Sunday, December 2, 2012

Endings Before Beginnings

This blog post is, wait for it...

NOT about my novel. Gasp. No, instead, it is dedicated to a flash fiction challenge posed by Chuck Wendig of the fantastic blog Terribleminds. He swears a lot so he's right up my alley and I highly recommend his internet diary. 
The challenge was to write the ending to a novel that doesn't exist in around 1000 words. I was excited about this because I've had an ending line stuck in my head for awhile, but NaNo made me focus on other things and I never had the time to figure out it could be built around. But now that I'm free of NaNo's clutches, this was a fun way to get in my writing exercise. Enjoy and let me know what you think! 

What A Strange Cat

                There was a quietness in the snow drifting down from the sky outside, visible only in the glow of the streetlamps, so Hazel decided to play the Christmas music softly. Her mother looked up questioningly when she entered the living room, dominated by the tree standing bare and verdant by the back windows. She was sitting on an ottoman with her elbows on her knees, draped over the skirt of her dress, and the rims of her eyes were slightly reddened.
                “Well, we still have a Christmas tree to decorate,” Hazel said, dropping a box of ornaments by the couch. Her brother, his deep brown eyes tired and sad, looked out of the window.
                “It’s snowing out.”
                “I know.”
                “Maybe he found a place to sleep,” her mother piped up.
                “He probably did. He’s a smart cat.”
                Hazel allowed their words to wash over her, to comfort her like they were meant to. She knew that even though odds were she would never see Raphael again, at least in the meantime she had her family. At least now they were talking to each other, even if it was awkward. Still, the absence of a furry ball rushing around the house and rubbing against her legs was an almost physical pain. Hazel could imagine Raphael skirting around the tree, sniffing at the strange intrusion before stretching his ginger claws up to the first branch and tearing at it, and she felt tears well up in her eyes.
                “There’s more boxes in the kitchen,” she sniffed, nonchalantly wiping at her eyes as if dabbing at stray makeup. Allan got up instantly and her mother glanced at Hazel, at a loss for what to say.
                “I’m sorry about Raphael.”
                “It’s okay, mom. Thank you for helping me look for him, anyway.”
                “Of course.”
                The beginning strains of “O Holy Night” could be heard wafting from the speakers on the floor, and Hazel sighed.
                “You know, Hazel,” her mother began, and she was looking at her maroon velvet heels as she spoke. “It’s not like I’m clueless to my behavior over the last couple of years.”
                Hazel stared at her mother, seeming small and meek now on her little ottoman, adrift on an island in the sea. It was a side of Grace she hadn’t seen before, so used was she to the flinty glares and barked orders, the professional suits, the hard set mouth. Her dress made her look softer.
                “I know I haven’t been the best mother. I should have been there for you during the divorce instead of judging you. I know it’s been hard on you. I’m just sorry I didn’t see that until a little while ago.” Her mother’s voice was dangerously close to cracking, but she stood up and grasped Hazel’s hand in hers. The snow fell gently outside and coated the hard ground.
                “It’s okay, mom, you've already apologized.” Hazel said hesitantly, not sure how to react to this woman, the mother she’d hardly known as an adult, as an equal, breaking down in her arms.
                “No, it isn’t,” and tears began to slip from Grace’s eyes and course down her lined cheeks. “I should have been impartial, nonjudgmental, but I turned on my only daughter and I can’t ever forgive myself for that.”
                “But I can,” said Hazel, and she put her other hand on top of her mother’s. “You messed up, but that’s what parents do. Don’t worry about it, mom. I’m okay.”
                “Are you sure?”
                “I am. I love you, mom.”
                “I love you too, Hazel. Merry Christmas.” The hug was unexpected and warm. Hazel could feel her mother’s bony shoulder blades through her dress, could feel the weight on her shoulders.
                “Let’s do this,” Allan said, reentering the living room with another box in his hands and grinning broadly. “For Raphael.”
                “For Raphael,” echoed Hazel, and a wan smile made its way to her face. She took the top off of the box and shifted around its glittery contents. After a moment she pulled out from the bottom a fragile glass ornament, dangling from a gold ribbon looped around her fingers. The glass cat sparkled in the bright lights and twirled slowly.
                “This has to go on first,” she said, holding the ornament high and getting to her feet.
                “Wait, wait. I believe there’s a tradition we’ve been neglecting for couple years now.” Allan placed his box on the ground and disappeared into the kitchen, returning with a bottle of Bailey’s and three shot glasses clinking between his fingers. He passed them out and his mother began to laugh.
                “We started doing this when you two were young and you were always so mad we gave you chocolate milk instead.”
                “Well now I can participate like a real adult,” he said mischievously, filling up each glass with the thick cream. “I was ticked off we were all too busy fighting when I turned twenty-one to have a family Christmas because I was looking forward to it.” Though he meant it playfully, his comment sobered up the room. Hazel glanced around at her family.
                “I’m sorry. About everything.”
                “I’m just glad we’re all together now, like a real family,” said Grace with a smile.
                “To family,” said Hazel, lifting her glass and watching the cream swish around.
                “To family.” Glasses were tipped and everyone let out a tiny sigh as they were plinked back onto the coffee table. Hazel, with a warm buzz building in her stomach, slipped the glass cat onto one of the highest branches of the majestic tree. The cat was frozen mid pounce, and as it twisted back and forth for a little while it looked to Hazel like it was readying itself to jump from branch to branch with the fluidity of a lithe hunter.
                Then it steadied itself, a glittering drop of ice-like glass in the middle of the dense branches. Hazel stared out of the window, not quite ready to delve back into the box of ornaments and memories, tracking the progress of individual flakes of snow as they fell in and out of the light. Her family bustled around behind her and the Christmas music drifted underneath it all, made the room feel pleasantly busy, especially when compared to the stark and lonely Christmases of the past. The Irish cream warmed her chest and she smiled out at the powdery night, glowing even in the darkness because of the reflective snow.
                There was a rustling in the bushes below the window, and to her surprise a gray squirrel shot out and bolted across her backyard, disappearing up a barren and snow-covered tree. She laughed as it zig-zagged around the branches, its bushy tail waving about wildly to help it balance. And then a furry little face was staring at hers and meowing in the chilly air.
                “Oh my God!” Hazel scrambled for the latches of the window and hoisted it so quickly it dislodged from its old, worn tracks. A ginger paw stepped delicately onto the windowsill, followed by twitching ears and whiskers with flakes of snow clinging desperately before they melted in the heat of the room.
                He jumped lightly to the floor, landing with a thump, and looked up at Hazel with his amber eyes before parading right over to the tree and giving the bottom branches an experimental bat. Everyone stared at him, dumbfounded.
                “Where was he? All this time?”
                “We’ll never know,” replied Hazel, laughing and putting a hand to her mouth. The cat, the little furry source of so much stress and worry over the last week, the cat who had inadvertently brought together a family for the holidays for the first time in years,  began a trip around the room, rubbing against legs; whether from affection or in order to dry himself off, Hazel couldn’t tell. Then everyone was laughing and bending down to pet him, to listen to his purrs and grateful meows.
                “What a strange cat,” said Allan eventually, with a gentle smile.
                And he was.

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