Why a Story Should Show Its Dramatic Elements Twice

Read to Write Stories

Nicole Haroutunian's story, "Youse," was published at The Literarian and is included in her debut collection, Speed Dreaming. Nicole Haroutunian’s story, “Youse,” was published at The Literarian and is included in her debut collection, Speed Dreaming.

When working on plot, we tend to think in terms of major scenes: singular moments of tension and drama when significant character traits are revealed. That’s the idea, anyway. When we actually write these moments, we often discover that we’re burdening them with too much expectation. A scene can only do so much work, and that’s why it’s often a good idea to write a scene into your story twice. It gives you twice as much dramatic space to work within and, thus, the potential to reveal a lot more about a character.

A great example of showing a scene twice can be found in Nicole Haroutunian’s story, “Youse.” It is included in her debut collection, Speed Dreaming, and was published at The Literarian, where you can read it…

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I Love To Do Revisions! Why? It makes the work so much better. :-)

Happy Summer Everyone! I’m so thankful to everyone who has read my first chapter. I’m waiting for some feedback from a reviewer now, but it’ll be off to the agent soon I hope, cross your fingers for me!

Here’s the newest version of the first chapter:

Chapter One

This party should never have happened. I was standing at the far edge of my aunt’s spacious lawn, gripping the grass with my bare toes as if that would secure me to the ground. My friend K’antu came up and handed me a drink. I took a sip and glared at her.

“Hey, if you wanted it spiked, you should have gone yourself,” K’antu said. “The bartender told me to get real. No alcohol for the employees.”

But I wasn’t about to go myself. That would have meant passing half a dozen people that I did not want to talk to, including my aunt. The bartender probably wouldn’t have given it to me either. I look even younger than I am.

Walking out from under the canopy, I flung the pineapple juice, cup and all, at one of the bushes by the swimming pool. K’antu came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. Her touch was light and her hand was bony. I had noticed that she had lost a lot of weight since last summer – too much – and she looked bad. I hadn’t told her.

“Tamara, I know you don’t want to be here in Manchay. But nothing bad is going to happen this year. I promise. And this is your aunt’s birthday party. You should be with her.”

“No,” I said.

K’antu squeezed my shoulder, but didn’t insist. Instead she said, “Hey, your aunt gave me the day off tomorrow. We can go out on the dune buggies and have some fun, just you and me, getting away for a couple of hours…”

Turning back, I looked past her at the party. It was late afternoon now. The DJ was playing old Afro-Peruvian music. I didn’t usually listen to that kind of music, but when I was in the right mood I really liked it. I wasn’t in the right mood. My friend was trying to distract me, but a dune buggy could not take us far enough away from what I was afraid of.

“You can’t be sure it won’t happen again. Hasn’t it been happening all year?” I snapped at her, shivering. Even thinking about it made me nervous.

K’antu pursed her lips and looked up, “Well, yeah…”

I stepped away from her and started pacing.

“But they are getting more infrequent now,” she said quickly. “And they were never as strong as the first one. I am sure there won’t be one while you are here. And… well if there is, Laura’s house is different from your Aunt Ada’s. Nothing happened to Laura’s house last year, and since you are staying with her, you will be safe.”

Every year in the summer I come to Perú to visit family, staying half the time with Laura and the other with my father’s sister, Ada. Ada is a nurse. She doesn’t make much money, and her house is – or I should say was – a lot smaller than Laura’s. My father’s family lost over two hundred acres of land about twenty years ago under a government that was trying to be communist. Epic fail. But even so, the land had never been returned.

Since then the family has been struggling. Ada’s house was made of slapped-together adobe bricks. She had finished construction on the third floor a few years back, but the entire thing was basically a pile of crap that no inspector had ever set foot near, never mind signed off on. One day last summer I chose to stay with her an extra day – and that choice had almost killed me.

The last night of my visit an 8.1 earthquake hit the coast of Perú, and Manchay was the epicenter. The only thing left of Ada’s house was the front room on the first floor. We were inside that room during the disaster. I still have nightmares. So K’antu was right. I definitely did not want to be here this year. My mother had forced me to come, saying it was good for me. And now that I was here, her sister Laura was just ignoring my fears – laughing them off. According to her I was making a big deal of nothing. It’s all right for her to say, she didn’t have a house collapse on her. And now she was throwing this lavish party for herself with all of her cronies – political big wigs and wealthy landowners – while my Aunt Ada continued to suffer from last year’s disaster. I love Laura, but how is that fair? She should have at least toned the party down a few notches. The cake alone probably cost her a couple of hundred dollars. My eyes gravitated over to the three-tier, red, black and white Alice-in-Wonderland looking confection.

Ada… to be honest, I had not called her yet, and I had arrived in Manchay yesterday. I had been in regular contact with my cousin Elías. The week I had gotten back to Chicago, we video chatted, and he had given me a virtual tour of the ruins of his house through his tablet. He and I had both cried so much that for the rest of the year we had avoided talking about it, instead discussing stuff about my life, and his work as a glass blower – nothing else. And that had been fine with both of us.

“None of us are safe if another one hits,” I said, replying sourly to K’antu’s assurances. “Even this house – that earthquake probably loosened the foundation…”

“Oh Tamara,” K’antu laughed, “That’s ridiculous.”

I gave her a dirty look. She sounded like Laura – overly optimistic and unwilling to face the potential dangers of another natural disaster. What is wrong with these people? I guess you can’t live in constant fear, but at least have a little respect for my feelings. I heard my name being called.

“Tamara, there you are. I have been looking for you. You remember Rodolfo Alvarez, don’t you?” My Aunt Laura was coming up to us with two men beside her. She indicated the tall man standing to her left. He was tall and stocky, with dark blond hair that was greying now. His face was not traditionally handsome, but it was one that showed confidence and power. I remembered being afraid of him when I was a child. His family owned the second most successful vineyard in town. My mother’s family owned the first, run by Laura. Even though Rodolfo and my aunt were in direct competition, they were also good friends. He smiled at me and ignored K’antu. It wasn’t entirely his fault. My aunt had not bothered to introduce her. There was a class system in Manchay that I had never been comfortable with. My aunt was a kind employer, but she was still part of the upper class.

“And this is Tomás Romero, I don’t believe you have ever met him. He is our esteemed magistrate here in Manchay,” she continued, indicating the short man with heavily lidded eyes and a politician’s smile standing on the other side of Rodolfo. I had heard a few things about him from my cousin Elías. Nothing complimentary.

They both gave me the obligatory kiss on the cheek and complements on how I looked just like my beautiful aunt. “And I am sure you both know K’antu,” I replied, raising my hand and wiggling my fingers to where she was standing. “Tía, you forgot to introduce her. I know she’s just the help, but –”

“Don’t be silly,” my aunt’s tinkling laughter filled the air. It was irritating. She was as good a politician as anyone. She never let me see her get angry or frustrated, even when I pushed her. “K’antu isn’t even here. But if she were, I would be happy to introduce her. Such a delightful girl, gentlemen. She is my party planner – she did all the work on this lovely party.”

I spun around. My aunt was right. K’antu had disappeared. I started to go after her, but Laura grabbed my arm and squeezed it. Hard.

Cariño, Rodolfo has wonderful news,” she said to me. “His son Mario is here in Manchay. Or rather, he left for a few days, but he’ll be back tomorrow. And he can’t wait to see you. Isn’t that wonderful?”

My memory conjured up a chubby boy with overly large glasses and short, thick black hair with a cowlick right at his temple. We had played together on the rolling hills and shady vineyards of our families’ properties. I had not seen him for many years. One year he had disappeared from Manchay. His mother had taken him away. No one had ever explained to me exactly why, but once I had overheard the servants talking about her taking Mario and going to Spain with one of Rodolfo’s clients. I had not understood what they meant at the time, but soon after I had met K’antu and had put him out of my mind. Until now.

“Yeah, sure,” I brushed off her enthusiasm about a boy I barely knew, focusing my attention on the little man whose responsibility it was to run the town. “Señor Romero, since you are here, maybe you wouldn’t mind, I’d really like to know when my Aunt Ada can rebuild her house. Isn’t she supposed to be receiving some money from your government?”

“Not at my party, Tamara,” Laura said between her teeth. She beamed at the two men.

“What do you mean, Tía?” I squirmed around trying to release her grip on my arm. “Why shouldn’t I ask him now? Señor Romero will be going back to his house to sleep tonight, right? It is probably a beautiful house isn’t it, no cracks or collapsed walls? It isn’t a tent like at Ada’s house? Maybe he can explain how he feels about his people living in tents a year after –”

“You are right, Tamara,” Tomás said, showing his teeth. They were crooked. “I will be going home. I will sleep in my beautiful bedroom. And if I’m not mistaken, it is very much like the room you will be sleeping in tonight.”

We locked eyes. There was a flash of triumph in his. I looked away. He had hit a nerve. I felt pretty guilty that I had not gone to stay with my Aunt Ada – and didn’t plan to at all on this trip. That had been a purposeful choice. Never mind that my visit was mainly because of Laura’s birthday party, there was no way in hell I was going back to Ada’s house. In fact, short of inviting her to Laura’s, I didn’t see how I would see her at all this visit. I never wanted to go to the center of Manchay again. Ever.

During the virtual tour Elías had given me last year I had seen the shell of what had been their house. An aid organization called People Help had donated a bunch of tents right after the earthquake. Ada and Elías had set up theirs – still there twelve months later – in what had been their bedroom. They slept on thin mattresses since most of their furniture had been crushed. At night they had no heat and only canvas walls to protect them from the wind. Manchay is in the desert, and it is hot during the day and cold at night.

Two days ago, before leaving Chicago, I had called K’antu. She had told me that Manchay hadn’t changed much in the past year. The private school and some homes had been rebuilt, but otherwise – no reconstruction on anything, including Ada’s house. So I had told my mom and dad that I would be staying exclusively with Laura on this trip. I hadn’t talked to my Aunt Ada at all yet because I did not even want to give her the opportunity to offer her house to me. I wanted to feel safe, so I was blowing her off.

I grit my teeth, “Yeah, you are right, I will be sleeping in a nice place. I… I can’t sleep at Ada’s house, it isn’t livable. So what is the government doing about that? Why is it taking so long to help her?” Maybe getting some answers from him would help alleviate my guilty feelings. Perhaps I could call Ada with some good news. But he went on to crush my tiny glimmer of optimism.

“Of course you are concerned about your family,” Tomás Romero said. His eyes disappeared under the hooded lids and he made conciliatory gestures with his hands. “That does you credit, my dear. But you don’t understand. These things take time. My administration and I have been working closely with People Help, the aid organization that has come to help us. Also, my deputy or I go to Lima every week to raise money. Believe me, Tamara, we are doing all we can. Your family should have patience. Good things are coming, I promise.”

He patted me on the arm and turned to Laura, babbling something about dinner.

“I wonder if you’d have patience if you had to live in a tent, you pompous pig,” I muttered under my breath.

“It takes a while to raise money to help these people, Tamara.”

I jumped. It was Rodolfo talking. He had heard me. He went on, his face shining, “We are all doing what we can to make our town better. In fact that is what my son, Mario is doing here –”

This was useless. I tuned him out and scanned the room hoping to find K’antu. I had made friends with her several years ago when she came to work for Laura. At first my aunt tried to keep me away from her because she was an employee. But that had only made me want to befriend her more. I had insisted on K’antu spending her free time with me, and over the years what had started out as a forced friendship had turned into something real. To give my aunt credit, she had learned to accept it.

Instead of finding my friend, I saw my Aunt Laura talking to a tall man with huge eyeglasses. Without warning she keeled over forward, and would have fallen on the ground if the man had not reacted quickly and grabbed her. The people around her closed in, blocking my view, and the rest of the partygoers began to comment. A few people screamed, and there were restless shuffling sounds coming from several areas under the canopy.

Alarmed, I rushed over, pushed through the people and grabbed at the man’s shirt. He was on the floor now, my aunt lying in his arms.

Tía? Tía! What is wrong with her, Señor?”

My aunt’s eyes fluttered. She waved her hand at me and said in a weak voice, “Tamara.”

Tía, it’s me. I am here.” But it had not been me she was talking to.

“You are Tamara?” The man’s glasses reflected lights from the roof of the canopy when he looked up at me. “I was asking your aunt about you. You are friends with K’antu right? Where is she?”

“Yes, I am friends with K’antu. I don’t know where she is. What about my aunt –”

“I need you to go get K’antu for me. Now.”

“But – why?” Why the focus on K’antu when it was my aunt who had fainted? He was making me nervous.

“Just do it. Please.”

I looked at my aunt. A woman had taken over for the man, sliding a pillow under my aunt’s head and putting a cup of water to her lips. The man stood up and faced me, “Please, go get K’antu. Her husband has been murdered.”

Happy Father’s Day!

Hello All!

A very happy Father’s Day to everyone!

I changed my background picture today because I got a royalty notice from Amazon. I am so thankful and grateful to anyone and everyone who has bought my self published books on Amazon.

My fervent wish is that anyone who reads those books enjoys them, but I also want to let you know that they have been worked over several times, and CROSS YOUR FINGERS a different version is coming soon, still with Tamara and the earthquake, but professionally edited and in a new genre (YA).

My new background picture is of Machu Picchu, but a view rarely, if ever, seen in travel advertisements. I’m attaching it in this post also.

Have a wonderful day!

picture-1075.jpg

Tweaks are good.

The manuscript is almost ready to go out again! I really appreciate all the views I’ve been getting on FB! And on this rainy day (for my area at least), I add a picture of the beautiful rocky shoreline of Lima, Perú.

Chapter One

This party should never have happened. I was standing at the far edge of my aunt’s spacious lawn, gripping the grass with my bare toes as if that would secure me to the ground. My friend K’antu came up and handed me a drink. I took a sip and glared at her.

“Hey, if you wanted it spiked, you should have gone yourself,” K’antu said. “The bartender told me to get real. No alcohol for the employees.”

But I wasn’t about to go myself. That would have meant passing half a dozen people that I did not want to talk to, including my aunt. The bartender probably wouldn’t have given it to me either. I look even younger than I am.

Walking out from under the canopy, I flung the pineapple juice, cup and all, at one of the bushes by the swimming pool. K’antu came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. Her touch was light and her hand was bony. I had noticed that she had lost a lot of weight since last summer – too much – and she looked bad. I hadn’t told her.

“Tamara, I know you don’t want to be here in Manchay. But nothing bad is going to happen this year. I promise. And this is your aunt’s birthday party. You should be with her.”

“No,” I said.

K’antu squeezed my shoulder, but didn’t insist. Instead she said, “Hey, your aunt gave me the day off tomorrow. We can go out on the dune buggies and have some fun, just you and me, getting away for a couple of hours…”

Turning back, I looked past her at the party. The DJ was playing old Afro-Peruvian music. I didn’t usually listen to that kind of music, but when I was in the right mood I really liked it. I wasn’t in the right mood. My friend was trying to distract me, but a dune buggy could not take us far enough away from what I was afraid of.

“You can’t be sure it won’t happen again. Hasn’t it been happening all year?” I shivered. Even thinking about it made me nervous.

K’antu pursed her lips and looked up, “Well, yeah…”

I stepped away from her and started pacing.

“But they are getting more infrequent now,” she said quickly. “And they were never as strong as the first one. I am sure there won’t be one while you are here. And… well if there is, Laura’s house is different from your Aunt Ada’s. Nothing happened to Laura’s house last year, and since you are staying with her, you will be safe.”

Every year in the summer I come to Perú to visit family, staying half the time with Laura and the other with my father’s sister, Ada. Ada is a nurse. She doesn’t make much money, and her house is – or I should say was – a lot smaller than Laura’s. My father’s family lost over two hundred acres of land about twenty years ago under a government that was trying to be communist. Epic fail. But even so, the land had never been returned.

Since then the family has been struggling. Ada’s house was made of slapped-together adobe bricks. She had finished construction on the third floor a few years back, but the entire thing was basically a pile of crap that no inspector had ever set foot near, never mind signed off on. One day last summer I chose to stay with her an extra day – and that choice had almost killed me.

The last night of my visit an 8.1 earthquake hit the coast of Perú, and Manchay was the epicenter. The only thing left of Ada’s house was the front room on the first floor. We were inside that room during the disaster. I still had nightmares. So K’antu was right. I definitely did not want to be here this year. I was afraid of the aftershocks – or worse, what if another earthquake hit? My mother had forced me to come, saying it was good for me. And now that I was here, her sister Laura was just ignoring my fears – laughing them off. According to her I was making a big deal of nothing. It’s all right for her to say, she didn’t have a house collapse on her. And now she was throwing this lavish party for herself with all of her cronies – political big wigs and wealthy landowners – while my Aunt Ada continued to suffer from last year’s disaster. I love Laura, but how is that fair? She should have at least toned the party down a few notches. The cake alone probably cost her a couple of hundred dollars. My eyes gravitated over to the three-tier, red, black and white Alice-in-Wonderland looking confection.

Ada… to be honest, I had not called her yet, and I had arrived in Manchay yesterday. I had been in regular contact with my cousin Elías. The week I had gotten back to Chicago, we video chatted, and he had given me a virtual tour of the ruins of his house through his tablet. He and I had both cried so much that for the rest of the year we had avoided talking about it, instead discussing stuff about my life, and his work as a glass blower – nothing else. And that had been fine with both of us.

“None of us are safe if another one hits,” I said, replying sourly to K’antu’s assurances. “Even this house – that earthquake probably loosened the foundation…”

“Oh Tamara,” K’antu laughed, “That’s ridiculous.”

I gave her a dirty look. She sounded like Laura – overly optimistic and unwilling to face the potential dangers of another natural disaster. What is wrong with these people? I guess you can’t live in constant fear, but at least have a little respect for my feelings. I heard my name being called.

“Tamara, there you are. I have been looking for you. You remember Rodolfo Alvarez, don’t you?” My aunt Laura was coming up to us with two men beside her. She indicated the tall man standing to her left. He was tall and stocky, with dark blond hair that was greying now. His face was not traditionally handsome, but it was one that showed confidence and power. I remembered being afraid of him when I was a child. His family owned the second most successful vineyard in town. My mother’s family owned the first, run by Laura. Even though Rodolfo and my aunt were in direct competition, they were also good friends. He smiled at me and ignored K’antu. It wasn’t entirely his fault. My aunt had not bothered to introduce her. There was a class system in Manchay that I had never been comfortable with. My aunt was a kind employer, but she was still part of the upper class.

“And this is Tomás Romero, I don’t believe you have ever met him. He is our esteemed magistrate here in Manchay,” she continued, indicating the short man with heavily lidded eyes and a politician’s smile standing on the other side of Rodolfo. I had heard a few things about him from my cousin Elías. Nothing complimentary.

They both gave me the obligatory kiss on the cheek and complements on how I looked just like my beautiful aunt. “And I am sure you both know K’antu,” I replied, raising my hand and wiggling my fingers to where she was standing. “Tía, you forgot to introduce her. I know she’s just the help, but –”

“Don’t be silly,” my aunt’s tinkling laughter filled the air. It was irritating. She was as good a politician as anyone. She never let me see her get angry or frustrated, even when I pushed her. “K’antu isn’t even here. But if she were, I would be happy to introduce her. Such a delightful girl, gentlemen. She is my party planner – she did all the work on this lovely party.”

I spun around. My aunt was right. K’antu had disappeared. I started to go after her, but Laura grabbed my arm and squeezed it. Hard.

Cariño, Rodolfo has wonderful news,” she said to me. “His son Mario is here in Manchay. Or rather, he left for a few days, but he’ll be back tomorrow. And he can’t wait to see you. Isn’t that wonderful?”

My memory conjured up a chubby boy with overly large glasses and short, thick black hair with a cowlick right at his temple. We had played together on the rolling hills and shady vineyards of our families’ properties. I had not seen him for many years. One year he had disappeared from Manchay. His mother had taken him away. No one had ever explained to me exactly why, but once I had overheard the servants talking about her taking Mario and going to Spain with one of Rodolfo’s clients. I had not understood what they meant at the time, but soon after I had met K’antu and had put him out of my mind. Until now.

“Yeah, sure,” I brushed off her enthusiasm about a boy I barely knew, focusing my attention on the little man whose responsibility it was to run the town. “Señor Romero, since you are here, maybe you wouldn’t mind, I’d really like to know when my Aunt Ada can rebuild her house. Isn’t she supposed to be receiving some money from your government?”

“Not at my party, Tamara,” Laura said between her teeth. She beamed at the two men.

“What do you mean, Tía?” I squirmed around trying to release her grip on my arm. “Why shouldn’t I ask him now? Señor Romero will be going back to his house to sleep tonight, right? It is probably a beautiful house isn’t it, no cracks or collapsed walls? It isn’t a tent like at Ada’s house? Maybe he can explain how he feels about his people living in tents a year after –”

“You are right, Tamara,” Tomás said, showing his teeth. They were crooked. “I will be going home. I will sleep in my beautiful bedroom. And if I’m not mistaken, it is very much like the room you will be sleeping in tonight.”

We locked eyes. There was a flash of triumph in his. I looked away. He had hit a nerve. I felt pretty guilty that I had not gone to stay with my Aunt Ada – and didn’t plan to at all on this trip. That had been a purposeful choice. Never mind that my visit was mainly because of Laura’s birthday party, there was no way in hell I was going back to Ada’s house. In fact, short of inviting her to Laura’s, I didn’t see how I would see her at all this visit. I never wanted to go to the center of Manchay again. Never.

During the virtual tour Elías had given me last year I had seen the shell of what had been their house. An aid organization called People Help had donated a bunch of tents right after the earthquake. Ada and Elías had set up theirs – still there twelve months later – in what had been their bedroom. They slept on thin mattresses since most of their furniture had been crushed. At night they had no heat and only canvas walls to protect them from the wind. Manchay is in the desert, and it is hot during the day and cold at night.

Two days ago, before leaving Chicago, I had called K’antu. She had told me that Manchay hadn’t changed much in the past year. The private school and some homes had been rebuilt, but otherwise – no reconstruction on anything, including Ada’s house. So I had told my mom and dad that I would be staying exclusively with Laura on this trip. I hadn’t talked to my Aunt Ada at all yet because I did not even want to give her the opportunity to offer her house to me. I wanted to feel safe, so I was blowing her off.

I grit my teeth, “Yeah, you are right, I will be sleeping in a nice place. I… I can’t sleep at Ada’s house, it isn’t livable. So what is the government doing about that? Why is it taking so long to help her?” Maybe getting some answers from him would help alleviate my guilty feelings. Perhaps I could call Ada with some good news. But he went on to crush my tiny glimmer of optimism.

“Of course you are concerned about your family,” Tomás Romero said. His eyes disappeared under the hooded lids and he made conciliatory gestures with his hands. “That does you credit, my dear. But you don’t understand. These things take time. My administration and I have been working closely with People Help, the aid organization that has come to help us. Also, my deputy or I go to Lima every week to raise money. Believe me, Tamara, we are doing all we can. Your family should have patience. Good things are coming, I promise.”

He patted me on the arm and turned to Laura, babbling something about dinner.

“I wonder if you’d have patience if you had to live in a tent, you pompous pig,” I muttered under my breath.

“It takes a while to raise money to help these people, Tamara.”

I jumped. It was Rodolfo talking. He had heard me. He went on, his face shining, “We are all doing what we can to make our town better. In fact that is what my son, Mario is doing here –”

This was useless. I tuned him out and scanned the room hoping to find K’antu. I had made friends with her several years ago when she came to work for Laura. At first my aunt tried to keep me away from her because she was an employee. But that had only made me want to befriend her more. I had insisted on K’antu spending her free time with me, and over the years what had started out as a forced friendship had turned into something real. To give my aunt credit, she had learned to accept it.

Instead of finding my friend, I saw my aunt Laura talking to a tall man with huge eyeglasses. Without warning she keeled over forward, and would have fallen on the ground if the man had not reacted quickly and grabbed her. The people around her closed in, blocking my view, and the rest of the partygoers began to comment. A few people screamed, and there were restless shuffling sounds coming from several areas under the canopy.

Alarmed, I rushed over, pushed through the people and grabbed at the man’s shirt. He was on the floor now, my aunt lying in his arms.

Tía? Tía! What is wrong with her, Señor?”

My aunt’s eyes fluttered. She waved her hand at me and said in a weak voice, “Tamara.”

Tía, it’s me. I am here.” But it had not been me she was talking to.

“You are Tamara?” The man’s glasses reflected lights from the roof of the canopy when he looked up at me. “I was asking your aunt about you. You are friends with K’antu right? Where is she?”

“Yes, I am friends with K’antu. I don’t know where she is. What about my aunt –”

“I need you to go get K’antu for me. Now.”

“But – why?” Why the focus on K’antu when it was my aunt who had fainted? He was making me nervous.

“Just do it. Please.”

I looked at my aunt. A woman had taken over for the man, sliding a pillow under my aunt’s head and putting a cup of water to her lips. The man stood up and faced me, “Please, go get K’antu. Her husband has been murdered.”

Peru2015 715

Difficult Moments

As an earthquake survivor it has been hard for me to read the news this week. In so many ways I was lucky – I survived, and I got out after twenty-four hours. But even though my trauma is so much less than what anyone in Nepal is going through this week, my mind creeps to the limit of memory remembering the destruction and fear in Ica eight years ago, and then it shuts down as if to protect me from it.

The pictures we are seeing on the news are horrific, but the reality is much worse. I know that, because it was the same for the Peru earthquake.

My heart goes out to everyone in the disaster affected area.

Food!

One thing that I have always loved about Perú: the food! So I was interested to see this article on npr.org.

There are several references to Peruvian food in all versions of my MS (no longer The Shattered Swan – tune in soon to find out the new title!), and the new version is no different. Please read the first chapter and like or comment on Facebook and Twitter!

And if your city has a Peruvian restaurant, try it out! You’ll love it.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2015/04/26/402055120/who-s-behind-the-latest-trendy-cuisine-maybe-it-s-the-government

Light Bulb!

The journey continues! Tamara has gone through so many changes over the years but I like this one the best! She is now me – or rather, “I”. I have evolved my POV and I think this makes her a stronger and more interesting character. Please comment, it would really help me!!

Chapter One

This party should never have happened. I was standing at the far edge of my aunt’s spacious lawn, gripping the grass with my bare toes as if that would secure me to the ground. My friend K’antu came up and handed me a drink. I took a sip and glared at her.

“Hey, if you wanted it spiked, you should have gone yourself. The bartender told me to get real. No alcohol for the employees,” K’antu said.

But I wasn’t about to go myself. That would have meant passing half a dozen people that I did not want to talk to, including my aunt. The bartender probably wouldn’t have given it to me either. I look even younger than I am.

We were outside, so technically I wasn’t actually in a corner. I walked out from under the canopy and flung the pineapple juice, cup and all, at one of the bushes by the swimming pool. K’antu came up behind me and put a hand on my shoulder. Her touch was light and her hand was bony. She had lost a lot of weight since last summer – too much – and she looked bad. I hadn’t told her that yet.

“Tamara, I know you don’t want to be here in Manchay. But nothing bad is going to happen this year. I promise. And this is your aunt’s birthday party. You should be with her. Your aunt gave me the day off tomorrow. If… if I… we can go out on the dune buggies and have some fun. Just you and me, getting away for a couple of hours… getting away from it all…”

Turning back, I looked past her at the party. The DJ was playing old Afro-Peruvian music. I didn’t usually listen to that kind of music, but when I was in the right mood I really liked it. I wasn’t in the right mood. What was K’antu stammering about anyway? If she what? Getting away from what? A dune buggy could not go far enough to take us away from my fears. I wanted to ask her what she was talking about, I really did, but I was too absorbed in my own thoughts. I’d ask her later.

“You can’t be sure it won’t happen again. Hasn’t it been happening all year?” I shivered. Even thinking about it made me nervous.

K’antu pursed her lips and looked up, “Well, yeah…”

I stepped away from her and started pacing.

“But they are getting more infrequent now.” She said quickly, “And they were never as strong as the first one. I am sure there won’t be one while you are here. And… well if there is, Laura’s house is different from your aunt Ada’s. Nothing happened to Laura’s house last year, and since you are staying with her, you will be safe.”

Every year in the summer I come to Perú to visit family, staying half the time with Laura and the other with my father’s sister, Ada. Ada is a nurse. She doesn’t make much money, and her house is – or I should say was – a lot smaller than Laura’s. My father’s family lost over two hundred acres of land about twenty years ago under a government that was trying to be communist. Epic fail. But even so, the land had never been returned.

Since then the family has been struggling. Ada’s house was made of slapped together adobe bricks. She had finished construction on the third floor a few years back, but the entire thing was basically a pile of crap that no inspector had ever set foot near, never mind signed off on. One day last summer I chose to stay with her an extra day – and that choice had almost killed me.

The last night of my visit an 8.1 earthquake hit the coast of Perú, and Manchay was the epicenter. The only thing left of Ada’s house was the front room on the first floor. We were inside that room during the disaster. I still had nightmares. So K’antu was right. I definitely did not want to be here this year. I was afraid of the aftershocks – or worse, what if another earthquake hit? But my mother forced me to come, and now that I was here, her sister Laura was just ignoring my fears. According to her I was making a big deal of nothing. It’s all right for her to say, she didn’t have a house collapse on her. And now she was throwing this lavish party for herself with all of her cronies – political big wigs and wealthy landowners – while my aunt Ada continued to suffer from last year’s disaster. I love Laura, but how is that fair? She should have at least toned it down a few notches. The cake alone probably cost her a couple of hundred dollars.

To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what was happening with Ada even though I was always in regular contact with my cousin Elías. The week I had gotten back to Chicago he had given me a virtual tour of the ruins of his house over the phone. He and I had both cried so much that for the rest of the year we had avoided talking about it. We had discussed stuff about my life, and him – he is a glass blower and he had just moved into a new workshop, which he was excited about – nothing else. And that had been fine with both of us.

“None of us are safe if another one hits.” I said, replying sourly to K’antu’s assurances. “Even this house – that earthquake probably loosened the foundation…”

“Oh Tamara.” K’antu laughed. “That’s ridiculous.”

I gave her a dirty look. She sounded like Laura – overly optimistic and unwilling to face the potential dangers of another natural disaster. What is wrong with these people? I guess you can’t live in constant fear, but at least have a little respect for my feelings. I heard my name being called.

“Tamara, there you are. I have been looking for you. You remember Rodolfo Alvarez, don’t you?” My aunt Laura was coming up to us with two men beside her. She indicated the tall man standing to her left. He was tall and stocky, with dark blond hair that was greying now. His face was not traditionally handsome, but it was one that showed confidence and power. I remembered being afraid of him when I was a child. His family owned the second most successful vineyard in town. My mother’s family owned the first, run entirely by Laura. Even though Rodolfo and my aunt were in direct competition, they were also good friends. He smiled at me and ignored K’antu. It wasn’t entirely his fault. My aunt had not bothered to introduce her.

“And Tomás Romero?” She continued, indicating the short man with heavily lidded eyes and a politician’s smile standing on the other side of Rodolfo. He was the magistrate of Manchay. I had heard a few things about him from my cousin Elías. Nothing complimentary.

They both gave me the obligatory kiss on the cheek and complements on how I had grown into a beautiful young woman. “And I am sure you both know K’antu,” I replied, raising my hand and wiggling my fingers to where she was standing. “Tía, you forgot to introduce her. I know she’s just the help, but –”

“Don’t be silly,” my aunt’s tinkling laughter filled the air. It was irritating. She was as good a politician as anyone. She never let me see her get angry or frustrated, even when I pushed her. “K’antu isn’t even here. But if she were, I would be happy to introduce her. Such a delightful girl, gentlemen. She is my party planner – she did all the work on this lovely party.”

I spun around. My aunt was right. K’antu had disappeared. I started to go after her, but Laura grabbed my arm and squeezed it. Hard.

Cariño, Rodolfo has good news.” She said to me. “His son Mario is here in Manchay. Or rather, he has been. He left for a few days, but he’ll be back tomorrow. And he can’t wait to see you. Isn’t that wonderful?”

My memory conjured up a chubby boy with overly large glasses and short, thick black hair with a cowlick right at his temple. We had played together on the rolling lawns and shady vineyards of our families. I had not seen him for many years. His mother had left and taken him away. No one had ever explained to me exactly why, but one year I had overheard the servants talking about her taking Mario and going to Spain with one of Rodolfo’s clients. I had not understood the actual meaning of that at the time, and I had put it – and him – out of my mind. Until now.

“Yeah, sure.” I brushed off her enthusiasm about a boy I barely knew, focusing my attention on the little man whose responsibility it was to run the town. “Señor Romero, since you are here, maybe you wouldn’t mind, I’d really like to know when my aunt Ada can rebuild her house. Isn’t she supposed to be receiving some money from the government?”

“Not at my party, Tamara.” Laura said between her teeth. She beamed at the two men.

“What do you mean, Tía?” I squirmed around trying to release her grip on my arm. “Why shouldn’t I ask him now? Señor Romero will be going back to his house to sleep tonight, right? It is probably a beautiful house isn’t it, no cracks or collapsed walls? It isn’t a tent like at Ada’s house? Maybe he can explain how he feels about his people living in tents a year after –”

“You are right, Tamara.” Tomás said, showing his teeth. They were crooked. “I will be going home. I will sleep in my beautiful bedroom. And if I’m not mistaken, it is very much like the room you will be sleeping in tonight.”

We locked eyes. There was a flash of triumph in his. I looked away. He had hit a nerve. I felt pretty guilty that I had not gone to stay with my aunt Ada – and didn’t plan to at all on this trip. That had been a purposeful choice. Never mind that my visit was mainly because of Laura’s birthday party, there was no way in hell I was going back to Ada’s house. In fact, short of inviting her to Laura’s, I didn’t see how I would see her at all this visit. I never wanted to go to the center of Manchay again. Never.

When I said “Ada’s house” now, I used the term loosely. During the virtual tour Elías had given me I had seen the shell of what had been their house. An aid organization called People Help had donated a bunch of tents right after the earthquake. Ada and Elías had set up theirs in what had been their living room. It was still there. That was where they slept. They had lost almost all of their furniture and at night they had no heat and only canvas walls to protect them from the wind. Manchay is in the desert. It is hot during the day and cold at night.

The day before I came back I had called K’antu, who had told me that Manchay had barely changed at all in the past year. The private school and some homes had been rebuilt, but otherwise – no reconstruction on anything, including Ada’s house. So I had told my mom and dad that I would be staying exclusively with Laura on this trip. I hadn’t talked to my aunt Ada at all yet because I did not even want to give her the opportunity to offer her house to me. I wanted to feel safe, so I was blowing them off completely.

“Yeah, you are right, I will be sleeping in a nice place. But what about my aunt Ada?” I insisted. Maybe getting some answers from him would help alleviate my guilty feelings. Perhaps I could call Ada with some good news. But he went on to crush my tiny glimmer of optimism.

“Yes, of course you are concerned about the rest of your family.” Tomás Romero said, his eyes disappeared under the hooded lids and he made conciliatory gestures with his hands.  “That does you credit, my dear. But you don’t understand. These things take time. My administration and I have been working closely with People Help, the aid organization that has come to help us. Also, my deputy or I go to Lima every week to raise money. Believe me, Tamara, we are doing all we can. Your family should have patience. Good things are coming.”

He patted me on the arm and turned to Laura, babbling something about dinner.

“I wonder if you’d have patience if you had to live in a tent, you pompous pig.” I muttered under my breath.

“It takes a while to raise money to help these people, Tamara.” I jumped. It was Rodolfo talking. He had heard me. “We are all doing what we can to make our town better. In fact that is what Mario is doing here –”

This was useless. I tuned him out and scanned the room hoping to find K’antu. I had made friends with her a few years ago when she came to work for Laura. At first my aunt tried to keep me away from her because she was an employee. But that only made me want to befriend her more. Over the years the fake friendship had turned into something real. To give my aunt credit, she had learned to accept it. She was actually very good to her employees – relatively speaking.

I saw my aunt Laura talking to a tall man with huge eyeglasses. All of a sudden she keeled over and would have fallen on the ground if the man had not lunged forward to grab her. Several people saw her collapse and the crowd behind them began to notice something was wrong. A few people screamed, and there were restless shuffling sounds coming from several areas under the canopy.

I rushed over and grabbed at the man’s shirt. He was on the floor now, my aunt lying in his arms. “Tía? Tía! What is wrong with her, Señor?”

My aunt opened her eyes, waved her hand at me and said in a weak voice, “Tamara.”

“I am here Tía.” But it had not been me she was talking to.

“You are Tamara?” The man’s glasses reflected lights from the roof of the canopy when he looked up at me. “I was asking your aunt about you. You are friends with K’antu right? Where is she?”

“Yes, I am friends with K’antu. But I don’t know where she is. What about my aunt –”

“I need you to go get K’antu. Now.”

“But – why?” He was making me nervous.

“Just do it. Please.”

I looked at my aunt. A woman had taken over for the man, sliding a pillow under my aunt’s head and putting a cup of water to her lips. The man stood up and faced me. “Please, go get K’antu. Her husband has been murdered.”

No Eating of Uncovered Edibles

That makes about as much sense as anything in life, doesn’t it? My family and I found that gem on a poster in the children’s museum section of the Deutsches Museum in Munich. My kids and I often share laughs at life’s little absurdities, of which there is never a shortage. This is one of the many favorites. Judging by the picture (attached), it means that one should be careful not to eat fly-ridden food at a picnic. Good advice! And the new title to my most recent series.

So speaking of my kids, they are teenagers now, and sooner than I can blink I will be an empty nester. That thought fills me with dread. Not because I am nothing without my kids. Let’s face it, although at times they suck your personality out of you until you think of everything but yourself, when you live with two teenagers, occasionally the thought of them flying the coop can actually put a smile on your face. Of course I love my kids. But what I am most concerned about is what I will do when I no longer have to cook, clean and chauffer people around. When my days aren’t filled with juggling schedules, doctor appointments and swim meets.

I do have a job, actually. I am an adjunct at a local community college. It is part time. It will probably never be full time – although if my boss is reading this feel free to offer!!! Recently the internet and radio have been full of feel good stories on job growth. Ooh, job creation has grown – Ahh, more people back to work.

I personally am not believing what I am reading. What about you?  Which jobs are growing? I think in this game show, the prize goes to part time and temporary work. [insert optimistic voice here] “You have just won a step up from poverty! Collect $200 on the way out – and don’t come back.” There is no way the media and the government is manipulating the good news is there? They wouldn’t do that to us…

So just so no one can say I’m a complainer with no solutions, I have decided to make up some jobs that I think would make sense for those of us who have been out of the workforce for so long that we have a panic attack every time we think about trying to go back.

Before I get started, a message to all the trolls out there: please hunker back down in your caves where humor goes to die.

The first installment of what will be a weekly series, if I am as inspired next week as I think I am this week, is a job description I like to call Delegation of Moms to Oversee Congress, or DOMOC-racy (oh come on critics, lighten up. Have some fun with it.)

So these moms, ideally, are mothers of high schoolers or older children. Not to exclude those moms of younger kids, it’s just that I know you are busy running around right now.  The idea is to set up shop in Washington D.C. to force organization on a very dysfunctional group of people – ladies, you do this often at home, am I right?

We’ve all had – or heard – that idea of making the people in Congress take the health care we have and seeing how quickly they reform it, right? Well why not take that a step further? Sometimes it seems like with every single issue they need to address they bicker like two-year olds (or teenagers, take your pick).

Debate: Now, while sometimes it is good to step back and let the kids argue it out themselves, there come those moments when a mom knows the situation will not resolve itself. America, we have stepped back long enough. It’s time to grab Congress by the ear and give them an ultimatum: clean your room now or no dessert for you.

Procrastination:  It is excruciating to watch as Congress drags its feet deciding things. Aren’t they paid to give us results? Don’t we send them our e-mailed complaints only to receive a form letter referring to a completely different issue? Make a decision for goodness sake, or no allowance.  Compromise is key in family – and in society.

Blimps and brothels: Our budget – your kid wants to buy the latest silly trend? They’d better make a pretty good case for it. Down to your last five dollars this week? Maybe a crap load of candy bars isn’t the best way to spend that money at the moment. Shouldn’t the government think the same way? Funding research on ketchup viscosity? On a football field sized blimp? Say what? (Hey, maybe they’d be willing to pay us out of work moms to tell them a few things about ketchup)

Now, the question is, how to fund DOMOC-racy? I mean the idea is to turn it into a full time job with benefits for many people, right? Sadly, I have no idea. Hey, if I did, don’t you think I’d already be in D.C? You would have heard of the crazy lady and her cronies getting RESULTS. Ha ha. But ladies (or guys), surely if Congress can pay itself there is an answer out there.

Tune in next week for the latest round of brilliant job ideas.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/06/u-s-economy-added-295000-jobs-in-february/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/03/06/i-was-a-professor-at-four-universities-i-still-couldnt-make-ends-meet/?hpid=z5

http://mic.com/articles/76985/20-ridiculous-ways-the-government-wasted-your-money-in-2013

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Game change, Name change – watch out, you might lose your lunch!

Hello all,

I’ve decided to change my blog’s profile name from my intended pen name to my real name, since I’ll be using Cristina if my new manuscript becomes a book (cross your fingers for me!!!!!)

I just got back from another trip to Peru – no earthquakes this time thank goodness! What was new, you might ask? Well, an attack of tiny gnats that put me in a wheelchair at the Miami airport on the way home (extreme allergic reaction), and a trip up the Andean foothills that might have me converted into a vegetarian. 🙂

Warning: if you are actually a vegetarian, or you have small animals as pets, you probably want to stop here.

I watched my family eat cuy (guinea pig), a typical food of the highlands. They are high in protein and low in fat (low in meat also I would guess…) I couldn’t bring myself to eat it – would you?

If you’re up for it, here’s a link to the guinea pig festivals in Peru, and below, a picture of my family’s meal: http://www.viralnova.com/guinea-pig-festival/

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