And we’re back for our (ir)regularly-scheduled programming, Fiction Friday! This week, we’re in Seattle, “at some point in late 1993”: ‘at some point’, because I haven’t yet figured out where this scene will go. That’s one of the things I love about piecing novels together scene-by-scene instead of writing to a strict, structured outline.
This excerpt is, of course, taken from Entertain Us. You’ve met Jesse, my darling little shithead of a lead singer. Now I’d like you to meet Cara….
A man and his young son tossed a football between them. An elderly couple, walking their terrier-type dog, paused so that the creature could sniff a tree; while a group of twenty-somethings, probably students, lay in the grass poring over papers and books. Cara scanned her surroundings from behind her sunglasses, looking out for a familiar face. She checked her watch: her visitor was ten minutes late already, and she was sorely tempted to leave; bail on their scheduled meeting.
Cara jumped in her seat. Oh no, not today. Not today. “Yes?” she said, trying to convey as much displeasure as she could in a single word. It was one of the twenty-somethings, and she didn’t have the emotional strength to be recognized and ogled today.
“Could I just reach under you real quick? The wind got to some of my papers…”
“Oh!” Cara stood, vacating the bench, and the young man reached under it to retrieve his notes. So he hadn’t recognized her at all. She was thankful that he didn’t look at her when he gave a cheerful ‘thanks’, and didn’t see her reddening face.
You’re almost as bad as Jesse, she chided herself, but she was distracted, before the thought could take root, by the sight of her visitor in the distance, looking in every direction but Cara’s, holding two coffee cups. There was a sort of franticness to her movements, a quickness in the way her head jerked as she looked for Cara’s face among one cluster of people after another, that showed her desperation even from a distance.
“Mom,” Cara called, with a sigh. Lynn turned her head in Cara’s direction, and Cara waved a hand in the air to catch her attention. She sat back on the bench; judge and jury all in one.
Her mother stood sentinel for a moment, too overwhelmed upon seeing her daughter for the first time in months to find words. “I got us some coffees,” she said, at last, needlessly. She handed one to Cara.
“Thanks. You going to sit down, or…?”
“Of course, of course.”
Perhaps a park was a poorly-suited venue. Its attraction to Cara stemmed not just from it being a neutral ground (there was no way she would ever return to that house, not for any reason; and she was even more unwilling to give her mother the address to her apartment) but because all the territories she now occupied carried with them happy memories she didn’t want to be tainted with a bad one. The studio; Jesse’s garage; the parks and grassy knolls and coffee shops nearer to her home. But now that she had come halfway across town to a park she’d chosen for its location in an affluent area – to try to remind her mother, even subconsciously, that she was better off without her – she could only see it as a place where families came to enjoy each other’s company. She hated the little boy and his father; she hated the elderly couple and their dog. She hated the students for the happy, ordinary family she presumed they had at home. “Why did you just stand there?” she said, finally; ice in her tone. “You just stood there, and did nothing. No, wait: didn’t just do nothing. Just walked by into your bedroom, like it was just some… Some minor little inconvenience to you. Like someone left the TV on, or something.”
“It’s not enough.”
“I know it isn’t. But I am. It was shock. I didn’t know he was like that, with you.”
Cara opened her mouth to argue, but paused. With you, she’d said, the implication of those words heavy. “So he…?” The words died on Cara’s tongue; fleeting sympathy replaced with a flash of anger. “How could you not know? It was happening right under your nose.”
“The same way that you didn’t know, honey.” Lynn laid a hand on her daughter’s forearm, and though Cara flinched, she didn’t pull away.
“So why stay? How could you still love a man like that?”
“Love him?” Lynn gave a joyless chuckle. “Cara, I haven’t loved him in a long time. But he put food on the table; kept a roof over our heads. And when I thought I was the only one suffering for it, it was worth it.”
“Is that why you married him in the first place?”
“No. I loved him back then. I didn’t know what he was really like.”
Cara scoffed. “Maybe you should have waited longer. Dad wasn’t even cold.”
Wounded, Lynn released her gentle grip on Cara’s arm. She closed her eyes, so she never got to see that Cara winced; she would never know that she regretted the words as soon as she’d said them. “When you lose someone you love, you can’t just roll over and stop living. I had you to think about.”
And what a load of good that did me, Cara thought, but she had inflicted enough damage already. An uncomfortable silence fell over them. Cara hadn’t known what to expect from this meeting, but it certainly wasn’t this: to be sick at the sight of her; to know that it wasn’t her mother’s fault, but to find that being angry with her felt so good that she didn’t care. To be caught somewhere between wanting to accept her apology and rebuild their relationship, and feeling that she could never forgive her for just standing there motionless, no matter what her reasons. “Why did you write me? Why now?”
“I wanted to write, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to find you, until you got the PO Box.”
“Bullshit. I’ve had that box for months. Why now?”
Other parents might have called this insolence, but in Cara, Lynn only saw backbone, and it almost brought a smile to her face. So Ray had not taken that from her.
“I need your help,” she confessed.