October 7: “Fortune Telling” by David Lynn

Happy Friday, Story366I I write to you from the road, as I’m in Chicago, heading up to DePaul University to visit a class. Poet Dave Welch is teaching a Chicago lit course and is using my Chicago Stories, so he asked if I had time to Skype in and talk to his students about the book. That sounded like a lot of fun, but then it struck me that the Cubs, a professional baseball club that I follow, happened to be playing a game tonight against the Giants of San Francisco. The wheels started turning and before I knew it, I had two pretty good reasons to head north. I told Dave I’d be there, that I’d visit his class in person, and he gladly accepted my offer. And, since I’ll be about a mile away from Wrigley, I figure I might as well head to this baseball match as well. I don’t have tickets, but hey, maybe I can ask the head custodian if they need any work done, earn my way in, doing some minor repairs, cleaning off some seats, maybe selling beer in the aisles during the contest. Who knows. I’ll figure something out. If not, I know of a knot in one of the fence planks that I can peek through to see the game, if someone doesn’t find it first.

For today’s post, I read from David Lynn’s collection Fortune Telling, out from Carnegie Mellon Press. Lynn is a writer and critic and editor, the longtime head guy over at Kenyon Review, so I’ve known him professionally about twenty years now. He’s a solid citizen in the literary world, contributing in a lot of ways, so it’s an honor to feature him here. Plus, he’s a really good writer and the stories in Fortune Telling are great. I got to read several today—I have some down time while waiting for this class at DePaul—and am going to write about the title story.

“Fortune Telling” is about this guy named Pete, a pretty average Joe who lives in an old farmhouse, which he’s restoring. Pete plays softball in a beer league in town and has been seeing Donna, a local ceramicist, for a couple of years. The story starts, however, when this woman named Sara—married to one of his teammates in the beer softball league—calls and asks for a ride to a fortune teller, something she’s always wanted to do. Her husband, Pete’s friend Joe, has refused, so Pete agrees. Kind of a weird thing to ask your husband’s bar buddy, and that weirdness is confirmed when Sara acknowledges that she doesn’t really need a chauffeur (in fact, they use her car). Lynn lets that declaration trail off, as Sara doesn’t continue on, tell Pete (or us) why he’s there. It’s just kind of left hanging. Why’d she need someone to go with her, let alone someone she just knows from the bar, from parties, from the softball bleachers?

Of course, we can guess why. Soon after the palm reading, Sara calls Pete again, this leads to that, and they’re drinking wine and kissing in Pete’s farmhouse. Nothing happens that first time, but the next time Sara and Pete see each other, they make love, in the back of his truck, out in a clearing in the woods, like teenagers, Lynn reminds us. They start an affair, meeting when they can—Joe’s a pilot and has a short, weekly flight schedule—avoiding each other otherwise. Joe is still Pete’s friend (as much as a drinking buddy, as part of a large group of drinking buddies, can be) and Pete still has Donna, who had, by the way, stopped going to the games, to the bar, retreating to her studio more and more, giving Pete a semi-excuse. For a couple of hours, once a week, though, Pete and Sara are lovers, and that serves Pete just fine.

Because people are people, though, Pete and Sara’s passion eventually grows, and one afternoon, in the back of his truck, they don’t make love, but instead, just hold each other and talk. It’s a warm scene, what both people need at that exact moment, but Pet’s also smart enough to know what this means, that the couple is falling for each other. He doesn’t know what to do, but things get complicated at the next softball game when Joe asks to speak with him, confiding in him about an unrelated problem, making Pete feel guilty for the first time. He also still cares for Donna, though they’ve grown apart. In short, Pete’s fooled around and fell in love, as the song goes, Lynn raising the tension, raising the stakes, i.e., writing a good story.

I won’t reveal how things resolve themselves, or even if they do (hint, this is a short story, so probably not), but I like what Lynn does, the path he takes, both unexpected and satisfying. Remember, too, that this whole thing started with Sara going to have her palm read, which should be some sort of metaphor, or a theme, or some kind of literary device, but for the most part, once the love affair begins, the fortune telling doesn’t come up again. Yet, it hangs there—plus, Lynn made it the title of his collection. To piece it together, I’ll note that on her way out of the palm reading, Sara tells Pete, “You don’t do it for real, but for fun. Like shooting miniature golf.” And even though I take my miniature golf rather seriously (note: I’m not kidding about that), I see what Sara’s getting at, and what Lynn is, too.

I’m glad I’ve included David Lynn in this project, as he’s someone I’ve admired for a long time, for his work with one of our best and most important literary venues, but also for his work. His stories in Fortune Telling are rock solid, and as I head up into the city for my adventures, I feel like I’ve made a most excellent start to the day by reading this book and writing this post.