November is National Novel Writing Month and I’m participating – again. Since I started writing years ago I’ve used November to sit down and focus on writing at least two thousand words each day. In the past I’ve written books that I self-published as Doyle MacBrayne, including Eve ver. 2.0, The Fourth Christmas, Jane Eyre Austen and… this novel which I’ve never published because it STILL isn’t ready. Below is the first chapter of Death By Zombie – a book I hope one day to finally rewrite, revise, edit and publish because I still love the characters.
Chapter One: No one puts fun in funeral like your parents
My parents are extraordinary people, or so I’ve been told. I believe I was an afterthought, an idea that seemed good at the time, and discarded when I became troublesome. Fortunately my Grandma never found me taxing, she took great efforts to make me feel loved and appreciated. Maybe she blamed herself for raising an egocentric daughter who married the same. No matter, she made sure I had a normal childhood, extremely normal, bordering on unbearably bland. Meanwhile my parents lived in many different countries, occasionally at an archeological dig for my dad’s work; and other times because my mom was an ambassador or something. I have an entire scrapbook of their lives, their discoveries, their treaties. I often wonder if they have one with my pictures, my first bike ride, the first tooth I lost, my first dance. Grandma does, and she cherishes it sharing it with anyone who stops by for a visit. She pulls out the tattered binder that holds every Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and school play for the last 14 years.
My parents sent me to live with her when I turned 3 ½, apparently the terrible twos weren’t as inconvenient as the fearsome fours were becoming. Not that my parents didn’t care about me, I think. Ok, I hope. They made sure I attended the best schools, had the appropriate lessons in music, language, art, etc. When they visited we were lavished with exquisite gifts before they returned to their adventures.
Do I sound jealous? I am. I can’t even count the number of times I begged to go with them, and was refused. Whatever. Grandma was as cool as a Grandma could be. She kept me busy with Spanish and Italian classes, cooking classes, dance classes, which we both agreed was a horrible mistake. I enjoyed swimming; tae kwon do, horseback riding, and she even let me try archery. Summer camps were always organized by my parents to take up all but two weeks of summer. Those two weeks with absolutely nothing to do were always my favorite. Grandma and I would see movies, go to the beach, camp, and she’d let me have sleepovers every night!
So, here I sit in a folding chair graveside watching two men wench down the coffin that contains the body my grandmother occupied for 72 years. My mother is elegantly dressed and seated beside me. She managed to find a hat with the veil in front. Seriously? Where do they even sell those things in the 21st century? Did she find Edith Head’s secret stash? She looks like an actress, flawless skin with no lines etched into them. I’m sure it’s because she’s never felt an emotion, much less shown one. She’s beautiful though, dark brown curly hair, perfectly coifed and contained by the hat. She wears minimal makeup, some mascara on her incredibly long lashes, which she didn’t pass on to me. Her brown eyes give the impression that she’s warm and caring, and it helps that her mouth is perfect too. Overall she looks amazing, as always. Dad looks picture perfect too. He has laugh lines barely perceptible around his grey eyes, and a slight graying at his temples that does not dare to go further into his black hair. He’s the most graceful man I’ve ever seen, with really long fingers. Ok, I know the fingers sound weird, but he reminds me of Fred Astaire, you know from the old black and white movies. He moves like him, except he’s handsome. I look down at my stubby fingers and feel inadequate once again. I secretly believe that their friends apologize to them when I’m not around because I’m so pitiful. It’s really weird, how did two gorgeous, elegant people create me? I have brown, curly hair, but I can never make it look nice and on its best days it would be described as mousy. My blue eyes are normal, my lashes are normal, and my mouth isn’t perfect. My bottom lip is full, but my top lip isn’t. And my nose. Ugh. I think it has a really weird bump in it, but Grandma said it’s beautiful, a roman nose. I think it’s more like Barbra Streisand. Thank god there are freckles covering it, I guess.
I’m disgusted I had to put a dress on. Grandma would never make me wear a dress, but whatever. Maybe style skips a generation because I looked like Grandma, acted like Grandma, and probably will dress like Grandma when I’m old. I’m happiest in sweats or jeans, and a t-shirt with my chucks. Right now I look like I’m wearing something from the Career Barbie collection.
The reception followed the funeral and I managed to sneak up to my room, except it’s not going to be my room anymore. I would be leaving for college at the end of summer, until then I was supposed to be enjoying my last summer at home. I managed to talk Grandma out of sending me to camp by getting a job as a barista. I planned on working all summer, saving up a ton of money so I could have pizza Friday’s at William and Mary’s. I’m sure my parents are relieved that Grandma died right when I was turning of age and no longer a legal nuisance. My God, I’m moving. In a few weeks I will leave the only home I remember and never return. My stomach flipped and nausea washed over me. Trying to calm my nerves, I massaged my temples, with my head between my knees. I had been feeling anxious and depressed since Grandma got sick, and my parents’ arrival only seemed to make it worse.
My mother knocked gently on my bedroom door. “Rachel, sweetheart, you need to come down and speak to the guests.”
“I’d rather not,” I muttered from between my knees.
Irritated she replies in a clipped tone, “Come down now, give me thirty minutes and then you can do as you wish.”
Numbly I got up and followed her downstairs. A stranger greeted us as soon as we reached the living room and gushed over my mom. This stranger assured me that all will be fine, and that I’m so lucky to have my parents. I raised one eyebrow, ready to respond – you know something witty, but my mouth was dry and I couldn’t find any words.
Thankfully I spotted Grandma’s bridge partners and walked away. Just walk away. That’s what Grandma would’ve done. Never argue with an idiot. I can still hear her voice. My nose stung and I felt my eyes tear; I wondered how long until I forget the sound of her voice.
Nora, Grandma’s best friend, wrapped me up in her arms and pulled a handkerchief out of thin air. It’s magical how Grandma’s can do that, they have concealed cookies, tissues, and peppermints on their person at all times, just in case. One time we locked ourselves out of the house, we went through Grandma’s purse and found a dictionary, cough drops, enough drugs for her own pharmacy, tissue, lifesavers, granola bars, bottles of Kaopectate, water and mace; her wallet, and a pack of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies. No keys or cell phone, but hey, her priorities were clear. I would never go hungry, she would always care for my injuries, and she would always protect me. I found myself sobbing into Nora’s shoulder, it didn’t help that she was sobbing too. Pretty soon, the whole bridge group was sobbing, much to the dismay of my parents.
I don’t know which was worse for them, my openly showing emotion, or seeking comfort from someone not ‘family’. When my mother looked at me, I registered embarrassment and disgust on her face. It was at that moment that I began to hate her. I kissed all of Grandma’s friends goodbye and went upstairs to pack. Fortunately my parents left me alone. People cleared out pretty quickly, Mom hired a crew to clean up and I could hear vacuum cleaners running and dishes being washed, removing all traces of the day’s events.
I crawled into bed and turned off my lights as I heard my parents ascend the stairs. They cracked the door open and I heard my father whisper, “Give her a break, she just lost the only parent she’s ever known.”
My mother’s strained whisper shot back, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
My father grunted, “Give it a rest Jackie, you know what I mean.”
The door closed and I could hear the arguing continue down the hall. They were going to sleep in her bedroom. It seemed cold. I wasn’t surprised, just disappointed. I always wished that they would do something extraordinary for us. For our family. But they weren’t those kind of parents. I’m sure the other ambassador’s kids have the same problem. Right?