Pro-Crastination

Pro: short for professional, shorthand for positive (as opposed to a con), and also the first three letters of a word I have been living for the past week and a half.

Yes, January 1-7, a time when millions are kickstarting their life goals with resolutions and plans – and arguably the time during which they will be the most faithful to those plans out of this whole year of 2013 – I am procrastinating. Like a pro. But in a positive way.

I want to write. I love to write. And not in the way of the classic Dorothy Parker quote (“I hate writing. I love having written.”) I genuinely enjoy the act of writing and I don’t know why I would want to put it off. In this post I hope to explore that phenomenon, in case there are other doers of fun things that put them off sometimes and wonder why.

Today is Day 16 in the Outlining module of my screenwriting class, although technically it has gone on much longer than that. Coinciding with Christmas, New Year’s and one or two other unusual things, this supposedly 10-day module has lingered about 22 days. I suppose it must end sometime, but it just hasn’t yet.

With all the hubbub of this time of year (especially this year, as it’s the first Christmas I’ve had to travel to get home and then spent days seeing all the family and friends I’ve moved away from), my assignments have piled up. And it seems with each deadline I miss, it’s that much harder to motivate myself to catch up.

At this writing, I’m only 3 assignments behind. Attainable. I can even fudge a bit and do today’s assignment, then backtrack and do the last 3 during the break between modules.

That’s what I’m supposed to do right now, is tidy up my outline so I can post it online and solicit opinions from my classmates. That sounds fun. I look forward to it. And so you see I’m writing this blog post instead.

What are brains made of? Why are we so weird in our heads? If you read books and articles on the craft and business of writing of any kind, from scripts to poetry, you will find some words dedicated to overcoming our writerly reticence. I mean, isn’t that bizarre? This is our dream, this is what keeps us up at night, these stories and words and exciting images that we alone can see and so we have to capture them and share them with the world. And that is a super cool thing to do. Why do we suddenly have to do anything but that?

I’m open to suggestions.

Meanwhile, here is a gif I found on Mental Multi-Vitamin’s blogspot:

This is gross, but it speaks to me.

Part of the problem in my situation is that in this phase of creation, I’m still in outline mode. I’m not brainstorming new concepts or writing scenes. Outlines are basically blueprints, so it’s like I’m spending 22 days on the plans for my glorious screenplay skyscraper, but I can’t start building it yet.

I like planning. It’s helpful. I don’t love it as much as writing, but I see the benefit of it and I’m willing to do the work. After all this time though, I’m getting antsy. Oh well. I guess that’s what separates the pros from the amateurs, is the willingness to persevere.

So I will persevere. I will click ‘Publish’ on this post and then turn on some music and then finish my outline. Right after dinner. And maybe check email. Actually, I have a load of laundry that needs changing too.

Never mind, I will procrastinate tomorrow.

Commonplace Mysteries #1

A new series – based on strange or slightly surreal events I’ve observed. And of course, stretched a bit, for the purpose of good storytelling.   -Cortney

COMMONPLACE MYSTERIES:
The Strange Incident of the Recycle Bin

I came home one day and there it was. As usual. An array of empty recycle bins strewn across the sidewalk.

This is a typical sight on a Thursday afternoon. I thought nothing of it, since most people don’t get home until later in the day, and many more don’t pick up their bins until one, two, maybe three days later. No big deal. People are busy.

But one bin in particular lingered. Even after all the others had disappeared. And it wouldn’t bother me… actually, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed… except that it lingered exactly in front of my house. And I mean right there. It was the first thing I saw when I left in the morning, and it greeted me as I got home from work in the evening.

Then the homeowners association left a little warning tag on my doorknob. Okay, really? This recycle bin does not belong to me. I don’t recycle, I don’t have a bin. It’s not my responsibility. But the HOA tag is requiring me to take action. So I do.

I put the bin in front of my neighbor’s house.

When I get home the next day, guess what I see. There’s that bad penny, right in front of my house again. I guess I get the point. It’s a tightly plotted little townhouse community, and a few inches one way or the other is all we get. I was politely being informed that not only does the bin not belong to Neighbor On The Left, but that until the rightful owner is identified, please keep the stupid bin off my property. That’s my interpretation.

Not to be outdone, I slide the bin over to the right. And it lives there for a few days.

And then it’s back in front of my house. Not like it’s been put there, but almost like it went there. I’m serious. It’s like it just moved over.

I ignored it.

That night there was a huge storm. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of winds hurling against the house, pushing tree branches around and swirling freshly raked yards with leaves. Most unhallowed of all was the gentle ruckus of the recycle bin being blown around the sidewalk.

So next morning I went out in my socks, picked it up, and put it on the deck. There. Happy?

Next day I go out to get the trash? The bin is gone. Poof.

Sometimes on stormy nights I still hear the abandoned recycle bin being blown across the sidewalk. And I really just don’t care.

© Cortney Matz, 2009

Why Grace Has A Scar On Her Forehead

This is a silly story I made up for a girl I know who wanted a good story about the scar on her forehead. This is completely fictitious and un-biographical. Laugh along with me. -Cortney

“Hey Grace, how’d you get that scar?” It had been a dull sort of day and I needed a good story. Grace has a little scar on her forehead and hasn’t everyone always wondered where it came from?

She had her hands full of takeout containers on her way to the garbage. “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s faded quite a lot.”

I waited patiently as she dumped her containers into the garbage and started tying up the bag because it was smelly. “At first it was really bright red and raised and it HURT. I kept forgetting it was there and was always scratching it or bumping it and- oh my.”

On the bottom of the bag was a giant spider. But it was dead. No biggie.

“So why was it bright red in the first place?” I inquired, solicitously returning to the topic at hand.

“Because of the hair dryer.”

“Which hair dryer?”

“The one at the hair salon. Remember that time when I got streaks?”

“The red ones?”

“No, before that. The blonde ones.”

I gazed at Grace’s purple hair and tried to remember. She can’t decide which color she likes best, so it is always changing. Which is kinda cool in an eccentric way.

“I’d forgotten about the sequins, and I think the hair dryer aggravated it.”

“Wait, where did the sequins come from?”

But Grace didn’t hear me right away because she had her head in the refrigerator. She emerged with a container of rice and I repeated the question.

“The sequins? From my tutu. I found it when I was cleaning out the basement.”

This got my attention. That basement is huge. And scary. Especially in the summer when the air conditioning starts up and sounds exactly like a deranged muppet coming after you with a tennis racket. I had to ask. “The basement? Weren’t you scared?”

She finished dumping rice on the kitchen counter and started assembling some other random ingredients. “Well not at first, because I was watching ‘Reading Rainbow’ and had this sudden urge to find all my old books. I know they were down in the basement because Mom keeps trying to sell them at the home school book sale, like, every year; and I always have to rescue them and put them back in the basement. And so LeVar Burton was telling this story about a mouse and a cookie and I have that book and I suddenly just HAD to find it!

“So I was completely absorbed in that. And when I opened the box, there were all the books and also my tutu.”

“You have a tutu?”

She grins sheepishly. “Well, I had one when I was little. I kept it. Wanna see?”

I laughed. “Not if it’s the same tutu that gave you a scar.”

“Oh, that wasn’t the tutu’s fault. I think it was really because of the books.”

I was confused. “But what about the sequins?”

“Oh I think there must’ve been a thread loose, because as soon as I picked up the tutu, the sequins slid right off. I was shocked. And saddened. That was my TUTU… and it died. Very, very sad. I was mourning it right when the air conditioning came on.”

“Ohhhh,” I nodded – it was all starting to come together. “The air conditioner scared you and you slipped on the sequins, fell over the boxes, and banged your head?”

Grace finished laying out the filling for her sushi and rolled it up. “Well yes. But that’s not what caused the scar.”

I waited, knowing it was important to leave a dramatic pause before finishing a story.

“I thought I felt a bug crawling on me and I scratched my forehead trying to get it.”

And the moral of the story is:

When You Wish To Clean Out Your Basement,
Make Sure You Shut Off The Thermostat

Except When it Rains – Part VII

PART VII: When It Rains, It Pours

The next morning broke dark and mysterious.

Bea sat in the candlelight, watching Martha sleep. The cascade of emotions swirling round and round her mind had awoken her over an hour ago, and now she began to think clearly. In thoughts, rather than tugs – tugs had been all she’d managed thus far. Her thoughts were of Prince and of Martha. Two people she dearly loved, and who would lead her in different directions. Toward Prince, away from Martha. Toward Martha, away from Prince – perhaps forever. 

These were wearying thoughts and they put Bea nearly to sleep.

Then there was a song out in the wood. Bea smiled, for she believed she was dreaming. A lovely, deep down dream that danced about her weary mind like fuzzy-headed dandelions. She was dreaming of that beautiful day when she had met Prince. When she had heard his laugh. When she had sung his song. And danced in the rain.

As the song drew nearer, it occurred to Bea that she was not yet asleep. And without a thought she stood, left the room, left the cottage, and went to the wood. And as the sky broke into a chorus of rumbling thunders and the rain dropped heavy morsels of wet on her shoulders, Bea stood. Listening. Waiting. Watching.

He did appear, of course. Just as he had that day. And they danced. They sang a little. When Prince took her hand and sank to his knee, they cried. And without a thought, Bea gave him the first answer that sprang out of her heart.

“Oh yes,” she said. “Of course I’ll marry you. Only I hope we needn’t move very far away.”

Because Bea hadn’t heard the news yet that Prince had been released from his post since his term of service had only just been finished. She didn’t know these things because Prince had never been able to tell her what he was doing out there in the wood all this time. It was a secret. Bea knew only that Prince’s work compelled him to travel quite often to sometimes remote locations.

But the truth came out now, and Bea cried a little more, as she fully realized that she wouldn’t have to choose between her husband and her sister after all. And it was very exciting. As they went to check on Martha, they talked in smiles and laughter, as young lovers often do. And Bea had her hand in Prince’s pocket. And as she drew it out, she discovered there a brief note that had been intended for her.

“Oh, blast, I knew I had forgotten something!” Prince took the note with the sudden realization that he’d meant to leave it on the door yesterday so Bea would know he’d gone. And he’d forgotten it.

“Sorry,” he grinned ruefully. “If not for my stupidity, you might’ve avoided all this.” But something else had got Bea’s attention. “That’s my grandfather’s handwriting.” For you’ll remember the complete lack of writing implements at his post, and so Prince had been forced to jot the note on back of an old recipe card he’d found in the kitchen. As Bea analyzed the card, it became apparent that in the well-known though faded hand was written a very old, very popular, very original recipe. For cherry currant wine.

So the story ends. Martha made a full and speedy recovery and cheerfully applied herself to the task of getting to know her new brother. Walter and his brother James eventually returned to Town where they established a new kind of dancing school, which takes place out of doors either rain or shine. Bea and Prince married and built another cottage on the edge of Wylles Wood. And the two sisters, having been left destitute by the loss of one famous recipe, quickly found themselves the sole beneficiaries in the sale of another.

And how came the recipe for grandfather’s famous cherry currant wine to reside in the kitchen at Prince’s outpost? Well perhaps that will be another story.

As for myself, you may have guessed by now that I had my own wee part to play in this story. It’s no secret that I watched Bea and Martha grow up; aye and saw their children and grandchildren grown too. And if you happen to spot a couple of twins in their nineties running around these woods, I beg you remember the difficulty they caused me one weary night in 1915.

Or 1914. The mind grows a bit dim in my latter years.

© Cortney Matz, 2009

Except When It Rains – Part VI

And now, a very long-overdue installment. We’re nearly home!  
-Cortney

PART VI: What Happened Next

Bea sprang to her feet. The weary doctor merely lifted his hand in protest.

“Now, now, she’ll be all right. Just a concussion, and a mild one at that. You’ll want to keep her quiet and comfortable for the next few days.”

Bea was visibly relieved, but good doctor Dunkirk seemed even more tense. “Now, er, Miss Bea,” and he turned a little aside, speaking in a low voice. Wyllesdale is a small town you see, and they look after their own. And here is Bea, with two strange men in her sitting room and an ailing sister next door. He was understandably concerned.

“I don’t want to seem untoward…” the rest he merely indicated with a few well-placed eye movements. And of course Bea understood, responding with equal gravity and care. “Don’t you worry, doctor. I’m in no better hands than with him.” She turned to look at Prince and caught a glimpse of Walter too. “I mean them.”

The doctor’s suspicion wasn’t thrown off so casually, so he elected to sit awhile as Bea left to see about Martha. And the depth and weight of the uncomfortable silence in that room was, I assure you, profound.

Martha was awake when Bea came in, and even though it had been only ninety-four minutes since they last spoke, they now had ever so many things to say to each other. They went on at a breakneck pace (it’s just as well there were no gentlemen present – they would’ve been run clean over) until at last Martha took thought of how she happened to be home when her last memory of conscious thought was in the wood.

“Why it’s too romantic to be believed!” Bea responded, beginning now to think of how perfect an end to the story it was. “I was besotted with fear and completely useless, and who would at that precise moment arrive…”

So Bea told Martha the whole story of her rescue, which I won’t bother repeating since you will have just read it (and if you haven’t read it yet, it’s the bit just before this entitled ‘Walter Comes Through’). She had her intended effect, taking Martha through all shades of emotion from disbelief to incredulity to surprise to admiration. Bea was and is a gripping raconteur.

Meanwhile, Walter had got over his self-inflicted social faux pas and was just working up the courage to try again. He didn’t understand how anyone could sit here in such languid silence, when there was so much excitement going on. Prince was cool as ice, draped across the sofa with only a furrowed brow to show any hint of anxiety. Dr. Dunkirk on the other hand, sat in an attitude of high alert, his fingers making a tent of observation, his eyes purposefully positioned on either Prince or Walter at any given moment.

“What do you do in fair weather?”

Almost before he knew it, the words were out of Walter’s mouth. He remained by the fire, poking it again when it needn’t be poked, and staring at Prince with a look of poorly feigned indifference that came off as wildly interested sleepyness. It was a mercy that no one had thought to light any candles.

But Walter’s words did have their intended effect, and Prince stirred a bit in his place. “Fair weather?” he repeated. And Walter explained that he’d been given to understand that Bea and Prince’s arrangement was kept on rainy days only. Naturally, one is curious what Prince would do with the fine ones.

He seemed reluctant to answer immediately, so Walter continued, intending to chat him up a bit and make things more comfortable. “I have a few theories, you know,” he said, going back to the fire which was becoming in real need of more wood. “A fisherman perhaps, or a- a gardener. Of course when you work outdoors there are all sorts of jobs that could be spoiled by rain.”

Prince surprised him with a smile. A smile that grew to a low kind of gurgling laugh. It was a beautiful laugh. “It’s too bad, you know,” said Prince. “I had good news for Bea, and was just on my way to share it when all this…” he gestured toward the adjoining room, but the other men knew what he meant. Prince looked at Walter. “I suppose I can talk about it now with no danger, as my post is being shut down. I’m a lookout for His Majesty’s Navy. I’ve been stationed about three miles from here, out in the middle of the wood in a hermit’s cabin for over a year. I stumbled on this cottage my second day out – well, that’s how I met Bea.”

“Let me guess, it was raining,” this was the first thing the doctor had said since his wee conference with Bea, and the others jumped a little. Out came Prince’s low gurgling laugh. “I was bored. Contrary to what you may think, there’s an alarmingly tiny amount of enemy vessels that make their way to this side of the continent. The Navy figured that out and shut down the post. Suits me just fine, my time is up anyway.”

Walter had ever so many other questions for Prince, but just then Bea came out and wearily thanked them all for their help. Taking their cue from her sagging eyelids, the men rose and excused themselves for the night – the doctor to home and hearth after many an hour of doctoring, the lads Prince and Walter back to the Morrisons’, the hospitality of which Walter had extended to Prince considering he was so far from home. Prince may well have later wished he’d made the long walk home rather than suffer Walter’s catalog of questions and surmises for what remained of the long night up until the candle went out and Walter had talked himself to sleep.

© Cortney Matz, 2009

Continue to Part VII

Except When It Rains – Part V

PART V: Walter Comes Through

Bea was beside herself with remorse and fear. She knew she’d been as self-involved and obstinate as a beast, and here was poor Martha unconscious and probably dead! It was all her fault. These thoughts whirling through her grief-stricken head, Bea would never have dragged her sister to safety if Prince hadn’t happened to arrive just then.

I hope you’ll all be glad to know that Prince is in fact a real man, as I am myself. He had to be kept a bit mysterious or you’d never have cared a fig about him, seeing as he is a fairly plain, thin, awkward sort of fellow with limp dark hair and freckles. Truth be told, you wouldn’t look twice at him in daylight. He’s a hard worker though, honest and true – and really, those are the sort of qualities that are most pleasant when you’re in a pinch or the weather is foul. Both of which seem to be the case at present.

Bea, if she hadn’t already been weeping, would have wept for joy at sight of him. As it was, she just gurgled something unintelligible and cried harder. Prince didn’t miss a beat though, and scooped Martha out of the mud and carried her all the way back to Alden Cottage.

It was hard walking, Prince’s arms ached, and Bea couldn’t keep from wailing all the way home though she tried very hard. The sight of the dear cottage with light in the windows and smoke wafting from the chimney was so inviting they both were inclined to burst into tears. But Bea was much closer to it than Prince, which is probably why he is the one who realized that there should have been no one home for some hours, and therefore there should have been no light, no smoke, no delightful feelings that make you want to burst into tears in the first place.

They weren’t left to wonder. The door swung open as they drew near and who should appear in the doorway but young Walter Randolph himself. I can tell you he had come by early in the day on account of the rain, planning to follow Bea, only to find that she and Martha had already gone. Then he decided to wait for them. And as the day wore on very long, he became worried, built up the fire, and sent for a doctor – who had arrived only moments before. Ordinarily, this last would be a foolish thing to do, and Martha would have scolded Walter for it had she been awake.

Thankfully, the doctor took charge of the scene before anyone asked Walter any questions, so he was spared having to give an immediate account for his presence. As soon as Bea could be calmed enough to tell the doctor what happened, he set about examining Martha and disinfecting her head where a little bulge was forming under a bruise.

“Is she… will she recover? Oh, she looks so dreadfully pale!” These are the kinds of things Bea kept saying. You can imagine her suffering, when you consider the depth of her remorse and the height of her imagination. Unfortunately, the good doctor did not have time nor inclination to consider either, having just come from delivering twins – and that was across the wood in this slough – only to discover that he had been summoned to an empty cottage with no one needing doctoring, feeling righteously outraged, and then promptly being presented with a head wound after all.

Now I trust you will direct your sympathy to Dr. Dunkirk when I tell you it was with unrepeatable language that he bid her leave the room. Prince was outraged on her behalf as he escorted her through the door, but for Bea’s part I think she was rather more shocked than offended.

Huddled together in the parlor, waiting… Bea and Prince on the sofa as Bea blew her nose and Prince spoke soothing words and rubbed her shoulders. Walter perched awkwardly by the fire, poking it much too often and feeling very in the way. He had guessed at the identity of the tall stranger sitting with Bea, and was engaged in studying him curiously when Prince suddenly turned his head and extended a hand.

“Prince Michaelman.” He didn’t smile, but that would hardly have been appropriate given the circumstances. And besides, he did catch Walter staring.

Startled, Walter breathed wrong and half coughed his name in response. The look on Prince’s face made Walter repeat himself, but Prince likewise chose to then repeat what he had heard, so they wound up talking over each other and getting no further on. It’s difficult to describe, but trust me: the situation was very uncomfortable.

Thankfully, the doctor chose that moment to reenter the room and clear his throat.

© Cortney Matz, 2008

Continue to Part VI

Except When It Rains – Part IV

PART IV: The Foul-Weather Visit

Monday morning dawned grim and blustery, and Bea hurried to complete her chores so as to be underway. Martha, a little nonplussed at the severity of the weather, was less enthusiastic. But she told herself it was all for the purpose of looking after Bea, and after all she was a little curious for her own sake.

So it happened that about 11 o’clock they were robed and lanterned, carefully picking their way deep into the wood. Bea was as jolly as Martha had ever seen her, full of conversation, gracefully wending her way among the vines and wet leaves. The two of them kept up a robust pace, and it was not half an hour before they reached the edge of the wood. A clearing in the trees showcased a tiny house – no more than a hut, really – perched daintily at the edge of the lake, with a dock and a rowboat close beside.

Martha surveyed the scene with a judicious eye. The grounds were somewhat untidy, perhaps, but the buildings looked well cared for. And really, I suppose when a man is away as often as Bea says, it’s mighty trying to keep up with the shrubbery.

Bea sighed with a sigh of violent melancholy. “He’s not home,” she said, with a frown flaring her nostrils a little.

“How do you know?” Martha asked. It certainly looked like he might be home. Of course, now that she thought of it, there was no light in the window. This is essentially what Bea pointed out, adding that the chimney, too, was devoid of smoke.

They stood for another moment, in which Martha noted for the first time how the wind was picking up. The mist stung her eyes as it blew into them, and she was obliged to tug her hood down and squint. And it was beginning to be cold. They had better turn back.

Bea had other ideas. “Let’s go inside. He might return at any moment – we surely may have dinner ready for him.”

Martha made a noise to object, but Bea was already determinedly marching to the front door. Martha hurried after, reasoning that another hour couldn’t be too dreadful. And after all, she really was quite curious.

Once the lamps had been lit, the stove stoked and the fire encouraged to a bright and cheerful blaze, the inside of the house was actually rather becoming. Bea gathered ingredients for a meal while Martha wandered around, gathering clues about the man of her sister’s dreams.

The house was remarkably clean as well as sparse – scantly furnished and completely undecorated. No shelves, save one, and it was full of pots and odd cooking utensils, like a colander. “Does he entertain?” Martha asked, wondering that such a man would own such large cooking vessels.

Bea – quite unaccountably – bestowed a disdainful glance on Martha and replied. “Prince remains quite alone. Except for when I visit him – then he boils up everything in the place and serves me a feast! I should do the same for him, except there isn’t much in the larder just now…”

Martha had stopped paying attention a little before this, and continued her perusal. No books in sight, as far as she could determine. How odd to not have books. Nor photographs, or artwork of any kind. What was his family like? Does he not prefer to have their likenesses set about? Or perhaps he had no family.

Or perhaps he simply had no camera. But I don’t think Martha considered that point.

The dinner Bea was preparing wafted tantalizing smells, and Martha began to want food. But of course they should wait for their host before beginning.

An hour drifted by. Then two. The makings of the place were not that interesting, and before long the girls were not only hungry and tired, but bored out of their heads. Even Bea’s spirits seemed to be for heading home. But she was loath to depart without any word to her beloved.

“Write him a note!” Martha suggested in a flash of brilliance. But where to find paper or pen? How curious, that a man might live with no books, no pictures, and nothing to write with. At length the howling wind convinced them to be on their way, Prince or no Prince. Hurriedly satiating their hunger with a few bites of the beef and biscuits Bea had prepared, the girls turned out the lights and ventured back from whence they’d come.

Bea was terse and gloomy all the way back. To be honest, Martha didn’t much notice, so preoccupied was she with making headway through the weather. The mud was become very deep in some places, and they slid more than a few steps when the path turned downhill. As they came to a break in the path, divided by a little stream, Martha slowed. The stream was a very little one – easily hopped across when weather conditions are amenable – but in this slough the banks had swelled and made a great muddy mess alongside it.

Martha caught Bea’s arm as she moved ahead. “Don’t, Bea – let’s find a better place,” but Bea had pulled away and was marching grimly forward. Martha called out again, but Bea merely picked her way through the mud, took a flying leap across the widening gap, and scrambled up the other side. She landed none too neatly, and was rather as graceful as a waltzing hippopotamus in the process, but now here she stands waiting for Martha to follow.

You might now know that taking risks and going on adventures don’t come easily to Martha, and she understands this. But for Bea to show her up like that just wouldn’t do. Surely you understand. Martha went against her better judgment and followed suit.

But the mud wasn’t as forgiving the second time around, and before Martha could get a solid footing to jump from, it gave way in one short landslide down to the edge of the stream. Martha was completely taken by surprise and fell headlong into the water, banging her head on the edge of the lantern as she went. She retained consciousness just long enough to hear Bea cry out and move toward her, and then all was silent.

© Cortney Matz, 2008

Continue to Part V

Except When It Rains – Part III

PART III – Martha Gets a Surprise

The agreeable weather lingered for some days after. Bea endured them as patiently as she could – for as you’ll remember, she had developed a measure of perseverance in patience over time – but in truth she was somewhat disposed to brood. She longed for a dark, moody day. Perhaps some lightning.

But the sky would be clear as crystal, showcasing a brightly burning sun as though it were something to be proud of. Headstrong, fickle weather. Really, you would think you might at least depend upon the seasons.

Martha herself wouldn’t have minded a shower or two, being eager to tag along on her sister’s next foul-weather visit. Until the day Mr. Randolph came, she had no idea of Bea’s affections being fixed on anyone, let alone this Prince character. Frankly, Martha had always considered him to be a made-up person. Whenever Bea spoke of him it seemed like a blend of all the personalities they both admired – a little of their father, some of Mr. Winthrop their neighbor, and some of the town butcher. Martha had humored her little sister as a matter of helping one another get through the process of grieving and starting fresh. But now.

It was Sunday morning and the girls were getting ready to attend church – the only activity Bea could be prevailed upon to manage regardless of what it was doing outside. Try as Martha did to engage her sister in conversation, Bea was taciturn and withdrawn – not altogether unusual given the circumstances, but today Martha found it irksome.

“And did you notice that Mr. Winthrop got the fence mended for us? Such a thoughtful man he is. Pays attention to everything.”

Martha left lots of pauses for Bea to murmur in agreement, and when again there was no response, she resolved to give up trying to draw the girl out. But even that was irksome. Usually Martha’s silent rows with Bea would occasion her a trip to the garden or a sweep of the kitchen – some activity to settle her mind – but now was hardly the time. They were but a breath away from leaving the house, just putting on their wraps, and so there was nothing for Martha to do but take it out on her hat. It was a foolish hat; it felt loose and floppy, and wouldn’t sit right, and she savagely pinned it again and again until the poor thing looked like it had got in a fight with a flying squirrel.

Church was dull. Bea was bored. Martha was grim. The preacher was verbose. Walter seemed to be the only alert person in the room, and as soon as the last Amen was said, he was on his feet to meet the girls.

On seeing him, Martha turned a bit green with embarrassment, but I don’t think anybody noticed, least of all Walter. He was full of excitement to introduce his brother, Mr. James Randolph. And of course they were already acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Morrison. No sooner had the introductions been made, the hands shook, the charming and obliging words of welcome spoken, than Walter invited the sisters to join them for dinner.

Bea and Martha stole a glance at each other, communicating in an instant with that secret language that sisters sometimes possess. With her look, Martha plainly said, “Oh, yes, let’s. Please, Bea.” And in her eyes, Bea responded, “Martha, I’d rather not.”

But when they returned their faces to Walter and company, Bea surprised Martha by agreeing to come round that evening, thanking them very charmingly for the invitation.

The dinner was a great success, being all the things Bea and Martha liked most and afforded least. They had only been to dine with the Morrisons once before, and had fasted all afternoon in anticipation of it.

After dinner the girls were obliged to take a tour of the house, as the Randolph brothers had become attached to the rooms and were eager to display the knowledge of them they’d been acquiring during the long rainy days of late. Littlefield was a grand house, with a grand history, and it made Martha feel grand to be shown round it so. Even Bea seemed to be cooperating, paying compliments to various furnishings and asking intelligent questions. Martha began to allow herself a tiny hope that perhaps her heart was softening toward Walter after all.

The elder Mr. Randolph, on the other hand, seemed very attentive to Martha in particular – a fact that did not escape the notice of Mr. and Mrs. Morrison, who exchanged a few silent communications of their own. Martha was a sweet, capable, and very attractive young girl of twenty. And James Randolph had a good heart, stable income and a mind to marry soon. There seemed to be much to wriggle one’s eyebrows over.

Walter was showing Bea the detail on a certain grand painting hanging in the particularly grand room they were touring at the time when he noticed something of the above for himself.

“Miss Bea,” he says, “have you noticed the way my brother and your sister have been talking so earnestly?”

Bea actually hadn’t noticed at all, but felt foolish admitting it. So she nodded. “It’s nice they’re getting along.”

When Walter looked back at Bea, her conscience tickled her a mite. It’s as though she suddenly remembered that just a few days before she’d had an indication of interest from the boy, and that she’d refused him.

“Mr. Randolph, I hope you will forgive me for my… behavior the other day. I was surprised, you see, and-”

But this wasn’t what Walter wanted to hear and he put out his hand to stop her. He knew she’d meant no disrespect, and that she was sorry things hadn’t worked out between them. He knew she wanted to be friends. What he was really interested in was what on earth she was doing with herself on those rainy days.

But there seemed to be no polite way of phrasing the question.

© Cortney Matz, 2008

Continue to Part IV

Except When It Rains – Part II

Picking up where Walter left off, staring out the window while Bea leaps through the rain. In case the cadence of our storyteller’s narrative is throwing you off, maybe it helps to know that he was born and raised in Castlemaine, Ireland – though he spent most of his life moving all around the territory and knows nearly as much about England and Scotland as his own mother country.

-Cortney

PART II: Walter Makes a Call

Glancing back at our Miss Bea, Walter became conscious that she was moving quickly past. Clearly the time had come to take action. Rain be hanged, Walter did leave the comfortable indoors and rush to the side of his newfound creature of mystery.

Bea, I’ll have you know, was taken much aback at this intrusion in her plans, and even more embarrassed that anyone had seen her behaving in such a fashion. And Walter being in a bit of a state already, the ensuing conversation was understandably awkward. Barely twenty words passed between them before Bea begged her leave and hurried on, leaving Walter staring after her, soaked clean through.

‘Miss Bea’, as Walter thought of her, danced through his imagination that evening, his dreams that night, and his breakfast the following day until he felt intoxicated with the thrill of it. You may as well know he determined to go to the cottage and pay a visit, and it kept his thoughts full all the while between when he decided to do it and when he could reasonably do it in civilized society. Furthermore, there was the issue of directions.

Having again employed the help of a passing maid, the mid-morning found young master Walter on his way to Alden Cottage. As his brother and Mr. Morrison had purposed to go fishing that day, the two of them were long gone and therefore in no danger of prying into the lad’s plans.

The sun was just gracing the previously gray day when he arrived at Alden Cottage. Bea, disappointed at the turn of weather, was resigning herself to an hour with her needle and thread while Martha was tirelessly coaxing her to come out to help her gather rainwater.

“I’d rather not, Martha,” Bea patiently repeated, and only made a tiny stitch in the dress she was mending. Now I won’t have to tell you that being coaxed to do anything is the most tiresome thing in the world, but Bea was used to it and had become very patient by now.

Walter knocked about this time, and both girls were surprised, but visitors are not uncommon, even in a poor village. They minded their manners and stood to welcome their guest. Martha, being a sensible girl, immediately noticed how well-dressed and highly bred he was. And after all, wealth does have its attractions.

Walter had never made a call by himself, and very nearly turned back before committing to a knock, but he was hungry for more of Miss Bea’s company. After some moments of small talk and making proper introduction of himself, Walter inquired after the girls’ father. Martha gently made him aware that she and her sister had no kin beside each other, and received his embarrassment with the gentility of any great lady.

For his part, Walter owed his fluster less to the mistake and more to the realization that he had absolutely no idea how to proceed. In asking permission to court a girl, everybody knows you go to the father. And if not the father, the grandfather. And if not the grandfather, the uncle. Or elder brother. Perhaps even a benevolent old friend of the family. In the absence of any of these, Walter was – understandably – flustered.

He stood to take his leave, but thought better of it. These were unusual circumstances all round. Why not be frank?

“Miss Martha,” he began, and Martha attended him with an earnest look, which you might as well understand. Martha was, as I mentioned, a sensible girl. She was content to work respectably for her living, but she knew their small inheritance would not last forever. And she did hope to see herself and her sister suitably married one day. Acquaintances with rich men from the city are never a hindrance in such a case.

Back to Walter, who was going redder in the face every minute. Eventually he got out the purpose for which he had come. “Miss Martha, I’ve come to beg your permission to keep company with your sister.”

In the astonished silence in which Martha blinked rapidly, Bea found her words first. “Oh, no!” and blushed when the other two heads in the room swiveled in her direction. “I beg your pardon sir… I couldn’t.”

Martha was even more stunned by this than by the first. “What?”

Bea kept her attention fixed on Walter. “I thank you for your attentions, but I regret that I cannot accept them-”

“But why ever not, Bea?” Martha was persisting.

Uncomfortable as she was, having two pair of eyes gaze unblinking in her direction – and truth be told, discomfited further by the disbelief with which her beloved sister was now regarding her – Bea’s agitation increased.

“Because I’m not free!” Her answer did nothing much to set her at ease, as she was still the object of everyone’s surprised stare. Martha stood up.

“Excuse me, Mr. Randolph, would you allow me a moment with my sister?” Not waiting for him to reply, Martha briskly moved to the adjoining room, beckoning for Bea to follow.

Inside, Martha began the more intimate questions. Walter was obliged to wait awkwardly in the parlor and try to distract himself by pondering the design of the doilies on the furniture, though he desperately wanted to apply his ear to the door.

But since I’m telling the story, I get to decide who knows what, and I’ve decided to tell you about the conversation in the kitchen. Martha was in the process of interrogating Bea about her suitor at the edge of the wood, with whom she has an understanding.

“Bea, darling,” she says – a bit tiredly. Because you really must admit that little sisters, delightful though they are, can be very tiring. “I thought you had given up on the prince by the lake. I thought we had agreed you would forget him.”

“He’s not ‘the’ prince, for the hundredth time! ‘Prince’ is his name.”

“Yes dear, but even so, it isn’t a proper name for a man.”

“It’s not his fault, he didn’t choose it. How can you be against him if you’ve never even met him?”

“My dear sister I don’t believe I’ve ever even seen him!”

“I told you, he’s a quiet man. He doesn’t go out visiting, his work keeps him alone. He’s always busy working except when it rains. That’s when I go and meet him.” Here Bea adopted the dreamy, glazed-over look that she sometimes got whenever she spoke of her Prince. It always made Martha uncomfortable, and even more so now.

Martha set her chin. Prince or no Prince, he was a ragamuffin no-name after all, and here in the parlor was a fine gentleman who could provide a decent life. “Bea,” she says, “I think you should consider what young Mr. Randolph has to offer.”

Bea, of course had a sound, strong will of her own, and in her mind there was no further discussion to be had. “Martha,” she says with equal gravity, “I think I’ve made my decision.”

And so poor Walter was sent away. Though it must be said that the knowledge of his rain-creature having a mysterious suitor hidden away in the wood somewhere only adds to the allure of the situation.

Martha, for her own bit, was sad to see him go. As she stood by the door with the sun twinkling down in a romantic fashion, she stole a glance at Bea – sitting at the window, sewing away, completely oblivious to the angst in the room.

“Bea dear,” Martha said as she closed the door, “I would like to meet your Prince Michaelman sometime soon.”

“As well you should,” Bea returned. “We shall go together when next it rains. Although I don’t always find him at home. We may be compelled to wait a bit.”

Martha was surprised at this. “Perhaps, my dear, if the young man is as worthy as you believe – he might offer to come and visit you someday.”

Bea looked up, surprised. Now it was her turn to blink in rapid silence, for she had nothing to say to this.

© Cortney Matz, 2008

Continue to Part III

Except When It Rains – Part I

A story befitting the weather, befitting my mood. As told by a very old man of 137 years. He’s a little long-winded, so I’m not sure how many parts there will be… Somewhere between 3 and 10, I’ll guess.           – Cortney

PART I: Something Odd at Alden Cottage

If I recall, it was somewhere about 1914, 1915… The world at large was getting itself into a big war, but at home in Wylleysdale life remained peaceful and unchanged.

Let me tell you what it was like. The village itself was nothing to speak of, being a small and unromantic sort of place. The surrounding wood is lovely, though, and hides some of the prettiest little cottages England might ever have built.

The wood – Wylles Wood, it was called – was home to two sisters, orphaned in their young ladyhood. Martha and her little sister, Bea… or Beatrice, I guess, though nobody I ever heard of called her that… Anyway, them girls were provided for by a modest trust which their dear old granddad had thought to give them when he won a regional contest for his sour cider jelly and sold the recipe to a big chain of jam factories. It was too bad he died without ever having written the plan down, and so most of the money was split amongst the interested parties – of which there were many – and Bea and Martha’s remaining share was tiny by comparison.

So they were compelled to supplement their income a bit. Being of age and not too scrawny, they had an easy enough time of it – Martha took in some cleaning and candle dipping, while Bea tended the garden and learned to spin and sew. They managed just fine, and always had an agreeable word for a neighbor or the occasional pilgrim.

The only odd thing – and really, this wouldn’t be much of a story if there weren’t some odd thing – was Bea’s strange preoccupation with the weather. They say she never stepped a foot out of doors except when it rains. The sun would shine through the trees like the breath of golden-haired fairies, and Bea would just look at it from the window by her spinning wheel and go, “Hm.”

“Don’t you want to go walk with me?” Martha would ask her, or, “Oughtn’t we to go to market today?” and Bea would always shake her head no.

Folks gave it an odd look, but I suppose she was rather a shy, retiring type, and generally preferred home to anywhere else. If she had much of an interest in people as a whole, she never showed it to me in any case.

Ah, but when it rained there’s nothing keeping her in. Poor Martha would caution her about her wrap and catching a chill, and Bea heeded the warnings like a good girl, then out she would go into the rain – mud and all, be it mist and fog or a downpour.

Keep all that in mind now as we come to the time in question. As I said, 1915 or so… possibly earlier… The mind grows a bit dim in my latter years. In any case, it was the autumn of the year, and likewise cool and rainy quite most of the time. A new family had moved into the wood, by name of Morrison, and as they were well to do and had many friends in Town (London, that is), they often were receiving visitors.

It was one particularly rainy afternoon when the Morrisons were receiving a particularly new pair of visitors – a particular friend of Mr. Morrison’s from school, and his younger brother. As the two men were much older and much more intimately acquainted, the younger brother was quite particularly forgotten and left to wander the premises, desperate for amusement lest he die of boredom and neglect.

As the prospect of great masses of water spraying from a sky of steel was obviously unattractive to Walter (the younger brother, that is), he elected not to go out of doors. But he did happen to glance out of window and thereby noticed Bea – though he did not know who she was – judiciously suited in warm woolens and most un-judiciously dancing down the street.

Now young Walter was a fool for anything mysterious and interesting, and a young woman in a blue cloak twirling and skipping amid drench-weather fit this bill for certain. The lad’s curiosity was taken and given a shake. He had to know her name. As a maid of the house was happening by at that moment, Walter bade her look out the window and enlighten him.

“Why that’s Miss Bea, of Alden Cottage,” she dutifully reported before continuing on her mission to feed luncheon leftovers to the dogs.

© Cortney Matz, 2008

Continue to Part II