Monday, December 14, 2015

Girl Under Glass Chapter One










                             Chapter 1







Kelsey McCully waits while the girl at the Rite Aid pharmacy counter searches the shelves for her mother’s prescriptions. “M-A-C?” she asks—same as last month.
“M-C,” Kelsey says.
The pharmacist glances up. “How’s your mom?” 
“Fine.”
“Glad to hear it.”
There are times Kelsey thinks she was born inside out—every nerve exposed—feeling everything one day, and nothing the next. She either hates this monthly charade, or has to fight back tears because some one bothered to ask about her mother. Ronald, the pharmacist, always asks. Kelsey always lies. Her mother worked here five years ago, but was fired. No one cares how she’s doing, and today Kelsey hates them for pretending they do. 
Her friend, Carly, waits outside, guarding her bicycle. Kelsey comes out, and tosses the bag of prescriptions into her basket.
Carly nods toward the store employee, whose butt-crack is exposed every time he bends to reset plants blown over by the last night’s gusty winds.
Kelsey watches him pick up the lone gardenia, and put it back on the stand. She looks at Carly and grins. “My mother loves gardenias,” she whispers, wheels her bike to the plant stand, presses her nose into the single, sweet blossom, and breathes deeply.  
 Carly pushes her bike into position between the clerk and Kelsey and holds one hand behind her back, ready to signal when he isn’t looking.
Kelsey feels light-headed and her heart thuds. She sniffs the white blossom again, sneaking a peek at the blue-vested employee. He’s watching a woman in high-heels walk to her car.  
When Carly flaps her hand, Kelsey snatches the gardenia, jams it into her bike basket, and rides away. She shoots across the parking lot toward Coast Tire, then out onto the sidewalk. She flees past the Tradewinds Motel, turns up Hazel Street, slows, circles back, and peers around the corner. When she sees Carly ride out of the parking lot, she starts back toward her, grinning, but Carly looks over her shoulder, then shouts something.
“What?”
“Go. Go!” Carly screams.
Kelsey turns into the Tradewinds’ parking lot, pedaling as hard as she can toward the Franklin Street exit. She bounces over a speed bump and nearly falls as she makes a sharp left onto the sidewalk behind the motel. Jerry Curtis, the same Fort Bragg cop who caught her when she sneaked off to a party in her mother’s car a month ago, stands in the center of the sidewalk with his hands on his hips. She tries to steer around him, but he catches her around the waist and lifts her off the bike, which crashes into the only section of the motel’s back wall that isn’t hidden by thick clumps of pampas grass. The potted gardenia flips out and lands right side up on the concrete. The bag of prescriptions sails out and lands in a puddle the drip system has left.
            Kelsey tries to act innocent and confused. “Geez, Jerry, you scared me.”
            Carly comes out of the motel’s rear driveway, sees them, and turns the other way. She glances back once before crossing Franklin, and riding, hell-bent, up Chestnut.
            “Nice gardenia.” Jerry picks it up and smells the bloom.
            “I bought it for my mother.”
            Jerry’s a neighbor. He lives one block over from Kelsey’s house—too close as far as she’s concerned.
“I bet she’ll like that.” He smiles.  
            “Yeah. They’re her favorite.”
            “They don’t do well here. Too cold, I guess.”
            Kelsey can’t tell if he believes her. “Well, I gotta go.” She rights her bicycle.
            Jerry grabs the handlebars. “Sure, Kelsey, I just need to see the receipt.”
Kelsey pretends to look for it: in her backpack, on the sidewalk, then she shrugs. “It must have blown out of my basket.”
            “Did the bag blow out too?”
            “They didn’t give . . .” Kelsey turns and follows Jerry’s gaze.
            The Rite Aid clerk is jogging up the sidewalk toward them, his belly bouncing like a beach ball. “There were two of them,” he pants.
            Fat-so.
            “I know them both,” Jerry says. “Take the plant, but leave me your name. You’ll probably be called to testify.”
            “Not a problem. I’m sick of these kids ripping us off when they’ve got more money to pay for stuff than I have.”
            Jerry nods. “Tell me about it.” 
            Kelsey swallows, determined not to cry. “Jerry, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I promise. Mom’s been sick, and I wanted to bring her something.”
            “Sorry, Kiddo. You were warned. No more free rides. Maybe a few weeks in Juvenile Hall will change your tune before it’s too late.”

*

Kelsey spends the morning watering down her mother’s drinks, trying to keep Lydia sober enough to walk and talk, but drunk enough not to know what’s going on. Before the time comes to leave for court, Kelsey gets her mother to eat a little lunch, and baits her into getting dressed by asking Lydia if she wants to stop at the liquor store after they go to the courthouse to pay a parking ticket.
“When did I get a parking ticket?” Her mother stands in front of the bathroom mirror letting Kelsey comb her hair.
“Two weeks ago. Don’t you remember?”
“I guess I do. In front of the post office, right?”
“Uh huh. There.” Kelsey puts the comb down. “You look nice.” She smiles at Lydia’s reflection in the mirror. They look eerily alike and unrelated at the same time. Kelsey’s hair is a mousy, dull brown; her mother’s a graying shade of dishwasher blond. Kelsey’s eyes are brown, her mother’s are pale blue, red-rimmed and bloodshot. All they have in common is the same pug nose and the same gap between their front teeth. Sometimes, like now, with her mother’s hair combed, they resemble each other, but so superficially that Kelsey feels pretty sure that her mother’s drinking has nothing to do with having Kelsey as a reminder of her lost youth.  

*

The bailiff calls, “All rise” when Cindy Mayfield, the Mendocino County Juvenile Judge, enters the courtroom. Kelsey drags her mother to her feet and keeps her steady with a hand on her shoulder. After Judge Mayfield takes her seat, Kelsey sits and pulls Lydia into the seat beside her.
“Well, which is it?” Her mother’s voice is slurred.
“Young Lady,” Judge Mayfield says.
            “Yes, ma’am.” Kelsey stands again, but keeps a firm hand on her mother’s shoulder.
            “It’s yes, your Honor.” 
            “Yes, your Honor.”
            “I’ve read Officer Curtis’s report and heard the testimony of Mr. Jennings from Rite Aid, and I have reviewed your record. This is your second arrest for shoplifting, which means, incidentally, that you aren’t very good at it; you’ve been picked up three times for truancy, and you have a speeding ticket. That’s quite a record for someone too young for a learner’s permit.” She puts down the file, folds her hands, and glares at Kelsey. “Here’s the deal. You’re fifteen. In spite of the recommendation of Ms. Rontero of the Juvenile Probation Department, I am loathe to send you to Juvenile Hall at your age, but I see no other way to get through to you.”
            Kelsey concentrates on picking at the chewed skin around the nub of her thumbnail.
            “Look at me.”
            She sucks on the inside of her cheek and looks up at the judge.
            “I want to hear your excuse.”   
            “For which thing?”
            “The one you’re here for now,” Judge Mayfield snaps.
            “My mother’s . . .” Kelsey whispers.
            “Speak up.”
            “. . . been sick. She likes flowers.”
            “So you stole one for her. Would a stolen gardenia have made you feel better, Ms. McCully?”
Kelsey glances at her mother.
Lydia McCully’s head comes up lazily, and she blinks at the judge.
“Say, no, your Honor,” Kelsey hisses under her breath.
“No, your Honor.” Her mother smiles dimly. 
Kelsey’s shoulders sag. She tried to keep her mother out of this by erasing the message the police left and intercepting the notice to appear in court, but three days ago that woman from the Mendocino County Juvenile Probation Department came by to make sure her mother knew Kelsey was in trouble again. She’d come late in the afternoon, but Lydia managed to appear lucid. After the woman left, Lydia fixed herself another vodka and water, had a good cry, turned on the television, and seemed to forget all about it. 
Judge Mayfield studies Lydia. “How are you feeling now, Ms. McCully?”
Kelsey turns to whisper the answer, but her mother says, “Not well, your Honor.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Gout,” her mother answers.
Kelsey coughs to cover her astonishment. Where the hell did that come from?
            “Uh huh.” The judge stares at Lydia for a full minute, then turns her scary gaze on Kelsey. “Here’s the deal,” she says. “I see in your file that your sixteenth birthday is in six months, so I’m giving you one more chance—six months probation and 300 hours of community service. That means every day.” She shakes a finger. “Every single day after school, and all day on weekends you will work for Dr. Jonathan Hobbes. The bailiff will give you the address. Is that clear?”
            “A doctor?”
            “He has a PhD in botany. You’ve got yourself six months to grow a gardenia for your mother.” She writes something in the file, and hands it to the clerk. “Kelsey . . .”
 “Yes, your Honor?”
“If I hear you’ve missed a day or caused Dr. Hobbes one minute of trouble, you are going to Juvenile Hall. Is that clear?”
Kelsey nods.
“I never want to see you here again.”
            “You won’t ma’am. I promise.”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“I mean it this time.”
“You had better, young lady. You are headed down a dead-end road.”


*

RECENT SCIENCE

“A Colorado State University scientist has re-engineered plants so that they can detect explosives, air pollution and toxic chemicals. Plants fixed with custom-made proteins in biologist June Medford’s lab signal the presence of potentially deadly vapors by turning white from green. Military and federal Homeland Security research directors Wednesday said they envision wide applications for the genetically modified plants positioned in buildings, war zones and cities where terrorists could set up covert bomb-making factories.
…from The Miami Herald, February 2011

*
 "They tell us that plants are perishable, soulless creatures, that only man is immortal but this, I think is something that we know very nearly nothing about."  …John Muir

*

“It’s never too late to become who you might have been.”
                                                                                                         Unknown

3 comments:

  1. I love the judge's challenge: "six months to grow a gardenia ..." It sets up a "can she do it?" expectation in the reader (though I know from previous snippets I've read that the story will go in a different, exciting direction). -Maureen

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