Thursday, January 20, 2011

Red Writing Hood: The Candle of Memory

Walter and Lydia walked down the familiar green hallway, their footsteps heavy on the linoleum. As they entered the ward, the metal doors clinked behind them. 

She reached for Walter's hand, knotting their fingers together. She closed her eyes briefly, nodded and then they entered the room.

Her mother, Anna, rested upright on her hospital bed. "Who are you?" she asked, clutching the sides of her bed.  "I don't have any money, you know. There's nothing to take."

Lydia sat down on a nearby chair, as did Walter. "Hi, Mom," she smiled, "It's your daughter, Lydia. I'm here with my husband, Walter. We're glad to see you."

"You're my daughter?" the creases framing her eyes melted into softness. "Are you sure?"

Walter stroked Lydia's hand, as it trembled like a sparrow in the breeze. The casual violation---the abject cruelty of this disease. It never failed to twist her in half.  She forced a soft laugh.  "Yes, Mom, I'm very sure. How are you feeling today?"

Anna's eyes narrowed. "You can't trust anybody here. These people---especially the dark ones---they take my things. My white thing...that I use to...move my " she closed her eyes, seeking the word that rested in the thin place just beyond her reach.

"Mom," Lydia rubbed her hand gently, "Are you talking about your hairbrush?" She held up the ivory-backed paddle. It had been placed on the nightstand by Marina, the nurse with warm cocoa skin, who called Anna "Birdie," and brought  fresh raspberries from her garden.

Anna's face blossomed. "The thing!" She frowned. "Did you take it? It's mine! Give it to me!"

Don't react. It's not her. Stay calm. Lydia bit her lip, then steadied her voice. "The brush is yours. I won't take it." Lydia rubbed the smooth ivory of the brush, remembering its swift, sweet strokes against her scalp, and the smell of lemon soap as her mother twisted her locks into plaits.

Her voice cracked.  "Your hair is so beautiful. Do you want me to brush it?"

Anna nodded, and closed her eyes. "I had a daughter once," she whispered, her candle of memory flickering briefly. "She was beautiful. Perfect little toes. She laughed at everything."

"That daughter is me. I'm right here, Mom" She brushed the silvery threads like a prayer.

Walter watched as Anna pressed her hand against Lydia's cheek. "If you're my daughter," she said, "Why are you so sad?"

Lydia held the brush in the air, an ellipsis of motion. She gazed at Walter, and lobbed the question his direction. "Why am I so sad?" Her mouth crumbled. She shook her head back and forth, and covered her mouth with a hand.

"I don't know, Mom. I wish I knew." She gulped, and folded into Anna's arms. "I wish I could remember."

Walter watched, as still and impotent as a statue.  His wife shook in her mother's arms, as Anna whispered, "Me too, Girlie. Me too."

This is my submission for this week's Red Writing Hood Friday challenge. The goal this week is to focus on dialogue. What suggestions do you have regarding my dialect, voice, intonation, pacing, etc.?

Also, I'm trying to make Lydia more sympathetic. Any success?

This continues my story about the Merchant Family. To read other entries, click here, here, or here.


From Tracie said...

I found Lydia to be sympathetic. I could feel her frustration, but also her love.

I love the line, "she brushed the silvery threads like a prayer." it is such a powerful picture of how Lydia puts everything into that seemingly simple act.

Ratz said...

You had me at "Who are you?" Beautiful piece Nancy... said...

You did make Lydia more human, about which I'm both glad and slightly disappointed. She was such a delightful bitch!

Of course, now, she's becoming complex and human and , which is better and amazing.


The flawlessness of your depiction of Alzheimers? Stole my breath away. I lost a grandmother to it, and my husband's facing it now with his grandmother.

So beautiful and sad.

Erin said...

Your grasp of Alzheimer's took my breath away---everything was spot on. Dan's grandmother had it and it killed us to watch.

The hairbrush...the memories she has of being a little girl...and the way she gently reminds her mom of who she is? Yes, definitely feeling empathy/sympathy for her. Wrenching. ALzheimer's steals innocent lives.

Another winner, Nancy. Shit you're good!

MacDougal Street Baby said...

I really liked this. This is the first time I've met Lydia so I can only speak about this snippet. I think you did a great job making her sympathetic. I would never have thought her, as one reader pointed out, a bitch.

Pacing, intonation, dialect all spot on. Good job!

PostDivorceCoach said...

Chills...this gave me chills...

Cristina said...

oh, okay, you made me cry a little at the end. The sadness, the loneliness of the disease... well done!

Stacey said...

So sad. I haven't had to deal with alzheimer's personally, but it seems that you did a nice job of showing how it affects not only the person with it, but those around them as well. Stopping by from RWH.

tsonodablog said...

Nancy. So lovely! I lost my Mother to dementia (wasn't officially diagnosed as Alzheimers) when she was only 52 (5 years younger than I am now). We had never been very close, but that didn't matter toward the end. Your hospital scene almost mirrored the one I remember with her. Fantastic job, my young writer friend! Your heart runs deep.

Carrie said...

I really liked this. It flowed much better and was stronger than last weeks piece. I love that Lydia is given a softer side, she seemed so hard before.

The picture of her personality is growing. No wonder she and Walter found each other. They both have Mom issues that bring sympathy.

Wahzat Gayle said...

This is my first reading of your work and it brought me to tears

foodnerdjen said...

Can't say that I'm a big fan of Walter's at this point. You did a great job of capturing the misery that disease causes everyone it touches.

Snuggle Wasteland said...

I have tears in my eyes.

Either you're really good or I'm pms'ing.

Love this and you!

Stephanie said...

I like seeeing these new sides to Lydia and Walter. I like Walter better. I'm just getting to understand Lydia more.

(Florida) Girl said...

We actually have someone going through this right now and this is spot on. She has delusions of everyone trying to victimize her and steal from her. It is so incredibly difficult.

Veronica said...

You definitely succeeded! Wow...

Heartbreaking. Beautiful.

Very true to life.

My PopPop is going through this right now, so hard..

Cheryl said...

Nancy - I really, really liked this scene. You could really feel the confusion of Anna and Lydia's devastation. I don't know whether Lydia is now more sympathetic - but she is more human and not at all a caricature.

The writing was also truly lovely. Such beautiful phrasing "She brushed the silvery threads like a prayer" and the line when Lydia is rubbing the brush.

Victoria KP said...

Oh my goodness, that really got to me. I almost knocked my coffee over at the line, "You're my daughter? Why are you so sad?"

Jessica Anne said...

So sad. Great job capturing the complexities of Alzheimer's. Your writing is beautiful.

Renee said...

Stopped by way of Nichole.
I've not met Lydia before. But she seemed absolutely sympathetic to me.

The closing line, Me too, Girlie...

Oh my. My heart wept.

Paul said...

Yow. This rocks.

Admittedly, having read the other scenes unfolding Lydia & Walter's relationship, I found the second paragraph difficult to believe. But not entirely. We all revert to the role of child somewhat with our parents at times, and so this paragraph demonstrates that transition physically. It explains also why Lydia is more emotionally available here, seemingly more tender towards Walter, and on the whole not the self-possessed, must-be-right, and even manipulative woman she's appeared in some of your other sketches. It makes me wonder what has happened between her childhood and today that causes her such struggle? Is it something just with Walter, or something deeper?

I think Lydia's choice of saying "My husband, Walter." is interesting. Not 'your son-in-law', but 'my husband'. Clinically correct, but it sounds clinical as well. Does Walter have issues with Anna or visa versa? How & why is Lydia keeping Walter as a separate thing from her mother? How long has the Alzheimer's been going on?

You capture the fearful part of dementia beautifully, the awareness that things are not necessarily what they seem, or who they seem to be. Self-doubt. Powerful. I also like the struggle to find a particular word, even vocabulary becoming lost in the twisted corridors of the mind behind unexpectedly locked doors.

The dialogue is at once tender and yet formal, as befitting a deep love in the midst of strangers of a sort. The give and take between mother and daughter is very natural and flows very well. Structurally it's varied so that it doesn't feel mechanical or robotic.

I think this is a good depiction of Walter, though again your choice of descriptors is interesting. "still and impotent as a statue". Conveys the idea of strength and solidity, which is undoubtedly why Lydia wants him here at this moment. Yet at the same time rings judgmentally. Walter can't answer the questions that Anna and Lydia are dealing with. He can't restore the mind or soothe the wounds of loss. But your description makes it sound as though he should, and couched the way you do it, it isn't clear that there's a difference between you as the narrator with some sort of insider's knowledge of who and what Walter is, and Lydia's apprehension of him in that moment.

Maybe rephrase it so that Lydia is musing that this is what Walter appears like in this moment? Is it truly judgment? This one line seems in stark opposition to the entwined fingers in the second paragraph, and there may be very good reason for it that can't be fleshed out here. I'm just curious.

Beautiful touch and sensitivity, attention to details.

Kelly said...

Very moving piece. Well done!

Joann Mannix said...

I'm ashamed to say I need to go back and read the rest of Lydia's story. I need to a better job as a blog friend.

So, I can't really comment on this development of Lydia's character. But what I can say, is this piece was so moving. Lydia's conflicting roller coaster emotions when dealing with her mother's disease are spot on.

This was a beautiful piece, Nancy, full of lush imagery and like all the other readers before me, I was totally in love with "she brushed the silvery threads like a prayer."

nacherluver said...

Your writing is wonderful. I've been reading all the tidbits of these characters story since following the links on your latest post at Red Writinghood.

You really know how to draw your audience in! You build characters well and you bring so much emotion into your writing. Great stuff!

My favorite line so far is from this particular entry. It is...
"she closed her eyes, seeking the word that rested in the thin place just beyond her reach." I had to re-read it a few times it was so good. Just wanted to absorb the brilliant words.