Excerpt from WIP Arianna – Chapter 22

I stared across the room at Great-Grandma’s painting called “Mom” for a while, the mess of colors blending and blurring.  I nodded.  “I don’t even know where to begin.  I’ve been trying so hard to rebuild my life these past several weeks, Nana, and now–now it feels like it’s crumbling apart.  It’s pathetic that a huge part of that is because of some boy.”

“We both know Marc isn’t just ‘some boy.’”  Nana smiled ruefully.

I sighed.  “You’re right, as always.  I guess I didn’t realize how much of my happiness hung on him.  That’s what’s wrong with this picture.  I shouldn’t need a boy, a man, whatever, to complete me.  I should be able to stand on my own just fine.”

“Contrary to Simon and Garfunkel, no man is an island.  Or woman.  And I suppose I ought to attribute that metaphor to its true creator, a poet named–”

“John Donne.”

Nana smiled.  “I’m impressed, Ari.”

“Well, I do write poetry and have read my fair share of it.  It speaks to me.  Anyway, you were saying…”

“Well, then you know what I mean.  No one should feel the need to walk life’s path alone.  Maybe you have lost Marc–although I hope not–but you have me and that dear friend, Kelly…who you still need to bring around.”

“I know, Nana.  You’re right, of course.”  I laughed hollowly.  “Would you believe my boss congratulated me on a job well done today?  The one thing I’m excelling at it my work.  There’s not much satisfaction in that, though, for some reason.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m glad to hear you aren’t satisfied with just your job, Ari.  When a person dies, no one wants to be remembered for being successful at their job, how much money they had, or how many degrees they held.  At least most wouldn’t.  No, I’d like to think a person would want to be remembered for how they treated others, for the lives they impacted by being a good friend.”

“Maybe that’s why this hurts so much.  Marc was a great friend, Nana, even though I didn’t know him that long.  And he put up with so much crap from me.  Anyone else would’ve left weeks ago.”

“All the more reason to get in touch with him, my dear.”

Excerpt from Arianna (Unpublished WIP)

I started the first call…only for it to ring four times and go to an answering machine.  I hung up.  We didn’t ever leave messages, so that person’s number would just go through the system again and would be called by someone tomorrow.  It was all automatic.

I smiled grimly, thinking of all the times my parents’ phone would ring, and someone would just hang up on the other end.  They screened their calls and just let the answering machine take anything that was from a number they didn’t recognize.  Some of the same numbers called daily, much to Mom’s annoyance.

“Why don’t they just stop?” she’d ask.  “I’m not interested in whatever it is they’re selling.”

Now I was one of those annoying people who called…well, the computer called.  

“H-hello?”  The voice of an elderly woman cut in the middle of my wandering mind, snapping me back to reality.

“Hello, may I please speak with Mrs. Wilson?”  Amazed at how steady I kept my voice, like the proverbial well-oiled machine, I half-thought it couldn’t really be me who was speaking.

“Who?”

“Um, Mrs. Wilson.  Is she available?”  Oh, boy.  

“Oh, silly me.  This is her.  May I ask who’s calling?”

“Hello, Mrs. Wilson.  This is Arianna from Affection for the Afflicted.  Is now a good time to talk?”

“I’m afflicted with what, dear?”

“Oh, no…you’re fine, Mrs. Wilson.  I’m just calling for an organization called Affection for the Afflicted.  We help our people in Africa who have diseases like AIDS and malaria, who don’t have clean water, or enough food.”  Just my luck that I would get stuck with someone who’s hard of hearing…or she’s got dementia.

“I have clean water and plenty to eat, dear.  But thank you for calling.”

Tempted to sigh, I smiled in pain into the microphone.  What was the point of continuing this conversation?

“Thank you for your time, Mrs. Wilson.  Have a nice day.”

“Oh, you as well, dear.”

I ended the call.  Funny that she heard me just fine at the end.

The next several calls remained unsuccessful.  Mostly answering machines picked up, which wasn’t surprising since a lot of people would be at work, but I had one customer who offered to give me a tarot card reading.  I figured if she was so clairvoyant, she should have expected my call in the first place and not acted all caught off-guard when she’d picked up the phone.

Excerpt from Arianna (Unpublished WIP)

Friday evening, after closing the book, I went to my familiar place at the vanity and sat.  My tattered journal was now full, so I reached for the paper bag that held a new one.  On the way home from work, I’d taken a detour to a historical part of one of the western suburbs and gone into a stationery shop.  The cute little boutique boasted handmade cards by local artists, prints from area photographers, and a few journals with various artwork on them.  I’d left with a journal whose front looked like one of my great-grandma’s paintings.  It seemed fitting.

Now, as I withdrew the journal from the bag, I held it in my hands like it was a precious treasure.  I opened the journal and brought it to my face, sniffing the unused pages.  How I loved the smell of new books!  It was like opportunity and dreams having a scent.  I set the journal down on the vanity and wrote a poem:

Pictures merely tell the rumor of a half-remembered story,

A book with pages tattered and worn, yellowed with age,

The ink faded and dull, dying to eternity.

Memories fall away like rain dropping down glass,

Fogging the view, warping the truth, and sliding to death.

All is fleeting and passing like a silent train in the night,

But there are no stops but one;

Only the moment of now is the single real thing.

All else is dusty vanity drowning in yesterday’s ashes.

A poem… I titled it “Yesterday’s Ashes” after a moment and reread it several times.  Beyond the window, rain tapped at the glass.  I redirected my focus on the journal.  I hadn’t been thinking as I’d composed the poem, but the tears stinging my eyes spoke of a deep, aching emptiness inside.  That was the past…unreachable, slowly forgotten, and unchangeable.  Time didn’t stop for anyone.  Allow enough time to unravel, and the generations that come lose the connection to their ancestors.

pablo (11)

I closed the journal and moved my hand over the smooth cover.  Then I set it aside and picked up my great-grandfather’s book.  I stood and went into the darkened living room.  Nana had gone to bed hours ago.  Only the ticking of the clock on the mantel greeted me.  Standing in front of the couch, I stared at my great-grandma’s painting.  The book rested over my chest, and my heartbeat was steady up against it…so alive.  These objects were left behind, like impressions in the sand after someone has passed through, but the waves were relentless and soon enough washed away any trace of that passerby.

The longer I stood there, the more my eyes adjusted to the little amount of light in the room.  Details of Great-Grandma’s painting popped out, like the black blob of paint near the bottom right.  Her fury could have been contained in that single splotch, but here it was, seventy-some years after she’d painted it, nothing more than a lingering relic of a woman who had known loss and pain.

And yet…yet I was connected to her.  Connected to my great-grandpa, too, as his words from long ago spoke to me from pages that had been closed for decades.  My tears were steadily flowing down my cheeks now, but I didn’t try to stop them.  Despite their heartache, they had found each other and had created something beautiful.

What was I doing with my life, really?  Was this job, these new relationships, this new haircut, all of it–was it just a mask to cover what was at the root of my problems?  Because I knew, at the core of my put-on smiles and defensive walls, that eight-year-old girl lived.  She was as dirty and used as she felt from the moment those boys changed her life.

Excerpt from Arianna

The sky was vibrant orange and pink over the lake as Marc and I sat on his couch.

“You have a million-dollar view,” I said.

“I’d like to think it’s priceless.”

I turned toward him and smiled.  His right arm was draped around me as I sat with my legs pulled up on the cushions.  “I love how your smile is crooked.”

“Is it?”  His grin widened.

“Even more crooked now.”  I leaned in and kissed him.

When we broke apart, he said, “Hmm, I’ll have to do that more often if I know it’ll get a kiss outta you.  Maybe if I frown and play the sad and misunderstood part well, I’ll even get more than a kiss.”

I scoffed and playfully shoved him in the shoulder, causing him to remove his arm from me.  My gesture had been meant in jest, but I’d pulled away enough for Marc to notice.

“Why do you do that?” he asked.

“Do what?”

“Even time I try to get close to you or make a stupid joke about sex, you freak.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’m the actor here, not you, Arianna.  I don’t mean to pry, but something’s just…off.  You know I’d never pressure you to do something you don’t want, right?”

“Of course I know that.”  I forced a laugh.  “Maybe I’m just not that physical of a person.”

“Okay.  You are twenty-five, though…a grown woman.  It seems to me we like each other a whole lot, so I’m just trying to understand what’s going on.  I see the way your eyes dash around, like you’re searching for the nearest exit, whenever sex comes up.  Your body tenses under my touch.”

Character Friday – Meet Arianna Banks

Every Friday, I will feature a character from one of my books, both published and unpublished.  The character will be presented as if he/she is writing about themselves in a journal entry.

My name is Arianna Banks.  I was born July 23, 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Most of my life, I haven’t stuck with anything long.  I was the kid who grew up an only child, whose parents gave her pretty much anything she wanted.  I tried ballet, tap, sports, martial arts, art classes, horseback riding, you name it, but none of those ever lasted for more than a season.  The same was true with my friends.  I don’t know if it was just bad luck, but every year in school, I had a different best friend.  I was lucky if I kept one for a couple of years.  We’d get in a fight about something, although now that I’m grown up, I forget what most of the fights were about.  I remember thinking my friends were just jealous of me because my parents had a nice enough house, and I had tons of toys and all the latest gadgets.  Most of my “friends” were interested in coming over for what I had as far as things went, but truth be told, I wasn’t that nice of a person.

At school, I became more and more of a loner the older I got.  By middle school, I was one of the losers of the school.  My stuff didn’t seem to matter anymore.  I was bitter and cut myself off from others, but that was when I began writing.  I kept journals, writing my feelings down every moment.  I neglected my homework and my grades in favor of writing my own stories and poetry.  I never thought any of it was any good.  It was dark and angsty.

My parents encouraged me to make friends, but I stopped trying.  I had one friend in high school — Lori Miller.  She was in marching band with me, the only extracurricular I’d stuck with.  I didn’t enjoy playing the clarinet, except that it was the one thing my mom insisted I keep doing because she had also played the clarinet when she was growing up.  She told me time and again that music had been her life — that playing the clarinet in band had gained her lots of great friends, and they’d bonded and joked together while in marching band.  Lori and I were always the last and second last chairs.  We dyed our hair black, dressed in black, and wore thick dark eyeliner.  I guess we were Goth or Emo or something.

When I finally graduated, I enrolled in the community college.  I had no clue what I wanted to do.  I worked at various fast food restaurants and chain stores.  I changed my major every semester.  After four years of what should’ve taken two years, I got my associate’s degree.  Lori and I had lost touch in this time, as she’d gone off to college after high school and hadn’t looked back.  Being Facebook friends hardly seemed to matter.

Also during college, I began hanging out with Brad.  He’d worked at the movie theater with me.  His parents were disgustingly rich, but he didn’t care about that.  Most of the time, he didn’t even have a job.  He’d worked at the theater to get free movies, but that had lasted all of a summer.  I’m not sure what I saw in Brad except that he actually talked to me.  He told me he found me interesting, that I wasn’t like other girls.  Whatever that meant.  We didn’t really date in the usual sense.  He hardly took me out anywhere, but we hung around his house and sometimes mine.  And yeah, we had sex.  Whenever Brad called, I came.  Maybe it was finally feeling useful, like I belonged to someone and had a purpose.  It was stupid, but I was caught up in that messy relationship for two years.

I should mention that I kept writing all through high school and college, but I never shared it with my parents or Brad or anyone.

I finally got it in my head to go to beauty school.  It was one option I hadn’t tried yet, and my fascination with hair color and alternative beauty (think body piercings) made me want to give it a shot.  I began working at the receptionist desk at a salon and spa and got into beauty school.  Things seemed to be going fine.  I was interested in beauty school enough to stick with it for a few months.

But then my parents died in a plane crash while flying to Europe to celebrate their anniversary.  It was for their twenty-fifth, but they didn’t go until a year later due to my dad’s crazy travel schedule for his job.  He was a national salesman for the construction industry.  If they’d gone last year, none of this would’ve happened, right?  They’d still be alive.  The shock of it all took me over the edge.  I was already pretty used to being alone, so what was the loss of two of the people who loved me the most?  I got more piercings and dyed my hair bright red.  (My hair hadn’t been its natural color of a drab brown in years.) I moved in with my nana.  I was in denial, afraid to confront the pain.

I should take a moment to mention my dear, awesome nana.  I can’t believe I haven’t yet!  Anyway, she was always close to our little family when I was growing up.  She’s a spitfire.  She seems younger than she is, and she’s health-conscious, sharp, but sweet and totally devoted.  So, rather than live on my own, she invited me to live with her.  Although I wouldn’t have had a problem living on my own due the compensation received from the airline and the inheritance left to me, I affected her offer.  Deep down, I was tired of being so alone.

A month after their deaths, their loss finally hit me full force.  I broke down in front of Nana.  She told me about her own mother, Lorna Blake, and how she’d also lost her parents.  I guess my great-grandma had lived in isolation with a severe cause of depression for years until she’d met and married my great-grandpa.  I knew I didn’t want to be like that.

I had some choices to make.  I knew I’d always been a disappointment to my parents because I couldn’t settle on anything.  On a whim, I quit my job and beauty school.  It wasn’t what I really wanted.  Losing my parents, I knew how life was short.  I needed my life to start having some meaning instead of just wandering from job to job or friend to friend.  I left Brad, finally fed up with his crap.  I’d become a shell, doing whatever he wished.  I wasn’t really living.  That needed to change.

Nana tried to warn me that I was making too many changes too quickly, but I wouldn’t hear of it. One good thing during this time was my friendship with Kelly from the salon.  She turned out to be the real deal.  Somehow, she’d seen something worthwhile in me, and we became steadfast friends.

Another crazy, spontaneous change: I called a number I’d found in the McDonald’s parking lot on a fence about a job opportunity.  That’s how I found out about a company called Affection for the Afflicted.  They were a telemarketing company that claimed to raise money to help those in Africa who were suffering.  Finally, a purpose, I thought!  This seemed like an amazing opportunity, so I took the job and began training.

Turns out I was very good at telemarketing.  The more calls I made in a certain amount of time and the more money I raised for the charity, the bigger my paycheck was.  I had money rolling in in buckets.  Money wasn’t the problem.

I also met Marc Arnold at work.  Unlike Brad, he was very different.  He was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, trendy, and was into theatre.  He sought me out right away, claiming to be fascinated by me.  He was outgoing, brutally honest, and deep.  But as much as I wanted to be open with Marc, my self-consciousness held me back.  We were like oil and water more often than not, but imagine this: The water is dyed blue, and the oil is dyed red.  When you shake up the container holding them, they do mix (sort of) for a while. They create beautiful patterns, complementing each other.

All this while, my writing slowly came alive in the uncertainty of my career choice and romance (or lack of it).  I was trying to build my future, but the question was: What was I building it on? What role, if any, did Marc play in that? Was my job really the answer to my need to find fulfillment?

And in the midst of all this, Brad wasn’t gone yet.

Like my great-grandfather who was a writer and an author, I felt the tug to put the pen to the page, that incessant discomfort and thrill that pulled at my heartstrings.

Where does my story go? I’m a writer.  I should know these things, but one thing any writer will tell you is that their characters dictate the story more than the writer. What does that mean for me?

Arianna is the protagonist of my unpublished and current work-in-progress story, Arianna. 

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful