Thursday, March 27, 2008

Excerpt from Rose Hill

I finally had some time last night to drag out Rose Hill again. I've been away far too long. But looking back over what I've written, it seems the writing is of much better quality, so I will just keep plugging along, be it ever so slow. I am up to about 10,000 words, but I have approximately 2000 more that I have not formally put into a file.

As I was reading back through some of the scenes last night I began to doubt myself and my ability to fully expand this story into 90,000 words. The material is there, though, and I just need more time. Sadly, that is the commodity I do not have a surplus of at the moment. I admit that my committment to the work has faltered as I spend most days typing other people's words. Most days while I am at work I am feeling the tug to get back to my baby, but what can I do? The light bill has to get paid. The Internet has to stay connected. The boy still needs his lunch money. Still, I find myself thinking that these are all just excuses, that a true writer would find the time. Make the time.

Things have been rough here the last 2 years. God is taking care of us, though, so I try not to let worry get to me. He is still working in me on the need for complete trust in Him. Perhaps the stripping away of everything else is just a way to emphasize my dependence on His care. That's all I can do, is trust that He has a plan. And let Him work it out. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Below is a small excerpt. Any thoughts/critiques/musings would be welcome.

Spring 2006

I hadn’t been back in town long, just long enough to catch a cab to the house and hug my mom. It was good to be back, to see green trees and grass and blooming flowers--good to be able breath air that did not scorch the lungs and smell of spent ammo and charred flesh. I remember thinking how vibrant and alive and beautiful the old neighborhood was, a welcome relief from the unspeakable scenes I had encountered in Iraq. I was relieved to have left the realities of war and death behind me.

I surprised her in the backyard last Tuesday morning. She had on that same blue housecoat she always wore over her gown to go the mailbox and was bending over her flowers, I suppose to pluck away the withered blooms and admire God’s handiwork.

You should have been there when I tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she screamed, hands flailing right and left. Until she realized it was me. And then it was all joy and smiles. My mom had the prettiest smile. I always thought she resembled Natalie Wood, though of course, my mom was the prettier one, and I can’t imagine her ever playing the part of Deanie Loomis in “Splendor in the Grass.” There was never a stronger woman than Ellen __________ .(Last name?) Living with Dad would have utterly broken a lesser woman, but not mom. Not even living with cancer could do that. But as I said, Mom was different than most.

“Oh Sonny, you startled me. Why didn’t you call? I would have put dumplings on and made a coconut cake.”

“You don’t know how good that sounds, Mama.” Her short pudgy arms squeezed the breath from me. “There’s plenty of time for that.”

Mama pushed me back to arm’s length.

“You definitely could use a few pounds. Oh, Sonny. How long are you home for?”

“Just a few days. I wanted to surprise you.”

I remember walking past the flower beds, the picnic table, the tree with the bright blue bird house. I remember thinking that some things never change. Mama was jabbering about who all she would need to call, her blue fuzzy house shoes almost racing to get to the back door. And then everything seemed to happen at once; she was down. And my first thought was that she had tripped. Over the water hose maybe. Or the cat Bojangles. I didn’t even have time to catch her.

“Mama!” I remember kneeling beside her. She was too still. Visions of the Iraqi woman lying on a gurney beside me blipped across my mental radar. I turned Mama to face me. Her eyes were blank.

“Mama, can you hear me? Mama!” I knew the look; I had seen it too many times. But still I felt for a pulse. I checked her airway and began CPR. But Mama was gone. I knew she was gone. And still I pumped. I pumped until my arms ached and my throat burned from screaming for help. Finally Mrs. Harper appeared on her back steps and upon seeing us gasped in horror.

“Call 9-1-1. She’s had a heart attack.” My mind was reeling. This can’t be happening. Mama don’t go. I just got home. Mama I need you. Not now, Mama. Oh God, don’t let her be dead. I couldn’t even cry. Instead I brushed the grass and dirt from her cheek, closed her eyes, and covered her with my camouflage jacket. I couldn’t cover her head. I had done this on the battlefield more times than I had cared to, but this was Mama. My mama. I didn’t even have time to tell her the news.

I found out later from her oncologist that Mama’s heart had been damaged by the chemotherapy she had taken to combat the cancer. I blamed myself for exciting her so with my surprise visit home, but Dr. Gamble just shook his head.

“Son, your mom has known about this for a couple of months now. We discussed it, and your mother felt it would be better not to tell anyone, that she would live out her last days at home and have some quality of life. There was nothing I could do for her. She was worn out, Sonny. She was tired. It’s not your fault.”

Hearing him say the words did not make me feel better, not really. I mean, I knew Mama wouldn’t live forever. We had faced her mortality so many times during her bout with cancer. I thought I had come to terms with her dying. We had talked about the cancer returning and that that was probably how it would all end, finally metastasizing to other places in her body. I was the one who had gone with Mama to the funeral home to make pre-arrangements. She had insisted it all be taken care of beforehand. So we all knew the day would come. But a heart attack? That never crossed my mind. And it certainly wasn’t on my mind today when I returned home.

I had so much I wanted to tell her that I never got to say. War will do that to you. Make you realize what’s important in life. Make you say the things you never had the courage to say before. It made a man out of me in more ways than one. And I needed to tell her. I needed her to know that something good had come out of my life. I needed to tell her that I never forgot the lessons she taught me, that the scriptures and little Bible songs she taught me carried me when I couldn’t walk, carried me in the desert when I couldn’t see for blinding sand and raining artillery. She needed to know that before she died her son had found his way to the Cross and the blood of Jesus had saved him. She needed to know I had found forgiveness--that I had finally been able to forgive Daddy.

I sat on her big four-poster bed in shock for the longest time. I should have called my sister Gwen right away, but I just couldn’t deal with her drama at the moment. She was probably still sleeping off a night of partying and drugs. Besides she didn’t even care about Mama. It was all about Gwen. I lived the same life she did growing up, but Gwen had always made it sound like she was the only one that got hurt. I always figured that she stopped eating to get attention. I can’t tell you how many times she’s been in the hospital getting her stomach pumped. And at a hundred pounds soaking wet, it doesn’t take many of those little pills to put her out. I guess that’s when the drugs started, when Daddy got killed. Again, it was all about Gwen. When Mama got cancer, it was all about Gwen. It was always someone else’s fault.

For a moment I thought it would almost be better if she didn’t even show up, if I didn’t call her until it was over. I mean, Mama didn’t deserve to have Gwen throwing herself at every man at visitation in weeping hysterics. But Mama would say to call her. Mama loved Gwen in spite of all the terrible things that Gwen had said and done to her. I guess that’s the beautiful thing about a mother’s love. Yes, I guess I would have to call her. Problem was, I didn’t have Gwen’s number.

We hadn’t spoken in two years, not since that last round we had about her borrowing money from Mama. And you know Mama, she would give it to her. And Mama trying to live off of Daddy’s Social Security. It wasn’t right. And I told Gwen that. She had told me to go to hell, and that was basically when I had written her off. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere. She was the one on a fast track to hell. God, how did Gwen get so messed up?
Mama would have her number somewhere.

3 comments:

Diane said...

Oh Cindy,

This is so good.

In this excerpt you have shown the reader the physical nature of the characters, the relational nature, all while providing foreshadowing and the exposition necessary to keep the story going. This is good!

You are such a good writer....I forgot that you are a woman, writing in the voice of male protagonist. (See I have been doing my homework!) Amazing!

Seriously--keep this story going.

I can't wait to buy it! Would you autograph it for me, please?

Sista Cala said...

Pretty good sis. You might even get me interested in reading fiction.

C. H. Green said...

Thanks ladies. I submitted this excerpt to a writing group for a "brutal critique." So far only minor things have surfaced like more info on Gwen. It's coming in Chapter 2. Believe me she is a piece of work. LOL.