As part of my dismal health prognosis, I’m taking any moment of energy I find and forcing my dreams true. Here is the first chapter of one of my favorite writings I’ve done. I stopped sending it out to editors several years ago; don’t even get me started about sending it to the appropriate agent! Thanks to my Reverie blog, it’s published on the Internet; I’ll publish the first three chapters. Email me if you’d like to read more.
In this introductory chapter of my completed 197-page novelette, Streams of Silk, we meet 17-year-old imaginative Jodie, and learn about her crazy home life and recently unpopular school life in a small town. As she dreams of the way life used to be, through Northern Lights and a starry night, it becomes obvious how bad life really is, and that her life matches the cold temperature. Jodie thinks she almost sees a solution–one that will address her physical, mental and spiritual needs. Her thoughtful solution, however, is often interrupted during her short get-aways from the pressures of family life, her school bus driver’s crush on her and school’s monotony. Will she ever come up with a timely solution that solves the pressures of life?
STREAMS OF SILK
Dedicated to my Awesome Parents, Marilyn and David
A Novel by Sarah Puppe
Footprints, deep within iced-over snow, waited ahead. Jodie counted them each night she managed to leave the house and the number always remained the same. He hadn’t returned. She began that evening’s retracing of his steps, the challenge to follow his path without making her own. She had succeeded nine times in six weeks.
Her left foot started, and she sought to place her right one. As she wobbled, the reported ten below made her want to hug herself, but she maintained a balance by letting her arms waver.
Despite extra layers of clothes, her skin already felt stung, but she refused to return to the house. That time would come.
Only a couple stretches ahead of her, the shutter of the barn’s loft winked and urged her to hurry. The wind whistled a familiar tune, she knew the words. You won’t be disappointed tonight. She considered stopping in her tracks to listen. The wind reminded her to keep moving.
She twisted the top half of her body to glance behind, and the house appeared to rumble. A low growl and hiss came from its smokeless chimney. It made her stumble, breaking her dad’s prints for the first time. She fell to the left, and like wading through a pool of cement, she dragged each leg forward desperate to run in unmarked snow. Hurry, hurry, hurry.
Safe at the barn door, she leaned against it and only the sound of her breathing filled her ears; she slid the heavy wood to the side. It caught. Before another thought, she expertly pushed it forward and shoved. It began sliding again and one of the many barn cats she had named Critter ran out. “Hey, buddy,” she said. With more time she would sweep the straw laden steps. Her dad would like that.
Another glance at the house before ascending the steps allowed her to witness the bathroom light turning on. Her mother’s third viewing of her soap opera had to be on pause.
Jodie had less than ten minutes. The naked light bulb hanging from a wire had burned out weeks earlier, and if her dad had returned he would have noticed and changed it. She pressed hard and it failed to glow.
In the dark, she climbed the steps and then gently walked across the splintered floor towards the hayloft. The compromised planks were usually obvious, but her foot suddenly pressed lower than she wanted. She stopped and tapped the tip of her boot to the right. Solid.
As pigeons rustled in the rafters above and behind, the edge of the barn welcomed her and offered her a spot. Her legs hung into the wind, and she threw her sights upward so that night’s sky might fall on her. Like hay used to land on wagons, she thought. It was the only place to consistently receive and the pressing world felt okay. After seconds though, the cold forced her knees to her chest, a pressing she did not like and did not seem to like her.
Like a curtain, clouds covered her stars. It’ll part soon, she thought. Her gaze lowered to the horizon, and the orchestra of a silent prairie reflected moonlight here and there. To the side, the darkened shelter of hundred-year- old trees lined the perimeter of her dad’s land. Behind them, a split rail fence ran in some parts and posts had tripped and fallen in others. In front, abandoned machinery and tires, covered in snow, crouched like bluish white blobs waiting for life. Away from her stomps, snow became clean and crisp again closer to the house. Thoughts scratched at the misleading image. Why didn’t I slow down? I didn’t need to run for goodness sake. For stupid, stupid, me. Stupid.
Then the kitchen lights turned on and mimicked the glow of the bathroom and living room panes. The house became a large furnace with the windows as vents revealing an inner fire.
Ma knows we need to save electricity. With the environment and everything? We’re wasteful. Wasteful, wasteful. Then she reminded herself why she was there. “Star light, star bright…”
The chant had worked the night her dad appeared. She had run to him, and he hugged her before he grabbed his leather saddle. “Judge says I gotta. Ya know that, kiddo,” he said without looking at her. Then he drove off in his pickup.
She grabbed a handful of straw by her and threw it in the air. “I wish I may . . .” Her neck stretched until her head touched her back. The clouds remained, her voice not enough.
Then the puffy movements shifted. Her eyes narrowed and focused. One of the stars had to have the possibility again. One had to. If I at least knew the direction. She considered screaming, like she had considered before, “Tell me! Tell me now!” but worried it would ignite a screech at the house. There was no need to rush that.
Grabbing the sky and shaking it seemed possible, but hurting it was not her goal since it was all she had. Then a familiar flash of falling escaped to the corner of the evening’s stage and exited. On another night one had told her it loved her.
Nothing tonight, she thought when a slower falling began, and after a squint she recognized a dim, red glow. It was an airplane, maybe a satellite—something navigating itself miles above her and crossing the plains in less time than it took her to cross the yard. Flying frightened her, but at that Moment she envied the moving thing.
Clouds moved in and covered the red. Her breathing quickened. A falling star was only shy and darting, but the newest clouds, far off cousins who rarely visited, were bold and prideful, wanting her to see them throughout their stay. They gestured without malice and she swore there was a rhythmic wah-wah- wah noise, like a rope swinging overhead just for her. She dared to smile, without teeth, but a grin all the same. Then, thicker than a mist, more transparent than a blanket, the clouds began an elaborate circus act changing from whites to greens with an occasional wisp of purple. She nodded and accepted their apology. Blocking her view, but giving her a new one was understandable.
Then too soon, their visit ended when the streaks of thin hues disappeared, leaving her alone again. She whispered, “Tell me, tell me now…”
There was a time when describing the show to someone in school the next day would have been an option. No longer. In the past month, she had spent her days at school avoiding spit and had become a receptacle for the unwanted, like cigarette butts and candy wrappers and “crazy as her mama”.
The wind strengthened itself and her cheeks felt chipped. Though her wish hadn’t appeared with the end of the sky’s performance, the dance had been enough and the frightening chill worth it. She wanted to sigh, nearly an expression of peace and something that was rare even before lying and telling that judge she wanted to stay. At the cloudlessness of the northern sky and not knowing which star, she silently cried, “Come back! Come back! I’ll be better, I promise!
Embarrassed, she uncurled her legs from her chest and swung them against the barn. Icefell from the ledge and crashed below; her shoulders slumped like the line of her mouth and the dangerous ache of her lungs compelled her to sip at the air.
She turned around so her back faced the night, and then she stretched out her body and rested against the floor; her head dipped over the edge. Even with her layers, she felt exposed, but the sky became bigger and more stars came into view, maybe with the needed one. But her insides hurt worse, and she began to long for the kitchen’s electric heater, the only one they had.
A thought, murky enough that she wondered how it did not freeze and fall to the ground like the ice, approached her. But a voice intercepted.
“Jordieeeeee! Jordie-Roooooooo!” The head of her mother Ardis hugged the wide open house door, and the woman stood in her socks. “Jordieeeeee! Jordie-Roooooooooo! Microwave dinged! Hurry, honey. Jordie. Jordie-Roo. I’m cold. I’m cold. I’m cold.”
The words sprayed through the night like a handful of pebbles, reminding Jodie of larger ones she knew. Not one to keep her mother waiting, she had already descended the steps and
The school bus rumbled toward a dying sun. Even in the dimness, tall, dried out reeds managed to let themselves be seen from ditches with dirty snow and sandy edges from the winter plow. When the ground warmed more, it would be calving season.
Jodie stared out the bus window. She wanted to hear her dad explain it again, the way he had when she only reached the height of the fence posts. “Now your granddaddy don’t know what he’s missin’,” he had said after telling a six-year old everything she needed to know to be a rancher. “Don’t let him go preachin’ about his tractors. Pfhh.” He had spit a wad of tobacco onto the ground. She crouched with her butt touching the heels of her feet, and as he was walked away, she saw him turn his head towards her just as her finger was about to reach the brown glop. With one long step he yanked her to him. “What were ya thinkin’? That there’s not for a little thing like you!”
She had likened him to a mama bird she learned about in school; he was able to digest food and spit it out for babies to eat, but had obviously decided she was too small.
She cried, and he kindly rubbed her arm as if he had hurt it. “There now. I didn’t mean to jerk ya The bus rumbled past two more fields and arrived at a doublewide trailer dropped in the middle of nowhere without a tree or garage to keep it company. The Schwenk girls jumped off the bus to be received by their grandmother who waved the lurching bus away. Jodie watched the three of them smile. The sun disappeared another inch.
“Remember the orange sherbet, Jodie?” little Misty said, her head resting against Jodie’s arm. “Then it had pink and green. Remember? Remember that Jodie? That was a yummy sky, Jodie smiled picturing a twenty-foot tall giant reaching down to grab a bite of the ground sprinkled with powdered sugar, with a wedge of sherbet waiting on the side, available to cleanse his palate. She shook her head. Brownies and sherbet, bleh. What am I thinking? She attempted to untangle a knot from the girl’s hair; it had been there for too many days.
A fifteen-year old’s shaved head bobbed in front of them. One dark mole and three white scars waded in hairy stubble; they were the next stop. It had been awhile since she had been given a chance to imagine the legless tick and albino inchworms wanting to meet one another. Her stop was the second-to-last stop on the afternoon route, and didn’t happen until five-thirty and sometimes as late as six.
Two days after the girls’ basketball team became disqualified, Kenny the bus driver had told her, “Boss says it time to switch the route. Sorry, hun.”
In nine years, since second grade, it had never been switched. She remained the first picked up, but became the last dropped off, except for Misty, Kenny’s daughter. It made for more than a twelve-hour day.
The bus slowed and when it stopped she was ready at its steps. Her feet carefully remained behind the white line, just as the words printed above the door warned. When Kenny wordlessly shifted the door open, she ran out as if not only leaving him behind, but the day’s accusations as well. The evening would have its own, of course.
Before Kenny shut the door, his daughter moved to the front seat. “Bye, Jodie! Ya nice, If she only knew…
Misty had once said, “I want ya as my mommy. Daddy does too,” and Jodie’s face had
felt a horrifying flush. She managed a, “Oh, ya have one, sweetie; and I’m too young.” Kenny
yelled from the driver’s seat, “Tell her I’ll wait. She can graduate if she want.” Weekly and gradually, Jodie sat farther back on the bus.
Misty came with her and asked, “Why we way back here?” It was the one time Jodie neglected to answer her, and Misty never asked again.
Inside the house, she stomped her boots.
“Jodie my love, that you?”
No one else comes to the house, ma. Not even your brother…
“You’ll never guess what happened to them today! Sweetie?” After two seconds, her mother’s voice changed to panic. “SWEETIE?”
Jodie called to the other room, “It’s me, ma. It’s me.”
Them were Carlos and Melani, characters on her mother’s soap opera. It seemed like the couple had been on their honeymoon for years.
Her mother said suddenly, “Don’t get smart with me, young lady. It takes time to tell a person’s life on TV, let alone a whole bunch!”
Jodie questioned herself as to whether she had thought out loud or not. Then, attempting not to emphasize too much, but enough to hear her own words, she spoke.
“I’ll be right there.”
“Hurry. Hurry,” her mother said.
Jodie removed her boots and entered the small TV room, the only space on the main floor besides her mother’s bedroom and the kitchen. Her mother looked at her. Then she pressed her face into a wad of tissues taken from her sleeve. “You’re smart, miss-smarty-pants. I hear what you’re saying…father’s daughter.”
Jodie asked, “Where are the kids?” Sometimes distracting her mother helped.
Her mother responded with details of Carlos’ new job. If Jodie had timed it correctly, her mother would eventually start talking about her grandkids and forget to get back to her soap. If ill-timed, there would be tears.
Ardis puffed on her generic cigarette, and then continued talking. Just as Jodie again wondered to herself if she had said the words out loud or not, her mother deviated.
“Oh, don’t even get me started. Your sister had work off today, kids’ checkups or something ridiculous like that. I told her that I could take them, but you know I’m not good enough. I know, I know.”
The cardboard box next to her mother’s chair sat empty and waiting. It would soon spill over with toys, matching the uneven room’s piled magazines and unused knitting yarn. Jodie stood from the once-satiny sofa, and gave a quiet sigh, almost imperceptible she thought until her mother followed with a louder one.
Jodie began to collect the toys under chairs and around the room, and after the last one had been given a home, she stepped into the kitchen to make supper. Her thoughts distracted her as she stirred soup from a can. Two frosted meals from the freezer would provide more protein.
From the other room, her mother prattled on about Melanie’s affair. Jodie sliced air holes in the plastic covers, crammed the meals next to one another, and then cranked the timer. She had long ago stopped wanting a new microwave, the kind with no dial and an electronic timer.
Her classmates, families she used to babysit for, and even the school cafeteria had that kind.
She left the kitchen and climbed the stairs, and in her room, she slid her book bag onto the floor. It stopped on a patch where the linoleum had broken away revealing beams that matched the wood of the barn.
The wind chill factor had been predicted as 55 below; it had only been 40 below the night before. The upstairs was as soaring as she would reach that night. She rubbed at the frost on the inside of the window and made a peephole to see the ground and barn. Her dad had not showed up. Before she had a chance to acknowledge a pestering thought, her mother’s happy voice yelled through the vent.
“Jodie-Roo! You outdoors, again? Silly one. Microwave says we’re ready, and I haven’t finished telling…”
Jodie descended the stairs, took two steps through the TV room to the kitchen, and then rotated the meals. She reset the timer.
“How’s it hanging, Tun-dra?” Cort said. Their lockers had been next to each other since second grade when they got assigned lockers.
She partially hid her face behind the locker’s door as his words floated through the air.
They might speed up and poke her. When they landed lightly on her shoulder though, she risked an old response. “Hanging low, Mr. Jester, hanging low.”
He laughed. His jaw did not tighten and his arm stayed loose. But he wagged his finger.
“An oldie but goody. I like it.” Then his voice lowered to a familiar growl. “Better than Mr. Judge. Cort-Judge. Didn’t like that one. Not my fave. Baaa-d.” He wagged his finger again.
His spite abruptly submerged itself. “Hey, Al and the rest of us are going to catch a burger. Come with.”
Her hand reached into the bottom of her locker. It has to be here…
Being asked to lunch did not provide the absolution she once sought. Last time the group had shared their fries, his girlfriend Al, Jodie’s former teammate, said, “Could you snatch that salt over there, or maybe you’ll snitch it for me?” Al’s best friend L. L. added, “You look a bit tired. Suffering from narc-olepsy?” The table laughed, even the waitress.
Jodie wanted to remind them she hadn’t tattled, that accidents happened, and she wanted to have been there since they said it wouldn’t have happened if she had. Clarifications only irritated them She recognized the corner of her yellow lunch pass from under an old trigonometry worksheet. Cort began to close her locker for her. As she pulled back to escape pinched fingers, he swung it open. He seemed in a good mood, so she put her foot against the locker’s door. He
didn’t challenge her, but the corner of his mouth suggested he recognized his options. With both hands on the top of his locker, he pretended to hit his head against it, his knee hitting the metal to make it sound like his head hit just as hard. He stopped. “Come on, Tun, you know my girls are only being creative, trying to give lunch a little zest, a little zing.” His knee hit the locker again and made Jodie blink. “We gotta have our fun around here. It’s the least you can do.” Then, as if he remembered he could, he shut his locker, and then reached and loudly slammed hers.
Her fingers escaped. She hurried away with her lunch pass.
He called to her. “Suit yourself. You know where to find us.”
In the area of cement blocked walls painted a muted yellow, a heavy cloth divider, folded like an accordian, separated the kitchen and the lunch tables from the rest of the building. She grabbed a tray and found a spot in line. She let two junior high girls go in front of her. One thanked her by jabbing her in the ribs.
“Watch where you’re going, bitch,” the girl said, as if Jodie had bumped into her. After she got her food, she stood by the garbage cans and scanned the six lunch tables of younger
She began walking towards Mrs. Nora’s kindergarten room and once inside, set down her lunch tray, and then picked up a pile of paper with large, outlined letters. The school’s youngest students were outside playing in the snow’s slush after having had their meals during an earlier hour. The room, though lacking real stars and twinkling lights that soothed, was a protected place with a hanging crepe sunshine and some dangling, stapled clouds filled with cotton balls.
Jodie sat on the floor and cut along the top of a letter. The tint of paper reminded her of paint the stores had used on their windows to celebrate, and the movie in her mind began its opening credits again. State Bound! Go! Fight! Win! The post office had pinned a sign to its bulletin board, “You Go Girls!” Enthusiastic cheers erupted wherever the team appeared in the two-mile town. That day, they had spent all day together, starting with a Saturday morning basketball practice where Al invited them over to her house to celebrate. “Just us girls! No offense, Coach.”
He had laughed. “None taken! Now, girls, have a good time, but not too good, be good. And get to bed early. I want everyone rested up for…” he paused, “state.” At its mention, they squealed.
She looked at the child’s desk in front of her. Her lunch was finished and without trying she had sat in her hayloft position, her knees almost touching her chest.
The scissor was in her left hand, the paper in her right; only a flimsy slip remained because she had cut off the second branch of a Y.
No good. No good at all. I can’t do anything right.
“How about, crucible? Dictionary definitions, please.”
Jodie heard the plastic of someone’s seat creak against its metal bolts. No doubt the pressure. She shifted in her own seat and heard the creak again. It was her.
“Well, Coach, what do you think?” the teacher said in a high voice. Then he answered himself. “Well, Fine Student, I’m glad you asked.”
The class stirred almost to a laugh. Unlike others, Coach was the kind of teacher able to rustle them from their mostly indifferent postures.
“The first definition of course,” he continued, “would be a durable pot, like a witch’s cauldron resisting high temperatures. A second definition is the opening at the bottom of a furnace for metals, and the third and final definition—drum roll please…”
Classmate Jason Jorgen drummed his knuckles of both hands.
“…An intense test or extreme trial. Which one do you suppose this play is about, now that you have read it, hypothetically speaking, and are ready to explore its themes with me, your audacious, if not bodacious, teacher?”
Amused murmurs swelled before the room returned to silence except for creaking. She His definitions fluttered through her mind like pictures from a toy camera. Click. The first one reminded her of the social temperature in Ketting. Click, click. The third one glowed.
She stared at her desk.
Coach walked past a row of students at the edge of the room. She imagined him able to scan brains. He said as much.
“I can tell some of you know, but choose not to share. I’ve been a teacher for longer than you’ve been alive; I know the tricks. Staring at your desk is not a sign of ignorance. Now, Jodie watched the second hand of the clock move for almost thirty long seconds before…
Coach spoke again.
“Shame on you! You have a brain, use it. Some people would give anything for the use of Everyone else laughed, and in not joining them she received his comment as if directed at only her. Her chest felt heavier. His words hinted at frustration. It was unlike him and she missed his nonchalant style.
“Come on people, think, think, think. Tick-tock. Tick-tock . . . Fine, I’ll answer it, this time… First definition may remind you of an average day, all the heated pressures of your high school lives coming down on you. I know, I remember.”
Her slumped body straightened slightly.
“The second definition belongs in places like the mining towns of northeastern Minnesota or the Western part of here.
“Any takers? Going once…The correct answer, as you should all know from your basic, if not careful reading, is the third, and therefore, severe test, which is what I’m threatening if we don’t get a good discussion—”
Jodie slumped again. She had flunked. Cort had told her to stay cool that night. She Al piped up without raising her hand. “Um, Coach, why’d they, like, kill innocent people? You know, during the witch trial stuff. I mean, if a woman drowned, she wasn’t a witch. If she floated, she was a witch and she was, like, put away.”
“Wood floats,” Jason said, mimicking a British accent.
The class burst into its loudest laughter of the hour. As usual, Jodie only understood that the class liked to laugh without her.
Coach corralled them with a stern look. “Enough of the Monty Python.” He seemed to be trying to hide a smirk. “The answer to your question, Allison, is I don’t know. I’m not afraid to admit that. This begins to identify the tension within New England communities during the witch trials. No one wanted to be accused, and felt pressure to accuse before they were themselves.” He shrugged his shoulders.
Before she had a chance to stop it, a thought slipped from her mind and sat on her chin and yelled. “Why didn’t they just run away!”
The attention of everyone in the room seemed to focus on her, like her volume attracted Coach seemed to ignore her outburst, but he straightened like she had before. “Ah, Miss Jodie. I want to hear from you more. How can we make this happen?”
She waited for him to stop class, to repeat himself from weeks earlier when she had walked away from him, and to tell her how to fix everything and get it back the way it was. He and his wife used to have a way of encouraging her, helping her train for tryouts and making sure she had what she needed to compete.
Instead he said, “Well, it was a different time. Women didn’t have the same rights and access to resources as now. Where would they have gone? Another similar, if not oversimplified question might be, if the woman had a chance to leave, perhaps an offer from a distant relative, why wouldn’t she take it? By the way, people, for the exam, that theme is called mobility…”
Jodie grabbed his middle words and ignored the others. If the woman had a chance…It was easy for her to make decisions for others, to judge them and correct them. If only they saw their lives from her perspective, it was obvious; they should have escaped.
Then Coach said, “What do you think was the deciding factor on why specific individuals were accused? Anyone?”
She watched his words flutter through the air and float over heads. She used to wonder why no one talked of it. Too wonderful to articulate, was her reason and she had decided it was theirs. One landed on her nose. Two others tickled her hands as if delicate butterflies unafraid of the size. Then before she was ready to leave them, during a blink, she saw herself standing among a group of women with their hair covered with white pieces of cloth with strings at the corners.
Her hands touched her own black dress with a white apron, and something sat on her head. She whispered to the women, “Run. Run.”
Coach rapped lightly on her desk. “Speak up; I want to hear from you.” His words used the same tone as previously, but snuck up on her. Her scrambled thoughts mixed together trying
“I don’t, um, I don’t remember what I was, um, going to say,” she lied, and wilted.
He walked to the front of the room and turned. “How about…Cort?”
“Isn’t there a more important question we should be asking?” Cort cleared his throat into his hand.
She guessed he hadn’t read an entire book since first grade, but he learned enough of any plot to give a summary. Sometimes he bragged at their lockers that he and Al had watched the movie version as a way of getting a passing grade on the exam.
“The depth and specifics of your question overwhelm me,” Coach said, sounding sarcastic. He scribbled in his grade book. “Crack the book, okay? You have till Friday.”
Jodie put her face in her hands, an action acceptable, though not preferred by teachers.
Her eyes shut trying to see the women again. Nothing happened but black with bursts of light as if she were able to see the synapses within her brain. Then she thought about what she would say to the night if it were there. She mouthed the words, careful to hide them. “Come back. I’ll be Instead of the women, a puddle of thought oddly similar to the one near the barn that she never got to see fully, edged its way toward her. And it grew and her eyes widened.
If you just get away…
The puddle gently splashed onto her and she no longer needed to see it; she felt it.
What if I left…?