Preview from Chapter 12

Asher Coaches Georgie on Bullies:

My father came in twenty minutes later, smelling of wood smoke from the Banks’s fireplace and the ink from the printing machine in Tillman. He pulled my desk chair toward the bed, turned it around backwards, and straddled it. I saw the pipe-shaped bulge in his shirt pocket and realized I hadn’t seen the pipe in his mouth in a long time. Maybe it had become to him like my lucky rabbit foot had become to me, something I didn’t need anymore. There were purple smudges on my father’s fingers. He saw me notice.

“I had a fight with the mimeograph machine, but I won,” he said with a grin. Then his face grew serious. “Georgie, your mother told me about your conversation, about your–eh problem with the McGee boy. I’d like to help.” He looked down at his hands.  “Shakespeare said–”

I groaned and covered my face with the French book. “Oh, Dad! The bard can’t solve every problem.”

“No, but his work spoke to almost every human condition. All I was going to say is ‘To thine own self be true.’”

The words washed over me. “I get it, Dad. I know I should stand up to Kelly, but he makes me feel so bad . . . so ugly and small,” I said miserably. “He has since I was about eight.”

“I’m sorry for that, sweet pea. I wish you had told your mother and me. Bullies lash out at others to try and redeem their self-worth. You have to learn not to play his game,” he said with a wink and tapped his temple with a finger.  “Make him play yours,” he added, punctuating his words with pokes to my knee.

“What game?”

“There are things you can put in your toolbox, words you can practice saying, gestures you can learn to use.” He shifted in the chair and lifted his chin. “Cite me an example of something Kelly’s said to you.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “He used to call me Georgie Porgie, you know from the nursery rhyme. Then he started calling me Georgie Porkie, like I’m fat.”

“Clearly you are not fat, Georgie,” my father said. “You know better than that.”

“I know. But he thinks I am.” I sucked my bottom lip in and held it between my teeth.

“He doesn’t think you’re fat. He’s just trying to find . . . a tender spot, one he can prod. To get your goat. You must stop considering Kelly’s opinions. They mean nothing.”

“I know,” I answered glumly.

“Look at me, sweet pea. Here’s where you’ll start: when McGee approaches you roll your eyes, or let out a big yawn as if he’s the most boring person in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Don’t let him see your discomfort. Turn your back on him and walk away.”

“But one time at school he cornered me on the stairs. I couldn’t get past. He was looming over me like Bella Lugosi, like he was about to bite my neck.”

“I’d like to wallop the little shit for that,” my father said making a fist of his right hand and wrapping it with his left. I’d heard my father say shit a few times, but never right in front of me. “If that ever happens again, you push past and say, you’re wasting my time, or I’m not interested in your opinion.”

“Maybe we can write that down so I can remember.”

“Absolutely. How about Thursday morning while your mother’s cooking Thanksgiving dinner? Is it a date?”

“It’s a date,” I said.

My father rose and replaced the desk chair. He stretched his back, and considered the poster of Robert Redford above my head. “I thought Butch Cassidy was supposed to be the handsomer of the two.”

I returned his grin. “Nope. The Kid.”

“As handsome as Truman Parker?” he teased.

“Not that handsome,” I said.

“Truman’s a fine boy. Smart, too. He chose you, didn’t he?” My father cupped my cheek in one hand. “You are beautiful, daughter, like your mother. I should tell you that more often.” He kissed my brow. “Good night, sweet pea.”

“Good night, Daddy.” I hadn’t called him Daddy in a long time.

He moved to the door.

“And Dad? ‘Boldness be my friend.’”

Setting inspirations!

Photos of The Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN, that inspired the setting and many scenes in GEORGIE GIRL.

 

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The “tunnel” under the old tower, the setting of Georgie and Truman’s first kiss.

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The view from the porch of “the science building” where fictitious Clover Kane walks on the railing.

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Wintry rear view of the building where Georgie and her family live. Called Hampton Hall in the novel.

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View, from the science building porch, of “Hampton Circle” where Georgie’s salons are held. The door to Georgie’s apartment in “Hampton Hall” is on very right edge.

Can You Relate? A teaser from “the babysitting scene.”

While Miss Suzette clucked over instructions for mixing formula, Mr. Cal jiggled pretty Victoria up and down, talking about her first two teeth as if nothing untoward had ever happened between him and Lacey. David Brinkley reported the news from the living room TV: Charles Manson had been sentenced to death for the Tate LaBianca murders. Miss Suzette looked briefly toward the set.

“Good,” she said, snapping her pocketbook shut. “Now Victoria goes down at seven-thirty with a bottle. We should be home by eight-thirty, right honey?” she looked to Mr. Cal.

“We should if we get a move on,” he said, his dark brows raised. He lit a cigarette. Miss Suzette left a lipstick print on one of Victoria’s fine brows and handed her to Lacey. “She’s been so happy all afternoon,” she said.

Miss Suzette’s parting words were still hanging in the air as Victoria’s face darkened. She began to shriek. Lacey rocked her, swaying side to side the way Miss Suzette did. She surrendered Victoria to me.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked. The baby’s face was crimson, her cry rising to a bonafide caterwaul. I held her little body—as rigid as a two-by-four—close to me. Then the stench of poop supplanted the acrid odor of cigarette smoke in the apartment.

“Here, you take her,” I said.

“Ha! No way,” Lacey said. “She who holds her changes her.”

“Hopefully that’s what’s wrong with her,” I said wrinkling my nose. “I’ll do it. Ronnie hated poop in his diaper.” I walked to the nursery holding Victoria away from me as though she might explode. On the changing table, she wailed on, thrashing from side to side. Between Lacey and me, we managed to remove the rank cloth, clean her bottom, and pin a fresh diaper in place without impaling her.

“I feel like I just wrestled a crocodile!” Lacey said, pinching the diaper and dropping it into an evil smelling soaking pail.

I picked the baby up. And just like that her face smoothed and cleared. I expected a rainbow to cross her features. She cooed and patted my cheeks.

“Aww, look, Lace. She’s so sweet.”

I kissed Victoria and regarded the nursery for the first time. The room was a surprise: expensively decorated and fancy. Sumptuous fabrics—pinks, creams, and a yellow so buttery I expected it to come off on my fingers—covered every surface except the dresser. The top looked like the silver section of an antique shop—ornate picture frames, a brush and comb, a Christening cup, a bunny piggy bank. Only lovely dreams could be dreamed in such a room. Lacey began to snoop. She peered inside the closet.

“Wow, Victoria has more clothes than we do.”

I carried the baby back to the living room where a blanket pallet scattered with toys was laid. Victoria sat and looked expectantly at me.

“Come play with us,” I called. “What are you doing back there?”

“I haven’t found anything good yet. I looked in their bedside tables last time. Not even a diaphragm,” Lacey said dejectedly. I heard her opening and closing dresser drawers. Victoria rocked forward and back on hands and knees; trying to reach the cloth duck I danced in her path.

“C’mon, Lace.”

Lacey came in and turned the TV station to The Brady Bunch. We played with Victoria and laughed at Jan on TV wearing a brunette wig. At quarter past seven I heated a bottle while Lacey changed the baby a final time. Victoria went down without a peep, pansy eyes at half-mast, her bud-like fists unfurling. “Sleep well, little love,” I said softly and covered her with an embroidered coverlet.

We pulled a couple of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies from the box on the counter. Lacey resumed her investigations, poking through the kitchen drawers. I plopped down on the sofa and began folding a basket of baby laundry. The Partridge Family was coming on. C’mon get happy! Lacey noticed a door in the wall behind the sofa. She scooched behind the sofa and opened the door. “Wow.”

I twisted to look. Stacks and stacks of magazines covered the shelves of a walk-in closet. There must have been five hundred spines! “What magazines do they have?” I asked. Lacey pulled one from a shelf at eye level. Her face grew still.

She held the magazine out between her thumb and forefinger as if it might bite. Playboy! “Oh my gosh, Lacey.” I was on my feet, forgetting all about Laurie Partridge heading on a date with a biker named Snake. Of course we knew about dirty magazines. In theory. We’d seen them behind the counter, high up on the rack, in filling stations. Once at school in seventh grade, a boy named Chet Sanders had passed around a page torn from a Playboy: a supine woman, boobs as big around as her face. The wrinkled page landed on the girls’ lunch table at noon. We jumped up, squealing as if a boulder had been dropped into a pool of acid. Coach Crenshaw, on duty and nibbling on a stalk of celery, confiscated the page and Chet Sanders’s free time.

 

A Sweet Excerpt from In Robin’s Nest

I love the chapters in which Robin is rearing Lark, alone, in their first NYC apartment.

As I turned on the lamps, I thought about how much I loved our little home. Since that first hectic year, I’d papered the kitchen in a cheerful yellow geometric pattern and put up crisp white café curtains. I’d had the old, worn green linoleum ripped up and replaced with a classic black-and-white square pattern. I sorted through the mail and then stuck a finger in the soil of the jade plant that spilled like a weeping willow by the front window.

“Lark, please come water the jade.” I opened a cabinet, thinking about what to make for dinner. Lark chattered to the plant as she watered it with the little brass can.

“You have such a green thumb,” I said, pulling out a can of tomatoes.

She studied her hand. “A green thumb! That’s hilarious, Mama.”

I laughed at her vocabulary and thought wistfully about how not that long ago she had said “fumb” for thumb. As I explained the idiom, Lark began setting our table for two with pretty, old, mismatched dishes, the ones that had spoken to me in a village thrift shop. I had displayed a few special ones on a wooden shelf on the wall. It was fun to speculate on families who had eaten from them. “Who did that one belong to?” I asked Lark as she centered a pink one on her placemat.

She traced the flowers on the plate with a finger. “I think it belonged to a little girl. Named Rosie … with curly black hair and a little dog named Tippy.”

Later that night, Lark and I snuggled in her bed to read. We took turns reading pages. As Lark read, I regarded her sweet room. The alphabet poster I’d bought in Paris hung above the bed. We’d found a dusty old gum ball machine at a junk shop for six dollars. I’d had it made into a bedside lamp with a smart paper shade and had kept it filled with gum balls. On Saturdays, I allowed Lark to insert coins for a special treat. An impressive dollhouse that Grandpa Hank had constructed from a kit squatted in a corner, little dolls strewn around it like confetti. “Mama, it’s your turn!” Lark said . . .

My Essential, Infallible Micro-Library of Writing Guru Go-Tos

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From left to write. Yes, I meant to say that. Strunk and White. I’ve been hanging with these wise guys since college. The Elements of Style has lived on the desk of every classroom in which I hung out shingle and helped me fix 4,912 comma mistakes. If I slipped the poor thing out, you’d witness the ugliness–the turned down, dog-eared pages, the defilement by highlighter, pen, and pencil.

So I’ll move on to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird gifted me by my brilliant writer cousin, Greg. He and Lamott changed my perspective by granting me permission to let my hair down, to find my own voice. And that Lamott’s funnier than a rooster in socks is something to blog about.

Then there’s Annie Dillard, master of her domain–ecclesiastical prose–not what you were thinking. Reading her stuff makes me want to slit my writing throat in hopeless despair.

Next up, Stephen King. Well, he’s . . . the. King. Not only of horror but of the brilliant metaphor. I curtsey to him for those gems alone. He bares his soul unflinchingly in On Writing. And you love him all the more for it.

Rubbing right elbows with his highness is prolific young K.M. Weiland, new find and Twitter friend who is kind and generous and a fine Christian woman. Her authoritative voice in Structuring Your Novel forced me to look at my third book baby in scenes and sequels and resolutions, oh my!

And at last, Writetight, William Brohaugh’s masterpiece on precision. I’d yank the curtain closed and zap the vote button for anyone who can identify 16 types of flabby writing alone. Actually the library police are probably hunting me down for the desecration of Brohaugh’s pages as well.

Don’t tell them where I live.

Tuesday Teaser

A tease from GEORGIE GIRL, chapter three. Not sure which character I love more, Ronnie or Miss Foxie.

“Oh, this old thing! I look like third base today.” Miss Foxie sniffed the breeze. “Thought I might as well keep these geraniums alive, although the first frost will take them soon enough.” Miss Foxy was the faculty meteorologist, more reliable than the radio or television. Folks said she had predicted the blizzard of ’59 when the radio people were still in diapers.

Ronnie sprang up. “Can I help, Miss Foxie?” We watched him make a dozen valiant trips to the spigot with the watering can, staggering under the weight of the water, back and forth, back and forth, sloshing about half the water each time, and beaming at Miss Foxie who spoke softly to him.