Monday, October 31, 2011

Barely fiction

My sister told me about a novel writing contest, of sorts, that is supposed to begin in November. I cheated and started writing some stuff a couple of days ago. More than anything else, I wanted to see how long 2,000 words/day is (to get to 50,000 words in a month). Pretty darn long! Here's the website describing the contest:

My sister told me one "rule" is no editing, or minimal editing. Turn off the editor, and just write!
Here's one of the stories I wrote. I found that I didn't have a novel just waiting to be written down, as of yet, but I do have plenty of stories that I can just lift from my daily life. So I'm doing that at the moment. I must admit this has not been refined by an editor's gentle touch -- it's quite rough around the edges, so be forewarned.

She wanted to hug them all and not miss any of them, even though they were all hot and sweaty from the dancing. It had been such a fun evening, such a contrast to her first impression of this place as a fortress, seeing the tall fences surrounding the compound that was these girls’ temporary home. These fences were designed to keep everyone in. The last time she had seen such high fences was at a jail. They made her want to run away before she got trapped inside them, too.

It was the annual Halloween celebration at the Methodist Girls’ Home. Though her husband’s men’s group put it on, she always came out to give the girls a little attention from another woman, some smiles, maybe even some hope in their lives.

These girls were here as one stop in what could become a revolving-door life, where nothing was secure and no relationships were lasting, not even the crucial ones with Mom and Dad. These girls all had faced serious parental issues before being removed from their homes and brought here. Some had parents who were serious drug users. Others had been abused or neglected. Most of them had siblings who had been placed elsewhere.

Here they all were, these teenage girls, some on the verge of adulthood. What kind of prospects did they face? The chances of getting adopted were slim indeed at their advanced ages. They could hope for a loving foster family, but going down that path guaranteed that their lives would continue in an uncertain, changing direction. Others would be reunited with their families, if the potential for harm was judged to be not too terrible.

Sheila thought of her own two teenage sons and the drama that was already embedded in their lives, just from the raging hormones that made their behavior so inconsistent, and the built-in ups and downs of high school relationships. The last thing anybody needed at that age was an unstable family life.

The dancing felt so good. Everyone relaxed and just had fun trying to learn the steps of a few line dances without running over their nearest neighbor. Some of the guys in the men’s group weren’t so young anymore, and they danced – hobbled might be the more accurate word, she had to admit – on the fringes of the girls. Her husband, charming as always, was dancing in the midst of a group of girls who were all helping him learn the moves.

One young girl was clearly the best dancer of the group, and the natural leader. Sheila found herself watching her to see which direction to move, and mimicked her natural grace as she wove her body to the beat. It was a little difficult, dancing in the stuffy full-length Renaissance dress that trailed the floor and threatened to trip her at every turn. But dressing up had been part of the fun. Maybe these girls didn’t get to dress up for Halloween, but Sheila and her husband could wear costumes for them.

One girl, wearing an old gray T-shirt and sweatpants, stood aside and didn’t dance at all. No one was making her dance. Sheila noticed her, apart and alone, the only still figure in the room.

Sheila had decided to sit with the girls, earlier, when they had pizza, sodas, and hot Cheetos for dinner. What a combination! Sheila’s stomach, always rather finicky, rebelled at the thought of this greasy, spicy and sugary combination. No wonder they wound up dancing so frantically – all the sugar, caffeine, and calories gave them lots of energy.

Using her Sunday school name, Sheila had introduced herself as Mrs. Monroe. The men had stayed back in the kitchen or brought drink refills, but no one else from the group sat with the girls while they ate. The girls were clearly interested in her and asked where she lived, what church she attended, and whether her husband was the man dressed up as a swashbuckling Renaissance man, which of course he was. She told them about her two sons and their ages, then said it was a good thing that the group eating pizza wasn’t a bunch of boys – they would have had to order twice as much food! The girls giggled and said, “Oh, there are some girls here who could eat a whole pizza for themselves.” But no one did. They ate their one or two pieces, chewing slowly, some of them dipping the slices in thick gobs of Ranch dressing. They seemed endlessly grateful for the meal, saying “thank you” over and over again.

After dinner, Sheila noticed as one girl after another went to receive some kind of medicines from an attendant. She could only speculate as to what the drugs might be – anti-narcotics? Anti-depressants? ADHD or bipolar meds?

The dancing drove these thoughts away, as Sheila and her husband focused on learning the steps of every line dance with the girls. After several songs had passed, the laughter got louder and the movement more chaotic. Sheila started feeling a little claustrophobic, surrounded by so many writhing young women. Looking around, she realized that she was the only visitor still dancing with the girls. Sheila gradually danced off to one side and backed herself away from the action, watching in awe along with the men’s group as the girls burned off some energy. They looked like they were having so much fun, enjoying the moment and setting aside their uncertain futures to just dance.

Afterwards, it was as though they were all fast friends. Each girl came up to everyone in the men’s group to thank them again for coming out. Sheila quickly decided to give these girls hugs, every one of them if they would allow her to. She wasn’t a masterful hugger the way some people at church were. It didn’t necessarily come naturally to her. But at this moment, she thought the greatest gift she could give these girls was a real hug. Even if she had to grab hold of a bunch of hot, sweaty, smelly bodies to do it. It was the closest way she could think of just giving them a little bit of the love that was otherwise so lacking in their young lives. If she could have handed them some hope to go with it, she would have.

But maybe that’s what the dancing was all about.

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