A lifetime ago I took a creative writing class at the private Roman Catholic university I was attending because it made total sense at the time that as a girl who had a long, detailed list of debate questions with the Catholic religion, I ought to pay an exorbitant amount of money in tuition getting schooled by a bunch of nuns. Except, none of my classes were actually taught by nuns. Apparently creative writing did not attract the habits. I kind of felt cheated because it really was a lot of money and you'd think I could have experienced at least one semester of a ruler rapt against my knuckles just to say I survived.
Anyway. My actual point is to tell you I just came across one of my old writings from one of my classes. Our assignment was simple: Write a first chapter of a fiction novel. Since it was a gazillion years ago I have the original on a floppy disk somewhere -- but I wanted to share it with you so I retyped it. Except my chair at my desk is too short so now my shoulders hurt but I can't change the chair because it looks super cute and I threw out all our old phone books because who actually has a need for a phone book, what with Google at our fingertips? Well, except they were useful to sit on. Suffice it to say, there are errors in there. Understand my editor hasn't seen the first draft yet. Also, I don't have an editor. I'm practicing sarcasm. I also didn't include the entire first chapter here because you never realize how long a chapter is until you have to type it out word for word. If you want the rest of the chapter or the rest of the book you'll have to be broker a sweet deal with a publisher. For me. Don't steal my words. It's not nice.
So. Here it goes. I wrote it about a year before I got pregnant with Avery.
Often times when I’m sitting all alone, minding my day, a thought just pops into my head, disturbing all that silence that was just up there. And try as I might, I can’t seem to get that thought out of my head. It just keeps droning on and on and on, which makes it quite difficult to enjoy the weather or listen to a conversation I may be involved in. Lately it’s been stuff about dying and what that would be like. Oh, not that I would want to, don’t get me wrong. I have no business doing that sort of thing at this time in my life. Still, I find it fascinating that one minute I could be here, running around and jumping about like a wild bird taking off for its first flight, and the very next minute be lying still on the ground, dead. All the folks in town would line up in their Sunday best, dabbing lacy handkerchiefs at their eyes, waiting to gawk at me lying dead in the casket, saying things like, “my, what a shame to take a life so young.” They wouldn’t know I’d already be watching them from heaven, holding on to the hand of an angel, watching them make quite a spectacle of themselves sobbing and dabbing away.
My sister’s name is Maury. Actually it’s Maureen, but she’s got a nickname so everyone just calls her Maury. She’s beautiful and looks exactly like my mother with the same golden hair and deep blue eyes. “A reflection of the soul,” my grandmother likes to say clasping her hands over her heart and casting her eyes up toward heaven in a must absurd and dramatic way. Maury says I’m morbid for always talking about death and dying and says I have no business planning such a thing. I tell her I’m not planning it, just thinking about it, but she says that’s one in the same as far as she’s concerned. She’s thirteen and Mama says I ought to mind my older sister because she’s wiser and knows better. I tell Mama that she is the only sister I got and being that she’s only a year and a half older, how much wiser could she possibly be? Then Mama tells me I best quit sassing her if I know what’s good for me. Well, I certainly do know what’s good for me, so I go on outside to think some more about dying.
I like to imagine what Mama would lay me out in. I’m sure she’d go to town and get one of those fancy while satin dresses, fringed in lace, with a long satin ribbon around the waist and white gloves to match. I really would like one of those brimmed hats, but I can’t imagine how comfortable that would be to lay in one. Besides, it would get all creased and wrinkled anyway.
When my Daddy died last year, Mama put him in a suit. Everyone kept going on and on about how handsome he was and how good he looked. Personally, I thought he looked stiff and uncomfortable in that get-up. Funny this was, I don’t recall Daddy ever even owning a suit, much less wearing one. I know he wore one for his wedding to Mama because I seen the picture of them on her dresser, but that was the only time. I believe it would be safe to say that my Daddy only wore a suit when he went to church, which, for him, would have been his wedding and his funeral.
For the most part, Daddy was always wearing those heavy coveralls, filthy with grease and oil. His hair was just about as greasy as his working clothes, sticking out all over the place, never being combed just right. Even straight out of the shower he still looked as if he had a layer of grime on him that couldn’t be scrubbed off. He’d come out smelling like a mixture of Irish Spring soap and WD-40. It sounds unpleasant, and I suppose it’d take some getting used to for one who’s never smelled it before, but it really wasn’t all that bad.
I don’t look like either of my parents, but bear a strong resemblance to Daddy’s Uncle Arthur, whom I have never met, but take on the word of adults that I do indeed look like him. Daddy’s uncle was killed in a war when Daddy was very young and left behind a wife and newborn child that no one has ever seen. I wonder sometimes if that child looks like him as well. I’m not even certain if it was a boy child or a girl child. But if it were a girl child, who did indeed look like Daddy’s Uncle Arthur, then I sure would love to catch a glimpse of her now as an adult so I could prepare myself for what I would look like in the future. If she is beautiful, I know I would have a most pleasant adulthood. And, if she were to be ugly, then I would know now to buckle down on my schoolwork so as to ensure me a right and proper position as a career woman.
Maury, who is as pretty as they come, tells me that if you are beautiful then a rich man will surely want to marry you. Then you won’t have to work and you get to buy anything you want on store credit. “However,” she says, turning her nose at my short cut hair and my boy’s blue jeans, “if you are not, then you will have to work in factories all your life until you are eighty.”
Well, that seems like an awful long time to be putting in at a factory, so for my sake, I pray that Daddy’s Uncle Arthur’s child is ravishing.
Maury says I ought to grown into my body someday but not to expect too much. I’m long and lanky, with not much curvature, which I know is important. I decided to cut my hair short after seeing Julie Andrews play Peter Pan. I sure wish now I hadn’t because Maury says people often mistake me for a boy and someday I may even become convinced of that myself. Maury and I don’t look anything alike. Maury stands straight and tall and has creamy skin and thick hair. I slouch too much and Mama says if I keep that up I’m bound to become a hunchback.
Mama and Maury are real close and always talking about clothes and ribbons and hair styles. I used to go on over to the garage and help Daddy when he was working, but since he died I don’t go there too much. Once in a while I stop over to per that old mangy dog, Roscoe. Daddy found him before I was even born in a drain ditch when he was just a puppy, but now he’s almost completely blind and lies around panting like it just might be his last breath.
I try not to stay home too much, or when I’m there stay up in my room and out of Mama’s way. Mama’s been in a mood of sorts since Daddy died. Maury says it’s just me being dramatic and sensitive because she doesn’t see any problems with Mama. I remind her that’s because Mama actually talks to her where she usually just slides me a sandwich across the table without saying much of anything. Maury tells me that I’m just jealous because she and Mama have a kindred relationship. Fact is, I’m jealous because she has long hair, it has nothing to do about anyone’s relationship.
See, we’re not allowed in Mama’s room. That’s a private area which we only go in if we’re armed with a can of spray Pledge in one hand and a dusting cloth in the other. Yet, every night before bedtime Mama calls Maury into her room, sets her down at the vanity, picks up her silver antique hairbrush with real camel hair, and brushes Maury’s long hair. “One hundred strokes to bring out the shine,” Mama always says. Maury and Mama sit in there for what seems like hours, staring into that vanity mirror and talking all quiet. I love to go dusting in Mama’s room so I can try to brush my hair. Mama caught me once and yelled at me to quit dawdling and get back to work, then asked why on earth I was trying to brush a bald head.
I don’t understand why Mama brushes Maury’s hair with that silver brush. Mama’s always telling me how much older she is yet she can’t even seem to brush her own hair. And if Mama really wanted to, I reckon she could brush my hair for me, too. I know it’s short and all but it still could use one hundred strokes for shine.
There you have in. A strange fascination with death in a first chapter of a book that will never be finished, written before the birth of a girl who will never grow old. In my story, the girl is 11 years old. Avery died at eleven. I know it's ridiculous to even entertain this thought - that somehow my words created a destiny for a child - or that somehow, if I had just written the pretend story I would never have the real story I needed to share. I know, it doesn't make rational sense. I blame the stress in my shoulders. Because, really, this chair is way too short.