Laura Girardeau is lionized Once Upon a Time

(here one of the Satikushes–the guard-cats at The Towers that are A Word with You Press-invites a tummy rub)


Laura Girardeau has an entry into our contest Once upon a Time in which apparently she takes great pride!  And well she should. Lions are the king of beasts, and the beasts of kings. Laura’s plea?  “Play with me!”  Who could refuse?

Here is the prologue to

The Secret Place

by Laura Girardeau

            Adults worry about what doesn’t matter, like how I hold my fork and scissors. Yesterday, Mrs. Norris called my mom to say that even though I can read and the others can’t, she’s worried about passing me through kindergarten because of the way I hold my scissors. I’m left-handed and there’s no place for my thumb. I can stand on my hands longer than any boy, and speak my thoughts louder than any girl, but the scissors are what matter.

At home, my parents tell me I’m holding my fork wrong instead of asking me how I feel or what I love. I’m holding it right, anyway—the easiest way. They are holding much more than their forks wrong—they are holding each other wrong by not holding at all. I’m not allowed to eat until I hold it their way. I try to tell them they can’t eat until they love each other, but they won’t play their own game.

This it the only place that matters. This is the only place I matter: here, where the wind breathes wild. It’s after school, what I call The Golden Time, when grass glints and lion spirits wait for blood in the bushes beside me. “Take me,” I yell as I run past them. Let me join you. Please.

The first sign that I’m entering the Secret Place is the hard metal gate. If you licked it, it would sting of society and rust. I used to lick raindrops from the railing all the way home from school, but I grew wiser when I learned the taste of metal.

I hitch up my Toughskins and jump to the other side. The stripes on my terry cloth shirt seem brighter as birdsong cascades over blackberry vines. I hook my kindergarten-proof thumbs in my belt loops and start to run, my girl-boy breast heaving in happiness. Golden grasses shimmy past my calves with a rattlesnake hiss. Crickets beat my quickening pulse. Take me, I say to the lions. Play with me.

I know where to go, running down the path only I can see. Turn right at the crab-apple tree. Throw some to the sky and watch them stop for one delicious moment before falling back down. Feel your body pucker at their sharp, green taste. As I cleave the path open, I think, “My mom doesn’t know where I am, and couldn’t find me if she did.” This twinges me like that tart apple taste.

I never know how to find the Secret Place. The way is hidden, and that’s what makes it mine. It only lets me in if I’ve been good.

“Have you been holding your fork wrong? How about the scissors?” The wind asks, lifting the cottonwood leaves to show me their delicate, silver underbellies.

“Of course,” I answer. “Don’t I always do everything wrong?”

“Good. Have you gotten your parents to hug yet?”

The answer is always no, but that’s why I’m here.

I always find The Secret Place a different way—by smell, sometimes—and only when I’m not trying. I must love enough. I must love the trees and the grasses, the crab-apples and the lions, or they will die. I would too, if it weren’t for this place.

So I stick my nose to the ground and smell joy. The spring mud smells of pollywogs yet unborn, and leads me to a pine-needle bed. I roll in it awhile, loving it thoroughly. As the sun slants into my bower, a spider weaves a masterpiece for my wall. I hook my thumbs into my belt loops and forget all about the Secret Place.

That’s when I find it. My pine-needle bed opens onto a clearing, and I slink across to look for the lions. I see the path that might be familiar, and I remember what I know.  A few steps and I’m through the last gate—the one I can’t see, only feel. This is where it matters. This is where I matter.

I’m running now, down the magic hill to the moss-covered oak. I climb up and hug its dripping fur, surveying my world. And God said, “It is good.” It all spreads out before me now—what is possible, if I can just get my parents to hug like these trees. The singing brook playing four clefs at once, the blackberry bramble-cave arched over it like a cathedral, the pollywog pond full of frogs-to-be like giant, twitching sperm, the miniature cherry tree that worships the brook with ever-open arms.

I worship, too. I lie on the hill, arms and legs spread to the brook, my heart playing those four clefs of happiness. What I will later find only in the arms of a lover, at five I find in the arms of the world. This is not just my place. This is Me. It gives me that tart-apple feeling again.

The Secret Place has since been mowed down to make room for more families, with all their forks and scissors, and that tart-apple twinge eludes me.

Sometimes at three a.m., when all the cars have stopped and I can hear the wind breathing a certain way, the bed next to my husband feels tiny and stifling. There’s no room to throw apples to the sky, no spider making masterpieces just for me.

My now-girl breast heaving, I run to the clearing in the living room and roll naked on the carpet, rooting for the smell of pollywogs in spring mud. “Take me,” I plead to the lions.


16 thoughts on “Laura Girardeau is lionized Once Upon a Time

  1. Parisianne Modert says:

    Incredible vividness and sensory rich expressions of child wonder ooze and drip all over this prologue by Laura Girardeau, who has become one of my very favorite writers at A Word With You Press. As much as I have loved her writing in the past including her contest written piece, I know this is my very favorite of what I have been privileged to read so far.

    Where do I buy the book for God’s sake for I am sold on “The Secret Place” as the best prologue entered in this contest. While writing is not Ms. Girardeau’s only artistic passion nor sensitive talent for emotional intimacy with people and nature, her feminine expression and inner child charms are priceless gifts to be humbled by.

    Brilliant and heart tugging beauty doesn’t begin to cover how magnificent “The Secret Place” prologue is in preparing us for her novel. “The Secret Place” is a novel worth preordering from the prologue alone. My congratulations and gratitude are freely given here Laura.

    • Laura Girardeau says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments and what you related to in this work! I do have more stories and you have given me the strength to share…

  2. Beverly Lucey says:


    I love love love the writing in this prologue as well as the voice–if I can make that distinction. It makes the reader, me, love this kid and worry about what she will become (as is borne out by the end of the opening)

    Given that you’ve used a first person narrator, there’s a lot you can get away with, while the reader decides if she is reliable or not. I’m going with reliable as well as whimsical, all while enduring great pain.

    However, because the opening plays with time–first predictive, then leaping into a grown version of the narrator, I suggest you reconsider the wonderful immediacy of present tense in favor of past. If she is going to give us her history as now, then somehow this one day after school, present tense has to matter as opposed to represent. Something should happen to her or she should be found out, so that we want to and must stick around to see what happens to her as she grows.

    The other thing that bothered me, is that we have to assume she does not and can not eat at home. I’ll accept the battle of wills, and the parental concern with doing it ‘right’ as opposed to hanging a left, but she’s got to eat. Somehow I want that accounted for. Is there enough in the Secret Garden for her to eat, or does she forage in lockers and cupboards at school? Steal sandwiches from a kid’s cubby? Does she wake up by moonlight and get into wherever it is that mom hides the good stuff? Does the lady next door slip her a bowl of mac and cheese now and again?

    There are SO many lines and phrases I love, I’d be stuffing the comment box with almost all of your writing, and since that seems silly I’ll just say here are some favorites:

    ===They are holding much more than their forks wrong—they are holding each other wrong by not holding at all. I’m not allowed to eat until I hold it their way. I try to tell them they can’t eat until they love each other, but they won’t play their own game.

    ====== the hard metal gate. If you licked it, it would sting of society and rust. I used to lick raindrops from the railing all the way home from school

    ====== I hook my kindergarten-proof thumbs in my belt loops and start to run, (of course. She is ‘running wrong’ too, but it gets her where she’s going.)

    • Laura Girardeau says:

      Hi Beverly, Thanks for your detailed thoughts about this…always appreciated! I too thought about the voice issue…if a memoir, maybe past tense is best. However, the point of view of the young girl is more immediate with present tense. I am still teasing this out. Re your thoughts on the dinner: the silverware part is about the clash between convention and freedom…the parental power struggle. They feed her, of course… it’s just the strong-willed girls’ struggle with questioning authority and society’s conventions. She just has to hold her fork right in order to eat. Hopefully this will be clear for other readers. Thanks again for your specific comments!

  3. russ shor says:

    This is vivid, excellent writing. It turns us into children for a moment… all feelings without the veneer of adulthood hanging over our heads.

  4. Laura Girardeau says:

    Beverly, OK, now I am “getting” your comment re convention. We must assume that as an independent girl, she does not give into the authority and therefore doesn’t eat, even though of course she does. I might consider adding a line about that small submission we all make to survive, how we mold ourselves to our families and society and lose a bit, but also gain…Keen eye!

    • Beverly Lucey says:

      Yes. You’ve made me believe she has integrity and an iron will to match her parent’s right way. But she’s a lefty. Historically considered ‘evil’ in some circles instead of being encouraged to find her own comfortable way. (Love all the stuff about the scissors, which creates great tension) “No running with scissors!!!”

      I have a brother in law who as a kids wouldn’t finish, or often even start, his vegetables. It was a constant battle. His iron willed father insisted that the peas go in his mouth before he could leave the table. Bobby scooped them all in after long minutes and went up stairs. The next morning he came downstairs, and spit the peas into the sink in front of his mother, to show her dad hadn’t won this time.

      I assume every meal is a battle in your narrator’s house. She tries to set her own rules, or challenge the norm, and is frustrated at every turn. I never thought the parents would send her hungry to school and hungry to bed every single day for years, but I could imagine her hunger and times when she would rather do anything but give in. Sorry if it came off as absolute home deprivation.

  5. Parisianne Modert says:

    I wanted to comment on the verb tense of making the little girl in present tense. When I remember vividly enough I travel back into the child I was, feeling as they did, ignoring my present life as an adult. The power of most of the prologue is that it is not about an adult falsely remembering their childhood or placing adult presumptions on that child, but the purity of the original experience. I believe this prologue is perfect as it is. The a child should this and a child should that mentality is from an adult not the mind of a child which is the perspective of this prologue to me.

    The introduction of the adult later gives us a gate to enter into Chapter One knowing what her life as a child truly was and how it has faded into the present with its remaining influence on the present moment in the night’s bedroom and the time to follow. This prologue allows to see this woman’s life through her eyes, her experiences at different ages. What more could we hope for or look forward to seeing more?

  6. Tiffany Monique says:

    I like the agelessness of this writing, and the way the framework is elusive yet familiar — “This twinges me like that tart apple taste.”

    I see magic realism, but also an adult story in reverse… a coming of age story in reverse… I’d love to see how this plays out as an audio book. A good reader would make these words sexy, while still innocent.

  7. Michael Stang says:

    Never, ever, grow up.

    I shook my head vigorously to every suggestion, comment, joyful praise previously stated. Your work is a fine example of a writer coming to grips with their talent. I know it is work but it reads effortless.

    My only wish is that you didn’t have to cover the same ground again and again. With your capacity, once would have been enough.

    Good luck in the contest. I can’t wait to read the rest.

    • Laura Girardeau says:

      Thank you for your honest reactions. I like how your thoughts are so up-front and immediate…gives the writers a sense of first impressions for the reader. Would love to see more of your work too!

  8. Michael Stang says:

    Oh, and yeah! Way to go getting into the semis (?). It’s like scrolling down the roster to see if you made med school.

    If you have written the 1st chapter from the heart of the P, you can’t lose.

  9. Shawna A Smart says:

    This is really good. You swept me up into that childhood thinking so effortlessly, I am feeling a little tilted. It feels as though you found me, back there among the pollywogs and cool mud. I think anything else I might say would fall dead after that. Just good reading there.

    Fond regards,


    • Laura Girardeau says:

      Shawna, I love your comment “I’m feeling tilted.” Glad to hear this put you back in your childhood, lying down in the mud with the pollywogs again!

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