“Chicken soup that somebody peed in…”

 

This excerpt from my novel You Don’t Think She Is (chapter 37) was also published, with some slight modification, as a stand-alone story entitled “Planet Of The Brians,” first in the Vermont newspaper Green Mountain Trading Post, and then in my short story collection What’s With Her? For more info on those books, click the titles… or… scroll down to the bottom of the page.


Setting: Summer 1972; Quaker Valley, Adams County, PA (“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here.” ~ Margo LeDoux)

 

I got back too late on Saturday to see Margo, and unfortunately, two weeks at church camp did not earn me a free pass, so on Sunday morning at 10 am, there I was, sitting in a pew, dressed in a “light cotton” blazer, white shirt, and clip-on tie (perfect outfit for 90 degree weather), sitting tight between my parents, sweat rolling down between my shoulder blades and from my armpits down the insides of my arms.

“Wish they’d crack open a stained-glass window…” Dad whispered to me midway through the sermon.

Still, for as hot and as humid as it was, I didn’t take a shower when I got home. I’d already taken one before church. From this point on, the day was about doing something that would make me need another one… even though, judging from Margo’s note, we were probably going to do Something Cool.

So: no shower.

When I went over to meet Margo after Sunday lunch so we could go to the movie, she looked a little different to me. Not a lot different; just a little… nothing I could really put a finger on… maybe it was just the tan. In the summer, Margo’s skin got dark tanned and her hair light, almost platinum like Christy’s. Plus a detail I suddenly remembered when she opened her back door: “Up at the lake,” she told me a few summers before, “we skinnydip! So no tanlines!”

Skinnydipping… didn’t really want to think about that… so of course when I saw how dark her skin was, what was the first thing I thought of?

(Did they even have topless native girls in Canada?)

Margo brushed her hair out of her face. “Hey, Bri… wait… wait just a sec,” and she ducked back inside. “Dad?” she yelled. “My allowance…” and a few seconds later she was coming back out the door, five dollars in her tanned hand. “Late again,” she said. “I’m supposed to get it on Saturday after Mom and me clean. He always makes me ask for it.” And she zipped open her purse (!) and then caught my eye. “What?” she tittered.

I felt like Margo could see herself and the bevy of Topless Native Girls frolicking on my mental movie screen… but, fortunately, I had an out:

“When did you start carrying a purse?” I said.

Margo stuffed her money down into the neat red leather pouch. “Since Grandma got it for me in Kingston. Tres chic, huh?” and she pulled out a pack of Juicy Fruit. “Gum?” I took a stick and she unwrapped one for herself, and we walked downtown to the theater for the matinee.

battle for the planet of the apes - cinema quad movie poster (1)
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

I told Margo about Jean (“So you asked her to dance? Yay! Good work, Bri!”) and Ginny (“Awwww… she wanted you to ask her. Well, what can you do about that?”) and she told me about Canada (“No skinny dippin’ anymore. Aside from Jompaw, there is now a family from New York in the cottage next door. Who stare like Steve Kelly.”), and by 1:45 we were buying our tickets, the only two people in line. “Don’t people know this might be the last one?” I said as I held the door open for Margo.

“It’s like mom says, Bri,” Margo said. “People don’t care about art.”

As soon as we stepped inside, I knew we’d made the right choice. After the moist church service, and the sticky walk downtown, the dark, air-conditioned theater felt like a walk-in freezer… better than the pool. We followed my Seat Selection Formula (middle of the theater, width of the screen back) and we picked our seats, but as Margo reached for her purse so she could give me money toward popcorn (I always bought the tickets; she always bought the snacks), she got a sick look on her face.

“Yeesh…” she said.

“What?”

“What’s that smell?” She screwed her nose up funny as she checked the air.

“What smell?”

Margo zipped open her purse. “Come on… you smell it. You don’t smell that?” I shook my head no. “It’s gamey… like a zoo.” She handed me two dollars. “What, do they pump monkey odor into the theater to make the movie more real?” Margo always called the apes in the Planet of the Apes movies “monkeys.”

I took her money. “I don’t smell anything,” I said.

“Well, you must be… smell-blind,” she said as she zipped her purse shut, and then she slouched down in her seat, knees up on the seatback in front of her.

I walked back to the lobby to get us our cokes and corn (making sure they buttered and salted Margo’s popcorn halfway up, then buttered and salted it again when it was all the way full), and when I got back (“Did they butter and salt it halfway up and then butter and salt it again when it was all the way full?”), she was settled in her seat.

“Can’t believe you don’t smell that,” she said as the lights went down and the movie started, but all I could smell was the sweet buttered popcorn in my lap.

As the previews rolled, I could hear Margo munching away next to me, and just as I was about to say “Jeez, it sounds like a zoo,” she leaned over, right up against me, and sniffed.

“Ewwww…” she said as she sat back.

“Ewwwww what?” I said.

“It’s you.” She shrunk back into the far corner of her seat.

“What do you mean, ‘it’s me?’”

“I mean‑‑” and Margo pinched her nostrils shut with her fingers and sang “BEEEEEEEEE-OHHHHHHHHH!”

I laughed. “Shut up.”

“Brian, I’m serious… you smell!” She shriveled back into her corner. “Battle… for the Planet… of the Brians!”

I laughed. “It is not me…”

The movie started, and as I leaned forward to pick my coke off the floor, I caught a whiff of something that smelled like someone had peed into a cup of chicken broth.

I sat back… very subtly bent my head down… lifted my left arm… inhaled… and…

Margo, God bless her, didn’t say another word about it the whole rest of the movie. I was braced for insults, questions, wisecracks ‑‑maybe even a lecture‑‑ but she was silent all the way through the closing credits, right up until we started out of the theater.

“No, Bri,” she said as we started walking into the breeze. “Me in front.”

We walked up Dartmouth Street toward home, but she detoured across the street to Holbert’s Apothecary. “Wait here,” she said as she opened the front door, and I sat on the stoop in the heat, sweat dripping down my face, my back… every part of me sticky and damp.

O.K…. so maybe I shouldn’t have skipped the shower.

Less than two minutes later, Margo came back out, a small brown paper bag in her hand. “Did you even take a shower today?” she said as she removed a wax pack of baseball cards and some Juicy Fruit from the bag.

“I thought we were gonna go swim…”

“‑‑Pff! ‘Swim.’ O.K.” She handed the bag to me. “Here. Use this.”

I was kind of afraid to open the bag. What if it was Snakes In A Can (“BOY-YOY-YOY-YOY-YOING!”)?

Don-Rickles-Right-Guard-Commercial-1974-493x400Nope… no springloaded snakes… just a wax pack of baseball cards… and… an opened-front cardboard package with a bottle in it.

Right Guard. Extra Dry Roll-on.

I looked up at Margo. “You really think I need this?”

Margo tsked. “Brian, seriously… you smell like… chicken soup that somebody peed in.”

I laughed. “I do not‑‑”

“‑‑Brian!” Margo put her hand on my wrist and looked me in the eye, and I noticed she was wearing eye shadow: lightly applied turquoise powder that flashed when she blinked.

“Use it,” she said softly. “Trust me.”

I nodded. “O.K.”

She let go of my wrist. “Now let’s go home so I can hose you off…”


 YDTSI booksYou Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…


“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and e-book editions.
Click here to order.

 

Noteworthy News and Newsworthy Notes: Epistolary Excerpts from “You Don’t Think She Is”

YDTSI - Press passOne of the ways that 13-year-old female protagonist Margo LeDoux tries to nudge her best friends Brian Pressley and Christy Kelly closer to each other in my novel You Don’t Think She Is is by goading them both into joining newspaper club in 8th grade.

Did it work? Well, that’s the story of the novel…

Character notes and other documents are woven through the narrative of You Don’t Think She Is, and the Junior High Newspaper chapters are no exception. Here are a few of the notes that Margo, Brian, and Christy passed back and forth in eighth grade, Quaker Valley Junior High School, October 1973… along with their articles from the mimeographed school paper, the Quaker Valley Junior High School News.  

For more excerpts from and information about You Don’t Think She Is, click here.

YDTSI - Note 1

YDTSI - QV Jr Hi News 1

YDTSI - QV Jr Hi News 2

YDTSI - Note 2

YDTSI - Note 3

YDTSI - Note 4

YDTSI - Note 5

YDTSI - QV Jr Hi News 3

YDTSI - Note 6


YDTSI booksYou Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…


“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

 

Negotiation

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINALAn excerpt from Chapter 11 of the novel You Don’t Think She Is

July 1969 / Quaker Valley PA
(“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here”)

Thursday morning, three days before Margo got back, I pedaled out to our fort, and when I let my bike fall down in the tall grass at the entrance to the tunnel, once again there was just one other bike leaning against the fence: Christy’s banana-seat red Schwinn. “Where’s Steve?” I asked when I crawled back into our fort.

Christy was leaning against the stump of the oak tree that was built into the fence, flipping through a copy of Sports Illustrated, and she barely looked up. “Dentist, again. He had a cavity Monday and he’s gettin’ drilled.” I noted Christy’s subtle glee as I shuddered a little at the thought of the shot and the drill and the smell of the burning tooth. “He might come back out after lunch, though, she added.

I set to work while Christy sat back in her room, reading and listening to her radio. I needed to install a ladder to our treehouse, and the first step was sawing 2x4s to use as rungs… and maybe it was just that Steve wasn’t there to act as a buffer that morning, but as I worked, I felt a weird sort of tension in the air. I didn’t know what it was, so I kind of dismissed it… and so, when Christy excused herself to vanish even further back into the briars to “use the little girls’ room” (she said), I figured, O.K., she’s just going back to pee, and I kept right on working as the radio played.

When I saw you I knew that I was gonna love you

And every day I thought of how I’m gonna love you

Now you’re here next to me

And ecstasy is a reality…

O.K…. verse… chorus… second verse, different from the first…

4…what was taking Christy so long? I could hear a little bit of rustling around, but I didn’t hear that telltale WHHOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSSHHHHH… I mean, I’d learned, from being back there with Margo, that it took girls LESS time to pee than it did boys, and I couldn’t figure out why it was taking Christy so long to‑‑

“Brian?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you ever see a girl naked?”

Perfectly natural question. I thought of Margo dropping her drawers out there a couple weeks before (“You wanna see?”), but, somehow, that didn’t seem like it counted.

I lined the saw blade up with the cut I wanted to make. “Sort of,” I said, “but not all the way.”

“Well… do you want to all the way?”

I almost dropped the saw.

“How come?” I said, straightening up, sort of fearing the answer, but at the same time feeling all those past flutters and looks and giggles and blushes and curiosities coalescing in the hot July air.

“Why do you think, Brian?”

O.K. Either she’s found one of Davy Morone’s old copies of ADAM back there, or…

I felt blood rushing to both my face and my groin; my heart felt like it couldn’t keep up. Precious oxygen, meanwhile, was being diverted from my brain, of course. (This is how it works, ladies.)

“Well,” I said, “I… you know…”

Take a breath.

I felt like the words were pumping into my mouth straight from my heart, from the breathy center of my chest, and I just spat them out as they formed on my lips:

“Yeah. Yeah. Come out.”

Soft rustle in the brush… then (alongside What are you two doing back there?) the last phrase I really wanted to hear at that particular moment:

“You get naked first.”

Shit.

My shoulders dropped.

“You come out and I will,” I said.

“No. When you get naked I’ll come out.”

“No way!” I said.

No response.

Was she calling my bluff?

Meanwhile, the radio played:

Workin’ on a groovy thing, baby

Workin’ on a groovy thing

Workin’ on a groovy thing, baby

Let’s not rush it

We’ll take it slowwwww…

I took a breath. It didn’t slow my pulse.

“Christy?”

A giggle. “What, Brian?”

What, Brian indeed. There I was, begging and bargaining for something I hadn’t even known I wanted until Christy brought it up.

I’ve been in big trouble ever since.

I sighed. “Come out…

“No.” Her voice was insistent. “You get naked and I will.”

I could feel myself starting to crumble.

Was it worth it? Probably.

Just one thing, though…

“How do I know you will?” I said.

A tsk. “God, Brian… I already am.”

I gasped lightly.

She already is?!

I squinted back into the thick growth to see if I could catch a peek… you know, just in case she changed her mind.

No luck; she was hidden behind the thickest leaves and vines.

I ran my shaking, sweaty fingers back along the elastic waistband of my shorts, like my hands had to think about this.

O.K…. Steve’s at the dentist’s… so that’s cool.

And Margo’s in Canada.

Does anybody else know about these forts?

I checked off a mental list of neighborhood kids and brothers.

My little brother Danny was supposed to be at the playground with John, Christy’s little(r) brother.

That “supposed to be” worried me. On the one hand, what if Danny and John showed up while Christy and I were in the buff?

On the other hand:

God, Brian, I already am.

Well, that was a simple choice.

I tried to look out of the fort at the neighborhood beyond the vines. Tried, but I couldn’t see a thing.

So… if I couldn’t see out, that meant they couldn’t see in. Right?

And the other way, beyond the fence, it was just rows and rows of eye-high corn, and then the thick swale that marked the path of the little stream that met up with Bent Run closer to town.

O.K. Unless there were some really, really, really lost flyfishermen out there, we were safe.

All of this thinking took about three seconds, while Christy waited back in the brush.

“Brian?”

I tugged my shirt out of my shorts. “I’m taking my shirt off,” I said, and I pulled my t-shirt over my head and hung it on the sharp end of a branch next to my shoulder.

“I can see,” Christy said.

She could?

That wasn’t fair!

Fair or not, I barely paused. I hooked the waistband of my shorts and my underwear with my thumbs ‑‑here goes‑‑ and I slid them together down my legs. The warm summer air on my bare skin felt strangely cool, and I felt the goosepimples erupting in the fabric’s wake as my shorts fell down over my knees and onto my feet.

“O.K.,” I said. “Come out.”

“O.K.,” Christy said, and as I stood there, shivering slightly (it was 90 degrees out and I was shivering!), I heard the vines and leaves rustling down the tunnel, and then a flash of bare skin, and then…


YDTSI booksYou Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…


“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

Two big scoops of vanilla ice cream

An excerpt from the novel You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk


Chapter 15

tumblr_lypiu8G2QT1r675x3o1_500Like any twelve-year-old boy worth his pending membership in the fraternity of men, I’d discovered TOPLESS PHOTOS OF NATIVE GIRLS in National Geographic.

Unlike most twelve-year-old boys, though, I found them via Margo.

“Holy smokes, Bri! Take a look at these!” she sputtered during one library period, shoving a tattered but intact National Geographic in my face, and from that library period on, we spent every half hour rifling through the Princeton Files of back issues, looking for Booby Pictures (instead of working on our assignments, which, after the fifth straight session, prompted the young, we-thought-she-was-cool librarian Miss Keer to talk to Mr. Lebo, which in turn prompted Mr. Lebo to switch Margo from group B to group A). I think Margo and I may have found every Booby Picture in every issue that National Geographic published between 1960 and 1971. (1960 was the cutoff, the first Princeton file on the top shelf in the section that was hidden from Miss Keer’s desk. She could see 1959 and before, so no way was either of us going to go around to the other side of the shelf and try to snag any of those.)

(“That’s O.K.,” I said. “Those ones on the other side are old anyway.”)

(“Yeah,” Margo said. “Who wants old boobies?”)

We really didn’t have too much to say about those pictures except “Uh-huh-huh-huh” and “Heh-heh-heh-heh” and “He-he-he-he-he”… lots of giggling and snickering and gasping and the occasional “Wow… LOOK at those!” The one comment I remember most clearly, unfortunately, was Margo’s about a picture of a young naked mother holding a naked baby in her naked arms, the tips of her naked pendulous breasts almost below her naked rib cage. “Whoa!” Margo whispered as she handed the magazine to me. “Here’s some hangers!” And as I Perused The Artwork, Margo added “Mom’s look like that, kind of.”

I pushed that remark from my mind until later in the afternoon, when Margo and I went back to her house for a snack, and as we sat at the LeDoux’s kitchen table eating fresh baked apple pie from Distelfink, Mrs. LeDoux buzzed around the kitchen counter and sink and table, picking up and putting away… dressed in a pair of cut-off denim shorts and a bust-accentuating flannel shirt, tied in a knot at the waist, exposing her belly. As she flitted from table to sink to counter to trash can to fridge to sink to table, Margo’s words came back to me, and I found myself entranced

Did they look like that? They kind of looked like they might look like that…

il_570xN.412777404_ptduI was trying not to stare (“Girls don’t like that, Bri. Don’t forget it.”) but I felt like I had to look… finally, when Mrs. LeDoux took a breath and leaned against the counter, brushing her brown hair off her forehead as she inhaled deeply… chest expanding… and then, exhaling, asked me if I wanted another piece of apple pie, Margo spat out a chuckle next to me.

“Yeah, Mom,” she tittered, “with two big scoops of ice cream!”

I wanted to kick Margo under the table, but I’d been nabbed‑‑ that’d be bad form. I just kept my mouth shut as Mrs. LeDoux adjusted her top. “Two big scoops,” she said, oblivious. “Non, I do not tink so,” and she mussed my hair and kissed the top of Margo’s head before she sashayed out of the kitchen.

Margo sat back, smirking. “Sorry, Bri,” she said as she shovelled a forkful of pie into her mouth. “No big scoops for you.”


YDTSI booksYou Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…


“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

“The congressional scrap pile”

Chapter seven of my novel You Don’t Think She Is

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINAL

 

It’s July 1969, Quaker Valley, PA (“Like Gettysburg, except nothing happened here”)….
…and there’s a treehouse that needs to be built… and Steve Kelly’s dad (Senator Tom Kelly) has the lumber… except… there are distractions to be cleared.
This is chapter seven of my novel 
You Don’t Think She Is. Enjoy!

 

 


Seven

It was early in the morning but the Kellys’ garage was already almost too hot to breathe in. We had tools‑‑ I’d stuffed Dad’s hammer and saw and a pocketful of nails into a grocery bag in the saddle basket of my bike (a toolbox Just Like The Pros Used)‑‑ so all we needed was lumber. We took about five two-by-fours each, which we carried on our bikes the four blocks to our fort, balancing the ungainly armloads as we pedaled, teetering, like highwire cyclists. The 2x4s worked fine as framing or (cut and nailed into the tree trunk) as ladder rungs, but before we even nailed in two rungs, we both could see what we needed next: a floor.

LumberSo that afternoon we were back in Steve’s stuffy garage, digging in the Congressional Scrap Pile.

“You think this’ll work?” Steve asked as he pulled out a jagged floppy sheet of woodgrained wall paneling.

I shook my head No. “Too thin,” I said.

“Yeah… I guess,” Steve said, and he pushed the piece back into the stack. I could see edges of sheetrock and paneling, but nothing that looked like plywood‑‑

“What you guys doin’?”

I looked toward the girl’s voice, at the doorway into the house. It was Christy. She smiled at me through the screen.

“Hi, Brian,” she said.

“Hey, Christy.” (Flutter.)

Christy looked at Steve as I looked away. “What are you guys doin’?” she repeated.

“Lookin’ for somethin’,” Steve said, trying his best to get her to shut the door.

It didn’t work. Christy pushed the screendoor open. “Well, doyyyeeee,” she said, “but what?” There she was, same outfit as before, but this time barefoot, her toenails painted Granny Smith green, with little white and yellow daisies on the big toenails.

Steve tsked his Go Back Inside And Find Your Skipper And Ken tsk. “Something for our fort, all right? God…”

“Well, you don’t have to be ignorant, you little brat,” Christy snapped back, and that was the first time I realized: Christy was Steve’s big sister. I’d heard my Mom call them “Irish Twins,” and I just figured, you know, that meant they were actual twins.

Christy pushed in between Steve and me. “Maybe I can help…”

Steve was now flipping through the scrap pile more frantically than before. “Maybe I can help,” he repeated in a mocking nasal whine, and that was the first time I also realized: Steve kind of bugged me.

Meanwhile, Christy was so close to me that our sweaty arms were brushing against each other, and I looked down at her feet, at her painted toenails, and, God, I don’t know what possessed me, but…

“I like your toes.”

Steve looked at me like I’d said I WORSHIP LUCIFER!! but his sister just looked down, the light blush returning to her cheeks. “Thanks, Brian,” she whispered. “Kath did it for me.”

Flutter again.

I could still feel Steve’s shocked energy beaming in pulses toward me, so I quickly pulled back from Christy and sputtered “We need plywood for a floor.”

“Well…” Christy brushed back her straight, shoulder-length auburn hair and turned to look up and behind me. “…since someone finally asked…” and she pointed to the rafters, where, laid out like patchwork on the crossbeams, there were as many sheets of plywood as we could want, in practically any size we might need. All we needed was a ladder, which Steve grabbed from the wall, and in less than 15 minutes we’d pulled down a 2×3 foot rectangle and a 4×4 foot square.

Christy stood, watching us, like maybe she wanted to ride along, but then Kathy (her redheaded big sister; two years older) pushed the screendoor open and stuck her head out. She looked like a cross between a slightly older Christy and a slightly younger Katie.

“Reh-behhhh-caaahhhh…” she sang in a half-mocking, half-joking voice, and Christy looked down, annoyed but smiling. “You wanna go to the poooool?”

Christy’s eyes darted my way for just a flash, then back over to her sister. “You wanna go now?”

Kathy raised her eyebrows. “Well… soon,” she said, and she glanced at me, smiling, before looking back at Christy. “How come?”

Christy bit her lip, silent for a heartbeat.

“Just a sec,” she said, and she opened the door and stepped into the house so she and Kathy could work out a plan.

Steve looked like a mouse who’d seen the cat coming. His panicked eyes met mine.

“We better go now,” he said.


 You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…


YDTSI books“…You Don’t Think She Is
by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

It’s all in the notes…

Epistolary excerpts from the novel You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk

Pity the students in 1973-74 Quaker Valley Junior High School. Cellphones hadn’t been invented yet, so rather than texting, they had to (gasp!) write and pass notes!

Fortunately, unlike a text message, which can often get lost and deleted after 40 seconds, the characters’ notes and messages and greeting cards and letters and postcards somehow survived 40+ years, and are woven through the narrative of my novel You Don’t Think She Is.  

As reviewer Charles Adamson wrote…

In one sense this is the story of three people: Brian, who is telling the story, Margo, his best friend, and Christy, the one he develops a different sort of attraction for. In another sense this is the story of two boxes. One box lay on the top shelf in Brian’s closet and the other in Margo’s room. Every night they both took all the scraps of paper, notes the other kids gave them, and whatever else was in their pockets, and dropped them in their box, forming a chronological record of their lives. Brian is using the contents of the two boxes to tell their story. The reader is even shown many of these notes and things, as an intriguing way of advancing the story and making the readers feel that they are somehow intricately involved in the events…

Here are a few random notes from the novel… out of context, but, like any excerpt, it should give you a sense of the story and the characters.

 We start with a note from Margo, who always signs her notes “me!”

YDTSI note - Do you get this

YDTSI note - Brian said he liked my hair

YDTSI note - Na na na 1

YDTSI note - Na na na 2

YDTSI note - popping off at Jill

YDTSI note - bumping into Jill


You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINAL“…You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

“Maybe they typed it wrong…”

An excerpt from the novel You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk


Summer 1972: Quaker Valley, Pennsylvania. 12-year-old Brian Pressley and his best friend Margo LeDoux have been doing what you’re supposed to do on a hot July afternoon: playing outside. And then, just when they least suspected it…

Dick Smiley letter…somehow even the thought of the pending school year has the power to ruin an otherwise perfect summer day. That was what happened later that afternoon, when we rode back to Margo’s house and tramped into her kitchen for a glass of lemonade. School was waiting for us on her kitchen table, and Mrs. LeDoux pointed to it, just in case we missed it.

“Your schedule came, Marguerite,” she said.

“Schedule?”

“Of da classes,” Mrs. LeDoux said. “For sevent grade.”

There was an official-looking, business-sized envelope at Margo’s place, the flap ragged from being torn open sans letter opener. Quaker Valley School District, the return address read, with PARENTS OF MARGUERITE LE DOUX 305 CHAMBERLAIN DRIVE QUAKER VALLEY PA 17399 written in blue ink on the front.

Margo picked it up warily, and before she even opened it, she looked over at me. “You think you got yours too?”

I rode my bike home through the yard to check ‑‑there it was, on our kitchen table‑‑ and ran back to meet Margo on her patio so we could compare classes. When I got back, I barely noticed the two glasses of lemonade on the picnic table (hers already down to just ice, and mine with the first big sip missing). What I noticed was Margo sniffling, and her Dad standing behind her, petting her hair, the schedule in front of them.

“It’s not six school days a week, honey…”

“Well, what is it then?”

Mr. LeDoux sighed and brushed back his Beatle Bangs. “It works like this, sweetie. Say Monday is day one, right? So then Tuesday is day two, Wednesday is day three and so on, up to Friday, which is day five… then Saturday and Sunday off…” He seemed to be placing unusually strong emphasis on those two words. “…which would make Monday…?”

He waited for her answer, but Margo was just staring, hypnotized by her schedule.

Meanwhile, I’d opened mine, and as soon as I looked at the letter, three phrases leapt off the page like they’d been marked with a fluorescent highlighter: Dick Smiley, Earlier start time and The six day cycle.

Six?

I flipped to the second page: a grid, with numbers lined up on the left hand side ‑‑PERIOD 1-9 ‑‑ and then, along the top:

DAY: ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE SIX

Six days?

Well, now, in addition to getting a letter from the school in mid-July, I was also gonna get sick.

Margo, too: Mr. LeDoux was still waiting for the answer to Monday is…

Margo sniffled. “Day one?”

Mr. LeDoux shook his head, his voice calm. “No, no, sweetie… day six. Then Tuesday is day one. It starts all over again.”

Now Margo was shaking her head. “That’s stupid… six days…”

“You’ll get the hang of it,” Mr. LeDoux said, and he kissed the top of her head and then looked at me, like he knew exactly what I thinking. “But the answer is, no, you don’t have to go to school on the weekends,” he said as our eyes met, and he stepped up onto the stoop and pulled open the screendoor.

Tsk! “Stupid,” Margo muttered as the door fell shut behind her Dad, and as I said “So we don’t have to go to school on Saturdays?” we could hear Mr. LeDoux in the kitchen, talking to his wife. “Stupid, Fran… this six-day schedule crap. Why make them deal with that? As if seventh grade isn’t a shock enough…”

Shock.

Great.


You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk…

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINAL“…You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk reveals a brilliantly composed coming of age novel… The short chapters speak volumes about the notion of first love, the workings of puberty, and the understanding of a blossoming sexuality …(and) give the reader a keen insight into each of the character’s youthful thoughts and ideas… Shenk’s book will take any reader back in time to their emotions and explorations during middle school. It is reminder of the innocence of youth and the burgeoning feelings of desire.  –Kathy Buckert, author and English instructor

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

“I’m not John-Paul LeDoux!”

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINALA excerpt from the novel You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk

Summer 1972, Quaker Valley, Pennsylvania. Our narrator, Brian Pressley, has to find a friend to fill in while his best friend, Margo LeDoux, is on vacation in Canada for two weeks. There’s always Marty Morone, of course, but…

…When sixth grade ended and it was time for Margo and her family to travel north for their annual summer vacation (at her Grandma LeDoux’s cottage on Lake Opinicon in Ontario), I was ready in two ways. The first was that Mom and Dad had signed me up for Archaeology camp: two weeks at an actual working dig at Camp Sequanota, a Lutheran camp in the western part of the state. That started the second Sunday that Margo was gone. But even that first week wouldn’t be a wash: I had Marty to do stuff with. I didn’t know what that “stuff” would be, but the day before Margo left, she asked me what, if anything, I’d be doing while she was in Canada, and I said “Go to the pool. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right.” The silence on the phone told me that she’d spotted a hole in my plan. I could almost picture her standing in their kitchen, biting her lower lip.

In fact, if I stood at the kitchen window, I could see her standing there, leaning against their counter.

“Does he have a card?” she said after a couple seconds.

“I don’t know,” I said. Come to think of it, I’d never seen Marty or any of his brothers or his parents at the pool. “Well,” I said, “we’ll think of something.”

Fifteen minutes after we hung up, Margo was knocking at the back door.

John Paul's card“Here, Bri,” she said, holding out her little brother’s swim club card.

“What’s this?” I said as I examined it, awaiting Margo’s “Doyeeeee” as soon as the words left my lips, because I could see plainly what it was.

“What’s it look like?” Margo said. “You said you and Marty wanted to go to the pool, right?”

Uhhhhh…

Margo tsked. “Just give it to Marty. Mom says he can have it. Jompaw never uses it. He hates swimming in pools.”

I looked at the card again. There was no signature on it, but still…

“God, Margo… is Marty allowed‑‑”

‑‑Another TSK! and sigh! “Brian, Mom wouldn’t give it to you if it wasn’t O.K.” She closed my fingers around it. “All right?”

It was all right with me.

“Thanks, Margo.”

“No problem.”

Margo left early Monday, and I didn’t waste any time: right after breakfast I called Marty and asked him if he wanted to bike out to the pool with me after lunch. I guess he just figured that I had a guest card, but when we parked our bikes in the bike rack out in the pool parking lot and I handed him Jompaw’s card, he nearly had an aneurysm.

“Brian, I can’t use this!” he shrieked.

I tried to keep my voice calm. “Margo’s Mom said it’s O.K.‑‑”

“‑‑But it’s not my card‑‑”

“‑‑Marty…” I lowered my voice. Maybe Marty wanted everyone at the swim club to know that it wasn’t his card, but, silly me, I still sort of figured we could pull this off. “Margo’s Mom said it’s O.K,” I repeated quietly. “Don’t say anything, you know? Just… hand it to them at the desk and sign his name‑‑”

“‑‑Brian, I’m not John-Paul LeDoux‑‑”

“‑‑Yes, you are. All right?”

Marty thought about this for a second.

“All right,” he said, and we walked to the front desk.

I don’t know what Marty meant by All right; I just figured he meant Fine. I’m in. Cool.

We stepped up to the desk and gave the girl our cards and signed in, and I thought that was it…

…but from the moment we walked away from the desk, Marty was fretting, looking over his shoulder.

“Brian, is the ‘D’ in ‘LeDoux’ capitalized?”

“Yeah.”

Marty “phewed.”

Then, a few steps later:

“Does he put a dash between ‘John’ and ‘Paul?’”

I don’t know.”

And that was just the beginning:

“Brian, what if someone calls me Marty?”

And…

“Brian, the lifeguard keeps looking at me.”

And…

“Be sure you call me John-Paul if we go up to get something to eat, Bri.”

And, finally…

“You think they’ll call Margo’s mom and ask her about this… you know, is your son home?”

Is your son home?

“There won’t be anyone home,” I said.

Marty got the puke-on-the-desk look on his face again.

“So they’ll know that John-Paul’s on vacation,” he said.

It was clear to me, after just 35 minutes of this, that John-Paul Martin Morone LeDoux simply could not relax and go along with the game and splash in the pool or sit in the sun, and before the first adult swim (2:00 pm) we were back on our bikes, riding home. There it was, midday, blazing hot ‑‑prime pool weather‑‑ and we were riding away.

On the first day of three Margo-less weeks.

It looked like it was going to be a long summer.


You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINAL“Intensely imagined and beautifully written, You Don’t Think She Is follows Brian and the two loves of his young life, Margo and Christy from childhood into puberty. Brian is a decent kid; inhibited, horny, confused – and in love. His best friend Margo may be the coolest girl ever; uninhibited, athletic, mature beyond her years. Margo’s good friend Christy likes Brian, Brian likes Christy, Margo tries to bring them together, but…The result is a wonderfully convoluted, just-go-ahead-and-kiss-her coming-of-age story.”  (Greg Comer, Amazon reader review)

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

“My Best Friend”

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINALExcerpt from the novel You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk

Woven through the narrative of You Don’t Think She Is  are notes, letters, post cards, school newspapers, phone messages, and even two essays from narrator Brian Pressley and his best friend Margo LeDoux, from their junior year creative writing class, on the theme “My Best Friend.” Here’s Brian’s essay.

For more information on You Don’t Think She Is, click here.  

Brian - My Best Friend - p 1Brian - My Best Friend - p 2Brian - My Best Friend - p 3Brian - My Best Friend - p 4Brian - My Best Friend - p 5Brian - My Best Friend - p 6Brian - My Best Friend - p 7Brian - My Best Friend - p 8

You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk

Book cover 6x9 - front - FINAL“Intensely imagined and beautifully written, You Don’t Think She Is follows Brian and the two loves of his young life, Margo and Christy from childhood into puberty. Brian is a decent kid; inhibited, horny, confused – and in love. His best friend Margo may be the coolest girl ever; uninhibited, athletic, mature beyond her years. Margo’s good friend Christy likes Brian, Brian likes Christy, Margo tries to bring them together, but…The result is a wonderfully convoluted, just-go-ahead-and-kiss-her coming-of-age story.”  (Greg Comer, Amazon reader review)

Available in print and Kindle editions. Click here to order.

“Low and behold!”

Excerpt from the novel You Don’t Think She Is by Max Harrick Shenk

Author’s Note: This excerpt is a fictitious letter from 13-year-old Margo to her best friend Brian at summer camp, writing about an incident that took place during the school year when Margo and her best friend Christy went to a boys’ basketball playoff game at Fannett-Medal High School.

As stated in the preface to the Kindle edition of the story, I must issue this WARNING:

Please note that, in this epistolary text, spelling, grammar, punctuation and other errors have not been ignored, but have, in fact, been utilized intentionally to create a literary effect.

I was going to say that “the author is not an idiot,” but I will leave such conclusions to the reader.


Low and behold 1

Low and behold 2

Low and behold 3

Low and behold 4

Low and behold 5

 

 


“My First, My Last, My Only Cigarette” by Max Harrick Shenk is available as a short story for Kindle reader. This story is an excerpt from the novel You Don’t Think She Is, available in softcover print or Kindle editions.  For more information on either of these, click on the book cover photos, or click here.


Cover001
Book cover 6x9 - front - FINAL