Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.

Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.

Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.

The Writing Life

Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.

In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.

My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Blinders: A Short Story

Following is a short story about our tendency to put blinders on when it comes to certain areas of our life. Some of us are blind about our families, our friends, lovers, or children. We do not want to see unhappy events that are coming our way or the dark side of someone we know.

In 1990 my best friend Mahnoor and I were giddy with senioritis. Mahnoor and Theresa. We were inseparable. We couldn't wait to graduate high school and we were caught up in all the excitement. Where would life take us? Who would we fall in love with? Were our SATs good enough to get us into the college of our choice? In Mahnoor’s case, she was concerned that her family would not let her attend college even if she had good scores and grades. Her parents wanted her to marry a cousin; Mahnoor insisted she needed an education first. 

Mahnoor Haddad was an exceptionally beautiful girl from a strict Muslim family. She had doe eyes fringed with the longest eyelashes I have ever seen. She needed no makeup. Every morning her brother Khalil walked her to the bus stop to make sure she safely got on and every afternoon he was there to meet her bus. Always her head was covered with a scarf to conceal the long, glossy, dark curls. Mahnoor wore long-sleeved blouses and long skirts or dark trousers. As soon as she got to school, the scarf came off and she rolled up her sleeves. Sometimes I would bring her a change of clothes for the day. She was forever diving into a restroom to quickly change clothes upon arriving at school or leaving for home. I called her a quick-change artist. She laughed. We also changed her name from Mahnoor to Noor because some of the kids thought it was funny to call her Manure. Nothing in life mattered, she said, as long as we were friends.


Noor’s parents were formidable—I mean send-a-chill-down-your-back scary. I don’t know why I had that reaction, but I knew it wasn't fair of me to judge them so harshly. Perhaps it was things that Noor had told me and my own narrow-mindedness. The first time I got permission to visit her home, Noor warned me I would be subjected to The Inquisition. The entire family greeted me at the door. I prayed I had dressed correctly and I shook their hands politely while exclaiming how pleased I was to meet them. They nodded and shook my hand. No one smiled, except Noor. She seemed to enjoy watching me squirm. 

Noor was right about The Inquisition. I wanted to stick to name, rank and serial number, but I knew if I would ever be allowed to associate with Noor outside of school, I had to come up with the right answers. I was invited to join them for dinner. I sat next to Noor and tried to imitate her sedate, respectful, good girl act by shyly casting my eyes down to my hands which were hidden under the table and twisted in nervous agony. I glanced at her brother Khalil who sternly stared back. I turned my attention to the steamy plates of stuffed vegetables, lamb, and pilaf. I praised every dish that was set before me, no matter how foreign to my taste buds. Her mother smiled with pride. Her father raised an eyebrow. Khalil stared right through me. 

Between all the food that landed on my plate, I carefully picked my way through the minefield of their questions. My father was an electrical engineer who worked long hours; my mother took care of the house and me and my brother. (I left out the part about all the volunteer work she did for the Democratic Party.) We went to Mass every Sunday. I spent most of my time studying so I had very little time for anything else—which was a total, freaking lie, but necessary. I told them I played violin but left out the fact that I was into club soccer. I could read the approval in Noor’s eyes for my acting skills. Perhaps I had succeeded in breaking a little ice with her parents. Khalil? Not so much. I could read his thoughts: one false move and . . . and what?, I thought. I could tell he was going to be one big, overbearing jerk. Noor was always saying things like “if my family finds out, they’ll kill me.” We all said that about our parents, but in Noor’s case I figured it was closer to being true. She was all twisted up in loving her family, but wanting to be herself.  

Noor and I had a plan. Once her parents had learned to trust me and not think of me as a bad influence, I would invite Noor to my home to study, and well, eventually we hoped to casually invite a couple of boys to join us—of course, under the watchful eyes of my mother who I suspect was more adept at mind reading than anybody. You could never fool her, but she would understand and give us a little breathing room. The thing was—Noor was madly in love with Javier—tall, dark, wickedly handsome Javier, soccer player extraordinaire, always laughing and pulling pranks. The Javier of her dreams. And well, he had noticed her too, but he knew her family was very strict. He played it cautious, but he could not walk away from a challenge, forbidden fruit. And so began our mad conspiracy.

With our careful strategy and my best acting skills, Noor and I were eventually allowed to study together at her house one evening a week. I began to look forward to Mrs. Haddad’s cooking and she began to look forward to having someone really appreciate her work in the kitchen. Mr. Haddad continued to probe me about my plans for the future. I told him I thought education was important and that I looked forward to school. He didn’t see the need for women to have education. I told him that in this country, a woman needs to have a means to provide for herself and her family. Moreover, children benefit from parents who have an education. I knew this was dangerous territory because Noor kept sending me warning signals with her eyes, but sometimes the truth had to come out. He shrugged his shoulders; I let the matter drop. 

“The only thing Mahnoor needs to do is make a respectable marriage and not bring any shame to the family,” said Khalil.

I looked at him and thought “Jerk,” but I responded: “I’m sure she will do just that.”

“These are not matters to discuss in front of Theresa,” Noor replied. Her father nodded in agreement.

Afterward, when we were alone, I told her that Khalil’s attitude troubled me. “He’s plain mean.”

“Oh, he just likes to be big brother, always looking out for me.”

I stared for a moment into those deep brown eyes of her. “And if he ever learns about Javier?” 

Her eyes blinked in shock. She put her finger to her lips as though the mention of Javier’s name was too much to breathe into the atmosphere.

“I’ll be careful,” I waved my finger at her. “You be careful.”

She nodded. 

And that’s how it was with us—always careful, always calculating. Always tiptoeing through land mines. Noor wanted to live her own life and be free of the restrictions her family imposed on her thoughts and actions. Her family wanted to protect her from the corrupting influences of American life. They would decide the life she would lead. I wondered why they came to this place of freedom if all they wanted was to cling to their old ways of life.

I could tell that the tension between what Noor wanted and what her family expected of her was really beginning to weigh on her. “You will have to have a sure-fire escape plan, Noor. Your family will not tolerate you going your own way.”

Her eyes were sad. “They mean well. They love me.”

“Take the blinders off, Noor.” She understood what I was trying to tell her, but she shook her head in disbelief.  

One Friday after school it was my turn to host dinner and study night. Sometimes Javier would show up after dinner. We listened to music, talked, and did very little studying. Noor was full of laughter and jokes. Javier made her glow. He always left before nine o’clock, when Khalil would promptly come to pick up his sister. (My mother or I were not allowed to drive her home.) On that one evening, as we were all saying our goodbyes at the front door, Javier turned and kissed Noor on the lips. 

“It’s not too late to say you’ll go to Prom with me.”

Before Noor could respond, a hand reached out from the dark and pulled on Javier’s shoulder until he spun into the punch that Khalil thrust in his belly. Javier stumbled backward, recovered and landed a hit to Khalil’s jaw. Noor was screaming at her brother. I circled around behind him and yanked on his jacket pulling the bastard to the ground. It was all the advantage Javier needed, but my parents were quick to break up the fight. Khalil shouted obscenities; my father threatened to call the police. Noor, shaking, begged everyone to calm down. Her brother insisted she get in the car. I told her to stay. I could not understand why she couldn't see what I saw: danger.

Javier, my parents, and I watched as Noor left with her brother. Khalil slammed his foot on the gas and the car squealed back down the driveway and into the street. I remember the shimmer of light in her dark eyes, the streak of tears on her cheeks. And then she was gone. When she didn’t show up for school and her family refused to talk to me, Javier and I reported her missing. Her family claimed she had run away from home, but I know Noor would never leave without telling me or Javier. Now we wait for the police to unravel the mystery of her disappearance. I tell Javier I am guilty of not making Noor see what I could see. I name it Khalil.

5 comments:

  1. Hey there! Just wanted to say thanks for the follow back on Pinterest! I really appreciate it! Hope you had a wonderful weekend ;o)

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  2. Great story! Stopping by to return the favor and SharetheLove4Authors from WLC. Really enjoyed reading your blog

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  3. WOW. What an absolutely powerful piece! It's also a terrific subject--when it comes to the ones we love the most, humans do tend to wear blinders. The hardest thing in the world is taking them off and facing the truth.

    I also wanted to thank you for the follow (I'm following right back). You're my very first follow and friend!!! :)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. Every day the news is full of people who are not able to recognize troubled minds or evil intentions in their lovers, family members and coworkers. We do not want to see.

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  4. wow! what a story. poor Noor. and they call it honor killing. Sad.

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