The Syntax of Kissing, or "Jed", Chapter I

Fiction By Sarah Bethany // 3/27/2016

[Alright, I've decided to just go for it, even though I don't feel ready. But when it comes down to first drafts, who ever feels ready? "We all start the dance before we know the steps; we speak before we know the words." Part of this is going to be written as-I-go, on-the-fly, and I hope you'll be patient with me. And help me! I feel like I'm inviting you into my kitchen for tea, and the tea might be a bit good, but I still have to say, "Don't mind the mess." I hope you do point out the mess a little, too, though: tell me when my sequence of storytelling isn't polished (this may happen a lot), or you can't follow the dialogue, or you need to see more of a character, or really just anything. I take to heart everything you all say! Love - Sarah]

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JED

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Coffee and cedar and far-off wood fires
flowers and sweat trapped in her hair
and in her mouth chewed mint leaves and nutmeg.
Jedidiah Spearman

Who makes the rules? We make the rules.
Agnes Cooney

These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.
Gerard Manley Hopkins

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September, 1946

***

All stories need a beginning, and this is Jed's:

His quasar fell out of a sassafras bush.

But he didn't want to begin there. He would like to tell you how his mother didn't drink the coffee.

She had said,

"Dishes, dishes," to his father. "You don't have to do dishes. I do the dishes, sweetie."

And then George Spearman's voice was thick -- like the silt at the bottom of the Sudbury River:

"I like to do the dishes." He slogged the brush in.

Jed's mother looked out the window, her lips a fogged pink. “I saw the bushel of apples out there. Want me to bring it in, sweetie? And make you a p-pie or something?”

Jed was sitting on the bench at the kitchen table, twitching a pencil between his fingers. He cringed.

Mr. Spearman slurped the brush around a drowned pan. “They're all rotted," he said. "I'm throwing them out in the woods."

"Well --"

"It will take me all of two seconds.”

“Alright. I just want to help.”

There was silence.

Then: "Want me to throw them out for you?"

“You can carry them out back," said his father, "is what you can do. I'll throw them in the woods.”

She went outside and the screen door slammed against the colors of autumn. The noon sun had stretched away the fog and the day was a vibrating yellow. Like the highest string that has been plucked, the cicadas whirred.

Jed pocketed his pencil and rolled an apple along the kitchen table. The apple was a brunet and dusky purple.

His mother squeaked back into the kitchen.

“Oh, did you buy the coffee in town?” Mrs. Spearman asked Mr. Spearman, seeing the half-pound parcel on the table.

“I did," said Mr. Spearman. “You can drink this if you want. I decided I didn’t want it.” He took one hand out of suds and gave the mug a push. “It’s still warm.”

“Thanks.” She put it to her lips. There was a smudge of lipstick crying below her lower lip. She swallowed. “It’s not warm enough.”

“No? Then pour it out.”

“Did you do that to be nice?”

Jed paused his apple. His fingers waited on the stem.

“Yes?” said Mr. Spearman.

“Alright. I was just wondering.”

Jed leveled his apple, stood up, and walked out of the kitchen and into the parlor. He heard his father say,

“As opposed to what?”

“I was wondering if you were doing it to be nice. Or just to get rid of it.”

“Would it have made a difference in your drinking it?”

“Yes. Of course. If you were being nice, I would have made the decision in your favor.”

Liquid was splashed into the water of the sink.

Then Jed pulled his pencil and notepad out of his pocket. He opened to a page and wrote:

“I can see for miles from my writing tree,” he said, “but you can’t ever really see what’s coming, can you? I mean. You can be plodding along for years and you never know what’s coming, and then it comes. I’d like to write a novel about that.”

“What, the plodding or what comes?”

“Good question,” he said. “I don’t know. Anyway, I feel too young to write a novel.”

He shoved his notepad back into his pocket and returned to the kitchen. His mother was not there, and his father's back was a hulking turtle over the sink. Jed pulled his leather satchel down from the wall. He needed bread. He retched open the door of the pantry.

Mrs. Spearman was leaning against a shelf in the pantry, chewing on the tips of two fingers. She was not doubled over, but she was crumpled in her middle. Her house dress was oatmeal-colored and bunched in her stomach.

Jed went over to the bread box. "You lookin' for something, Mum?"

"No." She roused herself, straightened. She was staring at the cans of soup. They were dusty. "He used to do a lot of things for me, Jed, you know. Out of something deep."

"Sorry, what?" Jed opened the bread box lid.

There was spiceberry lipstick spread over the tops of her two fingers. "He used to give me things. Kiss me. I thought if I wore... but it doesn't matter. He's not like a husband anymore."

"Well," said Jed, tearing off the end of a loaf, "he's only just got back," and he dropped the lid closed and loped out of the pantry.

***

His quasar tumbled out of a sassafras bush.

But first he walked with his friend.

“How’s your leg?” Jed asked him. He shrugged the satchel up on his shoulder.

“Eh, it’s alright,” said Lad Cherchik.

“You seem good. Look at the sun on the hill.”

“This is satisfying.”

“What is? This?” asked Jed.

“I’m in an office five days a week," said Lad, "with no windows. I need a half hour walk once in a while. Just to get refreshed.”

“Yeah. I agree with you,” said Jed. “Except that I feel like only living in the woods would refresh me. Look at that bittersweet."

The hair-tangles were on the edge of the meadow: baubles of red, ear-piercings of gold.

"Your mother would like some, maybe?” asked Jed.

“I suppose,” shrugged Lad.

“They seem like something she would put on her fireplace.” Jed swung his satchel to the front. “I don’t know why, but they make me think of her.” He began ripping the vines. The skin peeled, slippery. The vines coughed. So he unclipped his bag and took out his pocketknife. His friend limply twisted some vines, but then stared off at the meadow. Jed snapped and cut until he had a Christmas armful.

“Do you ever think it’s strange that we’re the only ones that didn’t go?” Lad's hands were now pressed into his lower back.

“Yeah,” said Jed, with a snap and a thwick. “I think about that.”

“Of course I mean only in Moguncoy.”

“Yeah.” Jed skinned the last vine. Dig, dug, done. “But it’s how it all played out. Gee, I hope your mother actually wants these. They might get everywhere.” His skin on his palms was wet with orange juice.

“I suppose it doesn’t bear thinking about.”

"Well." Jed straightened. “I’m glad you were here.”

As he and Lad walked towards the Cherchik house, a chicken zigged her head down the footpath, with a frantic fat body. She swayed as if she wanted to run at them, and as if she wanted to charge into the woods.

So Jed said, “Here,” and put his rush of bittersweet into Lad’s arms. He bobbed after the Cherchiks' chicken, darted, and caught her. Then he held the fowl against his body, who clucked in shock. She dug her claw into his shirt.

“Antigone, don’t be a deviant bird,” he cooed. The chicken’s breast was silkweed and china bone against his arm. He dropped her through the door of her coop and locked it with a clank. “Behave. Dear.” Antigone twisted her head at him and pricked her feet up in ginger webs. She had smelled of dust.

Lad was standing on the front step, holding the bittersweet, and Mrs. Cherchik opened the door. Jed jogged up the steps.

“Those are all bittersweet berries,” Jed said. “I thought maybe you’d want them.”

“I love these!” said Mrs. Cherchik, taking the vines. Lad emptied his arms and edged past her.

“I knew you would," said Jed. "I thought so. I was guessing that.”

She brought her nose down to the berries as if to smell them. Her face was a pheasant’s. The rose-gold touched her worn throat. Jed was embarrassed at his boyish feelings of pride.

“They're like popcorn kernels," he confessed. "I hope they don’t fall everywhere.”

“They won’t.” She cradled them.

Inside the house, Lad boiled the kettle and Jed sat on the piano bench in the living room.

He looked up at the mantelpiece, which held pots of ribbon plants, blue candlesticks, and an oil painting of Mrs. Cherchik. The painting was done by her late husband. She had been caught in a moment of breastfeeding Lad, whose real name was John. She was young and looking off, lit by a window’s light. Her nose was beaked as a mourning dove and her eyes were soft and olive. Mr. Cherchik had painted her in muted colors, London gray and lavender. Her shoulder was a prairie moon. Her hair was a gown of black.

Now her crown was iron. Jed wished she would twist the bittersweet above her ears.

“Toast, too?”

“Sure, please.”

Her arms, a cornucopia.

***

Outside on the back step, Lad slowly scraped the beehive frame with a plug of wax.

“I feel too young to write a novel,” said Jed.

The wax was a white nub between Lad’s fingers.

“Cherchik,” said Jed, “I feel way too young.”

“You do?” Lad sat on the bottom flagstone. His knees were pointed like lilies, and his pants were cocoa-colored. A plate of toast crumbs was on the ground between his oxfords. Jed walked in front of him, hopping a football between his hands.

“Infinitesimally. Or wait, I forget – does that mean hugely or small? Anyway, look at me – I’m twenty-one. With no life experiences. Alexander the Great was conquering the world by the time he was my age." He hefted the football into the air. "I’ve raised a couple kids. Actually –” caught – “that's all I’ve done.”

"They say write what you know.”

“Yeah," said Jed, "but I’ve never had anything worth writing about. I’ve never even had any major romances. ...I’ve had a half-romance."

“Couldn't you write about her?” Lad’s wax slipped around the corner of the frame.

“Eh. I’ve tried.” He spun the ball in between his hands. “You know, Lad, I realized recently that a girl in one of my stories was like Evelyn. Magnificent and tough."

"She was."

"And the main character couldn’t step forward enough to make contact with her.” He swept the ball behind him and starting looping the pigskin about his torso. “And so he lost her. And et cetera.”

“So why isn’t a book like that good?”

“It’s not good because it’s not finished.”

“Oh.” Lad’s palm ran slowly down the frame, felt the satiny edge.

"I am writing a couple stories right now, though. Both romances," Jed said. "They're maybe silly. One is about a Delaware Indian."

"What's the other?"

"It's medieval." Jed paused and scraped twigs off the lower step with his toe. "About a boy and a girl, growing up together, but from different manor homes. They meet in the woods. I don't know."

He couldn't say that he wished for this imaginary girl to materialize, so that he could actually meet her in a sylvan crossing. He had knit her alive from his dreams: the girl was feral. Her hair was long and gold, and her face was a constellation of roads she had traveled alone. Her fingers were birches, and her lips were red as wintergreen. A brook coursed through her body so wild and deep that only a boy who had also wandered for years could find the source in her.

“But, see," said Jed, "what happens is that I write a few scenes, and then I get an idea for something else. That’s what I mean about my age working against me. My mind runs like something I can’t describe." He launched the football high into the blue. "I woke up in the middle of the night last week --" it spun out of control and dropped into the forsythia bush; the branches shivered. "Jeepers." He dove in after the ball, and called behind him, "What happened was I woke up and I thought, ‘I’ll buy a ticket to Europe.’ But when I was eating my tuna fish sandwich the next day and it didn’t seem plausible anymore." He rustled back out of the bush. "I don't know. Life feels intense.” He smacked the football hard between his hands.

“Yeah.” Lad rubbed his hand on his knee. He flicked a wax sliver off his trousers. “I hear you.”

“Did you feel that way?”

“I still do sometimes.” Then he added, “Maybe not as much.”

“I can’t wait to be old,” said Jed. “I can’t wait to be a balding man in a worn-out bathrobe. Drinking my non-rationed coffee and giving my desires a pat on the head. And then telling them to go away. I don’t want to feel things when I can’t do anything about them. There’s that Pushkin quote." He tried to run the football up his arm to his shoulder. "If I can remember it. ‘And it hastens to live, and it hurries to feel.’ I don't know. Every existential question feels so huge it's worthy of a fifty-foot drop off a bridge.”

Lad was still rubbing his hand across his knee. His shirt, which slanted down his ribby trunk, was the color of toasted butter. Jed watched his friend, and tried to slide the football back down from his shoulder to his wrist.

"Well," said Jed, "not really. But, you know." He then spiraled the fat nut up into the air and caught it between two palms. "I've lived half of life in my head. I just want to experience more, firsthand.”

***

Arrows
off the mark
often
make stories
because they wound
wyrdly,
or wire their way
through waxen hackberry;
(the center cerule
is too dull) and
this story of made up of
mistaken trees,
and
missed haybushels.

***

Tumble,

sheen,

dart,

fall.

Later that afternoon, the sun was toasting the forest and turning the tips of the trees bronze.

Jed was sitting in a white pine and writing. He was halfway up, on a branch that was pricking his thighs. The sap oozed blue; the bark flaked purple. His fingers and pencil were both grubby with pitch.

The pine tree was in a meadow, and the meadow was cloven by a road. This road was doubled-rutted, tufted with grass. Past the branches and past the meadow, Jed could see woodlands undulating for acres. Jed broke the tip of his pencil and looked up. In that moment, he saw a creature, a third of a mile down the road, fall out of the woods.

At first Jed’s vision melted like a kaleidoscope: it was maybe a boy, with a body of sticks. Brown pointed fingers. Or an androgynous adolescent in a crinkled shirt. Jed realized, with sudden tilting retrospect, that whatever it was had not actually fallen, but had jumped out of the sassafras bush. It had sprung deliberately like a weasel, and was now crouched in savage small strength in the grass. Then it straightened and shook itself and was a female.

Jed was captivated by the points of frozen triangles in her shoulders, and kneecaps, and boot-toes. All around her torso watery pink ribbons flowed, so that he could feel the warmth and fluidity a third of a mile away. And as he watched the girl standing and looking around the meadow, a fog cozily invaded the back of his skull, and simultaneously the front of his head clicked sharply like a dozen clocks in wound-up golden glints.

His eyes were ensorcelled. The girl wore trousers, and a shirt of plaid -- circus-sized and yellow and red -- and she had stubby black hair. But her hair follicles were electric.

She rubbed her hands against her pockets, frantically. She filled her rib cage with the clean meadow air, and exhaled serenely. Then she began to walk -- if her trucking could be called that.

With vibrating kinetics and a contradictory looseness to her limbs, the girl lurched and braided herself across the path. She was headed approximately east, the direction in which Jed's tree was rooted, but she did not seem like she knew where she was going. She inhabited an animalism, but no longer possessed the silky surety of her weasel-leap, and at this added layer of consciousness, Jed began to wonder if the girl had realized there was another human in the meadow.

He withdrew against the trunk of the tree.

The girl wound herself around a rock wedged in the path. She took half a dozen rapid steps on the road, and then folded sideways into the grass and stared at a bush of staghorn sumac. Jed smoothed his hand over and over his notebook. The girl circled a witch hazel tree. She bent down to pick up a piece of quartz and she flung it far: her arm was a ragged arc of strength.

Jed put his boot over his knee and his pencil behind his ear. He tapped his pitchy fingers on some sentences and read them to himself.

“And the Delaware said, indicating the tattoo on his arm, ‘You may kill me, but you’ll never take my honor.’ Then the daughter of the chief heard him and turned red, her heart warmed by his bravery. ‘But you’ll never take my honor.’ The daughter of the --”

"What’reyoudoin’ up in my tree?"

“Hello – what?” Jed untangled his legs.

"Methinks there's an osprey occupying my tree."

Jed took his pencil out from behind his ear and leaned over. Again -- “I’m sorry, what?”

"Have you ever heard," demanded the being, "of an osprey before?" She was at the base of the tree, half-hidden by needles.

"Fish hawk. River hawk,” said Jed. “Sea hawk. Their numbers reached their peak at the beginning of this decade. And since the war ospreys have seen a rapid and alarming decline.” He twirled his pencil and leaned further down. “They’re also known as fish eagles. This is my writing tree."

"And this is my reading tree."

"Then oh, dear."

"So maybe an arrangement should be made."

"I've never seen you here before," said Jed.

"That's because I invaded your town last week."

"Then I have prior claim."

"This osprey has talons," said the girl.

"Trust me," he said, "that a fight in the air is not going to go well."

"Except I can fly," she said. She took the nearest muscle of a branch, squeezed and pulled, lifting herself and binding her legs in. She released and surged her body in an upward arc, like a stunted treble cleft -- frighteningly ugly and beautiful. Then she reached for the next branch, wormed herself into a comma, and in this way she roughed her way up, branch by branch -- and every limb she reached for was correct, and if she slipped, she found a back-up hold. He could not see her fully through the pine needles, but he could feel her power: flashing, yellow, red.

Finally the black-haired girl sat down on the branch below him, planting her bottom as if she was in a rocking chair. Her head was next to his boots, and her legs were hidden in trousers, as stiff and swollen as stove pipes. She wore fatherly loafers. Her skin was the color of iodine.

"Gee," he said, "that was -- that was actually --"

"Because I'm simian in my blood." She coughed. "Been in trees more than I've been on the ground. I'm surprised I'm not a cripple right now. I've crumpled so many bones." She heffed. "Just like paper." She hacked.

"Are you alright?" he leaned down. And then something happened.

The girl quickly pressed a wicker hand into her flannel chest, and a look of pain went across her face. Her head jerked away from him, but not before Jed saw the private thing flutter over her face and stitch into her brows. From her profile, he watched her hook down her mouth and squeeze herself tight. And then it passed. She gave her earlobe a tug and fronted again, her face as smooth as glass. But inside Jed, an inevitability had transpired and tied a knot under his ribs. He withdrew again and leaned against the trunk. His heart was leaping up and oozing in dear, hot nearness.

"I need to stop smoking." She swallowed.

"You need to stop smoking?"

"You're a writer, and this is what I wanted to say. This is why I came up here. I wouldn't intrude on you otherwise. But I saw you writing and I thought to ask."

"Sure, ask." Jed hugged the notebook to his chest. His own flannel shirt was green and crosshatched with gray.

"Did you see the announcement in the Boston Sunday newspaper about an essay contest on contemporary literature?"

"Oh. I think I saw it."

"And you're doing it, right? Tell me you're doing it."

"Oh, I don't know. I'm lazy."

"But you're a writer." She half-rose and flicked the backs of her fingers against his notebook. Just her nails tapped it, but he jumped and pulled a centimeter back. Mark, twain, furlong further.

"I write fiction," he protested.

"So you read fiction?"

"I guess."

"Don't be humble. Do it. Enter it."

"There's a cash prize, right?"

"Eighteen dollars, but that doesn't matter. You get published."

"It does matter,” said Jed. “I think I might as well."

"Good!" She raised the back of her hand to smack his book again, but Jed saw her stop herself. She shoved her hand under her trousers. "I'm writing the one on Camus." Her trousers were buckskin-colored. "Which one will you do?"

"Maybe the one on Camus, too."

"Buzz off. That was the one you were thinking of!" She rocked on her hand and a fleck of spit hovered on her lower lip. "Is it really?" She licked the drop away.

"Yes.”

“I knew it. I knew you were a kindred spirit when I saw you sitting up this pine tree."

"You knew it when you saw me?"

"We're rivals now." The girl turned her hazy head, a flume of black specks.

"I guess so," Jed said with a laugh.

"I will destroy you," the girl said to the sprays of pine.

"What." His stomach suddenly went hot. He was loosened and his soul hurtled forward. "Oh, really. I'd like to see you try."

"I am going to try.” She jerked her head back, and held up her sleeve in front of her face. “I said I would.”

“But you won’t be able to.”

"Able to what?" She snapped a red thread off her cuff she had been eyeing. "Oh, what? I'm so glad you’re entering. Look at us, world. We need more people engaging in energetic thought like this. Teammates in togetherness, all pulling for the intellectual evolution of the species. Well, it was good to meet you, sir. And that's it. Enjoy your hieroglyphing." She swiveled onto her stomach and kicked herself onto the branch below, touching down with a messy accuracy. "Your meandering musing. Your clinquent cantatas.” Her boots dropped again, elbows following. “Querulous quilling. Arcadian arrangements!"

Presently she fell out of the adjectival storm and was standing on the ground, with her back to him. The wordy cloud cleared, and Jed saw the girl as a whole, not by shoelaces and shirt cuffs. She was facing west and backlit. Her hair was a viper's nest of black heads, wild and erratic. She was watching something: maybe the lavender clouds. Her hands were like birds, and brown. Her flannel shirt was still oversized and crumpled at the wrists, but it looked all soft. Under this looseness, her bones were twisted catgut and her nails sang silver. He could tell. She held even her head tightly. Then she hitched herself together, shrugged and rolled her shoulders, and walked. The girl had a knotted walk, nobby and springy, and her slowest springing was nascent with power. Nature’s burst of birth fluid. It bubbled green.

She was walking down the road to the distant hardwood forest. And through the threads on her flanneled back, popcorn-colored and cranberry-red, Jed saw his future unraveling, and he did what he had never done before.

He said, "Wait," under his breath, "wait, wait wait," and tucked his journal under his arm. He held it tight against his body with his armpit.

Jed could be agile when he wanted, even elegant, but he scraped and scaled his way down the tree with a hot-rodded quickness, scratching his palms and skinning his shin. He dropped with dull thud to the padded earth. His hands burned.

"I'm going home," he called to her. "Are you. Are you going this way?"

"There is only one way to go."

"True. True. I'm going this way, too," he repeated. He caught up to her. Then he squeezed the edge of his notebook. "See, my only problem is that I don't own any Camus."

"I do," the girl said. Her foot crushed a black-eyed susan. "No, I did, but my father burned most of my books before we moved. To make space. But I think I still have the Camus."

"I have to admit, I don't know any of his titles. I won’t know what to pick."

"Well, then, that's easy. Because there is only the one."

"Oh. Well.”

“You can have it. After I’m done.”

“Can I? But that’s giving me a competitive edge. You don’t mind?”

“Naw. Nope. I want to help.”

"But then you're helping your writing rival."

"Are we rivals?”

“You said we were.”

“I never did.”

“You did.”

“I said we were teammates."

"Teammates; alright. I'm Jed Spearman."

"I’m Aggie Cooney." She held out her fingers like slices of lemon.

He took her hand, and it was grater-rough. "I like your name."

“Why?”

“Why? I don't know. Because it sounds like a pen name.”

"It sounds like a scullery maid," she said. "It's dirty. It was probably owned by a hundred scullery maids."

"No."

"Yes. It’s covered in dust and ordinary."

"No," said Jed. "It sounds like your Cooney great-grandfather was a pioneer. Who married an Algonquin."

"I do have some squaw in my veins. How did you know that?"

"It's easy to tell. You have black eyes."

The girl suddenly threw herself into the high grass, and screeched.

"What," said Jed.

"No!" said the girl.

"No what?"

"I don't."

"Don't what?" asked Jed.

"I am insulted. I'm deeply hurt to my core."

"Why!"

"Because only beetles have black eyes. Bugs. Creepy-crawlers, and mice and rats."

"Human eyes can be black."

"Never," she said. "They never can. Pupils can be back. Not irises."

"Okay, maybe so, but black isn't an insult. Black is. Black is. I don't know."

"Darkness. Death. Well, my heart isn't black," said Aggie. "Even if my lungs are tarred."

"If only I could think of the right word," he said, "there's a rock that's the color of your eyes."

"Coal."

"No, not coal. Obsidian," said Jed. "Yes, obsidian."

"Mr. Spearman. You would make one swell pen pal."

"I do. I actually have many pen pals."

"But I don't want you for a pen pal,” she said. They had reached the sassafras and pepperbush. Jed saw a bike on its side, hidden haphazardly in weeds.

"No?" he said.

"I'm submitting my application for face-time.”

"I accept,” he said. “Your application has been accepted."

"Then fare thee well.”

“No, wait, are you leaving now?”

“Aye and alas, to feed the cows.”

Jed moved his shoulders. "Well, I guess we’ll meet up again," he said. "Time is always good.”

“Is it?” She jerked her bike upright and was silent for a moment, looking him in the eye. “I never felt that way. That is a profound premise.”

“I wasn’t meaning to be profound.”

“I’ve always felt that time was against me. Deceitful and malicious. But, no. You’re right. You’re right. Time is a good thing. It is very, very good. I used to think that, and forgot. You're probably here to remind me. Look at the intersection that brought us to the same tree. That means timing is on our side. Isn’t it?”

“I would say so.”

“It’s our teammate. Oh, Jed!” She slapped her head with one hand, grabbed her hair, and pulled. "Then this is the good life!” She whooped. “Time is a sweet serving girl. I’m sensing some kind of dawn.”

“Where do you live?”

“Down here. Before, everywhere. But now, down this path.” Behind the bushes was a footpath he had never seen before. "Come visit me in two days, and I'll have the Camus read by then, and it's yours."

"You read fast. Where are you?"

"One mile away. Mine is the ugly house, all lopsided-looking."

"I live about four miles up this road," said Jed.

"It’s also painted the color of a feed bucket. You'll see it. What are your favorite books? What are the novels that most made their home in your heart, or changed the way you look at things?"

"Um." Jed tapped his eraser against his hand. "I --"

"Don't answer that question!" Aggie Cooney yanked her bike over onto the side path. She mounted it and rested her loafer on a pedal. "Because," she slurped, "we have time. Gobs and sticks," she twiddled her fingers in the air, "and buckets and squadrons of it." She stepped down on the pedals.

Aggie wobbled off down the rocky road, into the purple shadows of the pine forest, and Jed watched her balance and swerve, with one hand in her pocket, one foot up on the bar when coasting. He tried not to look like he was watching, but he stared at her until she disappeared, the yellow and red flannel, the spidery black hair, crunchy and alive. The buckskin trousers like a boy, the twisted bones, the smoke of fresh green. He could not have looked away if he tried.

***

and this is the moral,
before the ending:

unless it wants
whetting,
iron should never
touch iron

****************************

Comments

SARRRAAAAHHHH. Oh my, I am

SARRRAAAAHHHH. Oh my, I am going to be ALL OVER THIS as soon as I possibly can! Right now I have a fair amount of French homework to tackle, but as soon as that's done...Jed. My heart! Thank you for sharing this!

Madeline | Sun, 03/27/2016

everything was better when/you would call and I'd be like/yeah babe, no way

Eeep!

I somehow missed the notification of your comment, and I came on here to see how I could viciously take a character out, haha (with my pruning shears) -- and scrolled down and saw what you wrote!! My heart leaped up!! Thank you!! :D Bonne chance avec French!

Sarah Bethany | Mon, 03/28/2016

Chapter READ!

And I think I can finally put my finger on one of the aspects that makes your writing so unique: your portrayal of nature. Nature is integral to every one of your stories that I've read; it makes its way into scenery and descriptions, metaphors. You write nature so richly--I know you must be in touch with it, or at least have spent a lot of time outdoors. So yes, nature is very present in this, and I absolutely love it.

I must admit I'd pictured Aggie quite differently, but the way you described her here is so potent that I know it won't be hard to change that image. I had her in my mind as wiry, yes, but with blonde hair (???) and soft features. Kind of like a faerie, almost, as odd as that sounds--that's just what she seemed to be to Jed. This magical being who brought so much color and spark to his life. But I see now why she is the way she is, and it makes more sense that they'd be friends. You make her real, because she's a little odd and more than outspoken and she doesn't care what people think of her. She goes for it, and she encourages others along the way.

To me, Aggie is the kind of person that Jed wants to be. Tell me if I'm wrong, but just judging from their interactions in the short story and then in this first chapter, it's what I've concluded. I cannot WAIT to see what happens in the next chapters.

I must say I love the way you set this up, opening with his mother and father. You get an immediate idea of what Jed's life is like, and it's the perfect balance of tension and sadness to suck you right in. As for the character of Lad, I guess you could take or lose him. I kind of got the feeling Jed liked Mrs. Cherchik...either that or he wished she was his mother. I believe you already have the story finished, but you could definitely do more with that. There was so much unsaid, and it left me wanting more!

Probably one of my favorite parts in this whole first chapter is the bit where Aggie suddenly breaks off from talking and coughs and mutters about smoking, and then immediately goes back to what she was discussing without missing a beat. It shows what a skilled writer you are, that you can segue into something so abruptly without jarring the reader, in such a way that it was like I was Jed--sitting there, watching Aggie, puzzling over her. It was seamless, and that's beautiful.

Your dialogue is lovely too. There is so much I could say! But it's real, and it adds such a depth to the characters.

If you genuinely want writing critiques, I can't say I have any! I did notice a couple places, though. When Jed is up in the tree, you say his fingers are covered with pitch. Again, that was such a unique word choice--not one that I would think of--that when it repeated a few paragraphs later, it seemed a bit redundant: He tapped his pitchy fingers on some sentences and read them to himself.

Another instance, when Jed is talking to Lad: But when I was eating my tuna fish sandwich the next day and it didn’t seem plausible anymore.

I think "when" is supposed to be "then", or the "and" should be taken out. I stumbled over that one a little--it's probably a typo!

Those are very minor picky things, though! There were a couple places with a word left out or a typo, but I couldn't say where they are now! :P

This was so good. Thank you for deciding to share it. It was a wonderful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anxiously awaiting the next chapter!

Madeline | Tue, 03/29/2016

everything was better when/you would call and I'd be like/yeah babe, no way

HA! :D Longest comment I think I've ever seen!!!

.....OHHHHH I forgot to mention that, about changing how Aggie looks -- I went through serious difficulty with the metamorphosis, a couple months ago. You described her perfectly, how I wrote her in the novella (even though I never gave a concrete physical image of her)... she was soft-bodied, actually had reddish hair, and was fair-skinned and pink-cheeked. But it just wasn't working and she was shape-shifting as I kept writing, and so I actually (don't laugh) enacted almost a literary funeral when I finally put that version of Aggie Cooney to rest, and let the wiry, black-haired girl emerge. She's the only one I've been able to work with since. I really missed the other version before, though, for a while. I know I lost something, but I gained something, too.
And the part that excites me about you picking up on that change is that I never fully described Aggie in the novella...and yet you KNEW: you were right about the fair hair and the softness (she even weighed more in my mind in the novella, and was taller and rounder).

Ahhhhhh you're so good for me, with how you point out my double usage of words... I never notice it, and I appreciate it SO much, because I don't want to repeat myself (if a word is more unique, I mean). But I need extra eyes for vigilance!
And you're right about the tuna fish grammar....whoops.

I wasn't quite sure where I was going with the Mrs. Cherchik thread, actually, haha, so I may just drop it all together... but I was thinking along the lines of wishing she was his mother. With a strange kind of romantic longing, too, perhaps. I don't know.

Yeah, I am obsessed with nature. :D :D <3

Thank you so so so much for this entire comment, Madeline!!! It was ENORMOUS!! I don't know why I'm so lucky!! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'll start working on Chapter Two asap. The story is 'finished', but there are loose ends and tons of holes. It's full of craters like the moon. ;) Thank you for all you said, especially about the nature aspect, dialogue, and "smoking" conversation break... I really hope your own writing is going well, and your songwriting!!!

Sarah Bethany | Tue, 03/29/2016

Jed was also dark-haired in

Jed was also dark-haired in the novella, haha. He's light now. That was something I didn't figure out until I was actually painting.
Gah, now I'm missing the old two versions of them.... :P

Sarah Bethany | Tue, 03/29/2016

That is so crazy about

That is so crazy about Aggie...it's just the girl that came to mind while I was reading, so there's definitely some subconscious communication going on there. It's amazing, how a picture in your head of her could be projected onto the reader without any specific detail. I think it was mostly through her actions that I was able to see her, and now her new self makes complete sense, too.

I was intrigued by the Mrs. Cherchik thing, honestly. I definitely picked up on both the motherly figure and the romantic yearning. It's a strange combination, but it would be interesting to watch Jed war with this. Like I said, I don't know how much you've incorporated her, but it would definitely add more depth to his character--which is, admittedly, ocean deep already, but it never hurts to dig a little more. haha. I just think it makes sense, with his kind of mother issues. It makes sense that he'd be drawn to somebody who he saw fill that role.

So glad you liked my comment. I know it was long! I just enjoyed rambling about all the reasons I love this story. haha!

Madeline | Wed, 03/30/2016

everything was better when/you would call and I'd be like/yeah babe, no way

Don't take Lad out!!! I loved

Don't take Lad out!!! I loved the scene where Jed is sitting in the porch with Lad. And the football... Oh my word. I just loved it all to death. That scene was so clear in my mind! I could see him messing with the football it kinda made me understand his personality better. In a way. I don't know if that makes sense. :P

Damaris Ann | Thu, 03/31/2016

"It is the small temptations which undermine integrity unless we watch and pray and never think them too trivial to be resisted."
-Luisa May Alcott

I am SO excited to read this.

I am SO excited to read this. I will as soon as I have time, I promise!

Erin | Fri, 04/01/2016

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

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