This week’s assignment was to rewrite a previous submission. My goal is to blend Mel’s interior life with her Friend and the internal censor she has developed with her everyday experience. You comments and suggestions are most welcome:
…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away (1)
Carly Simon’s voice continued on as my clear soprano cracked and faded to a whisper. The rubbery, dark, barrier spanned my heart and mind. I raised my broken soul to my Friend like a shocked child holding a dead bird, pleading, ‘It’s broke. Fix it.’ My Friend’s arms suffused me with radiant warmth; He neither explained nor eradicated the pain.
“She’s off key,” Verna sneered.
I raised my head to look at her indistinct form through blurred eyes, then wiped away my tears with the soft cotton of my pale blue sleeve.
Verna stood with her back to the frosted window. I did not respond. Neither did the other occupants in our dorm room.
“She is.” This time her voice was shrill.
Sprawled across my bed in her pajamas and robe, Kelli swiped a yellow highlight across another sentence in her economics text then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.”
Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.
Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”
“Huh?” Diana, flopped down like a rag doll, shared the braided rug in the middle of the floor with me. She lowered the typed page she was marking with red, green, and blue fine point pens away from her face, and told Verna, “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”
We chuckled. I turned my eyes back to the psychology text in my lap.
Verna opened the window a crack and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”
Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.”
Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang as she passed.
“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her mouth gloating, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and the minister beat me. “It’s your fazher!”
I glared at her and snatched the beige receiver from her hand. “Hello?”
“Who was that?” I knew the minister’s voice could be heard throughout the room.
“Get a new one.”
‘Good,’ the inner censor commended me. ‘Keep it casual, relaxed.’
“Mon Dieu! You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.
“I’m studying for finals,” I told him my voice raising nearly an octave.
‘Stay calm,’ the censor warned.
“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow,” the minister told me.
“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”
“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt to hit one of us.
“I have finals every day.” An image flashed through my mind. I held my breath; my heart began to pound. “The ticket… it’s round-trip, right?!”
‘Don’t screech,’ the censor chided.
“Zut! Don’t raise your voice to me!” the minister commanded. “I said I’d get a round trip ticket. Are you calling me a liar?”
I soundlessly released my breath but did not speak.
‘Good,’ the censor assured me. ‘Ignore his accusation.’
The minister continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”
“Why?” My heart began pounding again.
“Someone will steal them. Nouille!” He muttered the last word, idiot.
I ignored the insult. “My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”
“Bring everything anyway.” He spoke in his prophecy-from-on-high voice that I had learned to ignore when I was twelve.
“I have a final in the morning,” I sighed.
‘Perfect,’ the censor told me. ‘Remind him that you have a lot of work.’
“Just because you have that scholarship, you think you know everything.”
“I have insurance.” The words tumbled out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “It’s nearly midnight here. I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”
I gently replaced the receiver; he would ring back and rebuke me if I let it slam. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The darkness of the rubbery barrier loomed within me.
At the stereo, Nancy put on Janis Ian’s Stars. Her elder sister had owned it before she was killed by a drunk driver. We had not listened to it since the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving when Verna had taken extra holiday time and we had the room to ourselves. In the unaccustomed quiet, Nancy played it after she told me she missed her family.
“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a loud, old, French peasant?”
I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.
“He raised you.” All innocence.
I shook my head with such violence my sinuses ached.
Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and said, “Verna said he adopted you.”
Only Kelli kept her eyes on her book; I knew she was not reading. I breathed out a defeated sigh, “No.”
‘Careful,’ the censor warned.
“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing, not even any pictures of me before I was about five.” My Friend’s arms had supported me Verna and the minister lacerated my heart. But now my body sagged under the continuing assault.
“Did you ever ask?” Diana interest was genuine. Still her question was another blow. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.
“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.
“You’re a foundling!” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”
“They didn’t!” Heat suffused my body. Unheeded, my book slid to the floor. My fists curled themselves into tight balls. “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the rubbery darkness overshadowed me, “happened to them…” The last three words were a whisper. My fists unclenched, became limp. My eyes pleaded for answers I knew none of them had. My face felt stretched, parched.
“What about you?” Nancy cut in with unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”
Verna’s back straightened, “Mummy divorced my father.” Her voice held a faint British accent that she had picked up during a semester in London; she used it to proclaim her superiority.
“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her. “You haven’t seen him since you were a baby.”
Verna glanced at each of us. I followed the hasty swivel of her head. First, her eyes met Nancy’s hard, blue ones, then Kelli’s dark, exotic stare, then Diana’s dim sighted, hazel look, then my eyes as dark and exotic as Kelli’s, and finally the steady, blue gaze of her best friend, Ama. No one spoke. Even Ama, twirling her braids, waited with us for Verna’s response. Verna turned her eyes to L’Etranger. I picked up my book as Janis Ian explained:
…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you (2)
Rubbery blackness blocked the present from the past, an unassailable barrier. I blinked away tears. An electric tingle saturated my body from head to toe; my Friend was hiding me in the safety of His wounds.
(1) Stephen Sondheim, “Not A Day Goes By”
(2) Janis Ian, “Jesse“