Just some random samples from my class journal. Not anything truly publishable of course--just a taste of the kinds of characters that are in my head.
Her easel stood in center, illuminated from above with the brightest light in the room. The finish of the well-scrubbed hardwood floor reflected back the bluish-white glow and strengthened its impact. That always pleased Ms. John very much, even though the dropsheet under her easel and stool slightly diminished that glow. Presently, she satisfied herself that her newly placed canvas was at the proper angle to the light, then hopped off her stool to readjust the props again.
By the casement window, Ms. John had arranged her still life down to the last detail. The fabrics had been draped up, down, sideways, and in all sorts of loops to best complement the striking contrast of colors of her glassware, wheels, flowers, crates, and even handfuls of soil. She checked that everything was arranged exactly and perfectly to plan. This painting would be one of her best; it had to be just right.
Ms. John eyed the setting from the giant, unwieldy wheel perched on top to the fragile dishware on bottom and was pleased. Even the light shining on them from the window was precisely correct. She headed back to her easel and threw herself into the work.
Quietly, and independent of her notice, a disturbance arose outside the window. At first a whistle, then a squealing kind of howl announced the summer storm that was beginning. Then a thumping sound joined the noise as the window rattled upon its latches. Suddenly, the window burst open.
Ms. John let out a cry and dropped her paintbrush. The gust swept in and attacked her props fiercely. Fabric loops unraveled, soil flew, and the wheels started to overbalance. She jumped down and ran to the window. She frantically pushed hard to shut it, but it wouldn't budge.
The wind pushed back, its howl sounding savage. It tipped over the wheels, pulled at the cloths, and rattled the dishware. A tea cup lifted and then smashed on the floor.
"No!" She pushed and pushed. She clambered on the window seat and tried kicking the window panels shut. But she couldn't get them close enough to lock the latches.
Swirls of leaves accompanied the wind into the room. Thunder faintly sounded somewhere outside. The pattering of rain softly began.
She put all her weight on the panels. The wind roared louder and seemed to mock her as it tore the cloths and made her easel shake. The giant wheel on top finally crashed down heavily on the other props and sent off shards of china that Ms. John ducked. She screamed.
Blasting on, the beast pounded and squalled with an almost cackling voice. Some abetting rain began to soak Ms. John.
With an idea, she suddenly reached and grabbed the giant wheel. She lunged and pressed it hard against both panels at once, pushing. After a time, she shut the window. She locked the latches.
The wind, now muffled, went on its screaming way with the thunderstorm outside. It had plenty of destruction to wreak elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Exhausted, Ms. John finally let go of the wheel and stepped back. She turned around slowly, staring at the wreckage scattered on the floor, dashed on the walls. Her pulse and breath remained rapid, and she fought to stifle them. Without a word, she sank witheringly to the floor. Curled up in a tiny huddle of knees and arms, she put her head down and wept softly, in a choking, broken way.
The room's stillness echoed this one sound hollowly for some time. Her agony spasmed. Her trembling soon grew to terrible convulsing quakes that shook her all over. So she finally raised her head and released it--in a long, hearty laugh.
Rachel Sand: Sand rocked her hips with a natural, animal sway of confident freedom. She always wore the white, frilled dresses underneath her bulky black leather jacket, bands, and belts. Silver chains and buckles dangled on her continually, jingling slightly as her thick black boots strode down the hallway. Her hair hanging loose, her makeup done up randomly, according to a moment's whim, she never tried anything that didn't feel comfortable.
She controlled her art to an exquisite degree, knowing and determined about what she would take and what she would refuse. Her style could never be attributed to some unthinking trend of fashion, never be subjugated to the vulgar "glamour" of the outside world. She also kept her morals to herself.
Ken Daye: A serious student of oratory and debate, he enjoyed the thought of his new venture into acting. Joining the high school drama team was a good choice; it would improve his projection and his charisma. He'd long had aspirations to be a lawyer, as well as a developing skill for argument. Now at last he could incorporate his career interests into his extracurricular activities.
During the first theater meeting of the year he had a bad shock. The crowd of both fresh and old drama students stood huddled among the theater seats, chatting while they waited for Mr. Kant's arrival. Ken entered then, still radiating with the glowing confidence of his successful audition over the summer.
He smiled at everybody and said hello. Then, casually glancing toward the proscenium, he unexpectedly saw Sand.
Making herself at home, she lounged on the edge of the stage, humming and kicking her legs back and forth in boredom. She played with the dangling trinkets on her silver chains and smiled contentedly to herself while staring up and around at the stage lights.
Ken came to the front quickly, staring at her. "You!"
She looked at him and raised her eyebrows. She shrugged. "You!" she answered.
"What are you doing here?" he warned in a stern whisper. "You don't belong here."
Becoming indignant, she glared back. "Who says I don't?"
"Don't be silly. This is for Mr. Kant's actors only. You're not an old member, and I know you weren't at the auditions this summer. You better get out before you're in trouble."
"Now, hold on, buddy! I'm supposed to be here just as much as you are. I was invited."
"By who?" he stared in disbelief. "Who do you think you're fooling? This is a serious class, and we don't need any loiterers."
She bit her lip and nearly jumped off the stage at him.
"Ahem!" a sharp, rough voice broke in. They turned and saw Mr. Kant standing quite near, with his arms crossed. "Hate to interrupt, folks, but I think this is a class, not a shouting match."
Ken flushed slightly, admonished. "Mr. Kant! I was just . . ."
He rolled his eyes and cut him off. "Forget it. I don't do personal problems here."
Then Mr. Kant turned and faced Sand. His gruffness abruptly mellowed. "Oh, it's you, Sand," he said. "How are you? Hey, did you get that script I sent you?"
She swiveled around from her angry glare at Ken. "Oh. . . yes, Mr. Kant." Her tight voice had relaxed.
He smiled. "Great! I know it was last minute and everything." He glanced at the assembly across the aisle. "Settle down!" He looked back. "You comfortable?"
She smiled. "Um, yes. Just fine, sir."
"Good." Then he walked on to the other students. "Daye!" he said sharply. "Are you going to join us some time soon?"
"Oh! yes." He gave a last incredulous look at Sand and then hurried off obediently.
She remained seated, smiling smugly after him.
Rob turned around, then wished he hadn't. Hal came running up and caught hold of Rob's shoulder without noticing him cringe.
"Hey, buddy! How ya doing?"
Rob smiled wide. "Fine, fine," he chirped back. God, can't I ever lose this worm? he asked himself.
Hal hugged him. "Great! Say, you remember that idea I bounced off you? I finally got confirmation this morning. It's all set!"
"Oh really? That's incredible!" Rob kept the smile plastered on his face.
"Yeah, so I wanna thank you for your help."
"No problem. Any time." For half a moment Rob frowned, wondering how literally Hal would take that. He quickly resumed his smile before Hal noticed.
"Say, how's about I take you out to dinner tonight?"
"Oh, you don't have to do that! I just made a few tiny suggestions. . . ."
"I really wanna thank you, Bud."
"No, I'm sorry. I've kind of got plans tonight." He slowly tried to squirm away.
"Aw, geez! Well, we'll do it some other time, 'kay?"
"Yeah," Rob answered, then sighed in relief as Hal walked away.
He was the coldest man in town; he had no affection for anyone or anything. The only one he ever talked to was the vet, whose nerves he rattled. He kept going on and on about his poor cat's ailments, straight into the vet's lunch hour.
"Doc, you sure it's not serious? You sure he's okay? I gotta know if he'll get over this."
His nervous little cracked hands would wring themselves constantly, always unknowingly ripping up some item within his reach in the vet's office--magazines, tissues, cotton balls, etc.--much to the vet's annoyance. The old man would mumble often and shuffle his feet repeatedly right across the vet's expensive carpet.
So of course everyone in town knew that he must have no scrap of caring in him at all.
Starlight mornings, before the crack of dawn, she'd always be up and running. Beth loved moments like these, when the air tasted of sweet, moist fog. She chipperly skipped down the stairs, singing an "early bird song" as she called it. Huddled up in bed still, Samson shouted from upstairs for her to hush, but he never meant it as savagely as he said it. Without realizing it, he'd actually be smiling while crushing the covers over himself, still smelling the scent of her perfume in the bed.
She only switched to a hum and stared out the window in awe of the calm stillness in the heavy, violet-gray sky that surrounded the world these mornings. Then she sat down at her piano and let her fingers softly run over the cool ivory for several moments, closing her eyes.
At last she took a deep breath, glanced up at her empty music sheet, and began playing. Sometimes pounding, sometimes tapping, she set the keys in motion. They undulated in smooth waves and in spasms. They rang high and low. All the while Beth stared out into the fresh morning beyond her window, pausing as necessary to record her progressing composition on the music sheet. Then she would start over from the beginning again, so that the playing stretched out longer and more smoothly as time went on.
Upstairs Samson finally rose and crossed to the window. Sitting on the sill, he looked out through the glass while he listened. The wide fields of grass, the mountains that hung over their secluded little valley, the ice-blue lake in the distance, and the just-blossoming flowers all rang with the sound of her playing.
"This is it," she had often whispered to him. "This is the place, the fount of my inspiration, the source of life and freedom and living. This is the birth of my creations, my masterpieces, my hopes, and dreams."
He pictured her downstairs, enthralled with the music, moving and being moved, as happy as whenever she said those words. He smiled and returned to bed. He knew she would continue until dawn, until the birth of the morning.
I'm staring at Ella down by the stream. Not quite four, and she scampers about like an elfin who has all the world in her hands. I wonder why and how she can be so resilient. Of course she has no conscious memory of the trauma anymore, but what about her subconscious? Personally, I still can't recover, even though I hadn't been there at all. --But I must have lived through it a thousand times in nightmares.
"Thank God he spared the baby."
Those are the words that keep repeating every time, among the muffled sounds in my dreams. It's what all the people--doctors, friends, neighbors--had kept saying immediately after the wreck.
And it haunts me.
Sure, they could thank God that the baby survived the drunk driver's headlong crash into my parents. Everyone could thank God all they liked. They weren't me, they weren't the seventeen-year-old left behind who had to face raising her own baby sister.
Jason had been the only one stubborn enough to successfully drill it into my head that I had to fight for custody of Ella, whether I liked it or not. He kept telling me that even though I didn't feel strong enough to imagine raising her, he would help and we'd be strong enough together.
I'll admit that he has been, but me--I'm no mother. And so I'm sitting here now on the lawn chair in the grass, pretending I can't hear him clattering away on his typewriter inside the cabin. All the while we both know it's not that the "rustic surroundings" have given him some new inspiration, but only that he can't stand to argue with me anymore. Instead, he'll just pout and fume and make me feel thoroughly unwelcome in his cabin for an hour. I don't mind that in itself, and probably would enjoy a little pouting and fuming myself, but I can't enjoy anything so long as I'm staring at Ella again.
She's there, dancing and twirling in the sun in her blue jumpers. She's snatching flowers and crushing them into the muddy stream, being sure to squish her bare toes into it as well. Then she runs elsewhere again and starts doing primitive somersaults. She has her father's gymnastic tendencies. Father. --Jason's not her father, anymore than I am. Ella's father is a bespectacled, gray-bearded little scientist who stopped being cold to his wife in his mid-fifties and decided to have a second fling at parenthood with the thirty-eight-year-old woman he'd fallen in love with again. Ella's father is a ghost.
I close my eyes and come close to tears again. Ghosts. I bite my lip.
I'd been shocked at their behavior at the time. I'd exploded. They weren't acting like the parents I knew. They couldn't be real. I'd lost respect for my mother for forgiving him. I'd convinced myself Dad had gone senile. I'd hardly given the baby any kind of civil, let alone familial, welcome.
The baby! I couldn't think of Ella as my own sister, nor as my own foster child. She was Jason's kid, so far as I was concerned. He didn't agree at all, and was willing to volubly argue the point. He might have gone on another hour this time if I hadn't cruelly accused him of marrying me only so he could get a "free child" in the bargain. When he lets me in again, I'll apologize for attacking him about his mothering nature--it's something I'd always especially loved about him, actually. And I'll try once again to explain to him what I mean when I say I can't, I truly can't be a mother to Ella.
But now I open my eyes at a strange sound, the laughter of a voice I don't recognize. Nor do I exactly know my bearings anymore, stumbling unexpectedly when I rise. Even the soil I fall down upon seems grossly unfamiliar. Then I turn and look up.
I gasp. I stand and nearly shout because I think I see my mother. I blink again, weightless. Through blinding sunlight, it's only Ella, dancing about again on the craggy top of a mountainous stone. But she's not dancing like her father--not like Jason--she's dancing like . . . Mom.
On their last anniversary together, to celebrate their renewed love and their coming baby, Mom and Dad had danced in the parlor, laughing and giggling because they were being so careful about not doing her harm and about balancing for her weight. I'd come downstairs to tell them not to be so loud in the middle of the night. They'd only smiled and shooed me to bed.
Now Ella rocks back and forth, swaying as if under a weight, her arms stretched out to the sun as she laughs at her new experiment. Her hair is the color of her father's, her real father's, and her mother's freckles dapple her skin while her slippery feet mark out the steps according to whatever song she's got going inside her brain. She's my sister, I think stupidly. --She really is my sister!
I realize I'm shaking, that I've been shaking for several moments. My heart is pounding as though I've run for miles. That my throat's gone dry is what's kept me from shouting or crying or both. Suddenly, my breath does break forth.
"Ella!" I run and dive as fast as I can because her feet have slipped off the stone and she is falling. Screaming. Painfully, I receive her on top of me, sure that my collar bone has been cracked by a force somewhere between her and the rock. She looks bruised and is wailing, but I grasp her close to me and smile all the same.
I can hear Jason running out from the cabin and calling out frantically, but I don't bother to answer. Ella will make sure he finds us soon enough. I sigh and let my heartbeat settle down. Until Jason arrives to mother us both, I will quietly wait, in peace.
"Thank God he spared the baby."
The bed is much too large for the room it's in. It stretches from the white, paint-dribbled wall to the slight window that's always been cramped in an inconvenient corner. The desk and chair back directly into its side. A very slim walkway passes in the front, squeezing a person in.
The sheets are white and tangled, making a crinkling sound when one steps into it. The pillows are lumpy, a squelching rather than a sigh when one's head is in it. The heat in it is uneven, cold in places and stifling warm in others. The blankets are never large enough for it, messily draped in different directions and muddled in a pile by the wall while one lays in the bed, staring up.
One gazes forward too, finding one's bearings and sense of proportion oddly distorted. One turns over, pressing face and body into fabric. The bed smells of skin, breath, tears, and remnant sweat from fevers. The sheets are changed on the bed, but there are memories in it still, perhaps pressed into the mattress beneath everything. It tastes like dust and stale morning breaths. When the lights are off, the darkness is thick and makes the room's every feature chameleon with the bed. All things have the same deep gray color when one blinks and stares around.
One lays with the blankets stretched over one's body, sometimes finding the sensation pleasant. One has memories of other beds, other dreams, in comparison to this one. One never sleeps at first, waiting in the dark for hours for what should be tranquil rest. One watches the red neon clock. One's mind is busy. One remains tucked into a narrow patch of the mattress, huddled tight as though this bed were half its size. One closes one's eyes every now and then. One experiments about sleeping sideways, then diagonally. One shifts, and shifts, and shifts. One tears at one's hair. One sleeps.
The blankets fold a thick, quilted cocoon around a wriggling,
Its dusky taste of distraught memory clings at the back of the throat. The ancient smells in the bed dissolve and smother me into their quicksand pit.
Its creaking sounds mocking me with laughter, the bed wrestles with me for the prize
The opposite clock conspires with the bed, to freeze time by its numb, lurid glow.
The tick-tick clock
Drums its drone on your ears.
Gurgling heart paces slower,
Your feet are shuffle-nervous
Under your desk,
Your watery eyes roll to seek escape.
You chew your lip.
The oh too painful glory of the sun
Bursts through the window at you,
Exploding fiery blossoms within,
To companion those already outside.
It cuts you breathless, leaves
Your feet shuffle-nervous and tapping,
Under your desk.
Already your heart is in love
With the thought
Of the door.
This chill, sharp ice that
Coils in a wind about
You: a lover's kiss.
The path was where we
Stood in winter, chilled, winding
Our hearts for the Spring.
1) Janice Halloway: 35, executive with Crofts, Kim, and Li, blond, conservative suit, penny loafers, three briefcases permanently on her person every minute, collects (and rides) surfboards, a meeting in twenty minutes.
"Well, really, I . . . don't know. I mean I--I haven't any real opinion on it either way. I'd have to know more information before I could just hand over a judgment or anything. Sea World isn't my regular topic of conversation, you know. I mean, from what little I've heard, I just barely see where a term like 'controversy' comes into it at all. Sure it seems to be a waste of money, but if they want to do it they can. I've nothing against the Sea Worlds housing all those rescued seals and dolphins. It's a nice thing to do. Just so long as they don't want subsidization from the government to do it. I mean, they ought to at least take the responsibility for the budget, as well as the charitable work, don't they?"
2) Dennis Long: 27, assistant counselor at Pine Lake Resort, cotton top and denim jeans, light brown hair, Chapter 12B secretary for Green Peace, Liberal Democrat, hates cats, mobility by wheelchair, left-handed.
"I'm definitely for it. I think it's a noble effort. It's positive and effective for many communities. For Sea World to rise above usual corporate ethics and actually volunteer to take in and care for those poor animals is quite admirable. The Sea Worlds divert some of their own profits to take on this separate venture, of which almost no publicity is raised. The reports that come back to us about it are very confident. Their program of rescue teams, rehabilitation centers, private caretakers, and re-release into the wild is quite humane. Like so many modern zoos and wildlife preserves are doing now, Sea World is making a difference by setting this national example of taking responsibility to shelter and protect such poor animals."
3) Victoria Selse: 38, songwriter and guitarist, miniskirt, heels, black ponytail hair, chain-smoker, one Labrador.
"It's tacky. It's grand exploitation. Why do you think they 'rescue' these animals? Because they're cheap. Those pathetic little seals, and manatees, and dolphins, and walruses, and whales are just cheap commodity. Since they're injured, spoiled, there's nobody to fight with over claiming them or moving them out of their habitat. Who wants 200 seals who nearly drowned in the Valdez spill? Sea World 'rescues' because it gives good environmentalist PR. Because the money they make off their little sideshow circus, founded on the more talented of those rescued, more than compensates for any exorbitant expense that their 'noble motives' cost them in the first place."
I brightened up this background a little from an image at The Essential Graphics Catalogue.
© 1997 Huong Nguyen email@example.com