Wednesday, January 23, 2008

All right, here's the second part.

I got some good comments from a friend already. Thanks friend. Those of you so inclined, please chime in.

Part Doo, of How I Got Better in Shop

The neon sign glowed on the black shiny seats of his pickup. We made out for a little while and then I pulled away and said I was hot and wanted to walk up on to the dike. He said I can’t. I gotta go, which was all right, because I don’t think I could’ve walked anyway. My legs, my arms, my head – none of it was working right. It all felt disconnected. So we didn’t go and instead we made out some more, and then some more, and then some more. It just kept going farther and farther. I didn’t stop him, even though he gave me a chance. More than once he asked if I was okay. I guess he was nice about it. I think that’s about the best you can ask for, for that kind of thing.

And then he drove me home and I went around the back door so I could clean up a little in the downstairs bathroom. Mom yelled down to me What are you doing down there? Where have you been? And I called up that I was helping with the varsity practice and that I was sorry I forgot to call.

When I went upstairs I had changed into my sweaty clothes from practice and they were all sitting at the dinner table. I think they knew. I’m sure they could tell by just looking at me. You’re supposed to look different, aren’t you? I’m sure I did. My mom never talked to me about that stuff, but I know which girls in school did it with their boyfriends without them telling me. It’s like you’re marked. So I guess I was marked after that.

A couple weeks later I was done with my lamp. It looked pretty crappy, but the light came on when you pulled the chain, and the puppy looked more like an animal than a vegetable. I had moved on to a little oak shelf, and I thought I knew what I was doing in shop. Mr. Moffet only helped a little with the router bits, and only then because I liked to watch him demonstrate on some scrap wood how to cut the grooves and fit the pieces together with his careful hands. Shop was actually all right, I guess.

My friends were getting used to me being with Jeff, sort of. I mean, sort of being with him. We didn’t talk during school or go to dances or anything like that. He picked me up after basketball practice (I made the JV team in that too) and we’d make out and stuff in the mall parking lot on the way home. Not too long to make my mom worry any more, though. She would’ve freaked if she knew and my dad. Well, my dad wouldn’t have it. Not with Jeff. Kevin probably knew, but he didn’t care. He’d started seeing some girl from Rainier and wasn’t around much anyway.

Jeff and I didn’t talk much. The music was too loud in his truck, and he only called me on the phone once in a while, when his parents weren’t home. He mostly just wanted to see if I’d come over. Sometimes I did if my parents weren’t home, but if not we’d talk a little about stuff at school, then I’d get off the phone. My mom would’ve said something, but she was getting more and more distracted by my dad. By Thanksgiving he was getting some chemo because the cancer wasn’t just in the places they thought it was. He was at home a lot. He’d sit in the basement on the couch with some water next to him on the TV tray and watch the news.

That’s where he was the day Jeff came over. It was a Saturday and my mom had gone to the big craft show in Portland. I had just brought my dad some saltines and was playing with the cat in my room. The doorbell rang and there he stood in a sweatshirt and jeans. The same ones he wore all the time, baggy and kind of dirty. He said What’re you doing? I said Nothing. He stood there and I stood there and then I said You want a brownie? He said Whatever and came in and sat at the kitchen table. His hair was a little wet. I could smell the shampoo when he walked by me. I cut him a brownie and brought it in on a napkin and he grabbed my wrist and pulled me down to kiss me. When I pulled up my dad was standing there in the kitchen doorway. He had the afghan pulled over his shoulders, held together with one hand. His other hand lifted up through the opening and grabbed the door jam. He opened his mouth and then closed it and turned around to go back downstairs.

We ate our brownies and Jeff said Let’s go up to your room. I wanted to really bad, but no way could we and I told him my dad was downstairs. He turned quick to look behind him, as if he’d heard my dad coming up the stairs and I couldn’t help but laugh. I don’t know if he was scared of my dad being my dad, or my dad being my sick dad. He said I’m gonna go and I said Okay and then he left and I went downstairs.

Dad had fallen asleep sitting up. His head was tipped back and his mouth was open. I could see the ridges on the roof of his mouth and it made me run my tongue back and forth on the roof of my own mouth. The chemo made him thirsty all the time and his mouth was always dry. His lips were grey and cracked. I went to the bathroom to find the Vaseline and when I came back he was awake and blinking at the TV.

You two are an item, I see, he said. I just shrugged. He said What do you mean? and then he shrugged like he was copying me, but he didn’t take his eyes off the TV. I said We’re pretty close, I guess. You guess? he said. I said He helps me in shop a lot and he’s really good at it and he’s really nice to me. My dad nodded, but he didn’t say anything else. A commercial came on for some kind of camera and he closed his eyes and tipped his head back and I went back upstairs to my room.

Jeff didn’t pick me up after practice the next week. He wasn’t in shop either and Mr. Moffet finally moved the pieces of wood in his workstation to a little cart from the back room. He asked me if I’d seen Jeff and I said no, but I had. He drove in and out of his driveway every day at the same times, probably to make his mom think he was always at school. Mr. Moffet asked me if everything was all right once when I got a little spacey later in the week. I do that sometimes. Just kind of get lost staring. I said Yeah, I’m fine and smiled at him. He smiled back patted me on the shoulder.

Jeff called me that weekend, after my mom left for another craft fair. She wanted me to go, like we sometimes do, but I said I had too much homework. I was hoping Jeff would come over again like before. My dad was going to be gone all day at a new treatment place and Kevin was across the river as usual. But Jeff just called. I asked him where he’d been all week and he said he was helping his brother work on his car. I kind of laughed since I didn’t really know what to say and he didn’t say anything either. It sounded like he was banging something with a hammer and I asked him what he was doing. He said Nothing. I said Do you want to come over and he said I can’t. I listened to the clanking for a while longer and then I said Why did you call me? He said I don’t know, to see what you were doing or something. I said I’m sitting here watching a movie. He said Oh, well I gotta go. And that was it. That was him breaking up with me, I guess. That’s what this other burnout told Michelle, so that’s how I knew.

So he started coming back to shop after a couple weeks again, but he only stayed for a little while, and he wouldn’t look at me. Mr. Moffet asked me if everything was all right again because I kept screwing up on my shelf measurements and I nearly sanded off my thumbnail. I said Yeah, I’m just thinking about my dad. He nodded and patted me on my shoulder because he thought he knew. Everyone thought they knew. I’d skipped a day to spend some time with him in the hospital and then all the teachers knew about that and then Mr. Moffet gave me that sad pat like it was so simple.

When I got home one Friday night after a home game my dad was in the living room, on the couch. Lately he’d been upstairs in his room most of the time. There was usually a nurse around when I got home, if my mom was running errands or something, but this time my dad was alone on his old recliner with a quilt on top of him. He was staring at the fire in our fake fireplace, and in the shadows he looked like Grampa. I sat by him on the floor and started to tell him about the game, how I’d played and such, and he put his hand on my head, as if he wanted me to stop. He said Hi Baby. I smiled at him, but I was a little freaked. He didn’t call me that. He asked me if I had plans and I thought he meant for the weekend so I told him I was going to Michelle’s for a birthday party on Saturday. He said No, I mean with the Kent boy – Are you two still serious?

So then I knew that he knew, but I guess I’d known already. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen us before, but mostly I just didn’t want to think about it. No, I said, I don’t have plans with Jeff - There’s nothing going on with Jeff and me. And then I’d said it out loud and that felt bad and good. Bad enough to make me cry, but good to finally talk about it. I cried on the arm of my dad’s recliner. He cleared his throat a little and I looked at him. His eyes were half-closed and I thought he might be sleeping, so I moved to get up. Don’t go, he said, I’m awake. I’m just thinking. He cleared his throat again and said, He’s not a bad kid, you know. I sat back and looked at the fake fire. It reminded me of chemistry lab. He said, I just want you to be happy, Sweetheart. His voice was weezy and faint and when I looked back at him and his eyes were closed. I waited for my mom to come home, then went to my bedroom.

So he made it past Christmas, but the last couple weeks were pretty bad. At first they brought a big hospital bed and put it in my parents’ bedroom, but my mom couldn’t sleep in there, because the thing took up too much room. So she’d sleep on the couch with a baby monitor next to her. I know because I couldn’t sleep either. My dad’s room was across the hall, and I could hear his breath from there and from the baby monitor in the living room. It felt like the house was weezing, and sometimes my dreams would have the sound of hard breathing in the background and I’d wake up gasping.

I guess during that time something was going on with Jeff and this girl on the dance team. Everyone was talking about them getting busted in her hot tub. I laughed because someone said the girl’s dad made Jeff run naked out to his truck, but it wasn’t funny, really. The dad had thrown a rock and cracked Jeff’s back window. Anyway, she was a junior and kind of slutty. It made me wonder.

After a week with the hospital bed in the house my mom agreed to have my dad moved to this old-folks home close to the hospital, and that was the last time he got moved. I went to see him every day because school was out and I had taken a break from basketball. I’d go and sometimes just sit there for a couple hours reading or something. Sometimes he’d be awake, but not usually. It was quiet there. I think everyone was dying. And then one morning, a Monday, when I woke and went down to the kitchen, mom was gone and there was a note on the table. I called the hospital, the number she’d written, and she said Dad had died in the night. Kevin got up a little while later, and I told him. He just nodded, and then frowned and sat down at the table. I sat down too. I’m glad he was there because it sucks to cry alone about your dad dying.

When school started everyone knew and nobody talked to me, except Jeff. He saw me in shop on Tuesday and said he was sorry. He said That sucks. I said Yeah. It did suck. But I had basketball practice that night, and after practice, when I stepped out the side door it was pouring, and Jeff’s little truck was there with the loud crappy music waling out of it, and so then at least I had a ride home. I was bringing my woodshelf home with me that day. I was getting a lot better at shop. Mr. Moffet was a good teacher, I guess.


Blogger V-Grrrl said...

"Sometimes my dreams would have the sound of hard breathing in the background and I'd wake up gasping"

Oh that says it all, doesn't it?

You do an amazing job of giving this inarticulate girl a consistent voice. She never falls out of character...

1/23/2008 1:38 PM  
Blogger Orange said...

I got a little misty-eyed at the end. Good job roping me in! I didn't particularly like the narrator ("this inarticulate girl" as v-grrrl calls her), but you made me feel for her anyway, and relate to her. I like the realism of a mediocre "relationship" that's based far more on raging teen hormones than on emotional connection.

I'm confused about one part, though. If her dad already caught her in the kitchen smooching Jeff and said "You two are an item, I see," how did the narrator forget that he knew within a few paragraphs? Maybe I'm misinterpreting what I'm reading.

1/23/2008 2:06 PM  
Blogger meno said...

I was wondering the same thing as Orange.

Also, i noticed a few misspelled words. Did you want to know about those.

The lack of affect in the girl's voice strikes me as odd. Not because it wouldn't be true of a teenage girl, but it seems like she would let out her angst somewhere.

But what do i know, i'm no critic.

1/23/2008 3:43 PM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

I like the voice, and it actually reads more to me like someone trying to keep her emotions at arms-length--usually successfully, at least on the surface. But there's so much *under* the surface that keeps breaking through, though, in subtle ways. It's really good, Mignon.

I wanted more of Mr. Moffet, since you end with him (is this the end?), or more of a clue about his role in the story. I also want you to post more of your stories, when you finish them.

I have the hardest word verification in the world, so hard I'm not gonna type it here because I can only type it once. Let's just say there's a lot of k's and w's.

1/23/2008 10:13 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

Thanks for the input, you guys.

Orange, I fixed that line - relic from a previous draft.

Meno, don't be modest. You are an intelligent woman, and you have a daughter. Two qualities that make you uniquely skilled to be a critic of this story. FM is right, in that this girl's inability or hesitancy to express emotion is who she is. At least at this age, at this point in time. It's her coping mechanism, and perhaps she does let out her angst somewhere, but this story is meant to be read as if she were retelling someone the story of her sophomore year in high school.

FM, Mr. Moffet is the object of this girl's misguided daughter-father emotions. I debated whether to make him a bigger part of the story, but I'm worried how long it will be, and whether it would detract from the rest of her "relationships." I was worried it would look creepy or the reader would be distracted by whether it was an innocent relationship. If you read this comment, what do you think?

1/24/2008 4:04 PM  
Blogger Feral Mom said...

It never occurred to me that there was anything creepy about the narrator and Mr. Moffet--though, I think, if he had a different last name, it might have! Hmmm...I still think there could be more of him, if not in terms of development, more *presence* if you will. It would add more glimmers of emotion to the narrator's telling, and would help build up to the ending.

You're sending (or you've sent) this out! Cool! It would kill with the YA crowd, don't know if you've thought about going that route to publication or not.

1/25/2008 8:56 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

I like this story.

1/28/2008 1:21 PM  
Blogger Orange said...

Ooh! Ooh, ooh! Feral may be onto something. I was recently revelling in some adult discussion of classic young adult fiction at Jezebel (Judy Blume!), which got me thinking back to how much I loved the young adult novels I read (and reread) back in the day. Mignon, you may have the gift to craft the book a 13-year-old will read more than once and still remember fondly decades later. Which is not to say you can't write for grown-ups, too, but yeah, this story has that awesome and affecting and relatable young-adult vibe.

1/30/2008 6:42 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Finally getting back to comment, though I read Part 2 a while back...

This was really excellent. I agree with Feral that a lot of the emotions were just sort of bubbling under the surface, like the narrator tried to be blase but was definitely affected by life.

And I admit I wasn't sure to begin with what Mr. Moffet's role would be -- if it would be appropriate -- maybe because the story began with a focus on him. Though reading it again the parallels to the dad are definitely clear.

Can't wait to see what happens with this -- i could definitely see it published.

1/31/2008 5:24 PM  
Blogger jwalters said...

I was just checking by and stopped to read your story. I really enjoyed it and can't wait for the next chapter! It's good the way you keep certain things ambiguous so that it draws you in and makes you want to read more. I think you've really captured the uncertainty of being in high school. I hope you delve more into Jeff and his story, it feels like there is more...

I just finished reading the first 3 books in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. They are in the young adult genre and a really fun read. I never thought I'd get sucked into a series about teenage vampires!

Hope you're doing well!


2/03/2008 9:11 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

I like how her Dad's illness kind of takes a backseat to everything else. That's how life is for a teenager. When I was 14, my littlest brother got Scarlet Fever. He was in and out of the hospital for months. I remember it in that detached way your main character does. Like it wasn't really that big of a deal... until, of course, it WAS a big deal.

2/07/2008 1:01 PM  
Blogger Ortizzle said...

Loved it. Reminded me of reading Anne Tyler: everyday stuff with a lot of subtle undercurrents, and such real characters. I would not change anything about Moffet; I think there is just the right amount of presence. I hope there's more to this story, because it has so much potential to keep going on.

2/09/2008 7:43 AM  

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