Excerpt III

*Note: I’ve decided to start from scratch with my NaNoWriMo project. Seems like I’m doing too much telling, not enough showing, and I can’t say I’m happy with the writing. Any tips are welcome!

Jacob sat on the concrete curb and wrapped thin arms around knobby knees. His shirt was threadbare and his coat old, a hand-me-down that was too small; bony wrists poked out beyond frayed cuffs, and the folded collar was wrinkled and ripping away at the seam.

Periodic waves of chills flowed through his body, starting at his toes and up to the tips of his ears. He could feel pinpricks at his scalp. He shivered once, twice.

Paul hadn’t come yet to pick him up. All the other students had left. He’d watched them, much like Lucy had the previous Friday, crowding into warm vehicles with welcoming parents who gave kisses and hugs and smiles.

Maybe Paul had forgotten about him. Jake wouldn’t mind being forgotten, wouldn’t mind being invisible. That was better than being out in the open.

He didn’t even like Paul, anyhow, he thought, scrunching his shoulders. Paul didn’t know how to sign, he didn’t know how to listen. He just talked and talked and talked. Not that it mattered since Jake couldn’t read lips fast enough. He figured anything coming out of Paul’s mouth was a lie. All adults lied.

Except Miss Lucy. She was different. Her smile wasn’t hard or too bright. It wasn’t forced like Paul’s was sometimes. Hers was natural. Plus, she had a space between her two front teeth. She was beautiful.

Paul still hadn’t come. Jake sighed, fingered the paper bag next to him. He’d clutched it since Miss Lucy had given it to him, had rubbed and rubbed the bag until it was soft and smooth. Now he unfolded the top and pulled out the pieces of paper he’d written on that day. Jake unstretched a leg to pull a pencil from his pocket and flipped the sheets of paper over, balancing them on his knees. Then he started to draw.

He hadn’t started with an idea of what to sketch, what to create out of lead and lined paper. But as he drew the pencil down, as he shaded in areas, Miss Lucy’s face appeared. Swirls became her curls, light shadowing became her eyes, crosshatching formed the roses that bloomed on her cheeks. She smiled in the picture, smiled at him. Like a mom.

Jake flipped to the next page and began to draw another face. The lips were thin, the eyes narrow, the face crinkled with deep lines, early wrinkles. The hair was straight and hung in clumps. The roots were darker, the lines more crudely drawn.

When Jake lifted his pencil, Rose stared back at him. Rose and Miss Lucy. Jake couldn’t explain why, but he felt a swelling in his throat, tears pricking at his eyes. He couldn’t tell if it was sadness or rage. It made his skin heat, made him burn. He crumpled the side-by-side portraits into a ball. Then uncrumpled and ripped them into pieces. The ragged squares fell to the ground like snow, soft and light.

Jacob stopped, took deep breaths, pressed cold hands to flushed cheeks, closed his eyes. He lifted his face to the weak sun. Then he gathered up the flakes, shoved them in the bag. Threw the bag across the street into the woods. He jammed the pencil back into his jeans pocket and resumed his earlier position: thin arms wrapped around knobby knees.

Paul still hadn’t come.

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Excerpt II

In a dingy house on the outskirts of town, where rusted cars without wheels rested on concrete blocks, where weeds and wild grass grew with abandon, where the burning sun never reached into the far corners of crumbling dwellings, lived Rose.

One of those houses was hers – or at least she thought of it that way. It belonged to her current flavor of the month, a truck driver named Bernie, but she considered anything that she liked as belonging to her.

Bernie worked odd hours, two weeks on the road, one week off. Right now he was on again, newly on again. They’d had a wild ride of a night before he left. She’d scored some meth, had stood over the white stove with its grimy top and blackened greasy burners, holding a cheap metal spoon over the flame. The meth heated and bubbled, and the spoon bent downward, slowly, slowly, slowly. Rose was mesmerized by the flame, by the liquid that would set her on fire. And the heat warmed her hands and her body and her mind.

Bernie had come up from behind, nuzzling her neck, grinding against her. He’d almost made her drop the spoon. She’d snapped at him, shoved him backwards, slapped him across the face. His eyes had burned like the flame, blue turning into orange, turning into red, until the blacks of his irises bored into her own.

Then she’d twisted off the flame and ripped off the plastic protector of the needle with yellow, decaying teeth to spit it on the floor. She set the spoon on the counter and carefully dipped the needle into the amber liquid. It rose in the plastic plunger, in time with Rose’s anticipation. She felt giddy, shivery, her skin puckering into goosebumps, her heart racing, her mouth wide open and smiling. Cackling.

She’d looked back at Bernie, whose eyes had faded from red to dull blue. He came up behind her again, twisting her around, pushing her against the counter, rubbing himself against her. Her eyes met his again, not with fear masked by aggression and belligerence, but with desire. For the drug. For him.

Bernie grabbed the rubber tourniquet lying next to the filthy sink, wrapped it around Rose’s left arm, squeezed it, tightened it. Rose’s head fell back. Then Bernie took the needle between stubby, thick fingers with dirt-framed nails, slid it into Rose’s arm, into a vein, and pushed down the plunger half way.

Rose closed her eyes, floating with sensation, with pleasure. The world was perfect, beautiful, colorful. Dreamy blues and yellows and greens, soft reds and oranges, gentle yellows, they glided on the back of her eyelids, against the black. Somewhere, she thought she heard a baby crying. Wet, sucking, needy sobs. Her sweet baby Jacob. She’d hold him, rock him, sing him lullabies in a sweet voice that knew no violence, no harm. It was so lovely, it was overwhelming. Beauty was so powerful.

As Rose cruised, she clenched her fists, ground her teeth, back and forth, back and forth, gnawing and gnawing. She half opened bleary eyes to see Bernie take the needle out of his arm. They staggered to the main room where a mattress lay on the floor, a wad of sheets in a ball on top. They fell, heavy with Bernie’s weight, but Rose shrieked with laughter.

Then Bernie tucked her head on his fleshy arm, and they watched the headlights sweeping through broken and jagged windowpanes play on the popcorn ceiling.

Later, as their high had worn off, when the sun had sizzled into the ground and the moon sent chilly air into the house, the night turned ugly. The wind grew claws, the broken windows grew fangs, the floor began to throb. The mattress shook uncontrollably, tossing the edges of the sheets to the floor, but the rest, the rest of the sheets – they crawled up Rose and Bernie’s bodies, tangled in their legs and their arms, around their necks. They yanked and stretched and pulled, and the sharp edges of the threadbare cloth nipped and sliced at bare flesh.

Rose pulled at the sheets, fought them with long nails, bit them. They wouldn’t let go. But Bernie attacked, jerked them off her, heaved them to the black abysmal floor, an ocean of darkness. Then his hands became bruising, his lips hard, his belt buckle like a razor. She helped him drag off the pants, the boxers, tugged at the coarse hair on his backside. He thrust into her, again and again and again, and she teetered on the knife-point edge between pain and pleasure. She screamed when her body erupted, screamed again when Bernie bit her ear, bit her neck, bit her shoulder. Slapped her across the face with one huge, blotchy red open palm.

In the morning when the sun threw the littered room into relief, she squinted open bloodshot eyes. Bernie had gone. Already driving, she thought. She sat up, bare white breasts sagging onto a concave stomach. Purple spots lined her arms, teeth marks adorned her neck and ears like diamonds. She wrapped thin arms around thin, knobby knees, lowered a mascara-stained cheek. The other cheek sported a pink handprint. A memento of the thrill.

Had she heard Jakey in the night? She remembered hearing a baby cry. Had it been her own sweet little baby? Confused, brain muddled and melting from drug use, she absently watched a fat, sleek rat nibble on old beans tripping out of an open and corroded can lying on its side.

She needed to find her baby. She needed to bring him home. With Mama.

Excerpt I

Dear readers,

The following is an excerpt from my NaNoWriMo project. Opinions welcome!

Happy reading!

***

Lucy stopped talking when she was five.

She’d been sitting in a hard plastic chair at the police station the morning after the fire. Her feet couldn’t reach the floor, so she began swinging her legs with abandon, higher and higher. She felt like she was kicking the air, striking it, hurting it with the toe of her pink sneaker. She didn’t know why she felt so angry. She just did.

But when the nice policeman, the one who said he had a daughter her age, came into the room and knelt down in front of her, she let her legs quiet down, let them turn off so they hung limply above the dirty linoleum floor.

“Hi, honey. Do you remember me? I’m Detective Bascom.”

Lucy nodded.

“You see this lady over there?” he asked, jerking his head toward a woman standing in the corner. The woman smiled gently at Lucy, shifting the heavy notebook in her arms to wave.

Lucy turned back to Detective Bascom, to his lined face and tired eyes.

“She’s going to take you to a new home today.”

Lucy’s eyes narrowed. She stuck her right thumb in her mouth, began sucking loudly. She’d quit sucking her fingers a year ago – that was for babies – but she needed her thumb today. Why did have to go with this woman? Where were her Mommy and Daddy and Baby Louis?

The detective reached out a hand to help Lucy out of the chair, to help lead her to the woman. Lucy unplugged her thumb and put her wet hand in the detective’s. He didn’t seem to mind.

She scooted off the chair, landing on the floor with a soft thud. Gazing downward, she planted her foot in the center of a linoleum square. One pink sneaker after the other. One square after the other.

“Hi, Lucy,” the woman said. “I’m Darla. I’m going to take you to get some food and some clothes. Then we’re going to meet your new family. How does that sound?”

Lucy stared at the woman, round blue eyes filled with uncertainty and suspicion.

“Where are my Mommy and Daddy and Baby Louis?”

Those were the last words Lucy spoke. And when she heard the answer, the wail melted out of her, and she cried and cried and cried.