There is a short novel (probably more of a novelette) that I have been working on for a number of years now. Mostly I work on it when I am between other projects.
It is a huge departure from what I normally write. But it is basically a labor of love and a longing for meaning in a world that seems intent on pressing the meaning out of everything.
The working title for it is “Daria’s Tale” for lack of inspiration for something better. It is what most people these days would call women’s fiction. It’s about change and growth. It’s about finding what matters most and seeing the mystery and wonder in the world. The wonder that is always there if we are only open to it.
I thought that I would publish the first chapter here to see what others might think of it. So if you read it, I would really like your opinion.
Thanks, in advance.
Chapter 1: A Reason to Be
“A penny for your thoughts.”
Daria looked over, startled, at the tall, young man standing next to her. He was wearing a grey hoodie, dark green T-shirt and blue jeans and she wondered how he had come to be standing next to her without her noticing. But then she thought to herself, she had been bound up in her own thoughts for a very long time now. And standing here, attempting to take in the view, she was no less bound. She thought that a nuclear warhead could have gone off right next to her and she might not have noticed, so deep was her contemplation.
The young man saw a bit more in her than Daria did in him. He saw a woman, older than him, maybe into middle age for a few years now. Her eyes were sad and a bit puffy. There was a tightness around her mouth that looked like it had been there for some time. And he saw resignation and quiet defeat in the set of her shoulders. She was dressed plainly with her longish hair pulled back into a severe little ponytail.
Having received no response from the woman, the tall young man repeated his first line, but this time with a bemused smile and the inflection of a question at the end, “A penny for your thoughts?”
She had written off his posture as non-threatening without realizing it and so Daria replied without looking at him, “It would be a penny wasted. They’re not even worth that to me.”
A small and fleeting frown crossed the face of the tall young man and then he smiled and enthusiastically stuck out his hand to Daria for a shake saying, “Hi, I’m Andrew Nolan. Pleased to meet you. Isn’t the view from here amazing?”
Daria stared at his hand for a moment and then thought “oh what the heck.” She took his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Daria Ingramm. Do you come here often?”
“Actually, no,” Andrew replied. “This is my first time. How about you? Do you come here often?”
“I do,” said Daria. “More often lately than in the past. This is a particularly fine time of the evening with the sun close to setting. The shadows on the buildings are striking and the golden light makes everything look … oh, I don’t know … just right somehow.”
Andrew was silent for a while and so was Daria. Then Andrew said, “Yes, I think I see what you mean.” And they both continued to stare out into the distance. Daria’s eyes, however, were focused on nothing. Andrew’s left eye was watching her surreptitiously with his peripheral vision.
After a time, Andrew said nonchalantly, “What is it you are looking for?”
Daria drew in her breath sharply and experienced a moment of deep concern. Could this stranger know?
We are all looking for something … meaning … a purpose … a reason for being. We may not always know it, but we are. We seek fulfillment in our children, our jobs, our creative endeavors. Maybe we find solace in a clean house and a neat garden. We need meaning and we need needing.
There are different levels of needing. Some need meaning more than others. For some it is akin to the need for a new pair of shoes that one just saw in the department store display. For others it is akin to the need for oxygen or food or water. For the latter, life can sometimes be a burden.
Daria didn’t really have to think about Andrew’s question. She knew what the answer was. She had been struggling with the answer for so long now that she had come to think of it as her silent friend or maybe her enemy. It was sometimes hard to tell. But could she confide in this complete stranger? In some ways that might be easier than talking to her husband or her sister about it. And besides talking about it would just make it real. Then what would she do.
She looked up and into his face without really meeting his eyes. She saw a serious young man and a kind face with no hint of superciliousness. Yet, she just did not know. This was such a hard thing for her to wrap her mind around. How could she even begin to tell someone about it? Still …
Andrew broke into her reverie, “I know someone you should meet. She might have what you need. Her name is Nedra. Nedra Ellsworth.”
Daria looked at Andrew once again and found that he was holding a business card out to her. In the fading light before the lamps came on automatically, she could not read what was printed on it. She took in a very deep breath and held it for a very long time. When she took the card from him, she expelled her breath in a rush; almost as if she had been punched in the stomach. She stood staring at the card for long moments and into her silence, Andrew said, “You do not have to do it, you know.”
There are angels and there are angels. There are people who see through you and there are people who see into you. There are people who know what they need from you and there are people who know what you need.
When Daria looked up from the card in her hand, Andrew was gone … just as silently as he had arrived. She looked out at the skyline once more and the water rushing by below the bridge and decided it was time to head home and prepare dinner. Her husband would be home soon and she had promised him meatloaf.