Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for the Zoo

For the last month, I've been doing the A to Z blog challenge. Basically, it was a blog a day (except Sunday) with each day being a letter A to Z and your blog post being something to do with a topic starting with that day's letter.

I did  pretty darn well. I think I missed a couple of days here and there, but the real fun was getting to blog hop among the more than 1500 blogs involved in the challenge. I think there were over 2000 signed up at the start so that's a pretty awesome number of folks who saw it through to the end.

I ran across some awesome writing blogs and even happened by chance upon my writing partner and good friend's sister's blog (talk about a small world.) Without the challenge and the sign-up list of blogs to visit, I would have never come across most of the blogs I got to enjoy during the challenge.

I chose (for the majority of the days) to post pieces of my novel, The Lemonade Year. It's a book that I had put back in the drawer as we say, sort of giving up on it. I was so pleased to get good comments on the novel and encouragement to take it back out, dust it off and try again.

So, this act in my writing Zoo may be pulling out of town, but it's left me inspired to climb back up on the ropes and start swinging again. Thanks A to Z. I've enjoyed it!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Y is for Yet

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year a finished novel seeking representation. A scene in which Nina and Oliver are driving away from the cemetery having just dug up her father's urn full of ashes and are on their way to Thanksgiving dinner at Nina's mother's house. They make a pit stop by Nina's apartment so that she can show Oliver a secret she's been keeping from him)

Oliver rides with Dad in his lap.  I stare forward and try not to become hysterical. It’s an interesting exercise—trying not to become hysterical. It’s the nature of that sort emotional outburst to be impervious to the effort to stop it.

“There’s something else I need to do,” I say and even though I’m still staring forward, I see Oliver’s head whip around and I feel the trepidation from his eyes burn my cheek. “It’s not anything weird,” I say.

“Comparatively?” he asks.

“Everything’s relative,” I reply and drive us to my apartment building.

“Where are we?” he asks.

“My place,” I say. “I need to show you something.”

We ride the elevator up in silence. Oliver is still holding Dad’s urn. I turn the light on in the entry hall and Oliver looks around, taking in everything he can about this part of my life I never let him see.

“I need to show you why I never let you come here,” I say and walk down the hall to the baby’s room.

“Normally, I’d be scared of that statement,” he says. “But given the way the rest of this day has gone, it seems pretty harmless.”

I turn on the light and step inside. Oliver follows me in and looks slowly from the crib to the open closet filled with little unworn clothes then he looks at me.

“You asked me what it was that wanted,” I say, recalling to him one of our last conversations. “What is was that I thought I couldn’t have.”

“A baby?” he asks.

“We tried everything,” I say. “It just didn’t happen. Now I just feel silly, keeping all this stuff.”

“Nina,” he says. “This is the greatest shrine to hope that I’ve ever seen.”


“You’re looking at it all wrong,” he says. “It hasn’t happened yet. Yet. You’re not dead. And you’re not sixty. And I’m not Jack.”

“What are you saying?” I ask.

“Do you really not know?” Oliver asks.

“Well I could make a guess,” I say. “But being wrong would be a big fat embarrassing bummer.”

“You’re not wrong,” he says. “But look, we’re on some sort of mission here, yes?”

He holds up the urn to me and I remember what we’re doing.

“Yes,” I say.

“We can talk about packing this stuff up later,” he says.

“What?” I say. “No, I can’t do that. That’s the thing. I should pack it all up but I can’t. What am I going to put in here?”

He sets Dad down on the little dresser and takes my hand.

“For an intelligent woman, you’re not catching on,” he says. “You can still have a baby. There’s still time. Hell, I’ll put all the effort into that you can stand.”

I feel myself blushing.

“But you need a fresh start,” he says. “So we give it till after exams and I’ll be free to come over here and help you box all this stuff up and take it to my place. And we can set it all back up and get straight to work. We can start right now if you want to. We’ll be late for dinner, but I’m ok with that.”

Sunday, April 28, 2013

X is for X marks the spot

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation. A scene in which the protagonist, Nina, has lost her mind.)

Suddenly, everything around me is beautiful. I see what we’ll look like, years and years from now, living in an old house, pictures of our grandkids covering the walls and Oliver’s piano, older than ever, but played none the less, us hosting Thanksgiving for our family and talking about the way it all began. 

 “Because what the hell difference does the rest of it make,” he’s still talking, thinking there is something to talk me into. “You think when you’re 90 and I’m 80 that anyone will give a damn. Women live longer than men anyway,” he’s rambling and making me want to cry and kiss him and tell him to shut up already. “I want you to be older than me. I want us to go out at the same time. I’ve seen what the end can look like, so, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to make the journey the ride of a lifetime.”

That’s exactly what Cricket would say. Then something occurs to me.

“You need to come with me,” I say, finally able to speak.

There’s one injustice that still needs to be undone. I take Oliver by the arm, pulling him toward the door, out it and to my car. I slide in and start the engine. Oliver opens the passenger door and gets inside even as I’m pulling the car away from the curb.  He doesn’t ask where we’re going. He doesn’t say anything at all. Out of the corner of my eye I can see him looking at me. We drive in silence. Finally we pull off the road and pass through the predictable iron gates of the cemetery.

“What are we doing here?” Oliver finally speaks.

I kill the engine and get out. I open the trunk like we’re in some bad movie and pull out a shovel. I’m manic with the idea of this shovel, stuck there last winter, before Dad passed, after spending the day planting bulbs in mom’s yard—those pink and white tulips that seemed so out of place in front of the house the day of the funeral. You don’t even need a shovel this big to plant bulbs.

I walk into the graveyard like a woman possessed, unnecessary shovel in hand and mind determined to undo what never should have been done. Oliver catches up to me and comes around in front. He takes the shovel and spades the edge into the ground.

“What are we doing here?” He asks again, more firmly this time.

I’ve finally figured out what has been pecking at my ribs all this time. I know now what will begin to make this better.

“We’re digging up my father’s ashes,” I say.

“Oh dear god,” Oliver says.

“It’s cathartic,” I say, and grab the spade from the earth. “Besides, isn’t this the sort of wild and crazy thing that kids do?”

“No, this isn’t the sort of wild and crazy thing that kids do,” he says. “This is what lunatics do. This is what psychos in the movies do.” He grabs the shovel away from me.

“Just start digging.” I say and point to the gray stone marker that bears my father’s name.

“Look, Nina, if you’re trying to take my mind off Cricket,” Oliver says, looking from me to the headstone, “I appreciate the thought.”

“Oliver,” I shout and grab the shovel back from him. “Give me some credit, please.”

“That’s really hard to do, Nina,” he says, talking to me like I’m four years old. “When you drag me out to a cemetery on Thanksgiving Day, and ask me to help you dig up your father’s ashes.”

We both just stand there looking at each other, at the shovel, at the name—Nathaniel Griffin. Beloved Father. Cherished Husband. I take out my phone and flip to the picture of the grave. I hold it out to the real thing and compare footage. I point to the spot where the urn is buried.

“Why did you bury the ashes?” Oliver speaks softly, breaking the still around us. “Aren’t you supposed to put them somewhere important?”

I look at him and burst into tears.

“Oh” he says.
He takes the shovel from me and starts digging

Friday, April 26, 2013

W is for Waiting for the End

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year a finished novel seeking representation. Cricket it a resident at the nursing home where Oliver works and where Nina's (the protagonist) father recently past away. This is also where Nina and Oliver met. This scene takes place in the house Oliver lives in.)

(The photo is of actor, Taylor Kitsch--whom I imagine would make an nice Oliver in the movie version of this book.)

 “This makes you uneasy, doesn’t it?” Oliver says.

“What?” I ask.

“Us,” he continues, looking at me with unsettling focus. “Me.”

“No,” I answer and wonder if I mean it.

 “So how about it?” Oliver asks. “I think Nate would approve.”

Hearing him refer to Dad as Nate in the present tense reminds me that Dad is gone. It feels like hands slipped suddenly around my heart squeezing tight like trying to keep it from beating, but it beats instead.

“What are you afraid of?” Oliver asks.

Everything. I need to change the subject so I turn the question of family back to him.

“So, is your family around here?” I ask.

“No,” Oliver says, turning back to the keys and picking out a tune. “They all live in Tennessee.”

“What brought you here?” I ask.

 “School,” he says, his back to me, repeating the same set of notes, having found the sequence he seemed to be looking for. “That math degree.”

I nod even though he can’t see. I watch him from the perspective of walking away—his back to me and his thoughts elsewhere. His shoulders and arms move, keeping up with his hands as they slide across the keys. I don’t recognize what he plays, but the melancholy of it hurts my throat.

“Why didn’t you go back home?” I ask, unsure if he can hear me.

“Had a job I didn’t want to give up at the time,” he says over his playing and then he reaches up from the keys and straightens a picture on the piano that I’ve never taken the time to look at closely.

“I thought you didn’t like the math jobs,” I say.

“I didn’t,” he goes back to his playing. “It was the other one.”

The Parkinson’s patient.

“You stayed to work with him,” I say letting him know that I understand.

“Couldn’t bring myself to leave,” Oliver says and plays a few more notes in the sequence. “Especially not once he got bad and I moved in with him.”

I look around at the house and then it strikes me why this place seems so out of the ordinary for a young man in his late twenties.

“This is his place?” I ask.

Oliver nods, still facing away from me.

“You stay here still to take care of the house?” I ask, although there’s no question.

“It’s a nice arrangement,” Oliver says, his voice growing distant. “While it lasts I guess.”

“You miss him,” I say.

“Not yet,” Oliver says oddly. “But I will.”

I get up and go over to the piano. He must feel my approach because he moves over and I sit beside him. He stops playing and looks forward. I follow his line of sight to the photo on the piano. It’s a picture of Oliver and Cricket here in this living room. It is obvious that the Cricket in this photo is in an earlier stage of his decline than the one in the nursing home. Oliver looks a bit younger, his hair is shorter.

“Mr. Cole?” I question and answer myself at the same time.

Oliver nods. He pecks out a couple of sad notes and then just lets his hands rest, unmoving on the keys.

 “It must be hard to watch him worsen,” I say, speaking the words I’m sure Oliver wants to say but can’t.

“It’s not advisable to get attached,” he says.

“It never is,” I say. “It’s likely to hurt in the end.”

This is true of all the attachments we form. But what would we do without them?

“It’s worth the risk, though, isn’t it,” Oliver says, his fingers resting on whatever notes come next.

“Yes,” I say.

He resumes playing. I see that his mouth tightens and his lips press and release against the emotion they try to conceal. One tear drops suddenly from his eyes onto his hand as it moves along the keys. I lift that hand in the midst of its music and kiss the salty spot on his skin.

“Thank you,” he whispers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

V is for Visit my webiste

Ok, yeah, I know, this is a pretty lame blog post and usually I post pieces of my novel. But today has been one of those days. And by way of justification, since we're meeting new bloggers and getting to know each other, our websites are a great way to do that. Right? (nod, I won't be able to see you, but it will make me feel better to think that you agree.)

So if you didn't do that today (and need a break as we're winding down) you can use "website" tomorrow. :-)

There's a link at the top of this blog that will go right to my site.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

U is for Unsure and Undone

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation. A scene in which Nina accepts a dinner invite from her soon to be ex-husband and can't stop thinking about her now ex-boyfriend, Oliver.)

 “Tell me this isn’t better than pizza and a movie,” Jack says across the candle lit table of a reservations only restaurant.

 “Is that what you think it’s like with Oliver?” I ask.

I can’t bring myself to talk about Oliver in the past tense, yet the rings are loose from the vase  and back on my hand. The genie is out of the bottle and it turns out he didn’t have three wishes to grant. All he could offer what some bad advice. Sure, the evil genie had said, accept Jack’s dinner offer. What can it hurt?

“Ok,” Jack concedes. “So, what, he’s the coffee house and book reading type? Does he quote you lines from some dead poet?”

I can’t talk about Oliver with Jack. I can’t talk about him at all. My phone registers a text message and I look to see a note from Carol. Just saw you go into Carmela’s with Jack. What’s up?

I don’t answer. I don’t know what’s up.

“Is that him?” Jack asks. “Are you going to tell him where you are?”

“Is this night about me?” I ask. “Or you and Oliver?”

“What do you want, Nina?” Jack says, waving his hand up in resignation. “Do you want to adopt? Do you want me to do like Ray and get on TV and apologize for hurting you? For ruining your life? What?”

You could wish for a pen, the genie whispers in my ear, sign the papers.

“I don’t want you to concede, Jack,” I say. “I don’t’ know what I want.”

“That’s the problem,” Jack says. “You’re always looking ahead for something that might never come.”

I look up sharply at this comment. The truth of it is a perfectly round flood light in high school play, illuminating the two of us there at the table. In the play, the me character gets up and steps into the darkness like a walking behind a wall the contrast is so sharp.

“You’re right,” I say.

“Of course I am,” Jack says and takes hold of my left hand across the table. “Now let’s put all this behind us and get back to where we were.”

He touches the rings that I’m wearing. A wide crevasse has opened between us but he doesn’t see it. I don’t want to get back to where we were. Suddenly I’m not afraid anymore. This was a mistake. Jack obviously thinks my agreeing to have dinner will result in my agreeing to give this all another try. That will follow into his moving back into the apartment. Putting his clothes back into his side of the closet. Setting his place at the table. Soon he’ll be talking about turning the spare room into an office so that if it comes to it, I can have the option of a home based job, and I’ll ask what are you talking about, and he’ll say that I should be open minded about what sort of work I might find once the publishing house is out of business, and I’ll say, no, what are you talking about the spare room, what spare room?

And the old differences we had will still be there.

He’ll want to box the nursery up and put it away in the storage unit in the basement and all my hope will be in the dark and damp of that forgotten nowhere where people dump old grills and camping equipment and bicycles with flat tires and boxes of things from their childhood that they can’t throw away but really don’t need and when the baby finally get here, how will explain to people that the nursery is in the basement. How will you hear him crying way down there? they will ask.

You can wish for another chance the genie says to me, that’s what they all wish for, really. I’ll see what I can do.

“I can’t do this, Jack,” I say. “I’m sorry to have given you false hope. I’m sorry that I haven’t signed the papers. I will. I have to.”

“You don’t have to,” he says.

I slip the rings off my finger and place them on the table.

“Thank you for giving these to me,” I say.

“Nina,” Jack says. “We can at least finish dinner.”

“To what end,” I say.

“Is this about Elliot?” Jack says.

“Oliver,” I correct him. “And not really. Good-bye Jack.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Taken off guard

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation. A scene in which Nina, the protagonist, is saying goodbye to her new boyfriend when her ex-husband happens upon them both.)

Out on the street we determine that our cars are in opposite directions and that I need to go back to my office to pick up some “homework” so we stop on the sidewalk to say out goodbyes. I have the urge to invite him over for the evening, but fight it off. This will do for today.

“I like this,” I say and move a bit closer to Oliver.

He puts his arms around me and kisses my forehead. I see someone approaching us and realize that it’s Jack. I pull away quickly and Oliver seems confused.

“Nina,” Jack says in greeting to me, but looking at Oliver.

I know him well enough to know that he’s taken off guard, but he’s a good showman.

“Oliver,” I say and take hold of his hand, mad at myself for having pulled away. “This is Jack.”

Jack shoots his hand out for Oliver to shake, forcing him to release mine. Oliver does so and then puts his arm around me. A bubble seems to form around the three of us, some bizarre snow globe effect of three people on the street, caught in an inescapable moment. I imagine us each miming our hands around the inside of the glass, feeling for a way out.

 “Oliver,” Jack repeats. “Nina has mentioned you. You’ll have to forgive my surprise at being face to face with you.”

“Likewise,” Oliver says casually and I love that Jack’s desired effect on him isn’t taking.

“What are you doing here, Jack?” I question without regard to couth.

“Nice to see you too,” Jack says with a curt little laugh. “I was just on my way to an appointment. What are you doing here?”

“I work here.”

Jack looks around him and up at the building.

“Still?” he asks and looks around like he’s finding himself somewhere he didn’t mean to be. “Working late?”

“No, just coming back from dinner. Anyway,” I say. “Interesting running into you. We really have to get going.”

“Recess over?” Jack says and tries to level Oliver with the jab.

 “Good one,” Oliver says and gives Jack a playful slap on the arm. “Nina,” Oliver says and pulls me to him, kisses me like he would without Jack there. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turns back to Jack and offers a handshake again. “Nice to meet you, Jack. Take it easy.”

Oliver winks at me and walks off.  Jack stands his ground saying nothing more until Oliver is out of earshot. Before Oliver disappears into the crowd on the street I see him glance back at us.

“Nina,” Jack says in some sort of condescension that he can’t seem to control. “Are you kidding?  He’s a child.”

“And you’re an asshole,” I say and turn to go into the safety of my office building.

Jack reaches out and catches me by the arm. I stop and turn back to him.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “That whole deal there. I was caught off guard. I actually came this way on purpose. I wanted to see you.”

“What about the whole ‘oh yeah you work here’ bit?” I say and shake free from him.

“Total crock,” he says. “I just didn’t expect to see you with someone. I didn’t think you were serious when you said you were with some guy.”



“Oliver,” I say again.

The city is busy around us. Tourists, business people and local hippie types walk the same paths. Smells waft from local eateries and the chime chime of store doors opening and closing sounds around us.

“Can I take you to dinner?” Jack asks.

“We already ate,” I say. I look at my watch and pretend that I’m late and need to go inside.

“Coffee?” Jack says, not giving in.

“It’s a little too late.”

“For coffee?” Jack says. “Get decaf.”

“For this,” I say, losing patience. “We’ve already hired lawyers and drawn up papers.”

“That you haven’t signed,” he says.

“Yet,” I say.

“Come on,” Jack says. “You can’t be serious about this guy. I get it. You’re sad, or mad. At me. The world. Your father passed. I wasn’t there for you. You’re searching for some new Nina and this kid fits your need for something new right now.”

“Don’t tell me why I do what I do, or feel what I feel,” I say, suddenly angry and exposed. “Don’t pretend that you’ve had a change of heart. I know you want out and this is all just a slap to your ego.”

 “I’m not trying to make you feel guilty, Nina,” he says. “I’m just stating the truth here. Am I wrong?”

I don’t answer and I know that Jack is taking that as proof of his point. He reaches out to me again and I step back from him. He likes this. This is what he’s good at. I know any response will be met with a biting remark and I’m suddenly much too unhinged at the moment to try and win.

Monday, April 22, 2013

S is for Stay

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year a finished novel seeking representation.)
Nina, the protagonist, is at the house of her new and younger lover. If you've read earlier scenes, this is before she takes off her wedding rings--the last remains of her defunct marriage.
We stay in his bed long past dark, having made our way out of our clothes and under the covers. Afterwards, he slips out of the room and returns with two dark beers and two white boxes of leftover Chinese food.

“I’m sorry,” he says as he sits on the edge of the bed.  “This is all I have.”

I sit up beside him, pulling the sheets comfortably around me.

“I’m starving,” I say and take a beer and a box. “It’s perfect.”

“I’ll do better in the morning,” he says and looks at me apologetically. “I really am a good cook. I’ve got the makings for some kick as crepes. Seriously. Give me a shot.”

I mull it over—the morning. We eat, sharing his kung pow chicken and my beef and broccoli. He moves in to kiss me and I pull away.

“I have kung pow broccoli breath,” I say and cover my mouth.

He laughs out loud. Being with him is easy.

“So do I,” he says and kisses me anyway.

He steals away again and brings back too more bottles of good beer. We sit up, under his covers, and talk. I tell him about Ray and Lola—the easy parts for now. About work and Mom. More details about the lemonade book.

“I won’t touch your lemons from now on,” he says and laughs. “I promise.”

“I might be a lemon,” I say. “You sure you want this?”

“Are you?” Oliver asks, taking my hand and twisting my wedding ring around between his fingers. “If you think there’s a chance to work it out. I won’t get in the way. Much.”

He winks at me. I had told Oliver about the divorce that first night. Not all the details, just the legal facts. Irreconcilable differences. Oliver hadn’t asked what they were.

 “What about you?” I ask, Oliver, deflecting as usual. “What pretty young thing am I competing with here?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he says by way of answer.

 “Those girls you work with look pretty perky,” I say and look under the sheet—making a face at what I see.

“Well,” Oliver says and puts on a mock face of concern. “Let me take another look. Maybe I’m wrong here.”

He reaches over to pull the sheet away from my body and I try to fight him off. I lose. He smiles at what he sees and winks at me. The conversation is silly and ridiculous and most importantly, not at all about anything. It’s easy to escape here. Maybe too easy. I could pull out of the world like the flicker of a firefly—here and gone, here and gone, till the gone is all that’s left.

“Stay with me this time,” he says, then, as if afraid to allow time for the answer he doesn’t want, he keeps me from speaking with his lips on mine.



I stay.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

R is for Ray

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation.  A scene in which the protagonist, Nina, remembers her brother during their teenage years)

 Ray was eighteen and determined to begin his descent into self-destruction. He came home that winter with a tattoo of the devil on his shoulder, fire shooting from the face and running down the length of Ray’s arm. Mom cried; Dad asked if it was real and then simply shook his head and went back to the newspaper when Ray answered yes. I asked if it hurt, for lack of knowing what else to say.

“Not enough,” Ray had said.

Lola ran her hand across it like she was touching something beautiful and delicate. She kissed the devil on his fire breathing mouth. Ray looked at her, his face hard and jaw clenched, but for one moment something pained and yet relieved flickered in his eyes. Later, Lola sketched a replica of the tattoo and hung it in her room.

By the time Lola attended the same college Ray had gone too, his arms were covered and his eyes were empty. He dropped out before he finished, got arrested a number of times and spent more nights in jail that he had spent days in class.

He came to visit Lola at school a few times. She had insisted on going as they had a great art program. It was difficult for her to get through the first two years of basic classes and she didn’t get terrific grade, but just like high school before that, she muddled through. She takes a lot of notes and pays perfect attention so that she can recall as much as possible. I think level of focus and detail is part of what makes her such a wonderful painter. She see everything. Nothing escapes her notice. When she calls it back up, it may be a bit skewed but that just lends itself to her unique perspective.

When Ray would visit her, she would call me, two states over where I was in school. I wanted to see Ray, but I used the distance as an excuse not to. I was afraid to see what he had become.

I remember one of the first times Ray stormed out of the house leaving the rest of us to wonder if he’d be back.  I remember Dad sitting on the floor outside Ray’s room. I was watching Dad through a compact mirror held out around the corner. I could see him in the little circle of silver, he was whispering. He made the sign of the cross. We hadn’t been in church in years. I looked at my Hello Kitty clock. It was three in the morning. I heard Ray’s car in the driveway and Dad jumped to his feet. Now there were just legs in the mirror, they started back down the hall to my parent’s room, and then they returned.

The car door shut. The front door opened. I saw legs turn in a circle of indecision. I tilted the mirror up, and could see hands ball into a fist, then relax. I heard the whispering again and tilted the mirror back to his legs so that I wouldn’t see his hands cross over his chest in desperation and prayer again because it scared me.

I heard Ray walking down the hall. His footsteps were loud and heavy like he could break the house down one step at a time. I saw his legs stop beside Dad’s and I tilted the mirror up, up, trying to find their faces. Dad reached out to Ray, tried to put his hand on Ray’s arm. Ray jerked away.

“You’re drunk,” Dad had said.

“I’m back,” Ray had said, spitting the words out. “So don’t give me a hard time.”

“Give me the keys,” Dad said, making his voice as angry as his fear would let him.

“They’re on the kitchen table,” Ray said and his hand reached for the doorknob.

“Apologize to your mother in the morning,” Dad said.

“Why,” Ray asked, “she doesn’t even know I was gone.”

Ray opened the door and disappeared. I tilted the mirror up again and could see the side of Dad’s face. There was no sound but his lips were moving, then he slid out of view. I moved the mirror around looking for him. Down, to the left, down and over. He was sitting on the floor beside the door to Ray’s room with his hands over his face, his shoulders shaking.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Quiet Decisions

(excerpt from The Lemonade Year,  a finished novel seeking representation. Nina has been reluctant to take off her wedding rings, even though the divorce papers sit on her kitchen table, even though she's met someone new (Oliver), even though her husband, Jack, has moved out.)

While Oliver eats and looks at the paper, I hide my hands under the table and toy with the gold on my hand. I slip the rings off and there is an internal whoosh of letting go. But it’s not just Jack and it’s not entirely a good whoosh. I feel the rushing away of everything I thought would be. Everything I hoped for. Pulling the rings off is like tossing my map out the window. Facing some unmarked road to who knows where.

What if I had to introduce myself to someone. I would have no qualifiers to attach to my name. Hi I’m Nina, I’m Jack’s wife, mother of three, we just bought a place out in the country. The kids can’t wait to get a dog. We never let them have one in that little city apartment, but our family just got so big that we needed more space. You should come out and visit. I’ll give you a tour of the garden. You should see it. The previous owners have really set us up as far as beautiful landscaping goes.

None of that was going to happen without those rings on. Maybe none of it was going to happen anyway. But without them, I wasn’t sure what to say. Hi I’m Nina. I take photos of food for a living. That’s pretty much it. Sorry. You always feel the need to apologize to strangers when your life doesn’t work out the way you planned.

“You ok over there?” Oliver asks, the paper on the table, his eyes on me.

“Yeah,” I say.

Under the table I put the wedding set on the right hand pointer finger. It doesn’t fit that finger, of course. So when I look down at it, it just looks like a couple of rings that don’t belong on my hand. The rings must belong to somebody, but just not me. How did I end up with these rings stuck at the knuckle of my right hand?  I feel like a person who took a wrong turn a hundred miles back and is just now realizing the mistake, but is so far into the journey that she doesn’t want to tell the other passengers that they’re going the wrong way.

I put the rings on the kitchen table. I don’t still want the marriage. I wanted the possibilities. But what I thought was possible, may not be. I’m exchanging one set of hope for another. It could be futile, but what else is there to do but go from here. I feel safe here.

“Are you sure about that?” Oliver asks.

I wonder if I’m making a different statement to him that I am to myself. He must see the removal of the rings as our official beginning. I suppose it is. The last step in one direction logically begets the first step in another.

“I’m sure,” I say. “Although it seems strange for them just to sit there while we eat.”

He nods and picks them up. He walks a few steps away into the living room area and drops the rings into a blue pottery vase sitting on the coffee table.

“There,” he says. “If you change your mind, you know where they are.”

He says it like it’s an option I’m allowed to take up. This is youth talking. I wonder how long it will take those rings to burn a hole in the bottom of that vase.

“Now,” he says joining me back at the table. “I just have to make sure you don’t.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013

P is for Pause

Please pardon this pause in my story, partly due to laziness, partly due to pregnancy, partly due to getting the day out of the house to enjoy a pastry and write more pages on my new novel. I will pick back up tomorrow. I promise.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O is for Optimisim

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation.  Nina's brother Ray has rented an apartment in the efforts to set up a stable residence so that he might be allowed to visit his 5 year old sin, Michael.)

The next week Ray moves into the apartment in what I call the stalker building. I know he watches them at the park. I can’t blame him. He wants the little arms and legs and the tiny laugh; the hair puffing up on the wind, the small hand inside his big one.

I want it too. The want of it can drive you crazy. The absence of it feels like a weight missing from your body and you look down at yourself to see what’s gone. You have arms, legs, your torso is intact. Were you carrying something that you’ve put down and lost? Were you wearing a coat that you’ve left at coat check? Did you lose your purse?

 “Are you sure this is a good idea,” I ask, holding my arms out for a box.

 It’s an easy move from Mom’s basement to here. Ray doesn’t have much. The back of his car is loaded with things that may have been in there for months. Maybe years as he travelled around post prison from no place to nowhere.

“No, but it’s the only idea I have,” Ray says and hands me something marked “stuff from the bathroom.” 

“Who knows,” I say as I carry the box up three flights of stairs to his new place, “maybe you’ll like your cellmate better this time.”

“That’s very optimistic,” Ray says sarcastically from a few stairs behind me.

“Did you really come to me for optimism?” I question and make note of the peeling paint on the steel stairwell.

“Of course not,” Ray says and follows me into his new apartment. “I know better than that.”

“Sorry,” I say and set the box down amid the few other things we’ve taken up the stairs. “This is a big step for you and I’m not helping at all.”

“Of course you are,” he says and punches my arm. “You’re keeping me for having to make double the trips up and down the stairs.”

 “Ray,” I say suddenly fearful for him. “Do you really think things are going to work out?”

 “I never expect things to work out,” he says, defeated already. “That way I’m a lot less disappointed. I just thought I’d try for once, to do the right thing. Thanks for the support.”

He puts down a box labeled “Crap from the Closet.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

Ray comes closer and puts his hands on my shoulders.

“Sis,” he says and sighs. “I know I’m being crazy and I know you’re trying to be helpful, although you’re not very good at it. I appreciate the honesty.”

Ray goes back down the stairs before I have a chance to say anymore. I walk around his place, getting a feel for Ray’s new landscape. The furnished apartment is suitable—one bedroom and a fold out couch, a kitchen designed for take-out, living area, the usual necessities. At the window overlooking the street, I see the world that Ray is sneaking through the back door of. I watch people pass on the streets below and feel the helpless desire that draws Ray here. This is Nicole’s neighborhood. It’s where she walks to the park and where she and Michael go out for ice cream. I imagine Ray standing here long hours, in wait, in hope, in need of just a glimpse of what he fears might never be.

Monday, April 15, 2013

M is for Mom and memories, and making sure no one is forgotten.

(excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation.)
Mom had used a cocktail glass to steady herself. It backfired most of the time, but she had meant well. When Lola woke up after the accident, Mom stopped drinking and poured all her need into caring for Lola. I felt left behind. It had been Dad who scooped me up and set me back on my feet. But Mom seemed to have lost touch with the rest of us. Lola saw it though. Lola saw everything.

She knew even then, when she didn’t know more than my name and who I was supposed to be to her, that I was falling through the cracks in the universe, cracks that spread out like spider veins—purple and blotchy, permanent and useless.

Lola was eleven, still using crutches, still in therapy. That part seemed to take a long time. I was fourteen and on the girls basketball team. Lola made Ray drive her to all my games. Mom had no interest in sports, she was just trying to hold herself together. As much as Dad wanted to see the games, he had taken to working the late shift because the pay was better and there were medical bills left over from the accident and more to come. Lola sat in the bleachers and banged the crutches on the wooden seats when everyone else clapped their hands. Already she had begun to cover the braces on her legs with bright colored legwarmers. Making everything art.

At times I hated that she was there. She made my legs ache. Sadness rose up in my throat like bright acid. The squawk and stick of sneakers on the gym floor, the rush of ball through the air, ball through the net, crowd thumping in applause was a sick symphony, an ode to the little girl in the neon green legwarmers who could not run up the court, could not climb the bleachers without help, and could not stop calling out my name and waving franticly to me when I looked her way. Who barely knew who any of us were, but knew we were the world.

Ray didn’t watch the games. He waited for the two of us in the parking lot. He drove home without speaking, dropped us off in the driveway, drove away and did not come back until after curfew, after Mom gave up and went to bed and left Dad awake and worried and me hiding in the hallway making sure that the world did not come to an end while Lola slept.

The morning after those nights, Mom would ask Lola if she had a good time at the game. Lola would tell Mom about every basket I scored, every foul shot I made, every time I looked at her and waved.

Sounds like you had a good time, Mom would say to Lola.

Make sure your sweaty clothes aren’t on the floor, Mom would say to me.

During our last game that year, I broke a school record. I hadn’t told anyone how close I had been to it, but Lola must have been keeping track. That night, after the game, she hobbled into our room with Little Debbie snack cakes and soda and we stayed up late enough for Ray to come home. He had to walk past our door on the way to his room. Lola waited for him in our doorway.

Nina has scored more baskets in one season than any player in the history of our school. We’re celebrating.

She gave him a cake and he stood in the doorway to our room and ate it. He nodded at me. He smelled like beer. There was a store in town that would sell to underage kids for an extra ten dollars. Lola waited for him to finish the cake and then hugged him around the waist. He put his arms across her back and closed his eyes.  She let go of him and for a second they stood looking at each other. When she gimped back across the room to the bed he closed his eyes again. He couldn’t forgive himself for what he’d done and he’s worked his whole life to get the punishment he thought he deserved.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

L is for Longing

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, a finished novel seeking representation)

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” I say.

“I’m a big boy, Nina,” Oliver says and I know he knows I’m hesitating because of age—his and mine and the years that separate us.

He chuckles and comes back down the steps. I want so much to be that romantic type who throws caution the wind as it were. I imagine said wind, loaded down with the cares of innumerable people caught up in moments too strong for them, too passionate or reckless, desperate and unmanageable. I imagine some French couple at an outdoor café in Paris, sipping their coffee, smoking their cigarettes, being blown right out of their chair by some rouge, heavy laden wind from the other side of the world. Crazy American fools, they would say, righting their chairs, lighting a new cigarette, calling for the garcon to bring new cups of café and perhaps a pastissier while he’s at it.

“Is this really the time to sort out the good ideas from the bad,” Oliver says, taking hold of my hand.

“I think this would be the perfect time,” I say, not turning loose.

“You may be too quick for me,” he says.

“No, I’m too old for you.” I say, letting go. I twist the ring on my finger that despite the paperwork in progress, I still wear. The truth of that statement sparks in the air. “I’ve been there done that, as they say.”

I feel like I’m walking backwards, trying to undo something that I really don’t want to forget.

 “So,” he says, surprising me. “What’s one more time around?”

I shake my head as if to say no, but he kisses me and the wind blows and I wonder if that poor French couple will forgive me the intrusion on their peaceful day. Oliver leads me up the steps to his house. The interior is clean and sparse. The small living room holds a couch and old rocker and a small television. The most predominate thing about the room is a wall of music—song books, more than three guitars that I can see, CD’s, a stereo system and an old piano.

“Do you live here alone?” I ask as he tries to pull me past this area of the house and down the hall that I imagine leads to his bedroom.

“I do now,” he whispers.

I don’t ask for details even though I find myself wanting them. He doesn’t offer any more information. I don’t know if he’s noticed my ring, but if so, he didn’t press and I won’t either.

I let him pull me down the hall and we go inside a small bedroom not far down it. This room, too, is sparse and tidy. A bed, a dresser, closet doors open with clothes arranged neatly, his scrubs at the far right. He goes to the dresser and reaches over it to raise the blinds; the moonlight finds its way in.  He excuses himself from the room and I finger through the clothes in his closet—searching for a tactile knowledge of his everyday life.

He comes back into the room and we don’t speak again. He kisses me like he’s asking permission for something, yet not waiting for the answer. His hands find the small of my back and the nape of my neck again and his fingers twine through my hair like they have been there a dozen times before.
This is far from where I thought I’d be tonight should anyone have asked earlier today. There’s a place in my gut that yells at me for putting Dad aside like this. But the option is this or sleeping in my childhood bed quilted in by the heavy-handed stitching of the way things end up.
So for the moment, I choose the soft brush of lips on my neck and the hard clinch of muscled arm holding me tight to this semi-stranger who may be the only piece of the world that makes any sense to me. I let go of everything that holds me in. Thirty-nine years of everything that means anything collects in the palm of my hands, the shallow of my throat, the escape of my breath.

Friday, April 12, 2013

K is for Keeping Secrets

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, finished novel seeking representation.
Ray has come home for his father's funeral bearing the news that he has a five year old son no one knew about, not even him. He trusts the protagonist, his sister, Nina, not to tell anyone yet.)
I finally make it back out to the living room and Ray is gone.  I find him on the back porch. He’s not participating in the mourning but at least he’s still here. I hand him a Vodka tonic and sit down in a lounge chair beside him and stretch out my legs. We sit for a long few minutes and say nothing. I cut my eyes at him to see what he’s thinking. I can’t see anything.

“He’s five?” I ask, trying to get Ray to talk to me again.

 “Yeah,” Ray says and his tone holds no animosity.

I’m jealous, but I’m trying not to be. I feel foolish thinking about the way Jack and I jumped the gun. I was so ready and so anxious and so sure it would all happen that we moved to a bigger apartment with room for a nursery, painted it a light green to go either way and filled it with all manner of excitement and anticipation. I bought a crib and a rocking chair and even little books and toys.  I was just so sure. Life is supposed to go as planned. Right?

 I don’t really know which questions to ask first. It dawns on me then whose child it is.

“Why didn’t Nicole tell you?”

“Because I was an ass then,” Ray says and smirks a bit, seeming to know what’s on the tip of my tongue. “I know, I know. I’m an ass still.”

“I wasn’t going to say that.” I say, but he’s got my thoughts pegged.

Early evening noises start up across the yard and the cool spring air slips over my black pumps and bare legs. I hear the ice tinkle in Ray’s glass and wish that I had made a drink for myself.

“What’s his name?” I ask.

“Michael,” Ray says. “I guess she didn’t hate me too much.”

Michael is Ray’s middle name and Michael’s mother is the woman Ray left behind when he went to prison for eighteen months for repeated stupidity and grand theft.  The woman he didn’t go back to once he was out. When you add jail to his self-inflicted exile, Ray’s been gone for the better part of six years.

“So she must be talking to you again?” I say, trying to find some hope in the situation, trying to let loose of my own bear traps and let Ray have his time.

“No,” he says and shakes his head, “I think she just needs money. Not that I won’t give it to her. My lawyer says we can have the test done to find out if he’s really my kid. One look at him will tell you that.”

“Do you want to be more than just the money?” I ask, suspicious of the weight this seems to be laying on him.

 “I don’t think I deserve to be,” he says, and when I open my mouth to speak he holds up a hand for me to rethink it.

He’s trusted me with something. This is not the time to talk about old injuries. Inside, the mourning goes on without us. I reach over and take Ray’s hand in mine. I fear that he’ll jerk it away but he doesn’t. Not at first. Our hands seem to grow hot around each other like a transfer of guilt and sadness and when it seems Ray can bear it no more, he gently pulls his hand from mine.

“Look,” Ray says, “don’t say anything yet. I have to tell Mom.” He sighs and takes the photo out again; looking at it with eyes I was not aware Ray knew.

I’m jealous of the photo.

 “Do you think I could just send the kid over here and let him tell her?” Ray asks.

He looks hopeful and pitiful.

“I think that’s a great idea,” I say, feigning support, and aware that we’re almost joking with each other. “We can lose both of our parents to a stroke.”
I know why he chose me though. Telling Lola would make him accountable, would demand that he stay, and would make him choose between his love for everyone else and his hatred for himself.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Just Found Out Your Boyfriend is a National Celebrity of Sorts

(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, finished novel seeking representation, in which Lola, who suffers from sever memory loss due to a childhood accident discovers that her boyfriend is the actor in nationally known, and very goofy, insurance commericals.)
Lola answers the door before I knock and puts her finger to lips to tell me to be quiet. She motions me into the living room and picks up the remote. She presses a button and a commercial that she’s TiVoed comes on. The volume is low but I know it well.

Your house is trashed, you’ve got a rash. Your car is broke, and it’s no joke. Call on us so there’s no fuss…

I make a face at her. She punches me in the arm and clicks off the television.

“You knew about this?” she asks.

“He makes you happy,” I say.

She waves her hands at me and presses her finger to her lips again.

“He’s here?” I whisper.

“Three weeks I’ve been going around with the guy,” she whispers to me. “No idea who he was and now he’s my kitchen.”

She points to the kitchen with panic in her face.

“It’s not like he broke in,” I whisper. “You’re dating him.”

“But I didn’t know who he was?” Lola says and she looks terrified.

I take her by the arm and walk her back out the front door.

“Ok,” I say. “Let’s take stock. He’s not a stranger that you just woke up to. He’s Chris. You’ve been dating for almost a month. He makes you really happy.”

“He’s the goofy guy from the annoying insurance commercials,” Lola says, her beautiful face twisted up.

“No,” I say. “That’s a character from TV.”

She breathes in and out very deliberately, nodding her head slowly. I begin to mimic her actions until we’re both a bit calmer.

“Does everyone know about this?” she asks pitifully.  

“That he’s the guy from TV?”

She nods.

“Yes, Sweetie,” I say. “Everyone knows about it.”

“Does he know that I don’t know?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I say. “But I do know he’s crazy about you. Now let’s go back inside.”

I ease the door open like I’m sneaking up on a bear.

 “There you are,” Chris says, standing in the living room with two, full coffee mugs in his hand. “You ok?”

“She’s fine,” I say and take one of the mugs and hand it to her. “Hi, Chris.”

He gives me that pressed lip smile you give people that means you know something bad is happening in their world and you know you can’t really do anything about it.

“Good morning, Nina,” he says. “Let me pour you a cup. You’re staying for a bit, yes? Cream and sugar?”

I know Lola needs me to hang around for a while until the shock wears off.

“Yes,” I say. “Thank you.”

He turns back toward the kitchen. Lola is holding her mug with two hands, looking down at the liquid like she doesn’t know what it is.

“Is this how I like my coffee?” she asks me, not looking up from it. “I can see there’s cream. Is there sugar? Did I tell him this? Why can he remember how I like my coffee and I didn’t remember who he was?  Why didn’t I recognize him?”

She inhales sharply at a new idea that seems worse.

“Or is this not the first time that I’m figuring all this out?” she asks and panic wasn’t to rise up in her voice again.  “Have I this conversation with myself before?”

She looks at me and I notice that she has blue paint in her hair.

“Have we talked about this before?” she looks so lost and so pitiful.

“No, honey, we haven’t talked about this before,” I say and touch her pitch black hair. “And yes, you like cream in your coffee. Relax. Stressing makes the holes widen.”

“Stressing makes the holes widen,” she repeats her own mantra that I have just said to her. “Stressing make the holes widen.”

She sits down on the couch and I take a spot in the armchair. She’s gotten used to forgetting little things. Even the fact that she keeps buying that same tea with the really cool picture on the box only to rediscover that she doesn’t like it once she’s home and made a cup and hates it and then can’t bear to waste it so she puts it in the “stuff for guests” drawer where there are already four boxes. But finding out that she’s been sleeping with a nationally known persona—and a goofy insurance one at that—is a bit much to take in before noon.

 “It’s good,” she says, sipping the coffee. “I do like it.”