pardon me, but that looks like a good book you’ve got there (chapter 19, part 2)

(photo thanks to how lovely)

Robin drops Elle off by 5:00 in the afternoon, which leaves a couple of hours to do homework and read until Lang comes home.  When she’s in her room, she turns on the television. 

Sometimes she sits in a rocker on the front porch watching the bugs get electrocuted and the cars drive by.  There are several kids who seem to live in the neighborhood.  One girl—tall and slim, with perfect cornrows and pointed cheekbones—even looks Elle’s age but they’ve never said hello.  On weekends, kids move in packs down the sidewalk toward the park.  They sometimes steal sideways looks at her sitting on the porch with a book in front of her face.  The book serves dual purpose—to hide her eyes while she watches them and as an invitation to conversation.  One of those kids might say Hello, what is that you’re reading?  Or Pardon me, but that looks like a good book you’ve got there, but they never do.  No one ever says a word.  On weekday mornings she used to spy them from her bedroom window as they waited for the streetcar or the schoolbus in their white collared shirts, plaid tartan skirts, pants with razor-edge pleats, with their hair brushed and styled by careful hands.  Then school let out for summer vacation so now she lies in bed looking out at the oak trees festooned with glittering Mardi Gras beads, looking like Christmas in July, listening to the television.

No one has brushed Elle’s hair for awhile.  She cut it short so they wouldn’t have to bother.  One day Elle took herself to a salon.  The hairdresser was a pretty woman with purple eyelids and violet lips who didn’t believe her when she said she wanted it all cut off. 

“That is just too short, sweetie.  A girl looks nice with long hair. You don’t want to look like a boy, do you?  What would your boyfriend think?” 

 Elle said, “I’d rather spend my time on more important things than hair.”

“Oh really? Well, I’m going to have to ask your mother if it’s okay.  I wouldn’t want to be held accountable for any fashion faux pas.” 

“Which mother do you want to ask?  One’s out for a walk and the other’s at work.”  Elle pulled out her cellphone.  “Should I call both or is one good enough?”

The woman’s violet smile didn’t budge.  “Where are you from, sweetie?  You don’t sound like you’re from around here.” 

“California.”

“Oh, well I guess that will be alright, then.  Short hair is fine for California.  Let me go get you a smock.” 

But Eleanor doesn’t look like a boy unless she wants to, like if she wore loose clothes and a baseball cap which she might do if she feels like going incognito, but she might look like a boy if the opportunity demands, say if a group of boys were to walk by on their way to go swimming or shoot hoops or something she might join them if she felt like it.  Well, maybe not swimming, because she’d have to wear trunks. 

But with her sparkly scull-and-crossbone barrettes or the ones with green pom-poms she looks like a Japanese manga character, very cute and approachable and there’s no need to argue about who has time to brush her hair.  Elle thinks she looks like Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, which is even better than the movie.  She supposes every kid in the neighborhood has probably read the book or seen the movie.  At least they should.  Robin loaned her his own copy.  It has his name on the frontpiece: This book belongs to Robin Brown, in a boyish-looking script.  She wonders what he was like when he was her age.  She holds the book up over her face when the kids walk by on their way to the streetcar or the park or the basketball court.  She rocks back and forth in the rocking chair, willing them to look.  

(photo thanks to Gabrielle Lewis)

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About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.

8 comments

  1. I know just how she feels with that short hair. She’s in control–kind of.

    Beautiful job, Anna.

  2. I can see so much sadness in Elle. And loneliness, but still hope.

    The line, “The book serves dual purpose—to hide her eyes while she watches them and as an invitation to conversation” — wanting them to come but only on her terms– and the way she talked to the hair stylist shows that she has cultivated that tough front that’s made up of her real personality, mixed with the parts of it that have been wounded and stay in that constantly shifting state of freshly torn, hardened scab, and reopened and oozing yet again.

    You’ve done a good job of showing how hard it is to be so young, yet old and smart enough to know that you don’t fit into your parents lives the way you want to. There was anger in her decision to “…cut it short so they wouldn’t have to bother.” Some kids cut other things, too.

    I like Elle. I’m rooting for her.

    • i’m afraid elle comes in and steals the show. tell the truth, sparks, i think it is from here on in my novel that dissuades agents from taking me on. my story does not follow a traditional arc. i think either i get “too deep” or perhaps i lose control or perhaps i don’t follow through. i’m not sure. but any feedback you have to give is deeply, gratefully received.

      • I know what you mean, Anna. I have felt that way, too, about my own writing. Wondering if the aspects of people and life that I want to write about will interest anyone else, or if they’ll flip past because it’s “too deep” or I don’t say it in ways that can be readily understood. I don’t want to be a writer if no one wants to read it. But I see what we do as art. If the art isn’t commissioned, shouldn’t we have our control? Can you imagine either of us telling Lisa that she shouldn’t draw with watercolor because we want to see crisper lines in her sketches? That’s what agents are saying when they don’t like your story the way you choose to write it. That’s so hard to take.

        Of course there’s another hand. I’ve taken to those 100 word challenges, and to other ways of creating micro stories, because I fell into understanding something about all the criticism I’ve recieved over the years. It hurts so much when I hear over and over that someone doesn’t “get” my character or my story’s point. I finally internalized that it’s because I wrote with feeling more than I did with clarity. I’ve been focusing on some of what that nice gentleman was saying about your story where the woman stops talking. I’ve paused some longer projects and started writing tiny stories. Then I edit them like they are someone else’s, only it’s better because I don’t have to decipher notes. I know what I’m trying to say.

        The funny thing is, now that I’ve calmed down about it (because I was pretty pissed in the beginning) I don’t feel like editing is mechanical at all. It’s actually fun sometimes. I even understand my own stories better. I’ve gotten better comments about things I’ve whittled at and sliced at, and I don’t feel like any
        less an artist. I don’t know if I’m making sense here, but I know I’d rather practice on a micro story than try to hone my skills on a larger work before I’m sure I’ve really got it, whatever “it” is. That’s why I hope someone can find more mistakes in my micro stories. Please someone tell me what else I’m doing “wrong” before I go back to my real babies.

        Do you want to email about this kind of thing? Or am I being off the wall? I’m actually not having a very good evening. I should put myself to bed.

        • Editing is one of my favorite parts, but there’s always a disconnect between what we thought we wrote and what they see on the page. Most successful writers have editors who take them under their wing. An external reality check. For many, it’s a spouse. For others, it’s just a really cool professional relationship. When I win the lottery, I’ll get me an editor. Hell, I’ll get you one, too! Editors all around! Ha! (Always happy for any kind of mail. anna@girlinthehat.com)

  3. writing is making the clay – editing is shaping your tale – I found nothing significantly wrong –
    I don’t get what your perspective agents may have seen but your foundation so far is solid.
    I saw less sadness in elle and more anticipation, like some mysterious stranger was about
    to ask her about that book.

  4. i of course have no idea where you’re going with this, but as a reader, i begin to worry that this is going to make me really cry.

  5. Now that it’s in context it looks even better.
    I try to judge each of your chapters on their
    own merit – there are some that may not be
    nessessary but these are still chapters I en-
    joyed reading.

    2&4&12B 9 18A 14B 12A 18B 7&16A&16B
    14A 15A&15B 11 3B 3A 19A&19B&13 6 10
    8&17A&17B&5&1

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