Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Snippets: Of Cats and Claws and Curiosities part 1

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I'm way late getting this ready to post. It has been one of those days. I got a few hours of sleep this morning after Ed left for work but the first time I got disturbed, I got up and got back to work. Didn't even go make coffee first.

Still putting most of my time into reading drafts and notes, organizing files, converting files and tweaking that timeline. But I have got some new word count. Can't say exactly how much as it is all added here and there in different files. I'm guessing between 1000 and 1500. I was trying to get everything set up so that I could keep all the new material separate from the old so I could do more precise word count. But that was going to take hours more of file set up. I thought it was more important to start adding content when the impulse was strong as I was reviewing the old drafts.

I have slept only in small chunks since Monday morning when I dove into Sven's Sweat lodge. My body may be getting even with this massive sore throat I've had for three days solid. Thought I was coming down with a cold but so far it is just the sore throat. Possibly a mild fever but it is hard to tell what with the temps here in the valley running between the high nineties and low hundreds and the naturally fevered state of my mind whenever I go on one of these story binges.

And then we had out of town company this evening and I couldn't be anti-social the whole time...

Enough rambling. Following is the first part of the first story of the first 'book' of my Fruits of the Spirit storyworld. I put 'book' in quotes as I'm still unsure whether this would make a better novel or series of novels. The overarching title for all the stories will be By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them. This story is from the book featuring Faith (the character and the theme) and it's title will be The Substance of Things Hoped For. (Which is also the title of one of the stories or chapters within it.)

This is about 2000 words and comprises one third of this story. I will post the next part next Friday. And the next the Friday after that. I'm not sure yet whether there will be three or four sections. I look for natural breaks in the action to split them.

Please let me be clear that this is not the new material which counts for the challenge.

Of Cats and Claws and Curiosities

by Joy Renee

The three women ensconced within the 1957 Chevy Bellaire were as incongruous to the car as were its neon purple paint and hot pink fake-fir seat covers. The driver--so short she peered through the upper hemisphere of the steering wheel to see out--with her rakishly cut flame-red hair, might be mistook for a child from behind. But the only state trooper to make that mistake was effusively apologetic upon pulling her over to find directed at him the drill-sergeant eyes in a leathery face and the chilling voice of one well used to authority. “Young man! I’ll have you know that unless there’s some law against driving two miles under the speed limit you have nothing on me.” After that word went out along I5--especially that portion between Longview and Vancouver, Washington--that the ‘little boy’ driving the purple Chevy was not to be hassled unless ‘he’ really violated the law.

The tall, patrician featured woman next to the driver could never have been mistaken for a child--probably not even in her childhood. Steel-gray hair, peeled back from chiseled features, coiled like a spring atop a head set sculpture-like upon a long column of neck. She sat erect, an ear cocked to the radio.

“…apparent it was the creamer, not the coffee, the unknown perpetrator infused with ipecac. It is now thought by police to be a Halloween gag--but neither the four diner owners nor the six victims are laughing. Will the Ghoulish Gagger strike again? His favorite haunts seem to be…”

“How can they be so irresponsible?” Wilma snapped the radio off in disgust. “They must realize this criminal can as well use a deadly poison. What possesses them to joke about it?’

Julia shrieked with laughter. “Oh that’s good, that’s good. They got you Wilma, even you, using their silly Halloween vocab. ‘Ghoulish prankster, ‘Favorite haunts,’ ‘What possesses them?’ They’re playing this Halloween angle to the hilt. That’s what possesses them. You’re so dense Wilma.”

Laughter froze in Julia’s throat as she looked up into the cobalt-blue of Wilma’s reproving gaze. “Halloween is not for nearly nine weeks. I do not see the connection.” Wilma faced firmly forward, the coil of hair atop her head drilled into the fabric of the ceiling, punctuating her remark.

Calmer, Julia spoke with less derision. “The connection? Maybe a bewildered cop thinking out loud in front of the press said something like: ‘If this was October I’d call this a simple Halloween gag.’ and that was translated: ‘It is now thought by the police…’ That’s the game they play.” When Wilma did not reply, Julia shrugged and gravid silence grew between them.

This silence unnerved Faye. As much as she disliked bickering--the merest hint of discord could fret her for hours--she could not imagine her twin sister and sister-in-law’s relationship without it. That is why she would often let them have at it until there was a clear winner or impasse and then try to distract them. For if there was one thing they both relished as much as one-upping each other it was teasing her.

“I wonder if Wilma could please crack her window a mite.” Faye’s chirpy voice, barely audible, emerged from her nest of parcels in the back seat. “I can’t reach my handles and it’s getting awfully stuffy in here.

“What’s that, sis? Speak up so’s we can hear you.” Julia spoke in chorus with Wilma’s: “It is well known that a direct breeze is not good for one.

When Wilma made no move to open her window, Faye scrunched her shoulders around her ears, retreating to her perch atop the plethora of packages from their Labor Day sales hopping, and tried to smooth her ruffled courage by running her fingers through her snow-white fluff of curls.

“Pshaw, Velma!” The hated nickname was a jab at Wilma’s bossiness. “One must be wary of believing what is well known.” Julia parodied Wilma’s fastidious diction. “The truth is you couldn’t bear for one strand of hair to escape that bun and would broil us all to insure it. But if you’d rather not crack your window so’s we can get a cross breeze, I’ll just roll mine down.” Julia reached for her crank.

“If you insist.” Air whistled through the tiny crack. “Do keep both hands on the wheel Julia. One must be prepared for all contingencies. Statistics show…”

"Oh, shtistics, shmistics. I’ve driven fifty years without one close call, I figure I must be doing something right.” She hooked an index finger over the lower rim of the steering wheel and sat on her other hand, casting a so-there-look at Wilma who squared her shoulders and fixed her eyes on the road.

Lulled by the heat and monotonous hum of the tires, Faye drowsed. Julia, glimpsing her in the rearview mirror, warned her, “Don’t fall asleep. We’re stopping for dinner shortly.” Faye started and Julia gave a sharp, staccato laugh. “Poor Faye! We done wore her out. Do you suppose gals, that we made any kind of dent in the Portland bargain basements this year? Judging by my feet and the loot piled in here, it sure seems so.” Then, laughing so hard she could barely get the next words out, “Probably the most impressive thing we’re bringing back is all the fancy sacks with the high-faluting logos on them. For the next few months we can awe the garbage man with the quality of our wastebasket liners. Eh, roomy?” She jabbed Wilma with her elbow and slapping her own leg with one hand, she laughed uproariously at her own joke.

“Our garbage collector is female.” Wilma said.

"Oh Sister, you’re terrible.” Faye giggled.

“The speed limit on this off ramp is 35.” said Wilma. “You had better…”

“Yes. Yes. Wilma. I know. You never fail to remind me. I often wonder why you never got your license. You must have every off ramp speed-limit between Salem and Seattle memorized. It’s truly a shame to let such knowledge go to waste.” Julia slowed and signaled as they neared the exit.

Wilma’s retort was cut off by a gasp from Faye as a motorcycle swooped up from behind, passed on their right and cut in front of Julia just as they left the freeway. Startled, Julia swerved to the right. The rear tire hit the gravel and spun uselessly, but she kept control and quickly regained the pavement.

“Faith, I’m amazed at you! You know better than to startle the driver. I saw him. There was plenty of room.”

“Stop!” Faye pled, frenetically kneading the seat-back in front of her with pudgy fingers.

“Why, whatever for?” Julia said as Faye scrambled over packages toward the door.“You weren’t hurt?”

“No. A cat. Please stop.” She fumbled for the door handle.

Julia pulled to a stop on the gravel. Frantic, Faye had the door open before the car stopped and tumbled out, but catching hold of the door she kept a semblance of balance. She winced as stocking-clad feet hit sharp heat-honed rocks but did not consider returning for the shoes earlier removed from tired, aching feet. The searing heat of the asphalt was but a bit more bearable, but she forged ahead for fear she would be too late.

She hurried toward the place she had seen a cat crouched in the high weeds, stalking a seagull investigating a clump of litter. As they had passed she had twisted to watch as it prepared to pounce. The bird, startled by their car, had winged across the ramp in their wake and the cat, undaunted, had launched itself after it, missing but only by a claw-length.

Faye had been thrilled by this little drama until the motorcycle had roared onto the ramp, swerving (she could have sworn, purposefully) towards the cat. She had been sick with helpless horror to see the little body flung into the weeds. These ones, right here. She knelt beside the bloody, unmoving, mangled body of the cat.

A tear slipped onto her cheek--silent tribute to the life-loving life now gone, to the frolicking in sun-warmed grass forever stilled, to the purrs of contentment forever cut off, to the thrill of the hunt and of the pounce nevermore to be savored. Her moment of mourning broken by the sound of tires on gravel, she looked up to see her own open door slide into view as Julia backed towards her. Gratefully she rose and hobbled across the gravel toward it.

Braced by the door as there was no room to sit on the overflowing seat, she fumbled first among castoff candy wrappers and pop cans on the floor for her black pumps, eased them with care onto sore swollen feet, ignoring all the while Julia’s insistent, questions.

It was after all her car. Leastwise her dear Inny’s. Though she had refused to drive it since that fateful day nigh onto ten years now, when the man she knew, the man she had loved and shared thirty years of a childless (though far from barren) marriage, was taken from her and replaced by the simulacrum that now sat away the weeks in a foster home, withered in body and mind…so, although she had taken a back seat in the Chevy of late and allowed her twin to chauffeur and otherwise coddle her, it was still her car. Hers and Inny’s.

So she let Julia rattle on as she rummaged among the sacks and found a large, sturdy paper bag with handles. She dumped out a leather handbag, several leather belts and a pair of ankle-high suede boots, opened the handbag and transferred its tissue paper stuffing back to the bag.

“There’s blood on your hands! Your blouse! Your ankles!” With each word Julia’s voice raised a note on the register of hysteria. “In the name of whatever’s holy, Faith! Will you please tell me what’s going on?”

“Not mine. The cat’s.” Faye wiped sweat out of her eyes, leaving a smudge of blood across her fore head. “That…that cretin killed it!” She stuffed boots and belts into the handbag and returned it to the pile. “I’m taking it home for a proper burial.” And she was off before Julia could respond.

Julia would be fuming when she returned, but a done-deed was not undoable by debate. Let her stew. There were few enough times Faye ventured to thwart her twin. Confident in the correctness of her cause she felt infused with the same bold, assurance she so envied in her sister.

The task of putting the dead cat in the bag was quickly and unceremoniously accomplished. Save the ceremony for the burial this evening, she anticipated, when the cool-soft breezes of sundown sweep in off the river. Climbing into the car slightly out of breath, her cheeks a hectic red, she placed the bag atop the assorted parcels. It blended right in, an innocuous companion.

“Faith, Hope and Charity!” Julia exclaimed. “To borrow an oh so apt phrase: What has possessed you? We all know you’re dotty about cats, but this is ludicrous! Even for you!”

Faye met Julia’s eyes with steady gaze. She feared if she tried to speak her fa├žade of defiance would fall. When Julia looked away first, it seemed as though a tectonic plate had shifted under her, leaving her to peer across a gaping fault-line at her twin. She felt sweet satisfaction for standing up to Julia, and for that, she felt bitter shame.

“It is a hazard for off-ramp traffic to idle so close to the freeway.” Wilma broke the spell. “A ticket-able offense if no emergency is evident.” It seemed her very words conjured out of the heat-shimmer the patrol car just then gliding to a stop behind them.

To be continued...

I couldn't figure out how to subscribe to the auto-link code for Friday Snippets so I'm sending you to one participant I know about who does have it installed. There you can find more Friday Snippet participants

Ann at Fractured Fiction

Other Sweating for Seventy participants can be found here:

5 tell me a story:

Ann 7/14/2007 6:03 AM  

Nice snippet, I like the interactions between the three ladies. Welcome to the club.

Bri 7/14/2007 10:46 AM  

I really enjoyed this! Each of the three ladies is wonderfully characterized. Their dialog also read nicely (it's the thing I don't do so well so I was impressed!) Glad you're doing Friday Snippets and I look forward to next weeks!

Gabriele Campbell 7/14/2007 11:20 AM  

Aww, poor cat. Faye is right to give it a decent burial.

Joely Sue Burkhart 7/14/2007 7:28 PM  

Welcome to Friday Snippets! Oh, that poor cat. I'm very curious to how the relationships and burial will all play out.

Jean 7/15/2007 12:13 PM  

Interesting interactions between the three ladies. And I'm wondering what happens next. Looking forward to next week's episode.

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