I belong to a writing group called the odd Thursday group as we meet every other Thursday. It has been incredibly helpful as well as fun as it is an extremely diverse group of people with very different writing styles. We range in age from around 28 to 50 and have very different backgrounds. There is a woman from Ireland, a young man who is from a mining family in northern England, a woman who grew up on a dairy farm in Somerset, a man who attended Eton and is from a titled background who is a curator of a natural history museum in the area, and me - a middle class, New Jerseyan suburbanite.
Dervla - the Irish woman who kind of runs the group - told us about a short story competition that she thought we should enter. She came up with our own little competition - whichever of us writes a short story that we all vote as really different from our own normal voice will have the competition fee (12 pounds) paid by the rest of us. We have to write a short story - maximum of 12,000 words by March 31. But - we have to write in a voice totally different from our own. Those of use who are women have to have a male narrator and vice versa. We can set it in our country of origin, but have to have a different theme than is usual for each of us - so for Antony - no science fiction, for Steve, no English history or class system, for Izzy - no sheep or cows - for me - no nature, love, tolerance, children, etc...
So this is what I'm working on. I'm going to work on it as kind of a serial, as 12,000 words is a lot to do at one sitting. I'm kind of excited about it - because I actually have a plan for a plot (which is always my weakness) and I think the narrator's voice is pretty alien to my own. If any of you want to think about finding a writing group - it has been a major boost for my writing. And really, really fun. We meet in a pub - and read our stuff to each other - get a lot of moral support and good advice. I just asked at the local library to find out about this one. I'm sure there's one in your area.
I'm no longer able to pinpoint the exact day or time that the idea first entered my mind, but by the spring of l994, it had taken deep, and some would say, dangerous root. By May of that year, I was unable to think of anything else and as each slightly longer day brought me closer and closer to the date that I had chosen to take action, I realized that the word or emotion that best described the way I felt was anticipation. This was a good sign to me. I had expected to be filled with dread or regret at the thought of actually doing what I was thinking of, and if that had been the case, I might have- no I would have- aborted the plan. But what I actually felt was a mixture of excitement and peace as I dreamt and planned, and this made me feel that what I felt led to do and what I was meant to do were one and the same thing. It was a very satisfying and reassuring feeling.
As well as not being able to determine a moment that I began fantasizing, I cannot pinpoint any pivotal or determining factor that pushed me to the point where I began planning to enact my fantasy. There was no proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. It was more of a sad, ill-fated combination of events that had pushed me to the figurative edge of what I failed to recognize as a dangerous precipice, and I truly believe that the insertion of just one extra bit of happiness or good luck or the omission of just one further sinking disappointment might have changed everything.
I liken my situation to certain tragic stories I've read in the newspaper, where if only one single factor had been changed, everything might have ended differently (read: happily) for those involved. For instance, I once read of a family of four whose car entered an intersection at the exact moment some drunk driver ran a red light - broad -siding their vehicle and killing everyone inside it. There was some confusion initially as to the identity of the driver (male) as he was not in possession of his wallet. And I thought to myself, "What if that father and husband had realized that he had forgotten his wallet just as he was walking out the door to get in the car? What if he had slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, smiled apologetically into the interior at the three smiling and expectant faces waiting for him, and loped back up the stairs to snatch it off his dresser? Something as simple as that would have delayed him just the twenty or thirty seconds necessary to avoid the drunk driver and buy his family forty or fifty more years."
And then I thought to myself, "What bad luck." And whenever I look into the eyes (usually smiling) that stare back at me from the grainy and indistinct photographs on the front pages of any local newspaper from anywhere in the country on any given day, photographs that alert readers to the fact that someone somewhere is grieving, I'm always struck by the same thought. I think to myself, "When that child/ woman/ man was born and first held in a pair of grateful arms, as they grew and laughed, walked to school or sang in the church choir, was there ever any sign, or indication that they would be one of the unlucky ones, one of those poor souls who would at some point innocently cross paths with a sad or violent fate long before it should have been legitimately expected? Those are the kind of thoughts that run through my mind when I see those pictures and read the stories that accompany them. I always search the eyes looking for some kind of sign, some hint of sadness or premonition. I never see anything.
For a long time, I had never seen any sign in my own life that it would be anything but average. It had all started out so benignly. I was an only child, born to two people who had married late and had given up on the thought of any offspring by the time I came along. My mother was one of those sweet-tempered, naturally nurturing and maternal women with a kind smile and broad hips, who appeared born to bear and raise children. She had passed her fortieth birthday without even so much as a pregnancy scare and had resigned herself to filling her life with her work as a nurse and her wifely duties to my father, so when it finally came, the unexpected but long hoped for fact of her pregnancy was a source of great excitement and joy to both of my parents. My subsequent birth and childhood literally became my mother's reason to live. I remember my father as being silent and stalwart, kind to my mother and I, but not overly expressive. He worked at the lumber mill in our small town, where he had started as an employee straight out of high school. By the time I was born, he had risen through the ranks to the role of yard supervisor and would have finished his working days there, but for the fact that one Tuesday morning at the end of March in the year I would turn seven, I watched through the front window as he walked toward the car and fell on his knees beneath the tall pine tree beside the driveway. At first I thought he had slipped on a patch of black ice, smooth and invisible and hanging on stubbornly into Spring, refusing to melt in the shaded area that skirted the tree, but as he turned to look back at the house, I saw his white and stricken face, eyes and mouth open in a large O of surprise, and I knew it was something else entirely. He died of a heart attack in the emergency room later that morning, never having fully regained consciousness. He was forty-nine years old.
Fri 24 Feb, 2006 02:59 pm
My mother increased her hours at the hospital to make ends meet and I grew into one of those big-boned boys of average height that seem always to blend into the background. I had brown hair and eyes and a medium complexion and my only distinguishing characteristics were my thick, heavy and very dark eyebrows and my unusually large frame. My eyebrows gave my face what I perceived to be a marked brooding and almost menacing appearance, which combined with my stocky frame and somewhat awkward and clumsy gait to give the overall impression of a lumbering and particularly bad tempered bear. Having spent many hours contemplating this unpleasing effect in the bathroom mirror, I decided to counteract this mildly sinister aspect of my appearance by making a conscious effort to smile almost continually. I found the change this produced in my persona astounding. I was still big and lumbering, but seemed placid and content and almost pleasantly vacant, and it occurred to me then that it might be advantageous to seem to be someone whom no one should take seriously. So that is who I strove to become. Although I was bright and a good student, each year I found that most of my teachers initially expressed surprise at the superior quality of my work, almost as if they had expected less of me for some reason, perhaps because my almost blank affect had prepared them to expect a lesser intellect.
I showed no athletic aptitude at all, but I was stocky enough by the time I was in junior high school that coaches and gym teachers were always asking me why I didn't play football. In an effort to find a more comfortable social niche, I decided to give it a try. But although I had the size and physique of a football player, I did not have the stamina to practice and play, and this soon became obvious on the field. I went to two or three practices but quit when I found that I couldn't make it through the drills. The simple truth was that I was not fast or aggressive enough, or even very interested in learning the plays, so the very same coaches who had encouraged me to play did not do or say anything to dissuade me when I decided to quit the field, but did encourage me to stay on as manager of the team. It was in this way I established myself as a willing and helpful foil to some of the most popular boys in our town, not exactly a friend, but a useful acquaintance, who was able to bask somewhat in their reflected glory. I played along good-naturedly when they taunted and teased me, thus making myself indispensable to their sizable egos by providing them with a lesser and unworthy but totally willing devotee. They soon turned their taunts to other less valuable and fortunate recipients, less valuable, because unlike me, they could not provide the completed homework pages, essays and hastily copied test answers that these young men needed in order to retain their eligibility to play, and less fortunate because their torture and humiliation was unending, or would continue at least until the day they would walk out the doors of the school for the last time. Mine had ended the day they realized that I not only could, but would do anything they asked - and with a smile.
I was however, not considered valuable or of any consequence to these people outside of school hours, so most days after practice and when I had time on the week-ends, I spent hours walking in the fields and woods that surrounded my small town snapping photographs with a simple Pentax thirty-five millimeter camera my mother had given me for my tenth birthday. Photography quickly became a passion, and I almost never went anywhere without my camera. I have always been and still am a keen observer of people and nature, and found it comforting to have a record of those observations. I talked my mother into allowing me to convert the small downstairs half-bath into a darkroom, and was soon developing my own pictures. I worked odd jobs around town, bagging groceries in the winter and mowing lawns and weeding flower beds with the lands crew for the township in the summers to make money to buy the film and paper and chemicals I needed for my photography, and before I knew it, the years of my childhood had passed, almost silently and without incident, and I was preparing to graduate from high school.
Fri 24 Feb, 2006 03:00 pm
Early in the spring of my senior year of high school, I experienced what I would forever view as a momentous incident because it marked the first time in my memory that an event elicited a response from me that was instinctive but also quite alien, especially in the aspect that for the first time, I found myself unable to control my reaction to a stimulus. I now realize it was the beginning of what would come to mean the end for me.
I was walking down a street through a new development of split-level houses that was being built on the outskirts of our town. Our little town, Hartland, Pennsylvania was within easy commuting distance of Philadelphia, which sprawled crowded and seemingly another world away, although it lay less than an hour east of us. For most of my childhood, Hartland had consisted of only a small, distinct square of four streets comprising the business district, radiating outward as the homes become fewer, larger and spaced more privately until you reached the absolute outskirts of the town where a small cluster of mill houses sat bordered by large farms with tracts of fields and forests that seemed to stretch for miles on out to the interstate. My mother and I lived in one of these mill houses on a street that dead-ended in a stand of mature maples and oaks and other deciduous trees that provided a barrier between the fields of a large dairy farm and the homes of the mill workers. It was in these woods, through a tract of about seven acres, that I often walked. In the previous year however, the dairy farmer had sold off a portion of his acreage, including this stand of trees, to a real estate developer who was meeting the ever increasing demand for more modern and elaborate housing within commuting distance of Philadelphia by creating a brand new slice of suburbia which he had named "Tall Oaks." The quaintly meandering streets had been laid out and paved, although they were still bordered by untrimmed curbs and sidewalks. Rust colored hillocks of raw dirt were piled about waiting to be leveled and seeded into lawns on the small quarter acre lots where each house stood, dark and vacant and in varying stages of construction.
It had been a cool and windy day early in April. Though earlier in the afternoon, the sun had made an appearance and warmed the air to some extent, by the time I had made my way through the now much thinner strip of woods that separated the mill houses from the newer and bigger houses of Tall Oaks, the sun had gone down and the long shadows of the encroaching trees lay like dark pools on the vacant street. As I progressed toward the end of the street, the lots grew larger, more shaded and private and the houses progressively less finished. The road ended in a cul-de-sac, dead-ending in what was clearly the largest and most private of the development's lots containing the shell of what I could tell would eventually be a large, handsome, two-story, center-stair colonial. The foundation, framing, insulation and roof had been completed but the siding, doors and windows had yet to be installed. As I stood, deciding whether to continue walking through the lot, or turn back around and walk home, my mind registered the odd incongruity of a bicycle lying against one of the hillocks of dirt. It looked to be the bicycle of a young boy, but it was not in such derelict shape that I would have assumed it to have been abandoned. I decided to investigate. As I walked off the street and onto what would become the lawn of this house, I realized that there was a canvas bag, of the type used to carry and deliver newspapers, hanging off the handlebars of the bicycle. I pulled it open and saw that it was more than half full with copies of The Hartland Daily News, each folded neatly into thirds and bound with a red rubber band. I looked up and down the street, and into the treed lot - which was quickly darkening now - and called "Hey, anybody here?" but my query was met by still and absolute silence.
I walked over to the front of the house and tried to crane my neck to such an angle that it would be possible for me to look into the house through the dark and vacant rectangle that would eventually contain the door, but as the steps to this entrance had not yet been installed, the plywood floor of the house was just level to my shoulders, and I could gain no view of the interior except that which was directly in front of me. I saw nothing of any interest, but decided to hoist myself up and into the house for a more thorough view. My footsteps echoed as I stepped gingerly across the plywood subflooring, being careful to avoid the bent nails and other debris I could just barely discern littering the space. My eye was drawn to a large opening at the back of the house into which the last feeble bits of daylight strayed. It looked to be an opening for a set of patio or French doors in the room that would eventually be the kitchen. As I walked toward the back of the house, a slight movement, as subtle as an intake of breath, distracted me and caused me to look upward into the space from which the staircase would eventually descend. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I realized that I was looking at the rubber soles of two sneakered feet. I backed away and again craned my neck, looking upward, frowning in confusion and concentration, as my mind seemed unable to make my eyes believe what they were seeing. I saw the slowly swaying outline of a young boy, just barely twelve or thirteen years old, I would have ventured had I been asked to estimate his age. He was hanging, a rope around his neck tied from above to a second story floor joist. Without conscious thought I reset the F stop of my camera (to make allowance for the dwindling light), carefully focused, and shot a photo.
Fri 24 Feb, 2006 03:01 pm
Suddenly conscious that I was sweating profusely, I turned ran a few steps to the front of the house and jumped through the opening, gray now in the twilight, landing on one knee four or five feet below on the packed ground in front of the house. Still on my knees, I swiveled around, looking left and right. All remained still and silent in the deepening darkness. There was no one to help me. I ran to the bicycle that still leaned, a strangely evocative and poignant omen now, against the hillock of dirt. I searched the canvas bag for any sign of identification, though I was doubtful that a boy that age would carry any. As I suspected, there was nothing. I don't know what strange impulse led me to unfold one of the newspapers and take a picture of its front page, carefully focusing on the date, but that is what I did next. I refolded the paper and placed it near the bottom of the bag. I then began running home.
As I ran, my mind was already formulating a plan as to what I would do once I got to my house. I would run in the front door, go directly to the phone and call the police. My mother was working the three to eleven shift at the hospital and was not due to be home until ll:30 pm, but after I called the police, I would call my mother at the hospital and ask her to come home. Having arrived at a plan, my ragged breathing calmed somewhat and I slowed my furious run to a slower trot- the boy after all was clearly dead-time was no longer of the essence for him-an unfortunate fact to be sure, but a fact nonetheless. This slower pace allowed me time to reflect on what exactly had happened, and as I walked I remembered the strange impulse I had had to take a photo of the boy's hanging form in the empty house. I began to think about how events might unfold after the police had arrived and searched the house- what questions might be asked of me. "What were you doing in the woods? Why did you go into the uninhabited housing development? Was anyone with you? Did you see anyone enter or leave the area? Did anyone see you enter or leave the area? Why did you carry your camera with you? Is there any film in it? Did you take any pictures today?"
I realized that although I would give perfectly honest answers, they would serve no other purpose than to direct suspicion in my direction. If I was going to alert the police, I would need to get rid of the film in my camera. I stopped walking. My finger hovered above the spring-loaded button that would pop open the back of the camera and expose the film destroying the images on it. I hesitated. The boy was dead. There was nothing anyone could do for him now. The men who were building the house would find his body in the morning, little more than twelve hours from now. Twelve hours in which his parents would worry, (as an only, long awaited and coveted child I was more than a little familiar with a mother's frantic worry) but twelve more hours in which the death of hope would be delayed for them. And strangely, I realized that I did not want to destroy the pictures I had taken. I wanted to see these images.
In the time it took me to make my decision, I had reached our front path. I walked into the house, past the telephone on the desk in the front room, into the darkroom at the end of the hall and carefully closed the door.
Mon 24 Apr, 2006 12:40 am
That night, I was lying on my bed when I heard the front door open and close softly. I listened as my mother turned the deadbolt, heard its reassuring catch and then closed my eyes as I heard her approaching footsteps, almost silent in her nursing shoes aside from the odd squeak of the rubber soles on the polished hard wood floor of the hallway. Despite my best intentions, I found that I was holding my breath when I heard her stop outside of my bedroom door. Though I was not asleep, I pretended to be. I had turned the light off and was lying under the covers on my side, my inert form turned toward the wall. I reminded myself to breathe slowly and evenly in simulation of sleep. The light from the hallway slanted across my bed for a moment as she opened the door a crack and then disappeared as she closed it, having satisfied herself that I was safe in bed and sleeping. I exhaled slowly. I waited until I could no longer hear her footsteps retreating down the hall to her own bedroom before I turned on my bedside light. I pulled the 8x10 photo from under my blanket and studied it for the hundredth time that night.
He looked like he was sleeping. Whatever I had expected, I hadn't expected that. I had been prepared for the features of his face to be arranged in a mask of terror or torture- eyes wide with horror, tongue distended- some sign of struggle or fear- any or all of the characteristics one is programmed to accept as typical of a violent death as presented by various forms of the media. This boy simply looked as if he had fallen asleep, though admittedly with his neck at an extremely odd angle. His eyelashes dusted his cheeks like dark shadowy fans, his mouth was closed. His hands hung open and loose at his sides. I had had black and white film in the camera, and although I had had no conscious memory of his facial expression (thus my surprise at seeing that it was so peaceful), I did remember that the darker stripes on his crewneck t-shirt had been red, and that his jeans had been blue. The sneakers that had almost brushed my hair as I passed beneath them were black Chuck Taylor's. In the picture, I could see the white stars. I felt like crying.
I had done the wrong thing. I had known that what I was doing was wrong earlier that evening, as soon as I saw the boy's image begin to emerge in the developing fluid as I pushed it back and forth with the tongs. It was almost as if he had come swimming up at me through the dark depths of some surreal pond, appearing and then disappearing, indistinct and watery until finally he materialized permanently and inescapably on the paper in my tray. What had been only a single glimpse so odd and almost fleeting enough that I was able to convince myself I had imagined it, was now here before me in black and white. I had produced solid and incontrovertible proof that what I had seen was real. Every time I closed my eyes I saw his form hanging in what I knew was now a cold, dark and silent house. I felt sick.
I got up from my bed and looked out of the window. The moon was lighting the tops of the trees, but the wind was picking up and clouds were scudding across the sky, obscuring the stars. I opened the window a crack and felt the night air against my skin. It was cool and moist. I could smell the dampness. I knew it would rain before morning. I folded the picture in half and placed it carefully in an old picture dictionary I had used as a small child. I placed the book on the bottom shelf of my bookcase among copies of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, Old Yeller and an old set of encyclopedias I had kept from my childhood and got back into bed where I laid, eyes open and staring into the darkness, for most of the night
Mon 24 Apr, 2006 12:41 am
When my mother knocked on my door to wake me up the next morning, though I was awake, I didn't answer her. She opened the door and advanced slowly until she was standing over me at the side of my bed. I felt her hand on my shoulder.
"Wake up, sleepyhead," I could hear the smile in her voice. "You need to get up right now, or you'll be late for school."
I groaned, "I don't feel good today. I'm not going." I couldn't look at her so I turned over to face the wall.
"What's the matter? Do you have a fever," she asked, brushing my hair back and placing the palm of her hand on my forehead before caressing my cheek and patting me on the shoulder. The smile in her voice had been replaced by concern. "You don't feel warm - no fever. Does your head or stomach hurt?"
I mumbled quickly and almost incoherently, "My head- it hurts. I didn't get any sleep last night. I just want to sleep."
She stood silently, and though my face was turned to the wall and my eyes were closed, I knew she was studying my form.
"Mom," I said, "I've handed in all my work for this quarter and all I need to do is study for exams. Missing one day won't kill me, and if I feel better later, I'll go in late or use the time to study. Please, I just need to get some sleep."
"I'll get you something for your headache. Are you hungry? You should eat something. It might make you feel better. Can I make you some eggs- or if your stomach's upset, how about just some tea and toast ?"
"I'm not hungry. I'll eat later. Don't worry about me. I'm just really, really tired," I said burrowing further into the covers.
"Well, if your head hurts, it might be because you haven't eaten in a while. Did you heat up the casserole I left in the refrigerator for you last night? What did you eat for supper?"
"Mom," I almost yelled at her, "I just need to sleep. I promise you, I'll eat something in a couple of hours. " Please " I could hear the desperation in my own voice. She apparently heard it too, because she backed slowly out of the room saying, "I'll bring you some Tylenol and call the school." A few minutes later she appeared with the tablets and a glass of water. I took the tablets from her hand and drank the water.
"Just go to sleep," she said. "You'll feel better when you wake up. I'll be right down the hall. If you need anything, just call me."
I had never felt like such a lying, useless piece of **** in my life. I mumbled my thanks and turned over to try to sleep.
When I woke again a few hours later, I realized the muffled but steady and insistent drumming sound I heard was rain on the roof and against my window. The light was dull and gray and I had to look at the clock to ascertain that it was past noon. I pushed back the covers, got out of bed and walked down the hall to the kitchen. My mother sat in her white nursing uniform reading the newspaper at the kitchen table.
"Oh, there you are. You had a good, long sleep. I looked in on you. Boy, you were out. I guess you needed that. Do you feel better?" she asked, an encouraging smile on her face.
Even though I didn't, I lied, "Yeah, much better. Has it been raining long?" I asked.
"It's been pouring since about four this morning. We needed a good soaking rain. It's been so dry for April. This will do wonders for my perennials. And it's good sleeping weather. I went back to bed and took a little nap myself. Since I knew I wasn't going anywhere in this mess unless I absolutely had to, I went ahead and got dressed for work. I have to leave in a couple of hours. I made some soup, although you didn't eat any of the casserole I left for you last night. That's probably why you had a headache. Are you hungry now? Do want me to get you something to eat? How about a bowl of soup?" She smiled sheepishly when she realized how many questions she'd asked without waiting for answers. I smiled back at her.
"Sure," I said. I was hungry. I hadn't eaten anything in almost twenty-four hours. "Can I see the paper?" She slid it over to me as I sat down at the table and she turned to the stove to heat the soup.
I looked at the front page and all through the first section devoted to local news. No mention of the boy anywhere that I could find. I was confused. "Anything interesting in the paper today?" I asked my mother.
"Apparently a little boy has gone missing. There was just a small paragraph describing him and giving a number to call with any information or sightings. He didn't come home from the paper route that he does everyday after school. His parents must be frantic, thinking of him out somewhere in all this rain."
"Where was that? I didn't see anything about it."
"It was here in Hartland. So strange. Nothing like that ever happens around here." "
"No, I mean, where is it in the paper. I want to read about it."
"Oh, I think it was at the bottom of the third or fourth page. It was just a short paragraph. Hopefully by now they've discovered that he was at some little friend's house who his parents didn't know. Although you'd think he would call them. He is thirteen years old, after all. Old enough to know his parents will be concerned and show some consideration for them."
I had found the item. It was just seven or eight sentences. The boy's name was William Matthew Callahan. He was called Billy. Billy Callahan. He was thirteen years old. He was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 120 pounds. He had reddish blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes. No distinguishing birthmarks or scars. He was last seen wearing a red and white striped t- shirt, blue jeans, and black sneakers while riding a blue bicycle and carrying a bag of newspapers. Several people on his route reported seeing him and receiving their papers, but the majority of those who usually had their newspapers delivered by him had not received them last night. His parents were concerned because although he was "mischievous, curious and sociable," as well as "prone to diversions and distractions" as his mother kindly put it, he had never neglected to deliver his papers or come home by dark before. Anyone with any information was urged to call the police station. A number was given.
I carefully folded the paper and began to eat my soup.
Wed 10 May, 2006 08:38 pm
We had baked chicken for dinner the night Billy didn't come home. I remember because I still have the scar on the inside of my forearm where I burned myself trying to turn each piece to make sure it was all the way done inside. "Ouch," I cried as the tray slipped and I struggled to right it, burning myself.
"Sweetheart, be careful," my mother said, grabbing a hot pad and taking the tray of chicken from my hand. She set it on the counter and grabbing my arm, pulled me toward the sink and held it under cold, running water for a few minutes.
"It will be alright," she said. But she was wrong. Nothing was ever alright again after that.
So what was it like before? Nothing very special, but enough to make me feel that I was lucky- charmed in a way that seemed normal to me, and a given in that it was nothing more or less than what I deserved and what everyone around me seemed to have. Here's what I had: a working father, a mother who had devoted herself to her children and her home, a brother and three sisters, a roof over my head. I was given each day signs that communicated the simplest truth that I was loved, and that there were people in the world who cared about nothing more than my comfort, safety and security. I was a member of a family, a group of people who had devoted themselves to each other. Of course, it was only after it had disintegrated that I realized all that it had meant. Isn't that always the way?
I had been one of five children born to my mother and father. They were both of Irish Catholic descemt. I was the oldest. Billy was next. Kate, Maggie, and Patricia followed in close succession. Though there was never enough money to cover all the bills, the little girls all wore hand-me-downs, and the house was always noisy and the site of what could best be described as a kind of organized chaos, we were happy. And then my brother didn't come home one night.
Billy was a screw up. He just was. But he was a delightful screw up. Everyone in his life was always exasperated with him, but never angry because he was the type of kid you could never stay angry at.
If his personality had not been enough in itself to make him special within our family, the fact that he was the only son would have sealed the deal. That meant something to my parents, and especially to my mother. She was a woman of a generation and time who believed that it was her duty to produce at least one male heir for her husband. Having come first, and being a daughter, I never felt like a disappointment exactly, but I'd always been aware that for her, the day Billy was born, was the day at least part of her destiny as a woman, wife and mother was truly fulfilled. I believe she continued having children after Billy not only because she loved them, but also in search of a brother for him. Though my sisters and I felt cherished, we knew we were not regarded as being as valuable to her as Billy was or as another son would have been.
Billy had been having minor behavioral difficulties in school. He wasn't a bad kid, just "overly enthusiastic and exuberant" as one teacher described him. He was the type of boy who filled the space around him with his presence so much so that it sucked the energy from those who are also sharing that space. This seemed particularly true for his teachers, and they were not hesitant about letting my mother know it was becoming a problem.
My mother was conscientious and aware of her duties as a parent and wanted Billy to learn how to behave more appropriately and have more control over his actions, so she had encouraged him to get a paper route as a means to help develop a sense of "responsibility" in him. She thought that if he had some duty that he had to fulfill everyday, with the added bonus of making some spending money, he'd gain a sense of work ethic, self-confidence and competence.
My mother was like that. Instead of punishing him for his weaknesses, she tried to think of ways to reinforce and encourage better behavior. I myself was doubtful that he could handle it. He had the attention span of a gnat. She recognized this, but thought that since this paper route was an active job - one in which he could ride his bike and get some of his excess energy out- he'd stick with it. And he did, for as long as he was allowed to.
Either she or I went with him the first couple of weeks to make sure he knew the route, obeyed the traffic laws and just generally had a handle on what he was supposed to do. This embarrassed him, especially when my mother was the one who went with him. But again, she was like that. She'd say, "Rose, watch your sisters and start supper. There's chicken thawing in the refrigerator. Put it in the oven to bake. Kate, you peel some potatoes. Billy and I are going to get these papers delivered," and she'd climb on my bike and off they would go. But I'd hear Billy saying, "Mom, don't ride with me, stay back. I don't want any of my friends to see us together." So she'd let him peddle ahead fifty yards or so, but just follow along to make sure he was staying safe. She continued this until the weather stabilized and it began staying light longer into the evening. Then she let him venture out alone.
Wed 10 May, 2006 08:40 pm
The night he didn't come home he'd been going out alone for a couple of weeks. It had gotten to the point where it was all pretty routine. He'd come home from school, have a snack and fold the papers. This all took about a half an hour. Then he'd set out on his bicycle about 4:30 and be home by 6:00. Supper was always at 6:30 sharp. My father worked as a lawyer in Philadelphia. His commute was about an hour. He usually hit the door at 6:15.
So that night, when Billy wasn't home by six o'clock, my mother noticed but wasn't too concerned. The clocks had been turned ahead for daylight savings time the week before and it wasn't anywhere near dark. When my Dad got home at 6:15 and Billy still hadn't come home, she was concerned but not worried. Dad suggested driving the route to try to find him, but Mom said, "No, you've had a long day and you're hungry. Knowing Billy, he's probably gotten distracted talking to one of his friends and he'll come running in here in a minute or two. Let's sit down and eat."
By the time we finished dinner and he still hadn't turned up, both of my parents were worried. It was getting dark and besides, it was just kind of an unwritten rule in our house that you didn't skip supper.
Mom said, "Rose and Kate, you girls start the dishes and help the little ones get their baths."
My father said, "Maureen, you stay here, I'll go find him," but my mother said no, she wanted to go with him. I knew she was feeling increasingly frantic. I was beginning to get worried too.
They didn't come home for a long time. The dishes had been washed, the kitchen floor swept, trash emptied, and the "little ones" (as my parents called them) had been bathed, put in their pajamas, and tucked into bed. And still they hadn't come home with Billy. It was after 9:00. I was sitting at the table trying to do my Algebra homework, but I was unable to focus on anything other than the crushing weight I felt settling in my chest and rising further into my throat as each silent moment passed. Then I heard the front door open. I rushed forward, knowing that Billy would be with them, sheepish, tired and hungry and ready with some lame excuse like, "My bike got a flat tire," or "I saw Mike in the park and he invited me to his house for dinner." But he wasn't there to say anything.
My father looked grim and I barely recognized my mother. All of the color had faded from the skin on her face. Her mouth was set in a line, and though her chin quivered when she spoke and her eyes were swimming with tears, she wasn't really crying. She just looked like she was in pain. She just kept walking back and forth across the kitchen floor saying, "He's somewhere and he's alright. We just have to find him. I know he's alright." My father went to the wall phone in the kitchen and called the police.
That was the night I lost my brother, but I didn't find out how or why until the next day. The police detectives had come to our house that night to take a missing person's report and Billy's description. I watched my mother struggle to breathe so that she could answer their questions. She'd begin a sentence and then I'd hear the air catch in her throat as if she was gasping. She put her hand to her chest and said, "I'm sorry, I just can't seem to breathe." But she was the only one who knew what Billy had been wearing that day. My father had left the house before Billy had gotten up that day, and I hadn't noticed what clothes he had put on, so we couldn't help her with that task.
When they finished taking the details, they told my parents that it was too dark to begin a useful search that night, but they would start first thing the next morning. My mother looked at them in disbelief. "We can't leave him out there all night," she said. "He could be hurt. He may have been hit by a car and could be lying by the side of the road somewhere." As she spoke, I could see horror and incomprehension dawning at the realization that she would be expected to sit in her warm and comfortable house, possibly all night, while her son remained lost, somewhere in the darkness.
"Ma'am," they answered her, "we know you're upset and worried. But you need to realize that it would be a waste of time to start looking for him tonight. It's too dark to make a viable search, and for all we know, he may be at a friend's house. There are any number of possible explanations for his absence. The least likely scenario is that something life-threatening has happened to him. We have the information you gave us. We'll make sure it gets in the morning edition of the local paper."
"He's not at a friend's house," she almost screamed at them. "Don't you believe what I'm telling you? He would never do this to us. He would never do this to me," her voice finally broke and she turned her back to them. "Bill, please, you tell them. They're not listening to me."
My Dad drew her to him and put his arms around her. He held her close to his chest, speaking to the policemen over the back of her head. "Officers, thank you for your help. Do we need to call you in the morning, or will you start the search independent of hearing from us?" he asked calmly. My mother craned her neck to look up at his face in disbelief. She opened her mouth to speak, but my father had already stepped forward, ushering the officers toward the front door. When he had shut the door behind them, he turned and faced my mother and me.
"Bill, what are you doing? How can we sit here all night with Billy out there somewhere?" Her eyes seemed darker-two deep wells of accusation and betrayal.
"Maureen, they're not going to do anything else tonight. They made that very clear. The sooner they leave, the sooner I can get out there and find Billy." He stroked her hair. "Go to bed sweetheart. You're upset and exhausted. I'll find him, I promise you."
Again she looked at him, doubt written all over her face. She was too smart to believe that this was a promise like all of his others, one that was within his power or control to keep.
"I'm going with you," she said and stepped forward to put on her coat. My father caught her arm.
"Maureen, you need to stay here with the girls. Let me go now - I'll find him."
"If you make me stay here, I will never forgive you," she said simply. And she finished putting on her coat. As she was buttoning it she said, "Rose, honey, lock the doors behind us and go to bed. Try not to worry too much. Try to go to sleep," she said smiling ruefully knowing that she was uttering nonsense, but that that was what she was supposed to do for me.
And then they were gone. I did go to bed, and eventually I slept, because I had known they would find him. I knew they would not come home until they had found him. And I knew that was why my mother had to go with my father. Because as determined as he was, she was more determined. He might be persuaded to stop the search and let the police take over, but she never would. Billy was her baby boy. She needed to be wherever he was when he was found. She needed to be there to take care of him.
Wed 10 May, 2006 08:42 pm
They found him late the next morning. I had woken to the sound of a steady rain, feeling vaguely uneasy and sluggish. I felt different somehow. At first I couldn't remember why. When I opened my eyes, my room was awash in watery, gray light. Maggie was standing next to my bed. "Rosie, where's Mom? I'm hungry." I sat up in bed quickly and looked at the clock. 9:42 and they still hadn't come home. I'd slept through the alarm. We all had. I tried to deny to myself what I knew this must mean. I checked the message machine to see if they had called. Maybe they had found him and had had to take him to the hospital. No messages. But as I was walking away, the phone rang.
It was my father. "Rose, I'll be home soon. Just get the girls some breakfast for me. Can you do that? Can you take care of that for me?" He was talking quickly, saying too many words, as if he didn't want to leave any room for me to say any - to ask any questions.
But I was determined. "Dad, did you find Billy? Where was he?" I asked. I was answered by the slightest hesitation, the smallest fragment of silence. I realized I was shivering. I couldn't make my hands stop shaking.
I remember he sounded so tired when he said, "I'll be home soon sweetheart. Just get the girls dressed and give them something to eat, okay?" and he hung up the phone.
I took Maggie's hand and led her downstairs to the kitchen. I poured her a bowl of cereal and went to check on Kate and Patricia. They were just stirring. We were all sitting around the table choking down Cheerios when my father returned. My mother wasn't with him. I thought then that I had been right. Billy had gotten hurt and they had had to take him to the hospital. My mother was staying with him there. That's exactly what she would have done. I let out a sigh of relief and smiled encouragingly at my father. He didn't meet my eyes. He picked Maggie up from her chair and sat down where she'd been sitting, settling her in his lap. He buried his face in her hair. He wouldn't look at me.
I knew then. I didn't even have to see the tears snaking from the corner of his eyes, wetting Maggie's hair- I just knew. Because I remembered then that the only other time I had seen him cry was on Christmas, four years before. My grandfather had died. I couldn't stand to see my father crying then, and I couldn't stand to watch it now. I brushed his arm with my hand as I passed and went up to my room to get dressed.
They'd found Billy at about 8:00 that morning. As soon as it had gotten light enough, the police had joined my parents in their search and one of them had seen his bicycle parked beside the hill of dirt outside of one of the houses they were building in the new development a couple of miles from our house. This policeman had had to enter the development on foot, as the road was not yet paved and the heavy rains of the night before had made the dirt track little more than a giant and muddy puddle. My parents had seen police cars and an ambulance speeding in the direction of the housing development and had sped after them. They drove as far as they could and then got out of their car to run across the dirt lawns to where they saw a group of men gathered in black raincoats outside an unfinished house. They got there just in time to see them cutting the rope to take Billy's body down.
When we were little, in the summer after we'd been playing outside all day, my mother would bring us all inside at about 5:00 and start giving us our baths. She'd put us girls in the tub, two by two, and bathe Billy last, alone. I can remember her washing us with a washcloth, paying special attention to the creases of our necks and behind our ears. She'd sprinkle powder in her hand and rub it on our backs. Then she'd dress us in clean cotton summer clothes, dresses for the girls and a pair of shorts and white short-sleeved shirt for Billy. We'd buckle our sandals on our feet and all hold hands as we'd walk down the sidewalk to the corner where the bus from the city would drop my father off from work. We'd watch as all the men in their dark suit pants and creased white shirts would wearily disembark, their ties loosened, jackets slung over their arms, hands carrying briefcases. I remember seeing my father's tired eyes light up when he saw us. He'd pick us up, one by one, and kiss our cheeks, we'd put our arms around his neck and he'd laugh as we played our game, always the same. Who could hang on the longest- who would make it the hardest for him to disentangle himself?
And then finally, after we'd all had a turn in his arms, laughing and giggling at our silliness, we'd join hands and walk the length of sidewalk back to the house to have dinner. I was fifteen years old the day I was remember that, the morning I found out Billy was dead. I hadn't played that game with my father and brother and sisters in years. But that morning, the morning I found out my brother was gone, that's what I remembered. And it occurred to me that Billy always won the game. Billy always hung on the longest and the tightest. And it was his hand my father always held on the way back to the house. I walked back downstairs and put my arms around my father where he sat, still holding Maggie on his lap. He placed her in the chair next to him, stood up and turned to face me. He hid his face in my shoulder and he wept.
Wed 24 May, 2006 03:48 am
The thing I found most attractive about her was the fact that she seemed utterly unaware of how beautiful she was. I had noticed her the first time she boarded the bus, that first day of school back in September the year before. I had already seated myself where I had habitually sat everyday through my sophomore and junior years, next to the window and more toward the back than the front. I had chosen this seat because it was strategically placed between the loud, boisterous group of popular boys and their male and female "groupies" (as I thought of them) who rode in the back of the bus, and the quieter, more reflective and independently operating loners who peopled the front. If I wanted to be bothered to talk, I could turn and talk thereby retaining my somewhat dubious status as an (admittedly peripheral) "insider". If I didn't, I could look out the window or face straight ahead. I had found myself looking out of the window more and more often as my high school years progressed. Even though the bus passed the same scenery everyday, it was more interesting than anything being said in the back of the bus. By the time I started my senior year, I'd heard all that I needed to hear.
But that day, I happened to turn from my reverie in time to see her step hesitantly into the center aisle between the rows of seats. She stood for a moment, a flush deepening on her cheeks, as she tried not to appear to be looking for a friendly face. And when that didn't seem to be forthcoming for her, I knew she'd settle for a visage that at the very least did not appear unfriendly and/or threatening. I quickly arranged my features into a smile. It was to no avail. She lowered her eyes and sank quickly into the first available seat behind the driver. I abandoned the window, and faced straight ahead studying the back of her head, during the trip that day and everyday after that.
Her hair was that particular shade of blonde that always reminded me of the tassels on corn. Each strand reflected the light, and ranged in tone from almost white or silver to yellow and on into caramel or light brown. It was uniform in texture, straight and heavy. It fell to the middle of her back, like a velvet curtain. I longed to run my hands along its smooth expanse- to feel the silken weight of it- to lift it and see what it covered. But I'd never even spoken her name.
By the time she boarded the bus that last week in April, ten days after her brother had been found dead, (murdered as it happened by one of the men working construction in the development- he had been sloppy, left irrefutable evidence at the scene and was arrested quickly), I knew her name was Rosemary Callahan. I knew she was a sophomore which meant she was probably fifteen, if not almost sixteen years old. I knew she would be grieving. I hadn't known she'd had a younger brother until I read about his initial disappearance in the paper. And even then, when confronted with the fact that the last name of the missing boy was the same as the girl I'd been watching on the bus all year, I had hoped against hope it was just a coincidence- that he bore no relation to her. When I boarded the bus the day after I had seen the boy in the house and Rosemary's seat on the bus remained empty, I knew. William "Billy" Callahan. Rosemary Callahan. Brother and sister.
Every other day, she had stepped into the aisle and taken her seat quietly, amid the cacophony and chaos that typified the morning run on our school bus. I think she liked to feel that she was unnoticed, and I liked to believe that she was- unnoticed I mean-by anyone except me and her friend who sat beside her everyday. But on that day as she stepped into the aisle, eyes cast down, unable to meet the curious and pitying stares that she knew awaited her should she look up, she was met by silence-until it was broken by a single voice.
"Hey Rosemary- I haven't seen Billy lately. Where's he hangin' out these days?" The voice belonged to Frank Ellison, the star of the soccer team and a fairly intelligent person, when he wasn't stoned, which unfortunately was not usually the case- even at 8:00 most mornings. He sat surrounded by his minions, jeering at her from his seat in the back of the bus. There was a smattering of giggles. Rosemary said nothing and took her seat behind the driver. She looked straight ahead. One of the girls in the seat across from her moved to the seat next to her and patted her on the shoulder. Rosemary turned her head to smile at her and I could see that her cheek was mottled. She had that type of fair, almost translucently porcelain skin that wore a blush like a stain.
Frank, unsatisfied with Rosemary's lack of reaction to and/or recognition of him, started in again, "I mean, we all know what happens when you start hangin' around with the wrong pe " I didn't let him finish the sentence.
"Shut up, Frank," I said, muttering under my breath at first and then turning to face the back of the bus I said, loudly enough for everyone to hear, "Shut the hell up, you idiot."
"Hey John, I mean, what's it to you?" he asked, genuinely perplexed. I'd never once intervened before on anyone's behalf when Frank or one of the other jokers decided to make a meal of someone. "Just trying to have a little fun here, man. No big deal-not hurting anybody," he said looking into the faces around him for support. But even his most loyal stooges averted their eyes. In the silence that resumed, I turned forward in my seat to see Rosemary looking at me. She quickly turned her head, and stared straight ahead until the bus stopped. She was the first one off. I watched as she walked quickly and alone through the doors of the school.
I followed her through those doors that day, as alone as she had been, and that's how I decided to remain. I abruptly cut off any of the scholarly support I had been providing for all my "friends" on the football team, much to their surprise and chagrin. I made the decision just in time to watch them flounder through final exams alone, unaided by the copies of old tests and cheat sheets I had made it my business to provide them with in the past. It was interesting to me that not one of them had ever asked for tutoring or study sessions. I could only surmise they had no interest in actually obtaining any type of knowledge, they only wanted a grade. I also found it amusing though somewhat perplexing when I thought about the fact that these people could sit through the same classes I did, without absorbing even the most minute amount of information, yet they could memorize and perform complicated plays on the field and had encyclopedic knowledge of sports history and statistics. They obviously had working short and long term memories- I guess they were just selective about what subjects they applied them to.
Anyway, for those who were seniors, it was not a major issue. They'd already been accepted to schools, many of them on football scholarships. They were the lucky ones. Their acceptances would not be rescinded, except for those who proved to be the most dire failures. And once they entered college, the coaches would make sure they received the grades they needed in order to keep playing.
But for the sophomore and juniors, it was another story. If they got two F's, they'd be ineligible to play the next semester. It was almost gratifying to see the desperation in their eyes when they realized they'd be on their own. To this day, I smile when I think of it.
I never made any effort to speak to Rosemary during the remainder of that year. I didn't believe that I had the right. Added to which was the fact that though it may have been cowardly of me, I didn't want to know how the murder of her brother scarred her- or how my actions (or lack thereof) the night I found his body may have negatively impacted her emotions. I wanted to be able to pretend that I had been nothing less than her protector, that when she had needed me, I had been able to step up to the plate. I couldn't bear to hear details about how I may have let her down- even if she herself was unaware of my involvement and subsequent lack of appropriate action and the fact that I had made a decision that may have added in any way to her distress.
I finished my senior year of high school having accepted a merit scholarship to attend Villanova University in the fall. My academic success was gratifying, but the fact that I would be living away from Hartland, was even more so. That fact alone, brought me no small amount of relief. I believed that it would be best if I left it behind me and continued my life elsewhere. I wanted to be somewhere among strangers who knew nothing of me, whose expectations of me were uninformed by any of the circumstances of my past life, who would not see the liar I knew myself to be when they looked into my face. I wanted to reinvent myself. I wanted to forget what I had done and become. But most of all, I wanted to forget the silent girl whose face I had memorized and conjured up like a talisman each night in the darkness of my room. I wanted to forget her sad eyes, blue and empty as two pieces of sky. Because though she had never looked at me, I knew that if she did, she would see what I really was. And I couldn't bear for her to know. I'd hoped I would never see her again.
Fri 10 Nov, 2006 04:13 pm
I'd never heard the story of Billy's birth before the day I found out that he had died. I can't recall any specific memories of that day, except that it was rainy and grey, the grass sodden and still consisting of that peculiar mixture of the last brown wintery blades scattered among an ever more increasing and abundant carpet of vividly turning green. When I opened the front door having heard a car drive up, I saw that the sky was swollen and angry, and threatening rain again. I looked out over the front yard as my mother walked toward me; I found myself searching for the tracks of Billy's bicycle tires. My father always hated it when he wheeled his bike across the lawn instead of down the driveway and along the sidewalk. There were no tracks. A sign.
My mother was accompanied by an officer. He gently held her elbow and guided her up the porch steps and through the door. She turned her head to smile at him and said, "Thank you."
I felt my face crumple as her eyes found mine. She took me in her arms, and held me in an embrace, the strength of which was unlike anything I'd felt before. It scared me. The officer asked if my father was home. I told him that he was and indicated that he was in the kitchen on the phone. The officer walked in that direction.
"Where are the little girls?" my mother asked me. I told her that Dad and I had gotten them dressed and taken them to my Aunt Pat's house, two streets over. She wasn't really my aunt but she was my godmother and my mother's best friend. They attended mass together and spent many afternoons over cups of tea while watching their combined children play. My father and Pat's husband, Joe rode the bus together into the city everyday.
"Good." my mother said simply, "That was a good idea."
"Mom," I began, "what "
"Rose, don't. Please don't ask me any questions about it I can't ," she looked away from me and out the window into the back yard. She took off her coat and laid it over the banister. I picked it up and went to hang it in the front closet. She took it from my hands and placed it back over the banister. She sat heavily on the third step, her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. Her shoulders were shaking. I saw the first threads of silver in her dark hair and I placed my hand lightly on the top of her head. So soft her hair was. I was afraid, because suddenly, I was aware of the damage that this could do to us. She looked so small and vulnerable, sitting there on the step- like a child. Really, she was no bigger than a child - certainly no bigger than me. How had such a small person held us all so safely in her hands for so long? I couldn't imagine us making it through this without her strength, and that seemed to have deserted her.
Fri 10 Nov, 2006 04:14 pm
"You know, when I think about it, it was always pretty clear he wasn't meant to be here."
She sighed and took her hands away from her face. I didn't say anything. She tilted her head and looked up at me. I raised my eyebrow, questioning, confused. "Who?" I asked.
"Your brother. Billy. He was born on a beautiful Sunday morning. It was summer. The middle of August. Everything had gone so smoothly with the pregnancy, and your birth had been so easy, so I wasn't nervous-not at all. I was so happy and excited-so ready for him to be born- so eager to meet him." She smiled in spite of herself at the memory. I watched as her eyes filled with tears, and felt my own filling. She shook her head and continued.
"Your Dad took you to Aunt Pat's and then drove me to the hospital. He was acting funny, driving too fast, speeding really, and I couldn't understand it. We'd done this before, it wasn't the first time for either of us. I wasn't feeling nervous at all." She smiled again. So I said, "Slow down," "What's the matter with you? Why are you so nervous? I was laughing, teasing him."
He didn't laugh, or slow down. "I don't know why, but I just feel we need to get there and have this baby," he said.
"I remember that he saw me frown, and to be honest, his mood was unsettling me, and I began to feel nervous too. Not really a premonition, just uneasy. I could tell he felt bad- like he had scared me. So he smiled at me, and said something like, "Never mind. I'm just being stupid." And he drove the last few miles at a more reasonable speed."
She looked down at her hands and started twisting her wedding ring on her finger. She looked up at me to see if I was still listening. My eyes met hers. She continued, "So we got to the hospital and they installed me in a room. And by that time, the labor pains were pretty regular. I had vomited the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I'd eaten. I had eaten it right before I left the house, because I knew once labor started I'd only be given fluids, and I was hungry."
I smiled at her, because that's just how she was, she always thought of everything. "Anyway, by that time, the labor was in full swing. And it was hard, so much harder than I had remembered. It just didn't feel right. I was fully dilated, and I was pushing with all my might, but nothing was happening."
She looked up at me again. "Tell me if you don't want to hear anymore. I don't want to scare you."
I shook my head, and said, "No, I want to hear it."
"Well, every time I pushed, his heartbeat almost stopped. We could see it on the monitor. I started to panic, asking what was wrong. They tried to calm me down, but I could see that they were worried too. They finally transferred me into the operating room and were about to perform an emergency C-section, but my doctor, Joyce, her name was, said, "We don't have time to wait for an epideural, Maureen. If you'll just hang in there with me, I think we can do this. I know you can."
I had one nurse pushing from the outside on my belly. I'll always remember, her name was Jill. It was on her name tag. I remember, because one of my best friends from school was named Jill. I yelled at her, "Get off of me. You're hurting me."
She said, "If you want to have this baby, you better let me do what I need to do."
"Your Dad was there, holding my hand and asking what was happening. We'd heard them ask for a neonatologist several times, and noone had come. Finally the doctor yelled, "Where's the neonatologist? We're going to need him here." That was the final straw for your father. He yelled, "You people need to get your people here and get your act together - this is my wife and baby you're talking about."
"I'd never seen him so angry," she said quietly.
She was staring into the middle distance, lost in her memories of that day.
"Joyce, the doctor, was so good," she continued. "She said, one more big push Maureen, and it'll be done. Come on, just one more big push. So as Jill pushed from the outside, I pushed with all my might, and there he was. A boy- Billy- William-after your Dad. But he was so quiet. And so was your father. I couldn't see anything. But your father told me later that Billy's hands and feet were blue."
Her eyes clouded over, the irony of the truth dawning on her at last. "The umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck so every time I pushed, the cord tightened and was strangling him. He'd been deprived of oxygen."
Her eyes looked empty. Her voice sounded hollow. "I always felt that I had let him down. I mean, I know it wasn't my fault, not really. But I always think that maybe if I'd been stronger and more efficient- you know other women have babies everyday and manage to pull it off without a hitch. It just took me so long to deliver him. Too long.
And he suffered for it."
I couldn't stand to see her looking so sad. Devoid of hope. She looked and sounded lost. She shook her head again and tried to smile. It wasn't convincing. She seemed to realize this and continued speaking, her voice thick with tears.
"But you know, they got him breathing and he seemed fine. He started crying and squirming. Such a strong little trooper. And such a delight really, in so many ways.
Tears were flowing freely now, leaving small, dark spots on the thighs of her jeans.
"Did I ever tell you that I dreamed that I saw his face when I was pregnant with him? I did. I saw his face in a dream. It was so beautiful. You know how pretty he was- his eyes so big and his mouth and nose so delicately formed. And do you know that first night, when he was crying and squirming in your father's arms, I said, "Give him to me. And your father put him in my arms and I started singing to him, and he stopped crying, immediately. He recognized my voice. And I recognized his face. It was the face I had seen in my dream." She closed her eyes and smiled, a smile so wistful and full of hope, almost beatific. She said softly, almost whispering, "I hope I have that dream again."
It was at that moment that I made the decision never to have children.
Fri 10 Nov, 2006 05:19 pm
That's really nicely done, aidan. Good dialogue, good descriptions. Easy to make it overwrought but you held back nicely. I like that Billy's death (presumably) is never really spelled out.
Sat 11 Nov, 2006 12:20 am
Thanks Soz. This is the first time I've ever tried to write something from different points of view, so I have to work to make the voices sound like they come from different people.
I wanted to inject more emotion in the mother's voice, so it would sound different from Rosemary's. I think it's okay, because she's describing a particularly emotional event for her. I just wanted to show how much she had wanted her son, and how devastating it was that she had now lost him. In my plot, that plays a part because her (the mother's) emotional devastation will have an effect on the rest of the family-aside from the fact that they've lost their brother.
Interestingly enough, I find John's voice the easiest to write-even though he's male and unlike me in a lot of other ways. I think it's because his voice is pretty much straight description or reporting and lacking much emotion.
I'm glad you don't find it frustrating that Billy's death is not explained, because I'm not planning to. His death is more the catalyst that sets off a chain of events- and the story I'm planning is more about that chain of events than the initial incident.
Thanks for your comments. They're really helpful. I truly appreciate the time you took to read this and reply.
*It's also fun (for me, anyway) to talk about writing- Aidan
Sat 11 Nov, 2006 03:42 am
I enjoy reading your work Aidan
*keep talking, I'm listening