A Shower in Winter

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Seven o’clock on a Thursday night.  Early.  A seemingly random time to take a shower, but I had drawn out dinner as long as I could with endless cups of coffee, and I wasn’t ready for the evening – meaning either gathering folks to head to the bar, or possibly studying something.  It was mid-winter, and the icy gray relentlessness had dug its claws deep into me.  I took showers at all kinds of haphazard times, when I needed to feel the profound warmth that only full immersion can bring.  Growing up, I relied on baths.  But there were no such things as bathtubs at college.  Nor were there children.  Nor dogs.  There were all kinds of things that you never saw; they simply disappeared from one’s landscape for years.

I had worked up a bountiful cloud of steam.  The shower’s intense heat within the cold of the marble bathroom cause the column of steam to shoot toward the ceiling in a swirling frenzy.  I closed my eyes and luxuriated in the feeling of my fingertips massaging the shampoo all through my scalp while the water fell on my abdomen and cascaded down my legs.  With my eyes still closed, I turned around, threw my head back and rinsed the shampoo from my hair, feeling the rivers of suds tumble down my back and pool around my feet.

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When my hair was fully rinsed, I opened my eyes.  A pair of dark brown eyes stared straight at me, framed by the fingertips of two hands.  The top of his head, encased in a ratty dark blue stocking cap, poked up from the back wall of the shower stall.  The eyes.  All I could see were the eyes.  I couldn’t figure out what in the world he was standing on, that he would be able to look over the top of the shower wall.  I couldn’t figure out what the hell he was doing, meaning, what, exactly, was his plan?

He vanished.

The silence was deadly.

I whipped around to face the other direction.  Part of his body was raised over the opposite shower wall.  He seemed to be hoisting himself.  He seemed to be trying to crawl over the top of the shower wall to get inside the stall with me.  It didn’t seem like a good idea to scream.  I knew there was no one else around.  I figured he was probably carrying – if not a gun, then certainly a knife.  From what I could see, he seemed huge.  Six feet three, maybe six-four. It just didn’t seem like a good idea to scream.

Intruder with Knife

In the few seconds I took to weigh my options, I saw him out of the corner of my eye.  That eye again.  One eye this time.  Looking at me.  Looking through the slight space between the shower door and the door frame.  The bulk of his body was directly behind the shower door.  I put the full force of my weight into it and pushed the shower door right into his face.  Right into his fucking face.  Fast thinker, he turned out to be.  He shoved the door back toward me, and he ran like hell out of the bathroom and down the five flights of stairs and out the freshman quadrangle gate and into the night.

I stood in the bathroom, with the shower still running, shivering head to toe.  My teeth chattered.  My body, bright pink from the scorching water, felt like it had no blood in it at all, as if the terror had leached it right out of my skin.  At some point I turned off the water but felt swallowed by the silence, terrified by the absence of the sound.  I turned the shower back on, focused hard on the sound of the stream so I could hold it inside of me, then turned the handle off again.

I wrapped myself in my towel and looked at my reflection in the mirror above the perfectly polished sinks.  I needed to see myself.  I needed to make sure that I was still there, still me.  Though I had seen the man with the huge, bloodshot brown eyes bolting down the stairs after he tore out of the bathroom, I couldn’t trust what I had seen.  I stayed in the bathroom for a long time, then tentatively, slowly, cracked the bathroom door open a bare sliver and looked around for any sign that he may still be close.

Nothing.  The polished marble of the common area on the fourth-floor landing, the old staircase, four closed doors.  Wait, not all of the doors were closed.  The door to my dorm room was ajar.

intruder

 

Squalor and Stairs

Soon to be immersed in the final editing of my fourth novel, The Rocky Orchard, I continue to work on a possible fifth, tentatively entitled The Reading.  Here is a recent snippet:

squalor

That school was trying to crush me.  Right from the very first day, that school wanted my soul.  My mom and I had checked the map the college had sent before we set out that morning.  We had marked the exact route and the exact place that the official literature had said was the closest place to park for my particular freshman dorm.  When we drove down the squalid city street, we pulled the car over to check the map again.  The juxtaposition of boarded-up buildings and heavily gated storefronts set against a backdrop of lush, towering elm trees fascinated me.  The way the sun glistened from a million shards of broken bottles that lay in clumps was beautiful enough that my road-trip woozy brain considered that they may have been placed intentionally.  But it did not seem like we could possibly be close to a university, let alone on the campus itself, as the map indicated.

It hadn’t registered that all of the freshmen were housed on a campus that stood separate from the rest of everything.  Meaning, along the edges of a monstrous quadrangle.  Meaning, a killingly long distance from the closest place that we could park.  My mom pulled up to the curb at the end of a long line of cars lit up with emergency flashers blinking in a dazzling display of orange.  Mom gave me a weak-but-brave-smile, and we opened the doors of her little red station wagon to a day that would go on record as one of the most wretchedly hot days I ever experienced.  Meltingly, inexcusably hot.  I thought this well before I learned that Wren Hall Room 545 was on the fourth floor, the fourth floor of a building that had no elevator.  And, there was a flight of stairs up to the “first” floor.  I was not even slightly charmed by the European sensibility, nor by the staircase that appeared to be genuine white marble, the edges of the steps rounded by the footfalls of generations.  I was incensed, indignant that such a thing as a fourth floor walk-up that was actually a fifth floor walk-up even existed, let alone that I was destined to spend a year planning my days around not returning to my dorm room more than absolutely necessary.

stairs

But first, my mom and I had to get the sundry possessions that filled the back of the station wagon up all of those stairs.

Thank heavens I was more or less of a minimalist.  I hadn’t brought all that much stuff.

Meaning, thanks heavens I was poor.

I said hi hi hi to all the kids and their family members who were lugging endless numbers of suitcases, quickly scanning the faces of my classmates for any hints of who they may be.  I noted as well the high-end stereo equipment and the boxes with the names of stores I had only read about in novels.  The families seemed impermeable to the heat. I surreptitiously checked their brows for beads of sweat.  I inhaled as they passed, trying to catch a whiff of rank, locker room worthy sweat.  My mother and I were dripping puddles well before we reached the top floor for the first time.

The stereo stuff, the store names, the careful way that the parents carried various lamps and desk accessories – it was all a clue.  But nothing so much as their shoes.  I looked at the shoes of my classmates’ parents as they made their way up and down the marble staircases with the lacquered ebony wood trim, and I knew for certain that I was the only person among this group who was at this school on scholarship.

At some point two young women came out of their first-floor room and introduced themselves as my resident advisors.  One was quite tall and willowy and the other relatively short and not-so-willowy;  they both had long, very blonde hair, oversized blue eyes, bland smiles, and eyebrows that were slightly raised in a perpetually expectant expression.  I disliked them immediately, and decided I wasn’t even going to bother to try to tell them apart.

My roommate Carrie popped out of her room at one point to introduce herself.  When my mom took a potty break, I popped into Carrie’s room to have a peak.  She had arrived before I did.  From the looks of it, Carrie seemed to have arrived weeks before, as her tiny bedroom already bore the look of having been lived in for a while.  She had covered her walls with posters of two things: big cats, as in lions and jaguars and cougars, and huge tomb rubbings of medieval knights.  The rest of the room was decorated in a mishmash of floral prints – lampshades, throw pillows, sheets and blankets all with different sizes and colors of flowers.  Carrie herself wore her clearly-wild hair parted with razor-like severity straight down the middle and braided in two tight braids.  She had an overbite and kind of bad acne and looked both bewildered and ironic all at once.  She wore a plaid cotton shirt, and a quick peek into her closet revealed a seemingly unlimited supply of plaid cotton shirts.  I liked her immediately.

dorm

Bran Muffin

I’ve signed the contract (!!!) for my fourth novel The Rocky Orchard.  While my editor works on it, I’ve continued to play around with the idea for novel #5.  Here is a new excerpt:

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“Seriously, you’re about the tenth person I’ve run into in the four blocks from the art building,” I said to Rob.

“Well, hello to you, too, Sunshine,” Rob said.  He shuffled his feet, just once, like he always did, then combed his fingers through his amazingly thick hair, like he always did.  It was that gesture – the fingers through the hair – that got me.  Every time.  It brought out something weird and maternal that I didn’t even know was there.  I just wanted to… I don’t know, hug him or adopt him or follow him around and make sure that nobody hurt him, ever.

“Seriously, I think I belong at a bigger school.  I think I yearn to be anonymous,” I said.

“I don’t think the coat is doing you any favors,” he said.  “Not if you want to be anonymous.”

“Oh my God.  Not with the coat again!  Haven’t you gotten enough mileage out of this coat?”

“I think the horse got enough mileage out of the blanket before they even made it into a coat,” he said.  “Really, I’m counting on an early spring.”

“It’s a good thing I’m not sensitive or fragile or anything cause this would be deeply wounding to me,” I said.

“Are you taking an art class, by the way?  I didn’t know you were taking an art class.”

“No, no art class.  The art school cafeteria has these amazing bran muffins.”  He stared blankly at me.  “They warm them up for you.”  I fought back a tear.  Crazy that I was so powerfully moved by the idea of someone warming a muffin for me.

muffin

“Bran muffins,” he said, deadpan, as if to indicate this was one of the most puzzling things he had ever heard.

“Don’t judge the muffin.  You can judge the coat, but you cannot judge the muffin,” I said.  There was another “me” that stood outside of myself.  I watched myself as I stood on that exact spot near the far corner of the freshman quad, under the eternally gray sky, wrapped in the coat that Rob loathed.  I found it amazing that I could appear so normal.  The whirl inside of me did not show.

“Promise me that you’ll give me the coat as soon as the weather warms.  I’m going to personally donate it to Salvation Army.  No way I can face the possibility of looking at that coat again next winter.”

Next winter.  It was when he said “next winter” that I knew.  Right then, I knew.

There would be no “next winter” for me.  I would not be coming back.

I thought of the painfully poignant play “A Memory of Two Mondays” where Arthur Miller tells the story of a young man who goes to work in an auto parts factory to save money for college.  The young man is passing through, working alongside an entire group of people who will remain.  He and another co-worker are charged with cleaning the filthy factory windows.  The passage of time is told by the light on the stage set, which gets incrementally brighter as more of the windows get cleaned. The light shines into the dismal scene. The young man’s mood, like mine, gets brighter and brighter as the light changes and he knows that the end of his time is near.  He also knows that those he leaves behind – the bitter, the resigned, the angry, the uncertain, and even the completely content – have a bond, a sense of community, that has never included him.

“See you at dinner?” Rob asked.

“See you at dinner,” I said.


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Bottom photo: from Chicago Critic, “A Memory of Two Mondays”

Goodbye, goodbye

As my editor works on my novel, The Rocky Orchard, I may have been struck with a possible idea for my next book…

newhaven

I hated that school.  That hated school in that dreadful town.  That dreadful town in the part of the world where winter was not even winter.  Not the light snowfalls that dusted each twig of each tree and lay spread out across the hills where I had grown up.  Where the tiny footprints of birds and chipmunks and squirrels left their perfect imprints across our yards.  In this feckless land, winter was nothing more than an endless gray sky that spit intervals of drizzle.  The drizzle froze on the ground, making the school an ugly and hazardous wasteland of ice.  A wasteland that tripped us and made us fall down and spit on us as we lay on the ground.

A year so bad that I passed the time mainly by drinking too much.  A year so bad that I got an ungodly amount of pleasure from barfing out the window of my fourth-floor dormitory room.  I didn’t plan this, and was likely too far gone in my misery to have thought of such a magnificent metaphor.  I had drunk most of a bottle of Southern Comfort and was, quite simply, too drunk to make it to the bathroom.  Being that drunk also meant, as it turned out, that I could not lean my head very far out of the beautiful Gothic window without losing my balance.  I held on to each side of the window frame to steady myself and leaned my chin on the sill.  Hence, the vomit cascaded down the entire length of the side wall, where the winter temperatures froze it in place.

ivy

And where it remained for a very long time.  A slight warming of the temperature, or a sleety mix, would cause sections of the whole to rain down, creeping its way through the brick and ivy as the mass oozed farther down the wall.  Sometimes, a larger chunk would break off all at once and hit the ground below.  I checked my vomit every day, as if it were a pet, as if it were something precious whose care was my honor and responsibility.  By early spring, the last vestiges of the only Southern Comfort I would ever drink were gone.

I wanted to leave so much that I had been counting down the days, making large X’s on an enormous wall calendar like a child marking the time until Christmas, or the end of a school year with a teacher whose dislike of teaching was only surpassed by their hated of children.

It was my last night on campus.  All I wanted to do was say goodbye.  Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.  It was time; it was finally time.  I had nothing left to do but take my victory lap around the campus and hug hug kiss kiss the assorted souls who had weathered the winter of my discontent along side of me.  I was gleeful.  I was drunk.  I was pressed for time.

I could not find my friend Patrick.  John hadn’t seen him.  Sandy hadn’t seen him.  Brent had seen him earlier, but…. Charlie said, yeah, he was just here. I’m pretty sure he’s in the bathroom.  As I mentioned, I was drunk.  And pressed for time.  I flung open the door to the men’s bathroom on the floor of his dormitory, and found Patrick unzipped and just beginning to eject an impressively forceful stream from what seemed to me, having little to no experience here, to also be an impressive distance from the target.

Patrick turned his head at the recognition of my voice, as I began the delivery of my goodbye message.  Then the overall nature of the situation seemed to occur to him, as he registered – in rapid succession – shock, surprise, perplexity, amusement, and all-out mirth, as evidenced by an open-mouthed belly laugh.  My own emotions, amazingly enough, ran much the same gamut, but in reverse, as Patrick had continued to pee an enormous, unwavering stream the entire time that I had been talking and he had been laughing.

I was amazed, and felt like it was one of the most interesting and significant and noteworthy things that had happened to me in that entire year.  I remarked on this to Patrick, who continued to both laugh AND PEE.  A small crowd had gathered in the men’s bathroom, as word passed about this event; so there was, in fact, a group of people watching me watching Patrick Killarney pee while I said my last goodbye.  He zipped up and we hugged and I practically skipped back to my room knowing I would leave this awful world behind me the next morning.

Girl-in-the-Men-s-Bathroom--88354

How was I to know that forty-five years later, Patrick Killarney would tell me that I had changed the course of his life.

 

 

Whip-poor-will

Here is a new section from my WIP novel tentatively titled, The Rocky Orchard.  Enjoy!

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I lie awake for a long time.  It is the first time I have ever slept in the big bed – my aunt’s bed.

We climbed the stairs hand in hand, after everyone left: Woo, and my parents, and the little cousins grown tall and round but no less like fairies than always.  We wanted this night, our first night as married lovers, all to ourselves.  I lie here like a child on Christmas Eve, wanting to fall asleep so the morning will come faster. And being completely unable to fall asleep because I am too excited.  I listen for your first light snores.  I listen for them every night, as you always fall asleep before I do. Even when you tell me in the morning that you tossed and turned for countless time before you could fall asleep, I know better. I hear the snores.  They thrill me.  They comfort me.  They make me feel like I am safe, like I am trusted.

You shift your head and nuzzle into your pillow.  You clear your throat.  One half of one snore escapes your mouth, and your eyes open wide as you say, “Oh my God, a whip-or-will!”

I laugh out loud.  You are a collector of bird songs.  I am used to this.  You stubbornly remain in bed each morning until you hear at least one good, clear unusual bird song.  Not “trash birds” as you so adorably refer to the rowdy collection of sparrows, starlings, wrens and even robins that inhabit western Pennsylvania.  Many a morning have I opened my eyes to you saying, “Not a damn thing but trash birds this morning.  I’m staying put until something better comes along.  Even a cardinal.  Might even settle for a mourning dove.”

“Did you hear it?” you ask me.  “I mean, it could be a mockingbird.  Could always be a mockingbird who’s imitating a whip-or-will, but I’m counting it as a whip-or-will.”

I laugh again and trace my finger down the center of your face.  A fire comes into your eye.  You reach your hand around the back of my head and you pull me to you.  We make love, again.  Not like the first time tonight, not while we were still at the stop of the stairs, tearing at each other’s clothes, dropping to our knees on the raw oak floor.

We take our time.  Even in the dark of the country night, we see one another.  Our bodies are not nearly as naked as we are, in so many ways, on the night of our wedding.

I am the luckiest person in the world.

 

Painting by Kazimir Malevich

 

Saint Peter

A new snippet from my novel The Rocky Orchard.  Enjoy!

Wyeth-5

My parents wanted to drag out the weekend as long as they possibly could.  We all did.  We’d sit around the supper table, everyone getting quieter and quieter.  The cicadas’ drone swelled and then fell as the sunlight faded.  The lights of fireflies appeared here and there, sporadic, few and far between.  We’d pack our stuff into the van, each of us knowing our tasks.  By the time we were ready to hit the road, we were immersed in that blacker-than-black of night in the woods. I feel it now. The end-of-the-weekend languor, the sadness at leaving.  It’s a confusing feeling, like I am partly gone from the place I’m still in.  One foot already out; one still in.”  I say to Lula, “By the way — what would you call this? A hill or a mountain?  This piece of geography that we’re on top of?”

“Oh dear, I’m not really sure I’m clear on the difference.  When does the one become the other?”

“Whichever it is, we’re pretty much at the very top, right?  Once you get out to the main road, it’s all downhill from there, in every direction.  You know what my father used to do?   We’d pack everything up and pile into the car, drive out to the paved road and stop at the very topmost part of the mountain. My father would put the car in neutral, and he’d see if he could coast the entire way down the hill or mountain or whatever it is, going faster and faster and faster, without once hitting the brakes.  Around all those curves and bends.  Sometimes in total darkness — you know there aren’t any streetlights out here.  Sometimes he’d turn the headlights off; he swore he could get a better look at the road without those pesky headlights.  My brother Woo and I would yell ‘Weeeeeeeee Weeeeeeeeee’ and we’d hold our feet up in the air—somehow that was part of the magic: our feet had to be held high up and never touch the floor of the car.  When we got to the bottom, we’d clap our hands and bounce up and down on the car seats and whoop it up like crazy.”

laurel mountain

Lula stares at me and says nothing.  I have learned that this always hides something deeper. “What?” I ask her.

Lula shifts uncomfortably in her chair.  “Was that fun, Mazie?”

“Well, sure.  I just said how my brother and I would be beside ourselves.”

Lula looks straight ahead again for a moment, then says, “I’d certainly be beside myself.  I’d be scared half to death.”

It’s my turn to look straight ahead.  “You’re a party pooper,” I say. “Ever heard that expression?  Know what it means?”

“Of course I know what it means,” Lula says.  “Even if I hadn’t heard it before, the expression is rather incontrovertibly self-evident.  Do you know what that means?  Incontrovertibly?”

“Why are you getting so cranky about this?  I thought I was telling you about a fun adventure we had, and next thing I know you’ve gone all Smokey the Bear serious.”

We are both silent for a long while, which makes me feel sad and helpless.  But I’m also annoyed.  Angry, even.  Unreasonably so.  My own sign that something lurks beneath my surface.  “Did that honestly sound scary to you?”

“Yes,” Lula says simply.

Again, we sit in silence.

“My father drank a lot.”

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“Yes, I remember you mentioned.”

 

I swallow hard.  “He started at eleven.  Drinking, I mean.  He checked his watch.”

Lula says nothing.

“As if checking his watch and waiting til 11:00 made it better somehow.”

Lula swishes a fly from her face.  I squish a mosquito on my thigh.  He makes an ungoldly mess of bug splash and smears of my blood.  I lick my thumb and rub at the spot. “It seemed like we passed so many car accidents when we drove home. Flashing lights and total chaos.  People wandering through scenes of crushed vehicles and strewn wreckage.  Every once in a while, we’d catch sight of someone lying on the ground.  We’d all look as we drove by, and all four of us would give our assessment of whether we thought anyone had died.  Sometimes, we were in complete agreement.  It was easy to see that someone had.  Inside of myself, I knew that could be us.  My family.  It could so easily have been us. I wondered which of us might live.  Which of us would die.

A loud sigh escapes from me, unforeseen. My hands seem to be trembling.  “We were in an accident, actually.  My father lost control of the car somehow, and we careened all over the road before the car came to a stop.  My mother broke her collar bone.  The skin on my knee was completely scraped off, but I was fine otherwise.  My father didn’t have a scratch on him.  Woo, in the back seat with me, hit his head and lost consciousness, I guess.  When the first passerby stopped, he looked in and saw Woo on the floor of the car.  Woo woke up and saw the man looking down on him and said, “Are you St. Peter?”  My family laughed about that for years.  Like it was the funniest thing in the world.  “Are you St. Peter?”

coaster

Top artwork: Andrew Wyeth

2nd photo: Laurel Mountain, Pennsylvania

Wedding Day

Bride-field-flowers

I always wanted to get married at the farm. From the very first summer after we bought it. When the wildflowers and the mountain laurels burst out that first spring, and the ferns came out of nowhere with their fragile, curled fiddleheads pushing through the still-cold ground and towering toward the sky.  This is the place, I thought, where I want to join another person’s life.  I will gather an armful of wildflowers as I walk to meet my future husband.  The orange of lilies, the creamy white of Queen Anne’s lace, the vibrant gold of black-eyed Susans, the lavender of wild Phlox.  Maybe I will weave a crown of flowers to wear around my head as well.

I will to stand at the “crossroads” of the farm for the ceremony —  the patch of sloping lawn between the front and the side of the house,  the small patch of grass that links the orchard, the meadow, and the path that leads to the copse of old pines. And beyond the pines, the wide lawn that leads to the creek.  The ramshackle springhouse stands at the lowest point of this patch, built over the natural spring that feeds our pond.  Ungodly amounts of intestine-like tubes of tadpole eggs appear each spring, another astounding harbinger of life.  Of rebirth.

The crossroads-lawn is a mere few steps from the house, so I can be barefoot.  I will feel the grass underneath my feet, the blades that I will tamp down with the soles of my feet; but they will stand again.  They will feel the sun’s rays, and they will grow.  I want to be in touch with the ground, with the earth, when I marry.  I want to be tied to the world, to connect with the nature of the things – with my feet touching the grass that is rooted in the dirt that is the top layer of the earth that is part of a universe.

And now here it is, it’s today, it’s today.  I am getting married.  It’s my wedding day.  I will marry Eddie, my Eddie.

I look at myself one final time in the little mirror on the kitchen wall.  I grab the orange and white and purple and yellow bouquet of flowers that Eddie picked first thing this morning.  He surprised me, tickling me with the tallest flowers while I still slept, then handing me a cup of coffee in my favorite crazy, chipped mug.  I ran to the kitchen and put the wildflowers in an old mason jar filled with water and ice to keep them fresh.

bouquet

I look down at my bare toes.  This is so much like I always pictured it.  How did I get this lucky?  How did I  find a man to love, to love me back. A man who not only fell in love with me, but with my childhood wish to be married at my family’s farm?  Who got a tear in his eye when I told it to him, who kissed my hand and said: how could I not want to honor this dream of yours?

Eddie, my Eddie.  I step across the threshold between the kitchen and the porch, and I get my first glimpse of you.  Our families are scattered about the lawn.  I hear low voices, laughter.  Your brother clears his throat and coughs into his hand.  My brother pats him on the back.

As if you can sense my presence, you turn your head.  You see me.

I will step off the porch and I will feel the grass underneath my feet and I will say the  words and you will say the words and our eyes will stay locked to one another’s and we will be a woman and a man who are united.  With our families and the universe watching, we will be united.

I take a deep breath.  One last look the scene before I am in the middle of it.  Woo picks up his violin and starts to play.  It’s time.

I swear I see movement at the edge of the orchard.  Moving away from the gathering. Like someone was here and decided to leave, but who in the world would do that? No one; that’s who.  I must be more of an anxious bride than I thought.  The old scaredy-cat me rearing her ugly little head.  Wait, is that fringe I’m seeing?  Long fringe, like from a jacket, fluttering every which way?  I know that fringe.

But Woo is playing.  And I am imaging things.  It’s time.

Bride-3

Each of these excerpts from my novel The Rocky Orchard is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and “reality” can be indistinguishable. It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an aperitif to whet your appetite for more.

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Fates

Each of these excerpts from my novel The Rocky Orchard is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and reality can be indistinguishable; both first- and third-person narration are used to underscore these themes.  It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an aperitif to whet your appetite for more.

threegirls-1

Three little girls.  After my aunt lost all those babies – fifteen, I was told — she had three in a row, bang bang bang, all girls.  First a blonde with piercing grey eyes and an old-soul seriousness.  Once I got over my initial inexperience with babies in general, and my cousin in particular, I thought she was fascinating.  Next came a dark brunette, with huge brown eyes and round red cheeks who grinned ear-to-ear at everything.  Another blonde arrived third, but not the white blonde of her oldest sister.  This one’s hair looked as if it had been painted by hand, the streaks of varying yellow tones perfectly drawn.  She sucked her middle two fingers, not her thumb, which I thought was the most adorable, heart-melting, and wildly exotic thing imaginable.  I watched her in her highchair, the sun doing magic with her the bands of color in her hair, sucking her tiny fingers in between bites of food.

They were like fairies to me.  Perfect little creatures from some other world where they had their own secret language and habits and riddles.

On one of their visits to our old farm, when they were around 7, 8 and 9 years old, the cloudless summer sky suddenly changed hue to a slight gray.  In less than an hour, the sky was a solid ceiling of deep steel. You could not see individual clouds, but rather feel that the sky had moved closer to the earth, and was threatening to cause menace.

Was that a flash, a suggestion of light through the thick wall of clouds?

The faint rumble a number of seconds later affirmed that it was.

My little cousins had never seen a thunderstorm.  There was no such thing where they came from.  And though they had heard about the storms, and read about them in books, they could no more imagine the reality than I could understand their secret language.

After the first, faint rumble, my aunt gathered her daughters.  They stood on the porch of our farm, waiting.  The first few raindrops plopped, slowly enough that you could hear each one hit the leaf, or branch, or patch of ground where it landed.  The rain turned into a gentle, steady shower and a more distinct flash of light lit the cloud cover.  I don’t know which of the little cousins let out the first scream when the thunder came, but they all followed suit.  The shower became a downpour, a rain unlike any they had seen.  The girls grabbed one another’s hands and stood in a tight circle.

3girls

A bolt of lightning shot through the air at the edge of the orchard, not fifty yards from where we all stood, so close that we heard the sizzle as the massive electricity seared through the air.  The quick-following clap of the thunder was deafening, but not so loud that it drowned out the little girls.  They screamed and laughed and clutched tight to each other’s hands and danced  and jumped and screamed some more.

The next lightning bolt came right on the heels of the last, and was even closer.  We saw it stab into a high branch on one of the tallest trees at the orchard’s edge.  The branch crashed to the ground, the sound completely obliterated by the roar of the thunder.  The porch shook beneath our feet.  I had never felt the ground beneath my feet move before, and I could not understand how this could happen.  But my cousins had grown up where there are earthquakes, and did not bat an eye.

It was a day of magic.  Of the once-solid earth moving beneath me, of electric bolts lighting up the sky.  Of the air around us dividing in two and crashing back together in a earsplitting roar.  The little cousins. The Weird Sisters.  The Three Fates.

The kind of magic that is always here.  At the old farm.

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lightning

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Doorbell

For those of you who are following the blogs postings of my fourth novel, The Rocky Orchard, each one is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and reality can be indistinguishable; both first- and third-person narration are used to underscore these themes.  It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an appetizer to whet your appetite for more.

 

My brother looks at the floor when he has to walk past me so he won’t have to make eye contact.  I don’t need to see his eyes to feel the fire that is there, the disappointment, the stony disapproval.  He is furious.  At me.  Doug is, too; but at least Doug will look me in the eye once in a while. I see weary pity for me.

My brother chose sides, and he didn’t choose mine.

I was born with my eyes locked onto my big brother.  I followed him around and watched everything he did and wanted to do all those things myself.  And now, it’s like I am forced to watch as he gets into a car, locks the doors, and keeps driving farther and farther away while I just stand here.

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Of course our after-school foursome broke up.  I am home by myself today, just like I am every day while my mother picks up my brother from his after-school stuff.  The doorbell rings.  The doorbell rings at 2:30 on a weekday afternoon, and I am sure to the marrow of my bones that it’s Tim.  I’m sure because Tim always hits the doorbell button twice in a row, with no pause in between, so the bell dingdongdingdongs in a manic blur.

My heart pounds. I have a hard time swallowing the lump that’s blocking my throat.  I’m terrified  to turn my head toward our front door, to see if Tim has already seen me, if I’m directly in his line of vision as he stands at our front door, and I sit on the couch in our living room, having thought that I was safe, safe in my own house on a random afternoon.

I stare at the living room curtains, floor-length, heavy old drapes that I picture wrapping myself within, smelling their pleasant smell that enfolds all the smells of our family’s cooking, pets, fireplace, fresh laundry, dirty socks.  If only I can get to the drapes without Tim seeing me.  I can envelop myself, clutch them in my hands, breathe them so deeply into my nostrils that—

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The doorbell rings again, two more times.

Tim’s face is pressed against the small glass pane of our front door.  He’s staring directly at me. He has that wry half-smile that used to stop me in my tracks and melt me into a heap. My legs shake when I stand.  I run my hands along my jeans as if I were smoothing a skirt, which is completely inane.  I clear my throat but have no confidence that I’ll be able to utter sound, form words, talk when I need to.

My hand grabs the ancient glass doorknob on the inside of the front door.  I don’t turn it right away, as if I still believe I can prevent this whole scene from going any further.  But the door is open, and Tim says, “Hey, I thought I’d hang out with your brother.”

I nod.  I feel like a complete idiot for being so scared.  But just for a split second, because I realize that Tim knows my brother isn’t home.  He knows he stays late after school.  He knows that my mother goes to pick him up because there aren’t any buses.

He knew that I would be alone.

He meant for this to happen.

teen.boy

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Prologue

The “one paragraph” from my previous blog was a big hit with readers.  I hope you enjoy this brief passage which I expect will be the Prologue of The Rocky Orchard.

older-woman-bedI’m ready, Lula thought.  She looked down at her hands, resting on top of the thick blanket.  They no longer looked like hands to her. In the craggy blue veins she saw the branches of ancient, sturdy trees lifting to the sky.  She saw their deep, formidable roots, reaching down, down into the earth.  She saw water flowing through creeks, and streams, and rivers.

I am ready to go.  There is one more thing I must do.  Mazie will come to visit.  She will sit next to me on this bed.  I will touch her hand.   I will tell her that I dreamed of her.  She will be frightened, but she will always remember.  She will remember the feeling, the peacefulness, the comfort. Far from here, she will meet another old woman with my same name.  She needs to trust Lula.  If Mazie is to have a life, she needs to trust her.

hands

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