The Life (Almost) Aquatic

This weekend, we had my son’s birthday party. Eight screaming, jumping 9-year-olds running through our house with fake weapons and Guitar Hero guitars. It was LORD OF THE FLIES. With cake.
No one is allowed to ask me for anything for at least a week.

He wanted an underwater theme, don’t ask me why. He also was pretty firm about the fact that “we” should build a submarine. Um, okay. “Honey, Mommy writes. Can’t sew. Can’t build. Can I write about a submarine?” Sigh. Fortunately, my friend Brenda, who is a design genius (she used to have her own firm creating exhibits for museums), came to the rescue, building the hatch and thingy-that-I-cannot-recall-the-name-of-right-now-but-it-allows-you-to-see-above-the-water. Periscope! That’s it. Sheesh. What has happened to the Artist Formerly Known as My Brain?

I stayed up until 11:00 covering a wardrobe box with aluminum foil and duct tape and using a Sharpie to make rivets. I never want to smell Sharpie again. And someday, when my son hates me, as he will for a time, I’m just going to sit there and mouth the word, “submarine” to him, over and over.

So I wanted to post some more outtakes, and as I scrollled through those 750 pages of flotsam and jetsam in my Orphans file, I kept finding things that I’d cannibalized for actual book parts–“Frankennovel! It’s alive, ALIVE!”–and then I’d realize that I’d give too much away if I posted those bits.

Soooo….I think I’ve found some odds ‘n’ ends I can throw out here. Just remember, lots of stuff I wrote initially didn’t make the final cut, so DO NOT BE FOOLED!!! Or be fooled, if you wish. Or say, “She’s just playing a shell game with us. I don’t trust a word she says!” (Press pause: Rachel and Amanda are playing Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy LP here in the Tea Lounge. How happy am I made by this musical selection? In a word, very. Okay, press play again.)

(This was a bit about the Winterlands that hit the cutting room floor. Mostly. And no, I’m not telling you how I refashioned it, just that at one point it was a prom dress and now it’s been made into a bathing suit and flowered hat. That’s a bad analogy, but it’s the only analogy I have today. Roll with me, people. My brain still hurts from the Sharpie fumes.)

We haven’t traveled far when I hear horses approaching.
“Do you hear that?” I ask.
Felicity’s eyes widen. “Croestus?”
I shake my head. “Not in the Winterlands. We should go at once.”
Green Wings appears beside us, breathless. “For a touch of magic, I shall take you safely back to the Borderlands!”
“Show us out at once!” I demand.
The pounding of hooves is getting closer.
“You are the chosen one? Where is your power now? You cannot even save your friends!” the winged beast taunts.
“Come on!” Bessie growls.
“Gemma! Do something!” Ann pleads.
But I can’t. Nothing comes. I feel only my fear. “Hide!” I call.
We duck behind a large rock. A moment later, Amar thunders up the black sand path. The wind screeches around him.
“Mortal Girl!” he calls. “I know you are here. I haven’t much time. I only want to know of my brother, Kartik. That he is well. That he is safe.”
Felicity shakes her head vehemently. I nod. I will not answer him. We stay hidden behind the rock.
“Give him a message for me: Tell him in all things to remember his heart. That is where his honor and his destiny will be found.”
I want so very much to ask him what he means but I dare not show myself. Instead, I huddle with my friends, and not until we hear his horse galloping away, the sound muffled by the fog, do we rise from our hiding spot. The green fairy is gone, but to our left I see the wall in the distance. We run for it, and we do not rest until we reach the Borderlands.

(I had so much fun researching Victorian dime novels–the cheap romance novels of the day–that I really wanted to use those crazy titles here. Also, I thought it would be a fun character trait for stolid, unsentimental Nightwing to be a closet romance reader underneath all that armor. But this scene as written wasn’t working within the larger context of the novel. So I managed to cannibalize parts of this for TSFT. As Cecil Castellucci would say, borrowed, I believe, from Brad Bird, “Use every part of the buffalo.” So I tried.)

The girls file out, closing the door behind them, sealing me in with our headmistress.
“Come with me, if you please, Miss Doyle.”
Heart in my throat, I follow Nightwing up the long, winding staircase and beyond the baize door. It is so very strange to be here; it has the air of the forbidden, as if I am trespassing on sacred womanly ground. Mrs. Nightwing uses a key to unlock her door, and what greets me inside has the feel of a nun’s room. A washstand with its bowl and pitcher takes up one corner. A reading chair with a lamp takes up another. A bedside table boasts a small silver clock, a hurricane lamp, and a large stack of books. A modest curio cabinet holds the odd china cup, a bottle of toilet water, a few more books lined up like a regiment.
While Mrs. Nightwing opens the curio cabinet, I try to calm my nerves by reading the spines of the books on her nightstand. When Love is True, by Miss Mabel Collins. I Have Lived and Loved, by a Mrs. Forrester. The Stronger Passion. Trixie’s Honor. Blind Elsie’s Crime. A Glorious Gallop. Won By Waiting. They’re dime novels! And they look to have been well read and loved. To imagine Mrs. Nightwing nestled in her bed reading of love and sweet romance is so beyond my ken that my fear abates. I cannot wait to share this with Felicity and Ann.
“Miss Doyle?”
At the sound of my headmistress’s voice, my head snaps up, and my nerves are back.
“Y-yes?” I manage. My knees tremble.
Mrs. Nightwing holds a book. “Do you know why I’ve asked you here?”
“N-no, Mrs. Nightwing,” I croak.
“I have noticed that you read quite well aloud. I had thought you might read a poem at our masked ball. You should begin to learn it now,” she says, handing me the poem in question.
“I shall be frank with you, Miss Doyle. Spence does not enjoy the sterling reputation it did in its glory days. I am losing girls to newer schools such as Miss Pennington’s. Spence is seen as a debutante grown old, and her fortunes dwindle. Where once we were nearly one hundred girls, now we are no more than eight and thirty.”
For only the second time, I see my headmistress’s lips tremble with emotion, but she quickly gains control.
“I do not want my girls to see Spence as a shadow of her former self. She may be great yet. It is my hope that the restoration of the East Wing will rub the cobwebs from our image and give us a measure of new fame and new blood. I have placed all my hopes in our masked ball. It is imperative that the night be flawless—the sort of ball that people shall talk about for the whole of the season, so that mothers will say, ‘I wish my girl to be a Spence girl.’”
I nod solemnly.
“I would do anything to keep Spence alive, as our founder, Eugenia Spence would have done.
“I am sorry to speak so candidly, but I feel you can be trusted. You have endured your share of hardship. It seasons one, builds character.” She offers me a miserly smile but there is warmth in it still. “May I rely upon you?”
“You may.” But I am not entirely sure what I have promised.
“Very well. Read the poem. Know it by heart. I would have my girls be a credit to Spence.”

In every life, there is a moment where one’s conscience offers a choice: to gossip or not to gossip. I shall hope that when I am old, I choose the latter, for the sudden knowledge of our headmistress’s reading habits is too delicious to keep to myself.
“Dime novels!” Felicity exults. “Can you imagine?”
Ann runs a brush through her hair, giggling. “What did you say, Gemma?”
I force my face into complete solemnity and place my right hand over my heart. “I said, ‘Dear Mrs. Nightwing, I shall undertake the reading of this poem. For I Have Lived and Loved, Mrs. Nightwing. And on Trixie’s Honor I shall not commit Blind Elsie’s Crime…’” My laughter bursts out in spits and sputters. “…lest a Stronger…P-Passion…carry me on to…A G-Greater…Ga-Ga-Gallop!”
Felicity, Ann, and I are lost to a mad bout of laughing, and soon, we’re each joining in:
“I’ve Been Won By Waiting but lost by morning!”
“When Love Spurs Onward, you’d best not be standing behind the horse!”
“Apples of Eden, worms of Bow’s Bells!”

(This was a scene with an aged magician who helps Gemma out of a scrape. In the end I felt it didn’t work because he was TOO helpful. Gemma needed to be the one to solve her own problems at this juncture in the novel, so I got rid of this scene. You know, along with most of the novel. :-0 “One more from the vaults,” to quote Rocky Horror…)

“You’d already impressed him with the trick,” I chide playfully as we ride in the carriage to Mayfair. “Did you really think it necessary to mention the prince of Moldavia?”
“Ah, but he needed it, my dear. My skills alone weren’t enough.”
“What do you mean?”
“Titles, crowns, wealth and renown—some require the illusion of opinion before they can believe.” His exhales heavily. “If only I had a magic trick for curing that ailment.”
“What ailment?”
London rolls past us in all its grit and glory, the chimney sweeps soldiering home at the end of a hard day with sooty faces, their brooms balancing on their shoulders; the solicitors in their finely brushed hats; the women in their ruffles and lace. And on the banks of the Thames, the mudlarks sift through the filth and the muck, searching for what treasures may hide there—a coin, a fine watch, a lost comb, some bit of glittering luck to change their fate.
“The notion that we must borrow from the worth of others to have any worth of our own.” He gazes out the window, smiling. In the play of his smile, I see the boy he must have been once. “You must promise me something, my dear.”
“Yes?” I say, warily.
“You must promise you will never give away your power.”
“But I’ve told you, I must share the magic or else…” I object.
He holds up a finger to silence me. “The magic is not your power.”
“It isn’t?”
“But if it isn’t the magic, what is my power?”
“That, dear lady, I must leave you to discover for yourself.”

(This was a rough sketch for a scene between Kartik and Gemma in London. It was a bit playful, and I enjoyed the banter between them, but ultimately, it didn’t fit with the direction/mood of the revised novel. Cut, cut, cut. Here it is, for your {hopeful} enjoyment.)

“I need your help.”
Kartik gives a flourish of a bow. “I’m at your service.”
“I need for you to arrange a meeting for me. With Mr. Fowlson.”
His smile vanishes. “You wish me to go to the Rakshana? To walk into the lions’ den?”
“Yes, in a manner of speaking.”
Kartik exhales loudly. He paces the stable, rubbing his hand through his curls. “It won’t be easy.”
“What if you were to take me to them?”
He purses his lips in thought. “Most likely? They’d kidnap us both, torture us for information, force you to give them the magic, then kill us.” He smiles. “That is, of course, the optimistic scenario.”
I sink to the floor of the stable, not caring that my dress is gathering dust and hay. “There must be some way of reaching them.”
Kartik sits across from me. He rests his hands on his knees. “You’ll write a letter. I’ll send it to Fowlson through channels. We’ll arrange to meet in a place I know well so we’ll have the advantage. How will you get away?”
“They’re abed by eleven o’clock most nights. I’ll slip out and meet you in the mews.”
Kartik chews his bottom lip. “Can you be certain?”
His doubt annoys me. “It is the same routine every night. Tea by the fire. Books for Father and me, needlework for my grandmother. They stay until they cannot force their eyes open a moment longer, which is always eleven.”
“If you’re certain,” he says, his tone skeptical.
“I am certain.”
“Then I shall set the meeting for half-past one o’clock. Don’t wear anything…” he screws up his face. “frilly.”
“I shall wear a ball gown trimmed in the feathers of a dove,” I snap. Kartik’s eyes widen at my outburst. “I’m terribly sorry,” I say, shamed. “That was beastly of me.”
A slow, mischievous grin pulls at the corners of his lips. “Perhaps I should warn Mr. Fowlson.”

It is half-past eleven, and I am near to convulsions. For the past hour, we’ve sat by the fire, while I await my freedom. Father makes no move to go to bed. Grandmama’s head doesn’t bob with sleep. Her eyes are wide awake and intent on her needle. If they don’t go to bed soon, my plans are ruined, and I’ll have made the Rakshana angry.
The clock ticks off the quarter hours with devilish glee. I should like to smash that little tormentor.
I fear my plans are writ large on my face. Each time my grandmother clears her throat or my father looks up from his book, I am certain they see my treachery in the darting of my eyes, the nervous flutter of my hands, or the slight sheen of perspiration on my upper lip. It is tempting to step quickly into the realms for a boost of magic to put them under. But I don’t dare spark my magic tonight. I want Fowlson to believe I’m done with it, that I’ve given it to the Order.
I make a show of a yawn hoping it will prove contagious. No one pays me any attention. Blast! Of all the nights to stay awake! When the clock chimes twelve, I am so undone, I leap up with a startled cry.
Grandmama puts a hand to her heart. “Good heavens, Gemma. What is the matter?”
“I…I should go to bed, I think.” My announcement has no effect on either of them.
“Goodnight, my pet,” Father says, smiling at me from his chair.
Grandmama returns to her needlework. “Yes, goodnight, Gemma.”
Grumbling silently, I march off to my room.

It is well after midnight when I hear my father and grandmother mount the stairs. I know that Mrs. Jones is after the fires. She won’t turn in until she’s satisfied that all is put in order in the house. It is an eternity before I hear what I’ve longed for: silence. As quietly as possible, I steal through the darkened rooms and out the door, silencing the latch with my finger, not even pulling on my boots till I’m a few steps away. Once they are laced, I pull up my skirts and run for the stables.
Kartik is waiting impatiently in the dark of the mews. “It is nearly one o’clock.”
“They wouldn’t go to bed,” I explain testily.
“I thought you said they were abed by eleven each night.”
“They are. But not tonight.”
“So you were wrong,” he says with a smirk.
“Is it gentlemanly to make sport of a girl’s misfortunes?”
He bows but doesn’t offer an apology. “I am glad you wore something sensible.”
I’ve chosen my mourning dress. I don’t like the unhappy gown, but it is black and plain, and, in my experience, people avoid having anything to do with those in mourning, so perhaps I’ll be left alone.
“Now to get to the embankment.”

We secure a cab at ? Street. The driver grimaces at the sight of my drab gown of grief as if it were a contagion. But, as predicted, he asks no questions about why a young lady is out and about at this hour of the night with an Indian boy. When Kartik closes the door and sits beside me, the cab feels suddenly close. His hands rest rigidly on his thighs. I push myself into the corner and peek out at the city. The streets are not as quiet as I would think. It is as if the city itself has sneaked out of doors while its counterpart, the ordinary day city, sleeps. This is a different London, a London more daring and unknown.
“Where are going?” I ask.
“To the embankment,” he repeats calmly. “Cleopatra’s Needle.”
“Oh, yes.” Stupid, stupid, stupid, Gemma.
We pass ? with its lamps straining to be seen in the green-tinged fog. The night is smeared with hazy light. Beside me, Kartik is close enough to touch. His shirt is open at the neck, exposing the curve of his throat, the delicate hollow there. The cab feels quite warm. My head is light as down. I require some distraction before I go mad.
“How did you contact Fowlson?”
“I have my ways.” Kartik offers no further comment, and I ask no more questions. After a moment, he adds, unbidden, “Pigeons. You tie the note to their legs. They do the rest.”
“I see. How clever.”
The cab falls into silence again save for the quick clop-clopping of the horses shuddering through me. Kartik’s knee falls against mine. I wait for him to move it, but he doesn’t. My hands tremble in my lap. Should I mention it? But I don’t want to. From the corner of my eye, I see him looking out at the streets. I do the same, but I cannot say that I notice the scenery. I am only aware of the warmth of his knee. It seems impossible that so small a collection of bones and sinew could produce such a thrilling effect. Slowly, I let out the breath I’ve been holding tight as an old woman to her purse strings.

Okie doke. That’s it for now. I’m off to figure out where you store a giant cardboard-and-tin foil submarine in a Brooklyn-sized living space. I may hide in there for the week with a book and a flashlight. Don’t give me away…

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