This week at Write On Wednesday:
A good place to begin writing fiction is out of your own experience. Look at your life and try to make sense of certain moments – perhaps small moments that represent some larger truth. ~from The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, The New York Writers Workshop
“I’m just not a bit surprised, are you?” Nita’s mother asked for the third time since she’d hung up the phone. “We all knew that child would come to no good.”
Nita ran the knife down the center of a celery rib, a surgical incision which spliced it neatly into two slender sections. Pinching them together, she began dicing rapidly, her wrist rotating across the stalks as she’d noticed celebrity chefs doing on the cooking channel which her mother loved to watch.
“It’s a shame, that’s for sure,” she replied, as she had on the previous two occasions.
“Poor little Vera,” Fran continued, shaking her head. “She took care of her mama all those years, and then that girl showed up on her doorstep, and now this.”
Nita thought of her cousin Vera, whom she considered her a favorite relative amongst the vast pack of cousins generated by her mother’s seven sisters. It was Vera who first gave Nita books for birthdays and holidays, recognizing her love for reading and stories long before her own parents acknowledged their only daughter’s bookishness. Nita remembers the excited anticipation that accompanied Vera’s visits, for she always brought an aura of the outside world into their small suburban house. Vera, with her college education and her hospital job, was so radically different from the other women in Nita’s life.
She cupped her palm around the mound of diced celery and picked up a handful, dropping it into a bright blue ceramic bowl half filled with chunks of chicken breast. Chicken salad sandwiches had become a staple lunch since her mother moved in with Vera six months earlier. Fran’s appetite was once robust, as befit a farmer’s daughter who loved to cook, but it became strangely meager after her bout with colon cancer last year.
“Just half a sandwich for me, honey,” she said, watching Vera flick a dollop of mayonnaise into the bowl. “I’m not too hungry today. I think that sad news put me off my food.”
Nita sighed, wishing again that she had been the one to answer this morning’s telephone call. Her Aunt Helen’s voice had been clearly audible from where she sat on the sofa, drinking her first cup of coffee and trying to finish the book up for discussion at her book club meeting that evening.
“Fran, honey, I’ve got terrible news,” she’d heard Helen say, without even the pretense of any other greeting. “Larissa’s dead.”
“My land!” Fran gasped, her hand flying to her heart as if to prevent it from escaping her chest. “What in the world happened to her?”
Helen’s voice had modulated into a lower pitch, and Nita could no longer make out the words. She stared at her mother, whose head was shaking sadly as she listened, her blue eyes glittery with tears.
“Oh, that is awful!” she interjected after a few moments. “Where in the world was Vera when all this happened? She wasn’t home? Then where…”
Nita tried to refocus on her book, knowing she would hear the entire story whenever the call ended. Her mother was notoriously efficient at re-telling tales, although Nita had noticed that one repetition had become insufficient of late, and she would often hear three of four versions of the same story before Fran moved on to another subject.
Should she be worried about that? Nita wondered, allowing the various exclamations from her mother’s voice to recede into the background. Could this habit of repeating stories be a sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia, a red flag Nita should be picking up on?
She should call Vera and ask, she thought. Vera was a geriatric nurse – or had been before she retired last year from her position as director of a nursing home.
Then Nita remembered that a tragedy had apparently struck Vera’s family. If Fran’s first exclamation was to be believed, Vera’s oldest daughter had just died.