This post was written for Sandra’s Workshop Writing Hop.   We were to write a piece in close first person.

Lavigna bustled about the diner.  I could see the gap between the top two buttons of her skirt; could see a hint of red lace above her ivory skin though that gap.  I could see the bump of raised skin on the back of her thigh where she’d had stitches from that dog bite back in ‘eighty.  Lavigna sure knew how to market a place; knew that the truckers came to her diner for more than a plate of pork chops and fried potatoes.  We came for hope.

I watched Lavigna touch the mole at the corner of her lips; watched her press those lips together and try to smile at Harvey Daniels like it was perfectly fine that he was taking ten minutes to decide between scrambled and overlight; whole wheat and white.  I could tell she wanted to snap that gum she kept tucked inside her cheek while she talked to the customers.

“Fried, Harv,” I shouted.

He looked at me.  “You think?”

“Yep.”  Harv was a new trucker, unaccustomed to life on the road.  Unaccustomed to loneliness.  He took what human contact he could from the CB radio and thirty minute stops every ten hours. 

I ran my fingers across the table—oak.  Lavigna never did spare a dime on anything.  Always the optimist.  Always thinking this was going to work out just fine, if she just spent enough money; if she just worked hard enough. 

I pulled a cigarette from my front pocket.  Plugged it in my mouth.

“You know there ain’t no smoking here, Earle.”

“I know it.”  I nodded.

“I got my eye on you,” she said.

“I got my eye on you, too, Lavigna.”

Harv perked up at this.  “Where’d you get a name like Lavigna, anyway?”  Harv considered himself the intelligent one of the bunch: He’d been to college, after all.  Had a career in the computing industry.  After he was laid off, he found out he weren’t so special after all.  “That’s an awfully unusual name.”

“Shut up, Professor,” I said.  Harv was parking himself on my own turf.

But Lavigna just smiled that little smile; that knowing smile; that smile that looked like she had a butterscotch candy nestled on her tongue, just melting there. 

Harv looked at me. 

“Her daddy was some Eye-talian.  Had a winery somewheres.”

Harv studied the ceiling for a moment, his mouth moved like he was chewing down real hard on his thoughts.  “Latin.  Vinum.  Wine.”  His face brightened. 

“Yeah, whatever, Harv.” 

“She doesn’t look Italian.  She’s real white.”

I frowned.  I could tell Harv had been studying in between them buttons. 

“Her daddy’s from the north, dipshit.  What’d you major in up at college, anyhow?”


“Well I see you’re taking a refresher course in women.  Your wife know about your studies?”

Harv had the decency to blush and drop his eyes as Lavigna slapped a plate of eggs before him and bustled over to my table.

I straightened up in my seat.  Balanced my smoke on my spoon.  Smiled.  Waited to study that gap between her buttons myself.

“Earle.”  She nodded.  I could see the chewing gum tucked behind her teeth.

“Marry me, Lavigna.”

“How’re things with Duane?”

“Shitty, like always.”  I spoke like I was giving the weather report.

“Fix it, then we’ll talk.”

“Me and Duane, we’re never going to be square, Lavigna.  Some people just aren’t meant to get along.”

She cracked her gum.  “He’s your son, Earle.”

I hated the way Lavigna always had to state the obvious to me.  Times like this I wondered why I was attracted to her.  “Men ain’t into that relationship thing all that much, like you women are, Lavigna.”  I ran my hand over the table.  “It’s like this here table.  You can see the grain beneath, but you can’t get to it.  You can’t feel it, Lavigna, even though you really want to.”

“Ain’t no varnish between you and Duane.  You ain’t tryin’ hard enough.”

I sighed.  I preferred the smooth, protected surface that acted as a barrier between me and Duane.  It was easier that way. Easier to pretend that we were irrevocably divided.

“Guess I’ll just have to find me another man, then,” she said, walking away.

I sighed.  Picked up my cell and punched in Duane’s number. 

“Duane?” I said, after he’d picked up.

“Yes.”  He was curt.  I wanted to hang up.  I looked at Lavigna, leaning against the counter by the coffee machines, arms crossed, chewing on that bottom lip again.  Lord, I wanted to touch that mole.

“I got a woodworking project I need your help with,” I said.  “You any good at sanding?”

15 thoughts on “Varnished

  1. This works well! Yes, it’s a “close” first person pt of view. Especially with lines like “I ran my fingers across the table—oak.  Lavigna never did spare a dime on anything.  Always the optimist.  Always thinking this was going to work out just fine, if she just spent enough money; if she just worked hard enough.” We’re right inside this guy’s head, in the moment, at the table. And best of all, we can hear how he would speak. It very much matches the tone of the actual dialogue in this scene, which is superb. You really have a good ear for it. Just watch where some of the language slips into the more formal which is less “close,” at least for this character who I gather isn’t educated. So metaphors such as “preferred the smooth protected surface that acted as a barrier” sounds more like the writer than the character speaking. Thus, that close first person becomes more distant and thus out of character. Does that make sense? Maybe look at some of your vocabulary and question whether this guy in this diner would use words like “irrevocably,” or phrases like “had a career” (“He worked”?) But overall, I think this is really successful and would love to see where you go with this character, in his head.

  2. Good read, You know the people by the end of the story. I agree with Sandra on the somtimes the dialect stepping out of charector but otherwise I think you’ve been spending way to much time in truck stop diners.

  3. Wow! Love how you carried the varnish analogy through!!

    Also, love this line, ” I could tell Harv had been studying in between them buttons.” That made me laugh!!


  4. Sandra is right on about the dialogue – not a big fix. I’d like to get a closer approx on Lavigna’s age – if Earle has a son old enough to be fighting with, he’s got to be in his forties, at least. If Lavigna is the same age or older, the dynamic is one thing; if she is younger, it changes, all depends what you want. Love the callback to the table, and her using oak tables in a truckstop says a lot about her.

  5. You really captured an interesting moment…the only thing I wondered about was the inconsistencies between Earl’s thoughts and comments.

    Your character development is great!

  6. This is a very well-written scene, and you have a good feel for the characters and the way they speak. I thought it generally rang true except for one line of Harvey’s dialogue: “She doesn’t look Italian. She’s real white.” To me that didn’t sound like something a college-educated person would say; I had to read again to be sure it wasn’t the narrator. I really enjoyed this and would like to know more about these characters. I was also a little surprised at the end when it seems like the narrator and Lavigna (love the name) have some kind of relationship; I didnt’ get that feeling throughout, so maybe you could hint at it a little more. I’d like to know more about Harv, too–great idea to have a laid-off computer professional working as a truck driver.

  7. I loved the story! I felt like I was at a table in the diner watching all this play out. I especially liked the ending when Earle reaches out to his son.

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