Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sticks, Stones, Stitches, and Lyrics

I was so excited at being back to my bloggery self that I forgot to mention that along with a slightly different layout, I've updated the submission guidelines. Nothing major, but please check them out on the sidebar.

Now, let's jump right back into Glass Cases' reason for being - your stories. Today's is a novel excerpt by Naomi Canale that I like to think of as the lost episode of My So-Called Life that was written by John Hughes.

Naomi's novel, Sticks, Stones, Stitches, and Lyrics, was chosen by Ellen Hopkins for the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Naomi creates characters who "rise above the awful world she puts them in" and she spends her non-writing time raising three boys, painting, and gardening. Enjoy!

Sticks, Stones, Stitches, and Lyrics
By Naomi Canale 

Chapter One: Letting Go

Could there be anything positive about being alone on my seventeenth birthday? If I try to be optimistic, three things come to mind: walking around the house naked; singing foul lyrics with my guitar until the neighbors get annoyed; and stuffing my face with Moms forbidden chocolate stash.

But I can’t move my butt from this bar stool. Loneliness is my enemy today and my cell hasn’t made a peep. I keep telling myself that the satellite must be down. Its all just coincidence, it’ll vibrate soon. Damn, who am I kidding? Dad hasn’t called, Mom’s over an hour late, and kissable Ben is off at his grandma’s, being tortured with hot chocolate and warm fireplaces. My eyes zoom in on a roll sitting alone on the counter, and I lift a finger up to touch it. Stale and hard, this sad, little hunk of bread seems to represent my day. Not to mention my birthday. The sound of a key in the front door of our apartment draws my attention. It’s Mom. She smiles, places some grocery bags on the counter and comes over to give me a kiss. “Hi, honey. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks, Mom. Win anything big today?”

“No. Not today sweetie. Soon though, I feel it. Before long, we’ll finally be able to travel and maybe even buy a house.” A cake in a plastic container emerges from one of the grocery bags as she pulls it out and wrinkles her nose up in disappointment. “Look what I got you.”

Despite the soft gnaw of sadness, I can’t help but grin because my birthday cake is chocolate on chocolate. Who wouldn’t smile at that? Crap. I can feel the sudden crease of my annoying dimples. Mom can’t resist squeezing them, or making her regular observation, “One day when you get a boyfriend he’ll want to kiss those dimples every day.”

I push out my lips, attempting to hide them, and rub my left pinched cheek. “Mom, boys don’t pay attention to me, much less want to kiss my dimples. Okay, I think Ben kissed them once, but it was just a friend kind of thing.”

Mom dips one finger into the frosting, dabs it onto her tongue and speaks to me with a chocolate smudge across her lip. “See. Well, I know you’re growing up and all, but just be careful that’s the only thing he’s kissing.”

“God, Mom.” To change the subject, I point out the chocolate on her face. “Mom. Right there. You’ve got some frosting right there.”

Mom finds an old rag, hanging next to the sink and wipes off her face. “Thanks, hon’. Oh candles, we can’t forget those.” She turns around and reaches into a grocery bag. The candles fall to the floor, and as she bends down to retrieve them, her pink thong comes up for air. Silently, I laugh.

Mom tries to pretty up the cake as she stabs it with dollar store candles, doing some freaky dance that makes her look like she has to pee. She pulls a lighter from her purse and lights them one by one. “Wait. Don’t blow them out yet. Let me dim the lights.”

When I lean toward the cake, the dripping wax pillars warm the tip of my nose. Mom’s voice crackles as she sings, “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear, Robbie, happy birthday to you. And many more on channel four.”

I can’t help but giggle as I whisper my birthday wish. “I wish tomorrow I will stomp the competition and win.”

As I blow out my candles, Mom looks at me with a frown. “Sorry I have to work on your birthday.”

I try not to let it bother me and focus on the stuff on the counter. “No problem Mom, I’ll just be practicing for tomorrow anyway.” A new college pamphlet sits in plain sight next to the phone. I reach across to look at it.

Mom smiles wickedly big, “I brought that home this morning because I was thinking about you and your eighteenth birthday, with it only being next year and all. And thought you might be interested in some collegy stuff. You know, just to get you a little fired up.”

School is my worst subject. I try to feel positive about college, but when I think about four more years of classes and tests and hoards of strange people, my heart kind of sinks. “That’s nice Mom, but how can I make it to college if I can’t even get one decent grade? Math is killing me right now. I’ve got a headache from stupid algebra homework.”

Her eyes slowly move toward my guitar leaning up against the living room wall. “Well maybe if you spent more time studying and not playing that thing so much, you’d do better. In fact, if you worked half as hard on your math as you do playing riffs, you could probably get a scholarship. You play that guitar great, but maybe try the flute or something school oriented.”

“Mom, I do work hard and I already tried the flute thing and playing guitar is what I do instead of spending time with friends I don’t have.”

She opens the cupboard and grabs a plate. “I know honey. I just don’t want to see you end up like me. Broken dreams can’t be glued back together.” Mom slides a piece of cake over the counter in front of me.

“You’re not going to have some?”

“I’d love to, but I’ve got to get going for work in, like, five minutes. Just keep in mind what I said, okay?”

I poke at the cake with a fork, watching her walk down the hallway and into her room. She does put herself down a lot, but she’s right. I don’t want to be an obsessive compulsive gambler with impossible hopes of getting rich with a roll of the dice or turning the right card. She might think a career in music is the same kind of dream. But at least I’ve never spent the rent money, playing guitar. Her voice drifts down the hall. “How’s that cake?”

“It’s yummy, Mom. Thanks.” I swipe some frosting off my cake with one finger just as Mom appears, dressed in her thin, red scrubs for another long night shift at the hospital.

“I’m off. See you in the morning.” She grabs a pack of cigarettes to light one up before work. “Okay, see you Robbie baby.”

The door shuts behind her and she doesn’t hear me add, “Love you.”

Every time she leaves I’m reminded we don’t live in the best part of town. It’s not so scary during the day, but at night, out come the pimps and drug dealers. It freaks me out being here all by myself. Mom claims she hates living here, too. But here we stay, year after year. It’s never felt like home. I dream of living in neighborhood, like my almost boyfriend Ben’s, where there are no apartments and the houses lining the sidewalk are all neat and painted, with pretty, little yards. A lonely fork sits on the counter waiting for me to smudge cake all over it, but I’ve lost my chocolate cajones. I pick up my algebra book but when I open it, the symbols mush together, making me dizzy like twirling on one of those playground things. A few pieces of paper fall onto the table. Monday’s homework, stamped with giant Fs. I should try to figure this stuff out, but all I can see is red-penned failure. I pull out today’s homework, try the first problem. Damn it. I’ll never learn this stuff. Scholarship? Is Mom crazy? My GPA can be counted with two fingers.

My hand starts scribbling, leaking black ink onto the paper in front of me. Words form and smear from the tears dripping onto them.

Stupid Dad, don’t you love me? If you did, you’d come see me on my birthday, and you’d come alone. Not like the last time, when you brought that new girlfriend of yours. You pretended to care so you could show me off and make someone think you’re worth a damn. “Daddy’s little girl,” the one you only bother with when you want to look like you actually have feelings.

Although, I’m madder than usual with you today, part of me wishes you’ll show up with a new Jennifer or Meagan, or maybe another big-boobed bimbo like Jessica. Damn it, Dad. Why can’t you just call me? But no knock on the door. No call. Whatever. Who needs him anyway? My eyes burn and I feel the salt trickle of tears on my cheeks. I wipe my face with a dirty sleeve and think back to the day he left. I was only five years old, but I can vividly remember sitting abandoned in a car on the side of Interstate-80. Mom was crying as you climbed over the side rail off the interstate and never looked back. That little tin of metal was so cold sitting outside the homeless shelter I thought my toes might freeze off. Not to mention I had to share a bathroom with a bunch of smelly cracked out weirdo’s.

Mom did the best she could to make that car feel like home, but it only lasted a year. Low income housing was the next best thing. And now, twelve years later, I’m looking out the window onto the same old street sign, Suffolk Circle.

Thinking about that confined car makes me need the comfort of a small space. I move toward my room, picking my guitar up on the way. My heart breaks as I wedge inside my closet and close the door. This is my private oasis, the one I painted dark blue. Under the dim light of glow-in-the-dark star stickers, I squeeze my guitar under my arm and start to play. Lyrics fall into the cramped space around me, and I wrap myself in the obsession of creating my own music. I close my eyes, and I’m onstage, singing my latest song. The crowd sings along. They know this song, word for word. Everyone adores me. I’m beautiful.

Who cares about homework or grades or college? All I care about is this guitar and the music reverberating from each chord. From the moment I first picked it up at a thrift store, and my un-callused fingertips touched these strings, I haven’t been able to stop. It is my drug of choice, and when “real” happens, and fans know my music, Dad won’t forget about days like today.


  1. That is fabulous interior monologue. It's very natural and efficient. *takes notes*

  2. Love that line "school is my worst subject"

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  4. Thank you Sarah, Jaimie, and Jennifer for the lovely comments! What an inspiration to be compared to John Hughes "Smiles Big*

  5. Hey Naomi... that's one impressive first chapter ... well done.

  6. Love the pink thong part with the mother. Totally captures her personality.

  7. Wow!! Thank you Widdershins and Tamara I greatly appreciate your comments!!