My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

And Now For Something Completely Different

2006-03-29
Something different today: the opening few pages of my novel-in-progress. Your thoughts are appreciated.

Grace Ravelling

1991


As I approach Louisa’s house, with the sun full in my face as it slowly rises, I think I can see Jessie standing in the kitchen doorway, a shadowed shape within an even blacker open space. I smile and start to raise my hand to her, to wave hello, just in case I’m right, but in a blink she’s gone. The door is closed again. I know she was there.

I have come by the back way, down Route 517, which is shaded, instead of the main road, which is quicker but already too hot, too punishing. I’d forgotten how hot Virginia really is in August. The last two years have been spent in an air conditioned cell or an air conditioned group room or an air conditioned psychologist’s office. And, though I’ve only walked a mile, and though it’s still not even eight o’clock in the morning, sweat sluices down my back and between my breasts like rain runnels down a window pane during a sudden summer storm. By the time I climb the back steps and enter the kitchen, I’m panting.

Jessie is at the stove when I close the door behind me. Her warm dark eyes roll in their sockets as she looks me over without a word. She, at least, hasn’t changed. Still wears the reddish wig that hides her gray hairs. Her dark skin like licorice is still encased in the silly white uniform she insists on wearing. Jessie always did like to make a statement.

“Mmm. Nothing but skin and bone, skin and bone. Here!”

With a clatter that makes me jump, she places a plate on the table for me: scrambled eggs and toast. She’s already set down butter, two kinds of jelly. Grape from the store and her own homemade mulberry. There’s a glass of water as well, the drops of condensation sliding down the glass. One moves at the same pace as a bead of sweat down my back. I watch one, feel the other.

“Eat,” she commands and fills a mug with coffee, hands it to me, and nods her head at the chair, “Come back I see. Wasn’t sure you would, though She said to expect you. Brave.”

“Or just stupid,” I reply, sipping from my mug to be polite before downing the water. Forking eggs into my mouth, not because I’m hungry, but because Jessie’s watching me.

I am almost ready to begin again in this house that was my undoing, my downfall.


The television is on – something I don’t notice until Jessie picks up the remote control and presses a button. The sound of clapping is like a roar. I stay in my seat and watch with her. Just for a minute. So I can catch my breath, digest the eggs. The Good Morning America host smiles and laughs at her guests’ remarks. My cellmates preferred The Today Show, with that new Katie Couric woman. The host swivels toward the camera and touches her sculpted blonde hair, “What courage,” she says to the audience, supposedly in reference to the two obese sour-faced women squeezed into chairs to her right. The caption tells me that they are survivors of incest—more after this. The Pillsbury Doughboy appears and skates over a family’s pancakes. Jessie presses the mute button again and stands up.

“You want more coffee, help yourself.” She turns away from me and rinses pots and pans at the sink. Places them in the dishwasher without even looking at what she’s doing. She doesn’t need to. She’s worked for the Ferncliffs for twenty years.

“I’m good.”

“Hm. Too skinny. I’m gonna give you some bacon next time. Need to fatten up, I’d say.”

“This is enough. If I eat too much, I can’t get under things. How have you been? I haven’t talked to Ella much yet. Had too much of my own cleaning to do.”

“Things the same over here. Looking after them two, you know.”

There is a pause. The television flickers with lights and pictures – smiling women keeping their kitchens smudge-free with this and that, women eating yogurt and drinking coffee. I take a sip of mine.

“Ella told me you all’ve got grandbabies now.”

Jessie lets out a smile and it’s like the sun has peeked out from behind dark clouds, one fine brilliant ray of light in the middle of a dark winding forest path. She turns off the faucet and walks over to her purse which sits like a tattered grey pleather dumpling on the oak breakfront. She pulls out a thick Walgreens envelope of photographs.

“Here. Look here: Rayshawn and Raynita. Twins. They’s precious. The Lord has been good to us.”

“How old are they now,” I ask as I look at a picture of Jessie’s daughter, Brenda, looking tired but happy, with a plump dark child crooked under each arm. The babies are dressed in fussy, frilly outfits, Rayshawn with a silly satin blue top hat strapped under his chin and Raynita with a pink bow wrapped around her mostly bald head. They looked squashed and unformed, not ready yet for the world. Babies can be lovely but are born three months too soon, I think. Newborns look like trolls to me. Even Jeremy did.

“Four months now. These was taken last month. Rayshawn’s already got a tooth. He’s feisty. Raynita, she’s my little princess.”

“Adorable,” I tell her. It’s what she expects to hear. You simply cannot tell a grandmother her grandchildren look like lumps of clay, especially not when you have to see her almost every day. Especially not when that grandmother happens to be Jessie.

“Isn’t it early for teeth?”

“Oh yes! He’s just chewing on everything, like a beaver.”

“Brenda’s nursing?”

“Mmm hmmm.”

“Ouch.” I hold my hand to my chest; sympathy pains. I have never nursed a child but I’m not sure I’d want teeth of any kind near my breasts.

“Ain’t too bad since he’s only got bottom teeth – nothing up top to chomp down on yet.” Jessie laughs and I take a bite of toast so I don’t have to reply.

I hand the picture back to her and finish eating. Jessie shoves the envelope of pictures at me and I flip through the rest without lingering on any of them. The others are more of the same. Ella’s boy, Marcus, the proud new father, holding each baby; posed with Brenda; with their older daughter; the family together and in parts. Other people’s lives. I had promised myself not to get entangled again, not to get involved, but here I am smack in the middle of where the trouble began or ended, depending on how you want to look at it.

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9:06 a.m. ::
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