Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Story-Time Tuesday - Writing Fiction

Jenny Matlock
If you missed where this story started just click here to read it or click on the Story-Time Tuesday link at the top of my blog to take you to previous chapters.

Writing Fiction - Chapter 6

I discovered, though, that getting closer to writing fiction was extremely appetite inducing. Messing around with my short, blog to-do list had somehow caused almost four hours of time to elapse.

It had been four long hours since I’d eaten my frosting-less, brown sugar-less, butter-less oatmeal; I was starving. Heading out to the kitchen to forage for food, I was astonished to find my cupboards were totally denuded of anything with nutritional value except two dusty cans of black olives and several jars of exotic mustard. Not finding anything of interest in the freezer or fridge, I found myself itching to hit the speed dial on my phone to order a double pepperoni and mushroom pizza.

I wondered if having the perky people at the pizza place (See! I told you I was totally stuck on the astonishing alliterative power of “P”!) recognize you by the sound of your voice means excessive pizza ordering might have occurred. Perhaps it had, because one day the guy who owned the pizza place actually told me I’d almost single-handedly increased his revenues by 17 percent. I’d been flattered at the time, so when I’d ordered again just several days later, I’d decided to share a brilliant idea I had with him about handing out buy-one-get-one-free coupons at funeral homes just to start the whole carbs-for-comfort addiction process. He was oddly silent when I offered up this exciting business concept. I bet if I’d told the idea to Sheila, she’d have been supportive.

I decided against pizza because for some reason, at that exact moment, I was having an intense craving for vegetables. It almost scared me, but I chose to embrace the fear, take advantage of my craving for healthy food and run to the grocery store.

I didn’t even bother jotting down a list because I was pretty sure I could remember I did not need olives or exotic mustard. Grabbing my purse, I headed out to my car. It was only as I was backing out that I realized my dilemma. Because I’d shopped at the store by my house for so many years, the cashiers and manager knew me really well. Certain that serious looks of pity would accompany the same questions already asked 392 times, I re-thought that store as a re-stocking option. If I went to the organic market on the corner, I was certain to run into the perky little girl in the herbal and holistic healing section. I didn’t feel strong enough to refuse the small, dried weed-filled packages full of mumbo-jumbo she’d insist I take to combat the free-cell,radical depressant, blah, blah, blah’s racing through my body.

In frustration, I almost turned the car off. I knew in my heart that people were just trying to be kind, but you can really only respond with “I know time heals all wounds” and “Yes, he’s in a better place” so often before you want to scream. Right? I wondered if that was a normal reaction or if I was just being dense.

The little pile of grief books by my bed, had addressed the feelings we’re supposed to have after someone we care about ‘turns in their library card for the last time’, but the books’ explanations hadn’t been specific enough for me. I needed to find books with handy dandy charts, explaining that when friends and loved ones repeated the same phrase 0-100 times, you felt comforted. When the phrase came up from 101 – 200 times, you felt frustrated. 201-300 times was when the annoyance started to kick in. And any time the phrase came up after the 301st time, it was perfectly normal to want to chase them down your driveway with shard-like weapons gathered from their own casserole dish you’d smashed on the floor. I’d looked for such a book about loss to no avail. I remember thinking perhaps I’d write myself a reminder to create that handy dandy chart and put it on my blog.

I needed to focus and get to the store, so instead of running back in the house to get my notebook, I turned the car the opposite way and drove twenty minutes to a large grocery store chain at which I rarely shopped.

As I got out of the car, I realized two things: The first was, even though more than four hours had elapsed since my crying jag/ meltdown thing, my eyelids were still all swollen and shiny and my face was blotchy, and not in a good way; the second thing was I’d forgotten my shoes. Who does that? Really? I’ve never seen anyone in the store wearing grayish-yellow sports socks without, at minimum, sandals. I hesitated and almost got back into the car, but then decided, heck with it, woman cannot blog on olives and mustard alone.

I hunched over, kind of pulled my head down between my shoulders like a turtle and made it to the carts just fine. No one even looked my way so I rewarded myself with a small sigh of relief.

Have you ever read that thing that says, “If you want to shop ‘healthy’ at the grocery store, shop only in the perimeter aisles”? I always wondered how that could be good advice because in the grocery stores I frequent, the bakery departments are always in one of the outside aisles. But since the experts think that’s where the best shopping occurs, I had always been happy to comply.

Before I got to the good perimeter aisle, though, I decided I’d go to the opposite side of the store. I grabbed some salad, some tomatoes, a cucumber or two and threw them in my cart. Next, I grabbed a small bunch of bananas and set them in my cart but as I approached the pyramids of apples, I stopped in my tracks. Why was I buying bananas? I didn’t even like bananas. In fact, I hated bananas! I only bought bananas because…because… “Oh no! Darn, darn, darn!” I could feel my eyes starting to well up with tears. “Darn, darn, darn! Stop it!” I whispered to myself, “Just put the bananas back. Step away from the bananas, Pearl,” and just as I went to turn my cart around, I slammed into another shopper.

Darn, darn, darn! I knew I’d clipped the poor guy in the back of his ankles. I could tell by the way his knees buckled. He turned towards me with a glare. Our eyes met for a second: my shiny and swollen from crying, bags-packed-for-Europe, brown ones and his pale blue ones. He looked annoyed. He looked angry. He opened his mouth and I’m sure he was going to yell at me, but then he gave me the ‘once over’. When the down portion of the look ended on my grayish-yellow sports socks, the expression on his face changed. The anger became something else. He offered me a meager smile and turned his cart away.

It took me a moment to realize the look he’d given me was pity.

Pity from a stranger? I’d been seeing that look for months now from my friends and neighbors. But a stranger? I started to walk away from my cart. I wanted to get in my car, go home and hide. I was not ready for the world. I was not ready for anything but my TV and speed-dialed pizza. I needed to go where no one could see me or pity me or talk to me or … or…

Actually, I think I wanted to go somewhere I could crawl into a cave and never see the light of day again. I think that’s what I wanted. I didn’t even know anymore what I actually wanted. I wanted to be left alone. I wanted not to wake up tomorrow morning all by myself, in a too big bed, in a too empty bedroom, in a too lonely house.

My face felt hot and petrified. I couldn’t move at all. It was like I was playing Olympic level ‘Freeze Tag” in the produce department. Do you remember that game? Do you remember watching your children play it in the yard as it seemed the stars had dropped from the velvety, dark night sky to twinkle as fireflies all around their silhouetted forms? I could only remember my husband sitting on the back porch steps watching this with me once. He was usually ensconced in his recliner laughing aloud to sit-coms I never quite understood. I remembered being annoyed that he wouldn’t come outside and sit with me in the dark. We had a few words over this. Harsh words. “What kind of a Father are you?” I had accused him, “You don’t care that your children are growing up.” “Of course I care,” he had replied in a serious voice, “Why do you say things like this? What do you mean?”

I recall being angry at those words. Shouldn’t he have known what I meant? Shouldn’t he have been able to recognize that I needed him sitting there with me on the back porch…at least sometimes?

I was oblivious to the curious glances of other shoppers. Memory after memory rippled over me and I felt as though if I started to cry, I’d never, ever be able to stop. I put my fist up to my mouth and gulped down my emotions. They rolled around in my stomach like a bad case of ‘This is Really My Life’ flu. I swallowed hard once more. And then I almost jumped out of my skin when someone tapped gently on my shoulder.

It was the man with the pale blue eyes. “Are you all right? Can I get you some help?” he asked me in that specific, gentle voice generally reserved for addressing old or mentally handicapped people. I looked at him blankly. He repeated his question. I lowered my fist from my mouth but no words came out. He stooped over just a little bit so he was looking right into my eyes and repeated, very slowly, “Do…you need … some…help?” Then I realized he thought I was crazy.

I felt an overwhelming compulsion to reassure him I wasn’t. “My daughter called and I am going to start a blog and my husband went shopping at the ‘Great Discount Store in the Sky’ and…” I realized I was babbling and probably not helping his misconception regarding my mental state. Taking a deep breath, I began again. “I’m fine. Thank you,” I managed to croak out, and then I turned my cart away from him and practically sprinted out of the produce department.

As I rounded the corner safely into the meat department, I was breathing hard like I’d just run a marathon. “OK, Pearl, no cupcaking out. Get your groceries and get out of here!” And I did.

I practically raced through the store slipping down the aisles in my grungy socks, grabbing oatmeal and brown sugar, 9 grain bread and butter, shampoo and lotion that didn’t smell like cookies, canned beans and frozen peas. I threw things willy-nilly until the cart was full and my energy level was empty. Then I checked out, careful not to look around for fear I would see those pale blue eyes looking at me with pity.

It was only when I was safely back in my car, all my groceries thrown into the trunk, that I realized I’d been almost holding my breath. Sitting for several moments trying to fill my lungs with oxygen instead of panic, I finally calmed myself enough to drive home.

On the drive back home, I thought of another chapter I needed to write in a book about the grieving process: How to Survive the Grocery Store. It might be a really short chapter. “Don’t attempt it, order in pizza instead.”

To be continued, Tuesday, October 19.

(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
This publication is the exclusive property of Jennifer R. Matlock and is protected
under the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Jennifer R. Matlock. All rights reserved.

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J. Kwiatkowski said...

I don't think I could face too many thoughts about the mortality of my loved ones without shoes, but maybe I'm wrong.

Jocelyn said...

Just Perfect....I can so relate....Good Job Pearl for getting through the store!!!

Thanks Jenny...you amaze me!!!

Another Big Thank you for the support being sent...I can use every single ounce of it right now!! Love ya girlie!!!

Have a great one!!! :-)

Viki said...

Ok, I got a hunch about what her blog will be about now. Hmmm. I guess I'll have to see if I'm right as time goes on.

Jeanie said...

I hope Pearl is making notes, at least in her head, about all of this for her blog to be.

Mighty M said...

Sounds like she is getting some great blog material to write if she so chooses.

I so get these feelings! I too suffered a loss and I was TERRIFIED for a while of going out in public. The "what if we run into someone that knows?" or "what if we run into someone who doesn't know". It is all about getting through each and and having things get better, a teeny bit at a time.

Sue said...

Can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this, Jenny. I wish I had a whole book!


Tina said...

Oh man, now Pearl has to put all that away. I HATE that part...I'm loving this spunky-funky character. One particular gem is the new euphemisms for death each time...very clever my friend!

I Wonder Wye said...

HUmmmmm......I have hesitated putting any of my short stories on my blog b/c they are long and I didn't think anyone would read them. Maybe I will rethink this. Red beans and rice -- a favorite here! Just the time of year for it, too!

H said...

When she finally made it safely back to the car, I realised I'd been holding my breath with her!

My name is PJ. said...

If we're baby boomers, we either know a Pearl or are at least part Pearl ourselves.

She's becoming a fabulously quirky heroine. I can't wait to become a follower of HER blog!

So there, ugly, ill-mannered emailer!

The Words Crafter said...

*sniff* I just love this!!!!! I can relate to all these feelings for many different reasons. Wow, good for her that she made it out to the car. I don't know what I would have done.

I hope she meets blue-eyes again. It would be nice to have a friend. Maybe he needs a friend, too.

I'm with PJ-'so there, ugly, ill-mannered emailer!'

Nancy C said...

You capture the honest sucker-punches of the grieving process so well. And yet, the "lotion that doesn't smell like cookies" made me smile.

Well done, as always.

Amy said...

I don't get it. How on earth could someone not like Pearl? Really? She is such a fun but real character. And I could feel the anger welling up when the man with the pale eyes gave her the look over with pity. How dare he pity her. He has no idea what she has gone through, and he would be in a worse state had he lost his wife! Men can't deal without women. It is a known fact. So there. :)

Terra said...

you have done it again, I don't think I was breathing in part of this chapter because when I got to the last line i let out a big breath...I think I sucked in and waited...as I said before all of what Pearl feels and thinks can be related to in many lives for many other reasons...this just feels so real to me.

Terra said...

Oh and I know someone that actually showed up at the school fun run without shoes (surprisingly it was not me) but it happens, it really does.

Lourie said...

So glad she stuck it out and got her groceries! Yay Pearl!

I shopped Black Friday last year in my slippers. I wasn't grieving. I wasn't lazy. I was however, half a sleep! hahaha.