Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekend Mishmash: Five Fabulous Words

Apparently, there’s a new trend drifting through the blogosphere – that of creating a post around five unique words, offered by a fellow blogger. Well, yesterday, my good pal Deb L. Strange gave me five intriguing words: treasure, peace, meatball, surf, and memory. According to Deb, “you just work the five words into a post, any way you want. Some people do paragraphs for each, or a short story, a poem – whatever you like!”

Since I’m not much of a poet, I thought I’d share an edited part of my WIP, Hollow Souls. Ironically, the five above words all appear in the epilogue that has since been cut from my revision. After reading it, I’m sure you’ll understand why.

Just for fun – since it’s never going to see the light of day – I’ve decided to rewrite it in first person, from the perspective of Olivia Harper, my protagonist’s daughter:

MEMORY is seductive. It can creep in with the night, masked by dreams or, if dinner’s been eaten too late, by nightmares instead. It can find me asleep in the daytime, when my head has emptied its cares and left me open to influence. Triggered by the smallest of things: a subtle wink, a whirring helicopter, the fragrant sweet olive branch. A series of related notions, growing ever more complex, ever more remote from the initial thought, a sort of free-association train.

Memories often hide within the deep recesses of my mind, sometimes staying buried for years. They can catch me off guard and envelop my mind. Most of the time, though, memories flit in and out, only pausing to ignite their most poignant emotions.

The aroma of brewing coffee recalls the old percolator in my beloved piano teacher’s kitchen. Spying a father fishing with his child makes me long for Dad’s old boat. The electric atmosphere after a thunderstorm reminds me of my tenth spring, when I followed Beverly onto the dewy levee, to shoot off the firecrackers we’d found in her attic. Waves crash against the shore, and my cheeks burn with the memory of that last summer in New Orleans, when Nicholas told me how hard long-distance was, how it wasn’t me who’d changed, but him.

Almost always, memories are untrue, with at least a trace of misinterpretation. The years between can manipulate such events, making them seem more gleeful, more tragic, more crucial than they truly were. Hindsight often seems like foresight remembered, instead of what it really is: wisdom learned after years of inner struggle. Often, my mind leads me along hazy passages, offering mere glimpses of the past and letting my imagination fill in the rest.

So it’s always been with the tale of Ruby Hollow, a bedtime story unveiled in the sanctity of my first bedroom, recalled many times afterward, kept bottled inside for three decades. I wonder if I still see the dim tunnels clearly or if they’ve attained a mythical nature over the years. Though my present life on the island utterly completes me, I often find myself reflecting on that strange underworld, and I have to reread Jesse’s old letters or my mother’s infrequent notes to see if the memory belongs to me or someone else.

As I stand on the beachside deck, collecting the limp seaweed and other debris that Hurricane Miranda has left in her wake, I gaze across the disheveled shore and into the clear blue sky, wiped as clean as my conscience now that I’ve shared the secret of the Hollow with someone else. Michael is out front, trying to repair a broken railing. The children are downstairs, tidying up the rec room where most of our overnight guests weathered the three-day storm.

It seems so quiet now that the house is no longer filled with a herd of people and animals. Although the roof is missing a few tiles, the attic has suffered some leakage, and the debris will fill innumerable trash bags, the house withstood the tempest, just as Michael promised. Even without phone and electricity, we all survived.

We had a gas range and plenty of candles, linens, flashlights, water jugs, and canned goods – not to mention one another. Despite our uncertainty, we all did our best to keep the laughter flowing. Daryl and Samantha told corny jokes. Joe regaled us with embellished TREASURE-hunting yarns. Alec and Jess, who hoped their RV would still be standing after the storm, even shared a few of their highway misadventures. We played board games, read books, sang songs, tossed ratty tennis balls to the dogs, and tried to forget how isolated we were.

Like a makeshift community, we pulled together during the storm, pitching in wherever we could. We rotated the duties of feeding the animals and taking the dogs outside, beneath the shelter of the second-floor deck, for their reluctant but necessary potty breaks. We even took turns in the kitchen to satisfy the hungry herd down below. I made a large pot of MEATBALLS and spaghetti that lasted through the first night.

I remember chopping two potent onions for the meal. Alec’s cat kept me company in the kitchen, crouching on a cushioned chair, not making a sound. As my eyes began to water from the minced, vaporous onions, I noticed, in the glow of a few lanterns, that the slender calico cat also had red, watery eyes. She looked so sweet and vulnerable sitting beneath the tabletop, clueless as to the cause of her suffering and too scared to abandon her post. I set down the knife and gently picked up the furry feline, carting her downstairs, past a heated Monopoly game, to an empty bedroom. It was moments like these that made the house feel like a remote, tight-knit commune, protected from the elements and the influence of the world – like a smaller version of Ruby Hollow itself.

Spying Buddy on the beach below, chasing a butterfly, I’m reminded of Charlie, the dog of my youth, and the last time I saw my mother, during a secret rendezvous five years ago. Ignoring my task on the messy deck, I descend the sloping boardwalk to the beach. I sit on the soggy sand and hug my knees. As I gaze across the gently foaming SURF, I think about my mother, about her one-way trip to Kentucky over two decades ago, and the legacy of happiness she passed to me...


I awaken on the beach. I’m lying on my side, my face peppered with sand. Buddy circles me, whimpering. My recollections must have put me to sleep.

“Mommy?” Samantha appears, barefoot and worried.

I sit up, wiping the sand from my cheek. I’m not surprised by my inadvertent nap. I haven’t rested much in the past few days. “What is it, baby?”

“I think we have fleas. And Macy ate most of the Bible.”

“What are you talking about?”

Daryl appears on the dune. “The rec room’s a mess. We found a few chewed-up books under the sofa. The Bible, a couple books about famous artists, a rare one from the 1800s, and something by the Dalai Lama. They all had dog slobber on them. And it wasn’t Buddy’s.”

I look at Buddy and chuckle. Joe once told me about Macy’s pesky hobby. The willful golden retriever tends to chew books for fun, especially biographies and anything religious. “That’ll teach us to read the Bible. Now, what about fleas?”

Apparently, Joe’s dogs, who are often allowed to run on the beach and are rarely treated for fleas, have left a few critters behind. We’ll have to fumigate the house and dip poor Buddy in a flea bath, but it’s not the worst thing that could’ve happened.

I stand. “Don’t worry about it, guys. We’ll figure it all out. In the meantime, try to squish any bugs you find and keep up the cleaning.”

“But, first,” Daryl says, “we have to get something to drink. We’re both super thirsty.”

I grin. “Oh, by all means, take a break. Get some lemonade. It’s in the fridge.”

“Okay, Mom.” He heads for the boardwalk.

I kiss Samantha on the forehead, then she too bolts toward the boardwalk, with Buddy following closely on her sandy heels. I linger on the beach for a moment, watching the tide and thinking about my family. Every morning, I feel blessed to have my husband, my two children, my life on the island. Michael and I haven’t yet discussed the possibility of moving back to the mainland, but I know that surviving the much-anticipated hurricane has probably changed his perspective. It’s certainly changed mine.

If we stay here, we’ll face another fearsome tempest someday – perhaps worse than Miranda, perhaps before this year’s season is over for good. And, once again, we may have no choice but to wait it out while risking loss of life and property. As it stands, the causeway has yet to be repaired; we’re still virtually trapped on the island, and the same thing might happen again next time.

Sure, our house has survived, but Joe’s rickety old bookstore suffered a great deal of damage. Peter, the hare-brained tenant in Joe’s backyard, endured a pummel of branches on his motorhome. Alec and Jess’s trailer toppled over, and we knew at least one couple that drowned when the barge collided with the bridge.

But this is home, and every home can be fraught with dangers. Californians endure unexpected earthquakes. Oklahomans must seek shelter from sudden tornadoes. New Englanders are occasionally buried beneath a ton of snow. And nature isn’t the only unpredictable force in the world. New Yorkers certainly weren’t expecting the towers of the World Trade Center to come crashing down a week ago.

The only place that’s ever seemed safe from most of the hardships that mankind or Mother Nature has to offer is the underground world of Ruby Hollow, and even it has its disadvantages, including manmade floods and the daily threat of discovery.

South Padre Island is home for us, just as the Hollow is home for my mother and Jesse and the rest of their secret society. The island has everything we need – the Blue Marlin supermarket, Naturally’s health food store, the Island Clinic, gas stations, even an equestrian center – not to mention our dearest friends, and my very own art gallery and bead shop. We’ve made so many unforgettable memories here on the island – getting battered by the waves during our first attempt at boogie-boarding, watching romantic sunsets on Amberjack’s patio, helping the kids with an Easter egg hunt along the shore, racing dune buggies on the lonely stretches north of town. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of accompanying our pal Joe as he unearths a Spanish galleon in the sands offshore, especially in the wake of a hurricane.

“Olivia! You alright?”

Turning, I spy Michael on the deck. He’s sitting at an outdoor table with the kids, each sipping from tall glasses of ice-cold lemonade. He holds up a fourth glass, clearly meant for me, and grins that inviting half-smirk of his. I smile, dust off my linen pants, and stroll up the boardwalk.

Ultimately, my mother’s legacy has little to do with the truth about Ruby Hollow. Although the original fairy tale saw me through some rough points in my childhood and helped Samantha endure the last few furious nights, the moral of the story is that everyone has a right to be happy, to find a Ruby Hollow of her own. For my mother, that place is an underground labyrinth filled with like-minded souls. For me, it’s the unguarded island at the tip of Texas that my husband and children call home. Perhaps when Samantha’s older, I’ll take her to Kentucky to meet her grandmother and see the Hollow for herself. But, for now, I’m simply grateful for the PEACE after the storm and the family that’s waiting for me.


P.S. If you would like five words to experiment with on your own blog, let me know in the comments section. I'll be happy to oblige!


Susan R. Mills said...

Well done! Deb gave me five words, too. I'll do one a day during my partial unplug week. I'll need more for December if you want to throw some my way.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Susan! I can't wait to see what you do with the words. This'll be a partial unplug week for me, too - what with my film fest in a few days. Yikes, yikes, yikes!

P.S. I'll get you the five words soon. Must think on it!

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Wow! Excellent Laura, very nice piece of writing, if that's a sample of what you've cut I totally can't wait to see the rest of Ruby Hollow!!! It's so cool that you had a piece with all five words in it!

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Deb. *blushes* I almost didn't post this piece, but when I started thinking about your five words, I realized that they were all in that particular excerpt, and I knew that I had to swallow my pride and do it. I mean, how serendipitous was that?!

TheWordWire said...

You edited that whole passage out of your book? Why?? That was beautiful. I'd say that the fact it coincidentally contains the five random words of your writing challenge seems like a sign to put it back in. I love the line about memory almost always being untrue. Made me laugh, because I soooo love my reinterpreted memories! Great post!

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Wordy. Wow, with such positive responses, I might have to rethink my whole revision process...

I'm glad that line meant something to you... I, too, am a fan of my reinterpreted memories. Makes me grateful that I was less than consistent with my journal-writing back then. ;-)

Bane of Anubis said...

Laura, love the buildup of the idea of false memories (particularly b/c I come from a family w/ two pathological exaggeraters -- liars might even apply -- and, no, I'm not one of them -- of course, how would you know? :)

And, personally, I always like endings like this (I imagine the voice-over narrator coming in at the end of the movie), but I know you're trying to cut, so clipping the epilogue makes sense.

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Bane. I like endings like this, too, but at some point, even my favorite things have to go. For the greater good. (Sorry, I had a HOT FUZZ moment there.)