The horizontal writing world of Truman Capote.
A short guide to the art of curtain-twitching.
I was a Saturday Girl once. There was a small cafe in our small town, made popular by a long-running TV series. So many girls from school undertook their job-baptism of fire here, and the kitchen was a seething microcosm of alliances, hostilities and hormones, interspersed with coke floats and cheese and pickle sandwiches.
They pushed me to the top of the stairs and handed me a torch.
“Go on,” said the girl called Suzanna, “They’re on the top shelf.”
I peered down. It was pitch black at the bottom. The light from the cafe filtered down, reducing with every step. I flicked the torch on and gritted my teeth.
This was clearly the beginning of some kind of war.
“Come on, new girl.”
An hour into the job and I was already losing.
“The stew’s ruined, but you should have been home a half hour ago.”
Emily sat near the Rayburn, the clothes on her back so warm they were almost burning her chilled skin. Her thawing fingers tingled as she dug a fork into her heaped plate. The stew wasn’t ruined. It was delicious. Grandma was full of false threats. She was incapable of handing out punishments to her loved ones. Even now, full of her own family’s betrayal, she was helping Granddad to more cabbage.
One thing Emily didn’t miss about home was her mother’s cooking. Her mother wasn’t built for cooking. She was designed for looking pretty and saying witty things, but those rare skills definitely had their place. Emily got the impression that her grandparents did not wholly approve of the match their son had made. The odd remark here and there about homemaking and ‘don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you’. But, though the cooking hadn’t been great at home, Emily felt she hadn’t missed out on anything. The social whirl of her girlhood was something she treasured. Especially now, stuck in the middle of nowhere.
“Any news from the village? I haven’t had the time to go down for three days.” Grandma said.
It was one of her pointed ‘poor me’ remarks that generally passed uncommented, much to Grandma’s chagrin. Emily opened her mouth to tell everything and Granddad fixed her with a meaningful stare.
“Not really,” she said, and shoved another mouthful of stew in to stop any more words coming out.
My family tree is in a poor state. Over the years, and every so often, I attempt to revive it. I pull my gloves on – you need gloves with my tree – and rummage through the sparse leaves, searching for a promising new bud or some forgotten fruit. Instead, I pull out clothes manglers, salt miners and poachers…
Aah, yes, the poachers. Two great-great (and maybe another great or two) uncles, Matthias and William, nice young lads but hungry, who were caught and hanged in a notorious case at the time. You can read about it here if you like that sort of thing.
Anyway, I started thinking about the people who could trace every inch of their heavily- laden branches. The people who have dates and photos and paintings and diaries going back centuries. What must it be like to be so aware of where you came from? To live with the weight of their own tree?
This is part of a little novelette I’m writing…
My brother, Tam, was born when I was already two. We were close in age, but he was born a boy and I was not. His official title was Tamerathen, Prince of the Five Towers. One day, when he was crowned, he would be King Tamerathen X, the tenth of his name. When I wanted to annoy him, which was most of the time, I called him Number Ten.
“Dinner’s ready, Number Ten.”
Or: “You could grow turnips behind those ears, Number Ten.” This, always, in front of his friends.
At sixteen he was taller than me. More handsome than I would ever be pretty. He had a sweet nature, and a way with people and animals that I did not have. He would make the best of kings – a hundred times better than my father – and I would be proud to serve him. But, until that time came, it was best he didn’t know that.
Chapter Three (Part Two)
“They’re coming. They’re coming. Everything will be alright.” The pilot tried to console himself, but it wasn’t the same as having someone else consoling you. It was much harder to believe.
He found his way onto his hands and knees and bashed his fists against the cockpit door to get out. The way the plane had turned over meant that the door was angled more towards the sky and had not been buried in the snow. It was a small consolation. The door opened easily and the pilot swung it open and hauled himself out, careful not to put pressure on his broken ankle.
The snow was deep and getting deeper. When the pilot put his gloves down into the snow, his arms were buried almost to the elbow. On all fours, he surveyed the blank canvas that stretched before him. The dark sky whirled with millions upon millions of white dots, and the snow-blanketed moors below it rose and fell forever, it seemed, into the distance. Though all his memories had been bashed from his head, he still knew that light was a good thing… Light = People + Help. But, unfortunately, Number of Lights = 0. There was nothing to guide him in a particular direction. He would have to take a risk.
“Eeny meeny miny mo,” he chanted, thinking it was a method as good as any.
Once he had chosen a direction, the pilot spent a bit of time looking for a makeshift crutch, and found one of the support struts hanging off the damaged framework of the plane. With a twist and a pull the metal tubing fell away. It was a bit sharp, but his flying jacket was so thick with sheepskin that it wasn’t too uncomfortable underneath his arm. He practised hopping about, forced to lift his ankle high to avoid the thick snow, but he seemed to be quite accomplished with a crutch. Maybe he’d used one before. It was the first positive thing to happen so far, and for a second he even felt a little hopeful.
Then the strangest thing…
This wee story is in response to my early-motherhood days in England, when the rivalry for motherly perfection was knives-out serious. I just thought, wouldn’t it be nice if… INSPIRED My sister flung a cushion […]