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I have always loved May Day - in the traditional sense of it being a time of flowers and love. Lilacs are blooming, even in Pullman, and although there were scant blossoms by this time in Wenatchee, Mom would accept a hand full of dandelions as tribute to my love for her and the day. It is at times like this I miss her most of all and feel blessed to have her gentle spirit in me. If only it had stayed that way - had I not grown up - had she not turned to alcohol to ease her ever present depression.
Such a sensitive little thing I was; always feeling left out, ignored, dissed. Way before “to diss” was an accepted verb in the vernacular! She was good to me, yet also a little bit distant - I don’t know why. When I started to write the short stories based upon events in my younger years, at first Mom was almost invisible. I realized how hard it was for me to go back to those innocent times; to portray her sweetness, her sense of humor and her compassion. The event that shook me to the core happened when I was sixteen.
I was asleep in bed. Mom teetered downstairs wearing heels and alcohol. They had been to a party at some friends’ home and she must have heard a nasty earful about me - I never learned what. Standing over me, she degraded me accusing me of lying when I denied her nasty insinuations. Dumbstruck, with my blanket drawn up to my chin, I sobbed uncontrollably until my throat choked up and I couldn’t breath or talk.. Unable to extract a confession, Mom stormed on about me being so goddamned melodramatic. Then she called me a slut. Our relationship forever changed.
Probably I wrote about this before. It doesn’t matter though. The event stands as a turning point in my life that only one or two people close to me know about. I don’t think I’ve even told my sisters.
The next morning we were cool towards each other, but Mom didn’t say a thing, and I made myself as busy away from her as I could. She never brought it up - we never talked about it. It remains a singular event that stripped me of my naive trust. Guarded I became, and am to this day
I think it was worse for my little sister though. Lori was born just before I turned thirteen and when I went away to college and married, she was essentially an only child. She once made a reference to her sense of emotional distance from Mom - who was actively alcoholic during all her years growing up. Fortunately Grandma was there, living in the home, and she provided comfort, care, and sweetness that kept Lori spiritually healthy. It was hard on Mom to have another baby when she was in her late thirties. So much was changing in her life then.
That first summer in Pullman I began to notice an unpleasant scent coming from my pours; an offensive odor along the lines of an open tin of sardines. Had I realized this oily-fish fragrance heralded my odyssey into womanhood, I might have rejoiced. But at the time, it was just another nuisance I had to endure in a strange town where I was the stranger.
I’d been waiting for what seemed forever to mature physically, and envied girls like my next-door-neighbor (back home in Wenatchee) and best friend Carolyn. At thirteen she already had swelling breasts.
Unlike last summer, when our whole family travelled to Boston and Dad attended Harvard, this year Diana stayed with our grandparents in Wenatchee. Grandpa suffered a major heart attack the prior fall, and since Grandma didn’t drive and Diana did…that was reason enough.
It was just the four of us this time; Mom, Dad, Mike and me. Dad took classes at Washington State College (now WSU) determined to acquire credentials that would qualify him to be President of Wenatchee Valley Community College. While he pursued self-actualization, I trolled the dusty Palouse for love, belonging, and self-esteem.
Camp was over around 11:30. By then the sun streamed down mercilessly on the playing fields, and everyone was ready to head home. Mike and I coasted down Stadium Way, feeling the last of morning’s freshness in the air, pedaled back over the Viaduct, and pushed our bikes up Main Street to tour this summer home. Mom greeted us with glasses of cold water and sat us down to freshly made sandwiches. When we finished, the heat was lowering from street level to ground level. All I could do was rest on a blanket in the back yard.
Swimming was the final activity at Camp. Although I’d always loved being in the water, I felt very self-conscious about wearing a bathing suit in this crowd. As it turned out, I suffered a serious burn on the side of my knee one weekend, which gave me a credible excuse. From the benches I watched other campers learn and practice strokes. Although coach Gibbs encouraged me to join in, my jittery state of confusion kept me sidelined even after the wound healed. Then Summer Camp was over, and I was still a stranger in this still strange town.
After Camp, when Mike and I were itching for some activity, we’d ride three blocks down Main Street to entertain ourselves in a game we called “bicycle tennis”. In the empty parking lot behind Pullman High School, we careened in circles over broken pavement, batting a tennis ball around the lot with heavy wooden rackets. The object was to keep the ball in motion, alternate hitters, and remain in control of our bikes. Although there were kids our age living within doors of where we played, no one ever came out to meet us, or ask to join in.
Josie has some spunk again. She is maturing into a very well behaved yard dog. (The only dog in my family history that compares is Fuzz - always a gentleman.)
Josie wants to be a lady - so she pays attention to me, and in the end she minds me. It is our working partnership; she thrives on knowing I trust her to mind me, and I want to give her the license to be off-lead and safe. Hard work. Like Scooter, Josie most of all wants to sniff out what’s happening. After that all she wants is to please.
Learning how to make delicious peach pies under Mom’s gentle guidance, restored in me a sense of competence and confidence; renewed a belief in myself. I would never returned to my innocent, secure childhood in Wenatchee, and Mom could never again lived in the beautiful home she and Dad had built together there. With the move to Pullman that fall, a new chapter in our lives opened; every day a fresh page we would make our mark upon. Nothing was easy. Sometimes there was harmony, sometimes not. Still, we went forward as a family with love at our core.
We’d done fine in Boston, with friendly neighbors to play with, and a big back yard, but there was nothing going on in this neighborhood; no kids, no games, no parks, zip for us to do. Then there was the heat and the hills; you couldn’t go anywhere without having to bicycle an impossible incline — one direction or the other. Mike and I had always been good about entertaining ourselves, but this summer was starting out rocky. Before long both of us felt stultified. Mom kept an eye out for activities we might be able to participate in.
She wasn’t sure just how far she could trust him anymore. Up until that morning, she’d felt secure and safe with him; but now she just didn’t know. He hadn’t outright lied to her, but she could tell he was holding something important back. When she asked him why he was reluctant to tell her more, he turned the tables, and accused her of being secretive. There must be a the middle ground, she thought, as she dashed across campus, already late to her English 102 class. What had he said — and what was he concealing?
Lynn had grown up an ugly duckling; unsure of herself physically, yet steady with her intelligence. Then she blossomed, became beautiful, desirable — a young woman who made men pant. Through most of her adolescence she had ached to be alluring, but the shock of men (young and old) lusting after her, had created a schism in her whole being. In high school part of her was ready to say “yes,” the other portion was scared shitless. By the time she met Craig, half way through her freshman year at the University of Washington, she was experienced enough to be confident.
She was torn; of two minds. The pressure to make a decision loomed like an iceberg before her; if she stayed on course she risked losing her hard earned balance, should she veer left or right she might easily avoid such discomfort — until the next time anyway. Mary had spent her youth shying away from anything daring; always taking the safe, sure path. But now, sitting on the bank of her favorite place to contemplate, tossing pebbles into the slow-moving stream, Mary understood she had navigated the white water of her teens with few scars, but to what end?
What had being so careful taught her about people? What had she gained by remaining an observer, rather than a participant in life’s every-day tribulations? What might she have learned over the past twenty years had she plunged into what was offered, instead of analyzing it to death? Yet, here she was again — scrutinizing; weighing the pros and cons — and sick to the core of it.
“Is John there?” Mary asked, when his roommate, answered the telephone.
“It’s for you John,” he yelled. “Your girlfriend.”
“Hi Mary, how you doing?” John asked in his warm, comforting way.
“Hi John I’m fine thanks. How about you?”
“Oh, finally finishing the last of that history term-paper I told you about. Sure am looking forward to the end of this quarter, and spring break.” John answered.
Mary knew this was his way of asking if she had made up her mind. His family owned a small cottage on the beach in Waldport, and he wanted her to spend spring break with him there — just the two of them.
“I’ve been thinking about your invitation all day,” Mary said, “I know it’s not like me, but yes.”
“You’ll go with me?” John was caught off guard. “You mean it? Not kidding are you?”
“Yes — I mean no — I’m not kidding, and Yes I will go with you.” Mary said, holding the receiver close to her mouth. “Now I’ve decided, I can hardly wait; when do we leave?”
“I have to turn in this paper tomorrow, and my Bio final is Thursday at 9:00, and that’s it. What’s your schedule?” John asked.
“Let’s see, English paper due Thursday morning, Math final that afternoon at 1:00, and then I’m free.”
“So, how about leaving Thursday afternoon — OK?”
“Yes,” Mary laughed. “What should I pack?”
“How about we meet tomorrow at JavaStop after your English class; say 10:00. We can plan the trip and what to take then.” John suggested.
“OK, excellent. I’ll see you then,” Mary said. “Time to hit the books again now.”
“See you in the morning then, Mary. Study hard, and sweet dreams.”
“Same to you John; goodnight.”
After preparing himself not to take it personally when Mary declined his invitation (as he felt sure she would), John could hardly believe that she had accepted.
Although they had dated one another exclusively since meeting fall term, John knew Mary was going outside her comfort zone this time. He laughed to himself remembering her reaction when he first brought up the idea.
“Go with you to stay in a cabin? Alone at the beach, for a whole week — just you and me?” She asked with an incredulous expression on her face.
“Yes, that’s what I’m proposing.” John answered. “You’ll have a bedroom and bathroom of your own, and the cabin is all set up with kitchen, TV, WiFi. We’ll have a blast!”
John wondered what had shifted in her psyche. He hoped a bit of the ice that crystallized whenever he expressed a desire to be intimate was starting to melt.
“Guess I’ll learn more tomorrow,”
he thought as he returned to his studies.
“The weather there is much like here, only we’re on the beach, so there’s more humidity and wind. Pack along a warm jacket, and — do you have beach shoes?” John asked, as they drank latte’s and planned their get-away.
“I have old running shoes; will they do?”
“Perfect. Otherwise, just pack as normal.”
“Oh, stop second-guessing yourself,” Mary scolded as she packed her suitcase. “You made the decision in a sane frame of mind, now just go with it.”
Morning showers had turned to flying clouds with patches of sunshine when John gathered Mary in front of her dorm.
“You look fantastic,” John said, as he slid Mary’s suitcase into the back of his VW Jetta, and navigated to US-20 W/OR-34.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, you know John.”
“I know — that’s what makes it so special,” John said, stroking her long brown hair.
Mary felt a hard knot growing in the pit of her stomach; a warning signal — or anticipation? Maybe both she thought, doing her best to suppress the fear. Rain pelted as they crested the Coast Range, and drove into Newport. A bowl of Clam chowder at Mo’s warmed them, but John could see the flicker of fear behind her brave brown eyes.
“You’re awfully quiet; are you afraid?’ John asked.
“Yes, I guess I am,” Mary answered. “But isn’t that normal when you’re doing something you’ve never done before?”
“Absolutely — but you’ll be OK.”
There were no lights on, and the cabin was bone-chilling cold when they arrived.
“Here’s your room,” John said, placing her suitcase inside the door. “And this is your bathroom. I’ll turn the heat on and get a fire going, while you get settled.”
Mary pulled out her warm winter sweats and changed into them. The room, though small, was just right. She helped John bring the rest of their stuff into the cabin and put a kettle of water on to heat.
“Tea or cocoa?” She called out, as he added more wood to the fire.
“How about a Hot Toddy to celebrate the end of finals?” John suggested, knowing Mary liked a nip of whiskey now and then.
“Yes, please. I’m so tensed-up — it will feel good to relax.”
Mary rinsed two large cups with hot tap water, and set them on the counter. Rummaging through the liquor cabinet, John found an open fifth of Maker’s Mark, and added some to each mug.
“There should be honey in that cupboard,” he pointed, while he added boiling water to the whiskey.
‘Yes — here.”
Mugs in hand, they settled in to watch the fire.
Why Mary and John? None of my close friends or family members has these names, both have biblical origins, and though John is always “in,” Mary currently is considered an old-fashioned name. In this piece I want the female character to show a strong sense of correctness; of having lived a prudent life making appropriate decisions that reflect self-discipline, and social restraint — all admirable qualities. Another side of Mary is now beginning to assert itself, and she is listening. At twenty years old, she questions the wisdom of sticking to conventions; she’s anxious to leap into life.
John is a nice young man with good manners, and from a family with money: he is a college student with a car, and his family owns beach property. We get to know John through his reactions to Mary, as he coaxes her through the trepidation she feels making a life-changing decision.
There is nothing earth shattering or ghastly here; it is a simple study of one young woman’s internal struggle to make a choice, when she is pulled in two directions — of two minds. We are privy only to her current internal battle, not her past lessons.
The story is truncated to fit the prescribed theme of
with a finished word count of exactly 1,007 words. Consequently very little background on either character is provided, and I leave them at a tipping point; what happens after is another half of the story, and we are left to conjure it on our own.
I may pursue this story later, as it leaves me drooling to take the twists and turns that could happen next. For now though, I will let it stand; a finished, yet unfinished piece — half way there with nothing to do but stop.
Funny how reflecting upon something I’ve written gives me courage to keep going. I have yet to put all 1200 words onto one page, and begin the process of editing — a process I relish. Yes, that makes me a rare bird, but writing acceptable fiction demands more than an imaginative mind and good vocabulary; it requires rooting out and refining. I love starting with a series of 100 word entries because the discipline necessitates restraint and fine-tuning; each entry must stand on its own — make sense to the reader. Now for the joy of pulling it all together.
May is over; from a bouquet of tulips on the first, to iPhones on Creighton’s 68th birthday, to a Smart TV for Female Person’s Day (aka Mother’s Day) to reminiscences on Memorial day — I have journeyed with joy. Only two years of retirement under my belt after thirty on the public school cycle of time. I think of how relieved I would be, back then, knowing there were only three weeks to go; intense, busy weeks, but with a two month reprieve after. No longer my reality; time to be me is here each moment, every day.
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