Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sidney and Virginia project

Outside of Bacon's Castle. SIDNEY is walking up the driveway, singing....he stands admiring the house, absorbing the atmosphere.

VIRGINIA opens the door and comes outside, carrying a bucket of water. She is thin and unkempt, and it is clear that her dress has seen better days. Suddenly she becomes aware of Sidney and drops her bucket in astonishment.

V: You--! (she runs down the steps and embraces him. She holds him for a minute, then hits him on the arm, without much force) You were supposed to win this war. (She embraces him again) Too thin.

S: Me or you?

V: Yes. Where did you come from?

S: Appomattox. Where else?

V: You walked all that way.

S: I've walked father distances. But this time I was coming home.

V: I thought they let you-all keep your guns. The--the paper said that the soldiers would be allowed to keep their weapons.

S: Do you have need of it?

V: Me? No.

S: Too heavy! I had to pick and choose (he indicates his banjo)

V: Still carrying that.

S: I almost left it a couple times, but the boys in my unit wouldn't let me.

V: (hefting his bag) And your books.

S: They'd want me to sing the old songs, so they could remember home, and I'd strum and think about this place.

V: Sidney.

S: "I am coming home to Virginia." It hasn't changed much. (VIRGINIA give a derisive snort) Where is everyone?

V: The darkies all ran off, once they heard Lincoln was in Richmond.

S: No, I mean, where are the folks?

V: Oh Sid. Let's talk about something happy. Can we? Tell me about your trip.

S: Thought you wanted to hear about something happy?

V: Papa's sick. Mother is tending to him--I can go see if she'll come down, she'll be glad to see you.

S: No--wait--Let me look at you.

V: (after a pause) What?

S: Like you said, something happy. You're here.

V: Well, sure I am.

S: So many times I'd have nightmares. I'd see this place in ruins. I was afraid of coming back.

V: I had nightmares too.

S: I told you not to worry.

V: Matthew Lee came back after Gettysburg, without his left arm. He seemed real quiet, but then one Sunday at church, when Reverend Dalziell was preaching, Matthew suddenly stood up and said "Y'all ought to know what exactly what you get when you pray for dead Yankees." And then he--he told us. [ ] Were you at Gettysburg?

S: Yes.

V: I never prayed for dead Yankees. All I wanted was for this war to be over. And for you to come home. And now...here you are.

S: It's like a miracle, isn't it? The war is over, spring is here. The crops are shooting out of the ground, and for the first time in four years, no one will come by to take them. And I'm a free man!

V: I hardly dared believe it was you when I saw you standing there.

S: Did you think I was a ghost?

V: I did! I was afraid you were your ghost.

S: I'd like that. I was coming back to you, Virginia, even if I had to do it in spirit form.

V: I've been waiting. Oh, how I have been waiting for you.

S: Do you remember what I told you, about that little house in the mountains?

V: Your folks place.

S: Yes, and the little garden there...I put it to bed before I left to go soldiering, it's probably run over with weeds by now, but it's all mine.

V: I've never seen mountains.

S: You will! You'll see the fog in the morning and eagles.

V: We have eagles here, you know.

S: [ ] So where are your sisters? And Thomas?

V: In the fields. Planting.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Emma 1

Have you ever read "Too Great a Lady?" Don't. It's about Emma Hamilton, but it follows the same roadmap as other modern fictional historical biographies that are determined to turn every 17th, 18th and 19th woman into some kind of bodice-ripping tragic heroine. I try to avoid the genre, but I read "TGL" because, well, I'm a Nelsonphile, and sometime you just have to take one for the team. As I was reading it, I was thinking "wow, this is really disappointing. I could do such a better job than this." And then I got sucked into the vortex of Patrick O'Brian, and thought "man, if only someone would dramatize Nelson's life, that would rock." So now I'm consumed with idea of writing twin books, "Emma" and "Nelson" which would be bodice-rippers for the POB crowd. I don't know if there would be any market for it, but...they would be fun to research and write. So that's the background if excerpts and ideas pop up from time to time--now you know where they're coming from.

The sitting room at number twelve Hanover Square was not a large room, and it was made all the smaller by the abundance of curtains, imposted on heavily-printed wallpaper. The air was still, unmoving, even the clock had wound down, and the small grey cat in the basket by Mrs. Fortier's feet was asleep. Mrs. Fortier was not an old woman, but she was prematurely aged with propriety and respectability. Emy Lyons, in an effort not to stare at her potential employer and thus to crush any chance--she was petrified to betray any of her liveliness in this lifeless room--stood with her hands behind her back, studying Mrs. Fortier's shoes. Brocaded house slippers with embroidered flowers. Emy liked them immensely.

"You say she is a good worker and able to take directions?" MRs. Fortier was questioing Emy's mother who had already been clad in servant's black this decade and more.

"Oh, aye, ma'am," she replied eagerly, her deference coming naturally. "Why, she has been a' living with my dear old mam, and every time I gets a letter all I hear is how handy dear Emy is with the children and how clever she is with the mending And as for taking directions! why, dutiful an' obedient is her watchwords."

Mary Lyons worked for a friend of Mrs. Fortier's who lied down the row of neat white houses in Hanover Square. Emy had never been to town before today. When her mother had met her at London Bridge and led her through the city, huffing with impatience, anxious they should not be late for this interview.

"Mrs. Fortier keeps a very fashionable house, but she's very proper, very tidy. But yo work hard and mind your duties and she'll take care of you. SAme as Mrs. Smythe looks after me."

Emy had looked at her red-faced mother then, so hopeful and thought of the tiny cottage in Wales with it's dirt floor and it's infusion of cousins.

"Can you cook?"

"Emy, Mrs. Fortier is speaking to you!" Anxious, horrifed that her daughter's mind should have forgotten itself and wandered.

"Yes, ma'am." Curtsey. "That is to say, I can bake bread and tend a stew, nourishing food certainly, but nothing to compare to the kitchens of London."

Mrs. Fortier nodded. "It is as I expected. I have a cook trained in the French manner."

"He must be a great credit to your table, ma'am."


She remained still in the still room as Mrs. Fortier and her mother talked terms. A room at the top of the stairs--a shared room, but one with a small fireplace--four pounds a year, to be paid to Emy's mother, and a new dress. "As soon as she has been here for two weeks, we must see to a new dress." Mrs Fortier said.

"Very thoughtful of you, ma'am, very handsome." Mary Lyons was nodding again. Emy echoed a thank you, for once without being prompted.

Mrs. Fortier ghosted a smile across her face. "It is strange, Emy, but you hardly sound like your mother at all."

The cat awoke, stretched, and promptly made an impenetrable scramble of the embroidery yarns that had formed his mattress.

"Tybalt, you naughty puss," his mistress cooed, and Emy was startled to see a flash of affection cross that cool, still face. Mrs. Fortier picked the cat up and stroked it. "Very well, if that is all. Mrs. Lyons, please introduce Emy to Underhill, and tell her she is to be put to work in the kitchen immediately."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Peter Pan Syndrome

Peter Jackson was my grandmother's dog. She was standing on the back porch looking in through the screen door. She was a german shepherd-something mix, with german shepherd markings, but shorter ears and a stocky chest. My grandma used to have a handyman named Peter Jackson working on the farm, and when Peter-Jackson-the-dog's mom had puppies, he named them all after himself. Most of the people who adopted Peter Jackson's brothers and sisters changed their names, but not Peter Jackson. She lives out in the barn and she doesn't like being inside, so she looks a little dusty. But right now, she just looked hungry and patient. I looked out the door at her food bowl. It was empty.

"Mom! Peter Jackson's food bowl is empty!"

"Honey, I'm right here. Don't shout. If it's empty, go fill it."

I had never filled Peter Jackson's food bowl before, and I had to think about where the food was kept. Peter Jackson saw me pick up the huge stainless steel bowl, and moved over to stand by a rubbermaid garbage can, with a plastic lid snapped on tight. I popped the lid off and the smell of fried corn hit me in the face.

Peter Jackson ate half the bowl before stopping. She burped and licked her lips, then licked my hand, then sat down and started chewing on her belley to scratch an itch. I put more food in her bowl and made sure to snap the lid back on good and tight.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Paragraphs in the style of Wally Lamb

It was so easy to drive home quickly, now that the corners had become familiar. The pebbles and sand washed into the road by the recent rains had been kicked back to the shoulders by the passing cars. My car gripped the road easily, only one hand on the wheel, the crunch of asphalt reaching my ears through the open windows. It smelled like autumn. A scent I was more than ready for after the agonizing, endless bake oven of a summer.

Then the dog came. Appeared out of nowhere. Black lab, I think, it was hard to tell, doing forty as I was. All I saw was a flash of black, easily spotted against the tan and brown foliage, sprinting towards my car. And then the barking: "wow, wow, wow, wow." Over and over, and I was racing down the county road, had started accelerating past the tiny cemetery, and here was this dog. Flashing up, barking, excited to be outside, to be alive, and chasing cars. Its favourite thing. I had seen my share of roadkill, roaring along the county roads, but never been the cause of it! I wondered, should I brake, should I accelerate, or stop the car, get out and give the dog a good shake, shouting at it, at the extreme stupidity it displayed.

Have you ever seen that movie, the one with John Travolta? Where he's babysitting Uma Thurman, what's it called, Pulp Fiction, that's it. And Uma Thurman overdoses on illegal drugs, and John Travolta has to stab her in the heart with a syringe full of adrenaline to start her heart pumping again? That's how I felt. Like someone had stuck a syringe into my arteries and mainlined 10 cc's of adrenaline straight to my heart.

And then--it was over. I was past the dog. I could see it in the rearview mirror: whole, and dancing around in the middle of the damn road, barking and jumping. Pleased with itself that it'd barked me away. I was cursing the thing under my breath, shaking from the sudden rush of emotions, more pissed off than relieved I'd missed it.

I made a mental note: From now on, Lem, keep your eyes open when you're racing down this part of the road.