Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mercy and Venus

I haven't done this for ages--an old-fashioned writing exercise. This is the one where I blindly pick a book off a shelf, open to a random page and a random sentence. I then write something and end up at the sentence. I don't fuss with paragraphs, don't go back and edit. I don't know where it's going until I get there. I'm back in my alter ego--12-year-old precocious girl in the 1960s living in a fictional place she calls Breezy.

Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth, p. 753. “It was an odd moment for such reflections.”

 “Mercy, mercy, mercy me!” Sherry screamed, louder with every mercy. I knew it was bad, a three mercy bad was the highest form of terror I had ever heard come out of Sherry’s mouth. Of course, Sherry didn’t talk all that much. She nodded a lot, tsked every once in a while, sometimes mumbled faint praises to the Lord when she was pleased. Sherry never wanted to be noticed. She was born with a funny little flipper where her right arm was supposed to be. It was only half the size of a regular arm and at the end there was something that looked like two fingers glued together with one long curvy fingernail. Once I got up the nerve to ask her how she got that way and she said her mother took some medicine when she was pregnant and it warped her. When we were in grade school we did square dancing for PE. Believe me, Sherry never would have chosen to do square dancing. She said she would hate Sister Patrick Joseph for the rest of her life for forcing her to do square dancing. As expected, square dancing was a nightmare for a girl with a flipper where her right arm should be because no one wanted to do-si-do with Sherry, not when it involved holding the dreaded flipper. Sherry lived with her grandma and grandpa. Her mama—the one who took the medicine that caused the flipper—was a stewardess for Eastern Airlines. In our minds, her mama had the most glamorous life we could imagine so it wasn’t surprising that she didn’t come back to Breezy that much. Why would you spend time in Breezy when you could be flying to Las Vegas and Kansas City and maybe even to Paris? She sent nice gifts to Sherry though, like that beautiful music box that looked like blue pearls with a ballerina inside. Sherry’s grandma worked down at the Acme grocery store and her grandpa just sat in the chair all day in front of the TV. Her grandpa wasn’t quite all there. Actually, he was mostly not all there. Sherry said he used to be really smart and he read a lot of books and he used to be able to fix anything. But not anymore. He just sat in the chair eating Cheetos and watching The Price Is Right and cursing up a blue streak. He had curse words that we didn’t even know what they meant but we were sure from the way he said them that they were bad. So that Saturday afternoon Sherry and I were sitting on the front porch playing her new record. We took a long extension cord and plugged it into Sherry’s record player and played “Venus” over and over again. We loved Frankie Avalon and we were memorizing every word to the song. We didn’t pay much attention when we heard the screen door slam shut, but eventually Sherry looked toward the door and saw her grandpa walking on the front lawn, heading for the street. He was totally naked. I mean he was wearing nothing but his false teeth. That’s when Sherry screamed the triple mercy. She tried stopping him, pulling his arm with her only functional arm. She screamed for me to help her. What was I supposed to do with a naked old man? She tripped him and he fell face down on the grass. She said I needed to hold him there while she ran for help. So there I was, sitting on the lawn on top of an old man’s naked butt while Frankie Avalon sang Venus. The old man was grunting and cursing but he wasn’t trying that hard to get up. I hoped I wouldn’t suffocate him and I wondered if it was a sin for him to be walking around naked and if he would go to hell for cursing so much. It was an odd moment for such reflections.

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