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Monday, November 9, 2009

Fiction Follies

Last week, I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to enter a short story contest at Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness.

The timing was perfect. I read Suzy's blog that morning, and with no idea what to write that day myself, decided to go for it. Suzy offered a first line and a last line; the rules were to fill in what happened in between. As I mentioned then, if I completed a story, I'd consider posting it here. My disclaimer? I've never done this before...written fiction that is, unless you count junior high and high school. So don't judge me too harshly. It's all about improving, and I used the contest as an exercise in "voice," to see if I could write the way an eight or nine-year-old girl from the 1960's would speak.

May I offer a huge thank you to Suzy because, no matter what the result, it was a blast! With no further ado, here you go:

Uncle George was crazy as a shit house rat. Gramps said he got that way from the service, but to tell the truth, we couldn’t remember him any different. Sometimes he smelled funny and for a while, he came dressed in a costume almost every time. A joker’s hat, a frog’s head; for the last one he came as a giant crab with his arms hidden inside blue poster boards cut like claws and stapled together. Guess he wasn’t cooked yet.

That day, Linnie and me ran to the door before he saw us and there he was balancing on his good leg trying to kick the doorbell with his gimpy foot. “My saviors!” he hollered, as we yanked at the door. It was swollen; in the damp air it always was. It took the two of us jerking it together to open it wide enough for him to slide through. Then he chased us squealing to the kitchen, waving his pinchers.

That time Ma sounded kind of mad. “Can’t you ever arrive dressed like a normal person?” “Naaa. What fun would that be? Where’s Harry?” he responded, strolling over the worn linoleum to the fridge, then glancing down to his crab arms and laughing. Slipping his hands from the claws, he handed them to us. “Have at it you two, but don’t break them. I’ll need them when I see Georgie” he said, reaching into the top shelf for a Budweiser.

Georgie? Linnie and me froze. Even Ma’s eyes bugged out on that one. Georgie was short for Georgiana, Uncle George’s daughter who he hadn’t seen in almost two years. Before the costumes started, as long as we could remember, Uncle George, Aunt Metta and Georgie showed up for all the holidays and birthdays and a lot of weekends in-between. Most times, Linnie, Georgie and me scampered to the attic for the dress-up trunk and dragged it to the yard. The splintered planks of a wooden dock Dad stored in the high grass by the fence made a cool stage. Dad used to joke that what we lacked in talent we made up for in noise, but we weren’t always the noisy ones.

The last time they all visited together, Aunt Metta screamed at Uncle George. We heard him yammering in the kitchen as usual, but then there was this gigantic crash and we could hear Aunt Metta saying: “Sylvia, I’m so sorry!” and then louder, “George! Can’t you ever just stop?” Next thing we knew, Aunt Metta skedaddled out the door like that roadrunner on Saturday cartoons hollering “Georgiana, let’s go. We’re leaving right now!” She grabbed Georgie under the armpit and yanked her up, not even letting go when Georgie screeched, “Ow Ma! That hurts.”

Behind them, Uncle George tilted back a beer can with one big gulp before throwing it in the grass and limping to the car. Aunt Metta yelled: “I’m driving!” before doors slammed and they peeled out of our driveway. That night in bed, Linnie and me discussed things and we’re pretty sure Aunt Metta was crying.

After that, they didn’t come back. One night when Ma was tucking us into our pineapple-post beds under the slant roof up in the eves, she told us that Uncle George didn’t live with Aunt Metta and Georgie anymore and that was it. They didn’t show up for Linnie’s and my eighth birthday, or Georgie’s ninth, at Christmas, or even the Fourth of July picnic at Nannie’s and Gramps.’ That stunk, because Linnie and me got stuck with Orin, our second cousin on the Jarvis side and he’s only six. Sometimes Ma helped us send Georgie letters, but that’s not the same.

About a year after that fuss, the doorbell rang on Halloween, and Uncle George stepped inside wearing a fireman’s outfit with a plastic hose he squirted at Linnie and me. On Thanksgiving he sat down to dinner with a cooked turkey hat that had drumsticks for ears. On Valentine’s he got out of the car holding a bow and arrow and Ma said: “Put that right back George.” For Easter, it was a whole bunny outfit and after a while, it didn’t need to be a holiday. When we knew he was coming, we waited giggling, to see what he would wear. You probably won’t believe me, but one time he dressed like a bumble bee.

So anyway, it was big news to hear that Uncle George was going to see Georgie, let me tell you. Mom looked at him in that way she has, the one where her eyebrow jackknifes up, and you know she figured out you snuck two ginger cookies from the tin she packed for the veteran’s shelter.

Looking at the beer in his hand he whispered “Son of a gun!” and turned back to the refrigerator. Opening the door, he placed the can on the top shelf and pulled a pop from below. Cracking the top, he took a swallow and said, “I’ve been dry for thirteen months. AA five nights a week. I’m going to kick it this time Syl. I’ve been talking to Metta and tomorrow, I’m driving to Tennessee. I have a sponsor there, and Metta’s dad has an opening driving a forklift. That means,” he said, swooping down on me and Linnie, “I have one afternoon left to spend with my girlfriends.” Wrapping one arm around Linnie and one around me, he dragged us toward the door before turning to face Mom, waggling his eyebrows up and down. “Wanna come?”

“You betcha,” grinned Ma, tugging at the knot and yanking off her apron. She shouted upstairs to Dad: “Field Trip!” Grabbing the bread from the counter and reaching for the baloney from the fridge, she called to me “Mellie, get the cooler from the porch!” and started slathering mayo. It was Labor Day weekend. We packed up and went to Far Rockaway beach for one last ride on the coaster.

I would be delighted to receive constructive criticism. Please let me know what I could have done better? Your comments would be so very welcome.


glnroz said...

lol,, good story. All you gals are writing good stories. Keep 'em coming.

Ginger B. (Barbara) Collins said...

Liz, The story is delightful. I can picture the scene and see the story that lies beneath the surface.

I will pass along the suggestions I received when writing the young characters in my WIP. Children are caught up in their senses, like the way your main character picks up on how Uncle George smells. So add more smells, i.e., the attic, the trunk that holds all the dress-up clothes, Ma's perfume, or maybe she always smells like warm biscuits or clean laundry.

The other suggestion is word choice. When you said, "Linnie and me discussed it," I wonder if a girl that age might instead describe the scene as, "me and Linnie whispered under the covers after the lights went out."

Look at this sight, http://www.k12reader.com/dolch-word-list/ for a list of words common to children in every grade level.

For your first attempt at fiction I think you did right well!
Ginger B.

Tabitha Bird said...

I agree with Ginger about the smells and description thing. But I think you did very well with this story. All the best in the competition. Sadly I was too late to enter :)

Sarah Wylie said...

Wow, this is excellent! I love your characterization and descriptions - I can picture the entire scene.
The only thing that tripped me up was (as Ginger said) "Linnie and me discussed..."
Small and easily-fixed, but, otherwise, lovely!

Sharon said...

Don't know if my last comment made it to you. So at the risk of being redundant, I love your story. Your character development of Uncle George is beautifully done. Keep it up.

Liza said...

Thank you all! Thanks Glen! You too! Ginger, awesome suggestions! I will look at the site. Sarah, your story was terrific. I loved how it began. Tabitha, I wish you didn't miss the contest. I would have enjoyed reading your story.

Diana Paz said...

I loved this, it's darling. I agree with previous posters on the senses, but for a vignette I think it's fine the way it is. Nice job :)

lfg said...

I like it Liza. :)