This is an excerpt from Under the Midday Moon, the novel I’m working on for Nano. This bit of the novel was inspired by the prompt “Moved by Music” provided by the The Daily Post. Since it is a first draft, it is likely to contain errors, typos, and other such idiosyncrasies, so read at your own risk. (~_^)
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Outside tiny tufts of snow flakes drifted, most in a downward direction, but some alighted in drafts of wind, spiraling sideways or even beck up to the grey sky they fell from.
When I was a little girl, my dad and I used to run outside every time fresh snow fell. Not the half rain slush that came down sometimes, but real snow, the light white flakes that floated in and out of the porch light in flurries and drifts. We ran out in whatever we were wearing, pajamas or Sunday dress or, once, wrapped in a towel fresh out of the bath, and stopped only long enough to pull galoshes onto our feet. We would stand out under the cold sky, whether night or day, and let the snow catch in our hair and kiss our eyelashes. We laughed and danced and we stuck out our tongues in the hopes of tasting fresh snow, the cold nothing flavor of winter that was just so perfect.
But those days eventually melted away like snow in Spring as dad’s Black Days took more and more of a toll. He seemed to be more and more tired every year and for more and more days of the month. Sometimes after the moons, it would take him up to a week to recover now. He moved slowly through the house on those days, shifting from room to room, like a scrap of paper kicked up again and again, unable to come to rest. When he finally settled in a chair or collapsed onto the couch, he would just sit there, sometimes for an hour or more, just staring off at an empty spot on the wall.
On the really bad days, he wouldn’t eat. Not unless I brought him food and sat with him, talking about school as I ate my own sandwich.
I’ve never seen him this bad, though. He lay on the couch, arm draped over his eyes. He has been like that all day. He was lying there when I went to school in the morning, and he was still in the same position when I came home. I was fairly certain he hadn’t moved in all that time. I’m sure the first moon coming up in few days wasn’t helping things.
“Dad? Dad, it’s snowing.” I tried to make my voice light. I touched his arm and shook it lightly, but he didn’t move. “Look, dad. It’s snowing.”
Slowly, so slowly, as though his body were made of lead, my dad lowered his arm and lifted his eyes toward the window. He sighed. His breath smelled sour, like the whiskey he must have drunk that morning. “That’s nice, sprocket.”
“C’mon. Get up. We’ll get snow in our eyelashes. We’ll go run bare foot in the mud.” My voice was too bright. It sounded like it shrieked in my eyes like a shrill morning bird. I punctuated it with a laugh that rasped at my throat. “C’mon, daddio. We’ll laugh and get filthy and wet and cold and no one will tell us no.”
He smiled, small and fragile, and shook his head. “No. No, thank you, gizmo. I’m— I don’t think I’m up for it today. Maybe next time.”
“But next time isn’t this time, and by tomorrow now will be gone.”
“I’m sorry. I just— how about a rain check.”
“A snow check.”
“Yes, a snow check.”
I stood up and watched the rise and fall of his chest. He carried so much and I could feel his hurt in my own chest, in the thick ache behind my breast bone. I wished I could take it all away for him. I wished it so badly it constricted my ability to breathe.
“How about some music, then?” I asked walking over to the bookshelf and opened up the CD player. It was ancient, a giant grey box with hug speakers that my dad bought in the ‘80s. He’s had it forever and refuses to switch to an iPod. I flipped through the CDs, looking for something that might improve his mood.
Fleetwood Mac was my mom’s favorite band. She adored Stevie Nicks, even dyed her hair blond and tried to mimic her hairstyle. She would hum along to “Nightbird” as she washed her nylons in the kitchen sink or sing “Edge of Seventeen” in the shower, the off key lyrics audible through the bathroom door. Probably not the memories dad wanted right now.
I tried to talk to my mom about how bad dad was doing. We sat together in the little studio, which she had filled up with her clothing to the point where it looked like it grew out of the walls like moss. We sat at small clearing of space amid the clutter of the breakfast table and sipped chamomile tea. I asked her how she could just leave dad this way. He was so, so sad. Why couldn’t she come back, at least until he felt better.
“Oh, god. I’m so sorry, hon,” she said, not looking at me. “I am. But I can’t fix him. Even if I came back I couldn’t fix him. I wouldn’t be able to make him happy. And I tried. I really tried to make him happy, but it just—“
I didn’t believe her. That she tried. If she tried so hard, why was she leaving him when he was at his worst. It was such bullshit.
“It got so hard, Claire. I started to take it on myself. And I see you taking it on you, too. And that’s not right. It’s not right for him to make you do that, Claire.”
“He’s not making me do anything.”
“Yes, he is. He is. Not that he means to. It’s not on purpose. But he is making you take it on. You can’t fix him any more than I can. I love your dad, but at some point he has to take responsibility for himself. But I am sorry you’re having to deal with that, Claire. I am. And if you want, you can come stay here at the studio with me for a while…”
I stopped listening to her after that, even though she kept talking, trying to get me to listen, trying to see her side of things. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I sure as hell wouldn’t. I wasn’t about to abandon dad like she did.
The CDs clacked more loudly against each other, as I thought about that conversation with mom. Forge her. I took a deep breath and focused on the disks in front of me. There were dozens and dozens of classical and blues albums my dad liked to listen to when he was in the mood to work. These were usually his favorite, but I didn’t know them all by heart and some of them journeyed into really dark territory. I looked over my shoulder to the couch, where my dad hadn’t moved, and I continued looking through the stacks.
Further along the sets of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, which Adam and I listened to obsessively when we first entered middle school. Adam’s mom got us hooked on them and we’d play them on repeat for hour after hour while we sat in one of each other’s rooms just talking about the nothing things that filled out days, school and boys and when the next Simpson’s episode was coming on.
Adam has been trying his best to cheer me up when I saw him at school, pretty much the only time I’ve seen him since the party. With dad being so bad, I didn’t want to hang out after school and leave him alone. So, I kept leaving as soon as school got out. For a few days, I told Adam and Althea about how my dad was doing. “It gets better,” Adam said. “It’s like everything’s messed up right now, everything’s been knocked over, but it’ll find, it’ll find its own balance again. Things’ll get better.” Althea said much the same. Everything will get better. Everything will be okay. Your parents will work it out. After a few days, I stopped talking to them about it and I think they were a bit relieved. As much as Adam wanted to be sympathetic, he was making progress with Jasper. He didn’t say it, but I was pretty sure they were together now, as least semi-officially, and I didn’t want to bother him when he seemed so happy.
Sometimes I wondered why Adam bothered with me at all. Whether he just held onto our friendship out of some obligation, some sense of duty because we’ve been friends for so long. I didn’t go out. I didn’t party. I barely made it to his basketball games. Adam deserved a better friend.
Screw it. I was tired of thinking about it. About any of it. I grabbed a soft jazz CD from the rack and threw it in the machine. The soothing sound of piano and saxophone came out of the giant speakers and began to fill the room.
“How’s that?” I asked, turning and looking at my dad’s immobile form, hoping he might stir at the music, like he sometimes did. Hoping he might say, “Yeah, sprocket. That’s the ticket. That’s exactly what I needed.” Hoping for some sign that he was okay, that he might be able to drag him out of this black hole as he always did.
But his arm remained draped over his face. He didn’t move. Didn’t speak.
“Alright, well I’m going to make some tea then,” I said, feeling the weight of his silence even with the jazz cavorting through the room.
Outside the soft white flakes were gone, replaced by streaks of heavy sleet.
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Any thoughts, comments, or suggestions are welcome!