Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Woods, Draft Two

My last assignment focused on polishing prose. Here's a re-write of a story I wrote a few months ago...

The peace of daybreak finally settled over the house that had roared with activity throughout the night. Erin’s sheet now loosely shielded her from the cool air streaming through the rickety fan in the window.

Before drifting to sleep, she fought with the the shrieking voices of her parents’ party downstairs. She tangled with the sheet clinging to her body. No matter how hot or humid her room would get, a sheet couldn’t be sacrificed in the night, for Erin knew ghosts would feed off the bare skin of those who slept. But now it was morning; it was quiet; and she was safe once again.

Saturday. Erin loved Saturdays almost as much as Christmas morning. Dad would be disassembling and assembling motorcycles in the garage. Mom would be stripping the beds and making the house smell like laundry detergent, even with a cigarette burning in her ashtray. Cliff, her little brother, would be playing with his tractors and attempting to escape from the confines of his “Moma.”

Erin snuck down the creaky stairwell, hoping to be the first one awake. But the smell of coffee and pungent smoke hit her as she curved her way to the kitchen.

“Morning, Sweetie.” Her mother held little Cliff on her hip and took a swig of coffee before clearing off her father’s breakfast dishes. “Did you sleep well?”

“It was so hot last night! Why can’t we get an air conditioner? Jo Jo’s family just got one!” Erin snarled, remembering the tortuous night.

The comment was ignored as a discussion on gas prices began. Cliffie blew spit bubbles through his tiny lips, and murmured an unintelligible language of two-year olds. Erin poured Rice Krispies and three heaping spoons of sugar in the bowl that had been laid out for her. She ate three bites of the dry concoction before the telephone interrupted her feast. She jumped up to grab the receiver, connected to a new extended cord which allowed her to speak privately in the laundry room next to the kitchen.

“Hello? Yeah, I’m ready!” Erin’s breath accelerated. “Did you call Tina yet?”

Erin ran back upstairs to dress in her Lucky Charms cereal box t-shirt and pink shorts. After slipping on her tennis shoes without socks, she planned her escape.

Quietly, trekking through the house, she made it to the backdoor of the kitchen. “See ya. Going to the railroad track, so I better not bring Cliffie with me today.”

“Be careful, Slick.” Erin’s Dad looked up before the screen door screeched shut.

Her mother quickly came to the doorway, watching Erin climb her pink bicycle that was nearly too small for her already. “Come home for lunch, Hon. Don’t forget. Please.”

Erin peddled her bike through the quiet town. Already the humidity was threatening to rob her of air the fresh morning air.

As usual, she was the first one at their special hideout. Twenty yards past the railroad track marked the entrance of a wooded area on the edge of town. A large tree stump served as their headquarters. As Erin waited for her two best friends, she found comfort in the chattering of birds and insects. Hopefully she wouldn’t see any snakes. She monitored the ground closely for any slithering motion.

Something glittered in the grass near her feet. Erin kneeled to study a thick piece of green glass. After digging the piece out of the ground, and setting her discovery on the stump, she searched for more. Eventually, she excavated ten pieces of glass, ranging in colors from green to brown to translucent.

Finally, her best friends Jo Jo and Tina appeared. All three girls wore their Lucky Charms cereal t-shirts with varying shades of pink shorts.

“What in the H-E-double toothpicks?” asked Tina while studying the broken pieces of glass.

“Treasures,” answered Erin nonchalantly as she kept searching.

Jo Jo shrugged and sat on the stump. “Looks like pop glass to me.”

“Now it does,” answered Erin as the fervor of her dig intensified. Tina kneeled next to Erin.

“What are we doing today? Riding bikes?” Tina asked hopefully. She always wanted to ride bikes.

“Too hot.” Jo replied, before joining her friends on the ground.

“Then what?” Tina looked up at Jo, who was now digging up her own piece of glass. “We could…build a Barbie city? No, that’s getting boring. Play ball with the boys? No, Joel’s too mean. Have you finished writing your movie, Erin?”

“No,” Erin sighed. “Besides, I need the boys for a few parts. And with ball starting...” Erin trailed off, feeling discouraged about her movie project.

“How about…a swim in the Nishna?” Tina stood up to count the pieces of glass.

“After lunch,” Jo Jo answered. “We’re busy now.”

Every summer, as soon as the river tempered, the town kids stalked through the weeds covering the bank and cooled themselves off in the muddy waters. Every mother in town winced when their children returned from the shallow Nishnabotna River. No child was allowed to enter a house until thoroughly rinsed from a garden hose and examined specifically for ticks.

“Okay, but if I see a snake I’m going home.” Tina always threatened to go home. Jo Jo never wanted to go home.

“Aha!” Erin pulled a rusty tuna can out of the ground and then placed it next to the bounty. “A trove for our treasures.”

Erin stomped toward the railroad tracks and picked up three large pieces of river rock. Holding the rocks in her t-shirt, she ran back to camp. After giving each of her friends a rock, she began to crush the glass on the stump. Tina and Jo Jo smiled at each other and joined Erin in the task. The final product was placed into the rusty can once the glass was reduced to small, but not inscrutable, multi-faceted jewels.

“Jo Jo, what will you do with your riches?” Erin asked, in hopes that Jo Jo would talk. She always wished Jo Jo would talk more.

Jo Jo shrugged, while Tina took the floor, “I know! I’m getting a really cool car. A red convertible. Then I’ll buy Mom and Dad a nice car, so they don’t have to drive the green bomber.”

The girls laughed, since they had all been passengers in the loud, muffler-less Chevy Impala many times. None of the families had new cars, but the green bomb was the ugliest of them all.

Erin watched Jo, who still didn’t answer.

“I’m going to buy shoes,” Erin jumped on the stump as she spoke. “and party dresses. No one at my parties could smoke though.” Erin imagined an affair like those she watched on “The Young and the Restless” – something much different than their parents’ parties of barbecue and beer.

Jo smiled and kept crushing. Then with a shriek, she dropped her rock and began to suck on her finger.

“Jo Jo! You’re bleeding!” Tina and Erin ran to their friend’s side.

Jo closed her eyes tight, as she always did with the anticipation of pain. Tina delicately pried her friend’s slightly bloody finger.

“It’s not bad.” Jo felt embarrassed.

“We should go back and get a band-aid,” directed Tina.

“No,” Jo responded emphatically. “I’ll get in trouble.”

“We all will,” Erin added. But they all knew that Jo would be in the worst trouble if her Dad found out.

Jo wrapped her finger around her t-shirt and looked at her friends. “You know what I think we should do with our treasure? Forget dresses and cars. Let’s see the world! We’ll snorkel off the Yucatan Peninsula, shop on 5th Avenue in New York City, ski in Steamboat, climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Parthenon in Greece, go on a safari in Africa…”

Tina and Erin often listened to Jo describe places they knew nothing about. Jo’s mother had been a flight attendant before moving back home to marry her high school sweetheart.

Erin interrupted Jo. “Hey! Let’s have lunch at Jo Jo’s! Your mom can tell us stories about the places she’s been.”

“Can’t. Mom’s working today.”

Thoughts of the world were quickly replaced by grumbling stomachs. None of the girls wanted to go back to their own houses for lunch. So after a few minutes of waiting for a solution to appear, Jo suggested, “We could go to Granny’s.”

“Tang with 7-Up,” Tina added.

“Let’s go,” directed Erin. “Ride fast by the ball field. Maybe the boys won’t throw rocks at us today.”

“Wait. What about the diamonds?” asked Jo.

“I know.” Tina found a soft spot in the earth and started digging a hole with her rock. Once the hole was big enough, Jo placed the tuna can in the hole. Erin covered the treasure with the loose dirt. The three friends smiled at their accomplishment, then jumped on their bicycles to race toward Jo’s grandmother’s house.They easily whipped past the ball field without being tortured with name-calling and pebble-throwing; the boys were in the middle of a double-play.

As they sped through the pebbly main street of town, a muffled sound of a thunderous engine settled in the air. The girls made a sharp turn at the t-section to hear the revving of the engine getting louder.

“Car!” Erin yelled to her friends who performed the drill of slowing down before scattering to the soft edge of the road. Generally, all kids came to a complete stop to watch a car drive through town. Today was no exception.

Initially the girls were blinded by a deceiving silver flash, created by the sun’s reflection. Then a bright yellow sports car broke through the aura.

“Wow!” Tina exclaimed. “It’s gotta be a Camaro.”

Trucks, station wagons and sedans were common place in the town that housed blue-collar families working as machinists, secretaries or waitresses. Sports cars were rare.

The girls watched the car pace nearer, eventually stopping next to the parade of bicycles.

“Dad?” Jo squinted her eyes in disbelief as the driver rolled down his window. “Who’s car is that?”

The girls parked their bikes to gain a closer look.

“I was right! It is a Camaro. Is it brand new?” Tina felt the smooth paint job.

Jo’s father couldn’t hold back a smile. “Oh, no. It’s two years old. 1978. Think your mom will like it, Jo Jo?”

“Dad? Are you kidding?”

All three girls stood back, eyes wide open.

“Nope. Bought her today.”

Jo looked at her friends in wonder. Erin smiled incredulously. Tina smirked.

Jo ducked her head in the window. “Can we have a ride, Dad?”

“Not now, Hon. I’ll take you girls out for a spin later.”

Then the three girls watched the rumbling, yellow machine drive away.

“How are you and your brothers gonna fit in that?” Tina asked.

“I think it’s very cool,” Erin offered her friend.

“I hope Mom likes it,” Jo stated under her breath. “Wonder what Granny will think.”

The girls made their way to Granny Annie’s, who seemed to have predicted guests. Ham, bread and potato chips were set on the table. As the girls sat down to devour their sandwiches, Granny Annie mixed Tang and 7-Up.

“Guess what, Granny?” Jo talked with her mouth full. “Dad just came home with a brand-new, well not quite brand-new, Camaro!”

Granny stopped pouring the 7-Up and looked up, with a gaze directed to nowhere. “Test-driving, I suppose. Just dreamin. Your daddy’s a dreamer, alright.”

“No. He bought it.” Jo continue to chew. “He told us.”

The girls kept talking and laughing, not noticing the subtle change in Granny’s attitude. Granny set the drinks on the table, kissed Jo Jo on the head and said, “There’s ice cream in the freezer. Help yourselves when you’re done. I’m going out to the garage to talk to Gramps, okay?”

“Bye, Granny. Thanks for lunch.”

Granny Annie left in a hurry to tell her husband about their financially-strapped son’s recent purchase. Despite Granny’s reaction, excitement was the only emotion ruling over the three girls. Even Tina, who felt a bit jealous, was encouraged. If Jo Jo’s family could afford a Camaro, certainly her family could too.

“Should we go back to the hideout? Or should we go swimming?” Erin asked.

“I’m kinda thinking that those diamonds are lucky. Maybe we should go back to the hideout.” Tina decided that it was her turn to dig up some luck.

Erin nodded and lifted her cup of Tang and 7-Up. “A toast – to the diamonds in the woods.”

The three girls raised their drinks to each other, gulped ferociously, and slammed their plastic cups on the table. “To the woods.”

And with a fire kindling in their eyes, they set off to the woods to find more diamonds. But when Jo came to the street that led to her house, she stopped.

“Jo Jo? What’s wrong?” Erin turned her bike around when she realized Jo wasn’t behind her. Tina was still pumping her bike, racing her friends to the woods.

“I’m gonna head home,” Jo looked up the street to her house. “I better finish my chores before Mom gets home.”

Erin sighed in disappointment. She sensed the joy leaving her friend.

“Do you want us to help you, so you can get your chores done real fast?” Erin asked while she noticed Tina still driving to the woods.

“No. If I get done, I’ll come out and find you. Thanks anyway.”

Erin watched Jo peddle to her home. Then she turned to catch up with Tina. There was much more for the girls to discover in the woods.

And they would discover much more.

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