STORY OF THE MONTH
All is Safely Gathered In
by Marguerite R. Greenfield
The air is sharp on my face, and when I breathe I taste smoke and dying leaves. The light is dying and the leaves are floating down from the trees. There are people in the driveway, gabbling at me, tooting their horns and waving goodbye. Smiling, familiar faces lean into the car. The windows slide up and we drive off.
“I’ve got some Ella for you.” The driver has red hair. “Isn’t she your favorite?” She pushes a button and the car is full of song.
“A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket.” I drum my fingers on my knees and swing my head back and forth. My earrings bounce on my cheeks like kisses.
“He’s my man I love him so….” I close my eyes. I almost remember something. “My heart belongs to Daddy….” Is that me groaning? It’s dark out and I’m going to be late and Daddy’s going to be mad. The woman takes her hand off the wheel and pats my arm. There’s something about that hair.
“It’s okay, Mom, we’re almost home.” We pull up under an awning.
“Here we are!” She reaches across me and my arm gets tangled in a strap. This isn’t home. Where’s my purse?
“The nurse? She’s inside waiting for you. Don’t worry.”
The woman is outside and pushing a chair up against my seat. “Do you need some help, Mom?”
Help with what? Does she want me to do something?
“Move your legs, Mom.” I look down. I’m wearing ugly shoes with fat rubber soles and straps instead of laces. These are not mine.
“Let me help you.” A tall man steps over and bows to me. “Ah,” he says in a low, slow voice, “it is Queen Elizabeth come back to the castle. He reaches in and lifts me up like a baby, and tucks me into my chair. Daddy calls me Princess. He’s tall too, but his face isn’t black.
Inside, there are cutouts on the wall of people in big white collars and tall hats and – what are they called – those birds with bumpy red beards and fans of feathers. I spread my fingers the way we used to do at school to trace their shape on colored paper.
“Are you waving?” the red headed woman says. “I’m not leaving yet. We want to get you settled in your room.” But this isn’t my room and it isn’t my furniture and it isn’t my house. Is she going to leave me here? My chin tickles; I can’t reach my face but I move my jaw back and forth. The woman with red hair wipes my lips and chin with her handkerchief. She takes a branch of red berries from her bag and twists them around a picture on the bureau. That’s me, at a long dinner table and a handsome man with curly red hair has his hand on my shoulder.
Another woman comes in; she has a pink shirt with red balloons. Daddy bought us balloons at the circus and tied the long string to our wrists but I untied mine and it flew up, up into the clouds and was gone. They’re trying to take my sweater and I swat their hands away. The balloon lady says “Libby, Libby, Libby” like a song and I let her help me into my nightie and into bed. The one with red hair bends over and kisses my cheek, resting her forehead against mine. I lean toward her the way I used to lean against my mother when she tucked me in at night. She’s humming something my grandma used to sing. She takes my hands in hers and rubs them; they feel wet and slippery and I smell roses. I try to hum along but my eyes keep closing and she’s tucked the sheets tight the way I like them, and good, they’ve left the nightlight on.
Marguerite R. Greenfield is a federal employment lawyer who recently received an M.F.A. from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her writing has appeared in the Bennington Review, The Ink-Filled Page, The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and in Voices of Alzheimer’s, an anthology published in 2007.
CONGRATULATIONS, MARGO - WE ENJOYED YOUR STORY! NOW TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU.
I started writing fiction after 30 years as a labor lawyer and civil servant. The mixed motives, competing agendas, personalities, ambitions and fears embedded in stories of workplace injustice prepared me to look for the complications in characters I write. I began with night school writing classes, took an MFA at the Bennington Writing Seminars, and continue with a local writers group.
Q. Do you write in a particular genre? If so, what genre is it?
I write short stories. I’m most interested in excavating those small moments that allow a reader to recognize the commonalities in the lives we hide from each other.
Q. What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Precision and economy of language; honest emotion; a character hungry for something – even if she is unaware of what she wants.
Q. How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I start usually with something that’s caught my eye or ear – an old man in the subway touching the cheek of his wife; a father’s immobile expression at a little league game; an overheard remark in the office next door. I try to imagine myself into that world. Sometimes I’ll just free write for twenty minutes, describing the situation, the characters, how they look, or what their hands are doing as a way to get into the story. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes something intriguing emerges.
Q. What do you do to unwind and relax?
Read. Books, newspapers, stories, the backs of cereal boxes. Netflix of BBC mini-series.
Q. What inspires you? Who inspires you?
I have friends who are priests and therapists. I’m awed at the respectful and loving attention they offer day after day to real live hurting human beings. It’s painful enough with imagined characters.
Q. Are you working on any projects right now?
I’m in the middle of two stories. I go back and forth when I get stuck. Which is often.
Q. What is most frustrating about writing? Most rewarding?
Most frustrating is the absence of deadlines aggravated by the constant feeling that I haven’t quite got it right, that I should work on a story a little more. Most rewarding is writing a sentence that flows, that has a rhythm, and that catches something elusive. And of course, having an editor choose a story.
Q. If I were sitting down to write my very first story, what would your advice be?
Make your words count. Get rid of flabby language and facile phrases. Go back and take out 50 words. Take out another 50.
Q. What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Don’t lie or steal. Shorthand, facile phrases and clichés are lazy writing, facsimiles of the truth, and not your own. Write everyday, even if it’s only 500 words. Find a writer’s group.