I have to submit five pages of fiction (preferably a first chapter) for an upcoming workshop, and it’s due on Friday. At the moment, I have bits and pieces of a few things but five introductory pages of nothing.
The question is, which bit should I work on? Here are your choices:
Our house smells different since Mom died. I don’t mean that I’m missing her perfume… I don’t even know if she wore perfume. She had some sort of bottles on her dresser, I think. No, it’s more that the house has taken on a sort of mildewed, dirty laundry smell. If you wore a sweat sock for a day, then you dipped the toe in a beer bottle, then you stuffed it under the carpet in the middle of your living room and left it there permanently – people wouldn’t necessarily know where to look, but they’d know that something wasn’t right. That’s the kind of smell I mean.
When I used to come home, I would smell dinner. Not the frozen pizzas that Dad or I throw in the oven now. I mean real dinner, like roast chicken.
That’s what I started thinking… it can’t be that hard. Dad was nowhere to be found, so I grabbed his pick-up keys off the table and drove down to the supermarket. I thought I was doing pretty well. I found those tiny potatoes with the skins that flake off like birch bark, and some fat carrots, but then I hit the meat section and saw the chickens, wrapped in plastic and foam like bald, alien life forms. I stood there and stared at them, wondering how I was supposed to turn them into something brown and edible. In fact, after staring at them for a few minutes, I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to eat them.
“Whatcha lookin’ for, honey?” The woman who nudged her cart alongside mine must have been fifty, but she had big blonde hair, turquoise earrings, and enough eye shadow to paint a house.
“I wanted to roast one.”
“Yourself? Special occasion? That’s real sweet.”
“Thanks. I, um… don’t really know how, though.”
She leaned on the handle of her cart as she looked at me. Underneath all that makeup, she had a nice person’s eyes. I’d bet she was one of those people who kids liked right away.
“It’s real easy, hun. You wash that bird under some cold water – inside and out, mind – then pop it in a pan and rub it all over with some vegetable oil and salt. Put your potatoes and veggies around the bottom. Half an hour at 400, then maybe three hours at 325. You got that?”
“Half an hour at 400, then three at 325,” I repeated.
“Wiggle the leg around a little when you think it’s done. If it feels like it’s going to fall right off, you’ve done good.”
So I did just like she said when I got home. It was a bit gross washing the thing. There was a bag of guts inside that I had to take out and throw in the garbage. But once it had been in the over for an hour, the whole house started to smell like Christmas.
I sat in the middle of my bed trying not to cry, and missing Mom like someone had cut through my chest with a chainsaw, that’s how bad it hurt.
I let the kids out to play and Nancy was there, poking her nose over the fence as usual. I cursed my decision. I should have stayed inside, tied the kids to their chairs, and baked muffins. But now we were out there, and there was nothing to do but smile and nod when she said, “beautiful day, isn’t it?”
As if I didn’t know that it was her who called Social Services. A report from a concerned citizen, they’d said. There was only one citizen who poked her nose over our fence and into our business and it was Nancy. I hated her. God forgive me. When I complained to father about how annoying she was he said, “it’s not ours to judge” and of course he was right. And of course I told myself not to, and I included her in my prayers at night, trying to make her name sound just as blasé in my mind as everyone else’s name. Then I’d picture her face, her bright, chipper, face with its pert mouth and high cheekbones and surprised eyes, as if her eyebrows were tied to her hairline with dental floss, and I felt my own mouth start to snarl like a territorial dog’s.
Nancy. Even her name was perky.
She’d turned her attention from me to the boys, and she was exclaiming over Zeke’s ability to walk on his hands almost the length of the whole yard. Zak was practically wetting himself wanting to do something equally impressive, but his attempt at a one-handed cartwheel landed him crumpled in the grass. At least Nancy’s presence, her instant praise of his attempt, kept him from crying. At least I didn’t have to deal with that.
I busied myself tying sunhats on the twins, watching from the corner of my eye until Nancy turned back to her gardening. If our fence didn’t have the latticework at the top, if it were solid wood slats like a proper fence, she wouldn’t be able to see.
Well, if you’ve gotten through all that writing, you’d better vote! I’ll await your opinion…