November 1 – a shotgun start without the shotgun.
I managed to pull up my boots and begin Bear It Away.
When Marybeth and Paul met in college, Marybeth knew she had found her perfect man. They quickly become inseparable and when Marybeth unexpectedly gets pregnant, they marry and begin their happily ever.
As they navigate their first years of marriage and parenthood, violence destroys their home and challenges the vows they had promised each other. Rocked to their core, Marybeth picks up the broken pieces.
As their happily ever after unravels, Marybeth is forced to confront the dark secrets she has known and denied the entire time.
If you are so inclined to read along with me, I would appreciate any feedback – good or bad, but not too much good because then I’ll get nervous. I won’t be publishing every chapter everyday.
Chapter One is included below. It’s not the entire chapter. I’m road-tripping this afternoon.
I have some questions at the end, things I’d like to know as the teller of this tale. If you noticed something and I didn’t ask, please tell me. Be critical. Be honest.
Day settled into an unsettled evening. Marybeth stood barefoot in front of the kitchen sick. The dishwasher lay open at her right. The pots and pans, the mixing bowls, most of the dinner preparation dishes were already clean. It was Marybeth’s habit to wash as she cooked. It saved time in the end. She only had the span of her kids’ bath to have the kitchen work finished. She could hear them still laughing and splashing.
Paul was silent, sitting hunched on the toilet lid with a towel over his legs to keep his jeans dry. He watched the bathing kids in brief glances over the top of his [highest tech smartphone Feb13]. Three and a half year old Sara spun in circles on her bottom. Charlie was strapped in his bathing chair, kicking his legs. He was only two months old. Paul had grown tired of doing separate baths and had sent Marybeth to find something suitable for Charlie so he could join his sister in the tub after dinner.
Marybeth rinsed the plates and silverware and set them in the bottom rack. The dishes were lined up by size, all like pieces put together – bowls with bowls, large plates with large plates, small plates with small. The only section of the dishwasher that wasn’t perfectly organized was the silverware holder.
She listened to the sounds of the splashing water and squeaking toys coming into the kitchen from the bathroom. The house was little, built in 1963. It was one of many in a small neighborhood which, at one time, stood far enough from the city to be quiet at night, but not so far as to be inconvenient. In recent years the city has stretched its seams and wealth took over the once idyllic farmlands, bringing million-dollar, multi-story mansions with driveways for front yards and decks and pools for back. The new neighborhoods surrounded the old, creating a perimeter of security and a bullseye. Gates blocked the entrances to the new neighborhoods, security officers patrolled by vehicle in a predictable pattern, and alarm company signs dotted the lanes. The old neighborhood stood isolated and ignored, with broken streetlights, graffitied road signs, and the occasional car in the yard, all surrounded by looming shadows of trees blocking impeaching views into the uneventful lives on the new streets.
The west half of the house Marybeth and Paul rented was the living room and combined kitchen and dining room. The laundry room was behind a door off the kitchen. The east half of the house was three bedrooms and the bathrooms. The front bedroom, across the narrow hallway from the one full bathroom, was Sara’s room. The bedroom the hallway led straight into was Paul’s home office. It had the one half-bath. The other bedroom held the marital bed and Charlie’s cradle.
Marybeth slid the bottom rack back inside the dishwasher and pulled out the top rack for the glasses and the kids’ plates, cups, and bottles. She rinsed and arranged the coffee cups and glasses together. She could hear little Sara slapping the foam letters onto the tiled wall as she called out each one. Paul’s voice was barely audible as he echoed each with slight that’s right or no-it’s- words. Marybeth rinsed Charlie’s bottles and arranged them in a row.
This routine ruled the evenings. Marybeth cleaned up dinner and Paul cleaned up their kids. Rarely did they switch responsibilities, though it wasn’t uncommon for Paul to return to his office and shut the door after dinner. Marybeth knew if the door was closed, she would be cleaning the kitchen and the kids. For the last three nights, Marybeth had managed to take care of it all.
She relaxed her shoulders and put the last of the day’s dishes in and stepped back to open the under-sink cabinet door to grab the detergent. As she squirted the thick liquid into dispenser, she heard the plug pulled from the bathtub. Sara wailed as the water gurgled down the drain.
“I don’t want to get out!” Sara said.
“Shut up,” yelled Paul. “You’ve been in for twenty minutes. You’re plenty clean.”
Sara’s protests were punctured by thrashing splashing. Charlie, startled by the sudden volume, began crying with his sister.
“Shut up! Both of you,” Paul insisted. “Sara! Stand up!” demanded Paul. Sara stood, poking her bottom lip out in protest. She was suddenly silent. Charlie, left sitting strapped in his bathing chair, shivered and continued crying.
Marybeth quickly wiped the countertops, her heart racing at the sounds coming out of the bathroom and the internal pressure to finish cleaning the kitchen before she could go and attend to her children. She tossed the used Clorox wipe into the trashcan and grabbed the sippy cup of milk she had made for Sara before she started washing dishes, then she turned to walk towards the hallway. Paul’s shadow darkened the doorway, and, holding a towel-wrapped Sara, stepped into the hallway and across into Sara’s bedroom.
Marybeth entered the bathroom, set down Sara’s cup, and grabbed Charlie’s penguin towel and draped it over his tiny body. Even at two months old, Charlie was only eight pounds. She unclasped the buckle and gently raised his body to her chest.
“There there,” she cooed. “Sweet baby boy. Momma’s got you.” Marybeth rocked Charlie as she wrapped him tight in the towel, and rubbed his back to warm his body. His cries quieted.
“It’s about fucking time that boy shut up,” yelled Paul from the bedroom. Marybeth’s shoulders tightened. She picked up Sara’s sippy cup and walked out of the bathroom.
“He’s two months old,” answered Marybeth in a gentle whisper as she walked into Sara’s bedroom and handed Sara her milk. “It’s all he can do Paul.” She laid the calmed baby on top of the dresser turned changing table, covered with a contoured pad, baby wipes, diapers, and an assortment of rash creams and toys. She reached for a diaper. Paul had put Sara’s pull-up on her and was fighting with the tight-fitting footed pajamas as Sara wiggled and danced to a song only she could hear.
“Stay still Sara,” snapped Paul. She had one foot in the pajamas. Her still damp skin protested the cotton fabric. Marybeth looked over her shoulder at Sara. Sara stopped bouncing and sat down to hold up her other foot and started drinking her milk. Marybeth opened the top dresser drawer and pulled out a baby blue sleeper sack for Charlie. She lifted him to her shoulder and laid the sleeper open on the changing pad. She positioned Charlie in the center and slipped each arm in and tucked his feet into the bottom of the sack and zipped it up.
Paul was cursing under his breath at Sara’s pjs. Marybeth laid Charlie on the floor and walked the two steps to where Sara was sitting. Marybeth tousled Sara’s wet hair. “Let me finish Paul,” she said.
“Fine. Stupid bitch” grunted Paul. “I don’t know why you have to buy these fucking pajamas anyway. They never go on right.” He stood, kicked the stuffed teddy bear Sara had dropped on the floor earlier, and left the room. It wasn’t her favorite. Her favorite was a purple kitty. Purple kitty was safe in Sara’s toddler bed. Marybeth finished dressing Sara and picked Charlie up again. The three sat together on the floor of Sara’s room, snuggled tightly together as if waiting out a tornado. Marybeth heard Paul click on the high-def, flatscreen TV followed by the familiar pop and hiss of a beer bottle and creak of the sofa as Paul settled to relax for the night.
“Go grab a book sweetie,” Marybeth said to Sara as she kissed the top of her head, and gently lifted Sara off her lap as Sara stood and bounced across the room to the basket of books. Marybeth kissed Charlie on his forehead as she unbuttoned her blouse half-way. She pulled the collar over her left shoulder, exposing her nursing bra. She adjusted Charlie in her arms so she held him much like a football, then opened the flap and positioned an eager Charlie at her breast. Sara bounced back with a book in her arms.
“I’m a kangaroo Mommy,” announced Sara. “Boing boing boing boing boing,” she said as she turned to bounce back across the room.
“You’re an adorable kangaroo,” said Marybeth. She watched her children, Sara bouncing back and forth bringing book after book to Marybeth and Charlie sucking hard at her breast. It was peace, this calm of the end of the day. “That’s enough, Sara,” said Marybeth. “We’ll do three tonight, ok.”
“Ok Mommy,” said Sara as she sat back down on the floor and picked up her dropped sippy cup. Marybeth slipped her finger between Charlie’s lips and her breast. Charlie stopped sucking and pulled his head back into the cushion of Marybeth bent elbow. She closed her bra and switched Charlie to the other side. As she opened the right side of her nursing bra, Marybeth reached her foot to Sara’s bed and grabbed her pink blanket with her toes.
“Here baby,” said Marybeth. “Take your blankie and lay your head in my lap.” Sara wrapped herself and snuggled close. Charlie latched on to Marybeth’s right breast. She picked up the top book of the pile Sara had made. Using her right hand to steady the book, she used her left hand to open it.
Marybeth knew all the words to the book. Every night for the last year and a half she had read it at bedtime. She turned the pages automatically as she recited the story of a llama frightened of being alone at bedtime. While she read, she watched Sara’s and Charlie’s eyes grow heavy. Charlie was asleep before she reached the end of book. She could feel him giving into slumber, and knew he was completely immersed in dreamland when his lips released her nipple. Sara held on until the story was finished and llama was settled and sleeping.
Marybeth laid Charlie on the floor and picked up Sara. She kissed her cheek and whispered, “you’re smart, you’re strong, you’re brave, you’re beautiful,” as she laid Sara in her bed. She picked Charlie up and walked him to her bedroom. She swaddled him, and, kissing his forehead as she leaned over, she laid him in his cradle.
Marybeth stood and took a deep breath. She buttoned her blouse, flattened the wrinkles, and walked out of the dark room, down the dim hallway, and into the bright kitchen. She opened the pantry and removed the bag of whole bean coffee. After setting it on the counter, she reached around the black bag with its neatly folded top, and slid the grinder to the edge, stretched the cord and plugged it in.
She poured the beans into the grinder and set the lid in place. As she pressed the on-button, Paul shuffled into the kitchen and started talking.
- Are you unsettled with the dynamics of Marybeth and Paul’s marriage?
- Can you imagine the house they live in and the neighborhood?
- What is missing that would help you with the characters and the setting?
- Does the dialogue work? Should there be more/less?
- Does it make you want to keep reading?