Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Happy Might-Have-Been

Well, here is the first piece of actual writing I'm posting. I'm sure it's awful, but cest la vie and all that jazz. The title above isn't really the title of the story, but I'm horrible at titles, so there you go. Well, here goes nothing.

Oh, I have to give credit to this website, where I got the idea. I can't remember exactly what elements I drew (they are saved on my other computer and I'm too lazy to hook it up), but I know my main character was a writer, and it involved a bank in some way. It's kind of a cool site if you are just looking for for a writing exercise to do.

“I’m afraid, Ms. Parker, that there is nothing we can do,” the loan officer said. “Once foreclosure proceedings have started, they cannot be stopped. It’s too late.”

“But can’t I take out a second mortgage or something?” Edna Parker pleaded. “I have collateral. I mean, something other than the house.”

The banker’s eyebrow rose fractionally on his otherwise impassive face. “Oh? What might that be?”

Edna reached into a tattered tote bag she carried everywhere she went and pulled out a sheaf of paper. “This,” she said as she proudly placed them on the desk.

The minute interest the loan officer showed vanished instantly. “And what, precisely, is this?”

“The novel I’ve written. It’s going to be published soon.”

“Really? And which publisher will have the immense honor of getting your words in the hands of the reading public?”

Edna’s mask of confidence slipped somewhat in the face of his sarcasm. “Well, I..I don’t actually have a publisher yet. But it’s good. I know it is. It’s just a matter of finding an editor willing to take a chance on me.”

The bank officer sat back in his chair and stared at Edna for a moment before saying, “Ms. Parker, a bank is a money-making institution. When making loan decisions, we evaluate such things as annual income, credit scores, and the like. Surely you are not naïve enough to believe that we would speculate on potential works of…genius.”

Edna clutched the arms of her chair. She was uncertain if she was holding back an angry outburst or desperate tears, but she was certain that if she let go of that chair she would shatter. “Isn’t there anything at all I can do? It was my grandmother’s house, and, well…it’s all I have.”

“Ms. Parker, your credit report shows a history of late payments, your debt load exceeds your income, and frankly, according to our lending criteria, you are a poor risk. I am sorry.” There was no trace of sympathy in his demeanor.

She took a moment to school her features to an impassivity born of years of hiding from herself. She looked at him and said, “Well, thank you for your time.” She stood and turned to exit the office. Before she actually left, though, she turned back and said, “Mr. Johansen? I hope you have a kind word for me in two weeks when you see me living under the Fort Pitt Bridge.” She spun quickly and left, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

Edna had taken the day off work, and had nothing else to do – and no money to do it with. So she slogged slowly to her bus stop. She was surrounded by hoards of office workers on their lunch breaks, but she was invisible to them. No one could see her collapsing, wrapped up as they were in their quest for greasy food, the shoe sale at Kaufmann’s or a quick work out at the Y. Edna just assumed her usual place in the world – part of the scenery.

When Edna reached home after a twenty-minute bus ride and a mile and a half walk, she dropped her bag and kicked off her shoes violently, allowing them to hit the opposite wall. “What the hell?” she yelled. “It’s not like it’s my wall anymore!” She stood in the center of the living room for a moment, wanting nothing more than to break something. Her eyes settled on a hideous, green glass vase that was a birthday gift from an aunt with an aversion to good taste. She picked it up and slammed it forcefully to the floor but the vase didn’t break. She tried several more times before finally hurling it at the same wall her shoes impacted. The vase still didn’t shatter, however a fair sized chunk of plaster broke loose from the wall, leaving a hole and a long crack in its place.

Edna began laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Her laughter had a hysterical quality, and it soon degenerated into hopeless sobs. She dropped to the floor, shaking with the force of her despair.

After a while, the tears stopped coming, and eventually even the sniffling and dry sobs stopped. Edna stood on rubbery legs, her whole body weakened by her outburst. She walked to the corner of the room and collapsed in an old rocking chair, the same one she was rocked to sleep in as an infant. She reached behind her and wrapped a soft, slightly tattered shawl around her shoulders. Even through many washings, the shawl retained the scent that would always be her grandmother: a combination of Avon Wishing perfume and sweet tea. She could usually find comfort in imagining that she was wrapped in her grandmother’s embrace rather than just a memory, but she couldn’t even conjure that fantasy.

Despite her unease, Edna was emotionally and physically drained and allowed herself to drift off to sleep. When she woke a short time later, she allowed herself to believe for one moment that everything bad that happened in her life to that point had been a dream. For one moment, she had a successful career, a perfect family, an ideal life. Then reality intruded, and she sunk under the weight of it.

Edna pushed herself out of the rocker, keeping the shawl draped across her shoulders. She went upstairs and entered the room that had been hers since she was five years old. It was tiny – there was barely room for a twin bed, a small dresser and a night table – but it was hers. She sat on the end of the bed and picked up a cardboard jewelry/music box from the dresser. One of the only memories she had of her father that didn’t involve his illness and death centered around this box and its smaller companion. It was Mother’s Day and, coincidentally, Edna’s fourth birthday. That morning, her father had presented both her and her mother with a box. Edna’s, the smaller of the two, was tan, had a picture of a little girl picking flowers on the top, and played, “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” when wound up. Inside was a cheap, gold tone bracelet with a huge paste emerald in the center. It was the kind of cheap jewelry given to children because their parents knew they would lose it. But Edna never did. In fact, it was still nestled in that same jewelry box on her dresser.

The larger box, the one Edna now held, was white and had a picture of a little boy and a little girl riding a bicycle-built-for-two on the top. When wound, it played “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago, her mother’s favorite movie. When her mother first received the box that Mother’s Day, it contained a small silver cross on a delicate silver chain. She wore it until the day she was buried, when it was retrieved from her body and placed back in the jewelry box. Edna never could bring herself to wear it.

She wound the music box up before she opened it. She didn’t touch any of the jewelry it contained, but rather took out a small stack of letters written on everything from fancy stationery to the backs of receipts. She carefully unfolded the top one, written on a page from a steno pad, and read.

My Dearest Hank,

I arrived at 3349 Delaware Ave. around 6:00 p.m. As I entered this lovely domain, there was a startling stillness, and not anyone to greet me at the door. I proceeded into the kitchen and started in on the dishes. Finished them at 6:10 and proceeded to make my supper. I heated the stew on the stove (I think, or was it the refrigerator? I don’t remember.) and sat down to eat a nice, quiet meal. It was very, very good, but a very important person was missing.

I missed you so very, very much: your sweet, loving smile, your sparkling eyes and your very gracious company. Till we meet tonight, will think of you every moment and long for that time.

This is your ever loving fiancée


P.S Ethel called and said she will probably call later.

So simple, and so beautiful. Everything about that letter, from the silly nickname in the greeting (her mother’s name was Henrietta, and she hated it), to the casual post script at the end spoke of something more than a casual relationship, more even than a close friendship. Those simple sentiments spoke of love, and happiness, and hope for the future. That note, and the others like it, formed the basis for the novel Edna treasured like a child. She titled it Tender Yesterdays, but in her own mind she called it The Happy Might-Have-Been. It represented what she imagined her life would have been had her father not died when she was five, had her mother not spiraled into depression and…

Edna forced herself to stop that line of thought. She replaced the stack of letters in the jewelry box and closed it, cutting off the pinging tune. The headache that had been building since before she went to the bank was now pounding a staccato beat behind her eyes, but it seemed too much of an effort to do anything about it, so she laid back on her bed and stared at the ceiling as if the acoustic tiles held the secrets to the universe for those willing to discern the pattern. Unfortunately, the stubborn tiles were unwilling to yield their answers to Edna on that day, and she was no closer to finding answers to her problems.

Edna’s headache became increasingly worse, and she was forced to leave her contemplations to go in search of relief. In the bathroom, she opened the medicine cabinet and removed the almost full bottle of pain relievers. Normally, she shook out two or three tablets and replaced the bottle, but on impulse she dumped the entire bottle on the counter. She contemplated the brown pills piled on the Formica. “It would be so easy,” she said out loud. She envisioned herself just swallowing all 75 or so pills, finding an end to her torment, maybe even finding peace.

The enticement of having her problems just fade away was strong, and she picked up a handful of the pills. She was about to fill a cup with water when her voice of reason took over. “She took the easy way out. Did it help?” Edna squeezed her eyes shut against both her physical and emotional pain. She relaxed her hand and the pills fell, scattering across the floor. The last of her energy spent, she sat down on the edge of the tub and simply stared at the pills remaining on the counter.

This isn't the end of this story, but some of you who know me are probably getting worried long about now. If you want to read my feelings about what I've written, click the comments link. But be warned - I'll probably be more open than I am in real life, so be prepared.

1 comment:

Sheryl said...

OK. First thing's first. If you read what I wrote previously about writing what you know, you are probably a little bit nervous right now. And I will be honest. I have been in Edna's position before. At times in my life, and even recently, I've thought about how much easier things would be if things just...weren't any more. Would I ever do more than contemplate? No. Make no mistake, no matter how depressed I am or have been, I could never do that.

Why? The simple answer is that I have hope. No matter how low I am, no matter how usless, stupid, and worthless I feel (and at this point in my life, I feel a whole lot of all of those) somewhere underneath all that junk is hope.

I don't necessarily know where it comes from...okay, yes, I do. Even when I'm in the midst of a crisis of faith like I am right now, I still know that God is there, at the center (of the universe? of me? hmmm...). I still know tht love exisits, and where love is, all things are possible. Guess I can thank my parents for that.

I think that is what sets me apart from Edna. I had my parents there to show me how to deal with tough times. And make no mistake, we had some tough times. She was lacking that, as you will read. She had her grandmother - as you will also read - but it just isn't the same.

But, never fear. As I said before, I am incapabale of writing an unhappy or unsettled ending. Edna will find her hope, somewhere. I just hope the Author of the Creation only writes happy endings, too.