Thank you for your comment! You're so right -- I haven't posted in ages! Busy doesn't even begin to explain what I am, but that's no excuse. I'm posting again starting TODAY. No more lame excuses. So thanks, Anonymous, for reminding me that there ARE some people who like this blog. Myself included.
So does everyone want to check out something a little different? It's not flash fiction, exactly, it's the first chapter of a book I contemplated writing, and then pooped out on. Maybe if it gets enough love I'll consider restarting it. It needs some polishing, but I love the character of the book. Bitter. Sarcastic. Darkly funny at times, but with genuine emotion. I've got about 14K words done (this was written about a year ago) but today, I'll just share chapter one. Enjoy!
My mother must have hated me.
There’s no other explanation for her actions—none. Why else would she arrange that, upon her death, I be sent to live in the backwoods of Mississippi with an aunt I’ve never met?
Why, mom, why? Why would you do this to me?
I sat in the backseat of a taxicab staring out in horror at the dilapidated house before me thinking these words repeatedly. The house—the entire town, really—was like my worst nightmare come to pass. It consisted of a few run-down strip malls, several lonely-looking churches and a smattering of shacks that housed the residents. Dirty, disheveled and overgrown, the house which I would now call home stood crookedly before me, reminding me oddly of a mangy dog cocking its head. I wrinkled my nose at it. This was where I was going to be spending the next two years of my life.
This couldn’t be happening…
“You gettin’ out?” the taxi driver grunted, shifting around to glare at me in the rearview mirror.
I closed my eyes. If only the answer was no. If only I had anywhere else to go. I thought wildly for a moment about telling the driver to take me back into the city where I could make a living as a bum. The dread I felt at having to live here, in Chunky, Mississippi was that intense.
I’d rather be homeless.
“Hey,” the driver barked. “You’ll be paying for the time you’re just sitting here, you got that?”
“Yeah, I know,” I muttered. I opened my eyes and heaved myself out of the taxi using every last shred of determination I had left. The sun beat against the top of my head as soon as I exited, and the air felt like it was saturated with steaming gutter water. I rounded the back of the taxi and pulled out my suitcases from the trunk. Giving the house a wary glance, I went to the passenger window of the taxi to pay the driver. Any second now my estranged aunt would realize I had arrived and come barreling out to greet me…or else, remain sitting inside brooding about having to take me in.
Not that she wasn’t getting paid for it. My mother, in addition to making arrangements for me to live here, had also arranged for my aunt to receive a healthy amount of money for taking me in. All of this money had come from the college fund she’d set up for me when I was a baby.
Great thinking, mom…now I didn’t even have college to look forward to anymore.
I stuffed a fifty at the driver and watched sadly as he took off in a whip of dust, confirming the dismal reality I now faced: life in Chunky.
It seemed like a long time before I managed to make myself move toward the front door. I gathered my many suitcases and made my way down the rocky path that sliced the overgrown front lawn in two. A pair of humongous oak trees shaded the scrawny lawn, their branches scratching at the roof of the house as if begging to be let inside. I was grateful for their cooling shade as I had not yet become accustomed to the muggy Mississippi heat.
The screened-in porch was lacking a door, so I tugged my baggage up the front steps and stood resentfully on the doormat which said, ironically, Welcome Home. I raised my arm to knock on the door, but before I made contact with the rotting wood, movement to my right made me pause. I looked over to see the olive-green velvet curtains twitching as though someone had just pulled them back.
Then, without warning, the front door banged open and the strangest woman I’d ever laid eyes on stood beaming at me as though I’d just given her a million dollars. She was about six feet tall and wide as a baby rhino. Her hair, which had been dyed so frequently that it now matched the color and texture of copper wire, was stuck in purple curlers. She wore faded blue jeans, a tie-dye t-shirt and a polka dotted apron over it all. For some reason she was also wearing oven mitts shaped like lobster claws.
This woman was my Aunt Violet.
“Ellie!” she screeched in a high-pitched raspy voice that made me wonder if she was a smoker. She wrapped a rotund arm around me and pressed me to her more than ample breasts. The wind was knocked out of me and I choked on the stench of cheap perfume as I tried to breathe. “Oh come on in, honey child, come on in!”
She grabbed me by the scruff of my shirt and shoved me inside as she gathered up all of my luggage. Rubbing my neck, I took a quick look around. The shades were drawn and none of the lights were on, giving the living room a dank, cave-like feel. All of the furniture was mismatched and worn, though I was surprised to see my racing bike propped up in the back corner, seemingly unharmed. An odd smell that reminded me of wet cat permeated the air and mingled with a spicy, meaty scent coming from the kitchen that, unfortunately, must have been dinner.
My Aunt Violet bumped me with her bubbly butt as she scooted her way into the house with the bags. I made a move to help, as she seemed to be struggling, still wearing the lobster oven mitts, but she waved me off.
“I got it, darlin’,” she said. She straightened up and rounded on me with her hands on her hips. She was a giant woman—so the opposite of my mother, who happened to be her sister. Where my mom had been gentle and quiet, this Aunt Violet seemed loud and rather crass and filled the whole room with her presence. Not that that was hard to do since the room was about the size of my closet back home.
Aunt Violet stared down at me, grinning. I counted three gold teeth in her wide, painted mouth. “Hard to believe we aint never met,” she said. “I s’pose I should introduce myself. I’m your Auntie Vi!”
“Ah…hi,” I muttered.
“And of course I know your name, muffin. Your mama wrote me about you all the time. Ellie this and Ellie that. Another award for runnin’ something called a tri-apple-thon?”
She peered down at me, waiting for confirmation, but I could barely hide my grimace.
“Triathlon,” I grumbled.
“Right!” She beamed. “’Fraid we aint got nothin’ so fancy as that down here, but the high school’s got a track team. Think there’s close to five kids on it, I gather. Coach Sykes’ll be lucky to have you. ‘Spect he might even make you captain if you wanted. Aint no other kids on the team that won first place in the Junior Olympics or— ”
“No!” I said loudly. My heart had begun to race as Aunt Violet babbled on. Listening to her talk about my past life—the one I’d lived with my mother in Chicago—felt like rubbing salt in the wounds I’d been trying so hard to heal.
My mother’s death, not two weeks ago, had changed everything. Not only was she gone, but I’d been forced to face some other devastating truths about the life I thought I had. My friends—or, I should say, the people I thought were my friends—had abandoned me; too afraid, it seemed, to even look at me, let alone talk to me about how I was feeling. It was like they couldn’t stand being around something so sad so they just ignored it— ignored me, I mean.
The truth was, that everything I’d ever cared about, everything I’d ever wanted or fantasized about, suddenly seemed utterly pointless. Who cared if I won the Chicago Triathlon or raised five hundred dollars running for breast cancer, or gotten straight A’s all year, or finally been noticed by sexy soccer player, Jake Harris?
My mother was dead.
And the life I’d had while she was still with me was gone now. The girl I’d been for sixteen years was no longer alive and I couldn’t bear to hear tacky, tasteless Aunt Violet spout on about it as though it weren’t happening.
But the look on her face as her smile faded made me amend my outburst. Poor, stupid “Auntie Vi” didn’t understand what was happening. She didn’t even seem upset that her sister had died…
I cleared my throat and stared at my shoes to keep from feeling any guilt at causing the crestfallen expression on her face. “I mean—I don’t want to join the track team…if…if that’s okay."
Aunt Violet seemed to recover quickly and her smile snapped back in place as though it had never left. “’Course it is, pumpkin! You can do whatever your little heart desires; it’s up to you.”
The only thing I wanted was to get away from Aunt Violet’s ignorant smile and be alone.
“I’d like to get settled,” I said, striving for a polite tone. “If you don’t mind.”
“Oh!” Aunt Violet smacked her hand to her face. Her nails were caution-tape orange and every one of them had a chip. “Silly me, of course you gotta be tired from the trip. You know, I ain’t never been in a airplane before. Musta been super fancy, all them in-flight drinks and squashy pillows…”
She continued to bluster on as she gathered up my bags and barged down the narrow hallway to our left. Along the walls I could see faded pictures hanging of little girls in pigtails, playing in a bucket of water, or else chasing chickens across a farm. I knew immediately these were pictures of Aunt Violet and my mom; I had seen similar photos in an album my mom had kept hidden in her closet.
Aunt Violet led the way into a room at the end of the hall, still carrying on about a trip to Hawaii she was longing to take.
“Bathroom’s there on the right,” she interjected as she preceded me into a small, stark room stuffed to the ceiling with boxes. “This’ll be it,” she said, dropping my bags. “Man came by the other day and dropped all these boxes off. Took me ‘n Barney close to an hour to get ‘em all to fit.”
I wondered briefly who Barney was before a rude ringing sound went off in the kitchen and Aunt Violet jumped so high her curlers scratched the plaster off the ceiling.
“My biscuits!” she screeched and ran out of the room yelling something like, “Make yourself at home,” as she went.
I stared gloomily at my new room. What the heck did she expect me to do with all of these boxes? Even if I unpacked them all, I wouldn’t have room for their contents. The room I’d occupied in Chicago had been about three times this size. And, I thought as I opened a slim, mirrored door to my right which revealed a closet, I’d had about five times the closet space. A small, twin-sized bed that looked as if it was meant for a five year old stood underneath a mountain of boxes. I noticed the headboard had paintings of unicorns on it and the bed sheets—from what I could see of them—were faded pink with creepy dancing bears and carousels. I sighed, staring at the bed with disgust. I’d have to move the boxes off so I could sleep…
Stalling at the thought of this daunting task, I reached into my pocket for my cell phone, which no longer got any service, but still showed the time. It was 5:56. At least I hadn’t changed time zones.
With nothing else to do but move the damn boxes, I gathered what was left of my emotional stability and approached the first one. I yanked it down and, with shaking hands, pried it open. I almost moaned with relief at the sight of my shoes. It wasn’t anything painful—like pictures, or souvenirs, notes from my former friends, or my triathlon trophies. No reminders of my old life. I pulled out the dirty old converse, six different pairs of running shoes, and one lonely pair of completely practical high-heels and stuffed them pell-mell into the closet.
Okay. Next box.
This one was considerably more painful. It was filled with items from my mother’s room. It must have been brought here by mistake, since all of her things had been sold or given to charity. I gazed down at the box, tears threatening to overcome me, as I reached to pick up one of her dresses, folded on the top. It was a flowery summer dress she only wore when it was warm. I could imagine her smile as we walked along the bank of Lake Michigan, talking about boys and school and idiotic stuff I couldn’t remember now if I tried. The vivid print of the dress seemed oddly muted now, empty in my hands. I brought it to my face and—knowing what I was going to be inflicting upon myself—I inhaled deeply…
What seemed like hours of sobbing later, I had given up on my mother’s box and stowed it, still filled, into the far back of my closet. I couldn’t stand crying anymore…especially since I knew Aunt Violet had to have heard me.
I wasn’t what you’d call a silent crier. More of a wailer, really.
By the time I’d finished unpacking the boxes on my bed, which all happened to be filled with clothes, I heard the thump, thump, thump of Aunt Violet’s gargantuan feet plodding down the hall.
She cracked the door without knocking and stuck her face in.
“Dinner!” she piped merrily, apparently either totally unaware that I had been sobbing for the past hour, or else refusing to acknowledge it.
She stumped back down the hall and I heard the clattering of plates and silverware as she set the table.
Glumly, I followed her into the kitchen, which also housed a yellowed linoleum table and three plastic lawn chairs, one of which, I was surprised to see, was occupied by a man I didn’t know. He was thin, well-groomed and smiling placidly at me with intelligent green eyes that startled me with their beauty.
Aunt Violet, who was bustling over with a platter of biscuits the size of Frisbees, noticed my frozen stare and smiled even more brightly.
"Oh, I forgot you ain’t yet met,” she said, casting a loving look at the man. “This’ll be Barney. Barney, this is my niece Ellie Meyer.” She bent close to him and said in a very audible whisper, “Member the one I told you, whose mama just died?”
But Barney seemed to ignore Aunt Violet completely and just watched me intently as he said, “Lovely to meet you,” without a hint of a southern drawl. He obviously wasn’t from Chunky. “Please, feel free to call me Bernard.”
Aunt Violet snorted as though the thought of calling him Bernard was totally hilarious and scampered back off to the stove.
“Ah…hi,” I said, still shocked to see the man sitting there. “Who’re you…exactly?”
“I am your aunt’s boyfriend.” He smiled, revealing a set of straight white teeth.
My mouth hit the linoleum.
It wasn’t that my aunt had a boyfriend that was the shocker; it was that Bernard was so…so clean. He didn’t fit this gritty, disgusting house or my sloppy, stinking aunt. If I’d had to picture Aunt Violet with a man, it would have been the stereotypic dirty trucker dude, complete with a bulging hairy belly that protruded from his pit-stained wife-beater. Bernard, on the other hand looked more like he belonged immortalized within the pages of GQ.
He was young, slim and dressed chicly in a pair of grey slacks and a pale blue shirt that brought out the light green of his eyes. Even the ugly florescent lighting of the kitchen seemed to flatter him.
I was still openly staring at him as Aunt Violet set the table with a plate of meatloaf and buttery peas and took her seat next to Bernard. The plastic chair underneath her gave a desperate groan.
I continued to stand before the table, unable to accept Bernard as Aunt Violet’s lover.
Bernard cleared his throat sharply and Aunt Violet suddenly exclaimed, “Sit!”
I snapped out of it and took my seat in a hurry. For a while, there was only the clinking and clattering of plates as Bernard, Aunt Violet and I passed the platters around and scooped mounds of potatoes onto our plates. I wasn’t particularly hungry and the food, to be honest, looked a bit dodgy. There were hunks of something gelatinous in the meatloaf that didn’t look at all like meat.
“Excited, Ellie?” Aunt Violet said out of nowhere.
I paused in my effort to stir my food around so it looked like I’d eaten something.
“Huh?” I asked. Excited about what? My mother dying? Being forced to live in Chunky for two years until I turned eighteen? Having to listen to Auntie Vi and Barney doing it in the next room tonight?
“School tomorrow,” Aunt Violet said brightly.
I dropped my gaze to my plate, thinking for the first time of having to go to a new school. In truth, it hadn’t even occurred to me until now. It was like my brain hadn’t had room to contemplate anymore unpleasantness. Now, with the prospect of a new school looming dangerously close I couldn’t help but feel a little flutter of anxiety.
I’d never had much trouble making friends in Chicago. I was one of those people for whom conversation came easily, even when meeting someone knew. Back then, I’d had the energy and enthusiasm for it. Friends and boyfriends and getting the latest bit of gossip between classes were of the upmost importance.
I sighed deeply into my plate.
“Your Aunt tells me you’re quite the athlete,” Bernard remarked genially. “You certainly don’t eat much for someone who runs seven miles a day.”
“Yeah, well…I haven’t been running much lately,” I muttered.
“Understandable,” Bernard said. “Violet told me it was a car accident that led to your mother’s death?”
Coldness swept through me and I nodded stiffly.
Bernard opened his mouth to say something else when—
“Swimming!” Aunt Violet screeched.
I jumped, knocking over the salt shaker and stared up at her with wide eyes, perplexed at her outburst.
“There’s a river down the road that’ll be right fine for swimming,” Aunt Violet said happily. When I continued to look baffled, she said, “For your tripe-a-lathon trainin’!”
I continued to stare, almost sadly at her. The poor woman was insane…How had she ever managed to trick Bernard into dating her. Maybe she was secretly rich. Or perhaps great in bed. It certainly couldn’t be her cooking prowess…
Bernard put his hand on Aunt Violet’s rotund arm in a soothing manner.
“Violet, dear,” he said gently. “That river is hardly fit for swimming. It’s barely three feet deep.”
Aunt Violet gave me the most devastated look, as though her entire world were crumbling. I felt a swoop of pity hit me.
“It’s just as well,” I mumbled. “I haven’t been swimming much either…”
Aunt Violet continued to look crushed.
Bernard cleared his throat pointedly and Aunt Violet’s toothy smile snapped into place. “You can still ride that fancy racing bike to school every day, though. That’s somethin’. Your mama told you love ridin’ that thing rain or—”
“Wait,” I snapped. “What do you mean ride to school?”
“School bus comes by ‘round the corner,” Aunt Violet continued, ignoring my gaping stare of incredulity. “But you’ll be happier on your bike, I think. Cruddy old bus breaks down a lot and the kids gotta walk it. Not much fun when it rains, eh Barn?” She elbowed him in the side, snorting a little amidst her mirth. “I can watch ‘em from in here, schleppin’ down the way. Used to have to go out there with ‘em sometimes, headin’ off to work. Lucky for me, I aint gotta work no more now your mama left you so much money.”
“You don’t have a car?” I asked, still unwilling to believe it. Who didn’t own a car these days?
“Not since the old Ford kicked it not two years back. Middle of a flood it was, too…poor old truck just couldn’t take all that water under the hood.” She sighed sadly.
“So—so I have to ride my bike? Every day? Even in the rain?”
“Oh, I think you’ll find the rain more pleasant than the heat,” Bernard said with a charming smile. “It can become rather toasty down here in the summer. You’ll be glad to cool down.”
My mouth, which was still gaping open, snapped shut. Oh, easy for him to say. He wasn’t going to be the idiot arriving at school the next day on her bike.
I pushed my plate away. Someone just kill me now…