Remember how every single year I get super excited about November being National Novel Writing Month? It never fails. I start the month full of motivation and enthusiasm, albeit COMPLETELY unprepared. The challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. My waning enthusiasm and writers blocked mind can usually carry me to about 6,000 words. Seventeen-thousand my first year.
And then... nothing. I give up. I run out of ideas and words and plot.
Guess what? LAST NOVEMBER WAS NO DIFFERENT. Hooray! Go team! Write all the words!
I did manage about 6,000 words this year, and because it feels wasteful to have written and then literally left all the words sad and alone within my computer files, I'm going to share a piece of it here. I figure I can do something useful with this blog other than talk about putting oil on my face.
I have no idea where I was going with this story. None. I'm not even entirely sure what I was doing with the story as I was writing it. But, you know, oops.
So here's a (big) snippet:
Grace woke up sweating, for a moment forgetting where she was. She hadn’t slept in her own bed in exactly three months and 16 days, so it was easy to lose track of such things. She glanced at the digital clock in the nightstand, the red numbers jogging her memory. A motel in South Dakota at 3:14 a.m. She remembered now.
She stared at the ceiling, unfamiliar shadows reminding her she was again in an unfamiliar place. At home, the maple tree outside her bedroom window cast eerie shadows on the walls when the street light turned on. She liked to watch as the shadows shifted with the wind outside. No such familiar comfort in her motel room. Instead, the LED light from the alarm clock made shadows of lampshades and the flat screen TV. It seemed cold. Not the temperature, especially in July, but the mood. Sterile, almost. Despite the sweat, she wrapped the comforter closer to her neck as the A/C droned on in the background.
She couldn’t sleep now. The dream that startled her awake kept her mind buzzing. She hadn’t dreamt about Thomas in 8 days. Grace had become good at keeping track of time and moments. Everything felt like a countdown. Or a step. Three months and 16 days since leaving home. Eight days since her last dream of Thomas. Thirteen hours since her last decent meal. Her stomach started rumbling, giving her a hint.
Since she wasn’t falling back asleep any time soon, she rolled out of bed and rummaged through her bag for a bra. The 24-hour convenience store next to the motel was sure to have some sort of particularly unhealthy middle-of-the-night snack. Her bag was packed full of seemingly everything but a bra. A headlamp, her toothbrush, sweatpants, her ancient laptop, a stuffed cat named Max her parents had given her as a baby. Grace snatched that out of the bag and threw it on the bed, not giving it a second thought. After a thorough dig she finally yanked a sports bra out of the mix.
Quickly dressed, she did a once-over in the mirror and decided to tuck her unruly auburn hair under a ball cap. The hat was from her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. She’d had it nearly 10 years and the red had faded into something almost unrecognizable. But it felt like home to her. It was perfectly conformed to her head, fit like a glove. She decided the grubby t-shirt she’d been sleeping in would have to suffice for the poor soul working the graveyard shift at Handi-Mart. Handi-Mart was new to her. Certainly didn’t have those back home. But she could appreciate a 24-hour convenience store as long as it meant mint chocolate chip ice cream at 3:30 a.m.
Grace also appreciated the private entrance to her motel room. It meant easier access to the fresh air, though the humidity hit her like a brick as soon as she opened the door.
“Jesus,” she muttered under her breath, glad she had the air-conditioner blasting in the room behind her.
The air was thick after a full day of blazing sun and temperatures dancing mercilessly in the 90s. Her skin already felt dewy and she had only reached the bottom of the stairs from the motel balcony. It surprised her how hot South Dakota summers were. Not that she knew anything about South Dakota before driving into the state for the first time last week. She found she had to get her runs done before the sun came up to avoid the oppressive July heat. Growing up in Wisconsin, summer’s got hot, but this felt like a new heat. An unfamiliar and unwelcomed heat.
She made her way across the motel parking lot and nearly ran into a woman who was coming from the direction of Handi-Mart. By her disheveled appearance, Grace assumed she was either homeless or a prostitute. Possibly both. The vacant look in her eyes made Grace’s skin crawl.
“You got some cash?” the woman asked just before Grace was able to redirect her route. Being that it was not yet 4 a.m., it was pitch black and no one else was around, she couldn’t as easily get away with ignoring the question.
“I’m sorry, no,” Grace replied, trying to avoid eye contact. She suddenly felt very away of the odd hour of night and the nerves in her stomach.
“Aw come on. A couple bucks. Don’t be a bitch,” the woman spat.
The words took Grace aback. She’d come across some interesting folks in the last few months, but this was new. She put her head down and kept walking, dodging left a bit to avoid her rude new friend.
“Hey, bitch! Don’t act like you ain’t got no cash,” she carried on. “I need a bus ride, come on. Come on.”
Once she felt she was safely out of sight, Grace picked up her pace and made a beeline for the store entrance. Never had she felt so relieved to walk into a mediocre-at-best convenience store. Handi-Mart, no less.
It took a second for her eyes to adjust to the fluorescent lighting. As expected, the one cashier looked miserable, her eyes glassed over as she scrolled through her phone. She was chewing gum, looking like she hadn’t had human interaction in hours. Grace decided not to disturb her peace, and headed to the freezer section for ice cream. It struck her again that it was the absolute middle of the night as she swallowed a yawn. Noting the time, she realized six months ago she would have been sound asleep in bed, probably curled up with Frank the cat, an alarm set for an hour from now so she could head out for a morning run with her best friend Ella before heading into the office for a full day’s work. Go home, go to bed, repeat. Normalcy. It was all so normal. Sometimes she longed for the normal and routine, but now all she longed for was the mint chocolate chip ice cream that was inconveniently vacant from the convenience store’s freezer.
“Dammit,” she grumbled, realizing just how little it seemed she had actual conversations anymore. Rather than full sentences, it seemed her vocabulary had been stunted to one-word exclamations to herself.
“Can I help you find something?”
Grace turned on her heels, startled, to find the clerk behind her.
“Oh, um,” she tripped over her words, trying to remember how to socialize at 4 a.m. “Just the uh… do you have any more mint chocolate chip ice cream?”
She suddenly felt foolish. She could imagine how she must look, strolling into the store at nearly 4 a.m., looking over-tired and desperately seeking ice cream.
“No, sorry,” Tanya replied. Grace took note of the nametag. Tanya with an ‘a’. Grace’s cousin spelled her name the same way, and always introduced herself with that tagline.
“That’s OK, I’ll just get something else,” Grace responded, turning back to the freezer.
“Did Barb get at you outside?” Tanya was still talking.
“Barb? I, um…”
“The hooker. Barb.”
“Oh! Oh,” Grace said, feeling foolish that she’d already forgotten about her best friend Barb from the parking lot just minutes ago. Guess Barb’s occupation wasn’t a secret. “Yeah, she needed bus fare.”
Tanya scoffed. Grace felt unsure how she was to respond to that. Mostly she just wanted her ice cream and to get back to the comfort of her dark and cold motel room.
“Right, bus fare,” Tanya finally said. “Just ignore her. She’s crazy. Bothers our customers all the time. I just kicked her out of here. Came in here asking me for money. Can you believe it? Told her she could go find some cash down the road doing her job.”
Grace raised her eyebrows at the brazen attitude of the late-night convenience store clerk. She nodded, mildly impressed and amused.
“I’ll, uh. I’ll be sure to ignore her next time. We’re not destined to be friends any time soon. She already called me a bitch,” Grace mused. “Guess I’m not her type.” She chuckled at herself.
“She calls everyone a bitch,” Tanya said. It felt almost defensive.
Grace decided she’d had enough awkward small talk with Miss Congeniality. She grabbed a Rocky Road ice cream from the freezer and nodded towards the cash register.
“Oh, yeah. Sure. I can check you out,” Tanya said, realizing their conversation about Barb was over.
Grace pulled the five dollar bill from her pocket to pay for the ice cream, feeling rebellious after having lied to Hooker Barb in the parking lot. But now just the slightest bit nervous that Barb was somewhere watching her, realizing the lie. She noticed the pepper spray for sale at the checkout counter and made a mental note to pick some up. Never could be too careful. So far she was unimpressed with the people of South Dakota.
“Thanks for shopping at Handi-Mart,” Tanya called after her as she made her way to the doors. Grace looked back and smiled, waving the ice cream, antsy to get back to being a recluse for the remainder of the morning.
Thankfully there was no Barb in sight on the way back to her motel room. It was surprisingly peaceful this time. Nothing but the low hum of traffic from the highway down the road. The sound was comforting. She never liked absolute silence. Even when sleeping. She preferred some sort of sound to drown the silence. At home she kept a fan buzzing every night. Now that she was on the road she had to get more creative. More often than not she left the fan running in the motel bathroom, and it was just enough to lull her to sleep.
After she fumbled with her keys to her room, she pushed the door open and was greeted by a blast of cool air. She didn’t even realize she’d been sweating on her walk back. She stripped off her t-shirt and grabbed a spoon from the box of plastic silverware she bought the other day. Peeling the cap from the ice cream, she tried to psych herself up for what wasn’t mint chocolate chip ice cream. Once she took her first bite she realized ice cream was ice cream, and when it was 4 a.m., did it matter?
She sat back down in bed and pulled the sheet up over her knees. Ice cream in bed at this ungodly hour. She tried to enjoy the humor in that, but realized she was finally getting sleepy again. She crawled out from under the covers and stashed the ice cream in the tiny freezer under the desk. It had to serve some purpose, may as well be this one, she thought.
Grace grabbed her cell phone before tucking herself back into bed. She wanted to read the text message from her mom again. She read it often, waiting for the day she felt less guilty when she read the words.
“Be safe, sweetheart. Come back to us when you’re ready. We need you here.”