NaNoWriMo: Day 3

Chapter 2

“Moving?” I said, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, hoping I was still dreaming. “But why?”

My mother’s hair was up in a brown knot on top of her head, and her face sagged from some unseen weight. She sipped her coffee calmly, but her fingers twitched a rapid beat on the side of her mug. She gave me a look full of exhaustion and annoyance, the same kind of look she used to give when I would refuse to touch a dinner she had painstakingly made. I was afraid of that look.

“Because,” she said, setting the coffee mug down.  Her fingers continued to twitch. “Because we both need a change. This house holds too many memories for us, and I’ve decided it would do us both some good to get a fresh start. Plus, we’ll be nearer to your Uncle Martin.”

“But I like it here. I don’t want to leave.”

“It’s already been decided. Now I don’t want to hear any more of it.”

“What do you mean?” My heart skipped a beat. I certainly hadn’t decided anything.

My mother took a deep breath. She was sitting at the table and had her chair turned sideways, so it was facing me, and she leaned closer to me and reached for my hands, holding them in her own. “Honey, I already signed the lease. We’re going to leave as soon as we can, hopefully before the weekend is over. I have to go back to work Monday. Your uncle is coming to help pack boxes and move.”

It was then that I took a good look around the kitchen. There were some boxes on the counter, and plates wrapped in newspaper. I ran out of the kitchen and into the living room, where more boxes greeted me. I wanted to wake up in my treehouse. I closed my eyes and pinched my arm and wished that I would just wake up because this had to be a nightmare.

My mother was calling for me from the kitchen, but I ignored her and ran up the stairs to my bedroom. I let out a sigh of relief, seeing that my possessions had been left untouched. My stomach dropped again, a second later, when I realized that I would have to pack everything I owned: my books, and legos, and miniature cars, into their own little cardboard boxes, and tape them up and stick them in the car and leave this place forever.

I went over to my bed and flopped down face-first on the mattress, burying my head in the pillows. My eyes began to sting, and I tried not to cry, but they came anyway. Soon my pillow was wet and I was sniffing back snot and trying to pretend that none of this was happening. It was dark and soft with my face in the pillow, and I couldn’t see any boxes.

Eventually I stopped crying, and just lay there. I heard my mother opening the door, and could tell that she was just standing there, trying to tell whether or not I was asleep. I tried faking it, but then couldn’t hold back a tickle in my nose and sneezed.

“Bless you,” she said.

I turned over on my side and faced the wall. My eyes were open now, and I stared at my Buzz Lightyear covers. To infinity and beyond. Buzz Lightyear was never afraid of new things, and I decided that I would try to not be afraid too.

The bed sank a little, and my body tilted slightly, telling me that my mother was sitting on the side of my bed next to me. She put a hand on my back and rubbed it. Then she started humming; a simple melody that had calmed me down and put me to sleep when I was younger, and now, made me remember that I loved my mother, and didn’t want her to go too.

The humming trailed off after some time, growing fainter and more repetitive, until she stopped altogether.

“It won’t be so bad,” she whispered. “We’re not moving cities, and you’ll still be able to go to the same school, so you won’t be leaving your friends. We need this…I need this, okay?.”

I didn’t answer. She waited a few moments before leaving, and soon I could hear her downstairs, moving dishes into boxes.

That was Friday, and over the course of the next two days I managed to pack all of my belongings into a dozen different-shaped boxes. Going through my treehouse was the hardest, but my mother told me that Uncle Martin could take it down and put it back up in the yard of the new house, if I wanted.

I tried to change my perspective, to look at the move as exciting and new and full of possibilities, but underneath all of that was the dread and the anxiety of leaving my father’s house behind. Saturday evening, after seeing that all of my things were packed and ready to go in the morning, my mother gave me back my Zelda cartridge, and I spent the rest of the night battling my way through the first dungeon, determined to catch back up to where I had left off.

On Sunday morning my Uncle Martin pulled up to the house at eight o’clock in a big U-Haul, and brought a box of doughnuts, coffee, and a bottle of chocolate milk for me. I ate a custard-filled long john and a sprinkled cake doughnut, and then we were making trip after trip out to the big cave-like U-Haul and stacking boxes on top of one another. My mother helped Uncle Martin move the bigger furniture, the couch, the beds, and the kitchen table, which I helped with.

When the U-Haul was full we loaded up the white station wagon too, with the smaller boxes of dishes and clothes. I pulled my uncle aside after stuffing the last box in the trunk, and asked him about my treehouse. He asked me to show it to him, and we went around the house and into the backyard.

Uncle Martin looked up at the treehouse and scratched his head. He was a big man, with heavy looking arms, and a heavier belly that made him look stocky and strong, not fat. “Well,” he said, “to be honest, I’ve never built a treehouse, or been much of a handyman. Your father was always better with his hands than I was.” He took a deep breath and cleared his throat with a rumbling cough. “How about we leave this here for the next family, and try after you’ve gotten all moved in. How’s that sound, bud”

“That’s fine,” I said. I was lying. It wasn’t fine, and didn’t sound very good to me at all. I liked my treehouse, and wanted all of it exactly the way it was. But Uncle Martin was speaking in that voice adults sometimes use when they’ve already made up their mind, and I knew that he wouldn’t listen to me if I told him how I really felt.

Uncle Martin drove the U-Haul, while I went with my mother in the station wagon. I got to sit up front, because the back seats had been lowered to make room for more boxes, and I rolled the window all the way down, past where the back ones would go, and stuck my hand out to rise and dip in the moving air.

It was only a fifteen minute drive to the other side of town, and when we turned on to Sunny Lane, and I saw the fence at the end of the street, I groaned. I imagined myself in the horrible future of this new life, kicking a ball at that fence by myself because I had nothing better to do.

“There’ll be other kids your age,” my mother said, as if reading my mind. “I’m sure you’ll make friends.”

We pulled up to a small, single-story house near the end of the street. The front yard was small, with only one twig-like tree standing in the middle of it, supported by a thin wooden post. Hedge-like bushes sat short and squat underneath two windows, and connected to one long hedge that separated our new house from a blue one of similar style next door. A big oak tree with low branches, perfect for a treehouse, sat just on the other side of the hedge.

There was a girl in the tree. She looked to be about my age, maybe younger, and she was sitting on one of the higher branches and swinging her legs through the air. Her hair was raven-black and long, braided into a ponytail that rested over her front. She wore blue denim overalls and a red shirt, and she was watching us as we moved our boxes into the house. When I lifted a hand to wave at her, she blew a bubble of gum and popped it over her face so it stuck to her nose. I lowered my hand, turned to grab another box, and felt her eyes follow me as I took it into the house.

My new room was smaller than my old one, and it took some thought to get everything the way I wanted it. I didn’t have enough room for my lego table, so we ended up putting it in a spare bedroom that my mother told me could be my new playroom, if I wanted. Since I doubted my uncle would ever get around to building me a new treehouse, this served as a decent consolation. I put my legos, comic books, and telescope in there, as well as a beanbag chair that had before sat unused in my old room. I figured the new location would give it a second chance, and maybe I would start using it.

It took me the rest of the day to get all of my things unpacked and sorted. My room now looked like a smaller, more cramped version of what it had been before.

I left my room to go and explore the rest of the house. My room was the first in the narrow hallway, with the bathroom and master bedroom on one end, my playroom in between, and the living room out the opposite side. In the hallway just outside my door was a square of trim, with a wooden cover and a tiny loop of a string dangling from the center. I ignored it and walked through the living room and into the kitchen/dining room, which was really just a large kitchen with our table sitting there in the middle of it. Uncle Martin and my mother were sitting at the table with glasses of wine and an open bottle between them. They both looked up as I walked in.

“All finished?” my mother asked.

I nodded, wondering when my uncle would go home. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him. I just hadn’t completely forgiven him for not so much as mentioning my treehouse again. I don’t think he ever intended on building it, or even trying for that matter.

“Good. Listen, I spoke with the neighbor next door, Ms. Cleary, she’s a sweet old lady, really, and she agreed to watch you for the day tomorrow. Her granddaughter Clara is staying with her for the summer, so you’ll have someone your age to play with.”

“Okay,” I said. I wasn’t so sure how much I’d like her, or if we could be friends. I remembered the way she stared at me in the tree, with almost dead eyes, and popped her bubblegum, and I hoped that she wasn’t mean.

My uncle leaned forward and tousled my hair. “That’s a sport,” he said. His cheeks were flushed red, and he smiled with his whole face, his eyes forming little sideways crescents.

“Sweetie, why don’t you go and play your game for the night?” my mother said. “Your uncle and I still have some things to talk about.” She kissed me goodnight on the cheek and my uncle patted me on the back, and I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth and climbed into bed with my Gameboy.

I played for several hours, and made my way through two whole dungeons until my eyelids began to droop. I saved my progress and turned off the light, laying there in my bed in an unfamiliar room.

I still hadn’t heard the big U-Haul truck move, or seen the headlights pass over my window and down the dead-end street. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard muffled voices, and then a loud laugh in the night, and I imagined my Uncle Martin’s big red face getting redder.


What Did You Expect?

As far as first impressions go, Debra was not impressed.

The guy seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. He waited for her shocked reaction which never came, and frowned in obvious disappointment when her eyes merely flicked in his direction before returning to her novel. The fluff of white hair on his head looked to have the consistency of a truffula tree. His skin was almost the same color, a translucent hue that made Debra think of vampires and basement dwellers.

He blurted out something about being the moon and how they were destined to be together. When she didn’t respond he continued. “Haven’t you felt like you’re just waiting for the right person to meet? I mean, let’s face it. Greg didn’t turn out to be much of a keeper, did he?”

Debra set her book down. “You’ve been spying on me.” It wasn’t a question. Lunar deity or not, it was an invasion of privacy.

“Well, spying is a bit harsh, I’d say. I’d prefer ‘hidden admiring’.”

You’re the one that’s been watching me. “You’re the one that’s been giving me goosebumps for no reason.” She jabbed a finger at him with each accusation. Nearby conversations fell to a whisper, ears hoping to get their daily dose of drama.

“Er, well. Isn’t that sort of, you know, old-fashioned and charming?” He gave a weak smile.

Debra stood up. “No. It’s creepy and weird. Stop watching me and get a life.” She scooped up her book and turned to leave.

“Wait!” the moon said, pushing back his chair. “Aren’t you even, like, a little curious?”

When she looked him in the eyes she saw right through him, and he didn’t look like the moon at all. Just a sad and lonely man desperate for companionship.

“No,” she said, and walked away, leaving the moon as it will always be.

Flash Fiction, Sequentials

The Lemming and the Loon

It was a bit better and a bit worse than a normal morning for Debra Lemming. For one, she had finally gotten laid after nearly a year. Greg had offered to make breakfast, even though it was her kitchen and her food. Just a tad presumptuous for her taste, but it was a nice gesture. Greg seemed to be full of nice gestures. Especially the kind that got him something out of it. Take last night.

Debra shielded her eyes from the sun as she sat and waited at the small, two-person table shoved against the wall. One too many cocktails, Debby. Yes, last night had been fun indeed. Although during, she couldn’t shake the itching feeling that they were being watched. But that was impossible. They were five floors up and the blinds had been drawn. Still, she had been having that feeling a lot recently, and kept expecting to turn her head and lock eyes with some mysterious watcher, but never did. She shook her head. She should stop watching those Cold Case Files. They were making her paranoid.

The coffee was piping hot and black, as coffee should be, and Debra let her mug sit on the counter and cool while Greg helped himself to a cup.

“Got any cream?” he asked, already moving to the fridge.

“Nope, but some almond milk on the top shelf there.”

“Thanks.” He splashed in a generous amount and some coffee dribbled over the side. He heroically mopped up the spill with his sock. “Eggs an’ toast fine?” he asked.

“Just toast for me.” She hoped he would get the hint. There were only two eggs left in the carton. Please, just get the hint.

“Suit yourself,” he said, and pulled out the carton.

Debra took a sip from her mug then. The coffee was too hot and that was all right. It was obvious now that Greg had been a mistake. Well no, Debra Lemming didn’t believe in making mistakes, only misinformed decisions. Watching him try to scramble eggs without oiling the pan, she knew she wouldn’t be going home with the charming moocher type again.

Flash Fiction, Sequentials

The Tortoise Rises

Howard strode out to where the tortoise lay on the lawn. It looked up at him with pathetically dull, half-closed eyes and wiggled its feet in the air. Kneeling down in a low squat, Howard reached his hands into the gap between grass and shell. His feet pushed off the ground hard. In a colossal effort, muscles bunched and straining, Howard eased the tortoise up off its back. The thing was so heavy that when gravity took over the shell slipped from Howard’s grasp, and it landed with a reverberating thud.

Howard shook out his arms. The physical work had felt good. It woke him up, made his thoughts a little clearer. If the tortoise was here to stay, he thought, he’d better adapt to it.

In the garage was his grandfather’s workbench, with tools and lumber a plenty. Howard had never been much of a handyman, but he did have a fondness for carving and woodworking, though he was lousy at it. He supposed that was better than nothing, and got to work immediately, selecting two-by-fours and trimming them down to the proper length with his grandfather’s miter saw. He fashioned the planks into stakes and placed them around the perimeter of the garden. Howard enjoyed the physical labor. As a kid, it seemed he was always doing some type of yardwork whether it be raking leaves, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out the gutters. There was something satisfying about doing that kind of work. It was empowering, completing tasks with your body, by yourself, that he had found nothing else could quite capture. After rummaging around in the garage, Howard found some old chicken wire that he wrapped around the stakes. It wouldn’t stop something as crafty as a raccoon, but Howard thought it should be enough to protect his precious flowers from the tortoise.

Drenched in sweat and sticky from the heat, Howard took shelter inside and hopped in a cold shower. He wasn’t sure whether it had been the physical activity, or the rescuing of the tortoise, but it felt as if a veil had lifted over Howard’s head. What had once been shrouded in sulking self-doubt was now pure and clear as a mountain spring.

After his shower Howard immediately phoned Grace and told her he wanted her to move in. It took some convincing to prove he was serious, but in the end she agreed.

Over the next month Howard’s life went through a radical change. He gave away a lot of his grandfather’s old things to family members. What he couldn’t give away he sold in a yard sale. Grace moved in, and brought with her a vibrant new life to the old house. She came in with her notebook and jotted down idea after idea for what they could do with all the space. They would repaint some rooms, move furniture.

When they had unpacked the last of the boxes and the move was final, they shared a bottle of pinot on the back patio and watched the tortoise roam the lawn. Howard had taken seeds from the community garden and grown a vegetable patch exclusively for the tortoise, full of cabbages and tomatoes and onions. He’d started in his spare time to construct it a shelter for the oncoming storms and winter months ahead. It kept him busy, and he liked the work. Most of all, Howard reveled in the current of life that seemed to propel him forward these days. The constant doing felt good, natural.

The two watched the tortoise make its slow, deliberate way toward its private patch. And in the fading light they sat and drank, happy for now, in an act of simple observation, and the pleasure of each other’s company.

Flash Fiction, Sequentials

The Tortoise Remembers

Howard grabbed a banana from his fruit basket and broke it in two. He had just bought a bunch from the farmer’s market on a whim, as he hadn’t had one in a while. The tortoise was still on its back outside, legs feeling for the ground. Howard peeled each half of the banana individually, leaving the connecting strand in the middle, which made them resemble primitive nun chucks. He held the two pieces of fruit in either hand, taking intermittent bites so they stayed at an even height. The meat of the banana was pulpy and slightly wet, and the bruised bits were sweeter and softer than the usual firmness he preferred.

As he watched the tortoise from his window, his thoughts drifted to when he and Grace had an impromptu picnic on the lake. The one that went wrong.

It had been a perfect day. The sun was high overhead, giving off enough heat to keep them in their summer wear, but not so much that it was unbearable. Everything on the lake pulsed with life. The trees on the far bank lush and green, leaves rustling in the breeze. The water itself was cloudy with mud and clay, but still reflected a near-perfect image of the tree line on its glassy surface.

“You’re so weird. You know that right?” Grace said, popping another grape into her mouth. She sat across from him on the canoe as they drifted on the open water.

Howard shrugged and took a huge bite of the banana, finishing one of the halves. He puffed out his cheeks and drooped his jaw in perfect imitation of a baboon. Grace laughed, dunking her hand in the water and flicking her fingers so that droplets splashed on him. “You know I hate that face,” she said.

Howard finished his banana, and was just about to comment on what a great idea this all had been, when his phone vibrated in his pocket.

“Hello?” he said. “Yes.” He looked at Grace. “Yes, I understand.” A flock of geese passed nearby, and Howard watched the fuzzy goslings follow their parents among the reeds. A gust of wind rushed past and he put a finger to his ear. “What? No, no. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Love you too.”

“Who was that?” Grace asked after he had hung up.

The phone hung limp in one hand. “My mom. My grandfather had a heart attack. Said she found him on the couch a few hours ago.” His voice was calm, unwavering.

“Oh my god.”

“So.” Howard looked down at the empty banana peel still in his hands. “We should probably go then,” he said.

The funeral was that weekend. When he was asked to be a pallbearer he excused himself to the bathroom and stifled sobs in one of the stalls. It was strange. He and his grandfather had never been close, but for some reason the death seemed more real than he thought it would. Perhaps because it was so unexpected. His grandmother was in a home, and they had all expected her to go first. And his grandfather had been young. Just sixty-five. His big belly and silver hair had never changed.

Howard didn’t finish the service with the rest of his family. Didn’t watch his grandfather be lowered six-feet-under in a wooden box. Instead he smoked a cigarette and walked among the other tombstones, wondering if one day someone would pass by his grandfather’s in a similar way.

A well-dressed lawyer with a thin, receding hairline and a thin receding voice went over the particulars of his grandfather’s will with them. Howard had somehow gotten the house, and what possessions they had left in it. A few things went to his mother and uncle: the car, the money, and the collection of family videos and photo albums, but for the most part they were left out. His uncle hadn’t been happy about that, feeling as though he deserved more, he stormed out. Howard hadn’t talked to him since.

That had been close to six months ago, and Howard still didn’t feel at home. It was strange, living alone in a place that he had once only visited for family cookouts and get-togethers. Sometimes his mother would leave him for a weekend, which he would spend watching television until he was ushered outside by his grandmother, where he climbed trees and collected interesting rocks before having a dinner of bologna and mayonnaise sandwiches. Now he did crosswords and fussed over the roses, and ate frozen pizzas and cold cereal.

The tortoise was still out there. He had left it lying on its back for a whole day now. Would the thing remember how cruel he was being to it? He wondered if he could leave it like that until it died. But as soon as the thought entered his mind Howard knew he would never go through with it. Even though the tortoise had given him a world of grief, he couldn’t bring himself to let the old, pathetic creature go like that.

But he’d still leave it there one more day. Just to teach it a lesson.

On Writing, Ramblings

Character, Plot, and Story

I’d like to go into a brief exploration into the relationship between character and plot, and how they relate to the overall effectiveness of a story.

To start things off, let’s first narrow down what we as readers expect from a story. One of the first things that comes to my mind is that I don’t want my time to be wasted. I want the story to be interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining. So what is it that makes a story interesting, thought provoking, and entertaining?

A Story is About Something That Matters

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t amazingly written stories about trivial circumstances. There are. But the reason that those stories succeed is because the author has made the reader believe that whatever happens does in fact matter, regardless of what that should be. And who does it matter to, you ask? Why should you care?

The Character Matters

This is what makes you keep turning the page. You want to find out what happens next because you have been made to care about the main character in some way. Maybe you sympathize with them and relate to their struggle, or maybe they seem malicious and you want them to get what’s coming. Either way, the author has created an imaginary person who manages to get you to feel something for them. That is, some would say, the greatest accomplishment a writer can achieve.

Character and Plot

This is where it can get a bit confusing. In a way, you cannot talk about character without bringing up plot, and vice versa.

Let’s take a look at plot first. Plot is not merely what happens in a story, but why. Meaning, that there is a big difference between simply rendering in chronological order: this happened, then this, then this…, and taking the reader through a journey as to why and how a particular event occurred. Plot involves the specific ordering of how a series of events is revealed so as to wring as much emotion and meaning from it as possible.

Now in order to capture our attention, plot has to follow character. Otherwise, novels would read more like outlines or storyboards. Merely stating what happens isn’t what gives us the satisfaction as readers. Above, I mentioned the why and how that makes plot stand out. Character is where the why and how come from.Who a person is and what happens to them influences what they choose to do. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it rings true in the context of story. The way I see it, character and plot come together to create story.

So What? 

So, why does this all matter and what can you do with it? If you’re looking for an answer as to how to start writing a story, or where it all begins, you’ll have to look someplace else. I don’t really have that answer. It seems that in my own work sometimes an interesting series of events hits me, but I find creating a character to fit into them difficult to do. Other times, the character will come first, but I’ll have trouble finding things for them to do. It’s a godsend when you’re hit with both at the same time.

I think the best advice that I can give is to practice. Write what sounds fun. Write what you’d like to read. And don’t forget to experiment with new ways to approach your writing. You never know when it will lead to something bigger.