I belong to a writers group. Actually, I belong to two. I’ve been a member of the first one for…years now. At least part of every novel I’ve written has gone through it to be pulled apart and minutely examined.
Now, I am one of those writers who believes creativity is one of those things one does behind closed doors, in private. Despite that, I’ve also decided to try an experiment. From time to time I’ll be posting at least part of my current submission to my writers group. There will be rough drafts, bits and pieces, experiments, rewrites and dead ends, so no guarantees on the quality. Also, no guarantees that what’s here will bear any resemblence to the published book, or that what’s seen here wlll ever be published.
But here’s the first submission: THE CLOCKWORK CUCKOO, Chapter 1, pt. 1.
“Please, don’t make me do this,” said Carinna, from the threshold between her cabin and her mother’s.
“This isn’t a birthday party, Carinna.” Tamare Weaver, Carinna’s mother, twisted in front of the full length mirror set in the cabin’s riveted wall. Now that the Highway 9 caravan had docked at Upper Katmandu and come under the influence of city gravity, she could finally get a proper look at the drape and fit of her elaborate city clothes. “This is a betrothal send-off for one of your cohort. We must attend.”
“They don’t want me there.” Carinna still wore her breeches, soft boots and knitted shirt. All its ruffles hung limp in the drag of Katmandu’s slow spin, making her feel plain and thin beside her elegant mother. Not that Mother looked at her. She ran her black-gloved hands over the moth-silk skirts trimmed with jet beads and then bent over to fluff the gathers on her layers of grey petticoats.
Mother’s elegant clothing seemed a strange sight in the small cabin that was otherwise strictly utilitarian. A small table-loom with its brass weights and cast-iron jointures had pride of place in the corner across from the narrow bunk and the single comfortable chair. Dozens of soft pockets had been firmly stapled to the walls and filled with enough thread and yarn to make a lifetime’s worth of cloth.
“Whether we’re wanted is beside the point,” Mother said. Carinna didn’t miss the ‘we.’ Because they both knew
Tamare wasn’t wanted at the send-off any more than her brown-haired melancholy daughter was.
When she was widowed, Tamare Weaver had declined to claim to her crewman husband’s larger, more luxurious cabin. If she’d thought that would dispose of the rumors she’d married him because of his status, she was wrong. She only swapped them for a much bigger sack of rumors; the ones that said Carinna’s father, Lieutenant Darian Helmsman had been murdered by his own wife.
Carinna had long ago learned to live with the reality that she was a suspicious object. It was as much a part of her as the blood in her veins and she could do as little about it. Mother mostly pretended it was of no importance, and Carinna tried to.
But neither of them could pretend that now. Because Tamare Weaver was preparing to go to the son-in-law market at Katmandu and find Carinna a husband. It wouldn’t do to have any of the city matrons see that she was made of tangled threads before they were convinced to sign over one of their sons.
“Why does it have to be now?” Carinna heard herself whining and hated it. “Why can’t you wait until we get to Upper Sao Paolo to get me betrothed?”
“Sao Paolo is four years away. You’ll be twenty by then, and that’s too old for a first husband.” Mother lifted her key ring from her belt and undid the brass lock on her bedside drawer, pulling out the tray of jewelry. After a moment’s consideration she selected the diamond choker that had been an engagement present from her late husband.
Nice touch, Mother.
“I’m not ready,” Carinna whispered.
Mother faced her fully. Carinna dreaded the look of warm sympathy on her thin face. It was even hard to talk back when Mother acted as if she cared.
“I will find you a good boy, a respectable boy, who will bring value to the caravan,” Mother straightened Carinna’s shoulders as she had since the day Carinna sat at her first loom. “And if you can’t like him by the time we get to Sao Paolo, I’ll tear up the contract with my own hands and boot him off the ship with my own heels.”
She’d do it too. Probably not because I’m disappointed, but if she is…
“You are Carinna Weaver,” Mother said firmly. “You are the daughter and heir of not one but two strong caravan lines. You will go to Marta Deal’s send-off and you will take her our gift. You will march in the processional to the reception, smile, be polite, drink the toast and stay for at least one half hour. You will not give anyone any cause to begin new gossip.” Mother’s sympathy vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “Do I make myself clear?”
Carinna clenched her fists. Her her anger flared and a sharp pain pulsed behind her eyes.
But it was too late. Shifting colors clouded Mother’s form. Red swarmed with black where her head had been. Yellow and green blurs pulsed and swelled around her torso in time with the pain beating against Carinna’s eyeballs, as if something tried to force its way in, or, worse, force its way out.
Carinna closed her eyes, struggling to return to calm. She counted five. She opened them. Mother was Mother once more. All that remained of the episode was the echo of the pain.
Thank you, she breathed out long and slow, but she could not have said who it was she thanked.
“I know how hard it’s been for you, Carinna,” Mother was saying as she opened another drawer and brought out the carefully wrapped length of nine palace pattern lace that was their gift for Marta’s send-off. “I swear, I will do my best. Once you have a good match who can bring a valuable contribution to the caravan, things will settle down.” She laid the package in Carinna’s hand and smiled as if they shared some great secret. “People cannot continue to despise what they need.”
It’s all right. It’s over. Nothing happened. Carinna forced herself to smile and turned her cheek to accept her mother’s kiss. Just get out, so you don’t have to look at her any more.
Carinna’s knees shook, but she managed to walk steadily to the door connecting her cabin with mother’s. She pushed it shut one-handed and cranked the central wheel to lock it.
It’s all right, she told herself again with all the strength she could muster. It’s over. Nothing happened. Nothing happened.
Carinna jumped. The package of lace flew out of her hand, and hit the low ceiling. She grabbed it hastily as it dropped back down. Behind her, a girl giggled.
Idela Oldman stretched out flat on her stomach on Carinna’s bunk, legs bent up, tapping her feet restlessly together.
Of course she’s here. Idela always waiting for her, around every corner and behind every door. Sometimes she thought if she opened her eyes quickly enough in the middle of the night, she’d find Idela in the cabin’s shadows, just waiting.
“I did try to tell you.” Idela rested her pointy chin in her hands. Over the past couple of years, Idela had shot up, but failed to fill out. She remained as flat and straight as when they were both fourteen. Complaining about this fact was her favorite hobby. She could keep at it for hours, no matter how many times Carinna pointed out her beautiful copper hair, her perfect golden skin, her black eyes and high cheekbones, not to mention her luck in having the caravan’s beloved captain for a father and for a mother, a woman so upright and straight she could be used to measure a bolt of cloth.
“Yes, you did try to tell me, and I heard you the first, second and third times.” Carinna laid Marta Deal’s present down on the bunk. Idela lifted up a corner of the wrapping, trying to peek inside. Why’s she bother? She’s seen that lace growing on my hand loom for months. But Idela couldn’t stand anything that even looked like a secret. It was, Carinna knew, why the captain’s daughter hung around someone like her. Carinna was a walking secret, and a dangerous one at that. But Carinna didn’t keep away from Idela. An untrustworthy friend was better than no friend at all.