Finding Fidelity—We Built This City

I stood in the sparsely adorned basement with my new Springsteen album spinning away on the turntable. About all I had accomplished was to assemble the modular crates that held my record collection, stack my stereo on a rusty metal cart I’d snatched from the city dump, and set up a table I’d grabbed off Craigslist for the kids to use as a LEGO workspace. 

Although the cement floors were painted a shade of institutional gray, the 2×4 framing was in place, and the outlets and lights were installed, there was not much else in the cavernous space. A pair of flat-screen TVs I’d managed to talk Mercedes out of sat in one corner on the kid’s half. Boxes of old VHS tapes, my old VCR, and my vintage red spherical TV sat in the corner of my half.  

As I downed beer after beer and spun “Born in the U.S.A.” over and over, I hauled boxes of screws, sheets of plywood, and every possible dimension of lumber from the garage to the basement. I didn’t want to waste any of Brandon’s time on tasks that I could handle alone. As a cost-saving measure, we decided to finish neither the walls nor the ceiling.

While the basement at Valentine Lake did have finished walls and ceilings, the floor was a cement slab in all rooms except the bedroom Brandon occupied. I liked the idea of a “finished” unfinished space. It evoked strong feelings of nostalgia for our old fort under the stairwell. And it seemed like an apt metaphor for my life at that moment. 

After hauling down the three area rugs I’d scored on Craigslist, and vacuuming them vigorously with a vacuum in my right hand and a beer in left, I stood and surveyed our future most awesome hangout. It was likely a combination of the alcohol and music, but I started to feel very omnipotent.

I took a long pull from the bottle in my hand and thought about everything I’d overcome since the divorce. I scanned the space that Brandon and I were going to transform, together, again. I envisioned a subterranean amusement park of sorts where Josie, Drew, and I could all be alone together. A lair of wonder and possibility where all of us could explore our interests, indulge our passions, and just be kids again—we’d all been forced to grow up way too fast.  

As I flipped the record for the fourth time and dropped the needle, “No Surrender” burst forth from the speakers. I gave the HPM-100s about as much gas as my eardrums would tolerate. I twisted open another beer. I took a longer than necessary swig as tears began to stream from the corners of my eyes. I looked upward toward the ceiling, toward the heavens, and bellowed, “This is mine—you fucking owe me this at fucking least you fuckers!”  

I was overcome by the deluge of emotions that had silently tortured me almost daily. Emotions that I subconsciously refused to acknowledge. Emotions that I stuffed into the deepest darkest corner of my pathetic existence. I then shook my beer bottle at the universe in a show of defiance showering myself with beer in the process. In that moment, this felt like a recalcitrant demonstration that proved I was unbroken despite everything. A failed marriage had not broken me. Single fatherhood had not beaten me. A chi destroying job had not destroyed me. And a roughshod childhood had failed to murder me by my own hands.

All of that was not nothing.

The universe owed me this oasis for the rocky journey and rotten surprises it had dropped at my feet. I would build this sanctuary as a refuge—a retreat from the ridiculous existence I’d orchestrated and survived. This would be the space where all of us could eschew real life at the top of the stairs and escape as we descended into blissful solitude, together. 

At the last chorus of my redemption song, I loosed a primal scream that emanated from the deepest darkest corner of my soul—that secret space where I’d always stashed all the loathsome emotional shit. It was one of those cleansing screams that washes the body, mind, and soul. It felt so amazing that I holstered my beer and let out another one. This time, I put my whole body into it, my legs, my arms, my hands,.

For a split second, I considered whether I was having a nervous breakdown. But it felt much more like a cathartic revelation. accordingly, I unholstered my beer, guzzled the last foamy vestiges, and screamed one more time before I flung the almost empty bottle through the framing at the laundry room wall propelled by all of the ancient unacknowledged angst. Predictably, it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. The feeling of utter destruction was utterly salubrious!  

Chips and bits of brown glass exploded from the laundry room in every conceivable direction. They bleed into the living room, storage room, and my future office. A tiny shard, having ricocheted a ten feet from the laundry room wall right back at me, was resting on the tip of my right shoe. A few sticky slivers of glass were even plastered onto the cinder block wall.

The band played on, unabated.

I stood in a daze, empty, momentarily,

Amid the ruins of this most cathartic beer bottle sat this large rectangular piece, broken but not destroyed, defiant despite the surrounding massacre. The label from the bottle was still clinging to this largest remaining shard of the glass bottle.

I became fixated on this anomaly. As glass crunched under my shoes, I walked over and snatched it from the carnage. In my mind, it was a nearly perfect Pink Floyd-ian tetrahedron. And. that was obviously a sign. There was more crunching as I proceeded toward the laundry tub to wash off my trophy. I rinsed it and slid it into my pocket. I pledged to clean the rest up in the morning after coffee. 

I then died…in bed. 

Finding Fidelity — Downtown Train 

Josie and Drew had suffered a slew of white-trashy daycare providers. It occurred to me that Brandon and I had as well. In Minnesota, white-trashy daycare providers were a rite of passage for latchkey kids. Most of them were divorced women with deadbeat ex-husbands, multiple kids, and shitty jobs. As such, they could barely afford daycare for their own kids. To remedy this, they quit their shitty jobs and turned their homes into daycare centers. They got paid to watch other folks’ kids while keeping their own little angels at home—two birds obliterated with a single stone. 

Our first daycare provider, Ruth, was more like an asylum warden. Her home was a hovelish rambler in a lower-middle-class suburb near Mercede’s salon. It was situated just off a trunk highway on-ramp. Clearly, Ruth had triumphed in the eminent domain battle, Thus, the highway was retrofitted around her hovel. From her fenced in backyard, a scant 50 yards from the traffic, a boy could tally the endless procession of cars whizzing past—I oft did. 

After parking in Ruth’s gravel driveway, you had to ascend a flight of crumbling cement stairs. At the top of the crumbling cement stairs, was a crumbling cement path. As you traversed the crumbling cement path toward Ruth’s front door, you couldn’t help but notice the pair of rusty wrought iron railings. The railings seemed planted in the unkempt flower bed, which encircled the house like a moat. Due to their unconventional placement, the railings were useless as railings, yet neither were they attractive folksy decor. They looked as though they had fallen from space and landed right where they ended up. 

The crumbling cement path ended at a second shorter flight of crumbling cement stairs. At the top of the crumbling cement stairs, was a crumbling cement landing. The passageway into Ruth’s living room lay at the end of the crumbling cement landing. The crumbling cement stairs and crumbling cement landing had once held the wrought iron railings. This was evidenced by the rusty wrought iron stumps that jutted up from the crumbling cement. After too many harsh Minnesota winters, and the passage of too much time, the railings had rusted their way to freedom; they had escaped as far as the dirt moat.  

The smell of stale cigarette butts was the first thing that slapped you upside the head when Ruth swung open the creaky storm door. Her dull yellow-toothed smile was the second. Seeing her at 6:00 AM was always a jarring and somewhat terrifying experience. At the time, she looked to me like Velma Dinkley after splitting from Scooby and the gang to prostitute herself at the far end of the Vegas strip for a decade or three.  

What Ruth lacked in comeliness, she more than made up for in ambivalence. Daycare providers in the late ’70s were held to a much lower standard than modern counterparts. If Brandon and I weren’t burnt, bloody, or broken when Mercedes picked us up, Ruth had met expectations. And although I’d seen my share of tetherballs to the face, fights over the best Matchbox car, and kids tripping over the single step that lead from the kitchen up into the living room—or stumbling from the living room down into the kitchen—I never witnessed a major medical emergency during my stint in Ruth’s toddler gulag.  

Ruth was a master of doing what was barely necessary to keep a dozen kids alive for eight or so hours. She perched herself atop a barstool at the counter that separated her living room from her kitchen. From that vantage point, she could simultaneously monitor both rooms and periodically glance out the sliding glass door toward the fenced backyard. Unless she was feeding us, putting us down for naps, or tending to a bawling child, she’d mount one of the barstools and chain smoke Virgina Slims. She’d dash out the nub of each spent coffin nail and adroitly extract a fresh one in a single left-handed motion. She’d do this while flicking her Bic to light it with her right hand. She was truly the Chrissy Evert of smoking Virginia Slims.  

Besides smoking, Ruth spent a copious amount of time on the mustard-yellow rotary phone mounted on the wall near the bar. When she did this, the mustard-yellow phone cord stretched across the step between the living room and kitchen. This made what was already a perilous transition even more so. I was awed by her ability to concurrently rest the receiver between her shoulder and ear, hold up her end of the conversation, fire up heater after heater, and file her nails. I imagined the part of her brain responsible for multi-tasking was exceptionally muscular. 

Besides surviving, at Ruth’s, I mainly missed my mother. The fact that Brandon was there didn’t allay my longing to be back in her orbit. Ruth was gruff at best and abrasive at worst, but never abusive. For a woman, she could man-handle kids with precise efficiency. I’d marvel at her ability to extract a toddler hugging her leg and strap them into a high chair in under 10 seconds. But I’d cower in my chair awaiting the almost violent motion she employed to push us up against the table edge to prevent us from dribbling saltine crumbs onto her floor. 

Everything about the experience at Ruth’s was institutional. The meal times never varied by more than a minute regardless of hunger. Nap time always lasted exactly two hours regardless of restlessness. Outdoor play time always lasted one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon regardless of weather. And TV time always featured the same channel with the same shows regardless of preferences. If nothing else, Ruth was a stalwart of consistency. And the routine was depressing at best and demoralizing at worst. Without knowing it at the time, I knew what it was like to be incarcerated. My years at Ruth’s would prepare me well for the public education I’d subsequently endure, and later my indentured corporate service. 

As I pulled up to the home of one of Marie’s slightly white-trashy neighbors, I couldn’t help but flashback to my days at Camp Ruth. Sheryl—the trashier spelling of Cheryl—was the twenty-something gal who had provided summer daycare for Josie and Drew. She also provided daycare for many of the other kids in the neighborhood where I used to live. 

Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Finding Fidelity – The Pretender

As usual, I snuck into the building’s side entrance. This ensured no delays in my ascent to my corporate prison cell. I had to swing by and grab my laptop for the fresh hell awaiting me in some unknown conference room named in honor of a species of some typical Minnesotan freshwater fish.

As I ascended the side stairwell toward my one o’clock appointment with absurdity, I heard someone enter the stairwell at the ground level just as I reached the first landing. I started up the second of eight half flights that would take me to the fourth floor, when I heard the over-achieving climber behind me begin to take the stairs two at a time. By the time I had reached the second landing (and second floor), the relentless marching maniac behind me was already a couple steps up the half flight I had just ascended. Clearly this eager lunatic could see that I was not upping my stairwell game to match his unnecessary pace—why in the hell was he in such a hurry anyway—but he continued to double-step undaunted. I quickly calculated that at his rate of ascent, he be eating my ass just as I turned up the seventh half flight of stairs. He’d subsequently be wearing my rear end on his face the remainder of our trip. My only hope was that he had his sights set no further than the third floor.  

Unfortunately, As I passed the door to the third floor, he didn’t pause to exit at the landing. Instead, he followed me up the remaining stairs, simply idling back his rate of ascent, but refusing to alter his technique. The effect of this, I imagined, was that every other step I took brought his face within dangerous proximity of my undulating butt cheeks. It was utterly perplexing to me that anyone would continue at such an ambitious pace when clearly the person in front of them was walking up the stairs as-designed.

We approached the door to the fourth floor together, and I reached for the door handle and pulled it open.  

“After you,” I conceded to the world’s most aggressive stairwell jockey.  

“Thanks,” he replied in a mildly exasperated tone.  

I watched in awe as he turned the corner and sped down the long corridor that led to the pantry, restrooms, and beyond. I gave him a small salute and proceeded to shake my head in confusion. 

Jules breezed past me as I headed up deadpan alley toward my cubicle—none of our row mates ever spoke, it was like working in a morgue.  

“Don’t be late for all the fun,” she twittered.  

“What room is it?” I yelled as she was already around the corner.  

“Muskie!” she announced loudly.  

Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Finding Fidelity—Demolition man

Just as spring arrived none-too-soon, Brandon and I were putting the kitchen back together and restoring the powder room to functional status. Everyone was thankful for the simple luxury of no longer having to run upstairs (or outside) to pee or eat.

By the time summer was patiently waiting backstage, we managed to wrap up our work. In the process, we managed to wipe out my checking account, my HELOC, and the entirety of the semi-precious coin collection I had amassed during my pre-college days as a fast-food cashier. Thankfully, the kindly proprietor at Excelsior Coin & Collectibles purchased the entire collection near the amount I still owed on my new appliances. My unsteady financial status aside, we had a main level that facilitated the basic necessities of living (and peeing) to go along with the upper level, which was serviceable for sleeping.

The basement was another matter entirely. But on an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in early spring, we decided to eschew that issue and bask in the glory of our accomplished labors. An impromptu celebration took shape, as Brandon finished installing the front door transition molding.

“Do you remember that old-ass Special Export Leo kept in the steel cabinet in his workshop?” Brandon asked as his bumble-bee-colored drill whirred and fastened the piece of wood that spanned the gap between the hardwood flooring and the bottom of the front door frame.

“Ugh, the pair of dusty six packs he’d as us to throw into a cooler for every family reunion?”

Brandon laughed.

“The ones he’d fish out afterward, undrunk, and place them back into the fucking dusty cabinet?” I recollected.

Brandon guffawed.

“Yes! Remember they left rust rings on the cabinet shelf?” He added.

“Did you know that in addition to wiping off the dust before throwing them in the cooler each year, I’d sand the metal ring at the bottom of each can to remove the rust? It was fucking embarrassing!” I asserted.

“Holy shit—no!” Brandon enjoyed a horselaugh at the notion of me desperately sanding down the bottoms of the immortal beer cans.

“Dude, one year, Uncle Steve walked up to me holding one of the cans and asked how old it was. I told him that it would be in his best interest to drink anything else.” Brandon was in hysterics at this anecdote.

“Hey, remember at the end of my senior year in high school, you came home from college for the weekend, and we drank Leo’s Special Ex stash out of desperation?” Brandon reminded me through his laughter.

“Jesus Christ–I forgot we ever drank it! It’s a testament to our iron Scandinavian guts that we’re alive to tell the tale,” I emphasized.

“Sweet Mary Mother of God,” Brandon exclaimed, “Fucking killer hangover!”

We writhed in a communal fit of laughter for at least a minute. When Brandon and I pulled ourselves back together, we adjourned to the cement front porch just outside the front door. For a minute, we just surveyed the soggy earth and took in the telltale pungent aroma of the impending spring.

As we sat, the disposal company that rented us all three of the 30-yard dumpsters the remodel had required, arrived to pick up the latest overflowing land barge of construction debris. The driver got out of the truck and waved at us. A standard-issue Minnesotan, he remarked that, “The weather we are having is amazing!” We politely nodded in agreement, and gave him the green light to, “Take it away!”

We watched in rapt fascination, as he loaded the massive dumpster onto the truck bed without any assistance. After his task was complete, he climbed back up into the cab of his truck, waved goodbye, and drove off. It was one of those moments of perfectly timed symbolism—the driver was hauling away the final remnants of the broken-down old home we’d worked so hard to transform, minutes after Brandon installed the final piece of finish carpentry. We’d once again managed to collaborate to transform something ordinary into something different, something so much better.

“And there it goes…” Brandon said with almost a pang of loss in his voice.

“Indeed…” I echoed his sentiment.

“Hey, I love you and all, but I’m going to need my weekends back.”

I nodded.

“The fellas are inquiring about me down at the Roadside, the ladies are missing me over at the Drop Inn, and I owe Mae money, so I have to get back to Mae’s one of these nights to settle up my tab. Plus, I ain’t been laid in like three months,'” he nudged me with his shoulder.

“Yeah, I figured your sweeping barroom wisdom, and alley-cat charm would eventually be required back at the office,” I kidded him.

He nodded.

“Congrats—by the way—on getting laid this year,” I added.

“Thank you,” he said proudly.

“Before you leave me, how about we relive the Christmas of ’94?” I suggested.

“What?” He shot me a quizzical look.

“Don’t you remember what I got you that year?” I asked.

“Not…really…” he ventured with a hint of confusion.

“Well, I wrapped up a pair of not exactly, but pretty much, matching heavy boxes, and a smaller, lighter box. Each of the boxes contained a dozen items inside—all necessities for a young man in the throes of college,” I teased.

“Oh! Holy shit! You got me a 12-pack of Special Ex, a 12-pack of Special Ex Light, and a 12-pack of condoms!” He exclaimed.

“Trojans Lubricated with Nonoxinal-9—bingo!” I pointed at him.

“Those came in handy!” he exclaimed, “Saved me a trip to Kerm’s Pick ‘n’ Save.”

“Great!” I slapped him multiple times between his broad shoulders the way our grandfather used to.

“I figure we can use the beer tonight, and you’ll need the condoms next weekend when you make your triumphant return to the Drop Inn.”

He loosed a hearty howl that echoed all the way to Valhalla.

“Let’s hit Valley Liquors and CVS—my treat!”

Brandon, still howling, punched me in the shoulder.

“And don’t forget to toss the condoms into your glove compartment,” I winked.

“For sure!” He assured me.

True to my word, we had procured the beer and condoms. In addition, we snagged some BBQ from Carl’s and slaughtered it further on the same front porch where I hatched my plan.

As the sun continued to set just a bit further down the lane, and the permafrost reseeded just a bit further toward the mailbox, the ghosts of winter exhaled their communal dying breath. We swilled Special Ex and watched the transformation before us as we recanted the transformation that we’d managed behind us.

“Hey, thanks, seriously. I’d be homeless, or dead, without you,” I stammered as I cracked the unnecessary dozenth beer of the evening.

“Fuck bro, I wouldn’t do this for anyone else—not even a hot chick!” Brandon stammered as he cracked an unnecessary dozenth beer of the evening.

“No, but seriously,” I slurred, “I can’t love you any harder than I do right now on this front porch,” I flung my right arm around his impossibly stout shoulders.

He turned and looked at me as hard and as close as he ever had in our four-plus decades together, and slurred, “We’re brothers, dumbass—we only have us! So, don’t die, because I love you too, dipshit.”

We almost kissed, but we fell onto the cement porch behind us in a heap of glorious laughter, careful not so spill a single drop of precious Special Ex’s in the process.

“Fuck, we have to go to bed! Seriously!” I roared from the cement slab that buoyed us.

“Not until I finished this,” Brandon thrust his beer northward, then he lowered in carefully to his lips and gingerly slurped.

“Totally!” I echoed as I attempted to replicate his deft horizontal consumption technique.

Later that evening, we passed out in Drew’s room. We slept in the pair of twin beds we had spotted on the side of the road with the hand-painted “Free” sign on them. It had been nearly thirty years since we’d shared a bedroom.

“Good night, bro,” he called from the bottom bunk, “I love your dumb ass.”

“Your’s too,” I answered, “Don’t yak in Drew’s bed!”

Brandon laughed, then babbled incoherently, then started snoring.

The next morning, when the sunrise pierced the blinds in Drew’s room—we neglected to close them in our boozy state—we awoke with familiar matching Special Ex hangovers. These hangovers were of a newer, and thankfully subtler, vintage.

Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Finding Fidelity, the emails

As Drew simulated an earthquake causing some of the trains to derail and dangle over the edge of the stage, I mean cliff, I selected the first catastrophe in my inbox to tackle. This morning, it was scheduling a lunch with the sales dude from our main ECM software vendor.

I always found these charades to be most tedious. First off, we already paid a quarter of a million dollars each year in “annual maintenance” simply for the privilege of using the lackluster software. That, and to have access to their crack staff of support technicians, who often seemed as though they had been smoking copious amounts of the stuff.  

After a decade of annual maintenance fees, we’d purchased this particular piece of software a dozen times over. So, what else were we going to buy in the wake of being treated to an $8 lunch at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet? Also, why was pizza always considered some sort of exotic treat in every corporate setting? Was this some hold-over from the grade school days when pizza parties were dangled in front of students as an incentive to sell a bunch of useless crap to their neighbors in a not-so-veiled attempt to raise funds for a bunch of techno-crap that the school really didn’t need?  The other aspect of these communal meals that ground my gears to a fine metallic dust, was the inability of anyone to pick a fucking restaurant. The exchange unfailingly (and actually) went like this: 

From: Sales Guy, Greasy 
Sent: Thursday, April 1, 2012 11:02 PM 
To: Holst, Jaye<
Cc: Barnett, Jules<>; our manager<>; our CIO<
Subject: Lunch 


Long time no talk MVT compadres! [Thank god I haven’t had to visit you cheap bastards in a while] I’ll be in your neck of the woods next week, and I’d like to get a little face time with everyone if possible. [I have to come to your god-forsaken frozen-over desolate shithole state to follow up on a hot lead, and I figured I’d stop by and pretend to be interested in what you are doing on the non-existent chance I can sell you something] We have some exciting new innovations coming down the pipe, and I want to be sure you have a head’s up. [It’s more hype than substance—it always is—but what the hell?] How about lunch on Tuesday? [I mean shit…I have to eat somewhere anyway] Let me know if you are available, and where you’d like to meet up. [Nowhere too expensive, preferably some place on the pizza-buffet or Applebee’s/Chili’s/T.G.I. Friday’s/OliveGarden price tier


From: Holst, Jaye 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:45 AM 
To: Sales Guy, Greasy<
Cc: Barnett, Jules<>; our manager<>; our CIO<
Subject: Re: Lunch 

[Hopefully this was an April Fool’s joke…?

Hey Greasy,  

Thanks for checking in with us! [It’s unfortunate that you decided to interrupt the blissful silence, we enjoyed not hearing anything from your for nearly a year] Does anyone at MVT have availability for lunch next Tuesday? [Please say no, everyone!] If so, does anyone have any preferences on eateries? [Please don’t say Jimmy’s Pizza Shack!!]  

From: Barnett, Jules 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:47 AM 
To: Holst, Jaye<
Cc: Sales Guy, Greasy<>; our manager<>; our CIO<
Subject: Re: Re: Lunch 
Hey, I’m available. I have no preference on where we eat. 

From: Holst, Jaye 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:49 AM 
To: Sales Guy, Greasy<
Cc: Barnett, Jules<>; our manager<>; our CIO<
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 

Cool. [Goddammit!] Anyone else? [It’s a done deal, so I really don’t care who else is interested, honestly

From: Our Manager 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:51 AM 
To: Holst, Jaye<
Cc: Jules Barnett<>; Sales Guy, Greasy<>; our CIO<
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 

 I can make it. Anywhere is fine. 

From: Sales Guy, Greasy 
Sent: Thursday, April 2, 2012 8:55 AM 
To: Holst, Jaye<
Cc: Barnett, Jules<>; our manager<>; our CIO<
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 

Awesome! [Goddammit!] It looks like we have a quorum. Has anyone tried Jimmy’s Pizza Shack? [I mean…I can’t take them to McDonalds, can I?] It is on Broadway Ave. and Elm Creek Blvd. It looks promising. I know how popular pizza is with the IT crowd 😉 Does noon work? Will [the CIO] be there? [He’s the only one who can spend money, and since he’s sort of a tool, I may be able to talk him into some useless add-on bullshit administrative tools with kitschy names and catch-phrase-riddled descriptions that are pretty much superfluous and useless] I’d love to chat with all of you. [“love” is an overstatement, but conveying artificial concern and transmitting false interest is my job, I pander for a living] There are a lot of exciting things happening at Software Company, Inc.! [I have to pass out my quota of glossy business cards with our new company logo and brochures that we spent a fortune printing, even though they are strictly balderdash, buzzwords, and bullocks] 

From: Holst, Jaye 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:59 AM 
To: Sales Guy, Greasy<
Cc: Barnett, Jules<>; our manager<>; our CIO<
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 

Noon on Tuesday should work. [I’ll be sure to toss a bottle of antacid tablets in my laptop bag that day] I don’t think [our CIO] will be able to make it. [That deadbeat never even shows up to work, much less checks his email, we could hire a starving actor off of Craigslist to play our CIO and save the company hundreds of thousands in annual salary] Do you mind sending a meeting invite to us? [I am not your admin assistant, you fucking lazy fucker, and this was not my fucking idea by any stretch of your warped imagination] We look forward to catching up with you! [Fingers crossed that you miss your flight, or maybe it crashes.

Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Finding Fidelity

 After five years of religiously working a well-worn thrift store circuit during my lunch hour, I had unearthed and polished thousands of black vinyl gems. But the crown jewel continued to allude me. Don McLean’s magnum opus American Pie was not among the thousands of LPs on my shelves. And while I’d snagged plenty of choice picks from the malaise of substandard standards that comprised the predictable thrift store record selection, I’d never flipped to that unforgettable thumb. 

My father had long since bartered his (and Peter’s) records for two months’ rent at the antique mart where he maintained a stall. So, that fateful copy was out of reach. I could easily buy it from an auction site or record shop, but that would be sacrilege. The vast majority of my records were strays rescued from thrift store bins. I washed them, cleaned the dust jackets, removed the price stickers, repaired the split seams, and stored them in archival sleeves to be enjoyed forever. Someday…I would save the record that saved me. Acquiring it any other way would be pointless. 

Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

All The Men Stayed

Advantage XX

Everybody has a dream. Without question, a little girls dream involves a Prince Charming; her knight in shining armor. Fast forward, a moment if you will. There have been years of dating and dreaming and searching and finding. Finally the painstaking meeting occurs in which a young man asks a father for his daughters hand in marriage. A blessing is given and forever is promised…. until death do us part. And although love brought this couple together, family approved and God blessed it, it is real life that tore them apart. 

Advantage XY

So there was once a young man. As most young men do, he dreamed of many young women. Yet over time, the various young women that occupied a place in his heart’s imagination became just one celestial creature. She populated his dreams and provided him everything he desired. 

Those were innocent days. 

All the love he ever needed spawned from daydreams about night things. It always satisfied the bent yearnings of a young man starved for physical love; it had to. As much as he wanted a living breathing heroine to play to his heroic stance, he was terribly introverted and not nearly as consciously bold as he was when unconsciousness embolden him. Like all men, he stumbled when trying to translate fantasy into reality. 

Those were bewildering days. 

Sentient women – real women – would come eventually. But they dealt in only immaculate heartbreak and codependent pageantry; it was nothing like the illusory productions of his youth. The young man found that he was not well equipped to deal in one-way love, regardless of the direction. 

Those were arduous days. 

In the end, building the foundation of a union on friendship seemed preferable to lust or drama. Rather than an endlessly searching for a soul mate, it seemed prudent to settle for a first mate. But sensibility rarely yields fulfillment. Discontent inevitably afflicted a home rife with friends, family and frenzy – how is that possible? And although love brought this couple together, family approved and God blessed it, it is real life that tore them apart. 

Excerpt from All the Men Stayed, the forthcoming novel—a collaboration between Blake Donley & Cyndi Nickey

I’m an Author

I’m an author

On a 104-key QWERTY keyboard I scribe

I’m writing

Gratis or for bribe

Born and Raised – The Redux

Even in the bewildering epoch between childhood and womanhood, she knew her home was not home. Once a month, Sam found herself dragged along to her mother’s hair appointment. Parked in one of the bright green Naugahyde chairs arranged like fence posts bordering the rectangular reception area of the salon, Sam would sit and wait. She couldn’t help but notice issues of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and BAZAAR scattered atop the glass and chrome table in the center of the area. Observing others casually leafing through magazines as they waited, she eventually mustered the courage to snatch one for herself and thumb through it. She became obsessed at what she found within the two-dimensional world of international style and fashion.

Saturated in whispers of small-town gossip from the cackling hens, rays of sun flooding through the picture window, and waves of nicotine haze from the parade of Virginia Slims that assaulted her coming and going, she could escape to Paris for fashion week, the beach for the latest swimwear designs, or Cali for a preview of the latest North Beach Leather line from Michael Hoban. His glassy, colorful, and new age second-skin creations captivated her best. She eagerly awaited the “Fall Fashion Preview” headline that was plastered over the covers of the lobby rags at the tail-end of each summer. She was nearly desperate to see what new lustrous eye candy he’d dreamed up and the models who brought it all to life.

Sam never knew what it was about leather specifically, but the lighting, angles, and action of the photos appeared otherworldly—a world she desperately wanted to see for herself. All of it was so foreign to her current circumstance or future prospects. She could scarcely believe any of it was happening anywhere on the same planet where her mundane life was plodding forth.  

The magazines stoked a smoldering desire to see anything beyond the 5 state Midwest region consisting of WI, MN, ND, SD, IA (and sometimes IL) that had so far confined her. It bewildered Sam that her parents would venture as far as the Black Hills on a summer road trip, when it would’ve been quicker to drive to Thunder Bay—it wasn’t another planet, but at least it was another country. As it was, Eau Claire seemed like a bucolic gulag. 

 In nearly every sense, Sam was more backpack-Europe than college material. In sixth grade, standing in her choir robe in front of the congregation at Concordia Lutheran Chruch, she looked up toward the heavens and dreamed of the bustling hostels, breathtaking vistas, and historic beauty. Under her bed, she kept a secret wish book—in actuality, a three-ring-binder nabbed from her father’s office—chocked full of clippings from the magazines at the hair salon. Before her mother announced they were going to the salon, she would slide a pair of scissors she’d lifted from school into her jeans or coat pocket. Leafing through the pages, if she saw an image she coveted, she’d surreptitiously slice along the spine, tear it out, fold it ever-so-gently, and pocket it. Even when she was old enough to stay home alone, she eagerly accompanied her mother to the salon to see what new magazines adorned the glass table.

Back at home, she’d sneak into her father’s office and use the three-hole punch to make the requisite puncture and add it to her wish book. On any given evening after lights-out, with flashlight in hand, she’d flip through photos of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the bridges and canals of Amsterdam. Leather-clad models strutting the catwalks of Paris, Rome, and London broke up the monotony of European landmarks.  To Sam, it all seemed as wonderful as it was impossible. 

For years, she lusted after her own private European adventure to commence the minute she received her high school diploma. She even squirreled away every penny she earned in a shabby cigar box that she hid under her bed next to her bursting Euro fantasy binder. But the drudgery of a diabolical Scandinavian-Lutheran upbringing slowly wrung the wont for adventure right out of her.

In one way or another, Sam was destined for Eau Claire and Eau Claire was destined for her. An insistent mother and overbearing father pleaded with her to accept Tony’s proposal of marriage. Brow-beaten by her folks and convinced, due to a lack of collective imagination, that Tony was the best she could do, she let go the last vestiges of her vagabond soul. Sam would settle for the arrogant undersized brute who, like a used car salesman, fast-talked her into a cheap and broken-down marriage. Apparently, she was fated to become Mrs. Anthony Wolf of Eau Claire, WI.

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Lipstick Sunset – The Redux

If I lay here forever, this can’t end, she thought, in vain. 

If I never give up this room, it will be mine, forever

She pulled the covers over her face. 

If I stay here, who will miss me? 

But he’d have to stay with me… 

The thought scored her heart. She felt like she was bleeding internally. She’d never lost anyone who didn’t want her gone. She felt the desperation of young lovers torn apart at the end of a perfect summer tryst. 

Sam slammed her fists into the mattress and resented the tears that streamed from her eyes. The sheet covering her face snatched each droplet before it could tumble down her temple. She resented that as well. She wanted to savor this exquisite misery. 

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley