In my pursuit to escape the ever-present hounding perfectionism, I have decided to post the first chapter of my NaNo Novel. Have a read. I’m going to sit over here and cover my eyes.
NaNo Novel- Take One
The sky grumbled about the weight of the clouds. She lifted her head to look for rain but only saw leaves shiver in fear. A wind caught her patchwork skirt and she grabbed the fabric with a fist. It was long enough to leave only her toes peeking out. She tugged down the elastic waist until not even they showed. No one needed to see that ugly. Her heels slipped through the sharp grass and sank into the soggy black dirt beneath her. As she pulled her feet loose, she looked at the gravestone beside her.
Erma Garrish. Born 1887. Died 1921.
Her heels sank deeper into the black dirt once tossed on Erma. Black dirt that worked its way through the wood and flesh and bones. She could feel Erma’s pull on her heels and stepped off the edge of the grave.
The mourners bowed their heads in a synchronized beat. She folded her hands in front of her and watched to see what she’d missed. The preacher began the prayer in a chant. Like 13 years olds reciting the pledge of allegiance.
And today, we stand before to honor the life of this brave man, now in your caring arms.
He used the same prayer last year.
She watched the backs of the crowd for signs that someone else had noticed. They’re heads remained bowed. It was the same crowd every year, minus the cranky Aunt Ira. She passed away last spring. Her obituary was in the paper. The rest of his family were in attendance and silent. She wondered if they were listening, or if time makes words trivial and only ritual provides consolation to grief.
Thunder cracked above them and unleashed the rain that crashed onto the mourners in a wash. Instinctually, they looked up, then to each other. In unison with another clap of thunder, the preacher shouted,
Dismissed from the ritual, people in blue suits and country dresses dashed for the cars as the pulled pretty cardigans over their heads. Men clomped through puddles to open doors so screaming children could dive into backseats. Away from the rain and the ritual.
Only Mrs. Martin remained by the grave. She opened the black umbrella over her head as if strolling through the summer sun. After a curt nod farewell to the preacher, she was alone by the grave. Perfect grass grew around the gravestone. It had been polished recently and beads of water ran down the rusty stone before dipping into the carved letters. Mrs. Martin stared at the stone with her head bowed to hide her tears.
Except that when she raised her head to look around at the emptied cemetery, there were no tears. As her eyes met Itsy’s, the usually soft blue eyes turned gray, the color of steel.
Itsy pressed her lips together and nodded.
Mrs. Martin turned to hide herself behind the umbrella.
Itsy looked at the bouquets of flowers cradled in her arm and then at the grave already dripping with flowers flattening in the downpour. She pulled her heels from the soggy dirt and turned for her car parked on the edge of the cemetery. She tried to run but the water in her shoes made her feet slosh against the hard leather and shook her already fragile balance. Her skirt grew heavy and wrapped between her legs. She tried to pull it loose as she passed a car full of children with their foreheads pressed against the steamed glass. The patchwork stuck to her skin and exposed her legs. She gave it one last tug and walked passed the car before they noticed her leg. Kids were always the first to notice.
Careful. You’re squashing the flowers.
So. Doesn’t matter anyway. You didn’t even put them on the grave.
Doesn’t matter except that flowers cost a fortune.
Then you shouldn’t have bought them. I don’t know why you go every year anyway. They don’t even want you there. Especially fat ol’ Miss Martin.
It’s Mrs. Martin, and she’s not fat.
Mrs. Martin. Mrs. Martin. Fat ol’ Mrs. Martin.
Knock it off.
Fat ol’ Mrs. Martin does a lot of farting. She’ll let one rip, then punch your lip. She’s fat, ol’ mean Mrs. Martin.
She is mean. If eyes shot daggers…
I’d be dead. Come up with something new.
It’s not my fault she hates you.
She doesn’t hate me and stop sitting on the flowers. Put them on your lap.
Stupid waste of money.
It’s my money to waste.
That’s what you always say. Can’t even buy me a Pretty Princess Makeup set that cost three dollars, but you can buy flowers for a dead guy and not even leave them on the grave.
You don’t need a Pretty Princess Makeup Kit. You’re not old enough to wear makeup.
Am too. And it wasn’t just the makeup. You say no to anything I want, like the rhinestone sunglasses from the dollar store. You always say, We don’t have the money. Or a candy bar at the grocery store. We’re broke. Anything I want, you say, No. It’ss my money. But flowers for a dead guy. That’s important. How much did they cost?
None of your business.
One day I’ll make my own money and buy everything. I’ll have jewels and a whole room of make up.
You go ahead and do that.
And I won’t go to funerals where no one wants me.
It wasn’t a funeral. It was a memorial service.
What’s the difference?
Funerals are when a person dies. Memorial services are for after a person dies. He died twenty years ago, so it’s a memorial service. Just like last year.
They didn’t want you there last year either. I don’t know why you go.
Because it’s the polite thing to do.
I don’t see how it’s polite when you aren’t wanted. You always say it’s not polite to butt into your solitaire game either.
Because solitaire is meant to be paid alone.
Exactly. So I’m polite and leave you alone because you don’t want me to play.
If you were polite, you would not go to the funeral because fat, ol’ Miss Martin doesn’t want you there. And then, yououldn’t have to spend a thousand dollars on stupid flowers.
Memorial service. Mrs. Martin. And I didn’t spend a thousand dollars. It was only twenty five.
Twenty five dollars?! And you can’t buy me a pair of sunglasses from the dollar store! That sucks.
Watch your language and put the flowers on the dashboard.
Because they’re worth twenty five dollars. And you were going to leave them on a dead man’s grave? Why didn’t you?
It was raining and I wanted to get to the car.
That doesn’t make sense.
It doesn’t have to make sense to a kid. No one said that you need to understand anything.
No one said that adults should lie to kids either. I bet mean ol’ Mrs. Martin yelled at you. Told you to go away and leave her alone. That she doesn’t want you there. So you ran away crying.
That didn’t happen at all. Why would she do something like that?
Because she knows.
That you killed him.
The Rambler squealed as the pulled down the driveway darkened by the rain. She beside the two story house with red shutters and parked in a murky puddle that reflected the street lamp. The car squeaked and thumped as she pulled to a stop. With the car in idle, she listened to the noises and decided that the belt was loose again and cursed it. Through the rain frosting her windows, she peered through the darkness at the forest beyond light. The leaves glistened silver with rain as they clung to the ship, tiny sailors trying to stay on board while the winds tried to snatch their lives. Branches rocked in the wind as if they could escape, rowing to safer waters. Lean to the left. Lean to the right. Pull. Pull. Pull.
She wanted to scream, “Stop.”
The street light played the lighthouse, flickering an undecipherable message to the leaves. She leaned on the steering wheel and tried to find the SOS pattern for until it went dim and she held her breath. Shadows veiled the trees. She clutched the keys still dangling in the ignition, waiting for reprieve. Leave the light on, she yelled every time she left the house. She knew the day was coming when it would fizzle for good and kicked herself for not calling an electrician sooner. The keys dug into her palm and she closed her eyes and counted.
She peeked through one eye. Still dark.
She turned on the radio and tapped the beat with her good leg. She slipped off her shoes and the heater warmed her feet. The music made good company.
She decided to wait through one more song to avoid the puddle outside her door. Just a few more minutes. The worn, wooden steps to the porch were slick with rain. Yellow eyes stared at her from beneath where the feral black cat had been raising her kittens. She hissed whenever someone walked by and had taken to swiping at their feet. The porch door slammed open until the wind whipped it closed.
She decided to wait in the blowing heat of the car with rock music and the thump of the belt because she didn’t want to go inside. The kitchen was dark except for one stripe of light on the ceiling, trailing from the well lit dining room. The lights spilled out of the windows onto the peony bushes dancing in the wind beneath the windows. Their heads were old and most would be snapped off in the storm, leaving nothing but stumps. Her family heritage transplanted for decades by her ancestors until finding a home.
Nan’s was sitting in her rocker, just above the window. The shadow of her slow rock and hunched shoulders played on the ground. It was nice in the car. Besides, the light was out.
So she stayed a few more minutes until the light came on with a sputter. She turned her eyes to the sky and said thanks. Not really to God. She wasn’t sure he was there, but it felt appropriate to thank someone. Then, she turned off the car and pulled her coat over her head. The puddle stood ankle deep, burying her feet in muck and she slammed the door twice until it latched. With her chin tucked against her chest, she made her way to the stairs and gripped the railing. Her feet slipped with each step, both from the rain and the mud dripping from her feet. She rested her good foot on a step, then, with a firm grip on the railing, pulled her other leg up. She took each step this way, first the good foot, then the bad. The black cat beneath the stares glared but allowed her to pass with pity. Once on the landing, she let herself in and pulled the screen door shut behind her. With storm closed out by the door she sat on the bench and caught her breath.
The vocal harmonizing of doo-wop greeted her. Four part harmony of heartbreak and it’s calculated accuracy made the shadows darker.
I was starting to worry about you out there. How were the roads?
Not too bad. Just hard to see with those windshield wipers. I think the belt is loose again.
Is it making that chunk-a-chunk noise again? Maybe you should take it to a mechanic this time.
It’s just the belt. I’ll look at it tomorrow.
At least your Gramps did one good thing for you. Taught you how to fix a car. Too bad he didn’t teach you electrical stuff. The lights going out.
It’s just flickering in the storm.
It was flickering last week. Probably get someone out here to look at it. Left dinner on the counter for you. Just heat it up in the microwave and you’re good to go. Might want more salt. You know how bland everything always is.
I don’t mind.
Are you going into town tomorrow?
I wasn’t planning on it. Thought I’d catch up on laundry and now I have to fix the car too. Why?
Just wondering. You know, tomorrow’s Saturday. You should go into town and have a good time. That’s what girls your age are supposed to do. Stop down at the Lantern and have a few beers and laughs.
I don’t like the Lantern. It’s too smoky.
Not since they passed the smoking ban. Everyone goes outside. You should go. Maybe you’d have a good time. Meet a boy or something. Come on, just think about it.
No you won’t. I don’t understand you. When I was your age, I went out with my friends every weekend. It was the only thing to look forward too. Usually the Lantern, but sometimes, we’d head into the city and tear it up. Sometimes, I would think about staying. Just one day, not come back from the city and make a new life.
Why didn’t you?
I don’t know. For some reason, I always came back. The Lantern isn’t so bad. Not as much fun as the city, all dressed up like we were important. Like the girls we saw in the magazines from Hollywood. But we had some good times at the Lantern too. That’s where I met your dad. On his twenty-first birthday.
And you lived happily every after.
Don’t be a smart ass. That’s not what I’m saying. It’s just not healthy for you to be cooped up in this house all the time. Life is for living. Just think about it.
Okay, I will think about it.
And if you go, you should bring back a pint of vodka. I’m almost out.
Mom walked away pulling her too small tee-shirt over her exposed waist. She tipped her cup back and took a swig before disappearing through the doorway with a wave in her walk. The kitchen smelled like wet paper despite the scent of booze her mother left behind. She wiped her feet off with an old rag and tossed it in a heap behind the door. She didn’t turn the lights on. Slinking through the dark was a family trait. Doo-wop love songs played on the static radio in another room. On the counter was her dinner, still warm and steaming the saran wrap covering it. She pulled the sticky film off. The burnt ends of meatloaf were an island in the middle of a stream of runny mashed potatoes. The green beans held their own in a pile on the edge. She slid the plate into the microwave and punched the buttons. Thunder lit the wall paper, white with green flowers. The light bounced off the knives hanging above the stove. The cabinets, original to the house, looked more beat up in the shadows than in the light of the sun. Everything was original, from the old gas stove towering in the middle of the kitchen, to the cabinet knobs stained by years of being yanked and slammed. The refrigerator hardly chilled a bottle water much less keeping meat frozen. Through the winter, she kept coolers on the porch. Nan’s fought against the microwave for years, until relenting when one mysteriously arrived at their door. She never rejected anything free. Except for the microwave, the kitchen remained an antiquities relic of another time.
A stack of dishes waited and she dropped them in the sink. She drizzled Palm-olive over them and turned on the water. Outside, Nan’s peonies bobbed like refugees on a raft, holding onto any footing they could manage. The steaming water fogged the window, giving her privilege to ignore their plight.
One corner remained clear of steam and she caught the reflection of a stranger. Sharp cheek bones. Sagging eyes. She traced the nose with a soapy finger before pressing her hand against the image and smearing it away.
A smooth voice broke onto the radio.
And now, the vocal styling of the Hilltoppers with “Trying’.
She leaned against the sink and wished Nan’s would give into a dishwasher.
I’m trying to forget you. But try as I may, you’re still my every thought, dear, every day.
The mourning filled the kitchen in a waltz with the shadows, crackling with each step. A glass slipped from her hand and crashed into the sink. She checked over her shoulder to see if anyone noticed.
Now, I know I haven’t a chance dear. There’s no denying. But you can’t blame a fellow for trying.
The steam on the window didn’t hide the reflection. Instead, it muted lines that were already vague and the face faded, somehow wrong. She pulled the elastic band from her hair and let it fall to her shoulders. With her hair down, she looked back into the window. Still wrong. She closed her eyes. When she opened them again, another reflection joined hers. Nans stood behind her with her wrinkled lips pursed in disapproval. Her course hair kinked at her temples pulled taut in a ponytail at the base of her neck. The look pulled her face tight and angle her expression downwards to a perpetual frown.
I don’t see how you can wash dishes with your eyes closed. Or in the dark, for that matter.
I was trying to not disturb you. Sorry.
You’ll be sorry when you’re eating off a dirty plate. Here, go eat your dinner. I’ll finish these. Turn on the light for me.
Thanks for the meatloaf. Looks good.
Burnt but it’s food all the same. The lights going out. I warned you about that. Should have called the electrician weeks ago.
I’ll call tomorrow.
No, wait until Monday. No point paying weekend hours. How was the memorial?
It was nice.
Storm came up out of nowhere. Didn’t say anything about it on the 5 o’clock news. Doesn’t surprise me much. Weather men aren’t nothing but a bunch of glamorous suits making stuff up these days. We used to use the Farmer’s Almanac. Never wrong. These days, they assume it’s summer, so it will be sunny. Probably draw cards for the next days predictions. Suppose they get paid big bucks.
Came up quick at the memorial. Just started pouring at the end. Everyone made a run for it.
I suppose you did. Get very wet?
Not too much.
That’s good. Don’t need to go catching a cold right now. Hopefully it will be nice this weekend. We’re having the induction ceremony for the new pastor. I met him the other day. Kinda doltish but nice enough. You’re coming, right?
I don’t know. We haven’t gotten our work schedules yet.
Well, I think you should come. Places shouldn’t be open on Sunday’s anyway. The ladies have been asking where you’ve been.
Tell them I’m working.
Of course, that’s what I tell them. Do you think I would lie? There goes that damn light again. I can just see it shorting out and setting the house on fire. We’d be living in that heap of a car of yours.
I have to fix the car tomorrow. I think the belt’s off again.
You spend more time tinkering with that damn car.
Well, I’m going to bed. Too late for this old lady. Don’t sleep too late tomorrow. There’s a pile of laundry that needs to get done.
I will. Good night, Nans.
Night. Don’t forget to turn off the radio. No use in wasting electricity.
And now, the Fantasies with “Why, oh, Why” on Doo-Wop hour with Jonnie.
She took her plate into the dining room and dropped it on the table with a clatter. Raising her fork to the light, she checked if the tines were clean then poked the meatloaf, black on the outside, pink in the middle and deemed it edible. The first bite took a breath of determination. The chewy meat took extra work and she gazed around the room while she chewed. The lacquered painting of a little boy fishing in bib overalls too big. The collage of family smiling in fake poses to leave a record of their fake joy. None of them she knew. None of them she wanted too. A gold shelf lined with glass held albums and JC Penny’s catalogues from seven years ago. In case they had something someone would need. A wood shelf painted green seated a line of antique dolls with porcelain heads. Their white faces contrasted with the black eyes that stared at her as she chewed. None of it matched the brown and gold wall paper. It all served as enough decoration to fill Buckingham Palace.
And now, a little number from The Four Lads, singing “Moments to Remember”. Because these were the moments to remember, ladies and gentlemen. Moments of days gone by with ice cream parlors and bobby socks. When life was simple and we were innocent.
An eerie voice began the song with a high pitched howl as she tried to spear the limp green beans.
The New Years Eve we did the town. The day we tore the car post down. We’ll have these moments to remember.
Lightening crashed and the song played on.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a rough draft. Take one. You’ll have to wait for the rest of it because I have a long way to go.