By Ellen Weisberg
Key Themes: North American author, fiction, relationships, young adult novel, technology, mental health
‘Gathering Roses’ is a young adult novel with a much wider appeal. Introverted and studious Lori Solomon meets nonconformist Grateful Dead follower, Nick Warren, and soon finds herself on a seemingly endless carnival ride with him. Although not always apparent to Lori, it is Nick’s precarious health condition that seems to underlie his outlook on life, influencing what he expects to get out of it as well as what he feels he needs to put into it.
Ellen’s takes a modern and novel approach to writing fiction, as well as using prose she also uses email conversations to tell her story. This is a delightful book, a most enjoyable read.
About the Author
Ellen Weisberg has a Ph.D. in pharmacology and is actively involved in leukaemia research. She also does part-time weather broadcasting for radio. A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Ellen’s writing credentials include a short story, entitled ‘Fruit of the Vine’, and poem, entitled ‘If Only’, published in ‘PKA’s Advocate’, and a children’s U.S. geography book, entitled ‘Friends and Mates in Fifty States’, co-authored by her husband, Ken Yoffe, and which is being published by Minnesota-based Galde Press. Finally, Ellen is an illustrator for e-cards and print cards developed by Mountain Mist Productions.
Lori’s internship at the radio station continued. She was assigned to start working some of her weekend shifts apart from Nick, and instead alongside a young woman named Helga. Like Lori, Helga had limited experience in radio and was training as she worked on the job. The conversations Lori had with her were short and focused only on the tasks at hand, which made for a very different atmosphere than the one Lori had grown accustomed to working alongside Nick. It also made for an atmosphere that she didn’t enjoy nearly as much.
It was the evening after a long day of battling stream after stream of whiny complaints from Prima Donna talk show hosts, while taking care to press all the right buttons and shift levers in a timely fashion. Lori settled comfortably in her seat and looked over at Helga, ready to reflect on what she thought was a decent day’s work, when the control room door opened. A frazzled, bearded black man stood a few feet away from the girls, pinching an inkless pen tightly between his thumb and forefinger. He tossed the pen angrily into a nearby garbage can.
“Now what was wrong with that transition?” Mitch asked, breathing fast and lifting a bag of popcorn to his mouth. His long, nimble fingers began shoving kernels between his lips as he stared angrily at them from behind his glasses.
“Too quick? Too slow?” mumbled Helga, brushing a long clump of blond hair away from her forehead.
“What? What did you say?” He was yelling now, and spitting pieces of popcorn.
Lori shifted uncomfortably in her chair. The unlabeled buttons and levers still looked confusing to her even though she had been in training now for quite some time.
“Too much music played before the liner?” Lori asked.
“No,” he said calmly with a mouth full of fluffy kernels.
“Too quick of a switch from the last commercial to the bumper?”
He shook his head and said very slowly and loudly, “You did something that made the transition sound bad! Now what was it?”
“Something with the host’s voice?” Lori asked.
He nodded his head and swallowed hard. “Now what about the host’s voice? What did I train you to do with the host’s voice?”
“You taught us not to overlap singing with the host’s voice,” Helga said, her eyes pointed down at the labels she was preparing for a stack of cassette tapes.
“You’ve got to be in control when you’re at that goddamn board!” he yelled, continuing to spit popcorn out at them. “You can’t, no matter what, get distracted when you’re operating the board!!! If someone comes in and wants to talk to you, you say, ‘Get the hell out!’ You dig? If I come in and say, ‘Hey, Helga, can I steal you away for a couple of seconds? There’s something I need to go over with you…’ You say, ‘Mitch, get the hell out!’ You’ve got to get the lion in your jaws, clench your teeth, and bite the living soul out of it, baby!” He smiled, nodded his head, and walked briskly out of the room, a trail of popcorn left behind him on the floor.
In a funny way, Lori felt herself drawn to Mitch. Just as he could be a growling bear with a stinging bite, complaining at times about the staff, or yelling curses at the mixing board when there was a loose connection causing dead air or the hotline had a short, he could also be soft and sweet like a kitten, remarking on Lori’s “pretty brown eyes,” and singing little jingles to her with an endearing grin on his face. It was similar to the kind of push-pull magnetism that Nick had; the kind that emanated from a constant enhancement and easing of tension.
It seemed as though just about every aspect of the station was beginning to take on a kind of aphrodisiac quality as time went on, like the drinking water had been tainted with Yohimbine or Spanish Fly. While Lori and Helga worked alongside one another at the mixing board each Saturday, their conversations gradually became more personalized and informal, their exchanges less polite and guarded. Helga began confiding in Lori about her lack of passion for her husband, her growing passion for a board operator named Burt, Burt’s lack of passion for his wife, and his growing passion for her. And if Helga was not available at any point in time to divulge her secrets, then Lori could count on Burt to fill the void with his own personal accounts. Lori found herself caught in the midst of a developing affair, with pheromones flying wildly through the stale air of the control room and making her increasingly dizzy, detached, and confused.
oh baby.… maybe i could tease you in some hot talk.… i bet you’ll like it a lot.… me and you talking dirty turning each other on.… yummy Lori.… the things we could do to each other.… oh baby.… i want you!!!!
Nick had started writing to her again, except instead of jokes, she found herself on the receiving end of Playboy Forum-like passages. While she didn’t find herself interested in him the way that he seemed to be interested in her, she was still perversely interested in his interest. She was curious to know what he was going to say or do or write next to express it. The whole interplay seemed to her to be of a non-invasive nature, a kind of whirlwind of foolhardy erotica. She could just sit back, tease him with some mild flirtation of her own, and enjoy the newness and strangeness of it all.
From: Nick Warren557@hotmail.com
i wish i could kiss you all over from head to toe running my hands through your hair and slidin them up and down your body … feeling every hot inch of your tender flesh.… i bring my fingers to your … ohhh Lori … to be continued …
She watched in fascination as his messages grew over time, in terms of perversion, bad taste, and unintelligibility. She looked at the propositions on her computer screen with a kind of jovial detachment. Yet she could still sense a cryptic danger lurking in the calm white spaces between his type-written, misspelled words. It was the kind of danger that Lori found hard to walk away from, even though she knew she should.
From: Nick Warren557@hotmail.com
well cutie …
you miss my touch of my hands.… bet i cant wait to touch again!!!!!! you can too by the way.… i like touchin.… and yours are so sweet.… i wish i could see them now.… cant wait til we meet again
It was another Sunday afternoon at the radio station. Nick sat passively in a chair by Lori’s side, watching quietly as she tried unsuccessfully to connect the ISDN unit above her head.
“What is wrong with this thing?” she asked, pressing down hard on the buttons of a miniature keyboard. “Is this even on?” She stood up briefly and hovered over the equipment, trying to see if there was a loose wire or a plug out of a socket. “Springfield’s going to need to connect with us for the top of the hour traffic report, and they won’t be able to because I can’t get the stupid ISDN to work! I mean, we’ve got a little time still. But I want to get it ready for them.”
Nick continued to sit quietly, listening.
“This piss-ant operation’s a completely half-assed set-up, you know that?” Lori ranted. “With all these … ancient wires and cables … that can literally get nudged by the tip of someone’s sneaker under the mixing board and knock a 40,000-watt signal right off the air. The whole thing just doesn’t make any sense. Every day it’s something that’s not working when it should!”
Nick slowly and silently raised himself up from where he sat. He moved closer to Lori and started to gently massage the knots of muscle in her neck and the small of her back. She was aware of all of the times that he had done this to her before, and that his hands had never wandered any further than a few generally neutral, sexless zones on her body. Yet this was different. Without any hint of a warning, he halted in the middle of his caresses to roughly sweep his hands over the front of her sweater and then jump away from her.
“What was that?” she asked. She was unable to contain the old familiar heat of embarrassment in her face.
“What?” he asked, soberly. “Hey, break’s comin’ in ten seconds. Get ready to pot down the mike and fire spots.”
Lori looked at him for a moment, and then pushed a button on the computer to start airing commercials. After the last spot was played, a musical bumper smoothly transitioned the break into the next show segment. Nick leaned his face in toward her.
“I’m going to kiss you,” he whispered. His hot breath tickled the side of Lori’s jaw.
She slowly leaned away, feeling oddly removed from the reality of what he was proposing to do. Up until that moment, the idea of physically connecting with Nick was little more than a surreal concept harmlessly eyed at half an arm’s distance as poorly written text on a computer screen.
“Come on,” he said softly. He leaned more closely in toward her. “Come on,” he whispered while staring at her mouth, before pressing his lips passionately against hers. He continued kissing her until she pulled her body back and turned away from him.
He started to laugh. “I’m only teasin’,” he said.
“Just teasing?” she asked. She shook her head. “You just kissed me.”
He shrugged. With his hands placed uncaringly on his narrow hips, he pushed a few buttons quickly on the ISDN unit, bent over the mixing board, and pressed down on a lever.
“Traffic? You there?” Nick waited patiently for a response. “Traffic?”
“I’m here,” answered a robust male voice over an intercom.
“We’re connected and ready for you,” Nick said. “Stand by.”
Late that night, Lori sat staring out her living room window at the snow-covered streets and bushes. She noticed a veil of powder falling fast in front of a street lamp’s glowing light. Paul was sitting opposite her on the couch, pressing buttons on a remote control with one hand, and rubbing the sole of her foot with the other.
That kiss … She couldn’t get her mind off of it. For the entire moment it lasted … it had made her see and feel all of the things she had for so long dreamt of seeing and feeling. The intensity of two of the unlikeliest of souls coming together had engulfed her. It had seized her. It had held her. Time, for as long as the kiss had lasted, had stood still. And all of the evils that the passage of time was never able to erase had suddenly vanished like they had never even existed in the first place.
“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Paul asked, smiling at her intently.
“Nothing much,” she lied. She continued to watch snowflakes drop from the sky and disappear into the frozen ground. Her mind was focused on only one thing: the kiss that was stolen earlier in the day in a seedy little control room at a Belchertown, Massachusetts radio station. The kiss that was forced on her by a young, punk, back street, oversexed, partying Dead Head that she hadn’t even found herself remotely attracted to. It was the kiss that would whirl her into a state of suspended confusion and leave her staggering shamefully along the moonlit, stray cat-infested alleyway to unfathomable mayhem.
“I actually think I need some time to think about things,” she said, feeling Paul’s thumb come to a slow halt on the edge of her heel.
“You mean … with us?” he asked.
“Is everything okay? Did I do anything?” he asked.
She shook her head and placed her hand gently on his arm.
In the time she and Paul had been together, Lori wondered if he even knew what she looked like from the neck down without clothes. Almost all erogenous zones had gone time and time again avoided and untouched, and the dropping of subtle hints would almost always lead to success that was only fleeting and forgotten by the time they next convened. As much as she loved being nurtured and cuddled and treated as a delicate, porcelain princess, there was this wild, ravenous part of her that seemed to want to be choked by a dog collar and led around on all fours like a dime store hooker.
“I know what I want,” Paul said, lingering in her doorway at the end of their evening together. “My mind is made up. If you need more time, that’s fine. But I want for us to be together.”
She squeezed his hand, not knowing what else to do. Good-byes were always awkward, but angry good-byes were both awkward and painful. She didn’t want there to be any pain. She didn’t want there to be any anger. She just wanted there to be an ending. The same inevitable ending that she had suffered through so many times before.
“Sweet dreams,” he said. He pulled away from her and disappeared into the darkness of her front lawn.
Subject: three balls
I will probably NOT be seeing that girl from McDonalds again, hopefully. Unless I go to McDonalds, that is. I had fun with her last week, but that was a one-time thing. Period. I hate to sound like a stuck-up, pompous ass or anything like that, but that chick simply has NO CLASS. She looks presentable enough, but she’s got this hoarse voice and a borderline hacking cough from smoking 3 or 4 packs of cigarettes an hour. Lori, I’m a dog. I admit it. I just wanted to get laid. Now, I want that woman to DISAPPEAR! Anyway, I must go now. I’m a very busy man, and tonight I think I might finally break the 100,000-point level on Centipede.