It didn’t pay to be a writer; either he failed (and owed money) or got famous (and owed more money). Never a nice, easy “why dontcha take a thousand extra for good luck”, never a day the bank didn’t eye him out of the corner of their specs as if he was the heart and soul behind the crash of the stock market. Didn’t seem to matter to the banks that he’d never had money enough in one place to buy stocks. Even if he’d wanted them, he always added in a fierce tone, as if that made it better.
There were other problems, too, besides finances: dames didn’t like writers past a first date; no chance of finding a nice little wife with whom to build a nice little home and have a nice little family and receive the filial kiss from each child in the evening.
“You’ll write us into your nasty pulp novels!” the girls shrilled, and stroked his hand as if there was any danger in that.
He hated to tell them straight to their perky little faces, but those girls must have had a high opinion of their own value--or a low opinion of his ambition--to think he’d waste his talent on writing them into anything from soap-flake ad to prize-winning novel. Nothing doing. He didn’t take on every paper-doll that marched his way. He was after real characters. People with depth. Hemingway didn’t fuss around with chorus girls. Or, if he did, they were bound to have some deep psychological case.
Yes, a writer’s life was an empty bed and an emptier wallet. Not that Fitzwilliam Sheridan didn’t find it an education. He tried to take it philosophically. For instance: he’d never before experienced how many dozen ways you could cook dried beans till the royalties from his first novel had dried up. The latest recipe involved coffee and mustard-seeds; it hadn’t inspired a glamorous night. Nevertheless, the Merits of Dried Beans had gone into the Ladies’ Home Journal via “Mrs. Sheran Fitzwilliam” and--because all of America seemed wild about living off of no food and less money--it had been accepted and circulated among the upper circle of weary-eyed housewives.
“Manna from heaven!” one critic called the article.
Another tried: “And the gods ate black beans.”
But tonight, his stomach begged a more hospitable repast.
“Just one piece of bread!” He pressed two inky fingers to the bridge of his nose. “Is that too much to ask?”
Marvin, his resident annoyance, watched him pace the room. “Shut up, Fizzy.”
“I certainly can’t shut up if my stomach won’t! Beans might be all right for Mrs. Sheran Fitzwilliam, but old Fizzy Sheridan isn’t feeling quite so chipper!” He eyed the sheet of paper in his typewriter cannibal-wise. “Do you think paper is so terribly awful?”
“Taste, or the effect if has on the old dietary system?” Marvin’s nose was broken right across the middle, and he nursed this hurt with a chunk of raw, red meat.
“Marv, please,” Fizzy begged.
He saw Marvin’s eyes travel from his face to the steak he held in his fist. “Uh, no.” He screwed his eyes shut and applied the meat again.
Marvin opened one eye. “This is medical material, kid. It’s practically a bandage or--or iodine or something.”
“It’s meat. It’s life.”
“It’s expensive.” That was all Marvin would say on the matter.
He sponged at his nose with the beef while Fizzy felt himself being torn apart from the inside outward. In a matter of moments, Marvin would probably be able to see straight through his vest to the rusty heater on the other side of the room.
Musicians had a much better life than writers. Fizzy deliriously wondered if it was too late in life to take up jazz piano.
-Mob Ink by Rachel Heffington (comic novel)
The blue of heaven upended seemed to spill into the river till Mary Ridd was unsure where the sky stopped and the river-water began. How strange it was that the water looked like laughter now, where it had been filled with blood and bodies in her dreams the night before. At the thought, she pulled her feet from the lapping of the waves, and onto the gravel-strewn beach where it was warmer, and the water could not touch her like a dead thing.
There had been a young militiaman floating here--drowned--in the dream. She'd seen his hair rising and falling with the breath of the river, tangling in the water-weeds, and she'd felt suffocated with the knowledge that there was nothing she could do to stop this war. There was nothing she would do, even if faced with an opportunity. Fear. The shame had not left with awakening.
“Mary. Mary, chit, where are you?” It was Nathaniel’s voice coming bold onto the beach through the pass cut into the red clay bluffs.
Mary scrambled to her feet and pulled her stays into their proper position. “Here, Nat.”
“Ah. Mary.” Nathaniel scuffed his bare foot in the sand--he seldom wore a shoe on his good leg--and grinned at her in the way that always made her think of a seagull--a one-legged seagull at that. “Mary, mother and father have been waiting for you. What have you been at all this time?”
“Thinking.” Mary slipped her feet into her black leather clogs and grimaced at the feel of sand gritty beneath her heel.
“What need have women to think?”
Mary knew he said it to vex her, but she eyed him sternly. “I have need.”
“Have you?” Nat’s sea-gull’s smile flashed again, and he tossed back his head with a short, confident laugh as like a gull’s as anything Mary had heard. She shoved past Nat and dug her heels into the beach, struggling to walk gracefully in the dragging sand. At the pass in the cliff, Mary turned about and took a last view of the blue-on-blue river and sky. Nat ambled over, and the wind teased a few strands of blond hair out of his pigtail.
“The James is beautiful, isn’t she?”
“She is,” Mary murmured in agreement.
Mary felt herself blush under Nat’s keen question. How did he always know when she thought more than she spoke? “But it is a passing beauty, is it not?”
A shadow like the beauty Mary spoke of crossed Nat’s face. He frowned, and his eyebrows were so light they looked like cloud-play on his forehead. “You’re thinking of the war again, aren’t you?”
“Aye. And yet Father told you to stop troubling yourself with matters you can’t do anything about.”
Mary undid the ribbons of her straw hat and swung it by it’s strings and she and Nathaniel continued on the hard-packed red trail winding up the bluff. “It is the waiting and doing nothing that frightens me.”
“And the same that vexes me, Mary. But because I’m an Oak-Johnny the militia didn’t want me.”
He thumped his wooden peg and Mary glanced down at the oaken leg with the breeches buckled neatly around the stump. She seldom thought about Nathaniel’s leg since he’d lost it the year the War began. It had been four years since, and their beautiful corner of Virginia--the Isle of Wight--had changed little. The young men had disappeared by twos and threes, but then, Mary had never been bold enough to take much notice of gentlemen. Perhaps that was the reason she was nineteen and still unwed. So many girls fretted night and day that all the lads were gone to war and would likely be killed, and then there should be no men to marry. Sometimes Mary found it easy to forget there was such a thing as a War of Independence.
Easy, at least, in the daytime. It was the nightmare that plagued her and made her shun the River.
The same dream.
The same face floating in the weeds.The same sense of shame when she admitted the war inspired her with nothing but a wish to flee the county and fly somewhere far away where the only neighbors were red-winged blackbirds, and she was alone with none but Nathaniel for company.
-The Green Branding by Rachel Heffington (historical fiction)
Her family loved Jesus but that didn’t mean they weren’t flat-out crazy sometimes--heck, most times.
Lindy might’ve only been twelve, but she knew lots of things most kids didn’t know--kids as old as Ben Fayette, their neighbor, who attended Duke Meadows High and thought hisself all that and more. And one of the things Lindy knew sure and certain was that her family was a little bit crazy.
Sometimes this bothered her, and other times it was fun.
Today was fun.
Lindy and her older brother, Dagger, had gone out to get them last few berries from the path behind Marvin’s Hardware and now they were runnin’ all over that part of the woods callin’ and mocking the walker-hounds let loose to chase the deer toward hunters in the nearby fields. Lindy could hear the baying in every direction.
“Aooow!” Lindy’s ponytail bounced against her back as she sprang onto and over a mushy log and the hot crush of a July in Duke County made the sweat pour down her neck. Somewheres to her right the hounds were yelling.
“Aoowoowoo!” That was Dagger. Sounded to Lindy like he’d reached the thin part of the woods to her right, near the post office and neighborhood streets.
“Wowowooaw,” Lindy bawled and ripped undergrowth out of her way with both hands. Right now she didn’t care about anything--didn’t care about the milk-carton of berries they’d left behind, didn’t care ‘bout ripping her jeans shorts or gettin’ ticks or anything. It was all gobbled up in the pure joy of runnin’ runnin’ runnin’ after the hounds.
The woods sorta cleared right in front of her and in the middle, next to a scrubby holly-bush, sat a pretty little she-pup. She blinked at Lindy and her ears worked back and forth.
“Ain’t you a purdy little...gal...” Lindy knew the real name for she-pups but she’d said it once at Sunday-school and been told that Jesus wouldn’t like her usin’ such words. Lindy didn’t guess Jesus would care that much--’specially since her Daddy taught her that word right along with “mare” and “ewe” and “cow” and “queen”--but all the same she’d quit talking about hunting dogs at church.
The little hound came over, pressed its warm, whiskery muzzle against Lindy’s bare leg and licked at her sweat. The dog’s tail-end trembled like she thought Lindy might kick her, but she kept licking and Lindy reached a hand down and scratched the pup in the spot at the base of its tail where Dagger’s dog, Blimp, liked it best.
“Bet you ain’t used to being chased by howlin’ kids,” she said. The hound licked Lindy’s hand experimentally. “Bet you ain’t had a good meal in a while.” Hunters kept their dogs just a little hungry all the time so they’d want to come back to the kennels at night and there’d be less dogs to track down by radio-collar.
Lindy took half a roll of Life Savers from her pocket and sorted out the green ones, tossing them into the dog’s mouth one by one.
“Don’t choke on ‘em, now,” she said.
“‘Course she ain’t gonna choke on ‘em, Lindy. They’ve got holes in ‘em.”
“So’s your head.” Lindy turned around with a grin as Dagger crashed into the clearing and leaned against a persimmon tree, breathin’ hard.
“‘Bout ready to go home? he asked.
“Yeah.” Lindy let the dog lick the stickiness from her fingers, then wiped her palms on the seat of her shorts. “Ready.”
Lindy led the way back to the blackberry thicket and Dag fell in step behind her. The late sun made long sticks on the ground out of their arms and legs and Lindy tried walking like a preying mantis.
“Look at me, Dag. I’m a preacher-bug.”
He yanked her ponytail and their shadows jumbled together like a stand of bean-poles.
“Dagger, why’s our family gotta be crazy?”
“What d’you mean, ‘crazy’?”
That’s what Lindy liked about her brother--he listened to her, most times.”What I mean is, Miss Mavis and Uncle Biggs live with us, and we don’t have a car and we don’t go to normal school and Momma can’t cook and Daddy grows weeds for a livin’.”
“You gotta stop sayin’ that, Lindy!”
“Cuz’ Daddy grows clover. For the bees.”
“Yeah, but clover’s weeds. It grows in the mobile-home park.”
“But you can’t keep callin’ it weeds.”
Dagger shrugged and moved in front of Lindy to beat a path into the brambles. “It sounds bad, Lindy. Just don’t say it.”
Lindy let out a huge raggedy sigh and slapped a mosquito on her wrist, leaving a bloody smudge. “People are just plain annoyin’. I can’t say ‘weeds’, I can’t say ‘bitch’--”
“There you go too! Wish somebody’d tell me why instead a’getting mad at me all the time.”
Dagger turned around and placed his big hands on either side of her shoulder. Great, now she was in for a lecture. He looked just like Daddy, only without the black hair. Dagger’s was blond and short and grew into a widdow’s peak on his forehead. “There’s some things that mean two things at once. It’s called a...double entendre.” He frowned while saying the fancy word and Lindy stored it away at the back of her brain as one more thing Ben Fayette probably wouldn’t know.
“It means that you might say ‘weed’ but people might take it as something else--something bad. Like drugs.”
“Oh,” Lindy said. “I get it.” But she didn’t, really.
“Yeah.” Dagger left his right hand on Lindy’s left shoulder and steered her back to the little wedge they’d trampled into the berry patch. He handed her the battered, purple-stained milk carton full of blackberries and smiled. “Don’t you worry your head, Lindy-girl. It ain’t your fault people ruin perfectly good words by givin’ ‘em trashy meanings.”They crawled out of the berry patch on the hardware side of things and Lindy could feel the heat from the grey, crackled asphalt creeping up through the rubber soles of her sneakers. It felt good, like propping your feet up against the wood-stove door or dipping ‘em in a warm bathtub. Mr. Marvin, the hardware store owner waved at them from the front of the store where he slouched against the door, talking to an old man in a blue pickup.
-Honeybee Miles by Rachel Heffington (southern fiction)
Kat Durrant hitched the strap of her bag higher on her shoulder and stooped so the air-vent would quit drilling into her scalp. The ceiling of the puddle-jumper plane pushed against her like a hand trying its best to shove her onto the tarmac. Thanks a million but she was just as eager as anyone to leave the confines of the bottle-rocket that had been her home for the last eight hours. Paris was great and everything but the RER was a picnic compared to the elegance of a Boeing 757 for a transatlantic escapade.
“Can you move?” She tapped her seat-mate’s arm.
He looked up, confused. “Oh...sorry.” With painstaking slowness the guy eased out of his chair and into the aisle where he bumped into a black woman and an Arabian man. “Sorry,” he said again.
Kat nipped back a sigh. What was he, the king of klutz? His brow pinched as he fumbled in the overhead bin and Kat smelled a faint aroma of men’s deodorant and cherry coke on him. Not like he wasn’t cute or anything, but Kat could never sleep on flights and eight hours staring at his face--yeah, a pretty nice one--only to find out he was Clumsymodo himself didn’t put her in a good mood. She’d made big plans those eight hours. Plans about how nice he’d be if he’d wake up...what great conversation they’d have...how he’d ask for her number as they slid onto an American runway.
Tough luck, Katherine. She shoved past the man, stopping only to drag her beaten purple carry-on out of the bin while Dodo there was still fishing around for his. What the heck did the dude think he was doing, blocking half the plane from escaping the sardine tin just because he hadn’t been sensible enough to group his junk beforehand, disregarding rules about keeping your seatbelt fastened?
Kat waddled down the aisle, straddling her carry-on and trying to make herself as small as possible. She gave a glazed half-smile to the skinny stewardess whose hose puddled around her ankles. A frightened blink went to the steward who’d just about made her wet her pants by jogging her elbow out of the anonymous darkness and asking if she wanted anything to drink. Come to think of it, her neighbor had been awake then and grinned at her fright like it was a joke or something. Kat threw a short glance backward but couldn’t see him. So long, dude.
She saw him once more on the moving sidewalk and again at baggage claim. So he must be a New Yorker. Funny, she’d assumed he’d be taking a connecting flight like most other people. Though he looked not quite so clumsy by the time she saw him at baggage claim, he still didn’t acknowledge the fact that they’d been neighbors for what felt to Katherine like the better part of a month. Not a wave, not a smile. Certainly not a “where do you live?”
Kat checked her watch: twelve-thirty-three a.m. Great. Not like she wasn’t used to NYC at night, but coming from a little town in Virginia, it still creeped her out sometimes. Especially compared to Paris. What was it about Paris that made this city seem dark and homeless and scarred with graffiti? Maybe the fact that it was. Kat pushed through the doors into the cold embrace of the city’s night and stopped with her toes hanging off the curb, hoping one of the taxis would ignore everyone else who looked like they knew what they were doing and pick her up. She prayed it’d be someone who knew English.
“Hola senora!” The man leaning into the passenger seat of the cab reeked of cigarettes and fried twinkies.
Kat bit her lip, summoned a smile, and nodded. “Bed-Stuy.”
He stared at her for a second. What? Did he think everyone in the neighborhood was black? So what if young, unmarried white women weren’t exactly the norm in Bedford-Stuyvesant? She’d been lucky to find a nice apartment for cheap in the neighborhood: quiet neighbors, small backyard, shopping within reach--all for a comparatively piddling $1000 a month which was pretty much unheard of given the recent mania for brownstone flats.
She climbed into the cab and pretended to fall asleep so she wouldn’t have to try to make conversation this late at night with a guy who didn’t appear to know English. They pulled away from the curb and into the clump of taxis draining from the airport in a slow spiral.
-Brownstone by Rachel Heffington (contemporary fiction)