Yes, I have a fun, smart, humorous friend with the name of Deepika, and she allowed me the use of her name for one of the characters in my first novel, Wake Me Up (this novel will be published in the Fall without Deepika’s Stories placed throughout the body of the book). My fictional Deepika is a catalyst for the main action of the novel and places in jeopardy one of the members of a struggling family in Missoula, Montana. I wrote three short sections that are extra parts of the novel. These stand on their own, have a good weight and balance, and I am thinking of continuing Deepika’s tales, working on her observations.
The family in the novel lives near a river that runs through Missoula. It becomes clear the father, the mother, and their son, rarely sits on shore at peace. My fictional Deepika is a visiting writer at the University of Montana and she studies this family — her interaction with the Father, and especially the Son — and turns her observations into fiction. Deepika’s collection of interconnected short stories is set in Sun Valley, Idaho, a place Deepika lived for about a year before moving to Montana; this is where she learned how to snowboard and found a quiet place to write her fiction. She writes some of these stories after the main crime and the fallout occur in the timeline of the novel. The main character reads them, hidden from the known physical world, hovering over her shoulder, in ghostly form. Here is the first of three excerpts from Deepika’s collection, titled: A Great Distance. Please enjoy and, if you feel up to it, leave a comment.
A Great Distance (excerpts from)
Deepika’s Story, Part One:
There is the rotting smell stuck in the walls of the rental apartment Sai stayed in for the winter season. His clothes smell of it and when he opens the refrigerator the rot ratchets up ten degrees. The fridge shakes when Sai slams the door shut. It must be leaking freon.
He’ll be moving into a better rental apartment when he returns; he’s not leaving Sun Valley, Idaho for good (he loves the thin air and the sun shining on below-zero days, the free mornings spent snowboarding, hanging outside Seattle Ridge Lodge on top of Baldy eavesdropping on vacationers and locals whose job seems to be skiing every single day with their Season Pass showing like a badge on a Sneetch). The current rental apartment he lives in is a horror and there won’t be anyone to take his place after he moves out for at least three months because the landlord is a bastard and a peeping Tom with a nosy complaint complex. So, when Sai’s estranged father died and memories slivered into his mind, drawn up from icy martini-fueled depths, rage isn’t too far behind. He views this family crisis as a break, a chance to move into something nicer, bring his mother out and take care of her. She needs someone to do this and he’s her only son.
I can’t stand this place. Sai shudders. I wake up this way every morning. I wake up asking: Why? When I’m older the question will change to: How?
He’ll find a more convenient rental in Warm Springs, with more amenities; he has several options, friends from the paper who will help him out until he lands a caretaking job, housesitter position, can save up rent, live out of a suitcase if his mother doesn’t want to leave Gladys.
Sai is assigned to write a news bitch-n-moan article about a woman who takes in stray animals, more than the housing code in her part of the valley allows. She lives in Elkhorn and is a widow. Widowhood probably suits her and her obsession with the animal world. Sai imagines the woman telling him she’s a healer as she serves him green tea steeped too long and bad molasses cookies. Death turns a lot of people into true believers, turns some into drunks or thieving liars; for some, the very few, it is an awakening after a long life of servitude and endless roadblocks, self-imposed or not. The woman with the thirteen cats seeks a new age.
A small town believes it is different in all ways from the largest city and superior because of the difference, but Sai knows better. Everyone has the potential to become fucked up, big or small. Sai hasn’t even started to pack his bags. A farce, really: how can he be about to leave? Just tying up all the loose strings.
Sai can’t say this enough. In his mind leaving is a mantra repeating by habit.
After the snow melts in April he’ll be looking for something, someone new, maybe even a roommate beyond his mother; the rents are so high in the Sun Valley resort town it is hard to find affordable housing, which is an oxymoron. The high rent is all he keeps dwelling on.
I’ll save some money for a rainy day, Sai tells himself once more. Why can’t I get this out of my head? It’ll rain on my father’s grave.
The woman with the cat complex is named Mrs. Alice Plesher, but she doesn’t reveal her first name to him and Sai only finds out by accident, later. Mrs. Plesher calls the paper and is put through to Sai. He has no idea why although he could guess the new guy gets all of the personal drudgery assignments until proven worthy. Alice speaks very slowly as if hardened by age and she has a rasp. Sai pictures her in a long house dress from the fifties, pink and white stripes fading with age—a smock of beige over the dress, a multitude of cats clinging to the fabric like stick-ons.
“I want to speak to a real reporter.”
“I am a real reporter, Miss…”
“Mrs…Mrs. Plesher. I was married thirty-two years when my husband died.”
Sai wants to tell the dotty he got his job the same way—death the great equalizer and the beginning and ending of all stories. Even though his partner, Joe, hasn’t died at all, just grew apart, bored, left Sai for a younger version without a lifetime of accumulated baggage; the end result being a final bonfire spark shower lighting a path for Sai’s escape to the high desert atmosphere of a ski resort town, a place he can’t help but view as another temporary safe house.
“Mrs. Plesher my name is Sai Amrashi.”
“What kind of a name is Ashrami?”
“Whatever. You’re not supposed to correct your elders. Just answer the question Mr. Amrashi.”
“I’m not sure.” Who is this woman? Sai wonders. He’s supposed to find out so he keeps this question to himself and lances his interior thoughts with sarcasm.
“Indian or real Native American Indian?”
“Indian,” Sai replies, stifling the need to say, the fake kind.
“I need to tell someone about those people trying to kick me out of my home. I’ve lived here more than twenty years. They can’t just do that without a fight and I’m fighting them with everything I’ve got and they still keep bothering me.”
“That sounds horrible to me. Why don’t you give me directions and I’ll come out and take your story.”
“It’s not a story.”
“I mean interview you. I’ll ask you all kinds of questions and see if there’s something the paper can use. Stories like this take a lot of background work. I have to approach both parties to see what is happening.” Mrs. Plesher isn’t digesting what Sai says and he knows she isn’t but he can’t help himself. He thinks about his father dead on the stairwell and Gladys finding him there and cursing the man, maybe even spitting on his corpse as it chills and stiffens in front of her in final repose.
“You come see me now.”
“I’m free in two hours. Would that be possible?”
“Just don’t send anyone who’s allergic to cats. Last time I had to stand out in the cold. A woman my age.” She says the last as royal queen outraged by the unscrupulous creeping closer to her kingdom.
Last time? Sai wonders what the hell she’s talking about and can only imagine ruin and damnation and personal letters to the editor spewing vitriolic injustice. Happens all the time in every local paper in the world. The letters to the editor are all complaints and bitterness. Someone passes someone on the right so a local writes in about the degeneration in driving of everyone who has come to visit or put down roots from another locale. If you’re from California, forget it, you’ll never be a local and everyone will detest the sight of your black bruiser SUV. One word of advice: you better change your license plates as soon as possible. The latest gripes are about the new hospital cutbacks, the lowering of the speed limit on the highway, the pettiness of the city council and the mayor and the battle to put up a grand hotel blocking the view of the ski mountain from Main Street, the amount of time it takes to get to town from Hailey (now up to 45 minutes on a snow day), and everyone knows skiing takes precedence in a mountain town, how people with dogs are so inconsiderate about picking up their dog shit, and how to say it in a letter so they come across as the saintliest of gadflies. Judge not the people who may help you when you slip on the ice outside the post office…one day. And, Sai thinks, it’s an election year to boot and the bulk of the letters to the editor denouncing the process, the unfairness, the hatred, all makes Sai want to scream. He doesn’t know if he’ll vote, sometimes he tells the most spiteful campaigner for either presidential candidate he refuses to vote because it’s his right, just to watch the wheels come off the bus. He likes to sit and listen to the debate. It’s an American right to vote. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Sai hangs up on Mrs. Plesher after she winds up and then down and he really finally decides to delay telling his editor-in-chief he needs to fly home to wrap up his father’s estate until later in the day. I just got the news last night, he ponders this, and I can’t believe I still feel like coming into the office: true avoidance issues. I’m the only son, the only child, and the one who this task falls to. When you hate someone so much there isn’t anything you can do about it but try not to expend any energy on that person, become indifferent. Time doesn’t heal wounds—new age bullshit.
Sai arrived in Ketchum nine months ago. He wanted to live in a mountain town, learn how to snowboard, maybe find some peace, escape from the fiasco he made in Northern California, and write the great American novel. Sai’s thoughts: If Hemingway could do it here drunk off his ass why can’t I? Pipedreams. Was Hemingway always a drunk like me? No, but Sai imagines Hemingway as a bit light in the loafers, playing for Sai’s team, which always makes Sai laugh; after all, The Old Man and the Sea did have a home in Key West and loved Fire Island way too much.
Sai____________middle___________life. There is still so much rage. He doesn’t want to think about it anymore and he’s been hiding it so well everyone at the paper thinks of him as the sweetest guy in the world. Most of his coworkers want to set Sai up with someone. Sai lets it be known he is definitely not interested, but most keep trying anyway. Then he, with great humility, tells these people he is gay and that still doesn’t stop the most persistent of them. “I know a great guy for you. Gay. Nice. Lives alone, poor thing, in an old hunting cabin. Blah. Blah. Blah.” And Sai wonders about these potential boyfriends who escape to the wilderness of Idaho. Sai escapes a past life, a past partnership; why would he want to get involved anew? This mountain town isn’t kind to single straight people so you know the pickings are slim if you happen to be gay and single ____ desperation a light and visible sheen ___________________________________________ ________hook up on the internet, turn yourself into a sexy Indian cowboy with your own sexy website, get lots of hits, or take the long drive to Boise if you need to get your rocks off.
The editor isn’t in her office and Sai puts off telling her about his dead father for another day, but he knows he can’t wait too much longer. Sai just doesn’t want to discuss his past or his fucked-up family with anyone right off the street, to someone he barely knows or respects.
Joe would always tell Sai he doesn’t let anyone ever get close enough to really get to know—for the thousandth time. Does that make sense? Joe always pouts after ripping Sai a new one. You can be so insensitive, Sai, he’ll say and then stalk off. Two hours later he’s back insisting, insulting, and cajoling Sai to go see his analyst; he’ll pay of course, for someone to listen to Sai’s problems, because all the problems in their relationship are Sai’s fault, and then they’ll go out to dinner with friends and pretend none of what they fume about ever took place. Maybe dancing at the bar will follow, smiles all around and lots of Cosmopolitans, too many for anyone but the newly sober to keep track of. When Joe and Sai return home to Joe’s apartment — Sai moved in when Joe wanted Sai to be his permanent boyfriend — he’ll give Sai the silent treatment the second the front door bangs shut. Off to the bedroom Joe steams without a word, a simmering brood, now miffed by something else Sai has done or said or witnessed, some odd segue way of Sai’s after one of Joe’s friends was telling a long drawn-out story about his vacation in Palm Springs, a big who-ha; Joe aching and pissy because Sai acts incapable of doing anything about his standoffishness.
Inside his black Jeep Wrangler Sai feels safe even though it is the size of a shoebox and the door wings back and forth because the doorstop mechanism has been broken since Sai bought it used from a shifty woman who wouldn’t look him in the eye. He needed the car and it was cheap and the woman said it had good karma (instantly thinking she wasn’t being racist by saying karma in front of a real-to-goodness Indian who thought of himself as a lapsed Hindu); the Jeep never left her stranded. There’s only 76 thousand miles on it and it’s been a good car to go to Tahoe in. Back and forth from Larkspur. Never a problem, she says stridently. Look me in the eye when you lie to me so effortlessly, Sai imagined saying. But he bought the car and believed its pedigree and named it Sanjit after one of his father’s ancient brothers who still exists somewhere in a nursing home in Massachusetts. Sai and Sanjit in trouble, on the road again.
Sanjit starts right up but quickly sputters out with a sigh. Sai rubs his hands together and curses himself for giving Sanjit too much gas. Sai is famous for having a lead foot, one of the many arguments Joe picks, picked, with him; Joe always insisted he drive. The car will not start and Sai bangs his hands on the steering wheel. When he’s really mad Sanjit becomes a car again, just a rusty piece of junk. Sai can picture Joe laughing at him, his mouth naturally curving downward into a laughing frown. And Sai’s father is there in flashback spitting tobacco juice at Uncle Sanjit’s feet the last time they spoke. Harsh words quickly flew and made it impossible to return to sender, yelled them with a relish so ulcer-intensive it made Sai hide in his room for hours. Uncle Sanjit wasn’t doing anything to me, Sai said, later. Sai cried. He treated me like an equal. And the assumption, now that he was an adult, really pissed him off, pissed him off that he never saw Uncle Sanjit again because his father thought his own brother was doing something despicable to Sai—the two of you alone—Dad, all the lights were on bright, after a revisionist: in a dark room together—sitting on the bed together—and Sai wasn’t even old enough to understand what his father was raving about. Later—No, he never touched me. Father. No. What are you talking about and mother so far gone at this point, forever silenced by her fall, Sai believed she cast no shadow.
Life is a bit of a magic act and Sai feels the lingering effects of his escape. His Goddamn car will not start and he made a promise to the old bat Plesher he’d be at her house in less than an hour. He stumbles out of Sanjit and grabs his shoulder pack. There’s a free bus system in the valley but he has to ask directions to the closest station and when the next bus will be by to take him to Elkhorn. He ends up getting on the wrong bus to Sun Valley and is forced to get out near the Sun Valley Lodge where he waits for a different bus to take him on the circuitous route from Sun Valley back into town where the driver tells Sai he has to get out and stand at the bus stop on the other side of the street where the bus to Elkhorn will be by in twenty minutes. By this time Sai is already fifteen minutes late and he can picture Mrs. Plesher’s lips screwed up tight as she counts cats to pass the time, a snarl issuing from between her too-plump-they-can’t-possibly-be-real lips. The first thing she’ll say is: No one makes me wait. Sai has his fair share of doors slammed in his face.
The right bus drops Sai off in Elkhorn, as close to Mrs. Plesher’s road as possible, which means half a mile away. Everything out in the real West means longer, bigger, brighter, better, cleaner, a wider horizon. Sai curses The West and the way the developers have continued to hack up this pristine valley and put homes designed by romper room’s space-age division all over the hills with no care, the hubris of man. Sai isn’t against the homes being put up exactly, but, aesthetically, most of the homes are butt-ugly and make him wince as he walks by them on his way to Timber Frame Road.
Because of the street name Sai makes the right turn and expects to see lovely homes of timber frame construction but again he feels jarred by stucco homes the color of pencil lead with gables going one way and not matching the roofline of the guesthouse stuck on top of the garage which is also 2,000 square feet. There is always way too much room in these houses for one family and all their extended family to descend upon them in the high ski season. A pack of legal and illegal immigrants and migrant workers clean the homes weekly and mow the Midas-size lawns and feel lucky to be living in the valley where, for housecleaning, they can easily charge twenty-five dollars an hour, laugh about their employers all the way back to Hailey and Bellevue in the part of the valley where all the workers live. Let them take enough of everything to go around for everyone. The people at the coffee shops discuss their housekeepers as if they are indentured servants without families and problems of their own in voices filling with dismay overly worried about breakage and theft and how hard it is to find good help these days, and boy does it cost them an arm and a leg. One woman with hair platinum and blinding says she hates paying for the privilege of living here in Sun Valley and then stands up from the table intent on taking her purebred dogs to the groomer who charges 85 dollars per dog, an up charge if the dog is really, really dirty. But turns back to her friend, sits, and says, in a voice shrill with indignation: Can you believe that C.E.O. moving here and putting up that 30,000 square foot concrete and glass monstrosity on top of that hill? Did you hear about that? Her friend says, Or that one celebrity who thinks he can peep into private windows whenever he wants, who totally disregards the No Trespassing signs—as if they don’t apply to him? Or the comedian with Saddam’s forehead who thinks he’s too much the Star to even say hello or thank you or anything polite to the people he passes every day in this small town—he won’t last long; it’s hard to be a Republican in this Democratic town anyway; I hear he wears the most ridiculous safety helmet when he goes ice skating. And the rich, ah, their full time job is managing the help and most are so bitter about the cost of everything they take it out on the help in many small ways, mostly by appropriating a tone of voice never suitable in polite company and only slightly understandable when reprimanding a dog caught piddling on the carpet.
Mrs. Plesher’s sprawling ranch-style house comes into view up on Sai’s left. Again, it is also gray but not stucco, just faded cedar siding to give it a real faux Western feel. Her landscaping, just the sage fields and a few pine trees, remains nonexistent for her having lived in the house over a decade and Sai realizes she doesn’t want to block her view of the ski mountain or the perpetual White Cloud Mountains to the north. Sage dots the hills behind the house in waves and patterns broken by the strip-mining veins racing to the peaks thousands of feet higher than the homes.
Besides her inflated lips, the next physical detail Sai notices about Mrs. Plesher is her stern figure. She carries herself in a formally rigid manner, with her arms crossing across a flat landscape of chest the majority of the time. Her shirt is such a plain cornflower blue it could’ve come off of a pharmacist’s back. She’s happy, Sai deduces. Her seriousness is her way of showing this. At one moment in her history with but a glare she stops the boys from laughing and making fun as she walks by.
Her parents grew up in Wyoming on a horse ranch. When Mrs. Plesher was a young girl following in her mother’s footsteps, a dart of a shadow behind the quickness of adult strides, she could measure up because she learned to take control of every situation. Her mother, a firm disciplinarian, would not cotton to frivolous acts or phrases.
“You can be a silly nitwit, Alice. Don’t let me catch you playing with the hem of your dresses anymore. You wear them to church and you sit beside your brothers and act like a lady.”
“A lady does not backtalk her mother either.”
“I’m not playing with my dress.”
And the slap would spring into Alice’s field of vision quick as a pinball bumper. And Alice learned to be her mother’s plaything. She was the oldest and only daughter of five children and her mother always told her she had to set an example. If her four brothers acted up and destroyed the carpet in the back hallway with their muddy pig shoes it was her job to make sure her mother never found out. And she’d yell at her brothers, Lionel, Shorty, Curtis and Forrest in that order until they got used to it and would do whatever she wanted. Alice wouldn’t fight or slap her brothers; her words would cut into them.
It was a hard life in Wyoming in the forties and fifties with few neighbors to speak of near Laramie but far enough away to make every childhood trip to the town seem like a special event. Alice would help her mother with the baking and the feeding of the chickens and the egg collecting and the other chores too easy for anyone else to do, but her mother always wanted her to have a mind sharp and brilliant and sent her to the school with a warning for her to learn her lessons. Always unspoken was the OR ELSE. Alice’s studies would prepare her for a life beyond the farm. When her mother said this to her the first time, she was only ten years old. You’re old enough to know there are few ways for a woman to find something of her own to hold onto.
Alice studied and memorized and learned how to manipulate the teachers and her mother helped her.
“You’re going to be respectable one day, a teacher perhaps, someone a sterling gentleman will fall for like a stone down a well,” said her mother with her flat tone. The heaviness in her mother’s voice Alice learned never to forge barriers against. At first Alice thought her mother just wanted to get rid of her. She was competition after all. Her father doted on her in many small ways, never overtly, never so that the other children would make a cry of bitterness but he did. Alice read to him at night after she read stories to the boys and helped put them to bed. She’d get books from the school teachers on loan: Steinbeck, The Bronte sisters, and Fitzgerald and Hemingway, one after another, the stories coming out of Alice’s tight, serious lips. Her mother would sit listening while she knitted or mended the socks, sewed back buttons, and patched holes in the family’s laundry. Soon, Steinbeck would grow too racy and Alice read them in secret; his stories about wanton women in the West of the past didn’t smooth anything at the farm, biblical parable or not. Her father loved the true stories about the land and Hemingway filled the bill and Alice’s brothers even liked them too, but not as much as they liked Zane Grey Westerns or the space operas from the pulps at the drugstore.
The life of Alice Plesher was planned out from the beginning days on the farm as if God had inhabited her mother’s flesh on one of His bad days and a tiny part clung to her when He had to go put a crack in a dam somewhere across the world to teach the people caught in the flood a lesson about sticking together, helping your neighbor, in hard times. You did what you were told. The family didn’t go to church often. Alice always wondered why and imagined her parents balking at religion the same way they dug into the sand when anyone tried to tell them what to do or how to live.
A girl had few escapes on the horse farm. Alice would follow her brothers around when they were goofing off, finished with their chores and school and trying to get away. They all ran to the woods bordering the river to escape. Her brothers weren’t stupid either. So many times the five of them would get to the bank of the river where they piled up broken branches and logs into a shelter and after an afternoon building and supporting the fort they’d collapse under the makeshift roof sweaty and smelling of rot and dirt and molding leaves. They all felt the weight of their parents and they’d talk about it when even the youngest, Forrest, the sunniest of the children, could be trusted to never repeat what was said to their parents.
“I’m going to California when I get old enough,” Shorty said.
“You don’t even know the right direction to start such a journey,” Alice replied.
“You’d help me then. Just like in that Eden book. I’d wander the world.”
Alice swatted Shorty because they both knew he was the only one she read that book to. This was the early fifties when all the children except Forrest were about to be teenagers and so much of the world outside their farm seemed like a fantasy world, someplace like Oz or the wicked forest where Ichabod Crane met his fate. The boys only saw the good though and could never believe people had to face true evil. “I’d get myself whipped from here to Laramie if I helped you run away. Besides, you’re the one Dad counts on to run the farm.”
“I’ll run the place if he doesn’t want it,” Lionel said without any hesitation. They all knew Lionel had his eye on the place. He wanted to follow his father everywhere. Make him proud. Always did what he was told. Alice called Lionel a simpleton whenever his back was turned.
“You know Dad wants all of you to run it.”
“Why not you?” Curtis asked. Lionel pushed Curtis and he fell backwards and raised himself off the bed of leaves with a sneer.
“I’m still only a girl and Mom has other plans for me.”
Sai greets Mrs. Plesher with a wry smile and an outstretched hand, which she refuses and fades back into her home with her arms crossed. Her hair is cut short and cradles her forehead closely as if formed by a bathing cap, and then he realizes she’s wearing a wig and has a hard time not staring at her hair from that point on. When Sai follows her into the front entryway the dimness of the lighting strains his eyesight.
“You’re not here to do anything but take my story. I have a lot to tell you about my neighbors, my lovely backbiting, son-of-a-bitching neighbors and I don’t have time to do anything else. I’ve made coffee if you want some.”
Sai shakes his head no while saying, “No thank you. Let’s get started.”
He can’t help but notice the cat smell as Mrs. Plesher leads him into the kitchen, a small galley-sized room facing the sunrise with the end of the galley made into a breakfast nook with windows—a bright room in the morning. The cats laze on the ledge, but seem ready for action at the slightest provocation; they watch the sparrows and the magpies bounce around the feeders Mrs. Plesher has installed like temptresses on the other side of the glass. Most of the cats are black or solid white, but there is one large tabby and a calico who sit like bookends on the floor eating food out of two of the six red plastic bowls spread out in front of a row of Formica kitchen cabinets.
“So,” Sai starts, “are all of your cats indoor cats or do you let them go out?”
“How long have you been a reporter?” Mrs. Plesher asks with the faintest hint of condescension.
“About three years off and on. My background is in English with a minor in Journalism. A town this small could afford to hire the best.”
She catches Sai’s sarcasm but asks another question with the same tone of voice. To get through the next hour Sai knows this interview will take all of the skills he has acquired while growing up with the parents he somehow got stuck with. Maybe he can cut it short and write nothing. Go back to the editor and reveal Alice’s wacky scheme to create an army of cats so one day she can lay siege to the hills, burying her neighbors in cat-box smells and scratched antiques.
“Where are you living?”
“Warm Springs. In a rental condo.”
“So they pay you well.”
“It’s just a hobby. I’ve been fortunate enough to be raised as someone who has learned how to save every penny.”
“Which means you learned how to be cheap too,” Mrs. Plesher snorts, and maybe with a slight approval, snorts are hard to define sometimes, could’ve been derision.
She is interviewing Sai.
“Cheap is a state of mind. I prefer the word frugal.”
“Don’t get smart with me.” Sai has____________________ ___a vision of Mrs. Plesher taking a whack at him with one of the many kitchen knives hanging magnetically against the wall. “I’ve got far too many smug neighbors as it is to deal with someone else who’s trying to get the truth to tell the whole world.”
Sai has dealt with a regular kaleidoscope variety of manic people in his life. He can spot them in a hurry with enough time to sidestep the clinging compulsions fueling the paranoia. It is not fun. And he knows his sense of humor is too much for Mrs. Plesher; not many people appreciate good sarcasm anyway. But he will not underestimate her either; he knows she is sharper than most of the people who sat next to him during composition class at the only community college in New Jersey he could afford.
“Okay. Why don’t you start at the beginning and take me through the events you spoke about on the telephone from the past to the present.”
“Chronological is the way you want me to tell my story.”
“I think the simpler the better. News writing is usually right to the point.”
“Don’t patronize me you little shit.”
Sai_____________________feels__________ ________________ __________goosed. He stands abruptly clutching his notebook. He doesn’t let anyone speak to him in such a manner not even if Mrs. Plesher is mildly entertaining in a falling from a tall bridge fashion.
“Oh sit down.”
“You cannot,” Sai says and repeats, “You cannot speak to me like you just did nor in that tone of voice. I think it would be best if I got somebody else to take down your grievance.”
“I said sit down.” Mrs. Plesher blocks the small exit and the way her fists grind into her hipbones Sai just wants her to back up. He also wants to take a photograph of her just like that, arms akimbo. She reminds him of his own mother’s mother: old and too mangy to put out to pasture quietly.
“I’m not lucky,” Alice said to Curtis with a grave smile.
“Yes you are. You’re the only one of us who will get off the farm and see the world.”
“I’ll let you visit all the time.” Around the fort they’d hung blankets too ratty to be missed by mother or father, but just perfect for the privacy of their meeting place.
Lionel looked sullen and Alice could tell he was withdrawing. “Lionel will take care of you. I’ll give that job to him when I leave. I’m sick of wearing that crown anyway.”
“Lionel will get a crown?” asked Forrest, who from the tone of his voice was kind of miffed he wouldn’t be getting one either.
“There’s no crown you goofball,” and Curtis smacked Forrest on the back of his head. She’d seen her mother do that a thousand times to all of the boys and they’d seen mother smack the back of her head too. Once so hard and by surprise she’d lost her baby tooth when it slammed against the rim of her cereal bowl. There wasn’t a scratch of money for the tooth fairy anyway; she scolded Alice not to expect it either; I’ll never understand the things you do to wind everyone in this family up.
“I was the eldest of five. Did I tell you that?” Mrs. Plesher asks as she folds a cloth cocktail napkin and lays it in front of her. Sai keeps his seat and doesn’t mind listening as she runs through her past. Stories fill his head and Sai makes most of them up anyway. It is good to get new ones and the tone of voice Mrs. Plesher uses, honestly, puts him on edge; he’s heard it all his life; hackles up.
“Blood splattered all over the table. When Shorty brings it up he always says I filled that cereal bowl to the rim. My mother really had a great swing. But who knew about tennis then? The__________rich maybe . . . a different time a different planet perhaps. _____________________________ __________________________smile and tell me everything will be okay. The happiest day of my life? Do you want to know what that day was like? I remember it because I got away. There was the train out of Laramie and I had one new dress and a lot of hand-me-downs from my mother even though I had to take them in a lot, without complaint.”
One of the cats, a Maine coon with a head the size of a grapefruit starts scratching Sai’s pant leg. He kicks it away without actually kicking it.
“Best to not anger The Main Puss. She’ll rip you a new one without regret, and don’t expect a condolence letter from me.”
Continue reading A Great Distance: Part 2 — The Middle by clicking HERE.
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