Ok, here’s the deal: WHY NOT DO IT?
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts today, November 1, and runs for 30 days. The challenge is to write, start to finish, a 50,000 word (shitty) first draft. That’s an average of about 1650 words a day, for 30 straight days. The rules? Has to be something new, not an old project that’s getting dusted off. The minimum word count is 50,000. November is the timeframe.
I’m going to free write, meaning no edits and likely lots of typos. Be gentle, friends. Or, if this isn’t your thing, then come back in December. (I mean, I’ve gone for almost three straight years posting only once a month, so….)
No set up, introduction, or summary here. I’m just going to start. I’ll add some version of this intro to the top of each post, and I’ll try to keep up with the total word count, for anyone who’s counting (that would be me).
Let’s do it.
“She is looking at the moon, just like we are,” the boy says, “and she is imagining a contest.”
“Ah, so she is,” his mother says.
And she begins:
Helen is lying in bed, the night before the school spelling bee, where she will face her classmates in a battle that will determine her spring placement. She is nervous, your sister; she is worried that she won’t be chosen for what she wants most.
The light from the moon is sharp and bright coming through her bedroom window, so bright that she cannot sleep. She tucks the covers to her chin, squeezes her eyes shut and counts to one hundred. At 99 she is electric with excitement. “One hundred!” she exclaims, then brings her hand to her mouth, afraid she has woken her father.
She listens, waits, hears nothing.
She slides sideways in her bed, under the warm covers, until her feet dangle off the edge. With her toes, she feels for her slippers. The air in her room is cold; she feels the wind as it leaks through cracks around her window. She must be fast, but quiet. Her skin prickles with goosebumps when she folds back the quilts. She crosses from bed to closet in three long strides, grabs the coat from its hook, slides her arms into the cold sleeves and wraps herself in a hug until she, and the coat, feel warm.
She listens to the house, hears nothing, steps very lightly in her slippered feet to the door. She turns the metal knob slowly, pushing against the door when the latch clears because the door will squeak if it springs free. She holds the knob open in one hand and patiently guides the door open with the other. When the gap is wide enough, she slips through, and the light follows her into the windowless hall. She checks the door of her father’s bedroom to make sure it is closed, and then she slowly, silently closes her own door behind her. She feels in the dark for the stair rail and makes her way down to the main floor.
The kitchen, like her bedroom, is flooded with moonlight. She gets a hat, scarf, and gloves from the basket by the door. She is still in her slippers but did not remember to bring socks, so she leaves the boots where they are, trusts that she will be warm enough as she is.
She walks into the garden that smells of rosemary and pine and smoke from an earlier fire. She stands in the middle of the lawn and lifts her face to the moon.
“I know you are here,” she says, and closes her eyes. She is talking to us. “I know you are here,” she says again.
She pulls off her gloves, tucks them into her coat pockets, and raises her hands. She holds them above her head like she is reaching for a branch of our tree.
Her eyes are shut so tightly that her cheeks ache and tears begin seeping, and she waits and waits until finally the words start to appear and then fall, each one a tiny pinprick as it lands in her outstretched hands.
The words touch her pale skin, disappearing under the thin flesh of her palm, absorbed one by one into her blood. As each word lands, its meaning becomes a part of her, forms a cell in her body that divides and multiplies, feeding her senses. She is lit by the moon from above and the words from within until she glows, radiant and alone in her garden.
Then she draws into herself, seals the gift, and returns to her room as silently as she left.
She sits at her desk, still wearing her coat, and she writes, on tiny scraps of paper, all the words that are now part of her being, the words that are building her strength.
In the morning she will wake, brush her teeth, dress herself, have oatmeal with her father, and go to school.
She will line up, with her classmates, in name order. They will be called, one by one, to prove their mastery of words.
The boy’s breathing is slow and rhythmic, his head heavy on her lap. She traces his hairline with her finger.
“Does she win?” the boy says, in a sleepy voice.
“Yes,” she says, “she must win.”
He sighs, snuggles closer.
She looks through the leaf canopy to the moon, tightens the blanket around her shoulders. The rain will come soon, and they will have to move. She leans her head against the tree trunk, closes her eyes.
“Does she miss us?” the boy asks, as if he is asking himself.
“Yes,” she says. “But not for long.”
Every night, when the house quiets, when he is certain Helen is asleep in her room, and all the neighbors have turned out their lights, he slides over to the middle of his bed, traces his fingers along the wooden headboard until he finds the smooth indentation that marks the gap where he stores the photograph. Gently, he feels for the edge of the paper, careful not to put pressure and accidentally push the picture out of reach. He feels the edge, pinches it between the pads of thumb and forefinger, slides it from its hiding place, and without looking at it, tucks it under his pillow.
He falls asleep with the image clear in his mind of his rosy-cheeked Katharine propped on pillows, holding their red and wrinkly newborn son on one shoulder, her other arm wrapped around their daughter. Rosy-cheeked Katharine, with her hair loose, wearing a blue gown and wrapped in quilts. Helen, beaming with pride and a snaggle-toothed grin. His son, who they had planned to call Liam.
He wonders, sometimes, if that is still his name.
He wonders if she is still Katharine, or maybe Katie, or, more likely, something entirely divorced from her history.
He holds the photograph, under his pillow, and falls asleep.
Today they published the schedule for our oral presentations. Guess what? Mine is the very last one, on Tuesday afternoon, before the Foremothers’ holiday.
That means I get to hear what everyone else does, even though I’m not supposed to. It’s a big advantage, isn’t it? I’m psyched.
Aunt Elizabeth, stuffy old bitch, wants to start meeting every afternoon for tea and preparation. She wants to know EXACTLY what I’m going to say. She thinks I should ask to be a Doctor or an Architect. I’m good at math, she says, so those would be good placements.
Blah Blah Blah.
I mean, I probably would be good at those things, right? But do I want to? No. But do I need to convince her that I’m going to ask for those things? Probably.
I have three and a half weeks to prepare. I already know what I’m going to say, and what I’m going to ask for. Aunt Elizabeth will be pissed, but I don’t care.
What I’m worried about is Dad. He’s so sweet and kind and just wants me to be happy. I know how hard it is for a single dad, how hard he has worked, and I just want him to be proud, to know that I’m going to brave and strong and OK.
So, I’ve got three and a half weeks to prepare, and I can totally do it.
But first I have to get some sleep. It’s a full moon tonight, which means I’ll have weird dreams, which is a total bummer because the spelling bee is tomorrow and I need my brain to be f.r.e.s.h.
P.S. I think Aunt Elizabeth is maybe reading my diary. Hello, bitchy Aunt Elizabeth! Didn’t anyone tell you not to snoop in other people’s business????
(word count: 1334)
I am hooked! What a great first page or so! You are wonderful – I could feel the cold as she slipped out of bed and went outside! Can’t wait for the rest! 🙏
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