Here at the Alley we're sharing our Christmas stories. I've chosen an extract from my novel, Black Pearl, set in the 70's in Australia, where Christmas falls in the summertime.
For my young characters, Jed and Maya, Christmas highlights a growing tension between them. They're girlfriend and boyfriend who've run away together from their small town following an explosive incident in Maya's home. Maya is in hiding from her mother - both because she fears her, and because, unbenownst to Jed, Maya herself has something to hide.
Summer descended over Sydney. The humidity rose and the breezes quit. A fine sheen of sweat covered everything. The air shimmered with it. At work, Maya’s boss became even more irritable. Maya found herself lingering in the cold-room, engulfed by its Arctic chill for whole blissful minutes as she arranged and re-arranged produce on the shelves.
Christmas music played in the shops. Lights appeared, strung like embers along the iron-lace balconies of Dawson Street. Plastic reindeer swooped across rooftops, a glowing anomaly in the sultry, eucalypt-scented dark. Maya glimpsed Mrs McDonald through an upstairs window, spraying fake snow across the pane and pausing to wipe the sweat from her forehead with a hanky. Maya wondered if she recognized the irony.
At home, the arguments began.
Jed wanted to go home for Christmas. Maya refused. “There’s no way I’m going back there. You can, if you want.”
“And leave you here by yourself?”
“I don’t care. I’m not going back.”
Jed sulked for a few days, then came up with an alternative. “I’ll invite them here. Christmas in the city. They’d love it.”
Maya shook her head. “Not here.”
“Why on earth not?”
“You know why. We can’t give out our address. I don’t want anyone knowing where we are.”
“We’re talking about my parents.”
“Kirramundi is a small place, Jed. You think Mum won’t find out? I can’t run that risk.”
He didn’t understand; she could see that. He’d shaken his head when she rented a post-office box for their mail; humored her when she insisted they use that anonymous address for all of their paperwork. But this was too much.
“It’s my parents,” he repeated. “I’d trust them with my life.”
“It’s not your parents I’m worried about. You’ve met my mother. She knows how to manipulate. How to get what she wants out of people. She’ll make them feel sorry for her, have them thinking we’ve overreacted about everything, that we’re the ones at fault.”
“What are you so afraid of? That your Mum’s going to come marching in here and haul you back home? You’re legally an adult. She can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. She’d have to get past me first, anyway. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
For a moment she considered telling him the truth. Confessing to her theft – the little black lie that lay between them, tucked away inside her nightstand. But the thought of such vulnerability washed through her like cold water. What if she couldn’t make him understand? He might take the moral high ground with her. Lecture her about honesty and virtue. She remembered the story Bonnie had told her, the first time they met. How she’d stolen a record for Jed’s birthday and Jed had marched her straight back to the shop to return it. Bonnie, you need to ask yourself, what’s the right thing to do.
How much was a record worth? $2.99?
She felt herself shrinking beneath Jed’s scathing gaze. Life was so black and white to Jed. So straight-forward. He’d never had any reason not to trust. Her fingers went to the small white scar at her jaw. “I’m scared of her,” she said. A truth wrapped around a lie. “I feel safe here. I don’t want to lie awake at night wondering if she’s found out where we are. Please, Jed. Try to understand.”
Shirley cried down the phone when Jed told her. Maya could hear him comforting her. Forcing a note of cheer. “We’re broke students now, Mum. Uni starts soon and we won’t be able to work as much. Have to count those pennies, you know.” A short silence. “No, no, we’re fine. Really.” Another pause, and he caught Maya’s eye; managed a grin. “I doubt we'll manage anything up to your standards for the Christmas Day spread. I'm predicting rotisserie chicken and plum pudding from a can.”
A delivery arrived at the post office the week before Christmas. A big, heavy box addressed from Kirramundi. Jed opened it and sat back on his heels.
“Well, now I feel like a real mongrel.”
The electric typewriter sported a glossy red bow and a card hand-signed by each of them: Mum, Dad and Bonnie. Jed set it up on the kitchen table and fed a sheet of paper into the machine. He struck a few experimental keys; ran his hands over the cartridge.
For the rest of the day, Maya kept catching him touching that typewriter and shaking his head.
It's me again. I hope you enjoyed that extract and that it raised some questions for you! Us novelists like to tease, don't we?
I'd like to take this opportunity to say a temporary goodbye, and to thank you all for your conversation and support in 2014. I'm not leaving the Alley, but I'll be taking a step sideways next year. If you followed along with my series on How to Grow your Blog Platform, you'll know I've become quite passionate about marketing, and so I'm stepping into a new role at the Alley with some goals of things I'd like to improve, refine and tweak behind the scenes to help our blog grow even better and brighter than ever before.
Because I won't be posting anymore for now, I'm destined to become the Invisible Cat. I'll still be here, so if you see any shiny new bells and whistles on the blog, think of me, and I hope I won't quickly be forgotten. :)
On that note... are there any ideas or suggestions you would like to share for how we can improve things at The Writer's Alley in 2015? Now's your chance to give some feedback - let me know in the comments!
Karen Schravemade lives in Australia, where she mothers by day and transforms into a fearless blogger by night. Her popular creative home-making blog, A house full of sunshine, reaches over 150,000 readers a month. She's a Genesis finalist for women's fiction and is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such.
Find her on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and Pinterest.
Find her on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and Pinterest.