Well, at the rate I’m going, I don’t think I’ll meet the 50,000 word count by the 30th. I’ve only just exceeded the 2,000-word mark, and it’s already day 14. But, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that my inspiration hasn’t drastically waned yet, and I’ve been writing as often as I can since the beginning. Hooray! 😀
The following is an excerpt from my novel, picking up where I left off in this post. Just as last time, constructive criticism is welcomed with open arms, and highly urged. Does the story flow smoothly? Is there anything you’re confused about? Please, leave your questions and concerns in the comment section below, and be as honest as you’d like. 🙂 Once again, I apologize that the formatting was lost upon pasting the excerpt into the text box, but I tried my best to separate the paragraphs for easier reading. Hope you enjoy.
Slowly but surely, each of us trickles into the dining room and takes a seat. Sadie and Etta occupy the heads of the table, as they’re the hosts. Mom is situated next to Etta, opposite me; Dad is seated next to Sadie, on my side of the table. Wade and Trish have resumed their role as the couple who awkwardly sits next to, not across from, each other. Grandma Blanche is between Dad and me, and to my right is Lachlan. Across from him, Uncle Lorne. The remaining seats—all except for one—are filled in by the grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
“Who are we missing?” Sadie says, taking a headcount. “Merrin, are you okay in there?” She calls to the kitchen. Merrin slowly enters, focusing her concentration on the roasting pot she carries in front of her. It looks heavy.
“I’m fine,” she says, slight frustration in her voice. “This just looks lighter than it really is.” Etta gets up to help her ease the pot onto the table. They set it down with a thud, and Sadie removes the lid. Steam billows upward.
“Turducken,” she starts, “—the damn thing took 8 hours to cook. That’s 15 voluptuous pounds of turkey, duck, and chicken.”
“Wait a minute,” Merrin says. “Am I stuck sitting next to Uncle Lorne again?”
“Watch it,” Etta warns. “He’s in the room, you know.”
“Oh, I’m fully aware. He can’t hear me, anyway. For the past two years I’ve had to babysit him through dinner. I just want to—”
“Stop bitching, and sit down,” Sadie says firmly. “He likes you, he asked to be sat with you—you should feel flattered.” She shoots me a glance and offers an aside. “He didn’t, really, but anything to lift the blame.”
Merrin turns to me. “Jolie, switch with me.” I shake my head and divert my attention before I can catch a glimpse of her searing glare. It’s known to instill guilt in whomever it’s cast upon. She sighs exasperatedly, trudges over to her seat, and slumps down.
Wyckoff trots around the table, from one pair of feet to the next, scouring the floor for dropped food. Trish lets out a sprightly squeal.
“Wyckoff, is that you?” She says, giggling. Etta rolls her eyes.
“For God’s sake, Trish, stop fishing,” she says. “I think you want him to lick you.”
“He surprised me,” Trish says, reaching down to pet him.
“He surprises you every time you’re here,” Sadie chimes in. “That’s what you get for leaving your flats at the door.” Wyckoff pants contently as Trish continues to pet him.
The relish tray makes it way around to me, and I grab for a couple of deviled eggs. I’ve never had them the way Etta and Sadie make them; wasabi and capers decorate the yolk elegantly. A pinch of Himalayan pink salt, and I swear, all worries become moot with the first bite. After the first few, though, I notice that Merrin has been quiet. I look in her direction to see her intently picking at her food, not participating in conversation, her eyes not leaving her plate. It hits me: that sudden pang of guilt I thought I successfully evaded. I want to say something, but maybe I shouldn’t. A cloud of tension forms and looms above me.
“Potatoes,” Uncle Lorne commands as he bangs on the table, rattling a few plates and knocking a couple forks to the floor. Wyckoff darts to the scene to check for food residue.
“Scalloped, not mashed,” Uncle Lorne clarifies. The pot of potatoes crowd-surfs its way to him over a sea of hands. Trish summons Wyckoff with a whistle as Sadie retrieves the fallen silverware.
“Be careful, Lorne,” Sadie says. “Now how tacky is it going to look eating from fine china with plastic forks?” Uncle Lorne grumbles his acknowledgment, reaching over Merrin to grab the potatoes. He slightly grazes her cheek.
“Excuse me,” she says angrily. Uncle Lorne is the only one of us who’s immune to her scowl. He disregards her and goes about his business, scooping some potatoes onto his plate. My ears become warm with unease, and the tension cloud above turns an ominous grey. Etta tries to lighten the mood.
“So, in keeping with tradition, let’s go around and each talk about our biggest achievement since last month,” she suggests. “Lachlan, why don’t you start?” Lachlan is always eager to share, especially when it means potentially diffusing an argument.
“Julia and I, we painted our living room that deep violet color you suggested, Aunt Etta. We really love it.”
“Oh, honey,” Grandma Blanche interrupts. “That’s hardly impressive—”
“Let him finish,” Etta says. Lachlan swallows hard, embarrassed. I can tell his enthusiasm was mildly shattered, and he doesn’t want to continue. Etta glances at Grandma Blanche disapprovingly and tries to revamp Lachlan’s damaged spirit.
“Did you tape off the baseboards?” She asks, urging him to continue.
“Yes, I remembered. And Julia’s been reading up on feng shui. We want optimal living conditions for when the baby gets here.” His face lights up every time he mentions his impending fatherhood. I admittedly can’t help but smile, too; I’m curious about the wonders I’ll be met with as an aunt.
“That’s the kind of thing I like to hear,” Grandma Blanche says, her tone more ratifying. “That’s far more noteworthy than a paint job. I’m 87 years old; I don’t have much time left to dedicate to trivial news.” Her attempt at reassurance falls short, and a look of weak frustration drapes over Lachlan’s face.
“So what are you going to name the baby? Do you know the sex yet?” Trish asks. The scope of conversation widens as the focal point settles on the start of the next generation. Lachlan is overjoyed to share more about Julia’s pregnancy, and the entire table is abuzz. I can’t help but notice, though, that Merrin is once again abstaining from discussion. Her fork dissonantly scrapes against her plate as she pokes at her food.
“Did you hear that, Merrin?” Sadie pries. “The baby is due in June, same month as you and your mother.”
“Ah,” Merrin replies, barely feigning an interest. “Careful, summer babies can grow up to be really bitchy,” she suggests, channeling her own behavior. I can see flashes of lightening tearing through the cloud of tension overhead, and I feel hot with anxiety. Lachlan flares his nostrils.
“Grow up,” he says, under his breath.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” Merrin taunts.
“I said grow the hell up,” Lachlan shouts, commanding silence over the dinner table. Merrin drops her fork and looks up at Lachlan, enraged.
“Please, save it. I don’t feel guilty for speaking up—you’ve been a wet blanket this entire time.”
“Quiet,” Uncle Lorne interjects as he bangs on the table.
“Excuse me for not wanting to deal with that this evening,” Merrin yells. “That, and the projectile bits of food he’s been launching out of his mouth, since he chews like a damn horse.” She cringes.
“He can’t help it! You’ve been sitting over there pouting like a child, ironically enough. Did you even hear my news? Were you listening?”
“Quiet,” Uncle Lorne repeats, slightly louder this time, as he bangs on the table once more.
I can barely stand to watch this unfold. I bury my face in my arms and my foot begins to anxiously tap.