Why do we participate in NaNo? For me, it's the challenge. I know I can do it. I know I can write 50,000 words in a month. If I didn't have to work 40 hours a week I could probably double or even triple that, but this is real life and not going to work because you want to write a book just isn't an option for most of us. So, I cram that writing time into the end of my days and ignore my family on the weekends, just to prove to myself that if I really want to I can do it. If I'm truly motivated it can happen. My family hates this by the way.
This is the first chapter of the story I worked on for NaNo. The book isn't done yet, (almost, but not quite) and I wrote this chapter at the beginning of the year so it wasn't included in my 50,000 word count. I actually wrote two chapters in February and then decided to live with the characters for a while. They've been rattling around and arguing with each other in my head for months, so I let them all out to play for National Novel Writing Month. Since I'm almost done with their story I wanted to share this little bit with you.
A Shade of Winter
“So tell me, Pansy, how do you feel that you’ve been handling school since the accident?” He closed the door before she answered but I could hear the low murmur of my sister’s reply through the heavy wood-paneled door. She was making up some crap answer to placate the therapist, no doubt. Since nothing that I could say or do would help at this point I turned my attentions to the handful of people wasting time in the small, but plush, waiting room.
No one bothered me as I wandered around the room. There was an older lady, maybe in her late thirties, with a lacquered helmet of dirty blonde hair that ran stick straight to her shoulder before curling under. It didn’t move as she leaned over to scribble something in her notepad and as I looked over her shoulder to see what she was writing, expecting to see the next great American novel, I was disappointed to see nothing but a grocery list. Adults were so boring.
The psychology books in the heavy oak bookshelf by the receptionist’s desk looked new and unopened and I noticed a thick layer of dust along the tops. They seemed to be largely ignored by both the staff and the cleaning crew. Absently, I ran my hand over a mercury glass mirror, its spotted finish looked old and expensive. Maybe it was, but I figured expensive, fragile objects weren’t the best things to have on hand when people were in an emotional state. Not that any of the people sitting out here looked particularly volatile. The waiting room serviced two other therapists' offices and their patients looked pretty placid. For all I knew, they were all doped up on meds, so maybe the mirror and the little glass tchotchkes on the shelves would live to see another day. My combat boots didn’t make any sound on the thick baby blue carpet as I continued my tour around the room. Blue is a soothing color, I’d read that in a magazine once.
Dad was paying top dollar for this therapist, even though Mom had had to bribe my reluctant twin to get her to agree to this session of the touchy-feelies. Our parents felt that Pansy wasn’t showing enough depth of despair, or grief, or whatever, over the accident and together they’d made the decision that she should talk to a professional. It was one of the few times since the funeral that they’d even spoken to one another and we’d been pretty shocked when this had been the decision produced from their little pow-wow. In the last few weeks Dad had spent more and more time at work, and Mom, well… she spent her few waking hours lying in bed, staring at the wall. We’d assumed their conversation was about her need for therapy, as clearly, it should be our mother sitting in that silky beige chair. But no one had asked for our opinions. No, instead, my sister had to endure this emotional poking and prodding into the most private aspects of her life, and I fully expected her to lie her way through most of it. She couldn’t tell them the truth or I’d be visiting her in the looney bin.
There was a kid who looked about two or three years younger than us with lanky dark hair, slumped in his seat, sitting next to a woman I presumed was his mother. I wondered which of them needed the therapist. She was reading a book and he was playing a game on his Gameboy, thumbs flying over the controls as he shot down flying saucers. He didn’t notice when I rolled my eyes.
I made my way around a dusty fake fern on a spindly table to see what the overweight guy sitting on a settee in the corner was doing. I sat down next to him but his gaze never wavered from the magazine he was holding in both hands. He was just staring at an advertisement for Keds and not actually reading anything. Upon closer inspection, his eyes were dilated and his breathing seemed shallow so I stepped away, convinced he was definitely on something. Whether that something was prescribed or not, I had no idea.
I hadn’t wasted nearly enough time touring the room but since I had made a complete circle back to the door where my sister was being ‘treated’ I eased into Dr. Noonan’s office with its cheerful yellow walls and big windows that let in as much of the weak November light as possible. Dr. Noonan didn't look up from his notes but my sister gave me a warning glance as I perched in the chair next to hers. It was her way of telling me to behave although she didn’t speak to me directly. Her eyes were red and I could see that she’d already been crying. Maybe she was laying it on too thick. After all, we wanted the doctor to believe that she was well adjusted and capable of grieving, not that she was a big blubbery mess.
“But you were driving the vehicle, at the time, correct?”
“Yes, sir.” She dropped her eyes to the tissue she was twisting back and forth in her hands. Avoid eye contact. Good thinking, Sis.
“Your father said you blamed yourself for the accident, but the police report says that a man crossed into your lane. Have you actually seen the police report yet, Pansy?”
“No, sir.” Short and sweet, that was good, don’t say too much.
“I have a copy here and I think you should look at it. The man, Justin Woodbridge, was well over the legal limit, but surely you already know that.”
“Yes, sir.” She took the manila file folder from Doctor Noonan and laid it open across her lap. Standing, I moved behind her to read it over her shoulder and she nudged it a little to the side so that I could get a better view.
“Now, some of the pictures you’re going to see are graphic. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to see them. Don’t feel bad if it makes you anxious or brings up bad memories. This is just a folder. All you have to do is close it.” Dr. Noonan leaned back in his seat and crossed his ankle over his other knee. He smoothed his longish dark hair back from his face before settling his hands across the pooch of his belly. I assumed that he was getting comfortable so that he could observe Pansy’s reactions while reading through the report. When I glanced down I saw that there wasn’t much to it, really. It looked like there were a few statements that the police had gathered, the first responders, one from my sister, and one from this Justin Woodbridge guy. There was a hand-drawn diagram of the accident scene showing the placement of vehicles in relation to the bridge. It looked so nice and neat on paper. Almost orderly.
Pansy flipped to the next page, which was a glossy 8x10 photo from the scene, and I admit, I had to look away. That was too real, much more like it had been that night, and I suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline, fear, grief, something... hit me hard. My chest tightened like I couldn’t get enough air. Trying not to hyperventilate, which was ridiculous, really, I walked over to the windows. The roses in the flower bed outside the window had been cut back for the winter, their woody stems whacked off at strange pointy angles and I stared at their ugliness until I got myself under control. Dr. Noonan had resumed talking, but I hadn’t been listening.
“I know it’s not my fault. I know that. But I’m afraid I’m never going to forgive myself. Maybe I could have reacted quicker. If we hadn’t been out so late it wouldn't have happened, but I was the one that had wanted to stay at the party. Why Gerri? Why not me?” Her words were tinged with a hint of panic and pulled my attention away from my own feelings. I didn’t know if she was acting for the doctor or if she really meant it, but my intuition told me that she was being sincere. I frowned. “It’s not your fault,” I said. She shook her head and I couldn’t tell if that meant she was agreeing with me or not.
“Survivor’s guilt is common in these kinds of cases,” the doctor began to drone on in his soothing voice. I began to wonder if part of the therapy was to hypnotize the patients with his voice. Hypnotherapy was a real thing, right? Recomposed, I walked back over to stand behind my sister.
The file was still open on her lap and the picture that was currently on top of the pile was of the car we’d been in - our 1994 Chevy Cavalier that we’d gotten brand new last year for our sixteenth birthday. The front end was smashed and crumpled, but the firewall had held. It wasn’t the force of the oncoming car that had killed me, no, it was the broken end of the guardrail being forced through the passenger side door that had ended my life. I shivered with the memory and laid a hand on Pansy’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault,” I said again, more firmly this time.
She laid her hand over mine, or tried to, anyway. To Dr. Noonan, it probably looked like she was just touching her own shoulder for no reason. Dr. Noonan could suck it. As far as we could tell, my twin was the only person who could see and hear me since I’d died. In the last few weeks we had adjusted to this strange turn of events as well as we were ever going to.