novel in progress, an excerpt

by caroline on August 18, 2014


In Times Like These
(working title)

 

©Caroline Shepard 2013

Laurel and Willis are looking after Willis’s young granddaughter Santana (Muffy). Santana has not been adjusting easily to her new situation living with her father in Cape Breton, and this is proving too much for Willis’s son Morgan as he completes renovations for a fishing camp at the family farm. To complicate matters, Willis’s ex partner Moira,the infamous mother of Morgan and grandmother to Santana, has planted herself yet again, in the midst of a key moment in Laurel’s and Willis’s lives. In this episode Moira taken off to Montreal with Santana without telling Willis or Laurel. Moira returns with Santana at the end of the day as though nothing has happened.

 Santana bursts breathlessly into the room. Oh my goodness, you need to help Grama Moira!
    Muffy!
    Willis and Laurel are on their feet, laughing in surprised relief at the sight of Santana’s startled little face.
    Santana stops in her tracks.
    It’s not funny you guys. You gotta help her. You gotta park her car.
    Santana races to the bathroom, calling over her shoulder.
    And she’s super grumpy, so look out!
    Willis and Laurel collapse on each other’s shoulders, the laughter rolling out of them, Willis’s muffled tears shaking his entire body.
    Santana shouts out at them from her perch, she couldn’t even find my house, Aunt Lily’s I mean, she doesn’t know how to get there at all are we having salmon for supper I love salmon Grampa Willis so does my dad.
     Willis pulls himself together. Salmon it is then Muffy girl. But first let me go and sort out Grama Moira.
    Laurel stands dumbfounded at first, then runs to the door to catch up to Willis before he heads down the stairs.    
    Surely Willie, you don’t mean to bring that woman back up here for supper! It is not a question.
    Willis waves without turning. He is out the door and onto the street before she can utter another word of protest.
    Back in the hall, Laurel hears Santana talking over the running water as she washes her hands at the sink. I’m calling Lily first okay? And my dad second okay?
    Laurel waits for Santana in the hall, holds her arms out  to her as she comes out of the bathroom.
    Muffy, we were very worried about you.
    Santana hesitates.
    Why? We changed our plans. I’m asposed to tell you.
    Tell me what?
    Santana walks slowly into Laurel’s hug, and eventually, as Laurel strokes her back, the rigid little body begins to soften.
    We changed our plans that’s all. I want to phone to them now Laurel. I need to tell my dad some stuff.
    As soon as Grampa Willis comes back, we’ll call. Tell me what happened to your snowsuit? Weren’t you cold with just your dress.
    It was way hot for a snowsuit in the front seat.
    You weren’t in the back?
    Santana steps back from Laurel with a big smile. Know what? It was way funner in front, I had cheesies and gummy bears! And we talked about stuff, like grown ups, secrets and stuff, you know, and I could change the radio however way I liked. Can we make a fire now.
    Good idea, come help me scrunch up some paper.
    She’s not very nice right now.
    Who, Grama Moira?
    Santana nods and stifles her giggles as they crumple up newspapers and throws them into the fireplace. She yells so loud.
    At you?
    No no, right out the window. Down there. In front of the bookstore. She was yelling at nobody, cause nobody was even there. You wanna know what she yelled?
    Sure.
    Santana cups her hands over her eyes, and barely manages to speak through her giggles.
    ‘there’s no fuckin’ place to park in this town!’
    She opens her cupped hands, peeks out to check Laurel’s reaction.
    You’re not asposed to laugh, Laurel, she says appearing very pleased with herself. She folds her hands in her lap with decided emphasis.
    Know what?
    What? Laurel is building up a tent of kindling over the newspapers.
    Wellll, see, my dad, sometimes he figures out I’ve been listening, and he says, Muffy, don’t you ever say that, okay. So don’t tell him okay?
    Tell him what?
    That I just said it, that word, right this minute? Do gramas uzhly say it?
     Well maybe not uzhly, Muffy. Laurel doesn’t even try to contain her laughter as she holds a match to a corner of the freshly laid fire.
    One bright flame shoots up and startles them both.
    Hey cool! Santana exclaims excitedly as the flames begin to lick around the kindling.     
    The kindling catches and crackles while the two of them watch, mesmerized. Laurel half expects the sound of a malevolent cackle to rise up the chimney on a tail of sparks.
    Perhaps Moira’s. Perhaps her own.   
    She stretches her stocking feet out to the fire, leans back on her hands, finds herself loving the dance of light on Santana’s innocent little smile.
    Willis comes in just as the fire roars to life. Right behind him is  the decidedly disgruntled Moira. Willis pays her no heed as she searches about in the coat cupboard to find a hanger.
    A stony silence spreads out from the two them.
    Laurel pokes the fire, keeps an eye on Santana.  
    Lowering himself slowly to the floor opposite Santana, Willis crosses his legs, pats one knee. Santana recognizes her cue, and goes over to curl up in his lap.
    The two of them seem to have been together forever. Morgan has told Willis that when Angie was ill, she would keep Willis and Laurel alive for Santana, tell her stories of their times together before she was born. How they’d spend long lazy days at the Margaree farm in the summer. It was in those times, during her illness, that Angie had asked to see them, especially to see Laurel. She had wanted to talk to Laurel, and for Santana to meet her grandfather. Morgan always said soon. Soon. It never happened.
    She feels Willis’s eyes on her, realizes she has been shaking her head with puzzlement.
    They are jolted from the moment by the jarringly sweet voice from the direction of the kitchen.
    Well that’s so cosy, the voice is saying. And then there she is, peering over the counter at the three of them in front of the fire. What a splendid fire Willis. Don’t mean to bother you at such a time, but I don’t see that bottle of wine in the fridge, the one I brought Friday, Laurel? What if I open this red? Moira holds it up. Or are you saving it for the salmon? Anyway, you decide, gotta hit the washroom.
    Laurel holds Willis’s eye.
    He shrugs. I can’t deal with her Laurel. Muffy and I are calling Lily and Morgan now. From the study.
    Pardon? You’re leaving me in here? With that? Laurel’s whisper is pulled tight as a rubber band.
    There’s no choice really.
    She catches the warning in his eye, a signal to refrain in front of Santana.
    No choice. I say leave the witch out there on the street. That’s a choice. She raises her hands in a gesture of defeat.
    Willis tries not to smile. Okay, sorry my love. He stands, raises a finger to his lips in a final attempt to shush her. Come with me Muffy girl. We’ll call Aunt Lily, and then you can have a nice long chat with your dad, let him know what’s been going on around here.
    Without a word or a glance Santana follows Willis to the study.
    Moira reappears, checks around the room in surprise.
    Oh! Where’d those two get to?
    Laurel inclines her head to the closed door of the study. They’re in there, phoning Lily.
    Oh right, of course. Don’t feel you need to stay with me, Laurel. I’m sure you’d like to be part of that call. Although, I do know Santana should have a chance to speak freely to Lily.
    Laurel does not respond.
    Well good then. Moira holds up three wine glasses, expertly secured, stems inverted, between her long fingers.
    Just you and me, then? And fine wine!
    Laurel watches. Moira has the corkscrew. She has found the Merlot. Willis’s favourite Merlot, Laurel notes happily, hoping he’ll be furious since it’s the bottle he’d picked up for the weekend with Lily.
    Moira is humming quietly to herself as she figures out where best to place the wine bottle, the glasses, herself.
    Laurel moves quickly to the couch, swings her legs up and stretches out, ensuring occupation of its full length. From there, her gaze remains fixed on the progress of one blue green flame that licks out from under a small log. If she were to turn at this moment, she knows she’d be greeted by the infamous half smile, that crookedness, that glazed over calculation in the unlit eyes.
    She hears Moira pulling the big armchair over to the coffee table.
    Wow, what a day eh, Laurel.
    Laurel turns in time to see her uncorking the wine with the speed and expertise of a maitre d’.
    Honestly, you wouldn’t have believed the traffic in Montreal this afternoon.
    My god Moira, you have a nerve. Laurel shoots her a flash of disbelief. Have you no idea what you’ve done?
    Oh. Well sure. Sorry Laurel. Were you saving this one? You should have said. Moira holds the wine bottle up to the light, squints at the label. 1999. Was that a special year?
    Oh please, do stop. Laurel looks away in disgust. Enough Moira. Stop with the games. You know I’m not talking about the wine.
    Moira pours herself a full glass, pushes another one across the table to Laurel.
    I’ll wait for Willis. Thanks all the same.
    In a sudden move that startles even Moira, Laurel sits up and slides the glass back toward Moira.
    In fact, dear Moira. Laurel is up and off the couch in an instant; her voice trails out behind her on her hurried escape to the kitchen.
    What? Moira is laughing.
    Just go ahead and drink the whole fucking bottle yourself.
    Whoa. Holy jeheezaphat woman! And I thought Willis was bad!
    Laurel leans across the kitchen counter.
    Moira!
    Moira glances up, peers at Laurel with mock intensity, sips slowly on her wine.
    Fuck off Moira. You can just fuck right off.
    Laurel slams a cupboad door, tears the leaves of romaine lettuce into tiny bits, tosses them wilted and mushy into the salad dryer. She spins the dryer.  Round and round and round it goes.     
   

2 comments

Whoa. These characters have developed so fast and I, for one, found myself yelling “no fair!” author, leaving us watching that salad dryer spin, wrapped in Laurel’s outrage and dying for evening’s outcome.

Nice going. #5 is when?

by gail on January 27, 2015 at 5:01 am. Reply #

Thanks for your animated response GS! #5 will appear when….

by caroline on January 27, 2015 at 2:18 pm. Reply #

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