This post is part one of a half-written novel I started for NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. I don't really know where to go from where I left off but I'm putting it out there just because. Published in parts because blogger is an ass hat.
Chapter One: Awkward Introductions
My name is Juliet Maywether and I am 48 years old. I grew up in a city known as Windhaven, a small community of about five thousand residents somewhere in the middle of California. I was born in Windhaven and I was prepared to die in Windhaven because life outside of it's tree-lined walls seemed impossibly far away and impossibly uninteresting. My sole purpose was to work in the business my family founded. I was mostly home-schooled and as a result, I passed the California high school equivalency exam at the age of 16. While most of my peers were anticipating first relationships, first cars, and first dances I was neck deep in paperwork and I very much liked it that way.
Someone in my family moved to California and started a bookkeeping firm in 1934. There was something about war money and something about needing someone good with numbers. My ancestor, whose name has been lost to time and bureaucracy, was apparently good enough with numbers to not only satisfy the original client but also good enough to quickly establish a client base from all over the state. Even people in Hollywood visited the family office. I remember seeing people showing up with private drivers and fancy cars and thinking nothing of it. I suppose if I had been paying attention, I would have known how much influence my family had on the world.
I had access to the internet as part of my bookkeeping duties but I never bothered to explore it. Social networking and popular entertainment were completely lost on me. I didn't even own a television. Mom didn't like TV and dad didn't exist (as far as I knew) so there was no questioning the decision. Our house was on the outskirts of town. Even if we wanted to be plugged in, it was likely that there was no service available. If I could turn back the clock, I might have told myself to plug in just a little bit more.
By the time I was 36, I had twenty years of bookkeeping experience. I was a senior member of the firm and was trusted with the most important accounts. The only thing that mattered to me was the numbers. Names and faces never entered into the equations. I spent twelve hours of each day in a dimly-lit cubicle with at first an adding machine and various notebooks and later a computer with the latest number-crunching software. The remaining time was devoted to meals, sleeping periodically and keeping up with current accounting rules and regulations. I also maintained a vegetable garden that kept mom and I pretty well-fed most of the year.
Except for lessons and work-related conversation, I kept to myself. Mom always said I delayed talking for as long as possible because it meant I wasn't expected to talk to anyone. Being in such a small community does have it's advantages. I was just an odd child and later an odd adult. There wasn't a need for any type of diagnosis because in my family, I fit in just fine. I remember taking accountancy lessons from my very stern grandmother and being told that I chatter too much because I had a habit of tapping my pencil when I did figures.
Our house was a stoic two story affair surrounded by the aforementioned garden and beyond that a grove of pine trees older than the city itself. For as long as I can remember, I occupied the entire second story. My home life didn't seem abnormal to me. People at work didn't ask questions because most of them were related to me in some way. I walked every day the roughly two miles into town to the office. At first, it was a single building surrounded by homes. Eventually, the office became the principle tenant in an over-sized strip mall. Mom often commented that there were more people in our office than in any of the stores.
For twenty years I lived my life in perfect beige bliss. I didn't worry about money even though it was my job to worry about money on other people's behalf. I didn't fear bad news or natural disaster. When grandma died, she was surrounded by her family and co-workers and passed without fanfare after a silent but lengthy illness. It was expected, it was proper. She lived to be over 90 years old although I never found out the exact number.
The day everything changed I can never forget, even though I have spent the last twelve years trying to.
Chapter Two: It Begins with an Ending
February 4th, 2002 was unusually cold, even for the time of year. I remember a light dusting of snow covering the road to work but the sky was clear. I wore an extra sweater under my jacket and even though I seemed to walk quicker than usual, I was still cold when I reached the office. I was troubled that day on my usually tranquil walk. Mom, who usually never spoke during breakfast, as she preferred to start work at the office, mentioned something about feeling unwell and that she might stay home. My fork paused halfway to my mouth and the echo of soft egg bits dripping to my plate thundered in my ears. I didn't know what to say and so I said nothing.
“Don't worry,” mom said, noticing my hesitation, “I'll phone the doctor. Please make sure Henry finalizes the Anderson account today.”
Please make sure Henry finalizes the Anderson account today. I hear her voice over and over inside my head. Please make sure Henry finalizes the Anderson account today.
Mom was the type of person who would go to work on her deathbed. Grandma was that way too, as was her mother. At the time, I was praised for having the same work ethic. My grandmother often said “Accountancy waits for no illness.” My grandmother never really retired. When her illness kept her bed-ridden, I would bring her books to review and figures to calculate. She kept an adding machine on a table beside her bed. The day mom spoke at breakfast was an interruption to a routine that had existed long before I was born.
The first half of the day went smoothly. I let Henry know what was going on as soon as I walked in the door. He was tending to the coffee pot, as he saw it as part of his duties and he always happened to arrive at the office first. Mom used to make the long walk with me but stopped shortly after my 30th birthday. It was winter and she complained that the long time spent in the cold was making it so she had trouble with adding machines. Even when computers became common place, she preferred to do her figuring the old-fashioned way. She usually arrived as soon as the coffee was finished brewing.
Henry looked up from his work and furrowed his bushy brow. “Not feeling well, you say? Are you sure?”
“I know what I heard, Henry,” I replied sternly as I sat at the break room table. Henry poured two cups of coffee.
“So, the Anderson account.” Henry began and we started work for the day. The job was finished just in time for lunch. I walked across the street to the pizza place and ordered my usual slice of pepperoni pizza and a large iced tea. I walked back across the street and as I opened the office door, I noticed an ambulance rolling by slowly, going towards the hospital. In the rare event of an emergency, the ambulance always traveled in that direction with it's lights on. Why weren't the lights on? Why was it going so slow?
It was 12:31 when the phone rang. No one called between the hours of noon and 1 P.M. Even though it wasn't officially posted, it was considered courtesy not to call during lunch hour. We talked about work during lunch hour but it was our prerogative.
“Maywether Tax and Bookkeeping,” Henry concealed his annoyance expertly. I silently sipped my iced tea.
“Are you sure? When you arrived? I don't know if I should be the one to...well what do you expect me to say?”
After mumbling something else I couldn't hear, Henry slowly hung up the phone. I could hear him polish his glasses slowly. “Juliet, could you come in here please?”
I didn't know what to do. I stared down at my half eaten pizza, straw dangling from my mouth. I felt the blood drain from my face. I may have blacked out. I didn't know what Henry was about to say but the very fact that something in my ordered universe was different filled me with a terror that I had never experienced before.
After a few minutes, Henry sighed and walked with his barely noticeable limp back into the break room. He pulled out a chair across from mine and sat, the chair creaking under his large frame.
“It...it's your mother, Juliet. She's taken ill. They took her to the hospital but there isn't anything they can do...”
“How?” I asked flatly.
“I don't know. They wont say. They want you to go to the hospital right away.”
“I can't right now. It isn't closing time.” At this point it was just quarter til one.
“I can tend to things here. You tend to your mother.”
I stood up and left the office with the intention of going to the hospital. I was going to go to my mother, comfort her, figure out what happened. Maybe I could do something to help, but my head was full of numbers. I couldn't focus on anything else. I wasn't a doctor, not even close.
I walked in the opposite direction of the hospital and eventually ended up at home. I calmly unlocked the door and stepped into the cold abyss. I didn't turn on any lights as I slowly walked upstairs. I somewhat remember falling down on to my bed with my shoes on and staring at the ceiling. I felt a sense of sinking numbness that I couldn't quite quantify. At some point after sunset, the phone started to ring. Eventually I managed to tune it out.
I don't know how many days passed before Henry showed up. He didn't bother to knock, he never did. “Juliet!” he called from downstairs. No matter the circumstances, he never would have come up uninvited.
I shambled to the stairs, staring past Henry to the blinding sunrise. I must have looked like shit. Henry seemed visibly shaken.
“Juliet you realize it's been three days. The hospital and I have been ringing you off the hook!”
“What took you so long?” I mumbled.
“Your mother said you needed time. Too much time, I'm afraid. She's dead, Juliet.”
I may have muttered a curse word. I may have made some sort of grunting noise. All I can recall is that I wandered to the bathroom and grabbed a handful of my mom's Oxycontin. She always had it around although I never quite knew why. I always figured it helped her with her job because it helped me with mine. I had been taking pills off the top of her prescription since I was 17. Accountancy was stressful, especially to one so young. I swallowed the pills with water from the sink and wandered back to my bed. I laid there for what seemed hours, waiting for the nightmare to simply cease to exist.
Chapter Three: Cousin Molly
I woke up a week later in the hospital. From what people tell me, there was something involving stomach pumps and Henry shouting at the doctor. I asked him what possible purpose yelling at the doctor would serve but he never did explain.
It a little past 6 PM and so it was dark. Someone had turned the lights in the room completely off. Shadows danced on the walls, illuminated by the light of several LEDs attached to beeping and squawking equipment. I had a pounding headache and wished all the buzzing would shut up, if only for a minute. A nurse walked by in a hurry and then turned around quickly and poked her head into the room. “Oh goodness me, you're awake!” She scuttled off before I could reply.
“No shit,” I grumbled to her fleeing backside.
Henry appeared soon after and unceremoniously turned on the light. I was blinded by a thousand watts of pure agony. After a few minutes of confusion, I quipped “Was that really necessary?”
“You've caused quite the commotion, young lady,” was all he had to say. I glared back at him, insulted at his somewhat ageist comment. At that moment, I had forgotten Henry was at least thirty years my senior.
“So, what now?”
Henry fussed with his glasses and shifted back and forth. His bad foot must have been bothering him. “I'm not sure. This contingency was prepared for but I never thought that...” His voice caught in his throat.
“The company will be fine. The company is always fine.” I repeated my grandmother's words.
“I'm worried about you, Juliet. You need time.”
I flailed my arms. An IV popped out and blood started to drip angrily on to the floor below. Somewhere, an alarm sounded. “What I fucking NEED is to go back to work,” I sputtered. A nurse came flying into the room and caught my arm in mid-air. With a swift motion, she replaced the IV and taped it off. For some reason, my arm started to ache.
“You have a cousin in San Francisco. I think you should go visit her for a while.” It sounded like an order. I didn't care much for orders. I didn't care much for my cousin in San Francisco, either. To be fair, I didn't know very much about her. Mom would complain that her brother should have stayed in Windhaven and kept up with the family business. My grandmother often said that her son wasn't quite right. I personally thought that anyone in the family who would abandon Windhaven and our business should just stay gone. One day when I was about 10, mom got a letter from her brother saying that he had married and had a baby girl on the way. He wanted my mother and grandmother to be part of the girl's life but after they found out she had no talent for accountancy, they completely cut ties.
I heard somewhere that Molly was an actress or a dancer or some sort of entertainer. Between my mother, grandmother and my own conclusions, I was in no way interested in visiting for five minutes much less “a while,” whatever that meant. Henry wasn't in the habit of giving orders even though he was second in the office only to my mother. His tone suggested that no matter how much I wanted to argue, the decision was final.
I looked up from the sore spot on my arm and noticed that Henry and the nurse had left. They left the damned light on, though.
After two more whirlwind days of doctors and psychiatrists, everything had been settled unbeknownst to myself. My salary had been deposited to a bank account and hadn't been touched in all the years I had been working. Mom took care of the shopping for food and I didn't participate in any format of leisure activity. It was determined that I should take a break from life and let Henry worry over the office. I always planned that my mother would live to advanced age and that by that time, I would be ready to take over just like mom did when grandma passed away. Even though I knew it was my duty, I wasn't ready to make life and death decisions for the entire company. I started to think that maybe everyone was right and that I should occupy myself with something else.
By the time everything settled, it was the 1st of March and the first signs of spring were in the air. I stood at the bus terminal with my hands in my pockets. I hadn't felt warm since that cold February walk. The ride to San Francisco was only two and a half hours, not long enough to get any sleep but too long to simply stare out the window the entire time. Henry had given me a book on European economics that had intended to read on the journey but for some reason the last thing I wanted to think about was economics.
I ended up staring out the window the whole way. California blends together like an amorphous blob until you reach the ocean. I had never seen the ocean before and when the bus came within sight of the beach, it was sunset. At that moment, I wondered how I had gone my entire life without seeing the sun set over the ocean. All those colors, all those patterns in the clouds with the wind kissing the water and teasing it into the sky, it was almost too much. I wanted to close my eyes and plug my ears but at the same time I couldn't tear myself away.
“Beautiful, isn't it?” The old woman in the seat next to me had noticed my awkward stare.
“I...I don't know how to describe it,” I said, dumbfounded.
“Why, dear it's as if you've never seen the sun set over the ocean before!” She joked. I didn't have the heart to tell her that her assumption was correct.
The bus station in San Francisco was within walking distance of Molly's apartment. I could have hired a taxi ten times over with the money I had in my pocket, but I didn't see the point of paying someone for something I could do myself. I arrived at the address and was somewhat annoyed to find out that Molly's apartment was on the top floor of a twelve story building. I hate heights and I hate elevators even more. I secured my backpack and prepared for the long walk to the top.
Before I could take a step, I was assaulted by a random hug. The smell of cheap perfume and lip gloss made me choke slightly and I felt my eyes begin to water. “OH! MY! GOD! Juliet, you made it!” This, was apparently Molly.
Chapter 4: Tortilla Chips
I extricated myself from Molly's grasp and took a step back. In front of me was a picture of stunning beauty and utter ridiculousness. Her hair was the same murky blonde as mine but that's where the similarities ended. Her face was covered in a fine dusting of make-up, subtle but obvious. She had on a pink track suit but it was obvious that it had been ironed. I blinked rapidly, trying to get the perfume stink out of my eyes. I absentmindedly rubbed a smear of make-up off my cheek.
“You look just like your pictures!” she exclaimed after a long silence.
“Who else would I look like?” I asked, seriously. I never understood why people were surprised that people looked like pictures of themselves.
“Oh, you're so silly! Come on up, the elevator is broken so we'll have to take the stairs.” She seemed unhappy at the prospect. I couldn't have been more pleased.
Molly chattered the entire way to the top pausing only to hear my mumbled answers to her questions. Yes, this was my first time in San Francisco. Yes, this was in fact my first time traveling anywhere outside of Windhaven. No, Windhaven doesn't have a nightclub. Why would it have a nightclub? It's principle business was an accountancy agency. Accountants don't frequent nightclubs. Yes, it snows in the winter and gets kind of hot in the summer. No, I've never seen a bear.
We got to Molly's apartment, 12B. Each floor had four apartments, A through D. They were unusually large. A quick glance around told me that her apartment was bigger than the entire second story of mom's house. I didn't think apartments could be that big. I was always told that apartments were obscenely tiny because only poor people lived in apartments and that they didn't need that much space.
“The other bedroom is in the back, last door on the right.” Molly's chipper voice snapped me out of my thoughts. I quickly made my way to the door and nervously peered inside. I had never been inside another person's home before, with the exception of Henry's home on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The room contained a bed, a nightstand and a desk. A bathroom was attached to the wall opposite the large window. There didn't seem to be any way to get to the bathroom other than through the main room. My own bathroom, another first. This whole nonsense seemed to be full of firsts. I noted that the spartan furnishings, lack of wall coverings, and plain drapes covering the window were exactly what made a room inviting to me. I was sure someone (likely Henry) told Molly that I couldn't stand decorated rooms. The rest of the apartment was covered in some sort of bizarre artwork. Spirals, bright colors and images of the surreal flowed from every orifice. This room was a stark departure from the rest of the house. I didn't think it was a coincidence.
“Take a load off and come out here,” I heard Molly call from the living room “I'm making guacamole!”
I hastily tossed my backpack onto the bed and walked to the kitchen. I was suddenly in the middle of a wall of an overpowering odor. Mom never cooked with anything other than salt and pepper and I didn't remember eating much of any vegetable that didn't grow in our garden. “Guaca-mo-lay?” I asked, perplexed.
“Guacamole. Tortilla chips. You've never had guacamole?” Molly seemed more confused than I was. “Well, I don't claim to be the master but people tell me my cooking is OK.” She set a large bowl of green sludge on the dining room table. It had orange bits and yellow bits and it smelled like fruity vegetables. I cautiously approached the bowl and sniffed the air. The smell was overpowering but it wasn't unpleasant.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” I asked. It looked far too gooey to simply eat with my hands but I didn't see any utensils anywhere. I was starting to wonder if Molly had utensils at all. In mom's house there were only three sets and when grandma passed away, we only kept two sets. Mom didn't like dirty things piling up in sinks.
“Oh good LORD,” Molly playfully chided. I felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment. “You take a chip like this, and dip it in. Then you eat it like so.” In one swift motion, she grabbed a chip, filled it with the semi-liquid substance, and then shoved it in her mouth. “See,” she said in between bites, “Easy peasy!”
“OK then.” I said, preparing myself mentally for the procedure. I carefully mimicked Molly's actions and managed to get the chip halfway to my mouth before sending a shower of goo all over the front of my sweatshirt. “Son of a fuck,” I sputtered “Now I've made a goddamned mess!”
“No no no no no,” Molly came to the rescue with a napkin, “It's OK. Try again and don't worry about your sweatshirt, we have a washer and dryer in here.”
After a few minutes of obsessive napkin blotting, I attempted the procedure again. I managed to get the chip into my mouth without spilling anything. The cacophony of tastes hit me like a semi truck. There were sweet flavors and spicy flavors and some sort of buttery texture flavor. I chewed slowly, not believing what my taste buds were telling me. I closed my eyes and let myself get lost in the moment. Food had never made me feel so alive.
“Is it good?” Molly had quickly become an expert at getting me to re-focus.
“I...uh...I suppose it is.” I managed. I realized then that I had no idea what good food really was like. That's not to say that mom didn't do a fine job of making meals but at that point I wondered why all of her cooking had been unbelievably dull. I successfully repeated the process a few more times before finally asking, “What exactly is in this stuff?”
“Oh nothing too fancy. Just avocados, mangoes, some peppers and spices. Pretty simple, really.” I was fairly sure I knew what peppers were but everything else was foreign to me.
“I could eat this for the rest of my life,” I said in between mouth fulls.
“This is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg,” Molly smiled. I wondered how she could smile so easily. “We'll go out exploring tomorrow and I'll show you some REAL food!”
What could possibly more real than guacamole?