"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Biblical Mistake


Here's my homework for today's writing class, based on this prompt:

Your assignment this week is to write about a secret. It can be an important secret or a seemingly small secret. It can be kept for a good reason or an evil reason or a silly reason or an "I am ashamed" reason.

Focus on writing the first scene of the story in a cinematic style--using dialogue and visual details (other sensory details are great, too), so that we can really SEE the scene. In this scene, one of the characters has a secret that he or she is not revealing.

You may simply bring this first scene, or you may continue with the story--following it wherever it takes you as a writer--perhaps to the moment when the secret is revealed to the reader, perhaps to the moment it is revealed to the other characters, or perhaps to some other outcome.


Biblical Mistake

“Grandma, I think there’s a mistake in your Bible.” I look at Frank with all the big-sister scorn I can muster – just short of what I really feel, just short of the power of one of Mommy’s looks, just short of what will get me into trouble and ruin everything. So typical of a nine-year-old, and especially know-it-all Frank, to believe it’s even possible for a Bible to have mistakes. God doesn’t make mistakes and Frank is not smarter than God.

He’s not even supposed to be in the kitchen with us women. He’s supposed to be playing in the parlor with Mark and Geoff. For once he was told to make sure our little brothers stay out of trouble, and instead he’s interrupting my time. And I know the Bible, which we’re not supposed to ever touch without a grownup helping, sits on the bookcase in the living room. It’s not in the parlor with the baby grand piano we’re not allowed to touch and the basket of old baby toys we’re supposed to play with where he was told to be. I slip from annoyance to anticipation of the great trouble Frank’s about to get into. I look at Mommy, expecting her to ask what he was doing looking at the Bible, or where the other two boys are, but she’s just sitting there with a funny look on her face.

This is the first year I’ve been invited to sit at the kitchen table with Mommy and Grandma while Grandma keeps an eye on the turkey, and it’s not fair that he’s butting in. Just a minute ago the three of us were sitting alone at Grandma’s gray metal table with an African violet blooming on the side under the window, talking about how well I’m doing in junior high and how grown up I’m getting. I just turned twelve, and because I’m in seventh grade now I don’t have to wear my hair in braids any more. I’m really proud of the curls that Mommy gave me with the Toni home permanent kit.

“I don’t know why she insisted on having curls. I’ve always hated mine.” Mommy gives Grandma her what-am-I-going-to-do-with-her look. Grandma looks at me and twinkles her eyes without smiling so I know she likes my hair, but so she doesn’t make Mommy mad. Grandma’s look makes me brave and I talk back to Mommy just a little, “I’m the only one who didn’t have curls.” Which is how I convinced her to give me the permanent in the first place – Mommy, Daddy and all three boys have really curly hair. Mine is sort of wavy, but in a boring way. So now all three of us sit at this table with pretty curly hair, Grandma’s gray, Mommy’s black, and mine reddish brown.


Even though it’s just November, a plate of Grandma’s special Christmas gingerbread cookies sits in the middle of the table. I like the gingerbread men the best because they’re bigger than the trees and stars, so there’s more hard frosting and redhots and those hard little silver things to eat. I’ve had two already and may
not ask for more.

Earlier I spotted the Red Riding Hood cookie jar that is my favorite thing in this house. It’s on the counter next to Grandma’s cool electric stove with buttons instead of knobs. I think I might be able to sneak a couple of cookies on my way to the bathroom when everyone is eating dinner in the dining room. I know I can get the lid off quietly, and the drawer she keeps the extra cookies in squeaks, so it will have to be the cookie jar or nothing.

I’m on the side of the table facing the back door and the covered porch filled with ferns and wool coats and crisp laundry smell. I’ve been watching the door, praying that Grandpa and Daddy won’t come in from Grandpa’s shop and end this special time. Mommy’s on the side facing the dining room so she can watch the boys in the parlor on the other side of the dining room, and Grandma sits across from the window, between us, closest to the oven. The air is full of turkey and pumpkin pie and the clean but old smell that is Grandma’s starchy kind of love.

Daddy says Grandma is that way, sort of stiff, because she’s German. Daddy is half German from Grandma and half Irish from Grandpa, so that means us kids are a quarter German and Irish, plus half of Mommy which is English, Welsh, German and Cherokee Indian. Mommy says it’s the German that makes Daddy and Grandma so stubborn. She says I’m stubborn, too, so I guess it must be the German in me.

I like Grandma, even though she scares me a little because Mommy says she was a mean mom to Daddy. She’s tiny like an elf and is the first grownup I ever knew with glasses. I really like the rhinestones in the pointy corners. She always buys me Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden books for my birthday, even though I don’t read little kid books like that any more. She talks to me like I’m a grownup, and she convinces Mommy to let me do things I never could do at home. “Joyce, let her have a sip of sherry. It’s Thanksgiving, and it won’t hurt her.” I even got my own little glass, a pretty crystal one, just like Mommy’s and Grandma’s. Sherry tastes really good, but not as good as gingerbread. I like how it makes me feel: warm and swooshy and big.

“Grandma, really, your Bible has a mistake in it. Come see.” I notice Frank is not looking at Mommy at all. Smart move, but I know she’ll get him when we get home.

“Let’s take a look, honey.” Grandma gets up to follow Frank through the curved doorway into the living room. Mommy doesn’t move, and when I start to get up, she looks at me hard. “Sit down. This is none of your business.” Her voice is angry, and I have no idea how I ended up in trouble. I feel a little mad back at her, but do what she says. Then she gets up without looking at me again, and goes after Grandma and Frank. I wait, consider the cookies, consider my sherry glass, consider how much trouble I’m going to be in if I get caught disobeying. Curiosity wins out, and I tiptoe through the doorway, past the formal cherry wood table and chairs, set with Grandma’s best linen and china and silver for dinner, into the living room.

Grandma and Frank are bent over the huge old Bible that came over from Ireland with Grandpa’s family. It’s a little funny that they’re almost the same height – two curly heads, one gray, one brown – side-by-side, but I’m careful not to laugh. Mommy has stopped at the edge of the living room. She’s always a little weird here because she doesn’t really like Grandma very much, but she’s always extra sweet to her no matter what. Now she looks really really mad. I hope she doesn’t turn around and see me standing right behind her because if she does I’ll be spanked and grounded even before we get home.

“Look, Grandma. In this family tree part. It says you and Grandpa had two children, Daddy and Aunt Bev. And then it says Bev married Gene and had Sherry and Ricky, and Daddy married Mommy and had Debbie and me and Mark and Geoff. But look. This date is wrong. How could Mommy and Daddy be married in 1953 when it says Debbie was born in 1951?”

“Oh, honey, let me see that. You’re so right. That is a mistake.”

Something feels wrong, although I can’t tell what. So God didn’t make a mistake, but apparently whoever wrote in the Bible did. Mommy stands so still, with both her beautiful hands smoothing the white flowery doily on the back of Grandma’s scratchy green rocking chair. She’s leaning so hard into the chair it tips forward a bit. Grandma goes back to the kitchen, and even though she has to walk right past me, doesn’t seem to see me at all.

She returns from the kitchen with a pen, stops under the large arch between the dining room and living room, and looks at Mommy. When I realize that I’m invisible to them both, I shiver a little bit. Frank doesn’t even notice their look, he’s so busy trying to find more mistakes, but for some reason it makes me scared. Mommy’s face doesn’t move, her eyes don’t blink, but her hands keep smoothing and smoothing. Grandma finally looks away and walks over to Frank and the Bible. Under his watchful eye, she carefully turns the three into a zero.

“There you go. You’re such a smart boy to find that mistake. I can’t imagine who put that wrong date in there. Come on, let’s get you a gingerbread man.”

photo by Jason Robb from Flickr

16 comments:

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Okay, the Tony home perm picture MADE MY DAY!

Love this piece, but you already know that!

Here's to H.B!

Jessica said...

Is this about you? Was that your pic?

Wow, what a secret. I didn't even see it coming. OUCH.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Oooooh. A secret. Most interesting story. I like you rending of how your Grandma walks by you, but doesn't see you.

Looks like the words are flowing for you. Feels good? And I can appreciate the Toni home perm. Had a few of those myself - and my picture looks pretty much the same.

Amber said...

Ooooooh! Busted.

:)

Tabitha Bird said...

Dates will get you every time :)

Great piece Deb :)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thanks for the enjoyable Friday reading. My ms is FULL of secrets.

Go Mama said...

Love your tone and how you capture all the descriptions of looks and body language with the combination of knowing and childlike wonder. Well done.

Noted is the repeated defending of God, and the detail about the sacred Bible no one is allowed to touch, then Grandma marching right past you to correct it with A PEN!

Janna Qualman said...

Wow, I wasn't expecting that. But I felt it, though I imagine not as deeply as you did.

fullsoulahead.com said...

Wow. You could cut the tension with a knife! What an adorable girl you were!

Jerri said...

Again, a story within a story, both beautifully told.

Pam said...

Great stuff! The ending was superb, could feel the tension all round, and wonderful capturing of the mother's uneasiness, and children's innocence in the story...and grandma,took the situation right in hand!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh, tony perms *shudder* how they ruined my long fine hair!

Love this - just the kind of thing I adore reading - thank you *smiling*

The name of the "sequel" to Tender Graces is Secret Graces, so yes, there are secrets . . .

patricia said...

Deb, Though I knew this story, I learned a lot more about how it happened and felt like I was there. Your writing of it is excellent, using the voice of the 12 year old little girl. Enjoyed reading it. I would like to read the next piece when, as an adult, you revisited that moment with the realization that there was no mistake after all. =)

The Things We Carried said...

Wow! What a story! Is it true? i couldn't imagine where it was going, but it had me until the end!

FrecklesandDeb said...

Love the picture!

You wrote your story beautifully. Great attention to detail(as usual!)

kario said...

So many explosive lines in here, full of expectation and foreshadowing and excitement! I love your writing, Deb! I love this class!