I have been struggling over a chapter for my novel-in-progress for, oh, longer than I care to admit; but let’s say a good couple of weeks. I’ve written a beginning, tweaked it, added to it, thrown it out entirely, written a new beginning, etc. Par for the course (and falling squarely into the “torture” part of writing that I – ahem – have mentioned a few times.) This is NOT a case of the overall creative picture going in and out of focus, as I have cited. I have a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished in this chapter, and how. So this seems more of a case of…the actual details going in and out of focus, perhaps. In fact, I’m not entirely sure. A writing Instructor/book/guru would say: if you have a solid understanding of you characters, and of what needs to happen, the chapter will write itself (brief pause while we all guffaw in agony). In the hopes that it will help, I am posting two alternate chapter beginnings. ANY and ALL comments and feedback welcome.
“First thing through the door, she thinks, “Holy shit.” This phrase passes through her head several more times.
She does a brief scan of the room. The aunt. The uncle. The cousins. A hospital room, a decent one: big, pastel-y. At least so far as you can tell with the black-out shades drawn and the lights mostly off. Billie is darting around, picking up everything in the room, smoothing it out, elaborately folding it, smoothing it out again, stacking the folded garments into piles, re-organizing the piles.
Sierra sits cross-legged in one corner of the bed, talking on the phone, looking even younger and smaller than usual. She stares up at Madeline, , expressionless, motioning her to come closer for a hug. At Sierra’s knee, awake in that newborn state of wide-eyed, alert, perfect calm, is the baby. The Baby. THE BABY. “
“I never did this, Maddie, not with any of my four,” Billie said. “Maybe you can help her out.” And then she added, “I’d sure appreciate it.”
The new mother’s mouth fell slightly open as she looked up at Maddie with saucer, impossibly blue eyes, set in purplish circles of sleep deprivation against the smudged charcoal remains of days-old eye liner.
“Um, you have to…kind of…give it to him from above. Get it into his mouth from…above.” Knowing that her words were meaningless, Maddie made emphatic hand motions of thrusting some imaginary object from a higher to a lower point in the middle of the air of the hospital room, as if this would explain everything. She looked over at Billie. A vein stood out on the side of Billie’s neck.
Sierra’s mouth opened a hair wider, a combination of determination and bewilderment that stabbed at Maddie’s heart.
Sierra grabbed her breast and bobbled it at the teeny newborn’s head as if it were a water balloon she was hoping get through the eye of a needle.
“I think your nipple needs to be harder, for him to be able to latch on.” Pause. “I think you need to…sort of…pinch your nipple…a little.” Maddie made exaggerated pincers of her thumb and fingers.
There was a distinct gap between anything that anyone said and Sierra’s response. It was as if someone hit the pause button for a split second – the split second it took anything to penetrate the layers of Vicodin for the pain of her vaginal tear, her exhaustion, bewilderment, the effort of trying like to hell to soldier through. The pause, during which her face remained entirely blank, was then followed by a perfectly normal reply. Laughter at a funny remark. A nose wrinkle for something gross. After the pause, she was in every way herself; but the pause/respond motif pervaded the roomful of visitors with a bizarre combination of both calm, and apprehension.
It was awkward to squirm the newborn around into the crook of her elbow with one arm while placing her fingers on the outermost edge of her nipple, all the while trying to figure out how to “give it to him from above,” like Maddie had said. “Like this?” she asked.
“Um, I’m not sure if he’s in a good position. I think his head may be a little bit too far away. From the breast. Your boob.”
Sierra looked from her baby boy’s head, to the breast that lay in her hand, to Maddie, and her mouth again fell open. She was exhausted, and not understanding, and trying so hard, and wanting to try even harder, and wanting to give up.
Maddie looked around the room, said to Sierra, “Would it help…do you want me to get on the bed with you?”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah,” she said. “Yes.”
“Yeah, you go head, Mad.” Billie waved Maddie towards the bed, her fists clenching and re-clenching as she spoke.