Friday, November 25, 2011

Shades of Green

By Colleen Sutherland

“Keep your mouth shut,” Mama said, as she stowed Abby’s deviled eggs in the refrigerator. “Don’t say anything and Grace won’t get started. She’s worse when you argue with her.”

So when Grace and her husband arrived, Abby kept her mouth shut. She listened to Grace natter on about her two daughters, her clubs, her church, her home, her activities. Abby said nothing about her friends, her writing, her magazine column, her art. She said nothing about the men in her life, current or ex. She bit her cheek and rubbed her fingers against her arm, back and forth, back and forth. A nervous habit. But she kept her mouth shut, collecting affronts to report to her therapist.

Grace made some triumphant point and pursed her lips. At fifty, her lips carried vertical indentations that were turning into a perpetual frown. From her lofty social position as a small town banker’s wife, she knew the world and disapproved of it on Christian principle. She certainly disapproved of Abby, her divorce, her men, her freedom. Grace set her limits. She expected everybody to do the same. But Abby said nothing.

“Mustn’t brag, dear. You know how it upsets your sister,” Mama whispered to Abby over the supper dishes, wiping her hands on her stained polyester pants. Papa had towered over her, brow-beating her to obeisance. When he died, Grace took over. By tomorrow, Mama would be on her sofa with a sick headache, not answering the phone or door bell, escaping with Oprah.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lightening the Load

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. (See for a complete explanation.) Wade and I are both using this month to edit novels we wrote in previous years. Today, I am posting a chapter from Going Down from Gairloch. Ronna is an American writer of romance novels who wants to change her life. She is at Heathrow in London to meet William, the man she has been dating for a few years, to break off their affair. At the same time, she wants to say good-bye to her agent, who will be leaving for the United States on the same airplane.

Lightening the Load
from Going Down from Gairloch
by Colleen Sutherland 

It was another cool, rainy British day, but Ronna figured she might as well get used to rain. In a few hours, she would catch a train to the Lake District where it rained all the time. In the meantime, she had to drag her suitcase with her everywhere, and she was getting mighty sick of it. Because of terrorists there no longer were lockers to stash luggage for a few hours at international airports. She was a turtle, dragging her home on her back.

She could have skipped this trip to Heathrow altogether. She had already cashed in her ticket and was using that to live on until things were settled back in the Midwest. There was no chance she would be leaving with William. Still, she felt she had to come to say good bye and tell him to his face that she was breaking it off. She would tell Bonnie that they had come to a parting of ways. There would be no new novel, at least not one that Bonnie would approve of. That would not be easy either, but cowardice would not be part of her new life in Great Britain.

The suitcase bumped along behind her, her laptop computer strapped to it. The case's pull out handle whacked her in the back of her buttocks from time to time to remind her it was there. As she dragged the case up staircases and elevators, and along the entire length of the terminal, she began to think about what was in it. Perhaps it was time to lighten her load.

It was still early so she settled down on a plastic seat, stuck one foot through the suitcase handle to make sure no one would steal it. One strap of her backpack was around an arm, another precaution against thieves. She booted up her laptop, looking for the trashy romance novel she had promised Bonnie. It was terrible. Another thing to get rid of. It was time to write something meaningful, she thought.

She glanced up from time to time and that was how she spotted William, a study in gray in the vast gray of Heathrow. He had a new suit, she noticed, something different than what he usually wore. It was still a conservative suit, but not his usual style. Although she was no expert on men's clothing, it was more tailored. The pants fit him, no bagging around the hips. He looked almost natty.

Ronna settled back to watch, wondering if he would come over to her, but he was not looking for her. He was looking behind him, a smile under his trim little mustache. Then she noticed Bonnie at a kiosk, purchasing a magazine. William stopped and waited for her. Her magazine in hand, she walked toward him. He held his hand out, to take the magazine, Ronna thought, but no, it was to take Bonnie's hand. They walked toward the stewardess waiting at the exit door. They held hands and looked at each other in the meaningful way that lovers do.

Ronna quietly watched them, surprise leading to annoyance to joy. William and Bonnie? William and Bonnie! Somehow the two had joined up. How did that happen? Ronna found she didn't care.

Should she confront them and make the breakup official and give Bonnie her blessing? No, that was a bad idea. Bonnie would rather steal William away than have him handed to her. If Ronna showed approval, Bonnie would re-think the prize she had won, a door prize no one else would want. Best let that be. It was the perfect breakup, no residual guilt, no regrets, no envy, no anger. Ronna would thank Bonnie every day of her life. A few steps more and the couple were through the door.
I've just gotten rid of two negative parts of my life, she reflected. My old life is gone. No more trashy novels, no more boring love stories, fictional or real. She didn't believe in them before, and she didn't believe in them now. It was time to let go of everything else that had no value to her. She looked once more at the beginnings of the romance novel and without a second thought, deleted the entire thing.

She glanced down at her luggage. What else was she hanging on to? There were shops all over England. Why was she dragging all this along with her. She would buy what she needed, as she needed it.

She stared down at her body. She had dressed up for this meeting with William, putting on makeup, her best clean dress, and a pair of pumps. Why had she done that? Because it was the way she had always looked at life in the past. Looking her best for men was over now.

She pulled her suitcase into a women's restroom. The stalls were all occupied and there was a line of tired women waiting for their turns. Standing there, the other women staring, Ronna began to change her way of being. She scrubbed off all the makeup. Then she pulled off her shoes, her nylon stockings, her dress and her bra, leaving her in nothing but her skivvies. She unzipped the suitcase and pulled out an old pair of blue jeans and an over sized sweatshirt that flopped over her breasts and around her hips. She put on white socks and the comfortable pair of sports shoes. The dress went into a trash bin.

The women in the loo looked at her as if she were mad. “Sorry,” she said, “I'm having a crazy, wonderful day.” The new Ronna rolled her case out to the terminal. She dropped her cosmetics bag, plop, on the carpet, picked up her knapsack and laptop and began to walk away from the suitcase.

“Pardon me, miss.” A uniformed guard hurried over. “You can’t leave your things unattended." Ronna hefted up the case again and sighed audibly enough to show her annoyance. She sat down on a hard plastic seat. The backpack was in her way. She pulled it off her shoulders and slid back.

A waste container was beside her. She zipped the backpack open and let the contents spill down her lap to the floor.

File folders of handouts for her workshops. Not an original thought in any of them. She shoved them into the container. Books she carried all over England and had never read. Into the heap, though she saved the best and piled them next to magazines and newspapers for others to read.

Finally, her day planner. Addresses – dates – goals – diet plans. Her life all laid out for the next year. She hesitated for a moment. Her whole humdrum life set out before her. Who needed something like that? She threw it in the container violently.

What else? Some dirty laundry at the bottom. Out it came. The backpack lay empty like a deflated parachute. The trash bin was full.

She opened her suitcase. What did she really need? She snapped it shut and hauled it to the next trash container. She opened it. Out came the bras … gone.

Then the cosmetic kit. Should she keep a lipstick? No! She took out a toothbrush. She found a bandanna, tied it around her frizzy head hippie style, and threw away the hairbrush. The curling iron went flying into the container. She dumped every bit of the junk she had kept to make herself attractive. Why fight a losing battle? She tossed the toothbrush into the backpack. She was now officially old. God, it felt good!

She zoomed over to the counter with the empty suitcase. “See here,” she told the attendant. “I’m getting rid of this stuff. I’m not bombing anybody. Have the security check it over, then give it to charity.” She turned abruptly and marched to the sunlight carrying her laptop and the knapsack with two pairs of pants, two shirts heavy enough to cover her nipples, a pen, a journal, and a toothbrush.

That was enough to go on.