The story will be long but not too long, and not so short that I seem abrupt. She’ll be just what you’ve been imagining all this time but could never picture. It’ll start off slow, and there will be complications in her plot that will arise softly, subtly. Just enough so she’s still mysterious and you still don’t quite know what you’re in for. But you won’t be afraid; she won’t be that unfamiliar. She’ll give you the feeling that she’s been there with you all along but you never knew it.
She’ll have grown up in a small town, maybe rural south, or no, better, rural north, so you can imagine her tiny white body shivering against the cold of the long, hard winters, as she lay in the bed she shares with her two older sisters, listening to her parents argue. Maybe her father has a drinking problem and her mother is a whore. That’s good, then you’ll understand more when later in the story she develops her own addictions and wanton ways.
Just when you start to grow weary of hearing about the small town she lives in, and you’ve been supplied with quirky vignettes of the local personalities, and yes, a short yet somewhat violent episode of dirty abuse by an uncle, or a friend of the family, she’ll leave that place. Let’s say at age sixteen, though she could pass for thirteen or eighteen depending what you want. She’ll head for the city, the big town, though getting there will be the long way around, a series of starts and stops as she runs out of money and has to make more. She’ll hook up with a buddy at some point, a bad influence who will turn her on to the more fun parts of life. We’ll call her buddy Sal or Sammi or Deedee or something. We’ll watch them through a series of escapades, you know, girl stuff that’s in the movies but doesn’t really happen in reality: secret pranks, conversations about future love, dreams, etc.
But then Sal will start to get in over her head; the drugs get to her and our girl won’t be able to handle her anymore. What’s happened to Sal? She steals, beats people up, runs away. She dies. This turns our girl hard. Maybe there’s a tearful scene — no, better — no scene, just one brushed-away tear as she packs up Sal’s stuff in the apartment that they share. Giving all the stuff to Goodwill will make it seem like she’s worked it out. Still, we know now she’s different.
Our different girl tries to heal pain with more damage; you’ll want to help her, you will, but you know she’s got to settle it herself, so we’ll let her get really messy and sick. She’s dangerous to herself; she’s dangerous to others. She passes out in a gutter.
At this point maybe we’ll circle back to something from her past, to some kind of thing, some thing, some kind of object that she holds dear or has sentimental value. Maybe a locket? A heart locket? No, something else, why do I want to say a mitten? Maybe she remembers, in her soggy, druggy state, a mitten that she had as a child way up north; the mitten somehow has meaning to her, although she doesn’t know right then what the meaning is; she’s just thinking about a mitten. It’s blue? It’s a blue mitten?
I’ll give you more dreamy mitten thoughts, maybe a flashback to sledding on a piece of plastic in the good old days, until you remember she’s in the city in a gutter, for Christ’s sake, and it’s winter; it has to be winter.
So the sleepy blue mitten dream becomes the blue of a police uniform, as a cop helps her up, and he’s a nice cop, he’s only feels her up a little as he’s hoisting her onto the park bench: asks her name and where she lives, radios a cab, pays for the cab, sends her home, neat as a pushpin.
Days of sleep and slug go by, and she looks at a snapshot of herself and Sal, and she burns it, and she starts to call home, and she hangs up, and she thinks about the cop and straightens out a little. Maybe gets a job down the street at a card store. A store that sells cards, greeting cards, has very little business but the old woman who owns it feels sorry for her. Our girl works in the afternoons while the old woman goes home to walk her dog, water her plants, have some tea or something.
Now is that where you’ll come in, right then? Will you be buying a card and see her there at the counter? Is that when we’ll get to tell her story, after you meet and offer to buy her dinner? After she says no, she couldn’t, a couple times, until you insist and begin to patiently ask her questions: where are you from? What was your childhood like? How long have you lived in the city?
If that’s the time, she’ll tell you: about the winters up north, maybe a little about Sal, about how she used to have much worse problems than she does now. But the mitten. Will she tell you about the blue mitten, even though she doesn’t know what it means?
Probably not. Instead, she’ll tell you about a locket her mother gave her, and maybe, just maybe, show you the little picture of herself inside. She’ll say her mother gave it to her with some wise words on her death bed. Oh, that’s nice: death-bed mother words about the dangers of the word that she can understand now, so clearly and so nostalgically with you holding her hand like that. You’ll be happy then. You’ll have her, just the way you want her; I’ll give you that. And when I give it, you’ll think you’ve got it all: all her mysteries snapped tight in a clever story, snug as a cheap and tiny silver heart.
AMY HAVEL has published work in Conjunctions, Failbetter, StorySouth, and Pindeldyboz. StorySouth chose magazine as one of her stories as one of the top ten online stories of 2003. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her stories have been included in the anthologies The Way Life Should Be: Contemporary Stories by Maine Writers and Consumed: Women Writers Online. This is her first appearance in The Adirondack Review.