OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY!!! I have decided (thanks to the quiet suggestion of a friend) to return to writing my previously-abandoned novel Pushing the River. I re-read the 150 completed pages. I liked it. I want to finish it. Here, then is a fresh, new excerpt!!
For much of that fall, Madeline’s communications with Kate were limited to between three- and five-minute phone calls while Kate waited for the bus. Madeline would answer the phone with an exaggerated “Kate-eeeeeeeeeeeeee” and wait for Kate’s echoing “Mom-eeeeeeeeeee.” A rat-a-tat of rapid-fire bullet point life factoids would invariably be abruptly halted by a loud WHOOOOSSSHHHH that announced the bus’s arrival. Kate would attempt to shout something along the lines of “I gotta go!! Love you….” which trailed into an abrupt click. Not a lot of free time in the second year of medical school.
Kate was a self-described Christmas Elf. She loved the season – everything about it – and drank it all in with tremendous delight.
On the first morning Kate was home for her Christmas break, Madeline sat bolt upright and fully awake — as she did every morning — just before 7 am and tiptoed down to the kitchen. As she calculated how much coffee to make for Marie (who wouldn’t drink it) and herself and Kate, she was surprised to hear Kate cough from the back sun room.
She poked her head around the corner and said, “What are your doing up?”
“I always get up early. You know that,” Kate responded.
“Yeah, but I mean, what are you doing? You look like you’re doing something back there.”
“I’m making some flash cards.”
“Flash cards? For what? And by the way, how long have you been up? Without coffee, is my point.”
“Since six. I figured I’d get up every morning at six and chip away at this. Didn’t want to take the time to make coffee. I knew you’d get up and make it right around now. And see? I’ve already gotten an hour of work done.”
“You always were an odd child.”
“Flash cards for what, her mother asked, knowing she may well be sorry,” Madeline said.
“For the medical boards. You know. The Boards.”
“Just how many cards are in that box, anyway?”
“A thousand,” Kate said.
“A thousand. One thousand. Are you actually planning to make a thousand flash cards?”
“I have another box.”
“If you were a different person that would be a really good joke.”
“Don’t you remember when I was an undergrad, and I used to study in the med library? Don’t you remember me describing to you when those med students were studying for their Boards? Jesus, that was terrifying! It scared the shit out me! I was trying to mind my own business and study, when all around me people were completely losing their shit, a little bit more, and a little bit more, every day. I remember this one guy just wandering around, shaking all over, just wandering. This other guy kept muttering to himself and twisting strands of his hair. And then chuckling! It was seriously like being in a zombie apocalypse.”
“So, the flash cards ward off the zombie-ism? Is that a word? Zombie-ism?”
“I’m hoping. I figured I’d get a jump on this over the holiday break.”
“Geez. Fun times. Ho Ho Ho.”
“Besides, it gives me something to focus on, apart from the shit storm that’s going on right in my own living room,” Kate said as she snapped a blank card out of the box.
“Now now, you just got home last night. Don’t you think you might want to wait a little while, give yourself some time to experience the shit storm for yourself before you start getting all despondent?”
“Nope. Don’t you think I’ve been listening to you all fall? I think I’ve heard enough.”
“Well, you gotta admit: there was quite a kerfuffle of bus noise and generally high level of haste,” Madeline said.
“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Didn’t some old guy from your generation say that?”
“Yeah. Some old guy did.” Madeline continued. “A thousand note cards. You know what that reminds me of?”
“Hmmm,” Said Kate, absent-mindedly.
“The thousand paper cranes,” Madeline said. When Kate was in her second year of college, she had gotten very ill. She left a quickly-scribbled post-it note on her dorm room door, announcing that she had left school, and went home. It was serious, and Kate believed – with good reason – that she may die.
When she and Madeline made a trip to Kate’s dorm room to gather some things, they walked in to the dazzling sight of one thousand origami paper cranes. Some had been hung together in long vertical strings suspended from the ceiling, while others were strung in banners, wing-to-wing, and hung from wall to wall. The sight was breathtaking, and magical.
The students on Kate’s floor of the dorm had gotten together, night after night, to fold cranes. When the number reached one thousand, they filled Kate’s room with their gift that, according to Japanese legend, would bestow great health and long life to the recipient.
“They’re still in the basement, aren’t they?” Madeline asked. “Do you think they can work a second time?”
“Mom,” Kate said, with great gentleness, “this is way beyond paper cranes.”