Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Incapable of Her Own Distress


I've got the first third of the New Novel nailed down to the support beams pretty well, I think. Starting to show it to a few eyes whose skills I trust. I figure I'd leak a taste of it out here on the blog as well.

It's got eight narrators (this isn't mere narrative trickery, but a device with a point: these voices are all disconnected from each other), but only three primary ones. Cassie is one of them. This is the first couple of pages of the third chapter, the first time we get a glimpse of her.

We like Cassie.

The title of this chapter is not, incidentally, the title of the book. It's from Hamlet. I think you're allowed to steal from Shakespeare.

Incapable of Her Own Distress


She waits to take her pills until after she has sent Henry to school. Small gray teeth of anxiety begin to bite at her brainstem, but she waits. She needs to be on track, making sure he has his mittens, his hat; she needs to double-check that his coat is zipped, his pants legs are tucked inside his boots. It gets cold during these Minnesota winters. She needs to make sure he has his backpack, his homework, his lunch money.

After he is safely inside the school building and she is back at home she goes straight to the bathroom and washes down the two pale yellow pills, needle teeth already insistent at the back of her head, a hard rain of teeth. She sits and watches a little television, waiting for the fog to descend. It generally takes about twenty minutes, and she watches the shifting maps and swirling graphics of the Weather Channel until she feels the world go soft at the periphery, like worn flannel.

She washes the breakfast dishes next, every day. She has a tendency to get lost in the reflections of light in the soap bubbles, the pattern of dried cereal on the edge of a bowl. It is not unpleasant. If Henry were here she would feel thin fingers of panic in her belly--keep it together, don’t let him see, be here for him, be here for him now--but as long as it is just her, just washing dishes, she lets it slide, falls into the sensation a little, tries to enjoy it.

She floats through the house, making the two beds, putting away toys, placing pillows back on the couch. Her movements are slow and fluid, as if she is moving through air gone thick, and in a sense it has. She feels suspended in solution, like an apple bit in Jello. I am Ophelia, she thinks to herself, a reference from a smattering of community college literature courses she took a lifetime ago. Poor, mad Ophelia.

She is Ophelia, dusting the screen of the television.

She is Ophelia, putting the dishes up to dry.

She is incapable of her own distress.

The fog has cleared somewhat by three o’clock, when it is time to pick up Henry. Cleared but not wholly gone, and so she hangs back from the other parents, fearful of their prodding glances, of her own inability to make conversation. She stands in the grass behind the playground, partially hidden behind the idling swingset, the hard, cold metal of the monkey bars. She told the man from the birthday party she is ashamed of her car, her dress, Henry’s clothes, and while there is some truth in that, it is not the whole truth.

He is a nice man.

He has nice eyes. Everyday brown, everyday black pupil, but what she notices and remembers is the darker brown at the edges of the iris, circling the pupil, as if there is another color there entirely, eclipsed by the everyday brown, waiting for discovery.

She is thinking about his eyes as she takes Henry to the car and then home, the day they talk together at the playground. He does seem like a nice man. She is surprised at her ability to converse with him so easily. She is so shy, so much of the time, and he has a disarming ability to pull her out of her own head. But then Henry is by her side, the world shifts to him as it must, as it demands, and the man fades in her memory, swimming far out to the recesses of her waking mind. There are more important things to attend to.

Lately Henry has been biting himself. He bit her once, and she yelled at him, and did not feel guilty for yelling, but she is concerned at the result. He’s biting himself instead. He never does it in front of her, but in his room, hidden away, and she only knows of it because of the tell-tale moon-shaped bite marks that are left, in pairs on his arm like parentheses. She asks him about it. He always denies it.

So. She makes a point of staying with him, from the moment they get home from school to the moment they go to bed. Not that it’s difficult to do. Even before the biting began they spent nearly all their time together. She doesn’t know anyone in the neighborhood. It’s mostly retirees, in a tract of modular houses one step up from trailer homes. Her neighbors have no kids for Henry to play with, and she feels no need to get to know them. Their kindly smiles as they see her walking down the street with him suffice for her. She is a single mother, she has a young boy, she is a saint in their eyes, and if they have darker opinions about her raising a child out of wedlock they keep those opinions behind the solid front doors of their homes. They come by a few times a year, with Easter baskets of gooey chocolates, plastic balls and bats at his birthday, puzzles and blocks at Christmas. They offer handfuls of candy at Halloween, a place at the table at Thanksgiving. But other than holidays, other than the public smiles displayed to her from across the street, they are not a part of her daily life.

Henry is her world. She is Henry’s world.

They are complete.

Still, the man at the birthday party was nice.

Nice eyes, she thinks.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

You were really soaring in the middle, there. I've got a problem with "small gray teeth of anxiety" when paired with "thin fingers of panic" which will go away if, eventually, you bring in the "thinning hair of dismay," "loopy entrails of horror" and "sturdy ribcage of courage," etc., until you make a whole person. But if you don't plan on that, I'd be wary of the body part/emotion metaphor when the teeth work so well.

Clowncar said...

Quite funny, E. "Loopy entrails of horror" made me laugh loud enough to scare the cat.

And you are right, of course. Though I was considering slipping the "ichy dandruff of dread" in there somewhere.

Diana said...

how about the callused heels of a weekend hangover?

meno said...

Oh everyone is so funny.

The nail beds of nervousness?

It's hard for me to get a read on much with this snippet. It was interesting enough to keep reading though.

Irrelephant said...

I was raised in mortal terror of the second chin of dismay. Good stuff Old Bean, keep it coming! Almost immediately I felt that sort of "bit of apple in Jello" feeling, a disassociation from real life. You creepy barstard you.

Gordo said...

Yep, I was waiting for the monster/terrible secret to appear. Great stuff. I like the grey teeth and didn't even notice the nasty fingers.

Clowncar said...

Oh, you all think you're so very clever, don't you?

I may be forced to visit each one of your homes and head-butt you with the balding forehead of terrible vengeance.

Except for Gordo. Clearly the only one of you with any manners.

Nancy Dancehall said...

See, that's why he sent the whole thing to me, because I'm so much nicer. Mostly because he knows where I live...

Clowncar said...

They're so mean, aren't they, Nancy?

When the zombie spider apocalypse comes, and I'm safely hidden away in my solar powered yurt in the San Juan mountains, we'll see who has the last laugh.