Susan's Blog

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Tale of Three Brothers

This, perhaps, is the beginning of my novel (see posts below), and it starts with Natalie, the mother.

Chapter 1

“It’s from this that you get your strength, Katie Scarlett. The red earth of Tara.” So said Gerald O’Hara to his daughter in Gone With The Wind.” Back when Natalie first read it, at the age of 13, she did not give a damn about earth. She wanted to learn all about Scarlett. She wanted to be Scarlett. She had swept her hair off her face like Scarlett. She had batted her green eyes like Scarlett. She had flirted like Scarlett.

But 28 years later, forget Scarlett, Nat wanted Tara. Or, more accurately, to have soil like that. All that space for planting! Lately she had been craving the dirt, like some sort of earth-worshipping pagan, or a geophasiac. Almost wanted to eat it, like she had when she was a kid. It was late winter, and there was not a spot of green in sight, and the soil was fast asleep, gone gray with numbing cold. She hated it, like so many people did that time of year.

Gardening was never so important as in the late winter. That was when people look out the window and pretty much all they would see is brown, broken up by bits of gray. Maybe if they looked hard enough one morning, in a full-sun spot, they could suddenly notice a bulb shoot poking up, like a green vulva folded, waiting. Those green nubs made Nat cry, the first time she would see one of them. She would then search the ground for more, like a mother missing her children.

So far, though, objectively, that winter had not been a particularly hard one, for Boston. There had been no snow in December, or January, but it had been a very wet, snowy February, the intensity of which had worn everyone down. Simply because of February, everyone went around saying what a hard winter it had been. It was like that there. “Hardy” New Englanders did not actually exist, Nat had found. They are an opinionated, difficult-to-please group, prone to saying, “You don’t like the weather? Just wait five minutes.” And they thought they were the wittiest part of the country for it.

But those who lived in Belleville, Nat’s town, which was an urban suburb in the Masssachusetts, knew they were in the wittiest part of the country, aphorisms aside. Those who discovered Belleville usually fell in love with it and tried to stay, despite ridiculously high rents. The three-story Victorian townhouse apartments and condos attracted couples to the town. Then, after the first kid came along, they usually looked for a bigger place, a two-family maybe, something with a little yard, a postage stamp garden. If they could, they would buy in Belleville, not the more affordable, gorgeous Emerald Plain, which was actually a part of a larger city. Oh, the kids got quiet streets and cute playgrounds but when they got near five years old, they were going to crowded city schools or they’re going to private school. You buy in Belleville, you pay more, but you got one of the nation’s best school systems. That’s where Nat came in. She was a realtor, and had done really well selling property here.

Nat’s little piece of Belleville was in a neighborhood called Belleville Point, an area of densely settled Victorians that were mostly divided into condos, but with one or two single-families remaining. She owned a single-family, having bought early in the game (not knowing at the time that there was a game) eighteen years ago with her then husband Todd. In the dead of winter. “Dead of winter,” a perfect phrase for what it was. Whoever dreamed up that one had no knowledge – or patience for – the “winter garden” mentality. How incredibly pathetic Nat found the idea of “winter interest” to be: black bark against white snow, red berries, statuary covered with snow. All lonely, cold, stark images; not at all what a garden should be about: living, moving, green, warmth.

Nat let the curtain fall on the smudgy glass of the dining room window. She stared at the ruby red silk that puddled at her feet, like a river of blood. Her reflection in the oval mirror to the right made a flicker of movement, and so she turned from the window to the mirror. She’d spent a lot of time the past year, in front of the mirror, not planning to be there but somehow ending up there, looking without actually seeing herself. Then she would focus really hard on her reflection, grimly satisfied with what she saw, then puzzled by her vanity. The thick straight brown hair, hardly any gray. Green eyes; she still thought them her best feature. Skin the slightest bit pouchy underneath, and under her jaw. Weight good. Not too many signs of being forty-one; and yet she was now single. Where was the sense in that?

Just before the divorce, Nat had decided to become more active in the boys’ schooling – at least in Henry and Dan’s — unlike the early childhood years where she had been so busy trying to afford their dreamhouse. Eighteen years ago, when they had first married, buying a gorgeous old house was all they could think about. So she chased that dream, and had her babies kind of without thinking, one after the other. The youngest, Dan, was far more planned for, plotted for. But not Nick and Henry, of course.

The boys were definitely the best of Todd and her. Todd. Who marries a guy named Todd?, she thought. She had, in total rebellion from her parents, which came late, in her twenties. Todd Sherman, tall, blond Protestant from Vermont, whom she had met in grad school at Harvard – they were both getting their MBAs. Nauseatingly clichéd mid-eighties career tracks. And what was Todd going for, when he fell for her? A little excitement in his dull WASPy life, perhaps. And they had had that, to be fair. It was good for a while. When the boys were little, cute, fresh-smelling. But then they became more complicated, especially Nick. And Todd, although a good father, could not bear it. He had felt betrayed by it all. Nat knew it, though she never said as much. Todd was no Magic Daddy. But it was really only towards the end of the marriage that he realized he really wasn’t up to it, that he wanted a quieter, simpler life. A neater life. No other woman (or man, thank goodness). No daily living with a rebellious kid. Just silence. Just work and hobbies. Poor guy. Schmuck.


Wow, this is great! The opener really grabbed me. I’m certainly hooked now.

I love the crystal clear images entwined with the emotions of the season. It certainly brings me back home in a melancholy heartbeat.

Looking forward to reading more!

— added by Danielle Lynne on Wednesday, November 23, 2005 at 11:46 am

more…please….i’m hooked and want to find out what happens next

— added by Anonymous on Monday, November 28, 2005 at 6:17 pm