Today, I’m celebrating the Show MeYours blogfest by posting an excerpt from the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2010.
Novel Title: The View from Upper High Hog
Summary: An outrageous former Vaudevillian finds herself strong-armed into raising a Russian orphan in Cold War Era Arizona.
Scene: Set in 1962, this is the novel’s opening, narrated by Elizabeth, the now-thirteen-year-old orphan raised by Bebe Rosenthal (a.k.a. The Fabulous Bette Noire). After this scene, we go back in time to hear the real story of how Bebe wound up with Elizabeth.
Bebe was gone. Bette Noire was in her eyes.
And Bette Noire wanted me to shut up.
It was party time, so I grew dim in the part of the living room I called Downstage. Bebe called it my box seat — a small bay window where I hid with books and dreams of Prince Charming, curtains drawn. But not right then. Right then I was a prop in Bebe– Bette’s routine.
“C’maaaan! Who’s the brat? You ain’t no mama. Ain’t never been!” Bebe’s friend kicked his feet onto our chipped coffee table, popping a cigar back in his mouth like a pacifier. She favored him with a smile, but I didn’t like his winks — not at me, not at Bebe, not even at her fearless stage persona, The Fabulous Bette Noire. He looked like a cartoon on a cocktail napkin. He smelled like wood polish and poison. I hoped he’d choke on a pistachio so he’d shut up.
But he didn’t, and others ogled my thirteen-year-old gawkiness until I itched like I was covered with flies. I hated when downstage became upstage. At least I could always count on rescue, whether smiling and merciful from Bebe or otherwise from Bette.
No smile that time. Just Bette’s narrowing eye. Here it came.
With a flourish, the Fabulous Bette Noire put her fingers in her mouth and whistled until she shattered every eardrum from here to Kingman, grinning at her guests’ shock.
When I pulled my hands from my ears — I knew the danger signals — she was laughing into the imaginary heights of our low-ceilinged bungalow and positioning herself between olive velveteen curtains. Our front window was her favorite stage, our floorlamp her spotlight. That night, she was accompanied by reflected stardust glitter from our aluminum Christmas tree.
When all eyes returned to her, Bette launched into a well-worn monologue: the story of our origins. She had this whole routine she performed at parties.
A wave of her cigarette, the rasp of her voice, and she reached my favorite part. “So they lead me in. They sit me down. They ask if I wanted a drink. Well…” A knowing look, and the room laughed on cue. She held out her hands, a string of smoke curling upward from the cigarette between her fingers. “But then, instead of a drink or some happy hour grub, there she was! Wrapped in a blanket like a little shnookum sausage in a casing, all pink and round-cheeked. I looked that Miz Scott right in the eye and told her flat out, ‘No thank you, ma’am. I always keep kosher!'”
She always paused here for laughter. The woman knew her timing.
“But apparently they knew I was bluffing because, next thing I knew, I was sitting in a train, watching the prairie go by, holding that little sausage, and wondering what to do next. A sausage! I figured I’d donate her to the diner car. Then she opened her eyes for the first time, stee-retched out that neck… And I realized. She wasn’t a sausage at all. By those giant pea-green eyes, I knew I had myself a turtle. I said hi how are ya, and the turtle belched — the raunchiest noise I’d ever heard.” A shrug. “What are you gonna do? I fell in love. We’ve been together ever since.”
Love. She said loved me. Made all the staring men worthwhile.
Problem was, I knew the story was total baloney.
Bebe didn’t meet me until I was four, more beanpole than sausage, eyes wide open all the time. Maybe I burped, but more likely I just wore her ears out, babbling in Russian until she could teach me enough English to understand I needed to shut up.