Ashes in a Dolphin's Belly

As part of NaNoWriMo, I am attempting to write a novel in 30 days. This means writing 50,000 words in one month, approximately 1,667 words each day. The story you are about to read may be completely lacking in structure, organization, character development, clarity, cogency, and insight. I am merely attempting to complete a long work of fiction, something I have never been able to accomplish before.

Chapter 1

I was inconsolable. Tears were streaming down my cheeks. My chest was heaving with sobs. I could barely hold my own head up. Like a weighed down shepherd's pole, it just sunk to the side, drooping. The fat under my chin bulged against my shoulder blade, and I let it cushion the weight that was resting there. Even when I would try to lift it up, it would only fall again to the other side, causing another eruption of tears.

The scratch on his back bumper wasn't even visible. Where's Waldo and I Spy puzzles were easier to solve than this. Frankly, if you'd had a brand new bumper right below it and a microscope to compare the two, you'd still be lucky to find the difference. So I tapped the back of the guy's explorer. Big deal.

He was nice enough when it happened. Pulled off to the side, got out to check what happened, asked me what happened. I don't even remember breathing when I replied, "I've been driving for eight hours; I'm so sorry."

I was two minutes from home. Two minutes away from it all being over. A mental oasis was waiting for me just down the road. I'd travelled it hundreds of times before. I knew the apartments and condos lined along the right, the middle school a few hundred feet to the left. If you kept going straight you would hit the library and the elementary school that I went to, but only for second grade. You'd drive just a little ways before turning left and then entering the subdivision of my childhood and adolescence. I couldn't stand around breathing in this cool, crisp autumn air. I needed to be in suburbia, no matter how conventional, conservative, or dull. I wanted cookie cutter perfection: glass hutches with porcelain figurines, big backyards for one hundred pound Labrador dogs, and fake flowers draped over the archways of doors. I wanted the everything I knew and had known, and I didn't want to wait another moment for it.

"Well, I'll have to report this," the man said. He adjusted his glasses, looking at me with a blank expression.

The cars swept past us at the intersection. The breeze pushed the leaves of the trees forward. I could feel my own body tilting in the direction of the traffic lights just down the road. Leaning forward, leaning forward – I might as well have toppled over, shattered on the pavement, like the pieces of glass from beer bottles that frat guys left in the hazy-lit street, like the pieces of glass from fragile household items that customers broke at the retail shop, like the pieces of glass from the pitcher we bought at a garage sale, which I shattered while packing away my stuff in the U-haul.

"Okay," I managed to utter.

"We should get our cars out of the intersection," he added. Cars continued to drive past us on the shoulder. "We don't want to block traffic."

I nodded my head automatically. There was something like an un-possession of my body. Instead of being occupied by a demon or spirit or poltergeist or whatever, I was deemed unworthy by all things supernatural, including the malicious. No head spinning or ectoplasmic puke or spontaneous urination. Just a fine chill and the sense of action happening without any firm control over it. My vitality was sucked out of me-the breath, the blood, the warmth, the awareness-while my body remained a robot, programmed to respond plainly to basic social interactions.

"Yeah," I said. "Okay."

When I climbed back in my car and turned the key in the ignition, I wondered at the thought of past Halloweens when I was young enough to dress up and go trick or treating. Kids thrilled at the idea of dressing up and swapping identities with ghosts, cats, witches, and superheroes for a night. Little performers receiving sugary rewards for their enactment of roles both social and fictional. And what did I get for trying on my masks?

A new set of plates I never put on my car, licenses from three different states, a hitch without a ball, a 5 x 8 trailer, unclean underwear, itchy labia, a missing box of books, a one-eyed shelter cat that I didn't even keep, several half-hearted attempts at friendship that all ended in unanswered text messages, and a trail of dead memories all up and down the coast of New England.

"Momma," I started to cry, letting my head fall against the steering wheel. "Momma, help me."

The mother of the universe sits in her cradle above the universe, rocking herself to a slow sleep while she hums a gentle lullaby. With hair as scraggly and wiry as SOS pads and lips as cracked as desert plateaus, she might seem frightening to some, but past her eyelashes, lined with dust, are pools so deep and brown they look like melted chocolate. She looks down with them, past her cradle at the universe, where she sees the cosmos and the stars twinkling at her. The world is her aquarium in a way, a screensaver of epic proportions. She continues to tilt, fully enjoying the feeling of the rocking motion.

"I am Mother Universe," she says in a beautiful language that is all languages at once. Merged together they are a song that slinks past her lips as glittery, tinkling wisps. "I have no control except that I can grant you as much or as little control as you deserve. Now earn your place among the memories of the universe, and I shall grant you a burning star, my daughter."

The next thing I knew I was driving away. Straight down the road past the condominiums and apartments, the old middle school I used to attend, the entrance to my subdivision – and beyond. I went past the food market where I'd done grocery shopping with my mom, in the same plaza where you could get the best won ton soup I'd ever tasted – and I'd been to China. I drove past the vacant video rental store, the Sunday morning breakfast café, the ritzy bank. He tried to follow me in his stupid Explorer for about half an hour, but I think at some point he realized it was useless. What would he tell the cops when they saw there was nothing wrong with his car? I could see him in my side mirror talking into his cell phone, gesturing angrily. I kept on going past the pharmacy, the bar, and a Coney Island, and that's when he turned around and stopped trailing me.

The decision to just leave as he was pulling off the shoulder into a church parking lot wasn't one that I made rationally. That would be a terrible excuse in a courtroom, but it remains completely valid in my brain. Sixteen hours of driving after life crises and any rationale that holds in a courtroom disappears from even the most rigorously trained academic brain.

I had tried to escape suburbia when I was just eighteen years old and succeeded. There was no way I was coming back at twenty-two a failure. I wouldn't allow myself to be trapped in a world of Bible quotes on the fridge and air freshener in the bathroom. I couldn't subject my pussy to such an inevitable bout of dryness; she needed the freedom as much as I did. Besides, they didn't have a room for me there anyway. No closet for my clothes, no bathroom space for my bottles and brushes, no kitchen for my personally designed leftovers.

My mind was a grandfather clock though, and the pendulum had just swung back to the other side.

Like my victim, I found an open parking lot to turn around in and headed back toward the subdivision. A lady honked at me as I pulled the U-haul out in a right turn without seeing her. She gave me the finger as she passed on the left. I was too numb to even be affected by that. I was back on my way home again and I was ready, in a spasmodic turn of my own mentality's stream of possibilities, to accept my conservative American parents.