Looking back on it, I remembered how challenging it was for me. To be frank, there are parts of my novel that aren’t this well written…it makes me worry about how I can challenge myself to polish my novel. But really, the first thing I need to do is to finish the damn thing so that I can rework it and fine-tune it. Anyway, I think this excerpt is enjoyable in and of itself, but would be even better if you actually read the book.
The late noon sun was shining happily on Idabel. Carrying a molasses bucket and wearing a pair of toy-like dark glasses, she walked up the road with a light-heartedness about her. Kicking stones and whistling, she was happy. She was going to her favorite spot in the forest, which in itself was a delightful prospect. But today, she had also wished for some company.Idabel approached the Landing. Through her colored glasses, she could see nobody: not a stirring of life could be seen nor heard. An unexpected ping of disappointment sounded in her heart: Joel was not there. It barely registered with her, but she lingered for a moment and searched for a sign of his presence. In a certain pine she observed an odd pattern of shadow and intuited that he was hiding behind it. She called him out, and sheepishly Joel stepped out from behind the tree, his thumbs hooked in his pants, a boyish embarrassment adorning his face: Joel felt silly for having been caught trying to surprise her. Idabel found this humorous and let loose a laugh, a laugh that was coarse and cutting, harsh to the ears like the braying of a donkey. She remembered the many summers that she spent playing with boys, and the many pranks they tried to pull on her. They did get to her when she was younger, but she quickly grew wise to their cruel ruses and learned to think a step ahead of the others. By now she was a veteran to all of the tricks in the book, and nothing could quite surprise her anymore. And even if she did get caught off guard, she’d built up a reputation that all the boys understood: mess with Idabel and you’d be broken into a thousand pieces by her hand.
Idabel had secret wishes, a secret she denied and kept hidden deep inside herself, away from her conscious mind: that Joel would join her in her little journey, to accompany her this day to her favorite spot in the forest. She hoped that he would enthusiastically accept the suggestion immediately, but rescinded such a sentiment. She considered it to be too girly a thought, something that only a person with lesser strength and boldness than herself would allow. With a deliberate indifference, she hitched her shorts with a peppy boyish snap and offered to let Joel come along with her on her little trip to catch some catfish. When Joel’s eyes met with the sickly gleaming mass of writhing white and gray that inhabited the bucket, his face could not hide the disgust and apprehension he felt towards the idea of having to touch those worms. Idabel thought his reaction was unbecoming of a boy: all the other boys she had messed around with would’ve driven their hands into the bucket and thrown a fistful of worms at her, if only to see her squirm (which she easily would not) for their gleeful entertainment. But then again she expected as much from Joel, what with his upbringing and his other decidedly unmasculine features. For a fleeting moment, she feared that he might be dissuaded from coming along, but she searched his large brown eyes and saw that he would accompany her.
Draped in white flannel, Joel was in his finest suit, and he cut a stunning figure: this Idabel noticed. Although she was never one for fanciful clothing that could easily be ruined by even the slightest threat of soil, dirt roads, or anything that existed outside of four walls and a roof, she grudgingly admired and respected his clothing. Because they were going to be trekking through the woods, she suggested to Joel that he change his clothes. When he declined, explaining that it was only an old suit of his, she wondered to herself if he was lying. After all, it did not look too worn or frayed to be old, and even then a fine suit like his was worth taking good care of. Idabel questioned his motive for keeping the suit. She allowed herself to imagine that perhaps Joel wanted to impress her. Maybe he even liked her a little bit. But these thoughts were unfamiliar to her, so she pushed them aside.
With a worm bucket cautiously in hand, Joel followed Idabel across a cane field and made their way through an avenue of bitter wild cherry trees, arriving at a stretch of woods. This was where Idabel found peace and solace. She enjoyed this leg of the journey, walking across plush carpets of moss that lined the path, underneath the trees whose leaves lent a delightful glimmer to the bright yellow sunshine trying to shine through to the green ground below. It reminded her that she would soon be in a place that was all her own, a place where she had space to think on her own. The birds, perched invisibly in the trees, chirped cheery songs, which Idabel liked to think were just for her. She realized that inside her existed some desire to share this little world with Joel. In fact, many thoughts bubbled up into her mind. But Idabel was not one to dwell too much, even though she was voyaging out to the creek to center herself. And so she marched on forwards, determined not to think too much, at least not until she got to where she was going.
They had reached the spot in the forest by the creek and had set up for fishing. Joel and Idabel had been there for an hour already, but they were not fortunate enough to have caught the fish in a lively mood today. Idabel offered Joel a looksie through her sunglasses. The lenses were grass-colored. She always thought that the world looked prettier through those lenses, and recalled a much younger time when she wore them all the time. Somehow the glasses made life more bearable, if not more sensible. She wondered if Joel would see the same things that she saw. P robably not, she thought to herself. After all, he had proven this annoying divergence when they had talked about the reality of things that had transpired before their time. Being misunderstood was not something she was unaccustomed to, but for reasons she did not understand, the idea that Joel saw things in a different way became rather irksome. He was a dreamer, and that bothered Idabel. She demanded Joel to return her glasses: he was unworthy of viewing the world through such a beautiful lens.
Without having caught any fish since they had arrived at the creek, Joel commented about their lack of productivity. “I don’t think we’re going to catch anything.” Idabel explained that she never expects to. It wasn’t the fishing that drew her to this place. Rather it was the serenity of being in nature. Hearing the water ripple across the cool stones at the bottom relaxed her. She knew it would always be there, singing its song for nobody in particular, day or night she could hear its tranquil trickle. She could depend on it to give her the peace she needed. Sometimes she felt that she’d much rather spend all her time here.
Smoking half a cigarette, the other half given to Joel, she blew smoke rings. Joel asked her about what worries she had. Idabel took offense to this. She didn’t feel that Joel had any business asking her about such things. These were thoughts she held only for herself, her worries were most private, intimate notions that even she herself may not wish to acknowledge. Retaliating, Idabel pointed out that Joel was a nosey and prying type of stranger. She had brought Joel here to her private sanctuary, a place where she felt safe and at ease. But she had not intended to share her most private thoughts and intimate notions with Joel: boys just didn’t do that sort of thing. She made an example out of Florabel, who she felt to be an unceremonious snoop. Joel retorted, saying that he thought that Florabel was pretty. Idabel felt a tinge of betrayal, as though Joel had snuck inside her and had torn a hole in her, his knife pointing outwards, a point of light the beacon for the locusts to swarm into her to eat her up. Normally, annoyance or being in a sour mood would leak through her composure and make itself known. But this cutting comment had shocked Idabel into a moment of contemplative silence. It hurt her indeed, and it took her more than several moments to regain her balance. Control was a commodity she knew how to acquire. She deflected Joel’s hurtful comment with a very sensible argument. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” she said.
The two young voyagers conversed for a while about dreams and visions and such. When Idabel became bored with talking about Zoo, she removed a smooth cake of soap from her pocket. It had a gentle quality to it, the smooth cream color of it evoking a sense of heavenliness. Idabel gazed upon the soft white soap with soft hushed tone of reverence. “It’s Ivory,” she said. “It floats.”
The bar impressed upon Joel a certain purity. Though it was not brand new, its paper wrapper discarded, it appeared to be used with great care. There were no dark stains of dirt and grime on it. It was utterly smooth, the curves gently rounded. It carried within it a particular feminine divinity about it, a stark contradiction to Idabel’s paradoxical boyishness. Taking the cake of soap in his hands tenderly, he absent-mindedly asked Idabel, “What for?”
Idabel was rather annoyed with Joel. She could figure no other reason that she would hand over to him this bar of soap other than to wash with. Here she offered to Joel a piece of herself, allowing him into her own world with the intimate gesture of sharing. She had come here to lose herself in a different world, one that needed no thought to make sense of. This was a place where she could be alone with her thoughts. But this day she chose to bring Joel with her. She exposed to him important parts of herself that rarely ever surfaced. Joel and his surprising insolence was beginning to slip through Idabel’s hands. She was feeling less in control, and it aggravated her.
Snapping at his ridiculous inquiry, “To wash with, stupid,” Idabel commanded Joel to partake in her ritual: she pointed at the stump where she had planted her fishing pole and told him to put his clothes there. Joel complained, in his prissy ways, that she was a girl and in all due modesty could not disrobe to wash himself in front of her. With a great strength and her own brand of ferocity, Idabel insisted easily that he go forth with the washing.
Joel had conceded, however reluctantly, and had gotten as comfortable as a thirteen year old boy could get being washed by a naked girl, no matter how boyish she may be. They sat down in a sunny place to dry, and Idabel put on her dark glasses. Trying to measure up to Billy Bob, who Idabel had easily proclaimed that she liked, and who she even considered a best friend, lied that he never cried. In a moment of earnest honesty, Idabel dropped her identity as a tomboy and admitted that she did. “I cry sometimes.” This she told to Joel in confidence, and demanded his secrecy and discretion.
In this moment of genuine vulnerability, Joel felt a strong yearning to comfort her, to express the truth and purity in his friendship. He knew to only one way express this: Joel reached out, and with the delicate touch of a feather floating from the heavens down to the earth, kissed her. Idabel, upon feeling the tenderness of his lips on her cheek, became utterly confused. A torrent of emotions ran through her heart. She had not experienced so many feelings all at once before, and she didn’t have a single idea of how to react. In fact, she could not think at all. All she was capable of was experiencing the confusing tumultuousness of what just happened. Boys did not kiss like that, and boys did not feel what she was feeling. Joel had shaken her identity, her innocence. Anger was all that Idabel was familiar with, and so she acted on it. Joel and Idabel had a scuffle, and in the ensuing fight her glasses had fallen to the ground. Joel fell on the glasses, breaking them.. They recovered, and Idabel looked sadly upon the broken pieces. With a deep wistfulness, she realized that she would never be able to look through those glasses again. The world would never again have that same pretty emerald tint. They were broken forever, and her only hope was to someday perhaps win another pair.