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What Are You Waiting For?

11.26.07

by Anneke Majors

Like I had on so many other nights, I sat on top of my bedspread with a book propped on my knees and pillows stacked behind my head. The bedspread was rather humorous and juvenile; beige with a large soft cat smiling up at me. The book wasn’t humorous, but I was enjoying it. It had been a long time since I had let myself read science fiction short stories, and though it didn’t provide quite the adolescent thrill it once had, this particular author was pleasant and rather adept. I sighed a little inside, however. Even the most cunning turns of plot seem to fail to catch my breath these days. I mentally crossed “reading sci fi” off of the list of things that just might be as exciting and fulfilling as they once were. It joined salsa dancing, shopping and baking.

I put down the hardback and I picked up my journal and for a moment simply held it and examined its construction. I had bought it at Muji, the incredibly hip brand-free boutique in Tokyo. Its pages were unlined, which was something one always has to watch for when purchasing Japanese stationery. If careless, one ends up trying to write English in vertical columns from right to left. This journal, however, was brilliant. Rather than definitively choosing either vertical or horizontal rules and thus leaving the other to flounder in the shame of unrequited love, it compromised. The pages were covered with rows and columns of dots that formed lines in whichever direction the eye focused. It was truly the cosmopolitan spiral bound journal.

I leafed through its pages; I had begun it in October. Its entries spanned my last few months in Japan, a very long trans Pacific flight, and a few months of slight despair and resignation in the dry American West. I scanned through my messy script and let my eyes hover on quick sketchy illustrations I had made: an abstracted sunrise from the bluff in Yokohama, looking down on the tall red cranes in the harbor; a doodle of Makiko sitting on top of a mountain whose base was lost in fog. I read a few of the familiar lines I had written about Sister Ishikawa whose life was a long string of tragic stories, about frantic multilingual church services, about bicycles and typhoons and cicadas. My heart ached for those times when things had mattered.

I began hesitantly writing on the first available blank page. I managed to remember the date, and I began to pour out the details that haunted the corners of my mind. Writing late at night, however, always does the truth a bit of a disservice. It makes things sound much more dire than they could possibly be.

The night a few weeks earlier when my mother and I had driven back obscenely late from the salsa dance sprang to mind. I had been going to bed every night by 10:30 at the latest, but she had talked me into the outing, and I found myself keeping her awake with conversation as we threaded our way through the 2:00 am mountain valleys.

“I just love to dance,” she had sighed. “Just to shake all your worries out of your body for a while.”

“I used to,” I admitted, “but it seems different somehow.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I had fun. I danced a lot. But it still felt kind of hollow. Before, I could always lose myself completely at a dance.”

Mom nodded. I paused, and then continued. “It’s like as much as I try, nothing really matters anymore. Or at least doesn’t matter enough.”

“Is it because you want to be back in Japan, doing things that you feel are important?”

“It’s not even that. I even felt it winding down my last few weeks there. I know it’s over, but…. I guess I don’t know what’s next.”

“Oh, I think you know,” Mom said.

“What?”

“You want to meet someone.”

I thought about it as I pondered the white line at the side of the road.

“You want to meet someone and get married, but you won’t open yourself up to that. Well, at least to talking about it.”

I rolled my head in tired circles to stretch my neck as I mumbled my reply. “Maybe. But only because if I let myself entertain it, I just end up getting disappointed.”

The words looked so pitiful as I scratched them out on the dotted pages. I thought about my poor posterity, having to read the same overblown melodramas in volume after volume of my journals. Assuming anyone would keep reading them that long. Maybe they would serve as an excellent moral lesson on why the youth shouldn’t let themselves get romantically strung out. You’ll just end up like our poor spinster auntie, bless her heart…

I snapped the journal shut and placed it gingerly on one of a stack of important books that orbited my headboard. I again rolled my neck and then twisted myself around towards the wall, stretching my spine.

I took a look at my tidy but cluttered room, noticing that my red Mag-Lite flashlight had rolled out from under my bed. I reached down and picked it up, snapping the rubbery button on and off a few times. Satisfied that the batteries were still in order, I tucked it back beneath my bed with a half-hearted attempt to get it back in the backpack that served as my 72-hour emergency kit. I think I crushed a couple granola bars in the process.

I slid my feet down to the floor, regretting the fact that the light switch was all the way on the other side of my 8-by-8 rented bedroom. Feeling my way back to the bed, I knelt at the floor by its side and buried my clasped hands in the beige cat blanket. I tried to empty my mind of whatever thoughts I could easily dispose of. The worst were the sticky, persistent things like lyrics and tunes.

Frustratingly, there was a rhythmic and exotic one that wouldn’t quite leave. It played on mercilessly as I was trying to focus my thoughts, almost seeming to grow louder.

Tambourines or finger cymbals were marching happily with a sultry winding horn. The sideways bars of an almost oriental melody were making their rounds in my mind. I tried to replace them with something else; the words of my favorite hymn began asserting themselves loudly. But the persistently simple tambourines wouldn’t stop. Rather, they seemed to grow louder, and I could hear added to them the mumbled cacophony of human voices.

I straightened my posture – I was still kneeling by the bed, but I raised my head and turned my face toward the open window and the cool summer air it was letting in. The voices and the music were coming from outside the window!

I stood and tiptoed to stick my head under the homemade curtain that covered my window. It wasn’t so much a window as a well that let occasional sunlight seep into my basement bedroom, but standing near it, the music was unmistakable. It was voices and tambourines; a snaking gypsy tune and the twitter of an excited crowd. I lived in a quiet, isolated college town in the Northern Rockies – what was a band of gypsies doing parading down my suburban streets?

I sat on my bed, but was too curious to stay put for long. I crossed the room and flicked on the light, pausing to make sure the music was still there. It was. It was getting closer.

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror above my dresser. My hair, unleashed from its daily confinement in braids and buns, was tumbling over my shoulders in a rocky waterfall. Though my face was a little pink from having been scrubbed clean of makeup, my dark eyes were shining brightly and looked remarkably feminine. I posed for just a moment; catching a glimpse of myself from a few choice angles. I was rather pretty, I thought, which is not a thought that tends to cross my mind often.

The music was still there, and was coming very close. Some of the voices were so close I could make out words, though they didn’t seem to be in a tongue I recognized. My mind shuffled through its language circuits, trying to interpret Japanese, French, English. Among the twittering sounds of the music, however, the words were being clipped and lost and rendered uninterpretable.

I was curious, and beyond the point of dismissing the unfamiliar music as a random fluke of neighborhood activity. Something strange was happening, and I was yearning to find out what it was.

There was a sudden rattling and a series of thumps from above my head that made my heart shudder between beats. Startled, it took a moment for me to realize it had been a knock on the door. I glanced again at the mirror, trying to smooth my pink floral pajamas into something presentable.

There was another knock at the door. I waited to hear my landlady’s footsteps, remembering a moment later that she was out of town. I was the only one at home. A spear of fear shot through my body, but I grabbed for a nearby blazer, an improvised cover for my ridiculous nighttime apparel, and reached for the doorknob. The music had faded into quiet, but the voices seemed to suggest that a rather large crowd was standing in my yard, wrapped around my house.

I pulled on the doorknob, hesitated, and turned back again to my bed, reaching quickly for the heavy metal flashlight I had just stuffed into the backpack. I grabbed it, pulled the lapels of my blazer close together and, almost automatically, opened my bedroom door and climbed the stairs to the landing where the back door was being knocked upon. I flicked on the flashlight, a little naively confident in its protective power.

The porch light, however, was still on, and was illuminating the faces of some middle-aged men in beards and strange ratty clothes.

The night air behind them was lit with flickering lights that betrayed the identities holding them; a train of smiling faces, women and men, that were jabbering happily. Compelled by sheer curiosity, I brushed my hair back from my face, grasped my own flashlight tightly, and pulled open the door.

I was met with shouts and cheers. The bearded men standing on the doorstep flung their arms out joyfully. Some of the people applauded.

“The bride! The bride!”

The music started up again at a lively pace, as everyone started singing about the bride. I looked around for the bride.

The crowd parted and a younger man, dressed in white linen, stepped forward in a burst of even louder applause. He had clear, piercing eyes and a gentle look on his face. He was framed by the gazes of an expectant crowd, all focusing on him, while he focused only on me.

I turned, bewildered, to some of the bearded men standing near me. One patted my shoulder in a fatherly gesture, and extended his other arm towards the man in white. “Your bridegroom,” he gestured.

I cocked my head and fixed everyone in my immediate circle with the same inquisitive gaze. They alternately nodded and applauded fervently. I looked back at the man in white. He was walking slowly toward me as the crowd opened and closed around him, and I found myself descending the concrete stairs and unconsciously walking toward him. I was sure I had never seen him before, but at the same time his features looked comfortingly familiar. There was nothing but kindness and tenderness in his gaze. He smiled slightly and spoke my name.

The cold mountain summer blew fitfully, tossing my hair into my face, but I brushed it back, not feeling anything. I stared into his eyes and realized an overwhelming sense of familiarity and a flood of memories seemed to hover on the cusp of rushing back into my mind. I reached forward deliberately and lightly grasped his proffered hand.

“You came for me?” I said, more a statement than a question.

“I have prepared a house for you,” he smiled.

I let myself walk forward, matching his stride as the procession started moving with wails and trills of joy. The music carried us onward and we left behind the calm summer evening and the little house that for so long had been the extent of everything I knew. It receded into dark silence, settling back into the peace of ignorance, visited as it were by a thief who stole so suddenly and quietly from the night that no one heard his coming.

author’s note: any and all critiques welcome

8 Responses to What Are You Waiting For?

  1. Steve Evans

    Wonderful stuff.

  2. William Morris

    Thanks for giving us a jump start, Anneke.

    If I could give one critique, it’s this:

    “I was sure I had never seen him before, but at the same time his features looked comfortingly familiar. There was nothing but kindness and tenderness in his gaze. He smiled slightly and spoke my name.”

    I think it needs some work. It’s a bit to mild for me. Too coy. I suppose that’s a risk one takes when portraying Christ in fiction and how one responds to such portrayals has a lot to do, I think, with how one conceives of him.

    But I think I’d either like a more detailed physical description, even perhaps something that explores the dissonance between our perceptions of his appearance. I mean, I’m not going beyond the generic, rather Nordic-looking Christ when I picture him while reading this. I think I need something to jar me out of that.

    Or not. Perhaps it’s better to keep things vague and let the readers do that work.

    But I could be wrong. Anybody else out there willing to help me out here (even if it is to tell me why I’m so totally wrong)?

    Also: For those who want to be as hip as Anneke’s narrator — Muji.

  3. Anneke Majors

    Thanks for the feedback. I didn’t even realize how generically trite that passage sounded until re-reading in and your take on it. I will definitely think of how to make it more impactful.

    And gee – I didn’t realize how specifically hip online shopping lets you be. :)

  4. eremite

    Good story. As a post-mission LDS Single this line really resonated with me: “nothing really matters anymore. Or at least doesn’t matter enough.” I was really impressed how accurately that mood was created in the story.
    The ending though didn’t hit me the same. But you can probably blame that on my personal uneasiness about portraying the Savior romantically. So I guess my preference would be to keep it nice and vague.
    Anyway, it was a fun read, and I’m glad popcorn popping isn’t dead.

  5. William Morris

    Coming back to this, I have to say that I love this sentence:

    “I read a few of the familiar lines I had written about Sister Ishikawa whose life was a long string of tragic stories, about frantic multilingual church services, about bicycles and typhoons and cicadas.”

  6. S.P. Bailey

    Thanks, Anneke. I enjoyed this.

  7. Mormon Soprano

    Anneke,

    This was very engaging. You have a great gift for story telling. Some very nice elements:
    1. The juxtaposition between the bedspread and the book.
    2. The detailed description of the journal
    3. The heartfelt description of the sketches and the memories written in the journal.
    4. The line “My heart ached for those times when things had mattered”. (love that)

    Here are some thoughts on what did NOT work for me, as the story currently stands:

    1. Looking into the mirror so that you can describe your character’s features. This is such a contrived and over-used method – it is my personal pet peeve! Quite honestly, there is no need for this to be included. Why do we need to know what she looks like? Is the fact that she is pretty important? This is just delaying the intensity of the action, and confuses your storyline.

    2. The ending. Everything in this story is told in the literal and rational world. Therefore, one assumes that when she hears the music and the people are pounding on her door, it is really happening. My two immediate thoughts were, “Maybe her mother is sending some people over to cheer her up?”, or, “Maybe it is a single-ward activity night, and they’ve come to include her?” However, when she finally reaches the door and looks outside, your description of the crowd (“middle-aged men in beards and strange ratty clothes”) sets off my internal warning siren. WHY was she being visited by creepy street people who are most likely intoxicated? Are these local cult members who have heard a new pretty recruit is defenseless and ready to be dragged off? Suffice to say, this is a really confusing point in the story. One thing was clear to me, was that she was in peril. Thus, you can imagine my panic when she actually opened the door! Why is she opening the door late at night to these strange men when she is all alone and armed only with a flashlight??!

    At this point, in the back of my mind, I remember that since this is a work of creative fiction, perhaps the author has now chosen to take leave of reality. If that is the case, I expect this bizarre nocturnal encounter to be a symbolic dream which our heroine will soon awake from and we will learn the hidden treasures of knowledge she gained to enable her mortal progression. However, to my dismay she just wanders off willingly into the night, in her pajamas no less, with a smiling man and a crowd of “wailing” foreigners….and she never wakes up!!

    Since I care about your character, I need to see a resolution to her internal crises that is logical. I need an ending which makes me glad that I invested my time reading it, and offers a pearl of wisdom to help me in my own life journey. The main conflict for your character, as I understand it, is her current belief that “Life as a missionary = important”, vrs. “Life at home = no purpose”. She needs to come to a higher understanding of how to move on with her life and find meaning in her existence. As the story stands, her realization is too esoteric, and frustrates the reader. Currently you are sending out all kinds of possible morals:

    1. “It’s ok if you never marry, because as long as you are a bride of Christ, life is good” (A little too Catholic for me)

    2. “Since post-missionary life is so difficult, one should try Twilight-Zone-esque biblical time travel”

    or, perhaps:
    3. “When we seek the Lord in prayer, He will come to us”

    Ah ha! Now THAT message works!! However, your general audience is still missing it. With a little re-working, your story will be truly inspiring. Keep up the good work.

  8. William Morris

    I don’t know if you’ll be checking these comments: but great feedback Mormon Soprano.