|Image Credit: Marcos Molina via Flickr|
This will be the first time I've attempted a work for a younger audience that doesn't involve a) magic, b) sci-fi, or c) swords. I've had the idea for this story for several years, but I just didn't know how to approach it without boring myself. So, after doing some reading and fiddling around with voice, I think I have a better understanding of the characters (particularly Han's) to where I think I can tell her story authentically (despite it still being fiction).
Anyway, to show you what I mean, I'm posting the first and second (not finalized) chapters here.
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THE PIT by Christina Daley
Movement 1 - The Horrible Homecoming
My brother Thanh was notorious for not listening to me. Like the time he disassembled my tricycle to every factory part (pink handlebar tassels not withholding) and earned a proper beating from Dad. Or when he tried to "modify" our beloved Joyota's engine for more horsepower based on instructions procured from YouTube, which made me late for an important violin recital. And especially when I used the specific words "don't die" before his third tour of duty to Afghanistan, from which he had the balls to return in a flag-draped oblong box.
Said box is currently making its way down from the plane's baggage hatch, while my father and I wait silently under a terminal at DFW Airport. Dad's normally not a chatty person anyway, but his nonchattiness tonight was of a graver variety (no pun intended).
I'm a hobbit standing next to him. My dad's unusually tall and solidly built for a man of Vietnamese origin, most likely due to ancient Mongol genes that also passed on to Thanh. (Sadly, I had inherited our maternal unit's petite frame and large teeth that vie for supremacy in a mouth of limited capacity, but that's for another time.) I'd given up long ago trying to guess my dad's thoughts, but if they're anything on par with mine tonight, I'd hazard "this is bullshit" numbers among them.
Up in the terminal, some passengers from the same flight line against the glass to witness Thanh's final homecoming. Few of them probably knew that a deceased soldier was riding along with their checked luggage. What would the flight attendants have said? "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for choosing Moneysuck Airlines. We would like to extend a warm welcome to all our elite fliers and the dead guy in the cargo bay. Economy doesn't sound so bad to the rest of you peasants now, huh?"
A group of non-dead (but non-zombie) soldiers are on hand to collect Thanh and his patriotically embellished box. After placing it on a clever coffin-carrying contraption, they ceremoniously accompany it to where Dad and I stand. One steps forward and salutes. He'd said his name when we had arrived, but I've already forgotten it and my sucky Asian eyes are poor at reading things like tiny name tags in the dark.
He relays the details of keeping Thanh's box for us at their base before transporting it to the cemetery and blah blah blah. It's nearly midnight, after all, and oh yeah, my big brother's just arrived home in a box because he didn't listen to my very specific instructions. Funeral arrangements are not a high priority to my grieving, sleep-deprived sixteen-year-old cerebral cortex.
"Can we see him?" I blurt out to no one in particular.
Sergeant Whatshisname stops his logistical ramble and regards me. He keeps a straight face, though I can tell my question makes him a little uncomfortable. "I would not recommend that," he says. "Corporal Vo's remains are not suitable for viewing."
Not suitable for viewing. I guess that's the gentle way of saying, "Physics, with the help of an IED, tore your brother and two other guys from his unit to bits. I think we got their pieces sorted into the correct oblong boxes, but you know, mistakes can happen. Better that you don't look and see an extra kneecap while another family looks in theirs and finds one missing."
So, Thanh, not only did you decide to come home in a box, but you also made it impossible for me and Dad to say goodbye to your face. I hope you're satisfied.
Movement 2 – The Awful Reunion
We don't have a funeral for Thanh, because Dad can't afford one. No viewing (he's not suitable anyway), no printed programs, no speeches, and no cookies and punch. Just Hearst, pallbearers, and ground while we watch. A few people turned up. Some of Thanh's friends, both in and out of the army, as well as a few family members who could make it on such short notice. My friends from school are also here. All two of them. Moral support for myself, yes, but they also knew Thanh. He'd been our designated chauffer on many occasions, back before any of us could drive.
Arabella, a black girl with natural hair wrapped in a colorful headband, gives me a warm, squishy hug. "Han, I'm so sorry."
She pronounces my name correctly—"hon" with a clipped "n" at the end. It's one of the many reasons why I'm friends with Arabella, in addition to her squishy hugs.
The other of my two friends is a bear of a boy with black hair and copper skin. Politics call him American Indian. Assholes call him Chief. We call him Craig.
He wraps me in one of his ursine embraces. "How are you?" he asks in a voice reminiscent of James Earl Jones.
"I'm here," I say. I'd abandoned "I'm fine" years ago when I decided not to lie to myself or others about my emotional or mental state.
"Thanks for coming, you two," I add.
"Wouldn't miss it for anything," Arabella says. "How's your dad?"
I glance over at him, nodding politely as other attendees offer their condolences. His immense shoulders are turned in, a symptom of clutching the folded flag and, oh yes, of having to stand next to a Giant Hole in the earth that will forever hold the pieces of your son.
"He's doing as well as he can," I say. I don't tell him that he'd locked himself in the bathroom to cry between four and seven o'clock this morning.
Craig looks up. "Your mom?"
I shrug. "I don't know if she's coming." Since I had refused, my father was the one to call her about Thanh and invite her to the burial. I'd told him not to hold his breath. My mother had a way of being glaringly absent from major life events including, but not limited to, birthdays, holidays, first periods (not Thanh's), and promotions to corporal (not mine).
But Craig shakes his head and points. "I mean, is that your mom?"
I follow his indicating digit to a creature stepping out of a candy apple red spacecraft that has been modified for planetary surface travel. She's wearing a little black dress with matching wide-brim hat and Audrey Hepburn sun specs. Her lipstick is the same shade as the spacecraft.
As she negotiates the grassy terrain in her glistening stilettos, another being emerges from the car—male, of distant European origin but local nationality, and most likely had Botox injections recently as evidenced by the unnatural smoothness of his fake-baked skin. How quickly these organisms are at adopting the ways of Planet Earth's One Percent.
"Excuse me," I tell my friends as I step away to intercept the Female.
She smiles. "Han! How are you, sweetheart?"
She moves to embrace me, but I swat her hands away and demand, "What are you doing here?"
Her perfectly penciled eyebrows arc from behind her Hepburn glasses. Then, they arc down. "Han, don't start—"
I cross my arms. "Start what?"
She presses her ruby lips together. "He was my son. Don't I have the right to mourn him, too?"
"You surrendered that right, among others, when you willingly abdicated Motherhood," I say.
A frustrated huff escapes her. "Why do you always do that?"
"Use two feet to stand or two lungs to process oxygen?"
Her crafted brow wrinkles. "Huh?"
"Make a more specific query if you want a more informed answer."
"That!" she snaps. "The talking over my head stuff, like you're so much smarter than me."
"Because I am."
I'm just getting warmed up when my father's voice interrupts. "Chi. I'm glad you could make it." He shoots me a "behave yourself" glare while exchanging a pleasant handshake with the Female.
She flashes her smile again, her massive teeth now stained with her lipstick. "Minh, thanks for calling."
They exchange "how are yous" as they walk towards Thanh. They look like people from two different worlds. My father's only sports coat in the world is too tight around the shoulders and too large around the middle, and his shoes are actually work boots that he tried to make socially acceptable with drugstore shoe polish. Chi is tiny and looks like a million bucks—probably because that's what her outfit costs after adjustment for inflation. If he'd wanted to, Dad could pick her up and toss her into the Giant Hole with one hand. I kinda wish he would, but he won't. My dad is the complete opposite of a violent man. To my knowledge, the only time he had physically struck anyone was Thanh—once for The Premature Tricycle Disassembly of '99 and another time immediately after The Great Pot Discovery of '04.
I turn to find the Male has come to invade my personal space. He smiles, which doesn't make his face anymore pleasant to regard.
"I don't know if you remember me." He tells me his name, but I refuse to make space in my memory banks to retain it. "It's been a long time."
I turn away without acknowledging him.
"Uh, I got something for you." He steps around to plague my scope of vision again and holds out a small glossy shopping bag with tissue paper peeking over the top. It's the kind of bag that, set forth by the guidelines of television, was manufactured specifically to deliver either jewelry or naughty lingerie. "Your mom thought you might like it."
Clearly, this man knows nothing about me. Because my mother knows nothing about me.
"She said that you—"
I interrupt with, "A-minus for effort in trying to win favor with a material offering. But you are screwing my mother and are, thus, not allowed to screw with me."
I wait for no response and walk with determination in no particular direction. This day has officially gone from DEFCON 5 Crappy to DEFCON 5,000 Crappy, now that the two people I loathe the most have made an appearance. I have to get away.
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Like I said, it's very different from anything I've done before, but I'm having some fun with it, and so far I've gotten some really good feedback from some early critiques. So, I guess I'd better get back to it :)