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The Trouble With Titles

Not, tribbles, titles...

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Last week I pondered the “who am I” question and mentioned my short story “Men in Jeans.” What you may not know is that “Men in Jeans” appears in Project Enterprise: The Short Stories with another short story called “Steam Time.”

I’ll admit that is not my best title ever. LOL I always have trouble with titles. Some of them seem really obvious, which means they could be obvious to a lot of other authors. This happened to me with The Key. It totally suits the story, but it searching for it? Yeah, there are only several thousands books with those words in the title. 

I don’t think there are a lot of “Steam Times” out there though. Okay, I haven’t really checked. It’s September and I survived August. 

“Steam Time” is another story where I explore the idea of identity. My two main characters both have secrets and identity issues. Lots and lots of baggage for a short story. I also have a little fun with the Marfa lights in this one. This is how “Steam Time” starts:

Ani called him stranger inside her head because he sure wasn’t a “Joe.” To his face, she didn’t call him anything cause she couldn’t call him what he wasn’t. Hadn’t said much of anything to him, not since he’d ridden over the rise three days ago and Pa invited him to ride along with them. He was headed to Marfa, too, though that was all he’d shared about himself of a personal nature. He didn’t talk much, which suited Pa, since he talked enough for all of them and a few more besides.

Wary for reasons she hadn’t figured out yet, she’d watched him through her lashes, mostly at night around the campfire, though her gaze might accidentally stray his direction now and again in daylight. She took care not to meet that hard-as-a-drill gaze, since she was supposed to be a boy and she didn’t feel like one when she looked at him. And if he looked too close, he’d know she wasn’t that young. Good thing she took after her blessed Ma, who had looked young until the day she went to her reward.

Ani’d exchanged skirts for pants when they took to the road selling the elixir from the rear of the wagon. Like her Pa, their wagon walked a fine line between serious and spectacle, as did his English accent. He claimed to be gentry, a younger son who’d eloped with the under housemaid and been shipped off to the colonies to remove the stain of his disgrace from the family name. Sometimes she believed it was true. She could talk gentry like him when the situation called for it, which it didn’t that much. Mostly she looked peaked and moaned so her Pa could heal her. Her gaze skittered the stranger’s way again. Not sure she could do either in front of him.

A lot of men had passed by—or even stopped to buy—since that day they took to the road, but none as interesting as the stranger. Big and likely looking, with a huge helping of tough in him, he had a cool gaze that saw things, though he was also a gentleman—or as much a one as her Pa. She saw it in the way her Pa reacted to him, how much it pleased Pa when the stranger called him “Dr. Everly” with just enough respect so as not to be obvious, heard it in the way he spoke, too.

Pa didn’t seem to see the danger that lurked below the stranger’s surface though he should. Danger clung like his clothes, fit him as well as they did, mingled with his scent that the night breeze sent her way every now and again. And lurking behind the danger she sensed a deep well of sad.

Unlike her Pa, Ani saw it all. One of them had to. Not everyone liked finding out you couldn’t buy a miracle for a dollar. That’s why they’d had to avoid the Paisano settlement this year. No, what surprised her was how it felt to see those things in him. Made her feel all strange and sad, too, made her want to do something about it, despite the danger. Didn’t think the stranger would let her do anything for him though and a good thing that was. Wanting to do something about a man had caught her Ma in the tangle of Pa’s life. Ma had loved him to the end, but she saw him clear and told Ani to see him clear, too.

“Illusions are for magic shows,” she’d said more than once, “not for living.”

Pa, well, he preferred illusions and more than a few delusions. Heaven knew his amazing elixir was mostly both. The stranger? If he’d ever had illusions, she had a feeling he’d lost them long ago.

* * * * 

Illusions and delusions are part of our identity. What do we know, or think we know, about ourselves and others? I can’t see myself as others see me in my real life, but in my fiction, it is fun to show those sides and play with them. And in the process, I hope I’ve answered some of the questions I have about myself and who I am. 

Or not. Since I keep writing about identity. Lol If you’d like to more about “Steam Time,” click here. 

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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