The Lady’s Story

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opporunity to write something for that fantastic writer’s community known as The Lightening and The Lightening Bug. Surely, you’ve visited and read the varied and talented contributions of the writers who link up each Sunday, right?

The prompt this week suggested that we write about “Objects in the Mirror”  – you were supposed to write about something seen in a mirror. It could have been yourself, someone else, a ghost, a car, your evil twin from another universe – the looking glass, as Alice might have said, was wide open. Oddly enough, I was recently experimenting with a fiction piece about the ghost in my childhood farmhouse and used the very words, “looking glass” in my character’s inner dialogue.

Since we’ve entered that month devoted to pagan holidays, I decided to link up my tale about the Lady, my nearly constant childhood companion. If you recall, my stories were all true…this one is not. It is merely my imagination at work, attempting to explain who the Lady was and why she stayed with me for so many years. I removed drafts of my true ghost stories from Narragansett No. 7 because I’m working on the in my graduate program…I suppose that if anyone wants to see them again, I could post in honor of Halloween.

This story is nothing more than an experiment.

THE LADY’S STORY

How long have I been waiting in this silent house? I have no way of knowing. I wander from room to room searching for my daughter, worrying that she’ll never come home. Time seems to stand still, as if years have passed while I was sleeping but, I never recall going to sleep. Forever waiting and searching, my thoughts drift, returning me to the hours I spent pacing the length of the hall, waiting for my girl’s fever to break.  Throughout those nights, I crept into her room to check her, to make sure she was still breathing. There were times when I couldn’t help but lean over her tiny bed and nearly place my ear against her frail chest, listening for her wheezing exhalations.  How many times during those long nights had I hovered over her as she slept? Filled with helplessness and worry, I waited for her father to return with the doctor.

Now neither of them is here and I didn’t remember them leaving. So I wait, sure that he has taken her away for treatment. But how long ago had they departed and left me with no word of their whereabouts? I’ve become frightened that the influenza has infected my body; it’s the only explanation for this strange mixture confusion and isolation. Certainly, high fever is known to cause odd visions and perhaps the sense of timelessness I have been experiencing. Fever would explain the sense that I’ve slept for days when I come to in a room, one of my own, that suddenly appears foreign.

More than once, I have been sure that I heard voices and hurried to peer from the windows, hoping to see them below in the dooryard. I have scanned the windows of each barn, hoping to see the light of a lantern. So far, I haven’t seen any sign of life and the landscape looks peculiar – askew, as if something has changed and I can’t bear to look for too long. When I do, it seems as though the world has been reversed. An image sent back through a looking glass. Everything is off, as if the trees themselves are different.

Once, I stood before the window in my daughter’s room and forced myself study the world outside. I quickly backed away when the feverish hallucinations began to set in. I was studying the yard in the front of the house and the lane beyond when the very air seemed to quiver, much like the wavering air above a roaring fire. Most disturbing to me was what I saw in that quivering vision. For the briefest moment, I saw a great and brightly colored metal machine moving into the dooryard. The lane in front had transformed to a flat grey stretch as far as the eye could see. It was then that I began to grow dizzy and my body became weightless but, it wasn’t until my eyes moved to my new beautiful marble walk and the young maple tree that I nearly fainted with terror. Somehow, the great heavy lengths of white marble had been lifted and warped by the roots of a tree that could only have lived for years beyond my own existence.

To the right of the giant maple, the row of new lilacs had grown so large as to obscure the lower fields. I stepped away from window, feeling too light and afraid of becoming faint. I turned to fall into the chair at my daughter’s bedside and instead saw a room coated in dust. The plaster was crumbling and the furniture that remained was not our own.

I expected that weightless feeling to consume me and drag me to the floor but I did not faint. Instead I remained quite still and listened. Strange voices traveled up to my ears. Someone was speaking on the floor below. When had I last gone down the stairs to the first floor? I could not remember. When had I last gone outside and walked in my gardens? I grew alarmed and felt as though I was moving through a thick fog that wiped away recent memory.

In my state of distress, I nearly ran from the room that should have been my daughter’s and hurried toward the staircase of the center hall. I was sure that fever was affecting my thoughts and causing these disturbing visions. I was suddenly quite sure that the voices were those of my dear husband and daughter. With an air of determination, I stood at the top of the stairs and willed myself steady enough to descend. Certainly the familiar faces of my family would break this spell and make my world right again.

It was then, with my foot poised above the step, that I was startled by the little girl coming out of the parlor. On first sight, I saw my own girl and I began to open my mouth to call to her, but then she turned. This girl was not mine at all. She was dressed strangely, with her bare legs showing and odd shoes on her feet. Her hair was long and loose, obscuring her face while she stood at the bottom of the stairs inspecting a toy boat. Startled, I moved back and watched her climb the stairs and sit in the alcove. Shocked and unable to speak, I quietly moved toward her and the floor creaked under my foot. The girl jumped, startled by my noise and I began to speak…

Just Answer My BLEEPIN’ question!

I might be back, but I’m still reeling. The 10 days that I spent at my graduate school residency were filled with readings, critiques, faculty presentations, graduate presentations and emotion.

How odd it was, at my age, to become awash with nerves as I approached the Bowdoin College campus. Years peeled away with each step that brought me closer to the doors of the building where I would check in. By the time my right hand wrapped around the wooden handle and I pulled the heavy glass door open, I was feeling all of the emotion that typically accompanied the first day at a new school. I haven’t felt that unease for more years than I care to discuss.

Will they be nice? Will they like me? Will I make friends? Am I smart enough? Am I doing the right thing?

I was handed a meal card and a key to the dorm where I would be sleeping. The dorm was still deserted. I was early.

But was I? Was I early or had I begun this endeavor 18 years too late? Those were the questions I posed to an overly friendly squirrel who sat on the steps with me outside of Thorne Hall. His silence reminded me of a therapist I once saw. She had a maddening habit of blankly staring at me when I posed questions like, “Should I marry Steve?” or, “Is it weird that my future mother-in-law still makes her 26 year old son’s bed?” or, “Why would he propose to me at Disney World…right after we rode the Tower of Terror? That’s just not at all how I envisioned it would happen.” The therapist never responded. She simply sat in her chair, nibbling on the end of her retractable pencil and allowed my questions to linger in the space between us.

Just answer my fucking question, lady.

She didn’t need to answer me. I knew the answers to my questions. I knew I was asking because all of it was wrong. For me, it was wrong. I knew it was a terrible idea to marry him. I knew that he would invite his mother into our relationship far more than I would ever be comfortable with. I knew so much, but chose to ignore that silent therapist and marry him anyway. I ignored my intuition and I suffered for that mistake.

Now, at 40 years old, I found myself sitting on the steps outside of a college dining hall and demanding answers from a common grey squirrel.

Am I smart enough? Am I doing the right thing? Am I allowed to call myself a writer?

The squirrel stared at me and nibbled a morsel he found in the grass. He allowed my question to linger in the space between us.

Just answer my fucking question, squirrel!

He didn’t need to answer me. I knew the truth. I knew that I was asking because what I was about to do – attend my first MFA residency – was right.

I sat on those steps and pondered the path that I’ve been resisting for the better part of my life. The squirrel dropped his morsel and, without hesitation, he ran to catch it again. For some reason, that squirrel jumped onto a wall then leapt onto the grass and approached his prize after making a wide arc across the sidewalk. He didn’t follow the easiest, most obvious route.

Thank you, squirrel.

I stood up, brushed the debris from the back of my skirt and introduced myself to the other writers who had just finished checking in.

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I’d like to take a moment to thank Diana of BettyShmetty fame, the always encouraging Eden of Evergreen Eden , Amber, that talented writer from http://www.thedailydoty.com/, Mary Lauren from My 3 Little Birds –  she makes it all look so easy, doesn’t she? She even navigated No. 7 without suffering any nasty bites. Mollie from  OK in UK…I love when a person shares my dry sense of humor, so much so that sometimes we can’t tell when the other is kidding..or not. Mollie truly is awesome. Katie, that talented and insightful writer from Chicken Noodle Gravy. Katie gets me…on so many levels. We share a deep dislike for mean girls and women who seem unable to stop acting like mobs of 13 year old mean girls. Patty from Another cookie, please. Patty who I’ve known for so long – our friendship actually began before the blogs! She’s been my biggest fan, provides continuous encouragement and support and she’s one hell of a writer. Stop selling yourself short. Finally, I’d like to say thank you to Ada from Of Woods and Words . I stumbled upon Of Woods and Words last fall and immediately became a fan.

Thank you, friends! Thank you for babysitting No. 7 while I was off getting edumacated.

Please take a moment to vote for No. 7. Just one click does the trick!

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The Rain in Maine…

It’s been raining since Sunday. As I write, Tuesday is winding down and it’s been one heck of day. Not in a bad way. No, definitely not bad. But there’s something about days-long rain that evokes an odd disruption in my time-space continuum. By the way, I have no solid grasp on the real meaning of time-space continuum, but it sounded good when I typed it.

Under normal circumstances cloudy, drizzle-filled days bend me out shape. I become cranky and morose, but not this week. I’m waiting. Waiting for the mail to come. Waiting for that package of manuscripts from my fellow workshop attendees – complete strangers who are also waiting for the very same package. We will have one month to read and critique the work contained in those manuscripts then prepare a “thoughtful” two page response for each author in the creative non-fiction group.

Oh…my…God.

It began weeks ago. I’ve been fretting over the fact that my writing will seem glaringly amateurish in comparison to the others. I’ve imagined a group of faceless writers tearing into their manuscripts, enjoying the pieces submitted by fellow workshop members until, one by one, each will turn the page to the section holding my memoir and essay pieces. That’s when my imagination cruelly plays scene upon scene of faculty and authors laughing, perhaps even sneering, as they wonder about exactly how I was admitted. More than one will sit down and compose a scathing critique. That’s what my imagination tells me.

We are required to take a seminar dedicated to etiquette. Specifically, the etiquette of critiquing the work of other writers. In my Stonecoast materials, I have come across at least four reminders that we must be respectful and remember that not everyone shares the same writing style, religion, race or mental state. Okay, I lied a little back there – I added that mental state part because I truly feel the need to represent.

I’m dreading the residency workshops where we’ll engage in an open discussion about the good and the bad…and the bad…

Please don’t cry.

Nerves make me cry. The embarrassment of becoming emotional makes me cry harder and, eventually, I’m reduced to a sobbing mass of snot, red splotchy skin and swollen eyes.

Please, please, please, God…don’t let me turn into a blithering idiot in front of my MFA group.

Once, when I was about 9-years-old, I stood in front of an enormous audience in the 4H barn at the Washington County Fair. Of course, I’m exaggerating. The crowd was probably made up of about 25 people, but it seemed like I was opening at Madison Square Garden.

For some stupid reason, I agreed to perform a demonstration on the proper way to make a graham cracker strawberry Jell-O pie with Cool Whip topping. Fancy, right? Well, through the eyes of 9-year-old me, it was all very complicated indeed! Clearly, I had no real grasp on the situation because when I pushed through the curtains and spotted a room full of strangers gawking up at me, I wanted to cry. It was an odd reaction since, under normal circumstances, I was typically an overly-talkative kid. Yet, my voice was suddenly replaced with the shy whisper of another little girl.

With my head down, as if in deep concentration, I forged ahead and began to demonstrate my talent with graham cracker crusts, frozen strawberries and Jell-O. It was all fine until some old harpy in the front said, “We can’t hear you, dear.” That old harpy set the wheels of disaster in motion. My demonstration was paused while a 4H leader equipped me with a backpack-microphone contraption roughly the size of a Volkswagen and pushed me back toward the table.

I just knew that I looked like a freaky human/turtle hybrid. My face grew hot with embarrassment and washed with shame. The harpy sat looking at me expectantly and without any sign of friendly encouragement. My intention was to resume where I’d left off but, I was told to begin again.

As I drew air into my lungs to begin my spiel, the sound of my breath echoed back to me from the other side of the 4H barn. Despite growing increasingly flustered, I began speaking. My voice, sounding strangely alien and too young to belong to me, reverberated through the crowd and caught up with my ears. I was thrown off by that delayed echo of my voice. My throat tightened and I desperately attempted to swallow my way to safety. My pause, as brief as it was, gave me a moment to focus on the faces of strangers and their expectant gawks. Tears stung my eyes and it felt like an inferno was burning beneath my freckled skin. The old harpy shifted in her seat and huffily arranged her pocket book on her ample lap. Her tightly permed hair refused to move and her glasses threw sharp darts of light at my eyes.

Under her petulant gaze, tears began to flow and my frozen strawberries spilled onto the table in a gelatinous puddle. The unwieldy backpack-microphone loudly thumped the table as I turned, sending my body into an inelegant tail spin. Amplified by the microphone, my sobs echoed off the walls and danced in the air over the heads of strangers. My sobs mocked me.

I was nine.

Now I’m not.

Please, God, don’t let me cry. Send me a thicker skin.