Sweet Saturday Samples

This week for Sweet Saturday Samples, I’m presenting another excerpt from Chapter 29 of Adicia’s story, “Allen and Lenore’s Romance.” It’s the day after Lenore’s 18th birthday, and Adicia, her sisters, and their friends have come over to the apartment to give Lenore their presents and celebrate with her. Bit by bit, Lenore confesses to them what happened last night.

***

Adicia, Justine, Ernestine, Julie, and the Ryans come up to the apartment on Saturday afternoon, carrying a shopping bag with their birthday presents for Lenore.  Lenore seems a bit moony-eyed as she greets them.

“You seem different,” Ernestine says. “Does that happen to everyone when they turn eighteen and magically become adults?”

“Did you feel different overnight when you turned thirteen and became a teenager?” Lenore asks her.

“A little,” Ernestine says. “Girl says she didn’t feel like a teenager right away.”

Girl pulls up a seat at the kitchen table and sits with her head in her elbows, an annoyed look on her face.  When Lenore offers the children birthday cake, Girl gives a little sigh and accepts a thin slice.  She says nothing as she slowly chews the cake.

“What’s eating you?” Lenore asks. “You’re usually so animated.”

“She started menstruating last night,” Ernestine tattles.

Adicia looks at Girl with a mixture of jealousy, admiration, and surprise. “Why’d you keep it a secret?  You didn’t say anything about that when Justine and me met yous guys at your place.”

“I was not looking forward to this,” Girl grumbles. “I wanted to hold out till I was seventeen.  Lucky Ernestine still ain’t gotten hers.”

“She went across the hall to Mrs. van Niftrik for help when she realized what was going on,” Julie says. “She said Mrs. van Niftrik thought her homemade washable napkins were ingenious, and so much more practical and thrifty than the Modess napkins and the belt she uses.  Betsy turned thirteen in March, but she hasn’t menstruated yet.  I’m glad I have at least two more years left to not have it.”

“What did Allen get you for your birthday?” Baby asks, glad she’s only eight years old and too young to be dealing with such a situation.

“A stuffed monkey, perfume, blue flat-soled shoes, and an emerald bracelet,” Lenore smiles. “He spends too much money on me.”

“A guy only spends so much money on a girl when he really likes her,” Ernestine says. “You think he’ll come home from work this evening with more gifts?”

“Even if he does, I’m not wishing for anything more!” Lenore says. “Your brother has already gotten me a miniature zoo, and now he’s gotten me jewelry, shoes, and perfume!”

“Can we go out to the park after you open your presents?” Infant asks.

“Sure, that’ll be fun,” Lenore says.

She takes the bag from Boy and pulls out the presents, wrapped in newspaper.  Ernestine and her friends pooled together their money and got her a mauve-colored jewelry box with seashells and bits of rounded colored glass for decoration, Adicia got her a compact mirror with rhinestones with some of her windshield-washing money, and Justine got her a potholder she made in her kindergarten class.  All of the other girls were making them for their mothers or grandmothers, but only Justine had to make hers for an older female friend who serves as one of her surrogate mothers.  She used green, white, red, and yellow loops.

“Someday when we’re older and have jobs, we’ll get you presents as nice as the ones Allen got,” Adicia promises.

“He took me out to a Greek restaurant for supper too,” Lenore says. “He held my hand part of the way home.”

“How romantic!” Ernestine says. “I think hand-holding is very underrated.”

“And then when we were watching television after we got home, he put his arm around me.”

“How exciting!” Julie says. “I bet you didn’t put up a fight when he did either of those things.”

“He asked my permission for both things,” Lenore says proudly. “I know a lot of guys would just make their move and not even think about if the girl was interested in that.  You should’ve seen how nervous he was about asking me if he could kiss me.”

“What!” Ernestine gasps, a big smile appearing on her face. “My brother really kissed you, on the mouth I’d assume?”

Lenore giggles nervously. “It was very nice.”

“What does it feel like?” Girl asks, suddenly interested in her surroundings. “Not that I wanna do that with anyone till I’m a bit older, but I’m curious.  I should know what to expect.”

“Like being tickled by butterflies,” Lenore says. “You can feel invisible electric sparks and you get butterflies in your stomach.”

“I don’t know why anyone would wanna do that,” Infant says, wrinkling her nose. “It’s like chewing on someone’s face.  Older people do lots of stuff I think is goofy.”

“You’re only six, sweetie.  When you’re my age, you’ll probably think a lot differently.” Lenore picks up her purse. “Now who wants to go out to the park?  I’ll buy yous guys snacks or ice-cream if we pass a vendor.”

“That’s it?” Girl asks. “You’re gonna drop the bomb that Allen kissed you last night and then leave it at that?  No other details?”

“I wouldn’t want to bore you with details when you’ve never had your own boyfriend.  I don’t think you could really understand what I’m talking about if you haven’t experienced it yet.  Besides, I think Ernestine, Adicia, and Justine might be a little grossed-out if I go into any more detail about their own brother kissing me.”

“You’re right,” Adicia says immediately. “I hope no boy kisses me till I’m at least eighteen.”

“When you’re eighteen?” Justine asks. “I don’t want to do that ever, with any boy!”

“I told you,” Lenore says.

Girl looks at her in awe as they file out of the apartment, as though she’s now a species from another planet.  She knows Lenore is five years older than she is, but now she seems even older by mere virtue of having a boyfriend.  That’s the kind of growing up experience she’d prefer to be having right about now, instead of being stuck having her first unwanted menstrual period.

Warm Fuzzies Blogfest, Week Four

For the final week of the Warm Fuzzies Blogfest, we’re being asked what makes it all worth it as a writer, and to share something from a WIP or finished work that’s one of our own Warm Fuzzies moments. I’ve known how to read since I was three and started writing (primarily picture books) when I was four, so I can’t really remember a time I wasn’t writing in some form or another. When I was a preteen, my stories started getting longer and more complex, and I settled on historical fiction as my great love in the fourth grade. Twentieth century historical fiction soon won out over 19th century historical fiction, and that’s what I’ve been writing ever since (along with select soft sci-fi).

What makes it all worth it for me is knowing, if I’m good enough, I’ll be remembered as a writer for all time, like Shakespeare, Dante, Hermann Hesse, Kahlil Gibran, Mark Twain, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Yes, they wrote about issues relevant to their own eras and geographical locations, but the books and stories themselves resonate across cultures and eras because they didn’t write to trends or try to copy an in vogue writing style. They just wrote from the heart. Writing non-YA books that are all of 300 pages would never cut it for me. I feel so much pride and accomplishment upon finishing one of my sagas, even knowing many people now react to someone who’s written a saga that goes WAY above 100,000 words the same way many people react when they learn a woman didn’t have a C-section for twins, a baby over 10 pounds, or a non-transverse breech. That used to be the norm, but only because it’s been so long since it was, it’s now viewed with surprise or disbelief, like they don’t realize people still do that when no one has told them they can’t or shouldn’t.

Many of my storylines and books are memorized in my head for years before I get to them. My recently-finished 406,000-word Russian novel sequel was locked in my head for about 15 years before I was able to really get down to it, though I’m glad I had the notes/outline from 10 years ago to refresh my memory about some plot points. I got the idea for a sequel when I wasn’t even halfway done with the first book. All I can say is, thank God I decided to change the juvenile original plot structure so that Lyuba and Ivan would be together, and that they’d secretly been in love since they were children. Had Lyuba indeed permanently ended up with Boris, and had Boris never turned to the dark side of his personality, not only would the first book have been extremely boring, short, and predictable, but it also wouldn’t have left much room for a natural sequel.

After keeping this book in my head for about half of my life (since that’s what 15 years represents to someone who’s not quite 32), it felt so good and liberating to advance in my progress, and to finally get down on paper scenes, chapters, and lines I’d had memorized since I was rather young. Chapter 41, “Union with a Snake,” just came blasting out of me, as did Chapter 43, “Facing the Music in Minnesota,” Chapter 45 (the final chapter), “Who’s the Father?,” and the Epilogue, “No Thirteenth Time.” One of the chapters for the future third book, “Lyuba Becomes a Levshá,” is also now memorized in my head. (Levshá is the Russian word for a lefty, and in the third book, another part of a nightmare Lyuba has in the second book comes true. Not to give away too much, but she gets in an accident in late 1938, while eight months pregnant with her eighth child, that renders her right arm and hand pretty much useless.)

For my own Warm Fuzzies moment, I’m sharing something not from one of my Russian novels, but from Adicia’s story. There have been quite a few books I’ve put on permanent hiatus over the years, or that I planned to write but lost interest in, but only Adicia’s story did I ever come back to. After 16.5 years after the first of my two disk files got some kind of bug, I finally bit the bullet and went back to reconstruct it from memory as best I could, and using the storyline I’d had memorized in my head since 1993. And I’m so glad that first part of the discontinued first draft was only miraculously resurrected some months after I’d finished the book, since it just wasn’t bringing the story in a very positive or well-plotted direction.

It was like a Grimm’s fairytale on acid, with characters who aren’t particularly three-dimensional, and with a really annoying, D.W. Griffith-like narrative essentially telling the reader to feel sorry for Adicia. The purple prose describing their poverty and the parents’ and older brothers’ drug use was also way over the top. It’s much more realistic and natural when Allen, the one decent Troy brother, goes clean and makes good in the new version, since he’s depicted from the jump as a nice guy who loves his sisters, doesn’t drink or use drugs nearly as often as his parents and older brother Carlos, who prefers the relatively innocuous pot over the harder drugs the other three are frequently imbibing, and who desperately wants to find a way out of this life. In the discontinued first draft, his move from druggie, drunk, sleeparound, thug, and thief to stand-up family man, protector of his sisters, sober person, and hard worker is pretty damn sudden. I didn’t realize at 13/14 that you can’t just have characters completely reform their established personalities overnight, for no compelling reason. It has to follow the story and character trajectory that’s already been established.

Anyway, one of the reasons I finally got back to the book was because I didn’t think my conscience would ever forgive me if I didn’t. I owed it to that dear little girl who was the real-life inspiration for Adicia. There are a number of chapters in Adicia’s story that give me warm fuzzies and that I was really excited to get to, like when Allen and his sisters first meet Lenore and invite her into their home, when Allen and Lenore finally get together romantically, when Adicia first meets Ricky, when Justine arrives in Hudson Falls to join Adicia and Ricky after her harrowing escape from Manhattan, when Allen and Lenore get married, and when Ernestine first meets Girl and Boy Ryan (as they’re then called). But my favorite part, my whole reason for writing the book, is Chapter 26, “Rendezvous with Destiny.” Here in its entirety, and with some new lines correcting my embarrassing oversight of not having any lefties. (I always have at least a few lefties and ambidextrals in my sets of characters, and if I get famous enough, I’ll be proud to have characters in the rather lacking literary canon of lefties.)

***

“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.”

She, Ernestine, and Julie are sitting around talking to Adicia and Justine on a balmy day in June, while Boy, Baby, and Infant are off begging and performing for money in Chelsea.  Since losing Emeline at the beginning of February, Adicia and Justine have been coming over to see Ernestine fairly often.  She’s the only older sister they have left whom they know the whereabouts of, and they always feel better after they visit with her.  Right now Girl is suggesting to them ways they can make some extra money over the summer vacation.

“Don’t the drivers get mad and cuss you out?” Adicia asks warily.

“A couple of ‘em always do, but you gotta grow a thicker skin if you wanna make a living off of begging and doing odd jobs like this.  Some don’t curse me or honk, but they don’t give me any money.  Most of ‘em are decent and give me a quarter.  Sometimes I get a whole dollar.  Even though most New Yorkers take public transportation, there are still tons of cars.  And with daylight hours so long this time of year, you can hustle up plenty of unwitting customers each day.  Whenever there’s a red light or some kind of road delay, you go up to a car and wash the windshield, maybe the side windows if you got enough time.  I guarantee you’ll get plenty of change by the end of the day.”

“Where do you work?” Justine asks. “Just in your neighborhood?”

“We make the rounds.  Here in the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, the West Village, sometimes even up into your appropriately-named hellhole of a neighborhood.”

“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.”

“But you can’t really mess it up,” Girl says. “Ain’t no wrong way to wash a car windshield, so long as you don’t accidentally use a bucket full of coal dust or something.”

“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 don’t need one bucket of clean water and another of soapy water,” Girl says. “So long as you wring out your sponge or rag before you use it to wipe off the soapy stuff.  I’m sure none of these drivers are expecting a professional carwash from a street urchin like us.”

“Could we be reported to the cops for washing their cars without permission?” Justine asks.

“How would they get our names or addresses?” Girl scoffs. “The most they can do is honk or yell.  They can’t very well drive their cars away when they’re stuck at a red light or stopped in the middle of rush hour, and they’d be damn stupid if they up and walked out of their cars, leaving them abandoned in the middle of the road.”

“So long as you don’t make the mistake of washing a cop car,” Ernestine says. “Then I’m sure there might be some trouble.”

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

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a limo or a really expensive car coming through the likes of our neck of the woods, but I’m sure it’s possible,” Girl says.

“Make sure you’ve got nice deep pockets when you do this,” Ernestine says. “I always have a purse with me too, just in case I get so much change it won’t all fit in my pockets.”

“Can I do this too?” Justine asks. “I’m so small, I don’t think I could reach up to the windshields.”

“Maybe you’re a little bit too short for it, but Adicia is just the right size,” Girl says. “She’s small for her age.  The drivers might not always realize someone’s about to wash their cars when they get to a light.  They’ll suddenly see a hand coming up and will be stuck.”

“It’s sure easier money than begging or performing,” Ernestine says. “At least this way, you know for sure you’ve got money coming to you from most of the jobs you do.”

“Has anyone ever pulled a gun on you or yelled at you so bad you had to run away?” Adicia asks worriedly. “I do live in a bad neighborhood.”

“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.”

“So have I,” Ernestine says.

“Ever get any five dollar bills or anything above that?” Justine asks.

Girl laughs. “The drivers might take pity on us or do the decent thing, but they ain’t nuts.  You don’t hand out five or ten bucks like candy to street kids.”

“I don’t know if we have a bucket back at our tenement,” Adicia says. “Our mother never washes the floors or windows with anything besides some rag or a mop.”

“Then you’re just in luck, since we have a supply of buckets,” Girl says, going over to one of the closets. “Me, Ernestine, and Julie each have one, and it looks like there’s one more for you.  All you do is fill it up at the beginning of the day and put some soap powder in it, then drop a sponge or large rag in it.  Do you have any of them at your place?”

“My mother won’t notice or care her cleaning rag is missing,” Adicia says. “I think we’ve got at least one sponge too.”

“Perfect.  And if you notice the water getting too rank, just dump it out and get a fresh supply at a nearby fire hydrant or fountain.  I carry around a little packet of soap powder in case that ever happens.  I’m smart like that.”

“Where do you store your extra money, when you’re done buying food, records, and whatever else you buy?  I don’t want my parents to discover my car-washing money and use it to buy drugs or booze.”

“This is a pretty safe neighborhood and building, so I don’t worry ‘bout people breaking in and taking our money, but just in case, I store our extra dough in a hole in the davenport.  Some people store their valuables in a hole in the bed, though I don’t like the idea of destroying our beds.”

Adicia feels very excited at the thought of having money to keep and spend for her very own, and feels full of nervous excitement and anticipation over going out to wash strangers’ windshields and make it happen.  Sarah once told her everything new seems scary the first time you do it, but sometimes the nervousness makes it better or more exciting.

“I wouldn’t get a piggybank if I was you,” Ernestine says. “Our parents have no shame, so they’d probably raid it.  Our dad took money from Tommy’s piggybank once, and caught hell from our mother, but I know she wouldn’t see anything evil about taking money from her daughters’ piggybanks.”

“I also recommend hiding money in furniture legs,” Girl says.

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.”

“Why should I wear onea them things?  As far as I’m concerned, they’re just a more updated form of the corset string or Chinese foot-binding.”

“Well, we are twelve years old now.  Girls our age are supposed to be wearing bras by now if we’ve got bustlines.  Emeline was sporting an ample bustline by our age too.  She was even younger than us when she started sprouting breasts, as a matter of fact.”

“Soon you’ll both need belts and sanitary napkins,” Adicia says. “What’s that long word again for when you bleed every month?”

“Menstruation,” Girl says. “Thank God, that ain’t happened to either of us yet.  Don’t worry, I’m not so radical I intend to go around bleeding into my clothes every month.  I think we’ll make our own to save money.  We can get some snaps for cheap at a home goods store, and then stuff some cut-out rags with cotton or old washcloths.  Damn those stupid belts your older sisters have to use.  I know there’s a better way to handle that time of the month, and I ain’t about to finance the fat cats who run those companies.  I’m sure most of ‘em are men, since a woman would probably never design such horrid things.  Come on, having to wear a belt around your waist under your clothes, and having to fasten a napkin to said belt with hooks or pins?  That sounds like a form of Medieval torture!”

“We saw an awful filmstrip in my class this year about menstruation,” Ernestine says. “Lucine and Emeline were right about how terrible those filmstrips are.  The pamphlets we girls got stunk too.  They were called ‘Growing Up and Liking It,’ from Modess.  The time when I start to wear lipstick and go on my first date, what baloney.  Poor kids like us don’t get to wear makeup or have boy-girl parties.  And I have more pressing things to do with my time than keep track of my menstrual cycle in that calendar.”

“That pamphlet was a hoot,” Girl says. “I lost track of how many times they used the words ‘dainty’ and ‘daintiness.’  Ain’t nothing dainty about us urchin girls.  Who wants to be dainty anyway?  Dainty girls and women are a waste of society.  They don’t do nothing to contribute to it.  All they do is sit around putting on makeup, dancing, and throwing supper parties.  A delicate girl would never last a day in our world.”

“Can we get back to what we were talking about?” Adicia is dreading the time when she too starts to become a young woman. “When can I start washing people’s windshields?”

“Let’s go outside and have a practice run on a parked car right now.” Girl drags a bucket over to the kitchen sink, which looks more like a basin sink than a normal-sized kitchen sink. “You’ll be a pro in no time.”

“And remember to come back to us and report how you’re doing,” Julie says. “You’re newer to it than we are.  You might need some advice, or just want to share how much dough you’re raking in.”

“Oh, yes, let’s compare how much we’re each making!” Ernestine says. “Of us three, so far Girl is in the lead, but then again, she’s been a street kid her whole twelve years and knows how to do these things.  Julie and I haven’t been in the business quite so long, even if we’re all from poor families.”

“We’ll meet back here in a week to discuss how you’ve done your first week in business,” Girl tells Adicia. “With a sweet face like yours, who could resist giving you some extra change?  You look like such a dear little ragdoll, someone everyone would feel pity and compassion for.  You don’t even need to do nothing extra to act the part, since you were born to play it.”

***

Adicia was nervous about starting to wash strangers’ car windows and windshields, but quickly came to realize Girl, Ernestine, and Julie were right about how simple it is, and how many drivers would take pity on her and give her some change.  During her time in operation so far, she’s canvassed most of the blocks of Hell’s Kitchen, and has found she does blend in pretty well.  Even tough-looking people leave her alone or at most glance at her before moving on.  They know she’s no danger to them, not a girl from the moneyed classes trying to pass herself off as one of the underclass.

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.

Adicia wonders if some of them might have been in her shoes when they were young themselves, and so feel obligated to help her out in the small way they can.  She also wonders what they might be assuming about her.  Maybe some of them think she doesn’t go to school, or that she’s homeless, or that she’s an orphan.

One day, not that long after she’s begun her business, she sees a nicer car than usual pulling to a stop at the light.  Not wasting a moment of the long light to admire the car, she immediately puts up her left hand to start washing the windshield.  She hopes the driver thinks she’s doing a good job with his nice car, and is glad he’s not one of the drivers who’s given her a strange look upon realizing she’s a southpaw.  Though she isn’t wasting any time in the three minutes she’s got to do her job and make a good impression, she does notice out of the corner of her eye that the driver has a kind face.  Hopefully he’ll be a nice guy and give her a quarter or even a whole dollar bill.

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.

Adicia glances at it, expecting to see the familiar face of George Washington, but instead sees a different face.  Her eyes widen and she looks at the departing driver in pure astonishment when she realizes that she’s just been given a ten dollar bill.  She can’t decide if he’s a millionaire or just some local philanthropist who likes to give larger bills to needy children.  At any rate, this is definitely the most money she’s ever going to earn washing windshields, and a story that Ernestine and her friends will probably never believe without the evidence.

***

“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?”

“I wish I’d been on that street that day and been able to catch him too,” Julie says jealously.

“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.”

“He hesitated a little when he first pulled it out, like he wasn’t sure about giving me so much money,” Adicia says. “Maybe that was all he had, and he felt bad for me and gave it to me anyway.”

“Who cares why he gave it to you!” Ernestine says. “The most important thing is that he did give it to you!  Now we just need to decide what we’re going to spend our new fortune on.  God knows you don’t get ten bucks for doing that every day.”

“You said Betsy is going to a Beatles’ concert in town in late August.  I know you, Girl, and Julie love them too, and would really love to go to that show with Betsy.”

“Don’t you even think about that,” Girl chides her. “I ain’t so crazy about them that I’d use a friend’s surprise fortune, which you’ll probably never be seeing again anytime soon, to pay for some concert tickets.  A concert is over in a little while and don’t last like, say, a new dress or a sturdy pair of shoes.  Even buying a nice meal at a restaurant would be better than wasting it on a concert.”

“Ten bucks can buy a lot of candy,” Justine says, propping her rabbit up on a pillow.

“It could probably also pay for a visit to the dentist after you rot all your teeth from eating ten bucks worth of candy,” Girl says. “I say we should look at some catalogues to determine average prices of stuff we need, and then if there’s any money left over, use that for something we don’t need, like some gumdrops or a record.”

“Lucine got five bucks once from the Bowery Mission people when she volunteered to wash dishes after Thanksgiving supper,” Ernestine says. “They felt bad for her and gave her some money instead.  She used it to buy a baby-sized coat for Justine.  She was the warmest of all of us girls that winter.”

“It’s a good thing your mother don’t know about this,” Girl says. “Knowing her, she’d make you give her your hard-earned money.  Bad mothers like her have this attitude of what’s yours is mine, and feel it’s their right to take everything away from their own children.  I hope that bitch rots in Hell or comes back to earth as a neglected child herself someday.”

“I probably could use some new clothes,” Adicia admits. “It’s no fun wearing these ragged hand-me-downs my whole life.  And I don’t think I’ve had a new pair of shoes ever.”

“With only about two bucks, we could buy some milk, eggs, and bread,” Julie says.

“We could buy a ticket to the World’s Fair that’s in town,” Girl says. “It’s only a buck for kids to get in.”

“It’s here in Manhattan?” Julie asks. “I heard it was in one of the other boroughs.”

“It’s in Queens, so we’d have to take the subway,” Girl says.

“I’d love to go to the fair, but that would be eight dollars for tickets for all of us,” Adicia muses. “It wouldn’t be fair if only some of us went.”

“Where do you think the ticket money would go to?” Ernestine asks. “I know I’d feel uncomfortable if I knew it was going to rich fat cats who live off of our sweat and blood.”

“How about a belated birthday present for Allen, or a birthday gift for Lenore?” Adicia suggests.

“I’m sure they’d love the thought, but would insist you keep your money to spend on yourself,” Ernestine says. “It’s not every day you score so much money from just washing a windshield.”

“Speaking of Allen and Lenore, is there any word about whether they’re finally more than friends?” Girl asks, grinning.

“Nope,” Ernestine sighs. “Lenore’s almost seventeen now, Allen just turned twenty, and he still won’t lay a hand on her.  I bet she’s wondering at this point why a good-looking nice guy like him hasn’t even been on a single date in the almost two years she’s known him.”

“He said it would feel like cheating on her if he dated someone else,” Adicia says. “Anyway, I do like the idea of clothes, but at my age, I’m still growing.  Those clothes and shoes would be too small for me in another year or two, and Justine is a bit over four and a half years younger than me.  She’d have to wait a long time to wear them, and they’d be old by then.”

“Well, what else could we get that’s practical and that you need?” Girl asks. “Get some nice clothes.  Don’t think about how you’ll outgrow them eventually.  You get what you need when you need it.  It’s the same reason we spend money on food, even though before long the food turns into waste products.”

Adicia suddenly looks worried. “Do you think the saleslady would think we stole the money if we come in there looking like we do and have a ten dollar bill to spend?  Kids like us don’t just come into bills like that on our own.”

“We’ll wear our nicest clothes and scrub our faces and hands really well,” Julie says. “If anyone asks, you can say you have a nice relative with some money who gave it to you as a present.”

“Let me start by brushing your hair,” Ernestine says. “Then you’ll scrub up real well and borrow one of Julie’s dresses.  You two are about the same size, and she’s got nicer clothes than most of yours now.”

“Julie is taller than me,” Adicia protests.

“I know I’m a little bigger than you in that way, but our body types are both little,” Julie says. “That’s called petite, right?”

Girl nods. “You both have small bones, even if you ain’t the same height.  Now let’s start getting you spruced up so we can go out to a store and look for some decent clothes and shoes.  Maybe you can even buy the clothes a little bit too big so you can grow into them and keep them longer.  If we’ve got any money left over, you can buy a treat for yourself.”

***

Since it gets hot in the factory turned apartment building, the van Niftriks have let the six children across the hall borrow one of their electric fans for the summer.  It’s a good thing, since it’s now July and the sticky heat is really bothering them, particularly Baby and Infant, who are starting to miss the pleasant coolness of the basement in Allen’s apartment.

“Can we listen to something besides The Beatles?” Adicia asks as the girls are lying on the floor and playing records. “I think they sound nice, but I don’t want to get bored of them by listening to only them all day long.”

“Sure thing.  The Four Seasons are still my favorites, no matter how much I love The Beatles.” Betsy stands up. “I’ll go over to my place and bring back a couple of their records, and some other non-Beatles stuff too.  It probably is a good idea to break it up with other music.”

“I hope you don’t think I sound ungrateful,” Adicia says as Betsy’s going back to her apartment for the new records. “I know I’ve never gotten to listen to our own records before, but I don’t want to get sick of listening to the same songs or band over and over again, no matter how good they are.”

“It’s a good point,” Girl says. “I get sick of a song too when I hear it too much.  You can have too much of a good thing.”

“Do you have a favorite, Adicia?” Ernestine asks.

“A favorite what?”

“A favorite Beatle, of course,” Girl says. “Though you ain’t seen them on television like we have.  You’ve only heard their songs and seen their pictures.  Maybe it’s easier to choose your favorite when you’ve seen them in motion and heard them talking.  Ernestine and I both like John best, Julie likes Paul, and Betsy’s favorite is Ringo.”

“I never really thought about it.  I have to live in that hellhole with my parents, so I have other things to occupy my time besides picking a favorite Beatle.”

“You’re probably right,” Girl admits. “The three of us wouldn’t have cared about that either only a short time ago.”

Betsy comes back in carrying a small pile of records. “Here you go.  Some of them are a little old, but I hope you don’t mind.  The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, and Ricky Nelson.  I have a bunch more, but I didn’t want to bring over too many of them.”

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 suddenly dawns on her.

“What’s wrong, Adicia?” Julie asks. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.”

“That man, the one on the far left.  He looks exactly like the fellow who gave me ten bucks for washing his windshield.”

“What!” Ernestine says. “I really think you’re imagining things.  What would a member of a famous band be doing driving through Hell’s Kitchen and handing out ten-dollar bills to street kids?”

Adicia paws through the pile of records and picks out the rest of the Four Seasons records Betsy brought over.  Each time she sees his face, the more convinced she becomes that he and the man whose windshield she washed are one and the same person.

“Betsy, this man, what’s his name?”

“That one?” Betsy asks, looking at which one Adicia is pointing to in all of her records. “That’s Bob Gaudio.  He plays the piano and writes a lot of their songs.  Do you really mean to tell us you think he was the one who gave you that money?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe he just bears a resemblance.  It could happen.”

“That’s probably all there is to it,” Ernestine says.

Adicia still can’t shake the feeling from her head. “Betsy, do you have any other pictures of this band I could look at?  I really want to find out if I’m just seeing things or if this really is the same guy.”

“Sure, they’re my favorite band, I’ve got tons of pictures and clippings of them.” Betsy jumps up again. “I’ll be right back with my scrapbook.”

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.

“That’s the man,” she insists. “The tall guy in that band is the one who gave me ten dollars for washing his windshield.  I would swear on my own life that that is exactly the same man.  I’m more and more convinced with every picture of him I see.”

“You’re sure?” Julie asks.

“I am positive he’s exactly the same man.  I’ve seen too many pictures now to just be seeing things or thinking it was some other guy who just looked similar.”

Betsy looks at her with a slight grin, then breaks into a huge smile. “I am so jealous of you!  You actually got to meet one of the members of my favorite band and even got money from him!”

“You met a celebrity!” Girl says excitedly. “I can’t believe one of our kind actually got to meet a real-life celebrity!”

“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.

“I don’t think he lives here,” Betsy says. “They record at a studio in the city, but when you’re as rich and famous as he is, you don’t hang around in a part of the city like this.”

“I can’t blame him,” Adicia says. “I wouldn’t want to live here if I had money either.  I don’t even want to live here now.”

“Isn’t the title track a sad song?” Girl asks. “It makes me think of one of us.  We’re all girls from the wrong side of the tracks too, laughed at by the rich kids and wearing ragged clothes.  And we’ll probably never be the wife or girlfriend of a boy from the nice part of town, since our kind ain’t supposed to mix.  Even if a guy from money did like one of us, you know his folks would never approve.”

“The song is number one on the charts right now,” Betsy says. “A lot of people like it.”

“So if this is a new song, maybe he wrote it not long after he saw me,” Adicia says. “Do you think it’s possible he was inspired by me?”

“Okay, now you’re probably dreaming,” Ernestine says. “Good songwriters turn ‘em out like candy.  They get inspiration from all sorts of people and stuff.  I mean, maybe it is possible, but I don’t think the odds are in favor of him having written that song because he saw you.”

Adicia pulls herself up into a sitting position and hugs her knees. “I don’t know.  Even if he probably was thinking of someone or something else when he wrote it, it’s nice to know some millionaires are nice people and that a girl like us can be written about in a song that goes to number one.  I’ll never forget how kind he was to me when he didn’t have to give so much money, or even any money, to some sad little girl who does look like a ragdoll.”

Excerpt from Part LV

Part LV of Cinnimin, “High Holy Days,” set from 20 September to 20 October 1998, was written between 7 April and 14 September 2010. To date, it’s the last completed Part, as I started Adicia’s story during the writing of Part LVI, “Crossing the Point of No Return.” I was really on a roll writing the story of the late Nineties, and I’m looking forward to getting back to finishing Saga VI in a little while. It’s all committed to memory in my head anyway, but it’ll be nice to get it down on paper.

Near the end of Part LV, a number of the characters go to Honolulu for the bar mitzvah of Billy Laurel, one of the grandchildren of original generation character Julieanna Brewster (née Malspur). Billy’s mother Tikva is one of the many sisters of Cinnimin’s daughter-in-law Ophelia (Serop’s wife), and also sister to Cinnimin’s son-in-law Herbert (Olga’s husband). During the trip, Ophelia and Serop’s youngest children, twin boys Béla and Balázs, continue misbehaving, acting like holy terrors, and being spoilt brats trying to resist the discipline Ophelia is finally laying down, with the help of her retired lieutenant father and brother-in-law Jason. Julieanna’s current youngest grandchild Alice is continuing to alarm her parents with her savant-like behavior and comments at only four years old, while Julieanna thinks it just means Alice is a genius and not that she has something wrong with her. Ophelia and Serop’s marriage, which emotionally died a long time ago, publicly starts to unravel and Ophelia announces her intentions to stay in Hawaii a little longer while their oldest child left at home, Dora, will take care of her younger sisters. Serop announces his intentions to stay in Hawaii too, and keep the twins out of school for a month while he’s continuing to spoil them. (Part LV ends not in Hawaii but back in Israel, where it started, with a Rosh Chodesh celebration with the Women of the Wall.)

And in the middle of it, Billy’s cousin Yasmin, one of the Honolulu relatives and a major spoilt brat long after her parents stopped treating her like a little princess, has been complaining of stomach cramps the entire weekend and now has one of the worst first period stories ever.

***

“Behave yourself,” Piri warned. “And sit up.”

“I feel like my insides are being ripped apart with a knife. It feels better when I lie down.”

“Are you sure you’re not having period cramps?” Piri whispered. “Because if you think you’re starting your first period, you should tell me now so you can discreetly go to the bathroom. I won’t be the only one mad at you if you bleed all over the upholstery.”

“I’m having a bad stomach ache. I don’t want a period.”

Yasmin lay sprawled out on the front-row bench for the duration of services. She didn’t care her own family members gave her dirty looks for not standing when everyone else was. All she thought about was going home so she could lay down in bed and eat bon-bons filled with double chocolate ice-cream.

As Billy was starting to read from the Torah, from the very beginning of Genesis, she felt a strong stinging sensation. It suddenly dawned on her that maybe her mother and aunts were right about what might be going on, and she became filled with a not entirely paranoid terror that a huge stream of blood was about to come gushing out.

“Is Aunt Tikva the only religious married woman here?” Alice asked. ‘No one else covers her hair.”

“It’s extremely uncommon for non-Orthodox women to do that,” Julieanna explained in a whisper.

“And how come she’s crying when it’s a happy day?”

“Your cousin Billy came into the world very early, in the sixth month of pregnancy. He was very sick and tiny, and in the hospital for months. He had to have a home nurse, your aunt Leigh Anne, for some months too.”

“How early can a baby survive?”

“Your aunt Tikva and her friend Aghavni were born near the start of the sixth month, which was the earliest survival point in those days. Today a few babies born in the fifth month survive, usually with numerous defects.”

Yasmin was in too much pain to be bored as Billy gave his speech, in which he discussed his mitzvah project for the March of Dimes. The end of the service couldn’t come fast enough. While everyone crowded around her cousin and his parents to congratulate them, she rushed to the bathroom, pushing aside anyone in her way.

“Do you think Yasmin has the runs because she ate too much junk food?” Shayna asked.

“I think she’s jealous of Billy and is trying to get attention for herself,” Shalom scoffed.

Yasmin found no blood when she pulled down the pink thong she’d bought without her parents’ knowledge, and was temporarily relieved. However, the stomach pains continued as she walked back to her family, and she ate very little at the luncheon. She wasn’t even cognizant of missing the desserts, exotic fruits, fancy cheeses and crackers, honey-roasted nuts, stuffed mushrooms, poached salmon, yogurt parfaits, and hard boiled eggs she ordinarily couldn’t get enough of.

The end of lunch couldn’t come soon enough. Yasmin led the way on the twenty-minute walk back to her house and dashed inside as soon as Jason unlocked the door. While the guests and her local relatives settled down to chat and play board games in the large living room, she made herself a huge dish of double chocolate ice-cream with hot fudge, caramel, butterscotch, cherry sauce, Oreos, the bon-bons, strawberries, colored jimmies, and banana chips.

“Come take a seat,” Piri called to her. “Maybe you can share some of that monster sundae with your little sister.”

“That little twit Gizi can make her own. I need to lay down and pig out till I feel better.”

“If Yasmin eats as many sweets as you all say she does, aren’t you afraid she’ll get diabetes?” Alice asked.

“How do you know about diabetes?” Jason asked.

“I’m not dumb just because I’m only four.”

Up in her room, Yasmin demolished her sundae as she read a romance novel. She was thinking of ordering a take-out Vermonster with her father’s credit card when she suddenly realized she was sitting in a puddle of blood. Sick to her stomach, she grabbed her pink coverlet and ran to the nearest bathroom, hoping to rinse it off before it set. Luckily, neither of her parents called upstairs to ask why she was running the water so long. That order of business done, she rummaged through the closet and found her mother’s tampons. When it wouldn’t go in, she crept off to her parents’ bedroom to borrow a bottle of Astroglide in the sex chest she’d discovered a few months ago. Once she was back in the bathroom, she squirted lube all over it, pushed it into what she assumed was the correct orifice, and cut off the string, which she assumed was only there to pull the tampon out of the applicator. Believing her secret was safe, she went downstairs to join everyone.

Alice stared. With every step Yasmin took, a drop of blood fell on the floor. Pointing, she loudly alerted everyone, “Look, Yasmin’s having her period!”

Yasmin looked down at the trail of blood she was leaving, threw her hands over her face in mortification, and ran back upstairs, Piri trailing after her.

“What’s a period?” Nora asked.

“Why is Yasmin bleeding?” Shayna asked.

“Now explain that one to me!” Domi demanded. “How can a girl who’s not quite four and a half know what a period is when a seven- and three-and-a-half-year-old are clueless? I didn’t even know what they were till I was maybe nine or ten years old!”

“Most of my friends had theirs by age eleven. I knew by seven years old, since that’s when Gayle got hers,” Julieanna said.

“This is some kind of autistic savant behavior!” Doyle said. “Open your eyes!”

“You know, I’m tired of hearing your constant wild ideas about my perfectly normal granddaughter. ‘Oh, she’s already reading Dante and history books at four years old and doesn’t keep impolite thoughts to herself, she must be psychotic or autistic.’ Kit Green’s daughter Patsy has autism, and she wasn’t nearly as advanced as Alice before her husband fixed her. And even now that his new-fangled therapy got her to a higher-functioning level, she’s still not as smart or well-spoken as my genius granddaughter!”

“Think whatever you like, Mother, but Doyle and I have strong reasons to suspect there’s more than precociousness going on. You’re probably just refusing to consider it because she’s your grandkid.”

Piri found Yasmin lying in shame on the bathroom floor. The bloody thong was in the sink.

“What did I do wrong when I put the tampon in?”

“Are you sure it didn’t fall out?”

Yasmin glowered at Skye, Brenna, Eulalia, Judi Kate, Shayna, Octavia, and Tamar as they crowded into the room.

“If your flow is really heavy, maybe you need a super-absorbent tampon. I’m surprised you even managed to put one in. I couldn’t wear them till I was fourteen.”

“I couldn’t at first, so I went and borrowed some lube from your room.”

“You found lube in my room?”

“I was snooping in there recently and found a toy chest with sex toys. I know what lube is used for, and I thought it would make the tampon slide in easier. I thought I did everything right, even cutting off the string.”

“You cut off the string?” Judi Kate asked in horror. “How did you expect to get it out?”

“You mean you’re supposed to leave it hanging there?”

“Yes! Tampons don’t just come out by themselves!”

“It feels really uncomfortable. Can I just pull it out and try again with a pad?”

“We don’t have any in this house,” Piri said. “Our guests wouldn’t have them either. Your aunt Kathi is almost at menopause, and Tamar here is too young.”

“Ew, Yasmin’s bleeding on the floor!” Shayna shouted.

“This’ll be you in about four or five years.  Hopefully you won’t become a woman under such embarrassing circumstances, though.”

“I didn’t know tampons hurt so much. It feels like I have to go to the bathroom.” Yasmin tried to pull it out but couldn’t budge it.

“Not to be gross, but are you sure you’re aiming for the right opening?” Brenna asked.

“Can a tampon get lost inside you?”

Piri looked the other way as she tried herself, while Yasmin cried in humiliation. As she was lying on her stomach, her cousins came in for a closer view. Several of them began looking for bathroom instruments that might be of service.

“Oh, look!” Skye laughed. “Yasmin stuck the tampon up her butt! No wonder you can’t find it!”

Everyone began laughing.

How could you not feel the difference?” Brenna asked. “Don’t you know which is which when you go to the bathroom?”

“I wasn’t looking! Nice girls don’t look at or touch themselves there!”

“You mean you never masturbate?” Eulalia asked.

“That’s nasty! You’re an even bigger freak and loser than I already thought!”

“Aunt Piri, will Yasmin have to go to the ER?” Shayna asked. “And why is she bleeding from there?”

“When a girl starts becoming a young woman, she loses an egg every month. When she’s old enough to have a baby, the natural cycle stops. You’re a little on the young side to have to worry about it.”

Brenna’s eyes lit up. “I know! Uncle Giorgio can help, since he’s a pediatrician!”

“What a great idea!” Piri smiled. “Guess we can avoid the ER.”

“I’m going to boarding school in Maui,” Yasmin sulked as her mother went downstairs. “I’ll never look anyone in our family in the face again after today.”

A minute later, Piri reappeared with Leigh Anne. Giorgio had been too embarrassed to deal with his own niece in that personal matter, so they’d called over Hector’s nurse wife.

“You remember your aunt Leigh Anne Harrison, Hector Holiday’s wife. She was Billy’s home nurse when he first got out of the NICU.”

“She’s my half-aunt by marriage, not a real aunt!”

Leigh Anne ignored her and knelt down. Yasmin wished someone would knock her out so she’d have no memory of the day.