gray and brown, others painted in garish hues of pink and blue, many not painted at all, are situated the way a two-year old might place blocks. Aerial antennas and telephone poles, electric cables and neon signs clutter the gray sky like a mass of dead trees. Jeepneys, trikes, and cars jostle each other for space. Gray pedestrians perform a stop motion ballet as they cross from one side of the street to the other. Despite splashes of color here and there, the scene blends until it resembles a black and white photograph. Even the low, steady hum of twenty-five thousand voices chattering away like a buzz saw feels gray.

The name of the town, Olongapo, rolls off the tongue like a lopsided boulder in an avalanche. The fetid smell of the unnamed river, Shit River the Sailors call it, breaches his nose with an odor that clings like saran wrap. His nostrils pinch together of themselves and he wrinkles his nose, but the odor remains. The broiling sun beats down on his bare head through hair that seems to thin more rapidly each day. He doesn’t want to go into the gray town, but something primeval, some deep buried need urges him on. He grips the hot, steel handrail like a lifeline and forces himself to cross the bridge, disappearing into the gray of the other side. He emerges into the consuming gray that separates him from the person of a few moments before.

The dread that burdened him at the bridge lifts and his heart beats with a rising excitement as he nears the bar. His skin crawls at the sight of the building, an ugly wart rising from the pale brown of the ground beneath. It juts into the street as though it sits in Times Square. The deck of the bar on the second story opens like a great toothless maw. Barmaids lean from the railing calling passing Sailors to “buy me drink. I love you long time.” He ducks to the side as a boy in civilian clothes vomits beer, burger, and fries into the street.

19 thoughts on “Olongapo

  1. That’s great writing, Will. I just wondered, though – would you consider reversing the two paragraphs? The first paragraph is full of glorious description, but it might be better later, once the reader has settled in and trusts you to take them somewhere interesting. The second paragraph is full of intrigue and would definitely make anyone want to know what’s happening with this guy. Just a thought!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! That’s great feedback and just what I hope for when I post my drafts. I’ll give it some thought and see how it works. I may end chapter one at that point, that’s why I have him disappearing into the gray; I’m not sure it would work the other way.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Black and White

      He grips the steel handrail like a lifeline. He’s crossed this bridge dozens of times and though the view across the river never changes he feels like he’s seeing it for the first time. The name of the town, Olongapo, rolls off the tongue like a lopsided boulder in an avalanche. The fetid smell of the unnamed river, Shit River as the Sailors call it, breaches his nose with an odor that clings like saran wrap. His nostrils pinch together of themselves and he wrinkles his nose. The odor remains. The broiling sun beats down on his bare head through hair that seems to thin more rapidly each day. He doesn’t want to go into the gray town, but something primeval, some deep buried need urges him on.
      Across the brown river the gray town trembles in a dull watercolor of shimmering heat waves. Smog, dirt, and dust mix in a loose conglomeration that coats everything in a fabric of oppression. Squat cement buildings, some painted in subdued tones of gray and brown, others painted in garish hues of pink and blue, many not painted at all, are situated the way a two-year old might place blocks. Aerial antennas and telephone poles, electric cables and neon signs clutter the gray sky like a mass of dead trees. Jeepneys, trikes, and cars jostle each other for space. Gray pedestrians perform a stop motion ballet as they cross from one side of the street to the other. Despite splashes of color here and there, the scene blends until it resembles a black and white photograph. Even the low, steady hum of twenty-five thousand voices chattering away like a buzz saw feels gray. He forces himself to cross the bridge and disappears into the gray of the other side.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m not sure I’ve helped. I still like this first paragraph very much, but the second paragraph – evocative as it is – loses the thread. The end of the first paragraph would actually lead itself more into his state of mind rather than a description of the town, though I guess the two are profoundly linked. Sorry!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Will, I like this version. The first two sentences connect my imagination to places I’ve known and things I’ve experienced. Then in the third sentence, I get to the name “Olongapo” and I realize you’re going to take me to a place I’ve never been, and I’m excited to find out more…for me this is a “from familiar to unfamiliar” kind of reading experience that I like.

        Liked by 1 person

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