Monday, November 15, 2010

Snow, Baby

Winter in Wentzville, 1990-91

It's been a while since I've thought about this story or the young couple who first tended the soil for it to begin establishing roots in my imagination while I was still in high school. I wrote its original version almost a year ago and submitted it to some contest I don't remember the name of, but that's not what makes it important to me. It didn't win, by the way. The young couple it depicts is actually a composite sketch of several young--sometimes older--couples I've had the pleasure of meeting whenever my life has collided with the church, and I'm not talking about the building. They all became stakeholders in my investment as a wife and mother because they all shared a common passion. It was evident in the way they interacted with my family and in the way they lived: day-to-day, simply, with integrity. Whatever it is, this passion, it has managed to stick, even when we, as a family, feel like we're coming unglued. I wonder if anyone really understands what that word, "passion," means anymore. If you've ever witnessed a passion play or looked up the meaning of the word in Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary, there's a good chance you will figure out where this story is headed.

Snow, Baby
            She sprinkles the cookies with colored sugar, covering the icing with stained-glass windows. It won’t be long now. I’ve got to get this on before the icing sets all the way or it won’t stick. She hears giggling in the dining room and smiles. They’ve only been here two months, and already five more children have joined the youth group. The new kids’ parents have even started attending services.
            “Hey, in there! Are you done yet?” She hears Bert’s tone edging toward frantic. With teenagers he’s great, but seven kids under the age of twelve? What will he do if they ever have a big family of their own? Better not go there now. She wipes a tear away with the back of her hand. Her period is late. She should say something, but three miscarriages in five years of marriage justify the silence. If he brings it up, then fine.
            “I’m almost done. Give me five minutes and then a drum roll if you please.” The kids have been playing in the fresh-fallen snow, eight inches overnight on top of eighteen inches already on the ground. Now they’re making snow cones with Bert. She shakes her head at the puddles of mittens, coats, and slush snaking through the kitchen to the dining room door. Snow? Did she agree to that and this latest move to North Dakota?
She met Bert at bible college in Pensacola. He was a senior, and she had just begun her second semester. They bumped into each other on the indoor ice rink and fell down together, tangling arms, legs, and skates. She told her roommates later that evening it was Love at First Slide. He must have apologized fifty times in five minutes and then bought her some hot chocolate. Yikes! She sees the milk on the stove starting to boil and dashes over to turn down the heat. Her foot starts to slide just as Bert enters the room behind her.
“Whoa, there, girl!” Bert bridges the few feet between them in a split second with a home-run fervor, cushioning her fall to the linoleum. “Got to you just in time again, I see.” She reaches around and throws her arms around his neck, sobbing into his shirt collar. “Shhh! You’re okay. What’s the matter, baby?” She looks up to see the kids standing around them.
“Nothing. I, uh, I don’t know. I’m all right. Let’s get that cocoa done and have some cookies. Right, kids?”

Later tonight, I’ll tell him. As she stands up, she feels a twinge. No! She puts on a smile. “Shoo, all of you. I’m fine. I’ll bring the cookies in as soon as I get this hot chocolate made. Your parents will be here to pick you up before you know it.” She steadies herself against the stove and starts to hum. "My hope is built on nothing less..." Yes, that’s it. Calm down. Everything’s going to be just fine. This one’s going to stick like North Dakota snow on a Northwest Florida transplant.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Downtown (Pensacola) Inspiration

Downtowns in most American cities have had their share of ups and downs, especially downs, in the past half century or so. Pensacola's is no exception. Attempts to revitalize it and bring new life with a Maritime Park have helped lure some new business, but there is some unfinished business along Pensacola's bayfront area that many people would rather forget about or ignore (read about the progress being made here). Having lunch there one day with my husband shortly after we had moved back to Northwest Florida from Southern Illinois, I became curious about how things were moving along and noted something unpleasant that clued me in to the current state of that unfinished business. The wind was blowing briskly from the north that day in late winter, but it was sunny, the wind was blocked by the building, most of it anyway, and we decided to have lunch outside on the patio overlooking the water. The food and service were excellent, but there was something else about the experience not so redolent of excellence (no fault of the restaurant) that inspired me to write this story in early March 2009 to share with other members attending a Panhandle Writers' Group meeting. The joke in the story fell flat because I had left out some key information about the source of the inspiration, and no one else present at the meeting had ever been to the restaurant or at least had not eaten outside on the patio. It was embarrassing to have to explain the premise for the story because no one got it, but at least I've learned to not leave so many gaps in a story. I hope you enjoy it but please keep in mind that it's a tongue-in-cheek piece of fiction and don't let it keep you away from downtown Pensacola. Remember that progress is afoot there, and steps are being taken to ensure that this kind of thing never really happens...

Catching my breath proved to be a monumental mistake. Twenty feet stood between me and freedom. Twenty feet, I tell you, to my car! Why did I run out of breath when faced with this formidable enemy, the one I had heard whispered was, on certain days, capable of bringing even Rambo types to their knees? I was a Marine and had survived intense combat situations, but my sense of smell was so keen it compromised every ounce of strength and endurance I could muster.
“Sir, wait, you forgot your sunglasses! Here they are. Please!”
I wouldn’t wait, but I had to clench my teeth and hiss something appropriate in staccato fashion.
“Take them! They’re yours. I’ve got another pair in the car. Don’t worry. Really!”
So I took that breath as the words escaped and I did not. Escape. Now I’m even more captive, lying in a bed that moves up and down, covered with a white sheet from head to toe. I see a figure through the sheet, someone adjusting the height of the bed by way of some sort of foot pedal. I hear a motor whine beneath me, lying supine on the table that moves.
“Whatcha suppose put this poor slob out of commission?” There is laughter. “Too many martinis on an empty stomach?”
I can see the figure move his hand to my midsection and hear him thump my firm abs. I’m really proud of them, you know. Work out at least three times a week and run five miles a day, every day. Never let up since basic training, and that was 25 years ago.
I realize there are two people in the room with me, and the one being spoken to moves in so close that I can smell greasy French fries through the sheet. It reminds me that I am really hungry but not able to convey that feeling to anyone right now. My muscles will not obey me. I can’t move even my little toe. Greasy-French-fry-breath-person lifts the sheet away from my face and stares. He moves his head a little, and the light behind his head blinds me for a moment.
“Good Lord! Would you look at the expression on this guy? I’ve never seen anything like it before! At least not since ‘Nam! Nostrils flared, teeth bared, look of fear in those eyes. Are you taking notes? Why isn’t this mike fixed yet so I can dictate? I’m gonna have nightmares over this one!”
I am being poked and prodded with something; that much I can feel. A radio nearby plays a familiar song, something from the 60s. What is it? My mind races to remember. I hear:
“Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa novaaa,
You’ll be dancing with ‘em too
Before the night is over…
Happy againnn…”
French-fry guy is humming along, breathing that food odor in my face, doing something to my midsection now. I feel a warm sensation as if something is being poured over me.
“Whoa, this guy isn’t…. Wait a minute. Ohhh…my…God!”
“He ain’t….” I hear the other dude muttering as he moves in to watch French-fry guy lose his cool and drop whatever tool he has been using on me to the floor. I hear it clink on what sounds like tile, maybe linoleum. No…definitely tile. And I think the tool is metallic from the sound of it.
“What happened? Where’s the sign-in sheet with T-O-D? And who signed him in anyway? That’s what I’d like to know. What fool would not check….”
Now things begin to swim before my eyes. The light overhead becomes two, then four, then six….They move in time with the music.
“The lights are much brighter therrre….
You can forget all your troubles,
Forget all your caaares—
So go—
 Where all the lights are bright!
Waiting for you tonight!
You’re gonna be alright now….”
Petula Clark! I know now! Wait! What is that….
As the light fades to black, I remember everything. The smell from across the street in downtown Pensacola that teased its way through the door each time someone entered or left the building. That smell would soon be gone or at least transported farther north when the county’s new sewage treatment plant finally came on line. Progress came too late for me. My enemy--the olfactory lobes in my brain working overtime--the only thing that could ever deck this proud Marine, had knocked me out as I left the Crab Trap. It overpowered my other senses, twisted my features, brought me down, and transported me to this place. This is the place where the guys in white coats take things apart. Usually, though, they wait until you are—DEAD!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

So It Begins

So it begins. Welcome to another blog by Walk2Write. Good grief! I must be cracked to start another one. Let's hope so. Maybe even a little scrambled. This one will be different, not the same kind of stuff and not in the same tone. I may just leave the other one and hang out here for a while. We will find out soon enough. One thing is for sure. There won't be anything garden-related here, unless it makes its way into whatever story I'm working on. This blog is my place to take off from the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane. The stories may take shape here, but this is not their final resting place.