Friday, February 7, 2014

Out of the Garden, the story so far

The Novel Matters beginning...

I’d seen her before hovering around the gladiolas. One can ignore what one does not believe exists. Sometimes, after a sighting, I’d lie awake and worry. Did she fly with the devil’s minions, or heaven’s angels? I could sleep only after convincing myself I hadn’t seen her at all. Aging eyes, frequent headaches, trick of light.
            And then my cat carried her into the house one Tuesday, dropped her at my feet like a prize catch. She was only slightly larger than a mouse. Not dead despite the cat, one wing bent out like a wind-turned umbrella, and blood swelled where it melded to her back. I scolded the cat. 

           She looked tiny lying inside the shoebox I’d found and lined with cotton balls and a clean hanky. Her eyes never left my face. There were people coming, I tried to explain to her as I slid the shoebox under the bed. I pulled the door closed behind me, resting my hand on the knob. Shutting my eyes I considered the Her in the box—what she would need, how I would feed her, how her wing would mend.

Part Two by Susie Finkbeiner...

I also questioned whether I’d dreamed the whole thing, whether the Her was in a shoebox under my bed at all.

Was she?
She was.
I found a chair and sat down slowly to let the blood percolate back to my brain. No, I couldn’t keep her in my home, especially not with my daughter and her family set to arrive at any minute.
One thing was for sure, my daughter wouldn’t approve of a fairy or nymph or whatever rested among the cotton balls. She would have me committed. Sent off to a nursing home. Take away my car. I’d spend my days in a wheelchair, looking out a window into a blizzard of nothing.        
I vowed to say nothing to my daughter about the Her when she arrived with husband and in-laws in tow. The creature would remain my little secret.

Part Three by Henrietta Frankensee...

How many times would I have to check before she became real to me?
            My hands and knees trembled, my body, mind and soul a mass of disharmony, as I retrieved the box with its mystical — and mystifying — contents. I sat down to peek this time, just in case. Stranger things were happening than my doctor knew how to prescribe for.
            I lifted the lid, and there she was, as real as anything mystical can be. An iridescent feeling flitted through me, laced ever so lightly with compassion. My breath held in my chest as I observed Her, so like a hummingbird in her uniqueness. No wonder we couldn’t see her amid the glads. No, more like a butterfly, I reconsidered, since she couldn’t fold her wings.
            She lay on her side with the wounded wing supported by a cotton ball, her face buried in the upper part of that crumpled appendage. Her gossamer hair lay tousled like the gold thread in my sewing box when the cat got through with it. I wanted to touch it, ever so lightly of course, but even that would terrify Her, of that I was certain.
            “Don’t weep,” I whispered. “I’ll do ...” What? My best. But what did that look like?
            Hector placed his paws on my forearm to meow in my face.
            “No! You can’t have her!” I lifted the box out of reach and scolded again.
            He danced a figure eight around my feet, meowing like a fire engine in heavy traffic, and swishing his tail in the air. In his eyes I saw mercy, not menace. It struck me then, Hector could have devoured Her if he’d wanted to, instead of bringing in his treasure to lay at my feet. I reinterpreted his meowing, rightly I was sure, to mean Help. Help Her.

Part four by Josey Bozzo...

Yes, help her. That was exactly what I had to do. But how in the world was I supposed to do that? Where do I find medicine for a fairy? Touching her seemed unwise. Mishandling her fragile form might break her beyond repair.
Her weeping worried me. Was she in pain? With all the talk of liver damage from this pain reliever and recurring illness from others, just what was I to administer to a mythical creature? Perhaps she didn’t have a liver. I thought to Google “how to fix a fairy,” but quickly dismissed the idea.
            I longed to talk to Granny, but she was gone now. When I’d stayed at her house as a child, her stories enticed me to believe in fairies. I wish I’d paid better attention, but Granny had never told me what to do if a fairy landed broken on my doorstep. I was sure of that.
Granny’s stories were lovely, taking me back to a time when magic had been possible. Many a nights I'd slid into sleep with blissful thoughts of twirling around the garden in the moonlight with dozens of fairies flittering around me, the breeze from their wings moving my hair away from my face and tickling my cheeks.
I dropped to the floor again and peered into the box. Those were just dreams, this was real.
My head whipped up. My family had arrived. I looked down at Her one last time, reaching for the box lid, and said, “I have to go.”
I looked at Hector. The cat stared back, his amber eyes wide with interest. She’d spoken. The Her had spoken. I bent closer.
“Neachtar…” she said again, and closed her eyes, drifting, I hoped, into to healing sleep.
Part Five by Bonnie Grove...

They swarmed my doorstep, more of them than I’d planned. Margaret, my daughter, her husband, Klaus, a Santa Claus of a man, his parents, Herb and Greta, both sharp angles and corners. My two grandchildren, teenagers now, looking bored. And a surprise, Peta, a cousin on my Mother’s side, all nose, and pursed lips, and elbows in your side as she flew past, a hummingbird among a flock of geese.
            “Long time,” Peta air-kissed both cheeks touching neither my face nor my heart. Where had they picked her up?
            My daughter, Margaret, mouthed the word Sorry and scurried to the kitchen to help. Sandwiches, cakes, and tea. It had sounded so homey when I invited them, so normal. Now, with The Her hidden under my bed, I could barely manage a polite greeting.
            Margaret frowned at my confusion but mobilized the troops and in minutes our outdoor party was ready. I lingered in the kitchen pretending to fuss over my lackluster variety of teas. Peta, too, remained in the house, darting eyes sizing up, summing up my solitary life. “Long time,” she said.
            “Too long,” I chirped.
            “You don’t mean that.” A deviled egg disappeared into her mouth.
            “I certainly—”
            “Save it.” A bony wrist waved away my manners. “I’ve heard all the niceties from Margaret already.” She leaned a hip against the counter. “Bet you were surprised, though.”
            “What’s the story?”
            “I thought I knew,” she shrugged, her shoulders tents of bone rising to her ears, falling again. “But now that I’m here, I’m not so sure.”
            We were close in age. Raised by sisters, but we couldn’t be more different. As children, I adored Peta. But that was before. I fumbled with the tea, and spilled some on the floor.
            Peta watched my hands, read my posture, the slight tremor that betrayed my nerves. “I’ll get the broom, shall I?”
            “No,” a near shout. “I’ll see to it. Please, join the others in the backyard and I’ll be out in a jiffy.”
            Peta stared, eyes locked on mine, searching. It had been years since we’d seen or spoken to each other. Decades. Not nearly long enough. “Something’s up, Cuz.” She smiled. “I can feel it.” That grin pulled upwards. “Smell it, too.”
            “Out,” I said, trying for some kind of firmness in my voice.
            “Do you want Margaret? I’ll send her in.” The question felt like a test.
            “No.” I said, too quickly, failing.
            She moved toward the back door, paused, sniffed the air. “Just don’t forget what you are.” 
            I waited until the screen door slammed shut before letting myself rest heavy on the counter. What had she meant? But the spinning in my head, the jackhammer rhythm of my heart said some old part of me understood.
            Not who.

Part Six by Megan Sayer...

Peta’s words winded me like a blow to the chest. I breathed deeply, holding the summer air in my lungs until my heart regained its rhythm, then breathed out slowly in a low, guttural sigh.
A hundred thoughts fought like dogs within me—Tea leaves on the floor. The dustpan. Pantry. Focus. Breathe.
Surely the fragile creature in a shoebox needed me more than ancient history needed reviving, but what to do? The clock ticked its wordless seconds, and through the window came the hum of idle chatter from the garden. I felt my shoulders relax; the guests were settled. I found the broom, swept the spill.
Margaret doesn’t eat sugar. How could I forget?
I hunted through my china cabinet for a saucer that once belonged to my—our—grandmother and twizzled some honey into it for the tray.
Margaret had been on a sugar-free diet for two months, and raved about weight loss and health benefits, about the natural healing properties in good organic…
Honey is made from nectar. Could it help the Her? I rummaged quickly and rescued an old jar lid from the back of the pantry, just the size to cradle a teaspoon of honey. Surely just enough time…
Gentle laughter sounded outside, overlaid by the sharp, biting laugh of Peta. Her parting words pricked my soul again, an aftershock of memory.
Just don’t forget what you are.
“I know exactly what I am!”
A cough sounded behind me. I hadn’t heard the screen door open.
“Mom sent me to check you were okay.” My granddaughter’s bored expression had been replaced by curiosity. Her eyes flicked to the honey in my hand.
“So what are you then, Gran?”

Part Seven by Cherry Odelberg

“I’m your grandmother, Bree.”    
“I know that, Gran. I didn’t ask who you are. What are you?”
“A widow,”  I faltered. Not just any widow, Don’s widow.  
“So? That’s no big reveal.”  
“I haven’t taken to widowhood very well.”
“There are rules about that?”
“I . . . I’ve been trying to cope, I . . .”
Bree studied me for a moment with that frank stare of today’s generation.
“I’ve been under a doctor’s care. A psychiatrist.”
“Peta thinks you’re a crazy lady?”
For a moment, I wished I could tell Bree everything--share with her the way Granny and I did when I was young. Someone should know about Peta and me, about when we were kids, and about Peta and me, and Don as teenagers. Should know about Granny and her magical stories. About my loneliness now. Would Bree believe the Her? I wasn’t even sure how to believe the Her.
“Got hold of yourself yet?” Peta intruded a second time. 
A feline yowl erupted somewhere in the vicinity of my right knee. 
“A cat!” spat Peta. “You and Don and your shared love of cats.” She sneezed. “Get it out of here.”
Silently, I collected the lid of honey from the counter and followed Hector down the hall to the bedroom.  He marched on velvet paws, tail at full mast. I sagged against the door and breathed, “I need a drink.” 
I thirst, I thought. Give me to drink. Neachtar.
I filled a tumbler with water from the master bath sink and drank. I flicked a few drops of water into the honey, and swirled the lid. On my knees, I offered it to the fragile being lying in the shoebox.
“What are you?” I repeated the question of the day.
I knew what Granny would say. Fairies, Angels, Mythical creatures, they’re real. They are all representations of someone you know and love-or fear. Maybe they are a figment of who you are, or who you dream to be.
“What are you?” I whispered again.
Part 8 by Vila Gingerich
My words ruffled the delicate hair and wings of the Her. "Mythical creatures: a figment of who you dream to be. Could that be true?"
Dreams? Bree would raise her eyebrows at the thought. She considered me a dottery grandmother with one sensible shoe in the grave.
Even so, I still had my stash of somedays, my valise of what-ifs, my shoe box of---
Maybe this magical creature, this Her, embodied my fancies of what I could be, could do---submit that story, see Venice, run that marathon.
A rustle came from the box and I leaned closer. Tiny limbs stretched, then straightened, and a wince puckered Her face. No fresh blood welled, though, and I let out the breath I hadn't known I'd been holding.
With an index finger I scooted the lid of honey closer.
Her tiny nose twitched. Asking this elegant being to put her face down and drink like a dog seemed preposterous.
"I'm sorry." My face burned. "I didn't think. Maybe---" 
A hand fluttered out and downward, like a baby moth, and then---a droplet of honey glistened in her palm. She held it to her lips, paused, and the golden head nodded.
At me. For me.
My heart clutched and tears pricked behind my eyelids. 
As the Her drank and my knees grew stiff from kneeling, I became aware of voices outside the window.
"What's wrong with Grandma?" Bree's voice sounded sharp as glass.
"You noticed too?" Margaret speaking. "She meant to slam the door in our faces earlier. I mean, it's not like we weren't invited. Oh, and she forgot my diet. She had nothing but sugar for the Earl Grey." 
"Well, right now she's in her bedroom, crying into a shoe box," Bree said.
I glanced over my shoulder and gasped. The bedroom door stood ajar.

Part 9 by Katy Popa
I shoved the shoe box under the bed and hurried out, grabbing a tissue from the box on the dresser and shutting the bedroom door firmly behind me.
"My new shoes," I said. "The green pumps. I meant to wear them, but the heel is broken. I'll have to take them back."
"Pumps?" Margaret seemed ready to take my temperature. "Are you going somewhere?" 
"Granny? New shoes?" Bree seemed impressed. "Can I see?"
"No! No, no, no."  I said it at least one time too many, because of course I hadn't bought new shoes. "I wanted to run out for a few things, some dessert, some artificial sweetener." 
Margaret frowned, so I kept going. "Of course, there's no need to dress up to go to the store. Not at my age."
"When did you ever?" Margaret mumbled, and her eyes met Bree's.
"Why don't we all go?" I asked. 
"I'll stay here," said Bree. "Settle in." For just a moment her eyes wandered toward my closed bedroom door.
I wished for a lock on the bedroom door. "Come along," I coaxed, "and pick out the ice cream." When I returned, I could find a better place to hide the Her.
But when we returned and walked back through the front door, we found Peta and Klaus sitting so stiffly in the living room, she in the chair and he on the couch, their smiles so tight that I keenly sensed that they had halted a conversation mid-sentence when they heard the car in the drive. The tension between them was so palpable I hesitated to enter the room.
Margaret slipped in around me. "S'cuse, Mom. Don't want the ice cream to..." she began, but then she stopped. "What is it?" she asked.
Peta glanced at me, then at Klaus, and then she chuckled. A pair of diaphanous wings popped out from behind Peta. Just like the Her's, only much, much larger.

Part 10 by Margaret Terry

My hands flew up to cover my face. No no nooooo ... thinkthinkthinkthink, I commanded. 

This is grief. Yes. Grief makes people see things that aren't there. Dr. Marigold had warned me about 

that. A fairy under my bed. A cousin with wings. Grief. I wasn't losing it. I just missed Don, that's all.

I turned to face Margaret, whose lips were moving like she was speaking in slow motion, but there was no sound coming out of her mouth, or if there was I couldn't hear it because the thunder in my head boomed so loudly. My last thought before the black veil fell and took me with it was my head was going to crack open.

Peta was sitting at the foot of my bed when I woke. "Been a long time since we shared a bed, Cuz." Her eyes were dancing. "You've been fainting a lot, haven't you?"

I felt like my head was stuffed with cotton. Maybe Peta drugged me, put something in my tea. Of
course she didn't have wings. She was the same old hippie Peta, wearing the same long skirts and floral peasant blouses she wore forty years ago.

"How do you know about my spells?" I hadn't told Margaret or even Dr. Marigold about the fainting.

"Same way I know you have a Fayette in the house." She stood and began to rifle through my dresser.

"Why do you think I'm here after all these years?" She finished with my drawers and threw open the
closet door.

I pushed myself up and leaned against the headboard. "Get out of my closet, Peta." My throat was so
dry it felt like I had swallowed sand. "You're talking nonsense. I have no idea what a Fayette is."

Peta came out of the closet empty handed and approached my bed. I could smell lilacs. Granny, I
thought. She smells like Granny. She leaned close to my face and whispered, "You saw them, cousin. I know you did. But don't worry. No one else could see them. You and I are the only living Fayes in the family ... so far." She dropped to her knees and looked under the bed. "Ah. There you are!"

       Part 11 by Sharon K. Souza

There you are? My heart felt like it would burst through my chest. I threw my legs over the side of the bed, stood, and nearly fainted again as the blood rushed to my head.

“Easy there,” Peta said, as I dropped to the bed.

She lowered herself to the floor with uncanny ease. Then, with a smirk, she tugged out the shoe box. She paused for a moment, looking me square in the eye, as if giving me a chance to confess to its contents before she discovered for herself. But what could I say? Wordlessly, my eyes dropped to the box.

“I really thought it would be me she visited,” Peta said. She tossed her frizzy, silver ponytail back over her shoulder.

“Sh-she? She who?”

Peta laughed that biting laugh again. “Oh, Cuz. This is me, remember?”

I did remember. All too well. I remembered that summer I first brought Don to meet my family, to meet the cousin who was more like a sister. The same sister-cousin who betrayed me.

The smile faded from Peta’s face, and I knew she remembered too. “You’re not still holding a grudge, are you? After all these years? We were kids. I mean, what’s the point? He went back to you.”

“Why did you do it?” I hated that there was still pain in my voice.

“Honestly, Maeva, that’s ancient history.” She said it like it was no big deal, and yet she squirmed, adjusted the shoulders of her peasant blouse, fluffed her skirt.

I lowered my eyes, let her off the hook, because she was right, what was the point? I was about to say as much when all at once she lifted the shoe box and placed it on the bed beside me.

“Peta, wait—”

With a devilish grin she lifted the lid. Then she sat back on her heels with a huff. I looked ever-so-slowly at the box on the bed. Blinked. And blinked again. Inside were a pair of green pumps, one with a broken heel. I looked back at Peta, gave her a weak smile.

Suddenly, Hector appeared from beneath the bed. Peta scrambled away from him, got to her feet and backed to the door. “I know it’s here,” she said. “I know it.” Then she turned and hurried away.

I dug through the shoe box looking for the Her, but there was nothing inside but the shoes. Shoes I’d never purchased.

“Hector?” I said, thinking the unthinkable.

He sat there and swished his tail with a smile on his face.



Megan Sayer said...

Woohoo! Go Susie!

Normandie Ward Fischer said...

What a fun idea!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

This was so much fun! I can't wait to see what happens next!

Patti Hill said...

Thanks for dropping by, ladies! We all love a story.

Patti Hill said...

Thanks for dropping by, ladies! We all love a story.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

The Her! What a wonderful name. Thanks for giving direction to the storyline, Suzie! I was wondering who was coming to visit. "In-laws in tow"! Are we allowed to speculate among ourselves about what they are like?

Bonnie Grove said...

Henrietta, you are allowed to do anything your heart desires. Speculate away.

We aren't real big on rules around here. ;)

Patti Hill said...

I applaud Susie's contribution. She deepened the problem and set us on the way for a rollicking good time.
Thanks, Sooze!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

If anything, I'm good at deepening problems! :)

Thanks so much for including me. This is such a fun project for all of us!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Thank you for your permission to speculate. This is the heart of collaboration, discussing ideas. I don't want to step on anyone's creativity, if you think differently don't change any ideas. Good discussion will only cultivate more ideas!
As to in-laws, my immediate thought was a disabled brother-in-law who is sympathetic to the Her. I know many women who live with and care for disabled siblings. This would steer us away from a stereotype.

Patti Hill said...

Henrietta: Go for it!

Anonymous said...

We always did this as kids on rainy or snowy days. We could fill spiral notebooks! Love this idea and the creativity it will inspire---the loops and swirls as each author discovers the story. Can't wait to see where it goes...

cherry Odelberg said...

Talk about characters taking on a life of their own. It is challenge enough with a single writer. Now the plot can twist an infinite number of ways.

V. Gingerich said...

Oh, I like! Especially the "percolate". :)