Thursday, October 21, 2010

Red Writing Hood: Like A Songbird

This week's red writing hood challenge was to describe your 80th birthday party.  I did it. Kinda. In my own fiction-y way.

I value your honest feedback.

Like A Songbird

The Reverend cleared his throat, and gazed towards his audience, "And now," he said, "we have a few words  from Angela's son, Walter Merchant."

Walter walked towards the pulpit, holding an envelope in his right hand. He turned to the audience, pushed his glasses towards the bridge of his nose, and wiped his forehead with a paper napkin. He cleared his throat, took a sip of water, and tapped the microphone gently.

"Hello," he croaked. "Thank you all for coming." He blinked repeatedly "It's kinda funny that Mom's birthday and her funeral are the same day." He licked his lips, and added,. "She always did like things to be just right."

His words hung in the air, then fell to the ground, like swatted flies

He reddened softly, and mumbled, "You know how she is, um, was. Everything always perfect."

Yes, the audience thought, always perfect. From her spotless white baseboards to her perfectly trimmed eyebrows, Angela Merchant was flawless. Even this funeral was perfectly tasteful. A simple oak coffin, closed casket. A single spray of white roses, and one portrait---the same picture the newspaper had used when she had stepped down from the bench. No tacky carnations, and certainly no wailing or caterwauling.

People knew better.

Walter cleared his throat again, and said, "Mother asked that I read this to you, in the event of her death." He smiled ruefully. "Of course she did."

The mourners laughed in recognition, for real, this time.

Walter began reading:

"Hello, friends and family. Thank you for coming. I trust everything is in order. As you know, this death isn't a surprise. When you're seventy-eight and the doctor says you have two years to live, trust him.'

'This is the first time my son Walter has read this letter. I made it clear to him that if the letter was opened in any way, my attorney, Michael Sullivan, had full authority to leave his inheritance to the National Rifle Association. I hope, for his sake, that he heeded my warning."

Walter paused, smiled to the audience and said, "Don't worry--I did." As the audience laughed, he turned back to the paper. He adjusted his glasses, and continued.

"Walter, did you just break from the script?" he read, his voice halting, then growing thick, like setting cement. He continued, "Don't do that Walter! Don't take this moment away from me, for God's sake. And don't look up to the ceiling and say 'Sorry, Mom,' either. Have some class."

Walter sighed deeply. He turned back to the page, and read, "I have a few things to say before I stop talking for good. I know that a lot of you didn't really like me. I made you uncomfortable. Now that I'm dead, I can say it. There were no chinks in my armor. My cocktails were better than yours, my dissenting opinion in Frankus vs. Oklahoma remains groundbreaking, and honestly, I looked a hell of a lot better than most of you."

Walter opened his mouth, then locked eyes with Michael Sullivan, Esquire. Her mother's attorney shook his head slowly, once. Walter nodded,  shut his mouth again, and continued reading.

"You know why there were no chinks? I didn't let it happen. I ran seven miles a day. I bought the good vodka. I studied harder, wrote harder, and worked harder than most of you did in a lifetime. I did what was necessary. And if you don't like it, I don't really give a fuck."

Walter giggled to himself, a nervous, girlish little sound, "Oh, Walter, I said, 'fuck,'" Angela's voice boomed from the page, "Get over it. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

Walter continued to giggle, then found his place. He read, "Walter. I said get over it.  If you giggle one more time, I'm giving all your money to The Audubon Society. That is if it hasn't already gone to the National Rife Association. Sometimes I'm amazed that we share the same genes."

Walter bit his lip, his face red. He rubbed his hands on the sides of his pants, leaving sweaty marks. He took a breath, looked at the audience, and giggled once more.

"God," he said, "She really was a bitch wasn't she?"

The mourners said nothing. Walter stared out at the sea of black. They looked like a flock of ravens, waiting and hungry.

Walter slammed his hands on the pulpit, "Come on, people!" he yelled. "Did any of you actually like her?"   He felt so light up there, like his bones were made of air. "You're all still scared of her, aren't you? Don't be!"

He lifted up the paper. It felt so light, so insubstantial. Slowly, deliberately, he ripped it into tiny pieces. Released from the burden of her words,  the papers floated toward the ground, gentle and free. 

Walter stepped behind the podium, and walked out the door, whistling a tune, carefree and soft, like a songbird.


Carrie said...

This was brilliant. I loved how the story was told by Angela, even though she was dead. You could sense this imposing figure hovering over Walter's shoulder as he read...maybe a cane coming down to swat him ineffectually as he read.

Poor Walter...I hope he can move on with his life and be himself for once.

The Empress said...



Standing Ovation Applause here.

That was absolutely t he best thing I could have possibly had for breakfast.

Excellent. Minimal. Just enough detail, not more than needed.

Perfectly chosen words, none redundant.

Clear as a still lake: I LOVED IT.

Cheryl said...

I really, really liked this. The descriptions were perfect, enough without being overbearing. You got a feel for how Walter is - and WHY he is how he is. But the ending was the best. You wanted to cheer for Walter!

Erin said...

I am cheering for Walter, too!

You are really incredibly talented, Nancy. I want to be like you. TEACH ME, PLEASE? HOw do you do this and make it seem so effortless? How long did you spend writing this?

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

This is definitely a creative take on an 80th bday party. I started in thinking it was going to be a tearful tribute, what a great surprise!

I enjoyed her use of these last words to tell everyone she was better than them! Classic!

Anonymous said...

I, for one, like her. Walter, too. Way to go Walt.

Oh. And I thought it was funny.

Matty said...

Mahhhh-velous! You make it like she could imagine what it would be like at her funeral, and wrote that letter accordingly. Even anticipating her son's behavior.

Love it Nancy!

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh!

I am so glad I came over from the Red Dress Club! So glad.

That was some of the most excellent fiction I've read in a while.



MiMi said...

THAT is awesome! Maybe one of my favorites so far! :)

Daffy said...

I always look forward to reading your works...I got half way through this and just couldn't finish it. Not because it wasn't brilliant because, of course, it IS!

What I read I loved and I at least wanted you to know that I was here.

Happy Friday

Aging Mommy said...

Nancy I really liked this. Clever story line and great delivery, Angela's character comes through very loud and clear.

Midwest Mommy said...

Oh what a great piece!

Anonymous said...

I love being fooled. Well written, great build up, a camoflauge of feelings and then a well executed twist.

Thoroughly enjoyable. Many thanks.

The Drama Mama said...

Wonderful story telling. I absolutely loved how she seemed to know exactly what her son was thinking as she wrote it. If only she knew how he would fly the coop at the end. I LOVE it.

Jessica Anne said...

Love it! I only hope Walter wasn't counting on his inheritance. I have a feeling his mom might have predicted that one. :)

Mommy Wis(h)dom said...

I felt like I just opened a page from the middle of the book and was engrossed in the story right from the start. I like Walter - you could feel his emotions so easily. Great piece.

Kristy said...

Wow, how interesting! Very different. I liked it very much.

The mad woman behind the blog said...

Wow, I am SO out of my league.

This was amazing. I just loved the continuity of the piece. The Audubon Society AND his departure so birdlike.

Flat out WOW.

only a movie said...

Definitely flexing some writing muscles here. Really great.

Debbie said...

This was a wonderful piece. I love the humor and the thoughtfulness in it.

Joanna Jenkins said...

Is it me, or did that read like a great opening scene to a blockbuster movie?

Hats off to you Nancy. Great job.

Kim said...

You had me the whole time. Great work!!

Unknown Mami said...

Great writing, but this is most certainly not "your" 80th birthday party.

Florida Girl Meets the Midwest said...

Well done. My favorite is your descriptive language. It sucks you right in.

An Imperfect Momma said...

That was Awesome. As usual ;)

Marla said...

Brilliant! Makes me want to write a letter for my funeral. No! Seven letters, one for each kid to read outloud. Bwahahahahaha

Cristina said...

OMG I'm loving rereading all this great work! Amazing writing!

The Drama Mama said...

I came back for more. I really, really, REALLY enjoyed this story the first time around, and loved it just as much the second time reading it (or third or fourth). You know what? I'd really LOVE to know more about both of these characters, even though you showed their characters so well.

Merry Christmas!

Ash said...

I'm so sorry I missed this the first time around. LOVE it. And might just be a forshadowing of me and my mom ;-)

Luckily, she's not that bad.

Hooray for Walter! (even the choice of his name is perfection Nancy)

Merriest of Christmas my dear friend. Hope this day finds you and yours well.

XO - Ashlei

Jessica Anne said...

I remember reading this one. Loved it then, love it now. Still cheering for Walter.

Carrie said...

Awesomeness all over again!

Merry Christmas

Kristy said...

I still love the ending of this and the connection back to the title.

Natalie said...

This is perfection. You get just enough detail to understand and know what you need to know. I didn't want it to end...I wanted more, and that's a sure sign of amazing writing!

Adelle said...

I'm still holding my breath, waiting to see if he bursts into flames or something. I can see this as vividly as if it were the scene in a film. I can HEAR her.

Well done!

Victoria KP said...

WOW! I just wandered over here from the 1/14 Red Writing Hood meme story. PLEASE tell me there is a big, fat, novel in the works about this family.

You had me hooked with the line, "His words hung in the air, then fell to the ground, like swatted flies." And then you just kept getting better.