“First sentences are doors to worlds.”
- Ursula K. Le Guin
I’ve been asked by a Very Polite Person if I’d mind posting the excerpt I read a couple of weeks ago at Writing Camp. “Blow in my ear,” as my mother would say; and besides being flattered beyond reason, I can’t think why not. Herewith, the opening of Chapter 3 from my novella, Harbour View:
She marvels at the lemons. There is an orderliness about them that brings with it the surprise of tears, that too-familiar burn beneath the eyelids she wishes she could control. But they are perfection, sunshine orbs grown in Spain and stacked here in the produce section on a rainy day in Halifax. Of course she must cry.
“You okay, Miss?”
“Oh yes, thanks, I’m fine. Must be my allergies.” Muriel gives a watery smile to the young man who is busy with the grapefruits. ‘Caebhon,’ his name tag reads, which makes Muriel wonder. Capon? No, probably one of those Gaelic names whose pronunciation bears no relation to its spelling. Dark stubble pokes through his pale cheeks, occasional hints of manhood, and there is a ring through one of his nostrils, the reddened skin around it crusty. But Caebhon’s blue eyes are kind and she’ll take all the kindness she can get.
“Aren’t the lemons pretty?” she asks brightly. The young man nods and continues with his grapefruit construction.
To atone for her tears Muriel selects the shiniest yellow fruit. Against her chapped fingers it glows with a pebbly translucence. When was the last time she bought a lemon? With great care she places it in a plastic bag and moves on to the meat department, where chicken thighs are on sale again. Maybe she’ll try something different from the usual Shake-n-Bake Original, George’s favourite, which she’s cooked every Monday for as long as they’ve been married. Rice instead of frozen french fries, and maybe something green. No cookies this trip; Muriel thinks about fruit instead and doubles back to Produce to inspect the grapes. She can’t abide the thought of her mother’s good china serving bowl being filled once again with grayish canned beans, so she bags a head of broccoli. She’ll take her chances on George’s wrath and boil it up to go with the lemon chicken. Thirty-three years is a long time to be eating Shake-n-Bake. It’s time for something different.
The kindly young man with the nose ring is gone. Muriel has decided he’s working part-time to save for university. He’s rebellious enough to damage his nose, and who knows, maybe there’s a tattoo somewhere, but he’s not stupid. If he were, he’d be off in a strange city washing car windshields on street corners to put together enough change for supper or booze. No, Caebhon has a job and responsibilities. He wants to do something with his life. He has left a perfect pyramid of blushing grapefruit.
The prickle of tears sends Muriel scurrying to the checkout.
(Harbour View will be released in September.)