Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Saturday Story: Nobody's Puppet


I have a love-hate relationship with fiction writing.  Like many writers, I pick up and discard projects only to rediscover them years later, examining and marveling at their long-lost contours and surfaces as if they are forgotten but once-loved pairs of shoes unearthed from the back of a messy closet.  I even experimented with fiction on this blog.  (Remember The Bird Lady?  Probably not; her flight was pretty brief.)  Not too long ago I was lucky enough to connect with blogger, purse designer, and fiction writer Valerie.  She writes the blogs For the Love of Pete and Snapshot Sailors.  I love her vintage-inspired short fiction, and she kindly told me that she got started using writing prompts from sites such as Write on Edge.  The idea inspired me to give fiction another try.  Although I didn't end up using any actual Write on Edge prompts, I channeled their spirit by challenging myself to 1) run with an idea once I get it instead of second-guessing it to death and 2) keep things short and sweet.  So, I've decided to start posting my efforts each Saturday.  Which means that we'll officially say goodbye to Etsy Favorites, which I've neglected in recent weeks anyway.  It was fun while it lasted (and was, interestingly, how I discovered Valerie's shop and blog), and I'll probably post handmade goodies from other Etsians periodically in the future.  In the meantime, I'll see where this new lark takes me.  Here's hoping it's not the way of Michael Scott's "Threat Level Midnight."

* * * * 

Nobody's Puppet

Beth looked around the sumptuous hotel room and sighed.  Anyone else would count herself lucky to stay there, but the gleaming marble, creamy damask, and fresh-cut flowers struck her as sterile, like an impressive but untouchable museum exhibit.  The only evidence that she lived there at all was the curly green head of her prized puppet Pansy peeking out from behind a plump pillow.  Beth missed her cramped cottage apartment, with its chaos of knickknack-packed shelves and ants and heat (no central air for her, thank you) and strange snack smells set to the soundtrack of blaring reruns.  She loved to curl up in the corner of her hot pink palm tree print couch and lose herself in a novel, the living room illuminated by all the lurid allure of an illicit junk shop.  But Peter hadn't approved of Casa de Crazy, as he called it, and promptly moved her into his penthouse suite until after the wedding when their house would be finished.  Peter, with his starched shirts and close-cropped hair, very much needed for things to be tidy.  And respectable.  That was what he'd said the day he'd first broached the move.  Beth had wanted to protest - epithets wilder than her couch itself were threatening to erupt from her lips - but she'd worked too hard for just such security, and yes, respectability, to cavalierly sacrifice it for the sake of some childish whim.  For her old life was childish.  She saw that now.  She was too old to be waitressing and putting on puppet shows in the park.  And rooting through bargain bins and celebrating Halloween and drinking juice boxes without the buffer of children.  Strong, silent Peter was just the man to rescue her from her juvenile exile.  That was what she'd been thinking when she'd first seen him at the edge of the park that day just before putting on her beloved Pansy's Potluck show, a whimsical tale in which Pansy pooled all manner of unusual eats to serve at her mother's birthday luncheon.  They'd locked eyes.  It was just for a moment, but it was enough.  Later Beth would reflect that even then he was plotting to save her.  

The click of Peter's card key in the front door shook her from her reverie.  Instinctively, she smoothed down her hair and straightened her skirt. 

"Hello, sweetheart," Peter said, his height filling the doorway as he deposited his briefcase onto the floor by an end table.  Beth returned his smile, then moved mechanically into his arms.  "Why don't we go to that new Chinese place tonight?" he asked, absently rifling through the mail that she had so neatly arranged on the end table. 

Beth started to say that that would be fine, that she was starving and loved lo mein.  But then she saw Pansy's curls in all their wild green splendor against the sober silk sofa and screamed, "No! I hate Chinese food! And I hate you too!" 

Peter's face blanched, and he took a step backward.  "What?" he asked feebly.  He looked confused, his natural take-charge demeanor having vanished with the heat of his fiancé's words. 

"That's right!" Beth raged.  She had stalked over to the sofa and was now clutching Pansy to her chest.  "I hate this penthouse and the new house and this stupid, boring diamond and being someone I'm not."  She slipped the ring off her finger, surprised by the quick fluid motion, and plunked it down on the end table.  Then she drew herself up to her full height (which wasn't very tall, at 5'0"), looked Peter in the eye, and said, "I'm going home."  She knew that her landlord had not yet rented out her apartment, and she had just enough cash squirreled away in her secret change purse to return that evening.  "Because I, Peter," she added, clutching Pansy ever more tightly, "am nobody's puppet!" 

She glided past him, savoring the bewildered look that contorted his patrician features.  A flash of remorse came but was quickly gone.  Resolute in her decision, she took the elevator down to the lobby and asked the doorman to hail her a cab.  Then she pressed a generous tip into his palm and slid into the taxi.  As it pulled away she watched the hotel retreat and with it all of the glamour and promise dangling like so many Christmas lights in that slick slice of city.  She pulled Pansy closer, her nose pressed against the glass as a single thought haunted her: he'd never even come after her. 

The next day was sunny and cheerful.  Birds twittered in the bold blue sky, and a light breeze ruffled Beth's blouse as she sat on her porch methodically mending Petunia, a puppet who'd suffered a broken arm during her last show.  That morning she'd called the community center coordinator to ask if she could start up with her shows again, and the coordinator had been delighted.  So Beth was sprucing up her players and silently rehearsing her lines, so intently focused that she was jarred by the creak of footsteps on the sagging porch step.  It was Peter.  If he had been subdued yesterday, then today he was positively cowed.  His face was pale, and when Beth peered at him more closely she noticed that his shoes didn't match.  But more remarkable than all of this was the beautiful, brand-new state-of-the-art puppet show stage gleaming in his hands.  She'd spied it in an exclusive shop window weeks before and had remarked upon how much she loved it.  Peter had scoffed, saying that it was a waste of money, and anyway, what would she need with it now that she'd given all that up? 

"Is this a bad time?" asked Peter. 

"Never," Beth smiled, putting down Petunia and taking the stage from him.  She set it on the porch and waited. 

"It was wrong of me to make you move from here," said Peter. "And wrong of me to call it," he paused, "Casa de Crazy. I'd rather live here with you than in the new house without you at all." 

They were just the romantic comedy rolling credit words that Beth had needed to hear.  She wrapped her arms around Peter and leaned in for a kiss, a real one, not the dry peck they'd exchanged before all the trouble last night.  Everything, she thought, had worked out so perfectly.  In every relationship there was a puppet and a puppet master.  Thanks to last night's performance, she'd made darn sure that the puppet would never be played by her.        

1 comment:

Valerie said...

Wow Tracy! I love this!

I love Casa de Crazy! I'd rather live there any day too, just like Beth. I really like your descriptive language-this was a favorite:

"She loved to curl up in the corner of her hot pink palm tree print couch and lose herself in a novel, the living room illuminated by all the lurid allure of an illicit junk shop."

In my single days I remember my own apartments fitting that description!

I also like the touch of Beth hearing the click of Peter's plastic card key. Beth is definitely an old fashioned metal key kind of girl.

And I admire Beth for asserting herself in the end-to realize she didn't need to be rescued like she thought, and that Peter wanted to be with her enough in the end to accept her for who she was and live on her terms.

What all of my blathering boils down to is that I like this piece a lot. And I am really looking forward to reading your Saturday fiction now, and I am sincerely grateful to you for mentioning me here.

Well done, my friend!