Good morning, Literati, from Camelot! (aka the towers that are A Word with You Press in Moscow).
Today we post our final finalist in our contest: Once Upon a Time. We still need a few more judges, because my lease prohibits a dart board hung in these hallucinatory hallways, and a randomly launched dart might be the most equitable way (literary-equality, anyone?) to determine our winner, as the quality of writing in superb with all our entrants, and each style is so diverse. If you would like to be a judge, I will send you a pdf of the five prologues, first and second chapters of our finalists, along with an outline of how to judge each one.
Our winner will be announced by podcast on August 30th at the book launch for Raw Man, to be held in Oceanside at the hacienda of our friend, best selling author and Pulitzer Prize nominee Victor Villaseñor.
In the meantime, her is Laura channeling her inner child, from her work-in-progress “The Secret Place”
Amanda is 12 and wants to be an opera singer when she grows up. I’m 13 and want to be myself. Both are a long shot. We are best friends. No, we are Kindred Spirits Forever, just like we write in the notes we pass all day at school. It’s all in code, of course, because boys would laugh if they found out girls love each other. The truth is right there on the envelopes. It bleeds in berry-scented ink from the pens we bought each other: Boysenberry and Raspberry, KSF.
Our lockers have three tiny vents at the top, and only we know what they’re for. We fold the notes flat and jam them hard through the vents so the janitor won’t throw them in the trash. After another long class memorizing the capitals of There instead of Here, the place that really matters, her note is there to make it matter. It’s waiting on the top shelf of my locker next to the fleshy pink erasers and 7-Up lip gloss. And it’s sealed with a fart: SWAF.
Today we’re learning how to pronounce the vowels in French. Miss Simone is standing in front of the class with VGL’s (Visible Girdle Lines…Add that to the Master Code Key) and chanting, “Ooh, Ay, Uh.”
She looks like Sigmund from Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Let’s add that to the Code Key, too. Anyway, Sigmund is giving me the Evil Eye. Who cares! I’m getting an A anyway, cuz anyone can moan like Warren Beatty in that HBO movie, “Shampoo!”
(Over, s’il vous plait). Ask your mom if you can spend overnight Saturday, since I spent at your house last weekend. We can wear our new bunny suits and make crank calls!
Love, Raspberry (SWASF: sealed with a sulfur fart)
This is Here. This is the whole world. A tiny message in a bottle floating on a sea of confusion, lines too straight to hold her berry-scented cursive, already rubbing off in my jeans pocket. Our bodies are long and straight and nearly invisible in the dark halls of junior high, like faint blue lines on paper. But our thoughts and feelings bloom to bursting, overtaking the sharp corners of the halls with rich, heaven-scented berries.
Sigmund entered in the Master Code Key! I’m in English, my favorite class. I almost didn’t make it, since Jeff and Matt were at the double doors. They only let girls in who rate 7 or above on the Butt Meter. Willow trees don’t have fat butts, so I had to find the janitor to let me in.
Then Jeff put that sweet red-head Special Ed boy in the garbage can again and called him Retard. Now I’m in trouble for crying, along with being late cuz o’ the Butt Meter. I aced Dickens, but got docked. The popular girls with the fat butts who don’t care enough about anything enough to cry get full credit for being on time.
I love Darren, but he said I looked like a boy today in my football jersey. I wore that Christmas bow in my hair to make the distinction, but he likes Rhonda. She never says anything, so why would he like her? Because she’s blond? Shouldn’t it matter what in our heads, not on them? He called me Brain yesterday like it was a bad word.
Let’s crank call Sigmund this weekend and OD on wintergreen Lifesavers in the closet. We’ll make them spark green and wear the bunny suits. You’re my life-saver!
(So this is SWALS, sealed with a Lifesaver, not a fart).
So it was a good day, I think, as I walk home. The silver rain cools my cheeks tired out from blushing, and I breathe in the clouds that at least smell alive compared to the halls of stale perfume and disappointment. It was good day, with two long notes exchanged through the vents. And even better, Saturday’s only five days away. I can’t wait to wear the matching, fuzzy zip-up PJ’s we’re getting with our Christmas money (we call them bunny suits).
Last weekend, we tried to get training bras with the money first. Amanda’s was called Little Miss Sassy, a triple-A. Mine was called Little Miss Grown-Up, an A. Amanda says bras are sized exponentially, so that’s huge. I’m embarrassed that I’m huge, but Amanda says if I get one, I can catch dodge-balls again in PE without hurting. I used to be chosen first over all the boys, since I’d take the smart of any red rubber ball, no matter how hard it was hurled, full-on over my heart to save my team.
So last weekend we got the bras. When Mom picked us up at the mall, she said the usual, “Well, did you buy anything?” with that non-look that means she hopes we didn’t. Even though I always say no, for some reason I handed her the box over the back seat. I don’t know why I thought she’d care like Amanda’s mom.
“Little Miss Grown-Up?” she said in her church voice. “You’re going to return that, young lady!” She grabbed my hand hard and pulled me out of the Volvo. I could feel her calluses from practicing cello. I heard the car door slam as Amanda ran to follow us across the parking lot.
It was silent for awhile, and then in the forest of ties at JC Penney, Amanda said loudly, “I don’t know anyone in 8th grade who doesn’t have a bra. Do you?”
“No, I’m the only one, and it hurts when I long jump. Mom, the coach says I can go to the Olympic trials someday if I jump 16 feet this year. He says if I can sprint again, I can learn to run in the air on the jump.”
Mom looked at me quizzically and her face almost softened, but Amanda said, “Yeah, she’s already bigger than most girls.” Then the calluses pulled me harder as we swished past sad, swinging purses.
“Hi again!” said the lady at Girl’s. I could see her bra through her disco shirt. “Did you have a problem with that? Want a different size? You know, I think she might need a B,” she winked at my mom. A lump rose in my throat as I stared at her shimmer, how soft she was.
My mom didn’t say anything, just looked at me hard. Then Amanda said, “No, we just changed our minds. That’s all. I don’t like the bow on mine.” She pushed Little Miss Sassy toward the register. Now it was easier to lay mine down.
I took Amanda’s hand. I wished we could stay at the mall and play the game we used to. We’d pretend we’re old ladies and paw through the boxer shorts. We’d pick out the ones with dice and golf clubs on them for our husbands, Homer and Percival. We’d talk about canning zucchini and playing bridge, and how much our husbands loved us. We’d wait for the ladies in Mens to say in snorty voices, “It was funny for awhile, girls, but you need to leave now.” Then we’d go to Customer Service and ask to file for discrimination against midgets. Only now we’re adult height, so it doesn’t work anymore.
This weekend, we’re going back again to get the bunny suits with the bra money. They’re fuzzy, with feet, like the ones we wore when we were five, only these are XL’s. Amanda’s is pink and mine is yellow, and they have matching stripes on the sleeves: three faint blue lines. They feel cozy and young, even younger than Little Miss Sassy Triple-A. We can go back to the time of the monkey bars, when my mom never bothered us at all. We can hide our emerging curves and look straight as blue lines on paper. We can love each other, just like always. KSF.
I don’t know what we’ll do in the bunny suits this weekend. Probably what we always do: make her cat, Arthur, lick my ear—the only man I want to marry. Stay up past midnight for Saturday Night Live and make crank calls. Our best one yet was when we called all the photographers in the Yellow Pages and told them we were Miss Simone and wanted a photo shoot for a gay, nude wedding at the public library. All the photographers in town hung up, except one hippie guy who said he’d be there. We wanted him to call her before he showed up for the wedding, since the whole point was for Miss Simone to hear about it. But he said he was just glad to do it.
I feel bad for him since he’s so nice, but Amanda says you have to put your emotions on hold when you’re crank calling and just get down to business. Amanda’s smart that way. I feel like I’m not as smart, because even though I get the highest grades in class without studying, I care sometimes. I care that Rhonda gets the boys even though she never says anything. I care that the nice man is going to show up at the library for the wedding with no one to meet him.
And I care about the raccoons, who drink Coke straight out of the bottle on Amanda’s porch after Saturday Night Live is over. She thinks it’s cute, but I worry about them getting cavities. Their babies are soft and furry like the bunny suits, and their matching stripes stand out stiff in the falling snow. Even the adult raccoons are soft. Not like all the adults I know, hard and sharp as the corners I keep running into now that I’m growing up and don’t know my own size.
I guess some adults might be nice. Like the photographer who’s really going to show up. Like Amanda’s mom, who wouldn’t mind if she bought a bra, even though she doesn’t need one yet. And Blueberry, the turban-wearing piano tuner who comes to Amanda’s once a year to make the notes sound right again. I always try to be there when he comes, because he treats us like we’re there. Like we’re Here. And he smells good, like bagels and sweat.
He smells real. Like nothing I’ve ever felt from anyone except myself, and Amanda, of course. I might expand my marriage repertoire from Arthur the cat to Blueberry if he’s still alive a million years from now, in 1985, when I grow up. If he doesn’t mind that I had to quit track and never got to be in the Olympics.
I don’t know if I’ll be myself when I grow up, but I’m myself now. Saturday is only five days away. We’re going to wear our matching bunny suits, and unzip them to air out the farts from laughing so hard. We’re going write the Master Code Key to explain all of life. We’re going to make crank calls, and watch the snow fall on the baby raccoons. We’re going to be kids. For at least one more weekend. SWAF.