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Wednesdays with Writers: Cathy Lamb talks about her newest book, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, how balancing subplots is like juggling cats, her love for homes & design, quirky families, how she never wants to read her own book again–and so much more.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From acclaimed author Cathy Lamb, comes a warm and thoughtful novel about the secrets that can break or unite a family—and the voices that resonate throughout our lives.

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Reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS was one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time; I laughed, I cried, most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was reading. It’s that good.

The Koslovsky family is a big, bustling American-Russian family living in Oregon, immigrants from Communist Russia. They have secrets, they have traumatic scars, but most of all–they have each other.

The main protagonist is Antonia (Toni) Koslovsky, the middle daughter of three sisters (Ellie, the youngest and Valeria, the oldest). They have a brother, Dmitri, too.  The cover of the book would have you believing the sisters are young, but they are grown, adult children with lives, jobs, and families (Valerie) of their own. The cover might also have you believing this is a saccharine story of girls dancing around May poles, but it is a sophisticated romp through grief, heartache, love, family dynamics (and dysfunction); a story of home, a narrative of mystery.

Told in a slightly nonlinear fashion, glimpses of Communist Moscow surface as a dark nebulous coloring present-day shenanigans, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is at once a mystery a poignant story of family told with compassion, warmth, and humor. Honestly, I don’t know how the author pulled this one off…it’s complex in character, and contains so many subplots, yet she pulls them together beautifully. And with humor. Did I mention humor?

Trust me, you’ll want to read this book, and then you won’t want it to end.

Today, I am honored to have Cathy Lamb in my office—not my floating tugboat home—though that wheelhouse window would be wonderful. We even have homemade Russian tea cakes and coffee so strong it will grow hair on your chest.

Leslie Lindsay: Cathy, it is such a pleasure to have you today. Thanks for popping by. So, I’m reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and laughing, laughing, laughing. Sometimes my husband tells me to shut up. Affectionately. And then I start thinking, Cathy has nailed this Russian-American big family thing. First, I have to know your inspiration for this book, and then I have to know how much of it is based on your experiences?

Cathy Lamb: These are a few of the things/visions that inspired me to write The Language of Sisters:

  • Living in a yellow tugboat on the Willamette River.
  • Russian history.
  • A loud family restaurant in Portland, Oregon where the guests sing Russian drinking songs.
  • Communism.
  • Quirky cousins.
  • The experiences of an immigrant family.
  • A state prosecutor.
  • Sewing beautiful pillows.
  • Sisterhood.
  • A mystery, secrets, and the impact of both.
  • A blue heron.
  • A fight between cousins on a bathroom floor over a hair brush.
  • Falling in love with a hot DEA agent. (Uh. Hmmm. Let me clarify. I, personally, did not fall in love with a DEA agent. I have been married for 23 years to Innocent Husband.  He would not appreciate that.)

As for the book being based on my experiences? Very little.  I do have two sisters, and a brother, but – so that I don’t get in trouble with them – NONE of them are in the book. I promise.  I do live in Oregon, but alas, I don’t live on a tugboat in the Willamette River.

I used to write for a newspaper about homes, as Toni does. But I do not have a psychic connection with my sisters and I do not cook well at all. My children say I do not cook, I “re – heat.” Naughty children!

L.L.: I like big books…(and I cannot lie). THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is long. But it doesn’t feel that way. The first time I picked up the book, I read 200 pages straight through. I didn’t even fall asleep—and that’s saying a lot for me, who gets drowsy fifteen minutes after sitting down. I think what I’m trying to say is, good job on pacing. Also, good job on keeping me engaged and throwing me right into the action via media res. And here’s the question: what was your writing process like? Since it’s a longish book, did it take longer to write? Do you outline? Follow the muse?

Cathy Lamb: My writing process…well, it’s a rocky and craggy path, filled with potholes the size of Jupiter, scary looking trees, and monsters with big teeth. First, I grab a journal and start writing and sketching while drinking copious amounts of coffee and eating chocolate.

Then I grab another journal because I have filled the first one with ideas, much of them terrible, horrible ideas, and I need to figure out what the heck I’m writing about.

I start pulling characters together. I give them friends and family, and some are nice and some aren’t. I mutter and talk to myself and talk to the characters and they talk back and I proceed onward.

what-I-remember-Most-3501-e1396982595987.jpgI give my heroine a job and a setting and a home. Or she’s homeless, like Grenadine Scotch Wild in WHAT I REMEMBER MOST. That gal ended up living in her car.

Then I talk to my wise and wonderful agent and editor and they give their input on my proposed plot, and I slug down more coffee and go for drives in the country until I can figure out the first line of the book and tell myself that, “YES. You can write another book, Cathy. You can. Cool your jets.  Pipe down. Don’t lose your mind. Buck up. NO whining.”

Once the first line of the book is in my head, I write 2000 words a day, 10,000 a week until the first draft is done. If I don’t get my word count in by Saturday, I don’t go to bed.

I try to add scenes that will touch women’s hearts. They may end up laughing or crying. Hopefully they will laugh more than they cry and relate to the characters and the plot.

I do eight or nine edits of the book until the book is done and off to my agent and editor. At that point my eyes are fried, my brain is fried, and I think about moving to an old log cabin in the middle of Montana.

There are four more edits after that.

Then, it’s done. 12 edits. Out in the universe, flying around, and I don’t ever want to read it again. And, I don’t. Unless I’m at a reading.

L.L.: There are so many fabulously colorful characters in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and oh my gosh, how I loved them all. Did one ‘speak’ to you first, was it your protagonist Antonia (Toni), or were they all carefully cultivated? Is there one you relate to more? By the way, I loved the parents, Alexei and Svetlana the best. Oh, and Nick!!

Cathy Lamb: I think the sisters – Toni, Valerie, and Ellie spoke the loudest to me because I related to all of them.  They’re a little neurotic, intense, fierce, wild, funny, and driven because of the dangers they endured in their past in the Soviet Union.

They went skinny dipping together, sometimes drank too much, sewed gorgeous pillows, talked about life, and loved each other dearly. I could hear them in my head. It was like sitting down and talking to my own sisters, only I was invisible.

Daisy’s voice came through loud and clear for me because of how she wanted to live her life in her last years, how she insisted on staying on her houseboat, on the river, and was kind to everyone, except the bad guy, who she threw a knife at.

And I felt close to the mothers in the Kozlovsky gang, and how they felt about their kids, as a mother myself.

L.L.: I think I fell a little bit in love with that ‘man with a pistol in his pants.’ I loved him. I wanted his big, muscular arms around my shoulders. I wanted his flowers and chocolates. I wanted to spy on him with my binoculars. But I worried, too about his job as a DEA agent. Does Nick Sanchez really exist? And how can I find him? I have some single friends.

Cathy Lamb: I am so very, very sorry. I know this will crush you: No. Nick Sanchez does not exist. Except in my mind.I always try to create men that women readers will fall in love with. None of this: “Well, he’s PRETTY good, except he’s flawed like all other men.”

No.Will not do that.

I don’t want to read about a flawed man when he’s the love interest.  Really. That part of a book I just want to escape into, and I think other women readers do, too.

They do not want to read about a  man who refuses to do the dishes, or help with the kids because we women know what that means: We work all day and come home and do all the housework and the cooking and that is SO NOT ROMANTIC.

So, I created a man I’d want to be married to…and you got Nick Sanchez. Smoking hot and huggable forever.

L.L.: Svetlana’s Kitchen, the restaurant the Kozlovsky’s run is such a fun place. I love how Mrs. Kozlovsky names the specials after things going on in her family’s life. The food sounds delicious, too.

Cathy Lamb: So, for people who have not read THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS: The mother, Svetlana Kozlovsky owns a restaurant. When she’s mad at her kids she writes it on the Specials Board, along with what she’s serving that night for dinner. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

            Over the next few days I received a number of calls and texts from family and friends who had had my mother’s special named “My Childrens Makes Me Worry.” They wanted to know what we Kozlovsky kids did to make my mother worry. The older people who called from the Russian community also gently chastised me, in Russian, of course.  “Don’t make your mama worry, Antonia. You know better.”

            The regular dishes at my parents’ restaurant all have family names. “Elvira’s Tasty Treats,” which is a selection of desserts; “Valeria’s Dumplings,’ which are beef dumplings on a bed of lettuce; and “Antonia’s Delight,” which are cheese crepes.

            But the specials…well, those are a crap shoot.   download-28

            In the past, my mother has named specials “Alexei Not The Boss,” after she had a fight with my father.

            And “Teenagers Big Trouble” when we were younger.

            And I Wish Valeria Quit Her Job.”

            I had “Antonia Not A Criminal,” simply because I write about crime.

            Ellie endured “Elvira’s Bad Choice” when she got engaged to Gino. It hurt Gino’s feelings.

            As my sister Valerie says, “I’m a state prosecutor. I try to maintain respect, a professional image, then mama puts out a special called “Valeria No Call Mama Enough,” and even the criminals are asking me why I don’t call my mama more.”

It goes on and on. Don’t make my mother mad, or you’ll hear about it on the Tonight’s Specials board of Svetlana’s Kitchen.

 L.L.: There are a lot of juicy little subplots going on in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTSERS. They are handled beautifully. My head would explode if I had the task of tying them together. Maybe yours did, too. How did you juggle so many different plot lines? Did you have a favorite?

Cathy Lamb: Honestly the sub plots were like juggling bottles of wine. Maybe that’s not the best analogy. They were like juggling cats. Eh. That one isn’t so good, either. Juggling…boxes of cookies.

I think my favorite sub plot was what happened to Dmitry in Russia. Who were his parents? How did he and the Kozlovsky family find each other? What’s the secret that the parents want buried forever?  I thought that plot line was key to the whole family.

I also really liked writing about Toni’s family and all their funny and quirky imperfections. Two cousins who make fancy and frilly outfits for strippers. One who steals cars but loves opera. A sister who is engaged but really doesn’t know if she wants to get married AT ALL.  A cousin with a teenage daughter who is pregnant, something so many parents go through with their own beloved children. An actress who is an extreme hypochondriac.

We all have families. Sometimes relationships can get messy/hilarious/odd/quirky.

L.L.: The Kozlovsky family endured such hardship in Moscow. At times it was hard to read, but it was done in such a tender, sensitive way. Communist Russia is something I know little about. Can you illuminate some historical significance for us?

Cathy Lamb: The history of Russia is fascinating. Honestly, read it.  From the Tsar to today. It’s harsh and often horrible. Russia today is better than it was in the past, but there are still, as we all know, many problems. I used that background for my family because it was a time period I knew something about it – although I needed to learn A TON – and it was interesting to me and I hoped it would be interesting for the reader, too.

A few other things I researched? Communism. Marxism. Lenin. Stalin. The Time of Stagnation. Christians in the Soviet Union and their persecution. Social issues. Poverty in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church. The KGB.

L.L.: I have to ask about the title, too. THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is just that: a special communication the Kozlovsky sisters share in which they intuit, or ‘hear’ the voice of their sister(s) when she is in distress. It comes from the mother’s family, through the widow’s peaks of their hairline. I have a widow’s peak. So did my mother. Is there any truth to this?

Cathy Lamb:  My editor thought of my title. He always titles my books because he is so much more clever about titles than I am.  One time I wrote out ten titles for this book and read them to my daughters. They almost wet their pants they laughed so hard.

And no, there is zero truth about people talking to each other through their widow’s peaks. I write fiction which means I get to play.

L.L.: One last question. I think. Toni changes jobs from being a reporter of crime to writing a column about houses, “Living on a Tugboat, Talking About Homes.” How I loved these columns (which are inserted throughout the narrative). What is it about our homes (or other people’s) we are so drawn to? Why do we care? Are we all voyeuristic weirdos?

Cathy Lamb: I love looking at home magazines. I love thinking about remodeling my kitchen, making my garden better, cleaning things up, and being in my home. I think a lot of people feel the same way – especially women.86a9f94455bc160b10b98b1033184fc1

Home has a special place in everyone’s heart and there are so many people who love to relax with a magazine while looking at something beautiful or clever or curious that someone else did in their home. We get to see how other people live and that’s fun.

Plus, I was a freelance writer for The Oregonian’s Homes and Gardens for years. I loved it. I wrote about homes, décor, and design, so I gave Toni my ex – job. (I had to quit freelancing when my first book, Julia’s Chocolates, sold as I didn’t have time anymore.)

L.L.: Okay, I lied. One more question. How would you classify this book? It seems to straddle so many genres: mystery/thriller, romance, family saga/drama, women’s fiction, there’s a lot going on, but it’s so good. Does size matter? Does genre matter?

Cathy Lamb: It’s women’s fiction. I think genre matters in terms of marketing. I have a niche, it’s women’s fiction. I don’t even pretend to write for men. My books aren’t for men. I think people read what they are interested in reading and the genre doesn’t matter.

As for size of the book? Eh? Look at PILLARS OF THE EARTH. That novel was huge and everyone loved it.  Then, there are shorter books, say by Mitch Albom, that everyone adores and they’re not very long.

To me it all has to do with plot.  The plot has to be engaging and gripping and keeping the reader turning the pages. Short or long, you have to do that as a writer.

L.L.: Tell me, did I forget anything?

Cathy Lamb:  Want to see the first chapter?

The Language of Sisters

Chapter One

I was talented at pickpocketing.

I knew how to slip my fingers in, soft and smooth, like moving silk. I was lightning quick, a sleight of hand, a twist of the wrist. I was adept at disappearing, at hiding, at waiting, until it was safe to run, to escape.

I was a whisper, drifting smoke, a breeze.

I was a little girl, in the frigid cold of Moscow, under the looming shadow of the Soviet Union, my coat too small, my shoes too tight, my stomach an empty shell.

I was desperate. We were desperate.

Survival stealing, my sisters and I called it.images-3

Had we not stolen, we might not have survived.

But we did. We survived. My father barely, my mother only through endless grit and determination, but now we are here, in Oregon, a noisy family, who does not talk about what happened back in Russia, twenty-five years ago. It is best to forget, my parents have told us, many times.

“Forget it happened. It another life, no?” my father says. “This here, this our true life. We Americans now. Americans!”

We tried to forget, but in the inky-black silence of night, when Mother Russia intrudes our dreams, like a swishing scythe, a crooked claw emerging from the ruins of tragedy, when we remember family members buried under the frozen wasteland of the Soviet Union’s far reaches, we are all haunted, some more than others.

You would never guess by looking at my family what some of us have done and what has been done to us. You would never sense our collective memory, what we share, what we hide.

We are the Kozlovskys.

We like to think we are good people.

And, most of the time, we are. Quite good.

And yet, when cornered, when one of us is threatened, we come up swinging.

But, pfft.

All that. In the past. Best to forget what happened.

As my mother says, in her broken English, wagging her finger, “No use going to Moscow in your head. We are family. We are the Kozlovskys. That all we need to know. The rest, those secrets, let them lie down.”

Yes, do.

Let all the secrets lie.

For as long as they’ll stay down.

They were coming up fast. I could feel it.

L.L.: These Russian tea cakes really are good. I think I love them more than Nick. Thanks for hanging out with me, Cathy, and talking about books in a basement office.

Cathy Lamb: Thank you, Leslie. Really.

For more information about THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, Cathy Lamb, follow on social media, or to purchase a copy for your own, quirky family (seriously, makes a great gift), please see:

Photo of Cathy Lamb 093.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: I was born in Newport Beach, California and spent my first ten years playing outside like a wild vagabond.

As a child, I mastered the art of skateboarding, catching butterflies in bottles, and riding my bike with no hands. When I was ten, my parents moved me, my two sisters, a brother, and two poorly behaved dogs to Oregon before I could fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a surfer bum.

I then embarked on my notable academic career where I earned good grades now and then, spent a great deal of time daydreaming, ran wild with a number of friends, and landed on the newspaper staff in high school. When I saw my byline above an article about people making out in the hallways of the high school, I knew I had found my true calling.

After two years of partying at the University of Oregon, I settled down for the next three years and earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and became a fourth grade teacher.  I became a teacher because I wanted to become a writer. It was difficult for me to become proper and conservative but I threw out my red cowboy boots and persevered. I had no choice. I had to eat and health insurance is expensive. I loved teaching, but I also loved the nights and summers where I could write and try to build a career filled with creativity and my strange imagination.

I  met my husband on a blind date.  A mutual friend who was an undercover vice cop busting drug dealers set us up. My husband jokes he was being arrested at the time. That is not true. Do not believe him. His sense of humor is treacherous. It was love at third sight.  We’ve now been married a long time.

Teaching children about the Oregon Trail and multiplication facts amused me until I became so gigantically pregnant with twins I looked like a small cow and could barely walk. With a three year old at home, I decided it was time to make a graceful exit and waddle on out. I left school one day and never went back. I later landed in the hospital for over six weeks with pre term labor, but that is another (rather dull) story.  I like to think my students missed me.

When I was no longer smothered in diapers and pacifiers, I took a turn onto the hazardous road of freelance writing and wrote over 200 articles on homes, home décor, people and fashion for a local newspaper.  As I am not fashionable and can hardly stand to shop, it was an eye opener  to find that some women actually do obsess about what to wear. I also learned it would probably be more relaxing to slam a hammer against one’s forehead
than engage in a large and costly home remodeling project. I also tried to write romance books, which ended ingloriously for years.

I suffer from, “I Would Rather Play Than Work Disease” which prevents me from getting much work done unless I have a threatening deadline, which is often.  I like to hang with family and friends, walk, eat chocolate, travel, go to Starbucks, and I am slightly obsessive, okay very obsessive, about the types of books I read. I also like to be left alone a lot so I can hear all the bizarre and troubled characters in my head talk to each other and then transfer that oddness to paper. The characters usually don’t start to talk until 10:00 at night,  however, so I am often up ‘til 2:00 in the morning with them. That is my excuse for being cranky. Really, I was just born a little cranky.

I adore my children and husband, except when he refuses to take his dirty shoes off and walks on the carpet. I will ski because my kids insist, but I secretly don’t like it at all. Too cold and I fall all the time.

I am currently working on my next book and I’m not sleeping much.

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of C. Lamb and used with permission. Image of restaurant message board retrieved from TripAdvisor on 11.17.16, image of WHAT I REMEMBER MOST from Ms. Lamb’s website. Image of reading from, also retrieved 11.17.16]

Fiction Friday: Book Lady

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By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 012

They say writers should always be writing, coming up with ideas for the next one…and while we don’t jump ship and start right away on the next one (before finishing the current WIP),  it’s okay–encouraged even–to jot down a few lines, ideas, or whatever and keep it on hand. In that case, here’s a little something that “the boys in the basement” are working on while I pound out the first draft of NEXT DOOR.

“I will tell you how I read a book: First, I smooth my hands over the cover, seductively feeling for raised lettering, foil-lined font, the stretchy quality of matte finish, or the smooth luster of gloss. It’s always a better experience if the book is hardback with a jacket. Then I pinch the jacket between my thumb and forefinger, gingerly lifting the paper spine so I can glimpse the real cover, the bare bones that piece the individual pages together, often tied with the tiniest red and white flossing ribbon, or perhaps the binding of rubberized glue. In my mind, this is the cheap way to go, and often a slight disappointment if it is indeed how the book is manufactured.

I then thumb through the pages, taking notice of whether they are deckle-edged or straight-edged, mottled, gilded, organic, newsprint, slick. I fan the pages with my thumb, creating a rush of air unearthing the pleasant melding of ink and paper in an orgasmic release. I bury my nose in the spine and inhale.

Yet, sometimes, the book in question smells yeasty, musty, tart as if it has been stored on a shelf in the archives of a library for far too long. Perhaps, it’s been packed away in a cardboard box tucked into the storeroom at the bottom of the basement stairs of a grandmother’s home. The book is happy that it has found itself in my hands, delicately holding it, ready to fold back its cover, turn the pages, ready to be given new life.

I may begin with the first line. That’s nothing unusual, it is after all what most people do. Some read ferociously from cover to cover, barely looking up to engage in the world around. They forget to dress, to eat, to answer the phone. They forget who they are in the presence of. The characters take over, the story moves them into a new plane.

Others read for awhile, get bored, and place the book on a nightstand, coffee table, or cluttered kitchen counter. The book collects dust and stains from glasses left dripping condensation. If it’s a library book, the patron forgets to return it on time and incurs a fine. The book never gets read.

I read. Really read. After the first thirty pages, or so I flip to the acknowledgements section. I want to know whom the author wishes to thank; who was instrumental in the process of writing, and perhaps a little about who the author is will shine through. Authors almost always thank their literary agent, someone who helped with research, and their family. You can tell who has a spouse, a dog who shares the writing space, or a family. Reading the acknowledgements section is a must.

Still yet, I take special care not to read the last few pages of the story. There will be others who beg to differ. I once heard of someone who read the last line of every book she ever received straight away. That way, if she died before finishing, she’d know how it ended. I beg to differ. If an author does his or her job well, reading the last line won’t really give you all of the insight intended; it’s just a line. A book is made to be read in its entirety. Still, I refrain from reading it.

At this junction, I may choose to read the “about the author” blurb. It’s fascinating to learn if the author is local, or at least in the same state you are living. Maybe you share something in common: a middle initial, number of children, vacation destinations, or a hobby like knitting. Anne Author lives in Chicagoland with her black lab and husband. She enjoys vacationing in Cape Cod and practices yoga daily.

Right then, I know we have something in common. Not only am I reading Anne Author’s personal preferences of pets and hobbies, but I am reading each and every letter she pounded out on a keyboard, it doesn’t get much more intimate than that.”

Fiction Friday: Little Sally Water

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By Leslie Lindsay

I have a senior basset hound named Sally. She has a kidney issue and that means she has some house-training accidents from time to time. Okay, a lot. Was it because little Sally was peeping on the floor that my brain recalled this old nursery rhyme, Little Sally Water or was it the muses at play?

In any case, this old childhood game, jingle, rhyme–what have you–has been floating through my head of late. So I got curious, like all good writers do and did a little research. Here’s the rhyme/song: 

Little Sally Waters sitting in the sun
Trying to find her love
The one & only one
Rise Sally rise
Open up your eyes
Look to the east
Look to the west
Maybe you’ll find the one that you love best

The lyrics actually continue and are quite extensive.

Seems the rhyme/children’s yard game has something to do with marriage. Little Sally Water is sitting in her saucer. In fact, the real story goes: Sally was on her way to her wedding, when she had to step over a saucer of water. Now, is this akin to jumping over broom handles or some other marriage tradition, I don’t really know. Folks believe this nursery rhyme originated in the 1800s–England and has been in the U.S. since at least 1848.

Yet, more contemporary interpretations indicate a name change for Sally. She was Sally Walters in more northern climes of the US, Pennsylvania and New York, for starters. In the South, Little Sally Ann(e). Others say, no, no, no Sally had a last name and it wasn’t Walters, but Waters.

Still others maintained that Sally was of African American (black) heritage. But then that goes to dissuade the England-Marriage version. So, it’s really hard to tell what the meaning and interpretation of this nursery rhyme is.

Little Sally fits into my WIP because, well I found the sing-song sound of it haunting. There’s also a water aspect to my WIP, so it just worked:

“Well, then maybe I’m not alive,” she responded.

Don’t be silly! You’re as much alive as I am.” I reached my toe forward, a playful nudge, a sideways grins.

My toe went right through her.

I startled, glanced back at Leelah and gasped, a surge of panic racked my body as her leg began disintegrating. Help! She needs help. My words would not come forth. Leelah smiled coyly, a smattering of freckles splayed across her face, and a glint in her eye I’d never noticed before. I couldn’t tell if she was crying or laughing.

She heckled and tossed her head back, the wavy hair breaking off in a wisp of clouds. A sinister stare penetrated my gaze. But Leelah, you’re my friend.

My brow furrowed. I screwed my face into a pinched pout, my stomach twisted, my ears rang. “Why? Why are you doing this to me?” I shouted, grabbing my bike, leaving the food, mad as a hornet.

She didn’t respond in words, yet her voice sang softly, deep within my head and yet all around me at the same time. Some childhood song. Little Sally Water…turn to the one you love best. Bye baby bunting. Father’s gone a-hunting.

FOR  MORE INFORMATION:

[this is a work of original fiction. Comments appreciated. Sharing and copying as your own is not. (c)]

 

Fiction Friday: The Caul

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By Leslie Lindsay

I’m a getting a good sense of character, Melanie Dunbar (Mel) from my new novel-in-progress, “Zombie Road.”  Here she in the shower just after giving birth to her daughter, Enye. It’s one of those strange postpartum moments of elation and exhaustion, the innate need to protect one’s offspring.

“The warm spray from the shower pelted my back, a strange tingling sensation that somehow made me feel whole, even though I was at my most vulnerable—naked and postpartum.

          Suddenly, as the slick bar of pale-green soap slipped through my fingers, I stepped on Enye, my feet squishing through her tiny body slumped against the shower stall, a contusion of limbs—purple and unmoving.

“My baby!” I shrieked, “Enye!”  The room spun, black and gray, the water cascading down my shoulders, a moment of vertigo. I clutched the soap dish to break my fall. If I fell, I’d be that much closer to my dead baby. I gripped the metal side rail on our double-shower, blood clots running down my puffy legs.  “Ran! Ran, I need you,” I called out over the hum of the shower, hoping, praying he heard me.

I bent down slightly, inspecting baby Enye closer. When—why—had I brought her into the shower with me?  Her delicate body was not moving. My heart raced, tears streamed down my face, milk from my engorged breasts.

“Ran, oh my God!  Ran, get in here. Now!” my voice emanated from my body as if it weren’t really my own, the voice no longer belonged to me, but an animalistic call of the wild.

          He arrived, throwing our bathroom door open, a pink bundle in his arms. Our baby. I looked to the shower floor, the tile muddied with locchia, but not a dead baby. Enye was warm and snug in her daddy’s arms. By now, tears of foolish relief poured from my eyes.

   “Mel. Sweetheart, what happened?” Ran’s voice was concerned, but not in any other way except loving regard.

“I…I…Enye…she was,” I began.

“With me the whole time,” he supplied. My eyes darted back to the small pink bundle of baby in Ran’s arms, he cocked his head and gently tugged the blanket from Enye’s delicate face. My breast milk intermingled with the warm spray of the shower as I caught sight of our baby, her small mouth moving slightly. The shower continued to run, the sound soothing, my body dripping wet and cold as I held the shower door open, my mouth agape.

“Honey, why don’t you finish up and come downstairs,” Ran suggested. “Everything’s okay; you’re probably just overly tired.”

I nodded and slid the shower door closed, ducking my head under the spray as I lathered my hair, carefully avoiding the patch of the shower floor where my dead baby rested.

          She would never drown, she was a caulbearer.

****

[Thanks for reading! Always open to comments & suggestions. Please remember this is an origninal work of fiction and not to be taken or shared as your own. Shower image retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shower on 1.24.14]

Fiction Friday: The Ghost Girl Story Continues

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By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel

Last week, we met Evelyn, a 6-year old girl who is motherless and lifeless…she’s a ghost. Her story picks up here. Oh, but there is so much more to Evelyn.

When I was six years old, I died.  Energy is neither created, nor destroyed but transformed into another state.  People disappear when they die.  Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath.  Their flesh melts away.  Eventually their bones crumble and dissipate.  This is both dreadful and natural.  Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation.

They can become a ghost, like me. 

Are you scared? You shouldn’t be. I’m just a little girl. I stand about 49 inches tall. I have lots of ideas and a rag doll I carry with me all the time. It was made for me by my mother and since I no longer have her, the doll cleaves to my heart, clutched in my hands. When I bury my nose into the rose print cloth, I imagine I can smell her scent, deep and warm and sweet, like yeast.

Jacob says she wanted a little girl more than anything. It’s funny he says that because he was too young to know. His reasoning goes like this, “All mothers want a baby girl, to be just like them,” he says as he flips his hair with a quick turn of his head, almost like he’s not important.  But he is. I tell him all fathers want a son to carry on the family name. Me, I’m just a girl with no mother to teach me anything of being a woman, of tending to family.

Mother died just after I was born. She slipped into unconsciousness when the bleeding didn’t stop.  There was no doctor, and even if there was, he couldn’t have done much to save her life. The story I’ve been told is that she held me for a moment, looked into my gray-green eyes and smiled, ran her knuckle across my cheek and kissed my forehead. She reached for the bedside table where she retrieved the small rag doll she knotted and tied from the bedding as she labored. There was a small ball she had done the same with, in case her premonitions were incorrect and I was another son.  She must have felt the room spin and called out. I can’t be sure how it happened, exactly.

My father was nowhere to be found, having been out in the woods chopping wood. Somewhere, in a nearby room of our small home my big brother was being tended to by her cousin. Mother’s voice was thready and weak as she called out, a characterless whisp of hope. Her cousin cocked her head for a brief instant, listening. And when she heard nothing more decided it had been her imagination.

I cried out, as newborn infants do, beckoning the cousin to the room, and when she arrived, she found me swaddled in a dingy towel, an angry red face in my mother’s gray, limp arms.

Perhaps I had known that death had barred its ugly face under it’s sinister veil, relishing the fact it had created two orphans.

Father never returned that day. There was no other family. The cousin, we were told later was feebleminded and needed no additional responsibilities. She crumbled into despair, her knees buckling upon seeing the scene of my mother’s laboring bedchamber and began mumbling nonsense, claiming she saw a translucent image of my mother floating above the bed, peering down at me in her arms, a smile across her face as she buoyed from the ceiling before being swept into the otherworld.

Arrangements, I’m told were made for both the asylum and the orphanage by the town priest.

As a newborn baby girl, I was placed in the care of the Sisters of Mercy at St. John’s Home for the Orphaned and Unloved. One would think this to be the safest and best place for a child with no parents, but instead it was a living hell. We slept on pallets of hay crawling with vermin. Our food was watery broth and bread. Butter, when available, was infrequent. We received one glass of milk a day, but mostly subsisted on water and diluted tea.  Many children were ill, their eyes hollow and empty, sores puckering along lids, but those who were worthy-enough were sent out to work as servants.

Jacob was my only constant. At first, all children were dumped into the same room, no matter male or female. Later, we were segregated, but we always found each other. We were, after all, foundlings.

I was beaten and raped and called horrific names.  When I was six, I couldn’t take it anymore, the beatings having jostled my internal organs such that they were no longer in working order. I breathed out my last breath, a grayed powder of dust and grit on the new iron beds the sisters finally received. And when I did, I knew I was headed to a better place from where I’d come from.

My body was scraped off the bed, stripped of my tattered pinafore and wrapped in a thin sheet.  My leather laced boots were removed, tossed aside for another little girl to wear, and yet in my hands remained the rag doll from my mother.

Wrapped in the sheet, my body was hurled into a mass grave on the edge of the property.  There was no undertaker, but a janitor who was paid by the number of children he tossed into the grave. More children equaled more monetary pay, but he never went hungry; there was always plenty of broth and bread to see him through.

My body lay among the dead.  The smell grotesque, crawling with maggots, oily and metallic shards of decomposing life ate away at me. I went to open my mouth to cry out in agony, only to discover it no longer moved in relation to my brain.

I was dead.

Shovelfuls of earth sprinkled onto my body, a black-brown glitter of embellishment and then heavy clods of dirt, a finality of life.

While I lay there, I missed Jacob.  My arms tingled with anticipation of wrapping them around my brother one last time.  Inside my ruby red heart lay a bond that forever attaches me to him.  And that’s when I decided I wouldn’t go on without him.

My spirit is here and it is a good, kind, innocent one. Just because others have done me harm, doesn’t mean I am here to do you harm.

I am just a little girl.

My name is Evelyn. It means beautiful bird.

[Thank you for reading.  Hope you enjoyed it.  Remember, this is an original work of fiction. Please do not take or share as your own.]

Fiction Friday: Getting Darker

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By Leslie Lindsay Fiction Friday:

Working at making my novel-in-progress a little darker, a little grittier.  I think this helps.  It’s set in the main character’s college days.  Remember, this is original work, not to be copied or shared as your own.  Thanks….and enjoy!!

“I used to imagine it sometimes, what would happen if I just didn’t come home.  The thought always came to me when I was feeling particularly unworthy, lacking confidence, seeking attention.  God, I hated how that sounded; like I was an attention-seeking borderline threatening to run off or take my own life.  I could never do that, not really anyway.  The thought was always more about sharing my pain with others, letting them know just how miserable I felt deep down.  My desire to disappear came forth in the form of generosity.  Let me show you how I feel; Welcome to my personal hell; you should feel lucky.

          They were anything but lucky.  My desperation and irritability put a shield around me, making me lonely in busy world. 

          “I wish I could just drive my car off a cliff,” I’d say.  Or, perhaps I met my demise in some other way; the 18-wheeler would come barreling into my tiny Toyota crushing it like a tin can, with me in the driver’s seat.  My short life would flash before my eyes, summer camps and dance recitals, class photos, and crushes. Steve.

          Whatever it was, something terrible would happen and my friends and family—would have to return to my apartment to find all of the daily pieces of my interrupted life.  My dad would see the microbiology text left open on my desk, those tiny colored tabs ruffling the edges of the book.  Remember this.  Memorize that.  My mother would pick up my thong underwear in the corner of the room with her manicured nails and wonder why I spent money on a piece of clothing that covered so little. My roommate would thumb through the mail and set aside the Psychology Today magazine.  There would be to-do notes and lists throughout my bedroom, a brush with hair still entwined in it, Tom Petty stuck in the CD player, framed photos of me and friends, a smattering of greeting cards propped up like dummies. 

          This is how it would look.  A snapshot of my life.  Don’t touch it.  It’s my life.  I would try with all of my might to communicate the message but I would be gone.  Dead, probably.   Because running off wouldn’t be enough.

          Hiding out can only last so long.  Eventually one has to come back, reclaim their old life, or find a new one.  And really, who can reinvent themselves?  We think we can, but when it comes down to it, our personalities are so ingrained, it would be impossible. 

          So being dead would be better. 

          Friends and family—and people I don’t even know would come to my funeral.  They’d wear black and bow their heads and mutter things like she was such a nice person, always smiling…I had no idea…such a tragedy…she held so much promise.  They’d lay flowers on my casket and hug and shed some tears.

          And Steve would be there, too.  His eyes would be glassy and bloodshot, a dark suit, three-days worth of scruff.  He’d lean in and whisper to my parents, “I really loved her, you know?”  They’d nod and pull Steve into a three-way embrace, tears streaming down momma’s face.  Dad would reach up and touch the corner of his eye, but no tears would flow.  After the hug, they’d hold Steve with outstretched arms, resting their hands on his broad shoulders, “You were good for her, son,” they’d say and this time, they’d mean it.  They’d be sorry it was over.  Sorry they never accepted him like I had. 

          Steve would press his lips into a tight line and nod solemnly, his gaze gliding to the open doorway where Beth Donovan sits on a divan in a gray dress and black heels.  She’d twist her face into the doorway of the funeral parlor and there may be tears because she’s my age and she knows that it could have easily have been her who was side-smacked in an accident. How fleeting—and precious life can be.  Perhaps the tears were because she knew she caused my death.

Fiction Friday: After-Effects

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By Leslie Lindsay

Fiction Friday:

Slippery When Wet.  This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress.  Woman has just done the deed with her first boyfriend…oh, but it’s many years later and she’s married to someone else.  So is he.  [original fiction.  Reproduction or sharing, or passing off as your own is strictly prohibited]

“On January 3rd—about 11 days ago—I pulled into the garage.  The clock on the Sienna’s dash read 1:47a.m. 

         I smelled of Steve.  I inhaled deeply, the scent wafting through my nose, piercing my olfactory bulb and traveling through to my limbic system; the most primitative area of the human brain.  Our bodies are particularly adept at recalling these memories of smell.  But I worried someone else—Joe—would notice and not like it.  It was probably nothing.  My senses particularly heightened, my body in tune with Steve’s pheromones.

         I relished in the thought.

         In my mind, the clock turned back years; instead of walking back into my own house in Grove, IL where I was the parent—the wife—it was my childhood home following a date with Steve.  The motion detecting porch lights, tip-toeing and knowing exactly where the creaky floorboards were located.    

       Tonight was very much the same.  I swallowed.  I was past curfew. 

       Only the moon lit our bedroom, casting shadows on Joe’s sleeping form.  That sour, sleep smell filled the air.  I stripped down to my underwear and slipped into bed next to my husband, my body rigid, a shell of guilt weaving a web of lies. 

       “Women who have affairs often have a plan.  They don’t usually get caught [having an affair].  They can pass it off as a business meeting or luncheon, especially if she works outside of the home.  They don’t blatantly lie about an affair; they just don’t admit it; her lies are those of omission.”  

        My mind knew what that book said.  It was hidden in my nightstand.  Like osmosis pressing its knowledge into my brain. 

        I pulled my legs to my chest into a fetal position, soft, hot tears rolled down my cheek.  Joe rolled over, threw his arm around my shoulder.  “You’re home,” he mumbled. 

          “Yeah,” I said through a sniffle. 

          “Where’d you go?” 

          I cringe because Joe’s sleep breath is bad, and also because I can’t think of anything else to say. “Nowhere.”  

           “To Nikki’s?” 

           “Yeah…Nikki’s.” 

           Joe is quiet for a moment.  We both know it’s a lie. 

           “Hon, I was thinking…I’ve really been a jerk lately.  I am sorry.”  He kissed my shoulder. 

           A hot tear ran down my cheek, a streaked mask; a façade.  “It’s okay,” I whisper.  And it is.

          As I had for the last few months, I fell asleep that night with my head full of Steve.  Full of longing and fear and memories.  Full of possibilities and ramifications.  What would happen to the girls if Joe found out?  What about Steve’s wife?  Our marriages? 

         With or without Steve I wondered if my marriage would survive.  Were Joe and I really meant for each other?  Was Joe ever going to stop being such a workaholic?   

         Like tumbleweeds in the desert on a windy day, the questions wouldn’t rest.  Soon, my body let go and I fell asleep.”

         And dreamed of Steve. 

Fiction Friday: Even the Losers…

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By Leslie Lindsay Fiction Friday:

A backstory chapter I’ve been toiling over working on this past week.  Guy wants girl back.  Girl is busy.  This picks up in the middle of the chapter, told from a guy’s POV. 

          We sat for a minute more, Annie with her eagle-eyes looking over her handiwork on the furniture and me feeling like an ass for having dropped by like I had. I wiped a splatter of white paint from her cheek.  She turned slightly away from me, a pale shade of pink creeping up her neck.

            “Uh, Steve,” half question, half statement,” I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m kind of busy.” 

           “I know.”  I looked around the room again.  The CD had skipped songs to another Petty favorite. 

           If you’re making me wait, if you’re leading me on. 

          I cleared my voice.  God, I really shouldn’t have come by.  Why did I?  But I knew the answer.  “I am wondering when you might want to get back together.”  It all came out without any thought.  Diarrhea of the mouth. 

        Annie choked on her iced tea, a little inside joke we called her “drinking problem.”  It happened when she felt flustered or needed to say something quickly.   I knew she wasn’t really choking, but I leaned forward and patted her back, anyway.  Anything to touch her again. Warm electric jolts ran through my body. 

         Finally, the coughing settled, she wiped the tears from her eyes and regained composure. “Well, goodness!  My ICP is increased and my lacrimal ducts are working just fine.” 

        I rolled my eyes, “Is that a good thing?” 

        She shrugged, “Depends on what you’re looking for.  If you are assessing a TBI—

        “You.  I’m looking for you.” 

        She smiled at that, albeit, a little one. “Steve…please.”  She shook her head, her voice soft. 

        I need to know. 

        I tilted my head trying to find her eyes, her bandana flopped forward.

       “I don’t know,” she whispered.

        I was confused.  “What don’t you know?” 

       “If we’ll get back together.  You’ve asked me this before.”

        I nodded.  My lips itched to kiss hers.

       “Well, maybe someday.  I don’t know,” her voice trailed off.  She pulled her knees to her chest, a bit of cleavage I couldn’t help noticing. 

       “When?” I pressed, hopeful it would be sooner rather than later.  Sooner than the five years she had quoted me earlier. 

       She sighed, averted her eyes to the right, “Maybe in 5 years or so.” Her look tells me all I need to know; she’s annoyed. 

       I need to know.

       “You told me that before.” 

       “Well, I guess you could say I’m consistent?” She shrugged, proud of herself. 

        “But that was a year ago.  Would it be safe to say, T-1 year equals four years?”

        I need someone more mature, Steve. 

        I’m a whole year older. 

        But, Steve….you need to act more immature. 

        I will. I can change. 

        But, Steve…I don’t want to make you change.

      She just wanted a perfect person the first time around.  She didn’t say that, I just assumed that was what she was thinking.

        She rolled her eyes, and gave me a little shove, “Whatever.  Why do you have to be such a nerd?”

        I smiled in spite of myself.  It was a nerdy way of asking.  I surveyed the room and wished her ‘good luck’ with her decorating project.  I placed my emptied glass on the counter between the two rooms.  The kitchen was filled with lemons and Greek isle prints. 

       She said she wanted to explore the world, go to Europe or something.  I told her I liked French-kissingMy joke didn’t amuse her.

        The kitchen represented part of her dream.  Bright blue and white and yellow.  Like Greece.  The girl could decorate.  The place sure looked better than most college dives I’d been to. 

        I never even asked if she was seeing anyone else.  It’d kill me if she was.

        Even the losers keep a little pride.   Even the losers get lucky sometimes.      

Fiction Friday: Calling You

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By Leslie Lindsay

Fiction Friday:

Well, I survived the apocolypse so I guess I owe you a “Fiction Friday” post.  This is from  my novel-in-progress. 

Our protagonist, married mom of two Annie calls her ex-boyfriend’s mother.  [Remember, this is a work of fiction. It is not intended to represent anyone living or dead.  All names and instances are used ficticiously.  It is an orginial work, please do not beg, borrow, or steal.]  Thanks…and enjoy! 

         “The long electronic beep jolted me into action, “Hello…um…hi…Jillian.  Mrs. Kesselhoff.  This is Annie Munroe.  Kelley!  Annie Kelley.  I dated your son, Steve several years ago.”  My voice trailed off, a nervous giggle erupting.  “More than several years ago, actually….”  I sighed, chewed on the inside of my cheek.  What was I doing?  I was just about to hang up when I heard her voice.

          “Annie.  Yes, I remember you,” Her voice moist, soft and gentle despite the rattle in her throat. 

          I gripped the phone tighter, my palms growing sweaty. I pictured a mound of papers on her cluttered kitchen desk: Dillards catalogs, newspaper circulars, a mug of soup in her hands.  She’d touch her temple, delicate, delicate fingers brushing her hair back as she lowered herself to her chair. 

          My throat closed in on itself.  I reached for my glass of water, my knee bobbing.  I cleared my voice, “Oh, you do?”  It was a stupid thing to say, but I couldn’t think of anything else. It was, after all what I had asked; implied.

              “Oh, Annie…how are you?”  Her voice warm, slightly concerned like I was calling with bad news.  Your son’s been in accident. 

              I swallowed a cobweb of phlegm making it difficult to say anything.  “I…um…well, I don’t really know why I am calling,” my voice sputtering like a stalled engine.  I reached for a notepad in my kitchen junk drawer.  Doodling always provided a sense of comfort when nothing else could. 

            “Is there something I can help you with, Annie?”

             Yes, you can get in contact with Steve for me.

            My fingers trembled as I held a black Pilot pen in my hand, pressing the tip to monogrammed stationary, a giant curlicue M centered at the top of the paper – a gift from Joe on our first anniversary, symbolizing strength from the interlaced connection of the paper’s individual threads.

              I leaned forward, pressing my chest on the counter slightly, glancing up at the wall clock again.  Joe and the girls would be home from that giant bounce house any minute. 

             I shook my head slightly, “No, no I don’t need any help.  It’s just I recently moved to the Chicago area, and I learned that Steve also lives here.  I just got to reminiscing…you know, thinking about what a small world it is…” my voice trailed off. 

            I pictured Jillian Kesselhoff tilting her head, looking at the phone base sitting on the desk in her golden brown kitchen, circa 1970 wondering herself where the years went.  A smile on the other end of the line, “You live in Chicago, too?”  

          I nodded, clenching the phone tighter.  “Yeah, I do.  Look, I’m sorry.  I really shouldn’t be calling like this.  It’s been years. I’m married now.  I have two little girls,” I presented these facts as though I was offering to warm-up her coffee, “Two little girls?  Cream or sugar?” 

          “No, no.  Annie.  It’s good to hear from you.”  Her voice laced with curiosity, clogged with sleep. 

           I smiled.  “Yeah…you, too Jillian.” 

          “How do you like Chicago?”  Her honeyed voice thick with Georgia.

          “It’s okay…different up here, though.  Colder.  Longer winters.  I miss the green hills.” 

            A soft chuckle radiated on the other end of the phone, “I bet you do.” 

            I smiled.  “How’re you?  I think about you often.” I shrugged, even though she couldn’t see me in my Chicago kitchen. 

……..

         I closed my eyes.  3540.  3929.  More old phone number segments floated through the vortex of my mind.  Psychedelic numerals, shapes.  ILY.  Memories.  My body lost in a weightless vertigo. 

          When I opened them and looked at my pad of paper—the anniversary gift I received from Joe so many years ago—I saw the M scratched out.

           It was replaced by a cursive K. 

           Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kelley invite you to the wedding of their daughter Annie Marie to Steven Francis Kesselhoff, son of Mrs. Jillian Kesselhoff and the late Paul Kesselhoff.

           Happy Anniversary, baby. 

Fiction Friday: Boy Meets with College Counselor

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By Leslie Lindsay

Remember your high school college counselor?  The one who reviewed your report cards and SAT/ACT scores and advised  you on which schools to apply…the same one who pulled out those Career Outlook books for your intended profession?  You weren’t interested in what the job actually entailed or what skills you could bring to it–you were looking for the digits that would represent your (hopfully, fat) paycheck.  (image source: http://testprep.about.com/od/besttestprepresources/tp/Summer_School.htm)

Well, here’s a backstory excerpt from my novel-in-progress that was cut by my writing partner.  (yeah, I am still reeling from this one a bit…I liked it!  But she’s got a good point).  Onward!!  [remember, this is not intended to represent anyone, living or dead.  It’s from the author’s imagination.  Please do not borrow or steal without first asking permission]

            Going to college was never a question.  I was going.  The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to study.  I would go to the guidance counselor at school and ask what she thought I should do with my life.  Mrs. Clark would press her horn-rimmed glasses up on her face and lean back in her squeaky chair with a chuckle, “Well, Steve what do you think you ought to do with your life?” 

           In my cocky, self-assured way that I tried to call ‘humor,’ I’d say, “Well, you’re the guidance counselor, shouldn’t you guide me?” 

            She did.  Kind of.  Walking me to the college and career center in the counseling center, and sitting me down with a pile of paper she said, “Here.  Start here.  I want you to fill out this self-inventory and it will tell you what jobs you are most likely skilled at doing.” 

             I remember sitting at this little cubby with a number 2 pencil in my hand filling in bubbles about my likes and dislikes, “Do you like working with your hands?”  “Are you curious about how people think?”  Finally, when it was all said and done, the career center guided me to a career in mechanics, chemistry, or physics.  (image source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/education/edlife/guidance.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)

It wasn’t all that surprising.  But really, I wasn’t sure how I was going to find a career out of such general findings.  I also learned that I was an extrovert (also not a surprise), and that I was more of a thinking person and not a “feeler.”  

            The funny thing about all of these self-assessments is that they were supposed to tell me something I didn’t know before.    I knew all of that.  I just wanted the damn test to tell me, “Steve, you should become a brain surgeon.  You should apply to Harvard.  You will graduate with high honors and marry your college girlfriend.  You will have 2.2 kids and have a 2-story home with a white picket fence.”  But it didn’t. 

           Guess those assessments aren’t crystal balls. 

            I struggled with my college plans.  I went back to see Mrs. Clark on several occasions.  She would pull my test results from the ACT and tell me that I was really bright, scoring a 33, with high marks in math and science,

           “Why not medicine?” she quipped.  “You could major in pre-med and go on to med school?  Your assessment profile says you’re good with your hands and have a high interest and aptitude in chemistry and physics.” 

          “Nah,” I shook my head.  “I don’t want to be in school forever.” 

          “You could make lots of money,” She’d counter.

          “What else ya got, Mrs. Clark?”

          “Hummm…how about mechanical engineering?” 

          I thought a moment.  I did like working on my uncle’s old motorcycle.  He had given it to me for my 16th Birthday.  I was overhauling the motor and futzing around with it.  I wanted to get it in really great shape so I could enter it in the classic cycle show.  But basically it sat in a pile in our garage gathering dust and complaints and my mom and sisters were forced to walk by it. 

            “You mean, be a mechanic?”

            “No, not quite.  You could work on large machinery, develop new systems and gadgets.  Or, I suppose you could become a mechanic if you wanted.” 

          “And how about you, Mrs. Clark?  Is this guidance counselor gig what your high school personality inventory decided for you?”

          She shifted her weight in that squeaky chair and cocked her eyebrow, “Steve, this is not about me.  It’s about you,” She said as she tucked a pencil behind her ear.

           I sighed, “Well, I just want to know if these things are right.  I mean, if your inventory said you should become a high school guidance counselor and here you are, clearly loving your job, then I want to know.”  My comment was dripping with sarcasm and she knew it. 

          She narrowed her eyes, “Do you have a girlfriend, Steve?” 

          “Nope.  Not at the moment.”  I wanted to retort with something like, “No, you wanna be my sweetheart, Mrs. Clark?”  But I didn’t dare. 

           “Well, someday you might and you better learn that this is not the way to woo her.  You’ll want to be very decisive about what you want—in a career, in life, in a relationship.   

            I remember telling her thanks and that things were beginning to make sense to me.  And they were.  I needed a high-paying job in the hands-on science field that wasn’t medicine.  And I needed to be decisive, girls liked that.

           And Mrs. Clark probably needed to get laid.

            I am happy to say that I took Mrs. Clark’s advice and became an engineer.  Not a mechanical engineer, but a biomedical engineer. I went through 4 long years of intense college courses at a state university.  With Annie.  And Beth.    Organic chemistry was a motherfucker.  We all called it O Chem and it blew major chunks.  The prof was a hard-ass who was probably going senile.  I had to re-take the class over the summer back at home at the local community college.

           I started working right out of college at Carmargo Medicine, making money hand over fist.  It was empowering.  It was thrilling.  I would get a paycheck—a big paycheck—every two weeks.  I started a 401K plan and loved to see the numbers soar when I received my quarterly statement.  I had a nice little nest egg—for what—I wasn’t sure.  I was able to run out and get whatever electronic device I wanted—new stereo component systems and laptops, big screen televisions and whatever cell phone was the “in” thing.   But I no matter how much money I made or how many shiny, fancy electronics I had, I still didn’t have what I thought I needed. 

For more information on guidance counselors and making the grade for your college, see The Ivy Coach.com  http://theivycoach.com/the-ivy-coach-blog/teacher-counselor-recommendations/guidance-counselor-recommendation/