Moving Day

Lizzie Bower waited on the second floor landing while the next load of furniture was hauled up the stairs. Decisions needed to be made: the contents of her mother’s apartment had arrived on Ellis Street.

“Oh, oh…so who is sending you these things? They are all so—so beautiful!” her landlady shouted up the staircase.

Lizzie didn’t need to see her face, she could imagine Mrs. Thorn’s mouth open as each item marched up the stairs: a five foot gilded lamp from a South Hampton estate sale, a small Chinoiserie desk, an iron Napoleon camp chair with brass arm rests and a leather seat. It was a seemingly endless parade of exotic furniture and boxes whose contents could only be imagined.

“Belated wedding gifts from my Mom,” Lizzie shouted back.

Turning toward the growing piles, Lizzie showed the movers where to place the excess of her mother’s life. The men positioned the alien furniture next to the Goodwill discards that decorated the apartment; they demolished any semblance of balance the room once held.

“Jeeze, whoever packed this … supposed to use the fourteen by fourteens for books, Miss, the little ones, yah know, the ones that say: BOOKS.” The mover gave Lizzie a look as he heaved himself through the door.

“Sorry, my mother…”

Lizzie raised her eyes toward the ceiling; she couldn’t expect him to be interested in the details of her mother’s move to London. It was difficult enough for her to explain her own life, but now she had to come up with a rationale for these castoff pieces of furniture. Slicing open one of the boxes with a knife, she found dirty ashtrays and cigarette butts.

Continue reading “Moving Day”

Frances Liked Oranges

Combing Frances’ hair, Mrs. Buhle turned her around and tried to smile with lips too thin for the gesture. Her black eyes squinted. The skin on her forehead was marked with lines and two oval brown splotches. Mrs. Buhle was very old, but then everyone appeared very old to Frances, who was five. The woman’s shoulders were rounded, padded with a thick black sweater, fluffed like feathers. Frances tried not to move. She was sure she was going to be eaten, or at least pierced by some hidden instrument.
“Now Frances, your mother is coming to visit you today. She wants to see a happy girl. You’re a happy girl.”
This was not a question.
“I’ll take you downstairs, you can go into the front room today. Don’t look so scared. When your mother leaves, I will have a little present for you. How about that…Frances?”
Frances turned her face up toward Mrs. Buhle. Maybe she would get an orange, she liked oranges. She closed her eyes and waited for the blow that didn’t come.

“Frances, Frances, where are you? Are you hiding…sweetie?”
She was trying to hide from her mother, Maude, but her small foot stuck out from behind the large rose-colored wing chair.
“I think I can see you, I see you.” Her mother began a singsong voice.
“Come out, come out, where-ever-you-are. I have a present for you, come out, come out.”
Peering from around the chair with one eye, Frances saw her mother holding a big box with a yellow ribbon.
“Come on, come on…. I’ll help you open this big box. Is it too big for such a little girl to open? Let’s just see what could be in here. You can do it along with me, sweetie.”
Frances crossed the room, smiled and began to pull on the ribbon. The box contained a tea set, a real tea set, not play size like the one she once saw a girl playing with in a book. Frances was very disappointed.
“Give your mum a big squeeze. I have missed you so much. Give me a big hard hug so I can always remember how it feels.”
Her mother had a soft face, with blonde curls falling from under a little red hat. The hat matched the color of her lips and her fingernails. The hug pulled Frances into the folds of a white dress where an exotic scent sealed the moment.

A few days later the tea set disappeared into one of Mrs. Buhle’s cabinets. Mary was determined to get it back to their small room on the third floor.
“It doesn’t belong to them, does it, Frances? It belongs to you; it will always belong to you. I don’t care what she does to me…I’m getting it back.”
Mary was caught, standing on a chair in the pantry. Mrs. Buhle’s daughter watched as her mother pulled Mary off the chair and dragged her into the back room where they kept the punishments.

Draft From: The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light

My mother was raised in multiple foster homes.  Once she received an orange as a Christmas present.  Her mother never gave her a yellow tea set.

Not Everyone Is Born With Turquoise Eyes

At three months of age, Maria Lopez Smith’s eyes turned blue, not just any ordinary blue, but turquoise, the color of the sea near Porto San Sebastian, where Sophia Henrietta Vargas, Maria’s maternal grandmother, lived; she too had turquoise eyes.

It was a sign; Maria’s brown-eyed mother told the rest of the family, a sign that her child, the fifth daughter of a fifth daughter, would be a woman of great importance.

Maria’s father worked at the grand resort, Las Almandas. Far enough from Porto San Sebastian so that he only came home during the month of August. When Maria was born her mother informed her husband that she would return to Las Almandas with him. Maria’s four sisters moved in with various relatives, who raised them as their own along with their other children. Maria was left with her grandmother, Sophia, in the small house that overlooked the sea.

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“Being a woman of great importance, Maria,” her grandmother always began, “requires being in the right place at the right time.” She smiled and continued to braid her granddaughter’s hair as she repeated the adventures that led her to Porto San Sebastian.

“My first marriage was an arranged one, or that is what my husband believed. He was from Madrid and I was from Las Rozas. He had seen me…” Her grandmother went on to describe how, at the age of fifteen, she had used her turquoise eyes for the first time. “I have not always lived in this quiet village,” she said, ending the story the way she ended all of her stories. “And you will not have to either,” she added.

Maria remembered that her grandmother started to plan for her future when she was only six years old.

“When you are fourteen, you will leave here. You will go and live with your oldest sister in the place called Brooklyn. There you will learn the ways of the people and make yourself important.” Continue reading “Not Everyone Is Born With Turquoise Eyes”

Name Game

`Don’t stand chattering to yourself like that,’ Humpty Dumpty said, looking at her for the first time, `but tell me your name and your business.’

`My name is Alice, but –‘

`It’s a stupid name enough!’ Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. `What does it mean?’

`Must a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully.

`Of course it must,’ Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: `my name means the shape I am — and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.’”

—– Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass, Chapter VI,
Humpty Dumpty

John Forster wrote that Dickens made his “characters real existences, not by describing them, but by letting them describe themselves”.

Because my novel, The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light, is based on some threads of family history, I invented names for my characters, whose lives reminded me of what little I knew about them.  Keeping the continuity of the surname Light, which, strangely enough, was an ancestral name that appeared in England in the 1700’s on my family tree, turned out to be one of those wonderful coincidences.

I had too much fun with secondary characters. Here we are introduced to Harold Hollows the first time:

“Taking a closer look at the young man, Elizabeth noticed the splotches of youth still visible on his face and his somewhat fleshy figure. He had small hands and his nails were bitten away.

“I am planning on being a butler for the family, once I gain the experience, that is.  I have a plan—I will return to London in a few years and be able to run the household of any family I choose. What is your plan, Elizabeth?”

Looking down at her, he had already made up his mind that she had somehow ruined whatever chances she might have had. Her baggage—the baby—had sealed her fortune.

“I really don’t have one—do you think it’s necessary?”

The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light

Some insight to picking names for your characters can be found from Elizabeth Sims