When I was in speech and debate in college, we did this thing called W.I.P. on practice days. It stood for “Works in Progress,” and we’d present our speeches for critique from the rest of the team. I think about some of the things I did back then – memorize three ten-minute speeches and present them at tournaments, drive and fly hundreds of miles into the west and east to perform at tiny colleges. W.I.P. was a way for us to mentally prepare ourselves for the grueling tournament schedule, to be in a room full of laughter and love and support. I don’t remember volunteering to present at W.I.P. very often, but I think of it every time I post something half-finished on this blog.
I’ve had this idea in my head a long time, and while I’ve struggled with its value and its relation to my other work, I’ve decided to finally get it out of my head. Here’s the first – I have many other bits and pieces of the story written, but it would seem incoherent to post it all.
As always many blanks to fill in, motivations to consider, but it feels good to get it all out. More to come, dear readers!
“Good morning, Mollie. You have no appointments today. You have no reminders today. You have no tasks today. Have a wonderful day.”
Mollie opened her eyes to the electric blue of pre-dawn as it peeked around the edge of the curtains. This would be her last dawn, or at least her last familiar dawn.
Even at 28 years old her mornings still evoked wake-up calls from her stepmother, soggy oatmeal and crusty eyes, half-conscious showers and undead walks to the bus stop. There had to be some long, tongue-twisting German word for unwanted nostalgia, but she did not know it.
“Thank you, Lenny.”
As her father and stepmother relied more and more on comfortable automation, she rejected it in favor of analog pleasure. They bought Lenny when she was ten – a clumsy robotic device that defied all sci-fi tropes by being utterly useless. Any of his true abilities had long been neutered by Mollie’s insistence upon only using him for wake-up calls and occasional reminder. In him was a tentative hope for artificial intelligence that burned to ash as a truer future rose from them. Gazing at him now, a tabletop relic posed eagerly for his next command, she already missed him.
All the familiar kitchen smells wafted into her bedroom. She took things slow, first wiggling her fingers and toes, then making snow angels in the sheets to embrace their coolness. She sat straight up then let herself tumble back into her pillows. She knew she would sleep in another bed, probably a more comfortable one, the type that fit her body’s every subtle contour. But this was her childhood bed, her lumpy mattress and jersey pillowcases, her semi-public collection of stuffed bears. She opened her nightstand drawer and took out an ancient camera that used actual film – her grandmother’s camera. She took a photograph of her unmade bed before heading downstairs.
Her goodbye party was held the week before. Her high school friends bought a keg and made her play all the old games until she felt like a water balloon. She puked in a dark corner of the backyard and peed in her neighbors rose bush, earning thorn cuts and punctures on her thighs that felt numb in the fog of good drunk folly. The next morning she asked her stepmother Janie to make her favorite breakfast, then make it again the day she left.
“Are you scared?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s true, but it’s alright.”
Her stepmother was not a cold woman, but very efficient in word and action. She cut to the core or any problem like a blunt object thrown with incredible force, and in a stunned, painful moment you told the truth.
“I guess I am. Not of the trip, you know, because I know everything they do to make it safe, it’s insane. Kind of just feels like the first day of school, you know?”
“I remember a few of those. Your first day of middle school when you walked into a puddle and ruined your suede boots? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so ticked off.”
A stack of blueberry pancakes sat in the middle of the table. The coffee maker bubbled and hissed next to a sweating carton of creamer. Fresh daisies sat at attention in a milk glass vase.
“You bought the good stuff,” said Mollie when she saw a glass maple leaf full of syrup. She’d never seen the kitchen this clean. She’d never see it again. It was a comfortable hotel room that was transitory all the same.
“You didn’t think I was going to half-ass it, did you?” Janie looked down her nose at Mollie and poured their coffee.
For a few minutes they said nothing, pouring cream and sugar more slow and careful than usual.