Friday, July 30, 2010

Fiction Friday

Chapter VII

“What are you talking about?” Wayne advanced on her.

“Your story,” Jackie quavered getting quickly to her feet, backing towards the cluster of chairs that surrounded a small reading table and stack of well-worn soft covers left by years of guests, “I knew it sounded familiar but honestly Wayne, reciting the back of a romance novel?” Jackie’s hand found the book she had been reading out of sheer boredom that morning when the maid came by.

Wayne never stopped moving towards her and as she picked up the book, he lunged forward grabbing for her wrist. “You’ve got it all wrong, Jackie; I was just…having some fun.”

Jackie dodged him, throwing the book at his chest, “A young daughter of a wealthy restaurant owner, forced to marry the man her father favors when who she really loves is the lowly, waiter?” Jackie recited as she backed towards the door leading to the wide hallway that bridged the long gap between the reading room and the guest rooms.

“I know, it’s uncanny, isn’t it?” Wayne laughed, “Jackie, you are way off base,” he lunged towards her again and tripped over the corner of an ottoman.

Jackie turned and ran into the dark hallway that led away from the warm glow of the reading room.

Her feet made barely a noise on the thick carpet as she pounded through the pitch dark hall. She didn’t dare turn to see where Wayne was, but she was certain he was coming after her.

Wayne had killed her, Jackie’s frantic thoughts chanted; Wayne killed the maid—why? Maybe she knew he was in love with Mrs. Carson. Did Mr. Carson know? Jackie wondered. She kept running until her bare feet slapped onto the stone flooring of the elevator lobby. Three hallways lead away from the elevator in different directions. Three hallways each lined with rooms. Jackie’s was down the hallway to the right, but would Wayne know that?

She had to decide quickly but didn’t know where to go. Then in an instant, Jackie knew what to do. She ran down the hall to the left, looking back, expecting to see Wayne coming through the dark after her. She saw nothing and after a few feet, turned quickly and ducked into the stairwell. She was three floors up from the garden level.

The skin of her feet slapped the dirty cement stairs as she raced downward. Just then she heard the door over head squeak open. Jackie froze, trying to control her breathing. Overhead she heard footsteps, shuffle slowly into the stairwell.

“Jackie?” Wayne’s voice broke the silence sweetly, as if he was waking a sleeping child.

Jackie’s blood ran cold. She held her back still against the wall. There was silence.

A moment later, she heard a small shuffling on the floor and the door squeaked again and banged shut.

Jackie waited, not daring to move. Silence. Jackie held her breath and began plummeting down the stairs, again, three at a time.

When Jackie reached the bottom, her hand shot out to grab the handle but an instant before she made contact, the handle dipped down and Jackie shot back, ducking underneath the stairs.

The door flew open, banging the wall behind it. Jackie held her breath. A great scuffle sounded as two people came stumbling backwards into the stairwell.

There was a whoop and holler and loud laughter, high heels scraped the cement floor. Jackie poked her head out from under the stairs and exhaled.

“Susan!” Jackie breathed and lunged forward, peeling her reeling body out of the arms of an equally reeling Trevor.

Susan startled in slow-motion and took a moment to focus on Jackie’s face, then grinned, “Jackie! Where the heck have you been?”

“Susan,” Jackie almost burst into tears seeing her familiar face.

“Jackie, what is it?” Susan asked, her smile disappearing.

“Susan, I’m in trouble.”

Susan turned to Trevor, who was leaning casually against the wall, his head moving almost imperceptibly. “I’m sorry Trevor, I’m afraid I need to call it a night.”

“No!” Jackie said urgently, “It’s not safe, I think he should come with us.”

Susan’s face became serious, “Jackie, what is going on?”

“Susan we need to go to your room—no,” Jackie interrupted herself, turning to Trevor, “take us to your room.”

“Sure,” Trevor smiled looking like he had just won the lottery. Trevor turned to the door and reached for the knob.

“No,” Jackie stopped him, “let’s take the stairs.”

The three of them turned and began climbing the stairs, with Jackie in the lead.

“I’m on the third floor,” Trevor whispered enthusiastically.

“I know,” Jackie snapped, “all the rooms are on the third floor.”

“Actually the suites are around the garden…by the employee rooms.”

Jackie stopped and turned to Trevor, “employee rooms?”

“Sure,” Trevor said casually, “I was trying to get a suite,” he said more to Susan, “but they said this is their busy season so the employees who stay on grounds take up almost all of the suites.”

Jackie was silent for a moment. “Are their names on the doors?” Jackie asked.

Trevor rubbed his chin, looking at the ceiling, “Um, yeah, I think so.”

Jackie turned and began running back down the stairs, “we’re going there instead.”

“But Jack,” Susan said seriously, “It’s pouring outside.”

Jackie kept moving, “we’ll have to get rain jackets.”

Jackie led them quietly through the back, less-populated halls. Dinner was letting out and some guests staggered to the bar, others were going to the elevators to make their way back to their rooms.

As quietly as she could with two giggling adults behind her, Jackie led them to the main entrance. It was completely unguarded. As it was after ten o’clock at night and pouring rain outside, the resort was not expecting anyone to arrive.

Jackie looked from the door to the hall which opened to the stone mezzanine where the great fountain spurted endlessly up towards the glass ceiling. Then Jackie saw the coat check. Behind a short door was a rack full of black, Sunshine Lake Resort rain jackets, with wide hoods and long sleeves.

“Perfect,” Jackie whispered.

“What?” Susan whispered back, giving Trevor a gentle shove to get him standing up straight.

Jackie was already creeping to the coat check and reaching over the short door, plucking three rain coats from the coat rack and handing them back.

“Are we really going out there, Jack?” Susan asked wearily, looking down at her pink dress and stiletto heels.

“We have to,” Jackie hissed. “We have to figure out what’s going on.”

“Whose room are we going to?” Trevor asked.

“Vivian's” Jackie answered quickly, then turning towards the heavy wood door.

“Who’s Vivian?” Susan asked as Jackie pulled open the wide door, inviting in a lashing, wet wind.

Jackie turned from the dark night and howling wind to face the two, “Vivian’s dead.”


Monday, July 26, 2010

The Deepest Fears of Mothers

The deepest fear of mothers is that we’re not good enough. I think I could speak for every mother the world over by saying that at the core of 'motherhood worry' is the fear of inadequacy. That is why new mothers thrive on mommy groups. We absolutely need to be around other mothers so we can compare what we are doing to what they are doing. The questions that underscore all new motherhood discussion topics are: Am I making the right choices for my child? How do I measure up? Am I encouraging development as much as everyone else? Am I feeding my child the right foods? Am I reading to her enough? Am I doing the right bedtime routine? Am I Playing with her enough? Am I letting her watch too much TV?

For some mothers, parenting is the first job we’ve had with no boss, no quarterly report; no professor or report card to tell us how we’re doing. All we have is the child; the product of our labors, which is why when their behavior isn’t as shining as we’d like it to be, or they’re not sleeping as much as we want them to, or they’ll only eat crackers and cereal for days on end, we feeling like we, as parents, are getting an F—on the verge of being fired.

The exhaustion I have felt lately is an exhaustion unparalleled by anything I’ve experienced in my life, childbirth included. Well, okay after Twila’s birth I felt about this exhausted. The exhaustion is a full-body tired. It’s not my brain so much, that is just the usual mushy-mom brain I’ve grown accustomed to these past four years. But it’s the bone-tired exhaustion that is new this past week.

My brother in law was remarried last weekend and weddings are exhausting. Maybe especially when the groom used to be married to your sister. It was a weekend full of festivities: family dinners, golfing, the wedding, and a couple of nights at a friend’s cabin with my husband’s whole family. By and large it was a very pleasant weekend, restful and fun. But since our return on Tuesday, I have been absolutely, stunningly weary.

I am so tired; I’m klutzy, dropping things, knocking my water over, my wine, breaking glasses, running into doorjambs. I have been short-tempered and volatile with Twila; grouchy, forgetful. In short, I’ve been feeling pregnant. But after four negative pregnancy tests and the realization that it would take a miracle to get pregnant with all the breastfeeding I’m doing, I had to face the reality that I am just plain tired.

I’m tired and maybe that is reasonable for a mother of two girls neither of whom sleep through the night. Maybe I should be tired when I spent the last weekend shuttling my children all over the great state of Minnesota and spent this weekend being a single mom while Ryan was away on business for four nights in a row.

I mean what else could I be when I have a three year old constantly demanding that I play with her and then telling me I’m not doing it right when I do try to play? Twila is the consummate task master when it comes to creative play. I don’t know whether to cry or laugh. Sometimes I do both, but this past week, I have been closer to tears than laughter.

“Okay mom,” Twila snaps as I sit on her floor, infant between my legs, trying to be a good sport and engage in whatever puzzle or craft she is doing, “how about we play that you’re the dad and I’m the mom and this is our baby and I just had her today and you ask how old she is and I say, ‘honey, she was just born’ and you say ‘oh yeah’ and then you go and make me some food and bring it to me in bed because her grandma is coming over today to meet her for the first time!”
Me: “Okay.”
Twila: “Should we do that? Should we play that?”
Me: “Sounds good.”
Twila: “Okay, mom. Okay, let’s play!”
Me: “Okay.”
Twila:“Let’s play that right now.”
Me: “Okay!”
Twila: “Go ahead mom!”
Me: “Oh, honey what a sweet baby we have—“
Twila: “No mom, that’s not what you’re supposed to say! You say, ‘how old is she?’”
Me: “Oh right, okay: how old is she?”
Twila: “Well, she’s—actually mom, let’s play a different game, you say…”

And on and on it goes. She has an insatiable desire to “play” which never means reading, coloring or doing puzzles. She wants me to engage in imaginative play with her and before I was a mother that would not have sounded like such an outlandish and abhorrent request.

I love my daughters. I love them more than anything. But I don’t want to play. I don’t want to be directed in creative play games that always involve me reciting line after line that she has masterfully pieced together, never quite matching her expectations for the dialogue and therefore being critiqued and redirected over and over and over again until I cry uncle and say I have to go do some work/ fold some laundry/ make a call/ take a valium. At which time she attacks me with the charge: “you never play with me!” leaving me tired, irritable, and guilty.

And my deepest fears as a mother bubble and boil below the surface making me even crankier, more irritable and guilty.

Maybe I’m not a good enough mother. My fears whisper. Maybe I am being selfish for wanting to spend my time writing and not engaging my daughter in ever-more creative and brain stimulating play. Maybe I am letting her down. Maybe I will always regret not appreciating this time in their lives more.

And there is no brilliant insight that goes with these observations, just the desire and the hope that I will find a balance some day with my girls. One on which we can all feel content, cared for, appreciated, engaged, stimulated and peaceful.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fiction Friday

Jackie stood still, hunching below the wide opening to the air shaft overhead, looking back at the metal door through which a man was imploring her to come out. Above, Wayne the wine sommelier was reaching down to pull her upwards into the duct work running through Sunshine Lake Resort.

Jackie’s mind raced. Who should she trust: the unknown man on the other side of the door, or the wacky, drug-using, wine sommelier, ready to pull her into the ventilation system?

If Wayne was dangerous, why would he have willingly gone into the dining room with Jackie when she suggested sneaking in? Perhaps for his own sick amusement, Jackie answered herself darkly. Could Wayne be involved in the hanging of the maid? Vivian he had called her. Why was that name sticking in Jackie’s mind?

The idea of being cornered in a dark basement by a man with a ten inch drill bit buzzing through a metal door was motivation enough for Jackie to hightail it into almost any escape, even with a near stranger—even one who was beginning to twitch with withdrawals. But Jackie still hesitated. There was something about Wayne that didn’t quite sit right either.

“Come on!” Wayne hissed.

“Ms. LaTour!” The voice outside persisted desperately. Then the drill buzzed angrily to life again, boring a second hole on the other side of the massive deadbolt—the only thing between Wayne and Jackie, and the stranger on the other side of the door.

In an instant, Jackie turned and jumped, reaching for Wayne’s hands. His strong grip wrapped around her wrists and pulled her hundred and fifteen pounds easily onto the thin metal ledge upon which Wayne’s black tennis shoes perched. The tin tubing buckled under their combined weight and made a moaning sound as it bent.

“Quick,” Wayne said as he sat, sliding his weight deeper into the tunnel, “we have to keep moving.”

Jackie sat next to him and slid along the dark pathway, following him into darkness.

From the quickly shrinking light where they had entered the tunnel, Jackie heard a third round of drilling. She knew that soon the man would be through the door, giant drill in hand. It would only take him a moment to realize where they had gone and too soon would be following them into the dark maze. Jackie slid faster.

As they wound deeper into the metallic tunnel, the path ahead became darker and darker until Jackie could see nothing. She knew where to go only by the sound of Wayne’s breathing in front of her and the soft swishing of his linen pants on the floor of the vent.

After a few moments, Jackie began to feel an unusual tightening in her chest. All she could hear was the deep sucking sound of her breath as she struggled to pull oxygen into her lungs. She stopped and felt the sides of the tube to make sure the path they were on had not been growing narrower. She gasped for another breath. Suddenly she felt as if she couldn’t breathe. Clawing at her throat, Jackie whispered, “Wayne, how much farther?”

There was no answer. Panic gripped Jackie. For a moment she wasn’t sure if she wanted to search for Wayne or begin scrambling back the way she came.

In frenzied confusion, Jackie gasped again and reached her arms out in front of her, searching for anything that might indicate that she was still alive and existed someplace other than this pitch darkness.

Directly in front of her, her flailing arm met something hard but covered in fabric.

“Ouch!” Wayne’s muffled voice came from above. Jackie felt the column in front of her and discovered it was Wayne’s legs, standing upright.

Jackie pushed them roughly aside and forced her way up to where Wayne was standing. As Jackie forced her body upright next to Wayne, the air in the tube they were entering got a degree or two cooler. Jackie took a deep breath, exhaled, sucked another lungful of somewhat fresh oxygen and exhaled again. It was still dark but Jackie could now make out the outline of Wayne’s profile. He was leaning his head against the wall of the vent, listening.

Jackie’s pelvis was pressed against Wayne’s hip bone but he didn’t seem to notice and Jackie wasn’t about to go back down into the heat and pitch blackness of the lower air duct.

“What are you doing?” Jackie asked.

“Listen,” Wayne suggested in response.

Jackie leaned to the side Wayne was pressing his head against, and pressed her own ear very near where his was. She heard what sounded like a distant flock of chickens, clucking. It was the cocktail reception—or dinner? Jackie couldn’t be sure. But it was certainly the party of people Jackie and Wayne had not long ago left to embark on this misshapen adventure. Jackie even thought she might hear the high pitched laugh of Susan after a few too many cocktails.

Suddenly Jackie longed to be finishing a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with Susan, waiting for dinner to start. How had she gotten herself wrapped up in this mess?

“If that’s the dining room,” Wayne was whispering to himself, “then we want to go….that way.” Wayne pointed southeast and slightly up. Without another word Wayne turned and began crawling up a slight incline and Jackie was glad to be moving up and out of the basement level.

As they crawled, Jackie began to be able to see more and more clearly. She was unsure if her eyes were adjusting to the dark or if light was finding its way in to the air shaft as they moved higher above ground. After another minute, Wayne stopped abruptly, put his ear to the side of the tunnel again, knocked lightly on the side of the wall, crawled a few more feet and ran his palm along the side until he found what he was looking for.

Wayne turned to the side, gripped something and pulled. Suddenly, with a dull clang, a thin shaft of light flooded into the dark tunnel in front of Jackie. Through the hole Wayne had just created, Jackie saw a familiar thick carpet. Wayne turned and crawled out of the air shaft. Jackie crawled quickly behind him.

As she squeezed out of the open vent, Jackie found herself in the resort’s reading room where she had had her coffee that very morning. In a flash, Jackie saw the maid again, as she approached Jackie to offer her coffee. Jackie blinked and shook her head as she thought of that same maid’s body being removed from the chandelier in the dining room. She squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her temples, sitting in a crumple on the plush carpet, trying to erase that image.

Jackie saw her dark hair, her ruffled shirt, her pristine uniform. Jackie’s mind flashed to moments later when she saw the same made kissing Mr. Carson in the kitchen.

Something troubled Jackie—something other than the fact that she was caught up in the mystery of a maid’s murder—but she couldn’t say exactly what it was.

“What’s wrong?” Wayne asked turning to help Jackie off the carpet.

“What did you say her name was?” Jackie asked.

Wayne didn’t have to ask who Jackie was talking about, “Vivian,” Wayne answered reaching for Jackie’s hands.

Jackie pulled her hands back looking at Wayne with horror. She began pushing herself away from him with her bare feet; she slid backwards along the carpet as Wayne approached.

“Jackie, what is it?” Wayne persisted as he advanced towards her.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” Jackie whispered, “You killed her.”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Happiness in this world, when it comes, comes incidentally. Make it the object of pursuit, and it leads us a wild-goose chase, and is never attained. Follow some other object, and very possibly we may find that we have caught happiness without dreaming of it.

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fiction Friday

Chapter VI

Wayne and Jackie froze. Who could be outside the door? Jackie wondered. She and Wayne were in his private wine cellar in the back of the laundry room; he claimed no one knew about this place. Who could have possibly found them? Jackie didn’t want to find out.

Reading her mind, Wayne put one finger to his lips. With the other finger he pointed to the whirring humidifier lodged in the ceiling of the cellar just over a wide wooden chest of drawers that took up most of the closet near the back of the cellar.

Jackie shook her head in disbelief, her eyebrows raised. What did he expect them to do? Undaunted, Wayne climbed carefully on top of the chest of drawers, crouching awkwardly below the humidifier. He reached in his pocket and dug around for something. A moment later he pulled out what looked like a small allen wrench. Another loud knock startled both of them and Wayne turned and began quickly unscrewing the bolts that held the unit in place.

“Ms. LaTour?” A muffled voice called from the basement, turning Jackie’s blood cold.

Wayne worked quicker. One screw fell from its place on to the dresser, spun, rolled and clanged on the hard cement floor.

The voice called more forcefully, “Ms. LaTour, please open this door immediately so we can talk. We need to talk about what you’ve seen.”

Jackie couldn’t decipher if the voice belonged to Mr. Carson, the maintenance man he was working with, or someone else altogether; the door was too thick and the white noise from the humidifier muffled his voice. Jackie’s heart pounded in her chest, she felt dizzy.

Another screw fell out.

Someone banged the door again and shouted hoarsely, “Ms. LaTour! You are making this very difficult!”

Suddenly Jackie heard a key turning in the knob. Jackie gasped, turning to Wayne.

“Its bolted,” he mouthed and almost smiled. A third bolt dropped, banging from surface to surface.

The knob lock turned and the door moved half an inch until the metal frame met the resistance of the deadbolt.

Jackie heard the muffled voice cursing, “Who put this here,” she thought she heard him say.

Just then, the final bolt rang out as it struck the floor and a loud scraping sound was followed by Wayne grunting under the weight of the humidifier. “Can I get a little help here?” He groaned.

Jackie scrambled over to where Wayne’s feet were at her eye level and lifted her arms in a feeble offer of help. Not hesitating, Wayne hoisted the giant unit into her arms. Jackie nearly buckled under its weight but managed to turn, holding it, towards Wayne’s wide, metal desk and foist it onto the smooth surface.

Brushing off her hands, Jackie looked up to see Wayne grinning up at a gaping hole in the ceiling which led to a wide open, metal, air duct, leading into the ventilation system.

“Shall we?” Wayne whispered, a smile playing on his lips.

“I think you’re having too much fun with this!” Jackie whispered angrily, “There is a murderer after me. Somehow they know it’s me who saw them; why don’t they know you saw them too?” All the relaxation and calm, the wine and conversation had afforded them were disappearing in the face of being cornered in a dark basement by murderers. “Now you expect me to follow you through the ventilation system? This isn’t a movie, Wayne; we have to find a way to contact the police!”

“Okay, okay, I know,” Wayne whispered.

“Ms. Latour!” the voice from outside the door persisted with another loud bang, “I must insist you open this door—for your own safety. We have reason to believe that someone is looking for you. He might be quite dangerous.”

Wayne rolled his eyes, “is that someone standing outside the door with a rope?” Wayne asked quietly under his breath. He reached one hand out to Jackie, “I know we need to call the police, but what can we do right now? I don’t want to be cornered in the basement where no one can hear us with the guys that murdered Vivian.”

“Vivian?” Jackie asked.

“Yeah,” Wayne said casually, “that was her name. I’ve worked with her for ten years!” Wayne said in response to Jackie’s questioning look. “Now would you come on?”

“Vivian,” Jackie said to herself. Something struck a chord in Jackie’s memory but she couldn’t quite place it.

Suddenly from behind the door there was a loud whizzing sound, then a grinding that hurt Jackie’s ears as metal touched metal. They were drilling into the door.

Jackie and Wayne were still, for a split second and then Jackie leapt up next to Wayne taking his hand for assistance.

A moment later, a thick drill bit popped through the metal door right next to the dead bolt, it pulled back. Before the grinding began again, Jackie heard a voice speak through the hole. It wasn’t Mr. Carson, she could tell now. But it didn’t sound like the maintenance man who had been working with him either. The voice sounded like it belonged to an older man.

“Ms. LaTour!” the voice implored, “Are you okay? If you can hear me, open this door. There is someone after you, an employee here who is very dangerous.”

Jackie stopped and turned back as Wayne gripped her wrists to pull her up into the open air duct with him.

“Ms. LaTour, a man named Wayne is looking for you!”