The Monster Saved Me

There’s a door in the floor of my granny’s house. It sits under the rug we use to wipe our feet on. Bayou stench festers on this rug. The smell of dead earth — that lingering hideousness of a body rotting into the ground. Every time we get the rains, more show up, more coffins the ground couldn’t hold. The coffins remind me I’m mortal. Sometimes I forget. It’s easy when I wear the cape Papaw made me from the duck cloth he uses to mend the sails of his shrimper. The cape is red, it repels water and knives. But it calls to the monster that lives under the floor of my granny’s house. The door to his prison — the prison my granny made for him.

Granny invited the Priest over for tea in the parlor. The Priest stood right on top of the monsters door, his bible in his hand, his collar crisp and white. He’s talked a lot about my sins since he got here. I’m a sinner. I’m too old to be wearing a cape and saying whatever comes to my mind. The Priest says Gran can’t help me, but he can — the church can, he corrects with a smirk.

I tap the handle of my knife on the crisp white lace tablecloth. I sip my tea through my teeth. Every time, Granny closes her eyes like that will block out the sound of my slurps. The Priest is asking me if I understand my sins. I nod. I’m a girl with dirty fingernails, who won’t sit through Mass and refuses to go to confession. I got no interest in cooking and my hair mats at the back from laying in the grass by the bayou with boys in dirty overalls. I’ve spread my legs too much. Granny says she’s knows I’m just like my momma that way. She don’t know the half of it though.

Gran agrees. I need some reform — a ruler to my thighs. I need to see the monster. He’d know what to do about my problem with civility. He’d know what to say to the Priest that would make him stop eying me like a piece of dirty meat. The Monsters voice is a whisper in my ear. Even when I’m swearing to Granny I never opened the door. That cellars off limits, Noula, you mind me or else. The threat’s wasted now. There is no or else. Or else is a few days away, its a uniform of white knee socks and plaid that sits on my bed.

The Priest is leaving. His long fingered hand covers my shoulder and squeezes, too hard for a Man-of-the-Cloth. Granny wants me to carry the tray. Yes, ma’am, I say sourly. The rug over the door is all furled. The Priest’s collar, a corner all starched and stiff, peaks from the crack in the door. I’ll get it later, I think, after the bones are all clean.

Written as an InMon prompt. My first in a very long time. 

Method Writing

There are a lot of different ways to approach writing. I don’t know what they are, but I’ve heard they exist. For me there is only one way: voices. I am prepared to sound totally insane here, but when I sit down to write, there must be a voice in my head. This is my narrator. Whether that voice manifests itself as the protagonist (as with my current work) or an observer (omniscient or otherwise), it tells me where I am going. It tells me who I am writing about. It tells me when I’m wrong. 

Writing first person it has become increasingly important to listen to the voice because she has become alive in me. I liken this process to that of a method actor. There are other ways to approach acting as well, but many of the actors we hold in high esteem are the ones who let the character into every part of their lives. This is a hard place to be — I have no doubt, it’s even harder for an actor, what with the actual being the character and all — because some of the control you have over things, over thoughts, or reactions, slips away.

As I lived the story, dug in deeper to my characters existence and what her journey was about, she became a bigger part of me. Life began to filter through her eyes. The life she was living in my novel, and the life I was living in Brooklyn. I’m not going to lie, this has been a little scary. But it has been the only way. My protagonist is one with a lot of kinetic, anxious energy. She’s one with a lot to lose, and at the same time, nothing she’s attached to. When I had a panic attack in a large department store because I was overly conscious of my surroundings, and the amount people who may touch me, I realized things were changing for me.

For the past couple months it has been this way, and I have had to learn to deal. The question I have is simple: Am I the only one who works this way? My first guess is, nope. Also, I am not looking for feedback on where I can get some good psychotherapy, that will not be well-received. Yes, I know I can shop online to avoid hyperventilating in Manhattan. The upside to this is that I have finished a huge rewrite on my novel and my protagonist is now quiet. She seems to be resting. I am letting her, because this book will have a sequel, at which time I may check into some kind of happy farm. Now, an illustration.

Word — er, Sentence Structure — uh, Choice?

I am profoundly shocked everyday at how one word can change an entire sentence. One word misused, overused, or poorly placed can throw off a piece of prose faster than an entire bad sentence. This is because a sentence poorly written will usually get scrapped, but a bad word can be overlooked draft after draft after draft. Sometimes this occurs not when a word shouldn’t be there, but when it very much should. Like a sentence not quite finished. For instance—

The wind shifted with new breath, but I couldn’t see anyone.

Ok, that is a fine sentence, nothing wrong on the surface, but something about it just doesn’t sit right. So try it this way.

The wind shifted with new breath, but still I saw no one.

Better — maybe still not perfect, but an improvement nonetheless. Now, this attention to word detail isn’t something I come to naturally. Until I began the arduous task of drafting and rewriting my first novel, I was more of a broad strokes type of writer. I believed in the power of inspiration. I was also a screenwriter, which requires less combing. Strokes of genius occur, ( No mater what Stephenie Meyer says, The Twilight Saga could have cut about 250,000 words, or a whole book) but they still need to be fine tuned.

From Small House Pottery.

Writing is a craft, it requires diligence, not luck. It is something you work at, and then you scream about, and then you grab a bottle of dark liquor and lament over, and then you grow a pair and get back to work.Writing is a job, not a vacation. If you are blessed enough to turn your job of writing into an actual job, then I imagine the ball game changes again. But, no matter what, a wrong word can be why someone stops reading. And no one can afford that.

Closings

Where have all the good bloodsucking corporations gone? Last month we learned that our beloved grocery store (the one very near my lovely, sunny apartment) was sold to a Walgreens. I learned this from one of the cashiers, a familiar teenager with long black hair and creamy caramel skin who was always a little aloof with me. As she rung up my diapers and box of Oreos, some toothpaste and a jug of milk —for the Oreos, milk’s favorite cookie — she leaned over and whispered, Hey, did you hear the Key Food is closing? I did a double take on the information, letting my mouth drop open, and groaned. Was this some sort of cruel joke she was playing on me? The frazzled mom who always argued with her son about buying a stick on tattoo from the vending machine.

The next few days would prove that this was not, in fact, some kind of belated April Fools prank, but was reality. When we decided to move to Windsor Terrace, this grocery stores proximity to our prospective apartment was a huge draw for us, newcomers to the Big City, and all. We felt safe with all that food and bathroom supplies across the street. Comforted that if we wanted a half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s after our son went to bed we could pop over easily and get it. Secure in the knowledge when it was blazin’ hot outside we could go stand in the freezer section for relief. This was all true for us, but overall, our plight is nothing in comparison to the longtime residents of the neighborhood.

This neighborhood is home to a lot of young families, but even more elderly residents, as well as a slew of independent businesses. The Key Food, for all intents and purposes, was the only supermarket in Windsor Terrace, a neighborhood packed with people dependent on that fact. I personally do not own a car, and am now being graciously carted to a grocery in Red Hook by my wonderful neighbor. My landlord’s parents live next door to us. They’re a lovely Italian couple in their 70s. They don’t drive, and aren’t in a position where they can walk down to 7th and Carroll St. to buy their groceries (then pay to have them delivered, and haul the perishables home.) The grocery gave them, and countless others, independence sorely needed and an ability to fend for themselves with dignity.

As I watch all of this unfold before my eyes, still a relative outsider in a neighborhood built by blue bloods, it pains me to see the lack of respect and consideration coming from this major corporation for the people they expect to patronize their store. Their unwillingness to comply with the simple request for a grocery section has shown their hand, and they’re already cheating. Where I come from, large pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS have food, wine and beer, along with aisles of shampoo and cough syrup.

In an online petition, written by one of the local business owners in Windsor Terrace, she goes so far as to tell Walgreens, “Don’t come here, we won’t buy from you.” And that is true. Many local residents have put signs in their windows that simply say: Boycott Walgreens. Others attended a rally at the Key Food shell where Walgreens reps discouraged further the idea that this neighborhood, and all the wonderfully weird people who live here, will not be seeing an ounce of sway on their part.

This little neighborhood war is a tragic statement, not only about this corporation, but about the thoughtless man who sold his grocery to a pharmacy. A man who made his money on the people of this neighborhood and then gave all of them the middle finger. Maybe that middle finger points to the real issue, the picture this paints for us a people. We talk a big game about respect, culture, and human equality in New York City, but we can’t get it right on a basic level. We can’t hear. This neighborhood has asked that they be heard. And Walgreens is choosing not to listen.

There is a real need in Windsor Terrace for a grocery. That need will exist whether Walgreens wants it to or not. Do I believe we’ll eventually let it go? Sure, some will, but others — those with deep roots here — are shaken where they live. Talking to neighbors on my block, many over sixty years old, the downturn in their eyes and the confusion is what registers most. And what about the fifty people now put out of jobs? The poor Walgreens CEO and Multimillionaire Key Food owner will say it’s just business, I get it. And maybe that’s true. But if they want to make money, they better start listening.