750words March 20, 2015 ~ Words and Heroines

It’s been a good month for words and falling in love with the people they build—again. I forget how charming and willful, stubborn and ugly they sometimes tend to be, then they come knocking, rising up from the page one by one, dusting the dirt from their knees, and I think, Hey! I know you. You’re the gal I gave the same hairstyle as my friend Sooz.

I’m talking about Irene’s crew of family and friends. Irene is the title character of a first novel (by me) due out in July 2015. Irene’s grand-niece is the one I gave the hairstyle of my dear friend, Sooz; her nephew (Buddy) is the one I gave characteristics of another friend’s cousin; the elderly detective who failed, in 1930, to solve the mystery of Irene’s early demise owns all the curmudgeonly charm of my favorite uncle. This month I found them again, these characters wrought from the real world I occupy into the fictional story-scape of vaudeville, circus, farm and city. Like best buddies from grade school or cousins from out of state, folks I haven’t seen or talked to in years, possibly decades, they warm this old heart when I hear their voice on the line.

A laugh escapes across the miles of telephone line and, just like that, their face is before me, a smile remembered, a cheesecake shared on a bench under a tree outside Riverside’s Mission Inn, a hike from the end of the road to the river bottom and, crossing the Santa Ana, the abandoned Power House on the river’s far side, flats of cardboard used as sleds to slide the steep and long-dry concrete slipway, wild rides perched in the back of a rusting blue pick-up truck through corn fields … oh, and all the crawdads caught in the irrigation canals running the perimeter of pastures and alfalfa fields … It’s like that, this reconnect to ginger-haired Irene who bruised and healed and bruised again, yet stood her ground with undaunted willfulness.

Words built my Irene, gave her freckles and a family which, for the most part, didn’t know how to handle the girl, much less the woman. Words constructed her worlds. From the Williamsport, Pennsylvania farm and the platform she dove from to slice into Loyalsock Creek as a girl to the Poseidon Park, Coney Island stage where she climbed into a cannon to be shot over the heads of paying spectators below—words gave these venues walls and windows, fields, ponds, farm houses and brownstones, kitchens, wall-papered bedrooms, railroad tracks and circus trains.

Reading and revising The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights for (what promises to be) the final draft, I came to the end and found myself already missing these fictional folks I’d brought into the world the way I miss my children and grandchildren when they visit—here for five days or a week—and gone, as if they’d only just arrived and their stay was too short. As if there were more conversations to explore, more Valentines to build with white glue, paper and glitter, more places to investigate, secrets to share, friends to introduce them to and shells to collect from the ocean’s shore.

So it is with Irene and her crew. They’ve been such a long time coming, growing into their environment … give me a sec while I figure out how to explain changes that have occurred, characters gone missing, scenes/settings which, at one time, filled pages …

You know how it is when you live in a neighborhood and gradually make the acquaintance of those who live around you, perhaps sharing cuttings and starts from your garden or recipes or cocktails at the 4 o’clock hour or coffee in the morning? Maybe you get to know more than you want (or need) to know about the nephew of this neighbor or the ex-husband/wife of that one, or the comings and goings of the mailman or too much about the personal life of the pastor at your local church or the manager of the Little League team your son or granddaughter or whoever plays on.

It’s like that—Irene introduced me to too many neighboring characters. I couldn’t leave them alone.

Regardless of how far afield they might lead me or how little they had to offer “Irene”—I wanted more and more of their personal stories. I let the novel’s neighborhood chatter take over, left Irene in a wobbly lawn chair on the periphery of the patio! (For those of you who find it difficult to follow my writing style, the gist of this is: I had to shush! the crowd. When this didn’t work, I had to ask some to leave.)

Yesterday, reaching the end of Irene’s rewrites, I wondered, “Where’s Ricky? What happened to Ricky Towne?” I found him today—day-dreaming about the bicycle shop he’d have if the world would just give him an effin’ break. A character of pimply-faced wonder, Ricky Towne was found in an early chapter on a file buried within a flashdrive at the back of a seldom used desk drawer. What a mouth that young man had, “F” words all over the place, and a bad attitude for a chair pusher on Atlantic City’s boardwalk. No surprise Ricky never earned much by way of tips on the boardwalk, or found his way into The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights final draft.

[He may, however, find his way into a short story. I do hate to think Ricky’s dream of a bicycle shop ended on my account … but—he’ll have to clean up his language before he finds space on my page.]

750words Feb 11 2015 ~ The Dress Form

Once upon a time there was a dress form made of wandering leaves cut from tin and rigid iron which stood near the window and waited. Rusted bronze in color, the form wore a narrow belt of hammered tin and a pendant in the shape of a clock that opened and could hold a paper cutout heart or a picture of someone dear, or both, along with a lock of hair and a button from a favorite shirt.

The form was headless. Its bottom edge was where a woman’s legs ended once they went all the way up. Crossbars ran from one side of the bottom edge of the form to the other. Where the bars crossed, they rested upon a hollow iron column almost the size of a vacuum cleaner wand. The column supported the form and stood vertical and straight with four curvilinear legs which ended in curly-ques on the floor and kept the form from tilting or tipping over when the weight of the sun slapped it with day’s flat palm of light.

All day long the form waited, tin leaves never wilting, tin belt without a pucker or sag. Its shoulders kept very good posture through every disappointment, every new mote of dust that settled atop the rounded surfaces of rigid iron, plus all the tickling shifts of light as day walked up the sky and over the roof of the casa where the form was kept.

Because the form was headless, it could not sigh. Air was immobile, did not move outward or inward, was simply there, within the form, surrounding the form, and, because the form was skinless, it could be seen through from all sides—the leaves twining its back like a visible echo of the leaves twining its front. In essence, it was as empty as the clock-shaped pendant worn about its neck: a hollow chamber made of vertical spines held in line by the hammered belt and the absent hands of an artisan who once upon a time sculpted the form of an invisible woman.

The form’s patience was endless as it waited through the morning light, the afternoon shade, the deeper shades of evening, the dark balmy nights pin-pricked by stars and an indecisive moon which showed itself incrementally only to hide itself in the same manner. All the form wanted was to be used. To be useful. To carry the weight of a shawl or a shirt or a dress. A summer scarf woven of chiffon and light as a feather would have pleased the form. Was it asking so very much to sense such a scarf’s supple softness draping its posture-perfect shoulders, the drape of its length running the length of its meandering leaves, perhaps the finely rolled narrow hem of one end tossed casually around its headless neck? These, or any one of these sensations, would’ve brought comfort to the form.

But the form’s mistress, who once crafted sundry items the form could support, no longer busied herself with such things. Rather than a crafter of textiles, its mistress had given over such industry to become a crafter of words. The click of knitting needles had been replaced by the tickety-tick of the keyboard, the construction of syllables ricocheting about the room where the form waited, and the plumes of smoke rising from the numerous cigarettes the form’s mistress smoked during her frenzied attempts to shape words into stories.

If the form owned a head for worry and angst, for whining and winges about its plight of existence, it might have expressed by thought or a tilted angle of its stand the injustice of being left idle, the unfairness of words chained together which could not be worn, the waste of her mistress’s imagination on airy nothings. What were words, anyway? What made them so important? They couldn’t be fitted over the form, couldn’t be straight-pinned into pleasant and pleasing designs, couldn’t decorate the form’s elegant vining of tin leaves, the meandering ways of pressed metals. If the form owned a head capable of emotions, it would be vexed.

As it is, the form doesn’t own any such head. It doesn’t own legs—only a stiffly elegant four-footed stand. It can’t run away. Can’t show its displeasure in regard to being unused, ignored, left by a window to gather dust and sun in the morning, pinpricks of light by night. It might think, if it could, how fine it would be if stories and poems were semi-solid things—items woven from silk and wool, from bamboo fibers and flax—articles woven with structure and beauty, their endings evenly hemmed with perfectly spaced similes, their beginnings draped and tossed lightly about this waiting form’s headless neck.