Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Excerpt from a novel in process A Generous Absence

Chapter One


Anna heard the ting of the brass bell from the midst of a dream. In the dream a baby cried. A newborn-- her face was red, her fists were clenched, her legs waved as if she was swimming. The small voice echoed through time, probed Anna's memory. Someone called her, someone she refused to hear. As soon as she woke, the dream was forgotten.

The bell tingled again. Anna reached for her kimono and slipped her feet into rubber thongs. The thongs flapped against her heels as she hurried down the dim, dusty hallway towards the living room where Mrs. Mornay lay in a narrow hospital bed. For a third time the bell rang, followed by the sound of Mrs. Mornay's hefty voice, a voice that belied the frailty of her body. "Anna."

"Coming," Anna said. She'd spent the night here tending to Mrs. Mornay's needs. A neighborly thing she did every once in awhile, helping out when Mrs. Mornay's homecare workers were sick and no substitute could be found. The house was small and tidy, filled with furniture Mrs. Mornay had inherited from her parents. In order to pay for her daily care, in order to keep herself out of a nursing home, she had put the house in hock, so to speak. When she died, the homecare agencies would cash in their liens. Anna admired her for that. For finding a way to die in the manner she wanted, since there were no relatives nearby to help.

In the living room Mrs. Mornay's dark eyes blinked. "Nightmare," she said. Her forehead was beaded with sweat. Anna moistened a washcloth and washed the old woman's face. "Thank you, dear. Now, fetch my cigarettes if you will."

Mrs. Mornay's hands shook as she tried to strike the match. "Let me," Anna said. The house and everything in it, chairs, windowpanes, curtains and carpet were layered in years of cigarette smoke, each layer holding the stories of Mrs. Mornay's life: her marriage at sixteen, the birth of her two sons, her husband's death thirty years ago, the innumerable Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations, the birthdays and anniversaries, the arguments and laughter. A mode of marking time no longer acceptable. But Mrs. Mornay was not dying from lung cancer, and she was damned if she'd go through withdrawal symptoms. At this stage, what did it matter?

"My grandfather," Mrs. Mornay said from within a cloud of smoke. "I dreamt of my grandfather. Of when he died. I forget many things, but this I remember. The summer I was eight, Grandpa lay on the daybed in the dining room at the farm, his breathing raspy. The priest gave him his last rites. He was dying, they said. 'What happens to us when we die?' I asked. Grandma sat me down beside her on the living room couch. She took my hand and pointed to three lines on the carpet beneath our feet. A brownish carpet, I remember, patterned with trees and birds. 'Death is nothing to be afraid of,' Grandma said. 'Death is just stepping from this line over to that one. From one spot on the carpet to another. No matter what happens, you're still on the same carpet.' Mrs. Mornay paused, then said, "I'm not long for this world, dear."

Nonsense, Anna said, all evidence to the contrary. Mrs. Mornay took a drag on her cigarette and squinted. Beneath her gray lashes her brown eyes gleamed. That's not what I need, her look seemed to say. Don't give me those worn cliché's, those blind responses. I expect more from you. A writer. A sensitive. She fumbled on the bedside table for her ashtray and ground out the butt against the pink glass. "I'll try to sleep again."

Anna tucked the light summer sheet around her, the early morning could be chill, then she wandered back down the hall to the bedroom. Now, she was awake and restless, anxious to leave Mrs. Mornay's world and return to her own. A summery breeze blew the low-tide smell from the bay through the bedroom window. Anna opened the curtains, sat in the rocker and gazed out the window. By the light of the half moon she saw the trees outlined behind the house, the clothesline posts, the garage with Mrs. Mornay's round topped Volkswagen bug parked before it as if awaiting an expedition. Such expeditions were over for the little car, at least with Mrs. Mornay at the wheel.

Beyond the garage lay Eel pond and on the far side of the saltwater pond stood Anna's own house, invisible in the dark. They were pond neighbors and had met in the woods that surrounded the pond. Conservation land, where for years Mrs. Mornay had planted daffodil bulbs with her 4-H club, so that now, in the spring, a huge blanket of yellow blossoms bloomed. They had chatted and arranged to meet for tea, and had been meeting every now and then ever since.


14 comments:

human being said...

Wow wow wow!
Suki, what a treasure!
Your pen is magical.... How beautifully you can create the mood and atmosphere.... I can't wait to read the rest. Are you going to share the rest with us?

Oh Suki! I loved that part the grandmother was talking about death:
'No matter what happens, you're still on the same carpet.'

This image is unique ...so original.... The analogy between the life after death and the patterns on the carpet.

Cris in Oregon said...

Sounds like a good book. I was pulled into the story immediately. keep us posted on how good the rest of it is.

Cris in Oregon said...

PS. Is this a new paperback or an old book you found?

sukipoet said...

Cris Dear. This is from a novel I have written, (about 300 pages long) though it has not been published. I am needing to revise it especially the end as it was to be a trilogy and now I want it to be complete in itself.

Human being, oh thank you so much for your comments. I will share more soon. Maybe by sharing it on the blog, I can get myself enthused about revising it. Of course i have revised it a million times already, but as said above I need to rethink the ending especially.

Elizabeth said...

Dear Suki Poet
I will read your novel excerpt after dinner.
Maybe we could bounce ideas off each other.
I will order your book as soon as I can.
Yes, having two Elizabeths is difficult.
Elizabeth Freeman is a super artist and also English. We 'met' through Merisi's blog.
My mother and aunt were both elizabeth, as is my sister in law and my cousin's daughter.
My daughter is Claudia - couldn't stand any more Elizabeths......

Lynn said...

Wow, I was caught up from the first paragraph went on reading...saw how long it was, scrolled back up to see who wrote this, realized then it was YOU, then went on to read the rest. Great details, pictures painted, personalities being drawn...life and death...baby born...to Mrs. M's announcing she is not long for this world, Anna's denial...
Very well done, definitely kept my interest. I too want more.
Good luck with your re-write, I hope you get all the encouagement you need to keep going. Thanks for sharing!

Annie said...

If Anna had stayed to talk with Mrs. Mornay, that would have honored the old woman . . . We must remember to talk and listen carefully for life to have its richness.

And I thought about Kahil Gibran's quote, "For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?"

Cris in Oregon said...

Oh.. I just assumed since you were always reading and sharing what you have read it was someone elses you had bought in that stack of books you showed.
You should get it going and finish it. If I can finish a painting I started three years ago you can finish this. :)

Cestandrea said...

Dear Suki,
I just got up and grabbed my morning-energy-drink :) and let the cat out onto the balcony and turned on the computer as always, before going out to exercise.
Now, what an absolute pleasure to dive into your novel, which really pulls us in right from the start. I savoured your words!
I will print this out and re-read it from paper, it is precious!
Have a wonderful day, and hopefully we can read more soon?
Andrea

sukipoet said...

Elizabeth, hello. I'd love to bounce ideas off each other. Am often in writer's groups but not up here in the northcountry. That IS a lot of Elizabeth's. You broke the pattern with Claudia.

Lynn thanks for your comments. It's always good to know whether readers are, or a not, drawn into the book right at the get go. I just read an editor's comments tht she knows after the first few pages if she will like/buy the book.

Annie that Gibran quote is exquisite. I'll have to copy it out. And thanks for the comment re: having Anna stay and talk more with Mrs. Mornay. She talks more at another point but it is mostly about her self.

Andrea, thanks for diving in and your kind words, printing it out to re;read. I find it so hard to read long pieces on the computer and am endlessly printing out my novel so I can hold it even though I know it is sort of "old fashioned."

Cris thanks for you cheering me on. Probably I have already spent 3 years on the book. I finished this draft just as I heard about having to leave my 20 year rental and I havent had the focus to work on it since. The mind focus. But yes, novels can often take 10 years or more in the formation. Paintings too. In fact, I see so many similarities in the process of both paintings and fiction writing.

Britt-Arnhild said...

Suki, this is great. Is it a book you are writing or one you have written?

I want more......

sukipoet said...

thank you Britt-Arnhild. The words every writer wants to hear: "I want more." Yes, this is an unpublished book I have written. I have 300 pages. It needs to be revised and has been siting quietly in a box for a few years.

Elizabeth said...

Excellent so far.........we await the next installment......

human being said...

Suki,
I'm here again to tell you your story is still with me. I couldn't part with it... This shows it's been a powerful one from the begining.
Maybe it wants to come out of the box. Think your story wants to start a journey in your readers' minds... Please let it do so... It's all ready ...