The photo above is entitled Saskatchewan Tour and is by Chad Teer. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license. Though we’re looking at flowers rather than wheat tassels, this would be a good depiction of the view seen from the back of Aurora’s diner. Whose motorbike is that in the foreground? Possibly Polk’s.
I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten on a bit of a roll with my latest project, The Dream King’s Daughter, the story about a young woman who can see the dreams of others when she looks them in the eye. A lot of interesting ideas are floating around up here, and it’s just a matter of putting things together in a coherent whole.
This scene follows immediately after the one I debuted late last month, and we get to meet more of the characters who will populate this story, specifically Aurora’s aunt Matron, and her friend Polk.
This scene is pretty close to a first draft and will change, but I think Aurora and Polk have some decent chemistry here, and while very little happens but some character exposition, hopefullly there is still a thread of mystery that will keep readers interested. I’ll also need to work on the atmosphere, to make it less cliichéd and more real, but that’s what revisions are for.
As always, comments are invited and welcome.
Aurora whipped off her apron as she entered the kitchen and strode over to the sink to wash her hands. “I’m on break, Matron!” she called.
“You don’t have to shout it, dearie,” yelled the old woman over the sizzle of the grill. “And you’re not. Not until I serve the Hobsons their eggs.”
“I know.” Aurora gave the silver-haired short woman a smile and their eyes met. And immediately Aurora could feel the ocean breeze in her face and the sand between her toes. She closed her eyes let the image wash over her and soothe her, even though she didn’t really need it. What was she going to do once Matron decided to finally retire and buy that Florida bungalow?
“But the eggs aren’t up yet, are they?” she continued. When Matron stubbornly didn’t answer, she added, “Until then, I’m on break.”
“You could do the dishes, you know,” Matron called as Aurora reached for the back door.
“That’s Polk’s job,” Aurora muttered beneath her breath. “Where is he, that slacker?” She marched down the back steps, turned, then grunted as she walked right into him.
“Woah, there!” He grinned as he caught her, and grinned as, glaring, she pulled herself out of his grasp.
“What are you doing out here, slacker?” she snapped.
He shrugged. “I’m on my break.”
“There were still dishes in the sink last time I looked,” said Aurora.
“There were still bacon and eggs that needed serving the last time I looked,” said Polk, grinning.
“I’ll go back if you go back,” said Aurora.
“Slacker,” said Polk. His grin wouldn’t move for a steamroller.
She glared at him a long moment while he grinned back, waiting for the other to blink. Their tension broke at the same time and they snorted with laughter.
As she looked up at him again, his eyes met hers. Instinctively Aurora braced herself and felt… nothing. There was the wheat fields, the patch of saskatoons in the gravel by the driveway, blue skies extending forever.
This was, frankly, a relief. In her time at Cooper’s Corners, it was getting so she couldn’t look any of the teenage boys in the eye. It was too embarrassing. But Polk had none of that. His dreams consisted of nothing but the place where he was standing.
You have the least ambition of any person I’ve ever met, she thought. You don’t dream about anywhere or anything else. I like you.
Polk leaned back on the sun-bleached wooden siding and stared across the fields. Aurora leaned next to him. The wheat rolled like surf in the hot, dusty wind. Aurora scuffed the gravel with the toe of her shoe. Then her toe hit something. She looked down.
By her foot was a round, flat stone, dark where the gravel was white. Frowning, she picked it up.
There was heft to it, like a baseball. It narrowed from half an inch thick on one side to almost a knife’s point, but there were no sharp edges to cut her. Her palm and forefinger curved around the thick side perfectly.
It was a skipping stone. She knew it was a skipping stone, though they were miles away from water. She could picture herself leaning into the throw, bringing her arm around, letting the perfect stone go, and watching it catch the air like a sail and meet the water along its smooth, flat end, arching back into the air again, and again and again.
But before her, only a sea of tassels waved.
Polk bent down and snapped a stalk of wild grass growing by the base of the building. He leaned back, put one end of the stalk between his teeth and began chewing.
Aurora rolled her eyes. “Polk!”
He looked at her, playfully blank. “What?”
“Take that out of your mouth!” she snapped. “I swear, some city folk see you, they may as well pose next to you for photographs.”
Polk gave her an infuriating grin. “It would be okay if they paid me a dollar.”
She sighed theatrically. “Only a dollar?” Then movement caught her eye and Aurora looked past Polk, craning her neck. A dust cloud was rising where the road met the vanishing point. “Truck,” she said.
Polk leaned back and closed his eyes. “It’ll be a ten wheeler, white, with a grain logo, and it won’t stop.”
“No points if it doesn’t stop,” said Aurora. She watched the growing cloud like a hawk. The whine of its engine and the growl of gravel under its wheels grew as it shaped itself into a dark cab and two points of light. She pushed away from the wall and strode to the wheat field, looking back at the road, keeping the truck in sight as it neared the diner and roared past.
“Well?” said Polk when she came back.
“Ten wheeler,” she grumbled. “White. With a grain logo.”
“And it didn’t stop,” he added, grinning with his eyes closed.
“I said that didn’t count. They never stop. You don’t need the extra point.”
“They could stop sometimes,” he said.
“And, being in Saskatchewan, I’m being generous giving you a point for the grain logo.”
“Four points, then,” said Polk.
She rolled her eyes and leaned on the siding beside him. “What are you going to do with your life, Polk?”
He shrugged, a quick jerk of his shoulders. “Dunno.”
She sighed. “You can’t wash dishes the rest of your life, Polk.”
He glanced at her and then laced his fingers behind the back of his head and leaned back. “Why not? It pays my way. Everything I want is here, so why go anywhere else?”
Yeah, that’s what I thought, she thought. No ambition to save your life. I like that because it makes it easier for me to look you in the eye, but what are you doing to yourself?
“What about you?” he asked casually. “What are you going to do with your life now that you’re fifteen?”
She made a face at him. He always mentioned her age, reminding her without saying that he was one year older. Like that made any difference. Except that it did. But she shoved aside the taunt and focused on the question. She frowned.
“I don’t know,” she said at last. “Something. It’s not a life, serving coffee in a hamlet diner. It’s something temporary. It’s got to change…” Her voice trailed off.
It’s got to change because it’s wrong, a voice in the deepest part of her mind called out.
“You seem okay with it,” said Polk.
“Aunt Matron’s okay,” said Aurora. “She takes good care of me and we get along. She’s not a mom, though.”
‘Mom.’ The word echoed briefly and was filed away along with ‘Dad?’
“There’s nothing to do here,” she said, with more force than she’d intended. But the words had popped a cork, and more came flowing out expressing feelings she hadn’t given voice to before. “It’s like I’m a prisoner.” She blinked. Where had that thought come from?
And just like that, the impulse to ask questions hit a brick wall. In her minds eye, she was surrounded by dark, soft as a comforter, wrapped with the loving care of a mom, as insidious as a straight-jacket.
Polk arched an eyebrow. “A prisoner? Matron got you locked up in your bedroom, does she?”
She sighed. The door didn’t even lock. “You know what I mean.”
She felt the heft of the stone in her hand again. She gave it a quick glance, then looked out at the sea of tassels. Then she stepped forward and threw it.
It arched like her imagination, cleared the driveway, and sailed over the tops of the wheat. It arched down…
The wheat thrashed. Black erupted from the sea of yellow. A crow, cawing angrily, rose from the waves. The stone arched, came down a few feet away, and burst the wheat a second time as another crow soared and flapped away to the horizon.
The stone fell a third time and disappeared among the stalks.
Polk stared, his arms limp at his sides. “Two birds with one stone? Great shot!”
But I didn’t mean to hit them, she thought. They were just there. I got lucky, I guess.
Why should I feel lucky to hit two crows?