Wall of Windows

My blog for the NaNoWriMo Challenge. No guarantee I'll accomplish anything, but eh, why not?

Location: Baton Rouge, LA, United States

Just a Yankee transplant to the deep, deep south, blogging about life, the universe, and everything.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Chunk 6

Well, here we are again...finally. This little chunk puts me over the 10000 mark, which was my personal goal. I'm really proud of myself. It's not perfect, but that's what editing is for. Even though I've preached that to my students, I have a hard time acting on it. Nontheless, I think I'll have to celebrate tomorrow. This chunk is 1968 words, if anyone cares.

“If I tell you,” Edna began, “will you promise not to tell anyone else? No one but my relatives knows the full story.”

“Keeping confidences is a big part of my job description,” Brad replied with a subtle grin. “But more importantly, I’d promise out of friendship.”

Edna took a moment to collect her thoughts before beginning. This was one of the most difficult things she had ever done. She had erected unbreachable walls around herself long ago, deciding that if no one got near her she couldn’t be hurt again. To allow even a small vulnerability – she didn’t intend to tell the whole story – was tantamount to allowing a full-scale invasion.

“Well,” she began, “the first part is easy. Well, not easy, but simple maybe – no that’s not right…” Edna paused and took a breath to slow her nervous rambling. “OK. My dad died when I was five. He had cancer. He was a contractor and spent a lot of time around asbestos and a bunch of other stuff we know now is bad for you. He was only 40.”

“That must have been hard on you and your mom,” Brad said with sympathy.

“Harder on Mum than on me. I didn’t really understand at the time. We had to move in with my grandmother, though. We had my dad’s Social Security and pension, but it just wasn’t enough. She had to sell the house. She was never really the same after that.”

Edna stopped then. The next part of her story was something was loath to tell. Even the remembering was almost too much for her to bear. She began to feel oddly distant from what was happening around her, and didn’t realize that she was shaking until she felt Brad take her hands in a gesture of support.

“Edna,” he prompted. When she looked up at him, he continued, “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. But,” he hesitated before saying, “I think you have been carrying a huge burden with you all these years. Let me help you carry the load.”

Rather than responding, Edna fell into memory. The things she remembered most about that day were colors and sounds. She remembered coming home from school with her grandmother wearing her navy blue uniform skirt and white blouse, the same as every other day. She remembered pulling her orange math folder out of her book bag and showing the test she had just gotten back with a rare gold star at the top to her grandmother. She remembered seeing pride and something else, something she didn’t understand at the time, reflected in her grandmother’s blue eyes as she told Edna to take the test upstairs to show her mother.

Edna felt herself climbing the pine hardwood stairs. She felt the slightly rough plaster of the off white walls as she trailed her hand along them, bad habit her grandmother always complained about. She felt the transition in texture from the stairs to the plush, green carpet as she stepped from the stairs into the hall and turned the corner.

Edna saw a white hand sticking out of the doorway to her mother’s room. She saw the green carpeting turning deep rust as blood seeped into it. She saw her mother’s blank, blue eyes staring back at her as she stood in front of the doorway. She saw her own blouse become spotted with red as she shook her mother in an attempt to revive her.

Edna heard her screams as she shook her mother. She heard her grandmother pound up the stairs in response. She heard her grandmother running into her bedroom and speaking frantically with the 911 operator. She heard the wail of the sirens as the ambulance and police car approached, and the banging on the door when they arrived.

Then there were the hands. The paramedic’s hands gently drawing her away from her mother’s body. Her grandmother’s hands in hers as they were led to a police car. The nurse’s hands as she removed the bloodstained blouse and wiped away her mother’s life from her skin.

Edna was so caught up in her memories that she didn’t hear Brad calling her name. She always tried hard not to go back to that day, because when she did, she couldn’t get away. The pain grabbed her and held her like a vise.

She finally broke out of her torment when she felt Brad grab her shoulders and shake her gently but firmly. “Edna?” he asked, his voice a little louder than usual. “Are you OK?”

Not even close, she thought, though she again silenced her inner voice and said aloud, “Yeah, I’m fine.” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“No, you’re not.” Edna expected to see recrimination in Brad’s eyes as she had been caught in an obvious like, but when she looked up at him, she saw nothing but concern. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

“No. I – I can’t right now.” There was a part of Edna that was screaming at her to just tell him, but that part had been used so little over the years that the even that scream was barely heard and easy to ignore.

“It’s OK. Like I said, I don’t expect you to tell me anything you don’t want to. But I will always listen if you want to.”

“Thanks.” They were both silent for a while. Edna reveled in the quiet, drawing comfort from Brad’s simple presence. She hadn’t share her pain with anyone since her grandmother died, and it felt good to do so.

After some time had passed, Edna broke the stillness by saying, “I really need to go. I have packing to do.”

Brad looked at her with surprise. “Packing? Are you going somewhere?”

“Oh, I sold my grandmother’s house. Didn’t I mention it?” Edna reasoned that she was telling an almost truth; her grandmother’s was being sold, even if it wasn’t her doing the selling.

“No. Why did you do that?”

“Well, it was really too much for just me, and it’s an old house and I didn’t want to deal with repairs.” That really was true. She was petrified that the plumbing would go, or that the roof would suddenly start leaking.

“I can understand that. So, have you rented an apartment around here?”

“Well, I don’t actually have a place to move to quite yet,” Edna replied. She could feel herself cringing as she thought about the very real possibility of living on the streets.

“When do you have to be out?”


“And you don’t have a new place yet?” Brad seemed astonished, but then he broke out into a grin. “Edna, this may just be you lucky day!”

Edna gave him a look that said that she was questioning his sanity. “What are you talking about?”

“I have a friend from college who just moved back to Pittsburgh a couple months ago. She found a great apartment in Crafton, but the expenses are a little too much for her to handle and she’s been looking for a roommate. Interested?”

Edna felt that little tickle of hope she had felt when talking with the strange man in the cemetery. “I think I might be,” she answered. Despite being almost desperate, she was a little bit afraid as well. The only time she had ever lived with anyone who wasn’t a family member was for the few months she spent at Edinboro before she dropped out.

“I’ll tell you what,” Brad began, “I’ll give her a call right now, and if she’s free, she can come over so you two can meet at least.”

Edna agreed with that idea, and Brad left the room to call his friend. Edna remained sitting tensely in the living room. She picked at the cuticle on her right thumb, a nervous habit she picked up as a child and had never been able to break. To anyone who knew (which was no one alive), her emotional state could be determined by examining the state of that thumb. If her cuticles were smooth, she was relatively calm and stress free. Ragged cuticles indicated a fair amount of stress, and when they started bleeding, there was real trouble. They had been bleeding a lot over the course of the past few days, and her current picking caused them to bleed again.

Brad returned to the living room and announced that his friend was on her way. He then went into the kitchen to pull together some refreshments for her arrival. Edna excused herself to the bathroom, wanting to cover up her earlier crying jag so she wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of her potential new roommate.

In the bathroom, one look in the mirror told her that she wouldn’t be able to hide the evidence completely. Her eyes were rimmed with red beneath her glasses, and her cheeks burned from the salty tears. Even her hair seemed more limp than usual. She splashed cold water on her face, hoping to reduce some of the puffiness. It didn’t really succeed, however some of the redness receded. After drying her face, she reapplied some of her makeup and tried to fluff up her hair. She didn’t want to frighten the poor girl off, after all.

When she got back to the living room, Brad had set out a coffee service and the dry, store-bought cookies people always seemed to have on hand. She sat back down in the same wingback chair she sat in earlier. She turned down Brad’s offer of coffee as she couldn’t stand the stuff. He offered to make her tea, which she accepted gratefully.

Just as he had put the water on to boil, the doorbell rang. Brad went into the hallway to answer it, and greeted his friend warmly. He brought her into the living room and said, “Edna Parker, I’d like to introduce you to the one and only Mockernut Smith.”

Edna’s incredulity must have shown on her face, for the woman said, “It’s a family name. No one ever calls me that.” She glared at Brad, who had that flirtatious grin on his face. “I go by Mo.”

Mo Smith was an interesting looking person. She was a lovely woman, but she dressed in a down-to-earth way. Her dark blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail and secured with a red ribbon bow. The dark green sweater she wore looked like it was hand knit, and she paired it with a white turtleneck, and jeans. Her eyes were hazel, and sparked with energy. She spoke with an accent that was clearly southern, and even that one simple sentence Edna heard her spoke sounded lyrical. Edna thought that Mo was her polar opposite; she was full of light and life in contrast to Edna’s darkness and pain.

Mo sat down on the couch and helped herself to coffee. She and Brad made small talk for a few minutes while Edna observed. Mo was obviously confident in who she was. She spoke with the air of someone who never knew insecurity. Edna found herself wondering if she was the female version of Brad when she was in high school.

The teakettle began screeching, and Brad went into the kitchen to take care of it. An awkward silence immediately ensued. Edna took a rare chance, and broke the ice herself. “So, Mo,” she began, “Brad tells me you just moved back to Pittsburgh. Forgive me for saying this, but you don’t sound like you’re from around here.”

Mo laughed before replying, “Not by a long shot. I grew in a little town in Louisiana about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I went to college at Duquesne. That’s where I met Brad.”