Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Betsy's Place

My writing on this collection coincides with a fiction workshop class this semester in grad school.  Dr. Catherine Kasper assigned us to write about place. One of my goals for this class is to work on description of place and narrative.  I find it too easy to fall into dialogue and miss the narrative of what is occuring around the speakers.

I took some things from various bits of story and pruned away the dialogue to just get Place.  I was limited to around 500 words.  My first draft was nearly 950. I pruned more. Here is my submission to her:


Betsy’s Place

A root from the white oak pokes its way out of the pale Tennessee dirt. The size of Grandy’s lower leg, the root emerges six inches from the massive trunk for a span of eight inches more, only to run back to ground for the remainder of its unknowable length. Other roots around the tree have revealed themselves, some of them overlapping. Are they the first shallow ones that nourished the infant acorn? Did the Chickasaw hunt here when the root first emerged?

Maybe it was later, when Great-grandfather Milton bought the land or took it. Did the tree, feeling unfamiliar rhythms, send down signals along with oxygen through the pulp to the roots? The air is changed, it might have sensed on the white underside of its dark green many-lobed leaves. This smoke has a tangible otherness as these pale beings cook their dinner. Did the roots return watery replies with questions for which a tree cannot have answers?

My childhood self had her own ideas. It’s a toad house, this root. I found the lumpy jumpies secreted in their own little root cave in the mornings before Memma stirred from her featherbed to toast cold biscuits that Grandy left for her. I used the roots as safe steps around pretend waters full of crocodiles, like the ones I saw on Tarzan. The steps of many children compacted the dirt around the toad house. Two of them were Lucy Belle and me.

After I turned eight, this was my whole world—two white oaks many times taller than Grandy, a low white house too plain to have thoughts of grand additions, and a vegetable garden with grape arbor out back. All the pieces of my world were set on top of the highest hill around. As I grew, losing the memories of other houses, Memma taught me to climb one of the white oaks, how to swing my feet up over a forked limb and to skin the cat to get down. I could see more of Chickahatchie County from the hideout in my oak. Our Bourne’s Grove Baptist Church, its concrete blocks stacked off center to keep them from falling down Grandy said, was just in front of my tree. Kelso’s wood frame First Baptist Church was just over the honeysuckle-covered rail fence from the grape arbor. Up high on my limb that made a seat, leaning against the perfect matching limb to make the seat a couch, my back would have been to Kelso’s church. I think that’s why it was so long before I found Lucy Belle and Sanctuary.

It was no time at all before I met Kelso. On my second day living with my grandparents, he drove jangling into our yard. I had watched him cross the two-lane highway from a little gravel road beside the store that wasn’t a store any more, even though signs— Wonder ~ It’s good bread—split two screen doors on the concrete porch. I couldn’t see the most important place, even from my tree. Behind the store that was not a store any more lived Kelso’s four mules, brown like fudge. Lucy Belle had a cat, and I never wanted a dog. I had part of those mules. And they had part of me.

I don't know what of that might end up in the story.  It does tell me something.  I know how Lucy Belle and Betsy meet.  The whole thing came together in my mind while I was writing about what she was seeing and not seeing.  I can't wait to write about that.