Sweet Saturday Samples

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples comes from Chapter 35 of Little Ragdoll, “Welcoming a New Troy.” While Allen and Lenore are having their first meeting with their prospective midwife in March of 1967, Adicia and her sisters make a joyful discovery in the midwife’s photo album.

***

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Troy,” she says, shaking their hands. “I’m Veronica Zoravkov and I hope I can be your midwife when the time comes.  I’ll give you a chance to talk with me about what you’d like out of your birth experience, what your expectations are, and what your plans are if you need to be transferred to the hospital, but first introduce me to everybody.  Are all these girls going to be present at the birth?”

“I ain’t no girl!” Boy protests. “Just ‘cause I’m the only guy in a group of girls don’t mean my maleness don’t count!”

“These are my younger sisters, Ernestine, Adicia, and Justine,” Allen indicates. “Those are my sisters’ friends, Julie and the Ryans.  Their parents called them Girl, Boy, Baby, and Infant, though they decided on some real names, I think, for when they go into wider society when they’re older.”

“Deirdre,” Girl reminds him. “My brother is David, Baby is Fiona, and Infant is Aoife, or Eva.”

“Are you a Miss or a Mrs.?” Adicia asks.

“Just call me Veronica.  We’re all friends here.  I probably won’t answer if you call me Mrs. Zoravkov anyway, since only people who don’t personally know me address me by my title instead of my first name.”

“Is that a Russian name?” Julie asks.

“Bulgarian.  My maiden name was Bulgarian too.  I wanted to marry another Bulgarian-American to keep my heritage alive instead of diluting it, since I’m so proud of where I come from.”

“Where’s Bulgaria?” Infant asks. “Is it very far away?”

“It’s on the Black Sea,” Ernestine says. “It’s in Southeastern Europe, in an area called the Balkans.  It borders Romania, Greece, and Yugoslavia.”

“What’s in your picture book?” Justine asks. “Can we look at it?”

“They’re pictures of past clients and their babies. If your brother and sister-in-law choose me and everything goes well, their pictures will be in here too come June.  It’s meant to reassure my prospective clients that normal people just like them have had their babies with a midwife, and that everything turns out alright in the majority of cases.  Of course, if the baby’s breech, we’ll have to take you to the hospital.”

“What’s a breech?” Baby asks.

“It’s when the baby is facing the wrong way,” Girl explains. “Babies are supposed to be born head-first, but sometimes they come out with their feet or rear end facing first.”

While Allen and Lenore are chatting with Veronica, the girls look at the pictures in the album.  A number of times they express surprise that the newly-born babies look rather unattractive instead of all cute, cuddly, and cleaned-up.  The people in the pictures look like normal people, just as Veronica said.  They don’t look like oddballs, but rather people they might pass in the street and not assume any anti-establishment thoughts about.

Allen looks over at them questioningly when there hasn’t been a peep out of them for more than several minutes.  Adicia, Ernestine, and Justine in particular are bent over one page, looking intently at one photograph.

“What’s so interesting?” he asks. “Something we should be alarmed about?”

“Sarah!” Adicia shouts. “It’s Sarah!  She’s in a picture!”

“You’ll have to tell me more details,” Veronica says. “Sarah is a common enough name that I know I’ve delivered more than a few.  Most of my Sarahs didn’t pronounce it with a long A, though.”

“Sarah Katz, our nanny till our mean mother fired her in June of ’62! She was born in Germany and came to America in ’47.  I know it’s our Sarah.  Even the tattoo on this woman’s arm has the same numbers as our Sarah’s tattoo.”

Ernestine brings the book over to show Allen, and his jaw drops when he too recognizes the face of the woman who helped to raise him since he was three years old.  Since he wasn’t as close to her as his sisters were, he wouldn’t know if the tattoo bears the exact same numbers, but he does see a serial number tattooed on this woman’s left forearm.

“I remember that woman.  Her name is Sarah with a long A, and her last name is still Katz.  I think she’s the only woman I’ve ever delivered who had a different last name from her husband.  She said after all she went through under the Nazis, may they all burn in Hell for what they did to so many innocent people, she couldn’t dream of giving up the identity she had when she survived.  She also said she was the only member of her family to survive, so it was doubly important to her to hold onto her original name.  Her husband’s name is Henry Rosen, short for Heinrich.  She was one of the oldest first-time mothers I’ve ever worked with.  I delivered her son Friedrich in August of ’65, when she was thirty-eight.  She called him Fritz for short, after her father.  She’s expecting another child now, and wants me to deliver her again.”

“Sarah finally found a husband and had her own baby!” Justine says happily. “Our mother wouldn’t let her even go back to school.  The bad guys in Germany kicked her out of public school when she was fourteen, so she never went to high school or college.  And then she had to spend all her time taking care of us, so she was never able to really do anything else.  Our mother wouldn’t have let her go on dates, get married, or have a baby anyway.”

Rendezvous with Destiny (Rockwell)

Font: Rockwell

Year created: 1934

Chapter: “Rendezvous with Destiny”

Book: Little Ragdoll

Written: 28 December 2010 (later had some lines added in while I was going back and writing in left-handedness for a number of the characters)

Computer created on: 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro

File format: Word 2004

This is Chapter 26 of one of my three great life works, the books I’m proudest of having written. My magnum opus is the handwritten Cinnimin, to eventually be 12 volumes, the other is my first Russian historical novel, and the third is this one, a contemporary historical family saga inspired by a true story.

When I first heard the story behind the famous Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll,” in the Spring of 1993, I became obsessed with giving that poor little girl a happy ending and writing a book about a girl whom she could’ve been. I’m now glad I lost the original first draft for so many years, since it finally forced me to go back and start over from scratch and memory. The finished product is so much stronger than it would’ve been had I been forced to work around the mess I created at age 13-14.

This was the chapter I’d been writing towards for the entire book up to that point, though it’s far from over. I tried to loosely base some of the book around lyrics from the song, and Adicia (named after the Greek goddess of injustice by her black-hearted mother) still hasn’t met the rich boy who loves her just the way she is and defies his family to be with her. It’s a Bildungsroman, more about growth, change, and development over a tumultuous period in contemporary history, not so much plot-centric. The most plot-centric section is Part IV, which rather reads like it could stand alone.

Some highlights:

“Window-washing,” Girl says. “I’ve scored so much money from it I’ve been able to buy Beatles’ records after we’ve bought our food supply for the week.”

“It’s not such a far walk,” Ernestine says. “Yous guys walk here to see us often enough.  All you need to get started is a bucket of soapy water and a sponge or rag.  We can even demonstrate to you how to do it on onea the cars parked down on the street.”

“Do I need two buckets?” Adicia asks. “I don’t want people to get angry at me if I wash their windshields with the same dirty water I used on thirty or fifty other cars that same day.”

“You think I might get extra dough if I washed a limo or some fancy rich person’s car?” Adicia asks.

“Who could get mad at some poor street kid?” Julie asks. “They’ll know by our ragged clothes and dirty faces that we’re not privileged uptown kids and that we’re one of them.  Who could say no to giving one of us urchins some spare change?  I got a whole dollar a few times too.”

Ernestine looks at her best friend’s free-swinging breasts and laughs. “I know something else you need to buy with your car-washing money, and that’s a bra.  You could get arrested for indecent exposure if you walk around in public much longer with those things swinging around like that.”

At most she’s gotten a dollar bill when people don’t have change, but usually she gets a quarter or a half-dollar.  Some people have been cheapskates and only given her a dime, but they’re far and few between.  Her favorite place to get business, though, is one light that seems to always last for a good three minutes.  With the cars forced to stop for that long, she has more time than usual to wash the windows.  She tries to impress the drivers by how seriously she undertakes her endeavor, instead of trying to smile at them and make small talk.  If they smile at her, though, she’ll return the smile.

As the light changes, she stands back and waits for him to give her her fair due.  She sees him reaching into his pockets to search for change, then hesitating when he pulls out a bill.  Adicia hopes he doesn’t want to cheap her out by giving her nothing or only change if a dollar bill is all he’s got.  Then, with cars starting to honk at him to get moving, he hands her the bill and starts to drive away.

“No way!” Ernestine gasps in astonishment when Adicia pulls out the ten-dollar bill. “Some guy in a fancy car gave you ten whole bucks just for washing his windshield?”

“Maybe he’s a celebrity who’s in town for the opening of his new movie or play,” Girl says. “Or maybe he’s a new resident with a little money.  Boy, I hope the rest of us run into him too, and often.”

Adicia reaches over for the record on the top of the pile, Rag Doll, by The Four Seasons.  The face of one of the bandmembers looks oddly familiar, though she can’t quite place where in the world she would’ve seen any famous person before.  Then, as she keeps staring at it, it dawns on her.

Adicia sits shaking and confused while she waits what feels like forever to Betsy to come back from across the hall.  While the Rag Doll record is playing, she pores through Betsy’s extensive scrapbook of The Four Seasons, looking at every picture and news clipping carefully.  Her heart is racing by the time she gets to the last page.

“You washed a millionaire’s windshield!” Ernestine says. “No wonder he gave you ten bucks!”

“Maybe he’ll drive through again and give me fifty bucks next time,” Adicia says hopefully.

Christmas Eve 1972

Sweet Saturday Samples won’t be running again till 12 January, but I’m going ahead and posting the excerpt I’d planned for this weekend anyway. I selected it in honor of John Lennon’s Jahrzeit (death anniversary), due to the mention of his music. I’m going back to Little Ragdoll (Adicia’s story), Chapter 56, “Finally a Real Thanksgiving and Christmas,” as the younger Troy sisters and the Ryan siblings are making a gingerbread house and other Christmas goodies on Christmas Eve 1972.

***

“Can we have some music while we’re baking?” Aoife asks. “Anything but that godawful nonstop Christmas music on the radio.  You’d think the normal person woulda gone nuts and thrown the radio out the window ages ago.”

“They do go overboard,” Fiona says. “I like a lot of the Christmas songs, but not after I’ve heard ‘em fifty times in a week.  There’s only a couple of ‘em I don’t immediately turn the dial on.”

“Sure, I brought somea my records along,” Deirdre says.

“Just don’t play that one record you play all the time, the one you liked so much you put the lyrics up all over the walls,” Aoife says.

“You mean John’s Plastic Ono Band?  What’s wrong with it?  It’s a very honest record.”

“There’s too much screaming on it.  Why is he so mad in those songs?”

“It’s part of Primal Scream therapy.  I’d recommend it to you too, Adicia.  It helps you purge out lingering pain and resentment left over from a crummy childhood, gets it all outta your system and heals you.  I think my favorite song on that record is ‘I Found Out.’  He so gives the finger to everyone on that song!”

“So how does it work?” Adicia asks. “Do you go to a shrink and he tells you what to do?”

“You can do it on your own too, I suppose.  Just start screaming out all your pain, anger, and frustration.  Better to get it out peacefully through screaming than beating someone up or getting in verbal fights, right?”

“Please, not now!” Ernestine begs. “Christmas Eve isn’t the time or place for Primal Scream therapy!”

“Allen and Lenore might think something bad’s going on if they hear Adicia screaming like that,” Fiona agrees.

“And it’s probably not good for the baby if it hears loud scary noises like that,” Aoife says.

“Maybe you’re right,” Deirdre admits. “We’ll just play folk music.”

“No Dylan, please,” Adicia begs as Deirdre starts upstairs for her records. “I respect his talent and message, but his voice still isn’t my cup of tea, and I don’t think he’s the best soundtrack for Christmas baking.”

True to her word, Deirdre only brings down folk rock albums and her handful of classical records Ernestine picked up from the free bin at their old favorite record store in Greenwich Village.  While Justine roasts chestnuts with Aoife, and the other girls are baking cookies, bûche de Noël, jellyrolls, brownies, chocolate toffee bars, and peanut brittle, the soft sounds of Deirdre’s beloved people’s music waft through the house.  David steps into the kitchen from time to time to help with baking, but otherwise occupies himself with reading the latest issues of The People’s Weekly World and grumbling about the state of the world.

“I always liked this song,” Adicia says of “Seven o’Clock News/Silent Night” as they’re finally cleaning up and putting away the baked goods at the end of the night, before heading off to sleep. “When was this record made again?”

“The fall of ’66,” Ernestine says. “This album’s always been onea my favorites too.”

“Isn’t it a crying pity it’s just as eerily pertinent at the end of 1972 as it was back in ’66?” Deirdre asks as she dumps some dirty dishes in the sink. “Only difference is that now Nixon’s heading into his second term in office, and back then he was only a former vice president.”

“Peace will finally come when enough people decide they want peace more than war, and that they love life more than death,” Fiona says.

As Adicia heads off to bed with Justine, her greatest hope for the coming year is that the beautiful, peaceful message of “Silent Night” will very soon overwhelm the ugly, painful, hateful messages on the nightly 7:00 news.  It seems like a faraway dream, but she once thought having all the decent members of her family back together again and escaping from the black hole they grew up in was just an idle daydream too.  When enough people want something, they find a way to make it happen, even if it sometimes takes longer than anyone had anticipated.

Sweet Saturday Samples—Samhain Proposal

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples comes from “Samhain Proposal,” Chapter 6 of Green Sunrise, the hiatused book between Little Ragdoll and Justine Grown Up. It’s Halloween 1974, and the ladies are telling one another’s fortunes through various methods of divination after trick or treating. In the middle of their fun, Ernestine gets a very happy holiday surprise.

***

Deirdre gets up. “Close your eyes and I’ll spin you three times.  You toss the apple peel over your left shoulder after the last spin.”

“Are there any boys you like in school, Justine?” Emeline teases as Deirdre spins her. “Any names you’d like to tell us?”

“Oh, there are a couple of guys I fancy, but no one I’d be interested in getting serious with.  I’m having a hard time in somea my classes anyway; the last thing I need is to burden myself with a relationship.”

“Are you failing?” Ernestine asks. “I know you’re too old to need us to check your schoolwork, but if you are having difficulties, we might be able to help you.”

“I’m having problems too,” Aoife confesses. “They’re nothing that can’t be fixed in due time, when the material gets easier.”

Justine throws the apple peel over her left shoulder and holds onto Deirdre for support, her eyes still closed.

“Is that an O?” Emeline asks. “Or maybe a G?”

“I think it’s a U or a V,” Fiona says.

“Oh, brother,” Deirdre says. “That looks like a D to me, and we all know you’ve got a big crush on my brother.”

Justine blushes. “Even if this stuff is for real and not just a parlor game, I’m still five years younger than David.  I don’t like him enough to wanna get him in trouble or force a relationship with someone who’s way outta my league at my age.”

“You’ll be old enough for him in five or so years,” Adicia says. “Age differences aren’t so big when you get older.”

“Can we try tasseography now?” Ernestine asks. “I’m mad with curiosity to see if you can see anything concrete in a bunch of loose tea leaves.”

“Maybe you can have some candy while you’re drinking the tea,” Deirdre encourages her. “Do you have a preference for tea?”

“Raspberry green tea with honey, please.”

Deirdre resumes reading Fiona’s palm while the water heats up and Emeline pulls out teacups, saucers, the wooden box of teas, and the blue cast iron teapot with a butterfly motif.  Ernestine thumbs through one of her fortune-telling books as she waits for the tea to be brought in.

“This line right above the Heart Line and under the index and ring fingers is called the Girdle of Venus,” Deirdre says as Ernestine sips the tea. “It’s usually found in people who are extremely sensitive, and we all know how sensitive you are.  And this marking between the Head and Heart Lines is called La Croix Mystique.  It means you’ve got a natural gift for mysticism and the occult.”

“That’s groovy,” Fiona says. “I’ve heard caulbearers have psychic powers, though I was en caul, not in the caul.”

“That makes you even more special. It’s not every day a baby comes out in an unbroken sac.”

Ernestine sets down her teacup and reaches for her pillowcase, hoping to pull out a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a bag of M&Ms, or a Snickers bar.  Instead she finds the wooden box now resting on the top of her sack of loot.  Curious, she pulls it out and examines it.

“Did anyone else get something like this?  Don’t tell me it’s from some dentist who gave out boxes of coins ‘steada real candy.  We had some awful killjoy back in Poughkeepsie who gave out toothbrushes every Halloween.”

“At least you can do something with money,” Aoife says. “The worst are the dentists and health nuts who give out apples.  Who wants an apple on Halloween?”

Ernestine pulls the box open and finds a folded note propped up on a slight angle.  Even more curious, she sets the box down, neglecting to notice the ring, and reads the note. “’My belovèd Ernestine Zénobie Troy, you are my best friend, my life, my soul, my heart, the only best friend and life partner I want for the entire rest of my earthly existence.  I’m formally, officially asking you again if you will be my best friend, my dear one, my partner through life, even until we are seventy, and beyond if we live so long.  We’ve been inseparable and interconnected for years, and now I want to make things permanent with a handfasting ceremony.  Will you please make my world complete by telling me you’ll marry me?  Love forever and always, Deirdre Apollonia Ryan, Halloween 1974.’”

Deirdre looks at her expectantly, knowing full well the answer, but still unable to breathe until she knows for sure.  Ernestine sets the note down on the table and turns her attention back to the little box, letting out a loud excited scream when she sees the brilliant red garnet in the claddagh setting.

“Yes, of course I’ll marry you, Deirdre!  I’ll belong to you forever!”  She jumps up and throws her arms around Deirdre, shaking in excitement, nervousness, and happiness. “Would you like to put the ring on for me?”

Deirdre takes the box, pulls the ring out, and slips it onto the ring finger of Ernestine’s left hand.  “I knew it would fit you perfectly!”

Six Sentence Sunday—Never Too Old for Halloween

My Alpha Male post is here.

This week for Six Sentence Sunday, I’m taking a Halloween-inspired detour and sharing something from a hiatused WIP called Green Sunrise, set primarily in Hudson Falls, NY, between 1974-77. It’s the book between Little Ragdoll and Justine Grown Up, and is sort of intended as a transitional point in my contemporary historical family saga.

It’s Halloween 1974, and 22-year-old Ernestine and her best friend Deirdre have insisted on dressing up and going trick-or-treating when they accompany their sisters, nieces, and nephews around the neighborhood. Now they’ve arrived back at home for some grownup Halloween fun.

Ernestine is dressed as a sexy saloon girl. The first paragraph demonstrates how sometimes it’s possible and grammatically correct to use past tense in an otherwise present tense story.

***

A few people looked askance at Ernestine’s costume, a purple corset attached to a very short skirt with black fringes, fishnets, her one pair of heels, black lace glovelets, a dark pink leg garter, and a big purple feather on her head, but no one held back candy from someone obviously adult enough to be parading around in such a sexual costume.  At least Deirdre resisted the urge to make her female pirate costume into something sexy or revealing.

“Next year I think I’m gonna be a sexy French maid,” Ernestine announces as she kicks off her heels the minute they get inside. “I think it’s a blessing in disguise that we were cheated outta proper Halloweens growing up, ‘cause when you’re a kid, you can’t get away with wearing fun costumes like this.  Plus they hadn’t had women’s lib and the sexual revolution yet when we were kids.  I probably woulda gotten stoned for wearing something like this out in public.”