Thursday, July 17, 2008

Purity

Content Advisory : this fictional work-in-progress takes place among college students in the 1970's and contains some crude language and jokes.
--

An October afternoon in 1973;
a dorm in a Midwestern women's college.
The 1st draft of this passage was written about a year ago.
--

It wasn’t till she reached Woodard that Audrey realized she was hugging the bookbag. She shifted it to her shoulder and yanked open the lobby door, which sucked an exquisite damp‑sweet scent out into the sharp October air.

Somebody’s huge vase of yellow roses, bearing a birthday-themed envelope, awaited its addressee at the reception desk. She stood awash in their marzipan fragrance.

A burst of laughter brought Audrey out of her trance. She ventured around the corner, where a cheery crowd of about twenty was decorating the lounge for the Woodard Halloween party.

“‑‑need to ridicule everything.” Stephanie Anderson stood at the piano, spacing construction-paper autumn leaves along a string of red yarn, and reprimanding someone.

There was Gwen, of all people, elbows on the piano and holding the yarn’s other end. She jabbed leaves onto it with a big darning needle and slid them down toward Stephanie.

That’s right, Gwen likes this Dana Girls school chum stuff.

Others chopped leaves out of red and gold paper, using little blunt grade-school scissors.

“I completely agree. We should save it for things that need ridiculing,” Denny responded. She glanced up from her task of drawing leaf veins. “Audrey! You can be Diligence!”

“Oh stop being idiotic.” Stephanie yanked leaves irritably.

Might have known Denny was the one goading Stephanie. Wow, this is a sight. Gwen, Laurie, Denny and Steph, working together on the same project.

Well, not exactly together. Far apart in a fair-sized crowd, actually.

“Here. I’m sick of leaning over.” Vickie abandoned a lounge chair, slid cross-legged to the floor and resumed leaf-cutting with her arms propped on the coffee table. Audrey shrugged off her coat and took the seat as someone else pushed orange paper within her reach and tossed a pair of scissors on top of it.

“Stop being tight-assed,” Denny answered Stephanie, using her favorite tactic of saying something rude in a bright, lilting voice. “Audrey, we’re getting up a group to come to the Halloween party as the Seven Holbrook Virtues!”

“It’s the Seven Ideals, and there’s nothing wrong with them,” scowled Stephanie.

“Seven Ideals, fine, whatever!” Denny turned back to Audrey. “You know how they used to elect them and parade them in gowns like a prom queen court? Laurie’s going to be Responsibility. I, of course‑‑“

Denny dropped her paper leaf, assumed a spacey Beauty Queen smile, and hoisted a boob in each hand.

“‑‑am going to be Charm!”

Rowena Something ‑‑Heidt, that’s it‑‑ a First Floor who sat next to Laurie in the leaf-cutting group, chortled. “Display those charms, now!”

Denny complied by pointing them in various directions like searchlights. This produced howls of laughter from the room, with the exceptions of the leaf-stringers.

“Charm,” said Stephanie patiently, “was not one of the Seven Vir‑‑ I mean, the Seven Ideals.”

“So tell us, what were they?” asked Kaaren Bishop, the Fourth Floor RSA, with convincing innocence.

Stephanie sighed. “Responsibility, Unselfishness...uh...”

“Diligence,” supplied Gwen brusquely. “Honesty, Service, Faith, and Love of Learning.”

“Holy shit.” Kaaren pursed her lips admiringly. “We’ve actually found a freshman who knows them.”

“Every freshman used to have to memorize them and pass a test,” Gwen stated, then eyed her string of paper leaves critically. “These are too uniform. We need to vary the sizes.”

“I can do that!” Rowena quickly began to trim down a leaf.

“Wait, I know,” said Denny. “What we ought to dress up as are the real Holbrook ideals. The things every ladylike girl really was supposed to conform to in the olden days. Charm. Obedience. What else...? Grooming!”

“Hygiene,” Laurie corrected.

“Yeah, that’s better!”

Laurie bounced in her seat. “Please can I be Hygiene? Let me be Hygiene, please!”

“Of course, dear,” cooed Denny, “you can be Hygiene.”

“Godliness,” suggested someone Audrey didn’t know.

Vickie spoke up: “Yeah, and Laurie has to stand next to whoever that is.”

It took a beat for most of them to get it and the laughter burst out again.

Denny flipped a leaf over and began to make a list with her felt tip pen.

“Hey,” said another of the serious types, “those are for the party.”

“It’s one leaf, for God’s sake. Okay, we’ve got...” Denny scribbled. “Charm, Hygiene....Obedience....Godliness. We need three more.”

“Wait! Purity!” Again, it came from someone Audrey couldn’t name. From one of the upper floors. Beautiful figure, big nose.

“Oh, but everybody had to be pure back then,” said Denny.

“It sti-still makes a good Deadly Virtue,” said Laurie.

“Yeah. Okay, you’re right. And whoever comes as Purity can wear a big doctor’s certificate of virginity.”

Gwen gave a hiss of disgust, tossed her threaded needle onto the piano with a clink! and stalked out of the room. Kaaren looked at her retreating back, then got up and took over the leaf-stringer job.

Denny ignored the drama. “Vickie, wanna be Purity?”

"Why me?” laughed Vickie. “Anyway I can’t afford a dress for this.”

“Aw, c’mon. We’ll get some of those ancient formals down at Community Thrift.”

Vickie shook her head. “I can’t even afford that. Wait, though, could we borrow costumes from the theatre department?”

Apparently Rowena was a theatre major. “I can maybe sneak out one dress for somebody, but we can’t raid the costume collection for all of them.”

“One’ll do fine” said Denny. “I can alter any thrift store dresses if people need me to. Audrey! Wanna be Purity?”

God damn my little girl looks. “Sheesh, can’t I be Godliness instead?” She took a completed leaf and used it to trace two more onto a sheet of orange paper.

“Come to think of it, you’d make a better Obedience,” Denny grinned.

“Yeah,” Audrey muttered, cutting. “Tell me to jump and I’ll just say Ooo, how high, and thank you.”

“Uh-oh.” Laurie got serious. “Bad day?”

Audrey shrugged. “My schedule might get fucked up.”

“In the middle of a semester?” Kaaren, the RSA, looked concerned.

“Only if I want to drop English and mess it up myself.”

She could feel Laurie and Denny watching her. She gave full concentration to trimming her leaf.

“Drop English.” Typical Denny, never asking a question, just dropping a statement in a skeptical tone so you had to explain.

Audrey shrugged and examined a finished leaf. “If I want to. I need to make some of these small, don’t I?”

4 comments:

Arald said...

Printed it for reading on the train! First part I read looks good

Sherwood Harrington said...

When do we get to see more?

(... and your Cuss-O-Meter registers three times what mine does, you potty mouth. But I'm not sure I trust the gadget; mine didn't budge even after my last post included the word sh*t without the asterisk.)

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

8~) I'm embarking on the 4th draft and still appalled by how much work it needs. (Right in this brief passage i've got 3 people exclaiming "Wait!" And that's not even a major plot or character problem, which are also surfacing. Urk.)

If i post any more fragments i guarantee that cuss-o-meter score will do some serious climbing!

Christy said...

You are quite adept at painting a picture. I'm with Sherwood - when do we get some more!?