Refresher (the short version): National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Bang out a 50,000 word (shitty) first draft between 11/1 and 11/30. 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.
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. Just writing. 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). And this probably won’t be a daily thing, though I’ll try to keep it close to that.
And I’ll link the previous entries in this header, if I can remember to do that. Today it’s easy, because this is just the second post. It’s been quite a week….
She wakes to the sound of rain falling lightly on the leaves above. They have lived so many months deep in the forest that the morning light surprises her. She listens to the rain, the birds and small animals. She can hear the river from here.
The boy lies curled next to her, exactly as he was last night. They are burrowed so deeply into the warmth of their sleeping bags that only their faces are visible, his a bright spot on her lap, hers a bright spot against the dark of tree that held her upright all night. She can see the puffy clouds from their breath. It is colder here, where the trees start to thin. She hopes they have brought enough clothes, even though this is a short trip.
Moving carefully so she won’t wake him, she arches her back away from the tree, draws her shoulder blades together, and closes her eyes. She turns her head slowly to the right, pauses, then traces her collarbone with her chin as she turns from right to left, easing the stiffness from her neck. She presses her feet through her downy insulation into the forest floor, tells them they are sturdy.
She begins her morning recitation, her trick to keep in sync with time. She names someone from each year of her life. The first four are always the same, the only people she remembers clearly. One: Her mother. Two: Grandmother Katharine. Three: Aunt Helen. Four: Her sister, Elizabeth. She imagines them as they were when she was small, imagines herself as a child as she calls each name in her head.
Five is always someone different, a teacher or playmate or historical figure she learned about in that year of school. When she reaches 13 it becomes hard to choose, there are so many possibilities, and that richness relights the glow in her chest. Seventeen, eighteen… Twenty-six … Thirty-four…. As she names each one, she imagines them standing around her, a council circle that changes from day to day as she summons different faces.
The most recent years are like the first ones, always the same. She has come to think of this as stability, not lack, though some days it is hard not to feel longing. Perhaps she should list birds, or clothes, or books, instead of people. These, too, would have their limits.
She bows her head, wraps her arms around herself inside the sleeping bag, and seals the past. She rocks her hip and nudges the boy awake.
She bends down to whisper in his ear: Today we go fishing.
His eyes pop open. He starts to get up, forgetting that he is bound by a sleeping bag, and falls back into her. She wriggles her arms free and unzips her bag, helps him liberate himself. She pulls warm clothes from the pack under her knees and they dress quickly, relieve themselves, gather their belongings, erase their presence, and follow the sound toward the river.
As they walk, they gather. In this part of the woods, where the canopy is less dense, they find tart wild grapes, black trumpet mushrooms, things she has learned to recognize. The weight of her pack keeps them from moving quickly, but they are not in a hurry. He finds a long, sturdy stick, good for keeping his balance when they reach the water, he says.
River people are unpredictable, she reminds him, so he should stay close.
He holds her hand. The sky lightens. The rain slows, then ends. They walk.
The forest thins and opens into a meadow. Beyond the meadow is another thicket of trees that line the riverbank.
He wakes to the sound of rain tapping the roof. He has slept poorly and has the vague feeling of bad dreams, though he can’t remember dreaming at all.
He feels for the photograph under his pillow, slides it down until he can see the whole frame. He looks for a moment then puts it back in its place and rises. He brushes his teeth, gazes back at his flat dullness in the mirror. He hears water running down the hall and knows Helen is awake.
He rehearses the day ahead: He will dress. He will go downstairs. He will make oatmeal and tea. He and Helen will walk to school. He will work. They will come home. He will prepare dinner. This is as far as he can go.
He rinses his toothbrush, splashes cold water on his face.
It is midmorning when they reach the river. At first it seems that they have this stretch to themselves, but then she notices movement upstream, sees two people, but they are too far away for her to be sure of anything other than that she and the boy are not alone.
They’ve laid their things out on the riverbank, drying their coats and sleeping bags, letting the batteries charge as the day grows brighter. They roll out a canvas for their fish and another for their harvest. He assembles his rod by himself, opens the rusty box of flies that they found when they moved into the hut they now call home. He looks out over the water, studying carefully, and makes his choice. He still has the pudgy fingers of a child, but they move gracefully.
They put on their waders and step carefully over the rocks and into the moving water, tethered together at the waist, just in case. They will not go far; they won’t need to.
She steadies herself against the current. She is only thigh-deep, but the water is strong. She is merely an anchor, ensuring the current doesn’t sweep the boy away when he loses himself in the work.
He casts downstream and begins to strip the line back. It is as natural as breathing, even for his young, small body. Fish rise to this boy, a man had said last November, when the boy was only seven.
By noontime they have a full canvas of fresh catch waiting to be cleaned and packed.
The people upstream have moved slowly closer and are now within speaking range. She waves, and they nod in return. They, too, are Treedwellers, she thinks, here just for today. She notices that they have not been as lucky on the water.
She spreads a blanket on the grassy part of the bank, away from the damp mud. They take off their wet things, leave them to dry as much as they can. The day is warmer than expected, the sky almost clear now. They clean the fish carefully, set aside two for their lunch, and dress the rest with salt, leaving them to dry on the canvas.
He gathers sticks, and she makes a fire. They pull the morning’s harvest from their cloth bags and skewer mushrooms and pieces of fish to cook. He watches the flame intently, makes a game of guessing which sticks will light and which one will become embers. When he has finished eating and his food has settled, he runs to the river, wets his hands, and runs towards the fire, flinging water because he likes the sound and the show of steam. He does this again and again until his legs give out.
She draws him close, says they should rest before their journey back into the forest.
(Total word count 2642. On day four. I’m already way behind. But I am not a quitter. And I have the weekend to get caught up.)