The Near Future

The Near Future

by Joe Ashby Porter

"The Near Future is a little jewel of a book, a very funny novel about getting—among other things—old, and in Florida, and with less than one's entire dignity in tact. Porter's comic imagination is of the truly droll sort, and with it he homes very closely in upon the truth—alas."—Richard Ford

Winner of the Academy Award (2004) from

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"The Near Future is a little jewel of a book, a very funny novel about getting—among other things—old, and in Florida, and with less than one's entire dignity in tact. Porter's comic imagination is of the truly droll sort, and with it he homes very closely in upon the truth—alas."—Richard Ford

Winner of the Academy Award (2004) from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, Joe Ashby Porter, a Shakespeare scholar at Duke University, is the author of three short story collections and two novels.

Editorial Reviews

David Kirby
The Near Future is an exceedingly odd book yet also, despite the gunplay, a genuinely endearing one. And if you think things aren't going to end happily, then you don't know your Geriatric Sun Belt Sci-Fi Lite. Even Denise and Tink seem to get the message: as long as you arrive home in one piece, a little trip through time and space just makes your double-wide trailer look that much cozier.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Porter imagines a slightly off-kilter tomorrow in his latest novel (after Touch Wood), about a zany cast of character who shake up a dozy trailer-park retirement village in Manatee, Florida. After five decades of marriage, devoted housewife Lillian Margiotta walks out on her husband Vince, a retired Brooklyn cabby and unrepentant philanderer. Although Vince still hopes to win back Lillian, he goes on a road trip to Key West with a new lady friend, spinster Vola Byrd (a once-powerful but now-impoverished Manhattan realtor), his granddaughter Denise and her boyfriend, Tink, the latter a pair of smart-mouthed grifters hoping to strike it rich with a pyramid scheme. Meanwhile, back in Manatee, Lillian visits with Memphis transplants Brent and Gwen Runkle, who pine for the daughter they haven t seen in years and fret over an OIDs epidemic. Porter s intimate depictions of the betrayals and regrets of aging particularly for women are moving. But he clouds these flashes of humanity with overly artful prose ( Lillian blots a fuchsia moue on lilac tissue she then lets eddy through a careless somersault into a receptacle of stiffened lace ) and wacky plotting (e.g. an incident with a gun-toting Gertrude Stein at a Hemingway look-alike contest). (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Turtle Point Press
Publication date:
125 Brain Games Series
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Near Future



Copyright © 2006 Joe Ashby Porter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-885586-41-8

Chapter One


The story opens in late January before dawn, in Manatee. Florida, a Gulf Coast retirement village. Fog has drifted through grass and across pavement and spilled onto the pool. Most of the mobile homes rest dark and quiet on ornamental cinderblocks. At the blue trailer on Dockside Lane, however. Vincent Margiotta, seventy-nine, six two, one forty, with a lighted flashlight prods lawnmower parts behind his shed. Should the noise wake the Runkles next door, no skin off Vince. He and Lillian had lived here five years already; together then, before the Runkles moved into their white doublewide.

Like a heron Vince reads the jumble and fishes out a lawnmower blade that might do for Lillian's mower. The doors of his pickup read "Odd Jobs," with his name and phone, and he had the legend printed on business cards last month. Tinkering and repairs mostly, and he'll gladly lend this sort of hand today to Lillian, who has moved out and left him in the lurch. Never mind if she won't have any of the other assistance Vince provides for Manatee widows and wives and spinsters. Never mind, he thinks, old Lil may yet come to her senses. Vince lodges the flashlight between his thighs, points a finger into the beam, and balances the blade across it.

Sightlines cross thedark from Vince to a window in the whitish hump starting to loom above its picket fence. The lines run through screen wire and glass and past a perfumed finger that has lifted a cream vinyl slat.

"Tsk." Gwendolyn Runkle lets the slat snap shut and interlaces her fingers under her chin. "Mr. Margiotta, of course." Gwen rotates and glides across plush in the thinning dark toward the queen-size bed where Brent Runkle sits. Silent fragrance lubricates Gwen's hems and her scuffs, both of a heavy ivory satin. "You may need to speak to him, or we might bring the matter before the village council. He's more thoughtless than ever since Lillian left him."

As Gwen passes the cherry grandmother clock she and Brent have reconditioned, it begins pealing six with a triple-chime Whittington melody, and other soft chimes and cuckoos sound through the doublewide. "Suppose we had taken him for a prowler. Yesterday at Hair Now I heard about two break-ins in December, in deluxes. No hope of recovery. The officers said the virtuals and games were probably already plugged in in Micronesia. Oh dear heaven, I don't like to complain, but ..." Gwen pauses at her vanity for a squirt of lotion.

Brent can almost see his wife slide toward the bed. "I understand, dear. I have a good fix on what you mean, in many ways. But all the same, you know?" Brent's forearms in striped pajama sleeves rest on the sheet.

Creaming her elbows, Gwen continues, "Sometimes I still wonder whether we shouldn't have stayed on in Memphis. Even after ..." Gwen's eyes and Brent's wheel toward the far wall, where in a cypress flame hangs a veiled photograph of their estranged daughter at her Austin Peay graduation.

Brent shrugs. "We'll never have that one scoped."

"It's only that ..."

Brent nods. "We've always dreamed of twilight years as a reward for our service, mine to retail shoes, yours to Drug War Mothers, all your tireless devotion and hindsight." Four eyes again wheel toward the far wall. Brent ahems. "What's done is done, though, and we mustn't let nostalgia overtake us. Might just as well mourn the Internet melt-down. I'll put a bug in Margiotta's ear. So be a good girl and tell me what today is."

Gwen slips in beside Brent. "This," she whispers, "is the first day of the rest of our lives." From the powder room trills a last Tyrolean woodnote. Silent ill their wide bed. hands clasped under the sheet, the Runkles take heart. Across the wheat shag carpet, the blond and pastel settee in its polyethylene slipcover, the quilted control panels, the vintage cell phone on its tasseled cushion, and across the Runkles, light increases by insensible degrees, relentlessly.

While Lillian Margiotta's ex whets a blade, swaddles it in the army blanket in the bed of his pickup, climbs in and backs across rosy puddles, two miles away Lillian wakes. After a pit stop during which she winds her silver and black pigtail into a bun and blackens her eyelids, she shuffles to her tiny kitchen, her smallest since her and Vince's first Lower East Side one in fifty-two, smaller even than the one she left Vince with three months ago.

Lillian's new trailer is in fact a miniature version of Vince's, and Lillian likes that fine. Less to sweep and dust. Furthermore, at seventy-two it seems right for each new home to be smaller than the one before, in an orderly progress to the smallest. Elbows on skank Formica. Lillian sips Medaglia d'Oro like absinthe and hears Vince's pickup grind around the corner to a stop.

Lillian likes Manatee, no reason leaving Vince should make her leave the village. She had her eye on this trailer from the first, and when its owner left to meet his maker. Lillian pounced. Back from the realtor with the contract inn her ostrich clutch, amethysts on to celebrate, Lillian called it quits with Vince and hasn't lost a wink of sleep over it since.

Rattle rattle at the door. I mean, this isn't some Brooklyn tenement like the one Vince grew up in before doorbells were invented, garbage in the street and laundry out back. wop undershirts. Cool his heels if he can't act civilized. Lillian opens the cub refrigerator. The doorbell's a small thing, you might say, except you spend decades trying with zero success to teach a man to use one-and a cabby if anybody should know how to summon someone correctly, and he call push elevator buttons, can't he?

Or these bread-and-butter pickles. Lillian lifts out the squat Vlasic jar and nudges the fridge door shut. She sets the jar on the table in front of her and tries the top. No dice. but Vince is not what's needed. He's no Joe Palooka anymore.

Lillian opens the table drawer and takes out an instrument designed for these eventualities. She grips the jar between her knees, attaches the Jar Jif, and breaks the seal with no sweat. Her mouth starts to water. She extends her tongue and lays one tart sweet wafer on it. Vince wants sours and so for fifty years Lillian has eaten bread-and-butters only at weddings and wakes. Now she can buy them for herself. Another small thing, but at seventy-two you don't hold your breath for biggies.

Rattle rattle. "It's me, Lil, open up in there. You still with us?"

"Hold your horses," shouts Lillian. Pickles capped and back in the fridge, she strolls to the front door.

After a moment Vince says, "I found your mower a blade." He bounces it on his palm.

"Okay." The sky seems huge, with the fresh Gulf breeze and the neighboring trailers set back from Lillian's. No planes, no boats, freeway barely audible. "Okay, thanks, Vince. I'd forgotten." Grass bends in waves from the lilac bougainvillea to the street. "You want a coffee?"

"Sure. Then I'll put the blade on, and the lawn should be dry enough for me to mow."

"So come in then. Don't bump your head. I'll make another pot."

"You don't have any more of those anise biscotti?" says Vince in the kitchen, legs stretched into the dining-living area. "You know, Lil, I was thinking. I low about if you came back on a trial basis. One day at a time, no big commitment. Know what?"

"What's that?"

"How's about you pack an overnight bag while I cut your grass. You won't regret it. I've even arranged a nice surprise for you today. Have a heart, Lil." Somewhere outside a dog arfs. The Margiottas sip from the everyday demitasses and regard each other. Vince clears his throat. "In all the years, Lil, I don't think I ever told you about the first picture I fell in love with. Who knows why she was on Aunt Cecilia's wall, but there she was, black eyes and eyebrows, in a white peignoir, wringing her hands, hair loose."

"Why'd you flip?"

"Search me. Aunt Cecilia's eyebrows were darker; thicker anyway, and her bosoms had more character whenever I got a glimpse."

"Maybe the hands?"

"Nahh. But did I ever tell you, Lil, when I first saw you at that dance I says, 'A tragedienne'? Because you had the same Duse eyes as that photo. Still have."

"Okay. Vinnie. You were the cat's meow too, but give us a break."

"Steady there. A girl of a certain age shouldn't turn up her nose at compliments." Vince tosses back the last of his coffee.

Lillian drains hers. "Burn in hell. Did you go for your dental check-up?"

"You yours?"

Lillian nods: run of the mill, no particular horrors this time.

"Same here," says Vince. "He hadn't heard we'd split. So is it a deal? I'll give you the keys to the pickup in case you change your mind. One day at a time. Say," he says; swinging open the little refrigerator door, "what kind of pickles are you stocking now?"

Lillian shakes her head. "I always coveted those in the supermarkets. I put up with what I thought were the facts of life, all those years."

"They're embalmed in sugar. You might as well eat candy."

"See? That's the point. If I preferred candy that's what I'd damn well be buying. These are our waning years. I've thought about it and I plan to enjoy some things. I hadn't realized how expensive they are though, pickles, for what they are."

"So pamper yourself, but there are bigger questions. Also, you pamper yourself too long you'll be dead."

Lillian shakes her head again. "So what if I'm dead. I will be, whatever."

Vince sighs. "Lil, the unexamined life is not worth living."

She snorts. "You're quoting again. Holy mother of god, it sounds stupid too. Manzoni, Shakespeare, I don't care who it was. Not worth living? Get outta here."

Vince changes tack. "Heard from either of our girls lately? Listen, scoot your tail back where it belongs, and neither of them will learn how their mother misplaced the meaning of the word 'helpmeet.'" He rises. "I'm taking care of the lawn now. But do yourself a favor, Lil. Today's auspicious. Come on back, you'll be sorry if you don't."

Lillian looks down at her naked hands on the Formica. "Sorry is my middle name."

In a journey that began the day before. Denise Passaro and Tink Quinn plunge through Carolina, Georgia, and northwest Florida, alternating at the wheel. For both young Baltimoreans this is easily the longest journey yet taken. They pass roadblocks and prowling marauders, untouched by peril and not even altogether aware of it, they have so much to thrash out themselves. After ten months in an east Baltimore walkup neither is at all sure whether the cohabitation will continue, or should, or what the other might think about the matter.

Denise's low brow and thick dark eyebrows come from her mother, who still scrapes by in a Baltimore confectionery selling junk text and tobacco to children. Denise's freckles and slight frame come from a father who surfaced to engender her before disappearing back into the underclass. Burly Tink's freckles come from his mother, and both his parents have long since vanished.

Tink is driving the last stint of today's leg, elbow out the open window. The orange coupe weaves through moderate traffic like a princess, wiggling her tailpipes at larger, darker sedans with smoked glass and satellite links, wolves cruising three miles under the limit except when they're in a hurry. Denise navigates, a map open on her lap. Humming along with the radio's drifting salsa, she waves to road gangs and the occasional hitchhiker. Denise is pleased with the Hawaiian Bermudas and shirts and the flip-flops she has bought Tink and herself for their midwinter whee in the Sunshine State. She found them and the sunscreen and the colored mirror shades, hers peacock, his bronze, in a Baltimore thrift store.

"Look there." Tink points with a pinky. The bridge seems to be crossing a salt marsh, with remains of an earlier parallel bridge visible above the water. On pilings perch dark fowl with hanging wings.

"Anhingas," says Denise. "What did we read, prehistoric, or they don't exactly fly?"

"Something like that, babe."

Bumpety bump bumpety bump over expansion joints and now a shush and splat between palms and motels. "Tink?" says Denise. "Are you glad Christmas is over? I am." She rubs a fingertip forward on the map. "I'm primed to get down to business. Even if some fun's in the cards too. I'm ready to rock and roll, and I don't see how this angle can lose. Dudes down here must like a fast buck, and we're talking serious venture capital."

"Serious as it gets."

"Right. I mean, venture capital's what keeps the whole enchilada afloat from here on."

"And above ground."

"Check. So, Tink, it looks to me like we've got it made in the shade. We have a package that what's-his-name looking for the fountain ..."


Denise nods. "He would have said forget the fountain. Who needs it if you can have untold wealth? If you've struck a gusher."

Tink steers thoughtfully. "But why give up youth if we're talking druthers? And let's don't forget love." Tink wiggles eyebrows.

"Okay," says Denise. "Well, is there a love fountain down here too, I hope?"

Tink grins. "Gusher."

Denise's eyes mist. "Maybe they're sentries, those anhingas, that let pass only the pure in heart." She peruses the map. "This exit."

Tink peels off onto the ramp. "Wait, is this what we've come to Florida's backside for? What's the place called again?"

"Manatee. Population thirty thousand. Trust me, Tink."


Excerpted from The Near Future by JOE ASHBY PORTER Copyright © 2006 by Joe Ashby Porter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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