I’m not sure if I’m the only writer who suffers this, but I very much doubt it. I’m talking about the in-between, the void between projects. I finished the fourth book in my crazy writing streak, and I’ve even gone back and done the first revision on one of them. But now I find myself drifting, and I’m not sure which way to go.

When that happens, I’m not good for much of anything besides housework, which is why my laundry is almost caught up and my kitchen is clean. But my brain is mush. Little spurts happen, and possible future books are born, but I can’t commit to anything. I think I must be addicted to the first draft process, because I’m having withdrawals and needing desperately to throw myself into a new world.

Today when I woke up I had a clear picture in my mind of a book I’d love to write but that didn’t fit into my typical style. I can be a grammar Nazi, which I think I’ve said here before. But I started it anyway. Something to get my fingers moving and let out some of the bottled up tension in my head. Here’s the result. I don’t know if it will ever get any longer. Many of my in-between bursts never take off.




I’m hammering away at the cart when she passes by, and she’s so pretty, and I’m so distracted that I’m in danger of smashing my thumb. But I’ve learned to abandon whatever task is at hand when she’s near, so the hammer only falls lightly onto my left thumb, because my right hand has opened up and dropped it.

Her eyes are on me, blue eyes, but sometimes I swear they’re purple, and today they certainly seem so. In fact I’m sure of it. They’re purple, like the flowers on my mother’s favorite tree, and that pink dress she’s wearing could be the sunset behind them. She’s past me now, and all I see is her long blond hair, straight all the way down to her waist, and then spirals at the bottom as if she’s straightened all she can and has to let the ends do whatever they want to.

She looks back at me over her shoulder, which I know she’s going to do, because she always does it. And I’m waiting for it, actually, before I dare to pick up anything I could hit myself with. And I can tell even from the side that she’s smiling, but then she’s turned around again, and it’s safe to get back to work. But I don’t. I watch until she turns down the dirt road toward her home. And then I watch a little longer, because I can see a speck that I’m pretty sure is her.

Only then do I pick up my hammer and choose a new nail, because the one I’d intended to hit has fallen into the grass, and I’m too lazy to dig around for it. And now I’m humming, and I don’t even know what song it is, but I like it. It makes me think of the sunset, of quitting time, of purple flowers. And then I realize that boys don’t think about purple flowers, so I shove that image out of my mind and admit the truth to myself.

“I love Selena. Dang it if I don’t.” Which though I’m not singing, sounds like a song in my head, and then I’m humming again, and this time her name slips out on the best notes.

And then I hit my thumb.

But the cart is finished, which is good, because I’m tired of hitting my thumb. And it was a small job anyway, a “Picky Pete,” as my father calls it, which means that I have a tendency to do jobs that don’t have to be done, and he’s actually named the tendency after me. Pete. But it did need to be done, no matter what anyone says. I like for all the boards to lie down flat. It’s easier to slide heavy things across it that way. Picky Pete, likes things neat.

“Pete and Selena,” I say to myself as I put the hammer back into the tool box and clasp the rusted latches, and it makes me smile. And I imagine that one day I won’t be hammering boards in place on my father’s cart anymore, but instead I’ll be building a house, and Selena will be there telling me exactly how big she wants the porch and what color she wants it painted. And I’ll do whatever she asks, because as long as she’s near I won’t be able to do anything else.

Before I leave I check all the connections between my horse and the cart, which haven’t changed while we’ve been still, but I do it anyway. I can’t help it. But then I hear something and know what it is before I look up. She’s coming back, which she never does so soon after going home, and I realize she must not have made it home at all. She hasn’t had time. So I look at her, only because I can’t help it, and she’s staring at the ground, which she certainly never does.

I hear a sniffle. I know it’s come from her, because there’s no one else there except me and Boss, and Boss doesn’t sniffle. He snorts, which he does exactly when I think of it, and that makes Selena look up, but only for a moment. Only long enough for her realize I’ve seen her face and for me to realize that her face is wet, which makes every muscle in my body go rigid. Selena is crying, and that means that somewhere between her home and my farm, someone needs to be pounded, and I’m just the man for the job.

On mornings like this one, it’s hard to imagine pounding anyone. It’s hazy outside because the dew has lifted in the warmth, but it’s not quite hot enough to burn it up. A gray day, which makes most people move a little slower and maybe miss details that normally stand out in the sun. But there’s no missing the tears on Selena’s pale cheeks, and there’s no missing that she’s coming straight toward me as if she doesn’t even mind that I’ve seen her crying.

Of course she doesn’t mind. She’s a girl, and though it’s not an opinion I’m likely to get much agreement on, I happen to believe that girls are braver than boys, at least about things like this. Sometimes I think I’d like to cry, but I’m too chicken to do it, and I’d never show it if I did. But here she comes, cheeks shimmering softly in the haze, eyes like hooks that pull me toward the fence in my ungraceful steps that I can’t help because I’m built for heavy labor.

I’d wipe those tears away if I wasn’t afraid my rough hands would scratch her perfect skin. Or that she’d run, and then I wouldn’t know the words to bring her back, and I’d never see her glance over her shoulder at me again with that sideways smile that seems invented only for me. I’m at the fence now, and she’s there too, on the other side, leaning against the post I put in the ground myself not a year ago on a day nothing like this one. A day with enough sun to turn my shoulders red and bake a pound of sweat out of my skin.

But I’m not sweating today, thankfully, so her nose doesn’t turn up as I approach, and I’m not sure it would anyway, because she’s much too sweet to do it. And that makes me wonder if maybe I do stink and she’s just not showing it. But no, it’s too early. If I smell like anything, it’s bacon, and no one hates that smell. And I can’t smell even bacon, because there’s a breeze, and it’s lifted her hair and carried the scent of it into my nostrils, and once again I see flowers in my mind, and I would hum again, but she’s looking at me.

I swallow. And she keeps looking at me, and the tears have slowed, but one is still there, and my hand comes up without my permission. And she doesn’t run, but I’ve stopped moving, because I’ve never touched her before, and I’m not sure it’s okay to do it. But she sniffles again, and that makes me feel like I’ve touched Mr. Anderson’s fence, and now my muscles will do what they want to, because that’s what happens when you’re electrocuted.

I take that tear, and she may as well be a statue, because she doesn’t move at all. And then we both jump, because Boss has snorted again, and we’ve been standing so still we’ve forgotten to breathe, and we both suck in air at the same time. And I realize that she’s waiting for something, maybe for me to help her, so I blurt out the words before I can change my mind.

“What happened?”

She closes her eyes, and another tear comes loose, and since I’m feeling bold after my last success I take that one too, and now my fingertip is cool and wet. But I don’t wipe it off. I don’t know why, but I can’t, and I think maybe it’s because I don’t want her to think anything about her needs to be wiped away, even if one finger is cooler than the others, and I can hardly stand it. So I let it dry on its own, which I’m sure will take a long time, since the air is wetter today than normal.

Then I get the idea to rub it between my fingers, all of them, and then I feel more balanced, and I can think again and form new words.

“Did somebody hurt you?”

That startles her. I know this, because her eyes grow too large, and she gasps. “No,” she says. “It’s something I’ve done.”

That surprises me so much that I frown, and then she looks away, and I’m sure it’s because she thinks I don’t approve, even though I don’t even know what she’s done to upset herself. And then I’m feeling helpless because I have no one to pound and I’ve made her sadder. My fingers have dried, and they’re starting to warm up, and even though I hate that cool feeling I wish it was back, because it made me feel connected to her, and now it’s gone.

And she’s not looking at me anymore. And whatever it was inside me that made me feel strong before is gone, and now I feel useless and frightened, and I think that maybe I should have stayed by my cart and left her alone. But I can’t wish I did, because she’s still there, leaning on my post, and I think to myself that I’m glad I put it deep in the ground, because I know it won’t fall over, and so neither will she. I’m holding her up, and she doesn’t know it, and that makes me feel strong again, if in a different way.

She turns around then and looks at me, and she speaks, and I watch her lips move, full pink lips that wrap each word up like a gift, and her voice fills my head, and her smell makes me dizzy, so I’m not sure what she said for just a moment. But then all the pieces of my brain finally line up, and her words make sense.

“I’ve lost my mother’s ring.”

My heart twists, because her mother is dead, and Selena has worn that ring every day since it happened, and I know how much it means to her. And then she cries again, and it’s all I can do not to jump the fence and hold her.


~ by Rachel McMahon on December 2, 2011.

One Response to “In-between”

  1. even better the 3rd read.

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