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Friday, November 2, 2012

Hemingway's Coat

I've been playing with fiction. Here's something new. 
  

“I thought you wanted to be a writer,” the old woman said to fourteen year old Becky. 
      
“I do, Granny. My brain is full of ideas, but I have trouble putting them down on paper. All of the kids at school have computers. I wish I had one.”
      
The old woman looked at the orphaned granddaughter she’d spent nine years struggling to raise. Every cigarette the old woman had ever smoked was present in her voice when she said, “Sorry, kiddo. Money’s tight. We barely manage to keep up with the rent on this old trailer.”
      
Becky’s cheeks turned crimson. “Sorry, Granny. I’m being a brat.”
      
“Go to your room and write something while I scratch up some dinner. Practice makes perfect, they say.”
      
Becky’s hair was getting long. Granny used to trim it, but now her hands shook too much when she held the scissors. Becky pulled her hair back from her face, bent down to kiss her grandmother’s wrinkled cheek and headed to her room.
      
It hadn’t been easy for the old woman, living off disability and welfare checks. A computer for her granddaughter would be nice but there was no money for it, not to mention the monthly internet service. The Child Protective Services had already knocked on the door to find out why the phone wasn’t working.
      
The old woman took a long pull on her cigarette, exhaled a cloud of  grey smoke and extinguished the cigarette in the horseshoe ashtray beside her tattered Barcalounger. She was down to her last few cigs; she’d finish this one later. Shouldn’t be smoking around the kid anyway, according to the Child Services Nazis.
      
After reaching for her cane, she lifted her bad leg from the “otman” and struggled to stand. Instead of going to the kitchen to open a can of raviolis, she teetered to the hallway and peered into her granddaughter’s bedroom. Becky was sitting at a desk salvaged from a Dumpster behind the trailer park. One of the drawers was missing. Yellow writing pads from the Dollar Store were stacked on the desktop near a dented lamp, another Dumpster find. Her granddaughter was staring at a blank page.
      
She shuffled off to her room and dropped onto the corner of her bed, exhausted. She was getting weaker every day. She didn’t need a crystal ball to know that one day she’d be zipped into a bag and carried out of here. What would happen to the girl then? She shuddered to think about it.
      
Her closet was only a few steps away, but reaching it was an agony. She managed. Inside, her clothes hung as cruel reminders of better times—pretty things that once caught the eyes of handsome men—back when her skin was smooth and soft, not like the wrinkled crepe now hanging from her bones. A knockoff Schiaparelli sweater came into view, bought with her first paycheck when she wasn’t much older than Becky. The shiny eyes of a fox stole glinted in the shadows.
      
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d acquired anything new, but pretty things weren’t needed anymore; she seldom left home. Recently, she’d acquired the habit of talking to herself out loud when alone. “Vintage clothes are all the rage right now. There must be a pretty penny here.” She paused, closing her rheumy eyes as she rubbed the throbbing pain in the back of her neck. “Enough for a computer? Probably not, but enough to keep the wolf from our door a bit longer.” She made a mental note to have the girl box up these old things for a trip to the secondhand clothing store down the road. For now, she pushed them aside.
      
Her fingers reached into the dark recesses of the closet, finally closing on the subject of her search—a man’s pea coat, the navy-colored wool slightly moth bitten. She carried it to her granddaughter’s room and settled onto the corner of Becky’s bed. The pad of paper in front of her granddaughter remained untouched.
      
 “I have something for you,” she said. “It isn’t a computer, but I’m hoping you can put it to good use.”
      
Becky eyed the old jacket, a furrow deepening between her eyes.
     
 “Ever heard of a writer named Ernest Hemingway?”
      
“Granny! Of course I have. He was one of America’s greatest writers. We studied him in school.”
     
 “Well, here’s something you don’t know; he and I were once an item.”
      
“An item?”
     
 Granny sighed. “Yes, a couple. This was before I met your grandpa. Ernest and I eventually broke up, but he left behind this coat.”
      
Becky’s eyes widened like saucers. “That’s Ernest Hemingway’s coat? Granny, are you fooling me?”
      
“Have you ever known me to fool you?”
     
 Speechless, Becky shook her head.
      
The old woman stood and draped the coat over her granddaughter’s slender shoulders. “In many cultures it’s believed the talent of a person rubs off on their clothing.” Fortunately, the girl didn’t ask her to name them.
      
Later that evening after the old woman had finished smoking the rest of her cigarette
and was lumbering off to bed, she paused to peek inside her granddaughter’s bedroom. Instead of being fast asleep, Becky was wrapped in the pea coat with the cuffs rolled up to expose her wrists. She was writing furiously. 
      
It occurred to the old woman that pea coats were traditionally worn by sailors. Had Hemingway been a sailor? She didn’t think so. The girl would learn the truth eventually, but by then the pea coat would have served its purpose. It had been abandoned, left hanging in the closet when she rented the trailer years ago.
      
“A little fib isn’t so bad,” she mumbled to herself, “especially if it’s all you have.”

Note: I'll soon be closing down this site and posting exclusively at chubbychatterbox.com. I invite everyone to follow me by signing up there. 
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25 comments:

  1. That's a nice story. A little white lie every now and then isn't a bad thing.

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  2. Ahhh- this is great! Loved it from start to finish-

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  3. This was a humbling story. Loved the imagery around her skin hanging off of her like a crepe. I will follow you on Chubby Chatterbox immediately.

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  4. What a great story! Honestly, I thought it was his coat! But whatever gave her the inspiration to write was what really matter! Well done!

    betty

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  5. What a great story. I love it. Whatever it takes I say. One smart grandma.

    Have a terrific day. :)

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  6. Good story, makes me a bit wistful.

    If my blog won't follow your new location, i'll come by every day to check for posts anyway.

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  7. I hope that it is easier to sign up from Google. I don't want to have to get a new email. Last time you moved it would not accept my Blogger login identity.

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  8. I have had NO problem with your new website--let's hope it stays that way! Is this your first try at fiction? It's VERY good!!

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  9. You're giving up on Blogger? I can't imagine why...

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  10. What a good grandma! Sort of... Great story. I am enjoying your fiction stories. They're almost as good as your real life adventures!

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  11. just believe...that is al it takes...that is what i have been preaching to my kids anyway, so i hope it's true!

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  12. A nice story. Sometimes it's good to feel a bit sad, but I also feel hopeful.

    Love,
    Janie

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  13. I hate to say this, but I went to your new site and I don't know how to sign up. I need explicit instructions, please.

    Love again,
    Janie

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  14. Now is this a fib that you're closing down this site??? I wish when one site is closed that we are automatically transferred to the new site. I know I'm whining and lazy.

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  15. I like it. A lovely uplifting story :)

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  16. Wow, you describe your characters so vividly I see them clearly in my mind. As I was left with my grandparents, the story has some special significance. However, at no point did my grandmother smoke or give me a jacket that didn't belong to a famous writer. Still a grandparent trying to raise a child touches my heart.

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  17. Superbly told. A very sweet and poignant tale. Richly drawn character.

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  18. First try at fiction...good job.Like how you brought the characters to life in my eyes as I read.

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  19. Nice Job Stephen, I like the way you told this one, the harsh realities of life and a Grandparent finding a way to inspire the creativity hidden within her granddaughter in spite of having nothing.

    Well done my Friend.

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  20. Uplifting story, with characters we all can care about.

    Great stuff, as always!

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  21. Real nice and sweet of Granny!

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  22. Great story Stephen. I love how granny used a cleverly woven fib to inspire her granddaughter. I believe that granny enjoyed the fib as much as Becky did, and granny probably went to bed imagining what it would have been like to be with Hemingway.

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