Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Going Back to an Old Piece of Writing

I've decided to start working on a novel I wrote a few years ago and will be posting it chapter by chapter. On this blog these chapters will be interspersed with other blog entries, but all the chapters will appear together on my writing blog.

The novel is autobiographical (as most first novels are) and is set in Halifax in 1954. The main characters are a fourteen year old girl and a woman in her fifties who survived the Halifax Explosion. It is the tension between the two characters that is the first conflict to appear, but it is the deeper unhappiness of both characters that is the real story.

I hope you enjoy reading Explosion of Fire and Ice.

And maybe some of you will have advice for making it better or suggestions about getting it published.


Kate's blue eyes widened when she saw Miss Johnson's face. Swallowing a gasp and closing her mouth, she looked down at the floor as she mumbled an apology for being late.

"Well, don't just stand there gawking, Miss. You've already wasted too much time. Sit down and get busy copying the note from the front board," was Miss Johnson's response.

Kate edged onto the stool next to Miriam's, and noticed with dismay her best friend’s white cooking bag. She glanced around the room at all the white cloth bags by the three ring binders, some neatly placed, others splayed out like beanbags that had landed on the counter tops. Cripes! I'm the only one who forgot the damned thing. What else can go wrong?

She turned to say something to Miriam who shook her head almost imperceptibly and continued copying from the blackboard. Kate looked at the first two rules, smiled ruefully, and quickly opened her binder. Miriam whispered, "Don't forget the date," and Kate wrote down November 1, 1954, before scratching down the list.

1. Do not arrive late to class.

2. Bring your apron and cooking bag to every class.

3. After each class, wash and iron your apron and bag.

4. Do not forget to bring your notebook and writing implements to class.

5. Wash your hands before handling any food.

6. Do not leave your work station dirty.

7. Do not speak unnecessarily to your cooking partner.

"Gads, how many are there?" Kate muttered to Miriam. "I've already broken the first two."

"You, there at Station 3. What is your name? Can't you read the rules? Not only have you arrived late to class; now you are talking unnecessarily. And where is your white cooking bag? I don't see it anywhere?"

"I forgot it, Miss Johnson," Kate faltered. "It completely slipped my mind till I saw everyone else's. I'm really sorry. I won't forget it next time. My name is Kate, Kate Hennigan."

"I should send you to the office, Hennigar, but I won't since it’s the first class. Instead, you will stay after school and wash the cooking room floor. And, without an apron, you will be excluded from today's class. While the others are cooking you will write out the lines: 'I will not be late to class again' and 'I will remember to bring my apron to all my cooking classes from now on'. One hundred times." Miss Johnson had moved across the floor as she spoke and now stood beside Kate and Miriam. She looked down at Kate's scribbled notes and concluded, "And you will write the lines in considerably neater fashion that the notes you have copied."

Kate looked gloomily at Miriam and made a face at Miss Johnson's retreating back. Miriam grinned for an instant and then turned a solemn face toward the front of the room.

Miss Johnson read aloud her list of rules, elaborating on the reasons for each, then turned to a side blackboard where she had charted the term's work. Today they were making boiled eggs. Next class was porridge, and the one after that, grilled cheese sandwiches. Kate looked ahead to December and saw that Christmas mints were listed. What a useless class. Even she knew how to boil eggs and make grilled cheese sandwiches, and besides, she never ate porridge.

Breakfast was usually instant coffee, lunch, canned soup and toast, and dinner whatever the restaurant had on special or a hot chicken sandwich with its yellow gravy congealing on the white bread and its neat little piles of peas and chips on the side. She liked pouring the ketchup on the side of the plate, cutting the sandwich into bite- sized pieces, and then eating everything in a strict order: first the peas, one by one, then the sandwich, and finally the chips dipped into the ketchup. Afterwards she usually ordered a Devil's Delight or some other extravagant sundae.

Kate knew that Miriam envied her daily restaurant meals with no limit to what she could spend. Mim's father was the minister of the West End Baptist Church, and she lived in the cramped house next door to the church with her parents, three sisters and a brother. At Christmas Miriam gave gifts that her dad got free, little bookmarks with Bible verses on them, and most of Mim's clothes were carefully pressed and mended hand-me-downs. Kate could think of only two things she had been unable to talk her father into buying for her: a red pedal car when she was eight, and, more recently, a horse of her own.

Kate considered Miriam's life unduly regulated. Her own home had no set rules. Unlike the Stockwell's, whose lives were inextricably bound together, Kate and her father co-existed in their small apartment without a great deal of contact with one another. She liked their arrangement, but she also liked spending time at the Stockwell's. She liked the Saturday smell of baking bread and the solid healthy breakfasts Mrs. Stockwell insisted the kids eat each day. She often arrived early to pick Miriam up for school just so she could watch as Mrs. Stockwell, her grey hair caught up in an untidy bun, forced either Diane or Miriam back to the table to finish their eggs scrambled in milk, or checked to see that Wayne's fingernails were clean. Sometimes when Kate's dad was on a business trip he asked Mrs. Stockwell to keep Kate for a few days. Life always felt more orderly during those times.

Miss Johnson's harsh voice brought Kate out of her reverie. "You haven't written a thing, Miss. What have you been doing all this time? Are you being deliberately obstreperous or are you just plain stupid?"

Kate's head reared back and she responded without thinking, "I'm not stupid and that is not something a teacher should say to a student. Check with my other teachers, why don't you?" When she tossed her head, her nutmeg brown ponytail grazed Miriam’s cheek. She heard Miriam’s quick intake of breath and then Miss Johnson’s voice.

"Insolence will not be tolerated in this classroom, Hennigar, and you had better get that straight right now. Go down to Mr. Harris and explain why you have been sent from my classroom. I don't expect to see you again until you have a note from Mr. Harris and you are ready to apologize."

"But I didn't do anything, and my name's not Hennigar, you old cow," Kate muttered under her breath as she pulled her zippered binder to her chest and stormed out of the classroom without even a glance at Miriam as she brushed past her. Hideous old bitch. No wonder she's MISS Johnson. No man could stand her. She looks like she's been dumped in a vat of lye -- all those lumpy things on her face. And one eye droops so she seems to be looking in two directions at once. Creepy old biddy.

Mr. Harris was not in his office so Kate reported her presence to the secretary who pulled her student file and filled in the complaint form. Under 'Reason for Referral' she wrote "Sent by Miss Johnson" and rolled her eyes. She said, "Haven't seen you before. Don't you like cooking?"

"I haven't had a chance to find out," Kate said. "She kicked me out before I could do anything, right or wrong."

The secretary smiled sympathetically.

A few minutes later the burly form of Mr. Harris could be seen striding toward the office. He took the file and form from the secretary's outstretched hand and gestured toward his office door. "In you go, Miss. What's the problem?"

"Miss Johnson said I was insolent, Sir. It was the first day of her class and I was late and I forgot to bring my cooking bag to class. In Miss Hilton's sewing class last term we left our things in the classroom cubbyholes. But I wasn't insolent, Sir. She called me stupid and I objected."

He looked up from the file he had been perusing. "What exactly did you say?"

"I said I wasn't stupid and she had no right to say that."

"Well, you may be right but you probably said it in some way that was offensive. Try to mind your manners," Mr. Harris paused significantly, " and your tongue, in Miss Johnson's class from now on. You don't want to lose your honour roll standing for the sake of your pride now, do you?"

"No Sir, but she wasn't being fair."

"Life often isn't, but you will find it's simpler if you refrain from telling teachers what rights they have or do not have, Kate. Go back and apologize and make a fresh start with Miss Johnson. You'll see. It will be worth the damage you might do to your pride."

"Yes, Sir. Do I still have to wash the floor after school?"

"You do. Now run along. It's almost lunch time."

Kate left the office just as the bell began to ring. She had just snapped her combination lock shut when Miriam arrived, her black curly hair glinting a dozen shades of red gold in the sunshine. "Hurry up, Mim. Wait till you hear what Old Harris and his secretary think of Miss Johnson." Miriam’s brown eyes widened and the two girls set off for home.


Barbara Carlson said...

I like it!
I like the point of view; takes me back to my cooking and sewing classes and notes on the board. When teachers were strict and bossy.
But Kate has spunk.
She'll survive.
She'll begin to see "through" adults.

Oma said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Barbara.