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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Read Part of Chapter One of Rain Song


[A few pages into Chapter One]........


Ducee traces the rim of her teacup with a bony finger. Slowly she says, "You aren't in control of everything or anybody. Remember that, Iva."

If I ever compile a list of my grandmother's sayings, this one will be at the top.

We know she will add another part to her thought, and she does. "Good things happen in fleeting moments. Enjoy what you can—those moments are sometimes all we get." She focuses on both of our faces and then, "Yes." There is a long pause as though she is remembering something almost lost, like one of those long-gone fleeting moments she wants to recapture in her mind. "Yes, that's it, yes."

Iva finishes her tea, pushes her cup and saucer toward the middle of the table, and smacks her lips. "Well, Grable's not having any good things happening these days. Having to do it all alone and then when Dennis does decide to come home, he has no patience for Monet. She is his daughter." She lights another cigarette and coughs.

I think of Grable and Dennis's three-year-old, Monet, the child no doctor at Duke or UNC hospitals can figure out. The child is wild, and my patience for her runs thin. The last time she overfed my fish, I screamed at her. Then I felt awful and bought her a coloring book and pack of Crayolas. Grable has aspirations that Monet will live up to her name and be able to paint like Claude Monet.

Grable also thinks Dennis will cut back his hours at the law firm, take some time off, and fly with her to an exotic country, preferably Costa Rica.

"Monet is a treasure," Ducee says with feeling. "Trying, but if you listen to her heart, she is charming."

Both Iva and I give Ducee looks as if she's lost her mind.

Iva crumples her empty cigarette pack. "Don't know why God made her the way she is."

Ducee starts to speak, but Iva interrupts. "I know, I know, you're going to say His ways are not our ways. And to trust Him and not doubt. Birds of the air." She waves her cigarette in front of her face. "I know, I know." She clears her raspy throat. That action always makes me quiver.

"Actually," Ducee says, "I was going to ask if you wanted more tea."

Iva places the end of the Virginia Slims in the ashtray and stands. "No, got to get to the Friendly Mart."

We know why. She just smoked her last cigarette. We watch her untie her apron and fold it on the back of the chair. She ruffles her dyed-platinum hair by running fingers through the roots. Her smile shows her gold molar. She thanks her sister for the day, extending her arm so that Ducee can touch it with her lips.

"See you tomorrow at church," Ducee says as Iva pulls on her short fur coat and fastens the pearl buttons.

Iva coughs. "The Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise." She squeezes my shoulder before striding for the front door. Iva is tall—close to six feet—and she has a way of easing across floors when she walks, like a waterbug skimming the river's surface.

Ducee tilts her head and looks at me through smudged bifocals. "Is it Richard?" she asks after Iva leaves the house.

I sigh. "Richard and I broke up last night." There, I've told her. Why does my grandmother always win?

She nods as though she already knew. That woman knows me like her famous family chutney recipe. When she looks at me, I swear she can see the missing ingredient.

"Why don't you come over for dinner after church tomorrow, then?" She pats my hand. Her hand is tiny, the skin thin with age spots and protruding purple veins. "I'll make barbeque chicken." She smiles, adding, "With the Smithfield sauce you like so much."

A moment passes and the silence eats at her. "Nicole, dear? You okay? Anything else you need to tell me?"

Can she see into my mind?

"No." I can't tell her that I've received a beautiful poem from a carp owner in Japan. Surely when she looks at me she doesn't know that, does she? I have also dreamed of him, although I have no idea what he looks like in real life.

Since the death of my mother, Ducee has practically raised me. Although I lived with Father until I graduated from high school, during those years, my summers and school breaks were always spent at Ducee's house. She knows I have a mole the shape of an apple on my lower back and that even at age thirty-one, I continue to sleep with a cloth kimono doll.

But there are still lines I draw. She doesn't get to know everything.

Sometimes, though, on chilly, dark nights when the only sound in my house is the humming fish tank, it would be nice to sit in Aunt Lucy's wingback chair, curl my legs up under me, and just spill it out.

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