I am going to post a snippet of an excerpt from the rough draft of my current work. According to my friend, this will force me to tighten up my writing. He also thinks that I need to feel "exposed" as a writer so that I can really create. This friend of mine says that I am both wild and repressed. (Some friend, huh?)
Anyway, I am always so paranoid that someone is going to take my story and run away to Printland with it! I can't even talk about it anymore, so I'm just going to do it.
Of course, I felt stupid. I was sixteen but felt five. Being here in this new/old place where I’d been born but never lived, it made me feel out of sync with my soul.
My cousin let me feel lost for a second then said, “I started smoking when I was fourteen. Quit for a while, then I met Boogie and started back. It was smoke or get pregnant.”
Now I felt even more stupid. Who was Boogie and why did smoking keep Sugar from getting pregnant. And why was my cousin doing things at just a few months older than me that could get her pregnant? Then I learned that Sugar had her own way of carrying on conversations. She answered me without prodding.
“I was trying hard to keep from smoking,” she said. “Mother Henry dying the way she did just about scared shit out of me about cigarettes.”
(Mother Henry? Someone from the church then. I was keeping up.)
“She had so much trouble breathing right before she died that they said Brother Henry had to prop her up so high in bed, looked like she was ‘bout to take off running.”
Overhead, the Collinsford sun was bright. I liked the way the heat made my legs feel longer and prettier. The heat did things to me, I’d been noticing. Texas heat was different from the heat in Anchorage or Seattle. Texas heat made me think things and want things and even (if it was nighttime and the air still enough) feel things I didn’t know how to resist feeling.
Sugar’s voice came at me from like a dream I was having about being back here in my mother’s hometown – my birthplace.
“Said she’d only smoked for six or seven years when she was real young. Got saved and joined church and never lit another stick. Wouldn’t even let Brother Henry have his pipe anywhere but outside on the porch. All that and then died without being able to take a good deep breath.”
Somewhere an insect made a strange noise. A car or truck coughed to life a few streets away.
“I had to go over there one time and sit with the old lady. Just long enough for Brother Henry to get some rest while everybody else was at the church for a big prayer meet. I sat there for about an hour and almost lost my mind, listening to that woman trying to breathe. Poor old woman sounded so bad, I started talking to God about whether or not it would be a sin to put a pillow over her face and just let her rest for real.”
My heart seemed to be beating really slow, like through syrup or history or… something. I propped my elbows the scarred wood of my Aunt Sadie’s porch, lifted my face to the sun and closed my eyes. (Dreaming awake.)
“So you quit smoking?” My voice didn’t sound as if it came from me.
“For a while. It was too hard though. It was like when you try to make your mind empty. All you can do is fill it up, right? And I stayed cranky cos all the time I was either hung-over or sore. Pretty sure Boogie was starting to hate me.”
I turned my head, squinted against sunrays to look at Sugar.
She shrugged. “Cos I was always drunk or fucking. Was the only way I could keep my mind off smoking.”
My heart punched into my ribs. I’d never heard the word “fuck” spoken. Images flashed through my mind. Images of the time I’d seen a magazine hidden behind the toilet tank in a school friend’s house.
Sugar snorted a little laugh my way.
Was she laughing at me?
“Yeah. So. I don’t wanna end up with a baby hanging off my tit. Not yet. Not til at least after I finish school.” She yawned and leaned back, elbows against the top step, legs stretched down the other three.
I turned my head to look at her once more. Her eyes were closed against the world.
“And maybe not even then,” she said.
(© T.M. Conway)