Hello, beloved readers. After a toss and turny kind of night, a short story wafted out of my coffee cup this morning. I decided to share.
A Mere shadow
Eva De’ Cocao had always thought of herself as a rather superfluous person. She tended towards the fringes, the by waters and tide pools of life. She dressed in an altogether non-committal way, preferring the edges of the wall to the center of the room.
She always chose a seat in the center of the bus. Not at the front in order to swap inanities with the driver or at the very back where eccentric outspoken people tend to congregate and talk in an agitated and unseemly manner. She cringed hearing them voice their opinions out loud in front of complete strangers.
Eva did not voice her opinions out loud or even in the privacy of her head, for that matter. Voicing one’s opinion, even to ones self, was the road to perdition. Of this she was absolutely sure. It may well be the only opinion Eva had.
She spent her days working in a flower shop on Whitethistle Lane. She excelled at creating sedate, middle of the road, ubiquitous arrangements suitable for funerals or baptisms. It discomfited her a little that customers preferred her arrangements to the shop owner’s, but she gave no brook to the passing feeling. She spoke to customers only when spoken to.
The shop owner did not come on Saturdays so Eva had the shop to herself. She generally closed the shop at 4pm and headed directly home with a small arrangement of flowers for her table. Only on rare days did she stop at a tiny bookstore on the corner of the lane. The old proprietress always seemed happy to see her, patted her on the arm and called her “my dear” whether or not she made a purchase.
Her arrangements were never ostentatious or extravagant, and rarely more than 6 or 7 flowers. She read somewhere that flower arrangements should be asymmetrical so she tended to stick to either 5, 7, or 9 flowers. 11 flowers was too much for her humble abode. She tried it once and after only an hour she whittled the arrangement back down to 9 flowers because 11 was too jarring on the senses.
Eva lived in a small modest flat on Wittsington lane. A 10 minute walk from the shop. Her 4th floor walk up was practically in the rafters. It suited her, not quite drab, bordering on ordinary. A 2 seat table by the window, a small settee that opened into a bed for sleeping. “A sufficient kitchenette in what used to be a large closet,” would be the most accurate description of her lodgings.
One particularly blustery Saturday Eva arrived home at her flat, the usual small bouquet of flowers in hand, to find a chain and a padlock on the front door of her building. A small notice on the front door read “scheduled for renovation, permits at courthouse.” She stared agape in a most unlady like manner. An old man standing next to her suddenly declared to no one in particular, “it’s about time someone did something with this claptrap! No one has lived here for years.”
Eva turned to him and blurted, “but I live here.” “Are you sure?” “Well of course, I’m sure. I’ve lived here for years.” Her face reddened at making such a declarative statement to a complete stranger. She felt a bit faint. His eyes narrowed and he said nothing for a long moment. Then stood straighter and put his hand on her arm. “I think a visit to Mrs. Laudingham may be in order.”
Not knowing what else to do, Eva allowed the unintroduced old man to lead her out of the lane, down a few blocks and into another narrow lane. She was in rather a stupor and neglected to take notice of the name of the lane. At the end of the lane the old man tapped gently on the small brass knocker in the shape of a rose.
A rather flamboyantly dressed women of undetermined middle age, her white hair in wisps about her head, peeked through the crack of the door. The old man said “I’ve got another one for you, Mrs. Laudingham. Her building is being renovated.” The woman looked shocked and concerned and a flurry of activity ensued. They whisked her into a cozy sitting room. The man put a small ottoman under her feet and began fanning her vigorously with a fan he snatched from the table next to her.
Mrs. Laudingham returned shortly with a tea-tray. she put the tray down, turned to the man and said “thank you so much Mr. Conner, I will take it from here.” He bowed low and said “always a pleasure Mrs. Laudingham, I’ll show myself out.”
Mrs. Laudingham busied herself with pouring tea and placed a biscuit in Eva’s hand. She stared at the tea and the biscuit. She should be at home in her flat eating a modest dinner and listening to the radio. Not taking tea with a woman she did not know. Especially after being escorted here by a man she did not know either. Somewhere between the flower shop and home she had somehow taken leave of her senses. Of this she was sure. It was the only thing she was sure of.
Not knowing what else to do for the moment and not wanting to seem rude. Eva sipped her tea and took a tentative nibble of the biscuit in her hand. It was quite good, smooth, buttery, not too sweet. The rich aroma of the tea was almost hypnotic. She relaxed and sighed. Maybe it was alright to let herself go for a few minutes after such a trying afternoon.
A gentle hand on Eva’s arm woke her with a start. She shot up straight, mumbling apologies, fussing with her hair and buttons. The woman sitting across from her announced “I am Mrs. Olivia Laudingham, may I have the pleasure of knowing your name, Dear?” “I…oh…my name is Eva De’ Cocao, please call me Eva.” She thought that was the least she could do seeing as she tramped unannounced into this woman’s home and proceeded to fall asleep with her nose in a teacup.
“Mr. Conner said your building is scheduled for renovation?” “Yes” “He also said that no one has lived there for years?” “Yes, but he is mistaken, because I have lived there for years.” “Oh, and how many years have you lived there?” Eva pondered the impertinent question and paused before answering “well, I don’t remember exactly know, it’s been a long time.” “Do you remember moving there?”
Eva fidgeted in her seat and took another sip of her tea that somehow was back in her hand. What she did know was the she had not been asked so many personal questions in one day of her entire life, before now.
Mrs. Laudingham regarded Eva over her own teacup for a long moment and then set it down on the tray. Finally she said softly, “I would venture to guess that you do not actually remember moving into that flat, do you dear?” “Well, no I don’t. But really, must one catalog every unremarkable event in one’s life?” Mrs. Laudingham chuckled and then became serious again. “Eva, do you remember anything about your life before Wittsington Lane?”
With growing alarm she realized that, come to think of it, she did not remember anything before some undetermined amount of time before this moment. She did not remember telling Mrs. Laudingham where she lived, for that matter. It was as if she had always lived there. She never really gave it much thought. It was so unnessessary to ponder such things. She lived day-to-day, went about her business, and went home, all in an unremarkable manner. She answered simply, “No.”
Mrs. Laudingham regarded her for a long moment and then said, “Eva, I have something to say that may come as a bit of a shock to you. There have been no tenants of #11 Wittsington lane in over 5 years.” Instead of denying it, Eva asked, “how do you know this?” “Somehow It is my job to know. It’s rather difficult to explain. But, from time to time, I encounter women who seem to just exist on the edge of conciousness. Not really knowing who they are or where they come from or where they are going.” Eva thought ‘what an odd thing to say’ but said “What are you trying to tell me?”
Mrs. Laudingham stood up and paced the room for a few moments, smoothed her fly away wisps of hair to no avail, and sat back down. She reached over and took Eva’s hand in hers and said, “Eva De’ Cocao, what I am saying is that you are a shadow. A mere shadow of your former self.” A shadow? What does this mean? “Are you informing me that I am dead?”
“Dead? Oh my dear, no. Please pardon me. You are most assuredly not dead.” “Well that is nice to know.” Eva snapped. Then became shocked with herself for such an uncalled for burst of sarcasm. Mrs. Laudingham laughed out loud at this remark and said “there we are, a bit of spirit, I know you have it in you. I just wonder why you chose to lock it away.”
They sipped their tea in silence for a while. Eva finally asked, “what you mean by locked it away?” “Well, there seems to be a rash of women who lose track of who they are and just bumble about, living a shadow life. I have my theories, but what is important now, is to figure out why and where you wandered off track for so long. And who you really are.”
Eva began to feel angry, a most disconcerting feeling at best. “I know exactly who I am!” “Do you now?” “Yes! My name is Eva De’Cacao. I live at #11 Wittsington Lane, I work at a flower shop during the day and in the evenings I read books and listen to the radio.” “What is the name of the flower shop? What radio station do you listen to?” Eva said “I….” then it occurred to her that she did not have answers to those questions.” Actually, she knew very little about herself. What a strange feeling. Somehow, she had dropped herself in bits and pieces along the way until there was nothing much left. And it happened so gradually that she didn’t notice.
“Mrs. Laudingham?” “Yes, dear?” “I am frightened. How did this come about? Somehow I feel that I was better off not knowing.” “Eva, in some ways you were living a comfortable life, but not sustainable over the long haul. One can only live a dribble drabble of a life for so long before one begins to fade away completely. And you, my dear, are almost gone. This is somewhat of an emergency!”
She stood up and clapped her hands. “The first thing on the agenda is a brisk walk. We will walk to the park at the town square.” “A walk?” She expected a somewhat more drastic remedy. “Yes Eva, we need to get you out of the lanes and alleys, out in the sunshine, around other people.” She protested, “but I don’t have an umbrella..what if it rains?” Mrs. Laudingham giggled like someone only half her age and chucked Eva under the chin. “Then we’ll get wet! Come now dear, we need to get you out into the world, find you somewhere in it and not a moment too soon.”
As the great Mark Twain once said “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I’ve been in a space where my thoughts weren’t fit for public consumption, in my opinion anyway.
I finally decided in hindsight that I had the flu. According to the CDC websites the main way to know if you have the flu or just a common cold is sudden onset. Well yeah! I define sudden onset as one minute you’re sipping martinis watching the sun set and an hour later you’re in an ambulance heading to the hospital. Kind of a rip off from mother nature. I think it should depart as rapidly as it came on, not drag out for weeks!
The most annoying part of this whole adventure was the complete brain freeze. I was going through snippets of things written over the past few weeks yesterday and have no recollection of writing them. I even did a few web searches of key words and phrases to see if it wasn’t something I wrote but copied for some reason. They sounded like things I’d say when in a really bitchy mood or way past the legal limit on alcohol. I’m glad I didn’t post them. Some things are better left unsaid or at least unsaid in a public forum.
Something that happened unheralded in December was the 3rd year anniversary of this blog. I can’t believe 3 years have passed since my first tentative “hello world.” It’s been a lot of fun and an ongoing learning experience.
One of the things that’s been torturing me is the “am I really a writer?” question. I got help on that score from an unexpected place. I was sitting there in a fog watching “Sister Act 2, Back in the Habit” and Whoopie said something to a young girl who could sing well but had doubts if that’s what she was supposed to do. Something to the effect of “Girl, if you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think about is singing, then you’re supposed to be a singer. That’s what you are meant to be.”
Well the first thing I think about in the morning, other that coffee, and the main thing I think about when I don’t have to be thinking about something else is writing. So like it or not I’m a writer. Fortunately I do like it.
Over the past 3 years I’ve watched other bloggers start and grow and go on to do fabulous things. Some have published books, stories, turned their blogs into a beehive of activity. My hat is off to all of you bloggers out there and your commitment to something that most people just don’t get. My blog seems to be putting along, but that’s OK. I love doing it and I’m going to continue.
Love to all of you. You’ll be hearing more from me as my brain gradually slips back into gear.
I think I sprained my brain. Woke up with a bizarre throbbing headache that I was certain would be visible to someone other than myself. Cranking out 2 short stories in 2 days left me breathless, exhausted, and tied up in knots.
Oh come on you wussy, you may say, what is so hard about that? It is if you think like me, that every little thing you do is an excuse to pick apart everything other thing you did or said in excruciating detail back to the moment of your birth. It’s a vicious circle. But, I learned some things about myself the past few days. If you are an experienced writer maybe you’ll chuckle and think back to that time when you ripped five hairs out of your head for every word you wrote. And I’d bet money you’re glad you past all that. Please don’t tell me that you never got past it or I might have aneurism.
One thing I learned is yes I can change something I’ve written after declaring it finished. This fear dates back to when hitting the send button on an email that someone took offense to could cost me my job. In the corporate nightmare you can recall a message, but you know everyone read it anyway and are already planning what they are going to salvage from your desk after you are walked out the door by security. That never happened to me, but I imagined it many times. And fear is fear whether justifiable or not.
Another thing I learned is, do not, under any circumstances, read a book like “38 Common Mistakes Fiction Writers Make – And How to Avoid Them, immediately after trying something new. I’m been torturing myself for days reading this damned infernal book from hell. It would better and less painful if I just smashed my thumb with a hammer and got it over with quick. Kind of like ripping off a band-aid. I do have to give myself some credit. Some of the 38 things I got right.
Maybe I remember more from that creative writing class in college than I thought. One of the criticisms I received was “your writing is too flowery.” Say what? What the hell does that mean? Turns out flowery meant, to this professor, that I referred to ladies as ladies instead of women. Excuuuuuuse me, but I’m from the south and there is a huge difference here between women and ladies. Women just happen, being a lady takes effort. But, thinking about it, I guess that is not obvious out of the south and unless I aim all my written efforts at the combination ladies cotillion, rummage sale, and church social, I need to weed that phrase out.
Another thing I learned is that, out of self-preservation and a strong desire to not be hauled away in straight jacket, is to let it lie for a while. Don’t sit there and reread your work 85 thousand times. All it did for me was turn me cross-eyed and question my sanity, although I question my sanity at least once a day anyway. I suppose that is OK really, but if it leads to others questioning my sanity as well, maybe I better calm down. Steven King mentioned the give your work a break for while bit in his book “On Writing” But did I take his word for it? NoooOOoo. I absolutely insist on making all the mistakes myself.
While writing this post my headache went away. Oh my God, what if I’m addicted to writing? Will I start burgling the neighbor’s houses in search of pen and paper?
Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. Aristotle 384 BC-322 BC
I did a lot of reading this summer. We’re talking tons, morning til night, for days on end. The result of this is I’ve become a bit of a book review connoisseur. One thing I’ve discovered is that finding or writing a useful book review is no easy task. Reviews such as “this book is awesome” or “this piece of trash was not worth the paper it’s printed on” or “the author is a spawn of Satan” are opinions that make me want to rip my hair out. They are not helpful to the writer or the reader. Why was it awesome? Why was it trash?
In a way, I’m more tempted to read the trash books because whatever was in the book ticked the reviewer off so much that I want to see it for myself. The word awesome is so over used that it almost meaningless. To me is says that the reader is probably in their 20s and has read maybe 15 books in their life, the majority of them required reading. I could be wrong and maybe I’ll start asking the reviewers what their definition of awesome is. If it includes snowboarding and punking their friends on YouTube then there you go. Not my cup of tea.
One thing that I’ve gleaned from reading reviews is with eBooks and self-publishing, just about anybody can shoot a book out there. A person with enough tenacity to put together a book deserves at least an E for effort. Some of stories are absolute drivel that would never make through a major publishing house for whatever reason – thin to nonexistent plots, flimsy characters, the ravings of a lunatic, so smarmy it borders on nauseating. Unfortunately some potentially fantastic pieces of fiction get out there without the benefit of a good editor or proof reader.
This is where it gets sticky. Some beginning authors publish their book as if they were a lizard laying an egg. Just plop and move on, never come back to check on it. It’s a shame to see a book on amazon with 8 reviews and all of them suggest the author run their book through spell and grammar check, and then go on to complain about the formatting. Not one word about the contents of the book and never a peep from the author. Other authors that are engaged check on their reviews, respond, and put out a revised edition or whatever it takes. It’s easy enough to do with an Ebook. These are the authors that I will keep an eye on.
As a result, when I do finally spit out a book length fiction story I’m going to make double damn sure that I spell check it 187 times. I’m also going to try to talk everyone I can think of in to proof reading it with me. Hopefully there will be content buried somewhere in the collection of properly spelled and formatted text. I would not want it to die the death of faint praise. “Well it was OK I guess, but I sure wish she had run it through the goll dang speller thingy a time or 2.”
Reinventing yourself every day is really exhausting. Didn’t even realize I was doing it until recently. My great book writing adventure, started back in November for novel writer’s challenge (NaNoWriMo), had a side benefit of documenting my brain spatters on a fairly regular basis.
A computer crash also had something to do with it. I tried to upgrade the old girl one too many times and blew out the motherboard. So she was dead in the water, fried, all useless and broken. All this led to getting a new computer and cleaning my office. The new computer is here and I love, love, LOVE IT 🙂 Thank you, Mr. Husband, for going along with this purchase.
The new computer led to needing to clear out 2 previous frankenputers that I had been raiding for parts. Poor things, their little computer guts hanging out all over the place. I have plans to assemble a home media server from the remains, but that’s a story for another day.
Cleaning the office started from a search and rescue mission to gather up all my notebooks, and all the files on various hard drives to consolidate them into one coherent jumble of book and scene snippets. Been spending the last few days going through them and reading various sections. I developed the habit of dating things when I write. It’s interesting because reading back to something I wrote in let’s say…. August of last year, I think “who are you? Whoever you are/were you have a completely different thoughts and outlook than I have today.”
Some days I feel like I’m the only dish left on a table that someone yanked the table-cloth out from. Odd man, out-of-place, a total different person from even a year ago. Should I have stayed on the table, or should I have gone flying off with the other dishes? Good Lord, why any of us want to make a deliberate effort remake ourselves is beyond me on these days. Just living one’s life and not paying any attention at all and the psyche decides to just go on evolving and changing without one’s knowledge or consent. Sheesh! The very nerve.
So I’m trying to assemble and get an overview of all the things I wrote over the past year for this book project. There is a common theme in there somewhere. I just know it. Now all I have to do is figure out what it is.