Today's Writing Wednesday and so I though I might share with you an excerpt from my 2009 NaNoWriMo project. It's tentatively titled "Vinnie and Ellie" although I'm not wild about that title and am trying to come up with something better. I first posted an excerpt of this WIP back in April during the A to Z Challenge. It was the moment where my two main characters first meet. (If you're interested, you can click HERE to read it.) The main character, Lavinia is really rather snarky in that scene (which I hear is how you can tell I wrote something) and a couple of my generous commenters were curious as to the hows and whys behind Lavinia's prickly exterior. This is the scene that explains just that.
But first a little backstory. Before Lavinia (nicknamed Nia) meets the male lead (a cop named Llewelyn, nicknamed Lew), she was in love with another man, Brian, a Boston cop. This is how she became not involved with Brian and developed her "I don't date cops" policy. At the start of this particular scene, Nia has just received word that Lew (who she dates regardless of her policy) has been shot while on duty. So thanks for hanging in there with the exposition portion of this post. I hope you enjoy the excerpt...
I fall apart.
It’s happened once before. Three years ago.
I got the call from Joyce, Brian’s mother. She was an er nurse at the hospital. She was there when they brought him in. Gunshot wounds to his chest, his abdomen. The majority of a clip emptied into him, bullets piercing every part, tearing and destroying a life and a love. Joyce was covered in his blood before she realized who it was.
They pulled her screaming from the room. She called Brian’s father, Kevin. She called me. I was talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s use of symbolism in The Great Gatsby when Martha came into my classroom, bearing the message.
I drove myself, weaving in and out of traffic with the precision of a professional stunt driver. I parked in the first space I found, not even caring if it was legal or not.
The emergency room was crawling with policemen. They were angry and anxious and the room stank of it. I couldn’t breathe.
Sam Willey, Brian’s partner, was there. He came toward me and I threw myself at him.
“Tell me what happened,” I said. “Sam, you have to tell me what happened. Tell me Brian’s all right.”
“Come on,” he said. He did not say anything else.
We got into the elevator and went upstairs. Surgery. Sam took me down to the waiting room where Joyce and Kevin were sitting. Joyce still wore her blood spattered apricot scrubs. They rose when I entered, Joyce coming to engulf me in a hug.
“Oh, Nia, Nia, Nia,” she said. Sobbed.
I had never heard Joyce sob before.
“He’ll be all right,” I said. Sobbed. “Tell me he’ll be all right.”
She sobbed my name more but didn’t tell me he would be all right.
We sat in that waiting room with its beige walls and blue chairs. We sat there waiting for news. Waiting to find out the fate of that beautiful green eyed boy we loved. My parents arrived. Jeff too. I don’t know who called them. The McFaddyns’ priest, Father Patrick, came too and said his prayers. We all sat together and stared at beige walls and a beige carpet. We stared at the muted television. They kept showing Brian’s face so eventually my father turned off the television and we stared at a white ceiling. We sat for hours. In the waiting room, he was alive. In the waiting room, he was dead. He was Schrödinger’s Cat and we held our vigil, wishing, praying, hoping that the vial wouldn’t break.
But it did anyway.
I died too.
I shut down.
I went away.
I went home to my empty little house and looked at the shadows and ghosts. I slept, heavily, like the dead, thanks to a pair of sedatives they thought I needed because screaming like a banshee suggested one was disturbed.
Or so they tell me.
I don’t remember screaming. I remember quiet. I remember shadows and ghosts. I remember stumbling downstairs later, one day, two days, I don’t know, and finding my father asleep on my couch. There were flowers everywhere, on every available surface in the living room. There were blooms of every color, an ocean of pigment. Red like the blood on Joyce’s scrubs. I found I couldn’t look at them and so I took them out. I removed every single one from every single vase. I made a pile of them, a beautiful stack of crimson, and I cried.
The dining room table was covered with casseroles. Casseroles were the community’s panacea because macaroni and cheese coated with saltine crackers would cure your ails. Tuna and egg noodles would make everything better. Lasagna and baked ziti, bread and more. There was enough food to feed an army.
But I couldn’t eat. None of us could.
Even at the thought, my stomach lurches.
“Pull over,” I say to Susannah. “Pull over, pull over now.”
She yanks the steering wheel to the right. Cars honk and tires squeal. She hits the brakes and I undo my seat belt and open the door before the car has completely stopped. I vomit again, the sour acidic taste of bile flooding my senses.
When I sit up, I am crying. Susannah rubs my back. She holds out a bottle of water. I take a sip and use it to rinse my mouth. I spit it out onto the pavement.
“I can’t,” I say. “I can’t.”
“You can, you have to,” Susannah says. “But it’ll be all right. They’re not going to take him too. He’s going to be all right. And so are you. And Nancy and Jeff. All of you. It’s going to be all right.”
The wake was the worst part. I had thought the funeral would be the worst. I thought sitting in that damn cathedral surrounded by forlorn bagpipes and a nosy media would be the worst. I thought sitting next to a still sobbing Joyce would be the worst part. Then I thought standing grave side listening to a gunfire salute and seeing only bullets tear through the body I loved and touched and kissed would be the worst. I thought watching my future sink into the earth, wrapped in a black steel casket and wanting only to crawl into that box with him, would be the worst part.
But it wasn’t. It was the wake.
Gretchen and Grace helped my mother set it up. We were at the McFaddyns’ home, not far from my parents’ own house. Joyce disappeared early on, still clutching the folded flag they had presented her with at the cemetery. She returned a few moments later, still holding her flag, but also holding something else.
A box. A ring box.
“We found this in some of Brian’s things,” she told me. “I know he’d want you to have it.”
Most of Brian’s stuff was in my house but of course he wouldn’t have kept that there. I didn’t open it. How could I? It wasn’t for me. It was for Lavinia. It was for a woman lost, a woman who wasn’t me.
But I sat on that sofa, flanked by Joyce and Kevin, and received condolences. We’re so sorry for your loss, people would say. Everyone was sorry. Then it was a clasped hand, a kiss on the cheek, maybe a full hug. Those and their condolences were all they had to offer, along with a bowl of fruit salad for the buffet.
I didn’t blame them.
I didn’t know what they were supposed to say or do either.
So I sat on that sofa, clutching a ring box as though it were a life line, as though it weren’t pulling me under, as though it weren’t suffocating and choking me, and thanked them.
The rest of the time, I was what people called catatonic. But I know it wasn’t that. Catatonic is a state. Catatonic is something.
And I wasn’t anything.