Sunday, August 28, 2011

Belated Saturday Night Special - WIP Excerpt Part 1


Hey everyone, sorry I've been a bad blogger and haven't been as active as I should be. Been having some personal problems l lately, and they've made me super depressed.

But anyway! Here's the WIP excerpt you've all been waiting for! And even better is that you get Part 2 next week! Yay!

Title: Untitled
Length: 526 words
Rating: TV-PG for poor decisions
History: I've been working on this novel for the summer, but the idea for it came years and years ago. I'm just now writing it because I feel like I've finally gained enough wisdom to do the idea justice. Before this excerpt, the main character (she's a nineteen year old girl) has run away from Pennsylvania after her mother is arrested. She's made her way to North Carolina and is trying to figure out how she's going to live in a strange state with no college education and no money. We meet her as she's about to hitchhike out of Raleigh and into Oxford. Fair warning: This hasn't been seen by my writers group yet, just Other.

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The day was hot, I remember, and I was overheated, but I didn’t want to open up one of my water bottles just yet.  I had tried to dress in my lightest clothing, but cropped jeans and an old shirt isn’t exactly comfortable in the Carolina heat, especially with the heavy moisture in the air.  Even the clouds were heavy, iron grey on the horizon, a warning of rain.  I stood on the side of highway and held out my thumb.

Sometimes I wonder how I didn’t manage to get myself killed pulling a crazy stunt like that.  All sorts of nutcases could have gotten a hold of me, and a little pocketknife wasn’t going to a damn thing about it.  But I was lucky.  I didn’t catch a nutcase.  I just caught a harmless weirdo driving off to nowhere.

When he pulled over, I was tempted to run.  The car was a beat up old Subaru, with a mismatched bumper and all sorts of political bumper stickers stuck all over it.  I couldn’t even tell what color it was supposed to originally be, just that it was something between red and brown with a black bumper.  I was kind of hoping that he was just slowing down for reasons totally not related to my thumb, but he pulled up right ahead of me and stepped out of the car, and I have to admit, I took a step back because he scared me.  He had one of those huge beards that covered most of his face and long curly hair that covered the other half.  His eyes were mostly hidden by his bangs, he was wearing some ripped, stained button down with ripped, stained jeans.  And he had combat boots on.  I wanted to run so badly.

“Hey, where you going?” he asked, and his voice was higher-pitched than what his barrel body would have suggested.

“I dunno,” I answered.

The beard broke into a crooked smile and with even more crooked teeth.  “You a runaway?”

“You could say that.”

“Cool.  Hop in!”

I stayed where I was.  “Why?  Where’re you going?”

He picked at something in his matted mess of hair.  “Oxford.  Gonna poke around the farmlands for a job.  Get on in and I’ll take you there.  Always wanted to pick up a runaway.”

“What’s in Oxford?”

“Nothing much.  A post office, a few corners, one of those Episcopalian bookstores, and lots of land.  Too much land.  Most people dunno what to do with all that land.  That’s where I come in.”  He leaned up against his car and spread his arms.  “I go to them and I say that there is a lot of land.  Too much land for you to take of by yourself.  I tell them that I, John C. Winston, grandson of the Mr. Winston the road is named after, can help them take care of their land.  For a price of course.”  He looked at me and grinned again, expectantly I assumed.  I shrugged and scuffed my feet.

“Do you get a lot of offers?”

“Nope,” he says, laughing.  “But it can’t hurt to try.  So you coming or what?”
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Guest Post - Author Interview with Michelle Fayard

Picture this: You realize one fateful day that you want to be a writer. And then you realize that you have this awesome idea that really needs to be written and shown to the adoring public. So you write it. But as you're writing, you realize that it's hard! Finding time to write is hard! Getting your idea on paper is hard! Staying focused on it is hard! Getting it ready to be sent out is hard! It's all so hard! What's a writer to do?

Michelle Fayard, the mastermind of Bird’s-eye View and author of The Underground Gift has been kind enough and awesome enough to stop by and talk about her journey as a writer and what it’s been like to conceive of an idea and hold on to it long enough for it to be ready for publication. So let’s give her our undivided attention as she tells us her story.

To begin, how did you come up with the idea for The Underground Gift?  Was it a slow-burning idea or did inspiration hit you suddenly one day?

It was very serendipitous. In July 2006, my husband and I were house hunting in Kansas City, Kansas, when our Realtor, in an apparent non sequitur, turned around from looking up MLSs on her computer to ask, “Did you know coded quilts might have played a role in the Underground Railroad? Now, you said you wanted a two bedroom, one bath, right?”

Umm, no to the first, and yes, to the rest. So with 30 days to kill before closing escrow and way too much time on my hands for once, I headed to the local library to check out a few books on the subject. I was hooked. I was so hooked that when, half a year later, I returned to college to study the art and business of fiction writing, my husband suggested that I use this research as the inspiration for my first book. (Marcelo, you’re my inspiration; thank you!)

Did you go through a lot of rewrites/format changes before you settled on your final product or was it mostly the same as it is now?


I’d love to say I allow myself to sit down at the computer and just write, but that would be so not true. :) As a result, I do a lot of thinking beforehand, so when I start writing, the essence of what I first put down often remains. I got into the habit of writing like this when I was a news journalist.

Having said that, I initially wrote a few chapters from the antagonist’s point of view, so I could better understand why someone like Benjamin Michaelson would take pleasure in being a sadistic slave catcher.

Did you always enjoy writing this book, or were there times when you just wanted to give up and put it away and not see it again? (Warning: Sensitive information/spoiler ahead.)

Writing Gift, for the most part, was a complete mind blow. Could it really be possible for a former journalist, who measures articles in column inches, to write something with tens of thousands of words? In addition to being a bit length phobic, I did go though a very rough time when I knew the next scene I needed to write is the one in which the main protagonist, Josepha, a slave, is gang raped. For 17 months I stopped writing, partly because I realize some readers will be extremely uncomfortable with this historical fact and partly because of having been date raped. Once I allowed myself to write the truth, I finished the remaining 50,000 words in three months.

Were you writing with the intention of publishing, or was publishing something you didn't think about for a while until later?

I’ve always written Gift with publication in mind, as it’s a goal that inspired me to keep on writing. I wasn’t always sure I’d be able to actually write an entire book though.

How did you edit The Underground Gift? Did you do it on your own, or did you make use of resources available online and such?


I am very fortunate to have worked as a writer and editor in my day jobs and to have learned from some incredibly gifted mentors in my 25-year career. I could hear their words of wisdom each time I wrote and tightened an arc.

But I could never have written Gift without what I call my Underground team. In particular, author Elizabeth Varadan provided insightful critiques of my first draft, while author/reader-in-progress Stephen Barnett is the most outstanding content and line editor imaginable.

What have you learned about the querying process during your journey? Are there certain things (wording of query letters, for example) that you've learned work better than others?


I started querying gift this summer, five years to the day our Realtor first planted the book’s seed in my mind. The crazy thing is I’ve tried longer, synopsis-based queries, a three-sentence query, a query that led with the setting and a query that led with the characters, and all have resulted in requests for either a partial or a full.

The takeaway message to me is that while queries always will be tricky beasts to write, we really do have some latitude in how we craft them. Just be sure to have a great story and talk about it briefly and compellingly.

And finally, how excited are you that you're almost ready to be published?


I’m excited, nervous and grateful in almost equal measure. If The Underground Gift could inspire even one person to stand up and make a difference against hate crimes, I will consider this journey a success.

Thank you very much, Marlena, for inviting me to your blog today. Yours is a Top 20 must-visit site, and I’m glad we’ll always be able to say that you were the first person to do an author interview for Gift.


You can find Michelle at Bird's-eye View, on Facebook and on Twitter. Her blog is awesome, so you
should all check it out and give her some much deserved love.

Let's also give some love to:

Elizabeth Vardan's Fourth Wish blog

and


Stephen Barnett's The Road to Makokota  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What A Reader Wants And Updates

First off, I'd like to apologize for being late on all of my comments and unhelpful and for the short post.  I've been moving for the past two days, and things are a bit...hectic at the moment.  No one is really settled and everyone is agitated and I've been pretty much useless in doing anything.  So I apologize again for acting like I'm ignoring all of you.

Second, I have a question to ask you, my awesome friends and readers.  What're you looking to read at the moment?  What've you been craving lately?  A mystery?  A thriller?  A quiet romance?  Anything that deviates from your general preferences?

There is a purpose to these questions, I swear.  All will be revealed with time.

I've currently been reading nonfiction, which is weird for me because I love fiction.  It's called Before The Pyramids, and it's all about ancient astronomers and how the henges in Thornborough are highly sophisticated astronomical tools that align perfectly with Orion's Belt and point toward another henge that represents Sirius.  It sounds a bit hooky, but it's well-written and the evidence they present is fairly strong, if unorthodox.  I'm not that far into it at the moment, but once things are settled, I hope to get back into it.  I'm really enjoying it.

I've also been writing my untitled WIP, and I hope to give you all a sneak peak of it very soon.  Hopefully it'll be something you'll like to read on a rainy, gray day of summer.  Or winter.  Or any day, hopefully.  And be tough on me when you read it.  I need a good critiquing so I can be at my best.  And I want to start practicing my query letter too, so I'll be asking for your help on that as well.  I know I'm nowhere near that stage of the process yet, but you can never start too early, and it'll be good for me to start getting used to the art of querying so I'm not a newbie making newbie mistakes later on.

Finally, I just want to remind you that Michelle Fayard of Bird's-eye View is dropping by on the 23rd to talk about her journey writing her novel, and I hope you'll enjoy her interview.  I know I did!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday Night Special #3 - Life After Boba Fett

What's this?  Star Wars in my Saturday Night Special?  What kind of apocalypse is this?  All will be explained, young padawan.  Explained all will be. 

Title: Life After Boba Fett
Length: 540 words
Rating: PG for broken hearts
History: There's a funny story behind this one.  I once dated a guy who really liked Boba Fett.  And when I say liked, I mean worshiped.  This guy worshiped Boba Fett so badly that he had the Mandalorian symbol tattooed on his chest.  (Which is why I now don't date anyone who has a tattoo anywhere, never mind a Star Wars one.)  Anyway, we didn't work out that well together and it was a very bad breakup that wrecked me for a bit because I'm one of those people who think everything's my fault and he took advantage of that.  This was my attempt at sorting through my emotions and trying to get things back on track.  It's also unedited by my editing partner in crime because I'm fairly certain Other is tired of Boba Fett hanging around.

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 Life After Boba Fett

    Boba Fett comes and goes and where he’ll stop only she knows, she and all the other broken hearts he’s left behind.  She lies in bed and waits and waits and hates the fact she’s become one of those women who waste away once he leaves, once he decides he won’t come back, but she doesn’t know how to fix it.  She lies in bed and stares at the ceiling and thinks about how things had been, how things could have been, and how things are now that he’s gone off to do who knows what with who knows who.


    Life after Boba Fett is difficult and rough, and she’s not sure if she’s going to make it.  Part of her realizes she’s being melodramatic, realizes that give it a week or two or some predetermined time of grief and sadness and she’ll be fine or as fine as she can be after Boba Fett has crashed her life into dust.  But right now she doesn’t want to be fine.  She wants to be hysterical and insane, to run after him and demand that she be treated with respect and the way she should be treated, but that’d be silly and unproductive.  Tactics like that had never worked when they had been together, why would they work now?


    There’s something wrong with Boba Fett, and by herself in her bed, she can recognize this without his touch affecting her thoughts.  There’s a problem deep in his mind that makes him the way he is, and that’s probably why he wines and dines and then leaves without paying the bill.  She can almost feel sorry for him, but feels worse for herself.  Who’s really the idiot here?  The one with the problem, or the one who stayed long enough to develop feelings for him?  She should have known.  She should have known.  She should have known from the way he hid his face and carried the burden of the dead around with him that there was something wrong.  She should have known.


    She still sees him twice a week, and those moments are bittersweet and rancid, like an apple that’s too sweet to eat.  He walks with pain evident on every portion of his body, but she keeps hers tucked away for those infinite moments when the night is too long and silence too still and all that can break it are crystal tears of misery beading on her pillow.  But she has survived worse and she will survive this.


    Gradually, life after Boba Fett is easier.  She no longer looks for him in the corners of her room, no longer holds his face to the light in her memory.  The pain slowly leaks away and is replaced with a quiet normalcy that isn’t quite like what it was but it’s what she’ll take.  And that’s when Boba Fett decides he wants back in.


    She always makes the wrong decision when it comes to life, but right now she bars the door and lets him knock while she tries to right all the little wrongs that are still wrong.  The knocks will stop she knows.  They always do.  Boba Fett doesn’t stay in one place for very long.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Power of the Speech Function

I have a Mac, with whom I have a love/hate relationship because I like to game and Macs don't.  And I refuse to shell out fifty bucks for a simple computer game.  No, it's not going to happen.  I only spend that much on PS2/3 games.

But I recently found a function on my Mac that's helped immensely with my editing process.  I remember reading a post sometime in June where the author stated that she read her entire manuscript aloud while editing to get a feel of what sentences felt clunky and which flowed nicely.  While I understand that reading things out loud helps immensely with structural problems and keeps you from rambling on and on and on like Henry James likes to do, I also know that I could never, ever read aloud an entire manuscript.  I read fast, so I talk fast too, and I tend to get tongue tied when I'm not paying strict attention to my pacing.  I also don't have that much time to dedicate to reading a hundred thousand word manuscript, unfortunately.  Reading, yes.  Speaking, no.

However, while I was working on my interview with Michelle Fayard, I wanted to make sure that my answers to her questions read correctly and fluidly.  So, on a whim, I turned on the speech function for my Mac and listened to 'Vicki' read my answers.

It was magical.

Granted, computer voices are not exactly the nicest thing to listen to, but I found that it really helped me keep my rhythm with the answers, and I was able to know immediately where I had to add and subtract words from my writing.  She was also very good at picking up those little grammar mistakes you know you always make but still can't really fix because your brain doesn't pick up on it.  Like when 'is' becomes 'if' and 'to the' becomes 'tot he' and your brain just glides right over it like nothing's wrong.  Then you post and look back and do your best Darth Vader impression.  "Nooooooooooooo..."

But when I listened to Vicki and read along with her, I was able to catch them immediately and spared myself several rereading sessions because she broadcast all of my silly mistakes for the room to hear.  So I decided to grab my WIP manuscript (it's still untitled at the moment) and fed Vicki the prologue and a small chunk of Chapter 1.

It was even more magical.

Aside from her picking up missing words and some rhythm problems, there's just something about hearing my work read that was incredible.  It felt more real, if that makes sense, as if it's not in my head anymore but out here in the open, with a tangible form.  I felt almost blown away.

So based on my reaction to Vicki, I would definitely recommend using a similar function with your writing if you can.  It forces you to pay attention, and for anyone who's edited anything knows that after a while, your brain just dies and refuses to do anything helpful.  It's also good if you have an hour or so to work without interruption because you can hear the rhythm of your writing and you can hear where it goes off or where it falters a bit.  Then you can either fix it by stopping the speech function or mark it to be fixed later.  And you can do it in public if you wear headphones.

The only downside to using the speech function is that the computer voice can get very grating after a while, simply because it's not a real human voice and doesn't do cadences right.  So where you envision a dramatic pause or heated dialogue, the computer just sees as data and goes on in the same mellow voice it always does.  It can be annoying, like when you're on a long trip and the GPS voice is droning and you just want to chuck it right out the window because you suddenly *hate* it.  It also doesn't know the difference between the present tense of read and the past tense of read.  That was super annoying and confused me for a second before I realized what happened.

But if you take your manuscript and work on pieces of it, like a chapter or two at a time, then you can spare yourself from wanting to smack your computer silly.  It might not be the best thing in a time crunch, but if you use the speech function early on, then you have a head's up on the editing process, in my opinion.  I know I plan to use it on my early chapters next time I have writer's block so I can still be productive.

UPDATE: Michael Offut had this to say  - Interesting way of using Assistive Technology to help with your writing. For your readers, if they would like a similar program that the Mac uses on Windows computers, they can download Read & Write Gold I believe for free. I know it is not as good as Jaws but it should do the job. Also built into Windows 7 and Vista is a speech engine so that if people want to, they can dictate to the computer rather than type.

Also, an announcement: Michelle Fayard of Bird's-eye View has agreed to do an author interview on August 23, so I hope to see you all here!  Mark your calendars!

Second announcement: Lev's Flash Fiction Contest is open to votes right now, so go check it out!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Night Special #2 - Candied Ginger

It's that time again!  And dim the lights because it's time to get...sensual.  Let the succulent tones of Barry White lull you into the mood.

And before you get too...comfortable...the hint for next week is in the About Marlena Cassidy section. 

Title: Candied Ginger
Length: 238 words
Rating: TV-MA for sexual situations
History: This is my entry for Lev's August Heatwave Flash Fiction contest, which is why it's so short.  Entries are accepted until the fifteenth, so if you have any things written that are under 300 words, enter them!  This short was inspired by the weeks long heatwave that hit a little while ago.  It seemed like a good way to take my mind off the fact I was slowly melting into a puddle of goo.

________________________________________________________________________

Candied Ginger
  
The heatwave stretches on, turning weeds to golden brown and sun kissed decks into faded glories.  The heatwave stretches on, and they lie in bed with their clothes all gone, spread out in sweaty skin and rumpled sheets, the distant hum of the air conditioning reverberating through their bones.  Inside this little oasis of cool, manufactured air, they are safe from the heat rising off the ground in a million little shivers, mirages of reflecting pools dotting the melting asphalt like sunny puddles after a long, hard rain.  The heatwave won’t touch them in here.

But it does in lots of little ways, tanned skin and bathing suit lines suddenly becoming something magnificent and sultry, something to be touched and revered and loved and worshipped, and her skin tastes of cinnamon and vanilla depending on where he puts his mouth.  The swell of her breasts are mix of three, of vanilla and cinnamon and if he wants to be trite, maybe a cherry, but it's really not that.  Maybe it's chocolate or a piece of candied ginger that he tastes.  Yes, that's it.  Candied ginger.  He enjoys it as it melts over his tongue, spicy and sweet.  

Inside, the heatwave roils between them, hungry and insistent.  Outside, the sun hangs swollen on the horizon and another day of the heatwave ends for the rest of the world.  For them though, it’s just beginning.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Finding Your Uniqueness

When you first start writing, before you realize that commercial fiction is something entirely different from expressing yourself in an artistic way, you might fool yourself into thinking that you have the most interesting and unique plot in the world and that no other author has ever possibly done this before.  I am here to squash that dream with my hammer of cynicism.

Writing fantasy?  Here's your plot: Young youth and/or adult (gender interchangeable) goes off on quest to save home and has awesome adventures with a spunky elf, a grumpy goblin, and a dour dwarf.  There will be swords, rings, magicians, dragons, and a powerful enemy that will need to be defeated with the power of good.  Youth will have moments insecurity and the entire story will be a bildungsroman. 

Writing a crime drama?  Here: Cranky criminal defense lawyer gets involved in crazy crime ring and will look to hardened street cop for advice and help.  People will die.  Cars might explode.  Mafia ties will be exposed.  A cover-up will be foiled.  Corporate powerhouses will be taken down.  There might be sex.

Speaking of sex, here's a romance novel: Heroine hates hero.  Hero hates heroine.  They have sex to spite each other.  From their union blossoms love.  A disgruntled mistress will enter the picture and try to spoil everything.  A huge fight happens between the heroine and hero and they will temporarily depart.  Things work out and then end up happily ever after.

Mystery?  Boom!  A body is discovered by adventurous teens/adults/senior citizens.  Or something is found/stolen under mysterious circumstances.  The adventurous (insert title here) work to solve the mystery while skittering bumbling city cops and merciless killers and/or thieves mess things up and make things difficult.  Watch out for a twist ending!

Horror?  Bam!  Anything by Stephen King.

So on and so forth.

I'm just a horrible human being, aren't I?  But if you look past the snark, there is a spark a truth.  Most plots have been done before, and they've been done and well and badly depending on who's done the writing.  It's not something you can really escape.

Now, before you go throw your computer out the window because of annoyance at me or because a sudden cloud of despair has blanketed your heart and made writing an impossibility, there is a ray of hope.  You can still be unique in your writing.  So go get your computers back out from the lawn and put the pitchforks away.

Uniqueness in writing, in my opinion, doesn't come from your plot so much as it comes from what you do with your plot.  With literary fiction or non-genre fiction, things are a bit easier because you don't really have a formula that you're expected to follow.  For example, with my new manuscript, it's not really a genre piece.  There are elements of mystery and of romance, but it's not part of either of those genres.  If you were going to call it anything, I suppose you could call it a slice of life, but even then, it's not that entirely.  It's more an experiment of what I can do with words, and that leaves me free to do some things that I might not be able to do if it's for a genre.  But with genre pieces, like a romance, there are certain points you need to hit and if you don't hit them, you get knocked for it.

How you hit the marks is what really makes you stand out with your writing.  And how you write also makes you stand out.  Your voice, your tone, the atmospheric pressure of your writing, it all works together to suck a reader in.

Interesting characters are a must too.  You can have a really interesting plot (crime boss turned soccer mom discovers the coach is a hit-man sent out to assassinate a local politician for reasons unknown and now must rally her abandoned mafia ties in order to stop the hit from happening) ((I am so writing that novel)) but if your characters are wooden or feel like they're following a script, then your readers are going to ignore your writing in favor of something else.  Having a unique character can go a long way in keeping your reader happy.  Crime boss turned soccer mom can fall flat if she's stilted, or questions herself too much, or is just plain boring.  She should have some kind of quirk, some kind of idiosyncrasy that sets her apart from all the other crime bosses.  Why did she abandon the mob?  Was it for her children?  Was she tired?  What's up with her?  What are her motivations?  And no, backstory doesn't count.

In closing, a book is like room.  Your infrastructure is your genre of choice.  It's the bare bones of your writing, what you have to include.  The characters, the twists, the dialogue, the everything else, are the details, the decorations.  How you mix and match is up to you.  It you want crystal door knobs, that's your choice.  Persian rugs?  Sure!  As long as everything works together, you're all set.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Liebster Love


I woke up today to find out I received a blogging award!  Michelle Fayard, who is an absolute sweetheart and beautiful writer and you should all look at her blog and comment and follow and then read her YA excerpt and then comment on that, chose me as one of the five recipients of the Liebster Award, which is given out to new and starting-up blogs who have less than 200 followers.  Liebster also means friend in German, which makes it even more awesome that she would choose me.  There are five rules to receiving it:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.

Thank you again Michelle!  Words cannot describe the level of ecstatic happiness that is consuming me right now.

2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.

Awesome.  Here are my five picks, who are all awesome people and deserve lots of love:

a. Lev of The Thoughts Bubble.  Lev writes on a multitude of subjects, ranging from writing to technology to everything in between.  He's also generous enough to host his own Flash Fiction contest with a 20 dollar Amazon giftcard as a prize!  So here's to Lev!

b. Between The Lines of Between The Lines Book Reviews.  Between The Lines writes awesome book reviews and is nice enough to ignore the fact that I managed to screw up the name of the blog in one of my posts.  Between The Lines was also nice enough to host a giveaway of The Undertaker by William F. Brown.  So go show some love!

c. J. R. Pearse Nelson of J. R. Pearse Nelson.  J. R. is an up and coming novella-ist who's using the self-publishing route to get her work out there.  Right now, she's currently taking part in the ROW80 challenge.  I haven't read any of her novellas, but if she's as good a writer as she is a blogger, then she'll have no problem getting the recognition she deserves.  Let's all give her some support!

d. Everyone of the Writing Bug. This blog is just so amazing.  Jenny, Kerrie, and Brooke write amazing articles and always choose awesome people as their guest bloggers.  Their posts highlight great points of writing and talk about influences and and the finer details of publishing to help out the rest of us.  Go check them out!

e. E. R. King of Get Busy Writing.  Emily is so nice and funny that I couldn't possibly not pick her for this!  I love reading her posts whenever I can, and I can't wait to read her dark and twisted and romantic novels.  She also hosts some awesome guest bloggers who are a joy to read and follow on their blogs.  Go give her some love!

Honorable Mention! J.L. Campbell of The Writing Depot.  J.L. Campbell's blog is all about writing with some posts about Jamaica in between.  Her blog is well thought-out and well-written and it's always fun to read what she writes.  Her romance novels are amazing as well, and deserve awesome reviews.  Her Twitter feed is also fun to read.  So check it all out!

3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

Did that!  It looks beautiful.

4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.

I know they do that already because they're amazing people.

5. And most of all, have fun!

I've been doing that since I joined.  This is an amazing journey I'm on, and I can't believe I get to share it with so many wonderful people.  Thank you all so much!

Saturday Night Special #1 - Dinner

Cue the fanfare!  Cue the lights!  Today marks the very first Saturday Night Special from the Marlena Cassidy blog!

So since this is the first one, I felt like I should explain how I want to format things.  Each SNS post will have a rating for the story, a bit of background about it, the length of it, and then the story will follow afterward.  Hope you have your popcorn, ladies and gentlemen.  Let's get this party started!

Also, here's the hint for next week: I don't know about you, but things are about to get steamy!

Title: Dinner
Rating: PG-13 for language, mild violence, and touchy subject matter.
Length: 14 pages
Background: I wrote this for a competition hosted by the Carpe Articulum magazine, and it was partly inspired by an argument my father and I got into at one time regarding life choices I was making.  The story didn't get very far in the competition; it was rejected from the get-go, which was depressing, but it's all right.  I had my writer's group go over it before I submitted, and the reception ranged from liking it a lot to thinking that at some points it was too melodramatic, but over at DeviantArt it was received well.   This is the finished project that was handed in for the competition.

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Dinner

They go to her parents’ house for Christmas and bring the new baby with them.  She says this is a terrible idea, that they should go to his mother’s for the holiday and skip her parents’ house all together, but he still clings to the idea that there might be a chance for amity between all parties, and so she gives in with a shrug and an ill-feeling in her stomach.  They drive in a tense silence, she praying that dinner doesn’t end in disaster, he hoping that things will have changed over these past few years, and the baby thinks nothing aside from wet, squishy baby thoughts punctuated by moments of shrill squelching.  They have to pull over three times to get him changed, and when they finally end up in New Jersey, they are forty-eight and a half minutes late and the baby is entirely pleased with himself.

The baby looks more like his mother than his father, with browner skin and darker hair, but he’s inherited a mix of his parents’ eyes, brown from his mother and green from his father mixing to produce a creamy hazel-eyed gaze that stares wonderingly out at a world just out of reach.

She hoists him up on her shoulder, and his pudgy little fingers clench in her hair and pull hard.  She takes this as a bad omen, bites her lip, and tries to uncurl his grasp without hurting him in the process.  Her husband tries to help by picking up the Christmas gifts.  The baby gurgles in her ear.

           “I can’t do this,” she mumbles, closing her eyes.  “I really, really can’t do this.”

           “You can at least try.  What’s the worst that can happen?”

           “Papá will stab you with a steak knife and I’ll be a moneyless widow with a child to support.”

           “I think you’re overreacting a little.”

           Her strained temper snaps a bit and she rounds on him, the baby cooing along for the ride.  “You said that when we first started dating.  You said that when we got engaged.  You said that when we got married.  All those times, was I overreacting?”

He shrinks back a little, and in any other situation it would be funny to see a grown man duck away from a woman who doesn’t quite clock five foot five, but in this situation, it’s just another bad omen.  She continues to puff up in righteous indignation, and he rushes in for a hug.

“You weren’t, you weren’t.  But it’s gotten better since then.”  He doesn’t see her face twist in skepticism.  “I know it has.  Honestly.”  He pulls back to look at her, and she schools her features into neutral support.  “We’ll get through this together.  We always have.”  She smiles, and they kiss, and the baby grabs at his hair.  He laughs and loops his arm through hers.  Together, they head for the stairs.

           The concrete steps seem to lead away into a centralized oblivion, focusing into a single point off on the horizon, distant and tiny.  She experiences a moment of vertigo, and her mind reels with dizziness.  Her hand grasps at the railing, and her husband gently pushes at her back.

She hasn’t been home in several years, not since she married and certainly not since she had her baby.  Her parents hadn’t even come to the christening.  She falters.

           “I don’t want to do this.  Let’s just go, please.”

           “We have to do this.  We said we’d be here.”

“We’ll say there’s traffic.  An accident.  The car sprung a leak.  The spare was flat.  Please, please, let’s just go, please.”

“Your mom probably already saw us out the window anyway.  We’re here for better or for worse.”  He smiles.  “Don’t worry.  It’s going to be okay.”

           No it’s not, she thinks.  It really isn’t going to be.

They make it up the stairs after what seems like an eternity of climbing, stopping, and doubting.  She opens the screen door, hesitates, then knocks.  She hears sounds from the kitchen, grumbles and scraping chairs, and the doorknob turns beneath her palm.  Her feet take an involuntary step back.  The baby pulls on her shirt.  Her mother answers the door.

Her mother’s face is lined with deep wrinkles, especially around her mouth and eyes.  She’s gotten fatter too, an exploring, gelatinous blob oozing out from under her ratty black shirt.  Her hair is dull iron grey, and it’s bound back in a loose, brittle ponytail.  Her lips are thin and tightly pressed.

Mother and daughter stare at each other from two different sides of the threshold.  The daughter tries to smile and fails, and her mother continues to stare emotionless at her.  The baby looks at his grandmother and grabs for her with his hands.  Her mother’s face softens, and she steps back to let her daughter and her husband in.  For him, she has a glare and a bitter silence to give him, but refuses to be put down and breaks the ringing silence first.

“Thank you for having us, Pilar,” he says.  Pilar says nothing, and her eyes turn to sharpened daggers.  His smile dims just a bit.  “How is everything?”  She turns her back on him and starts banging pots and pans around on the stove.

“You are late, Ofelia” she tells them.  The baby on Ofelia’s shoulder turns its face away from the noise and whines in protest.

           “We had to stop a few times, Mamá,” Ofelia says.  “The baby didn’t like the car ride much.”

           “Was he driving?”  Pilar’s head jerks in the husband’s direction.

           “Of course, Mamá.  I had to keep my hands free for the baby.”

Pilar snorts as if that explains it all and goes on banging pots.  The baby’s lower lip begins to tremble and his face to pucker.   Ofelia bounces him worriedly and walks deeper into the kitchen.

It’s much like she remembers it, right down to Jesús staring out across the room from above the refrigerator.  His placid, almost bovine eyes contemplate them in sad, unhurried judgment.  Though she doesn’t really believe much anymore, she crosses herself and murmurs a prayer to the blessed virgen for protection and forgiveness.  Then she turns her back on Jesús and leans against the refrigerator door.

The tiles are still dirty, the lights still yellow and mute.  The room smells of rice and beans, like it always has, and of salty seasonings mixed with chicken breast.  She wonders if that’s what her mother is cooking for the big Christmas dinner, a big plate of rice and beans with chicken that will leave them all stuffed for days on end afterwards.  Ofelia herself has never been able to recreate the recipe just right.  There’s always something off about it when she makes it, something not quite right, as if it’s a cheap McDonald’s knockoff passing off for authentic.  Her cooking talents aren’t bad, she knows, or how else would she have been able to keep a cook entranced for all these years, but what she cooks is closer to the conglomeration of cultures known as American cooking than it is to her native one.  Ricotta-stuffed chicken breasts with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce is her specialty.  Her rice and beans, while still good by her husband’s standards, feel more like a dilettante's dabbling than a dish she should know how to prepare without having to look up a version of it online.

Ofelia bites her lip and jiggles the baby.  He makes a grab for her nose this time and spits up on himself.  She sighs, hands him off to her husband, and digs around for a napkin.

Pilar comes to their rescue with a dishtowel, scooping up the baby and scrubbing his face with the thing.  Ofelia is fairly sure it’s been used to scrub dishes as well, judging from the baby’s shrieks, but the ordeal is over in seconds, and Pilar balances the baby on her hip, crooning softly to him in Spanish.  Ofelia squashes the sudden, instinctual need to grab her baby and run.  She plays with her husband’s sleeves instead to keep herself distracted.  He pats her head.

           “What is his name?”

           “You didn’t get the card we sent you, Pilar?”

           Stony silence descends.

           “Javier, Mamá.  We named him Javier.”

           Pilar nods and smiles softly at the baby.  Javier sneezes at her.  She coos and pinches his nose.

“Do you want to sit down?” Ofelia asks her husband.  She leads him over to the battered, ancient table and pulls out a chair for him.  He sits in it, knees bent up because he’s too tall for the low seat, and looks awkwardly about him, like a giant trapped in a human’s house.  He sees Jesús and frowns a bit, but Ofelia glares at him from across the table, and so he shrugs and looks elsewhere, though his eyes keep straying back to Jesús and his melancholy face.  There’s something about his big, liquid eyes that attracts and arrests his attention.

Ofelia sighs and rests her head in her palm, rubbing her eyebrows smooth.  Pilar stands in a corner with Javier and sings off-pitch to him, rocking on her feet.  Her husband watches from his too-small seat and tries to figure out if Pilar’s actually singing or if she’s chanting some sort of protection spell or curse while still glancing now and then at Jesús.  The absurdity and painfulness of the situation becomes too much for Ofelia, and she stands, straightening out her skirt.

           “Where is Papá?”

“Upstairs with his guitars.”  Ofelia makes a move for the stairs.  “No, don’t go up there.  He wants to be left alone.  He’ll come down when he’s ready to face you.”  Ofelia wavers at the foot of the stairs, looking up at the landing and the door where she can almost hear the mournful plucking of guitar strings if she strains her hears hard enough.  Her husband shifts in his chair and the legs creak ominously, and Pilar glares at him until he stands up sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck.  She pushes the chair back in forcefully, rattling the glass vases on the table.  “You’ve upset him greatly, Ofelia.”

           “I know, Mamá.  I’m sorry.”

Pilar ignores the apology and says, “If you knew, why did you do it.  You knew we didn’t want you to marry while you were still in college.  You knew we didn’t want you to marry the first boyfriend you had.  You knew we didn’t want you to marry him.”  She jerks her head again to the husband.  “So why did you do it?”

           “Mamá, please understand.  I didn’t do it to be spiteful.”

“That is exactly what you’ve done.  And now you come to our house, bringing your good-for-nothing husband and his child to present them to us, and you expect us to be happy for you?”

“Pilar,” the husband begins, but Pilar shouts at him in Spanish and the baby starts wailing, and there’s nothing but general confusion for a few minutes.  Pilar continues to shout and scream in Spanish, hurling insults left and right at everyone, and Ofelia rushes in to save Javier, prying him from her mother’s grasp and taking him into the living room.  She is crying, but she pretends that she’s not, sniffling furiously with her head bowed.  Her husband doesn’t know what to do.  But he doesn’t want to stay in the kitchen with Pilar, and so follows his wife into the living room.  Pilar lobs curses he doesn’t understand at his back.

He finds Ofelia rocking on the moth-eaten couch, clutching her baby to her chest, weeping quietly.  He goes to her, tries to wrap his arm about her shoulders, but she shrugs him off and says, “I told you this would happen.  I told you.  Why did you make me come?  We could have spent the holiday with your mother, and it would have been so much better.  Why did you make me come back here?”

           “I’m sorry, Ofelia,” he says.  “I didn’t know they were still upset.  I thought things would have changed by this time.”

           “I told you,” she insists.  “I told you, I told you, I told you.”

           “You did.  I’m sorry.”

His apologies infuriate her, and she rounds on him, eyes blazing.  “And you!  It’s not like you want to be here.”  He rears back in surprise.  “Don’t lie, I know you’re uncomfortable here.  I know what you’re thinking.  That we’re a bunch of hyper-religious freaks who don’t understand the principles of science.  That we practice Santería and animal sacrifice down in the basement or something.  You and your Religious Studies lectures and degrees.  You think we’re backwards, that we believe in fake gods, that we’re no better than the Mayans or the Aztecs.”

She leans back in the couch, breathing heavy, feeling ashamed and oddly lighter at the same time.  Her legs tremble.  Javier bites anxiously down on his fist.  Distractedly, while waiting for her husband to form words, she takes his hand out of his mouth and gives him her finger instead.  He sucks on it loudly.

“Ofelia, I never meant to insult you.  I don’t think that way about you or your family.  You know that, Ofelia, don’t you?  I respect you and your parents’ beliefs, even if I don’t hold them myself.”  He pulls her close.  “I still love you, even if you do keep a bull in the basement for sacrifice.”

She finds it’s impossible to stay mad at him, and she gives him a watery smile and a watery kiss.  Pilar lurks in the hallways and mutters in Spanish.  The two spring apart like guilty teenagers, and Ofelia hides her face behind her hair and her husband twists like a pinned butterfly.  Above them, her father shifts around in the bedroom, moving furniture and tromping around like an angry beast looking for food.  Or a bull, for that matter.

Pilar leaves the hallway for the kitchen, and Ofelia and her husband trail behind her, chastened, quiet.  Javier pulls at Ofelia’s hair and screeches, picking up on the strained atmosphere.

“I’m going back out to the car, okay?  I want to make sure we didn’t leave anything we need in there,” the husband says.  He moves to kiss Ofelia, hesitates under Pilar’s baleful gaze, and settles for a quick, distant hug.  Then he flees, his footsteps echoing off the concrete stairs.  Pilar begins to gather ingredients on the counter.

           “Come here and help your mother, Ofelia,” she commands.  “Get the chicken broth out of the cupboard.”  Ofelia sets Javier down in his car seat and automatically begins helping Pilar with the cooking, a learned condition from years of training.

It’s strange to hear Spanish again after so long a time away from it though, and Ofelia’s brain is a little slow in processing it.  She goes to the refrigerator by mistake before she realizes it, freezes, and hears Pilar scoff behind her.

“Mamá, why do you have to be so mean to him?”  The chicken broth is hiding behind countless cans of Goya beans, and Ofelia weighs it in her hand as she walks over to the stove.  The words taste strange in her mouth, foreign and cumbersome, and her accent is odd to her ears.  “He wants you and Papá to like him, that’s all.”

“We will never like him.  You are too good for him.”

“Mamá, please.”

“No please!”  Pilar slams her spoon down on the counter, and Ofelia remembers the sharp sting of the spoon against her knuckles and flinches away.  “There is no please here.  You deliberately refused to listen to your father and I.  You went off with him when you specifically knew we didn’t want you to.  Do you know how I and your father have suffered because of you?  Do you know?  We had such high hopes for you, Ofelia.  We had such high hopes.  And you ruined them all.”

“Ruined?  What?” Ofelia cries.  “What have I ruined, Mamá?  Tell me.  I still graduated, didn’t I?  I still graduated with honors, didn’t I?  I still have a nice house, don’t I?”

“If you call a hovel in Pennsylvania nice.”

“Mamá!  You haven’t even seen it!”

“I don’t want to see it!”  Pilar bangs a pot onto a burner and shouts.  “I don’t want to see where you live with your good-for-nothing husband!  I don’t care!  I don’t care!”  Each word is accentuated by a bang of something or other within reach.  Javier wriggles in his seat and howls.

“Mamá, you’re upsettting Javier, stop!”  Ofelia rushes to her son’s side and tries to comfort him.  He won’t be calmed, however, and continues to scream.

Pilar continues to bang the spoon.

Ofelia flees with the hiccuping Javier back into the living room and wonders where her husband has gone.  She wishes she could escape like he has, under the guise of checking the car or something, but this is her family, and she has to deal with them.  She sits in her father’s rocker and gently pats his back while he snuffles unhappily, and thinks about awful her life is now that she’s left the familial house.

It’d be nicer if I hadn’t left.  If I hadn’t, my parents wouldn’t be so upset, I wouldn’t have met my husband, I wouldn’t have this child clinging to my shoulder.  I should have just gone to a local college so I could have stayed home and taken care of Papá and Mamá.  That would have been the right thing to do instead of running away and disobeying them.  Papá didn’t want me to go so far.  I should have listened and stayed here.  Things would be so much better now if I had.  I could be living here, happy and with my family intact.

And alone, her inner voice adds.  Very, very alone.  Unhappy.  Wondering what goes on in a world that doesn’t deal with what Jesús and your father wants for you, one that doesn’t smell eternally of beans and rice and Goya seasonings.  One without this new family you’ve fashioned for yourself.

“Ofelia!”  A shiver passes through Ofelia and drags her away from her thoughts.  “Come back and help!  Stop running away from me!” Pilar shouts from the kitchen.  Javier whimpers in her ear.  He’s learning at an early age to fear his maternal grandmother, and in Ofelia’s opinion, that’s all right.  Let him learn early so he can steel himself better than his mother has.  “Ofelia!”

“I’m coming, Mamá!”  Then quieter, “I’m coming.”  She pauses, stretches her aching back.  “Come on, Javier.  Let’s go back into the fray.”  She wishes she could leave him in the living room, where the noise at least will be lessened, but she’s afraid to leave him there by himself, in case something bad or worse happens.  That’s last thing she needs, an injured baby.  Her mother would never let her live it down.

The water and chicken broth for the rice is already simmering by the time she comes back to the kitchen and straps Javier down in his seat.  “Get me the seasoning.”

Ofelia digs it out and hands it off without word.  She watches as Pilar douses the pan with it, spreads it over the cutting board, rubs the chicken into it.  Her mother’s hands are gnarled with arthritis and age, her skin leathery and cracked, but her fingers work with an efficiency that is still impressive, even to those who know her.  These hands are strong, hands that have raised a child and a household most of her life and that have slaved and sacrificed for years to keep these walls up around this family to keep them safe from the rain.  They are not hands to cross.  They’ve seen strife and horror and terror and bitter disappointment, and in this moment, Ofelia is sad that she’s hurt them to such an extent.

“Mamá, here, let me do that.”  Ofelia reaches for the chicken, but Pilar shrugs her off, as if her touch will somehow spoil the food.  “Please, Mamá?”

“I have it,” Pilar snaps.  “If you want to be useful, go get me a can of beans and open it.”

The can-opener is old and rusty, and to Ofelia, used to modern-day marvels like electric and automatic can openers, the thing is terrifying and confounding.  She fumbles with it, manages to rip the paper label off the can instead of the top, mangles the poor thing to an inch of its life, and then Pilar grabs it out of her hands and has it open in three seconds.

Ofelia’s fingers are long and graceful, made for pianos and flutes and other once-leisurely qualities.  They are strong only in the sense that she has a good grip and nothing else.  Desperate battle is something that her hands have never seen.  They are too dainty, too flighty for anything like that.

Shoes on the concrete, a knock at the door, and Ofelia unlocks it and ushers her husband in.  Javier gurgles and grabs at him from the table.

“Can you take Javier?” Ofelia asks him.  “It would help a lot.”  Pilar grumbles something in Spanish, and Ofelia stiffens, her shoulders rising.  Her husband takes the baby wordlessly and heads for the hallway.

“I do not want him in my house,” Pilar says.  Ofelia’s husband stops and stands there in the doorway like a tall, lanky, awkward lump in this tiny, claustrophobic space, holding his baby awkwardly on his waist

Ofelia answers back in heated Spanish, and after a few choice words, the two begin to yell, waving their arms, their faces turning ugly shades of red.  Ofelia’s husband retreats to the bathroom and the lock clicks.

The fight doesn’t last long, they never do, though it feels like it goes on for days and weeks and months and years.  When Ofelia knocks on the bathroom door to retrieve her husband and her son, she sports a dim crimson stain on her cheek, and it looks as if she’s been crying.

“What happened?” her husband asks, reaching with concern to her face, but she turns her head and ducks behind her hair.

“Mamá and I are going to cook dinner now, okay?  Why don’t you and Javier go for a drive somewhere?”

“I don’t want to leave you alone here, Ofelia.”

“I’ll be okay, honestly.”

“Ofelia.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t like this.”

Her strained temper snaps again.  “You wanted to come here.”

He lowers his gaze.  “I know.  I’m sorry.”

She sighs.  “I’m sorry too.  Look, just take Javier and go to the bookstore or something.  The GPS is in the car, right?”  He nods.  “I’ll text you when we’re going to have dinner, okay?”

“I really don’t like this, Ofelia.”

“It’s what has to happen.  Mamá won’t cook if you’re here.”

“So I have to go, is that it?  I have to be put out like a dog?”

“I’m sorry.”  She doesn’t sound very sorry.  She sounds more tired than anything else, tired and bone-weary.  “I’m sorry,” she repeats, and her voice is hollow and empty.

“Ofelia,” he warns.  “I’m not going to put up with this.”

“You wanted to come here.”

“I didn’t think it would be like this.”

“What did you expect?” Ofelia hisses.  “That they would welcome you like some long-lost son?  Is that what you expected?”

“Don’t take this out on me.  Don’t you take this out on me, Ofelia.”

Ofelia sighs, brushes her fingers across her bruised cheekbone.  Her husband watches her with mounting, conflicted concern.  She’s told him stories of the violence in her household, but this is the first time he’s ever seen it in person.

“I’m sorry, okay?  I don’t want to be angry at you.  I don’t want to be angry with you.  I’m just trying to make this work out.”

“Having me run away isn’t going to make it work.”

“You staying here isn’t going to make it work.”

He reaches out and tucks her hair behind her ear.  She leans into his touch, wincing slightly as his palm glances across the bruise.

“Maybe I can talk to your mother.”

“Mamá won’t talk to you.”

“But if I can sit down and just have her listen to me.”

“She won’t.”

“How do you know that?”  Ofelia lets her silence speak mountains for her.  Her husband makes a small, agonized, and frustrated noise in the back of his throat, and jiggles Javier distractedly.  He tries one last time.  “Are you sure I can’t talk to her?”

A shadow falls on the pale light filtering into the bathroom.  Pilar looms behind her daughter, her arms crossed, her wrinkled face stormy and dark.  She speaks sharply to her daughter in brusque Spanish, then stalks back into her domain.  A pot slams onto the stove, and both Ofelia and her husband wince.

“Just go,” Ofelia whispers.  “I’ll text you when dinner is ready.”

Her husband looks as though he wants to argue with this decision further, but Javier tugs at his shirt, and the fight goes out of his face all at once, leaving him looking drained and miserable.

“All right, Ofelia,” he says.  “If that’s what you want.”

It’s not what she wants, but it’s the best that she can hope to get at this point.

-

           Dinner itself is a lesson in catastrophe.  Ofelia's husband returns with Javier after about two hours lost to sipping a sickly sweet mocha in the bookstore cafe and driving around in a general bad mood.  Pilar ignores him and sets down a steaming dish of beans on the dining room table, and Ofelia barely acknowledges him, rushing around with forks and knives to finish setting the table before her mother is done arranging the food.  The two women look eerily similar, with their hair tied back and their faces flushed, jaws set in a bulldog scowl, Ofelia like a younger, prettier version of Pilar.

For now.

He shivers and looks away.

Ofelia brushes past him and gives him a quick peck on the cheek.  “Dinner in five minutes,” she whispers, whisking away an errant cooking spoon.  “You have chocolate under your nose.”  Pilar snorts into the chicken and otherwise continues to ignore him, and he takes a seat in the kitchen and waits.

           Upstairs, like a thunderclap, the bed creaks, and Pilar’s husband begins his journey downstairs to dinner.  Ofelia’s husband stands to greet him and is forcibly pushed down by his wife, who shakes her head and glares him down into submission.  Her father treads heavily down the carpeted steps, one aged, wrinkled, spotted claw clinging to the railing.  He is old and frail and short, much shorter than Ofelia’s husband, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in presence.  It’s as if some sort of anachronism has wandered into their midst.

           He surveys his family the way a king surveys his lands, his eyes passing over Pilar, Ofelia, Javier, and the dinner table.  What he sees doesn’t seem to please him because he grunts, sighs, and then saunters over to the table, taking the head seat.  Pilar scurries after him, clucking at him in random syllables of Spanish, and then takes a seat next to him, still clucking.  Ofelia, her head bowed, chooses the one at his left.  Her husband is left to take the seat facing him.

           The two men’s gazes meets for a millisecond over the beans.  Her father curses at her husband in curt English and then switches to peremptory Spanish again, ordering his wife and daughter around with agitated gestures and grunts.

           For a while, there is no talking, just the slurping sounds of eating.  Ofelia and her husband pick at their food.  Pilar chews noisily and her husband shovels forkfuls of chicken into his bristling mouth.  He finishes before all of them and licks his plate clean while he waits.  Ofelia smooths out her eyebrows and grits her teeth.

           Animals, she thinks.  They’re all animals.  I must be adopted.  I hope I’m adopted.

           Pilar speaks first.  “I hope you liked it, dear,” she says to her husband, smiling.  He deigns to look at her and shrugs.

           “It was okay,” he answers.  “Ofelia, what did you think?”

           “I thought it was very good, Mamá.”

           “That’s a good girl.”

           Noticeably, Ofelia’s husband is left out.

           “Would you like desert, Emilio?”

           Emilio frowns and pats his stomach.  “I need to lose weight.  You keep bringing home sweets and cakes and baking things and making me fatter by the day.”  His tone is far from gentle teasing.

           This starts a small fight between Pilar and Emilio about who is making who fat and why, and it goes on for a few minutes until Ofelia, in desperation, begins clearing away plates.  Pilar immediately begins to race her daughter through the task as if not to be left out, and the two disappear into the kitchen, leaving Emilio and Ofelia’s husband alone.

           The silence settling over them is uncomfortable, sticky, the kind that makes people blab silly things just to get the conversation started and kill the quiet preying on them.  Ofelia’s husband makes such a mistake.

           “You have a lovely home,” he says for lack of anything better.  Emilio stares at him as if he’s uttered some kind of obscenity.  “And a lovely wife.”  Sweat beings pouring down his back.  “And daughter.”

           Emilio’s eyes blaze.  “You dare brag about my daughter in front of me?” he hisses, and Ofelia’s husband rears away, waves of heated anger pouring over his face.  “You dare, to my face, tell me I have a lovely daughter?”

           “I didn’t mean any harm, please.”

           “You dare come to my house after you have seduced my daughter, seduced her away from her house, her family, me, her future, and you dare tell me to my face that I have a lovely daughter?”  Emilio doesn’t wait for an answer.  “You are scum.”  He spits vehemently.  “You are scum.  A waste.  The worst kind of criminal.  You have ruined my daughter.  You have saddled her with a whelp bearing your blood and name, a soiled baby no one will want.  You have taken my daughter, you lecher, and now no other man can have her.  She is tainted, by you.”  Emilio leans forward.  “Will you abuse your wretched whelp the same way you have abused mine?”

           Ofelia’s husband finally breaks out of his stupor with a cry.  “Now you wait a damned minute.  Abuse?  You’re going to say I abused your daughter?  Are you really going to accuse me of abusing your daughter?”

           “She was only a child when you took her, you cabrón.  A child!”

           “Nineteen is hardly a child!”

           “A child!” Emilio shouts.  “A child!  And you took her!  Tainted her!  Ruined her!”

           “I did nothing wrong!” Ofelia’s husband shouts back.

           “Child abuser!”

           “Take a good god-damned look in the mirror before you start calling me a child abuser,” Ofelia’s husband snarls.  “Take a good look and think about what you did to her growing up.  I helped her see there was more to life than your damned religion and patriarchal nonsense.  I helped her realize that life isn’t about what you want, it’s about what she wants.  You lost your control over her when she was eighteen, but you still haven’t realized that she’s not your puppet to dance around a stage anymore.  She is her own woman, and you better start acting like she is.”

           “I will not sit here and be insulted by a child abuser!  Get out of my house!  Out!”  Emilio picks up a vase and hurtles it at the wall.  Shards of glass rain down on the floor, and Javier begins to scream.  Ofelia and Pilar come running, and Ofelia’s husband grabs his wife and drags her clawing out into the kitchen.

           “Get Javier and your things.  We’re leaving,” he snaps, and she, with her eyes wide and glassy, nods mutely.  In the dining room, Pilar and Emilio hurl curses at each other and at the couple, and Emilio throws another vase.  It explodes into a dozen pieces and spills onto the kitchen floor.

           “Ofelia!  Ofelia!  Don’t you dare go with him!  Don’t you dare!  Your place is here, with me!  Ofelia!  We are your family, not him!  Not this abuser!”  Ofelia stops in the middle of the kitchen and begins to cry noisily, dropping her face into her hands and openly weeping.  Emilio stands and makes a clumsy grab for her, but her husband is faster and lither and has her out the door before Emilio is fully into the kitchen, and her sobbing body disappears behind the wall and down the steps.

           Her husband throws what can be thrown into the trunk, straps the wailing and distraught Javier into the backseat, and shoves Ofelia into the front passenger seat, slamming the door in his fury and rush.  Ofelia flinches and sobs harder, fumbling blindly for her seat belt, feeling useless and used and used up.  Her husband begins to drive.  In the rear view mirror, he sees Emilio stumble out onto the porch to howl at them, and he flips him the bird.

           Then the whole unhappy scene fades into the distance, and he lets out a sigh of relief.  Ofelia keeps crying until she falls asleep against the window, her face puffy and red.  When they reach their home, he gently wakes her and together, they settle Javier into his crib and settle themselves into their bed.  They don’t talk.  It’s early yet, but both are exhausted and wrung dry, and neither want to do anything that requires thinking.  He puts on the television, and she brings out a book, and still, they don’t talk.  There’s not much to say.  Too much has already been said.

           She thinks she ought to touch him with an elbow or a foot, a friendly, intimate gesture they have both shared and enjoyed on numerous occasions, but it also feels wrong now, dirty, spoiled, and a blight crawls across her skin and down her spine.  No, there will be no touching tonight.  She is glad that she has long, bulky pajamas on.  She doesn’t want him to see her naked or in any kind of compromising way.  She can’t believe she has let him see her naked.  Wrong, all wrong.  Sin creeps around her belly, cold and hard.  She turns on her side and cries into her pillow.


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