To Kill A Mockingbird

All posts tagged To Kill A Mockingbird

On new material.

Published April 17, 2016 by mandileighbean

Last week was seemingly the longest week of my life. I could list all the challenges, frustrations, and disappointments and create a self-serving litany of complaints, but what good would that honestly do anyone? What kind of energy is that to offer up to the Universe? Instead, here’s an excerpt from the novel I am currently working on. I hope you enjoy it! Please comment with any comments or suggestions you may have – everything is greatly appreciated! 🙂

 

James’ eyes were bloodshot, whether from lack of sleep or too much drink Charlotte couldn’t tell. His eyes were also wide and vacant as he stood beside the coffee maker, staring into some void that only he could see. James seemed mesmerized, entranced, and it was creepy, terribly unsettling the way he could be present and a million miles away all at the same time. Charlotte wanted to call out to him and break that awful concentration, but she was too sick, too tired. She just continued shuffling by, too exhausted to even pick her feet up off the ground. It could have been her oh-so-clever subconscious, discreetly forcing her to make noise to call James to attention, but Charlotte was too sick to think. And truth be told, Charlotte had never really been all that clever, certainly not clever enough to figure out her own subconscious. And so, she shuffled outside.

The sun was hot and bright, but Charlotte didn’t remove any of her excessive layers of clothing. She was too tired, simply too tired, and besides, maybe she’d sweat the fever out – wasn’t that how it worked? She couldn’t remember. She was too tired.

Charlotte breathed heavily through her mouth, as her nose was congested enough to be rendered useless. She stared across the quiet street, too exhausted to turn her head, and her squinting, bleary eyes fell upon one of the only kids inhabiting the whole apartment complex. The kids belonged to the wonderfully nice family who had moved in a month ago much to Charlotte’s delight. The young girl currently in Charlotte’s view was a little sister to a big brother, both under ten years old. The last time Charlotte had seen them, they were yelling with youthful abandon, chasing one another in twisting, ever-widening circles across the dry lawns of their adjacent neighbors. What a beautiful sight! What joyous noise! Charlotte had been absolutely thrilled to encounter signs of life – FINALLY – at her new home. Once poor Kelly left, the remaining inhabitants had all been so odd, frighteningly so, and they had all been dying, or so it seemed.

Charlotte could certainly understand that now.

And apparently so could the kids Charlotte had affectionately begun to think of as Jem and Scout. She was looking at Scout now, and Scout was sitting at the start of her squat driveway, crying. Huge, mournful-looking tears leaked from her eyes and rolled down her round cheeks as if they were trying to be discreet, trying to avoid a scene. Her soft whimpers cut the silence and they sounded so pitiful. Had it not been so tired, Charlotte was sure her heart would have simply shattered. The little girl sat cross-legged on the hot asphalt, just crying. What was wrong? Where was Jem? Despite her extreme exhaustion and growing concern that any kind of movement would kill her, Charlotte turned her head to the left and moved it slowly to the right, endeavoring to scan the landscape to find the brother.

Charlotte didn’t have to look far.

Jem was standing in the middle of his lawn, just a few diagonal paces forward from his sister, standing and sweating in the sun, and staring, staring at Charlotte.

Their eyes locked.

Charlotte gasped and stumbled back a pace or two, unnerved to recognize the look in the little boy’s eyes. James was somewhere behind her in the house, presumably still in the kitchen, with an identical expression. But Jem was much too young to be lost in his own thoughts in such an unsettling way. What ghosts could he possibly have to gawk at? What horrors from his past could he possibly have recalled to the surface to relive in some masochistic ploy? The stare remained intact, unbroken, as Charlotte lost herself in her questions, in imagined possibilities of Jem’s infant traumas, each one more horrible and devastating than the next.

So when James appeared beside her, Charlotte screamed and lost her balance, falling into one of the cheap patio chairs. The plastic was unforgiving and her teeth clacked together as she landed hard on her ass. She could taste blood in her mouth.

“Jesus Christ, Charlotte,” James growled, closing his eyes against her shrill tones. “Do you always have to be so goddamn loud? I told you I’ve been battlin’ a headache for days. Or do you not give a shit about no one but yourself?” He looked down at Charlotte. The vacant expression was gone. James was clearly present in the moment, and him and his eyes were all impatience and contempt.

“I’m s-sorry, James. I-I w-was -” Charlotte stuttered. She wanted to apologize, but she was just so fucking tired.

“I brought you out some coffee because all do is think about you,” James sneered. He thrust the mug at her. The kind and thoughtful gesture was anything but considering his hostile, impatient tone and the muted violence in his actions. Charlotte flinched, but took the mug. She mumbled gratitude, but either James didn’t hear or didn’t care. “I’m going to work even though I feel like shit because one of us should do something.” James roughly dragged his hands along the edges of his face. “I feel god awful,” he groaned. He was wallowing in his misery until he snapped his gaze back to Charlotte. “Ain’t you gonna drink that coffee? I went through the trouble of making it so you’d enjoy it, not let it sit there and cool!”

Charlotte nodded slowly and lowered her gaze like a shameful child. “I will, I promise.”

She was so tired.

James looked at her for just another moment before storming to his truck. Charlotte listened to his boots thud heavily against the grass and then crunch against the gravel, making his progress. She didn’t want to look at him – he was being so cruel. He was especially cruel in the mornings lately. But Charlotte didn’t hear the expected opening and slamming of the truck door, or the expected and familiar roar of the engine coming to life, so she looked to James, to see of everything was alright in the thick heat, in the muggy silence broken only by buzzing insects and the soft whimpers of the little girl. When Charlotte looked, James was staring at her. This time, there was something dangerously close to pure hatred in his eyes. He was glaring at her. “Drink the goddamn coffee, woman!” James barked the order.

Charlotte flinched again, but did as she was told. Once she started drinking from the mug, James got moving again. He climbed into his truck, started the engine, backed out of the driveway, and drove away. Only then did Charlotte stop drinking and pull the mug from her lips. It had been quite the gulp, a few gulps really, and so Charlotte went to lick her lips clean, first the bottom then the top.

As her tongue swept her top lip, Charlotte froze. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. There was a bitter and metallic taste, something that reminded Charlotte of the feel of aluminum foil. It was a bad taste, a yucky taste. Something was wrong with the coffee. Coffee should never ever taste like metal.

The mug fell from her hands. It shattered against the concrete, exploding into sharp shards at her bare feet. Later, Charlotte would discover tiny cuts on her feet and wonder how they got there, where they came from. But currently, Charlotte was experiencing one hell of a moment of clarity. For that moment, she didn’t feel sick or tired or sweaty or scared. She didn’t feel anything. The sudden knowledge was expansive and it filled her completely.

Charlotte knew the coffee was poisoned.

Charlotte knew James wanted her dead.

In the distance, Scout was still crying.

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Be sure to let me know what you thought! xoxo

On quotes and cocktails.

Published July 28, 2012 by mandileighbean

I was going through some old creative endeavors of mine, looking for a piece that could be salvaged, edited and then included in the second novel I am doing my best to construct.  I found very little to work with because this second novel is unlike anything I have ever written before, but that fact did not dishearten me.  If anything, it motivates and excites me because it challenges me; I have to be original and innovative.  I cannot rely on old tricks and gimmicks hidden within old, worn notebooks, with pages thinned and yellowed by time.  I have to be someone new and I love reinventing myself.  I believe I’ve admitted before that I hope to always be restless and that I hope to always feel unsettled.  I’m terrified that comfortability leads to complacency leads to laziness leads to waste.

“If you’re just killing time, you can be sure it’ll kill you right back.”

I made a list at the beginning of the summer, and I’ve been able to cross off two items; that’s it.  I’m failing myself – I know that, and I eat to fill the emotional void such knowledge creates.  I hide away in my bedroom, behind paper creations of a life filled with romance, drama, intrigue, connections; a life I wish for.  I can’t live, so I write about it … like those who can’t do, teach – I guess.  I think that’s pretty clever.

It’s weird; I feel like I’m being really, really honest with you (the reader or readers) right now, but I refrain from posting certain pieces because I’m horrified that my deepest desires will be exposed.  Writing is sharing, but I don’t want to share too much.  How much is too much?  Who’s to say?

So I say, eff it.  I’ll share everything.  Go big or go home, right?  But I’ll share lots … after tonight.  I don’t think I could handle it tonight.  I ate a lot of chocolate today and I am feeling particularly vulnerable.

That being said, enjoy the prompt.  I did. 🙂

PROMPT: A woman who’s constantly quoting classic novels meets a literature professor at a cocktail party.

PIECE:

I stepped out onto the back patio, extremely aware of how weak my ankles were when it came to walking in high heels, especially ones hanging on by a thin, thin strap.  The shoes were completely adorable, though – the shade was perfect and worthy of being the topic of any conversation, so I suffered through the awkward tumbling way of walking and the slight pain concentrated in the balls of my feet.  The pain was worth the beauty, and that lesson could be applied not only to life, but to fashion as well.  I think I read that in a book somewhere.

Truth be told, I probably did read it in a book.  All I do is read.  I find it much more comfortable between the pages of a novel than I do seated between other human beings.  Some assume it’s a lonely existence, but it’s not awful.  If you stop and think about it, it’s actually kind of awesome.  My friends are made of paper and ink, so they don’t talk back, they never disappoint and are always there when I need them.  They are not fallible like their flesh and blood and bone contemporaries, and there are no nasty surprises when someone you think you’ve known for years and years decides to be a douche bag seemingly overnight.

That’s not to say I’m a creepy recluse who avoids all human contact, like some Boo Radley (To Kill a Mockingbird).  I talk to co-workers and make small chat when I’m ordering coffee or food.  After all, isn’t the point to only connect (Howard’s End)?  I believe it is, so I do talk.  Unfortunately, I have the habit of constantly quoting from classic literature.  Like that time at work when Brian left his sandwich in the fridge for a solid three months and the stench became unbearable, so I said, “There is something rotten in the state of Denmark” (Shakespeare).  No one got it, and that’s fine.  I did something similar at my family reunion, when we were trying to figure out who was sober enough to go with my uncle to the liquor store to resupply our alcohol stores, and I said to my sister, “Either thou, or I, or both must go with him!” (Shakespeare … again)  No one got it … again, but again, that’s fine.  I get that I alienate my audience with specific and sometimes obscure literary references, so I’ve been trying to curb the behavior.

I got invited to a cocktail party by Sara, a co-worker.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try and flex – or restrain, depending on how you look at it – my conversational muscle.  I bought the new shoes we’ve already discussed, and a matching dress.  I Googled YouTube videos to find out how to make my eyes look smoky and seductive and actually worked on my hair – I looked good.  Now to try and break into some conversation; I walked from small gathering to small gathering, listening in for a moment or two.  Either the topic was something I found terribly uninteresting, or something I knew nothing about.  I felt discouraged and was about to leave, run for the hills as they say, when I heard someone say, “You just have to keep on keepin’ on, right?  It’s like what Fitzgerald wrote; ‘Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.”

It was a somewhat older gentleman, fashionably dressed in a tweed jacket with elbow pads and heavy slacks.  He was quoting The Great Gatsby, arguably the greatest American novel of all time.  I couldn’t contain myself.  I walked up behind and said, “Doesn’t the end of the quote defeat your purpose, though?”

He turned to me, obviously surprised, but smiling.

I continued, “Fitzgerald says, ‘And then one fine morning—So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’  We never get where we’re going, but we keep going anyway.  That’s not as optimistic as what you were going for, I think.”  I held my breath at the end, worried that I’d offended him and come off as something as a know-it-all.

But he extended his hand and said, “Hi.  I’m Eric.”

On belonging to the cult of popular culture.

Published July 18, 2012 by mandileighbean

I really delved into my popular culture universe today. I started watching “Hearts in Atlantis,” which is a film based on the novel of the same name by my idol Stephen King, and it also stars Anthony Hopkins, David Morse and my new celebrity crush, Anton Yelchin. I got distracted by the pool and the incredibly – albeit dangerously – warm weather, so I’ll have to finish watching it sometime tomorrow. I read A LOT of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; it has to be the hundredth time that I am reading that glorious masterpiece of a novel. I watched “Weekend at Bernie’s,” solely because I will always love Andrew McCarthy, caught part of “The Fan” because Robert DeNiro is an absolute genius and debated who was the better actor with my sister: Leonardo DiCaprio or Edward Norton? It’s a total “Sophie’s Choice” because it’s nearly possible to claim one over the other. Also, I engaged in reality television with my mom and sister – some of it trashy, but mostly dealing with Gordon Ramsay and cooking. I also found out that the actor Christopher Meloni may return to “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” as Detective Eliot Stabler, and the Backstreet Boys have reunited with all five members and are recording a new album (this is especially exciting because Kevin Richardson has returned and he has always been my favorite. He was a Backstreet MAN).

Why am I bothering to immortalize all of this in print on the internet? Am I not just really wasting space with trivial matters?

Maybe.

 

But I believe that popular culture can be an incredibly effective and easily manipulated tool. It is a great way for humans to relate to one another. To offer a specific example, in the classroom, I try to make the literature being studied and analyzed applicable to the popular culture of the students. If the material is made relevant to their culture, it not only offers a solid opportunity for emotional investment, but also highlights inter-media connections which employ higher-level thinking skills. I also believe that if a celebrity – be it an actor, an artist, a writer, a dancer, what have you – expresses interest in popular culture and remains a fan, it endears him or her to his or her own fans, and creates a more intimate relationship which can prove extremely valuable in a number of different ways. It could be a great public relations move, in my humble opinion.

Whenever my mind wanders – and it does so quite often – and I daydream, I think about being on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and being teased about my many, many celebrity crushes and dream that Ellen would bring out … let’s say Robert Pattinson, and I would be awkward yet charming and thereby endearing not only to Robert Pattinson, but to the audience. I’d be acting like a “normal” person meeting a celebrity rather than a celebrity meeting a celebrity; the population able to relate to the latter is frankly miniscule. I understand there is most certainly a flipside to such behavior (it could be misconstrued as unprofessional and immature and even embarrassing), but we’ve already discussed how life is a series of navigating fine lines.

This is why I can’t do math. My brain is filled with stuff like this – so much so, that there is simply no room for numbers or computations.

PROMPT: A man is given the ability to go back in time and change one event in his life.

PIECE:

“When you open your eyes,” a female voice, which was surprisingly stern, began, “you will be transported back in time to a moment of your choice.  Mr. Wallace, you are being given the ability to go back in time and change one moment in your life.  Choose wisely and do your best to anticipate all ramifications – some could be disastrous.  God speed, Mr. Wallace,” the voice concluded.

Lucas opened his eyes slowly, still totally bewildered by the wealth of just utterly bizarre information he was being forced to swallow.  If Lucas were to be absolutely honest, he would also have to confess that he was not even sure he could physically, emotionally, and/or intellectually accomplish such a daunting feat; he doubted doing so was even possible.  One moment, Lucas was stepping out of the shower and the next, everything went black and now, here he was ….

Where was that, exactly?  Heartbeat quickening, Lucas frantically turned his head from side to side as he was desperate for some context clues.  His eyes were taking in familiar surroundings, but they were surroundings that had not been familiar in about a decade.  He was in Maine, just outside of Ellsworth.  Lucas was surprised he even remembered the place because he had only been there for a week on vacation during college.  The place was significant not because it was a beautiful getaway location, but because it was where he had first met his wife.  He had been leaving the adorable, charmingly tiny motel and crossing the street to the roadside lobster stand that had the water at its back, and boasted an entire lobster dinner for only $15.00.  As he jogged across the primarily dormant two-lane highway, his future wife was just leaving, climbing into the back of a generic station wagon.  So impressed by her beauty and grace, Lucas made a slight correction in his navigation and arrived at her side just in time, just before she shut the door and drove back home with her parents.

What could he possibly want to change about that moment?

Lucas realized that technically, he was inside the cramped front lobby of the motel.  He had been signing something at the desk, making small conversation with the matronly owner and her young daughter.  They had just wandered off to tend to some business and he was getting ready to head out the door.  Lucas believed everything was right on schedule.  Why this moment?  He looked down at the desk and found his answer.  Upon the wooden laminate desktop was his grandfather’s fountain pen, given to Lucas just a month before he passed.  He had left it on the desk in the motel in Maine, and he had never seen it again.  Here was his chance to get it back!  Beaming, Lucas grabbed the pen and headed outside into the radiant sunshine.  It seemed like such a silly thing, but Lucas had always kicked himself in the ass for leaving the pen there.  The gravel of the parking lot crunched under his feet as he hurried towards the lobster stand across the highway, but his pace slowed considerably when he did not see a station wagon.

Had the moment of hesitation in grabbing the pen slammed shut the window of opportunity for meeting his wife?  Lucas felt very, very sick.

 

On being one and done.

Published May 18, 2012 by mandileighbean

“…I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Harper Lee published one novel and my oh my – what a novel it was. This selected bit comes at the end of part one of one of the greatest American novels of all time. I cannot praise Lee’s work enough, nor properly explain how much this quote means to me.

 

I hope you enjoy it too.

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