Friday, July 10, 2009

Chapter One

I spent time yesterday and today editing chapters in my novel, because I've been away from it for so long, I have some distance from the story. That's made it far easier to delete entire chapters and scenes that just don't work with my theme. I liked them when I wrote them, but now I can see they don't move the plot forward, so they have to go! It was Disraeli who said, "When I want to read a novel, I write one." That's how I feel about this book; it was a story I wanted to read, and now as I reread what I've written, I'm remembering why I fell in love with these characters.

I am proud of what I have so far, so I want to share the first chapter with you.

LOSS(los) Middle English los, from Old English 1. The act or an instance of losing 2a. One that is lost B. the condition of being deprived or bereaved of something or someone 3. The harm or suffering caused by losing or being lost. 4. Losses People lost in wartime; casualties 5. Destruction

My earliest memory is seeing my dead mother. She wasn’t really dead, but to my young eyes, she looked too still, and although I had never seen death, it frightened some primitive place inside of me. I must have been potty training because I came into her room in the middle of the night to tell her that I had to go. She was lying on the bed, the sheets wrapped loosely around her body. Her arms were akimbo over her head, and her bare feet stuck out near the foot. Silvery blue light from a streetlamp streamed through the blinds making black stripes across her body. I must have made a sound, maybe a whimper, because she jerked and stared at me, eyes still wild with sleep. Warm urine running down my leg and its sudden stink ends that shred of memory. Maybe it was a premonition; in less than six months she would be dead.

My childhood memories are the few crumbs I have or what I’ve gleaned from the stories I’ve heard from everyone else. When my grandmother came to take me home with her, I’d like to think that I fought her, but I’m sure I didn’t. I know I didn’t understand what was going on, Mommy was just gone. I don’t even know where I stayed until Mama got there. Mama, that’s what she told me to call her. “That’s what my other girls called me; it’s good enough for you too.”

All I owned were my ragged stuffed elephant Paul and Mommy’s dictionary. She always kept it in her purse or pocket and would read it like a novel in waiting rooms. She dog-eared pages and made notes next to some of the words; she used grocery lists, receipts, or notes to herself as bookmarks. Before we climbed into the car for the drive home, Mama tried to take it away from me, but then I did fight. Finally Papa, my grandfather, stepped in, “For Pete’s sake Georgia, let her have the damn thing. It’s a fifteen hour car drive home, and the last thing I want to hear is her crying all the way there.” I’m sure that Mama saw wisdom in that, otherwise she never would have given in. I slept most of the trip, waking up once only to vomit, which made Papa use all kinds of words I’d never heard before, in combinations I’ve only ever heard him use since. I remember the scratchy tweed-like upholstery on the seats of the car that smelled so strongly of Papa’s Black Lady pipe tobacco. The sweet smell still makes me sick to my stomach.

I’m sure the trip home was quiet. Mama was angry with Papa for being right, and Papa didn’t have much to say to her anymore. I wonder sometimes if he ever did, or if he just married her because it was easier then arguing. I can imagine him bringing her home from a date and her saying, “So we’ll be married on Saturday at St. Paul’s Lutheran. Wear your blue suit, your brown one is too shabby. And Delbert, do NOT bring your friend George, he’s always so grubby, it would just ruin my whole day.” Fifty years of that, and who can blame him for having a stroke?

Papa lived in Pine Ridge, Wisconsin, a small town near Lake Michigan’s shores, his whole life, and Mama always lived in that area too. Their home was a brick farmhouse ten minutes outside of town with creaking hardwood floors and a bathroom that probably looked ancient the day it was built. Mama and Papa had an acre with the house, an attached garage, and a converted milkhouse that served as Papa’s workshop. The lawn was huge and yellowing with a few ancient trees near the road. They lived on a small country road about a mile from a county highway. It was the kind of road you drove down the middle of because you didn’t expect to meet anyone else on it, and if you did, you’d wave on the assumption that it was a neighbor.

Mama took me up to my new room, Mommy’s old room. Psychedelic posters of Steppenwolf and Led Zeppelin still hung on the walls. Mama had bought me Raggedy Ann sheets for the bed, and those cheery faces made me cry. They were so strange and different from my plain blue sheets on my bed, in my home. And I was in a room, a long way from home, with people I had never even met before. If I was gone when Mommy came back, how would she know where to find me? Why couldn’t I just stay with Mrs. Flores across the hall liked I did every day. Aunt June said I cried all night. Mama fed me, bathed me, changed my clothes, and tucked me into bed all while I bawled. She didn’t comfort me, just acted as though it was normal, which I guess it was for the first week or so.

Aunt June was ten years older than me, and quickly became my role model. At thirteen, she had braces on her teeth and wore pink frosted lipstick. She ironed her hair twice a week and I thought she was fascinating. Mommy was pretty, but not like Aunt June.

Aunt April lived in Florida with her husband Joe and their two kids Jimmy and Tabitha. Mommy had been going to college in Ohio and was close to graduating when she died. All of my great-grandparents were dead, and while both Mama and Papa had a few siblings nearby, none dared come near us.

Living so far from town, we were a bit isolated. Aunt June complained about not being able to be in any summer sports in town, but she really just wanted to be able to hang out with her friends. Mama had strict rules about the telephone: no calls after eight pm and no calls for longer than fifteen minutes. She even used a timer. There were fights about this at least twice a week. Aunt June was so sure that Mama was trying to ruin her life that I started to worry about the safety of my own. They would fight, getting louder and louder until either Aunt June flounced away in angry tears and slammed a door or Papa yelled, “That’s enough!” If he did that, they’d whisper hotly at each other until one of them stormed away.

Mama had a way of making you feel as if you were brainless for disagreeing with her, as if she had the only logical and reasonable point of view. In the middle of a “discussion,” she would turn and start to wash the dishes or fold clothes or some other task, occasionally turning her head to say “Mmhmm” or something equally as enraging, seeming to dismiss the entire conversation as not worth her time. There’s no question as to why eventually all three of her daughters ran away from home.

Mommy was always on the go, I understood why now, between her college classes, part-time job at the library there, and me. She’d make supper on the stove while reading her textbooks. Sometimes she’d read them aloud to me. I remember not understanding more than a few words, but I loved the sound of her voice. After supper she’d swing me in her arms on the way to the bathtub while singing songs by Elton John and Simon & Garfunkel in her rich alto to the accompaniment of running and splashing water. Then she’d tuck me in on the sleeper couch and do her homework at the dinette. I’d fall asleep watching her, her thick red hair falling across her face, the lamplight like her halo.

I remember my mom always smelled like Double Mint gum, she always kept some in her purse. I remember the way her hand felt on my back when she rubbed it at night. I remember how she looked when she laughed, her eyes disappearing and her dimples showing, but I don’t remember how it sounded. I miss her laugh, maybe most of all.

So what do you think? I'd love to hear any and all feedback!


Anonymous said...

I think it looks have a gift...don't give up!