During the fall of 2007, I started my first grown-up attempt at a full length novel--an untitled "returning to your roots" project about a girl who rediscovers the quirks and beauty of her hometown while she arranges her estranged grandmother's funeral. It was a beautiful idea--and I'd like to potentially return to it someday--but I began the project before I knew anything about structuring a novel. As a result, the story petered out after about 40 pages.
There are some fun parts, though, and today's overcast weather is making me feel sentimental, so I thought I'd post a random sample. It's a bit rough, but I still think it's kinda fun. I hope you agree... :)
|Photo Courtesy of Masahiro Hayata, Wikimedia Commons|
Thinking back, I can remember the exact instant I realized my mother wasn’t taking me to Disney World. Careening down Interstate 10 on that humid June afternoon, Violet began fumbling with the radio and shifted uncomfortably in the driver seat. The scrub pine forests of Northern Florida were brilliantly hot outside our windows. Since the VW Rabbit’s air conditioner had conked out somewhere in Louisiana, we were stuck to our vinyl seats like tar on pavement.
Interrupted from the pages of my Archie comic book, I lifted my head and at once felt my stomach tightening.
Good news has never been delivered by a hesitant “um.” Divorces are preceded by hesitant “um’s.” Layoffs and abortions and interventions are commenced with hesitant “um’s.” Almost every bad thing that has ever happened to me before or since this moment has somehow been traced back to a hesitant “um.”
This conversation isn’t going to end well.
“Evie, I called Steve at the last rest stop... His wife hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet, so she’s still living in his house in Orlando, you see.” My mother’s knuckles were white against the peeling grey steering wheel. “He’s staying with his brother at that trailer park in Kissimmee, and well, it isn’t really a big place.”
“So, what? We don’t need a big place, Mom.”
Violet ran her fingers through her short, dark hair. “I know we don’t, sweetie, but if I get this job at Disney World, I’m going to be working all the time. And, it’s... Steve’s brother isn’t exactly... Well, Steve thinks...”
Brace yourself, Eva.
When my mother didn’t lead with hesitant “um’s,” she almost invariably began her bad news with “Steve thinks” or “Billy thinks” or “Bo thinks” or “Johnny thinks.” Mentioning a boyfriend was her way of removing herself almost entirely from a situation. Any resultant grumblings or complaints on my part could therefore simply be dismissed with an, “I know, sweetie, but it’s really not my decision. Don’t you see?”
I felt my throat tightening. Outside, the Rabbit made groaning sounds reminiscent of dying livestock.
Violet took a breath. “Well, I’ve had the most wonderful idea.” Her forced smile and still-white knuckles betrayed her suddenly chipper tone. She grabbed my hand. “Instead of spending the summer in a boring old trailer in Kissimmee, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you spent the summer in Panama City Beach with your Nana Delphine instead?”
My heart dropped. “Nana Delphine? Mom, I’ve never even met her! No, no, no, no! Mom, this summer is supposed to be our summer! We’re gonna go to Disney World every day. We’re gonna drink pineapple juice by the pool. No, no, I don’t want to stay with Nana Delphine in Panama City Beach! Mom, no!”
“Evie.” My mother’s tone may as well have been a period at the end of a sentence. “Evie, there isn’t room for discussion here. Steve says there isn’t enough space for both of us, so there isn’t enough space for both of us.” Her eyes softened, and she finally made eye contact. “Evie, you know how important this job is to me. If I can make it at Disney World, I can make it anywhere.” She smiled. “Sweetie, just imagine how beautiful our lives will be when we’re rich and famous, and we’re able to finally leave Abilene. Los Angeles, New York, Paris... We can go wherever we want.”
I frowned and looked at my hands. “I don’t want to go to any of those places, Mom. I want to go to Disney World. Now. This summer. With you.”
Violet’s aggravated sigh told me I was wasting my time. “Evie, I really need you to stop being so selfish right now. I have a job to prepare for. Please do your best to be a little more supportive, okay?”
The remaining two hours of our car ride were spent in silence. My mother occupied the time by chain-smoking out her open window--a true testament to her discomfort. Crumpled in my seat, I fought the urge to cry and refused to look at her. Instead, I busied myself with an assortment of obsessive-compulsive tasks--all I could really do to keep my composure.
We passed sixteen sea shell shops on the way from Pensacola to Panama City Beach. There were 78 cents and three French fries scattered on the floor of the Rabbit, and the setting sun would reflect off my side mirror and hit me in the eyes if I slouched just enough.
At some point in our drive, my right shoe became untied, and I found that if I flexed just right, it felt like it might slip off. The song “Thriller” by Michael Jackson buzzed on the radio as we motored through Fort Walton, and we passed two dead armadillos and one dead alligator between the billboard for Florida’s Gulfarium and the Phillips Inlet bridge.
I was intrigued by the sign for Florida’s Gulfarium: a shiny blue background accented with the radiant smile of a bottlenose dolphin. “World’s Oldest Marine Show Aquarium!” the sign proudly proclaimed. Although unsure what a marine show aquarium was, I was captivated by that dolphin’s cartoon grin. Under different circumstances, I was certain I would have begged my mother to stop.
Instead, the Rabbit chugged on in silence.
The sun had almost disappeared completely into the crimson soup of the Gulf of Mexico when Violet flicked on her left blinker and pulled into the parking lot of Reid’s Court & Trailer Park. There, in a squat community surrounded by sea oats, the fragrance of hot dogs lingered in the air, mixing with chalky dust and the Rabbit’s sooty exhaust fumes.
“Stay in the car,” my mother instructed, peeling herself off the vinyl and slamming the door behind her.
“This is stupid,” I thought, watching with detached interest as a large black fly alighted on my forearm. Propelling itself forward on rubbery limbs, it tickled my arm hairs as it moved.
Unwittingly, a faint smile formed at the corner of my lips. The fly’s stylized, mirrored eyes and translucent wings suddenly made me feel less alone.
From somewhere inside my grandmother’s coral pink trailer, I heard an overjoyed, “Violet, you’re back!” followed by a long period of silence and some hushed talking.
Muffled, disembodied words floated through the trailer’s cracked windows, seeming awkward and lost without their context: “Moving... Face auditions... Lake Buena Vista... Met at the diner... The Rabbit... You know how it is...”
I felt my cheeks flush when I caught my name floating through Delphine’s lace curtains. Violet’s voice had taken on a very serious tone, and it was followed by an even more somber reply from my grandmother.
After a few moments of silence, an incredulous roar of laughter shattered the evening: “All this so you can run off with a married man and pretend to be Snow White?? Violet, you can’t be serious! Have you lost your mind?”
“Mother, I didn’t come here asking you for permission!” The rage in my mother’s voice was enough to make me flinch. On cue, my fly friend took flight and disappeared into the evening.
“I have talent, Mother! I have the looks and I’ve learned the mannerisms, and if I can be cast as Snow White, I can make some really important connections at the Walt Disney Company. Steve says...”
“Steve is a groundskeeper, Violet! A custodian for the Walt Disney Company! You can’t possibly think he’s going to pave the way for your big break?”
“Mother!” I could almost picture emotion clouding my mother’s sea green eyes. “They belong to a Union, there. A Union, mother. You know what that is? That’s a big, fancy company that sets you up and takes care of you and makes sure you get the opportunities you're supposed to get. Get it?”
“Violet, I think you are being ridiculous...”
“I said I'm not asking you for permission!”
“Where’s the child? Where’s Evie? You haven’t filled her head with this nonsense, too, have you, Violet?”
“She’s in the car, Mother. And no, she hasn’t been filled with nonsense. She understands that this is our big break. She wants me to go. I need to do this, Mom; I won’t take no for an answer.”
A defeated sigh. “Of course not, Violet. Evie’s my granddaughter. But I really think you ought to rethink...”
“We can talk about this later!”
Opening the screen, Violet appeared in my grandmother’s doorway. Silhouetted against the yellow glow of the living room, she appeared triumphant, one hand resting easily on her slender waist. “Evie! Come on! We’re here!”
Opening my side door, I felt silly and embarrassed, like a dressed-up monkey or some sort of circus pet.
“Evie, look! I want you to meet your grandmother!”
I knew the jubilation in my mother’s voice came from her victory over Delphine, not our impending introduction.
She simply wanted me out of her car before Delphine had time to change her mind.