Daisy here. Like many if not most non-fiction folks, I’ve toyed around writing fiction all my life. Lately I’ve been writing what I suppose is a middle-grade novel manuscript. It tells a story of a young girl growing up on a suburban homestead.
Since those of you who stop by this blog are likely to have an interest in homesteading/home farming or at least gardening, I’m hoping you might enjoy checking it out and letting me know what you think.
I’m planning to post the first chapter, see how it goes, and then put out a bit more as I get it ready.
I don’t have a title for it yet. For now I’ll just call it by the name of the main character, Xanna Beene.
I hope you enjoy the first installment, and let me know your thoughts!
by Daisy Siskin
Xanna Beene was shy. She learned the word for it on a Sunday after church when she was four years old. As the church members chatted briefly before hurrying home to rescue their slow-simmering pot roasts, one of the church ladies abruptly leaned down toward Xanna.
“You’re getting to be such a big girl!” she announced loudly. “How old are you now?” The woman’s cherry red lips loomed inches from Xanna’s face. The woman’s eyes, through thick glasses, were as big as silver dollars and were so close Xanna could see wayward specks of mascara dotting her eyelids. Xanna frowned and quickly disappeared behind her mother, wrapping herself in her mother’s skirt.
The woman stood upright and tsk tsked.
“So shy, that one! I’m usually very good with babies,” she said to Xanna’s mother, then looked back down at Xanna, who was peeking around her mother’s hip. “I imagine you’ll come out of your shell once you start school.”
“I’m NOT a baby,” Xanna thought to herself as she clutched the floral fabric around her head. “And I’m NOT going to go to school, either.”
But she did go to school.
And she didn’t come out of her shell.
In fact, as Xanna grew older, it only got worse. As much as she was afraid of grown people who stuck their noses into her face, she was even more scared of other children. Children didn’t have to try to act nice like grownups. They could be mean. They could be rude. They could be embarrassing.
For Xanna, her fears were even more mundane: A child could say hi to her and expect her to say hi back. He or she could smile at her and try to be her friend. A kid could wave to her in the hallway and expect her to make eye contact.
While these things aren’t horrible to most people, they were to Xanna, a Shy Person.
To the shy, when a person says hi, or good morning, or even smiles, there’s the possibility the address is for someone else, someone to the left or right, or slightly behind. If Xanna were to reply to the greeter, or smile back, and that greeting was intended for someone else, then mortification would engulf Xanna in a smothering wave.
For the shy, mortification is the enemy, and it lingers around every corner, especially in halls, cafeterias, and playgrounds. And washrooms. And classrooms. Stores, markets, and entertainment venues.
Let us have a moment of silence for the Shy Person at a birthday party.
. . . .
Games. Pin the tail on the donkey, scratchy blindfold on face, stranger hands on shoulders, twisting, dizziness, reaching, misery, missing the target, laughing.
Singing The Birthday Song. Mouthing the words, longest short song ever, can’t eat cake now that someone’s blown their spit all over it.
Presents. Hers looks stupid. They won’t like it. Wrapping all wrong. Prompted, insincere thanks.
Xanna remembered being dropped off at a birthday party when she was seven years old. She dragged herself out of the car, present in hand, and walked the long sidewalk to the front door, Happy Birthday to You playing like a dirge inside her head.
Xanna stared at the door, flanked by boxwoods that smelled of cat spray. She raised her hand to ring the doorbell, (doorbells = hateful) thought better of it, and turned and ran back to the car.
“I’m not going,” she stated after she wrenched the door open and plopped into the seat. Her mother shook her head and put the car in drive.
Note: Xanna’s mother was named Pernille. She had also been a Shy Person as a child, and although she didn’t like Xanna being shy, she at least understood it.
Xanna wasn’t shy at home. There was no need to be shy around her pestilential little sisters. Their names were Nora and Imogen, and they were three and four years younger than Xanna, respectively. At the time of this telling, that would make them seven and six, because Xanna was ten going on eleven.
A person can’t be ten going on four, or fourteen, because that isn’t how it works, but that is to say she was almost eleven. Her birthday was in one month because she was born on the first of July, and this story starts right as school let out at the very end of May. It starts then because the two favorite things in the world to Xanna were No School and Staying Home.
Xanna was Creative, according to her parents. It embarrassed her when they called her that. It would have been easier if she were Smart, or A Good Athlete, or Very Pretty, or Popular. Being Creative was a consolation prize for not being any of those other things, and as far as she could tell, it mainly meant she was the one sent out to the garden with a pair of scissors when her mother needed a flower arrangement for the table.
But for now what mattered was it was summer vacation, finally, and Xanna could stay home and do the things she liked best. She could gaze at the moon through her binoculars, she could grow things in the garden, she could play with the chickens, she could cook and bake in the kitchen, she could be Creative, whatever that meant. And for a little while, at least, she could forget all about school, and pretend that summer never ends.
In fact, once the last bell sounded on the last day of school, and Xanna and the littles lugged their heavy bags full of a year’s worth of art projects and spent school supplies home, Xanna wanted to forget such a thing as school ever existed. She stashed anything resembling school in the back of the closet in her room, banished her school clothes to the back of her dresser, and stuck her backpack and lunchbox in the coat closet in the hall.
There was one obstacle, however, standing in her path to freedom from organized education.
Before the bell rang on that last day of school, her teacher, Mrs. Frobisher, walked up and down the aisles of desks handing each student a small book with a black cover. She did so silently and with an air of importance. After Mrs. Frobisher passed one to her with a knowing smile, Xanna examined it. There was nothing written on either the front or the back or even the spine. She glanced around at the other students, who were also looking puzzled. Xanna slowly opened the cover. Again, nothing. She turned the page, and several more. She leafed through the entire book. Blank.
By this time Mrs. Frobisher had finished handing out the books and was standing at the front of the room. She cleared her throat briefly, a small harumph.
“In front of each of you is a journal. I am requiring every one of you in this class to write an entry in this journal at least once a week throughout your entire summer vacation.”
The inquisitive silence was broken instantly by a world-class outcry of groans, whines, and indignant outbursts. Mrs. Frobisher responded by standing silently, her eyes shut, with an expression of sublime peace on her face, until the moaning extinguished itself.
“Now that you’ve got that out of your systems, let me say that all the teachers in the fifth grade are aware of what we’re doing and are waiting with bated breath to see what you’ve written for them when you return in the fall. In fact, it will be your first grade of the new semester.”
At this, a new wave of discontent threatened to crash upon the shore at Mrs. Frobisher’s feet. She froze it with a look.
“If, heaven forbid, you lose the nice new journals I’ve given you, you may use any standard notebook.” The corners of her thin lips curved benignantly. “But take care of your books and they will take care of you.” Mrs. Frobisher was given to weird sayings like that. They may or may not have made any sense.
Now the journal sat on Xanna’s crowded bedside table where she kept the mouth guard she wore at night because she grinded her teeth, a homemade model of the solar system, a well-thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Almanac, and a box of old pottery shards she found in the yard. She had yet to write anything in it. She might as well get it over with, she thought. With a groan, she found a pen, grabbed up the journal, and plopped across the quilt covering her bed.
Journal Writing, she began.
Friday, May 29.
I don’t want to write in a journal during the summer. I just want to be free.
I can’t think of anything to write so I’m going to write down the first thing I see.
There is a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in the garden down below my window. It’s going from the pink zinnias to the red zinnias and back again to the pink ones.
I wonder if different color zinnias taste like different flavors?
I can see the moon in the sky even though its still daylight. It is a waxing gibbous moon.
Thanks for reading. Hope to be back with Chapter 2 next week!
Copyright 2015 Daisy Siskin