Panic? Swear? Scream?
It happened to me and after picking myself up off the floor, I took a breath, I read on, and I soon realised she was so right!
Editors sometimes suggests an author kill their darlings (aka fave bits) even though they think those bits are pretty darn good and special. My Winter Solstice scene was special to me because I know Molly! I know her story and I wanted a way to mention her. But was it special to the reader?
So many scenes I write in my draft manuscript don’t make the final version, and as with my winter solstice picnic scene I end up seeing why they need cutting. You can too if you want to read the following 12 pages of waffle. Those of you who have read the book can check out Chapter 19, which is where I managed (in a couple of paras) to sneak in the winter solstice bit (although sadly, not Molly, although I did have a big tummy tickle the other day with the real Molly, here at Corindi Beach.)
What better time to post a scene about the winter solstice than on the winter solstice (which occurred today @ 8.34 am).
PS: My editor ended her structural repoert with this: “Beautiful story, beautiful characters, beautiful setting, and you actually made me cry at the end — and I’m an editor. I don’t cry.”)
PPS: This excerpt is unedited. Me… in the raw!!!!! (Scary, be kind.)
Jake swaggered across the patchy lawn area dotted with picnic tables to where Pearl sat cross-legged on a blanket, a banquet of Tupperware spread out before her. ‘I got your text. Do you know what time it is?’
‘Of course. It’s six o’clock. Sleep well?’
‘Like a baby, until the phone beeped me awake. What’s the story?’ Jake scanned the array of bite-sized treats.
‘Welcome to my winter solstice picnic.’
‘It’s the time of year that we experience the least amount of daylight hours. I’ve been making the most of the night.’ Pearl consulted her watch. ‘We have two and a half hours to go.’
‘Until 8.34 am.’
‘What happens then? Do you turn into a vampire or—’ Jake swore silently, but Pearl smiled.
‘Come on, sit.’
‘I’m a moron,’ he muttered.
He’d wanted to Pearl to like him. He really liked her. Jake had even tried googling albinism last night. First he’d searched the word albino, but that mostly resulted in baby rhino and hippo stories. That’s how he’d learned the correct term was people with albinism, which just sounded weird, and Pearl was definitely the least weird female he’d met in a long time. She was the real deal: no flashy clothes, no stuck on nails, no glued on lashes or painted on tops.
‘You’re not a moron. I now you didn’t mean anything. It’s early. You’re not quite awake. Food might help.’ She patted the ground beside her, about the only bit not covered with food containers. ‘Join me?’
With the chilly morning permeating his jacket, Jake didn’t have to be asked twice to cosy up on one corner of a blanket with the coolest chick he’d ever met. He slumped to the ground and pulled his knees to his chest, then he leaned sideways to kiss her, intending a peck to her cheek and another apology. Instead Pearl turned, her mouth meeting his, and Jake reckoned she tasted as good as she looked.
In fact, Jake licked his lips when their kiss ended. She also tasted like garlic and . . . ‘Oregano! Fresh,’ he qualified.
‘Here. Try this one.’
Jake plucked the meaty ball from the bowl. ‘You plan on telling me what this picnic is all about?’
‘The winter solstice marks one of the main turning points in the year. It’s the day the sun reaches its northernmost position in the sky and starts moving back towards the south.’
With the reserve next to the breakwall deserted, the winds barely enough to unsettle the leaves in the pandanas trees, Jake wondered why Pearl had chosen to set up her feast so far away from the walking track.
‘The winter solstice doesn’t explain the pig-out picnic for one.’
‘It’s symbolic. And it’s easily a picnic for two, so don’t be shy.’
Jake helped himself to pastry triangle. ‘Symbolic of what?’
‘Of me being a moonchild.’
‘A moon—’ He almost choked on the last swallow. ‘You’d better run that by me again.’
‘Most people won’t give the winter solstice a second thought. They might eat earlier or go to bed earlier because it seems darker or, colder. Not me.’
‘Not you what?’
‘I make the most of the night and celebrate the moon.’ Pearl raised her arms in a sway above her head, like a high priestess summoning some unearthly power.
Jake tried to not laugh. ‘You do know that sounds a bit zombie apocalypse.’
‘Sure, but that’s fine. Zombies are pretty awesome.’
‘I think you’re pretty awesome,’ Jake mumbled through a mouthful of something soft and salty.
‘You’d better think so. After all, you’re eating all the spanakopita—my favourite.’ She slapped his hand playfully and he dropped the last triangle back onto the plate.
‘My other favourite night of the year is Halloween.’
‘Sure! Look at me. Dressing up for Trick or Treat is a breeze.’ Jake’s expression must have been a funny one because she laughed and slapped his shoulder. ‘I’m joking. Although a lady in the supermarket one day did ask me if I was going to a dress-up party.’
‘Are you serious? Not even I’m that stupid.’ Thanks to Google, Jake thought to add.
He’d never wanted to understand a woman before. A woman was something you picked up on a Friday night and bonked anywhere half comfortable, hoping to make a good enough impression to get a second date. Pearl was different, and he didn’t want to stuff things up or turn her off him by asking dumb questions.
There remained one question his internet research didn’t answer.
‘I’ve seen you riding that crazy-looking motorised tricycle, and you can negotiate the mountain road on a quad bike like nobody. How come you can’t drive a car?’
‘My peepers.’ Pearl slid the dark glasses she always wore to the top of her head. ‘I’m regarded as legally blind.’
Snappin’ crab claws! They were the prettiest eyes he’d ever seen—iridescent blue and framed by strikingly white eyelashes. The combination reminded Jake of the daisies with the blue centre that would grow at his mum’s place. If he had one of those flowers handy right now he’d start plucking petals in the hope he ended with a She loves me.
‘They won’t give me a car licence. They say I can’t drive.’
‘Can’t drive?’ Jake scoffed. ‘Have the authorities seen you on that quad bike?’
‘No, and I’d like to keep it that way,’ Pearl said. ‘My independence is everything. The boss understands that better than anyone I know, which is why he suggested I use the quad bike to get me up and down the mountain. Driving a familiar route is no problem—although I’d never try the mountain on a trike, even with my little motor. Crazy I might be, but silly I am not. I’m a pretty regular girl under all this.’
‘Pretty is right.’
Pearl laughed and handed a can of soft drink to Jake. ‘Here, have a drink. Anything to stop you spouting more corny lines. You also need to know flattery isn’t required. I already like you so,’ she shrugged, ‘you can consider me a sure thing.’ Jake almost choked, the fizzy liquid bubbling in the back of his nose. ‘Any way, what was I saying before?’
Pearl passed him a paper napkin to blow his nose, which he did discreetly. ‘Ah, you were talking about being a moonchild.’
‘Oh, yeah, right. Well, my dad was first to call me that, mostly because when all my girlfriends were sunbaking and wearing straplines like a badge of honour, I was inside the house. Not until night comes, or winter when the sun is less strong, can I enjoy what all my friends take for granted—the great Australian outdoors.’
‘That must have really sucked when you were a kid.’
‘It’s my life and I rather enjoy it, until someone stares at me or—’
‘Makes some moronic gaff!’
‘Even my brothers make fun of me. It’s when strangers just stare that bothers me the most, but in the evening there’s less people around. I also prefer a winter beachscape at night, especially when the moon is full enough to cast shadows on the sand, and surprises wash in from the sea and all for me.’
‘Speaking of surprises. These babies really pop in your mouth.’ Jake was sniffing the squid like a sommelier noses a wine. The tangle of tentacles still smelled of the sea and he couldn’t imagine anything tastier.
‘Mummy, that lady looks like a ghost.’
Pearl’s blurted response frightened the child, whose mother looked at her in silent reproach. Jake had been startled too, not that he let on.
‘Kids!’ he muttered.
‘I know I shouldn’t do stuff like that. It only emphasises people’s misconceptions about albinism. Telling people I worship the moon doesn’t help, either, but the locals know me. Like I said, I’m just a regular girl. No howling at the moon, no cauldrons or blood-sucking rampages. Although I am skilled at giving love bites in various shapes—if you’re into that sort of thing.’ She winked. ‘Kids aren’t even the problem. Children often seem cruel—they stare, say silly things and ask too many questions—but they’re usually just curious. It’s the grown-ups with their awkward silences and sideways glances that are capable of greater cruelty. I bet that mother has never thought to sit her daughter down and start a conversation about how people might look different, but on the inside they’re just like she is and easily hurt by barbs. One too many reactions like that kid’s is what drove me back home permanently.’
‘You’re happy living in a small place like this?’
‘I went to Sydney to study. I’d been planning to go to university and study medicine, but then I found out about the challenges I’d face doing a degree.’
‘Seeing the detail in lecture room slides and the volume of reading to be done in set time frames. I decided I’m more a hands-on kinda gal. So after a short course, and a lot of reading at my own pace, I got my certificate in remedial massage. That satisfied my curiosity about the human body with and its faults and frailties. I’m happy wrapping seafood while I build up my massage clientele.’
‘Speaking of clients . . . What happened to the boss? Nice enough bloke, but quiet.’
‘Some people take a while to let strangers in. He’s had it tough.’ She shrugged. ‘When he was younger—in his late teens—he had a bad accident. He doesn’t like to talk about it. Anyway, he ended up in a coma. Doctors knew a lot less about swelling on the brain back then and they thought he’d never recover, but his mother, Rose, refused give up, and she wouldn’t let them pull the plug. When David woke up he surprised the hell out of everyone—except Rose. A mother knows, I suppose. Still, he was far from fine, and facing life in a wheelchair. Only he refused to sit around. He used his muscles, stayed strong, worked out every way he could, and showed everyone. A few years of an experimental rehab program got his painting hand working again and from then on there was no stopping his progress. Goes to show a body can be broken, but the right frame of mind can mend it.’
‘So how did you get to know him?’ Jake asked.
‘I’d see him down here on the breakwall occasionally, usually in winter and in the dark when there are less spectators around. He used to sit on that bench over there and stare out to sea. I’d stop and do some stretches. Eventually we started talking. He told me not long ago I was the daughter he never had.’ Pearl looked up at the night sky. ‘I’ve never told anyone that. You’re a good listener, Jake. In my family I’m lucky to get a word in. We’re all too busy talking over the top of each other to hear what anyone else says.’
‘Thanks for trusting me with the story about David.’
‘I’ve never forgotten that night. Him and I stayed mates. Having something in common does that.’
‘Something like what?’
‘Well, we’ve both had to learn to accept that others see our differences and our disabilities before they see us—like the mother and her little girl tonight. Anyway . . .’ Pearl made a little coughing sound. ‘That’s enough local goss for one night. Let’s talk about something else, shall we?’
‘Like?’ Jake asked, not caring at all. She could talk about anything, as long as he got to watch her.
‘The moon and the stars maybe?’ Pearl was staring at the sky again. ‘Did you know our part of the world is having the starriest midwinter in a decade? The dry winds have kept the skies clear, which has meant little cloud reaching New South Wales.’
Jake was certainly starting to feel a little starry-eyed. ‘How do you know that stuff?’
‘I read a lot. I especially read about the stuff I have trouble seeing. Like stars.’
‘You can’t see the stars?’
‘Not with the naked eye, sitting here like this. But I do know my east from my west, so I can tell you about the different constellations. As long as I have my body pointing in the right direction I can even tell you where they are. For example . . .’ Pearl shuffled around until her feet were pointing towards the breakwall before falling back on the grass. ‘The Southern Cross is right about . . . There!’ She pointed.
Jake joined her on grass, their heads butting, eyes gazing at the same piece of sky. ‘Not bad. Keep talking.’
‘One of the brightest stars is Venus. Around about there!’ She pointed again. ‘On a moonless night her glow can actually cast shadows.’
‘Your glow right now makes you the brightest star tonight.’
Pearl nudged his shoulder, her hand searching out his. ‘Your sister never mentioned you had such a way with words.’
‘Take after my dad. He used to write a lot, but Mum says that’s where the similarities end. They used to fight a lot.’
‘Whose parents don’t argue?’
‘Yeah, I know,’ Jake said. ‘But their fights were pretty intense. Dad was just so black and white about a lot of stuff, and she’d get really frustrated with him.’
‘So they’re not together anymore?’ Pearl asked.
Jake sat up. ‘Actually, Dad died. He was in New York, in one of the towers, on 9/11. His body was never recovered.’
Pearl sat up too and tugged his hand into her lap, her grasp tightening. ‘Oh, that’s sad.’
‘Mum’s really never got over it and I’m not even sure why I brought that up. How about we talk about something else? Maybe you could give me the recipe for those amazing smoked fish bits. They were so good—like a salty tastebud explosion in my mouth. I can still taste them.’ He wiped his lips on the sleeve of his hoodie.
‘Family secret, that one. My nonna had an old Estonian saying: Better a salty morsel than a square meal of sweet.’
‘I am loving your nonna.’ Jake managed one more morsel. ‘In fact, I love the idea of a big family.’
‘Having six brothers at school was a bit like having my own personal security detail to deal with playground bullies.’
‘All married and all with six kids. Now you know why there’s so much food here. We don’t ever cook small quantities.’
‘And no one else in the family has . . .’
‘Nope. I’m the only Pearl in the family. Makes me kinda precious and one of a kind. Dad named me after the jewel of the sea and my nonna taught me to appreciate food and family tradition. Those spanakopita triangles with wild mushroom and blue cheese you loved so much are her special recipe. There are only about a million traditions in Serbian culture and nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine of them involve a feast. So, yeah, we have a few rituals. I added winter solstice to the list—my very personal ritual that I rarely share with anyone.’
‘You should be.’ Pearl smiled.
‘And this spread is all so good, but way too much.’
‘Now you know why I run and cycle every day. It’s a necessity, so I don’t end up the size of my nonna.’
‘You and your nonna have beaten me. And I’ll have you know that rarely happens.’ Jake patted his stomach. ‘Maybe I need a nonna nap.’
‘You rest. I’m going to walk off that last piece of nut roll.’
Jake closed his eyes. He may have even drifted off, woken only by Pearl giggling, and a heavy weight pressing on his chest. He opened his eyes and smiled, eager for a kiss. But instead of looking up at a starry night sky and Pearl’s pretty face, Jake found himself staring up the nostrils of a huge dog—big, shiny and black and with tell-tale honey-coloured patches above each eye like a . . .
‘What the . . . ?’ He bolted upright to find Pearl smiling and the dog not so big and terrifying after all.
‘Don’t be scared. Molly here is a good girl—aren’t you, Mol?’
With the would-be beast now on her back lapping up tummy tickles, Jake tried to recover his dignity. ‘I’m . . . I’m not scared of a mangy mutt.’
‘Aw, don’t you listen to him, my baby bubba girl,’ Pearl cooed. ‘You’re not mangy, are you? Oh, no you’re not! Oh no you’re not! Oh, no you’re not!’ she tickled. ‘Who’s Mama’s good girl, eh?’
‘She’s yours?’ Should he apologise for calling her dog a mangy mutt? ‘What breed?’
‘No idea and she’s not mine—not officially. She kind of came with the beach house,’ Pearl explained. ‘She belongs to the crusty old bugger who owns the place I’m renting. When the old guy was thrown in the slammer I moved in and Molly stayed. I built her a proper fence, but she’s my clever Houdini hound. Always finding a way out, aren’t you, sweetie? At the start she was timid, like the guy had beaten her or something, but before long she was joining me on my morning runs and waiting for me to finish up at work so she could escort me home. I’d seen her plenty of times before over the years when she’d been so hungry she’d eat fish heads from the bin behind the co-op.’
‘I don’t think I’ve ever met a dog who ate fish before.’
‘Exactly.’ Pearl shrugged. ‘I figured it was a case of beggars can’t be choosers, poor thing. But she must’ve got a taste for it, because when I tried her on dog meat she screwed up her nose.’
‘How old is she?’
‘No idea, but she sleeps most of the day in the shade out the back of the co-op, so not young, I guess. That’s not to say she doesn’t earn her keep. She has an early start each day. When the boats dock to unload she stops the fish from being stolen. She does a good job, too.’
‘People around here pinch fish off the boats?’
‘Not people.’ Pearl laughed. ‘Bloody birds. But Molly here runs around the dock barking and scaring the seagulls away. Don’t you, Mol? Oh, yes, you do! Oh, yes, you do! Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girl?’
Right now Jake was wishing he had four legs and a tail so he could squirm around on his back and get some of that tickle action from Pearl.
Like I said…. Chapter 19. 🙂