Sweet Saturday Samples

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is the conclusion of Chapter 46 of Little Ragdoll, “Adicia’s Only Hope Left.” It’s several days after Ricky suggested a convenience marriage and running away together, and Adicia has had some time to think about his plan. He’s already withdrawn from Columbia and called a moving truck, and now she must decide if she’s going to join him.

***

July 11, Tuesday, is the day the movers are scheduled to arrive.  They told Ricky they wouldn’t arrive till 1:00, so Ricky and Adicia are able to eat breakfast in peace instead of worrying they might come in at any moment.

“Happy birthday, my pretty little ragdoll,” Ricky smiles. “When I went out yesterday, I got you a present.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Adicia tries to protest as he hands her a small wrapped box. “You’ve already put yourself out enough for me.”

“If you don’t like it, I can just return it to the store.”

Adicia’s eyes widen when she finds a dark blue velvet box and pops it open to see a deep blue sapphire with two small diamonds on each side, set on a white gold band. “Ricky, this must have cost you a fortune!”

“A gentleman never tells a lady how much he spent on her, but I can tell you it was one of the more modestly-priced rings.  I know dark blue is your favorite color, and it matches your beautiful lapis lazuli bracelet.”

“Is this intended as an engagement ring?”

“I’ll ask you again, just to make sure of your answer before we both get out of here.  Adicia Éloïse Troy, will you marry me and become my darling wife, and promise you’ll grow to love me the way a wife loves a husband?”

“I thought about it, and I believe I will agree to your proposition.  It’s an unlikely match and not the usual modern reason for getting married, but I think you’ll be a good husband for me.  Besides, I’d much rather marry a cute boy who’s only two years my senior instead of some gargoyle forty years my senior.”

He squeezes her hand, then slips the ring onto her left hand. “A perfect fit.  I told them you’re very petite and have very small hands.  They showed me the selection they had in size four.  You’re so tiny.  Now we know what size to get your wedding band in.”

“I can’t believe I’m actually going to be marrying you,” she says nervously. “You coulda knocked me over with a feather if you’d told me back in January that in only six months I’d be marrying the cute rich boy who just moved up the street.”

“I couldn’t have guessed I’d be marrying you either.  Most people don’t leap from unrequited love and only friends to spouses that quickly.”

Adicia picks her fork back up and shovels scrambled eggs into her mouth.  She blushes as she’s washing it down with orange juice. “Even if we only do a quick ceremony at a courthouse with a justice of the peace, what are we going to do at the end?  Are you allowed to not kiss the bride?  What if we tell them we don’t wanna do something so personal with an audience?”

“If they don’t buy that excuse, I’ll be as quick as I can.  It’s not so bad, you know, if you’re doing it with someone you like.  I think I’ve done it with maybe five girls.  Just so you know, I didn’t like them nearly as much as I like you.”

“So I’m the first girl you’ve ever really been in love with?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, if I eventually grow to love you, you’ll be the first guy I ever loved too.  I’ll be a good wife to you, even if I won’t sleep with you for a long time.”

“You never know,” he smiles. “Neither of us could’ve guessed six months ago that we’d be rushing into a marriage of convenience and running away together.  Maybe you’ll feel ready to be with me completely sooner than we think too.”

Adicia goes back to her scrambled eggs. “Whatever happens, I’m really grateful you’re doing so much to help me.  I can’t thank you enough for this.”

“I won’t let you down.  I’ll be the best husband I can be.  I know this is your only hope left, but I won’t take advantage of your situation.  To me, you’re a pretty girl I’m lucky enough to be marrying.  I don’t care you’re a runaway or from a poor family.”

In her head, Adicia sees the image of the crying Velveteen Rabbit on the garbage heap again, only this time that scene is followed by the Rabbit turning into a real rabbit and hopping around with the other living, breathing rabbits.  She thinks to herself that Ricky’s love for her, unrequited as it may be, has finally made her Real, just as the Boy’s love for the Rabbit made him Real.

Sweet Saturday Samples

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is the conclusion of Chapter 45 of Adicia’s story, “Bartered Like a Piece of Meat.” Ricky is horrified to learn all the heartbreaking, revolting details of why Mrs. Troy went to prison and how Adicia was coerced into doing the unthinkable to keep Mrs. Troy from returning to prison seven years later. Even though she doesn’t love him, Adicia feels a glimmer of hope when he tells her what she’s been dreaming of being told by a man her whole life.

***

“Can I have something to eat?” Adicia asks. “Talking about this upsets me.  I only have till September to figure out an escape, and it stresses me out having to dredge up the past in addition to thinking about how to get out of here in time.”

“Can we take a tour of your house after we eat?” Justine asks.

“Of course,” Ricky says.

“You’re a nice guy,” Adicia says. “I’m glad you’re our neighbor and that you don’t think I’m trash because of what happened.”

“You’ve got a really sweet heart,” he smiles. “I like and accept you just as you are.  Just the way you are now.”

“You really do? I never thought anyone from the outside world would ever like me, let alone like me for me.”

“Well, I’m telling you now that I do like you just the way you are.  And even though I’ve only known you since January, I feel really connected to you already.  I promise I’ll try to help you so you don’t have to be bartered away like a piece of meat for the second time in your life.  It’s not conditional upon you being my girlfriend. Besides, you’re a fellow lefty.  There aren’t that many of us, so we have to stick together and help each other out.”

“I don’t know if I believe in God, but I think you must be my guardian angel.  Not many poor girls get a rich friend to help them out.”

“Ricky likes you just like the Boy loves the Velveteen Rabbit just like he is,” Justine says. “It’s a really special thing when you’re Real, since that means someone accepts you just the way you are, no matter what you look like or what you’ve been through.”

Adicia’s heart races as she remembers the scene near the end of The Velveteen Rabbit, when the Rabbit is lying in the pile of toys and bedding waiting to be burned, a tear falling from his eye.  She hopes she too is able to be rescued in time, the same way the Rabbit was turned into a real rabbit before he was thrown into the bonfire.

Sweet Saturday Samples

This week’s edition of Sweet Saturday Samples is taken from Chapter 33 of Adicia’s story, “Four Graduations and a Wedding.” It’s mid-May of 1966, and everyone’s going to Long Island for oldest sister Gemma’s graduation from Hofstra. Adicia is very excited to take a bus across the Brooklyn Bridge, even more excited to ride a real train, and most excited of all to go to a real beach.

***

“Did you all bring your bathing suits?” Julie asks. “Mrs. van Niftrik took us shopping for them.  I don’t think any of us besides Ernestine has ever even gone swimming.”

“Lenore took Justine and me up to Macy’s to buy them,” Adicia says. “Mine is a pretty blue with yellow flowers, and Justine’s is pink with blue flowers.”

“Might the future Mrs. Troy be wearing a two-piece bathing suit at the beach?” Allen whispers to Lenore.

Lenore blushes. “It’s a one-piece green swimsuit with a skirt attached, so it doesn’t show off too much of my body.”

“You really didn’t have to take us with you on your beach trip to see your oldest sister,” Girl says. “Folks from our social class don’t come by that kinda dough overnight.  You’ll hafta work overtime now to get it back.”

“It’s my treat,” Allen insists. “When you grow up poor and come into a little bit of money when you’re a grownup, you wanna indulge yourself from time to time.  I still have enough set aside for the basics.”

When the bus stops in Long Island, Adicia, Justine, and Ernestine pick up their schoolbags and Ernestine’s friends pick up the pillowcases where they packed enough clothes and entertainment to last the weekend.  Allen and Lenore have packed their things in actual suitcases.  Adicia wonders if she’ll ever be able to pack her things in a suitcase, or if she’ll ever own enough things to fit in a normal-sized suitcase.

“It’s a real train!” Justine shouts when they walk up to the train station. “Just like in the old pictures I’ve seen in my schoolbooks!”

“It’s a modern train,” Allen says. “Those pictures you’ve seen were probably old-fashioned steam locomotives.  Trains have come a long way since then.”

“1966 really is our best year ever!” Adicia declares as the train comes into view. “The only way it could get better would be if Justine and I moved out of our parents’ house and back with you and Lenore!”

“Can I give you and Lenore the seashells I wanna collect?” Justine asks. “Knowing Tommy, he’d smash them and laugh in my face if he found them.”

“Of course you can, sweetie,” Lenore says. “We can even search for shells together.”

“There are also a lot of pretty rocks on the seashore,” Ernestine says. “I hear some people have a hobby of collecting rocks.”

“Can we take back any little animal friends, like hermit crabs, fish, or seahorses?” Baby asks. “I’d like a pet.”

“It’s not very nice to take strange animals away from their homes and families,” Girl says. “How would you like it if you were a hermit crab and some child on vacation kidnapped you?”

“Maybe someday we’ll have some kind of pet,” Ernestine says.

Adicia excitedly scrambles aboard.  After she, her sisters, and their friends have put their luggage in the baggage compartment above their seats, they start wandering the aisles and exploring their new surroundings.

“You might wanna keep seated,” Allen calls. “Hempstead isn’t too far from here.  It’s not like we’re going all the way out to the Hamptons.”

“Who are the Hamptons?” Baby asks.

“They’re not people,” Girl smiles. “The Hamptons are a bunch of villages on the east end of Long Island.  A lot of rich folks have beach homes there.”

“You mean we’re not allowed to wander around the train?” Infant asks sadly. “When will we ever get to take another train ride?”

“You’re not forbidden to walk around, but I think they like people, particularly kids, to stay seated,” Allen says. “Besides, with the train stopping so soon, we don’t wanna get separated.”

They reluctantly take their seats and try to compensate by people-watching and looking through the windows.  Adicia thinks Long Island’s a lot prettier than Manhattan.  The streets aren’t crowded with high-rise buildings, and the residents aren’t forced to be crammed on top of one another. People here also live in houses and have their own yards where they can grow flowers and fruit trees.

“Do you think someday we’ll have our own houses?” she asks as the train pulls into Hempstead.

“You bet,” Lenore says. “I want my kids to grow up with a yard to play in and a real house that’s all their own, not some apartment you have to share with a bunch of neighbors and pay to live in every month.”

“I’d like a mansion if I ever get enough money,” Justine says. “It’d have twenty bedrooms, so we all could live there together.”

“How are we getting to our hotel?” Girl asks. “I don’t think this city has a beach.”

“You’ll see,” Lenore says.

The depot is full of people, but Adicia manages to spot Emeline, Lucine, and Gemma in the crowd.  She and Justine run over to them, tugging the others with them.  Gemma is wearing a bouffant hairstyle and a skirt showing her knees, while Lucine and Emeline are wearing sundresses going to their mid-calves and wearing their hair long, loose, and natural as always.  Adicia thinks it looks like Gemma’s got a beehive on top of her hair and can’t understand why this is such a popular hairstyle.  Ernestine and Girl meanwhile think it’s very daring for her to show her knees, and wonder if they can start wearing skirts like that.  They’ve heard women used to be arrested for showing so much skin, and feel very lucky they’re growing up now instead of fifty or a hundred years ago.

“We’re parked a short walk from here,” Lucine says. “Gemma will take Allen, Lenore, Adicia, and Justine, I’ll take Ernestine, Julie, Girl, and Baby, and Emeline will take Boy and Infant.”

“You know how to drive?” Ernestine asks. “When did that happen?”

“When you live on the island, you need to know how to drive,” Gemma shrugs. “Lucine got driving lessons her freshman year at Hunter and got her license on her nineteenth birthday.  Emeline didn’t learn to drive yet, so you two will be going in a taxi with her.”

“You own cars?” Boy asks.

“They’re rentals,” Lucine says. “I wanted to learn to drive while I was still young enough to learn it well, and have that skill before I move outta the city.”

“We’ll be going in real cars?” Baby asks. “I’ve never ridden in a car before!”

“I rode in a police car once,” Adicia says. “Emeline, Tommy, Justine, Allen, and our mother were there too.  It was when that cop was taking us to see Carlos in the hospital after his accident.  I even got to wear a seatbelt, since I sat in the front seat.”

“These cars have seatbelts in the front seats too,” Lucine says. “You can put your luggage in the trunks.”

They all take in the fresh air as they go to the parking lot.  It’s a pity they’ll only be here over a weekend and then have to get back to reality in Manhattan, but it’s nice to get away for a little while.  Adicia tells herself that if she ever gets enough money, she’ll always take a vacation to a beach at this time of year, and stay there longer than just one weekend.  Justine, Baby, and Infant meanwhile are so overcome with excitement at the thought of staying at the seashore that they don’t even care they don’t have any beach toys to play with.  It’s enough that they’ll be going in the water and feeling the sand between their toes.

Lucine’s rental is a blue Volkswagen Beetle, and Gemma’s is a yellow Chrysler.  Boy and Infant don’t even care they’ll only be riding in a taxi, since to them a car is a car.  They try to remember their false names as they get into the cab with Emeline.  Infant is still overcome with fear at remembering how to spell her new name.  She knows the average person will probably assume she’s saying Eva with a lisp, but she’ll never be able to remember that funny Irish spelling Girl showed her.  It doesn’t make any sense to her to have three vowels in a row.

“I’m David,” Boy says. “That’s my sister Aoife.  We have two other sisters, but they’re going to our hotel in other cars.”

“Pretty name,” the driver smiles back at her. “I think you’re the first blonde Eva I’ve ever met.  All the Evas I’ve known had dark hair.”

“I’m Irish.  It’s the Irish form of Eva.  At least, I’m part Irish.  I don’t know enough about our family history to know if we’re Irish on both sides all the way back.”

“I’m not surprised.  It seems like about half the population of Manhattan is of Irish ancestry.  I have an Irish great-grandmother on my mother’s side myself.  Your older friend said she’s half French and half Belgian.”

“Our last name is Ryan,” Boy says. “ Our mother had an Irish name too.”

The girls in the other cars wave at them as the three cars pull out of the lot and start driving towards the hotel on the beach.  Justine stands up in the backseat and waves her rabbit’s paw at them too.

“That’s my best friend Justine,” Infant says. “Someone at a mission in my old neighborhood gave her that bunny at Easter when she was thirteen months old.  It’s been her friend ever since.  It’s just like in some story Emeline told us once, about some little boy who gets a stuffed rabbit for Christmas and loves it so much that it eventually turns into a real rabbit.”

The Velveteen Rabbit,” Emeline provides. “Isn’t that a beautiful story?  When someone loves you enough, even if you’re run-down and shabby-looking, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you.  You’re beautiful and real to the people who love you.”

Gemma’s car is the first to arrive at the hotel.  Adicia and Justine scramble out and gaze at the seashore, only a short distance from the hotel.  They impatiently wait for Allen and Lenore to get their luggage and go into the main office to check in, so eager are they to put on their swimsuits and head down to the beach to swim, bask in the sun, and feel the warm sand underfoot.

Sparks for Adicia

As to what inspired me for Adicia’s story, there are several answers. The first and foremost inspiration was the famous Four Seasons’ song “Rag Doll,” of course. I couldn’t forget that story behind the song once I’d heard it, and I suppose you could say I became obsessed, at thirteen years old, with creating a happy ending for that poor little girl in hand-me-down clothes. And the book is indeed based loosely around the lyrics of the song: She’s a poor girl who wears hand-me-down rags, is mocked by the people from the better parts of town, is compared to a ragdoll because of her ragged clothes and petite stature (her full adult height is four feet ten inches on a very petite frame, with a ring size of only four, and she doesn’t even weigh 100 pounds soaking wet until she gets pregnant), and eventually catches the eye of a rich boy whose parents think she’s no good and who disapprove of a potential relationship.

Everything else, besides of course the scene that inspired the song, came from my own imagination. But I wanted her to have a happy ending, and so I made it so she and the rich boy could be together in spite of coming from such different worlds and having such opposition on both sides. Though before she can have her happy ending, she’s going to have to learn that sometimes the strongest, most lasting love bonds come when one grows instead of falls in love. She also doesn’t have her happy ending handed to her on a silver platter, and she has to learn to stand on her own two feet instead of relying on a man who initially did rescue her. She’s growing as a modern, empowered, self-sufficient woman and realizing she loves her husband the way a woman loves a man while Ricky is off in Vietnam.

Secondly, it was inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit, which is frequently referred to during the course of the book. When someone loves you enough, no matter what you look like or where you’ve been, you are Real, and you can never be ugly or unloved ever again, only to people who don’t understand. Only people who are strong and tough have what it takes to be Real, because by the time you’re Real, you’re no longer as picture-perfect as you were in the beginning. Toys who are Real have had their fur rubbed thin and their edges rubbed down, but it doesn’t matter to the person who made them Real, because they’ll always be beautiful to that person. And once you’re Real, it lasts for always, even if the person who made you Real goes away. The Skin Horse was made Real by the Boy’s uncle, and he’s still Real, even if the uncle is grown up and doesn’t play with him anymore.

Thirdly, it was inspired by the old Five Little Peppers series. Yes, there are numerous flaws in Margaret Sidney’s writing, some pertaining to her historical era, some pertaining to her limitations as a writer, but overall, I enjoy the series as a snapshot of a long-vanished era in time. The series is also frequently referenced in my book. It’s a rags to riches story of the most unlikely kind, but the Peppers (esp. the boys) never forget their class origins and where they came from, even after they’ve come up in society. Justine is also similar to Phronsie, except Justine isn’t spoilt, coddled, and shielded from real life. And Ricky is similar to Jasper King, the rich boy who takes a chance and befriends these poor kids, a friendship that changes their lives forever.

Fourthly, it was inspired by The Divine Comedy, which is also referred to frequently. Dante has to sink to the lowest, saddest point possible before he can begin moving up to happier, prettier, more hopeful places and get back on track with his life and faith. Sometimes it makes you appreciate your happy ending more if you’ve been through the worst and had to earn it. (There’s also at least one reference to the story of the righteous Pandava brothers of Indian mythohistory, but it wasn’t an informing point of reference. At the end of their days, near the beginning of the age of Kali Yuga, the five brothers are walking along and a dog tags along with them. One by one, the brothers and their wife Draupadi drop dead, but oldest brother Yudhisthira keeps going. When he’s asked by one of the gods why he’s staying with this strange dog but not getting upset over his own brothers’ deaths, he says it was their time to go anyway, and it’s important to show kindness even to lowly creatures. Then it’s revealed the dog is his father the sun god, and it was to test his righteousness. Then he’s shown a vision of his brothers and Draupadi being tortured in Hell, while their enemies and cousins the Kauravas are in Paradise. Yudhisthira elects to join his brothers and wife in Hell, and it’s revealed it was all one final test to show his righteousness. The Pandavas are rewarded with Paradise. Adicia feels perhaps this is the case for her too, one final trial before she finally gets to enjoy a happy ending.)

Fifthly, it was inspired by Grimm’s Fairy Tales, also frequently mentioned during the book. In the world Adicia is from, life is more like a Grimm’s fairytale than a Disney fairytale. She knows life isn’t all pretty and happy. She and her sisters aren’t even scared when Sarah tells them one of the stories, “The Story of the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.” When you’ve already lived through some tough stuff, you can become numb to scary stories.

What is Real?

One of the themes of the book I just finished in February was the concept from The Velveteen Rabbit of someone or something becoming Real after enough time has passed. I even titled Part IV “The Velveteen Ragdoll,” since that’s when our shero finally finds someone from the outside world who loves her just the way she is. As it goes in the oft-quoted passage where the Rabbit and the Skin Horse are talking about the subject, usually the only toys who become Real are the ones who are built to withstand lots of love and wear. It doesn’t happen to toys who break or bend easily, and by the time you are Real, you’re far from your original pristine state, but it doesn’t matter to the person who made you Real, since once you are Real, you can only be ugly to those who don’t understand. And once you are Real, it lasts for always, even if the person who made you Real no longer plays with you.

My stuffed cat Davy (named for Davy Jones), whom my paternal grandmother made for me in 1988, is Real. Davy’s “twin” Davina meanwhile looks just as fat, fresh, and new as the day she was made from the female red tabby cat pattern. (I was only eight and still had the childish idea that twins, even toys or dolls, had to have rhyming or matching names.) Davy is worn rather thin, yellow from age, and has some loose threads and little tears from how worn thin he is. Some years ago, I queried a doll and stuffed animal hospital about fixing him up as best as possible, but was told that they couldn’t work with him since he’s not a plush stuffed animal. Davy was the stuffed animal I asked to be brought to me when I was in the ER after I was run over by a car when I was twenty-three. My father was kinda surprised I asked for Davy instead of a stuffed animal like my soft, cuddly Husky dog Keith (named for Keith Moon), but one of the nurses and a young doctor who did the CAT scan and chatted with me about Sixties music could tell why I’d asked for him. From his worn state, they could tell he’d been through quite a bit of history with me and meant more than any other stuffed animal that was still perfect and new.

I have something else that’s Real that I wanted very much after my accident, but I wasn’t able to have access to it for a couple of months, and even after I was in a position to have it again, I couldn’t touch it for months because it was tainted by happiness. Every afternoon after work, I would come home, throw Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme onto the turntable and change out of my work clothes into cooler summer clothes, while waiting for dinner to be called. The afternoon after my accident, after I got out of the ER (the doctors never even treated or covered up the first- and second-degree burns on my stomach and abdomen, one of many reasons I don’t have the greatest opinion of this particular local hospital), I was pretty much carried into the house and deposited on the downstairs davenport, with a huge thirty-pound cast on my right leg. I could barely move with that monstrous thing on. Needless to say, I couldn’t even go upstairs to where my records and turntable were. Even after I had an external fixator put on and I was able to somewhat maneuver myself into a chair right in front of the record player, I couldn’t touch that record. It just reminded me too much of the happy state of mind that no longer existed, since I’d always played it when I got home from work, when I was able to walk.

For the record, I did not make this record Real. It was in a pitiful state when I finally got my own turntable when I was twenty-two and asked my parents if I could take it and some other records from their relatively small collection. They haven’t had their own turntable in years, so they let me take them for my own. There is no paper sleeve for this record. The outer cover is only held together at the top, and a tiny bit on the top of one of the sides. Otherwise it’s flapping free on three of its four sides. I do not know if one of my parents got it that worn, and if so, how, or if it was already like that when whichever of them got it. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it’s been one of my Top 5 favorite albums for ages and that I love and accept it unconditionally in whatever shabby state it’s in. Remember, once something has been made Real, it lasts for always and doesn’t get undone. If I were to give it to a record store, I am sure it would get tossed in with the typical junk in the free crate, but to me it’s the ugly child only a mother could love. The record itself still plays beautifully, in spite of the extremely worn exterior. There’s some heavy surface noise and static at the beginning, but other than that, it plays like a charm.

I wanted so badly to listen to that record when I got home from my accident, since it’s so comforting, with all of the softness of a lullaby, the type of music I plan to play to my future kid(s) while in utero, the type of music I want them to be escorted into the world to. (I want a homebirth or at least a birth in the local natural childbirth center, so I’ll be able to bring my own music and have autonomy over what happens, unless chas v’shalom there’s a bona fide emergency that requires transference to a hospital or an OB’s care.) And I kept myself away from it when I most needed it, even when I was back with playing my records again. I was punishing myself, and for no good reason. It’s the same deal with how I gave up too soon when I was initially querying two of my books a decade ago. There was no reason to stop.

I might have had a number of books published by now, including my Russian novel that I worked on so hard and lovingly for eight and a half years. I can never make up for so much lost, wasted time, but at least I can learn from my mistakes and not give up so easily this time. I denied myself one of my favorite albums the same way I denied myself the chance to be discovered and start making a name for myself when I was still in my early twenties.