Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Odder News: "Shades of Gray"

Why is it that all of the rich, powerful, famous (and for the most part good-looking) people end up somehow related to each other? And how can I get in on that gene pool!?

Along those lines (you know, about families and biology and stuff), here is a sample chapter from the novel I am currently working on, "Shades of Gray."

Natalie sits on the floor in her father’s basement, surrounded by boxes. She has pulled them all open but has barely begun to separate them. When she was in elementary school, the basement used to be her game room: she and her friends would play with dolls or board games or even the old pinball machine or dartboard her father had left over from his bachelor days. There were always boxes stacked in the corners, full of old books or photographs or the occasional odd collection, like baseball cards or foreign money, or even little glass jars full of beetles. She used to love going through them and imagining the kids her parents were when they used the stuff inside.

She glances around, absently tracing a water ring with her finger on the cold cement floor. She remembers the night her mother cut this three by three square out of the stained gray carpet; it was the night before Mariah’s SATs, and she had just come home from California to tell her mother in person that she dropped out of college. Her mother listened quietly, her hands wrapped around a mug of once-hot coffee that had long-since gone stale. There had been some thudding sounds underneath them, but Natalie hadn’t paid much attention until the crash. Her mother stood up, stoically, without any emotion on her face whatsoever, as she grabbed a roll of paper towels and a bottle of pet stain remover and headed down the short wooden stairs. Natalie followed, confused, but it all became clear once her mother flipped on the light down there.

The awful checkered couch that her maternal grandparents gave her mother as a wedding present, and on which Natalie used to sit and play with those dolls while watching a cartoon or a black and white movie, was covered in a tarp, and that tarp was littered with empty beer bottles. Her father sat slumped on the floor, his Hanes tee stained yellow under the arms and around the neck and in a squiggly line down the center. There was a puddle to his right and another one by the stairs. A broken beer bottle lay on top of the one by the stairs, with a matching yellow stain on the wall just above it. As she glanced around the room, she saw older, dried stains and a cooler on top of that pinball machine. It was obvious to her he had been camped out down there for a while.

“Oh, Mom,” Natalie sighed, but her mother was already on her hands and knees, scrubbing the carpet. She remained that way for the better part of an hour, with Natalie sitting on the steps, her head in her hands, wishing she was back in her one-room apartment at college.

Her mother finally conceded and just hacked at the carpet with a box-cutter. A few days later, Natalie was back in California, trying to reverse the damage her trip home had caused to her new way of life. Her mother called her a few days later, saying she finally left her father, saying that Natalie inspired her-- if her teenage daughter could be so fearless, she had to be, too. Natalie congratulated her at the time, all the while thinking that it was really too little too late. “Where was that courageousness when I needed it as an example?” She thought. Her mother had always been her father’s greatest enabler; she stayed with him through all of his terrible behavior and never forced him to take a good, hard look at himself and “man up,” so to speak.

Until it was too late to really make a difference.

If anyone could have-- and should have-- been able to make a difference, Natalie knows it would have been her mother.

The color of the floor underneath matches almost flawlessly, Natalie marveled then and still notices now. She wonders how long it took Joe to notice the missing piece and if he ever asked what happened. She wonders how long it took him to notice his wife was missing when she walked out, too.

Natalie shakes her head as the door creaks open. She squints up at the stairs, when she hears Mariah’s voice emanate from the top: “Hey.” She holds up a bottle of wine and two glasses: “Thought you might need this.”

Natalie smiles. “Way ahead of you.” She holds up one of her own and then takes a swig, ignoring the irony in her situation.

“That was something, huh?” Mariah laughs and sits down next to her sister.

“What could you possibly be talking about?” Natalie is sarcastic, of course. It’s her natural defense mechanism aside from holing up behind her laptop and writing pages of dialogue of what she should have said-- what her super heroine characters in any number of screenplays and pilot scripts will say-- when faced with a similar confrontational situation.

“Come on, Nat; I’m not talking about them. I mean you. You actually started to open up to them back there.”

“Yeah, and it wasn’t the first time.”

Mariah is surprised and slightly confused by that revelation, but she doesn’t pry. She knows Natalie will tell her the whole story if and when it’s relevant.

“But it will certainly be the last.” Natalie swigs from the bottle again.

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