In-Progress Writing Projects to Finish 5) “Out of Place”
So I’m going to commit the cardinal sin of a writer and issue an apologetic disclaimer before you read my work. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, in its simplest form, it’s writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Check out the website if you want to find out more. The other big thing about NaNoWriMo is, in order to write those 50,000 words in 30 days, editing is pretty darn near impossible to do. So this has not been edited for loopholes, typos, grammatical errors, etc. Just sayin’. I’m stopping all you editors out there before you can even start in with that. 😉
This other part is important, so I’m going to take the time to be annoying and bold and italicize it because I really want to drive the point home:
***Please remember these are FICTIONAL characters. Though in the long run (read: as the story develops and reaches its ending, in a hopefully non-preachy way) it does reflect my morals (I AM the author of the story, after all), I do not–repeat DO NOT–hold all of the same beliefs as the main character. I have the feeling some people may get offended by some parts of the book. To those people, I want to quote the great Jenny Lawson:
“…[S]omewhere in here you’ll read one random thing that you’re sensitive about, and everyone else will think it’s hysterical, but you’ll think, ‘Oh, that is way over the line.’ I apologize for that one thing. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Seriously, though, it was not my intention to offend people with this story. I just feel have a point of view to get across, and I hope that that point of view will be obvious as more of the story unfolds. Please give it a chance before assuming things about my stance. Because you know what they say about when you assume things. 😉 And I would like to just throw out there, if you’ve been reading my blog or if you know me in real life, you’ll know which parts I’m serious about and which I’m not. To those people, I thank you for not hating me.
stalling method thing I want to emphasize: Though it may seem like it, I really wasn’t trying to diss/make fun of/stereotype the South. I’m trying really hard to not make it come off that way, but I fear I’m not doing a good job so far. To the contrary, this story was greatly influenced by me desperately wanting to pay homage to the unique beauty of the South: people steeped in history, southern charm, fierce loyalty to family, and an unshakable faith; a rich setting full of stories, specific mannerisms and comfort food. I greatly respect the South even though I only lived there for about a year. I find it a romantic part of the country and in this story I hoped to capture my fascination and love of it.
Okay, enough stalling. Here goes. Constructive criticism welcome (hateful comments will be deleted). Enjoy! 🙂
(c) Copyright VC/GS listlovelaugh.wordpress.com
Out of Place
Mama patted down a nonexistent stray hair on her slicked-back, tight bun. The contact of dry lace glove on layers of hair spray caused her to retract a little from the static electricity. Out of the corner of my other eye, I saw Daddy reaching into his good dress jeans’ pocket to pull out his old white cotton handkerchief and hand it across my lap. Mama took it appreciatively, carefully dabbing at where her eyeliner turned up precisely, leaving a black smudge on the monogrammed T.
Probably hand-stitched on there by Memaw herself, I thought, as Pastor Jim took his place at the lectern. I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Memaw would never hand-stitch another monogram again.
“Roberta Faith Tucker was a woman of God until her very last breath,” he began. I looked around the room at the congregation, which, as always, was the entire population of Duncan. Being that our little town only contained 200 people, it wasn’t so hard to do. The community ball game was cancelled, so if anyone missed Memaw’s funeral, I’m sure all the other blue hairs would be making some behinds red and raw for disrespecting their dear friend.
“She was the epitome of this town, born in Duncan General and never missing a Sunday morning here at First Baptist. She took the land that God gave her and lived off of it. I’ll always remember the extra tomatoes and fresh eggs she’d deliver to us. And she’d put the best hoedowns on, didn’t she?”
The town nodded in agreement.
“I think when I learned how to square dance from her, she had the loudest ‘yeehaw’ of them all. Oh, and her sweet tea and peach cobbler. Don’t mean no disrespect, ma’ams.” He dipped his head quickly in the direction of Memaw’s closest friends in the front row. It was completely eerie and surreal watching every one of them mumble in agreement. If it was any other day, they’d stop short of exchanging blows arguing over whose sweet tea and peach cobbler were the best in all of Georgia; in all of the south for that matter. In other words, many “bless your ever-lovin’ heart”s would be uttered. Them’s fightin’ words among the old bitties.
“Like everyone else in this town, she was born here and she was called to her Maker here. She loved this town too much to leave.”
I started to squirm, and Mama mistook it for a gesture of grief.
She reached out and tried to comfort me the way she always used to, by tucking a stray curl behind my ear. Out of habit, I immediately pulled the ever-present hair tie off my wrist and slicked my hair into a ponytail to avoid further contact.
“I don’t know why you never put it into a braid like when you were little,” she whispered. “Your Memaw always liked it that way because it made you look like Laura Ingalls.”
“Because that’s when I was little. I’m not little anymore,” I replied, a little harsher than I meant to.
“Roberta Grace Tucker,” my mother started. “You do not take that tone with me. For one, I’m your mother. For two, we are in the House of the Lord. And three, you are disrespecting the very person we named you after. While she’s being praised, no less.”
I shifted my focus back to what the pastor was saying, trying to glean a lesson from the few words I actually paid attention to. He had taken a break from soliloquizing Memaw and got swept away in his hellfire and brimstone shtick. When he switched to “I’ll strike the fear of God into your hearts” mode, everything started to blur together and it became hard to differentiate this particular moment in time from any other Sunday. Those were the times where wished I had a tape recorder so I could go to Ginny’s Saloon next door, replay it, and turn it into a drinking game: one shot every time he said “sacrifice,” two shots every time he said “mighty”, and chug if he mentions a second coming. No matter that I was underage; Ginny’d known me since I was born. She’d been offering beers to me with a smile ever since Daddy started taking me with him when I was thirteen.
“As you know, Miss Berta was a prominent socialite here in Georgia, and was well-known at many country clubs all over the south. The Lord had blessed with her with many riches, and she was gracious enough to leave First Baptist with a third of that. Another third she donated to her favorite charities. The third, of course, went to her precious granddaughter, our very own Bobbie Grace.”
For a second, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I knew my Memaw loved me, and I also knew she was loaded, but I never really imagined the two would come together in this strange way.
“Mama? Daddy?” The looks on their faces confirmed what she was saying.
“She saw God in your heart, honey. She knew you’d do His will with what she gave you, and we agree. That, and she knew you’d be needing some money for a wedding and little ones soon.”
My face turned red. Maybe the only thing that stuck in my southern upbringing was to respect your elders, and I respected my Mama enough to not break her heart and tell her I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God.
“Oh, that’s okay, honey. We know you don’t have a southern gentleman in your life right now, but you will soon, if we have anything to say about it.”
Misread me again.
“Mama, I’m eighteen.”
“That’s okay, honey,” she said again. “Ain’t too late yet. Don’t you fret none. Remember that Lonnie Mae didn’t get married until twenty? You’ve got time. But you can’t wait too long, now. Your eggs are probably already drying up. You got your Memaw’s money, now. That’ll attract you someone. And you’re pretty, too,” she added, as if that fact were an afterthought.
I bit my tongue and took a deep breath, choosing my next words carefully. “Don’t you worry, Mama. I am going to do something great with my future with that money.”
“Classes went great, Mama.” It was Sunday, and our once-a-week calls had started to get less awkward for me. The first few weeks she’d put Daddy on the phone first so that he could tell me how disappointed he was in me, and how much I was disrespecting Duncan for doing what I did. Then Mama’d come on the phone and cry and tell me everyone at church had been praying for my soul. I don’t think I quite convinced her that Portland, Oregon wasn’t hell yet. Baby steps, though.
“That’s good, baby.” I could tell she was forcing her enthusiasm, so I tried a different approach.
“I put my hair in a braid today and the boy who sits behind me in debate said it looked nice.” It was mostly true. My hair was in a braid, and the boy who sat behind me did compliment it, but that was only because the braid brought out the purple and blue highlights I put in my hair. He was an art major who said he admired the light and shadow and that he may have to borrow me to paint someday. I told him that sounded like fun. But if I told my mom that, she’d not only get at me for ruining what God had already made perfect, but also for acting like a lady with questionable morals. Best not to tell her that part.
“I told you, Bobbie Grace. The good ones will take a proper country girl over a devil-worshiping city girl any day. Is this boy handsome?”
“Yes, actually, he is.” I didn’t think about that until now, but now that she’d mentioned it, he was easy on the eyes.
“What’s his name?”
“A wonderful Christian name.”
Uh-oh. I knew that tone in her voice. She was already planning a baby shower for me.
“No, Mama. It’s not like that.”
“Sure, honey. Now I’m gonna get off the phone with you because you know what time it is.”
“Time for me to go to church?”
“I taught you well. Love you, baby.”
“Love you, Mama.”
One of the great ironic things I found nearby Portland State University’s campus was a bar. The fact that there was a bar wasn’t the ironic thing; it was the name of this particular one. What was great about it was that you didn’t have to be twenty-one to enter. If you showed your student ID at the door, they’d let you into the restaurant part to study. I didn’t think anything of it the first day I went there until a waiter came up to me and said, “Welcome to Church. What can I get for you today?”
“Wait, what? Did you just say Church?”
“Yep, that’s the name of the bar.”
“Nope. We get that a lot, actually. You know how there are bars with funny names, like ‘At Work’ or ‘None of Your Business?’ Well, the owners decided to call this place Church.”
I was astounded. I’d found a place to go where I wouldn’t have to lie when I told Mama I went to Church on Sunday. It was a sign.
“Did you need a minute?” He was asking politely, but you could tell he was in a hurry to get somewhere.
Do I ever. “Yes, please.”
“Sure thing. I’ll be back in a little while.”
While perusing the menu and trying to choose between angel wings (with a side of Daily Bread, no less) and the Sunday Fried Chicken (Christ’s Casserole being a close third due to my curiosity), I heard my waiter and his boss chatting.
“I didn’t know he was moving back! Well, this calls for a celebration. Go ahead and go early. The rest of us can hold down the fort.”
The waiter hurried back with a huge grin. “Looks as if I’m heading out now. Bridgette will be taking care of you now.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “Enjoy your night off.”
“Oh, I will!” In his haste he forgot to take off his nametag and apron. My gaze followed him out through the front door, where another man was waiting for him. To my surprise, he picked up my waiter, twirled him around enthusiastically, then planted a passionate kiss on him on the way down.
I felt a little sick inside. It wasn’t ever something I’d seen before in Duncan, and it made me horribly uncomfortable and even a little offended that someone would be outright sinning in front of Church. Never mind that it wasn’t really a church. It was the principle of the thing. All of a sudden I wasn’t hungry anymore. I set the menu down and walked out the door, turning my head in the direction facing away from the newly reunited homosexual couple.
Since that day, I’d been back to Church several times, but always cautiously. I couldn’t really deal with running into the waiter I met on my first visit. I assumed that the boss had let him take some vacation time to be able to hang out with his surprise visitor. I counted myself lucky in the regards that I hadn’t seen the waiter or his offensive behavior since.
“More tea, Bobbie, hon?” By now I’d been coming here so much that Bridgette knew me on a first name basis. Though for some reason, it really bothered me that she didn’t add “Grace” to it. My name just didn’t sound right without it.
“Yes, please.” I held out my cup to have it refilled. Mama would probably call me a sinner if I told her that Church’s sweet tea would hold its own at the annual contest at the Duncan County Fair. Truthfully, it was one of the only reasons I kept coming back to Church. It was the cheapest thing on the menu and it came with endless refills. So far, none of the food I tried was anything to write home about.
“Let me go and just grab a full pitcher for you, too, so you don’t have to wait for more,” Bridgette said after emptying the one she held in her hand.
“That would be great, thank you.” I buried my nose in my education 101 textbook while Bridgette disappeared to the drink station. I was really enjoying what I was learning so far, and I started to get lost in the material about different learning styles.
“Bobby!” I heard Bridgette call excitedly on the way back to me. She almost dropped the pitcher of sweet tea in her haste to the front of the bar. I was a little confused; I didn’t realize she enjoyed my patronage so much. I opened my mouth to answer her enthusiastic calling out of my name, but stopped myself when she just plopped the pitcher hurriedly on my table and ran right by me.
Huh. When they said “Keep Portland weird,” I guess they really weren’t kidding. I shook my head in amusement and turned to see what the fuss was about.
Bridgette had her arms around the first waiter and his—it disgusted me to even think about it—boyfriend.
“Welcome back! We missed you around here. Almost thought you were going to leave me all alone to rot. Hey, good lookin’. Long time, no see.” She winked at the visitor.
“And miss out on all the fun? Not a chance.”
“Ha. You mean the money.”
“Shh, don’t let Shawn hear about that. You’ll ruin the impression we worked so hard to build that we actually like working here.”
“Too late, slackers.” The manager walked out to check out the commotion, but when he saw who it was, he playfully punched both the waiter and Bridgette in the arm. I couldn’t help but wonder how long the trio had been friends to have such camaraderie.
“Well, look. It’s the new girl!” The waiter took the hand of his guy and brought him over to me proudly.
I could feel my face heating up from embarrassment.
“Good job, Bridge. Kept her coming without me. What’d you do, bribe her?”
“Nah, I just flashed her a little leg and made an agreement to always wear revealing shirts around her.” She winked at me, and for a second I had a horrifying realization.
“Wait. No, no I’m not attracted to her. I’m not…I…wait, is this…?” I couldn’t quite get the last words out of my mouth.
Bridgette and the waiter, who apparently had the same name as I did, exchanged a mental conversation that didn’t include me.
“Don’t worry, I got this,” she said aloud as she took a seat across from me.
“Um…you don’t have to give me special attention. You can go ahead and take care of the other customers.”
“Uh-huh, sure. When we get them.”
I followed her glance around the place and realized I was the only one there.
“To answer your question, no, this is not a gay bar. Also, I was just messing with you. I didn’t realize you’d take it so personally, so for that I’m sorry. Don’t you ever mess around like that with your friends?”
I exhaled in relief. I wasn’t sending out a bad impression, after all. “No, no I don’t. That’s really a horrible thing to call someone, you know.”
I lowered my voice, not wanting to be rude. “You know,” I repeated. “Like the boy Bobby.”
“Honey, if you can’t even say the word gay, I’m not sure this is the place for you.”
“I’m not, but I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“Doesn’t it bother you to see Bobby kissing another man?”
“Does it bother you to see two people who love each other show their affection?”
“Not at all. As long as it’s a man and a woman. It’s what…”
Bridgette put her hand up in protest. “If you finish that sentence with, ‘God intended’, then I think we’re done here.”
“Do you have a problem with me having faith?” I couldn’t figure out why I felt the need to defend myself.
“Of course not. In fact, Bobby and Peter—his domestic partner, though it would be his husband, if they both had their way—have both been going to the Presbyterian church down the street for as long as I’ve known them. I do, however, have a problem with you disrespecting my friends.”
“I wasn’t disrespecting them. I’m just telling the truth. They’re committing a sin. What would you do if you saw someone murdering another person in your restaurant? You wouldn’t just sit idly by.”
“In what universe is murder and being gay even remotely the same?”
“In mine. You know, maybe you’re right. Maybe this isn’t the place for me. I’m sure Bobby and Peter are lovely people, but I don’t respect their values. Thank you, though, for having such great customer service. I’m going to have to find a different place to study.”
“Just as well. You don’t fit in with this crowd, anyway. Continue with your education. Something tells me you really need it.”
Before I could come up with a retort, Bridgette was already at Bobby’s side, relaying the story to him. Instead of looking angry as Bridgette had gotten, though, Bobby just looked incredibly hurt. I caught a glimpse of him waving to me in a gesture of hopeful reconciliation, but like the first time I met him, I turned my head away and walked out the door.
I wasn’t in the wrong back there, I told myself as I started down the sidewalk back to my apartment. A romantic relationship should be between a man and a woman. That’s just how it is. People love their pets, but it doesn’t mean they should marry them. What a ridiculous notion. Even though I knew I was right, I couldn’t shake the image of Bobby’s hurt face. I started to get an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t the complimentary slice of Coca-Cola cake.
(c) Copyright VC/GS listlovelaugh.wordpress.com
Hopefully Next Wednesday I’ll Have Actually Made My Word Count Goal!!! (Right now I’m about 9000 words behind. Ugh.)