Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flights of Fancy: Casting Lines

412, 414, 416 . . .

At a tic-tic of pink nails, Effie tap-dances her hand over the row of domed boxes and lowered flags. She skips the ones too grimy while fingers strike metal, plastic, then metal again.

Snider, Terry, Mason . . .

Each container has its own unique name along with a number, some painted on and some tacked on, all flaking and weathered on top of splintered posts. Yet despite their appearances, it would take a vandal’s baseball bat to stop the boxes from declaring their owner’s existence along the road that reeks of fresh tar.

418: Alonso, 420: Larson . . .

Effie slogs her way through the overgrown roadside until coming to the last post. There, short brown slats form the sides and peaked roof of a cabin mailbox. Painted on the door cover by her grandson, an orange blob wearing sticker blue jeans and a magazine cutout straw hat stood over a puddle where triangle fish blew out purple bubbles.

Effie’s tapping fingernails dive inside as an avalanche of paper falls into waiting hands. Tucking the envelopes into her armpit, more taps follow Effie along her journey home, her every step now fragrant and bumpy as tarred heels nab at loose pebbles. Next to the front door, she removes the footwear barely ignoring the ominous shluuuk the shoes make against the cement before hurrying to the den. The mail held protectively against Effie’s body makes a giant semicircle on the coffee table as she lowers into a leather chair and opens the first letter.

Are you happy with your current car insurance?

"Yes," Effie petulantly sniffs. A quick toss sends the paper away while she tears into the next one.

If you happen to be in an accident, will your loved ones take care of the expenses left behind after you are gone?

Ugh. Another junk letter goes airborne. Now in fear of paper cuts, Effie carefully scans the remaining unopened clutter. She slides the electric bill in a drawer to pay off next week, a second life insurance policy takes to wing, and the weekly circulars nestle in her lap. Then Effie spies a small square of paper under the table.

Is that a postcard? Maybe a brief hello from one of her kids, grown up and moved out and settled far across the countryside?

Effie snatches up the square and flips it from side to side. Vainly, she searches for the customary "Hi, Mom, how are you?"

Evelyn Watts, have you ever had the desire to write?

Effie’s mood darkens. Instead of her children’s greetings that were dwindling with the years, it was an invitation to a writing course. By enrolling in the class, she would work with an instructor through mail correspondence. They would teach Effie how to hone her skills, how to market her stories, and how to get her proverbial foot in the door path of this industry.

Here fishy, fishy, fishy.

Quickly, Effie glances toward a small desk. On sun-warmed wood rests a photo of her husband, Mitch, holding a 12lb trout he had caught at the lake. Now a late day whisper, Mitch’s many fishing tales breeze through the den ruffling her hair as if he still stood beside the chair and read the mail over her shoulder.

Effie smiles before turning back to the card. Has she ever had the desire to write?

Actually, she had. It was many years ago, after her son and daughter had flown from the nest to attend college. Suddenly bereft of the patter of little feet, Effie had inked down her thoughts when her children’s phone calls became less frequent. The writing had kept her company.

Effie’s knuckles grasp the chair handle. The upper cushion thumps when it reclines back and the footrest springs up to support legs. Relaxed, she crimps the card in her palm, feeling it flex fingers in protest, as she aims for the wastebasket. Then her arm lowers.

Effie rereads the now wrinkled message. She understood the question. She understood the organization’s purpose. What she didn’t understand was why they had sent her this again?

* * * * *

It was a lark the first time Effie filled out the card. She had been curious on whether she had the talent to not only write, but to do it well. Effie jotted down her information, and they sent her a test to assess her skills. In less time to wash laundry, she completed the requirements including an article that she titled, "Misty Night." Then she returned the test and waited.

They adored her story, said the reply. There was no doubt that Evelyn should enroll in the class. Immediately. Right this very second. Take no time to think about it.

Yet Effie did take her sweet time, especially when she read their price tag. Because she hesitated, the unexpected happened.

The next day she received a letter from a literary agent. He had heard of Effie through a mutual friend and wanted to have her as a client, for the same price as the writing course.

Absolutely floored, she gazed at both letters then showed them to Mitch’s photo. She imagined what he had to say. You threw the line out, Effie. Now you have to decide whether to reel it in.

This wasn’t such a tough decision in her mind. Either she would enroll in the class to learn how to market her stories, or she would hire the agent to do the work for the same price.
Effie gave an eager yes to the agent. She mailed a payment along with a dusty manuscript that she had archived in her attic. A month later, the agent sent back a receipt and progress report.

The first publisher is still reviewing your story. This is a good sign as it is still under consideration: each payment made came with the responding encouragement lines afterward. Effie felt so inflated by the words that feet could walk on water as her house no longer seemed so empty. Then arrived the last letter.

Thank you for the final payment. Your manuscript was returned by - - here the letter listed the publishers, a few Effie recognized and others she had not. Five in all had rejected her story, and only now had she learned about it.

To be continued.

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