A writing exercise that takes me way back in time, and helps me to know more about the characters I have fictionalized in my novel: The Sweetness. Thank you to Matt Klam.
As I walk down an abandoned narrow street, cobblestones clicking under my feet, I begin my foggy daydream. It is the assignment I’d balked at writing, thinking it would be impossible to do: imagining my parents when they were young, before I entered their world, together on their first date! But before I know, I’m transported to a different world- their world. The year, 1941.
The marquis flashes its triple row of lights. A billboard announces: playing now: The Princess of Avenue T…Could it be I wonder? But how?
Since it is pouring and I have nowhere to go, I take a seat in the back of the ancient theatre. Alone and tired, I lean back against the red velvet seat and wait, and before long, after the long trailer of my imagination, there they are, my parents, life-sized cut-outs sprawled across a big screen─ immediately reminding me of my fragility in their presence. I feel small, huddled like a toddler in my seat.
First I see her, my mother, and as always, I am struck by her grace and beauty. This younger version of her warms me, softens the tighter icy shroud of memories I’ve carried too long. At nineteen she is tall, too tall to be wearing her stilettos, shoes her father has told her are ridiculous. But she doesn’t care, she has pan-caked her face and penciled in the beauty mark on her right cheek, like her idol, Jane Russell.
She slips out of the house before he catches her, before he will make her late by one of his long and windy sermons on why she should try to look like a normal girl, and not upset her Momma with her fancy, schmancy outfits she concocts that are costing him a small fortune. She looks like she is still mad at him. Furious, since he told her she could no longer study at Rockefeller Design, the school in New York City.….But tonight, she is running down the street to the corner of Ocean Parkway to meet Nathan that really sweet guy, who takes night classes at City College and works as something called a soda jerk part time. So what that she lied when she told Poppa that Nathan was in the food business? Syrups, she had said and remembered that first hot fudge sundae he’d carried to her table when she met him last week for the very first time.
Her best friend, Faye, had taken her out after seeing “Gone With The Wind” to try and cheer her up after her father’s announcement…and then, as her violet eyes scanned the walls of authographed photos: Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney, Jean Harlow, she heard this soothing voice, asking just above a whisper, as if he could sense her awful sadness: What will you have?
On the street now, she wobbles a bit but is careful not to step on a crack and break a heel. She looks back at her house and senses she is being watched. It would not be the first time. A pale hand lifts the shade, and now she knows for certain, and maybe later she will have to pay for her escape, but he is waiting for her on the corner and she cannot be late.
Nathan. Tall with curly hair, brown waves that glisten and compliment his eyes. Eyes as warm as the caramel on the double scoop of Vanilla he had topped with a single maraschino. Red─ the color of passion, of love and all she keeps hidden inside.
He waits for her, smoking a Camel, leaning against the door of his rusty De Soto. He laughs aloud thinking how the silly girl had lost her wallet, and how she promised to pay him back for driving her home. How fine she looked, and made him feel by the simple act of coming to her aid. In the distance, he hears the staccato click of her heels. Music swells. He is surprised that he is nervous, and struggles to keep calm, stay serious and strong for her.
This pretty girl, who will one day become my mother, and who for a reason he does not yet know, truly needs him.
Happy New Year…Auld Lang Syne!