Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

That’s a picture of me thinking, Oh no, is this story even working? Ah!

Here is another installation of Snell. I’d love to hear some feedback from you guys—is it all making sense? Do you like it? Are the characters consistent? Do you like it? Do you like it?

Ha.

Also, I dreamed last night—again—that I was signed up for Marine Biology next semester. This is the second time I’ve had that dream, and I woke up more stressed out than I do when I dream about getting devoured by hot pink velociraptors. Marine Biology? Really? Why brain, why?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On my first day of work at Boys Ranch of the Appalachians, I discovered that for basically my entire life, the books have been lying to me.

In my time, I have read quite a lot of these. Books, I mean. If I had five dollars for every book I had ever read, then Mom would have never even needed to write Hans the Great and we would be living in a palace in Rome being fed grapes by godlike Italian men and none of this would have ever even happened. For the sake of my education, Mom had even hired a team of metaphorical Clydesdales to drag me clawing and scratching and biting through some of the classics, an experience I had yet to fully recover from.

I had read fantasy books with covers sporting mostly naked women carrying swords in the middle of a forest and science fiction books displaying mostly naked women carrying laserguns in the middle of a spaceship. I’d read historical fiction, historical nonfiction, steampunk, cyberpunk, realistic fiction, realistic nonfiction, nonrealistic ish-fiction—you get the picture. I simply loved to read.

But for all the smörgåsbord of literary delicacies that I had sampled, I had noticed something which, in my new life in the bustling metropolis of Meat Camp, was glaringly and inexcusably misrepresented in almost every case.

Horsemanship.

Don’t get me wrong. I like horses. They can’t talk. They don’t make me act in awkward and blazingly home-schooler ways. They don’t care if you look like the unholy offspring of Sasquatch and Frankenstein’s monster because you just rolled out of bed. Their noses are really soft, and they mostly do what you tell them to. Unless they’re a stallion and there’s a hot mare around, but I won’t even get into that.

But being a stable boy—let me just tell you, there is absolutely nothing you can glorify about that, no matter what the books say about it being peaceful and simple and earthy and satisfying. It’s all crap, both the lying books and the stinking job. If you can find something poetic and laudable about shoveling horse crap, standing in horse crap, smelling like horse crap, or anything else about horse crap, send me an email, and I’ll give you a prize. Because that’s what being a stable boy is about. Lots and lots and lots of horse crap, with a little straw thrown in to, you know, stick to the horse crap that’s sticking to you.

And also being bitten by Tolon, that blasted four-legged terrorist. It was all I could do not the get out the mane shears and lop off the two enormous baubles hanging between his legs and hang them on one of the trees outside like Christmas ornaments, just to piss him off.

So in case you haven’t figured this out yet, I was in an absolutely diabolical mood by lunch. If looks could have killed, Boys Ranch of the Appalachians would have been turned into a nuclear waste field.

I was sitting on a bench underneath a Bradford pear—I hated Bradford pears—eating a turkey and salami sandwich—I hated turkey and salami—and drinking strawberry lemonade—I hated strawberry lemonade—glowering down at an ant crawling across my lap and trying to fry it with my laser vision of Bad Mood Extreme Addition when someone sat down next to me. I was surprised, in the way that a polar bear might have been surprised if a five-year-old with cerebral palsy came up and petted it.

“Hi!” said the person brightly.

I looked up. A girl, maybe two or three years younger than me, was smiling broadly at me. So broadly, in fact, that her eyes almost vanished into her cheeks. She had dark, olive skin and a sheet of glossy black hair that fell almost to her waist.

“Uh,” I said. “Hi.”

She was sitting on her hands and staring at me unashamedly.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Snell.”

“Oh, wonderful!” she exclaimed. “I have a weird name, too! My name is Risso. Oh—not that your name is weird in a bad way, but I’ve never heard of anyone named Snell before, and I’ve never heard of anyone named Risso, either. But Risso is sort of weird in a weird way, if you know what I mean. My mom named me that. She wanted to called me Rizzo, like, after the Muppet. But my dad put his foot down so she changed it to Risso because he said no daughter of his was going to be named after a rat, even a cute one. Then he left right after I was born but by then the name stuck.” Suddenly she frowned, her eyes getting enormous. “Oh. I’m doing that thing. Where I talk too much.”

I wondered if the unholy stench of the horse manure had actually caused me to hallucinate.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I, uh, don’t talk too much. So you’re making up for both of us.”

Her smile returned immediately, and her eyes disappeared again. I’d never seen anyone who wasn’t Asian do that.

“I like you, Snell,” she said. “I think we’re going to be friends. I work here, too, you know.” She looked critically at my poo-spattered jeans. “But, um, not in the stables. Thankfully.” She laughed. “Because no offense, but you reek.”

Maybe I should have taken offense at this, but I didn’t. I guess the offense done to my nose by the stables was all the insult that the rest of me could take for one day. I grinned, too.

Strangely, Risso’s ability to talk the hind legs off a horse—or hopefully, in the case of Tolon, the testicles—actually made me talk more, rather than less. Before long, I found myself telling her all about the move, Bob, and Mom’s purchase of The House.

Again, her eyes grew round when I mentioned The House.

“I can’t believe someone has finally bought that old thing! It’s going to make all the stupid teenagers in Boone sad that they can’t come and camp in there and break the windows and smoke pot in the back yard.”

Hmph. That explained the small plot of rather questionable plants in the very back corner of the garden.

“But that is so exciting! There’s always been a sort of… mystique about that place. I like that word—mystique. No one has lived there for over forty years, and before that it was just this ancient old crabby woman that no one liked and who never came out. Apparently she died there and had lain in there for, like, a month, rotting in the summer heat before they found her.”

“Oh,” I said bleakly. I decided not to ask her in which room the crotchety old hag had decayed, not wanting to start having nightmares about a figure with strips of flesh hanging off her standing over my bed.

She chattered on about two boys at her school that she missed dreadfully because they were off working at a summer camp in Texas. They were also identical twins, which complicated her feelings even more. Almost accidentally, I told her about my encounter the previous day with Dimitri, and how I was supposed to meet him for a party at his house that nice.

Again, the round eyes. I was beginning to notice a pattern.

“Oh, but this is so exciting! I’m going too! Dimitri is, like, my best friend for forever.” Then maybe she noticed something in my face, something I hadn’t even meant to show or even consciously thought. “Don’t worry though, Snell, he’s like an absolute brother to me.”

She winked.

So it happened that that night, after I scraped off the horse manure and tried desperately to scrub the stench out of my hair for nearly half an hour, Risso and I rode together to Dimitri’s house in her “ghetto jeep,” which she named thus due to its cacophonically broken muffler.

I’m not sure if “cacophonically” is a word, but if it’s not, just call me Shakespeare. Cacophonically could be the new bedroom.

Anyways. Dimitri lived in Boone, the bigger town about twenty minutes south of Meat Camp. Over the heinous sound of Risso’s engine, she blasted 90s music as loud as the rather substantial speaker system could go. I tried not to goggle as she belted out “Oops!…I Did It Again” and Shania Twain like the salvation of the universe depended on her pure volume.

“Sing, Snell!” she shouted above the wind, and the engine, and the music, her hair blowing like the branches of a palm tree in Hurricane Camille. “Sing!”

I just grinned sheepishly. Maybe this was one of those things you learned in public school—how to sing really loudly with someone you’d barely even met and not give the first sign of a darn.

We parked outside of a lovely little apartment complex. I slid out, looking uneasily at the number 16. No backyard gardens to obliterate here.

Risso marched around the side of the ghetto jeep and placed her hands on my shoulders, looking intensely into my eyes. I liked Risso, but the concentration in those eyes almost made me take a step back. Then she smiled broadly and said, “You’ll do just fine.” Then she flounced towards the door marked with the big red 16.

And to my greatest surprise—you know, the kind of surprise when you’ve been expecting your parents to give you a new shirt for your birthday and instead you get a Maserati—I did. Just fine, that is.

Dimitri opened the door right as Risso was raising her fist to give what undoubtedly would have been a resounding knock, grinning so widely that I thought his face might split in two. He immediately pulled Risso into an enormous bear hug. I prepared myself to feel awkwardly out of the loop, but then he pulled me into one, too.

“You made it!” he said happily. “And I was hoping you two would become friends tonight and, as usual, Risso, you’ve beat me to it.”

Risso bowed deep and then punched him lightly on the arm. “Of course! Any time.”

He ushered us inside, and for a moment the street lights illuminated his eyes, and again I was struck by the infinite kindness there in those ocean-deep eyes, swimming there like fish in a sea current. Something inside of me loosened and relaxed—later I rather thought it was the abnormal tendon that had been constricting whatever organ gives people the ability to be smooth and normal—and I stepped through the door.

“My parents are out tonight, gone to Asheville for the weekend,” he said. “So we’ve got the place to ourselves.”

“Hooray!” shouted Risso, and she immediately leapt onto the loveseat and began leaping up and down, chanting, “No parents! No parents!” at the top of her lungs.

Dimitri looked at me and shook his head, laughing.

“Is she always like this?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, usually worse,” he answered. “She’s on her best behavior because you’re new.”

We grinned at each other, then quickly looked back at Risso. The tips of his ears, I noticed, had turned a pale shade of pink.

Risso quickly bored of couch-jumping, though no before she had come close to destroying a lamp that Dimitri seized deftly when one of her wildly flailing limbs threatened to send it into orbit. She then ran—going fast, always, seemed to be her primary mode of transportation—into the kitchenette and pulled down three packages of chewy chocolate chip cookies. Then we launched into a rather ferocious game of charades, which according to Risso’s rules always had to depict dying in some terrifically gruesome manner. Points were, of course, awarded according to how gruesome our ideas turned out.

Dimitri fell behind almost immediately in the points, or at least he would have if we’d really been keeping score. It was like that kindness bubbling up out of his eyes came from a place so deeply ingrained in him that it prevented him from even imagining anything truly horrendous. The best he came up with was a witch burning. His depiction of it, however, left Risso and I rolling on the floor in laughter fit to fracture our ribs.

Risso and I, on the other hand, went for each other’s throats like wolverines with toothaches. She started out with being ripped to shreds by Tasmanian devils while having the lower half of her body slowly disintegrated from an expanding pool of battery acid. Inspired by Dimitri’s rather pitiable attempts, I savagely followed up with being trampled by horses after escaping from a witch burning and having my scalp ripped off by a particularly vindictive horse who decided to take a bite of my hair. (Which was perhaps a touch inspired by Tolon as well.)

By the end of the game, we had all collapsed in a heap, tears streaming down our faces from laughing so hard. I felt so at home with them you would have never thought that I had only just blasted in from outer space (also known as Alabama) and landed in the middle of a friendship that was over a decade old. Our companionship felt seamless, something I had never experienced with anyone outside of Mom, and this was even different than that, newer, fresher, a taste of wind blowing up from a deep valley of pine trees.

After we had progressed to the inevitable point in charades where everyone starts picking subjects that are completely incomprehensible, Risso bounded up and pulled out the drawer under the television and started flipping through movies. She pulled one up and held it out like a trophy.

“The Notebook!” she shouted, eyes disappearing into her cheeks.

Dimitri and I both gave her such identical looks of horror that she immediately shoved it back in the drawer.

“Okay, I guess not,” she muttered, and I thought I caught her saying something like “too soon” under her breath. Suddenly, the room felt too hot.

Eventually she settled on some old John Wayne movie that Dimitri said belonged to his dad, who was obsessed with John Wayne. Apparently Risso was too, because she started giving us all the background to this particularly film, including the names of all the obscure actors and actresses and what other equally obscure 60s movies they had played in and—well, lots of other stuff. I wasn’t really paying attention, because Risso had chosen the only armchair in the living room, leaving the loveseat to Dimitri and me.

What a stupid, stupid name for a piece of furniture.

Risso immediately snuggled into the armchair and sunk into the movie, leaving me and Dimitri stranded in the corner. He looked at me sort of shyly, his mop of curly hair falling into his eyes so that he had to push it back out of his face.

“You aren’t much of a John Wayne fan,” he said. It wasn’t a question, but from the bored-out-of-my-gizzard look on my face, it didn’t really need to be.

“No,” I said, “but it is light-years better than The Notebook. I don’t know of a worse movie in the history of Hollywood, unless you’re counting those B- and C- and D-rated zombie-vampire-werewolf apocalypse films.”

He chuckled. “Those are definitely preferable to even the previews of that movie.” He looked at me, a bit of puzzlement in his eyes. “I was wondering—do you think we’ve ever met before? You look sort of familiar.”

I shrugged. “Probably not. I’ve lived in the super-city of Charming my entire life and not hardly ever left except for one hellish trip when I was eight to visit my Aunt Fiona in New Jersey.” I paused for a moment. “Aunt Fiona is a cow.”

He laughed, causing Risso to hiss, “Shhh!” across the room at us.

“Tell me about Charming,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow. “There’s not much to tell. It’s too hot in the summer and rains a lot in the winter. The only thing that’s smaller than the town itself is the minds of the people who live there.”

As soon as I’d said the words, I regretted them, wishing I could reel them back in like ugly fish on a line.

“I mean,” I said quickly, “People are just not that… open-minded. If that makes sense.”

Still looking at me—his steady gaze was the tiniest bit unnerving—he nodded slowly. “Tell me about it.” He said this not like, “Oh my gosh, like I know,” but as in, “Go on.”

So I did. I told him about Melissa’s farm and her horses and dogs that I spent my days with, wondering the trails and streambeds in the acreage she owned as well as the large swatches of land that had DO NOT TRESPASS signs posted around the boundaries that I tended to ignore. I told him about Charming Hills Apartment Complex, and the two restaurants and how good they were, and the way everyone thought Mom and I were something like Satan’s ambassadors because I was black and she was white and uninterested in men.

In turn, he told me a little about growing up in Boone. Both of his parents were professors at Appalachian State University and he’d grown up with a never-ending stream of college students coming in and out of their apartment, the down-on-their-luck ones sometimes staying in the guest bedroom for a semester or two before they got back on their feet. They always got back on their feet, he said, because that’s just the kind of people his parents were—the kind that helped people find their sea legs and learn to walk all over again. He told me about going to Watauga County High School, and how half the teachers spent their time gossiping about the students and the other half talked bad about the first half gossiping about the students and how mostly no one ever got taught, unless it was football or baseball.

He asked me where I had gone to high school and what it had been like in Charming.

“Oh, I was a home-schooler,” I said.

“Really? I wouldn’t have guessed.”

“Ha—right.”

From the armchair, Risso hissed at us again.

Whispering, he said, “No, really. You really don’t seem like a home-schooler.”

I realized with a touch of surprise that he hadn’t intended to be sarcastic at all. With time, I realized more than that—Dimitri didn’t have a sarcastic bone in his body, not even one of the really small ones in his fingers or ankles.

“Well,” I said slowly. “At least I’m not like the other Charming home-schoolers. They all thought that one plus one equaled Jesus.”

We eventually lapsed into a comfortable silence, enjoying each other’s presence much more than the cowboys and shoot-outs playing out on the television screen, no matter how nice looking John Wayne had been in his younger years. Once, I caught him smiling at me out of the corner of my eye, and I smiled back, and I did not feel even a hint of a blush hiding under my dark skin. I felt… content. At peace. I didn’t even feel the need to obliterate my feelings under a slew of  internal sarcasm.

That was a new one for me.

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Today at work, there was absolutely nothing to do. So my boss made me sort crayons by colors into Ziploc baggies.

Somehow, this is not exactly what I expected from the Children’s summer aide program.

Here’s the next installment of Snell. Let me know what you think! (And even if you’re getting to the end of these posts….)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The next few days consisted mostly of contractors. They seemed pretty similar to movers, to me—men with weather-beaten faces and deep, permanent tans with eyes that had a tendency to wander a little bit too much, as far as I was concerned. I made their lemonade sour enough to etch copper after I caught one of them snapping a picture of Mom’s butt with his phone while she was bending over to check something under the kitchen sink.

Luckily, the head contractor, a man who didn’t seem to have a name and simply went by The Boss, struck up a friendship with Mom immediately. Apparently, he had read Hans the Great and thought it was absolutely the most brilliant thing since plaid work shirts. It also turned out that he fancied himself a writer as well, and he and Mom struck up a deal that if she would give him writing lessons once a week, then he would provide the labor to fix up the house for half the normal price.

“He doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into!” Mom laughed when she told me about their agreement. “Me being a teacher! Ha! It’s like… like… Bill Clinton being a virgin!”

Bill Clinton similes were one of my Mom’s favorite things in the universe.

At some point, the house stopped being just the house and became The House. I can’t remember when exactly that was, but it might have been when I discovered that there were three faucets in the sink in the downstairs bathroom, or that you could only access the tiny room at the top of the turret staircase through a trapdoor, or that the heavy beams crossing the peaked living room ceiling were carved to look like Oriental dragons.

However, my favorite part of the entire house was my room. I insisted that the first thing the contractors did, after making Mom’s room down the hall livable, was clean out the massive bird nest in the wide window seat and replace the panes in the window itself and get rid of the rather terrifying spider webs that clogged every corner. I put my sleeping bag in the window seat once the room no longer had anything living in it besides me and slept there every night where I could see the moon setting over the time-old hills.

Apart from the window seat, there was a niche next to the closet for a desk where another small window opened up onto the tangled remains of a garden in the backyard. The ceiling was so steeply peaked that on either side of the room, it sloped down to less than a foot above the floor. Beyond the window seat, the window opened up onto the balcony I had spotted the very first night, which was rather strange to me, considering you had to clamber up onto the seat before you could get out. But I loved it, and that room alone made Mom’s insane decision worth it—mostly.

Having spent most of my life either in self-imposed solitary confinement or with Mom, which I suppose was somewhat like having a creative and usually cheerful roommate in a mental ward, suddenly having the contractors in our house from around eight til five was something of a… shock, you might say. I could never decide who was more embarrassed, me or the one Latino worker, when I forgot to close the bathroom door while I was showering (with the clear curtain pulled across the tub, of course). He only worked on the roof after that, which I suppose I would have done, too, if the rest of the house was booby-trapped with naked underage girls.

But I mostly got used to it. Mostly got used to it, that is, until the day before I started work.

I was making my way down the spiral staircase in the turret down to the kitchen table to rustle up some cereal for breakfast. Let me preface this by saying that I looked rough. Not the kind of rough that girls think they look like when missed a few hairs with the straightener or didn’t coat every single eyelash with perfectly even mascara. I mean rough like what is that Thing? When I was younger, my mom used to call me her little changeling, which I assume now is because I looked like a troll when I got out of bed. I’ll let you do the imagining, but if you think you looked bad after that night you got so trashed you just prayed that dancing naked on the bar table was the worst of what you did, think again.

He was helping The Boss fill in some molding around the window that was over the kitchen sink, his back to me. I didn’t pay much attention—one man’s body in a plaid work shirt was the same as the next. But as I was getting the cereal down from atop the tallest shelf, he turned around.

And I promptly dropped the cereal box. The open cereal box, which obliged me by spilling its whole grain guts across the floor like it had been hit with a nuclear warhead, the traitor.

We looked at each other, both wearing the blank expression that one gets when a large mess has suddenly been created and no one wants to clean it up. You know what I’m talking about.

“Oh, crap,” he said, looking at the carnage on the floor. “Let me… I’ll get that for you.”

At this point, had I gone to public school or lived in a town where the company of other home-schoolers could be tolerated for longer than the time it took to say Homos Go to Hell, I would have protested. No, it was my fault, let me clean it up. I’m a total klutz, don’t mind me. Oh yes, thanks for handing me the broom. Your eyes are really pretty, by the way.

But, alas, I just stood there like a skewered pig and watched as he tried to sweep up the cereal with a moth-eaten broom that scattered more of the flakes than it gathered. An entire civilization probably rose and fell while I watched him chase the traitorous flakes around the kitchen floor, not moving or speaking or doing anything that was even a second cousin twice removed to normal.

“Do you have a dustpan?” he asked when he finished.

Thank God for whichever of my parents was black, because my skin was dark enough that it didn’t register a blush.

“Um,” I said. “Um. Yes. Somewhere. Under the sink.”

This time we both moved, and bumped into each other. Remember that I looked like the queen of the aesthetically damned at this point. He probably thought it was catching, because he backed up a little too fast and let me go ahead.

After rooting around under the sink for a painfully long moment, during which I had plenty of time to remember that yes, these were the pajama bottoms with the giant yellow stain across the butt, I finally found the dust pan. I held it while he awkwardly swept most of the flakes into it except for the few that refused to go over the lip of the pan. I hated dustpans for that very reason.

At this point, we shared a sheepish glance that somehow communicated what both of us were thinking. Then I pulled the pan back and he swished the last few remaining flakes underneath the newly acquired refrigerator, where they probably still are now, and where they will undoubtedly remain until the Doomsday preachers finally get it right.

I stood up.

“I’m Dimitri,” he said, sticking out a hand.

I took his hand. It was callused and warm and only a little sweaty.

“Snell,” I said, somehow managing to remember this most rudimentary part of interpersonal communications.

“Nice to meet you.” The way he said it, I felt like he actually meant it. It lacked the hollow quality of a rehearsed phrase the way it sounded coming from most people. “I mean,” he continued, “nice to fight cereal with you. I’m glad we put it under the refrigerator. My mom hates it when I do that with things.”

I laughed. “My mom doesn’t even let me sweep after what she found under our old refrigerator when it went out. I used it as a science fair project.”

He raised an eyebrow. “No you didn’t. People always just say that.”

I blinked. “Okay,” I said slowly, “so I didn’t. But I could have,” I added. “And I would have won, too. I bet you were the person who made volcanoes for science projects.”

“Hmph,” he said. “At least my volcanoes were real.”

We laughed, and it was only later that I realized that I had suddenly gone from an Oscars nomination for Most Awkward Human to Ever Disgrace the Surface of the Planet to having a Relatively Normal Conversation.

The Boss was now watching us with a rather annoyed expression on his face, and Dimitri smiled at me—he had big, shining white teeth—and got back to work. I walked dazedly out of the kitchen, breakfast as forgotten as my few stabs at learning French back when I was eleven.

For the rest of the day, I spent as little time in The House as possible until the last Ford pickup rolled out of the driveway and Mom and I were left alone.

My behavior was utterly psychotic, and I knew it. Once I woke out of the spell that had wafted me out of the kitchen, I pelted upstairs and did my hair and the little makeup I ever wore as impeccably as I perhaps ever had and then proceeded to spend forty-five whole minutes deciding what to wear. Then I spent the rest of the day buried in the jungle of the backyard.

I didn’t even like gardening, or at least I thought I didn’t, but as soon as I had gotten ready, I hacked my way to the very back of the yard where a broken old stone fence marked the edge of our property. The rest of the day went to trying to decipher with my nonexistent botanical knowledge which plants should go and which should stay. From the shed hidden behind an overgrown begonia bush (or at least, that’s what I thought it was), I managed to unearth a pair of rusty clippers without giving myself a brain aneurysm from all the spiders, and I set at butchering every overgrown shrub I could find.

To Aunt Fiona, who was a Master Gardener, I probably would have looked like Jack the Ripper.

Mom found me trying to uproot what turned out to be a wild rose, which she at least had the presence of mind to recognize. After patting the soil around its base back down, she stood up, hands on her hips, gazing at me curiously.

“So, hon, why exactly have you suddenly decided to take up gardening?” she asked. “Aunt Fiona would be so proud of you.”

“Aunt Fiona is a cow.”

Mom surveyed the path of destruction that I had carved through the backyard. “True. And I don’t think she would really like what you’ve done with the place that much anyways. Which suits me just fine, of course.”

Then she looked back at me, obviously expecting some sort of explanation.

So I told her about Dimitri. She nodded sympathetically.

“Was he that gangly-looking kid with the ears?”

“His ears aren’t that bad,” I said, sounding about half a teaspoon more defensive than I’d meant to. Maybe they did stick out a little more than normal. I hadn’t really paid much attention to them. His eyes were what I kept coming back to whenever the weeds or priceless rare shrub—it was all the same to me—failed to distract me adequately. Dark blue eyes, clear as springtime rainwater, and kind. I could not forget the kindness.

Mom mistook my tone for pity. Like I’ve mentioned before, my mom has the experience of a spayed gopher in these sorts of situations.

“Well, at least after today you’ll be working whenever he’s here and you won’t have to worry about him. He did tell me to let you know that he’s having a party at his house tomorrow night, and that I should tell you to come since he couldn’t find you. I promised I’d tell you or otherwise I would have just let it go, but don’t worry hon, we’ll find something to do tomorrow night and you won’t have to even think about it.”

A party? I thought about the quick impression I’d gotten of Dimitri and tried to decide if Smirnoff and scantily clad drunken females and beer pong and eardrum-annihilating music really fit into that picture. He had seemed much more like a Scrabble and Clue sort of guy to me, but I wasn’t always the best at first impressions.

“Nah,” I said. “I—I think I’ll go. Yeah. I will.”

Mom looked startled, and then suddenly a flash of understanding came to her eyes. To my relief, she didn’t say anything, just smiled knowingly and then walked back into the house.

Again I blessed my genetic heritage for my inability to show a blush. I even considered building a shrine to my ancestors in the room above the staircase and sacrificing one of the fat squirrels in our trees to them.

So… this is slightly less inspired than what I consider to be usual. But I’m posting it anyways, in hope of enticing The Fickle Girlfriend to continue to stick around.

Also, here is a survey that is probably pertinent to your interests as a blog reader.

If you are reading this post, please, please, please, please, please answer the poll. Pretty please with brown sugar on top. (And I don’t give brown sugar to just anyone, you know. Only my beloved readers.)

____________

“So I guess it makes sense why we could afford such a big house, now,” said Mom, conversationally.

Neither of us had slept well. The only motel within a thirty mile radius of Meat Camp was a little Super 8 that I swear to you was harboring scabies in every dark corner, of which there were simply too many to seem possible. I had gotten up before dawn to water and feed and walk Bob, and then gotten a tray of continental breakfast that looked like it was about three years old warmed over and brought it back to the room.

I didn’t say anything to Mom’s comment. My mind had now slipped into that sunny green place called Downright Denial, and I preferred not to think about the house or what it entailed.

“You know, though,” said Mom, musingly twirling a bit of cardboard egg on the end of her fork, “it’s sort of a metaphor for our life.”

“What is? This food?” I certainly hoped not.

“The house. It’s ramshackle and it’s in pieces and all the windows are busted out by a generation or two of rock-throwing teenagers.” And the ivy, and the dead-hair flowerboxes, and the broken door, and my personal favorite, the tree that had taken up residence in the greenhouse. “But you saw it, Snell. It has so much potential, potential to begin again and become something incredible once again. Just like our lives.”

I thought about this, trying to make my way through a piece of toast that chewed like fossilized dinosaur hide. For once, though, I didn’t agree with Mom. Maybe that was her life—something made rickety and tumbledown by years of splintered dreams and Abominable Luck and manuscripts that crashed and burned like the Challenger shuttle. Here, in this isolated place where no one knew her and where we were only novelties because we were new and not because we were abominations, she had a chance to plant new seeds in this hopefully fertile new ground and see what came of it.

But I didn’t feel like my life was a dilapidated old house at all. I didn’t really feel that my life was much of anything or ever had been much of anything, like it hadn’t even begun, as if I were one of those seeds they find encased in amber for hundreds of years that never had a chance to grow. I felt strange, all hollowed out in the middle, like if you ordered a cake and all you got was the icing with no batter in the middle.

Mom delegated out the day’s tasks. I was to take Bob to address 3009 Meat Camp Road to a Mr. Tom Smith (I could see why Melissa had decided to sell him a horse named Bob) while she worked on calling the realtor to find out if there were any contractors in the area who could help with the house. I thought this was probably a good idea, as the two of us put together had the handy skills of a legless salamander.

“Oh, and Snell, ask Mr. Tom Smith about the surprise he’s supposed to have for you.”

I stiffened as I leaned over to pick up the keys off the questionable carpet.

“Surprise?” I said slowly. Those were never, ever, ever good.

“Yes, hon. Just ask him about it.”

Great.

So Bob and I loaded up and took off for 3009 Meat Camp Road. Since we’d gotten here in the middle of the night and all I’d been able to take in was the harrowingly narrow road revealed to me by the headlights, I’d completely missed the surrounding area. Having grown up in flatter-than-a-flitter Charming, waking up floating in the gentle mountains of western North Carolina felt like finding myself adrift on the swells of a gentle ocean. An ancientness hung about the ravines and the rounded peaks like the last bit of fading sunrise mist, so that it twinkled in the corner of your eye but was gone if you looked directly at it. A few houses dotted the slopes here and there, but mostly the undulation of the mountains was clothed in an untorn robe of trees that shifted from the young green of birch and oak to the dark verdancy of magnolia and pine. A tight sort of longing constricted my chest as I wound my way along the snaking roads that I could not name, but it was so strong that I wondered that I could not put words to it.

And then we were there, pulling up the gravely driveway of 3009 Meat Camp Road.

I suppose I had been expecting a modest farm rather like Melissa’s with some cute mares for Bob to flirt with and maybe another stallion or two for him to try to kill in a fierce battle of pheromones and mating instinct. But my expectations were immediately dashed. Over the entry to the driveway was an iron arch supporting a wooden sign where the words “Boys Ranch of the Appalachians” were emblazoned in fanciful white lettering. Rather than the small fields and farmhouse, a sprawl of building climbed up the mountain, dorms, a cafeteria, two barns, a large L-shaped stable, chicken coups, a goat paddock, and several cabins for, I dunno, group feel-good sessions or something. A few people, workers I assumed, were carrying buckets and farm utensils and such to various undisclosed locations, apparently beginning the day’s work.

I parked and got out. Up in the mountains, the summer heat and humidity that had already begun choking the life out of Charming had not yet arrived, and the air was pleasantly cool and the pungent, animal smell of farm animals filling the air. Looking around, I tried to decide which building looked administration-ish or whatnot.

“Well hey there, little missy!”

I turned around. A tall, stringy man in his late fifties was approaching me. He was quite possibly the most countrified looking dude I had ever seen, and let me just tell you, I had seen some real doozies in Charming.

“Hi,” I said.

Any normal person would have followed that “Hi” up with something like, “How are you today?” or “Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”, but like I’ve said before, I pretty much missed the development window for social skills. He eyed me through beady eyes for a few long seconds while I tried to figure out what to do with my hands—why do they make pants without pockets?

Finally, he asked me he could help me.

“Oh,” I said. “Um. Yes. I’m looking for… um… this guy. To give him this horse. His name is Bob. The horse. Not the guy.”

Gah.

“Oh well darlin’, you must be lookin’ for me. Mah name is Tom Smith, but you can call me Bill, everybody does.”

Of course. Because that makes sense.

“Hi… Bill,” I said. I didn’t tell him my name, missing the this-is-where-you-introduce-yourself queue. As usual.

Luckily, I was spared from much more conversation because Tom—Bill—immediately set to checking out Bob. He opened the doors of the trailer and took Bob out, not even commenting on the pile of slightly worse for the wear boxes and shrunken sheep head. He examined Bob’s flanks and eyes and ears and all of that other horsy stuff, including checking his teeth, something I never really understood the necessity.

“So missy, how did the trip up here go?”

I told him about trying to back the horse trailer up in the Cracker Barrel parking lot and the failure thereof. He laughed heartily, holding his stomach and shaking his head back and forth like a dog with ear mites.

“Ee hee hee, oh mah Lawdy,” he gasped. “Ee hee hee, rookie mistake, missy, rookie mistake. Did that mah-self, oh, a good forty years ago.”

I told him about Bob throwing up, and this made him look up sharply.

“He spewed, did he? Well, I’ll be.”

“What?”

“Missy, didn’t you know that horses don’t throw up? It’s not in their natures. They can’t even if they want to.”

I took a look at the soiled boxes and then looked back at him.

“Well, maybe Bob’s not a horse,” I said, rather flatly.

This made him laugh again. He sounded like a broken train engine.

We took Bob into the stables. The ceilings were high and well-lit with open windows lining the peak of the roof. About twenty-five horses of all shapes and sizes were sleeping and eating and laying their ears back at me as we walked in. A gigantic chestnut stallion tried to nip at Bob’s withers as we walked by, but Tom-Bill gave him such a stern look that the beast backed up a step.

“That there is Tolon, and he’d nip the hindquarters of the ass of Jesus himself if you gave him a chance, he would.”

It took me a second to realize he was talking about Jesus’ donkey and not what I’d first heard, which made me feel rather stupid, if you can imagine.

We got Bob settled into a stall that already had fresh hay and feed ready for him. I tried to say goodbye to Bob by scratching him behind his cheek like most horses I’d ever met liked, but he laid his ears back so far that I thought they would end up on his withers like vestigial pegasus wings, so I stopped.

“Got a ornery one there, aye? We’ll take good care of him, here, we will.”

I nodded, then I remembered something.

“Uh, Mr. T—Bill…”

“Just call me plain ole Bill, darlin’. None of that mister stuff. Just Bill.”

I wanted to say, So long as you quit calling me darling, I’ll call you anything you want. But I didn’t.

“Okay. Bill.” I took a deep breath. “My mom said that you had some sort of… surprise… for me.”

I sounded completely ridiculous, like I was expecting him to bust out with one hundred red balloons and a birthday cake. Silently, I vowed to memorize every synonym for surprise from our thesaurus the moment we unpacked it so I would never have to use it again.

“Mah, mah, I had almost forgotten! That darlin’ Melissa called me just a few days ago as a favor for your ma, and lo and behold, our stable boy had just quit and run off to the city! So what I mean to be sayin’ is that you’ll be startin’ here with us as stable boy whenever you ready!”

“Stable boy?” I said weakly.

“Well, stable girl, if ya like the way that sounds better!” He cracked up again. I couldn’t see what was so funny. I was a girl. “So when do you want to start?”

Never, I thought.

You are probably going to hate me for this, but I’ve never worked a day in my life. It just never crossed mine or Mom’s mind for me to get a job. Well, until now, apparently. So much for the hundred red balloons.

“Um,” I said. “Start. Um. How about… in a week?”

“Sure, sure, darlin’, just whatever you want. That works just fine, ‘cause that’s when the new boys get here for summer camp and we’ll all just be covered up in work,” he said, and he rumpled my hair like he was my favorite uncle that I’d known my whole life.

I hated having my hair rumpled.

He gave me his phone number and I told him I’d call him a few days later to get all of the details, whatever those were.

I went back to the hotel.

“So—did you like your surprise?” Mom asked coyly.

“Hmph,” I said, sitting down on the bed and folding my arms over my chest. “He called me a stable boy.”

“Well, I suppose you don’t hear all that much about stable girls, hon. It’s usually boys.”

“That makes sense. Since, you know, boys are accustomed to smelling like Bob’s turds all the time and don’t much mind it.”

“Oh, Snell, it won’t be that bad!”

You didn’t smell the stables. They smelled like the devil’s sewage system.” They didn’t, really. I had actually been surprised at how clean they had been in comparison to Melissa’s barn, but I wasn’t about to admit that.

“Well. I know you like horses, and I figured you would get bored just sitting around all day, especially before you get to know some folks your own age. Get you out of the house, keep you from going all stir-crazy.”

The way she said it, you’d think that if I were left to my own devices, I would, I dunno, eat the couch or something.

For those of you who are about to yack out of your noses from ridiculously long story posts, do not fear, a normal post is here!

There is still absolutely nothing of consequence going on. Carter is in Greece. I’m working and going to the animal shelter and trying to learn to ride horses and writing. Obviously, mostly the latter, and to the total exclusion of reading, unless you want to count books on CD that I listen to driving to and fro work.

Here’s the deal. Lots of authors talk about their muses. They may call it just that—their Muse—or they may call it Inspiration, or the Story, or the Characters. Almost every writer will agree that they are writing because some disembodied voice or feeling is guiding them in the creation of the work. And I’ll agree whole-heartedly with them. I have one too.

But I don’t call it Story or Characters or any of that. I call it The Fickle Girlfriend.

Boys, you know what I’m talking about. There’s this girl who is absolutely amazing and, shoot dadgum, she actually likes you too. Everything starts out hot and heavy and totally wonderful and you’re wondering if your feet will ever touch the ground again. Every day is like a dream. You talk for hours on end and then make out for even longer. You may even start wondering if she could be the one.

And then all of the sudden, out of absolutely nowhere, she completely dumps you and never wants to talk to you again. You try to talk to her in the hallway and she looks at you like she’s never even seen you before, or worse, like you’re the gunk on the bottom of the shoes of a sewer worker. No amount of expensive flowers, Swiss chocolates, Tiffany’s jewelry, or new cars will win her back. She’s just—gone.

That’s how The Fickle Girlfriend is. All of a sudden, I have a story! Hooray! And it’s awesome! And all I can do is write, and when I can’t write—like when I’m driving, or reading another book, or weighing a patient, or giving an injection, or sitting in church—I am thinking, and planning, and imagining the story. I can’t get enough, and the Fickle Girlfriend is just pouring it on.

And then suddenly, it just stops. It might be three pages in, or a hundred and fifteen (no, I’m not kidding, and it still hurts to think about). The Fickle Girlfriend realizes that she doesn’t really care about whether or not I finish her story or not, and she goes on vacation to Gulf Shores or Hilton Head or some other unoriginal place where too-blond girls go to turn orange and wear bikinis. And I’m left alone and bereft with a quarter-finished or half-finished or two-thirds-finished story that sits in my Creative Projects computer file and rots for the rest of time.

That’s why I’ve been working on Snell so feverishly. Because I never know when The Fickle Girlfriend is going to up and head to Panama City. And I’m publishing it because I’m hoping that this time, the publicity will keep her around for a little longer, because as you all know, there’s nothing that Valley Girls like better than loads of attention.

And why do I put up with her? Because, just like the boys who can never quite say no, I am always hoping that this will be the one. This will be the story that actually ends in The End rather than right in the middle of a sentence. This will be the time that I can finally say, Yes, I am not one of those writers. I actually finished something. Eat it.

Here’s to hoping, anyways.

*Lyrics from an Avett Brothers song, in case you were wondering. Finally downloaded one of their albums—I know I’m way behind there.

DOES NOT BACK UP

Posted: June 11, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Tomorrow, or Monday, I’ll make a real post that involves my life.

However, in the mean time, here’s the third entry from Snell.

______________

Even if Mom had already bought a house and might have, to other eyes, appeared completely prepared, this was about as far from the truth as Charming was from New York City. We had one car, a medium-sized truck, and Mom did not believe in hiring movers because of some past bad experience involving a couple of forks, a beagle, and some guys from Two Men and a Truck. I never did get all of that story. So we got to do it all on our lonesome, and it was by the nature of the thing the opposite of an adventure.

That is to say, it was a total and utter disaster.

Even if you’ve lived your whole life in an apartment, there is just a certain amount of Stuff that you acquire. When your mother is a medicated bipolar writer free spirit, you accumulate a lot of this Stuff. We had at least ten paintings from Melissa, from the size of a matchbox to three that were almost as tall as I was. We had lots of knickknacks from Mom’s traveling years, including a shrunken sheep head that I’d never been able to decide if it was real or not and three hat racks that were carved like live oak trees complete with Spanish moss and a few beautifully depicted least terns. I had my own vast cactus collection—I got a new one every time we went to Birmingham from the Lowe’s there—and the equally vast assortment of carved or cast or pottery cats. (I didn’t even like cats all that much, but I liked fake ones.) Luckily, the apartment had come furnished, so we didn’t have to deal with most of the chairs and couches and such, but there was a coffee table that Mom’s great-great aunt had painted and an ancient overstuffed armchair from my room that I refused to part with.

Mom’s boss gave her about thirty packing boxes that still smelled like Peruvian coffee beans. After packing and repacking and then taking it all out and starting over again to try to maximize every square inch of space possible—organization was neither of our strong points—we shoved every last bit of Stuff into the truck as humanly possible. But a third of it was simply not going in. Mom broke two glasses, just for the fun of it.

“At least that’s two more things we don’t have to pack,” I said, leaning my forehead limply against the door frame.

There was a tinkle of glass as she dumped them into the trash can. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her twirling the sheep head on the base of its skull on the kitchen table.

“Maybe we should have thought this through a little more…”

I tactfully decided not to say anything about this.

“You know, it’s not too late to call some movers—”

I should have known better.

“No,” said Mom shortly. “No movers. We’ll just have to make it work.”

I stood up wearily and stuck my finger in the empty eye socket of the sheep.

We walked down the street and got a couple of bars of chocolate, which was what we always did whenever we couldn’t figure out what in the world to do. When we got back, a small crowd of children from the apartment complex were playing in the parking lot, furtively staring at the mountain of boxes and odds and ends tarped and bungee corded down in the back of our truck. We waved heartily at them, and they went running off back to their apartments, undoubtedly to tell their parents that the perverted writer and her bastard daughter were finally leaving.

Well, sort of. If we could. Not a single other thing was going into that truck, and that was that. So we went up to our balcony and sat on the concrete since we’d already loaded up our folding chairs and waited for a light from heaven to bring us a miracle.

“We need a Tardis truck,” mumbled Mom.

“A retarded truck?”

“No, a Tardis truck. You know, bigger on the inside.”

I looked at her blankly. She shook her head.

“Never mind. It’s just an old show that your Uncle Carter used to watched obsessively when he was younger.”

I leaned my head back against the wall, staring at a wasp that was circling the nest hanging fruit-like from the awning. For a second, I considered worrying and trying to figure out a solution to the problem of what in tarnation we were going to do with all of the Stuff, but instead, I fell asleep. I’m a little bit of a narco. I got to sleep basically whenever I get still, one reason why I was seriously glad that I’d been home-schooled. Real school would have been disastrous—I probably wouldn’t even be able to read.

Next thing I knew, I was suddenly being shaken awake and Mom was shouting that the Rapture had come and we were saved, saved, SAVED! Getting groggily to my feet, I saw that Melissa had pulled up under the balcony with a horse trailer attached to the back of her SUV.

“Umble dumble unph,” I said, or something like that. I’ve always wondered if someone gave me a breathalyzer test after I woke up, if I would pass or fail.

Mom pelted down the stairs and I groggily followed after her, wondering what could have possibly caused her to suddenly get religion and start proclaiming the end of the world. But it quickly became evident.

Melissa jumped out of her vehicle, violently aqua marine hair done up in a fantastical series of tiny ponytails all over her head, pulling my mother into a tight hug.

“Oh Amelia you are an absolute lifesaver I don’t know what I would have done without you with Rick’s leg broken and me having to take off work to take care of the horses and I absolutely had no time to do this and I promised them I’d have it there yesterday and oh Amelia you are just a dear.”

Believe it or not, that was actually a short sentence for Melissa. Talking to her was generally like trying to drink from Victoria Falls.

Taking Melissa’s shoulders—sometimes I think they fancied themselves in the middle of some sort of modern Lord of the Rings—Mom smiled widely.

“Melissa, hon, you have absolutely saved our souls. This is the most fortunate of arrangements to have every blessed our household.”

Like I said. A little bit overdramatic.

“Okay,” I said. “What?”

“Oh hon, it’s just wonderful! It’s fabulous!” exclaimed Mom. Christmas, apparently, had come early, and twice, to boot. “Melissa needs this horse delivered up to a farm just ten miles from our house, and she is going to let us take the horse trailer with us! And since there’s only one horse, we have plenty of room to pack all of the rest of our Stuff! The miracle has arrived!”

The horse, a big dapple grey stallion that I vaguely recognized, stuck his head out of the back of the trailer and whinnied. I gazed at him dubiously.

“What’s his name?” I asked to buy time before I asked Mom how exactly she was planning to pull a horse trailer when she sometimes had trouble simply parking in between the lines.

“Bob,” said Melissa, smiling broadly.

“Bob?” I said incredulously. “That’s the most boring name ever.”

“Sometimes, my dear, simplicity is the most beautiful thing of all, such as you can see in Matisse’s art books and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, in the poetry of Carl Sandburg and the writings of Hemingway…”

She went on in this way for quite a while without a single period or breath to speak of, and without turning blue, which was the truly impressive part. I turned to Mom, knowing that Melissa would keep talking as if I were riveted to her words with steel, uh, rivets.

“So Mom, how exactly are you planning to drive this thing?” I asked casually, pretending to look at my reflection in the tinted windows of Melissa’s car.

“Oh hon, you should know I’m not going to even try to drive it! We’d crash for sure, right off a mountain and down into some deep ravine where it would take them years to find us and we’d only be rotting corpses.”

Uh-oh.

“You’re going to drive it, of course! Plus, you’re much better with horses than I am, so you’re the natural choice.”

I declined to point out that this had absolutely nothing to do with being able to drive a truck that had suddenly gone from sixteen feet long to thirty-two, at least.

The rest of the morning went pretty smoothly. Melissa helped us with the hat racks and my armchair and all the other assorted boxes that had flatly (or rather, cubely) refused to fit into the truck. Bob was rather unenthused about the cargo that he was sharing the trailer with, and let us know this by repeatedly dropping hamster-sized turds that smelled like the end of civilization every few minutes.

Our landlady came and took a look at our apartment to see if we’d damaged it. There was about an hour-long drama in which she insisted that the bright yellow stain on the wall that we’d covered with one of Melissa’s paintings had been our fault, but eventually she managed (with Mom’s rather forceful help and the intimidation factor lent by Melissa’s hair) to find the damage report we’d filed immediately after we’d moved in. She scowled and gave us our deposit and then practically ripped the keys from Mom’s hand, making it clear that we were about as welcome in Charming Hills Apartment Complex as Ebola outbreak in an orphanage.

Melissa made long and verbose promises about coming to visit us. I didn’t doubt this; the Appalachians seemed like the kind of place where artists would gather in droves to camp and get high and sit around nude and sing John Denver and Cranberries on a  regular basis. Then we put the last of our stuff in the truck—about all that could fit was our bodies and a few water bottles—let Bob out of the trailer to make one last dung bomb in the middle of the parking lot as a parting gift to Charming, and headed out of town.

Luckily I managed to convince Mom to take the practical route rather than the scenic route. It was easy for her to want to take every twisty windy-turny kick-back road that took us generally in the direction of Meat Camp—gah, I didn’t think I’d ever get used to saying that—but first of all, as I had zero experience driving a horse trailer, I didn’t want to take any more chances than necessary, and secondly, cleaning up carsick horse vomit off of all our earthly possessions sounded even more fun than moving to a place called Meat Camp in the first place. So we took the interstates, traveling through the traffic zoo of Birmingham and along the river in Chattanooga and up through the rolling hills of Tennessee.

We stopped for a sort of lumper—this, in case you don’t speak Southern, is a cross between supper and lunch—at a Cracker Barrel in Sweetwater, Tennessee.

“Cracker Barrel, Mom? Really?”

“We’re moving, hon. Everybody stops at Cracker Barrel when they move.”

We sat outside in the rocking chairs until the little plastic box started buzzing enthusiastically, nearly leaping out of my hand. Then we went inside and played the game with the triangle and tees that told you how smart you were. Mom got Purty Smart twice in a row, but I was an Egg-No-Ramus every time.

It was after the meal when both of us ate too much fried catfish and dumplings that we discovered the second hitch in the whole moving extravaganza. As I closed the door on the horse trailer after giving Bob some water, I saw a little yellow tag on the bumper.

DOES NOT BACK UP.

“Uh, Mom?”

Of course, we’d pulled in. Straight, directly in to a parking spot that was not directly across from another parking spot—oh no, that would have been too easily solved, just a matter of finding the owners of the car in front of us and asking them to move. Instead, we had parked right in front of the back wall of the Cracker Barrel.

Two and a half hours and multiple, increasingly liquid horse patties later, we made it back on the road, hot and sweaty and, above all, snappy as Chihuahuas in heat. After an hour and a half of miserably failed attempts to convince the trailer that yes, you will back up despite the laws of physics, because I said so, and getting the entire rig totally discombobulated, we’d finally given up and called the tow truck, which was close enough to movers that Mom immediately became ten times more ill. The two men who had showed up with the tow truck had openly stared at us—the whole white mom/black daughter issue tends to draw attention like a legless veteran in a wheelchair—and then made comments about Mom’s butt barely under their breaths for the rest of the time.

The rest of the trip was no more pleasant. I took two wrong turns and got a full hour off course both times. Despite our best efforts, Bob did throw up, and all over the sheep’s head, too, and that took another forty minutes to try to clean it off the Stuff and walk him around a bit; he rewarded us by biting Mom so hard on the neck that he drew blood. By the time we got to the abysmally complicated out-in-the-boondocks, oh-my-gosh-is-there-really-enough-room-for-two-lanes-on-this-road, endless-switchbacks-with-no-side-rails-between-us-and-the-million-foot-drop-next-to-the-road part of the drive, night had fallen with a pitch black vengeance with no moon and no streetlamps anywhere. I would have cried except then I would have been able to see even less.

However, when we finally pulled up in the driveway of our new home four hours later than we expected to be, our headlights sweeping across the house and giving us our first ever view of it, I did cry.

We sat there in silence for a good long while except for my stifled sobs, Mom’s eyes glazed over in a state of shock as the enormity of what we’d done started to sink in nice and deep, like a crap-load of plastic debris dumped into the Pacific Ocean over the Maryanna Trench.

If Bob hadn’t started bouncing in the trailer, we might have sat there all night long.

“Okay, Snell, enough,” said Mom. She spoke in the voice that said for itself, “Even if I have Abominable Luck and even worse decision-making skills, we’re going to darn well make it work.”

“But—Mom. Look at it.” I hiccupped. “It’s a dump. I cannot sleep in there. I just can’t. There are going to be mice, and spiders, and snakes, and birds—”

I don’t think I’d ever used so many italics in my life.

Mom sighed. “We’re just going to have to make the best of it.”

I folded my arms and scowled at her. “I am not sleeping in there. I’m not living in there.”

And I started crying again.

Inarguably, it was an absolutely stunning house. That much was obvious even in the splotchy, washed-out car lights. Whoever had built it had created an absolute masterpiece with a gabled wrap-around porch, high peaked roofs, a balcony nestled beneath an ornamental awning and guarded with a lovely iron railing, flowerboxes under every grand window, and a central turret rising from the second floor a full two more stories. There was even a small greenhouse jutting out to the left. It was a model example of Victorian architecture, like something dragged unwillingly straight from the pages of a coffee table book on the very subject.

Except it hadn’t been dragged from a coffee table book. It had been dragged kicking and screaming and hollering the worst curse words it knew up through the aeons from the eighteen hundreds, and it didn’t look like a single soul had lived in it since then. Well, that was probably an exaggeration, but I was past caring about that at that point. The arched oaken door hung drunkenly from its hinges. Not a single one of the aforementioned grand windows had a complete pane of glass left in them, and weeds spewed from the flowerboxes like the hair of long-dead corpses in the flush of the violently modern headlights. Some sort of crawling plant had taken over so much of the front of the house that you couldn’t even tell what color the paint was, and the few patches had faded to a sort of nondescript deadness.

The massive oak tree growing straight up out of the greenhouse roof might as well have been the cherry perched atop the most infernal catastrophe cake of our entire lives.

“Fine,” said Mom finally, giving in. Her voice might have broken a little. “We’ll stay in a hotel tonight.”

Hello, all. Nothing of any interest at all going on here right now. Trust me.

Except for the fact that my little brother Carter is in Greece. And I’m in Alabama. Are you getting this? Greece—Carter. Alabama—Kellum. There is something so seriously wrong with this picture that it might just rip a hole in the space-time continuum.

Anyway, since I don’t have anything of consequence to talk about, here’s the next installment of… well. I suppose I need a name for my story. I suppose, for lack of a more creative title, I’ll call it Snell. You’ll see why.

Please also know that I do not necessarily support any of my characters’ personal decisions, before anyone starts freaking out. I just write what they tell me to. Just so you know.

Enjoy, let me know what you think, etc., etc. (Also, if you want to recommend this to all of your friends… I won’t complain. I might even give you coupons to use when I finally get published… ha.)

. . . . . . . . . .

Mom and I had lived in Charming, Alabama for most of my life. We’d moved a lot the first three years, which were the last three years of my mom’s restless stage. Mom didn’t really like Alabama, but the cost of living was low, it was warm most of the year and we both hated the cold, and it was near enough to Montevallo that the college kids occasionally came to town, partied, and went home, which Mom said inspired her. Go figure.

However, the town was also hopelessly Southern. This meant several good things, like the two amazing Mom and Pop joints, Rosalita’s and Ching’s, neither of which served either Mexican or Chinese, and the fact that winter generally only lasted about three months and still usually held at least two handfuls of sixty- and seventy-degree weather days. The bad parts, though, were the ones that affected us most.

Mom and I were outcasts because of these bad parts. For one, she was a single mom. This wasn’t that big of a deal—there were lots of other single moms in the town, too, just like anywhere in the States—but she was white, and I was black. Mixed, really, but in the South and especially Alabama, anything that wasn’t white becomes black automatically. And no one cared that it was fifty years since the Civil Rights Movement, and most people never even found out that I was adopted, so they just assumed she had done the unthinkable and slept with a black man and produced me, the unholy offspring.

Also, we were not Doing the Respectable Thing, something that most people in Charming took as much to heart as Aunt Fiona did. I was home schooled and therefore virtually retarded; Mom worked at a coffee shop and wrote, which no mid-forties woman Doing the Respectable Thing would ever do. Plus, both of us were just outsiders by nature. Neither of us made friends easily, and the few friends we did make rarely lasted longer than a year or two at most. We kept to ourselves, and people were generally happy to let us alone, apart from when the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons came and knocked on the door of our apartment every few months (we always hid).

Of course, no man is an island. Since most of the home-schoolers in our community wore homemade clothes and thought that babies were miracles from Jesus, I avoided them like the plague, and whatever friend or friends I had at the time were public schoolers. They were somewhat more frequent and numerous during the days of elementary school, before puberty made everyone realize that I was Different and therefore not to be tolerated.

During eighth and ninth grade I enjoyed a sort of infamy because I discovered that if I didn’t talk too much and gave just the right sort of smile, I could get boys to like me and therefore, do it with me. This came about because Mom never censored what I read, and when I was thirteen I got into the romance section at the local library. (The only thing worth mentioning about Charming is its library. It was amazing, enormous and housed inside a beautiful old pre-Civil War mansion. It was the only thing I would miss about the town.) By the time I was fourteen, I put what I learned into practice.

I suppose I should tell you that that year and half was the biggest mistake of my life and I’m now drowning in the emotional and physical pain from my wounded heart and fifteen different STDs. Well, I’m not. Did I mention I’m home-schooled? I knew a lot about books and I could write better than most college students by the time I was in sixth grade and I knew my history inside and out and could scrape by on science and math, but as far as things like diseases you could get from having sex—I didn’t know a thing about it. And I didn’t do it for love or attention or any of the reasons most girls do it. I did it because I was curious, and because there was something to the thrill of the catch.

It was fairly easy, really. I figured out something in those days. When guys are looking for body over personality, which most males are until they’re about forty-five, pretty girls are pretty much a dime a dozen. Once girls get past the awkward hair and poorly applied blush and inability to match of the awkward stage, nearly everyone is passably pretty. What guys want is exotic, and a marginal ability to flirt isn’t bad either.

I had both. Not only was I mixed, giving me milk chocolate skin and hair that stuck out like a coal-black dandelion, but I was covered in freckles. Not just a few, but a barge-full, not just on my face but on my arms and legs and stomach and back and even on the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet, which probably isn’t even possible. The freckles and the hair made guys notice me, and after that, what I learned from the books was enough to seal the deal.

You’re probably thinking to yourself what an irresponsible mother about Mom right now, but here’s the thing. You won’t believe this either, but my mom is actually an asexual. No, not homosexual or transsexual or bisexual, but asexual. That means she is thoroughly and completely uninterested in sex. From what I’ve gathered about the world, down-on-their-luck writers are usually supposed to have all sorts of romantic trysts and passionate affairs or at least some sort of unrequited love that fuels all of their work and their desire to live and blah blah blah. Mom had nothing of the sort, and so it never occurred to her that I might.

(Of course, her strange lack of sexual orientation totally freaked everyone out, too. In Charming, anything that couldn’t be categorized was terrifying. Most everyone was convinced that being asexual really just meant she was covering up some sort of super-freaky fetish, and we were avoided like the plague just in case it might be catching.)

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your point of view—the actual doing of the dirty deed wasn’t nearly as much fun as the books made it sound. About the same time that the parents of Charming were about to run me out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered for stealing their precious sons’ virginities, I got bored with it, and Mom realized what was going on and finally educated me best she could about herpes and chlamydia and HIV and warts. The warts scared me out of my wits, and that stage of my life ended rather abruptly. I had nightmares about warts for weeks after that.

However, while I somehow managed didn’t have any kind of permanent virus giving me cervical cancer or making me infertile, that stage of my life did have an effect to make me more an outcast as ever. Girls called me a whore either because they were Baptists or because they were annoyed that I had sacked more guys than they had. To the few guys who remembered me past that year and a half, I was just a strange legend, not quite real in their eyes, and certainly not seen as an actual person.

I sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I was a solitary person by nature, and I liked the horses at Melissa’s farm and the books in the Charming Library and the neighborhood stray cats and dogs more than I liked people anyways. None of those cared whether you wore makeup or hadn’t showered in three days or if you sometimes forgot to shave your legs for a couple of months, and I liked the low maintenance of it all. Low maintenance, according to Mom, was an admirable trait in any situation.

I’ve mentioned Melissa twice now. She was another reason for our official status as  black sheep. She was an art teacher at nearby University of Montevallo, and she was such a good art teacher that the administration didn’t really care that every couple of years she would run off to California in a drug-induced haze and come staggering back a few weeks later ten pounds thinner with her hair dyed some terrifying new shade of Unnatural. While the university didn’t care, the residents of Charming did care. Hair could only be unnaturally blonde in Charming, not pale pink or mauve or cobalt or once, an eye-jarring rainbow. And we won’t even get into the drugs.

Of course, she and Mom were close friends. Mom did not go in for the whole shocking appearance thing—she actually dressed pretty classily, strangely enough—but they both had the same ridiculously creative, more-than-slightly insane inner spirit and that connected them more thickly than blood. (Obviously blood ran pretty thinly in our family. I was adopted. Aunt Fiona was a cow.) Anyone who associated with Melissa who wasn’t forced to, like the grocery store cashier or a neighbor come to tell her that one of her horses had gotten into their rutabaga, again, automatically became persona non grata to Charming.

Again, we didn’t care. Melissa’s cooking alone made it worth being friends with her, not to mention the edgy artwork of naked women posing with clothed goats and such that she gave us as gifts whenever she couldn’t sell it. I had a particularly nice specimen in my room of a girl who was half human and half octopus. The octopus was the top half.

Needless to say, we did not have many roots in Charming. Sure, I’d grown up here, gotten braces here, gotten beat up in its playground when I was seven, had my first period here, discovered I hated sports here and done everything else here, but it didn’t really matter. Mom says it’s people that connect you to a place, and as our only real friend here is Melissa, and she’s a natural itinerant spirit even if she has mostly lived her even longer than we have, we had no more reason to stay here than the Canada geese that lived on the run-down crapped-out golf course.

Of course, we stayed and the geese stayed. The geese stayed because they were stupid. We stayed because Mom had a job here that paid enough for us to get by and because here was as good as anywhere else.

With the success of Hans the Great, however, all of that changed. While the geese were tied to Charming because of their inherent retardation, we no longer had anything tying us down.

Mom bought a house. In Appalachia that is, specifically in a town no bigger or more important than Charming, in western North Carolina, called Meat Camp. I know. You’re thinking exactly what I was thinking.

Awesome.

Also, Mom bought the house without even talking to me about it first. That never, ever happened with decisions, big or little, ever, ever, ever. Are you getting this? No, I did not want to go to college, but I also did not want my mom suddenly buying a house.

“Have you even seen it?” I asked in horror, staring at her across the kitchen table. A forkful of Rosalita’s finest rice and beans hung halfway to my mouth, forgotten.

“On Google Maps. You know, the street view.”

“Well… well…” I sputtered. “What does it even look like?”

“Oh, I couldn’t see it. It was hidden behind some trees. It seems really pretty there though. Very green.”

“It’s very green here, Mom! How could you buy a house you’ve never even seen? It could be filled with, I dunno, wild chickens, or… or… snipes, or… How much did it cost?”

That she wouldn’t answer. I paled visibly, turning from coffee with one container of creamer to coffee with about ten.

“Hon, this is about adventure! This is about embracing the possibilities of a world that has suddenly opened up its fertile bounty to us! If you don’t take a few risks, then you will never step outside of your comfortable, charming little bubble and taste the wine of a life you never dreamed of!”

There she went. I could only shake my head and begin to imagine living in a house with a waist-deep horde of snipes and debt collectors, because I knew that trying to stop her once she began waxing eloquent would be like trying to stop a one-winged airplane from crashing to the ground. Unless you were Superman, which I wasn’t. I was Snell.

Oh yeah. That’s the other thing I forgot to tell you. That’s my name—Snell.

I’ve decided to try something new with my blog.

I have a to-do this for this summer, and while obviously things like Ride Horses and Read an Antisocial Amount of Books and Walk Many Dogs are on it, there’s another one that I’ve mostly failed at so far: Write More. I can blog in disconnected paragraphs all day, and eventually you and I are going to get bored of it. (And I rather think we’re both to that point.)

So to both encourage myself to write and to inspire you to read my blog, I’m going to start publishing sections from a story I’ve begun here.

You’re probably thinking this is rather stupid, because what if you decide to publish it one day but since it’s already online people will never actually buy it? GASP! Well, let’s face it—for me, writing is not about the money. It’s about writing and being creative and not becoming so bogged down in DNA and COPD and CHF and other scientific abbreviations that my imagination has an aneurysm and dies. And it’s also about having my story read, which can just as easily be accomplished on a blog as elsewhere.

(Not that money wouldn’t be nice, but I’m going to shoot for the moon, at this point.)

So… here’s the first section. Let me know what you think—about the story, about the idea, etc.

. . . . . . . . . . .

This story starts with another story, a story in which the dog does not die at the end.

Of course, that’s not what this story is. No dogs die in this story either, but this particularly story was a book that my mother had written. Hans the Great, it was called, and the critics hated it.

My mom is a writer, and she has Abominable Luck. Until I was about nine and discovered enough spelling skills to actually look up “abominable” in the dictionary, I thought it was all one word, abominabluck, or something. Until I was ten, nothing got published, and she worked at a coffee shop bussing tables and we lived on a steady diet of chicken noodle soup and Chef Boyardee. The day I turned eleven, she got her first acceptance letter—and less than a thousand copies sold in the first six months. Two other books were marginally more successful, enough that Mom had to bus tables a little less, but poorly received by most critics, including one author that Mom had apparently worshipped since she was younger than me.

This had sent her into Deep Depression, and I had survived mostly on brownies and ants-on-a-log for about six months, because that was all I knew how to make for myself. My Aunt Fiona, who almost never visited because she and my mother were “incompatible,” as she put it, had finally come down from New Jersey and stayed for three miserable weeks until she became reasonably sure that my mother would not stop taking her pills again and take care of her child. Mom apparently had something called Bipolar, which until I was fourteen and discovered psychology I thought had to do with polar bears.

In case you’re starting to think that I’m stupid, I’m not. I’m just home-schooled. And yes, what you think about home-schoolers is correct. At least, for me anyways. I have the social skills of an unwelcome patch of crabgrass.

Anyways—back to the point. This story begins with a story called Hans the Great that the critics all hated. “A weak, boring story that pales in comparison to watching grass grow in the middle of a drought” was possibly the nicest thing anyone had to say. “A sloppy, slovenly excuse for literature that declines to even pretend originality” and “The pages of this book about a dog are only valuable for one thing: to line the kennel of my own dog” were even more galling. Mom spent the first two weeks after its official release crying and guzzling gallons of cheap Kroger-brand coffee, and if I hadn’t managed to slip her her pills in between crying jags when she was in a confused, dissociated daze, it could have easily turned into two years.

But then the Abominable Luck suddenly decided to take a vacation. I got the second letter from the mailbox because Mom was currently lying facedown and comatose in the backyard petunias. It was addressed to Mom, so naturally, I opened it, as I’d been doing with any of her mail for the past two weeks.

It was a check for three thousand five hundred and eighteen dollars.

Occasionally, the critics get it wrong. A lot of professional literaturey people hated Dickens in his time, too, but the common people loved him. (And a lot of people still hate Dickens in this time, too, but let’s not even get on the subject of how I feel about most of the classics.) And that’s what happened with Hans the Great. Within two more weeks, the Deep Depression decided to follow Abominable Luck to whichever island destination it had chosen and leave Mom and I in North Alabama as happy as bees in a blueberry bramble, as we always said.

“To hell with the critics!” she shouted, parading around the house with the latest check held above her head. “I am a writer, and not wind—“

“—or rain—”

“—or crying children—”

“—or appendicitis—”

“—or Jack Russell terriers—”

“—or even those damn fool critics can stifle the fountains of inner creativity!” she finished triumphantly.

This was one of the best things about living with a borderline psychopathic genius. You had ridiculously long quotes that both of you had said so many times that you could recite it together.

(Also, in case you were wondering, all of those things had at some point or another been barriers to my mother’s writing. And yes, the crying children part referred to me in my younger years. And… remind me to tell you about the Jack Russell sometime.)

Of course, I still had to take the checks to the bank, because Mom had never figured out direct deposit, and trying to depend on her to get something from Point A to Point B without losing, destroying, or misplacing said something was a risk I was not at all willing to take.

The other thing going on at the time was College Applications. I capitalize this, too, because it was just as unpleasant a thing as the Abominable Luck and the Deep Depression. I was in my senior year of the home-school equivalent of high school, and despite my mother’s highly erratic teaching style, my test scores were still off the chart, every bit as high as my social skills were—below sea level. My mother cared more about subatomic particles than she did about my test scores—and considering she failed her college physical science course twice from sheer apathy, that was quite a bit—which would have been nice except for the fact that Aunt Fiona cared rather a bit about my test scores.

Somehow or another, in the three weeks she had come to get my mother back on her pills and she had discovered my diet of chocolate and peanut buttery celery, she had managed to weasel out some small chunk of my custody with some shady lawyer. (Don’t ask me—I know less about politics than I do about aforementioned subatomic particles.) This, chiefly, authorized her to receive my test scores, though how that was supposed to keep me from eating the way I did, I really don’t know.

Anyways—again, I digress—she decided that I needed to attend a Prestigious College. (Again, the capitals.) For the first half of senior year, this meant I got maybe two or three phone calls a month asking diplomatically if I had finished my essay for Harvard and, slightly less diplomatically, if her dear sister’s daughter needed any help gathering the funds for the application fees. The third quarter of the year, I was getting calls about every week. By the last eight weeks, it was every day.

Since I hate the phone with a passionately passionate passion, I actually disconnected it, occasionally. Mom, of course, didn’t notice, and didn’t try to notice, as our mutual dislike of the phone was one of the few things the two of us had in common.

I really didn’t think Mom was paying much attention to the drama unfolding between myself and Aunt Fiona. Generally, Mom tried to pretend like Aunt Fiona did not exist, which I appreciated, because Aunt Fiona was a cow. Besides, the financial success of Hans the Great had so overcome her life that I especially did not expect for her to be able to see beyond the suddenly increasing numbers in our bank account. So I was surprised when she brought it up.

There were four weeks to go at this point until my official graduation ceremony from home school with all the other kids who had never discovered makeup or sex or Twilight or curly fries dipped in milkshakes. Mom was having a rare day when she was actually thinking about the critics again. We were sitting on the balcony of our apartment, which she had cleverly strung with mosquito netting to protect us, if not against the already oppressive heat and humidity of an early Alabama summer, at least against the Chihuahua-sized mosquitoes.

“Who would honestly think that people would call a book about a dog that doesn’t die unoriginal?” she mused, twirling a finger around her flyaway hair, prematurely grey since her late twenties. “I mean, every book that even mentions a dog usually kills the dog, too, for cheap emotional thrills.”

I nodded, not really paying attention. I was watching two squirrels in a nearby tree who were trying to decide whether to get it on or not.

“And besides, I wanted to try to change the way people think about dog books, that they don’t have to stock up on discount Kleenex every time they pick up a book that has ‘Spot’ or ‘Fido’ in the title.” She took a sip out of the plastic water bottle that she’d been using for about three months now. “Hon, do you even want to go to college?”

It took me a second to realize she was talking to me. I tore my eyes away from the squirrels and looked at her, startled.

“Um, what?”

“You know, do you even care about going to university and that such?”

Sometimes, my mom liked to use the English turn of phrase because she thought it made her sound more sophisticated.

“Well,” I said, slowly, thinking, “I… I guess I’ve never really thought about it before. You know, whether I want to go or not.”

“Well, have you sent in any applications yet?”

“No. I mean, Aunt Fiona has filled out some for me and mailed those in but—”

“Well, Aunt Fiona really doesn’t have a dog in this fight,” Mom said sharply. As far as she was concerned, Aunt Fiona had committed the ultimate atrocity by Doing the Respectable Thing and Abandoning Imagination in order to get married to a normal man and have a normal job and have (disastrously) normal children (I couldn’t stand them, and the feeling was mutual).

“She does have that legal stuff…”

“Not anymore, she doesn’t.”

I perked up at this.

“What?”

“Didn’t you know that when you turn eighteen, she loses any of her control over you? Since she’s not providing you with anything besides advice about how to Do the Respectable Thing, she no longer has an ounce of power over you.”

This was news to me. “Wow Mom—I didn’t know you knew anything about legal stuff.”

She smiled sheepishly. “I had that lawyer boy toy of Melissa’s look it up and explain it to me. That’s what I was able to get out of all the legal jargon.”

I grinned from ear to ear. “So can we change our phone number now so that she won’t know how to call us?”

“Well, you see, dear, that is sort of where I am aiming with this conversation. So think about university—are you at all interested?”

I thought about it. Most of my previous thoughts about college had involved trying to figure out how to get Aunt Fiona off my ass about it. I’d never really even thought about it as far as how it affected me personally.

Let me preface this by saying that almost every home-schooler goes to college. Except for the ones whose parents don’t actually teach them but just say they’re home-schooled so they can help out with the farm or the meth lab, the rest of us are generally college-bound because individualized teaching is usually pretty effective at getting kids to learn and be smart and all that stuff. You might go off to Princeton or University of Whatever-State with the social skills of a dyslexic kindergartener, but you could usually hold your own in the classes.

Not going to college was unheard of, even when you didn’t have an Aunt who had inexplicably invested herself in my own path to Doing the Respectable Thing.

“You went to college,” I said, stalling.

“And got a totally worthless degree in English that taught me how to analyze two-hundred year old literature and not a thing about writing. That’s definitely helped me in my day-to-day life.”

“And Aunt Fiona has spent about two hundred dollars on college applications that she sent out for me.”

“Aunt Fiona is a cow.”

“Huh,” I said—not to Aunt Fiona being a cow. I had known that most of my conscious life. “I… I don’t really care about college. I don’t think.”

Mom nodded, finger still twirling that curl into a frizzy disaster.

“I mean… I don’t even know what I want to do. And that’s a lot of money for not knowing what you want to do. All I know is that I want out of here. But I don’t think I want to go to college. No. I don’t.”

“Well, that settles it then,” she said, standing up so fast that one of the squirrels fell out of the tree in fright. Clasping her hands in front of her, she grinned broadly. “We’re moving to Appalachia!