Thursday, October 15, 2015

BLOG TOUR The Grand Dissolute by: Joel Van Valin

The year is 1998 and Jimmy Pagley is falling in love—with a pretty, foreign cafe waitress named Haydee. What he doesn't know is that Haydee is a temvelar, a time traveler from the 29th century, on a mission to find her old mentor. Soon Jimmy and Haydee find themselves caught up in a dark conspiracy of rogue temvelars and government agents, on a search that leads through airports and space stations, art museums and suburban bakyards, Greek temples and Medieval castles, and beyond time itself. The Grand Dissolute is a traveler's portrait of a tumultuous, romantic age—our own.

Joel Van Valin is the author of the fantasy novel, The Flower of Clear Burning and the publisher of Whistling Shade literary journal.  He lives with his wife Lisa, a veterinarian, in St. Paul.

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Some former owner had hung wind chimes from the eaves of the Run For Your Money Cafe, back when it had not been a cafe but a malt shop named Manny’s with swivel stools and a soda fountain. Jimmy heard them brightly playing in the draft out of the alley as he unshouldered his backpack and began unbuttoning a green denim jacket. He swept in the glass door, along with a few dead March leaves, and stood breathing in the coffee shop ambience of high ceilings, aboriginal paintings and a robust, Mediterranean air. The giant old cash register from the malt shop days, with its metal keys and Go Twins! sticker, loomed in front of the espresso machine where Pixie, the dark-haired, chain-smoking waitress, was wiping down the counters. She waved at him with her dish towel.
He took a seat at one of the window tables on which newspapers had been strewn by the breakfast crowd. Sunlight reigned, bringing out a muted rust color in his wavy brown hair and half-shaven whiskers, and warming the red and brown checkerboard of his flannel shirt. There was a slight cleft in his chin and his brows had the wide and soaring appearance of a dark osprey searching the water: the mild grayness of his eyes.
“Hey Jimmy! What’s new?” the other waitress, Haydee of the rum-gold hair, called out to him as she ducked behind the counter.
“Spring break. Sleeping in.”
“Mmm, lovely. You’re late for a Tuesday. I wondered why.”
“Cousins stumble in yet?”
“Yes, and he looked terrible!”
He laughed at that. She brought him his usual cup, French roast with no cream, and he noticed again how lightly she walked, how her heels rose and fell against the slap of her Birkenstocks. Out the window a woman in a kerchief was leaving the organic food co-op across the street, hand-in-hand with a little girl in a yellow jacket; their breaths made only the briefest cloud of mist before being blown by the surging wind.
“God it’s beautiful out.”
“Isn’t it though?” Haydee looked out into the day. She seemed to understand why he had called it beautiful, in spite of the chill and breeze: because it was almost April and the world had shattered into rivulets, the ice had broken on the lakes and the snow was gone except for the deep shadows of the wood; because certain birds had returned, and shoots had sprouted in the sunnier flower boxes and beds along the boulevards of Saint Paul, encouraged by an open sky. She felt the youth of the world, as he did.
“What do you say to an egg, Jimmy?”
“I say, ‘nice knowin’ ya egg, but I prefer croissants...’”
“Let’s see...” Haydee looked in the pastry case while he dug a book and some papers from his backpack. Besides Jimmy the only other patrons at the moment were a kid wearing glasses and a bandana, lost in a Vonnegut book, and a girl with a nose ring who was sketching something in charcoal.
“Voila!” Haydee popped up from behind the counter with the French pastry. “It could be from yesterday though. You want to take your chance?” He liked the way she talked, with the tongue up close to her teeth, her accent clipped and slightly foreign. She said she was from Latvia but she did not speak like an Eastern European, or a Russian. Milan, who was Czech, had been with him once and said she did not even look Latvian. But Jim could have cared less where she was from—as long as she stayed here. Okay, so she was pretty and had a nice figure. Saint Paul was a college town—there were lots of cute girls. But there was something light, almost effervescent about her that captivated him. A child-like radiance in the eyes, private and confiding, looking out from another, hidden world. Once again, the thought crossed his mind to ask her out, against Cousins’ advice.
“You’re studying diseases again?” she asked, returning from a brief expedition to the kid with the bandana. She knew he was a veterinary student, lived nearby, had bohemian friends, dabbled in liberal causes. It was almost frightening how much she knew about him, and how little he of her.
“You got it. Distemper is a fascinating read.”
“But it’s spring break!”
“Playing catch-up.”
“What, like the stuff you put on hamburgers?”
“No, that’s ketchup. That’s a Chinese word—did you know that?”
“No, I did not. Jimmy Pagley, how do you learn so many things?” she teased, touching his shoulder. “Well, I’ll let you get to work, and stop distracting.”
He bit into the croissant, which was stale, but he didn’t care. “You never distract me, Haydee.”
“Yeah, right,” she laughed, taking it as a joke. “You want butter with that?”
“Sure. What you doin’ tonight?” He was pretty good at asking girls out, actually. The trick was to not know what you were going to say, or when. Then it sounded casual.
“Hmm... tonight?” Haydee answered, considering. Then suddenly it seemed she recognized what the question meant, and her tawny cheeks were touched by a flush of red. She twirled her shoulder-length hair and smiled shyly. It was hard to tell with her apron and green sweater, but she seemed to be breathless.
“I ... I can’t. I mean, tonight—I’m going out with a friend, as it happens.”
“Ah, as it happens,” he parroted her, dumbly. He had been taken aback by her “no” when all her body language seemed to be shouting “yes!”
“But I mean, why do you ask?” she went on, obviously more distracted than even he. A middle-aged couple had appeared by the cash register. The man wore a brimmed hat with ear muffs.
“I was just wondering ... well see, there’s this film playing over at the University, and none of my friends are up for it, so—”
“Oh yeah, well, thanks for thinking of me, Jimmy,” she said quickly.
“No, it’s okay—”
“I mean—”
“Ah, shouldn’t you be helping those people?” he asked, nodding towards the husband and wife, who were looking about impatiently at the empty tables.
“Just sit anywhere folks—be right with you!” Haydee called to them, not budging. Then she took a deep breath and faced him. “Look, Jimmy, maybe some other time?”
Well, that was encouraging. “Sure, right on. I think they’re showing it next Wednesday too.” Casual, he reminded himself. Like you’d just remembered it.
“But it wouldn’t be ... a date?”
Okay, that didn’t sound so good. But best to plow straight ahead, lay all the cards on the table. “Well, you know, I thought it might be a date, yeah.”
“Oh, Jimmy, I’m so sorry...”
The girl with the nose ring was no longer sketching, and the bandana-wearer seemed to have surfaced from his Vonnegut.
“Could I ask you why?” he said, setting down his coffee, and raising his voice to a stage whisper, as if daring their audience not to listen. “I mean, I thought that you—”
“I do.”
“Unless you have a boyfriend or—” Husband? He scanned her hand frantically for rings. Which hand did you wear it on? Which finger?
“No. But I can’t explain.” She did not seem embarrassed or annoyed, as girls are when someone they don’t care for asks them out. Her eyes were sad. Sad, but not pitying.
“We’ll have some scrambled eggs and coffee,” the husband called out from the other side of the cafe. He seemed to have gathered that this was the normal mode of operation at the Run For Your Money.
“Pixie!” Haydee looked quite perturbed, and headed back suddenly into the kitchen. The other waitress, fresh from a smoke break, swept in seconds later to restore order. The girl went back to her charcoal, the hip bandana-wearer to his pop fiction. And he still had no butter for his croissant.
Now that the tête-à-tête was concluded, Jimmy found he was more let down than he would have thought. He’d always asked girls out as soon as the thought struck him, before it began to weigh heavy on his mind. But this one had ambushed him. Or maybe it was just Haydee’s reaction, the way her shoulders sagged as she had turned away from him.
Some time later she reappeared from the back room, and was able to smile and chit-chat with the customers in her usual way, but she avoided looking in his direction, and when she did her eyes held a stormy blue. What was it with these girls? It must be a boyfriend, after all. Yet she had said there was no one else and he believed her. Pixie dropped off the bill, but when he looked on the back it was Haydee’s handwriting:

I’d love to but I just can’t. It’s against the rules, I can’t explain. I’m so sorry. Thank you. Trust me, if it were possible I would!

Giving up on animal diseases, he zipped up his backpack and walked out, leaving a check with a generous tip. He took the bill with him.

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