Hello. I'm starting to write again, after a long hiatus. This is a story of a novel writer
"Are you ready?" said Francisco, putting on his superhero costume.
"Yes, daddy," said Fermelda.
The house was empty, or so it seemed to them, as they sat down at the kitchen table.
Fermelda looked at her father, her eyes beaming. She had never felt like this before.
This was the day that she would finally become a novelist. Her father had erected a whiteboard
with a scratch-proof coating whitch he stood before in full superhero regalia. His mask provided just the
right amount of mystery with which to demonstrate the utter coolness, and
aloofness, of the modern-day writer.
"So, what are we going to do today?" said said Francisco. "What?"
"Noveling," said Fermelda. "Noveling-writing."
"Yay!" they both said.
A week prior, Fermelda had witnessed her father Francisco writing at his home office. Asking what he was writing, he said, "The novel of the century." He showed it to her. She touched the the pages and witnessed the artful handwriting. She said that the cursive words looked like the waves of a the ocean. Having been enamored by her father's creativity, ever since she had been begging him to teach her how to write a novel of her own.
"What do you want to write about?" said Francisco, a hopeful tone in his voice.
"Do you know what the title will be? What?" said Francisco. "What did I say?"
"I don't know what I want to write about!" said Fermelda, bursting into tears and slamming her pencil on the kitchen table. "I'm terrible!"
Francisco took his superhero mask off. He was a youthful man with soft features and a round nose. His eyes were a cyan sunset, his lips were tendrils. His words arrived with very little hint of an accent.
He knew that most novelists didn't break down like this until their late thirties. That was when they would utter the dreaded "I can't write!" It was good that they got this existential crisis out of the way now, before she was in late adulthood. But still, he did not want novel writing to be the one traumatic incident that kept her from realizing her hiding under a flower put for the rest of her days. His voice softened and his hands were raised as he spoke, his superhero mask still in his right hand.
"No, no, baby," said Francisco. "Everything's okay. It's alright. Let's - let's just calm down."
"Everybody else knows what to write about," said Fermelda, the tears flowing faster. "I'm a hack."
"No, no, baby," said Francisco. "You are not a hack. Where did you learn that word?"
"What?" said Fermelda, looking guilty.
It was natural for children to feel guilty for things that they had no control over. It was even healthy, in moderation.
"I said, where did you learn that word?" said Francisco.
"Look, Fermelda. I want you to know something, okay?"
"Yes, daddy?" said Fermelda.
"First of all, TV isn't real. It's a fantasy - don't believe everything you see on TV. Secondly, you and I come from a long line of great writers."
"We do?" said Fermelda, holding her pencil with the tip pointing up.
"Yes, we do."
"So I'm not a hack?"
"No, you're not a hack," said Francisco. "You are a wonderful writer. You just need to find your voice."
"Who in our family is a writer besides me?" said Fermelda.
"Your grandfather, for one."
"Yes," said Francisco. "Grampa Green was a famous writer. Very famous."
"Why was he famous?" said Fermelda.
Just then, something told Francisco that he should check his watch. He quickly looked down.
"Eight O'clock. Honey, we've got to go."
"Go? Go where?"
"You know where. It's your first day of school."
"But I don't want to go to school. It's for losers."
"Honey," said Francisco, trying not to laugh, "Honey, let's not get off track. You need school."
"Daddy," said Fermelda, her voice straining and cracking.
"Come on, honey, let's go."
Fermelda's mother, Shelley, helped her get dressed for school. Today, she would wear a red and blue dress with white baby shoes. Her bookbag had her favorite cartoon character on the back, with a glossy coating to the image. Her lunch box had already been packed. As they left the door, Francisco was carrying Fermelda's little brother, Mike, in his arms.
"Okay, everybody in," said Francisco.
The family crossover wasn't the roomiest on the market, but it was one of the safest. It had one of the fewest fatality rates in the nation, per capita.
The children's car seats were already in place. Shelley placed both of them in while Francisco cleaned up the cabin so that the both of them would be comfortable.
Mike was in resignation as his body was powerlessly lifted into the car seat and strapped in. As soon as he heard the click, he was almost asleep. Fermelda was the more energetic one, reaching up to her mother lovingly as she was carried into her car seat.
As they rode down the street in the family automobile, Fermelda strained to look over the front seats.
"What's going on out there?"
"The cars are driving," said Shelley, sitting in the shotgun seat. "Isn't it neat?"
"I guess so," said Fermelda. "What's for dinner?"
"That's ten hours away, honey," said Francisco, both hands on the wheel. "You just ate breakfast."
"You can't drive. You're too ugly," said Mike, sitting in the car seat next to her.
"Dad, Mike called me ugly!" said Fermelda.
"Mike, my man," said Francisco. "How's it going. You sleep well?"
He did have the tendency to pop up like that.
"Yes, daddy," said Mike, almost falling back to sleep.
"Daddy, he called me," said Fermelda.
"Mikey boy, I don't want you to call your sister ugly anymore. Is that okay?"
"But she is," said Mike.
"I'm in first grade, so I'm first. You're in kindergarten, so you're zero. Forever."
At this, Mike burst into tears. It was not unusual for words to lead to crying. Francisco sat up in his seat and looked through his rear-view mirror, adjusting it to show his children's faces. Fermelda looked like she had just gotten caught robbing a bank. She looked so guilty. Mike looked as though his whole world was coming to an end.
"Mike? Mikey? Mikey boy? Listen honey," said Francisco. "Listen. You're not going to be in kindergarten forever. It's just for this year."
That made it even worse.
"A year?" said Mike, his tears blocking his face. "That takes forever."
"I know," said Shelley. "I know honey. You want to go to college already. But you have to take it slowly. You'll get there. Just be patient."
"I don't want to be patient!" said Mike, slamming his fists on the car seat.
"Look," said Francisco. "Don't be in a rush to be bigger. I know you want to reach the cabinets. Take it slow."
"Longer?" said Mike.
The tears stopped flowing temporarily. Mike sat up and wiped his face off.
"I'm sorry," said Fermelda. "You'll be in second grade in no time."
"I'm sorry for crying," said Mike.
"No, honey, you don't have to apologize," said Franciso.
"Yeah, Mikey, it's okay. You were just trying to be heard," said Shelley.
"You're still young," said Fermelda. "It's okay. Just be young."
The grassy areas of the school grounds were inviting, and the sky was just overcast enough to be easy on the eyes. The walkways were neat and clean, almost glowing. These kids were valued. The school had a traditional look, but it was obviously built recently. Colored red and brown, it looked like a miniature junior college. As the family walked up to the front doors, Fermelda looked from left to right, quickly taking in the sights. Every few seconds she would wave at someone timidly, smiling and shouting.
They took Mike to his classroom first. It wasn't that much of a hassle. He would mostly be sleeping and finger painting.
"Are you ready to hit Fermelda's classroom?" said Shelley, seated in a chair that barely reached her lombars.
"Yeah, this is it," said Francisco, sitting next to her. "This is it. The big year."
Fermelda's classroom was a bit more comfortable for the youthfully challenged. The atmosphere of the room was almost that of an adventure. The room was sparsely decorated, but it looked the definition of learning. Books and painting supplies were everywhere.
The tables were circular, and and the colors were darker than in Mike's classroom. As the teacher stood there, explaining how the year would go, Francisco thought of his own childhood.
When they got back to the car, a huge weight had been lifted off their shoulders. There they were. The kids were at school. The worst was over.
"What should we do?" said Shelley.
"I know what you're thinking," said Francisco. "It's okay. Really."
"No, I don't-"
"Look, I know that you're worried about the kids," said Francisco. "I would be too. They're so vulnerable. So young."
"I know I worry a lot," said Shelley. "It's just-I'm a parent. I don't know what else to do."
Just then, Francisco put a reassuring hand on her thigh.
"It's okay," said Francisco.
"You gonna start the car?" said Shelley.
"Yes," said Francisco as the engine roared to a start. "Let's go. The kids are taken care of. I'm going to head over to the office. First. I've got to drop you off."
As they pulled out of the school's parking lot, a black car with tinted windows pulled into the lot on the other side. Francisco was watching it like a hawk. The car had black wheels and local plates. The driver appeared to be in a hurry. Maybe his kid was late for class? Francisco couldn't see the driver, but his body tensed up just from looking at the car.
"Who would drive a car like that to a grade school?"
"What? What is it honey?"
"Nothing," said Francisco. "Nothing. Let's go."
They continued riding down the street and headed for the freeway.
Back at the school, Principal Duffy was out for his early morning break. Standing out in front of the school with a tumbler full of tea, he appeared to be waiting for stragglers. But he wasn't. He was just relaxing, lost in thought. He always said that it was funny how the students are always the same age, but he was getting older. He had gone to adult school for ten years and worked as a teacher in several states before coming here. This was his home. Though the children didn't quite understand what they were doing there, though he was certain that they would rather be home, he hadn't missed a day of work in over two years.
Duffy was just about to take his last sip when something caught his eye. A pitch-black Mercedes was driving on the lot with tinted windows. It was going a little-bit too fast and its driver didn't seem to understand parking lot etiquette. After approaching another car near a parking space, the driver honked violently while speeding into the space.
This was it. Principal Duffy couldn't miss a beat. Nothing would make things right if he didn't manage to get ahold of the situation. Principal Duffy flattened himself against the side of the building and peeked around the corner.
"Duffy?" said Margaret, the school's pianist. "Principal Duffy, what are you looking at? Somebody got into the ferns again?"
Principal Duffy could not be bothered at the moment. He spotted a long-black pipe over the top of the black car. Now. It was time. With his left hand, Principal Duffy silently motioned for Margaret to move back behind the building. With his right hand, he reached into his secret holster and pulled out a loaded 1911 handgun.
The gun was modified to be ten percent lighter. It also had an extra aftermarket safety, which was vital when working around children this young. The 1911 was one of America's rarest handguns, and Principal Duffy was one of only five principals in the state who were licensed to carry on school grounds. It was always good to be prepared, but Principal Duffy was already outgunned; and as he would soon see, outnumbered as well.
"A second one, shit!" said Principal Duffy.
He reached into his vest pocket and grabbed a small button device. It was the the size of a quarter, but much thicker, and colored beige. Without hesitation, President Duffy pushed the small, circular button in the center. A little light on the end of it began blinking.
Almost at the same moment, the general alarm went off in the school. The teachers inside quickly locked all of the doors and ushered all of the students into their rooms. Students who could not walk were carried. With speed and exactness, the hallways were cleared.
"What's going on?" said Fermelda. "Is this an emergency?"
"Shhh," said the teacher. "All right children. We need you all to stay here and not make a sound."
Naturally, telling a bunch of children to be silent produces the opposite. The children began to panic.
"Mommy! Mommy! I want my mommy!"
"What's happening? I want my mommy."
At this point, Principal Duffy's Army Ranger training kicked in. He knew that the school was locked from the inside. So he had bought himself some time. He decided to run the long way around the parking lot. He ran swiftly, yet without making much noise. His breathing speed elevated slightly, but he was certainly in shape. He took cover behind anything he could find - a fern, a tree, a low wall - before he came to a point at which he was behind the assailants. Just as he suspected, it was true. They were both carrying assault rifles. Were those things even legal? Principal Duffy crouched down once more, waiting for his next move. The two men spoke to each other, briefly, and then turned towards the school. Others in the area had already begun to run away. Principal Duffy then sprang into action. Peaking from around the side of the car, he fired once. The assailant on the left fell down, writing in pain. It appeared that he had been hit in the shoulder. The other assailant looked around. He said a few words to his downed friend. Both men appeared to be well into adulthood, being larger in size and moving with more heft. Appearing to have spotted Principal Duffy, he pointed his machine gun in his general direction and opened fire.
The situation had just gone from bad to even worse. Principal Duffy had no time to think. The rounds were penetrating close. It was only a short amount of time before one would hit him. Just then, sirens were heard in the immediate vicinity. Principal Duffy looked over to his left to see that the SWAT team had arrived. With that Principal Duffy breathed a sigh of relief. Just then, he noticed a patch of blood on his shoulder. With all of the adrenaline in his system, he had failed to realize that he had actually been shot. Now that the danger was mostly over, the pain was visible. He stiffly moved into position, waiting for the SWAT team to do its work. Seeing that he was indeed outgunned and that there was nothing he could do, the second assailant duly gave himself up and was taken into custody.
Francisco and Shelley were a block away, standing next to a police van. Soon after leaving the school, Francisco had been given an alert on his phone that told him of the emergency. At first, he thought it was spam. Then, he thought it was a prank. Finally, he used the offramp and came back, trying his best to remain below the speed limit.
"What?" Shelley had said. "What's happening?"
"My baby," Francisco had said. "My baby."
After the area had been cleared and the chances of a hidden assailant had been ruled out, the police allowed the parents to come in and retrieve their children. Francisco went after Fermelda, Shelley after Mike. Mike seemed a little frazzled. He asked is mother why she had come back so soon. He didn't seem to comprehend the carnage that he had barely escaped. After picking Mike up, Shelley took him up to rendezvous with his father and Fermelda. They were greeted at the door by Francisco.
"No, no; don't," said Francisco.
"Oh my, oh my God. What is this? I can't believe this!"
"Look, Shelley, take Mike to the car. Here are the keys. I'm going with her," said Francisco.
Shelley had to be strong. She took the keys and carried Mike out of the front door, trying not to run too fast. Mike did not know what to do, so he waved goodbye to his father as his mother carried him.
Francisco tried to wave goodbye, but he felt as though he may be further jinxing the situation. Was it his fault? Should he have said something about what he saw?
Twenty-four hours later, Fermelda was sitting up in her hospital bed, a large lollipop in her hand. Her right eye was badly wounded, a bloody bandage covering it.
"What?" said Fermelda. "Did I say something?"
"No, honey," said Francisco. "It's..."
Just then, Shelley walked in.
"Honey," said Francisco.
"Where, where's Mikey?" said Francisco. "Is he, is he okay?"
"Yes, honey, I left him with aunt Rhonda's," said Shelley. "I thought it would be best if he didn't see this."
"Well, there's no way he's not going to see this," said Francisco.
Fermelda sat there, contemplating all of the mischief her new eyepatch would bring.
One week later, Fermelda was sitting in at the kitchen table with her father. Mike had already been put to bed.
"Dad," said Fermelda. "I want to be a novelist."
"Not now, honey," said Francisco.
"Dad," said Fermelda. "This is important. I almost died. I might not get another chance."
Francisco had not realized how important this was to her. Ultimately kids love things and then forget them at a second glance, but this was really sticking in her mind. Something important was happening for her. Tears of joy filled her father's eyes.
"Look, you want to be a novelist?" said Francisco.
"Yeah, daddy," said Fermelda. "It's the family's job."
Francisco relaxed. His fears of going to fast, of taking away her childhood were starting to dissipate. Life was hard - there was no doubting that - but if he could give her something to look forward to, something to aspire to be, that may bring her out of this troubling time.
"What did you feel?"
"What do you mean?" said Fermelda.
"I mean, what did you feel, when you got shot?" said Francisco. "What were you thinking about."
"Pancakes," said Fermelda.
"I was thinking about pancakes, my favorite food in the whole wide world."
"You always love those things when your mom makes them, don't you."
"Yes, daddy, I do."
"Well, what do you want to write about?"
"A princess," said Fermelda.
"What kind of princess?" said Francisco.
"There's only one kind of princess."
Her clean eye patch made her look like one of the Borg from Star Trek. She was too young to understand what had happened, or to see what effect it would have on the rest of her life.
"No," said Francisco. "There isn't just one kind of princess. There are many, many, many types. Some are young, some are old. Some are rich, some are poor. Some black, some white."
"Some ugly, some pretty."
"The only thing about writing is that your character has to be human," said Francisco.
"Human," said Fermelda.
"Yes, your beloved princess. She must be a living, breathing, feeling human."
"How do I make a human?" said Fermelda. "Is she born? Like me?"
"No, that's not what I mean," said Francisco. "You love your pancakes, right?"
"So, does your princess love pancakes? Honestly? What does she love?"
"No," said Fermelda.
"Well then, what does she love?"
Fermelda had never thought about this before. What would her creation enjoy. Showing this kind of desire for creativity so young would doubtless come with a few hurdles. She would have to figure some things out before she got started. Obviously, the easiest thing to do would be to just say "pancakes." She already knew the pancake world. The fluffy flour, the sweet syrup, the melted butter. Stacks and stacks of them. One could almost build a castle out of them.
"Um, pancakes. No, dollies!"
"Your princess likes dolls?" said Francisco. "That's great."
"Is that the novel?"
"No," said Francisco.
"Well, when your character, the good guy, loves something, somebody else comes along and tries to take what she loves away from her."
"Someone is going to take her favorite dollies?" said Fermelda.
"Yes," said Francisco. "Just how you felt when I said that is exactly how your character will feel."
"So, what is your character's name?"
Francisco shook his head no. It was good that he was getting her out of the habit of self-insertion now. It was a bad habit that most writers never got over.
"Why not Fermelda? Isn't Fermelda a good name?"
"Your character is not you," said Francisco. "Your character is someone else. She needs to have her own name. Something that you like."
As Fermelda thought about her answer, a line of puss began to leak from her eye patch. She wiped it off with her hand and picked up her pencil.
"How about Elina?" said Fermelda.
"Elina? Do you like that name?"
"What is her age?"
"Ha, ha, ha," said Francisco. "She's forty-three and she plays with dolls?"
"Yes," said Fermelda. "They're adult dolls."
"Ha, ha, ha," said Francisco. "What's really going on. Am I right?"
"What?" said Fermelda. "Elina can play with dolls."
"Okay, okay," said Francisco. "But who's the bad guy? Who's the one who is going to try to take her dolls away from her?"
"Take her dolls away?" said Fermelda, her eye beginning to water up.
"No, don't cry honey," said Francisco. "It's not real. You don't have to make it bad."
"But her dolls," said Fermelda. "She needs them. Who will she sleep with at night?"
"I know," said Francisco. "But at the end of the story she gets the dolls back."
"Yeah, now who's the bad guy?"
"A guy," said Fermelda.
"And what's his name?"
"Um, Marx?" said Fermelda.
"Does that sound like a bad guy name?"
"So that's your story."
"Elina lives in her castle, right? She loves her dolls. She plays with her dolls every day. Then Marx, the bad guy, comes along and he steals all of her dolls. She's so angry."
"And then what?"
"And then she goes and she gets her dolls back."
"Does she get shot?"
Francisco hesitated for a moment. Would it better to let her character suffer an adult ailment? Would that endear her to the character and make them bond more, or would that just be too far above her age level. Whatever her age level, she had suffered something that most adults would never even suffer. So maybe it would be better if he allowed her this conceit.
"Gasp, she gets shot?"
"That's what you said. Yes."
Francisco didn't like the idea of his daughter's first character getting shot. The truth was that he felt like a failure for not being able to protect his real daughter in her time of need. As an adult, he felt an acute desire to be there for her whenever she needed him. But now he feared that she wouldn't see him as her true protector.
"Do you want your character to get shot?" said Francisco, hoping she would change her mind.
"I think so," said Fermelda.
"Are you sure?" said Francisco. "It's...gonna hurt."
"It's okay. Elina can take pain."
"Can she?" said Francisco. "It seems like it would hurt a lot. She might die. She might get injured."
"Daddy, it's okay. She's strong."
"Okay, honey. If you're sure you want her to get shot. I guess so."
Fermelda then began writing her first book. It wasn't easy. With such a limited vocabulary, and being so young, not knowing her grammar, she would need a lot of help from her father and mother. Every day, after school, Fermelda would write a page. A first draft. Her parents were the editors. They would read over her pages and make any necessary spelling and grammar changes.
"Are you sure you want her to say that?" said Shelley.
No matter what happened, Fermelda kept writing. Her eye bandage gave way to a colorful eye patch. She would most likely never see out of that eye again. But she was encouraged. She had found something to live for, something that most people with two eyes would never do.
Fermelda wrote and wrote. And then she rewrote. She did not want to stop until she was absolutely sure that it was the best story imaginable. After about four weeks, Fermelda was ready. The whole family gathered around the kitchen table for the reveal. At around 6:15 pm, Shelley walked into the kitchen with a small box. Fermelda couldn't sit still. All of the extra attention had her bouncing around like ferret after eating ice cream.
"I want to see her book! I want to see her book!"
"Wait a second, Mike we'll all see the book in a second."
"Yeah, it's my book," said Fermelda. "It's my own creation. I created it. I made it. It's wonderful."
"Fermelda," said Francisco. "Do you want to introduce yourself, as a writer?"
"No, I'm too scared," said Fermelda.
"Don't be nervous," said Shelley. "You're brave. You wrote this in only four weeks."
"Yeah, but it's short," said Fermelda.
"It's okay. You're young. You'll write longer books in the future."
Fermelda stood up in front of the family. She could not stop from twisting her body and smiling nervously. Her little frame was so full of energy and youth. Was I ever that young?
"Go ahead, Fermelda."
"Yeah, you can do it!"
"Show us your stuff, Fermelda. Go on."
Suddenly, everything got quiet in the room.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Who could it be at this time of night? They weren't expecting anybody. Fermelda started twisting even more, her smile even more nervous than could be thought possible.
"Wow, I wonder who it could be?" said Shelley.
"Yeah, who is that? Is it one of your fans?"
"Maybe it's a Pulitzer prize," said Mike.
"It might be, Mike. Maybe."
The whole family went over to the door. Having a visitor was rare enough to be a family event. They all got to the door and the knocking persisted. A slow, steady thump. Shelley put her finger to her lips as she reached for the door.
"Who is it?" said Fermelda.
The door opened as if it were a puppet on the string. The darkening sky outlined an elderly man in a knit black sweater and dark green slacks. His shoes were brown and shiny. Walking with a cane, he patiently stood and waited for his introduction.
"Grampa Green!" said Fermelda.
"Did somebody order a chicken?" said Grampa Green.
"Wow," said Mike. "Grampa Green."
"Hi, Mikey, how are you?" said Grampa Green.
"This is perfect," said Fermelda.
"Excuse me for intruding, I was wondering your home had room for an old fool like me," said Grampa Green.
"Oh, come on in, Grampa," said Francisco. "There's plenty of room for everyone.
Everyone came into the home and took their places. Fermelda was standing in the middle.
"Okay, everyone," said Shelley, holding the box. "Christmas in May. Let's open the presents."
This was the most important unboxing of the young girl's career. She would never see something so beautiful again. Her dreams realized. As the box opened, Francisco and mike each threw a handful of confetti into the air. Out of the box came four copies of a children's book. The book itself was only about ten pages. It was blue-green with a drawing on the front that was made in color.
"Yay!" said Mike.
"Yes," said Shelley, "And we'd like to thank a certain Mike for drawing."
Mike screamed in excitement, which prompted everybody else to scream too.
"Read the book, Fermelda," said Grampa Green.
"Are you sure?" said Fermelda. "Maybe I shouldn't."
"We're writers," said Grampa Green. "Our book is our body. Our book is our life. Nothing is real but the stories we tell."
"Okay," said Fermelda, lifting her book in the air. "This is my book. I wrote it. Me. It is called the Tempest of the Dolls. Here is page one. 'Hello, my name is Elina and this is my castle. I love to be a princess, because being a princess is fun. I get to live a beautiful life. Oh no, I've been shot! The evil Casemanger has taken all of my favorite dolls, and he shot me. I need to go to the hospital. I'm at the hospital, but where are my dolls. Wait a minute. The nurse just came in. And she's got all of my dolls with her! The end.'"
The sound of applause filled the small dining room area.
"Fermelda, that was beautiful," said Francisco, holding back tears.
"I wrote it myself."
"That's right. We saw you write it. Wasn't it great?"
A few minutes later, Fermelda was talking with Grampa Green alone.
"Grampa Green, what should I do next?"
"What do you mean? You already wrote the book."
"So that's it?"
"Honey, you are a writer. A real writer. you're very bit as much as a writer as anybody else. Don't ever forget that, honey."
Fermelda seemed more calm now, as if the worst was behind her. She had gotten the monkey off her back, and now she could reflect.