Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Certain Shade of Blue

Written for Sandra's Writing Workshop Hop

This is the beginning of chapter 1 of my novel-in-progress. I don't know if I have the formal first person quite right, but please let me know what you think!


On a warm early-June evening I walked slowly along the river, against the mild current that ripples it into the city, my hand dragging lazily along the rough surface of the balustrade.

Another gallery opening, another newly “discovered” local artist in his first exhibition here. Kyle usually gave me these shows to review; I was his most “mature” stringer, he said. “These college students don’t know a Picasso from a soup can yet. You’ve got a degree. You’re it, sweetheart.” I never told him I didn’t feel even up to the level of those students.

Here the river splits the street down its center. Traffic loops around it, flowing with and against the tide, on its way into and out of downtown. The river is below street level; to see it you need to look over the balustrade. I stopped and leaned on the edge of the concrete rail. The daytime warmth was leaking out of the stone now that the sun was setting. Gnats and mosquitos scattered in the air. A black ant zigzagged toward me, and I pulled my hand away till it disappeared over the opposite edge. Rush hour was over, and only the occasional car hummed past to ruffle the quietness.

My eyes followed the flow of the water toward downtown, where it spilled into an  urban pool within the circle of buildings. The lights were beginning to come on, and the reflections of the streetlamps glimmered in the water, floating and bobbing like white chrysanthemum petals in a Japanese watercolor.

Dusk—the time of day that reaches into your soul and pulls it so close to the surface that everything that touches it hurts.

My thirty-fifth birthday, a month ago. I’d let it pass by unmarked. Not because I dreaded getting older—I actually welcomed it—but because for the first time in my life I was completely alone.

The past three years were a tunnel into which it seemed the whole of my life had been funneled. Three intense, eliminating years in which all my external supports had fallen away. But my regret wasn’t for that. It was for a part of me that hadn’t been born yet and might never be.

I stood with my eyes half closed, the melancholy of evening settling over me like a soft scarf. A warm breeze teased at my hair and rippled my skirt around my knees. In my squinting vision the dancing lights on the water stretched out and joined together, a white-gold undulating chain. The footprints of angels. Something my mother would have said. An instant of aching, and then a sudden lightness. The evening seemed to change character; on a gentle night like this it was possible to imagine that lives and fates could transform within a moment.

 I lifted my hands from the barrier and brushed off the tiny glasslike bits of gravel that had indented my skin. I turned away from the river, toward the building across the street, a nineteenth-century brick textile mill that had just been renovated as a center for the arts. It interested me more than the show being held there.

Tonight was the unveiling of the renovation and the opening of the new gallery, and much of Providence society was here. I snaked through the crowd toward the wine bar. I brushed against dresses with sequins and silk-fringed shawls, black evening jackets. Jewelry flashed from wrists and necks and earlobes. These were the people who could afford to buy the overpriced works of a narrowly known artist and hang them on the brightly painted walls of their twelve-room East Side mansions, telling all their friends that this painter was the Next Big Thing.

And here was I, in my simple unaccented rust-colored dress. The outsider, the one always trailing her fingertips in the stream of art, never fully immersed.

My glass of wine and I drifted along among the crowd, listening to the scatterings of laughter and conversation, enraptured by the light and color that flourished in this atrium like something organic. Dark red bricks along the floorline melted up the wall into dark green, lighter green, and finally a jewellike blue that ended at the ceiling. A stand of green and brown ficus trees. Cherrywood beams. A glass dome, a lancet window over a curving staircase that could have been a choir loft, the recessed lighting tumbling shafts of brightness down through the room—a cathedral designed for the worship of art. It was a building with a soul, I thought, and whoever had designed it was a true artist.

“…in her third year at Lincoln. Wants to go to Harvard Med. We were hoping for Brown, since we both went there.”

“At least she wants to go. Our Josh says he wants to spend two years—two--” the woman held up two fingers—“bumming around Europe. While he’s still young enough to enjoy it, he says. Didn’t that used to be our generation’s thing? I thought these kids cared more about their futures.”

“No,” one of the men said. “That was the ‘me generation.’ They’re up to what, Y now? Or have they gotten to Z already…?”

A tall, thin woman in a long brown muslin skirt and overblouse, wearing sandals and a costume-jewelry string of beads, her long black-and-gray hair in a ponytail that hung halfway down her back. “Well, with my investments and savings, I should be able to retire from law in about eight years and start my herb farm.”

Everyone had dreams. I was beginning to feel sad again.

A rustling in the room ran toward the far end, toward the dais and the grand piano being played by a tuxedoed man. Hustling through the crowd was the top of a head I recognized as the mayor’s. He would dedicate the building in the name of the philanthropist who’d donated most of the money for the renovation. Newspaper cameras were flashing; I moved back as other people began moving forward. Someone was speaking on the dais, but I couldn’t make out the words. I could see the mayor shaking hands with a large white-haired man, the philanthropist; then a third, younger man joined them, and the three shook hands while photographers snapped. The guests began to applaud, and the gaps in the crowd in front of me closed. I edged toward the entrance to the gallery.   


  1. I was wanting more and it ended. Great story. I felt like I was right there mingling with the crowd. Brilliant job.


    1. Thanks very much, Kathy. I may post more of this as Sandra's workshop proceeds and in the meantime try to get back to work on it. I appreciate your reading and comment.

  2. Wow – what an opening! So much going on here in terms of set up, time frame and introducing your main character. Some of the passages/metaphors are downright poetic … “only the occasional car hummed past to ruffle the quietness” being one of my favorites. There are a few separate things that I will email you. It’s an intriguing first chapter and the first person is going to be an interesting format. As always, you draw me in with a deep story hook that I know will require in depth characterization and a great plot. Can’t wait to see where you go with this! (If this ends up in your spam, please approve it to show in your page so my accolades can be public!) :)

    1. Hi, Amy,

      Thanks so much for these comments--I appreciate it very much. I checked the blog page and your comments were in the spam folder. I marked them for "not spam" but I don't know how to change that permanently.

      I think I sent you my first draft of this a LONG time ago (it's my NaNoWriMo novel), but I've made a lot of changes to it since, and I hope you'll like them.

      I loved your blog post about your brother and your new inspiration to work on your writing. Why don't you post some of your fiction pieces to Sandra's writing workshop? It's a good way to dig out some old work and start re-working on it!

      Thanks again for your reading and comments!


  3. Elaiane. This is really well written. You're a natural! Yes, I would say you nailed the formal first person. Can I gues post this on my blog today as an example of the formal first person?

    1. Sandra, I sent you an email, but in case you didn't get it--yes, of course you can repost this. I'd be thrilled. And thanks so much for reading and for the comments!

  4. Ok, Elaine your guest post is up!

    Can you post here about it with a link back to my post? Also tweet and Facebook it? Get the word out! :)

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  6. Sandi, I'm so glad you stopped by. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments--and for featuring my post on your blog! I see that you're a creative person. I'll be stopping back again to explore what you're doing!

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