excerpt – A Thousand Paper Swans

I managed to reach the 50,000 word count for NaNoWriMo in the evening of November 13th. The story is no where near completion, but I thought I would share a couple of excerpts from it. Keep in mind, this is raw, unedited word vomit here. It was an intense thirteen days – my third year of November novel writing escapades. Last year I finished in 16 days, and my first year I finished in 10 days. It feels good to have the bulk of the novel written now – and as usual, I am surprised by what came out (since I always go in with no plan in mind). We’ll see how it all unfolds now that the ‘crunch’ is over. I do really enjoy the process of free fall and running after the story… wherever it goes!


A Thousand Paper Swans
©Leigh-Anne Fraser-Tyson 2010


The First Day
Gathering Clouds

The room tipped to one side. Danielle closed her eyes, willing the floor and walls to right themselves. The living room was empty except for the worn black sofa and a battered leather Captain’s chair she had found in an antique shop. The sun was rising. The soft pale light threw strange shadows around the room when she tried to open her eyes once more. Danielle didn’t know what had come over her. She woke from a dead sleep covered in beads of cold sweat and feeling like she was going to vomit. She threw up twice in the small bathroom off her bedroom, kneeling on the cold ceramic tile, clutching the bowl with both hands. Her stomach empty, she struggled to steady herself. The kitchen was too far away. Danielle sank into the chair and waited for the dizziness to pass.

She heard the radio in her bedroom click on. The voice of the announcer droned in low monotone. She couldn’t hear what he was saying. The sound was just loud enough to be heard not understood. The television clicked on in front of her. Danielle held her forehead with one hand, leaning heavily on the arm of the chair, looking around for the remote. She thought she had sat on it, accidently turning the television on. The red kettle on the stove chirped loudly. Danielle looked up startled. She had not turned on the stove to heat the water. Steam burped and bellowed from the narrow spout and then the chirp turned into a scream as the water boiled.

“What the hell?” Danielle said, stumbling out of the chair to the kitchen to turn the stove off. She reached the doorway before the next wave of nausea hit her. Danielle doubled over in pain and desperately reached for the wastebasket before she threw up on the floor. Her cell phone jumped to life in a vibrating dance on the wooden kitchen table. Danielle looked at it, confused. Books started falling off the bookshelf behind her. The bowl of river stones she kept on the highest shelf suddenly crashed to the floor. Danielle struggled to her feet, and turned off the gas stove. The blue flame disappeared in an instant. She pulled the kettle off and the whistling scream stopped. The house plunged into silence.

Danielle searched the cupboard for some medicine and started to make some tea. When the phone rang again, Danielle’s heart stopped. She leaned on the counter and waited. The phone rang again and again. She lifted the receiver carefully as though it might burst into flame and put it to her ear.

“Hello?” she said. Danielle tried to listen. Her brother’s voice was frantic. Danielle’s heart thundered in her ears. The room tipped and Danielle spilled to the floor. She couldn’t answer her brother on the other end of the line. The blackness swallowed her before she could tell him she was alright.

Maddie watched Lola through the window. Lola sniffed at the wind, looking up at the sky then turned indifferently to inspect the far corner of the yard. Maddie resisted the urge to tap on the glass to get her attention. She would come to the door when she was ready to come in again. Maddie sighed. She knew better than to rush her tenacious pug. Lola was particular and would not be rushed into doing anything, especially not when there was an entire yard to patrol. The leaves had long turned, except for the tree in the front yard. The leaves were still bright yellow and clinging to the branches even in the strong November wind that was blowing. Maddie could see the limbs of the tree flailing through the living room window. She looked back into the garden for Lola, but she couldn’t see her.
Maddie rested her forehead on the glass of the window. That little ball of fur had changed Maddie’s life when Stella had convinced her to adopt Lola from the local shelter.

“People need to care for something if they are going to live. And by people, I mean you.” Stella said when we brought Lola home. After Marc died, there had been some very dark moments. Maddie knew that Lola gave her a reason to get up out of bed each morning. Lola never gave her the option of giving up. Damn dog.

The electric kettle clicked off. Maddie pulled herself away from the window and went to the kitchen. She had developed the habit of pouring two cups of tea. Every Saturday morning, two teas had become the ritual. She fixed the teas differently: one spoonful of sugar and a drop of milk in one; two spoonfuls of sugar for the other and a healthy splash of milk and left one on the counter for later. The first time she caught herself doing it, she cried for hours. There are few tears left after four years.

Lola scratched at the back door. Maddie opened it and she hustled in, shaking her rump as she walked. Maddie balanced her mug of tea in one hand and bent down to rub the top of Lola’s head. Lola licked her hand. They wandered off together into the living room. Maddie set the mug down on the coffee table and sunk heavily into the sofa. She had piles of work waiting to be, but it could wait until the afternoon. Lola jumped up onto the sofa and snuggled in beside her. Maddie picked up the newspaper, and worked the elastic band down the rolled newsprint. The elastic snapped in half, biting her finger halfway down. Maddie swore and shook her hand. Then she began unrolling the newsprint. The face that stared back at her from the front page made her gasp.

Maddie scanned the article quickly. She reached for the phone when it rang beside her. She answered it, tucking the receiver under her ear so she could flip through the pages to the rest of the article. Maddie tried to talk and read at the same time.

“Hello?” Maddie said. Part of the section of newspaper fell to the ground as she looked for page eight. Maddie swore when she realized the page she wanted was cover her feet.

“Have you seen the paper yet today?” Stella’s voice was edged with concern. Maddie sighed and tossed the paper on the sofa beside Lola. Lola opened one eye lid and grunted before rolling onto her back. Madde frowned in frustration and scratched Lola’s belly absently.

“Yes, just saw it. Did they say when they were going to call me about it?” Maddie snapped. She immediately regretted barking at Stella. It wasn’t Stella’s fault. She was just following procedure.

“They are sending me to pick you up in an hour. We have a flight to Halifax in the morning. We have to do this quietly. Can Tom take care of Lola?” Stella spoke quickly. Maddie rubbed her temple with her free hand. Tom was her next door neighbour. He would look after Lola. He never said no. Maddie looked down at her sweet little fur ball. Lola’s tongue dangled out of the side of her mouth. She grunted in her sleep. It sounded like she was snoring. Maybe she was.

“I will ask Tom. I am sure it won’t be a problem. “ Maddie said. She pressed her palm to her head, creating a mental list of what she needed to do in the next hour before Stella arrived.

“What are they saying about the body? Did they say how it happened?” Maddie asked. She didn’t want to know. The department only brought her in when there were still too many unanswered questions. Stella knew that Maddie was just asking for the sake of asking and said nothing. Five years before, Maddie had been called to the banks of the LaHave River to help search for a missing girl. They found a girl’s body three weeks after she’d gone missing. The family swore she had run away, but she turned up bloated and rotting in the rocks just outside of Bridgewater. The mother confessed. She had killed her daughter because the boyfriend had shown an interest. Maddie knew that it had been more than interest. They never released all of the details to protect the younger sister. The girl had been pregnant. The mother found out and instead of killing the boyfriend for raping her daughter, she killed the competition. Maddie felt the knot forming in her stomach. This new body had a story to tell too. A very different one. Maddie knew it.

“There aren’t a lot of details coming out. Listen, we can’t talk about it now. Get packed and get Lola settled.” Stella said. The line went dead. Stella had hung up. Maddie shrugged and set the phone down. Stella was like that. No goodbyes. Maddie stood up. Lola looked at her with one eye.

“Ok Lola time to go.” Maddie said. She rubbed Lola’s belly once more and then started putting her kit together. An hour later, Stella stood on the porch chatting with Tom, while Maddie loaded her bags into the back of Stella’s beige SUV.

“We’ll be back in a few days.” Stella said to Tom. Maddie slammed the trunk door down and turned at Tom.

“Thanks for looking after her.” I said. “I’ll call in a couple of days and see how she’s doing.” Tom nodded. He picked up Lola around the middle, and balanced her on his hip. She looked like a sausage with legs. Maddie went to him and cupped Lola’s face in both of her hands.

“See you later furball” She whispered into Lola’s ear. The engine roared to life behind Maddie. She turned and climbed in. Maddie waved to Tom and Lola through the glass, as Stella backed out of the narrow driveway and eased the truck onto the road. Maddie continued to stare out the window, watching the fields and clumps of trees flash by.

“We’ve got 45 minutes before we get to the airport. You are going to tell me how bad it is and what they’ve done already to cover it up. I am not walking into this one blind.” Maddie said. She leaned back into the leather seat and took out her iPad out of the sleeve. Maddie listened to Stella, and began making notes.


One small step

Avia sat on the park bench staring down the alleyway. She memorized the cobblestones, how they were placed, the shape of each one, the numbers used to making the street. The dimensions tumbled through her mind. She was numb. She wondered what else could go wrong. Her bad day had started a week ago and was not showing any promise of getting better. Avia thought it was funny in a “poke your eyes out kind of way” how when one thing goes wrong in a day, many wrong things seemed to follow. She had received a letter from the landlord that her rent was tripling. It was not legal for him to do that, but by the time she fought it in the court, she would have to pay even more. She had to make a choice to either stay where she was or find somewhere new to live. Her job at the shop was being threatened, because of the time that the owner had given her off during the last few months of her mother’s illness. Avia hadn’t asked for it. She used a couple of sick days to take her mother to some doctor appointments, and left early a few times to be with her during the most difficult times, but never without permission, and never without making the time up or getting the work done that needed to be done. The confrontation with her boss a few days ago still weighed heavily on her. She was still hurt and frustrated.

The air was heavy around Avia. The sky threatened rain. She didn’t care. She didn’t want to move. The rain could come, pour down over her and wash her away into the gutter. Avia didn’t see the point.

“It’s going to rain.” A small voice said. Avia looked around. She didn’t see the old woman at first. She was standing at the side of one of the buildings. She moved and took a few steps toward Avia. The woman was closer than Avia realized.

“Yes, it is going to rain.” Avia said. She dug into her pocket for some change to give the woman but the woman stopped her.

“I don’t want anything from you. It’s ok. I’ve got plenty.” The woman said. Avia looked at her. She doubted that the woman had much money at all. The dress that she wore was dirty and worn to threads at the hem. The woman’s hair was unkept. Out of respect, Avia stopped digging into her wallet and sat with her hands folded across her bag.

“My name is Marie.” The woman said, extending her hand. Avia looked at it and then up into the woman’s face. Silver grey eyes stared back at her. Avia shook her hand. Marie’s skin was calloused and cool.
“Avia.” She said.

“You should take better care of yourself.” Marie said. “You look like you are ready to jump of the next building.” Avia looked at Marie, startled. Marie pet her hand. Avia noticed how black her fingernails were. Bits of dried blood clung to Marie’s index finger. Avia couldn’t see the cut, but guessed it had been a nasty one.

“I know. I have felt what I see on your face.” Marie said. She smiled. Avia could not see a trace of sadness in Marie’s eyes. Her face was weathered and sun tanned. Avia knew that the lines carved into Marie’s face made her look much older than she probably was, and told a tale of her life on the street. Marie tapped the back of Avia’s hand.

“It’s going to get better.” She said with a confidence that Avia did not feel at all. Marie struggled to stand up again. She turned and looked down at Avia and smiled at her.

“Don’t give up.” Marie said. She slowly walked off back down the side of the building she had come from. Avia didn’t speak or move. She stared at Marie’s back until she had disappeared into the shadows again.

Avia couldn’t move when she was alone again. She felt frozen in place, and wasn’t sure what had just happened to her. It felt like a dream. She looked down and saw that Marie had dropped a broach on the bench when she got up to leave. Avia snatched it up and hurried after the woman. Avia ran down the side of the building and out onto the sidewalk. The street was empty. Avia looked up and down but could not see Marie anywhere. Confused, Avia looked at the broach. It was round and covered with blue enamel with a silver etching of a woman dancing in the center. She turned it over to look at the back. The clasp of the pin was closed tightly. Avia looked closely at something that was engraved into the silver. The word Siam was stamped into the back. The first drops of rain hit the back of the brooch and Avia saw her reflection, tiny and upside down.


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