Below is an excerpt of a story I am working on for my upcoming short story collection. Is this one you’d like to continue reading? comment below what you like (or don’t) about the story. Thanks:
An accident had left Mary’s father crippled and bedridden even before she was born. The disability meant that he hadn’t escorted her to the father-daughter middle-school dance, didn’t coach from the sidelines during her short stint as a high school soccer player and didn’t drive her to college when she moved away, so it wasn’t as big an upset in her routine when the news came that he had passed away peacefully in his sleep. He’d been comatose for months before that so there was a quiet cremation with plans for a memorial service when Mary could leave school. She felt like she couldn’t. Mary was in her senior year at Yale, the school her forefathers had built and that her father had attended before her; if the school was his last legacy, she didn’t want to jeopardize her birthright by leaving before her time. Meanwhile her mother and older sister, Martha, said they couldn’t stand being in the house without his unspoken needs to spur them on. Before the crematorium ashes had cooled and the ink dried on the probate, the house and wheelchair-accessible cars were sold, the furniture donated and the mother-daughter duo were headed to an indefinite stint as missionaries with the relief agency run by the Adventists in South America.
Mary was in her senior year of college but even when she graduated, she knew that she had no plans to join them. It was a blow to hear that the house she had grown up in had new owners, her childhood treasures donated to Goodwill when she said she couldn’t come home to sort through her stuff. Growing up seeing her mother not do much more than tend to her father, Mary hadn’t expected such a rapid change in… well, everything. But here it was. As she kept on attending classes and writing research papers that she hoped would get picked up by one of the dozens of journals she submitted them to daily, she bolstered her courage to receive unexpected news about tropical diseases, kidnapping or a change of heart that would send her mother and older sister packing. They could all share her Connecticut one bedroom apartment if it came to that, Mary told herself when these thoughts flashed in her mind.
The first phone call that tilted her axis again came from a local number. Mary was in a quantum mechanics class, immersed in thoughts about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. At first the vibration in her pocket felt surreal, like the electrons she had visualized were racing around in her pocket, and she had to think whether if she knew where her phone was, whether she could silence it. By the time she got her hand through the flap in the side of the coat and into the buttoned pocket underneath, the phone had stopped ringing.
203-432-2700. It was an on-campus number. She thought about who could be calling her from an on-campus number. The library, maybe? Had she checked out a library book and forgot to return it? She didn’t think so. Maybe it was Lisa, the secretary in the engineering department, who called her sometimes to tell her that she had mail. Usually, it would be a long white envelope containing the latest rejection letter from her journal proposals. Thank you for your submission , it would start and she would scan the page for the words – Sorry. Unfortunately. We regret. However they worded it, the rejection always stung. But she was starting to get used to losing whatever she thought she had. Later, she would stop by, she decided. Mary slid the notification off her phone screen and replaced the device through the pocket of the white polyester coat she kept on even after labs were done for the day. Having an extra layer was useful for many things.
Anything for me, Lisa? Mary asked as she approached the secretary’s desk.
Not today! The older woman looked up from a mess of invoices and colored tissue paper and ribbons that littered her desk. Lisa was always making gifts for someone’s thesis defense, it seemed. But someone called from the Bursar’s office asking if you were around the department. I checked the lab but didn’t see you.
The bursar? What would the Bursar’s office want with me?
They didn’t say but you should go over there. Maybe you’re getting a scholarship. Did you apply for something? Lisa looked around Mary then checked the professors’doors behind her too. Assured that there wasn’t anyone else around but still cautious, the secretary said in a low voice,Jane just got a lot of money from an Alumni bursary the other day.
Jane was one of Mary’s classmates. She often scored higher than Mary, or anyone else for that matter, but rumor had it that she was on a diversity scholarship since her parents were Filipino and African. All that mattered though was that she and Mary had different stories.
In the afternoon, Mary had a break between classes and she walked to the building that housed the Admissions and Financial administrative offices, admiring the stone buildings that she passed on her way to classes everyday without really taking notice. She remembered the first time she had come to the school. It was on a college tour arranged by her high school honors program and Mary had posed in front of this building, along with the six other kids who had had interviews in the admissions office. The man who interviewed her – Mr. Carson – had been her father’s classmate when they were both Yale undergraduates and he said they had gotten up to all kinds of shenanigans on campus. It was different times then but look at us now. Me, a buttoned up administrator and your father, the rebel. Is he still … What’s he up to these days? Mr. Carson asked when he finally stopped pumping her hand and showed her to the seat on the other side of the redwood desk. He closed the folder that she could see had her name on the tab and put it on the top shelf of the basket on the left corner of his desk leaving the gleaming desktop free to rest his clasped hands and wait for the answer. Mary swallowed. I supposed you didn’t hear but he was in a bad accident in the Gulf. He doesn’t rebel against anything anymore. Her voice trailed away until it left nothing in its wake. Way to impress the interviewer, she berated herself.
Mr. Carson looked away. He reached for the folder, opened it and scrawled a signature, it looked like, somewhere on the first sheet, and replaced the file in the basket. He seemed to return to a script, and asked about school and what she wanted to study, what she wanted to do when she graduated, what a Yale degree will mean to her. He spoke as though she had already been accepted, asked about her dreams although they were all written on a piece of paper inside the folder he had closed. and eventually, she relaxed, certain that the face-to-face was just a formality and that she could go home and put New Haven luggage tags on her bags.
So much had happened since then. Her father was dead now so this school was the last thing he had given her. She hadn’t applied for any scholarships recently, she thought, wondering if maybe there was some endowment in his will that the lawyer hadn’t mentioned in his email.
Your tuition wasn’t paid this smester, the man behind the window said when Mary finally mde her way through the maze that led to the narrow counter behind a glass. Failure to settle the bill within seven days will invalidate your registration for the semester.
What? That doesn’t make sense, Mary complained but the man wasn’t listening. He printed and slid a document through the clearance under the half glass. But it did make sense. Her family had always taken care of the bills but she didn’t know where her family was. What used to be her family was gone.
She had to search through hundreds of emails from school – class notifications and assignments and papers she had sent to herself, in order to find the lawyer’s number from the message he had sent about her father’s will. Arthur Wilt. Then, she had read the sparsely written sentences and dismissed much of it.
Now, she sprang into action but the rest seemed to happen even faster. A phone call to Mr. Wilt revealed that there was a little money left. Enough to pay her tuition. But the withdrawal required two signatures – she and Mom or she and Martha. She didn’t want to think that the two of them could also empty the account and she wouldn’t know what to do next. The credit card her mom had paid off every month was almost at the limit now but the charge for the plane ticket went through anyway which was a blessing considering that she got the cheapest flight she could get to Honduras – it included a twelve-hour layover in Brazil which meant that she could see the crisp continental offerings but didn’t have the time or money to go out and enjoy them.
She doesn’t have enough money for much more than a bag of cookies so Mary saves the treat in her pocket until she is settled in the air but she denies herself too long. The man next to her, who must have consumed half a pig before coming on board, develops motion sickness and vomits his last meal all over the shared space, and over the pack of Oreos that she had unwrapped just a moment earlier.
It’s the chocolate,he says, pointing at her ruined cookies then wiping the streaks of undigested food that smear the side of his mouth, masticated chunks of bacon that he must have just inhaled since they are still recognizable in the mess pooling all over the armrest. Chocolate makes me sick.
Unbelievable,is all Mary can manage, sidestepping the puddle on the airplane floor and navigating out of the tight quarters. The only available seat is at the extreme back of the plane but she doesn’t have room to think too much about her change in circumstances, so consuming is the smell of pork that crawls up into her nose and lodges there. You would think she had been living in a sty herself.
At the airport, there is only a tired-looking man leaning on an equally deflated looking taxi that looks like it is a LADA although all car identification logos have been removed. Mary is tired though, and so exhausted from hunger that she gives him the twenty dollars he demands as the fare that will take her to her destination. As she climbs in, another car pulls into the space behind them and she leans back to see whether she should exit and wait for the next car but the driver is already pulling out. In the distance, it sounds like someone calls her name but she dismisses it. No one knows she is here.
The cracked leatherette covering the back seat is far from comfortable but a gentle breeze comes in through the barely-open window and she dozes off almost immediately. The car shakes violently as the driver navigates craters in the middle and on both sides of the narrow road and after she hits her head on the uncovered metal wall, she forces herself to stay awake, if only to prevent herself form getting a concussion. Eventually, they come to a stop outside a brown building with a crudely painted sign leaning against the steps that led to the equally crudely fashioned front porch.Iglesia Católicait says, and Mary’s heart sinks.
This isn’t it,she says softly.
Si. La iglesia septimo día,he said, nodding wildly, speaking his mind and then translating to his best English. Está abierto siete días. Open every day. Open now.
The driver gestures to the door that in the shade of the porch may be open or closed; it is hard to tell.
No. La iglesia adventista del séptimo día.Mary reaching into her bag for the piece of paper and pen, writing down in big letters so there would be no mistake. ADVENTIST, and then, so there would be no mistake, she adds the acronym, “A D R A”.
ADRA! Ah, si. the driver said, laughing now, darkened lips separating to reveal brown teeth. I take you. Fifty American dollars.
Fifty dollars? I already gave you twenty dollars when I got in the car.Mary says, a wave of something in her chest. Nausea? Fear? Desperation? A union of all three.
Fifty dollars more,the man says, leaning on the car and looking around. Mary follows his gaze that reveals the vast nothingness of where they are. If she had the money, she would give it to him.
You ask for help?The cabbie points to the church building. It seems like a fair idea. Every church collects an offering for the poor. How much poorer could she be?
Okay, wait here,she says and moves toward the church. There must be someone inside who will talk to him – a priest who can help convince the greedy driver to take her to her mother. A nun who will have saved up enough cash that she can donate to the cause?
Mary has made her way to the door when the engine revs and by the time she gets back to where their negotiation broke down, the dilapidated car is gone in a noise of ill-assembled parts and the cloud of dust is already begun to settle in its wake. An old priest wearing a long brown robe eventually emerges from the dirty building when she calls and cries out. I know the church you’re talking about. it’s not far. About twenty miles in that direction,he indicates, almost unnecessary. There is only one way to go. If you go now, you will make it before dark. Hurry. You don’t want to be on this road when night falls.
The priest walks away slowly, climbing the single step and disappearing into the darkness of the Catholic church building. Between them, the old man advancing in one direction and the young woman moving dejectedly in another, the door eases shut, the lock sliding into place automatically.
The sun is already making its descent toward the horizon when she starts walking, and then running. Unencumbered as she is without luggage, thanks to the crooked cabbie who has taken the last of her worldly possessions, with the exception of what fits in the cross body bag she clutches to her chest with one hand while the other pumps to propel her forward. She wishes she had more energy but she has more than enough fear.
Minutes and hours pass. She is still on the road to the church. At least, she thinks it will be a church. The relief headquarters must have established a church alongside their mission facility. She assumes that is where Mom and Marva have been living. She wonders how they will react when she shows up. She doesn’t expect a welcome home – this is their home, not hers, although right now, she probably fits in the category of homeless, her New Haven apartment a world away, her ability to return uncertain if she doesn’t send money to her landlord soon.
She makes good time, and she is sure that the sprawling building in the distance is more than a mirage. For one, the sun is far enough in the west that it would cast its shadows in the other direction, making such an illusion impossible. But the woman running towards her could be a figment of her imagination.
My baby! Hands outstretched, Mom is running faster than Mary could manage even at the beginning of her journey. She stops her before they embrace.
Don’t touch, Mary warns her mother. There’s vomit on me. I smell like a pig.
Baby,her mother reaches for her adult child.I have smelled worse. Everything around here smells like pig. But come, let’s get you cleaned up. What are you doing here?
She ignores the question and asks instead. How did you know I was coming?
I always know when you’re close. Besides, Artie said you would probably come when you needed money. We’ve been waiting for you to have the memorial service for your dad.
The funeral? You’re having it here?
This is what your dad wanted,she says. He wanted his ashes planted in the soil here, to give everything he had to the mission.But there will be time to talk about all that. Come, you must be hungry. I have food for you. But, you’re right. You smell like a pig. What were you? Living in a sty?
She sniffs Mary’s sleeve and backs away jokingly, although she continues to hug her daughter close to her body.
They are almost at the entrance to the compound, a row of bushes planted in a line so they function like a low hedge. But where is your sister? Mom asks.
What you mean? Isn’t she here with you? They stop walking and face each other, both with questions for the other.
You didn’t see Martha at the airport? Mom asks. She went to get you.
What do you think about this story? Do you like it enough to keep reading?
Copyright (C) 2018 by Karen Wright
The above is an excerpt from an ongoing creative writing project which will probably be heavily edited in the future. Please do not copy or otherwise share this content.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Thanks Paul for fueling this latest story. If you’d like to buy me a drink to sip while I write the rest of this story, click here:
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