It’s a Job–part 2

Part 1 here          Part 3 here

“Ania, my baby sister has died.” The professor’s voice pulled me back into the present. “I have to go home for a few weeks.”

“Of course,” I said. “Where’s home?”

“Krakow. I have booked a flight out for tonight. Tessa, I hate to ask this of you, but I have no one else I trust.”

“Anything, Professor.” I took a sip of coffee, looked up into Cass’s curious eyes. “Anything at all.”

“Can you drive me to the airport, then pick me up when I return?”

“Of course.”

“And there is another thing…it’s about the spraying you have been doing for me.”

“Don’t give it a second thought. I’ll do it every evening like always.”

“There is more I need to tell you, Tessa…to keep you safe. There are things you do not know.”

I looked up. Cass had moved away, but was still within earshot. Whatever the professor had meant about keeping me safe, I didn’t want her to pick up on. My love was such a worrywart. “You can tell me on the way to the airport.” Continue reading

It’s A Job–part 1

Part 2 here           Part 3 here

My job was to walk the perimeter of Professor Dembowski’s property late every evening and spray down a foot-wide swath of bluish-green foam to contain It when he let It out to feed at night. As far as jobs went, this was an easy one, taking little of my time. And it paid well. A lot more than cashiering at Walmart or waiting tables.

I had no idea what “It” was and didn’t care. All that concerned me was the crisp, hundred-dollar bills the professor counted out onto my palm every Friday after I returned the emptied sprayer to the shed in back of his sprawling, log home in the country.

“Thank you, Tessa,” he invariably said in that funny accent I couldn’t quite place. “You are such a good girl.”

We engaged in a bit of small talk, then I was on my way.

Seated on his motorized scooter at the bottom of a wooden ramp leading up to the head-high back porch, he watched me walk away. I always turned and gave him a little wave when I reached the side of the house, then picked my way along an overgrown rock path that meandered through wild grasses, weeds, and trees, to my dusty, red Thunderbird parked out front.

That was the way it had always gone, and that was the way it went this evening.

After pulling off my muddy boots and wet socks and pitching them in the trunk, I slid behind the wheel and twisted the key. The engine whined but didn’t catch. I turned it off, waited a bit, tried again, got the same result. And again. “Start, you ole sumbitch…” I muttered, falling back into the hill-country dialect that was always on the tip of my tongue, stuck there like glue, just waiting for an unguarded moment to slip out.

Mama’s pride-and-joy that she had given me to make the long trip north finally caught, sputtered, then came to life with an oily roar. Guess hearing Daddy’s words coming out of my mouth scared it like they had everyone else back home. Even me. Until I had gotten bigger and tougher and could take the beatings, both verbal and physical, without making a sound.

I steered the Thunderbird around the circle drive, then along a lengthy straightaway before the concrete gave way to packed dirt. I took a sharp left, following a set of tracks plowing through knee-high grass. A few hundred yards more and the road ended at the highway. I stopped, glanced into the rearview mirror at the encroaching darkness. Nothing but trees and vines and brush. No sign at all that a million-dollar-plus house lurked behind the gnarled thicket. Why, even his mailbox was a rusty, listing thing.

And not for the first time, I wondered: why the camouflage?

But it was just a passing thought. The thousands of dollars growing in my bank account earmarked for a decent car rested in the forefront of my mind. Soon, there would be enough. And after the car, I would be able to send money home to Mama. I just had to come up with a way to keep it out of Daddy’s hands.

I flipped on the headlights, rolled through the strip of aquamarine foam, and pulled onto the highway. Continue reading

Editing Angst


I’m in the final stage of editing my manuscript for publication, which means I’ve been residing for a while in that special place in hell reserved for writers. See me over there? I’m tucked away behind the third brimstone pit on your left, smoldering notes scattered about me, and laptop clutched in my sweaty hands.

I need a break. I need inspiration. So it’s time to pause for a moment and remember why, of my own free will, I chose to be in Writers Hell.

 

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No truer words have ever been spoken. Any writer who thinks her/his first draft is ready to make its grand appearance before the reading public is delusional. Maybe the twentieth draft. Maybe.

 

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I butchered my story, cutting out description, exposition, dialogue, and backstory until I stripped its skeleton of all flesh. Lord, it looks so damned bare now. Does anyone have a spare jacket?

 

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I argued with myself–did I take out too much? Did I leave enough to give the reader a sense of time and place? Did I adequately reach inside the minds’ of my characters, and lay on the table for all to see their thoughts, emotions, and internal conflicts? Should I include this paragraph? Should I throw out that one? On and on.

 

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I ruthlessly “killed my babies” (more commonly referred to as killing your darlings), and the more I killed, the easier it became to spill red ink. I learned to derive a perverse kind of joy as I dispatched words, sentences, and paragraphs without regard to their beauty and innocence. Mary Cathleen Clark became a monster, an unabashed killer of words.

 

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Through editing, I know I have become a stronger writer, one who won’t shy away from doing what is necessary to turn out a good story, even if it involves what feels close to self-mutilation at times.

 

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When all is said and done, if we don’t edit, the smoke hides the flames we’re hoping to kindle with our words. And if we fail to do that, if we fail to set fire to our readers’ imaginations, we have failed as writers.

 

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I can do this.

 

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Now, I’ll take my glass of sweet tea and go back to work.

A House is Not a Home

Bessie wanted to leave. More than anything she wanted to walk right out the front door and never come back. But she knew He would kill her if she tried. Why, He didn’t even like it when she so much as looked out a window. He’d jerk the heavy drapes shut, bellowing that there was nothing outside for her, that everything she needed was within these walls. She didn’t know why He got so excited. Nothing out there, anyway. Smack-dab in the middle of nowhere, they were.

A three-mile, washboard of a lane snaked down the wooded hillside, its end the overgrown front yard of the house where’s she’d been born–and would most likely die. It’d been months since anyone had ventured down the rocky slope, and even longer since she’d made the trip up it.

Reckon the whole world has forgotten about me.

She moved listlessly around the dark-paneled living room, straightening the doilies on the sofa arms, smoothing the crocheted table runner on the sideboard, fluffing the embroidered throw pillows. She fussed with the tiny family of pink ceramic elephants that lumbered across the top of the Bombay chest, moving each piece a fraction of an inch, then moving it back.

She wandered to the cold fireplace. On top of the mantle, her mother smiled out of an ornate silver frame. The picture had been taken a few years before Mother had gone crazy, when she had still been able to smile.

That sweet smile had disappeared a few weeks after Father passed away. Mother’s face had become pinched, her eyes fearful, and she’d started talking about “Him”, telling Bessie that He wouldn’t let her leave the house. Continue reading