Archive | January, 2012

Tomato Soup & A White Tee

30 Jan

There is a treacherous corner I am required to navigate when travelling between my cave (aka my cubicle) and the communal break room.  The latter is understandably busy during the lunch hour; my co-workers are in a rush to use the sole convection oven .  (The unfortunate losers are left to settle for one of four microwaves.  If they’re really late, they have to wait in line for said appliances and you know what is said about “watched pots.”)

Most wintry days I eat some type of soup in order to infuse some warmth into my bones.  As many of you have already guessed, today I have tomato soup.  My choice of lunchtime nourishment allows me to avoid the melee at the oven.  

However, when I return to my desk I have circumvent the 90-degree bend (made more perilous because of the increase in foot traffic).  My head remains bowed as I walk, making sure the liquid in my bowl doesn’t spill on the carpet—or my white t.  But when I look down I can’t see the others barreling around the corner.  Luckily, if I swing wide enough there is a point when my shadow grows larger and darker, stretching out in front of me and announcing my presence. 

But what would I do if someone is travelling at such a high rate of speed that he/she doesn’t notice my shadow and collides with me—and my soup, leaving a gruesome, tomato-splattered crime scene?

Stop right there.  It was a rhetorical question.  I’ve already thought of all possible suggestions you could offer to assist me in my plight:

  1.  Put less soup in the bowl  (It is soup, people!  Who actually fills up on liquid?  I need to survive until 5:00)
  2.  Go to lunch at a different, slower time  (I’m hungry when I’m hungry)
  3.  Go around the other way, avoiding the corner altogether  (Then I’d have to navigate the door leading to our department.  Opening doors and carrying hot soup aren’t a good combination)
  4.  Wear a tomato-colored shirt  (That hue does nothing for my skin tone and, when you’re single, vanity will win over every time)
  5.  Continue on the same daunting path, swing wide and allow a shadow to announce my presence while praying that no one in IT/Accounting/Media is making a mad dash for the convection oven

I think everyone knows which one I’m going to choose; after all, we are creatures of habit.

(Yes, this is the type of thing I worry about and spend my lunch hour stewing over… this and eating tomato soup.)

 

Tell your friends to follow moving-foreword.com via email!  If we can get 17 more people before Feb 3 then I will put up an additional chapter of The Mirrors at Barnard Hall.  What am I talking about?  Click HERE to start reading from the beginning.

#4 The Mirrors at Barnard Hall (Chapter 6)

27 Jan

Happy Friday, everyone!  I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know of a few additions I’ve made to the site. 

The most exciting news is that.pdf versions of Mirrors at Barnard Hall are now available for you to download if reading on-screen isn’t your thing!  The link is either at the top or bottom of the chapters via the “My Work” link.  All I ask is that, if you’re a tree-killer, you honor each death by sharing the printed copies with your friends. 

I’ve created a Facebook page for moving-foreword that you can “Like.”  Click on the link below! (No pressure… But you should probably do it… Now.)
www.facebook.com/MovingForeword

Finally, I’ve had a few readers request that I make additional chapters of Mirrors available before the Friday posting date.  In response, I issue a challenge:  If I gain 20 more e-mail followers on moving-foreword before Friday, February 3, I will post one additional chapter to celebrate. (That’s a total of 57)  Let’s get the word out there! 

And now, without further ado, here’s Chapter 6.

 Happy reading (and recruiting)!

-Jenny

(Starting from the beginning?  Click HERE)

Click to view/print the .pdf version of Chapter 6

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Chapter 6: Jump

“How did you move it?”  Tilly’s bed was now by the mirror.  She had relocated the heavy piece of furniture so it was grazing the smooth glass.  My bed was still across the room in the same place it had been since I had moved to England.  Today it felt like the distance was a mile wide.

“Oh, I didn’t move it,” Tilly said breathlessly.  She was sitting cross-legged on top of the quilt and smiling down at me.  Her ruffled blue dress was smeared with dirt—or chocolate; one never knew with Tilly.

“How did it get over there if you didn’t move it?”  Sometimes the things Tilly said made no sense; the bed couldn’t move itself.

“Nicki helped me.”

“Nicki?”  My voice quivered when I said the name.  Tilly was really cool so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that she had another friend.  But what if Nicki was more fun than me?  Tears welled behind my eyes but didn’t fall.  Nicki could probably play with Tilly for real.

“Nicki is my brother,” she clarified.

Her brief explanation was a relief.  From what Tilly had said, her brother wasn’t very much fun so there could be no competition between us.  “Nicki is a girl’s name.”  I had known a girl named Nikki once; she had hit me and stolen my pink lunch box.

“His real name is Nicholas Dalton II.  His friends call him Nick, but I call him Nicki.”

“Why?”

“To annoy him.”

“Why would you want to do that?”  Jim hated it when I was annoying. 

She shrugged.  “He’s my brother; it’s what I am supposed to do.”

As an only child, the concept of being annoying on purpose was foreign a foreign one.  When I was annoying I got into trouble.   “I wish I had a brother.”  Then maybe I wouldn’t be so lonely when Tilly wasn’t around to play.  And a brother could help me move my bed so I could be closer to my best friend.

“No, you don’t,” Tilly said, her tone serious.

“Why not?”

“Because they call you names, pull your hair, hide your toys, and worst of all they smell awful!”  Tilly plugged her nose and pretended to faint. 

Surely her brother didn’t smell that badly.  Maybe he played outside a lot and had accidentally stepped in something.  One time, back in Georgia, I was on an adventure and I had stepped in cow poop.  My mom ended up throwing away my favorite tennis shoes because of the smell left after I had cleaned them.

“Okay.  If brothers stink then maybe I don’t want one.”

“Good choice.”

“I wouldn’t mind a sister though,” I whispered, hoping my voice didn’t sound too sad.

“I’ve always wanted one too,” Tilly confessed.  “But do you know what I heard was even better than a sister or a brother?” she asked, grinning.

“What?”

“A best friend!”

Later that night, hours after Tilly had gone to bed, a fantastic idea crossed my mind.  Tilly would be so excited if she woke up and my bed was beside hers.  It would be like a sleepover every night!  I crept from beneath my covers and attempted to push my bed.  When that didn’t work I tried pulling on the corner post.  My fingers slipped, and I landed on my butt with a thud.  The heavy frame didn’t move an inch.  So, I wedged myself between the headboard and the wall, bracing my back against the stiff bed and my legs against the plaster.  The mass groaned and the floorboards creaked as the weight shifted.  But it moved.

By sheer will, I got the bed halfway across the room.  My legs and arms soon got too tired to keep going, and I sat on the floor, defeated.  I wanted a big brother to help me move my bed, even if he made the room stink.  My daddy would have helped me if he was around.  But I had no one.  To make matters worse, tomorrow I would probably get into trouble for leaving my bed in the middle of the room.

“Miss Callista, what are you doing, sweet child?”  Rosa’s whisper made me jump.

There was no way to hide the obvious. “I’m moving my bed.”

“Why on earth would you want to do that?”  She looked around the room and saw my destination.  Her dark gaze caught and held the golden-framed mirror.  I moved to insert myself between my housekeeper and the reflective glass. 

“Because I wanted it over there.” I pointed to the space where Tilly’s bed had been moved earlier. 

Instead of yelling at me, Rosa nodded, leaned against the headboard, and pushed.  Together we relocated the bed to the corner of my room so I could sleep beside my best friend.

I awoke that morning, face to face with Tilly as she stood on her bed.  Well, more face to ankle.  My eyes widened when I saw her jump. 

“Tilly!  What are you doing?” 

“What does it look like I’m doing? Honestly Callista, sometimes you ask the silliest questions.”  She bounced a couple more times before I spoke again.

“You’re jumping on the bed,” I whispered in awe.

“Yup.”  Tilly giggled and bounced higher.  Did she know that she wasn’t supposed to do that?  She could fall and hurt herself or get into big trouble. 

“Why are you jumping on the bed?”

“Because it is such fun.”

“It is?”

“Of course.  Otherwise there would be no point.  Try it,” she suggested.

“I can’t.”

“Come on, it’s quite easy.”

I watched skeptically as her little body went up and down.  Her feet barely made a noise as she sank into the spongy mattress then catapulted herself back into the air.  She looked so… free.

“Tilly, I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not allowed.”

“Have you ever asked permission?”

“Not exactly.”  It looked like fun, and I was never ever allowed to do anything fun.

“Has your mum ever said you were not allowed to jump on the mattress?” she asked, still jumping.

“No…”  No one had specifically said I couldn’t do it.

“Then you are allowed until she tells you that you aren’t.  Don’t you know that?”

A rule like that would mean I could do a lot of things I had been afraid to do before.  Could it be true?

“I don’t know…” I had a bad feeling about the whole situation, even if I was technically allowed to jump.

“Come on!” she shouted, stopping dead.  “It’s not as fun by myself.”

“You’ve been doing it by yourself all morning.”

“Yes, but you were sleeping then.  I had hoped that you would join me when you finally woke up!”

“Okay… but we need to keep quiet otherwise I will get into trouble.  Jim is in a bad mood today and wouldn’t like it if I interrupted him.”

“Jim is always in a bad mood,” she mumbled.  I secretly agreed.  “Interrupted him doing what?”

“Whatever he does in the library.”  He had made it clear that I was not allowed into that room, especially not when he was in there working—or whatever he was doing.  To make Tilly happy, I climbed to my feet and stood unsteadily.  Every time I caught my balance one way, I nearly fell over the other side.

“What does he do there?  Read?”

“I’m not sure.  Maybe.”  I had no clue and didn’t care as long as he left me alone.

“Are you ready to jump?”  Tilly’s voice got higher when she was eager.

I took a deep breath.  “Aren’t you scared?  It’s pretty high up here.”  The floor seemed so far away.

“No, not really.”

“But you’re supposed to be the one who is scared of heights, remember?”

“I’m only afraid of things that are really high.  Like the attic or the roof or door knobs.  I know door knobs aren’t that high but if I got stuck up there I could die!”  She shuddered dramatically.  “Now stop stalling and jump!”

I hopped but didn’t let my toes leave the bed.  My weight sank into the mattress, and I almost fell over.  My arms flew out involuntarily, trying to help me catch my balance. 

“Callista!  You can do better than that.”

I jumped a second time.  This time I let myself leave the earth below.  The moment my feet were in the air I laughed.

“You have to do it a lot at once; that is when it is the most fun.”  Tilly jumped four times in a row for emphasis; each time she seemed to go higher than she had before.

I mimicked her moves.  The laughter that bubbled inside me escaped as a loud giggle.  Nothing could hold me down as I flew into the air.  I felt like I could touch the ceiling, like I could touch the sky.  We were both laughing uncontrollably when she fell.

Everything happened at once.  My legs were getting tired, and I started to feel stiff; jumping on the bed was hard work.  Tilly’s legs must have been tired too because she was bouncing a lot higher—too high.  She came down wrong and her left knee gave out.  She fell backward in slow motion, toward the edge of her bed.  Then she righted herself and, instead of sitting down, she fell forward, into the mirror.

I winced, waiting for the glass to explode.  When I didn’t hear a crash, I opened my eyes.  There was no blood and no glass anywhere; the mirror was still in one piece.  However, there was a little girl, my best friend, sprawled out on the bed beside me. 

“Tilly?”  I stuttered as she shrieked and gave me a warm hug.

* * *

My body propelled out of the bed.  There was no clock around to indicate whether it was still night or the beginning of the morning. The birds, along with the rest of the world, remained lifeless; the air around me was jarringly soundless.  I steadied myself against the headboard in an attempt to stop the violent tremors coursing through my body.  The shivering eventually subsided, but my muscles ached from lingering tension.  Sweat dripped from my forehead; hopefully I wasn’t coming down with some rare, incurable disease.

Tonight’s dream had been alarmingly real.  Tilly, at least the Tilly of my illusions, had been so warm and so… alive.  But that was not the reason I was shaking.  Something else resonated in my mind; another fact my subconscious had revealed made my insides wrench with horror. 

Tilly had been petrified of heights.  She would have never willingly climbed to the attic, let alone the roof.  And, no matter how distraught she had been over losing her family, Tilly would never have jumped.  If the Tilly I had known had wanted to commit suicide she would have chosen another method, one that had not involved her only phobia.

Maybe Tilly’s ghost was stuck in Barnard Hall because she had not jumped from the roof.  Maybe she had been pushed.

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Textual Frustration

25 Jan

Last night I sent a detailed text message at 2:30 am specifying the exact reason why I was awake at such an ungodly hour on a weeknight.  It read something like this:

Me: I hate leaving my phone plugged in all night so I rolled over, semi-woke up when my headboard creaked, unplugged my phone, saw text messages and replied… Very exciting night I’ve had! 😉

The person I had been texting replied asking why my evening was so exciting.

Unfortunately, sarcasm doesn’t translate well via text. 

With the sheer ambiguity of the written word (made worse by character limits and messaging rates), it’s a wonder why we even bother to use that method of communication.  How many arguments have started because of certain terms of endearment used in jest?  How many sleepless nights have we endured because of a lack of response?  How many uncertainties were riled because of a lack of exclamation marks, colons, hyphens and parentheses : – ) ?  But, more importantly, how much of my witty, sarcastic humor has been lost in translation?

As writers (or avid texters) it is our job to effectively communicate settings, characters and emotions to our readers—or is it?  Should we be held accountable for our ability to bridge the communication gap with words on pages/screens?  How much responsibility falls on the reader to decipher what we were originally trying to communicate?  The way we perceive and relate information is inherent to each individual; will anyone ever truly understand what we’re trying to say?  Does any of it even matter? 

Personally, I’ve chosen to consider ambiguity as an obstacle to overcome… and if that doesn’t work then maybe I will just give up.  (<–sarcasm)

-Jenny!!!! : – ) : – )

Remember the next chapter of Mirrors at Barnard Hall comes out in 2 days!  Need to catch up?  Click HERE

Standing Room Only

23 Jan

In an effort to keep you from falling into a mind-numbing trance, today’s post has absolutely nothing to do with writing, reading or the romance genre. I swear I’ll get back on topic with my next rant. Until then…

Last March I went to a concert at the House of Blues in Atlantic City. General admission tickets were standing room only (first-come, first-served). As an inherently patient person who needs to be in one of the front rows to enjoy any event, I willingly sat in line for four hours before the doors opened. Since then, I’ve been to countless other concerts at smaller venues where S.R.O. is the law of the land (one of the many advantages to living in Music City). Each time I learned something new from my fellow fans concerning concert etiquette–and what gets on my nerves.

And so, for your reading pleasure, I have taken those lessons and compiled a list of Do’s and Don’ts for avid concert-goers.

DO
-go early and stay late. 
– make friends with the people around you. By the end of the event it will be necessary to establish a strong line of defense against those who feel the need to push forward.
-exchange contact information with other fans. I’ve already been to three concerts with random people I had met at previous shows.
-wear comfortable shoes (for SRO). You’re going to be on your feet the entire time. (If you feel the need—or you’re short—carry a spacious purse so you can stuff a cute pair of heels to throw on just before the main act comes onstage)

DON’T
-apologize for throwing on heels just before the main act comes onstage. It’s not your fault those around you didn’t read this blog.
-wear a concert t-shirt from that show to that show. You don’t need to reiterate the fact that you’re there. We can see you… and you look obsessed.
-drink anything. If you have to use the facilities, you will lose your hard-earned spot near the stage. You didn’t wait in line for four hours for nothing, did you?
-bend down to pick up a stray guitar pick because you will get stomped on (crazed fans are vicious). The proper way to retrieve the plastic flake is to step on it and slide it close to you, careful to keep the souvenir beneath your shoe until the people around you stop looking for it.
-sing every line to every song at the top of your lungs. (If you do this there is a 70% chance that you are also in violation of #2)
-propose to the headliner via glittered signage. (However, if you simply must make your proposal known, don’t use the person’s first and last name on the sign. If you want to marry them you should at least be on a first-name basis. Also, don’t make your teenage boyfriend hold the sign while waiting in line unless you’re prepared to change your Facebook status to single at night’s end.)

Anything else that you think should be added to this list? Please share!

#3 The Mirrors at Barnard Hall (Chapter 5)

20 Jan

Not only is it Friday—a great day in and of itself, it’s a pay Friday.  The only factor that could make this day better would be if it was a payday-preceding-a-three-day-weekend-Friday.  Alas, I will have to be content with a pay Friday.  One reason I love Fridays is that the five o’clock hour holds such promise.  It marks the end of something many of us loathe—the workweek—and the beginning of what we find ourselves living for: the weekend!  Don’t get me wrong, I love my day job.  But if I could trade a workday or two for an extra weekend day I would appreciate my job even more!

As if I didn’t love Fridays enough, today I get to share another chapter of my manuscript with you folks! 

Happy reading!

-Jenny

Do not be left behind!  Click HERE to start from the beginning.

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Chapter 5: Date

“You are leaving, Miss Callista?”

I slowly put my bags down before responding to Rosa’s question. The answer, though simple, was rife with irrational reasoning.  What if she asked me why I was leaving?

Rosa’s face had a few more wrinkles, and her black hair was now streaked with silver, but she was the same giving woman from my youth.  As always, she wore a tailored gray dress. From what I could remember, Rosa had never dressed in bright shades.  I had taken the fact for granted when I was younger, now the detail piqued my curiosity.  Perhaps she considered the somber clothing a sort of uniform, although none was required for employees at Barnard Hall.

“Yes, Rosa,” I finally responded.  “I have plans to leave in the morning.”

Her forehead wrinkled in confusion, but she did not argue. 

How could I explain to her that I had not gotten any sleep since I had arrived because I was being haunted by the memory of my imaginary childhood friend?  Or that I was really being haunted, not by the memory, but by the ghost of my friend.  According to Beth, that seemed the more acceptable explanation for recent events.  There was no other option available if I hoped to stay sane.  I had to leave.

She nodded.  “This place has not been the same without you.  We will miss…”  Her face fell as she amended her statement.  “I will miss you.”

Even when my mother and her husband had been alive, the first part hadn’t been true.  No one besides Rosa had ever missed me.  I tried to smile reassuringly but knew the effort was futile; the movement felt like a lie.  “I suppose a promise to visit would be worthless.”

Her mouth lifted in a confirming smile.  We both knew after I left I would not be back.

“You could always come to America with me!  I can have a ticket booked in less than an hour.  Do you have a passport?”  Why hadn’t I thought of the idea beforehand?  Rosa could live with me, and we could put the memories of this house behind us. 

“Miss Callista, I cannot go with you.”

“Why not?”  There was nothing tying her down.  Her husband had died years ago, and she had no other family to speak of.  The house would likely be for sale at the end of the month, and she would have nowhere left to go.

“My place is here, with the house.”

Her response had not been what I had expected.  She had said, not that she belonged in the town or even in England, but that she had belonged with the house.  In an odd way it made sense.  Barnard Hall had been her home for a long time; it was understandable that she wouldn’t want to relocate now.  Still, the steel in her statement was hard to accept.

If I did sell the property, the next owner may not want to keep her as part of the staff.   In that case, Rosa would be separated from her home anyway.  But if she wanted to remain with Barnard Hall then I would do everything in my power to see that she had a place here for as long as she wanted to stay.

“What will you do?” she asked quietly.

It was unclear whether she meant me personally or what I was planning for the property—not that I had an answer for either.  I was still coming to terms with my plans for Barnard Hall.  Despite my lack of affection for the place, the decision to sell felt wrong.  And my life?  Well, that was an entirely different mess.

“I don’t know, Rosa.”  On either count.  I turned to collect the last of my bags but the overwhelming shadows guarding the top of the steps made me pause.  Instead of allowing the darkness to consume me, I grabbed my coat and headed for the door.  Rosa pulled a red umbrella from the stand and handed it to me but did not ask where I was going.  She probably knew before I did. 

I wondered aimlessly amongst the high hedges and green fields.  For a country with so much precipitation, the drainage system was horrendous.  In some places the puddles swallowed half of the road.  Instead of avoiding the sedentary water, I waded through.  I turned by the gothic church and let myself into the gate standing guard along the perimeter of the cemetery. 

Although I had been here yesterday, it felt like a lifetime ago.  Mounds of flowers had been abandoned, left to bathe my mother’s grave in wilting petals and leaves.  An arrangement of roses caught my eye.  The red buds were woven intricately around the word “Mom.” The ever-thoughtful Rosa had probably taken care of ordering the arrangement on my behalf.

Everything in the past week blurred together into periods of light and darkness, varying shadows.  To pick out one event would be impossible.  My body had been present, but my mind had been elsewhere, distancing itself from the traumatic situation.  The dreams of Tilly had felt more real than the last week of my life.

In the empty graveyard I thought I would be able to feel some semblance of emotion without an audience waiting for my reaction.  But no tears came.  I had resigned myself to losing my mother years ago; the final separation came as no shock. 

The rain started to fall harder; the steady sound of the deluge made the scene more serene.  The hums of passing cars were muted by heavy drops connecting with the damp earth.  Everyone and everything had sought shelter from the downpour.  The air around me stilled.

  My trip to the graveyard had been useless.  I didn’t know what I had come to find, but whatever it was, it wasn’t here.  Nothing had changed since the funeral.  She was never coming back.

  Delaying my return to Barnard Hall, I wandered among the headstones.  Reading the names written there allowed my imagination to construct the lives of the people long since buried.  Where had they lived?  Had they been happy?  How had they died? 

Some of the rocks were adorned with ornate, Celtic crosses or carved with winding stems and flowers that opened to the non-existent sun.  Others were plain, etched with only a name and two dates.  The newer stones were smooth like crystal, expensive and showy.  The constant rain had weathered and dimpled the older stones; the sandpaper surfaces scraped my fingertips.  I felt a link to the oldest ones. They had been forgotten, abandoned just like me.

Despite brandishing an umbrella, it wasn’t long before I was soaked through the skin and decided to seek shelter by the lone tree inside the fence.  The wide leaves did little to staunch the rain.  The plot beneath was the most peaceful in the cemetery.  I looked out over the rolling field dotted with yellow shrubs.  On a sunny day the view would be picturesque, worthy of any calendar.  If I had lived and died here, I would have chosen this plot myself. 

The morbid thought made me chuckle darkly.  I was probably the only seventeen year old in the world choosing the plot where her body would spend the rest of eternity.  Just as I turned to go, my eyes caught the inscription on the headstone next to me and I stopped mid-step.

Matilda Eileen Dalton Westbrook
Loving daughter, sister, wife, and mother.
May 15, 1884—August 24, 1912.

I swiped at the raindrops clouding my vision, noticing too late that it was no longer raining.  The heavy clouds had cleared and faint sunlight peeked through, reflecting off the damp surfaces surrounding me.  My eyes burned but it was impossible to staunch the flow of tears as I wept over the grave of my childhood friend.  I was not sure if I cried because her life was over or because she couldn’t have existed to me. 

The proof was right beneath my fingertips yet something felt wrong.  I caressed the cold stone, reverently tracing the shallow letters.

Beth had been right; Barnard Hall had been haunted.  Years ago I had befriended the ghost of a beautiful little girl.  My fingers rested on the date of Tilly Dalton’s death.  “August 24, 1912,” I said aloud.  “August 1912…”

Something triggered in my memory and my heart gagged me as it jumped from my chest.

Suicide.” 

I ran back to Barnard Hall with the ghost of my friend Tilly chasing me the entire way.  I was afraid to look back just in case I caught a glimpse of her tiny black curls bouncing behind me.  By the time I made it to the entrance my lungs were on fire, screaming for oxygen.

The heavy door slammed against the wall as I burst into the house.  Luckily, the one person I had wanted to find was walking out of the parlor.  I ran to her and gripped her shoulders, steadying myself.  

She stared at me as thought I had gone insane.  When she spoke her voice shook.  “Miss Franklyn, are you alright?”

Organizing my flood of emotions into a coherent sentence wasn’t working so I blurted out the one word that had been swirling in my mind.  “Suicide.”

Beth’s eyes widened.  “Calm down, Miss Franklyn.  I understand you are distraught over recent events but you cannot go around speaking ill of the dead.  I cannot imagine how saddened you must be by the loss of your mother and father, but there is no evidence of suicide.”       

“Stepfather,” I corrected automatically.  Her statement gave me time to collect my thoughts.

“Yes, stepfather,” she amended.

We stared at one another in silence until she tried to pull from my grasp.  “Who was the woman who committed suicide?”

“What woman?  I am sure I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“The curse.”  Those two words brought recognition to her face.  She looked embarrassed at having been pegged as the source of such superstitions.  “The daughter who jumped off the roof one-hundred years ago, what was her name?” I prompted.

“That’s just a tale, mere speculation.  You know how stories can become distorted over time.”

“Her name, Beth!”

“She was the only daughter of Nicholas and Maria Dalton.  I believe Matilda was her name.  At some point she was married, but I am not sure what her surname was after she wed.”

The blood drained from my face, and I could no longer breathe.  Bile rose in my throat, but I quickly swallowed the burning liquid.  My stepfather had been right, I was crazy.  Tilly… Matilda had died one-hundred years ago, and my mother had died this past week.  No, that was not true.  My mother had been dead long before the car accident.  Either way, the death of a person I could not possibly have known had affected me more so than the death of my own mother.

I stumbled into the parlor and fell onto the chaise lounge.  Memories from when I had left Barnard Hall came flooding back to me. 

The first thing my great-aunt had done when I had arrived to her home in New York was hire a therapist.  I had endured a traumatic childhood—at least that was what I had been told.  My mother had been constantly in the spotlight and she had remarried two months after my father’s death.  I had been moved to another country from the only home I had ever known and I had lived with an abusive stepfather.  To me it had been normal; in my mind all families had been like mine. 

Then I had imagined/dreamed/met Tilly.

I had been handling life pretty well, considering.  But, despite my trauma-filled childhood, I’d been required to go to therapy for the one bright part of my life: my best friend.  Dr. Starn had wanted me to recognize Tilly had not been real; she had been a figment of my imagination, a result of stress from the recent changes I had endured. 

I, on the other hand, had wanted him to realize Tilly was real.  I had played with her, and she had played back.  She had been more real to me than anyone else.  I had to pretend my mom loved me.  I had to pretend my stepfather loved me too.  I knew Tilly loved me. 

At first I had resisted therapy; I hadn’t wanted to reveal any of my secrets to some invasive stranger.  When it was apparent that my strategy wasn’t working, I had switched tactics and had told Dr. Starn all about my best friend in an attempt to convince him I was not a liar. 

“Callista, I want you to tell me about your friend,” Dr. Starn said.  He was an ugly man.  His glasses slid down the length of his beak-like nose, and his mouth was almost completely covered by a bushy, gray beard.  He looked sweaty and smelled like smoke.  When I got too close to him it made me cough and my made eyes burn.

“Her name is Matilda Dalton and she’s not just my friend, she’s my best friend.”  There was a big difference between the two.

“I see.  How did you first meet Matilda?”

“Tilly,” I corrected.

“I’m sorry?”

“She likes to be called Tilly.”

“What does she call you?”

“Just plain Callista.”  There were not many nicknames that could be made from Callista.  I had tried to think of one for her to call me, but she had told me that my name was too pretty not to use it.

“Alright.  How did you first meet Tilly?”

“I was grounded for not eating my liver, and she was sent to her room for stealing cookies.”

“I see.  Where is Tilly’s room?”

“In mine.  We share.”  I shared everything with Tilly.

“You two share rooms?”  He seemed surprised by the idea.

“Yes.” 

He wrote something in his notebook.  He was old and probably had to write things down so he did not forget the important stuff.  My great-aunt Mildred had lists stuck to all kinds of things in her house.  Some of them had been there for weeks; I had a funny feeling she had forgotten where she had put the scraps of paper.

“So, what do you and Tilly do together?”

Dr. Starn must not have any kids; every dad knew what kids did together.  “We play with dolls and tell secrets.  Sometimes she jumps on the bed, but I’m not allowed to do that.”

“Is that all you do?” he asked.

“Yes.  She plays with me when I’m in my room.”

“Only in your room?  Why not in the rest of your house?”

I didn’t have the answer to that question so I shrugged. 

“Have your parents met Tilly?”

“You mean my mom and Jim?”  Jim was not my dad.

“Yes, your mom and Jim.”  He made a note so he wouldn’t make that mistake again.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t think she would like them.”  Sometimes I didn’t like them either.  “Jim saw her one time though.”  I tried not to think of the last time I had seen Tilly and shook my head against the horrible memory.

“I see.  And what did he do when he saw her?”

I shook my head again.  I didn’t want to think about it.  It would make me cry and I refused to cry in front of Dr. Starn.

“Hmm…  Did you introduce her to anyone else you know?  Maybe your housekeeper, Mrs. Santos?”

“No,” I whispered.  I had wanted to introduce Tilly to Rosa, but Tilly had wanted to keep our friendship a secret.  Having a secret friend had made life more exciting. 

“Do you think there is a reason why no one has met your friend?”

“I have met her,” I said stubbornly.  I was someone.

“Do you think maybe you are the only one who can see her?” 

I didn’t like the way he said that.  “No.”

“No?”

 “No,” I repeated with more force.  “Jim saw her.”

“What did he do when he saw her?” he asked in a pushy voice.  When I crossed my arms and refused to answer he asked again, “Callista, what did he do?”

“He killed her,” I whispered, trying to ignore my tears.

“That didn’t happen.  You’re making it up.”

“No, I’m not!  Tilly is real… she was real.  Other people could have seen her too but she never wanted them to.”

“Why not?” he pressed.

If only I could stop crying; my head was hurting.  “She always thought they would ruin our fun.”

Dr. Starn closed his book and scooted to the edge of his chair.  He spoke in a serious tone.  “Callista, listen to me.  Your friend does not exist.  Your parents asked around the town and no one who knew a girl named Matilda.”

I continued shaking my head, trying to keep his words from sinking in.  “That’s because her name is Tilly and she lives in my room!”

“She is not real, Callista,” he said with finality.

“Yes, she is!”  I felt a familiar weight around my neck and calmed down immediately.  Tilly had been real, and I didn’t care if no one believed me.  As long as I believed in her nothing else that mattered.

When Dr. Starn had told me that she did not exist, I had shut myself off from the logical explanations he had given.  Then I had overheard Aunt Mildred’s conversation with my mother.  She had said that I had to keep going to therapy until I realized Tilly had not been real.  Apparently my friendship wasn’t healthy.

Eventually, I accepted defeat and took the things Dr. Starn had said to heart.  My progress was remarkable, the change miraculous.  I had talked myself out of believing I had ever had a friend. 

Now I had a whole batch of new problems.  Matilda Dalton had been a real person.  She had lived and she had died.  But, most importantly, she had existed.  The problem was that she had been dead for over ninety years when I had first met her.  So, in theory, I had to have been playing and conversing with a ghost.

For some reason, the ghost explanation was harder to swallow than Tilly being a real girl.  Logical thought and reason did not allow for the presence of the undead.  I tried to remember all the nonsensical stories I had heard about ghosts.  Some people believed that ghosts had to stay in limbo if they had unfinished business.  Maybe Matilda had to do something before she could go to heaven.  She had always been in my room, so maybe she was connected to the room in some way beyond mere occupancy.  There could be something hidden beneath the floorboards or behind a secret panel that needed revealed before she could pass to the afterlife.

 Tilly had been twenty-eight when she had died.  Why had her ghost been a little girl?  I didn’t have an explanation for that one.

Besides the fact that they did not exist, there was another issue with my ghost theory.  Ghosts were supposed to be creepy, and I had never been scared of Tilly.  Also, I had played with her toys and I had touched her.  She had been a solid mass, not some mirage manifesting itself with the energy in the air.  And, to the best of my memory she had not been cold. 

Ghosts were supposed to be cold, right?

Why I Love Romance [Novels]

19 Jan

I know what you’re probably thinking so let me stop you before your mind inevitably wanders into the gutter.  My affinity for the genre does not stem from my inability to keep from swooning over the Fabio-esq men who typically adorn the covers of Romance Novels.  As a matter of fact, photos of the “characters” on the covers of those books are the only reason I hate romance novels.

Physical qualities that people consider attractive are too subjective.  Let’s say the text describes the man in the story as burly with piercing blue eyes and blonde hair; if the reader isn’t into blondes then I’ll bet the character that lives in her imagination does not have golden locks.  Even as someone with a relatively inventive imagination, I find it difficult to envision the “hero” depicted on the front cover if I do not find barely contained rippling muscles and a stubbled, strong-jawed face attractive. 

But this post is about why I love the genre, so in regards to the aforementioned rant, I digress.

I love the entire romance genre for the same reason people willingly purchase tickets to see the countless number of romantic comedies Hollywood cranks out year after year: I love “happily ever afters.”

Life is so volatile that I need a bit of corny predictability infused in my favorite pastime.  It doesn’t matter what feud has occurred, what lies were told, what miscommunications the characters have endured, by the final page the hero and heroine will always be together. 

While I read and enjoy books with endings that are not always expected, my mind tends to obsess over all of the possible outcomes.  Each twist and turn takes away a bit of the simple enjoyment of getting lost in someone else’s imaginary world.   The control freak in me needs to know what is going to happen.

So that is why you will forever find stacks of paperbacks in my closet, underneath my bed, in shoeboxes in my basement and, occasionally, on my bookshelf.  Life doesn’t always end up happy—but romance novels do. 

-Jenny

(PS. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the next installment of Mirrors at Barnard Hall!  Haven’t read it yet?  Start Here)

It is finished.

17 Jan

When I “finished” my first manuscript (please note that I am using that term in the loosest sense imaginable—even after three years I’m still tweaking the thing) there was a period that lasted for about a month when my mind simply refused to bear any creative fruit.  It was as though my imagination had gone on strike, furious over the long hours of overtime, grisly working conditions and fictional compensation.  For that thirty-day period I could not come up with even a page of new material.

Until that point, I had never met the infamous writer’s block.  Ideas had either flowed easily—and I wrote for countless hours, or they didn’t come at all—and I attempted to infuse some social aspects into my painfully boring life.  So this drought came as quite a shock to my system.

Questions replaced the tale that had previously taken up residence in my brain.  What if that story, one that had come so effortlessly, was my only artistic contribution to the literary world?  What if no other intriguing characters introduced themselves to me?  What if that single unpublished manuscript never made it beyond the hidden confines of my external hard drive?

I cannot recall what possessed me to start on my second novel.  All I know is that the floodgates opened once again and I was writing until that second story had a “happily ever after.” 

The break between my second and third manuscripts was much shorter.  When I first started my journey I had believed that I had been mining for ideas from a limited natural resource; someday they were simply going to run out.  However, in that moment it seemed as though the practice of writing had served as a catalyst, allowing the words to come easier.  That was then…

These days I am ashamed to admit that I am in the midst of experiencing the longest dry-spell of my relatively short and technically nonexistent “career.”  I haven’t written anything new (that is worth finishing) in nearly a year. 

There are a few logical explanations for why I haven’t created any fresh material.  In the past I’ve found that I write best during the day—a habit that doesn’t jive with a 9-5.  Thankfully, this blog has motivated me to get back to what I love most: writing.

At this point I am actually afraid that a story will take hold of me and keep me hostage from my strict training regimen (I’m shooting for a ½ marathon in April), my budding social life, or the very job that allows me to put a pen in my hand and paper on the desk. 

Here’s hoping I find the perfect balance between writing, running, working and going out in public.

Besides “writing through it,” how do you overcome the doldrums between projects?