Welcome to the newest slot on my blog, the Sunday night Novel Nights In where I bring you guests’ novels in their entirety over a maximum of ten weeks. Tonight’s is the fifth instalment of the first novel in this series and features the second section of Book 2 (of three) of a novel by literary author, poet and interviewee Rose Mary Boehm.
For shorter pieces I would run the story then talk more about it afterwards but because this is a longer post, here is an introduction to Rose then the fifth part of her novel…
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm now lives and works in Lima, Peru. Two novels (‘Coming Up For Air’ and the follow-up ‘The Telling’) have been published in the UK, as well as a poetry collection (‘Tangents’). Her latest poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in US poetry reviews. Among others: Toe Good Poetry, Poetry Breakfast, Burning Word, Muddy River Review, Pale Horse Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Other Rooms, Requiem Magazine, Full of Crow, Poetry Quarterly, Punchnel’s, Verse Wisconsin, Naugatuck Poetry Review (contest semi-finalist), Avatar…
Her poem ‘Miss Worthington’ won third price in the coveted Margaret Reid Poetry Contest: http://winningwriters.com/contests/margaret/2009/ma09_epaminondas.php
You can find out more about Rose and her writing at her blog: http://houseboathouse.blogspot.com, and you can also read one of Rose’s short stories on http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/short-story-for-critique-003-mrs-boffa-by-rose-mary-boehm.
Coming Up For Air
A young girl’s struggle to take control of her life – click to read Book I: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Book 2: Part 1. If you don’t want to wait the 10 weeks for the whole story, you can purchase Coming Up for Air at Amazon.com (just $2.95) Amazon.co.uk (only £1.87). The rest of the ‘adventures of Annie’ can be read in THE TELLING.
Gisela and I had finished our homework. The late afternoon sun was about to sink behind the horizon when we decided to walk very fast along the towpath by the canal to see whether we could be fast enough and ‘catch’ it before it disappeared. We knew it was impossible and just a game.
We talk while we walk. Suddenly Gisela stops. “Do you think it’s true about how they make babies?”
“What do you mean… that the man lies on top of the woman?”
“Well, yes, and that he puts his willie into her hole.”
That’s not something anyone ever told me about and definitely hasn’t occurred to me. I have never seen my brother other than at least wearing his underpants, and my father never ever walks through the house in his underwear or even in a dressing gown. I have only ever seen him fully dressed. Still, I have an idea what a ‘willie’ is, I am not that dumb, but the idea that anybody should ‘stick his willie into my hole’ gives me the creeps.
To Gisela I pretend I know exactly what she is talking about. I am too embarrassed to let on that I just discovered how backward I am. So I say boldly, “Of course it’s true, but it’s really disgusting, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ll go for it.”
“Neither shall I. I’ve thought about it often. And I don’t understand how my mother could actually do it with my father…”
Now there’s a thought. This, of course, is a revelation. When I get home I look at my parents with different eyes and decide that they are really quite despicable and that I’ll never, ever…
I took high school very seriously and actually enjoyed it. The school was in another part of town, and in the winter we took the tram which rattled past the coking plants, the steel works and even through some leafy roads lined with sycamore trees. In early spring we’d go by bike. There were usually three of us, three girls. We lived very close to one another and became good friends over the years almost by default. With Gisela I discovered how babies are made and with Helga I learned how to smoke.
Helga’s mother works and isn’t home yet. That’s why the three of us are alone in her house – Gisela, Helga and I. After sneaking in to see ‘Les Diaboliques’ we realised that we have to do something or we’ll be hopelessly left behind. Not smoking clearly marks us as little girls of no importance, and therefore smoking is one of the first things we have to learn how to do.
Helga has stolen a handful of cigarettes from her mother, one by one so she wouldn’t notice. We each take one and hold it awkwardly, imagining we are Simone Signoret, Rita Hayworth or Betty Grable. Helga holds a match to each one, and we suck the air through the cigarette to make it glow. The smoke fills my mouth and stings, tasting of unpleasant and smoke-filled memories. We hold the smoke in our mouths for a moment before we let it drift out again.
“I don’t think that’s how it’s done,” says Helga. “When my mother smokes she inhales it, it stays in her body for a while and then she exhales and the smoke comes out with her breath, sometimes through her nose.”
“Alright, let’s try…”
The next puff has us inhaling and immediately coughing until our eyes water and sting. We double over, nearly vomiting, and we look at each other with tears in our eyes – we look pale grey to green.
“Okay, guys. This needs practise. Since everyone smokes, it can’t be difficult to get used to it.” By the end of the afternoon we feel rather sick but triumphant: we don’t cough any more, our eyes don’t water, and we hold and light the ‘glimmersticks’ like old pros, ready to conquer the grown-up world, ready to enter a party with something to hold on to, ready to give us the air of utter sophistication and experience. Now we have to practice the ‘look’ (think Lauren Bacall) and we’ll be complete.
We’d meet up by the local cinema and from there go to school together – either by tram or by bike, depending on the time of year. On the way we were sometimes met by boys who used the same route but, living closer to the school, joined later. We never actually agreed to meet, but when it happened we were particularly giggly and slightly hysterical.
Our French teacher doubles her duties and has us once a week for religion. Even though I like it, I’m usually in trouble because I just can’t get my head around certain Bible stories and their interpretations. As far as I am concerned, some of the stuff just doesn’t add up.
“Well, when you say that Judas will roast in hell for his betrayal of Jesus, I disagree.”
“I think that Judas got a bonus when he got to heaven. And I do think he went to heaven.”
“Why is this then, Anne? Why would you think Judas could get anywhere near heaven?”
“Because he did them all a favour, didn’t he … if it hadn’t been for him, the Big Plan wouldn’t have succeeded. Somebody had to do it. So, I suppose, Jesus and God ought to have been grateful.”
I am really very serious, but the class giggles. They think I do this on purpose to sideline Fräulein Franzen and make her forget what’s on the syllabus for today. Judas – and many other aspects of our Bible studies – just have me baffled. There is no way, I think, that logic and belief need to be mutually exclusive, and to me it’s logical that all the players get a fair deal.
Then there is this thing about ‘God Knoweth Best’ which implies that I know very little… So if I ask God for things and then have to say ‘But not as I want it, but as You want it for me in Your wisdom’, I give God carte blanche and may as well not have bothered. If I ask for a beautiful bicycle and God thinks that’s a bad idea, he won’t give it to me. So why ask?
Then we are being taught that the universe doesn’t lose anything, it just transforms. That’s physics. But physics has to be applied to all things. So, if that’s how things are, then my thoughts are matter, and it must be as bad to want to kill someone as it is to actually kill him. And if that’s so, my soul can’t just disappear after I die, since the universe doesn’t lose anything.
I read that in India they believe in reincarnation. Now that begins to make sense. My soul goes on forever and sometimes is transformed into a body and sometimes it’s in a non-body state. I try to imagine where the non-bodies go to while they hang around until they come back again, but all I can think of is that they are probably peacefully sleeping somewhere until they are woken up to go back.
When I hear people say, ‘God is so cruel. Why did He allow this baby to die? It didn’t even have a chance to live…” I think that life isn’t all that hot anyway – at least from what I can detect so far – and then I have a feeling that God doesn’t ‘allow’ anything. He just doesn’t get that actively involved. He got the creation ball rolling and then retired into a benign but remote presence to let us get on with it.
I imagine that the soul probably makes a deal in its non-body place: ‘I go down there even though it’s not my turn yet. But don’t you dare to leave me there longer than the three years you promised. I am willing to teach these people about loving and losing and heartbreak, but don’t you trick me! And don’t forget: I get another 150,000 years bonus for that!’
There is no way I can make my teacher understand any of this. She isn’t even willing to consider the options. So I get sent out of class yet again and have to write 100 times ‘I must not be so obnoxious’. For tomorrow.