My advisor says I’ve got to frame my stories if I want to have any say about how my readers make meaning of them. There’s a difference between framing and an info dump, framing and summarzing, and framing versus giving it all away. I’ve been practicing, and pulled out an old vignette to work on. Ended up getting more stuff out of it because the framing set the borders for my story at a wider angle…
In the innocent expanse of my childhood, two different versions of life tugged at my sleeves. In one, I created vast cloud kingdoms with imaginary friends, Care Bear parades, and the world’s best climbing tree. I orchestrated weather patterns, invented new species, and lived without scolding in The Palace of No Bedtime. I talked to animals, ruled microscopic gnome villages, and invented code languages. These make believe worlds existed whenever I needed them, residing just behind my eyelids where I entered and exited with the slightest twitch of my imagining.
But another version of life pried against the edges of this bliss the older I grew. I had the distinct feeling of being eclipsed by a planet everyone else called the Real World. In it, only dolts talked to animals, popular girls ordered ritual social slaughters, and boys ordered broken hearts to walk the plank. The little girl I wanted to be forever found no place but complacency. Apparently innocence was overrated. Now the burgeoning world of A-cup breasts and secret boy crushes reigned supreme. Growing pains came from treading water as I watched my sweet Palace and all its inhabitants fade from the horizon like a mirage. For the next ten years, it would be my job to try and stay afloat.
I spent hours of my childhood hanging by my legs beneath the open-backed stairs of our house. Just below my swinging body, my pet guinea pig Munchkin scuffled anxiously across a sawdust cage. He was sick and scabby and always tried to chew my fingertips off. Dangling like a zoo-trapped monkey, I kept one ear to the second floor and listened to a chorus of guffawwws from the lawyers telling courtroom war stories. I knew my father’s laugh the best, like something rusty bubbling its way to the surface and making me want to start a tickle fight with him. Dad liked to have friends from the firm over, but when I coaxed a few of them under the stairs to teach them how to swing, their guffaws turned to nervous chuckles and they worried for my safety.
“It doesn’t hurt,” I said, leaping up to catch a high step with my hands, then swinging my legs until I hooked into a lower step. “See!” I dropped my hands and swooped back towards my legs like an acrobat. The stairs reeled away from my field of vision and for a moment, I belly laughed like dad.
“Jesus, you could snap your fibula!” one of the partners said after a particularly hyper demonstration on my part. He had bony ankles, I noticed from my opossum perch, and his left shoe was scuffed. If he wasn’t so tight, I thought, I’d call him Lefty and he could be my new friend. I’d even spit shine his shoes for free. Boy, was I good at that.
The lawyers stared blankly at my tricks and I realized the verdict was in. Hanging upside down would fuss up their attire and anyhow, they were all so tall they’d probably decapitate themselves on the back swing. Then we’d really have a lawsuit on our hands. They ushered themselves back up the stairs, but not without noticing Munchkin’s neglected, ill-scented cage first.
“Why don’t you play with your guinea pig, instead,” said Lefty, shielding his nose from the stench. I blushed and shook my head, No. I’d never seen Dad in the courtroom, but I knew enough from Perry Mason reruns, to sense a cross-examination was coming. Cleaning Munchkin’s cage was my weekly chore, but I’d share bathwater with Spike the neighbor kid before I’d ever touch that animal again.
“Ok, show’s over,” I said, herding the lawyers back upstairs and trying to forget my guilt. I stayed at Lefty’s heels all the way to the top step, mimicking his tight walk and stiff-collared gaze. I was on a new mission, Operation Phone Retrieval. It was Saturday afternoon and Jennie Winfree was just a phone call away.
Jennie was from the old neighborhood and already I understood she was the sister my parents could not make. They had already tried twice but the baby changed its mind, mom had said. Both times she had to lie down for a days afterwards, trying to fill up that cave where the baby baby had been. I didn’t know then to call it a fetus and the word miscarriage just sounded like someone ordered the wrong stroller. The third time it happened was the worst because we had already told all the neighbors and cousins and everyone was waiting for mom to grow really big and go on maternity leave. It took even longer for her to get better then, since the hole the baby left behind was so much bigger.
When Jennie and I lived across from each other on Huber Street, just a few miles south of downtown Portland, we had made a pact to be blood sisters and that was good enough for me. She took me into the woods behind her house one afternoon and pricked my fingertip with a sewing needle. Then she drew blood from her own finger and we smudged them together real tight…