Young Stanley

Novel Excerpt

 

1.

Stanley photographed the women hauling nets, spinning and laughing with their children, lining racks with fish flesh. One of the widows invited him in for afternoon coffee. They crossed the dunes back to the town and walked its narrow, cobbled streets. His dress shoes sank in the white sand and his Rollieflex swung from his neck with each stride. She removed a key from her dress and they entered her two room flat. It was small and reminded him of his tiny Brooklyn apartment which reminded him of Toby, his fiance. The Nazere woman brewed coffee in the Turkish style and served it black, strong, bitter. He didn’t care for the grounds in the cup but had no way to complain anyways, so he drank in silence. He wanted to ask a dozen questions about Nazere, her life. He’d heard dozens of languages growing up in New York but never Portuguese. They finished a second round of coffee. He got out his pack of cigarettes, offered her one. She declined. He lit the cigarette. She slid a copper ash tray towards him and he tipped the ashes into it. They sat and he smoked. Stanley stubbed out the coal. His Rolleiflex was on the table, on hand and ready as always, and he lifted it up towards her— a question for permission. She smiled, face creased with years of work in the sun. She lowered her head scarf. He liked her neck and face in silhouette against the afternoon window frame. He pantomimed a photograph with his hand over the camera. The widow sat still. He stood, backed a step from his chair, removed the lens cap, and looked into the viewfinder. He took several shots of her backlit. He wasn’t sure which image he would like better. He could guess that his boss, Mr. Phillips, would prefer the beach shots: a string of women, rope over their left shoulders, hauling the eternal fishing line back to the shore, instead of the lone woman at her wooden table, face and neck dark against the light of the coastal skyline. Stanley recapped the lens, thanked her for the coffee, took his suit jacket, and walked back out to the streets. They were lively with children crouched over mysteries along the sidewalks or laughing and running around aimless. He could hear a woman singing, voice lovely and distant. He imagined New York hundreds of years earlier. Had it looked like this? Part ancient, part modern? He wasn’t sure which was the better vision. But New York had been around for half the time, maybe less. He knew these people had been here a thousand years, longer? Yet it had declined. It had been spared the German bombs, but was already fading. He could feel it. The country was growing modern and dying at the same time.

That night, he left Nazere by train and returned to his hotel room in Lisbon. He had three more days to shoot the Cook's’ honeymoon. 


2.

Stanley framed the couple against the background of a church steeple. Mr. Cook in a fitted gray suit and blue tie. Mrs. Cook in a white skirt and pearls. They did not fit in here. Neither did Stanley. A man approached them, trim beard, small cap, cane and briefcase in hand. He stayed a few paces back from the photo shoot. When Stanley paused between takes, the man walked over and introduced himself as Doctor Ferdinand Miguel. Dr. Miguel shook Stanley’s hand and asked about the several cameras around his neck. The doctor invited him to coffee the following day. Stanley accepted the invitation, glad to meet someone fluent in English and a fellow camera lover.

They met at a café near their first meeting in downtown Lisbon. The city street was narrow and the buildings hung out over the cobbled streets as if they would fall in on him. He saw the doctor and approached his table. Stanley shook his hand and sat. They ordered coffees and both lit cigarettes. The street was busy about them and diesel exhaust mixed with the smells of cooking meat up the street. Men in suits and dark hats walked by. A man switched a donkey laden with polished pipes.

Our city is growing faster every year.

Did you grow up here?

Just north in Fresno on a cork farm. You?

Always in the city, Brooklyn. 

Your parents? 

Still there.

We live a mile from here. My son just started university here in Lisbon. He’s studying for civic work. We do not agree on politics., but we don’t agree on much these days. My daughter works with my wife at the bakery beneath us sometimes. Where did you go to school?

Stanley smiled.

I didn’t. But, I’m taking night classes.

That seems a shame. 

All the boys came home last year on the GI Bill and my grades were terrible.

The doctor smoothed his gray beard, sipped at his coffee, lit another cigarette. 

Stanley asked, what do you practice?

Family medicine, but I drive back to Fresno, to the farm families. 

Does that pay well? 

Well enough. Many of my patients cannot pay.

A truck went by, driver leaned out and spit from the cab. Stanley and the doctor shared a look. Stanley lit a cigarette.

I’m get married when I get back. We just got our own place. 

The doctor nodded, Congratulations. What does she do? 

Toby’s a secretary at a office by the river.

Their table was flanked by several groups, mostly younger, student looking types. Someone stood behind Stanley and started yelling, hands out at his fellows. The man sat. His friends started laughing.

He was impersonating our fearless king. He speaks out on the radio since the war ended. 

Stanley shrugged.

Is there a school nearby? 

The doctor pointed north, behind them. The Tecnico, mostly architecture and engineering. 

How long have you lived in Lisbon? 

Ever since medical school. I met my wife here in the city. She loves it. 

Stanley fingered the checkered box in his jacket pocket. 

Do you play chess?

Yes.

Stanley produced the travel sized board, pieces inlaid within. The doctor arched his brow. 

Here?

Sure.

Why don’t we take a bus to my home and play there. I have a full board in my kitchen. Best of five? 

Stanley accepted. The doctor dolled out a few coins for their coffees and they found a bus stop across the street. 

They paid and found a bench seat. They sat and rode in silence through several twisting streets and back out onto a main boulevard. The bus lurched and shuddered with each gear change.

The doctor leaned over, This is us.

They got off. Stanley followed the doctor up into a steep alleyway. The house was a three floor stack, narrow, set in a row of red tiled buildings. They reminded Stanley of the streets of Brooklyn, the houses so tall and narrow, jammed in tight.

The doctor keyed in and introduced Stanley to his wife, Marcie. The doctor’s house was simply furnished and uncluttered. They were not wealthy by American standards, but did not share their home and that was uncommon in Lisbon. They owned the top two floors, and rented the bottom floor to a baker. Their house smelled of baked bread. Flour bags were stacked along the stairwell. Stanley’s stomach grumbled. He was no stranger to one, maybe two meals a day.

Would you stay for dinner? 

He nodded yes, Thank you. 

Stanley thought Marcie looked a bit like his mother. They had the same eyebrows, same soft, welcoming brown eyes. She wore the common dark dress of the region, although her dress had a fine, red birds stitched on the breast. 

The doctor and Stanley sat at the kitchen table and the doctor produced the board. Marcie brewed coffee. They shared a copper ashtray between them. Both smoked and arranged pieces. One of the ivory pawns was butter cream. Stanley lifted the piece up to the doctor. 

My son lost the original years ago. My brother carved a new one. but the stain never quite matched. 

The board was set and Stanley opened with the King’s Defense. The doctor was no stranger to the opening and countered. They played without clock. The five games would go into the night.

Stanley inspected the doctor between moves: he wore a three piece suit, cut in red and white gingham. Both he and Stanley’s jackets were on hooks on the kitchen door. Stanley’s black tie was on the hook as well. He opened the collar of his white button down. The doctor took dainty, slow drags on his cigarette. There was no rushing the man. Stanley appreciated this about him. He wondered how he would frame the moment, which lens, what lighting, tight, or across the room?

They split the first two games, white winning each time. They were mid game three, both down a Knight and a pawn when Stanley asked about the hammer and sickles he saw painted all over town.

Are the communists popular here?

The doctor pushed back a few inches from the table. He wrinkled his nose and removed his wire glasses.

They’re more popular now that the war is over and we have regular bread again. Now that our coffee and tobacco are restocked. They are brutes. We have no need for them in this country but the young here — my son for example —want more. They think you can remake everything. We do not need the red hammer and sickle. They are godless. The red can go back to Moscow. 

Are they legal here? 

Legal? They still paint the city streets at night, if that’s what you mean. 

Stanley took a pawn on his right flank. The doctor completed the trade with his black pawn. 

Is your son…?

I don’t want to know. Probably. He’s knows better than to bring it up. And your parents? Who do they vote for in America? 

They don’t. But my father pays his taxes.

And what about you, young Mr. Kubrick? Are you a god fearing man? 

Marcie came up and the couple exchanged goodnights. She asked her husband something. He nodded. She smiled and kissed his bald head. 

Stanley was awake for the first time that day. The wall clock read half past midnight. The doctor turned his attention back to the board. He was down several more pieces and Stanley took the third game.

I have not seen that closing, said the doctor.

Neither have I. 

They reset for game four, Stanley in black. 

I’m not sure I can answer that.

Answer what? The doctor cocked an eyebrow.

About god. I don’t know.

Ah, I hope I wasn’t too forward.

No, I don’t go to temple, if that’s what you mean. I don’t practice. My parents don’t either. 

I grew up Roman Catholic. I suppose I still am. 

They finished the third and forth game in rapid succession, splitting the matches before one a.m.. 

You have white for the final game. 

It wasn’t a question and Stanley didn’t answer. He reached sideways and gripped a few pieces. Another cigarette hung from his lip. He tapped it out and they paused before the deciding match.

I don’t invite many over for games.

Thank you, then. It’s nice to play for the fun of it.

You play for stakes?

I play for lunch and dinner. I play at clubs for bragging rights. 

What is a New York wager these days?

Twenty-five cents.

Not bad. And you live on that?

I used to. Look has been good for me.

You want to stay there? 

It’s OK, well, no. The pieces are usually garbage. Man vs baby or who’s the cutest or some drivel like that. The magazine is fluff but it sells millions of copies. And it pays the bills. 

What do you want to do Stanley?

I want to make movies. Stanley paused: I intend to. 

And what is stopping you?

Cash. Connections. Everything.  

All those quarters? 

Stanley chuckled. Yes. All those quarters.