Our blog has been quiet of late, so we’ve decided to try something new. The Chopin Manuscript is a serialized story where each author writes a different chapter. We’re shamelessly stealing that idea for what we call the “Cakepan Manuscript”.
To help me write the first chapter of this impending masterpiece, the other members of my writing group gave me the premise “An unemployed teacher, in a wine store, runs into a former student.” Now each week one member will write another chapter and post it in the blog.
We hope you enjoy!
Chapter One: Broken Bottle
Dietrich rubbed the wine label with his thumb and frowned.
It was beautiful. A rich off-white paper, almost parchment, with the image of a medieval woodcut printed in deep maroon. The woodcut was fourteenth or fifteenth century if he had to guess, and showed a woodsman riding a mystical beast through a forest. The beast was part lion, part deer, and seemed unconcerned about the rider it carried. Matching the label color, the bottle glass was a deep maroon, helped in richness by the wine inside. The vineyard on the front was “Woodland”. A Merlot.
Or did he want a Syrah?
Dietrich sighed and picked up the next bottle on the shelf, trying to remember. The label on the Woodland Syrah label was identical to the Merlot except for the type of wine. Dietrich wondered where the woodcut was from. It looked original and not something cobbled together by a graphic designer for the label.
Flipping the bottle over, he saw the Syrah was even more expensive. He couldn’t afford both, not with what he spent on dinner. Setting the Syrah back on the shelf, he headed towards the front of the store with the Merlot cradled in his left arm. He knew he probably shouldn’t even buy the one bottle. Spending this much on dinner with a stranger would be silly even when he had a regular paycheck. Art teachers didn’t make much even by teacher standards. Now his income was scraps, and a new job was likely far away in time or geography. Possibly both.
Dietrich’s odd approach had cost him his job, and would make a new one tougher to get, but he was okay with that. He was fascinated by expression and creativity in all forms, whether a classical painting or a sculpture made of refuse. His bizarre projects infuriated the administration but delighted his students. More than once his class was the only one where a notoriously “bad student” received an ‘A’. Not because he was an easy teacher, but because he actually got them curious and engaged. He heard some students attempted a Sit-In after he was fired.
Running his fingers from bottle to bottle on the shelf as he walked, Dietrich watched the labels go past. Bump, bump, bump. Every few steps the label changed but the bottles stayed the same. Or almost the same. Subtle differences, but each relied overwhelmingly on that small piece of paper to attract the eye and proclaim its individuality.
Dietrich turned at the end of the aisle and entered the checkout line behind a few people. Why had he agreed to this blind date? His brother could not have more incompatible taste in women, and he never understood Dietrich’s fascination with art, or why he would want to teach it to “smelly, stupid kids.” Dietrich would rather spend a year trapped with the smelliest and dumbest of his students than an hour with the bankers and fancy suits that filled his brother’s life. Yet in a staggering act of personal interest, Terrence had set him up with this woman, Kelly, and swore they would be a perfect fit. It would take his mind off things and get him back in the game, Terrence said. What game was that, Dietrich wondered.
The line shuffled forward as a customer finished paying.
Dietrich studied the bottle, turning it over in his hands. He wondered if winemakers were allowed to change the shape of the bottle at all. Sculpt it. Keep the same basic dimensions for packing but make the glass really flow with the label. Make a single presentation.
The line shuffled forward again.
He realized it was probably for an excuse to cook more than anything else. Cooking was an art, and an art form he was good at. Other things may escape him, but give him a canvas (or a pan) and tools (or ingredients) and he could work wonders. Maybe he should cancel with Kelly and just make dinner for himself. Then he could experiment more.
The line shuffled forward. Dietrich was at the front of the line. He placed the bottle on the stand and looked up at the cashier for the first time. She was a young girl, maybe twenty-two, with enormously green eyes. She smiled for a moment, about to speak, before she saw something over Dietrich’s shoulder and stumbled backwards in alarm.
Dietrich turned and saw a gunman rush in through the front doors, a pair of pantyhose over his face, his automatic pistol waving wildly. Dietrich backed into the cashier stand in alarm, knocking over his bottle of wine and sending it smashing to the floor.
“Empty out the registers! Now! Move it!” yelled the gunman in an oddly warbling voice. “Do it quick and nobody gets hurt!”
Dietrich blinked, confused. He knew that voice. He squinted at the face under the pantyhose.
“Zack?” he asked. “Zack Newberry?”
The gunman turned to him, the look of surprise clear even on his smooshed up features under the nylon.
“Mr. Holfinger?” the gunman asked. “From… from art class?”