WTF Friday: Mrs. Matilda Jones
As some of you may know, I post a blog entry on writing process every Tuesday. Well, for a while it was Wednesday and then one week I posted on Tuesday instead, yadda yadda yadda, now it’s Tuesday.
Lots of words and stuff, but not real application.
Hence, I give you: APPLICATION. And you all get to play.
I’m going to post a draft of one of the short stories I’m working on below. Read it if you so desire. And then comment. Like something? Let me know? Don’t like it, let me know that too. The only rule is that any criticism must be constructive. If you’re going to tell me something sucks, you need to tell me why and, perhaps, even offer up a suggestion of how to improve it.
Get it? Got it? Good.
The neighbor lady in this story is based on a woman I have actually spoken too. She expounded on all of her medical problems and how she brought her own sheets and towels to hotels and always carried her purse around in a plastic bag, etc etc for twenty minutes, repeating the phrase, “But I’m not a worrier, at least every two minutes.” The rest came from sleep deprivation.
So with my stomach clenched and bile creeping up the back of my throat, I present:
Mrs. Matilda Jones
“I’m not a worrier.”
It was the first thing Mrs. Matilda Jones from 3E would say to you. Didn’t matter how many years you’d been living next to her since the day you were born, like me and I”ll be eight next Tuesday,or how many times she said it. It was always the first thing. Not “is it raining?” or “How are your grades?” or “how’s baseball?” like the other neighbors. She didn’t pat my head or sneak me candy or pinch my cheeks.
Nope. It was always “I’m not a worrier.”
She was an old lady, older than my mama anyway, and my mama told me you should always be polite to old people. She always made me help Mrs Johnson in 3A carry her groceries and check on Mrs. Garcia in 2H and see if she needed anything from the market, but even mama didn’t make much conversation with Mrs Matilda Jones. AT first, mama always asked after Mrs Matilda Jones’ health and the family who never came. There was a lot of melted ice cream and once, I got bored and pulled my little sister’s hair and she had a tantrum and when we got back to the apartment instead of giving us time outs, mama made us grilled cheese and smile fries which we were usually only allowed to have on the weekend and for birthdays. Now, even mama put her head down and hurried by or, if she got trapped, “mmmhmmmmm,” and walked faster.
Mrs. Matilda Jones said she wasn’t a worrier but she talked about germs a lot.
A lot. The walls were pretty thin and she was always on the phone to some doctor or another and even though no one except her every went in to the apartment there were always banging and sweeping and washing noises coming through the walls. Mrs. Matilda Jones didn’t leave the apartment very much, but when she did, she left with her purse in a plastic cover that squeaked like my grandma’s couch in the summer when my sister and I were wearing shorts and our legs were sweaty. She had house shoes, hallway shoes, elevator shoes, sidewalk shoes. And she always dragged one of those two wheeled wire carts full of of wipes and a gallon jug of that sanitizer stuff that burned your skinned knuckles.
I only remember her going away once, to visit her sister for the weekend. She paid me ten dollars in quarters (all shiny and smelling like Christmas and lemon) for the arcade if I helped her carry her three bags down. She made me wash my hands for like, half an hour first. “I’m not a worrier,” she told me, “but they’re white, you know, and there are a lot of people already who are going to touch it today. Of course I have my clothes, my sheets my towels. Laundry detergent, dish soap. Dust buster. ”
I asked her did her sister live in a trailer or a hut or one of the yurts I learned about in school and she said no, her sister lives in a really nice apartment on the top floor of a big building in the next City but the maid who comes in twice a day doesn’t do a very good job. One of the suitcases was extra heavy and she said it was food she made and some “canned goods” and I asked didn’t her sister have a kitchen and she said, yes, and a cook but the cook sweated too much and who knew what got in the food and her sister had cats and their hair was everywhere and her sister let them walk everywhere and the litter dust…
Her taxi drove away and she had to call another one on her cell phone she kept in a plastic pouch that she wiped off with a wet nap from her plastic wrapped purse before and after she used it.
There was lots more stuff: we ran into her in the supermarket once and it took her so long to clean off her cart we finished shopping before she even started and we spent like, twenty minutes arguing about which popsicles we were going to get; another time, my sister and I had colds and even though she didn’t come in to our apartment, she walked by once when mama had the door open talking to Mrs. Ortiz and she looked like green and purple Darth Vader in a mask and gloves and one of those gowns they made me wear when we went to visit PopPop in the hospital.
When the weather got weird, nothing changed for most of us, even though the rain was thick and yellow and the puddles were sticky, not much fun for jumping in. It was sort of gross when it leaked in around the windows and dripped down the wall in stretchy strings. The adults talked about it during one of the roof bar-b-qs we had even though the gravel was still all slimy. “El Nino, La Nina, a derrecha, acid rain…” I got bored after that. No one said anything about Mrs. Matilda Jones not being at the party because she never came, but my sister and I could hear her scrubbing and running the sweeper and splashing water and muttering while we were trying to fall asleep. We were pretty used to it, but we heard Daddy go over and remind her it was two am and there were little kids and some of us had to go to work the next day.
The noises kept on.
Next were the windstorms. Well, not windstorms exactly, just really strong wind lots of times during the day. Sometimes it just lasted for a few minutes, sometimes it would last long enough for get out kites and fly for a while. It was even windier at night, short gusts, long gusts. Sometimes it woke me up and my sister too. The power even went out a few times. Mrs Ortiz told mama she had seen Mrs. Matilda Jones hauling rolls of plastic in to her apartment and that she’d covered all of her walls and windows and the floor and ceiling. She said Mrs. Maltida Jones was worried about spores.
Then it got hot. Really hot. So hot mama and Daddy opened the windows even though they didn’t like to do that because we lived on the third floor and they were worried we’d fall out, but we didn’t have air conditioning. The pool was still closed from the gross rain. We ate a lot of ice cream and chicken salad so we didn’t have to turn on the oven or the stove.
Mrs. Matilda Jones kept her windows shut tight but she talked a lot and instead of muttering, she yelled about mold and allergies. She wore a clear plastic bonnet and coat and rain boots when she left for the market with her already-full cart and she came back with bottles and bottles of sprays with all kinds of flowers and fruits on the labels. She threw her boots right in the dumpster and the pipes rattled for nearly two hours once she started the shower. She sprayed so much of that stuff it drifted into our apartment. I don’t know about her allergies, but that stuff made me sneeze and sneeze until I thought my head was going to pop off and this time it was mama who went over and she broke her own rule and yelled at Mrs Matilda Jones that she could do whatever she wanted in her own home but once it started making my mama’s babies sick, that was it, it and mama would call the landlord.
Guess Mrs. Matilda Jones was more afraid of the landlord than she was of the germs or mold or spores because she stopped spraying that stuff.
The heat broke with another yellow, slimy rain and then the earthquakes started. No one knew what to do. We’d all lived in the City, in this building all of our lives, even Mrs Matilda Jones, who was pretty much the oldest person I’d ever met, and no one remembered there ever being an earthquake. They first one were huge and they knocked stuff off of shelves and walls. My favorite piggy bank, the one with all my shiny-lemony Christmas quarters I’d been saving for Davey Horowitz’s birthday party at the arcade, spilled all over the floor. My sister stole some, but my mom made her give them back. The cabinet with all of my gramma’s porcelein girls and sheep fell over and most of the little statues broke. We all had to admit we weren’t too sad about that; the sheep always scared me for some reason. The next few quakes were small; Daddy looked it looked it up once the power came back on and they were called “aftershocks.” There were more big ones and more little ones. Whenever anyone saw Mrs Matilda Jones, which wasn’t often, she was wearing a mask and told anyone who would listen and everyone who didn’t that she, “wasn’t a worrier but didn’t we know that earthquakes messed up the pipes and then sewer gas came up and we could all get poisoned and die.
Then, the wind and rain came again and there were more big earthquakes and no little ones and it went on for days and days. Windows shattered and the power went out and stayed out. The good thing was, it didn’t get hot again. I didn’t smell any of the sewer gas, or at least I didn’t think I did, and I was too scared to think about spores and bold and germs.
Mrs Matilda Jones was still thinking about it though. The pile of empty cleaning stuff bottles in the hallway outside her apartment grew and grew, dead rolls of duct tape, shreds of plastic. The store was shut because of not having electricity so she couldn’t go get more of anything and it must have driven her a little crazy, even if she wasn’t a worrier, because she just washed and washed and washed and when there wasn’t water running anymore, she scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed.
Mama and daddy said we were going to have to move. I didn’t want to and my sister didn’t either because we’d never lived anywhere else and mama and daddy didn’t really seem like they knew where we were going to go because they hadn’t lived anywhere else either and neither had gramma and PopPop but they made us fold out clothes up and put them in suitcases and grabbed some sheets and towels and the canned peaches we still had and I felt a little bit like Mrs Matilda Jones except that I was definitely worried.
We were standing in the street, the grownups talking about where we should go, what we would do, how we would live, when the rumble started. It was a different rumble than earthquakes, lower and it didn’t shake us the same way. The gross puddles swirled up and started twisting around in the air and then the air twisted too. Everything settled down and then it happened again. Then it stopped. Then again. This time the twists got bigger and bigger and bigger until…
A huge twister swirled up and we were all sucked into it, me, my sister, mama, Daddy, Mrs Ortiz, and Mr and Mrs Garcia, our stickball team, Davy Horowitz and his aunt and their dog. The bricks started flying off the buildings and swirling with us, round and round and round…
A tidal wave of the slimy, stick, nasty, yellow water followed us across the sky and into a soft, white sheet.
“Your Health, Ganesh.”
The voice was so loud it made my ears hurt.
Another tidal wave of slimy, sticky, nasty, yellow water and then the rest of our neighborhood.
“My thanks, Shiva. Forgive my lack of manners, I don’t believe I’ve ever had never had such an horrific cold”
“It has been going around. Brahma’s been out of commission for a week and I’ve been having to balance the destroying with a lack of creating… there are three dimensions I should have imploded by now, it’s going to take me forever to get things back on track…”
I thought I was having a weird dream or that eating so many peaches had done something to me and then I looked up.
High, high in the sky was a giant face. An elephant’s face with human eyes and a human mouth and a human voice..
The big nostrils at the end of its trunk flared and it sniffled a bunch of times, and it seemed sort of like it was when the tornados came. Even though it had a trunk instead of a nose, it did the same thing mama did when she was about to sneeze. “Ah… ah… ah…” Another sniffle. “Ah… ah… ah… CHOOOOOOOO.”
The mouse sitting on the elephant guy’s shoulder squeaked, jumped, and ran.
On yet another wave of sticky, slimy, yellow water… trunk boogers, I guess, came Mrs Matilda Jones. She landed next to my family on the tissue.
“I’m not a worrier,” she insisted.
Then she fainted.
The adults shrugged. Clear liquid that smelled like the sanitizer mama kept in her purse started raining down. Daddy grabbed mama’s arm, mama grabbed my sister and me and we dropped onto the giant desk and across to Shiva’s side. We waited there until he went back to work, the skittered over his hand. When he raised his blue hand to his face, we headed for his mouth…