That is the proverbial question. I have so many stories I’ve started and never finished that it’s become par for the course. If I have a good start–characters I care about, dialogue that flows well, a decent plot–it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll move onto something else. Part of the reason is my ADD (undiagnosed, but it sure feels like it) and part of it is that I write in short bursts, before work or between online teaching sessions. At least, it used to be that way. A few months before our house fire–so last April–I began writing less and less. After the fire, I stopped almost completely. Up until then, I had written primarily poetry, and had amassed a decent list of publication credits. But then the poetry stopped flowing, and I took a break.
I actually did more than take a break. I killed my first blog–writingforghosts.com–and killed my first music site, too. I wanted to disappear. I suppose the feelings were linked to the fire and being displaced. Now that we’re quarantined and my kids’ lives have been completely transformed and my wife is working from home, I’m going through another spiritual shedding of skin. But it’s okay. I don’t have to spiritually destroy anything else. I just need to accept things as they are and adapt, which is always difficult for me. I’m not exactly a go-with-the-flow-guy.
I’ll mention here in passing that I’m in recovery, and that I blog about it here. So all these internal changes happen in relation to my alcoholism. This site, as it was previously, is for creative writing. Just know that much of my work, if not all of it, is informed or at least touched by my ongoing recovery from alcoholism.
Below is part of a story I began more than ten years ago. I dug up the file this morning to see if there was any spark still left in the story, and there was. It’s small, but it’s there. I’m going to try my best to finish it. I gave it a once-over for grammar and typos, but probably missed some things. Here’s part one:
Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s absence, and it rippled through the trailer park like electricity. He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstance. There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.
And this time, things felt much different. Worse. Ed could taste it with every breath, every beat of his heart. A fundamental shift had taken place.
His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week. Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor. What good did that do? He was a contractor, for God’s sake. Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying. He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel. He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place. Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house. It was one thing Martha dug at him about; his apathy toward the work needed to his own house. “I swear, it’s worse than the cobbler’s kids with no shoes,” she’d gripe. “When are you gonna fix the bathroom?”
“I’m not a plumber, Mart,” Ed replied, using the name Martha hated the most. “Mart,” she’d spit, “like I’m a Wal-Mart or something.” Ed had once rejoined with, “Well, you’re as big as one,” which earned him a punch in the eye.
“You could fix it and you know it,” Martha replied, ignoring the nickname. “You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”
If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she? The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives in Robinson county. Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum. He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.
Maybe he was good for nothing except hammering two pieces of wood together. Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.
But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened. Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.
The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins, aged twenty two.
“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150. “How many fucking rocks did you put in there?”
“You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the car door and peering around the darkness of the lake. “I hope no one’s out here.”
Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily. “Too cold. Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty. And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”
“What if we get caught?”
“We won’t get caught if we hurry. Come on and give me a hand.”
The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging. Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and after bobbing around like ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.
Martha sighed. “Well, that’s that.”
Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind. “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”
“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”
“What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”
Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette. After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly. And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door. She was dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.” She paused to take a drag on her cigarette. “Nah, Georgia’s enjoying the flames of Hell right about now.”
Jilly shook her head. “I don’t know, Martha. Maybe we shouldn’t have—”
Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air. Jilly gasped and jumped back. “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do when you’re alone. Don’t try to drag me down, too. I’m right as rain with what we did.”
“All right. Can I bum one of those?”
Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack. “I guess you need a light, too?”
“I thought you quit.”
The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp. “I’m starting back now.”
Ed was about to nod off sitting in front the TV when someone started banging on the door. He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock. It was midnight, and still no Martha. Unless she’d locked herself out again. But no, because she would be screaming his name
Ed polished off the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door. He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong de ja vue that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.
“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue. Under the sallow front porch light, the girl that had been Georgia Jenkins sobbed uncontrollably. Her lip was split in several places, he left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant. Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.
“Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.
Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket. “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom. He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief. “You want some water? Maybe something stronger?”
Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam. Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls. She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch. “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice. “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”
Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and waited nearly a full minute before saying, “You wife. And Jilly. They did this.”
Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—none of them good—but a murderer?
“Fuck you!” Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder. “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed! They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake! I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”
As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated. She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair. “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”
“But…why?” Ed’s ability didn’t give him insight into Martha’s reasoning, though in the back of his mind she thought he could sense her red-hot anger…and something else. Jealously?
Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh. “Why? Because they’re lunatics. And because of what I did with Jilly’s husband.
Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was become more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone. Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia. And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it?
“Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about us having a fling, and I won’t either,” Georgia sighed and took another drink. “After a few more of these I’m gonna want you to pop this shoulder back in. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Ed said. “Okay.”
Georgia stared at her bloodied palms. “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else. You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit. But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”
Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain. “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up. She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body. “And I’m gonna want some clothes.”
Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam. He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry. “You ready?”
“As ready as I can be.”
Then three things happened: Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door.