Monday, March 10, 2008

Sneak Peek: The Revenge/Persephone Novel

The people who came to the Tamale Hut event this weekend (which was fun and delicious) got a little sneak peak of one of the next two projects I'm working on. My revenge book AKA the Persephone book. I got a pretty good response, so I figured I might as well share it with the masses. Then later this week maybe I'll share the runaway book and perhaps audience response will help me decide. But I don't know when I started seeing things through Stevie's eyes last week in the writer's workshop I did with my friend Jenny, I got really hooked. So I might be sticking with this one, 'cause it's pretty powerful. I don't know. Jen and I are workshopping again on Wednesday and clearly this is the process that works for me, so I'm gonna keep doing it and see where it leads. Anyway, the first half of this is a little bit polished, but the second half I literally wrote over the last half an hour. There may even be typos. It's totally raw and unpolished. But what the hell. I'll see what people's gut impressions are.

Oh and this is also the first time I've ever written in present tense...

Seph Morley is playing with fire. She’s sitting on the hood of her shiny red Mercedes SLK in the parking lot of the Paradise Diner lighting match after match and flicking them through the air while she yaks on her cell phone. It’s not a very smart thing to do with the Santa Anas blowing. If one of those matches flew just a little bit further and landed the dry scrub grass at the edge of the lot… whoosh! All of Malibu is burning.

I picture it for a second: the Paradise surrounded by a ring of fire, everyone running out but me. I’ll stay, let the smoke suffocate me. But then I see Angie’s face in the imagined flames, remembering the way her cheeks would flush whenever our father praised her. She was definitely daddy’s little girl.

Yeah, it’s one of those nights when I see Angie everywhere. I stare into the cup of coffee in front of me that’s quickly growing cold, someone shakes the table slightly, and the way the liquid sloshes reminds me of how I’d jump into the pool while Ange stretched out on a float, reading a book and trying to tan that pale skin that usually burned. She’d nearly topple in the water and Dostoevsky or whatever huge tome she was in engrossed in would get soaked. I could see the way her mouth curved into a half-frown half-smirk as she chastised, “Stevie!” when I came to the surface of the water. I miss annoying her.

Even the flashes of light from Seph’s matches bring back memories, reminding me of fireflies, camping trips in the mountains when Angie and I were kids. Her eyes always lit up every time she caught a firefly. She’d gently cup it in her hands and then release. She didn’t want to hurt the little bug because its life was too sacred. Why wasn’t her own life fucking sacred?
I wrench my eyes away from the window and the firefly-like flickers outside when the waitress approaches to take our orders. I don’t know what I want to eat. All I can think about is how much Angie liked Paradise’s fries and the blueberry pie.

A woman in a blue silk dress walks past, squeezing past the waitress to fit down the narrow aisle. I hear the silk rustle against the back of the waitress’s polyester uniform. I watch the sleeves of the dress flutter and that brings me back to the worst memory of all.

Three weeks ago, searching for Angie in her big walk-in closet. She sat in there sometimes to think, so I’m pushing through shirts and dresses looking at the floor expecting to see bare feet sticking out, but instead my hand grazes another hand. A clammy hand. And I look up startled and find my sister hanging in between her dresses.

Hanging from a noose. Her chin drooping down against her chest. Her soft, blond hair veiling her face. Her feet, toes painted with grape-colored nail polish, just inches from the floor, from solid ground that would have stopped her from strangling herself. But Angie wanted to die. There were so many things she could have grabbed onto if she’d reconsidered her decision, but she hadn’t. Her limbs hung loosely against her sides.

Bile burned up my throat when I saw her like that and it does it again as I remember. Yeah, the memories of Angie alive are rough, but the ones of the night I found her…

I nudge Trey in the shoulder indicating I want out of the booth. He gets up and no one even questions me as I walk away, out the front door of the diner. I’ve been doing it for weeks, ever since Angie’s death. Maybe I’ll be back. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll drive home. Maybe I’ll start walking somewhere, anywhere, hopefully into that place where you can forget all about your dead sister.

As I exit, I’m not paying attention to Seph. I’ve completely forgotten about her until I hear her voice. “Wraith… Wraith… No, shut up a second!”

A match lights, a match extinguishes. It moves in an arc, but not down toward the cement like before. Seph strikes the match against the box to light it and then she brings it down, swiping it against the bare stretch of leg above her combat boot, putting it out against her own skin before dropping it to the ground. I watch her do this three times in quick succession as she grows more agitated with Wraith, her sleazy rock star boyfriend.

I hear Angie’s objection in my head. “He’s not sleazy. He’s actually really nice.”

“I don’t know,” I told her. “He’s got a dumb nickname—”

“Stage name,” Angie corrected.

“And he’s twenty-three. What does he want with a high school chick?”

“Girls mature faster than guys. That’s why even though you may be five minutes older, I’m, like, five years wiser.”

I blink back tears thinking of the way Angie’s blue eyes always danced when she made one of those cheesy twin jokes. I glance up as I’m passing Seph. I don’t really want to look at her though, so instead I watch her light and extinguish a match. Red welts streak her calves. I really didn’t want to see that.

Angie’s arms were covered in red welts when I found her, too. She’d scratched H’s into her arms and legs. I had no idea why. Just a tiny part of the bigger mystery of why did my seemingly happy-go-lucky, Stanford-bound sister hang herself.

I can’t hold back the tears at all now, so I hurry past Seph without a word or a nod of hello. I’m about to break into a sprint when she clicks her phone shut and shouts after me, “Hey Angie’s twin, wait a sec!”

She’s always called me Angie’s twin. It’s been her nickname for me as long as I can remember, but it’s the last thing I want to be called anymore. I whirl around and scream at Seph, unleashing all the anger on her that I wish I could direct at Angie. “I’m not Angie’s twin anymore. Angie’s dead! My name is fucking Stevie. You’ve known me since I was three years old, so call me by my goddamn name!”

Seph blinks her wide eyes slowly and says, “Sucks being known for a dead person, doesn’t it?” Her voice is stripped of the teasing tone she’d used when she called out to me, stripped of the anger from her argument with Wraith. It’s so cold and hollow that even she shivers. Or maybe she’s shivering at the memory of finding her dad dead. She was ten. He was the most famous rock ‘n’ roll casualty since Kurt Cobain.

I start to say, “I’m sorry,” but before I can get the words out, she’s waving them away. She tosses the empty matchbox to the ground and hops in the driver’s seat of her convertible.

She tells me, “Get in.” And I do exactly as she says.


Annika said...

Jesus Christ, Steph. The first half is great, but the raw stuff is incredible.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

*blushes* Thanks!