Well, that was fun, wasn't it, doing the NaNoWriMo? You have a great story idea in the form of a draft. Now it's down to the real work, which is actually more fun. Your draft is the skeleton, the bones, of your story. Now you flesh it out. You ask questions. Who is telling the story? Who are the important characters? Where, and how, do they live? How do they behave? What is their motivation for that behavior?
But you know all that. It's the sitting down and putting it down that's the hard part. Especially now that bells are ringing and commercials singing all about the holidays. Is it time out? Maybe. Time for gifts? Definitely. So here is my gift to you: a peek at my finished novel, first drafted in the 2011 NaNoWriMo.
With all good wishes for a wonderful holiday and a happy, successful new year, I give you At Miss Tenny's.
Despite windows wide open to the warm May night, likely no one would hear the screams. It was late, and the patients were safe asleep in their beds. Or if awakened, they would assume it was someone’s nightmare, common enough. This was a hospital with no maternity ward, no surgical suite, no emergency room. It was a sanitorium, a place to sanitize your brain, to clean up your act, like maybe something you could do with a sprinkling of Old Dutch cleanser. If there were a choice of birthplace, this wouldn’t be it, even in the 1930s.
The hastily summoned country doctor had been at it for six hours. The woman in labor had been at it for twelve. The baby was breech, doing its best to slide out feet first, but breeches don’t slide; it got stuck. The doctor, trying to reposition, had managed to turn it the wrong way. Now the breech was even worse, the baby doubled over, pushing out buttocks first, tearing its exhausted mother like a watermelon ripping through a damp paper bag. It made no sound, took no breath. Too late, thought the mother as she slipped from consciousness. She was wrong. One quick swat to those buttocks—the single competent action on the part of the doctor—produced an indignant howl.
Until I was twenty, all I knew was that I had arrived in this world in the last minutes of the last hour of the last day of the month. That it was not also the last month of the year, but only halfway through, seemed anticlimactic. I always felt somehow suspended, as if I hadn’t quite made it to wherever I was supposed to end up: some other planet, some other star. Like a displaced person, I was forever searching for home.
It makes no sense, even to me, because of course, there was a place that was home, a place I loved and where I lived for the first sixteen years of my life. I’ve never stayed put that long anywhere since—not in apartments rented; not in condominiums, bought and sold; not even in the house Rob and I built. So when I think of home, it isn’t any of those places. It’s the rambling two-centuries-old house on Jefferson Street in a very small town back in Indiana.
Back home again, in Indiana, goes the song. I hope to God not.
Nothing could induce me to go back, even with so much of my story locked and lost there; what remains is just enough to twist my heart. The town is still there, although not as I knew it, and so is the house, but I have no desire to see it ever again. It is the memory of that house I cherish and the history of the land it sat on and, perhaps even more, the land itself.
The town lies nestled in a fertile valley where the Wabash River races, duplicitous and wild. Trees blanket that valley and the surrounding hills: sugar maple, red oak, walnut, sycamore, cypress, beech, and hickory—lush and green through the long summers; flaming with heart-stopping color in autumn; etched bare and black against deep drifts of white in winter. In the primeval hush of the steep ravine that splits the town, Indian burial mounds remain undisturbed, the spirits of dead warriors still sensed and almost seen.
The house was built before Indiana became a state, at a time when there were still enough Kickapoo, Delaware, and Potawatomi around in the Wabash Valley to zap an arrow into any Shawnee so careless as to wander into the wrong territory. To this day, spring plowing turns up arrowheads on Indiana farms. I even found one in the cemetery once, among the stones on the path near my parents’ graves.
Oh yes, long dead and gone, everyone. Even Miss Tenny, I guess. She’s gone, that much is sure, although no one really knows exactly when she passed away. If she did.
Would it have made a difference if I hadn’t grown up knowing Miss Tenny was a witch? But I had no doubts. Everything about her was mysterious, disturbingly out of place—unsettling. After I went away, I tried, pretty much successfully, to put her out my mind; now I know that she was never out of my life.
Miss Tenny was our next-door neighbor. The long west side of our white clapboard house faced the longer east side of her dark stone house, just across the alley where my dad used to park his gray Plymouth coupe at night. Gravel crunching under tires was our one-minute warning that he was on his way in. We needed that warning, me most of all, because I didn’t belong there. I didn’t belong anywhere. There wasn’t supposed to be an Elizabeth Rose Brockton. There might as well not have been for the first six months of my life. My mother remained in the sanitorium and my father didn’t look at me.