Friday, March 1, 2013

a note from p (March 1, 2013)

I don't think I have any readers, but just in case one wanders in…

I've stalled. I'm stalling. I'm on pause. Again.

I realized major storyline re-writes were needed--character changes, even--and it no longer makes sense to keep writing what I know is the wrong storyline and with the wrong characters. I figured, well, I'll just go back and rewrite off-line, write a little synopsis of the changes, and then pick up online with the correct story arc.

I've stalled, am stalling, am on pause, again, offline with rewrites.

This is where things fall apart for me every single time: Rewrites. I find them overwhelming. When I draft, I take things minute by minute, letting things fall out how they want to fall out. I don't think too much about the big picture or how things fit together.

When I start thinking about rewrites, I leap ahead. I try to mastermind the details and overdirect the characters. I cut things into puzzle pieces and then lose them. I get lost in my own intentions, overwhelm, and shut down. I hate that I do this. But there it is. At least I'm consistent.

I am lost in rewrites. And feeling like a dumbass. The end.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

17. skeleton in a top hat

The tip of the cigarette grew orange and crackled when she sucked past the filter. Lilith imagined herself a skeleton, a cartoon skeleton in a top hat, and the smoke wrapped itself around the ladder rungs of her rib cage. She could finally inhale without coughing.

The park was not empty, although it should have been. They pulled the entrance gates closed at 10, but that didn't stop anyone from parking on the street and hoofing across the green. They brought pockets full of weed and backpacks of whatever whoever could grab from wherever. Rudy once brought her mother's Chardonnay, and they drank it from blue solo cups.

Lilith was alone and felt every pound of it.

Derek said he would be there by 10:15, but it was 10:45 now. They said the swings by the pool, didn't they? They did.

Voices rang from the north, the wooded hill that overlooked the petting zoo. Suzette, maybe. Breanne. Astrid and  Ben. It didn't matter. They'd stopped talking to her, and it was fine. She missed the pot Suzette scored every time she sucked off her brother's friend, Samuel. But that was it. And not even that, really.

"U coming?" she typed into a text. Cancel. She would not care. The chain squeaked in its hook from the frame of the swing set. She just needed the alone time.

As if she didn't have enough already.

She had not slept with Derek like they said. It was not her fault that Derek dumped Breanne. They said that, too. Breanne was a needy little bitch all on her own.

Lilith pulled the lighter from her pocket, flicked it until it produced. She held her palm over the flame. Closer. Closer. It stung her skin. She let it go, tucked the lighter back into her pocket, licked her thumb, rubbed her burning palm again and again. Held it open to examine, although she could see nothing through the gray.

"Fuck you," she typed into a text. Send.

Monday, January 21, 2013

16. flowers instead of weeds

The seam of the kitchen tile left an imprint on Dolores's cheek. She examined it in the bathroom mirror. Morning had come and so had the sun; it washed the slate blank as much as it could. Dolores put away her suitcase, brewed a pot of coffee, and sat with Todd on the back patio. Thick weeds bullied through her aunt's pink anemones, and she could no longer tell what belonged and what didn't. Her first summer living there, she weeded the gardens until her aunt chased her out. "You don't know what you're looking for. You'll pull flowers instead of weeds. You're just like your mother."

With her coffee sloshing in her mug, Dolores crossed the yard barefoot and yanked a struggling pink bloom out of the ground, bringing its gangle of roots with it. She left it sideways in the grass.

"That's an anemone, not a weed," said a voice, plainly.

Karen stood at the side gate. An oversized purse hung diagonally across her torso.

Todd sniffed at her legs through the chain link. Dolores mouth grew dry.

"May I join you?" Karen asked with one hand on the gate latch.

Dolores nodded, and her head felt unusually heavy on her neck.

Karen held her hand to Todd as she entered the gate. He sniffed and licked her palm, sniffed her legs, her shoes, her legs again. "He probably smells my dog." She scratched his ears and patted him solidly on his haunches. "Good dog."

The two women sat awkwardly on straight-backed patio chairs. The circular glass-top table between them might as well have been as big as Lake Superior. Karen slid a large document mailer across the table. It was unmarked, and Dolores examined it without touching it. "It's your check and some other things," Karen told her.

"I don't need the money," Dolores answered.

Karen plucked up envelope and opened it, placed the check squarely on the table. "Take it. Save it. You might need it later." She pulled out a piece of yellow legal paper folded into thirds and a handful of photographs. "This is a note from Garrison. He doesn't know I'm here, by the way." She unfolded the letter and handed it to Dolores. "The letter isn't finished, but he never finishes anything. If I didn't bring this to you, you'd never get anything."

Dolores had received cards from Garrison before. They never said much. Just a general greeting--Happy Birthday--and his name. The narrow scrawl was familiar enough. She folded the letter and returned it to the table, resting her fingertips to keep the top flap from catching breeze. "I'll read it later."

"That's fine. These," she pushed the photographs toward Dolores, "are your siblings.

Dolores felt the way her teeth clamped together perfectly. Her jaw felt heavy so she loosened it.

"Here," Karen nudged the photos again and nodded.

Dolores's arms itched.

"This is your brother, Pauly. Paul. We call him Pauly. He's 27."

He was handsome like Garrison. Broad smile like the one Karen had in the photo from her birthday card so long ago.

"Natalie. She's 24. Just a little older than you."

Beautiful. Serious. She wore glasses and her hair curly.

"And Lilith. She's 17."

Dolores cupped her hands together in her lap.

"They don't know about you," Karen continued. "But I would like them to. I'm here asking for your permission to tell them."

"Why?" Dolores did not recognize her voice. She cleared her throat. "Why?"

"This has gone on long enough, don't you think?" Karen rested her elbows on the table. "You shouldn't have to be alone."

"I'm not." But she was.

"And I think you might be able to help Lilith."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

15. Phillip

The girl with the woman who glowed like a Lite Brite took the photograph under the carpet. Phillip was disappointed; he'd liked looking at it, pressing the tip of his pointer finger over each face. But he knew she needed to have it. Someone said "Cheese" to the picture people, and they smiled, but it wasn't from the inside, like Nina said smiles should be. The girl had a smile on the inside, but it never made it out. It looked like soapy bubbles in her chest. He thought maybe if he popped one it would explode and sprinkle onto her. He chased a bubble into her pocket with his favorite toy car. It didn't work, so he left the car. It would help her later. "Some good things take time," Nina said to him.

Richard was a grid, all straight lines criss-crossing. When Nina unplugged the cable, the TV made loud salt-and-pepper clouds on the screen. Richard looked like that. He kept everything so clean and so neat, square corners lined up with table edges and wall seams. But inside, he was messy clouds of salt and pepper. Phillip saw the way he arranged his outsides to not match his insides.

A lot of people did that. He saw their designs scribbled like the dry erase markers Nina let him use on the kitchen windows. But the things they said and the things did didn't match what they were. The man Nina was marrying, Steven, looked like tangled knots, always changing shapes, always tangled. But he wore pressed suits and kept his hair glued together with shiny stuff from a can. He smiled at Phillip, and his teeth stuck in straight lines. He brought Phillip a hat and a stuffed horse and blue rain boots and a remote control Hummer truck and a soccer ball. But every time Steven stretched his arms forward with a present, Phillip watched the knots pull tighter. Phillip held his breath and waited to see what would happen next.

A week ago, the two of them, Nina and Steven, pulled up to the curb in front of Richard's townhouse. Phillip's suitcase sat on the seat beside him. Steven squeezed the steering wheel and bent forward, squinting under the visor. "This is where he lives?"

"Phillip, don't forget your hat," Nina said, unbuckling her seatbelt.

"You've got to be kidding me," whispered Steven. The knots pulled so tight, Phillip was sure they would break at last.

Nina opened Phillip's car door and unclicked his seatbelt. The vinyl strap zipped into place. "Out you go."

Phillip held Nina's hand and hopped over the curb and into the grass.

"Are you coming?" she asked over her shoulder.

The window was up except for a skinny crack at the top, and Steven's face was frozen. A thin section of hair had broken loose from the gooey shine and stood up on the top of his head. He closed his mouth and pulled it into a tight line.

"He's like a spooked horse," Nina muttered.

Monday, January 14, 2013

All the Bulls (a lullaby -- Dina and Dolores)

All the Bulls (a lullaby)
Words & Music by Patresa Hartman (January 2013)

This is another case where the song came first and then inspired the chapter. Although, I don't feel like I got the chapter [14] right. I'll try again in rewrites.

All the Bulls

All the bulls in Spain have bullied through your stained glass door.
Left your finest china in pieces on the kitchen floor.

I can't save you, but I can illuminate.

All the mustangs in the wild west have pounded hooves across your chest.
Left your hope, your faith, without a single life-giving breath.

I can't save you, but I can illuminate.
I'll be a comet blazing across the sky.
Across the dark night sky.

One million moths tap SOS on your window pane.
You fear the flutter will summon a hurricane.
Hush dear. Don't cry. I've brought this magic lullaby.
By morning, I'll turn each moth into a butterfly.

They will save you, and illuminate.
Colored wings will bring the morning sky.
A bold new sky.

Look now, the bulls are sleeping at your stained glass door.

14. exactly 5 minutes

Dolores did not know why this realization had rearranged her so, but it had. She had never been anonymous, her birth never covert--never rejection by omission. Rejection, all by itself.

She left the lights off; only the glow from the park's trail lamps filtered through the stained glass in the back kitchen door. She felt small.

She found her mother's old suitcase in the hall closet and dragged it into the bedroom. Todd followed. "We have to go," she told him. She opened the top drawer of her dresser and stared at rows of rolled socks. "I don't know why," she added. A red pair with black spiders printed in stripes around the ankles. The cotton was soft, and she pumped it like a stress ball, watching the veins on the backs of her hands go smooth and then plump, smooth and then plump. She had her mother's hands. Capable, her mother had called them.

And so it came then, waves of longing that overwhelmed her. Her mother would have known what to say to her and how to say it. You have exactly five minutes to wallow, Dolo. I'll set the timer. How many times had her mother done this to shake Dolores loose from the thousand pounds of worry that followed her?

Dolores threw the balled spider socks into the suitcase and wandered into the dark kitchen where she set the microwave timer for five minutes and then sat at the kitchen table. Her chest heaved three times; and then she fell quiet, waiting for the timer to ding and for her mother to arrive. Time's up. Who are you?


Good. That's the only thing you ever have to know or get right. Then she'd held Dolores's hands between her own. Capable. Look at what fine, capable hands we have. We can fix just about anything. Except the world. We cannot fix that, and that's okay. Now who are you?


The timer dinged, and there was nothing.

The quiet of the house snaked through her chest and squeezed her from the inside. She opened her mouth and the weight of it all pushed out one long scream. It blew over the countertops and rang her aunt's cast iron pan hanging from a metal hook over the stove. Grief was a sneaky trick; it was never quite done with you. She screamed again, and it tore at her throat until it felt raw. Then silence again.

Out of breath, Dolores slipped from the chair and curled up on the kitchen floor, her cheek warm against the cool tile. Something in her pocket mashed against her hip bone. She pulled out Phillip's tiny car and held it tightly in the palm of her hand until she fell asleep.

Dolores Dolores Dolores. My Dolo, I'm here. You don't have to go. I see everything now.  

Read previous chapters here: HERE.

note from ph
I feel a little self-conscious about how melodramatic this scene is. I'm not completely sure why Dolores has had such a strong reaction to learning that Karen knew about her. I wrote a song a few days ago that seemed to be directing this scene. So I wrote the scene for the song, instead of the song for the scene. I'm thinking I need to go back and explore some previous interaction a bit more closely. Now that I'm 14 chapters in, I'm starting to see where I need to do a lot of rewrites, and that's starting to make the drafting process feel clumsy. My internal editor-dialogue is getting really pissy because of it. But, I'll keep going. It will work itself out eventually. This note is my way of acknowledging that this chapter or point in the story might not make any sense at all whatsoever. Oy vey.

Friday, January 11, 2013

13. a clumsy archipelago

Karen has been sending the checks? Karen?

Garrison replaced the cap on the Snapple and left the half-emptied bottle on the top shelf of the refrigerator, trading it for a beer. He popped off the top, and shuffled through the kitchen, past the breakfast table, and through the screen door onto the back deck.

You forgot to sign the check, Asshole.

He left his beer on the patio table and returned through the screen door to the island. He scribbled his name on the signature line and left the pen tucked into the fold of the checkbook. Back on the deck, he pulled muddy golf shoes from a bench in the corner. The branch from a gingko tree hung low over the hand rail, and he snapped off a short twig. Garrison dropped heavily into a patio chair and cleared his throat with a grunt.

His dark hair turned gray around his temples, and Dina saw the mole just under his left eye was gone. Over two decades had passed since she'd drawn imaginary circles around it while he slept, tapped it until he woke. "You're cute," she'd said to him then.

He scraped mud and grass from between the cleats, and clods formed a clumsy archipelago on the wooden deck floor. He used his big toe to push the dirt between the slats.

"So are you," he'd said in return, before closing his eyes again.

Dina rested the tip of her finger in the cleft of his chin. "I'm tired of borrowing you."

He did not open his eyes. "Borrowing me?"

"It's like I have you on loan."

"Like a book from the library?"

"More like a car."

"That's not borrowing; that's renting." He opened his eyes. They were watery and a little bloodshot. They'd had too much to drink in the hotel bar the night before. It was the last night of the Newspaper Association of America conference. Journalists were like that--drinking to excess as they attempted to out-importance one another.

Dina rolled onto her back and pulled the sheets to the top of her neck. "It doesn't matter. Either way, you're not mine, and I have to send you back. I don't like it anymore."

His face turned apologetic. "Dina… I feel like such a failure, here. I know--"

"Jesus, I don't want you to leave your family or anything. God."

But I did and knew you wouldn't. Aside from cheating on your wife, you were relatively decent. Are you still? What has a lifetime of guilt done to you?

The cleats sat partially cleaned. Garrison absentmindedly rubbed the spot where his mole had been. He shook his head and exhaled audibly letting his shoulders droop. "She doesn't cash them," he said aloud, shaking his head.

He returned to the kitchen and pulled a yellow legal pad from the junk drawer, then the pen from the checkbook. "Dolores," he wrote on the top line. "I hear you stopped by this evening."

This is your opener? You're a writer, for shit's sake.

Garrison flipped the page and started again. "Dolores, I have thought of you every day for the last 23 years."


"Please know I loved your mother. I feel her everywhere." He paused, spinning the pen between his fingers.

To read previous chapters, click here.