Monday, January 07, 2013

500 Days and Proofing my Forthcoming Book!

Yesterday, as I eased back into the swing of post-vacation life, I got an email from my wonderful editor at Trio House Press that contained proofs of my forthcoming book, Gold Passage.  WOW!  What a cool moment to see it finally in book form (albeit in PDFs).  It is still hard to believe that my full length book is coming out!  You can pre-order at the Trio House Press website.  The book will be released at AWP in Boston.  More details about AWP coming soon.

Today, I am back writing in my office: a little studio up away from our house on the hillside.  Vacation was wonderful, but it is so good to be back at my writing desk. The next section of 500 Days is Jane's back story - what her life was like just after she discovered her mother's body, and how and why she ended up working as a prostitute in Pithole.  Hope you enjoy!

Jane Remembers What the Weight of Snow Feels Like

I can remember when the only thing I had left to lose was my breath.  The life I had left in me.  I remember burrowing myself in the snow outside the cabin after finding my mother, after I saw the blood blossoming from her body on the wooden floor of the cabin.  After I saw her, after I bent double and retched, I ran out into the meadow.  Then, the world moved in stopped motion -- picture by picture.  First, my mother's limp body spilling blood, then the snow glistening in the grey afternoon light, then the spindles of trees spinning around me, seemingly holding up the sky.  I remember pulling the snow around me, tucking myself into the cold of it.  Wanting the cold weight to hold me down.  Then, I remember the darkness, the weight, the way my breath grew stale and the sounds that grew out of me like an animal.  Then, the darkness.  The nothingness.  I remember coming to in a panic, I remember my body shaking uncontrollably.  My arms inadvertently digging and digging myself out.  Then, I remember the dull stars staring at me.  The clear night covering everything like a shroud.  I walked and walked to the next house.  I don't know what carried me, what drove me.  But, somehow my steps continued.  There was a candle lit at the cabin next to the Mill.  When I knocked, a young man answered.  He was disheveled as if I'd just woke him up, but he took one look at me and grabbed my arm.  I know I looked like death.  I looked as hollow as I felt.  I had no words in my heart, in my throat, but I somehow I manage to say, "My mother is dead" before everything left me and I fell to the floor.

When I came to I was bundled in a wool blanket on a pallet by the hearth.  Behind me I heard a swarm of whispers.  Someone was shaking snow off their boots.  I remember thinking, they've seen her.  They know.  I remember thinking there was nothing left.  Just then the young man walked over to me.  "Hi" he said, "You're back!"  I recognize him now that he is close and I am back in my senses.  He's the boy who brings us wood sometimes.  He's the hand at the Mill.  Not part of the family who owns it, he only works there.  We've spoken a few times, mainly about the weather, or the snares I've set all over the woods.  Whenever we've spoken he's seemed genuinely interested in what I have to say. Today though, the world has become another place.  My mother was my only kin that I know of.  Without her to take care of, I don't know what to do with myself.  I feel like a stream that has just been undammed.  I'm rushing out of my banks into an un-carved path.

"Can I get you something warm to drink."  He asks.

"Yes."  I nod, still shivering.  Not sure what my body is made of.  I feel delicate as a bird, as if my bones are hollow and light but at my center I am grounded by a deep stone weight.  This must be what sorrow feels like, I think.  And immediately I know that the only way I'll ever rid myself of this weight is to go far, far away.  Every time I close my eyes and see the blood blossoming out from my mother’s head like a crown.  I replay my last words to her.  I try to look closer at the last moments I saw her face to remember what I saw.  What could I have noticed that would have changed her fate?  It's no use though.  The memories play back in a haze.  One fuzzy picture blurs into the next.  The boy is back at my side with a steaming cup. He places the cup in my hands and squats next to me and for a moment I feel something like safety, or warmth.  Before it passes, before the stone rolls back into my throat, before the men, the blast of cold air from the outside air, swarms around me and covers me in a hollow sadness.

"Are you Jane?" the man asks roughly.  When I look up, I can't make out his face, I only see his large looming frame blotting out the doorway’s light.

"Yes" I say quietly, my voice still shaking from the cold.  "I'm Jane."

"We need to have a talk."  He says and with those words my life is changed forever. 

“We found your Ma.  I’m real sorry for your loss.  But, that cabin you been living in ain’t yours.  You been squatting on our property.”  He says and a stern look washes over his face.

It takes a moment for his words to sink in.  For a few seconds I am able to walk on top of their sense the way I could walk lightly on the crust of snow without sinking when I hunted in winter. 

“What I’m trying to say is, you can’t stay here.  It’s against the law.”

The words hit me like a slap.   My mother, not dead a day, and already I’m homeless.  What kind of man is this?  I think.  I look around me at the room I’m in, tears wetting my cheeks.  It’s a warm room.  There are wooden chairs, a table, there is evidence of someone having been here, of someone meaning to stay here.  At the hearth, the young boy looks at me and I can see how sorry he is in his eyes.

“I understand.”  I say and get to my feet.  “I won’t trouble you no more.”

“No ma’am you don’t have to leave right now.  Why don’t you stay for supper.  I just wanted you to know your situation.”

“I don’t want your food.”  I scowl, striding to the door.  “I don’t want nothing from you.” I say as I walk out the door.

Today, as I sit at the hearth with Diana and Emmy I remember that day.  It washes over me like the cool air that stained me as I walked out that door.   When I walked back to the cabin, I found they’d cleaned up my Momma’s body.  Well, at least they done that.  I think.  I sit with her cold, blue body and rock and rock until I realize how cold I’ve begun.  Just then, I hear a snap of branches and look up.  At the hearth is the boy, building a fire.  He says simply, “I don’t mean to disturb you, but I thought you might be cold.”  I look at him with whatever thanks I can muster.  I know he doesn’t expect words.  He just turns and finishes making the fire then strides out.  After he’s left I see the small bundle he’s left at the door. 

As the room warms, I let sense wash over me.  I make a list of what I must do in my mind.  I must bury my mother.  I must gather our things.  I must find a place to go.   I set my mother’s empty body gently down, rise, and walk to the hearth.  It takes a while before I can feel my hands again.  Once I do, I walk to the door and open the pack.  Inside is fresh loaf of bread, some dried meat and a jug of something to drink.  It isn’t much, but the gift of it, the risk I know he took to bring it to me, fills me with more warmth than the hearth.

It takes me a long time to walk into town to find the undertaker.  He looks me up in down when I walk in the door.  But I just look hard back at him.  I need a coffin.  I say.  “And a place to keep my Momma until the ground thaws.”

He just guffaws.  “You got any money?”

 I say, “I got some.” 

“Okay.”  He says, “how much?”

 I lay out the few dollars I’ve found in the cabin and flatten them on the counter.  He snickers.  “Girl, that ain’t enough to bury a small child.”

I say. “ I’m good for it.  I’m going to work.”

“Huh, he grunts.  “What you gonna do?”

“ I don’t know.”  I answer honestly.  “Whatever it takes.” 

“In that case, he says.  I got an idea for you.  He says looking me up in down.  There’s jobs up in that new town Pithole.  You head up there and you gonna find work.  I’ll keep your mother and bury her when the ground thaws, but it’s going to cost you.”

“Yes, sir.”  I say.  I leave, and return to the cabin.  It doesn’t take long to pack it all up.  We didn’t have much.  When I walk out, I know it is for good and I try to remember the place.  I try to remember it without the blood blooming from my mother, without the cold that has seeped into me and seems never to leave even when I stand next to a blazing hearth. 

In just a day I’ll be a prostitute in Pithole.  I’ll be beaten and raped.  I’ll be forced to sleep with man after man until I can’t remember who I am.  But, each week I’ll receive my pay and I’ll send it to the undertaker and I know my mother will be properly buried.  Just a few weeks ago, he finally wrote saying the debt had been paid and my mother had been buried.  I felt so relieved, but at the same time empty, knowing I’d never see her again.  Knowing, it would likely be a long time before I’d even get to pay my respects at her grave.

But today, all that has changed.  Today, I feel warmth again sitting around the hearth.  Thanks to Diana, thanks to Emmy, I am beginning to remember who I was, I am beginning to remember who I am, and who I could possibly be someday, again.

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