**Creative**

  • I like to think of everything I do as creative. But this category is really for creative formats–fiction pieces ranging from long-format 50,000-word pieces to short stories and unconventional poetry.
  • Have you ever heard of Nanowrimo? It’s a contest that challenges aspiring book authors (and who doesn’t want to publish a book?) to actually do it by giving them one month to produce 50,000 words. I hope to take my 50,000+ words from the ’09 contest and get them published. In the meantime, I’ll publish parts (or all) here … Here is Excerpt #1 … Enjoy!

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She was standing out on McGuire Road, which was little more than a stretch of gravel that led from the center of Cowell to the outskirts of the Audubon center, a preserve for birds and other wildlife. It was rugged and beautiful country, in its own right. And she looked like something out of a Georgia O’Keefe painting when I saw her.

Her now shoulder-length, wavy black locks blew in the wind. She was wearing a calf-length, flower-print dress that I didn’t even remember she owned, but it looked old and out of place, like one of the flower sack dresses my grandmother may have had in the 1920s and 30s when she was growing up. With the exception of the dark tresses, she actually looked a lot like some of the photos I’d seen of Grandma, though she was in color — and Grandma was in black and white — and Grandma was always wearing high-heeled mary janes or some other classy, dark dress shoe. Always dressing to impress, flying in the face of her hardworking roots on the farm where she was said to be the hardest working gal in the county. That’s what she’d always tell us if there was even the slightest indication that we were sloughing off from our duties. We had something to live up to in her. Her standards and work ethic.

When I saw mother on the road that bore our family’s name, she wasn’t wearing any shoes. She wasn’t wearing any protection on her feet. As I drove up to her, I realized how disheveled she looked, as if she was in a dream state.

“Rita? Mom?” I asked, lurching toward her. “Get in the car.”

Her eyes were off-kilter, glazed over. I’d seen those eyes before. Sallie had been at her. I could tell.

“Mom — PLEASE get in the car!” I ordered. I was in my 30s and going through the same things I had gone through as a child, then as a teen and then into my 20s. Coaxing her to get into the car, to get back in the building, to put on some clothes, to be normal. To be mom. But she never would.

“Please!” I was so exasperated now. I was on the verge of tears. I started to look around, as if someone was going to actually drive through this virtually abandoned area. We were outside of a house– a house that had once been ours and our ancestors and now belonged to someone else.  The last thing I wanted was for her to draw attention, unwanted attention from the new owners. It was a house I at least wanted to see the inside of some day, as opposed to just hear about or see in pictures.

Then I caught myself, as my thoughts drifted to the house and my eyes trailed from mom. I had seen the inside of that house. But that house had changed. It wasn’t sepia tone. It had a railing, an ornate railing on the second floor. The door on the second floor still remained, but no one would want to go out and sunbathe or enjoy a tea party out on that floor without a railing.

I had seen that railing in my dream, though. I had seen the house as it once was. But not as it was today. 

As my mind and head had become fixated on that house — all the differences I had seen in my dream –the ones I had shared with Bette — my mother started to say something. It was more of a mumble at first. Speak up, I had told her, or ordered her, in my half-anger, half-sadness and half-depressed state. Speak up. You had me come out here. In the freezing cold. You without your socks, asking to catch pneumonia. Asking to die. 

“Did you bring it?”

“What are you talking about?” I was still in the car, having pulled over to the side of the road by her. I started to reach for her hand but I pulled it away.

“The key, I told you to bring the key,” her lip started to tremble. I realized she was getting emotional.

“What key? The only key I needed was the key to get here to get you — speaking of which how did you get here, anyway?”

She completely ignored me, as if I wasn’t there. She was on a mission.

“You were supposed to bring the key,” her voice was getting high-pitched. I  knew a tirade was in the works because I’d heard it and seen it so many times before. “Give me the damn key.”

She started to approach me. I got a little scared for a moment. Her delusions rarely turned on me. They were always directed toward herself.

“You need to help me — you need to see!”

I realized it wasn’t my mother talking. It was someone else entirely. You may think this was a common occurrence, but I knew the other personalities. Usually my mother’s voice remained, but not this time.

“Check your bag,” she said.

I still had my large duffle bag which was doubling as both a purse and an overnight bag. I had grabbed it in my rush and just started stuffing it full of everything I thought I might need for the emergency visit. Everything else I thought I could just borrow at Grandma’s house or purchase while I was in town.

“Check your bag,” she repeated over and over again. I knew something was horribly amiss.

I started to roll up my window, scared and bewildered all at once. My mother approached. Her eyes really didn’t look right. The color almost looked off. She reminded me not of a human, but of a zombie. Between the lack of socks and shoes, the disheveled hair, the glazed-over eyes whose color was completely unnatural and that voice, something was horribly off. It was then that I wished that Uncle Clarke was there, or at least that I had decent cell reception.

There was no coverage to be had in such a rural area, at least coverage that wasn’t horrifically spotty.

I decided to humor her, or whoever this was that was inhabiting my mother.

I started to dig through the bag. I didn’t know what I was looking for. And then my fingers caught on something. Wrapped around a portion of my hand was a copper-colored chain. Then as I pulled it out, came the crystals and the charms and finally the key.

There was no reason for me to pack this necklace, especially something so ornate and frivolous on an emergency trip. It had somehow managed to become mixed up with my contact lens solution, my change of underwear, a few pairs of basic, wrinkle-free clothes and my favorite running shoes. Those were all basics. This was not. There was absolutely nothing basic about it.

My mother or whoever it was that had set up shop in what looked, at least vaguely, like her physical appearance, her eyes lit up when she saw the key glittering in what little sun was left. The day was turning into night, and the days were a lot shorter this time of year.

She started to shove her hand in to the car, through the small crack that was left from when I had rolled up the window. She was overzealously reaching for just the key on what was actually a necklace. But I felt and knew better. For when “she” had inhabited this place, there wasn’t a necklace. There were no pretty vintage-look charms and no gothic beads. There wasn’t a copper colored chain. It was just that big skeleton key. The one that had probably never made a trip to Louisiana, had never seen the swamps.

I rolled up the window even more when I thought her narrow arm was sufficiently away from the car. I tried to yell at her through the crack.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you!” I was screaming, once I had realized that no cars had passed by us in the 20-odd minutes since I’d been out there. “Why are you acting like this? What’s wrong with you? Have you not been taking your pills?”

I often wondered if one of the reasons she hadn’t been taking her pills was purely selfish. Maybe she thought that the disease made her a more brilliant artist. So many visual artists, visually gifted people, were mad geniuses of sorts … Paul Gaugain and Vincent Van Gogh … there were too many to mention … that she would sacrifice the well-being of her own daughters for her artistic talent made my head spin at night. That was the ultimate act of selfishness.

“The key!” she was roaring, still in a voice that was not her own. She started to flail about on the roadside, pulling at her silky locks. I was now concerned for her safety. Without thinking, I pushed open the door and ran toward her. She smiled broadly, looking almost possessed, and sprinted toward the car, lunging to the front seat. She grabbed at the chain and yanked. She yanked so hard that the key separated from the chain and the charms went flying — as did the beads — sprawled out everywhere in sad pieces throughout the front of the car — on the seat, near the cup holder, and in the console. When the key became dislodged it was almost freeing, as if that was the way it should have been the whole time.

She grabbed at the key, as if truly mad.

“Mom,” I said, sternly, overcome by more sadness than frustration. “Please just get in the car.” I was crying now, hot tears, so flustered. “Just get in the car so we can go home. Grandma is so worried about you. She keeps talking about you.”

“It’s not grandma, Harlowe,” this woman who was supposed to be my mother said. “She’s not Grandma. She would have been MY granddaughter. If I had the chance to lay eyes on her,” she said wistfully, as one solitary tear rolled down her cheek.

She neared me. And in that tender moment, with the solitary tear and that compassion and that sincerity that came across, I may not have known who she was or where she was at, what place she had gone to, but I wasn’t afraid of her.

As she neared me, she placed the key — minus everything I had otherwise known about it outside of dreams — in my hand and she took my fingers and closed them over that key.

Here she was, so excited to take it from me and now she was giving this object, my object, back to me in pieces.

“Go to the front door,” she said, gesturing with her head toward the castle, my grandma’s old house, the house of stories and legends and dreams. A house that was oft-painted and oft-wondered about. “Use that key.”

I nodded. My legs were weak. This was reality, but I felt my brain faltering.

“Will you get in the car?” I asked, my voice quivering. I was pleading with my eyes.

“Such a precious thing,” she said, bringing her soft hand up to my face. For a moment I saw who she really was. A person of  light and talent. A person who had been killed far too early. “I wish I had known your grandma, and I wish I had known you. Go now.”

She started to get into the car, as I walked up the pathway leading toward the house. The path had changed a lot from my dream, and changed a lot even from the time when I had gone here when I was younger and used to daydream about what was inside. I used to wonder about the ghosts. And I liked to ask my grandmother about if she was scared, ever living in that house. It seemed like nothing scared her. But she did say one time she had been left to her own devices in the house. Her parents had trusted her enough, as the rest of the family had gone to another function in town and wanted someone to be there to watch the house. She was so scared she almost peed her pants, she said.

“That house was just too big,” she had said, shaking her head, as if laughing at herself after all these years. I was so happy. My memories of her being happy and so lucid were still with me. They were not failing as I feared time was doing with memories of my grandfather. The longer without him, the fuzzier the memories were becoming — the more I was wondering if those memories were just my imagination, or if those events had ever existed.

As I got closer to the house, the stones seemed to get progressively smoother.  There were no bumps. Nothing crooked about them. Fresh and new like a newborn creature. And the pickup truck and the car that I thought I’d seen when I was out on the country road no longer seemed to exist. There was a stillness in the air, a freshness in the air. I looked back toward the road.  I panicked for a moment. I didn’t see mother. I didn’t see my uncle’s car. I didn’t see the telephone pole that jutted out from the area where we were parked. And I didn’t even see the sign that signaled that it was indeed McGuire Road. The whole landscape had changed.

Trembling, I looked to the key. I was close to the door. It was just as I had imagined in that dream. Only I was holding the key. I was shaking so violently I thought I’d drop it. I could envision it sliding in a crack on the front porch, only there were no cracks in what was supposed to be a house more than a century old. Everything was off. Nothing was right. It was a dream. I rubbed my eyes, hoping that the sleep would fall off of them and I would be transported back to my bed. Back to my dining room table where Bette and I would compare notes.

“I’m with you, Harlowe,” I heard that voice. The voice that had come from my mother’s vocal cords, but a voice I knew wasn’t her own. It had a certain lilt to it — something from another country. And it was heartier and raspier. I knew it was nothing my mother could create on her own, without assistance. As much as she had taken on other personalities, in some way. Or they had taken her on throughout the years.

I still, instinctively, wanted to knock on the door before letting myself in. It wasn’t my house. Pinching myself, hard, one last time, trying feverishly to wake myself up, hoping that with each step I would land back in bed in a cold sweat. Nothing like that happened. There were no cut-aways like in the movies. I just took one step. Put the key in the door that fit so perfectly and it opened to reveal the house. I’d already seen the house as it was, not the modern-day version.

But this time around, it wasn’t all sepia tone. It was color. Rich, vivid color. I was taking it all, everything was sinking in, down to the lovely oriental rug — richly detailed in crimson and jade. It ate up the better part of the parlor — its wooden floors just as I had seen them. Only now I saw every shade.

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