Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chapter One: Megan Plans Her Day

The brand new spinning wheel sat framed by the sunny living room window, near the antique china cabinet and the hand-woven baskets from Guatemala. Megan reclined in the big chair, sipping mocha and planning her day. She frowned at the hassle of picking up the Suburban from the shop. But she and Buck would need the air conditioner for their vacation in Death Valley, even in January. Yesterday the back yard thermometer had read 68 degrees. She pushed the vacant garden plot out of her mind. The gardener knew to leave her hobbies alone.
The morning sun highlighted the wheel, her Christmas present to herself. The unfinished pine pieces from the kit had fit together like Legos. After an hour in Home Depot she had settled on Antique Walnut stain. Rotted walnut hulls turned your fingers black, she remembered from her backwoods cabin adventures during college. This time, though, the fake would have to do. Finished, the wheel sat there, promising fun. This spring at the Renaissance Faire her character, Fanny Bobbin, would have a new authentic prop. These ancient crafts satisfied a memory in her hands. When the sheep’s wool first slipped easily through her fingers, she felt like the fairy tale maiden spinning straw into gold. Picking dried dung and weeds out of the raw wool wasn’t necessary – she ordered the wool online from Australia, pre-dyed and processed.
“My uncle used to chop those things up for firewood,” her mother had scoffed. Why would anybody need to burn a spinning wheel, Megan wondered. She was used to this ridicule, though. Gardening ruined fingernails, real firewood stunk, canning tomatoes in this heat? Girls in jeans and braids looked like ragamuffins. Nothing was ever good enough.
Several skeins of angel-grey yarn lay like soft babies in the Guatemalan baskets. Now, another problem surfaced – what would she ever do with all that yarn? A parade of hats, scarves, and sweaters marched past. The possibilities were endless; she automatically tried to think of them all. She imagined her daughters, sisters, mother, nieces - all smiling in awe as they opened their hand-knit items wrapped in tissue and ribbons. At least the nieces lived in St. Louis where it actually snowed once in a while. Maybe she could sell her creations at the boutique! Now strangers were handling the hats, also smiling. Megan sobered as she frowned about Southern California weather. It was just her luck to be stuck in a place where she didn’t belong, where her natural talents would have to stay underdeveloped and unappreciated. Just her rotten luck. Anyway, she would have to take a class to learn how to knit the sweaters. That would be a drive, since there were no such classes in her plastic little town. She was already driving an hour for her night class at the college. There just wasn’t ever enough time.
Megan sighed as she stood up to get another cup of coffee. After this next cup the day’s plan would be complete. Buck had already left for work, and Ellen was upstairs getting ready for school. Off-key vocals and clanging guitars blasted from the CD player, muffled by the perpetually shut bedroom door. For the past ten years those sounds had filtered through first one daughter’s bedroom door, then the other. Yesterday, when Megan had asked which band this one was, Ellen had smirked, “It’s Blonde Redhead.” Megan was used to being thought of as totally stupid. In just two years Ellen would follow her sister to college and there would be no more suppressed thumping coming from closed doors. Megan wondered if she would miss it.
Ellen bounded down the stairs. “Mom, have you seen my shoes?” She came around the corner into the kitchen, out of breath. Every morning was a fresh surprise. It was as if the child had gone to bed and been replaced in the night by a pre-Raphealite princess. Ellen’s striking blue eyes gazed from her round face; her golden hair cascaded like a lion’s mane around her shoulders. Each day she became more womanly. The baby pictures in the hallway were Megan’s proof that these beautiful strangers had once been hers. That way, when she caught sight of them in her house, she could remember who they were.
“They’re right where you left them. In the middle of the floor.” Megan pointed.
Ellen blustered through the cupboard searching for a breakfast bar. She smelled of too much perfume.
“What’s up with you today, Mom? I’ve got a test in Chemistry and is it OK if I meet Kyle after school for band practice.” Her questions were gradually sounding more like statements of fact. Only one correct answer was possible.
“Well sure, I guess. Can you get a ride home, though? I have class tonight. And I still have to do my homework.”
“Oh, mom, you’re so cute. I hope you make an A,” Ellen tossed a kiss behind her as she slammed the front door shut.
Megan sat down on the kitchen barstool. Each cup of coffee helped her avoid that nagging writing project. The handcrafted oak writing desk waited for her in the spare room. On that desk sat a new computer, a black leather notebook of unlined vellum, and several writing pens of various colors, ranging from fine point to regular. She could see it as clearly as if she had been sitting in the green leather captain’s chair, her elbows resting on the smooth wood, pen in hand. There was still the struggle between the computer and the vellum. The computer was faster, more efficient, but it offered many distractions. Megan tended to do anything but write her novel when she turned on the computer. So she hadn’t gone into the spare room for several days, not even to check her email. Now there was no more putting it off, if she wanted to save face in class that night. Today was her day off from teaching, and homework was due. Megan’s was proud of her decision to audit the Advanced Creative Writing class. The imposed deadlines helped her to begin what she had not been able to for twenty years – writing her 3rd person memoirs.
Megan picked herself up off the chair and strode into the spare room, cup in hand. She spent some time finding a coaster for her cup. Finally there was nothing more to do than to sit down in the captain’s chair and begin. She had already decided that in order to write about herself, she would have to being with her parents. Her self-imposed duties were to write about her father who had died in Vietnam, but she had found that she didn’t know a thing about him. So she would begin with her mother. The pen hesitated above the vellum, then she began,
“The afternoon air was warm and sticky.”
No, that sounded too much like cinnamon buns. She needed something catchy.
“The afternoon air clung to her skin like a…”
A what? A sticky film? Tape? Slime? What was really warm and damp at the same time, what could describe the thick humidity of a Kentucky summer day, the kind of day when it felt like you were breathing warm cotton? Ah…

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