A Preface: Maybe I will regret this, but at the time being, I submit to you, the first draft of my first chapter of my novel. I am looking for feedback, but do remember to also be kind, since I am putting myself extremely out of my comfort zone.
Also keep in mind, my audience is teenage girls.
The Russians were arguing again. Loudly. Outside my window. In Russian.
I could see the thinning patch of Alexandre’s head shaking in dissent, and occasionally the end of Sasha’s broom as she jolted it skywards, when words simply weren’t conveying her message well enough and she needed a little extra “umph” to her argument. I consulted the clock in order to determine the nature of the squabble. From 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM they typically argued about the order in which they should complete their ground duties. From noon to four, I guessed that they were arguing about their son, Ivan, and whether or not he should attend an American university, or pursue his education back in Russia. And at five PM exactly, I surmised that they began a new dispute entirely, about a whole hodge podge of subject matter that my untrained English-speaking ear was not skilled enough to recognize. By six thirty PM, work day over, Sasha and Alexandre walked back to their apartment, hand in wrinkled hand, and Sasha’s synthetic cherry red (or clown nose red, depending on the way the light hit it) head of hair was resting delicately on Alexandre’s shoulder. It was a daily ritual.
It was not, however, ritual for them to commence their workday outside my window at six AM, which is what they were doing today. This hardly seemed fair, since my body was finally starting to register my new summer/ new time zone sleep schedule. My internal alarm clock had been waking me up forcibly at five thirty every morning, telling my morning brain that it was eight thirty and that I was already late for school. Sasha and Alexandre’s boisterous argument today would set my sleep adjustment back for days now, and I would continue waking up too early until Thursday, at least.
I groaned and drew the pillow over my head in attempt to drown out the Russians, but Sasha appeared to have taken to whapping her broomstick against my window when she got especially frustrated and thus, it happened often. Rather than chastising the Russians as I wished I could, and risk Alexandre never coming to help us change our light bulbs or fix our air conditioning, I solved my problem and rolled out of bed. Zombie-walking into the kitchen, I flipped the switch of the coffee maker, (which my mother filled nightly with coffee beans and filters so she wouldn’t have to open her eyes in the morning until she was appropriately caffeinated) and watched the heaven-sent substance dribble into my mug.
“It’s ok,” the coffee maker chirped when my mug was full. “Your day is going to be ok. You have me.”
I gave the machine a grateful pat and let the mug sear my fingertips for several seconds. It was another daily ritual. But this one was solely my own.
A thud issued from the back bedroom, which could only mean that my mother too had decided to flop out of bed. She stumbled into the kitchen, eyes shrouded by a sleep mask and her fingers dragging along the wall so she could feel her way to the coffee. She looked like a hangover personified. Selflessly, I handed her my mug, and waited for the coffee maker to dribble me out another one.
“Morning, sweetie,” she sighed, finally removing her eye mask and conceding to let the light in.
“Rough night?” I asked.
“Filled with nightmares,” she replied, consulting the coffee cup and seeming to decide she wanted it blacker. She traded it back to me with the fresh brew I’d just poured myself and took a ponderous gulp, seemingly un-nettled about the scorching heat.
“About dad?” A trace of a wince flickered in the corner of her eye.
“About work,” she corrected. Mom had taken on a new managerial position at a local clothing store called “Melvin’s.” With it, she took a pay cut, thankless hours, and an unflattering uniform, but she insisted that it was all worth it to get away from that “insufferable brute,” otherwise known as Phil Steinmetz, otherwise known as my father.
“The customers were returning the new Grace Ellen line because the seams of the fabric would wind around their neck and strangle them in their sleep,” Mom elaborated, sinking into a chair in the middle of the table. Even though she was the newly instated head of household, she was also a creature of routine, and would never let herself occupy the head seat.
I didn’t tell her about my dream about all my friends back in Fairfax hanging up a cast list for their production of Robin Hood, and who specified that you had to be a resident of the state of Virginia in order to be cast, effectively kicking me out of the play and their clique.
But I felt like telling her.
I changed the subject instead.
“So besides dealing with possessed Grace Ellen lingerie, what’ve you got going on today?”
“I should be asking you the same thing,” Mom stated. “You’re the one without an agenda.” She seemed to accuse me of this, like it was somehow my fault that I’d been moved from my safe haven in Virginia and uprooted to Hell’s foothills in Colorado.
“Season twelve of the Bachelor finally came to Insta-play on Netflix.”
“Don’t overload yourself, now,” Mom cautioned sarcastically, then tipped the now nearly drained mug into her mouth to eviscerate any remnants of coffee that might cling to the mug’s dregs. She pushed in her chair and disappeared again into her bedroom, leaving my question unanswered and a day of eternal boredom before me. Television seemed my best option.
The TV set was demon possessed. For the life of me, I could not figure out how to turn the cable on. My mom inherited the forty-inch flat screen TV from the divorce, which took up more than half our living room wall. Because it sat so directly on the wall, I swore mold that inhabited the ceiling would certainly descend and creep around the edges of the TV screen until only faint images flickered behind a layer of bacteria. The apartment smelled like its previous occupants may have caught the black plague and died from it, and the corpses were now rotting in the air conditioning system, which might explain why it was sputtering out occasional lukewarm wisps of atmosphere rather than substantial cool waves of air. The walls of the apartment looked ready to collapse into each other at any moment, but the apartment was so small, and the walls so thin, that even if they were to collapse on top of me, I doubted very highly that they would do much damage to my body. Everything about the apartment was dank and depressing, and especially if the TV was not working, I didn’t really feel like staying inside of it today.
A dilemma: The coffee had apparently worked its way through my system, which meant bladder ants were now marching through my bloodstream, making me feel exceptionally… wiggly. Which meant that I had to use the toilet. There were two problems with this: firstly, I wasn’t entirely sure that the apartment’s previous occupant’s STD’s weren’t still lingering on the toilet seat, even after I had squirted the expanse of porcelain down with enough bleach to sear the skin. Secondly, this toilet made an exceptionally large flush, and being a quirky creature by nature, I admit that loud noises frightened me a lot. It was a childhood fear, admittedly, stemming back to some deep-seated faith that a monster lurked in the hole at the bottom of the toilet and could only reach out and grab me when I flushed the toilet and set him free. This toilet seemed to remind me of the childhood monster, and sometimes I put off going to the bathroom just to avoid that particularly alarming rumble.
In the end, Mother Nature got the best of me.
“Elly!” My mother called from the bathroom a few moments later, “I don’t know what it is about this place that has rendered you incapable of flushing the toilet, but I want you to target what it is, and nip that habit it the bud!” I cringed as the water thundered through the pipes in the walls.
Needless to say, it took little to no coaxing to propel me from the new, yet decrepit apartment that morning. After my mother had exhausted the hot water supply and left me with a tepid shower, I placed my foot upon the doormat and decided to spread my wings; I was off to discover what Colorado had to offer.
And apparently, all Colorado had to offer me was a nosebleed. After wandering underneath pine trees for twenty minutes, blood came pouring from my nose as though blinking had flipped a spigot in my sinuses. Cursing the Rocky Mountain altitude and trudging back to my apartment, I ripped off my t-shirt, which was already a lost cause to the O-negative bloodstains and used it as a tissue. Thank goodness for camisoles.
I lied upside down on the cement steps outside my apartment, hoping that this gravitational resistance would quell the bleeding. Tiny haloed pigtails appeared above me.
“Did you escape from the crazy house?” the pigtails asked.
“Did you escape from the mental institution?” The pigtails amended. I righted myself, so this small seven-year-old child didn’t have a halo of sun glaring in my eyes and I could get a better squint at her. She looked concerned.
“Is that a metaphorical mental institution, or an actual mental institution?” I asked her, relieved to find that my nosebleed was starting to clot.
“I dunno,” she said innocently. “Do you live there?” She pointed at the gated building across the parking lot from us.
“No, I replied. I live there.” I pointed at the crap hole.
“So, you aren’t crazy?” She considered me deeply, as if she was strapping my soul up to a lie detector inside her brain.
“No.” I stated firmly. “I just have a nosebleed.”
“Darcy!” A mother called from the balcony on the third floor, and she darted up the steps, pausing to add an “Ick!” and a droplet of blood on the pavement, a droplet that had escaped from the t-shirt dam I was currently jamming up my nose.
As the nose ooze subsided to a minor trickle, I turned my focus to the building across the parking lot that had, thus far, completely eluded my attention. As if this place could get any worse, apparently, now I was living in close proximity to a loony bin. How charming.