Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Pookas

Sometimes I feel like the character Elwood P. Dowd, the guy Jimmy Stewart played in that movie “Harvey”. Only I’m not dealing with a 6’3” rabbit named Harvey, I’m dealing with my various human characters. My characters are on my mind, morning, noon, night, and day. They go where I go and they take me where they go. They speak to me and I can hear their thoughts.

Harvey, in case you don’t know, was a pooka. A pooka is some kind of mischievous fairy-like creature from Celtic mythology. As a kid, I found “Harvey” the movie confusing. Was that big old rabbit real? Or were all those grown-ups nuts?

Where do my characters come from anyway? Sometimes they resemble someone I know, or have known, but mostly they just pop into my brain, and make themselves evident to me. Revealing their traits and foibles one by one. I’m as surprised by their behavior as I can be. Oftentimes I have trouble influencing them. Writers talk about controlling their characters, I have a hard time with certain ones. They like to boss me around. They like to give me the run around. Are they pookas? I wonder.

Take Carly Ratzke, the very-sexy-double-jointed, part-time yoga instructor, part time realtor that showed up in my brainspace a few weeks ago. Carly puts herself in a love hate relationship with every man she hooks up with, and quite often tinkers around knowingly with their lives. She can’t help but manipulate and control. I try to teach her lessons. I try to lead her down a better path. But she’s absolutely hell-bent on ruining these men. I had to tell Carly that I’m leaving her alone in a file on the desktop for a while. She’s not learning anything; she’s not developing into the kind of a character that a reader could empathize with. I prefer to write stories about people that deserve to be the center of attention on the page, and the poor thing, she can’t seem to help it, she’s what you’d call downright mean. Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage”, came to mind, and his character Mildred, who’s even worse than Carly. But Mildred wasn’t the protagonist in Maugham’s masterpiece, Philip Carey was. Mildred treats Philip horribly and he changes, thank goodness.

I suppose I could fish around in my consciousness, find a counterpart to Carly, a nice strong man, someone capable of turning her despicable penchant to harm into affection. A real nice guy, a special guy, someone that Carly can’t bring herself to hurt. But, I wouldn’t want to become a willing participant in constructing the circumstances where she might do harm to such a man, so I’ll leave her be for a while. Sometimes it works out that way.

Right now I’m getting to know Russell Greer, he’s dealing with the recent birth of his down-syndrome son. I think we’re a better fit.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Endless Negotiation

I read this Nora Ephron quote today: Age is an endless negotiation, and everybody deals with things their own way. The things you might have made judgments about when you were younger (and had no idea what aging was going to be like) just seem foolish to me.

I Googled Nora’s age, and learned that she’s 68. Wow, she’s thirteen years older than I am. I found this photo on the Internet and I think she looks good for 68, don’t you? I was in the midst of a hot flash earlier today and I thought to myself, Good Lord I had no idea. How could I? During my girlhood I’d heard some of my mother’s friends complain about hot flashes (oddly enough, my own mother didn’t have them) and whenever I heard them lamenting about menopausal symptoms I thought, well how bad can it be? Ha!

Another aspect about aging that I could have never understood? How beauty fades, and this vanishing beauty thing happens ever so slowly. One day you look in the mirror and you think, where’s that girl I used to be? She’s gone. Poof! You’d like to reach back through the years, grab her by those boney shoulders, give her a good shake and have a little talk with her. You’d like to explain a few things, maybe save her from heartache, and the bigger mistakes. Life would be different now (for you, the woman) if you could cheat and give that girl a warning or two.

You really do represent the sum total of what you’ve learned. Maybe that’s why older women seem to enjoy doling out sage advice. “Hey, I’ve learned a thing or two Missy,” they like to say, “you ought to listen to me.” But headstrong girls hardly ever heed their elder’s council. And so it goes, the same mistakes get made, over and over and over again.

I picture angels watching all this, and saying, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Oh my, look at her go. Another unwanted pregnancy.” “Uh oh, and I thought that girl had a head on her shoulders. But that brute beat her to a pulp and she didn’t leave him.” “If only she’d gone and had that mammogram the doctor ordered, if only.” Frustrated angels, witnessing all those mistakes.

I used to say that I’d never consider having a facelift. Then, an aunt of mine came to visit and I was going on and on about how happy I was to share in her gene pool, that I hoped I looked as good as she did by the time I reached her age. Then she made me promise not to tell anyone, and confessed that she had a facelift. And the surgery left her in so much pain and she had to endure several weeks of slow recovery (that even though the procedure did the trick and took a good ten years off her appearance) she wouldn’t have gone through with it if she had known how painful it would have been. Maybe—maybe not. Because, we tend to ignore what we don't want to hear. My daughter had a baby 3 months ago. And she can’t believe how difficult motherhood is. Telling her didn’t convince her, she had to live it.

I’m afraid we’re doomed to learn as we go along.

How will I feel at 68? How will I handle the endless negotiation with aging that Norah mentioned? I think it's about time I focus those snippets of wisdom I come across now and then. Preparing myself for what I hope will be a long (less bumpy) road ahead.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Loveliest / Short Fiction

Today Lettie could not manage walking on the beach alone. Ninety summers spent at the seashore, and for some reason she could not find her balance, couldn’t make her way to the water's edge without assistance. Brook held one arm, Charlie took the other. Lettie permitted Brook to lower her into the folding chair. And didn’t shed a tear. No displays of insolent ingratitude from that old girl. No, she was lucky to be there and she knew it. Happy to feel the spray of the sea as her gnarled toes burrowed in the sand, and the sun warmed her wrinkled unrecognizable face. A gale buffeted Brook’s umbrella as she struggled to provide shade. “No Dear,” Lettie said. “Let me bask for a bit.” Prompting Brook to close the umbrella, and rush towards Lettie with a dollop of sunscreen. She didn’t protest as Brook slathered her nose and cheeks.

Little Binky followed her sister Tess out to the water. Charlie hovered, his children were fearless, but no matter, Lettie watched him fret on their behalf. He lifted Binky in and out of the surf as she giggled merrily and kicked her chubby legs. Tess was busy digging and filling up her pail. Brook pointed to her toddler, and said, “That used to be me.”

“And your mother, and my daughter,” Lettie added. “And me, and my mother too.” Tess dumped the pail and began to fill it up once more.

Brook was Lettie's great-granddaughter; she cheerfully displayed endless patience for an old woman, and loved the house on the bluff as much as Lettie did. Lettie changed her will last year, made up her mind to leave the old barn to a deserving soul. Nobody knew. It was nobody’s business but hers anyway. 

They were three weeks into a three-month stay. Charlie drove out Friday night and stayed most weekends. Weekends tended to be hectic. They always cooked a Sunday meal. Today was Lettie's birthday, so they were having crab fritters, a chopped Farmer’s Market salad, shrimp Louise, and blackberry crumble topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. Brook invited the neighbors. The girl was far more sociable than Lettie had ever been. Brook would feed the children early and put them to bed while Charlie and Lettie prepared the meal. Sunday evenings were a civilized,  grown-up affair. They wore dresses, and fixed up their sun-lightened hair. Charlie usually donned one of his favored colorful silk shirts. Lettie had been put in charge of the crab fritters, her specialty. Charlie would cook the shrimp concoction, and Brook had already prepared the salad and the crumble—Lettie's daughter Sarah’s recipe. Sarah was gone, taken by cancer, thirty some years ago now. Lettie's sibling’s were all dead. Four brothers, and one sister, gone. Her best friend was gone too, she died on the operating table, poor little Gertrude. 

Dying on the operating table was not for Lettie, she wouldn’t let doctors feed her pills, and she wouldn’t let them cut her open. She had made it this far, not too shabby. Ninety. Never thought she'd see the day, or grow to be so damn old. But, on this birthday, for some reason Lettie felt off. Not right. From the comfort of that folding chair it dawned on her, the old heart wasn’t beating, it was thumping. Lettie asked Brook if she wouldn’t mind setting up the umbrella after all. From under the shelter of the umbrella she watched Tess fill the bucket, dump the bucket, fill the bucket, dump the bucket, fill the bucket, dump the bucket. Sitting Indian style, her great, great granddaughter seemed content to be surrounded by mounds of lopsided soggy sand dunes of her own making.

Up in her room on the third floor, there will be no crab fritters or blueberry crumble tonight, as she's not feeling well enough to partake. Charlie positioned Lettie's bed in such a manner that she could prop herself up with pillows and watch the sun set over the Pacific through the bay window. Tonight’s sunset is spectacular, an orange and purple extravaganza, a fabulous display, the loveliest birthday gift ever. She closes her eyes after the sun descends, and sees them, one and all. Her people. Seems they have been waiting with willow arms to catch Lettie when she falls out of this life. A curious sensation ensues, she is all at once lighter than a grain of sand.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.