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“Eight Books!”

A small sign on the light wood desk reads “LIBRARIAN.”

“May I help you?” a curly haired woman asks.

The woman glances at my summer reading list which she keeps in her bag. “We’re looking for Pippi Long-Stocking,” she says. “What else would you like to read?” she asks.

“Can I have five?” I ask.

The librarian asks, “Do you have a library card?”

“Yes!” I say.

“Then, yes. You may take out five.”

My feet bounce me up and down.

“How old are you?” the curly haired woman asks.

I hold up five fingers.

The woman sighs. “She’s six.”

I’m five, I tell my Friend.

The librarian leads me to a bookcase.

“You should be able to read these books,” she says.

I pick up Good Night, Moon and sigh.

“That’s a good book,” she says.

“It’s a baby book,” I say. “Do you have Lion, Witch and Wardrobe?”

“That’s probably a little too advanced for you,” she says.

“I can read it,” I say. “I’ve read almost the whole Bible. Except he didn’t like it when I said the Woman clothed with the sun is Mary.”

The curly haired woman chuckles.

“But I did read it!” I say stamping my foot.

“I’m sure you did.” The chuckle remains in her eyes.

“The Narnia books are over here.“ She leads me to a tall bookshelf. “You’ll need the stool.”

Standing on a small stool, I reach for The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Eight Books“Oh!” I cry. “There are one, two, three, four, five …six more!”

I pull the pastel books in their impervious cellophane covers down and carry them to the librarian’s desk.

“May I take three extra?” I ask.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I can only allow you to take five.”

I stand at the desk staring at each cover. Which can I leave behind?

The woman’s voice sounds behind me, “Did you find what you wanted?”

“Yes, but I can’t take them all out.” My mouth is upside down.

The woman tells the librarian, “You can put the extra books on my card.”

My smile pours itself into my eyes, sinks into my feet.

“Eight books!” I softly announce to my Friend. “Eight books!”

Photographs Of Me – Another Snippet

I carry a large white envelope in the crook of my left arm.

“Photographs of me,” I whisper to my Friend.

The trees and rocks appear crisp and solid. My face is in none of the photographs on the polished tables in the living room and hanging on the wall above the stairs. Neither do I appear in the family photograph that resides in a golden frame in next to the woman’s bed.

The man is sitting on the porch.

“Look, Daddy,” Claire says. “We got our school pictures.”

She shoves her envelope into the man’s hand.

“Did you bring me anything?” Ames and Charles demand.

“You’re home early,” Eve says.

“I finally sold the garage.” His voice is gruff. “I deserve a little time off.”

He strokes Claire’s hair, “Let’s see what you’ve got!”

He reviews each child’s photographs. Finally, he peers at my prints for a long moment.

“You could be a model when you grow up,” he says.

A Woman Whose Face Looks Like Mine – Snippet

We stand and sing: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” The woman’s voice, so beautiful alone, screeches amid the other voices. I wince. An old woman sings the words but doesn’t know the music. I wince again. The man prays for a long time. We prayed the wrong Lord’s Prayer.

The senior pastor stands, “Sit down, please.” When we are quiet he continues, “We all know, what with the woods development, it’s been difficult with so many moving away. Calvary Baptist is struggling too. The pastors and deacons from both have met and prayed together. We really believe God is calling us to join both churches into one. Over the next weeks, we’ll start the transition that will bring us all together.”

There are fried Spam sandwiches instead of soup for lunch. Afterwards, we settle in the living room for the Sunday movie. It’s in black and white. I sit tailor fashion on the floor, absorbed in Mary’s visits to Bernadette.

“Don’t sit so close to the TV.”

I jump.

“What’s wrong with you?” the man asks. “Why are you so jumpy? What can you be thinking about?”

I remain silent. An image hangs in my mind: A woman whose face looks like mine. Her scent is still in my nose. Her long, dark hair falls rippling down to her waist. She laughs and I laugh too. She sings to me; I almost hear the words.

Gerard asks with a sneer, “Can Mary come to earth as God’s messenger?”

The man replies, “Yes — if God wills it.”

A Snippet

You must have a nap today,” the woman says. “I can hardly wake you each morning, you’re sleepy all day.”

After lunch, she sends me to my room. I climb under the large bureau, place my throat over the stretcher, and wait for the executioner. As I wait, I suck my thumb and rub my private area. My Friend strokes comfort into my back.

“When will the executioner come?” I whisper. The executioner will chop off my head.

Tense Changes

In the annals of rewriting, something as simple as changing the tense can make a huge difference. This post is an initial rewrite of a vignette with the rewritten rewrite. The big difference is the tense. Please let me know in the comments which you prefer.

1 – Rewrite

Acrid smoke assaulted my nose. I coughed, clambered off the bed in the dark, pushed my feet into too big slippers, my arms into a tattered robe. Clasping a ragged bear with no eyes, I walked to the door where the switch had first turned me on and out into the chill night.
People stood watching as smoke poured from the side of the house. With flashing lights and screeching sirens, giant red trucks pulled up. Men in yellow suits and big black boots sprayed water onto the house. I stood amid there legs.
The woman kept a strong hold on the hand of a little boy. Other children gathered around her. A man came out the back door pulling a girl by the hand, “Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. Quelle stupide!” He jerked her arm with a sharp tug that undulated through her shoulder. The girl whimpered, pushed aside long, dark hair, and rubbed her eye with a fist.
The man and woman counted the children around them, repeating their names.
The fire out, I left the forest of legs and returned to the house. The woman, standing in the light of the door, looked down at me as I walked in behind the girl who had locked herself in. Her eyes widened, “Oh!”

2 – Rewritten Rewrite

An acrid smell assaults my nose. I cough, clamber off the bed in the dark, push my feet into too big slippers, my arms into a tattered robe. Clasping a ragged bear with no eyes, I walk to the door where I first turned on and out into the chill night.
People stand watching. Smoke pours from the side of the house. Red trucks flashing lights and screeching sirens pull up. Big, yellow suited men wearing big black boots attack the house with axes, shower water on it.
Through the legs fire watchers’ legs, I see the woman tightly holding the hand of a little boy. Other children gather round her. A man comes out the back door pulling a tall girl by the hand.
“Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. Quelle stupide!”
He jerks her arm. The girl whimpers, pushes aside long, dark hair, rubs her eye with a fist.
The man and woman count the children around them, repeating their names.
The last of the smoke drifts away. I leave the forest of legs, return to the house. The woman, is standing in the light of the door, looks down at me as I follow behind the tall girl. Her eyes widen, “Oh!”

The Gingerbread Man

“Run, run, as fast as you can,” I read softly. “You can’t catch me! I’m the Gingerbread Man!” (1) Salty tears spilled down my cheeks blurring the words. I hugged the book to my chest and began to sing quietly to my Friend, “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

“What’s wrong?” Mrs. Runcie asked.

My heart leaped, Maybe I could tell her.

“Why don’t you try this one?” She held out The Golden Book ABC’s.

“That’s a baby book,” I said sniffing in the trickle from my nose.

“What about Goodnight Moon?” she asked.

“The pictures are pretty but there’s no story.”

She looked intently at me, “No story?”

“I like books that have a story,” I said in a small, high voice.

“Will you read the story to me?” she asked.

“I ran away from an old woman. I ran away from an old man. I ran away from a cow, and I can run away from you! I can!” (2)

“Try this,” she handed me another book.

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” (3)

With a puzzled smile she said, “You can read.”

(1)  The Gingerbread Man, http://www.storyit.com/Classics/Stories/gingerbreadman.htm

(2) ibid.

(3) Madeline, Ludwig Bemelman, New York : Simon and Schuster, 1939.

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Children’s Missal

From the doorway, I watched the woman sitting on her bed. She removed items from a round, red velvet box. I moved closer, saw lying next to her a small, cream coloured book with gold edged pages.

“What’s this?” I asked stroking the picture of the cup on the smooth cover.

“A children’s missal. My father gave it to me.”

I opened it. A man raised a cup and a small, white round above his head. I was suddenly very still inside. The woman gently took the book from my hands and returned it to the box.

“Go play, now,” she said.

At the door, I stopped and looked back at the red velvet box.

The door ajar, I sat inside the closet of the room I shared. A door closed. The woman walk down the stairs. After the sound of her steps died away, I tip toed into her room. The red, velvet box was no longer on her bed.

Her closet? I asked my Friend and opened the door.

The box sat on a shelf above my head. I climbed the lower shelves and lifted it down. The missal lay nestled between yellowing envelopes, photographs, and ticket stubs. I took it back to the room I shared and slowly read each page, drank in each picture.

On the page with the man holding the cup and the small, white round, I read: “Look, the priest is holding up Jesus so you can see him.” Something pulled at my heart. My chest heaved. “Cluh! Cluh! Cluh!” coughed out my throat. The well of tears gushed over. When the waters receded, I pushed the missal as far under my mattress as I could.

“Oh! You’re Here.” – Final Rewrite

I have reached the final rewrite stage. From time-to-time, I’ll post excerpts.

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The light switch snapped me on as I stood in darkness. The cool air penetrated my pajamas and robe, chilled my slippered feet. I clasped an old, ragged bear with no eyes. People stood watching as smoke poured from the side of the house. With flashing lights and screeching sirens, giant red trucks pulled up. Men in yellow suits and big black boots sprayed water onto the house.

The woman held the hand of a little boy.

A man came out the back door holding a girl’s hand, “Can you believe it! Eve locked herself in the bathroom. Quelle stupide!”

The man and woman called names. Children responded, “I’m here.”

After the fire was out, I reentered the house. The woman looked down at me, “Oh!” her eyes widened. “You’re here.”

He Kissed My Neck! – Assignment 4

He kissed my neck!“Did you get Jason’s number?” Linda asked.

I shook my head.

“It’s because he’s short, isn’t it?” she insisted.

“No,” I shook my head again. “I just don’t like him.”

“Because he’s short,” Linda said.

“Because I don’t like him,” I responded before turning to the mirror to freshen my lipstick.

“Why don’t you just admit it. He’s short and you don’t like him,” Linda said.

“He kissed my neck!” I shrieked, my voice becoming shriller as the sentence ended.

“So?” Linda asked. “It’s New Year’s Eve. People kiss.”

My hands flew up, splayed out, twitching to ward off the images that rushed towards my interior vision.

Margaret giggled, “You look like a baby given solid food for the first time. Your face is all puckered!”

I glared at her, “He kissed my neck! I hate having my neck touched.”

“What about Cade?” Linda asked. “You lived with him. He must have kissed your neck.”

I flinched. Margaret giggled again. “I’d push him away,” I said.

“You wouldn’t let your boyfriend kiss your neck?”

“No.” My breathing was ragged, wheezy. My shoulders hunched closer to my ears protecting my neck from lips and tongues and fingers. “I hate it!”

“The iron-faced woman,” Sinead said.

“Whaa–?” I asked. I closed my eyes, tried to ease the furrows in my forehead.

“She choked you,” Sinead said.

“How…?” I asked

“You didn’t like your dress so your mother had her change it. It had a sailor collar and when she pulled the tie…”

My splayed hands twitched, unsuccessfully warding heavy, muscular hands that clutched and pulled the bright red cotton tie. I shook my head to clear it away. A tear flew from one eye. My lips curled.

“I forgot I’d told you,” I sniffed.

Margaret handed me a tissue.

“How old were you?” Linda asked.

“Three? Four?”

“More than twenty years ago? You can’t still be bothered by that.”

“Some things don’t get better,” Sinead told her.

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Assignment: What losses or absences do you or do we continue to sense from things that are no longer present? In words or images, compose a piece that explores the “phantom limbs” of a trauma or traumas.

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All Along You Were Trusting Me – Assignment 3

Beloved,

Rage. That was the worst thing. Seeing Grandpère murdered was brutal but the rage that flooded my soul was worse. Ditto Ti Eduardo’s murder. And being raped. And Marmar’s and Papa’s murders. And the neglect and abuse by the minister and his family. And all the abandonment. None of that compares to the rage.

I have so much rage. Rage against myself, I tried to commit suicide so many times. Rage against others, I tried to kill the minister.

He survived only because Charles was inept. Had I been old enough to get drugs, he would have died. But all I could do was use my voice and words to convince Charles to kill his father. When he stirred the contents of the capsules into the milk, I assumed it was a lethal dose. What does a nine year-old know? I was so full of arrogant rage, I would make the horror end.

And all along You were trusting me. Me!

All along You were trusting me to bring my heart with it’s huge load of arrogant rage to You and let You heal me. I deserved to be zapped out of existence. I’m dangerous. Look at the way I treated that security guard. He said I called him ‘a leech, a lowlife, and a non-entity.’ I didn’t call him any of those things but I made him feel that way. He crossed the line and I crushed him.

I ought to have loved him. You love me so much. I ought to have loved him even though he was being a jerk.

When Jesus is in our handsNow You have me praying for the soldiers who murdered Grandpère and Ti Eduardo. Last week, I wanted them dead. Today, I pray but I’m not trustworthy. The arrogant child who wanted the minister dead, who wanted the soldiers and whoever murdered Marmar and Papa to die still lives within me. She’s old enough to know murder is wrong but there are other ways to annihilate people. (Remember Cade?) On some future tomorrow, I will probably try to annihilate someone else. And You will still be trusting me.

You take immense risks. That’s the way You are. This is part of Your plan. This is You putting Yourself in my hands letting me choose whether to crucify You or be crucified beside You. I hate pain!

(This does make beautiful, horrible sense. You get us to love the unlovable by using what You’ve given us. You use the curiosity that has helped me survive in this crazy world. And You make me indebted to murderers and abusers because praying for them leads me to love them in ways I would never imagine.)

You shouldn’t trust me.

Please. I may not be curious about whether an enemy will see me in their children’s eyes. I may go on fuming about some slight and not attend to You showing me how I was rude and annihilating. I’m not worthy of Your trust. The ugliness in my soul is the same ugliness in the world; I so want to make the world in my image. And I only want the salvation of those who cross the line when You hold my feet to the fire. You are not safe in my hands.

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The assignment is to write about something that is both beautiful and horrifying, sustaining and devastating.

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