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Fiction Friday: Excerpt from NEXT DOOR

By Leslie Lindsay Ireland 2014 171

Where has the time gone?! Goodness, I can’t believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving…wasn’t it just August? What they say is true–finish one project [novel], start anovel. I mean, another. Go ahead and submit to agents, cross your fingers, and hope it all works out. But start the next one. You do this so you won’t go crazy thinking about the other one sort of floating around in no-man’s land wondering if others are going to love it as much as you do. And your hubby. And your dog, too because, after all she kept you company under your desk as you wrote the thing.

Well, it works. Time, once again has marched past and I have gotten lost in my next manuscript. This one has the working title of NEXT DOOR and is all about the things that happen behind closed doors, maybe the ones right next door, maybe the metaphorical ones that you just wonder about, maybe the doors that open into another world. It’s about maintaining the American Dream and family secrets and how sometimes it’s all about facades. Since late September I’ve made some major progress on this one. It may be the fastest 40,000+ words I’ve ever put onto paper. I’m not really sure what the drive has been, but I’m going to take what I can get cause you know there will come a time when I can’t get a darn thing out but a blank page. Maybe my name. Maybe, “the quick fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Or, “there will come a time when all good men must come to the aid of their country.” There will come a time, too that I think it’s all a pile of junk and wonder why I ever attempted another novel.

So that is where the time has gone. Here’s a little excerpt from NEXT DOOR:



My mother never liked to talk about her past. The copper-colored Camaro I saw her standing beside in a faded 4×4 photo was snapped from my fingers as quickly as it got there. Her high school yearbooks: forbidden. “Don’t you still have them,” I asked.

“Well, yes,” she sighed and looked to the window like all she wanted to do was escape, but all she did was complain that they were too hard to locate in the tangle of things that was our basement.

Once, I found a grocery sack filled with photo slides from the 1960s—mom as a teen on vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks, and once to Disneyland when she was a little younger. Her brother had tube socks pulled to his knees and her sister, a teal green tube top concealing her mosquito bite boobs. Guess it was all about tubular things back then. When I wielded the sack one Saturday afternoon, its contents spilled across the kitchen table. Mom rolled her eyes and in a cross voice said, “Where on earth did you find those?”yearbook_cosplay

“The spare room closet,” I replied. I held them to the light from the window, squinting to see. Mom stood near the stove, hands on her hips watching with slight distaste and nostalgia before skirting around to the table, a light brush on my shoulder.

“We can do better than that,” she said. Moments later, she dashed from the kitchen and thundered upstairs returning a few moments later with a torn cardboard box, the Kodak logo slapped on the side. I watched as she extracted a slide machine and plugged it into a wall outlet and flipped a switch. The machine projected a white patch on our green and white gingham kitchen wallpaper. “Close the curtains,” she instructed.

I jumped from my chair and pulled the tie-backs loose, allowing the ruffle-edged ivory curtains to fall, meeting in the center of the bay window. Mom flipped the light switch, darkening the kitchen.

She clicked through tinsel-laden Christmases, confetti-covered birthday parties with homemade Raggedy-Ann molded cakes, stair-stepped siblings on the first day of school. When we got to the slides of mom in a peach prom dress and pearlescent pink lips, she shut down.pretty amazing sight to see.


Sorry to burst your bubble, but the carousels that

“Wait! Who was that?” I ask, “He’s kind of good-looking.”

She pinched her mouth. “No one.”

“Oh, come on—he was someone. He took you to prom.”

Mom closes her eyes, “Evan. His name was—is—Evan Greenburg.”

“Well, whatever happened to him?”

“Nothing. I don’t know. We broke up. End of story.” Mom fiddles with the gold cross at her collarbone. “I think we’re done for today.”

My body lets loose, a small piece of me fallings, slipping deeper into the folds of her past, another clue as to who she is and who I am becoming.

You know how you can just tell that someone has lived a different life than they do now? That’s how it is with my mom. Before, she drove a Camaro. Now, it’s a Mercury station wagon with wood paneling and two bonus fold-out mini seats in the way back. “Kids,” she’ll say. “I had kids and needed another car.” She now wears long wool plaid skirts, a turtle neck, or a blouse buttoned to her neck and her hair pulled into side combs but I know she used to wear halter tops and Daisy Dukes. “Youth,” she told me once. “It will happen to you, too Mallory.”

Most curious of all is the drinking and smoking she does that she doesn’t think I know about. She’s an adult, so I guess she’s entitled. But the smoking is a source of contention, what with Grandpa’s throat cancer scare. She stands outside, out of view in the backyard between the cedar trees and garage taking puffs and then popping a mint Lifesaver in her mouth—as if that will erase the smell. In the cabinet above the refrigerator, an assortment of fine wines and hard liquor. I hear the cabinet open and a splash of amber liquid into shot glasses and mugs. I mean, what kind of Eucharistic minister chain-smokes Carltons and drinks Irish coffee before Sunday mass? One with a past, that’s who.

I found her high school yearbooks once. She wasn’t listed as being part of any clubs, though she claimed to have been in Future Homemakers of America and choir. I should’ve known—she can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Once, she told me she had been in speech and debate, but I think the only time she ever argued with success was with dad and that friend of his—Tom.

Instead, she was kind of a partier, I think. At least that’s what she said when I asked her about it later, “It was the sixties, Mal. It’s what we did.”

How could she explain High, Jo! Let’s get like a kite again. And wasn’t it fun that time at Mary Jane’s? I might go to Catholic school, but I am not dumb. There were inscriptions from boys with names like Glenn and Craig, Danny and Joel—“let’s go deep again.” At first, I thought maybe they had had some really philosophical questions, but then there was a crude little drawing of a penis that made my stomach turn. Now I understood, without a doubt why those yearbooks were “forbidden.”

I slammed them shut, a waft of mildew-y dust let loose, causing a sneeze. I shoved them back into the box I found them and tried to wipe the words from my mind.

If my mother wasn’t the goody-two-shoes choir girl with sites on becoming a homemaker, who was she?

A sea turtle, that’s what.

Sea turtle mamas come onto shore—typically at night—and carve a little hole into the sand with their flippers. They deposit a clutch of fifty to two hundred soft-shelled eggs, cover them up, and drift back into the sea.

Some human mothers are that way, too. They disappear emotionally almost as soon as they give birth. I don’t know what happened with my mom, but she seemed to shut-down. Not after my birth, not exactly, but after dad died. And if truth be told, she probably shut down way before that, but I never really noticed.

[This is an oiginal work of fiction. Please do not copy to share as your own. Comments welcomed. Yearbook image retrieved from http://www.klce.com/are-yearbooks-still-important/ on 11.20.14, and Kodak slide projector retrieved from http://yesteryearremembered.com/?p=2837 on 11.20.14]



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