Monday, October 31, 2016

I LIKE THE PROLOGUE BUT HATE THE FIRST CHAPTER, EVERY DAMN WORD OF IT (MAYBE)

Prologue

You've heard people say their lives changed overnight, right? They woke up and heard the lottery numbers and knew they were millionaires. They fell in love at first sight. 

More often, the change is bad because one day everything is fine, and the next? 

It is all fucked up. 

I read once that Marie Antoinette's hair turned white overnight in jail while she awaited the loss of her head. 

What people don't think about is that the overnight device is a saying. Nothing but a cliché. It hardly ever takes that long: eight hours, twelve hours, or however you define overnight, for a life to be transformed. Most of the time, it happens in one or two seconds.

I bet Marie's hair betrayed her during a few seconds of a nightmare when she saw the guillotine's blade slice through her own milky neck.

How many seconds does it take to purchase that lottery ticket or to decide to stop someplace for ice cream? These decisions may be part of a change that's a long time in the making, but when the hair whitening attacks, it happens in a flash. 

And the flash of the blade in the sunlight can be so bright it nearly blinds you. 

Chapter One

Clue

The yellow piece of paper on the windshield of Aggie's black minivan stood out like a beacon in the dusky evening light as she left the urgent care center. She waddled along with a purse and diaper bag slung behind her right shoulder, Ruth Ann perched on her right hip, and a still sobbing Elliot hanging on for dear life to her left hand.

She shook free of El's sweaty grasp so she could pull the paper out from under the wiper and unfold it. "ASSHOLE" it said, printed neatly in red letters on a scrap torn from a legal pad.

"Mom!" Elliot pawed at her, as Ruth Ann's head drooped onto Aggie's shoulder. Aggie stood rooted to the asphalt next to the car so she could check out the area. What had she done now?

White painted lines of parking spaces, empty now, spread out across the parking lot like whitecaps on the ocean. White, white, white, except around her car, where she now saw yellow lines. Two yellow lines on each side of the van and an arrow underneath it that marked the route to exit the lot. The only route between the parking spaces.

Drivers must have woven around her van for hours before the lot cleared out. Tire tracks in the mud provided evidence that they ran her blockade by driving off the asphalt and into the landscaped border along the sidewalk. Flowers and juvenile trees had been flattened.

Aggie pictured the line of vehicles and hated herself. The waiting cars stretched for miles. An imaginary driver, his face contorted in righteous indignation, jumped out of his expensive car with a legal pad in his left hand and a red pen in his right. Angry lawyer. Furious lawyer. Late for an appointment and it was her fault. He held the pen in the air, a sword that dripped bloody ink, chose the perfect word, wrote it, and jammed the note in place.

Then sedans, sports cars, and pickup trucks careened around the sidewalk as pedestrians dragged their children out of the way. Jam-packed cars held drivers and passengers drawn as cartoons. "ASSHOLE" filled every balloon above their mouths because they all knew what she was.

"I am an asshole."

The words played as though they were a stuck record in her mind and fixed themselves to the tune of a children's song about being a pizza.

IIIIIIIII am an assss-hoooole.

She wanted to laugh at her song, but she forgot her pleasure as soon as it struck because being an asshole wasn't funny at all. Then she wished she could bawl along with El, but someone had to be in charge, and that someone was Aggie. Aggie alone.

She had rushed to the urgent care center to have a cut on Elliot's chin seen to and parked in a hurry. She thought the yellow lines marked a parking spot. They sat in a dingy waiting room most of the afternoon and into suppertime before an arrogant doctor looked at El for two seconds and informed a nurse, who then told Aggie, that the cut didn't need stitches. A butterfly bandage would do. She could have put that on herself and never left home, but if she'd been wrong, there would have been hell to pay. She'd never hear the end of it from John.

When her husband did see the cut, he would probably complain that the doctor had been wrong, the cut needed stitches. Nobody, especially Aggie, did anything right in John's hallowed opinion. The sound of his voice criticizing her for going to the wrong doctor replaced the "asshole" song playing in her mind.

But then her own angry voice took over. Dr. High-and-Mighty was never around to take care of his own kids. He'd throw a fit if Aggie bothered him at work, so she had to go to the nearest urgent care center and wait for hours until somebody looked at this damn kid who fell off his bike every two seconds.

She guessed that had been her license plate announced over the loudspeaker. The whining voice had demanded over and over, "Vehicle number hrrm-hrrm-hrrm must be moved immediately."

She hadn't been able to hear anything over Elliot whining that his chin hurt and Ruth Ann begging to have a story read to her.

"Don't touch those books. They've covered in filth from sick people," she'd told Ruth Ann.

By the time Elliot gave up complaining and Ruth Ann fell asleep, the announcements had stopped. All the patients had been treated and gone home, the center was about to close, and it no longer mattered where her mini-van was parked.

Elliot grabbed Aggie's arm and pulled on it so she remembered she stood in a parking lot staring at an ugly word. She crumpled the yellow paper and flung it toward the arrow under her car.

"Mom, you're littering," Elliot accused her in a whine.

"Just get in the damn car," she barked back. "A storm's coming. We need to go home before it gets any darker. I don't know how I'll find my way as it is."

Thunder boomed as the children crawled into the mini-van. "Sop it! Sop it!" Ruth Ann screamed as Elliot (her toddlerese for "stop it") when he stuck his butt in her face as he slid past her on the seat.

At eight years old, Elliot already knew how to torture Ruth Ann––and Aggie. He sneered, satisfied with Ruth Ann's screams. Aggie wanted to lean over to smack him as she buckled Ruth Ann into her car seat, but she didn't dare. John didn't allow her to spank the children, or punish them in any other way, because he claimed it would destroy their spirits. Elliot's wonderfully free spirit was a punishment for Ruth Ann and for Aggie. She had no options for dealing with his obnoxious behavior.

And there would be hell to pay when Elliot told his dad that she'd said to get in the damn car. Cursing wasn't allowed, either.

She also knew Elliot moved as slowly as he could, the way he always did because it irritated her and she couldn't do anything about it, couldn't give him a time out or take away his TV privileges the way other moms did with their children.

She used the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her forehead and turned away so she could say what she pleased. "I hate this fucking town. Maryland is hotter than hell."

Here she was in a strange town after years in cool, green Seattle because John had a new job, Big Chief Medical Director, at a hospital in Western Maryland. The hospital was about forty miles from the Central Maryland suburb of Columbia where John had bought a house. He had a long commute, but he refused to lived in Haven with the "local yokels."

In fact, John rarely visited the home he had selected without consulting Aggie. Six weeks after their move, John already spent most nights at the hospital because he claimed he was overworked and too tired to drive home. Aggie wondered why the locals didn't bother him enough to make him come home at night. And funny, he never sounded tired when he called to say he wouldn't be home. Sometimes Aggie heard a woman laugh in the background. He claimed it was the nurses fooling around at their station, but the sound––the same laugh, one laugh from the same person, every time––frightened Aggie.

No time to think about it now. With Elliot seat belted in at last, Aggie started the car and headed for the street. At least I'm already in the exit lane, she thought wryly. She had called for directions before they left home and had found the center without too much trouble, but getting home would be another story. She could never retrace her steps. It infuriated John, but it just didn't work out in her mind.

18 comments:

  1. Chapter 2 please!!! I feel the weight of Aggie's day/week/month as it unfolds.

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    1. Oh, I'm not done with chapter one. Aggie has to carry that weight.

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  2. I am eager to hear more. I hope her life isn't as horrible as it appears.

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  3. I love the prologue! Prologues entice, and you did just that. Chapter One is really good. I don't see anything wrong with it. I liked Angie. What you have so far is promising. :)

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    1. I've never written much fiction. As a newspaper reporter, I was a fact person. But thank you for your kind words.

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  4. I can't read it; there is too much pain.

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    1. I don't want to cause you pain, but if you feel that way, then it means the words are power.

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    2. You are right - very powerful, and you wield them well. Glad you understood my comment.

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  5. You're a very strong writer, my friend. A few little suggestions, if you don't mind: the word "waddled" is a bit to playful to me. Maybe "trudged" or - I don't know - a more serious word. Maybe shorten a few sentences like the fifth paragraph from the bottom. Otherwise, keep on keeping on. I'm supporting you all the way to publication.
    Love,
    Robyn

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    Replies
    1. I like trudged. I'm considering trudged. The thing is I want you to picture this woman who kind of sways from side to side because she's so weighed down. She's more than a trudge. There won't be any publication, but thank you.

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  6. I like this, want more !

    cheers, parsnip

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  7. Sorry you don't like it, but I want more too!

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