Tuesday, April 22, 2008

PBSS part 2

Here's part 1, reworked a little, with part 2 added. This is SO much harder than it seems. Couldn't I try underwater basketweaving instead? Or maybe I could solve world peace? Or find the cure for cancer?

I'm really worried that I'm showing, not telling.  I mean, I'm being freakish and obsessing about it.  I finally had to shut off my brain and just let my fingers type words; so here they are, raw and unedited.


The way the story is told, my godparents were emergency medical response workers who were arguing as to whether they should get married. My godmother, Zara, went into some strange sort of seizure (they said it was the alcohol), and began driving the vehicle as if possessed. The two of them ended up in front of my grandmother’s house, in which my 19-year-old mother was giving birth, to me. No one would have known something was wrong until too late. Zara and Zeke saved my life, and my mother’s. Purely by divine intervention.

At least, that’s the way the story was always told, until last night.


In my earliest memory, I am a little over 2 years old. I’m sitting on the back porch, which is really just a huge slab of grey concrete heated by the summer sun. The backyard is a large rectangle, with a grey wire fence marking its borders. I’m not allowed to climb the fence, and don’t want to, anyway – it hurts my feet. But the yard is mine. I wander, naked, toward the back fence. The grass is smooth under my feet, so dark green it’s almost indigo in certain places. I am allowed in the garden, because I have been taught that gardens are special and important places gardens are. I reverently check the green tomatoes, and pick a nice ripe red one because it is ready to eat. The metal playset has recently appeared in the yard. It is my castle, which I have saved from dragons, who have chipped and peeled the bright green and orange paint.  

My mother is inside. I can see her peer out at me from the kitchen window. She says it is too hot for her to be outside when the baby is so big inside of her. She reminds me of my tomato plants. She is tall, and bendy, and sort of fuzzy, with a baby tomato starting to grow in her middle.

Time passes. I don’t know how much. It doesn’t matter. I’m lying in the grass, looking up at the sky and watching my fingers fold together, apart, together. Suddenly, I’m swooped up and tossed high in the air. I land in Zeke’s big arms, safe. Zara is standing on the porch with my mother.

“Zeke, no scare Audrey!” I remember saying this quite clearly.

“Sorry, sunflower.” Zeke falls to the ground, sits, cuddles me on his lap. He’s still wearing his uniform, with patches on his dark blue short sleeves. Zara walks over and sits down with us. I squirm off of Zeke’s lap and into hers. She’s also in uniform, the baggy fabric bunches up all around her. She is tall and bendy like my mother, but with no tomato bulge. Zara kisses my cheek, my other cheek, and my palms, which is our special greeting.

“Audrey, little girl, you get taller every day,” she says. I smile and stand up, reaching way up on my tiptoes.

“Tall, tall, tall,” I say. “Like Daddy.”

“Yes, like Daddy,” Zara says, looking at my mother.

“Audrey, come on,” my mother calls. “Time to go bye-bye.”

I jump up. “Bye-bye! Bye-bye in the car?” I run to my mother, wrap myself around her legs and under her baby tomato belly. I pat the bulge. “Baby. Hi baby.”

“Yes, you and me and baby are going to go bye-bye in the car. But you can’t go naked!”

“Come on, sunny,” says Zeke. It’s the first time he’s ever called me that. “Let’s get some clothes on.”

“Say bye-bye to the garden,” my mother says. We always say bye-bye when it’s time to put the toys away. I run to the playset and hug one of the rusted poles.

“Bye-bye, castle.”

“Bye-bye, apartment!” Audrey said softly. Tears pooled in her eyes as she put the blue Volkswagon bug into drive and pulling away from the tall brick building.

“Oh, for god’s sake,” her sister exhaled from the passenger’s seat. “Do you want me to drive?”

“No, I’m just going to miss it.” Audrey took a deep breath and tried to focus on the road. Her legs were already starting to sweat. She flipped the air-conditioning to high.

“You hated that apartment. It was too small. The upstairs guys were always thudding above you. You could hear Suzanne having sex two doors down.”

“I know. But it was the first place that was really mine. I hope someone moves in who will love it.”

Kate sniffed. “You and your weird anthropromorphization of houses.”

Audrey smiled to herself. Kate was a sociology major, and tended toward psychological observations.  

Kate fiddled with the CDs. “We have to get you an MP3 player for the car. And update your music.” She thumbed through the small collection. “Well, I guess, the Fray…again?”

“Sounds good. Want to take bets on how quickly I can get us home?”

“Audrey, if you kill me in a car crash, I will haunt you forever. And not cute, Casper-y kind of haunting.”

Even driving at Kate’s speed, it only took about two and half hours to get from Bloomington to Louisville. Just outside the Clarksville exit, Audrey’s phone went off.

“Haven’t you changed that damn ringtone yet?” Kate asked scornfully.

“Hey Da,” Audrey answered, sticking her tongue out at her sister. “Yes, I’m driving. No, it’s fine. Yeah, we’re about to cross the river. Hey, I’m just going to run by the school real quick. Just take a peek at the classroom I’ll be teaching in. We’ll still be home within the hour. Sure, grilling out sounds good. Okay. Love you. Bye.”


Sometimes, I still drive to the school in the mid-afternoon as the children are pouring out to go home. The building is made of pale beige bricks, with huge windows that look into – and out of - the classrooms. I wish she hadn’t gone here. The playground isn’t fenced; in fact, it belongs to the Park District rather than to the school, so that senior groups and classes of retarded kids have activities there while she’s out at recess. Her mother disagreed with me, falling back too often on the argument that it was not my decision to make. And that Audrey deserved the best education possible. But doesn’t every kid?

This is the last week of school. The kids will be free until August, free to swim and eat ice cream and discover that doing nothing is sometimes really, really boring.

I unclench my hands from the steering wheel. I have to be careful, these days. A lone man, sitting in a truck, watching kids. A neighbor once mistook me for the kind of person I’m trying to protect Audrey from. Now, I drive by slowly, carefully, trying to appear like I’m just a normal citizen watching out for school children. Instead of what I am.

“I was afraid you’d forget who you are,” Jonathan grinned as he watched Audrey dip into her cheese fries. Steak n’ Shake at midnight was a tradition with Jonathan, their long-time neighbor and friend. “You didn’t even come home for Derby; you were all preoccupied when I saw you at Christmas. You can take the studying too far, y’know.”

“Says the guy who dropped out of high school to start a dot com,” muttered Audrey. Kate laughed, on a sugar high from two double chocolate chip milkshakes.

“So the movie star sisters are being split up,” Jonathan teased. The old joke always irked the girls. Since Jonathan had learned that heir mother had named them after the Hepburn actresses, he’d been merciless.

This time, however, Audrey replied thoughtfully. “Well, the way she’s going, Kate’s going to be arrested soon, anyway. So it’s best I’m not there, so I’m not tempted to bail her out. Again.”

“As if we could pull you off your Mac long enough, you nerd.” Kate turned to Jonathan. “She hasn’t hooked up with anyone all year.”

“Ah,” Jonathan nodded. “Sex deprivation. Makes even the best of us cranky. Though it’s hard to imagine ol’ Aud crankier than she is naturally.”

“What the hell is this, dump on Audrey night?”

“Aw, sissy,” Kate put her head on Audrey’s shoulder, just as her phone started to ring. “We wuv you.” She checked her caller ID. “Oh, it’s Chase. Hey, babe,” she said, scooting out of the booth. She mouthed the words “better reception” and walked just outside of the restaurant doors.

Jonathan reached his beautiful, manicured hands across the table, taking Audrey’s.

“Hey, Aud,” he said quietly. She looked into his face, silently daring him to say anything else. “What’s up with you? I can’t tell if you’re grumpy or just distracted.”

“J, it’s..it’s nothing.”

“Audrey Isabella. Come on. I know better than that. Talk to me.”

“Fine,” she sighed. “What do you want me to say? I’m a spoiled brat? My life is perfect and I’m still not happy?”

“How about the truth?” he asked, releasing her hands. When she didn’t say anything, he kicked her under the table.

“Okay, okay! God, give me a minute. I,” Audrey caught sight of Kate outside. Her little sister waved. “She gets to go back - back to Bloomington, back to classes, and Friday nights on the Quad, and her roommate. I’m staying here, where I grew up, in an apartment by myself, with no boyfriend, no social life, and a job that’s going to be teaching kids who are not that much younger than me.” She bit the sides of her tongue, hard, to keep from crying.

“Hey. I’ll take care of your social life,” Jonathan said, pretending to be offended.

“Uh, watching you and Oliver make out is not my idea of a social life,” Audrey smiled weakly. Kate had slipped back in and settled onto the booth next to Jonathan.

“They’re not so bad,” Kate shrugged. “I mean, two hot guys comfortable with their sexuality. It’s kind of a turn on.”

“Yeah, we’re going to start charging you for watching, though, little girl,” Jonathan said, tousling her hair.

“Are you not meeting Chase?” Audrey asked. “I thought that was a – erm,”

“…booty call,” Jonathan supplied.

“Nah, I told him I wanted to spend time with my two bestest buddies.” Audrey and Jonathan exchanged looks.

“You need a wax, don’t you?” Jonathan asked.

“See?” Audrey said. “Trouble. She’s going to run a brothel next year, I know it. I just can’t keep up with her.”


  1. Did I mention how much I loved Audrey in the garden? Well, I do. Love the dialogue throughout too and the linked transitions.

    Two minor questions... she calls 'da' - but there has been no da and they end up with Jonathan. And whose neighbour is he?

    Keep up the good work, I'll be back...

  2. I assumed that Da was Zeke because his were the next thoughts we heard. Perhaps the ambiguity is on purpose to keep us guessing about the years between "bye-bye castle" and "bye-bye apartment"? I'm intrigued to see where his story will end up.

    I loved the dialogue - teasing and warm between sisters. It rang very true to me (I have 4 sisters!).

    Looking forward to part 3 when you're feeling up to it!

  3. I really like this. In the beginning, I was wondering if the language should be more child-like. But I think what you have works. It's written well in any case.

    I'm very intrigued by Zeke. Who IS he?

    Next part! Next part!



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