November 16, 2023
Here is the opening scene from my current WIP, Heads or Tails. After beginning this novel in 2013, it has gone through so many facelifts, including a change from being written in first person to third person.
Why is this piece taking me so long? A few reasons: one is that life is just so busy, especially the parenting part, and the other has been the struggle in ending the book. Since I've been writing this novel based on my own life experiences, it has taken some time and distance to fictionalize it. So, when I set out to write it, I was following more of a drive to share the feeling of being in Barcelona, and some big lessons I took away from my time there. I didn't map out a plot (I'm more of a pantser than a plotter, in writing and in life planning:)
So, here it is, the opening scene inspired by this lovely, athletic man in the photo. He's one of many Barcelona icons. Thank you for being my muse, Man-with-hoop-whose name-I-don't-know.
photo courtesy of Kristijan Arsov
As Blaise stood in the shade cast by Arco de Triunfo on Passeig de Sant Joan, she didn’t pay much attention to the man playing saxophone just about fifty feet away from her. She didn’t focus on him at all because she was watching another man holding the edges of a giant hula hoop, his whole body embedded in its circumference the way DaVinci’s l’Uomo Vitruviano occupied the void of a circle. The hoop dove and spun the way a coin does when gradually wobbling to flat stillness on one side: heads or tails. But the man never let the hoop fall; he only hinted that it might fall if he weren’t there. Instead, when its edge rolled in place along its circumference, he dodged it defiantly, a matador in a part of Spain where bullfighting and flamenco lived mostly in the minds of the tourists, who were often disappointed that such traditions were mostly found further south.
He would step in and out of the hoop, allow it to continue spinning in a sort of orbit, then step through it back and forth a few times, as if he were now the bull and the hoop were daring him to charge. It was never heads or tails, though. There was nothing about it that implied a fifty-fifty chance at the outcome of things; it was all calculation, intention, control. Meanwhile, the saxophonist played with the hula hoop guy the way a shadow moves with its caster. Strong, bellowing notes were punctuated with more staccato tones, sounds unfolding over a rhythm that jumped, delayed, and bent the rules of a steady beat. His song took sudden turns and unexpected dives, echoing the hula hoop as it threatened to fall in any direction along its round edge.
Sometimes the hoop man would step quickly out of the hoop and stand aside to watch it spin on its axis like a coin that had been flicked. Meanwhile, people came and went, an audience that kept shifting as people watched for just a moment; some tossed coins into the nearby cardboard box, others left without donating.
In the background, the crowds flowed around and under the Arc like water avoiding a boulder in its path, many not knowing why it was there or what it was meant to symbolize. The leaves on the trees hinted at the complete absence of wind as they hung as still as the bricks of the Arc. But the saxophone player, who disturbed any semblance of quiet, and who echoed every skip, sway, and spin of the man and his hoop, was as invisible to Blaise as the hypothetical wind itself. The occasional person dropped a coin in the hoop man’s box; some danced lightly to the chaotic melody of the saxophone. One young couple tossed a few euro coins in the box, lightly, as if throwing them into a wishing well, then continued on their way.
It was only the hoop man that captivated Blaise, while the saxophonist fixed his gaze on her, projecting possible stories of her on the screen of his mind’s eye. Perhaps it was the way she stood beside the Arc, as if she were almost equal to its height; or it could have been the way she swayed slightly as she watched, as if there were a breeze that blew only her and the hoop man. She stood out to him, even at a time when she felt very small; she was just doubting her stay in Barcelona as an illegal immigrant. Whatever it was, she made such an impression on the musician that he would recognize her some months down the road dancing on the rambla known as Passeig del Born. From that point on, Blaise’s life would change in the most unexpected way.