This is a scene I wrote on June 10, 2014, as a just-for-fun exercise to read at the June meeting of the Rome Area Writers group, a delightful monthly gathering of writers I discovered last year in the Rome, Georgia area. I attended a few meetings late last year when I was still looking for a job, and after I was working so far away and so many hours, it became impractical to attend. Since I've been out of work several weeks for health reasons (much to my frustration and stress at times), when this month's meeting rolled around, I was able to attend, much to my joy.
Each month, there is a writing prompt, which is an inducement (one hopes) to write, however seriously or trivially. The writing prompt for this month was one simple word, a name: "Josephine". Initially, I was like "whaaaat"? What am I supposed to do with that? But, as so often happens, it wasn't so much a matter of me doing anything with it as just shutting up long enough to hear that inner voice, what some might call a "muse", and follow the path where it would lead. So it was, last Tuesday night, I was driving down to my sister's house out in the country in Silver Creek, rolled the name "Josephine" around my thoughts for a second, and an image came, followed by others. The next day, at the library, in the quiet of a study room listening to the "Deep Space One" station on SomaFM, I started writing, and this is what resulted after about 20 minutes.
It was just a creative exercise to get me writing, so I wasn't too concerned with editing, and so I present it here in basically the rough form it took originally. I was able to share it with some family and friends, and I read it at the meeting last night. It seemed to be well-received, so, as I occasionally do, I thought I'd post it here and share it with whomever cares to read it. I hope you enjoy it.
Until next time, love and peace to everyone from Rome, Georgia.
June 13, 2014
Josephine died in the middle of the night on the running wheel she had lived on. I'm pretty sure that's what woke me up: the staccato eee-eeek eee-eeek of the turning wheel that formed the perverted third-shift background rhythms of my own sleep suddenly stopped. Not just paused – that happened a lot when Josephine got too tired or jumped off the wheel to go get some food or water – but this was different. And, somehow, in the nether regions of sleep, without the impediment of conscious distortions, I knew.
Josephine wasn't mine; she was my brother Roger's, and he, ten years older than me, at age 19, was in the middle (at least that's what we thought) of his one-year Vietnam service in the Army. I was just taking care of her until he got back. It was my tour of duty for my brother, and entered into much more willingly than my brother's own reluctant servitude.
“'Oops',” he'd said to me just before he left, “take care of Josie (that's what he called Josephine, but I restored her dignity and called her by her proper name after he left) while I'm gone. Don't let Old Lady Marmalade catch her, now.” He'd laughed and hugged me real tight when he said this. I just stood there and tried to be much more grown-up than I felt and not cry in front of him like Mama told me.
Okay. Before I go any further, I guess I need to explain a couple of things. First, my brother (and later, everyone else who knew me) called me “Oops”. I was a little older than I was when Josephine's wheel stopped turning when I realized what it meant: I was the second child in my family, born ten years after my brother, when my parents were both already looking forward to freedom from the one kid they'd had. Oops.
The second thing I probably need to explain is about Old Lady Marmalade. Well, when I was about 3 or 4, my folks rented this rickety old farmhouse out in the country surrounded by weeds, in support of the mistaken notion only my Dad believed wasn't a joke that we would somehow become farmers and live off the land. It took my Dad a few years to recognize this for the “oops” that it was, but it was after Josephine's wheel stopped, so I won't go into all that.
Anyway, in the back of this old house that could have been transported from the set of Psycho, there was an old dugout cellar. Besides some broken shelves and spider webs and the skeleton of an old light fixture and some empty, mostly broken, canning jars, there was nothing down there but this old photograph in a broken frame. It was the old lady that my Dad said used to own this place and who had died in our house years back standing in front of all these shelves (probably the shelves in this very cellar back before they were broken skeletons of themselves) full of different jams and preserves. She was holding up a jar of something that my Mom said looked like marmalade (I still don't know what that is til this day), and smiling real big like she was proud of it, so Roger started calling her “Old Lady Marmalade”. He used to scare me by telling me Old Lady Marmalade's ghost was still running around our house, and he told me with much conviction that my room was the very room she had died in. My Dad didn't do much to reassure me when I told him all this, and he said, “Well, Oops, I don't know which room the old lady passed away in, to be honest.”
Roger used to joke that it was Old Lady Marmalade's ghost chasing Josephine (only he said “Josie” like he always did) that made her run all night long and sleep all day long.
And my first thought when I woke up that night the wheel stopped and turned on the light to see if Josephine really had stopped or just paused was, “I guess Old Lady Marmalade caught her.” Oops.
It was several days later when we finally learned that on the same night Josephine's wheel stopped turning, Roger had been killed by someone in his own squad when Roger raised up, I guess to try to get a better look at the enemy they were trying to kill, and was shot from behind by one of his best friends.
And I could just hear whatever god there was over there shrugging, and saying, “Oops.”