Sunday, April 5, 2009


Daily Stats:
Words: some
Caffeine: morning cup + lunchtime cappuccino
Evil Calories: evil fudgey brownies
Reality TV: ANTM reruns on Oxygen

I'm having one of those days. I'm sleep deprived, the darling boy is coming down with a cold and has spent most of the day using me as a pillow, and a snowstorm is fixing to dump on us at any moment. I was going to post, but when I dug into my bag of wit and charm, I came up empty handed. So, instead I decided to post an excerpt from chapter 6 of After Charlie. There's no particular reason, other than when I went to pop in and say hello to my vacationing AC folder, it was the first chapter I opened and was reminded how much I miss my girl Annie. It's not edited in the least, so it may seem clumsy and disjointed, but whatever. It's me. Currently I'm clumsy and disjointed as well.

Chapter 6

On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Annie received a strange call from a total lunatic. She wasn’t in the midst of a huge celebration surrounded by mingling friends about to slice through layers of sponge cake and butter cream when the phone rang. She was alone, watching the X-files and picking mats of yellow and white fur off of her cat, Poe, who, at nineteen pounds, had a rather difficult time tending to task by himself.

Aiding Poe in his grooming process wasn't exactly the way she'd envisioned ringing in her leap to adulthood, but when she dug the cordless phone from between the cushions of the couch and answered, her world took such a deep and neck-wrenching plunge that dander-ridden tufts of tabby hair where heavenly in comparison.

“How would you like to come to California for a weekend?” where the first words that came barging through the receiver, the voice abrupt and deadpan. It wasn’t that Annie was shocked that after fourteen years, her mother was making an attempt at parenthood; it was that, after fourteen years, these were the first words that her mother chose to say. It seemed not much had changed; that her mother still didn’t deem Annie fit for basic social pleasantries. No “hello”, “how are you?” or even a simple “happy birthday”. Her next words were, “There’s great shopping in the city. You should see for yourself. They have an FAO Schwartz too.” Annie wanted to pause the moment, pull out a pen and paper and begin making well arranged, bullet-pointed list of how flawed the conversation had been so far. Starting with the offensive non-greeting, moving on to the fact that Annie lived in a city and she was well aware of the shopping to be had, jumping then to the fact that she, her mother, had the audacity to suggest what Annie should or shouldn’t see, as if she’d been living in a barrel inside a cave for the last fourteen years and hadn’t seen anything worthwhile and thank God she called and decided to make an attempt at being human so Annie could finally live, and lastly moving on to the fact that, though her mother may have missed this little detail since she’d been away and missed so much, Annie was no longer seven, and the dangling of an FAO Schwartz in front of her face had little effect.

Annie would later realize that the pain stretching from her forehead all the way down to her pinky toe was absolute, unadulterated dread, and there wasn’t enough sighing, groaning or burying her face in her hands to capture just how much she did not want to go to California. Of course, to her dad it was a Greek tragedy in the making. Go meet your mother, the cold, cavernous void from whence you sprang, soak up all the irony, study all her nuances for signs of guilt and regret, have tense, metaphoric conversations, grope for answers, but end up leaving with more questions, then come home, write it all down in iambic pentameter and call it something deep yet quirky, like
Regret is a Bologna Sandwich on Rye.

Annie agreed to go, not because of her dad, but because of that little pest inside of her, nudging her, like she was passing a crumpled, overturned car on the side of the road. She didn't want look but she had to, just to see how bad it was. To say they were the worst three and a half days of her life would be far too mild a statement, since it limits the horrific weekend to just her life, when more accurately it would have been the worst three and half days for anyone in the history of time had they been forced to live it. Within five minutes of Annie’s mother picking her up from the airport (out on the curb at baggage claim, mind you, not actually parking or coming inside) they’d covered every topic (“how was the flight?” and “are you hungry?”) and every moment from that point on was drenched with a unnerving silence that made Annie’s skin hurt. Her mother had remarried a balding, alpha-male know-it-all with three kids from a previous marriage, who acknowledged Annie only when she accidentally unplugged their Nintendo 64 to plug in her alarm clock. There was no actual trip to the city or to FAO Schwartz and instead her mother offered to drop her off at the mall to shop on her own. When her mother wasn’t shirking her parental responsibilities, she’d just sit and nod along with her husband while staring out the window, seemingly as unattached to her current family as she had been to her last. On the last day of the trip, Annie broke her oversized sunglasses, came down with a horrible sinus infection, and discovered as she was packing that their evil Siamese cat had been using her suitcase as a litter box.

It was unclear why the distinct, prickly memory of that weekend suddenly hit Annie while she was re-filling coffee cups at the counter, looking up every so often to see Pepper Ann giving her little nods of approval from across the cafe. Just a few short minutes before, she'd introduced Annie in way that made everything in the room feel like it was letting out a long, relieved sigh.

“This is our friend Annie. She’s giving us a hand today.” She said it proudly, without apology, without that slight cringe that read, “I’m sorry she’s not Phoebe, but we’ll push through.” Our friend Annie. Not even our new friend Annie, just our friend, giving it weight and history. Our friend, instantly fusing Annie into a close-knit circle, which made her feel strange and content. And the customers didn’t protest or reject Annie’s attempts at small talk. Even the silent shriveling Len, who hadn’t seemed to notice her going from customer to pseudo-employee, put on his best fork-raise when she filled his coffee cup.

Her world - the one laden with boxes of letter and absent parents, traveling sort-of Aunts and silent, empty condos, estranged jobs and retreating friends – immediately lost its luster compared to the world of “our friend Annie”. She wasn’t usually one to entertain thoughts of a being a different person and heartily subscribed to the theory of the grass always seeming radiantly greener on the other side. Every life had its pitfalls, and yes, she could sit around imagining herself four inches taller, boobs a cup size bigger, hair thicker, wallet fatter, friends nicer, career sounder, but it would do nothing but make her feel worse when she when to live out the less impressive life she already had. But as she delivered eggs benedict and a sausage omelet with well-done hash browns to table six, passing Pepper Ann, who was itching the end of her nose, but still managed to smile and make it look effortless, she was “our friend Annie”, snuggling into it like a thick, wool pea coat.


DebraLSchubert said...

Sounds like you've got a great story in the making. Thanks for sharing! Also, I LOVE the cover to the book. How did you come up with it?

Vivi Alden said...

Debra - I may or may not have cruised through the website looking for "girl with suitcase" and found that fabulous picture, and then my wonderful husband may or may not have pulled it into photoshop, removed the watermark, cropped it and added the text. (shhhh....don't tell anyone!)

Carrie Harris said...

Wow. Every exerpt you post makes me love this book more. Forget the whole clumsy thing; you can't fake a good story.

Pink Ink said...

Vivi, this is great writing, girl. I love this style. Makes me think of Elinor Lipman. Passages full of juicy details on the characters, delivered with a deadpan comic timing.

Vivi Alden said...

Carrie - Thanks, my friend! I thought of you a few weeks ago when I was so sick of working away at the last few chapters that I almost wrote in a zombie attack just to put poor Annie out of her misery.

Pink - You saying that my writing makes you think of Elinor Lipman is possibly the coolest compliment I've EVER received and it kinda makes me want to run around the room making high pitched squealing noises :>)