Six Days

I am at the bottom of a deep dark well.  Even though I yell until I’m hoarse, I know they do not hear me.

I mutter to myself, “two more weeks.  Not even…six days…just six days more.”

They peek down at me, grins on their grubby faces.

I call up to them, “I need you to listen to me!”

But they don’t.  Instead they go back to their games.  They play with ghosts – and you can’t get the ghosts out.

“Six days more, and then it won’t matter…just six days more.”

A shadow cuts off my light.  I look up and see the big one.

He says, “Are you coming?” but I know he means, “We all know you won’t be there.  Everybody knows you never come.”

I want to come, but when I try to tell him about the six days he shakes his head and walks out of sight.  He doesn’t believe me; he thinks the six days are an excuse to stay away.

“They have work to do!” I call out as loud as I can.  No one answers me.  They are not listening.

I am in the dark well.  I will be here every year from February until August, and sometimes in the winter.

Six days pass slowly, and then begin again with more.

And still they play with ghosts in the yard – because you can’t get the ghosts out.

The Devil, the Devil I tell you!

I know I’m not the first person to bitch about this:

Writing a synopsis (especially a one pager for a 110,000 word novel) is an impossible task specifically created by the devil.  In order to drive me to the brink of insanity.

The devil!

I don’t have a problem giving away the ending.  And I want you to critique me mystery critiquer, I do.  But I’m WORDY and I’ve only just introduced you to my main character and half a page is already gone.

First paragraph:

When 17-year-old Rosemary O’Connor moves from boarding school in Southern India to a new life in the Midwestern United States with her part-time parents, she is determined to keep her head down, bide her time, and get out as soon as she can.  Rosie’s game plan involves keeping new relationships to a minimum, making no waves at school, and avoiding conflict on the home front.  A game plan which fails miserably.

It’s okay, it’s not rock solid.  I did some research online and a few people suggested movie backs & book jackets for inspiration.  I hit up Netflix, but all that did was make me want to watch dramatic British indie films and drink beer instead of writing.

Paragraph the second:

Rosie was born in Ireland but immigrated to Canada before she could pick up an accent.  At twelve her family moved to India. The time she spent in Kodaikanal, the remote hill station that was her home for 3 years, was pivotal in the development her personality and of her moral compass – in which she takes great pride. Rosie’s one friend at school is another newbie named Sarah. The girls are different in almost every way.  Because of her experiences in India, Rosemary strives to rise above typical teen attitudes, but also struggles with them – because she is a teenager.  Sarah is indulgent, thoughtless, self-involved & easy.  But she loves Rosemary and proves to be a true friend to her.

UGH.

From there it deteriorates into character descriptions that sound like poor attempts at one line hooks.

It shouldn’t be this hard to summarize.  It’s mine – I wrote it.  I know the characters, I know what happens to them.  Why can’t I tell you about it?

For tonight, I blame the devil.  And laziness.  And Netflix.  And thirst.  But mostly the devil.

There Will be Blood.

I take it back.  Holly Black, you are not killing me.  You hear that Holly Black? I’m sorry.  Truly.

I decided to swallow my sour grapes and finish reading The Poison Eaters – which was the root of yesterday’s despair.  Every short story in that book could have gone on forever and I would have happily followed along.  I wanted more at the end of each and every one.  (The secret surprise was the short story tie-in to the Tithe series.  Oh, Roiben & Kaye & Corny & Luis, how I love you!)

It’s honesty time.  Now that I have a full time job (hiding under the guise of a part-time job – don’t get me started on that one) I have no time to write.   My first book flowed out of me in 6 weeks.  All at once.  All 110,000  words of it.
I wrote every day for hours and hours.

Because I could.

I just don’t have the luxury to do that anymore.  The two manuscripts I have partially completed are sitting in the queue patiently waiting their turn.  But truly, they have no choice – I don’t know what to do with them.

I’m not feeling creative or inspired. (Insert sick feeling here.)

My plan as of last night was to go to bed, wake up with fresh eyes and a fresh heart and see what the day brought me.  Look for signs…that sort of thing.

But instead I printed off the first 50 pages of Uncommon Ground and tonight, God willing, I will sit down with a clear head and a Fine Point Sharpie and start slashing.

There will be blood.

Hopefully followed by inspiration.

And furious typing.

Holly Black is Killing Me. (Figuratively Speaking)

There is a lump in my chest that makes it hard to breathe, to swallow.

Time speeds by, but my work stands still.  I steal time with the words of others because I cannot steal enough for my own. Rather than inspired, I am jealous & angry.  Rather than inspired, I am humbled.  Rather than inspired, I am struck dumb.

Numb.

Not numb.

Raging – just as counterproductive.

What would I give for a good week? For more hours in a day?

(worse yet is the question:  should I even bother?)

Darby

I didn’t think much about what it would be like after I died.  It seems kind of stupid, looking back.  But there is nothing I can do about it now.  What’s done is done.  Dead is dead.

I could tell you about my life before.  I could tell you about the girl I was before I became this vaporous ghoul.  But really, there is nothing to tell:  I was a flavorless stick of gum.  I was bored and boring.  I was nothing and no one.  And now I’m dead.  And at least in death this feeling of invisibility isn’t insulting.

My name was Darby.  Still is, I suppose.  It was one thing I always liked about myself.  When I was alive I hid behind plaid jumpers and square glasses.  I had short bobbed hair with a straight fringe.  I liked barrettes – those little plastic ones five-year olds wear.  And knee socks.  And books.  But not people.  I didn’t really care much for people, and no one cared for me.  Not even my own family.

I guess the thing I miss most about being alive is the music.  Oh, and the books.  Sounds and words: two things that never let me down.

If I was to give you one piece of advice about death and dying, it would be this: do not, I repeat, do not stick around for your own funeral.  I can’t imagine it working out well for anyone.

If you had people in your life who loved you it will be awful to see them moaning and crying at your grave.

If you were alone in life – and no one came to see you buried, and you were going to be alone in the afterlife – well that is terrible too.

Or, if you were like me – neutral milk – then the bland send off would leave you as uninspired in death as you once were in life.

I guess the hope I had for my life-after-death was that it would have some sort of spice to it – some excitement.  I wanted to make things happen: to make waves, see reactions – to know that I had some effect. I thought for certain my funeral would be just the affair.  I was sadly mistaken.

I stayed with my body (what was left of it) out of morbid curiosity.  I didn’t feel anything tying me to it.  It was quite the opposite.  I tried to approach myself more than once in that first 24 hours but it was like coming up against a brick wall.

When they finally found me I was much worse for the wear.  My body, that is.  I stayed pretty calm through the whole thing.  Mostly I was disappointed I had to continue walking – I thought for sure my boring old walking days were over.

In the morgue I saw a few other bodies.  No others like me though.  It’s not surprising to me that I am the only ghost for miles.  Anyway, the other bodies wouldn’t let me in either.  Dead is dead.

And Darby, is Dead.

That’s what they said at my funeral.  The minister asked my mother if she wanted to say a few words.  She nodded, stood up and said, “Darby is dead.” Then she sat back down.  A few minutes later they poured the dirt on.  I was the only one left for that.  My funeral was not a heavily attended event.

You hear about these kids who die in tragic accidents – like an enlarged heart, or a drunken swimming mishap, or getting smooshed while trying to hop on a moving train.  Kids who get really sad and off themselves or drive drunk or are just in the wrong place at the wrong time…you hear about all these tragic kids…and I’m just not one of them.

No one from school came to my funeral.  I didn’t have a friend or lab partner or parentally-enforced-play-date or secret-former-neighbor-turned hot-guy-who still talked to me when no one was around or I looked particularly morose.  I didn’t have the renegade teacher or librarian who took a quiet interest in me.  I had no siblings.  I had no father.  No extendo-family. No job.  No pets.  I just had me.  And even I was bored of my own company.

So when the minister at my funeral turned to my mother, there was no one there but me and him to hear her pronouncement.  No tears.  This did not surprise me.

I went to one of those tragic teenage funerals a couple of years back.  It was the one where the dead kids church was not quite big enough for all of the family and friends and neighbors and teammates and classmates and guys-they-partied-with and girls-they-did-it-with and guys-who-envied-them-and-hated-them and girls-who-wanted-them-and-hated-them piled into a giant borrowed former-electronic-store-turned-rocking-church to sob and cry and talk about how awful it was and listen to Fade to Black by the Rolling Stones. This was not my funeral.

Before I died, I never imagined it would be even more boring to be dead then it was to be alive.

So I wanted to find somewhere to hang out…to wait and see what was going to happen next.  After my funeral I spent some time at the house with my Mom.  I watched her sleep and eat.  Then I watched her put all of my stuff into boxes for the Salvation Army.  And a week after I died, I watched as her bereavement leave ended and she went back to work.  I left the house behind her that day and haven’t been back to see her since.

I’ve kind of lost track of time.  I went back to the cemetery half hoping, half dreading I’d have the opportunity to see someone like me.  I needn’t have bothered with worrying.  After visiting every graveyard I know at varying times of day, I am still the only dead person around.  Here is the weird thing though – I can see everything that is alive.

Not much about the world has changed.  A house is still a house.  A car is still a car.  Boulevards and signs and lamp posts and hydrants and schools and skyscrapers and garbage cans and flag poles and playgrounds all look exactly the same.  But everything that is alive: plants, animals, people, bugs…are all glowing.  From the inside.  Some lights are brighter, blinding almost.  Some are faint.  Even at night, when the world is dark, trees pulse with life-light.

I didn’t notice it at all at first, or maybe it gets stronger the longer I’m dead.

 

As Yet Untitled

Strangers approached Tavious on the street – not sure why, but compelled to engage him in conversation. Others found their way to his front door.  They shared with Tavious things they told no other.  And somehow, magically, he would find for them what they needed.  His magic, the magic of understanding, and his skill with locating objects, (often within his sheds and shacks and salons) solved many problems, and healed many old human hurts.

An example: One day Tavious was painting a decrepit old rowboat in front of his home; bright and gaudy pinks and greens – a gift for his oldest friend Ethelyn.  She had recently become Queen, and as a tribute (and out of guilty feelings) Tavious wanted to give her something special and unique.

His young human wife, Marigold, six months pregnant, was in the house resting – her toes swollen up like cocktail weenies in the summer heat. A woman drove down the street and slowed to gawk at the jumble in their yard.  Tavious took no notice, even as the car screeched to a stop, and reversed back to his driveway.

The woman approached Tavious, and uninvited, took a seat on an overturned bucket.

“There was a boat that color in the village where I grew up.” She said.

Tavious smiled at her encouragingly.

“We didn’t have a boat of our own,” she continued. “We were very poor.  So poor that I don’t believe I owned a new piece of clothing until I was married.  My clothes were always worn by someone else before me.”

“That’s hard.” Tavious said.

“What’s really hard,” continued the woman, “is sharing your parents with nine other kids.  When my mother got old, she had an accident.  She fell and broke her back, and was paralyzed for years and years.  In the end, she went a bit mental.  And I think she forgot about me…” her voice became a whisper as she spoke her darkest thought, “maybe even stopped loving me.  Sometimes I can’t remember if she ever loved me.  And now, both my parents are gone.”

Tavious had stopped painting.  He watched the woman intensely, studied her face, digested her words.  She was staring off into space, lost in her own sad thoughts and didn’t look up when he spoke again.

“Please wait here a moment,” he said softly.

Tavious walked with purpose to the back of the house.  A lean-to attached to the house but not accessible from within was propped open.  He disappeared for a moment, and when he came out he had a child’s suitcase in his hands.

He walked over to the woman and put the case on the ground in front of her, saying nothing.

The sound of the case touching the driveway seemed to rouse her and she reached for it eagerly, stopping to wipe the grime off the locks before opening the case.  She opened the lid, and with a cry of delight snatched out the doll inside.  It jingled as she pulled it close and tears threatened to spill from her wide eyes.

“My Golli!” she said.

“Yes,” Tavious answered. “It took a long time for her to save up the labels for that toy… jar upon jar of marmalade, months of scheming and saving…all for you.”

“All for me.” she repeated.

The woman got up and walked away from Tavious, the doll in her arms.  She came back from her car a moment later and handed him a wad of cash.

“Thank you.” He said, accepting her offering.

“My mother loved me,” her voice was thick as she smiled at him.

“Don’t you forget it,” Tavious added, winking as he said it.

Jiggity Jig

I made it back safe and sound from my Mother-Daughter Vacation to sunny Southern California!

Just before I boarded my first flight in Moline I spotted a shiny copper penny on the ground.  I put it in my pocket (see previous posts…I’ll take all the luck I can get) and handed over my boarding pass with tears streaming down my face.

The steward looked at me and said, “you don’t want to go do you?”

Of course not!

I did my usual kiss-the-palm-of-my-hand-then-touch-the-outside-of-the-plane routine and found my seat.

It was, as the pilot warned it would be, a very bumpy ride.  We were flying in to Chicago behind a nasty storm.  I couldn’t see the city – it was obscured by clouds, but I could see about 10 other planes circling.  My flight to San Diego was less eventful…except for the girl beside me who kept up a steady stream of silent but deadly gas emissions for the entire flight.  She seemed like she was sleeping, but I’m pretty sure it was a ruse to make the toots more acceptable.

Mom and I had a great time.  We didn’t argue, we ate when we were hungry, we shopped – but not too much.  We stopped on every beach we wanted and didn’t spend too much time getting lost or annoyed.  I discovered I am stronger than I had thought, and am still capable of doing a mean handstand.

It was a great trip, in spite of the earthquakes.

THREE FRICKIN EARTHQUAKES.

Earthquake One occurred when I was sitting in a Hilton conference room listening to Robert Allen speak.  (Don’t ask.)  I thought I was having a  massive panic attack, (because physical vibration is a symptom of panic?) but I asked Mom if she felt anything – just to make certain.

The lady beside my Mom piped up with, “Oh, that’s just the earth.  Look at the chandelier.”  Sure enough, the massive Hilton chandelier was rocking back and forth.  Robert Allen didn’t miss a beat, and no one else seemed bothered.  It was very strange.   I mean really, JUST THE EARTH?

Earthquake two happened that night while we were sleeping.  I woke up at 2:14 a.m. because my bed was rattling.  It was stronger than a ride on one of those Magic Fingers Vibrating Beds (for your comfort and relaxation) found in all great hotels of the 70’s and 80’s.

EQ2 was the biggest one, and in fact I missed Earthquake three.

Back to quake two.  People were calling it an aftershock…it measured 5.2 on the Richter Scale.  In Iowa we call that an earthquake.

Right before getting on the plane to come home (which was delayed by mechanical issues – they couldn’t unload one of the lav’s and ended up putting an out-of-order sign on it! I swear I smelled sewer the whole way to CO.) I found another shiny penny.  I gladly pocketed it.  My Mom saw me off, again with tears streaming down my face.

My final flight was out of Denver.  They had the airport down to one runway for both arrivals and departures because of heavy winds.  Then they diverted an hour and a half around bad weather.  I am grateful to the pilots for not mentioning the detour until AFTER it happened.

The next trip is supposed to be my sons and I going to Canada for two weeks this summer.  I started researching alternate forms of travel the day after I got back.  Unfortunately, the train will not get me to Saskatoon.  Guess I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for those pennies.

Because I’ll go – even though I’m certain my fear has the capacity to take down a plane.

My wake-up call came two weeks ago when one of my friends lost her mother. There will be no more Mother-Daughter extravaganzas for her.  It’s a terrible thing, to lose your mother. The fact that it happens to all of us doesn’t make it less awful.

So there is nothing that will keep me from seeing mine.  Not while we both walk this earth.  Earthquakes and turbulence be damned.